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"I tell you I must go!" I retorted, roused to something like passion. "Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?-a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!-I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, or even of mortal flesh:-it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,-as we are!"
"As we are!" repeated Mr. Rochester-"so," he added, enclosing me in his arms, gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips: "so, Jane!"
"Yes, so, sit," I rejoined: "and yet not so; for you are a married man-or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you-to one with whom you have no sympathy-whom I do not believe you truly love; for I have seen and heard you sneer at her. I would scorn such a union: therefore I am better than you-let me go!"
"Where, Jane? To Ireland?"
"Yes-to Ireland. I have spoken my mind, and can go anywhere now."
"Jane, be still; don't struggle so, like a wild, frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation."
"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you."
Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.
"And your will shall decide your destiny," he said: "I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions."
"You play a farce, which I merely laugh at."
"I ask you to pass through life at my side to be my second self and best earthly companion."
"For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it."
îJane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited: I will be still too." A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away-away-to an indefinite distance it died. The nightingale's song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously. Some time passed before he spoke: he at last said:
"Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another."
"I will never again come to your side: I am torn away now, and cannot return."
"But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry."
I was silent: I thought he mocked me.
"Come Jane come hither."
"Your bride stands between us."
He rose, and with a stride reached me.
"My bride is here," he said, again drawing me to him, "because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?"
Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.
"Do you doubt me Jane?"
"You have no faith in me?"
"Not a whit."
"Am I a liar in your eyes?" he asked passionately. "Little sceptic, you shall be convinced. What love have I for Miss Ingram? None: and that you know. What love has she for me? None: as I have taken pains to prove: I caused a rumour to reach her that my fortune was not a third of what was supposed, and after that I presented myself to see the result; it was coldness both from her and her mother. I would not-I could not-marry Miss Ingram. You-you strange you almost unearthly thing!-I love as my own flesh. You-poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are I entreat to accept me as a husband."
"What, me!" I ejaculated: beginning in his earnestness-and especially in his incivility-to credit his sincerity: "me who have not a friend in the world but you-if you are my friend: not a shilling but what you have given me?î
"You Jane. I must have you for my own-entirely my own. Will you be mine? Say yes, quickly."
"Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight."
"Because I want to read your countenance-turn!"
"There: you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page. Read on: only make haste, for I suffer."
His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.
"Oh, Jane, you torture me!" he exclaimed. "With that searching and yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!"
"How can I do that? If you are true and your offer real, my only feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion-they cannot torture."
"Gratitude!" he ejaculated: and added wildly-"Jane, accept me quickly. Say Edward-give me my name-Edward-I will marry you."
"Are you in earnest?-Do you truly love me?-Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?"
"I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it."
"Then, sit, I will marry you."
"Edward-my little wife!"
"Come to me come to me entirely now," said he: and added, in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine, "Make my happiness-I will make yours."
"God pardon me!" he subjoined ere long, "and man meddle not with me: I have her, and will hold her."
"There is no one to meddle, sit. I have no kindred to interfere."
"No-that is the best of it," he said. And if I had loved him less I should have thought his accent and look of exultation savage: but sitting by him, roused from the nightmare of parting-called to the paradise of union-I thought only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow. Again and again he said, "Are you happy Jane?" And again and again I answered, "Yes." After which he murmured, "It will atone-it will atone. Have I not found her friendless, and cold, and comfortless? Will I not guard, and cherish, and solace her? Is there not love in my heart, and constancy in my resolves? It will expiate at God's tribunal. I know my Maker sanctions what I do. For the world's judgment-I wash my hands thereof. For man's opinion-I defy it."
But what had befallen the night? The moon was not yet set, and we were all in shadow: I could scarcely see my master's face, near as I was. And what ailed the chestnut tree? It writhed and groaned; while wind roared in the laurel-walk, and came sweeping over us.
"We must go in," said Mr. Rochester: "the weather changes. I could have sat with thee till morning, Jane."
"And so," thought I, "could I with you." I should have said so, perhaps, but a livid, vivid spark leapt out of a cloud at which I was looking, and there was a crack, a crash, and a close rattling peal; and I thought only of hiding my dazzled eyes against Mr. Rochester's shoulder.
The rain rushed down. He hurried me up the walk, through the grounds, and into the house; but we were quite wet before we could pass the threshold. He was taking off my shawl in the hall, and shaking the water out of my loosened hair, when Mrs. Fairfax emerged from her room. I did not observe her at first, nor did Mr. Rochester. The lamp was lit. The clock was on the stroke of twelve.
"Hasten to take off your wet things," said he: "and before you go, goodnight-goodnight, my darling!"
He kissed me repeatedly. When I looked up, on leaving his arms, there stood the widow, pale, grave, and amazed. I only smiled at her, and ran upstairs. "Explanation will do for another time," thought I. Still, when I reached my chamber, I felt a pang at the idea she should even temporarily misconstrue what she had seen. But joy soon effaced every other feeling; and loud as the wind blew, near and deep as the thunder crashed, fierce and frequent as the lightning gleamed, cataract-like as the rain fell during a storm of two hours' duration, I experienced no fear, and little awe. Mr. Rochester came thrice to my door in the course of it, to ask if I was safe and tranquil: and that was comfort, that was strength for anything.
Before I left my bed in the morning, little Adele came running in to tell me that the great horse-chestnut at the bottom of the orchard had been struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split away.