Halloween Festivities in All Hallows at Eyre Hall
All Hallows at Eyre Hall, the sequel to Jane Eyre, takes up Jane’s story as Mrs. Rochester, twenty-two years after her marriage to Edward. The novel, which begins on the 30th of October, 1865, is set on and around the AllHallowtide, or the Hallowmas season, a three day period during which Western Christians honour the dead saints, martyrs, as well as all deceased and faithful Christians. The three days of mourning and remembrance are All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Souls’ Day, from October 31st to November 2nd. The action in the novel continues into the first half of November, but the most significant events occur during those magical and mystical three days. For more information about the origins of Halloween celebrations see my previous post, The Truth About Halloween.
In All Hallows at Eyre Hall, the reader will glimpse at how both the servants and the masters celebrated the festivity of All Hallows Eve, in Victorian times. Jane is the only person who does not participate actively in the festivity, because she is preoccupied with her husband’s health and other added worries. However, the servants indulge in telling stories, making soul cakes, and searching for ghosts, while the younger members of the household attend a Halloween party in the nearby inn and ale house, The Rochester Arms, where they watch divination games, such as bobbing for apples, peeling apples in front of a mirror, and eat Halloween cake.
The slightly adapted excerpt below is part of Chapter XIV, and occurs downstairs, in the servant’s quarters, as they prepare for the ghostly night. Beth, one of the maids, narrates. The other servants taking part are Christy, the younger, undermaid; Simon, Mr. Rochester’s valet; Michael, Jane and Adele’s valet; and Mrs. Leah, the housekeeper, who also appears as a young maid in Jane Eyre. Towards the end of the extract, John Rochester, Jane and Edward’s son returns from the inn with Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ward, and Jane’s pupil when she first arrived at Thornfield Hall to be her governess. Dr. Carter, who is mentioned in this excerpt, also appeared in Jane Eyre, as Mr. Rochester’s surgeon.
Simon suggested we should tell stories of ghosts in preparation for their coming in the evening, and we all agreed. He started by telling us about the ghost he had already seen this very morning in Mr. Rochester’s bedroom. His was the simplest and shortest story, but he was such a good storyteller, we were all mesmerized by his tale.
“I was closing the master’s curtains and collecting the dinner tray, when the strange events happened. The master’s eyes were bloodshot and wide open. He was possessed by a spirit…”
Simon’s eyes bulged, and his fingers drew shapes in the air, as he put on the slow, theatrical voice he used when he told us his stories.
“He pushed the bedclothes away, stood up, and started speaking. His voice became low and powerful, and strange words in another tongue, like a chant or a prayer, started coming out of his mouth. When I spoke to him he ignored me, as if he didn’t hear me or see me. He walked straight to the mirror. I was quite surprised, because he hasn’t walked in months. He stood in front of it and continued speaking, as if he were conversing with someone. Then it happened, I looked into the mirror and I saw something, which was not his reflection…”
We gasped. He stopped speaking and looked into our eyes, one by one, making sure we were horrified, before continuing.
“I saw something monstrous shining from the mirror, and the whole room lit up, as if lightning had struck.”
When he finished he turned to Michael, “You went into the room next with the mistress. Tell us what you saw, Michael. Did you see the ghost?”
“I saw a man who is sick and dying. He was standing in front of the mirror with a candle in his hand, saying he had to burn himself to purge his sins before he died.”
We all gasped again at the image of the master in such a guise.
“Go on! What did you see in the mirror?” screeched Christy.
“Mirrors are where spirits hide during the daytime to come out at night with the stars.” Sentenced Simon with authority.
“There was nothing in the mirror, save his own reflection, the reflection of a withered, sick, and remorseful shadow of a man.” Added Michael, coldly.
We gasped again, this time with horror at the idea of our solemn and respected master in such a pitiful situation.
“I don’t think it is your place to speak of your master in such undignified terms.” Sentenced Mrs. Leah most gravely.
“It is what I saw, what we both saw, Mrs. Rochester and I.”
Mrs. Leah shot a daggered look at Michael, “I am the only person here who knew the master when he was a younger man in good health, and I can assure you that he was a great man. It pains me greatly to see him in his current condition.”
Next it was Christy’s turn. She told the story of the Gytrash, an ancient legend her grandmother once told her about a huge wild dog, half spirit and half animal that roams the moors at night in search of human prey. He is especially keen on stalking solitary travellers on lonely roads on stormy nights.
“So this tale is about one such traveller, an uncle of mine, who was on his way home on foot after a visit to my father, his brother. He heard footsteps, as if an animal were creeping up behind him and started running, the animal ran too, and my uncle tripped over a stone and fell. Nobody knows what happened, but the next morning they found him lying on the ground. They thought he was dead, but he was breathing, so they carried him home, and he never spoke again. His spirit had gone. He never ate, drank, or said a word until he died ten days later, without even blinking an eye in all that time. My father said the terror had killed him, and my mother said the Gytrash had taken his soul.”
After telling the stories, the sun had set completely. We lit all the candles, and I helped cook prepare the cakes for the soulers. We put them on trays to be taken out to the back door. Cook said we should also leave some around the house for the souls who might come during the night. Leah frightened us all by saying that all the candles and fires should remain lit all night, so the souls could find their way around the house.
Simon went up to accompany Dr. Carter on his daily visit to Mr. Rochester, and Michael went up to kindle all the hearths and replace the waning candles. Leah said she was tired and retired to her parlour. The rest of us stayed up late eating soul cakes, drinking cook’s brandy, and telling more ghost stories in the hope of seeing something bloodcurdling to talk about the next day.
Strange things happened at Eyre Hall that evening. Later that night, Simon said Mrs. Rochester had seen a ghost in the library, because Dr. Carter, who was with her, had rushed out of the house, pale as death, mumbling something about devils in the hearth. After that, Leah spent the night walking around the downstairs rooms, saying something sinful was going to happen that night.
Then Miss Adele and Master John arrived, making so much noise they would have frightened the souls away. Leah came down quite distraught and bolted her parlour door, the rest fell asleep, but I had drunk so much brandy, I was feeling too excited to sleep, so I went upstairs with the last wick of a candle and saw plenty of weird things.
If you would like to read the rest of All Hallows at Eyre Hall, it will be on offer for a special reduced Price of 0.99 cents or 0.99 pence, for a limited time, over the Halloween weekend.