jane eyre chapter 18


The stranger is attacked

I was woken by the full moon shining in on me, as I had forgotten to draw my curtains. Suddenly, a wild, terrible cry broke the silence, echoing throughout the house. My heart missed a beat. What could it mean? It came from the top floor. Then I heard the sounds of a desperate struggle, just above my room. ‘Help! Help! Help! Won’t anyone help me? Rochester! Rochester! For God’s sake, come!’ shouted a voice from upstairs.

Bedroom doors were opened as the guests woke up. ‘What’s happening?’

‘Fetch a candle!’

‘Is it a fire?’

‘Are there burglars?’

‘Where’s Rochester? He isn’t in his room!’

‘Here I am!’ called the master of the house, descending with a candle from the top floor. ‘It’s all right. Don’t be afraid, ladies. A servant’s had a bad dream, that’s all, and started screaming. Nothing to worry about. Please go back to your rooms. You’ll catch cold otherwise.’ And so he calmed his guests and persuaded them to return to their rooms.

But I knew that the sounds I had heard could have nothing to do with a servant’s dream. So I dressed and waited in my room, in case I was needed. After about an hour, when Thornfield Hall was completely silent again, there was a cautious knock on my door.

‘Are you awake, Jane?’ asked the voice I had been expecting.

‘Yes, sir, and dressed.’

‘Good, I need you. Come and help me. Bring a clean cloth with you.’ We went quietly up to the top floor, where he unlocked one of the small black doors.

‘Do you feel faint at the sight of blood?’ he asked.

‘I don’t think so,’ I replied. We entered a room with curtains hung on the walls. One of the curtains was tied back to reveal a secret door into another small room. From there came an angry growling sound, almost like a dog.

‘Wait here,’ said Mr. Rochester, and went into the secret room where a shout of laughter greeted him. Ah, so Grace Poole was there! He came out quickly and closed the secret door. Then he showed me why he needed me. In an armchair lay Mr. Mason, his clothes and his arm covered in blood. As we bent over him, he opened his eyes and groaned.

‘Am I going to die?’ he murmured weakly.

‘No, man, don’t be foolish. It’s just a scratch,’ answered Mr. Rochester. ‘Now Jane,’ turning to me, ‘I’ll have to leave you in this room with Mason while I fetch the doctor. You must wipe away the blood with the damp cloth, like this, and help him to drink a little water. But on no account must you speak to him. Is that understood?’ I nodded, and nervously watched him leave the room. I could hear him turning the key in the lock.

So here I was, in the middle of the night, locked in with a bleeding, dying man, and a wild, murdering woman only the other side of a door! It seemed a long night, interrupted only by Mason’s groans, and by occasional animal-like noises from the secret room. I had plenty of time to wonder why these violent attacks happened, first the fire in Mr. Rochester’s room, and now a physical attack on a stranger. And how was Mr. Mason involved? Why was he here on the top floor? I had heard his host showing him to a bedroom near mine, on the second floor. And why was Mr. Rochester so frightened when Mr. Mason came to Thornfield?

At last Mr. Rochester arrived with the doctor, who cleaned and bandaged Mason’s wounds.

‘Strange!’ remarked the doctor. The skin on the shoulder has been torn by teeth, as well as a knife!’

‘She bit me,’ murmured Mason, ‘when Rochester managed to get the knife from her.’

‘Well, I warned you not to see her alone,’ said Rochester. ‘You should have waited till the morning, then we could have seen her together. Don’t worry, man, when you get back to the West Indies, you can forget her. Think of her as dead and buried. Now, doctor, is Mason ready to be moved? I have a carriage waiting outside. You’ll take him home with you to avoid gossip, and then in a few days he’ll be fit enough to leave the country.’

Although it was now early morning, the house was still in total silence, and so there were no witnesses to see Mason being helped downstairs and put in the carriage.

‘Look after him, doctor,’ said Rochester. ‘Goodbye, Dick.’

‘Edward, make sure she’s taken care of, make sure she’s treated well…’ Mason could not continue, but burst into tears.

‘I’ll do my best, Dick, as I always have done,’ replied Rochester, shutting the door of the carriage, which rolled away. ‘But I wish there was an end to it!’ he murmured to himself.

As we were walking back through the garden to the house, he said to me, ‘Jane, you’ve had a strange night. You look pale. Were you afraid when I left you alone with Mason?’

‘Not of Mason, sir, but of Grace Poole in the secret room.’

‘But I’d locked her door. I would never leave you in danger.’

‘Will she go on living here, sir?’ I asked.

‘Oh yes. Don’t think about her.’

‘But I’m sure your life is in danger while she’s here.’

‘Don’t worry, I can take care of myself. I’m in more danger while Mason’s in England. I live in constant fear of a disaster.’

‘But Mr. Mason’s weak! You have great influence with him!’

‘Yes. He wouldn’t knowingly hurt me, but by one careless word he could destroy, if not my life, at least my chance of happiness. Sit down with me on this bench, Jane. I want to ask you something.’ The early sun warmed the bench and the birds were singing. ‘Now, Jane, suppose a boy in a foreign country makes a mistake, not a crime, mind you. The results of this mistake have a terrible effect on his whole life. He comes home after years of suffering, and meets — someone, who is fresh and good and pure. Now, can he ignore society, can he forget the past, and live the rest of his life with her in peace?’

It was a difficult question to answer. In the end I said,

‘You can’t rely on a human being to cure you of evil and give you peace. You must ask God’s help.’

‘But I think I’ve found the cure! It’s…’ He paused. I held my breath. I almost thought the birds would stop singing to hear the name he was going to say.

‘Yes,’ he said in quite a different, hard voice, ‘you’ve noticed my love for Miss Ingram, haven’t you? Don’t you think she’ll cure me of my wickedness, Jane? Oh, I can hear some of the guests in the garden. Go into the house by the back door.’ As I went one way, and he another, I heard him say cheerfully to the gentlemen, ‘Mason’s already left. I got up early to say goodbye to him.’


next page