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CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
When St. John left, it was beginning to snow, and it continued snowing all night and all the next day. In the evening I sat by my fire, listening to the wind blowing outside, and had just started reading when I heard a noise. The wind, I thought, was shaking the door, but no, it was St John, who came in out of the frozen darkness, his coat covered in snow.
‘What’s happened?’ I cried, amazed. ‘I thought nobody would be out in weather like this! What’s the matter?’
‘There’s nothing wrong,’ he answered calmly, hanging up his coat, and stamping the snow from his boots. ‘I just came to have a little talk to you. Besides, since yesterday I’ve been eager to hear the other half of your story.’ He sat down. I had no idea what he was referring to, and remembering his strange behaviour with the piece of paper, I began to fear that he might be going mad. He looked quite normal, however, and we made conversation for a while, although he seemed to be thinking of something else.
Suddenly he said, ‘When I arrived I said I wanted to hear the rest of your story. But perhaps it’s better if I tell the story. I’m afraid you’ve heard it before, but listen anyway. Twenty years ago a poor vicar fell in love with a rich man’s daughter. She also fell in love with him, and married him, against the advice of all her family. Sadly, less than two years later the couple were both dead. I’ve seen their grave. Their baby daughter was brought up by an aunt, a Mrs. Reed of Gateshead. You jumped - did you hear a noise? I’ll continue. I don’t know whether the child was happy with Mrs. Reed, but she stayed there ten years, until she went to Lowood school, where you were yourself. In fact, it seems her life was quite similar to yours. She became a teacher at Lowood, as you did, and then became a governess in the house of a certain Mr. Rochester.’
‘Mr. Rivers!’ I interrupted, unable to keep silent.
‘I can imagine how you feel,’ he replied, ‘but wait till I’ve finished. I don’t know anything about Mr. Rochester’s character, but I do know that he offered to marry this young girl, who only discovered during the wedding ceremony that he was in fact already married, to a mad woman. The governess disappeared soon after this, and although investigations have been carried out, and advertisements placed in newspapers, and every effort made to find her, nobody knows where she’s gone. But she must be found! Mr. Briggs, a lawyer, has something very important to tell her.’
‘Just tell me one thing,’ I said urgently. ‘What about Mr. Rochester? How and where is he? What’s he doing? Is he well?’
‘I know nothing about Mr. Rochester. Why don’t you ask the name of the governess, and why everybody is looking for her?’
‘Did Mr. Briggs write to Mr. Rochester?’ I asked.
‘He did, but he received an answer not from him, but from the housekeeper, a Mrs. Fairfax.’
I felt cold and unhappy. No doubt Mr. Rochester had left England for a life of wild pleasure in the cities of Europe. That was what I had been afraid of. Oh, my poor master- once almost my husband - who I had often called ‘my dear Edward’!
‘As you won’t ask the governess’s name, I’ll tell you myself,’ continued St John. ‘I’ve got it written down. It’s always better to have facts in black and white.’ And he took out of his wallet a tiny piece of paper, which I recognized as part of my sketch book, and showed it to me. On it I read, in my own writing, ‘JANE EYRE’, which I must have written without thinking.
‘The advertisements and Briggs spoke of a Jane Eyre, but I only knew a Jane Elliott,’ said St John. ‘Are you Jane Eyre?’
‘Yes - yes, but doesn’t Mr. Briggs know anything about Mr. Rochester?’ I asked desperately.
‘I don’t think Briggs is at all interested in Mr. Rochester. You’re forgetting the really important thing. Don’t you want to know why he’s been looking for you?’
‘Well, what did he want?’ I asked, almost rudely.
‘Only to tell you that your uncle, Mr. Eyre of Madeira, is dead, that he has left you all his property, and that you’re now rich - only that, nothing more.’
Rich! One moment I was poor, the next moment I was wealthy. It was hard to realize my new situation. A fortune brings serious worries and responsibilities with it, which I could hardly imagine. I was sorry to hear that my uncle, my only surviving relation, was dead. However, the inheritance would give me independence for life, and I was glad of that.
‘Perhaps you would like to know how much you’ve inherited?’ offered St John politely. ‘It’s nothing much really, just twenty thousand dollars, I think.’
‘Twenty thousand dollars?’ The news took my breath away. St John, who I had never heard laugh before, actually laughed out loud at my shocked face. ‘Perhaps… perhaps you’ve made a mistake?’ I asked him nervously.
‘No, there’s no mistake. Now I must be leaving. Good night.’ He was about to open the door, when suddenly I called, ‘Stop! Why did Mr. Briggs write to you in order to find me?’
‘Oh, I’m a vicar. I have ways of discovering things.’
‘No, that doesn’t satisfy me. Tell me the truth,’ I insisted, putting myself between him and the door.
‘Well, I’d rather not tell you just now, but I suppose you’ll discover it sooner or later. Did you know that my full name is St John Eyre Rivers?’
‘No, I didn’t! But then what-‘ And I stopped as light flooded my mind and I saw clearly the chain of circumstances which connected us. But St John continued his explanation.
‘My mother’s name was Eyre,’ he said. ‘She had two brothers, one, a vicar, who married Miss Jane Reed of Gateshead, and the other, John Eyre of Madeira. Mr. Briggs, Mr. Eyre’s lawyer, wrote to us telling us that our uncle had died, and left all his property, not to us, because of his quarrel with our father, but to his brother’s daughter. Then Mr. Briggs wrote again later, saying this girl could not be found. Well, I’ve found her.’ He moved towards the door, his hat in his hand.
‘Wait a moment, just let me think,’ I said. ‘So you, Diana and Mary are my cousins?’
‘We are your cousins, yes,’ he said, waiting patiently. As I looked at him, it seemed I had found a brother and sisters to love and be proud of for the rest of my life. The people who had saved my life were my close relations! This was wealth indeed to a lonely heart, brighter and more life-giving than the heavy responsibility of coins and gold.
‘Oh, I’m glad - I’m so glad!’ I cried, laughing. St John smiled. ‘You were serious when I told you had inherited a fortune. Now you’re excited about something very unimportant.’
‘What can you mean? It may mean nothing to you. You already have sisters and don’t need any more family. But I had nobody, and now I suddenly have three relations in my world, or two, if you don’t want to be counted.’ I walked rapidly round the room, my thoughts rising so fast I could hardly understand them. The family I now had, the people who had saved me from starvation, I could now help them. There were four of us cousins. Twenty thousand dollars, shared equally, would be five thousand dollars each, more than enough for each one of us. It would be a fair and just arrangement, and we would all be happy. I would no longer have the worry of controlling a large amount of money, and they would never have to work again. We would all be able to spend more time together at Moor House.
Naturally, when I made this suggestion to St John and his sisters, they protested strongly, and it was with great difficulty that I finally managed to convince them of my firm intention to carry out this plan. In the end they agreed that it was a fair way of sharing the inheritance, and so the legal steps were taken to transfer equal shares to all of us.
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