Trouble at Gateshead
When I was a child at Gateshead, Bessie the nursemaid used to say that to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble to come. For a whole week now I had dreamed of a small child every night, and perhaps Bessie was right, as a message came from Gateshead.
It appeared that my cousin John Reed, who had spent and wasted all his money and some of his mother’s, and been in debt or in prison most of his life, had killed himself a week before. And then Mrs. Reed, whose health had been badly affected by worrying about her son, had suddenly fallen ill when she heard of his death. Although she could hardly speak, she had recently managed to express a wish to see me. And so my cousins Eliza and Georgiana had sent their coachman, Robert, to bring me back to Gateshead.
I felt I could not refuse to see my aunt, perhaps for the last time. So I went to ask Mr. Rochester’s permission to leave Thornfield for a while. I found him talking to Miss Ingram, who looked at me in disgust when I interrupted their conversation.
‘Well, Jane, what is it?’ he asked, when we had left the room full of guests and gone into the library.
‘Please, sir, I would like permission to visit my aunt, who is ill, for a week or two.’
‘Your aunt! You told me you had no relations!’
‘I have none who love me, sir. She’s Mrs. Reed, my uncle’s wife. Her son has died recently. I really can’t neglect her now that she is dying.’
‘What nonsense, Jane, rushing off to visit an old lady who has never loved you! But I see you’ve decided to go. Where does she live and how long will you stay?’
‘She lives at Gateshead, sir, a hundred miles away. I’ll stay as short a time as I can.’
‘Promise me only to stay a week.’
‘I can’t promise, sir, I might have to stay longer.’
‘And you certainly can’t travel a hundred miles alone!’
‘They’ve sent the coachman for me, sir. I’ll leave tomorrow.’
Mr. Rochester thought for a while.
‘Well, you’ll need some money. I haven’t paid you any salary yet. How much have you in the world, Jane?’ he asked, smiling.
I showed him my tiny purse. He took it and laughed as he counted the few coins. Then he took out his wallet.
‘Here is $50,’ he said, offering me a note.
‘But you only owe me $15, sir!’ I cried.
‘On second thoughts, give me that back. If you had $50, perhaps you would stay away for three months. Here is $10. Is that enough?’
‘Now you owe me $5, sir,’ I pointed out.
‘You’ll have to come back for it then,’ he said, laughing.
‘There’s something else, sir. You’ve told me you’re going to marry soon. In that case, Adele should go to boarding school.’
‘To get her out of my lovely bride’s way? A very sensible suggestion. But what about you?’
‘I must find another job somewhere. I’ll advertise.’
‘Don’t you dare!’ he growled. ‘Promise me, Jane, not to look for another job. I’ll take care of that.’
‘I’ll promise, sir, if you promise that Adele and I will be out of your house before your bride enters it.’
‘Very well! And now we must say goodbye.’
‘Goodbye, Mr. Rochester.’
I set out early the next morning and travelled all day. As I approached Gateshead Hall, I realized it was nine years since I had left it. In that time I had made some friends, gained much self-confidence, and finally lost my hatred of the Reeds.
I was delighted to see my old friend Bessie again. She had married Robert the coachman, and was very busy with her three young children. The house itself had not changed at all, but my cousins certainly had. Eliza was now very tall and thin, with a rather sour face, dressed in very plain clothes, and with a cross hanging round her neck. Georgiana, on the other hand, was still pretty but very fat, and wore extremely fashionable clothes. They did not seem pleased to see me, in fact they more or less ignored me, but I hardly noticed their rudeness. I told the housekeeper that I would be staying for several days, and then went straight to my aunt’s room.
I remembered it well from my childhood. I had often been called there to be punished. Bending over her bed I kissed her.
‘How are you, dear aunt?’ I asked. I had sworn never to call her aunt again, but I did not regret breaking that promise to myself. I held her hand.
‘Are you Jane Eyre?’ she asked. Her face, although deathly pale, was as stern as ever, and she removed her hand from mine. ‘That child was more trouble to me than anyone would believe! I was glad to send her to Lowood. And John! Poor John! He needs so much money! Where can I get more money from? What will happen?’ She seemed very confused and excited, so I left her to sleep.
Her illness got worse in the next few days. I spent some time every day looking after her, and the rest of the time with my cousins, listening to their plans for the future. Eliza was planning to join a religious community after her mother’s death, but Georgiana was hoping to stay in London with relations, to see the new fashions and go to all the parties. It was quite clear they had no real feeling for their mother, and were almost looking forward to her death.
One dark, stormy night I visited the dying woman. She lay there asleep in her room, neglected by her daughters and servants. As I looked out of the window into the black emptiness, I wondered about the great mystery of death, and thought of Helen Burns, who was so sure her spirit would go to heaven. Would my aunt’s spirit go there too?
‘Who are you?’ I heard the sick woman murmuring. ‘I wanted to see Jane Eyre. I must tell her something.’
‘I am Jane Eyre, aunt,’ I told her gently.
‘I know I’m very ill,’ she said weakly. ‘Before I die I must confess what I’ve done wrong. First, I broke my promise to my husband about you, and second-‘ She broke off. ‘After all, perhaps I don’t need to tell her,’ she said to herself. And then, ‘No, it’s no good, I know I’m dying. I must tell her, and quickly! Jane Eyre, take the letter from the top drawer of my desk, and read it.’ I did so. It said:
Dear Mrs. Reed,
Please inform me of the address of my niece, Jane Eyre. As I am unmarried, with no children, and fairly wealthy, I would like her to come to Madeira to live with me, and to inherit all my property when I die.
‘Why did I never hear of this?’ I asked, amazed.
‘I hated you so much that I wrote back to him, telling him you had died of typhus fever at Lowood. That was my revenge on you, for causing me so much trouble!’ she cried angrily.
‘Dear aunt,’ I said, ‘don’t think about that any more. I was only a child, it’s not surprising I was a nuisance.’
‘You were always so angry and violent, such a wicked child!’
‘Not as wicked as you think. I would have loved you if you’d let me. Forget it all and kiss me now, aunt.’ But it was too late for her to break the habit of dislike, and she turned away from me. Poor woman! She died soon afterwards, keeping her hatred of me alive in her heart, and no one at Gateshead cried for her.