Returning to Thornfield
In the morning I explained to Diana and Mary that I had to go on a journey, and would be away for several days. Although they did not know the reason for my journey, they were far too sensitive to my feelings to bother me with questions.
And so I walked to Whitcross, the lonely crossroads on the moor, where I had arrived a year ago with no money or luggage. I took the coach, and after thirty-six hours of travelling I got down at Thornfield village, and almost ran across the fields in my hurry to see the well-known house again, and its owner. I decided to approach from the front, to get the best view of the house. From there I would be able to see my master’s window. ‘He might even be walking in the gardens,’ I thought, ‘and I could run to him, touch him! Surely that wouldn’t hurt anybody?’
But when I reached the great stone columns of the main gate, I stood still in horror. There, where I had hoped to see a fine, impressive house, was nothing but a blackened heap of stones, with the silence of death about it. No wonder that letters addressed to people here had never received an answer. There must have been a great fire. How had it started? Had any lives been lost? I ran back to the village to find answers to my questions.
‘Well, ma’am,’ the hotel-owner told me, ‘I was one of Mr. Rochester’s servants at the time, and I can tell you it was his mad wife who started the fire in the governess’s room. The master had been wildly in love with the governess, you see, ma’am, although she was just a plain little thing, and when she disappeared, he almost went mad. His wife must have understood enough to be jealous of the girl. Anyway, in the fire the master risked his life helping all the servants out of the house, then bravely went back to save the mad woman. We saw her jump from the roof and fall to her death. But because he went back to help her, he was badly injured in the fire, losing a hand and the sight of both eyes. Very sad, ma’am.’
‘Where is he now?’ I asked urgently.
‘At another house of his, Ferndean Manor, thirty miles away.’
I hired a carriage to drive there at once.