5 November 2012
Host of the Eyre
"What did they do with her a Lowood? The fever broke out there, and many of the pupils died. She, however, did not die; but I said she did—I wish she had died!"
"A strange wish, Mrs. Reed: why do you hate her so?"
Jane Eyre, page 345
It was because I hated her mother.
Yes, my fool of a husband's beloved sister. A blight on good society even before her spiteful little scandal was underway. I would see her at the parties and the luncheons; sickly powdered creature hidden under a pile of finery. Her sallow face was the grim greeting of a restless spirit, her waxy hands were laced, and her tongue was sharp. Very sharp. She seemed to think it afforded her a certain coquetry, and certainly enough simpletons were fooled by the startling attacks it would render them, but I was never deceived by it.
I warned my husband what would become of her from the start, but he was convinced she was an angel and he doted on her, wretched fool. His head was completely turned by her. Even after she turned her back on all good society, running away with that Eyre, that merchant from _shire, he wanted to attend the wedding! It was all very taxing. I threatened him in every way a wife holds power: with the foods, the new suit for little John Reed, or the dolls of sweet Georgiana and bright Eliza. I warned him of the neighbours, of the press, of the ball we were to attend in the next fortnight by the Lady Grim. He would not see reason, and so I would not see him. I ordered the red room refreshed and spent my nights in there, away from his appealing eyes.
Imagine! I—forced from my chambers because of some common scandal. I could hardly bear it. And when Mr. Reed had come home again, I had hoped that would be the end of it. That he had seen the bleak outlook for a hasty wedding and a lifestyle of only fifty pounds a year. They could not be happy; they were not deserving.
But no—there went his annual donation to this imposing sister, there went his shameful weeping over her death, and here was her penniless brat, standing before me a decade after his pathetic end.
Mr. Brocklehurst had left, now only we two were left to the room. His examination had left her flustered, I was sure. Her little face was red, she trembled with what I hoped was righteous fear. His talk of hell and damnation, his insinuations which were too blunt for anyone, even this child, to ignore surely struck a nerve. Soon I would not have to put up with even the memory of her.
Strike my son? I thought, raging within my breast but keeping my needlepoint cool and even. Bite the hand that feeds you? "Go out of the room; return to the nursery," I said flatly, without looking up.
Tiny feet padded away. Then they returned to me. I ignored them as they went to the window, and then across the room. I could feel her energy building. That mother's sense, of a tantrum brewing, cooled my anger to something calculating. Let her rage. Let her scream and stamp and whine. Let her be normal, for once, a small part of me begged for it. Perhaps it would not matter so much, if she was not so antithetical to the children I loved.
But no. Those little feet came to a halt directly before me, and a voice unlike any other I had heard spilled into the room;
"I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you, but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may give to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells the lies, and not I."
I had stopped working somewhere in this cool tirade, and had given myself to careful observation. It was, indeed, the child speaking. My eyes found that plain little face and those monstrous, leveling eyes. She recited everything as if she had rehearsed it and the very thought set my indignant fury ablaze once more. Would it do, to shake a child senseless? No, let the brat caricature an adult's tone. If it wanted that sort of battle, I could certainly deliver.
"What more have you to say?" I inquired. What else had I lacked to give her? Her room and her bed? Her fine clothes and rich company? Would she feign a dislike for the food she was given at every meal at the side of her betters? All this, I thought, that my foolish husband died to give you and still you are incapable of the smallest measure of love or affection.
Stony child: just like her mother.
"I am glad you are no relation of mine!" the brat exclaimed, trembling from head to foot with excitement. "I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up."
I opened my mouth to reply, Pray do. I was as eager to be rid of her as she was of me, but she continued:
"And if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty."
Miserable cruelty, indeed! "How dare you affirm that, Jane Eyre?"
A triumphant light had entered her black eyes, and the flush of her cheek seemed to bloom across her face and neck, filling her person with a supernatural energy.
"Because it is the truth!" cried she, with such vehemence, such passion, that I do not doubt whoever she made her confidant would believe her. It was like a man had entered a child's body, and spoke with the same masculine exactness. Not even John Reed, my own darling son, spoke thus. I had told Mr. Brocklehurst of my passing fancy—that the devil was in that girl. But I had never believed it until her tiny finger pointed up at me and her dark eyes froze me to my seat, her unnatural speech finishing; "People think you a good woman, but you are bad; hard-hearted. You are deceitful!"
Distantly, I felt my needlework slip from my knee. I had the strangest vision, as I felt myself grow faint, that I was a decade younger, sitting in a similar parlour with a similar creature who, though older, retained that sharp tongue. I reasoned that I saw this woman now because her brat was vexing me, but it was so clear, not at all like a dream. Dressed as a spectre, she pointed at me, and her dark eyes arrested me as the walls turned red.
In this vision, the spectre said only, "Geneva Reed. Geneva Reed." And she pointed to the divan where my late husband was slowly recovering. I felt a great terror that he might get up, yet a deep comfort that there were still unnatural means to acquire my much deserved reward.
I came out of the vision trembling at the point of her accusing finger. She knew. She knew. I could not wave that fear away. Something had to be done. What if someone listened?
"Jane," I coaxed, my voice nearly absent, "you are under a mistake: what is the matter with you?" I laughed, reaching for her, but she stepped quickly away and my legs could not carry me to her. "Why do you tremble so violently? Would you like to drink some water?"
"No, Mrs. Reed." She watched me; cold and red still, in her high cheeks. Her tiny muscles jumped in an agitation that was barely contained, like the throes of a dying man. She knew. Someone would listen. Someone would listen to that unnatural voice, however impoverished.
"Is there anything else you wish for, Jane? I assure you, I desire to be your friend." A few sacrifices. What were a few sacrifices, to save the whole?
"Not you. You told Mr. Brocklehurst I had a bad character, a deceitful disposition; and I'll let everybody at Lowood know what you are, and what you have done."
What you have done, G. Reed.
"Jane, you don't understand these things: children must be corrected for their faults."
"Deceit is not my fault!" she cried out again, higher, louder than before. I feared that someone would come to discover the sound and attempted to appease her.
"But you are passionate, Jane, that you must allow." I very nearly begged. "Return to the nursery—there's a dear—and lie down a little."
If I could only calm her, have her return to me in a more pleasant disposition, I might break off these dangerous thoughts. With John Reed and my daughters, time apart could very easily cool their tempers.
But she would return to the nursery, and gave a withering sneer at the thought of lying down. "I am not your dear," she returned frostily, and challenged; "Send me to school soon, for I hate to live here."
Yes: the school. A small sacrifice for the good of the whole. What was a small tuition in light of an estate? A design began its birth in the very wake of her defiance. I knew of boarding schools and the natural ends of their clutch. And had not Mr. Brocklehurst assured me that Lowood was in the damp of the country and ruled its wards with a Spartan existence?
I will indeed send her to school soon.
I had hated her mother: it would not cost much to rid myself of the Eyres.
A/N: Jane Eyre started as an impossible read at the top of my family bookcase, out of my toddler reach. When I first read it in the sixth grade, this scene spoke to me more than anything else I had ever read. It's still my favorite novel, hands-down, and getting the opportunity to rewrite this scene for class was a fantastic reason to start writing again.
To my Narnia readers: chapter seventeen is on the up and up. Edmund and Peter are being unusually helpful.
To my Merlin readers: chapter ten is also begun, but slightly slowed by the progress of other oneshots. We'll see what I can turn out once classes end next week.
Have a great rest of your week!