Yesterday was All Hallows Eve, which has come to be known as Halloween. I wrote about how the festivity was celebrated in Victorian England, and what happened on that day at Eyre Hall.
Today’s post is about what happened the following day, November 1st, All Hallows or All Souls’ Day. It is no spoiler that Mr. Rochester is on his death-bed, and is destined to pass away during the course of the novel. However, there is a hint of a big spoiler in the extract. You will be glimpsing an unexpected and dramatic turn in Jane’s life.
Here is Chapter XXIV, which narrates the moment Mr. Rochester’s death is discovered and made known to the residents at Eyre Hall.
“Mrs. Rochester! The master is dead! We must stop the clocks and drape all the mirrors in the house, or his spirit will be trapped. He will not be able to leave Eyre Hall, so he will haunt us forever! The windows must be opened and the curtains drawn to let the good spirits in to look after him and keep the malignant out. We must bring ice from the kitchen to put under the bed, or malignant life will crawl out of his mouth and ears.”
Simon had reached the bottom of the staircase, as I stepped out of the library into the hall with Michael. The drawing-room door opened and Adele screamed, “Simon! For goodness sake be quiet, you will wake all the dead in the graveyard!”
John was standing behind Adele looking bewildered, “Mother, what has happened?”
His face white and his expression quite horrified. I rushed to his side, “John, he is at peace at last. There is nothing we can do, except pray.”
“Father!” He shouted, as he pushed past me and rushed up the staircase.
“Wait!” I screamed and turned to Michael, “Michael, go with him! He can’t be alone now!” Michael obeyed at once.
Bishop Templar turned to me and spoke gravely, “Mrs. Rochester, may I suggest we follow John and say some prayers by his bedside?”
“Of course, my Lord, let us go upstairs together.” I took his arm and beckoned to Adele, “Adele, darling, will you come up with us?”
“Not yet, Jane. I can’t bear to think of his lifeless body! I can’t go up now.”
She seemed so distressed that I had no choice but to agree, “Well, wait here. Mr. Greenwood, would you be so kind as to accompany Adele in such a painful moment for her and console her as best you can?”
“Of course, Mrs. Rochester. Come, Adele, let us wait in the drawing-room.”
“Mr. Mason, Annette, will you be so kind as to wait a few minutes while I go upstairs with Bishop Templar?”
“Mrs. Rochester, I would like to go up with you, if you don’t mind.” Annette was looking at me earnestly. I told her Edward was her father. She had just met him, and he was dead, quite a dreadful succession of events for an evening.
“Of course you can. Are you sure you won’t be too distressed?”
“Then come with us. Mr. Mason, would you kindly wait with Adele and Mr. Greenwood?”
“Of course, madam. Accept my most sincere condolences, and if I can be of any use, please let me know.”
“Thank you, Mr. Mason.”
Before heading up the stairs I turned to Simon, “Please see to the clocks. Go down to the kitchen to tell the rest of the household what has happened, and bring some drapery to cover the mirrors, and of course, the ice.”
“I will tell Michael to fetch the undertakers at Millcote and Dr. Carter.”
“I understand you worked for an undertaker in London before working at Eyre Hall, is that so?”
He nodded proudly, “Yes, madam.”
“Could you dress Mr. Rochester when…?” Tears came to my eyes, as I said his name. My feet softened and floated, and my hand slipped from the Bishop’s arm. The floor swayed and I lost my balance. I felt rough, sturdy fingers clasp my waist, as I fell backwards and looked into Mr. Mason’s furrowed brow.
“Mrs. Rochester! Are you unwell?”
“Thank you, Mr. Mason. I am feeling a little dizzy.”
“Please, allow me to accompany you upstairs.” I nodded, and he held out his arm for me to cling to. “Thank you, Mr. Mason.”
When we arrived at the top of the stairs, the gallery seemed darker and narrower than usual and the floor was rolling, as if I were walking on waves. Tears were running freely down my cheeks, and I was still having difficulty breathing.
Mr. Mason took my hand in his and squeezed it hard, “Unfortunately, Mrs. Rochester, this is God’s plan for all of us.” I cringed at his touch, which fortunately brought me back to reality.
Inside Edward’s chamber, our son was kneeling down on the floor by his father’s side, holding his hand and kissing it. Annette was kneeling down on the opposite side of the bed, doing exactly the same. Bishop Templar stood behind John with his hands on his shoulders, attempting to comfort him, while Mr. Mason left my side and stood vigilantly behind Annette.
The Bishop was speaking, but my heart was thumping so loudly I could not hear what he was saying. The room was hot and the air was thick and putrid. I looked at my husband and gasped. Edward’s eyes were frighteningly open, as if he had seen a ghost, and his mouth was wide open, too, as if he had gasped for air before dying. His face was as pale as death itself, and his chest crushed and lifeless. He had gone.
Once more I felt my legs bend into the floor. The hexagonal forms on the carpet were sliding into squares as my stomach churned. Michael rushed to my side and I managed to say, “I’m going to be sick,” just before he carried me to the toilet table. When I finished, he took the ewer and poured some water on my hands and I washed my face, then he led me to a chair at the foot of the bed.
I heard the distant voice of the Bishop saying some prayers to bid him farewell and facilitate his transit to his new abode in the Kingdom of Heaven, but I was not sure if that would be his destination. He had not confessed his sins. He had not repented for his misdeeds. He had not made his peace with our creator before dying, and he might not be allowed to leave Eyre Hall yet.
I stood up and turned to Michael beckoning him to follow me. We walked out of the chamber and turned into the shorter gallery and the stairs leading to my chamber, where we could not be seen. His eyes shone in the unlit passage. I reached for his hands, and he pulled me closer whispering, “Are you all right, Mrs. Rochester?”
“Yes, I shall be all right.”
“You look unwell.”
“Michael, please go to Millcote and bring the undertaker as soon as possible. There are many preparations that need to be attended.”
“It shall take more than four hours. Will you not need me here?”
“Simon will attend to matters here, in the meantime. He knows what to do.”
His concerned eyes bore into mine, “But you will be alone.”
“Only for a few hours.”
He moved closer, “Before you go, Mrs. Rochester, promise me something.”
“What is it?”
“Promise me you will not take any of Mr. Rochester’s drops.”
He was right. I had thought of succumbing to the easy comfort of the miraculous drug. I put my arms around him, “Hold me, Michael.”
He spoke into my hair, “I cannot leave, if you do not promise. I saw you looking at Mr. Rochester’s medicine cabinet.”
“You are right, the temptation is great.”
“It is very harmful. Think of John, he needs you, so does Helen… and so do I.”
I pressed my face into his chest, praying I would be strong enough to get through the wake and the funeral without breaking down, or relapsing into the comfort of laudanum once again. It was a pleasant and swift evasion, but I shuddered at the thought of its dire consequences, which I had already experienced. Michael was stroking my hair, waiting for my reply, “Promise me.” He insisted.
I broke away and smiled, “I promise. Now go, and please be careful, Michael. It is very late and there is a full moon. Last month a pack of foxes attacked a farmer.”
He told me he would be back as soon as possible, and I returned to the death chamber. They were all looking at Edward and listening to Bishop Templar’s prayers, except Mr. Mason, whose dark ominous eyes were fastened on me, as I entered the room. We listened in solemn silence to the familiar words of Christian consolation, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…”
Minutes later Simon arrived with drapery for the long mirror. He told me he had covered all the other mirrors in the house and had stopped the clocks. I told him to bring the ice and wash, shave, and dress Edward in his best clothes. We all left when he returned to prepare the corpse.
Downstairs in the drawing-room, Adele was still distraught and being consoled by Mr. Greenwood. I excused myself and went down to the servants’ quarters to discuss arrangements with Mrs. Leah.
Mr. Rochester’s death represents the end of an era. He was more linked to the rigid 18th century modes of thinking than to the more progressive 19th century social, scientific, industrial, and intellectual advances, which would change Great Britain forever. New times are awaiting Jane and all the members of her extended family. These changes will start immediately, and although it is a change she is ready to embrace, it will be traumatic. The full extent will be felt in books two, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall and book three, Midsummer at Eyre Hall.
I hope you enjoyed the extract 🙂