Excerpt from Henry Brocken: His Travels and Adventures by Walter de la Mare

This novel details the travels of Henry Brocken as he "visits" many different fictional characters, and the excerpt of his visit with Jane and Rochester is detailed below. source

III

Thou art so true, that thoughts of thee suffice
To make dreams truth, and fables histories.

—JOHN DONNE.

I dismounted and, with the nose of my beast in my bosom, stood awhile gazing, in the half-dream weariness brings, across the valley at the dense forests that covered the hills. And while thus standing, doubtful whether to knock at the little gate or to ride on, it began to open, and a great particoloured dog looked out on us. There was certainly something unusual in the aspect of this animal, for though he lifted on us grave and sagacious eyes, he scarcely seemed to see us, manifested neither pleasure nor disapproval, neither wagged his tail to give us welcome nor yawned to display his armament. He seemed a kind of dream-dog, a dog one sees without zeal, and sees again partly with the eye, but most in recollection.

Thus however we stood, stranger, horse, and dog, till a morose voice called somewhere from beyond, "Pilot, sir, come here, Pilot." Semi-dog or no, he knew his master. Whereupon, tying up my dejected Rosinante to a ring in the gateway, I followed boldly after "Pilot" into that sequestered garden.

Meanwhile, however, he had disappeared—down a thick green alley to the left, I supposed. So I went forward by a clearer path, and when I had advanced a few paces, met face to face a lady whose dark eyes seemed strangely familiar to me.

She was evidently a little disquieted at meeting a stranger so unceremoniously, but stood her ground like a small, black, fearless note of interrogation.

I explained at once, therefore, as best I could, how I came to be there: described my journey, my bewilderment, and how that I knew not into what country nor company fate had beguiled me, except that the one was beautiful, and the other in some delightful way familiar, and I begged her to tell me where I really was, and how far from home, and of whom I was now beseeching forgiveness.

Her thoughts followed my every word, passing upon her face like shadows on the sea. I have never seen a listener so completely still and so completely engrossed in listening. And when I had finished, she looked aside with a transient, half-sly smile, and glanced at me again covertly, so that I could not see herself for seeing her eyes; and she laughed lightly.

"It is indeed a strange journey," she replied. "But I fear I cannot in the least direct you. I have never ventured my own self beyond the woods, lest—I should penetrate too far. But you are tired and hungry. Will you please walk on a few steps till you come to a stone seat? My name is Rochester—Jane Rochester"—she glanced up between the hollies with a sigh that was all but laughter—"Jane Eyre, you know."

I went on as she had bidden, and seated myself before an old, white, many-windowed house, squatting, like an owl at noon, beneath its green covert. In a few minutes the great dog with dripping jowl passed almost like reality, and after him his mistress, and on her arm her master, Mr. Rochester.

There seemed a night of darkness in that scarred face, and stars unearthly bright. He peered dimly at me, leaning heavily on Jane's arm, his left hand plunged into the bosom of his coat. And when he was come near, he lifted his hat to me with a kind of Spanish gravity.

"Is this the gentleman, Jane?" he enquired.

"Yes, sir."

"He's young!" he muttered.

"For otherwise he would not be here," she replied.

"Was the gate bolted, then?" he asked.

"Mr. Rochester desires to know if you had the audacity, sir, to scale his garden wall," Jane said, turning sharply on me. "Shall I count the strawberries, sir?" she added over her shoulder."

"Jane, Jane!" he exclaimed testily. "I have no wish to be uncivil, sir. We are not of the world—a mere dark satellite. I am dim; and suspicious of strangers, as this one treacherous eye should manifest. I'll but ask your name, sir,—there are yet a few names left, once pleasing to my ear."

"My name is Brocken, sir—Henry Brocken," I answered.

"And—did you walk? Pah! there's the mystery! God knows how else you could have come, unless you are a modern Ganymede. Where then's your aquiline steed, sir? We have no neighbours here—none to stare, and pry, and prate, and slander."

I informed him that I was as ignorant as he what power had spirited me to his house, but that so far as obvious means went, my old horse was probably by this time fast asleep beside the green gate at which I had entered. Jane stood on tip-toe and whispered in his ear, and, nodding imperiously at him, withdrew into the house.

Complete silence fell between us after her departure. The woods stood dark and motionless in the yellow evening light. There was no sound of wind or water, no sound of voices or footsteps; only far away the clear, scarce-audible warbling of a sleepy bird.

"Well, sir," Mr. Rochester said suddenly, "I am bidden invite you to pass the night here. There are stranger inhabitants than Mr. and Mrs. Rochester in these regions you have by some means strayed into—wilder denizens, by much; for youth's seraphic finding. Not for mine, sir, I vow. Depart again in the morning, if you will: we shall neither of us be displeased by then to say farewell, I dare say. I do not seek company. My obscure shell is enough." I rose. "Sit down—sit down again, my dear sir; there's no mischief in the truth between two men of any world, I suppose, assuredly not of this. My wife will see to your comfort. There! hushie now, here he floats; sit still, sit still—I hear his wings. It is my 'Four Evangels,' sir!"

It was a sleek blackbird that had alighted and now set to singing on the topmost twig of a lofty pear-tree near by; and with his first note Jane reappeared. And while we listened, unstirring, to that rich, undaunted voice, I had good opportunity to observe her, and not, I think, without her knowledge, not even without her approval.

This, then, was the face that had returned wrath for wrath, remorse for remorse, passion for passion to that dark egotist Jane in the looking-glass. Yet who, thought I, could be else than beautiful with eyes that seemed to hide in fleeting cloud a flame as pure as amber? The arch simplicity of her gown, her small, narrow hands, the exquisite cleverness of mouth and chin, the lovely courage and sincerity of that yet-childish brow—it seemed even Mr. Rochester's "Four Evangels" out of his urgent rhetoric was summoning with reiterated persuasions, "Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, Ja ... ne!"

Light faded from the woods; a faint wind blew cold upon our faces. Jane took Mr. Rochester's hand and looked into his face.

She turned to me. "Will you come in, Mr. Brocken? I have seen that your horse is made quite easy. He was fast asleep, poor fellow, as you surmised; and, I think, dreaming; for when I proffered him a lump of sugar, he thrust his nose into my face and breathed as if I were a peck of corn. The candles are lit, sir; supper is ready."

We went in slowly, and Jane bolted the door. "But who it is that can be bolted out," she said, "I know not; though there's much to bolt in. I have stood here, Mr. Brocken, on darker nights as still as this, and have heard what seemed to be the sea breaking, far away, leagues upon leagues beyond the forests—the gush forward, the protracted, heavy retreat,—listened till I could have wept to think that it was only my own poor furious heart beating. You may imagine, then, I push the bolts home."

"But why, Jane—why?" cried Mr. Rochester incredulously. "Violent fancies, child!"

"Why, sir, it was, I say, not the sea I heard, but a trickling tide one icy tap might stay, if it found but entry there."

"You talk wildly, Jane—wildly, wildly; the air's afloat with listeners; so it seems, so it seems. Had I but one clear lamp in this dark face!"

We sat down in the candle-lit twilight to supper. It was to me like the supper of a child, taken at peace in the clear beams, ere he descend into the shadow of sleep.

They sat, try as I would not to observe them, hand touching hand throughout the meal. But to me it was as if one might sit to eat before a great mountain ruffled with pines, and perpetually clamorous with torrents. All that Mr. Rochester said, every gesture, these were but the ghosts of words and movements. Behind them, gloomy, imperturbable, withdrawn, slumbered a strange, smouldering power. I began to see how very hotly Jane must love him, she who loved above all things storm, the winds of the equinox, the illimitable night-sky.

She begged him to take a little wine with me, and filled his glass till it burned like a ruby between their hands.

"It paints both our hands!" she cried glancing up at him.

"Ay, Janet," he answered; "but where is yours?"

"And what goal will you make for when you leave us," she enquired of me. "Is there anywhere else?" she added, lifting her slim eyebrows.

"I shall put trust in Chance," I replied, "which at least is steadfast in change. So long as it does not guide me back, I care not how far forward I go."

"You are right," she answered; "that is a puissant battlecry, here and hereafter."

Mr. Rochester rose hastily from his chair. "The candles irk me, Jane. I would like to be alone. Excuse me, sir." He left the room.

Jane lifted a dark curtain and beckoned me to bring the lights. She sat down before a little piano and desired me to sit beside her. And while she played, I know not what, but only it seemed old, well-remembered airs her mood suggested, she asked me many questions.

"And am I indeed only like that poor mad thing you thought Jane Eyre?" she said, "or did you read between?"

I answered that it was not her words, not even her thoughts, not even her poetry that was to me Jane Eyre.

"What then is left of me?" she enquired, stooping her eyes over the keys and smiling darkly. "Am I indeed so evanescent, a wintry wraith?"

"Well," I said, "Jane Eyre is left."

She pressed her lips together. "I see," she said brightly. "But then, was I not detestable too? so stubborn, so wilful, so demented, so—vain?"

"You were vain," I answered, "because—"

"Well?" she said, and the melody died out, and the lower voices of her music complained softly on.

"For a barrier," I answered.

"A barrier?" she cried.

"Why, yes," I said, "a barrier against cant, and flummery, and coldness, and pride, and against—why, against your own vanity too."

"That's really very clever—penetrating," she said; "and I really desired to know, not because I did not know already, but to know I knew all. You are a perspicacious observer, Mr. Brocken; and to be that is to be alive in a world of the moribund. But then too how high one must soar at times; for one must ever condescend in order to observe faithfully. At any rate, to observe all one must range at an altitude above all."

"And so," I said, "you have taken your praise from me—"

"But you are a man, and I a woman: we look with differing eyes, each sex to the other, and perceive by contrast. Else—why, how else could you forgive my presumption? He sees me as an eagle sees the creeping tortoise. I see him as the moon the sun, never weary of gazing. I borrow his radiance to observe him by. But I weary you with my garrulous tongue.... Have you no plan at all in your journey? 'Tis not the dangers, but to me the endless restlessness of such a venture—that 'Oh, where shall wisdom be found?'... Will you not pause?—stay with us a few days to consider again this rash journey? To each his world: it is surely perilous to transgress its fixed boundaries."

"Who knows?" I cried, rather arrogantly perhaps. "The sorcery that lured me hither may carry me as lightly back. But I have tasted honey and covet the hive."

She glanced sidelong at me with that stealthy gravity that lay under all her lightness.

"That delicious Rosinante!" she exclaimed softly.... "And I really believe too I must be the honey—or is it Mr. Rochester? Ah! Mr. Brocken, they call it wasp-honey when it is so bitter that it blisters the lips." She talked on gaily, as if she had forgotten I was but a stranger until now. Yet none the less she perceived presently my eyes ever and again fixed upon the little brooch of faintest gold hair at her throat, and flinched and paled, playing on in silence.

"Take the whole past," she continued abruptly, "spread it out before you, with all its just defeats, all its broken faith, and overweening hopes, its beauty, and fear, and love, and its loss—its loss; then turn and say: this, this only, this duller heart, these duller eyes, this contumacious spirit is all that is left—myself. Oh! who could wish to one so dear a destiny so dark?" She rose hastily from the piano. "Did I hear Mr. Rochester's step by the window?" she said.

I crossed the room and looked out into the night. The brightening moon hung golden in the dark clearness of the sky. Mr. Rochester stood motionless, Napoleon-wise, beneath the black, unstirring foliage. And before I could turn, Jane had begun to sing:—

You take my heart with tears;
I battle uselessly;
Reft of all hopes and doubts and fears,
Lie quietly.

You veil my heart with cloud;
Since faith is dim and blind,
I can but grope perplex'd and bow'd,
Seek till I find.

Yet bonds are life to me;
How else could I perceive
The love in each wild artery
That bids me live?

Jane's was not a rich voice, nor very sweet, and yet I fancied no other voice than this could plead and argue quite so clearly and with such nimble insistency—neither of bird, nor child, nor brook; because, I suppose, it was the voice of Jane Eyre, and all that was Jane's seemed Jane's only.

The music ceased, the accompaniment died away; but Mr. Rochester stood immobile yet—a little darker night in that much deeper. When I turned, Jane was gone from the room. I sat down, my face towards the still candles, as one who is awake, yet dreams on. The faint scent of the earth through the open window; the heavy, sombre furniture; the daintiness and the alertness in the many flowers and few womanly gew-gaws: these too I shall remember in a tranquillity that cannot change.

A sudden, trembling glimmer at the window lit the garden and, instantaneously, the distant hills; lit also the figures of Jane and Mr. Rochester beneath the trees. They entered the house, and once more Jane drew the bolts against that phantom fear. A tinge of scarlet stood in her cheeks, an added lustre in her eyes. They were strange lovers, these two—like frost upon a cypress tree; yet summer lay all around us.

I bade them good night and ascended to the little room prepared for me. There was a great pincushion on the sprigged and portly toilet table, and I laboured till the constellations had changed beyond my window, in printing from a box of tiny pins upon that lavendered mound, "Ave, Ave, atque Vale!"

Far in the night a dreadful sound woke me. I rose and looked out of the window, and heard again, deep and reverberating, Pilot baying I know not what light minions of the moon. The Great Bear wheeled faintly clear in the dark zenith, but the borders of the east were grey as glass; and far away a fierce hound was answering from his echo-place in the gloom, as if the dread dog of Acheron kept post upon the hills.

A light tap woke me in the sunlight, and a lighter voice. Mr. Rochester took breakfast with us in a gloomy old dressing-room, moody and taciturn, unpacified by sleep. But Jane, whimsical and deft, had tied a yellow ribbon in the darkness of her hair.

Rosinante awaited me at the little green gate, eyeing forlornly the steep valley at her feet. And I rode on. The gate was shut on me; and Mr. Rochester again, perhaps, at his black ease.

I had jogged on, with that peculiar gravity age brings to equine hoofs, about a mile, when the buttress of a thick wall came into view abutting on the lane, and perched thereon what at first I deemed a coloured figment of the mist that festooned the branches and clung along the turf. But when I drew near I saw it was indeed a child, pink and gold and palest blue. And she raised changeling hands at me, and laughed and danced and chattered like the drops upon a waterfall; and clear as if a tiny bell had jingled I heard her cry.

And my heart smote me heavily since I had of my own courtesy not remembered Adèle.