jane eyre chapter 23


The wedding day

We had no friends or family to accompany us to the church. I had not told my Reed cousins about our wedding, but I had written to my uncle, John Eyre, in Madeira. Mr. Rochester was in such a hurry that he only allowed me a short time to put on my wedding dress and veil.

‘Jane, you look lovely,’ he said. ‘But you can only have ten minutes for breakfast!’ We almost ran up the road to the church, his strong hand holding mine. His dark face looked stern, and he did not speak. I did not notice the weather or my surroundings at all, I only wanted to know why he looked so fierce. Suddenly he noticed how pale I was, and stopped for a moment to let me get my breath back. Then we walked more slowly into the church.

The priest and the clerk were waiting for us. There was nobody else except two strangers who were standing at the back of the church. The ceremony began, and soon I heard the priest come to the point in the wedding, where he had to ask, ‘Is there any reason why these two people should not be married?’

The priest paused for a second, as was the custom, but before he could continue, a voice from the back of the church said clearly, ‘There is a reason.’

The priest looked up from his book, and stood silent. Mr. Rochester said in his deep voice, without turning his head, ‘Continue with the ceremony.’

Silence fell again. Then the priest shook his head. ‘I must investigate this first,’ he said. One of the strangers from the back of the church came forward and said, calmly and quietly,

‘This wedding cannot continue, because Mr. Rochester is already married.’

I felt as if I had been hit. Mr. Rochester’s whole face was like colourless marble. Without speaking or smiling, he was holding me tightly round the waist, as if he would never let go.

‘Who are you?’ he growled at the stranger. ‘And tell me what you know of this supposed wife of mine.’

‘I’m a lawyer, sir. I have a certificate here proving that you married Bertha Mason in the West Indies fifteen years ago.’

‘That may prove I’ve been married, but it doesn’t prove that she’s still alive.’

‘I can produce a witness,’ said the lawyer, ‘who has seen her alive recently.’

‘Produce him — or go to hell!’ said Mr. Rochester.

‘Here he is. Mr. Mason!’ called the lawyer. And the second stranger slowly approached from the shadows, his pale face looking frightened. Mr. Rochester, staring furiously at him, raised his strong right arm to knock him down.

‘No!’ cried Mason, trembling. Mr. Rochester dropped his arm, and turned away in disgust.

‘Sir,’ said the priest, frowning, ‘don’t forget we are in the house of God. Mr. Mason, please tell us if this gentleman’s wife is still alive.’

‘She’s at Thornfield Hall,’ replied Mason in a weak voice. ‘I’m her brother and I’ve seen her there.’

‘Thornfield Hall!’ cried the priest. ‘I’ve lived here for years, and I’ve never heard of a Mrs. Rochester!’

‘I was careful to keep her a secret,’ murmured Mr. Rochester, frowning. After a few minutes’ thought, he announced, ‘I must reveal the truth, I suppose. There will be no wedding today. No doubt God will punish me for this. What this lawyer says is true. I’ve been married, and my wife still lives! I was tricked into marrying her when I was young, in the West Indies. Madness runs in her family, but they didn’t tell me that. Now she’s more of an animal than a woman. I keep her locked away, guarded by my old servant Grace Poole. I invite you all to come to my house to see her, and to judge whether I had the right to ask this innocent young girl to marry me. Follow me!’

Still holding me firmly, he left the church, followed by the others. At the door of Thornfield Hall, Mrs. Fairfax, Adele and the servants rushed forward, smiling, to congratulate us.

‘Too late!’ cried the master, waving them away. ‘Your congratulations are fifteen years too late. We all went up to the top floor, and entered the room where Mason had been attacked. Mr. Rochester lifted the curtain, opened the secret door and showed us the little room. Grace Poole was making soup over a fire, and behind her a shape crawled on the floor. It was hard to say whether it was animal or human. It growled like a wild animal, but it wore clothes, and had long, thick, dark hair.

‘How are you, Mrs. Poole?’ asked the master. ‘And how is your patient today?’

‘Not bad, sir,’ answered Grace, ‘but be careful. She’ll try and bite you if she sees you, sir.’ Just then the shape turned and with a fierce cry attacked Mr. Rochester violently. I recognized her dark, ugly face. They struggled for a moment, and then he held her down and, with Mrs. Poole’s help, tied her to a chair. He turned to the others with a bitter smile.

‘You see, gentlemen, this is my wife. This is the partner I have to live with for ever. And instead I wished to have this’ (laying his hand on my shoulder) ‘…this young girl. Can you honestly blame me? Compare the two, and then judge me!’

We all left the room silently. As we went downstairs the lawyer said to me, ‘I know you weren’t aware of this, Miss Eyre. Nobody will blame you, and Mr. Mason will tell your uncle so, when he goes back to Madeira.’

‘My uncle! Do you know him?’ I asked, surprised. ‘I’m his lawyer. Mr. Mason and he have often done business together. On his way back to the West Indies, Mr. Mason stopped in Madeira and stayed with Mr. Eyre, who mentioned that his niece was going to marry a Mr. Rochester.’

‘Yes, I wrote to tell him I was getting married,’ I said.

‘Well, when Mr. Mason explained that Mr. Rochester was already married, your uncle sent him straight back to England to prevent you from marrying and making a terrible mistake. I’m afraid your uncle is very ill and will probably die soon, so I think you had better stay in England, until you receive further news of him.’

After the gentlemen had left, I entered my room and locked the door. Slowly I took off my wedding dress and veil. I was weak and exhausted, and only just beginning to realize what had happened. Could I ever again trust the being I had turned into a sort of god? I would not think of him as evil, but he could not have felt real love for me. How foolish I had been to believe him, and love him so much! My hopes were all dead, and my future was empty. I lay on my bed, faint and wishing for death, while darkness swam around me.


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