Author's Note: This is really a fan fiction for two books. The first is Jane Eyre of course, but it also pays tribute to Jean Rhys's book The Wide Sargasso Sea. The events of Bertha's early life, the story of her family, and many of the people mentioned as part of her past all come from that book. I have also chosen to keep a little of Rhys's sympathetic portrayal of Bertha as well.
Bertha Comes Home
Getting the truth from Richard Mason was not easy. He certainly hadn't wanted to tell me anything before he helped arrange my marriage. Yet as things were falling apart and I was growing angrier over what had happened to me, he was coming to realize that he could not hide anything any longer. As we sat over drinks at his home in Spanish Town, I was finally able to intimidate the truth out of him. He only needed a glass or two of rum before he was practically sobbing the details.
"So Mr. Mason was not her father? She is not your full sister?" I asked, hardly believing it as I said it.
"N-n-n-o," stuttered Mason. "What difference did it make? My father raised that girl. He doted on her. He did everything he could to support her after the unpleasantness with her mother."
"Unpleasantness," I practically spat. "The woman was completely mad and whisked off to an asylum. Your choice of words is interesting."
Richard was practically trembling by now. "Can you blame her? After Antoinette's father died the estate fell into ruin. No one would work it after the emanicpation. She was alone and destitute for years before my father came to Jamaica. Then once my father bought Coulibri and restored it, the locals burnt it to the ground in resentment. Antoinette's little brother died in that fire because he was too crippled and stupid to leave the house. My stepmother had a very unhappy life. Antoinette was a very lonely child. We had hoped you would make her happy. I saw no reason for her to go mad once she had a respectable husband who would love her and take care of her."
I pushed it harder. I wanted the whole story. "And her real father," I said. "What killed him, exactly?"
Richard was almost hysterical. "Emancipation troubles, I tell you. Trying to run a planation with no one to work it and no money coming in made his heart give out."
"So you're telling me that drink had nothing to do with it?" I demanded.
"I don't know," Richard said. "It's all rumor that he drank himself to death. I hardly spent any time in Jamaica when my father married Annette Cosway. I never heard the talk."
I wasn't finished with Richard Mason yet. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know everything Bertha wouldn't tell me. I wanted to know if every rumor that the servants and people in town was true. I almost pitied the poor man practically cowering as my line of questioning grew angrier. I demanded "So what of her cousin? What of this Sandi I have been hearing about?"
Old Cosway had a few bastards. I know that much. His son, Antoinette's half-brother Alexander, is said to be quite successful and handsome. Alexander's son Sandi is also quite handsome. He and Antoinette were friends as children. I know nothing else about him."
"So you don't know about how she was sneaking out and seeing him behind my back?" I asked.
Richard did his best to lie. "You're listening to the servants talk. It's all gossip."
"Come now," I said more gently. "Tell the truth Richard. You were afraid if you didn't marry her to a respectable Englishman right away, she might continue to consort with the coloured folks on the island. You bought her an English husband for a very dear price so she wouldn't marry this handsome rich Sandi, or at least share his bed."
Richard's spine straightened. His face grew angrier. "Fairfax," he growled. "I will not tolerate these insults against my sister much longer."
I began to laugh. The idea that Richard Mason could stand up to me was completely ridiculous. I laughed like my mad wife. I had to laugh or else I think I might go mad myself. I changed the topic of conversation.
"Do you know what, Dick?" I asked. "I received word that my elder brother has died. I'm no longer the disinherited younger son. It turns out I don't need your sister's money. My father is dying of the same illness that killed my brother. Thornfield and all of its vast holdings will soon be mine."
Richard was doing his best to compose himself. "So what will you do now, Fairfax?"
He seemed anxious about my plans. I would hold back nothing. "I'm leaving this damnable place. I don't ever want to see the West Indies again. I'm going back to England to claim my estate, and I'm taking Bertha with me."
Richard went white. "You can't do that Edward. This is her home. You staying here was part of the arrangement."
"There is no contract saying Bertha and I have to remain in Jamaica for the rest of our lives. You just assumed we would because I had nothing left for me in Englad. My position and fortunes have changed, Dick. England is where I belong and it's where I want to live. Your sister's money belongs to me now and you have no control over it."
"Please, Edward," Mason begged. "Let her at least stay here. She is so fragile. She'll never withstand being torn away from her home. She will go even madder than she is now. We have people here who care for her."
I laughed again at the idea. "Who will care for her?" I asked. "Will it be that crazy black obeah woman who sets her drunk and gives her all kinds of poisonous potions; the one who tried to poison me with her black arts?" It wasn't poison of course. It was a failed love potion that had made me desire Bertha so badly for one night, only to be so physically sickened and emotionally disgusted the next day.
"Why not?" argued Mason. "Christophine has taken care of Bertha since she was a baby. When she is with Christophine, she is very calm and content."
"I'll not have it," I shouted. "I'm not leaving her here so that everyone in these islands can gossip about us. They'll gossip about you too, Mason. Don't forget that. If I take her back to England, no one will know of her, and everyone in Jamaica will forget about her eventually."
Richard sighed with defeat. "I have no legal grounds to stop you. She is your wife. I only ask that you do your best to care for her. I hope that she never wants for anything."
Somewhere in Richard's eyes I saw relief. He may have felt morally obligated to come to her defense, but I knew that he was just as happy to no longer have her well-being on his hands. He could wash his hands of her as long as I promised to care for her. "Don't worry Dick. I will care for her to the best of my abilities. I have many resources available to me now."
"Thank you, Fairfax," he said. "I hope you will allow me to visit when my travels take me to England. Please know that if you need a holiday from the English winters, you are welcome in my home here in Spanish Town or my estate in Madeira."
I was touched by his continued affection for me even after all of this trouble. Richard Mason was not a bad man, just not a terribly intelligent one. "You are always welcome at Thornfield, Dick. If your sister will see you, then you are free to visit her."
With that we parted company. I would make arrangements for our voyage to England in the morning.