I obeyed: joy made me agile: I sprang up before him. A hearty kissing I got for a welcome, and some boastful triumph, which I swallowed as well as I could. He checked himself in his exultation to demand, "But is there anything the matter, Janet, that you come to meet me at such an hour? Is there anything wrong?"
"No, but I thought you would never come. I could not bear to wait in the house for you, especially with this rain and wind."
"Rain and wind, indeed! Yes, you are dripping like a mermaid; pull my cloak round you: but I think you are feverish, Jane: both your cheek and hand are burning hot. I ask again, is there anything the matter?"
"Nothing now; I am neither afraid nor unhappy."
"Then you have been both?"
"Rather: but I'll tell you all about it by-and-bye, sir; and I daresay you will only laugh at me for my pains."
"I'll laugh at you heartily when to-morrow is past; till then I dare not: my prize is not certain. This is you, who have been as slippery as an eel this last month, and as thorny as a briar-rose? I could not lay a finger anywhere but I was pricked; and now I seem to have gathered up a stray lamb in my arms. You wandered out of the fold to seek your shepherd, did you, Jane?"
"I wanted you: but don't boast. Here we are at Thornfield: now let me get down."
He landed me on the pavement. As John took his horse, and he followed me into the hall, he told me to make haste and put something dry on, and then return to him in the library; and he stopped me, as I made for the staircase, to extort a promise that I would not be long: nor was I long; in five minutes I rejoined him. I found him at supper.
"Take a seat and bear me company, Jane: please God, it is the last meal but one you will eat at Thornfield Hall for a long time."
I sat down near him, but told him I could not eat. "Is it because you have the prospect of a journey before you, Jane? Is it the thoughts of going to London that takes away your appetite?"
"I cannot see my prospects clearly to-night, sir; and I hardly know what thoughts I have in my head. Everything in life seems unreal."
"Except me: I am substantial enough — touch me."
"You, sir, are the most phantom-like of all: you are a mere dream."
He held out his hand, laughing. "Is that a dream?" said he, placing it close to my eyes. He had a rounded, muscular, and vigorous hand, as well as a long, strong arm.
"Yes; though I touch it, it is a dream," said I, as I put it down from before my face. "Sir, have you finished supper?"
I rang the bell and ordered away the tray. When we were again alone, I stirred the fire, and then took a low seat at my master's knee.
"It is near midnight," I said.
"Yes: but remember, Jane, you promised to wake with me the night before my wedding."
"I did; and I will keep my promise, for an hour or two at least: I have no wish to go to bed."
"Are all your arrangements complete?"
"And on my part likewise," he returned, "I have settled everything; and we shall leave Thornfield to-morrow, within half-an-hour after our return from church."
"Very well, sir."
"With what an extraordinary smile you uttered that word — 'very well,' Jane! What a bright spot of colour you have on each cheek! and how strangely your eyes glitter! Are you well?"
"I believe I am."
"Believe! What is the matter? Tell me what you feel."
"I could not, sir: no words could tell you what I feel. I wish this present hour would never end: who knows with what fate the next may come charged?"
"This is hypochondria, Jane. You have been over-excited, or over-fatigued."
"Do you, sir, feel calm and happy?"
"Calm? — no: but happy — to the heart's core."
I looked up at him to read the signs of bliss in his face: it was ardent and flushed.
"Give me your confidence, Jane," he said: "relieve your mind of any weight that oppresses it, by imparting it to me. What do you fear? — that I shall not prove a good husband?"
"It is the idea farthest from my thoughts."
"Are you apprehensive of the new sphere you are about to enter? — of the new life into which you are passing?"
"You puzzle me, Jane: your look and tone of sorrowful audacity perplex and pain me. I want an explanation."
"Then, sir, listen. You were from home last night?"
"I was: I know that; and you hinted a while ago at something which had happened in my absence: — nothing, probably, of consequence; but, in short, it has disturbed you. Let me hear it. Mrs. Fairfax has said something, perhaps? or you have overheard the servants talk? — your sensitive self-respect has been wounded?"
"No, sir." It struck twelve — I waited till the time-piece had concluded its silver chime, and the clock its hoarse, vibrating stroke, and then I proceeded.
"All day yesterday I was very busy, and very happy in my ceaseless bustle; for I am not, as you seem to think, troubled by any haunting fears about the new sphere, et cetera: I think it a glorious thing to have the hope of living with you, because I love you. No, sir, don't caress me now — let me talk undisturbed. Yesterday I trusted well in Providence, and believed that events were working together for your good and mine: it was a fine day, if you recollect — the calmness of the air and sky forbade apprehensions respecting your safety or comfort on your journey. I walked a little while on the pavement after tea, thinking of you; and I beheld you in imagination so near me, I scarcely missed your actual presence. I thought of the life that lay before me — your life, sir — an existence more expansive and stirring than my own: as much more so as the depths of the sea to which the brook runs are than the shallows of its own strait channel. I wondered why moralists call this world a dreary wilderness: for me it blossomed like a rose. Just at sunset, the air turned cold and the sky cloudy: I went in, Sophie called me upstairs to look at my wedding-dress, which they had just brought; and under it in the box I found your present — the veil which, in your princely extravagance, you sent for from London: resolved, I suppose, since I would not have jewels, to cheat me into accepting something as costly. I smiled as I unfolded it, and devised how I would tease you about your aristocratic tastes, and your efforts to masque your plebeian bride in the attributes of a peeress. I thought how I would carry down to you the square of unembroidered blond I had myself prepared as a covering for my low-born head, and ask if that was not good enough for a woman who could bring her husband neither fortune, beauty, nor connections. I saw plainly how you would look; and heard your impetuous republican answers, and your haughty disavowal of any necessity on your part to augment your wealth, or elevate your standing, by marrying either a purse or a coronet."