Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 15

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I hardly know whether I had slept or not after this musing; at any rate, I started wide awake on hearing a vague murmur, peculiar and lugubrious, which sounded, I thought, just above me.  I wished I had kept my candle burning: the night was drearily dark; my spirits were depressed.  I rose and sat up in bed, listening.  The sound was hushed.

I tried again to sleep; but my heart beat anxiously: my inward tranquillity was broken.  The clock, far down in the hall, struck two.  Just then it seemed my chamber-door was touched; as if fingers had swept the panels in groping a way along the dark gallery outside.  I said, “Who is there?”  Nothing answered.  I was chilled with fear.

All at once I remembered that it might be Pilot, who, when the kitchen-door chanced to be left open, not unfrequently found his way up to the threshold of Mr. Rochester’s chamber: I had seen him lying there myself in the mornings.  The idea calmed me somewhat: I lay down.  Silence composes the nerves; and as an unbroken hush now reigned again through the whole house, I began to feel the return of slumber.  But it was not fated that I should sleep that night.  A dream had scarcely approached my ear, when it fled affrighted, scared by a marrow-freezing incident enough.

This was a demoniac laugh—low, suppressed, and deep—uttered, as it seemed, at the very keyhole of my chamber door.  The head of my bed was near the door, and I thought at first the goblin-laugher stood at my bedside—or rather, crouched by my pillow: but I rose, looked round, and could see nothing; while, as I still gazed, the unnatural sound was reiterated: and I knew it came from behind the panels.  My first impulse was to rise and fasten the bolt; my next, again to cry out, “Who is there?”

Something gurgled and moaned.  Ere long, steps retreated up the gallery towards the third-storey staircase: a door had lately been made to shut in that staircase; I heard it open and close, and all was still.

“Was that Grace Poole? and is she possessed with a devil?” thought I.  Impossible now to remain longer by myself: I must go to Mrs. Fairfax.  I hurried on my frock and a shawl; I withdrew the bolt and opened the door with a trembling hand.  There was a candle burning just outside, and on the matting in the gallery.  I was surprised at this circumstance: but still more was I amazed to perceive the air quite dim, as if filled with smoke; and, while looking to the right hand and left, to find whence these blue wreaths issued, I became further aware of a strong smell of burning.

Something creaked: it was a door ajar; and that door was Mr. Rochester’s, and the smoke rushed in a cloud from thence.  I thought no more of Mrs. Fairfax; I thought no more of Grace Poole, or the laugh: in an instant, I was within the chamber.  Tongues of flame darted round the bed:(d) the curtains were on fire.  In the midst of blaze and vapour, Mr. Rochester lay stretched motionless, in deep sleep.

“Wake! wake!” I cried.  I shook him, but he only murmured and turned: the smoke had stupefied him.  Not a moment could be lost: the very sheets were kindling, I rushed to his basin and ewer; fortunately, one was wide and the other deep, and both were filled with water.  I heaved them up, deluged the bed and its occupant, flew back to my own room, brought my own water-jug, baptized the couch afresh, and, by God’s aid, succeeded in extinguishing the flames which were devouring it.

The hiss of the quenched element, the breakage of a pitcher which I flung from my hand when I had emptied it, and, above all, the splash of the shower-bath I had liberally bestowed, roused Mr. Rochester at last.  Though it was now dark, I knew he was awake; because I heard him fulminatingw strange anathemas at finding himself lying in a pool of water.

“Is there a flood?” he cried.

“No, sir,” I answered; “but there has been a fire: get up, do; you are quenched now; I will fetch you a candle.”

X [(d)] Tongues of flame darted round the bed:

Illustration.

X [w] fulminating

Utterances metaphorically resembling thunder and lightning.