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Mr. Rochester, as his lips unclosed to ask, ‘Wilt thou have this
woman for thy wedded wife?-’ when a distinct and near voice
said-‘The marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an
impediment.’ The clergyman looked up at the speaker and stood
mute; the clerk did the same; Mr. Rochester moved slightly, as if an
earthquake had rolled under his feet: taking a firmer footing, and
not turning his head or eyes, he said, ‘Proceed.’ Profound silence
fell when he had uttered that word, with deep but low intonation.
Presently Mr. Wood said‘I cannot proceed without some
investigation into what has been asserted, and evidence of its truth
or falsehood.’ ‘The ceremony is quite broken off,’ subjoined the
voice behind us. ‘I am in a condition to prove my allegation: an
insuperable impediment to this marriage exists.’ Mr. Rochester
heard, but heeded not: he stood stubborn and rigid, making no
movement but to possess himself of my hand. What a hot and
strong grasp he had! and how like quarried marble was his pale,
firm, massive front at this moment! How his eye shone, still
watchful, and yet wild beneath!

Mr. Wood seemed at a loss. ‘What is the nature of the
impediment?’ he asked.

‘Perhaps it may be got over-explained away?’ ‘Hardly,’ was the
answer. ‘I have called it insuperable, and I speak advisedly.’ The
speaker came forward and leaned on the rails. He continued,
uttering each word distinctly, calmly, steadily, but not loudly-‘It
simply consists in the existence of a previous marriage. Mr.
Rochester has a wife now living.’ My nerves vibrated to those low-
spoken words as they had never vibrated to thunder-my blood felt
their subtle violence as it had never felt frost or fire; but I was
collected, and in no danger of swooning. I looked at Mr. Rochester:
I made him look at me. His whole face was colourless rock: his eye
was both spark and flint. He disavowed nothing: he seemed as if
he would defy all things. Without speaking, without smiling,
without seeming to recognise in me a human being, he only twined
my waist with his arm and riveted me to his side.

‘Who are you?’ he asked of the intruder.
‘My name is Briggs, a solicitor of ___ Street, London.’ ‘And you
would thrust on me a wife?’ ‘I would remind you of your lady’s
existence, sir, which the law recognises, if you do not.’ ‘Favour me
with an account of her-with her name, her parentage, her place of
abode.’ ‘Certainly.’ Mr. Briggs calmly took a paper from his pocket,
and read out in a sort of official, nasal voice:‘”I affirm and can
prove that on the 20 th of October A.D. ___ (a date of fifteen years
back), Edward Fairfax Rochester, of Thornfield Hall, in the county
of ___, and of Ferndean Manor, in ___shire, England, was married
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