This story takes place after the novel has ended. The inspiration for it came from an essay, "Jane Eyre: Hazarding Confidences" by Lisa Sternlieb, though I believe I have given it my own twist. You, dear reader, may be the judge.
Truth and Lies
By Ivy Rangee
Jane Eyre Rochester pounded impatiently on the side of her husband's somber but elegant coach, attempting to attract the driver's attention. She simply could not spend another minute of this splendid day getting jostled about in the dark interior of the carriage. The subtle, autumn light stirred her soul, calling to her, and, with Ferndean Estate only two miles to the west, she would walk the rest of the way.
Fearing his master's angry reproof, John, the coachman, reluctantly agreed to her request, but only after much debate. Subdued by Jane's tenacious will, John helped her down the stairs to solid earth, where she breathed a sigh of pure joy, waving sweetly to the driver as the coach drove off. She waited a little for the dust to settle, pulling her shawl close and gazing into the deep, shimmering blue sky, as chubby bruised autumnal clouds scudded overhead. Invigorated by the cold, clear day, she set off blissfully through the gold, red and orange of the colorful country lane.
Jane returned from Millcote, where, without the knowledge of her dear husband, she had engaged the services of a lawyer, Mr. Crispin Bennett. With Mr. Bennett's aid and extensive contacts, she had found a publisher for her book. They'd met today to discuss a second printing, as the book had been well received by the public; the charges of immorality and impropriety brought by some critics having only enhanced sales.
Jane had accomplished this on her own - without Edward Rochester's meddling. He would never know, being a disabled recluse, who had become utterly dependent on her. Triumphantly, she left the lane, taking the forest path that led to Ferndean. When her home came into view, she quickened her pace, anxious to see her husband and young sons. But when she entered the house and called out, no one answered. She searched the empty rooms, finally coming upon Edward in his study. He seemed to be brooding over something as he sat at his desk, but she could not be sure. Bright light poured in through the large bay window behind him, silhouetting his body, hiding his face in deep shadow.
"Edward, why didn't you answer me? And where is everyone?"
"We're alone, my dear Jane. I've given the servants the afternoon off, and I've sent the boys to the toymaker's at Millcote - under Mandy's supervision."
"You spoil our boys. They have far too many toys."
"It is the prerogative of one who spent twenty years longing for children. You would not understand," said Edward, standing and walking to a sitting area in front of the fire.
Jane went to his aid, but he waved her away with three small book. She wondered why he carried books; he could not see well enough to read much. Then, too, the shadowed lines of sorrow that mapped his face seemed more pronounced than usual, and this worried her.
"Join me, Jane."
"Why would you think I don't understand? I'm only attempting to check your extravagant inclinations. But something is bothering you, Edward, tell me."
"You are too young."
"Where were you?"
"Shopping in Millcote." This was technically true; she had stopped at the dressmakers to order a silk gown for Yuletide.
"Really, did you go anywhere else?"
"Jane, what have you done?"
"Our lives, Jane, you have made them public," said Edward, his face ferocious as he held up the three volumes.
"What are you talking about, Edward?" asked Jane, unafraid, being exceedingly familiar with his fiery outbursts which passed as quickly as a thunderstorm.
"Jane Eyre, An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell."
"Where did you get those?" she whispered.
"I caught Mandy reading on the back stairwell, and took the liberty of confiscating her contraband. You can imagine my surprise when I read the title. "
"I don't believe 'oh dear' covers the magnitude of it!"
"But Mr. Rochester, I thought…"
"That I couldn't read very well? Yes, I know, it's here in black and white, on page four hundred, I believe."
"You have read my work?"
"Yes, several times."
"I read your journals as you wrote it; I did not realize you intended them for publication."
"You read my manuscript?"
"Yes, well, I had no idea it was a manuscript. Did I, Jane?"
"No, instead you invaded your wife's private musings, like the overbearing tyrant you are!"
"If by private musings, you mean a fable for the perusal of everyone but your husband, then yes, I must plead guilty."
"Edward, please, let me…"
"You, dear Jane, are a sneak and a liar. You wrote a book and attempted to hide it from your blind, hermit of a husband."
"Blind, indeed, Sir! Which of us is the bigger liar?"
"That is a good question, Jane," replied Edward, a small, crooked smile softening his face. "But I believe you have won the honor."
"I desired to write a published book. Would you have agreed to such an endeavor without laughing at me or taking it over completely?"
"I might have suggested you disguise our identities. Was it fun, Jane? Tricking me?"
"You should know something of how deceitfulness feels, dear Edward."
"Was it an act of revenge then?" asked Edward, bowing his head, as he placed the books on a small round table next to him.
"I wrote it as a cautionary tale."
"Let me summarize. Watch out, all you little red riding hoods, for the nasty big bad wolf awaits you, and his only desire is to trick you into his bed and devour you."
"That sums it up nicely."
"I thought our love real, Jane. Perhaps you are right to say I don't see very well. I have been blind to the extent of your resentment and anger over my betrayal."
"Our love is very real, Edward. By my soul's calculus, you are the very essence of masculinity; in your presence I know the nature of Aphrodite's magic. But there is an inequity between us, which I sought to rectify through my book."
"Is there, Jane? You are a harsh mistress. I suppose blindness and the loss of a hand are not sufficient punishment?"
"Reports of your blindness seem to have been greatly exaggerated…But, Edward, I wonder?"
"What do you wonder, my witch?" asked Edward. Though he frowned, Jane noticed the corners of his lips twitch, and she knew, without a doubt, that she had defused his anger. Clearly, he tried to suppress a smile.
"I know you are displeased, and you have a right to be. But may I ask your critical opinion?"
"I believe your story is quite good, Jane; the world you created ensnared me completely, though I would hardly call it autobiography."
"You took a good deal of poetic license; perhaps 'novel' would be a better description, but that is so typical of a fairy queen...mixing truth and fable."
"What are you saying, Edward?"
"I'm saying you made yourself look awfully innocent, brave and good."
"I may have exaggerated my better qualities, but it was all for the benefit of my dear readers."
"Of course, Jane, I have no doubt regarding the purity of your motives. But what of me?"
"I may have made you a bit more eccentric than you actually are. But, Edward, making your character idiosyncratic did not require much imagination. It is truly said reality is stranger than fiction."
"Thank you, dear wife, if that was a compliment. But, sweet Jane, what of our first meeting?"
"I could hardly say it was I who slipped on the ice."
"I suppose the actual events do not fall under the rubric of a romance novel, since when I tried to rescue you, I fell too. We had to crawl to edge of that slippery patch where we fell again as we tried to stand."
The couple laughed at the memory. "At least the part where you cursed was true."
"Indeed, Jane, I did let loose with quite a string of oaths."
"Truly Edward, you uttered words I still don't know the meaning of."
"Which ones, my sylph? I shall explain."
"Spare me; I'll side with those who they say ignorance is bliss, my Edward."
"And here I thought ignorance led to suffering. But tell me, Jane, why did you fabricate so much?"
"I deemed it important to break the mold, Sir."
"Yes, Edward, in romances, the hero always rescues the maiden; instead, my maiden rescues the hero."
"A dark hero."
"Yes, Sir, another inversion. She rescues a hero not worthy of her, and yet she loves him with all her heart."
"And that is how you see me?"
"You did lie to me, Mr. Rochester."
"I did; but you lied too, and a close reading of your fantasy proves it."
"There are many instances where your Jane lies, or at least withholds pertinent information."
"An example, please."
"Well to begin with, a great many of the facts in this 'autobiography' are false. So claiming it to be a true account is a lie. I understand you well enough, my dearest Jane, to know that this must have had an important purpose."
"I accept that point, my brilliant knight, but I mean within the framework of the story."
"Jane lies to Edward about her family, she lies to that idiot, St. John Rivers, about her identity, and she lies to her readers regarding the blissful, intimate confidences she shares with her husband in their perfect marriage."
"There is no reason to denigrate St. John."
"He almost took you to your death, claiming it would expiate your sin, placing you at the head of the line when the revenant uprising begins."
"Edward, do not say such things!"
"Will you report me to the Inquisition, Jane? You know they have little power in Britain."
"You are such a provocateur, Edward, but tell me what sin would St. John have helped me expiate?"
"Adultery or perhaps something…naughtier? You know, Jane, this is very difficult to talk about, since there is a real and a story version of almost everyone."
"We are talking about my tale right now, Edward, and in that story I did not commit adultery; that was your sin."
"Ah, yes, that is why I lost my eye and hand. But why my left hand? I researched the scripture to which you referred, and it called for the right. Why did you show mercy?"
"I am a merciful woman, Edward; I find it very difficult to harm my characters."
"But what of Bertha?"
"What do you mean?"
"You were very hard on poor Bertha. You made her into a monster, which you know very well she was not. I see no hand of mercy in her treatment."
"Stay within the confines of the text."
"I'm afraid I cannot; you must answer for Bertha. We sinned against her, and then you made her the villain."
"I could hardly reveal what happened and still be sympathetic."
"Finally a truth…"
"Edward, I wish to discuss my…novel."
"Let me ask you, then, why did you treat Bertha as you did in your novel?"
"It was metaphorical; she almost destroyed you."
"Jane, she suffered from dementia; she can hardly be held accountable."
"But she had lucid moments; I communicated with her myself."
"That may be true, but her hatred of me caused her most irrational behavior, and in that she was justified."
"Because you committed adultery? But your actions only reflected her misdeeds."
"No, in hindsight, I failed to see how others manipulated us. It is clear to me now, that I added to her suffering, though I believed my actions righteous at the time. You were not there, and perhaps you're too young to understand such gradations. Let's move on."
"It is clear that you never intended to share your novel with me."
"That is true, Edward, but how do you know that?"
"You confided several things to your readers in confidence, warning them to keep the information from me."
"Ah, yes, that slipped my mind."
"Though a great distance separated us, you heard me call your name at the same moment I heard you answer me, but you deemed me too weak of mind to handle this knowledge. When I read that, I must admit, I was deeply wounded; it seemed to me that I now play the role of Bertha."
"And does the innkeeper really believe you have emasculated me?"
"I…may have …minced his words."
"You did not tell me the whole truth of your many ordeals when you ran away. And Jane, you claimed you lied to save me pain, but you wrote, and I quote, 'the little I did say lacerated his heart deeper than I wished', as if you did wish to torture me to some degree."
"Edward, those are rhetorical devices. I admit I took some poetic license. You say I am a liar. Why do you believe what you did not witness?"
"Well spoken, my Janet, you turn my words against me; you know how I love that. Come; sit on my lap," said Edward, patting his well muscled thigh.
Jane readily complied, putting her arm around his neck and kissing his ear.
"Do not distract me…yet…there is one more thing."
"What, my love?" she murmured.
"Oh, please, not that again." She kissed his scarred cheek.
"Jane…" he whispered after returning her kiss. "I don't blame you."
"Jane, there's something I forgot to mention; tomorrow I must go to Millcote for an overnight."
"I'll prepare our things."
"No, I go alone on horseback with Pilot Secundus."
"But Edward, I always go with you."
"I'm not an invalid, Jane. I can manage on my own."
"Mr. Rochester, would you leave me over this book?"
"No, I am yours forever. I thought that a given; you have no idea how happy your show of concern makes me."
"Truly…and now, Jane, in regard to the nature of your sin."
"Edward?" asked Jane, her heart racing, even as her face paled.
"You know very well that I am spiritual, but not religious. However, though I loathe Bible study, I became exceedingly curious about the placement of the ampersand in the passage from Revelations read by St. John Rivers - the one that thrilled you so. 'He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful and the unbelieving &., shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.' You placed an ampersand over the word liars…"
"That passage has always thrilled me, even as a child."
"Why, Jane? It's so gruesome as to be either hyperbolic or severe beyond all reason…really the fiery lake just for fearfulness?"
"Hush you'll ruin it."
"The risk involved in even a simple lie is so great."
"So why not tell a whopper?"
"Indeed, I am an excellent liar, who like a spider, ensnares my victims to such a degree that they believe me even when I contradict myself as I did at the end of my book. Reaching that point, where the reader is so enthralled that I have rendered his judgment dysfunctional, stirs me to my very core."
"So you would choose the fiery lake for this thrill?"
"I have. Will you abandon me now?"
"When I say I shall never leave you I speak truth. I could not, even should I desire it; we are bound by our souls' codes. In fact, even if I were an innocent, I would still accompany you to that burning lake of fire to face the second death by your side. But, of course, like you, I am not innocent; thus it will be a great deal more interesting."
"Edward, I cannot ask such a sacrifice of you."
"It is not a sacrifice, my fairy queen, it is an honor."
"No Edward, I will not allow you to face damnation for my sake."
"You cannot stop me; where you go so go I. Now, please, distract me from the terrible fate that awaits us."
"I believe you are owed a special treat for such a heroic promise. Since we are alone, Mr. Rochester, I shall distract you right here."
"Ah, my love, how you have ensnared me. But Jane?
"Yes, Mr. Rochester?"
"The second death - is that like drinking from the River Lethe?"
She smiled at him as she ran her fingers through his dark, messy mane, "That is beyond even my powers to answer. But, perhaps, you are on to something."