Chapter One takes place at Eyre Hall and the surrounding land in July 1865, twenty-two years after Jane Eyre’s marriage to Edward Rochester. Jane has taken a walk with her husband, who is in a wheelchair. She is reading The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798) to him by the lake. The narrator is Michael, the footman.
I grabbed Mrs Rochester’s heavy woollen cloak, the one she wore when the chill wind bit into her face, and rushed out to find her. She must have mistaken the soft rays of the late August sun, which streamed through the window during breakfast, for a promise of warm weather. But murky clouds had descended shortly after she left for her morning walk with Mr Rochester.
I pushed on my garden boots and made my way through the dense mist, across the shrubbery and down the well-worn paths along which she would usually push Mr Rochester’s wheelchair on her way to the lake where she liked to sit and read while he dozed.
I could hardly see a foot ahead. The wheelchair was heavy. She might trip and fall or slip off the path. No one would find her if she had a mishap until she was missing at lunchtime. No one except me.
I heard Mrs Rochester’s voice in the distance reading The Ancient Mariner.
With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
They were sitting by the lake. She smiled, looked at her husband and said, “The poor albatross.”
Mr Rochester smiled back. “The Mariner should not have killed such an innocent creature. His penance, like mine, was to carry the albatross around his neck. I wish I had been a wiser man so I could rise tomorrow with a lighter heart. Alas, my time to feel remorse has not yet passed; I regret many of my unfortunate deeds, and I must repent so that I may be redeemed.”
“None of us are perfect, Edward. We have all made mistakes, but we can also make amends.”
“It is easy for you to say, my good, kind Jane, but I fear my remorse is so overbearing it is taking me to the grave.”
“As long as we are alive, there is still time for repentance and redemption, Edward.”
He held her hands in his with a pleading expression while she watched him with pursed lips. He had hurt her and she had not forgiven him. His betrayals enraged me, but they also gave me hope her heart could be free to love another.
“Call Mr Cooper, Jane. I wish to start as soon as possible.”
Mrs Rochester pulled her hands away from his. “I thought you might want to speak to the vicar or Bishop Templar.”
“Look at me, Jane. I am past prayers. I need to ensure my financial affairs are in order to safeguard the estate for you, and later, for John.”
She stood and wrapped her arms around her coat. I glanced at her winter cloak and longed to take it to her, but I did not want to interrupt their conversation.
“As you wish, Edward.”
She looked majestic, gazing into the still waters with an aloof expression, like the Lady of the Lake, surrounded by mist, her hair slightly dishevelled due to the damp air. I could hardly breathe. I wanted this moment, while I could watch her without being seen, to last forever, but it was cut short by Mr Rochester’s cry as he grabbed his chest and wrenched fiercely, toppling his wheelchair.
Mrs Rochester turned, screamed her husband’s name, and rushed to his side, dropping to her knees. I ran to the scene, draping the cloak over her shoulders first, and then restoring the wheelchair and lifting Mr Rochester’s limp body back onto his chair.
“Michael, thank God you were nearby,” she said, grabbing the handle grips. “Run ahead and call the doctor.”
“Please, Mrs Rochester, let me push. It will be quicker.”
She clung to the handgrips. “No. You must return to Eyre Hall and fetch Dr Carter as soon as possible.”
“The wheelchair is heavy, and the path is slippery. Please let me do it.”
Mrs Rochester agreed and marched beside me as I pushed, slowing down my pace to match her strides, as I would never risk her stumbling or slipping on the muddy ground. She must have noticed because she insisted I go faster.
“I dare not quicken my pace and risk an accident by tripping over a root or rock,” I said, and she nodded, wiping her tears with the back of her hand.
Seconds later, Mr Rochester lowered his head to his chest and cried out with the desperation of a man who was being devoured by a wild animal.
My mistress fell to the ground beside her husband, threw her arms around his crumpled body and wept. I heard his heavy breathing, waited a few moments, bent down, and whispered in her ear, “Mrs Rochester, we need to get back,” and I gently pulled her up.
Her contorted face turned to mine, and she grabbed my arm. “Please hurry, Michael! Edward is dying.”
A note about the albatross in The Ancient Mariner
In ancient myths, the albatross was believed to bring good luck to seafarers who spotted it. In the tale, God saved the mariner and crew from the storm-blast and the ice, sending the Albatross as a blessing. But instead of seeing it as an omen of good luck, the mariner blamed the bird for the lack of wind and killed it. In so doing, he was abusing nature and rejecting God’s gift. The dead albatross is a symbol of the mariner’s sins, and the crew saw it as a sign of bad luck. The rest of the crew punished the mariner by forcing him to wear the dead albatross around his neck to punish him for his crime.
Come back tomorrow I’ll be posting an excerpt of chapter two!
If you’d like to know more about Blood Moon at Eyre Hall, check out these two posts:
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