You arrive at the house just before dark. “Can there be life here?” you ask yourself as you take the gravel-walk to the manor. There are no flowers or garden-beds, and the windows are latticed and narrow. It is quite a desolate spot.
You do see a light flickering behind the lattice of one window though and knock hesitantly at a door around the back. Mary, one of Mr. Rochester’s servants, answers the door. She starts when she sees you. “Oh Miss, is it really you, come to this place?”
You assure her you are really here and, in a few words, explain what has happened since you left. A bell rings while you are talking, and you ask Mary if that was Mr. Rochester.
“It is, he always asks for water and a candle to be brought in, though he is blind.”
“Give the tray to me,” you say, “and I will carry it in.”
She points you to the parlor, which looks very gloomy. A neglected fire burns low in the grate and leaning over it, with his head supported against the high mantle-piece is the blind tenant of the room. His dog Pilot was laid to one side, but he approaches you as you enter.
“Give me the water, Mary,” he says.
You hand Mr. Rochester the glass, but Pilot has become excited. “Down, Pilot,” you say.
The glass of water is checked on its way to Mr. Rochester’s lips. He seems to listen, then takes a drink. “This is you, Mary, is it not?”
“Mary is in the kitchen,” you answer.
Rochester puts out his hand in a quick gesture, not seeing you but in an attempt to touch you. “Who is it?” What is it? Who speaks?”
“Pilot knows me. I only came this evening.”
“What delusion - what sweet madness is this? Is it you, my dearest?”
“It is I. There is no delusion. I am come back to you.”
Mr. Rochester’s hand gropes for you again, and this time you take his fingers and prison them in yours.
“Her very fingers!” he cries. “My living darling! I cannot be so blessed after all my misery. You are not a dream? Such dreams as I have had at night when I clasped you to me and trusted you to never leave.”
“I never will, sir, from this day.”
“Never will! But I always awoke and found you gone. My life, dark, lonely, and hopeless. Embrace me before you go, gentle, soft dream.”
Embracing him, you also press a kiss to his lips and sweep his hair from his brow, to place another kiss there. The conviction of your reality seizes him, and he takes you in his arms, holding you tight and murmuring words you cannot quite understand.
That night you take supper with Mr. Rochester. It is a shame to see his once brilliant eyes, now rayless and sightless. And the stump of his hand, which he keeps hidden in his waistcoat. He is often serious and abstracted during your conversation, so you take it upon yourself to find livelier veins of conversation. You mention your time with the Rivers family and Rochester’s mind focuses on St. John.
“This St. John is your cousin?” he asks.
“You have spoken of him often; did you like him?”
“He is a good man; I cannot help but like him.”
“A good man? You mean, a respectable, well-conducted man of fifty? Or sixty?”
“St. John is twenty-nine.”
“Ah. I believe you said he is a person of low stature and phlegmatic? His goodness is in his lack of vice, but you rather tire to hear him speak?”
“He talks little, but his brain is first-rate. He is very able, vigorous, and an accomplished scholar.” You smile at Mr. Rochester’s ill-concealed jealousy.
“His appearance though is sort of a raw curate, half-strangled with his white neckcloth?”
“St. John dresses well and is a handsome man. Tall, fair, and with blue eyes.”
“Damn him. And did you really like him?”
“Yes, but you asked me that before.”
The gloom settles in Mr. Rochester’s face once more. “Perhaps you would wish to leave me then. It seems you have found a better man who deserves you.”
“Oh, Mr. Rochester, I could never marry St. John Rivers. He doesn’t love me and never could love me - certainly not as you do. He is good and great, but severe, and for me, cold as an iceberg. He is not like you, and I am not happy at his side. Must I then leave you to go to him?”
“What, is this true?”
“Absolutely. I only wanted to tease you a little to make you less sad.”
He kisses you, but painful thoughts darken his aspect once again. “You know that I am a blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand? And crippled, twenty years older than you, whom you’ll have to wait on?”
“I want a wife, though, not someone to be a nurse or a friend. You perhaps think me an irreligious dog, but I know I did you wrong. Yet, I defied Divine justice and disasters came thick upon me. I acknowledge my mistakes and seek repentance. And just now, my heart swells with gratitude that you are near me once more. But you are young, and now independent. Your life is full of prospects. I know I should be strong, but I cannot give up my beneficent spirit. Can you overlook my deficiencies? Is my deep and faithful love enough for you to marry me?”
Your heart swells at his declaration, but his words delineate your position perfectly. Hitherto, you have been set on finding out what has become of Mr. Rochester, with little thought of what might happen after. Now he presents to you a choice - marry the man you fell in love with and at one time thought you could trust implicitly. Or take the money your uncle left you and set up a new and independent life for yourself.
To marry Mr. Rochester, go to FIFTY-TWO
To take your time and explore life, go to FIFTY-THREE