The next day, you rise with the sun. Your bags are packed, and you leave a note for St. John and his sisters. Although you are afraid of what you will find, you must dissipate this cloud of doubt. You meet the coach at Whitcross and in a few hours you will know what has become of Mr. Rochester.
The coach drops you at an inn, two miles away from Thornfield Hall. Your resolve weakens slightly now that you are near. For all you know, he may be beyond the British Channel, and if you hasten to him, who beside him is there? His lunatic wife. You cannot speak to him or seek his presence. But you can inquire of the people at the inn and they may solve your doubts at once.
The suggestion is sensible, and you find the innkeeper of the establishment. He is a respectable-looking middle-aged man.
“Pardon me, I have a question respecting Thornfield Hall. You see, I used to live near here, and I wondered if Mr. Rochester is at home?”
“Thornfield Hall?” the man asks. “No, ma’am - oh, no! No one is living there. I suppose you must have been gone a few months, or you would have heard what happened last autumn. Thornfield Hall is quite a ruin; it burned down. A dreadful calamity! Some as says it was a just judgment on him.”
This was a shock. “Was Mr. Rochester at home when the fire broke out?” you gasp.
“Aye, it is a queer story, just a few months prior, Mr. Rochester was going to marry a little slip of a governess - he set store on her past everything. But it turned out Mr. Rochester already had a wife! She was kept in confinement for years because she was a lunatic and no one ever saw her. After the discovery of his wife, the governess run off, and Mr. Rochester shut himself up at the hall and would see no one.
“Now there was a woman there to take care of the lunatic called Mrs. Poole and she is an able woman in her way, but prone to drink. One night, when Mrs. Poole was fast asleep, the lunatic took the keys out of her pocket and went roaming about the house doing any wild mischief that came to mind. She started to burn the hangings in one room and then made her way to others and kindled the furniture as she went.”
What frightful occurrences - and at the dead of night - that was ever the hour of fatality at Thornfield.
“Were there any lives lost?” you asked, afraid to hear the man’s answer.
“The madwoman got to the roof, while Mr. Rochester made sure all the servants made it out. When he tried to get to his wife, she started shouting and waving her arms. Then she jumped off the battlements and lay smashed on the pavement. I saw it all myself.”
“Ay, dead as the stones on which she lay.”
“You may well say so ma’am, it was frightful!”
“And Mr. Rochester?” you urge.
“Well afterward the master tried to get down from the roof, but on his way a beam fell on him - in such a way that crushed his hand and knocked out one eye. The surgeon had to amputate his hand, and his other eye became so inflamed he lost his sight. He is now helpless indeed - blind and a cripple.”
Relief floods through you - you feared he was dead, but this news could be borne.
“Where is he? Where does he live now?”
“At Ferndean, a manor-house on a farm he has, about thirty miles off.”
“Please order a conveyance, I must go there directly.” And very soon you are on your way.
Go to FIFTY-ONE