‘And what did you do, sir, when you had brought her here?’
‘I travelled all over Europe, Jane. I was looking for a good and intelligent woman to love-‘
‘But you couldn’t marry, sir,’ I interrupted.
‘I believed I could. I thought I might find some reasonable woman who would understand my case and accept me.’
‘Well, sir, did you?’
‘Not in Europe, Jane, where I spent ten long years looking for an ideal. I tried taking mistresses, like Celine, the French dancer. But finally, bitter and disappointed with my wasted life, I returned to Thornfield on a frosty winter afternoon. And when my horse slipped and fell on the ice, a little figure appeared and insisted on helping me. In the weeks that followed, I began to depend on that bird-like little figure for my happiness and new interest in life.’
‘Don’t talk any more of the past, sir,’ I said, wiping a secret tear from my eye.
‘No, Jane, you’re right, the future is much brighter. You understand now, don’t you? I’ve wasted half my life in misery and loneliness, but now I’ve found you. You are at the centre of my heart. It was stupid of me to try to marry you like that without explaining. I should have confessed everything, as I do now, and appealed to your great generosity of spirit. I promise to love you and stay with you for ever. Jane, promise me the same.’
A pause. ‘Why are you silent, Jane?’
This was a terrible moment for me. In the struggle and confusion that was going on in my heart I knew that he loved me and I loved him, but I also knew that I must leave him!
‘Jane, just promise me, «I will be yours».’
‘Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours.’ Another pause.
‘Jane,’ he said, with a gentleness that cut into my soul, ‘Jane, do you intend us to live apart for ever?’
‘Jane,’ (bending towards me and kissing me), ‘is that still your intention?’
‘It is,’ I replied, pulling away from him.
‘Oh Jane, this is a bitter shock. It would not be wicked to love me.’
‘It would be wicked to do what you want.’
‘Jane, just imagine my horrible life when you have gone. I shall be alone with that mad woman upstairs. Where shall I find friendship, and hope?
‘You can only trust in God and yourself. Live without doing wrong, and die hoping to go to heaven.’
‘That’s impossible without you! And … and you have no family to offend by living with me!’ He was beginning to sound desperate. I knew that what he said was true. However, in my heart I also knew I was right to leave.
He seemed to read my thoughts. Rushing furiously across the room, he seized me violently and stared fiercely into my eyes. He could have broken me in two with one hand, but he could not break my spirit. Small and weak as I was, I stared firmly back at him. ‘Your eyes, Jane,’ he said, ‘are the eyes of a bird, a free, wild being. Even if I break your cage, I can’t reach you, beautiful creature! You’ll fly away from me. But you could choose to fly to me! Come, Jane, come!’ He let me go, and only looked at me. How hard it was to resist that look! ‘I am going,’ I said.
‘Does my deep love mean nothing to you? Oh Jane, my hope, my love, my life!’ and he threw himself despairingly on the sofa. I had reached the door, but I could not leave. I walked back, bent over him, and kissed his cheek.
‘Goodbye, my dear master!’ I said. ‘May God protect you!’
‘Without your love, Jane, my heart is broken,’ he said. ‘But perhaps you will, so generously, give me your love after all-‘ He jumped up with hope in his eyes, holding out his arms to me. But I turned and ran out of the room.
That night I only slept a little, dreaming of the red room at Gateshead. The moonlight shone into my bedroom, as it did then, and I saw a vision on the ceiling, a white figure looking down on me. It seemed to whisper to my spirit: ‘Daughter, leave now before you are tempted to stay.’
‘Mother, I will,’ I answered. And when I woke up, although it was still dark outside, I wrapped up some spare clothes in a parcel, and put a little money in a purse. As I crept downstairs, I could hear Mr. Rochester in his room, walking up and down and sighing. I could find heaven in this room if I wanted. I just had to enter and say, ‘I will love you and live with you through life until death!’ My hand moved towards the handle. But I stopped myself, and went miserably downstairs and out of the house.
Setting out on the road, I could not help thinking of Mr. Rochester’s despair when he found himself abandoned. I hated myself for wounding him, and for perhaps driving him to a life of wickedness, or even death. I wanted desperately to be with him, to comfort him, but somehow I made myself keep walking, and when a coach passed, I arranged to travel on it as far as my money would pay for. Inside the coach I cried the bitterest tears of my life.