Jane tells the reader about the different strange moments in her life where she and people she knew seemed to be a little bit psychic – to have premonitions, or to sense what’s going on with their distant friends and family.
Lately, Jane’s been having strange nightmares about a baby. Every night for a week, she’s played with this weird baby in her dreams, and it is totally creeping her out.
One afternoon, Jane is visited by Robert Leaven, Mr. Reed’s coachman, who married Jane’s nursemaid Bessie. (Remember how we learned that in Volume I, Chapter 10?)
Robert tells Jane that John Reed is dead, possibly by suicide because of his gambling debts, and that Mrs. Reed had a stroke when she heard. On her deathbed, Mrs. Reed has been asking to see Jane.
Jane goes to ask Mr. Rochester for time off work (after all, she’s still Adèle’s governess) so that she can visit Mrs. Reed. Rochester makes her explain everything about the situation, and at first refuses to let Jane go a hundred miles away to see someone who was so cruel to her.
Eventually Jane persuades Rochester to let her go, although she can’t promise when she’ll be back.
Rochester realizes Jane will need some money so that she can travel safely; he hasn’t paid her yet for any of her work as a governess. He’s not cheating her; it’s just that there’s no need for Jane to have money while living at Thornfield, so he hasn’t bothered.
Jane only has five shillings total in the whole world, so Rochester offers her fifty pounds. It’s tough to say exactly what that means in hard cash today, but remember that Jane’s annual salary is thirty pounds a year, and she’s only worked six months so far, so he only owes her fifteen, and he’s being far too generous, basically paying her three times what he owes.
Jane won’t take more than she’s earned, and Rochester ends up giving her ten pounds because he doesn’t have exact change for fifteen. He tells her maybe it will help that he owes her five more – it will make her come back.
While they’re doing business, Jane tells Rochester that she’s going to advertise for a new governess job, because she knows that after he marries Blanche they will send Adèle to school.
Rochester’s pretty upset about the possibility of losing Jane, and teases her by trying to make her give back the ten pounds.
When Jane refuses to give back her salary, Rochester makes her promise that she won’t place an ad applying for other jobs. She agrees, but makes him promise that she and Adèle will both be out of Thornfield before he marries Blanche.
Jane and Rochester say goodbye; Rochester seems to want to say more, but doesn’t.
The next morning, Jane leaves for Gateshead very early, and arrives at the lodge a few days later at five in the afternoon. Bessie and Robert are there with their children, and Jane has tea with them. Lots of old memories of Bessie as a nursemaid come flooding back to Jane. Jane tells Bessie all about Mr. Rochester and Thornfield.
After tea, Bessie and Jane walk to the main house. This is the first time Jane’s been back since she left for Lowood nine years ago.
When Jane enters the house, everything looks just the same, except for the people. She sees Eliza and Georgiana Reed. Eliza is super-uptight, dressed all in black with her hair pulled back tight and a sour expression. Georgiana is plump, blonde, and blue-eyed, also dressed in black because they’re mourning their brother’s death, but much more fashionable.
Eliza and Georgiana chat snobbily with Jane for a little bit, making it clear that they think she’s definitely their inferior. Jane, however, is all grown up now, and she doesn’t care what they do or say.
Jane asks her cousins about Mrs. Reed, and they seem offended to be asked a direct question and uninterested in arranging Jane’s visit. Jane ignores them and arranges her own visit, deciding to stay until Mrs. Reed is better or until she has died.
Jane goes in to see Mrs. Reed, who is, of course, lying ill in bed. Jane’s interested to realize that she doesn’t feel bitter toward Mrs. Reed anymore – just sorry for her and willing to forgive her.
Mrs. Reed is still harsh and bad-tempered, but she does want Jane to stay so that they can talk things over. Unfortunately, Mrs. Reed is also losing her mind a little – sometimes she starts talking to Jane about Jane as though she were someone else.
While Mrs. Reed is raving, Jane gets her to explain why she always hated her niece. Apparently, Jane’s mother was Mr. Reed’s sister, and when the family disowned her for marrying a man of low status, Mr. Reed defended her. Mr. Reed was always attached to his sister and her child, Jane Eyre, and Mrs. Reed seems to have been jealous.
It becomes clear that Mrs. Reed doesn’t really know that her son has committed suicide – she’s still worried about his money problems and his threats to kill himself or her.
Mrs. Reed falls into a sort of coma, and Jane doesn’t get a chance to talk to her for ten days. In the meantime, Eliza sews and reads, Georgiana talks to the canary, and Jane sketches pictures of landscapes and fairies and elves.
One day, Jane sketches a portrait of Mr. Rochester. She’s so absorbed in staring at it that she doesn’t notice her cousins come up and take a look. They’re surprised that she’s such a good artist and she ends up sketching their portraits.
Jane’s sketches seem to have broken the ice; Georgiana, in particular, starts to talk to Jane more and more. Unfortunately, Georgiana is completely superficial; she only talks about herself and her romances and her own problems, and never even mentions her mother’s illness or her brother’s suicide or anything else.
Eliza doesn’t really hang out with Jane, but it’s not that she hates Jane; she’s just kind of a loner. She has super-organized days where she does particular tasks – read a prayer book, work in the garden, sew – at specific times, and that’s pretty much all she wants. She says that she’s planning to retire to somewhere like a nunnery after her mother dies.
Eliza and Georgiana don’t really get along; sometimes Eliza lectures Georgiana about how vain and superficial she is and tells her to make herself a schedule of activities so that she can be independent and not need company. Georgiana thinks, maybe correctly, that Eliza is just jealous of her looks and romances. Eliza makes it clear that she won’t have anything to do with Georgiana after their mother dies.
One day, Eliza is at church and Georgiana has fallen asleep on the sofa, and Jane goes up to check on Mrs. Reed. Jane remembers Helen Burns’ death and thinks about the afterlife.
Mrs. Reed speaks for the first time in days. She doesn’t believe who Jane is at first, but is slowly convinced.
As she’s dying, Mrs. Reed apologizes to Jane for two things: first, for not treating her like a daughter, which is what she promised Mr. Reed she would do; second, for concealing a letter from Jane’s uncle, John Eyre, that came three years ago.
Mrs. Reed lets Jane read the letter, in which John asked where Jane was so that he could write a will making her the heir of his fortune when he died. Mrs. Reed didn’t tell Jane about it because she held a grudge against Jane for being ungrateful to her.
Then Mrs. Reed admits something else: she wrote to John Eyre and told him Jane died of typhus during the epidemic at Lowood.
Jane forgives Mrs. Reed and asks Mrs. Reed to forgive her in return, but Mrs. Reed refuses to kiss her cheek.
Mrs. Reed loses consciousness again; Bessie and a nurse come in and take care of her, and Jane stays with them, but Mrs. Reed dies that evening without saying anything else. Neither Jane nor Eliza cries.