Disclaimer: I own nothing, Charlotte Brontë does, I am only borrowing her lovely characters. Anything you don't recognize, though, is my own invention.
Author's Note: This story was written in December and in somewhat of a rush. I edited it before posting (and changed the original ending, which was far too creepy and bleak) but it's likely that it still has mistakes and stuff that doesn't make much sense. English is not my first language and I only write in English sporadically these days, so I apologize. I hope you like it, nevertheless.
Fairies & Wolves
Spring had arrived and it had finally conceded to bestow on us mortals its finest days and sunnier rays; and thus the opportunity arose to take the children on a walk to the fields that sprawled around and beyond the school. I felt a rush of warmth and pride steal over me as I saw them clustered together like rows of ducks, all dressed in the same – somewhat tatty – grey dresses and light bonnets. Wisps of hair in all manner of colours – brown, red, flaxen – fluttered out of the bonnet flaps and ebbed and flowed like tiny flags in the wind.
I was pleased that my pupils were mostly all healthy and thriving, and all showed a desire to learn and to better themselves. I was also secretly glad that they liked me, a silly wish, but one I felt nevertheless. I was seventeen at the time, little older than some of them, as much a girl as any of them, some would say, and I felt gratified by the knowledge that my presence could afford someone pleasure, and, almost more than I dared ask for, rouse affection.
They treaded across the grass, their dresses rustling behind them. The sun rays stole inside the thin cotton of their dresses and seemed to make them glow from inside out. I wondered what would become of these girls – hoping, despite my better judgement, that they would all find happiness and advancement in the world, but not at the cost of self-respect. I tried to ignore the likely reality that perhaps some of them would die before they were fully grown, or that their life circumstances would never permit them to marry and have their own children. I did not wish them splendid futures, filled with wealth and grandeur – but simple, fulfilling lives, answering to God and passing His teachings to their offspring, lives of contentment and health, with nothing truly important wanting, I would have lavished on all of them if I'd had the power, and desired for all.
"Miss Eyre," one of the littlest girls lisped, tugging once on my skirts, of a similar colour as theirs. "Miss Eyre, I am hungry. Could we not stop to eat?"
It was a query I knew they would not dare pose any other teacher, except for Miss Temple, but I did not mind it. It was my belief that children should have their most basic needs fulfilled, a natural necessity that must come before discipline or decorum. Only then could they learn, live and behave appropriately. I smiled at her.
"Very well, Hannah. We shall stop now. Girls," I raised my voice so that the ones further ahead could hear me. "Let's stop for a moment. Esther, the baskets, please, bring them over here. It's time to eat."
The instruction was met with cheer and eagerness. All the girls, me included, ate the scanty meal of bread and cheese with relish. As I ate, I looked beyond the ripples of grass, towards the horizon, which the sun tinted a dazzling shade. It was the tone of ecstasy, and it strangely thrilled me. I imagined what might lie ahead, something as unknown to me as to any of my pupils. The world outside the school and its outskirts was not forbidden, but it might as well be, when we knew so little of it, we could scarcely imagine it. It seemed to me great, beyond scope or limit already attributed to it, and so filled with wonder and novelty that, on darker days, it confused and depressed me, and on better days, excited me. It held too much for me to know, too much for me to perhaps comprehend. It was only a little while ago I had stopped being a schoolgirl, myself. The merits and sensations of adulthood had not yet touched my soul.
But what would it be like to be a part of it? To step on to it, crossing a threshold only imagined by me? Would my heart register any magic, any change? Would I discover that I had only dreamt them? It was impossible to know until I lived it. And would I ever live it? Not much else seemed to be destined for me, certainly nothing great. I did not wish for greatness, merely change, a wish I tried to crush and subdue, but did not always succeed. My life was pleasing, my work honest and fulfilling. I was lucky to have managed to achieve such a living. And yet, it did not feel like it was all there could be. Could something else await me, something God had seen fit to carve only for me, or would one day? What would it be like to taste true liberty? Claim any place in the world as my own? Visit all the exotic lands I had only read about in books or seen in pictures? Perhaps it was too grand a destiny for little, ignorant Jane Eyre. But still, however against my will, I dreamed.
At length, one by one, the girls finished their small meal. I smiled at them and brushed the bread crumbs off my skirt.
"Let's resume our walk, girls," I said, gathering them round me and brushing off bits of bread and cheese off the dresses of some. "If we're quick, we'll be able to return to school before nightfall. Thankfully, the days have grown a little longer."
Dusk brought pitch darkness and the biting winds and dampness of winter, which had not yet faded. The frailest among the girls coughed. It was not as bad as it had been, before – how could I forget? – but it was still impossible to be fully eradicated. I trembled whenever I heard the prompt wheezing in some of the rooms. Were it but in my own power, I would have made them well with all my heart.
I went past the lines of small beds, murmuring a reassuring word, smiling, kissing a forehead or squeezing a small, cold hand before making my way out. I was about to pass the last room, where most of the girls were already asleep and only a few candles flickered, when a small voice called.
I looked round trying to discern the source of the sound. A head of wispy ginger curls peeked up from above the rim of the blanket. I walked towards it and smiled. "What is it, Mary?"
"Miss Eyre, I'm frightened," she whimpered, tossing on the bed. "The wind is howling. It sounds like a wolf calling out to its kin."
Mary Stroud was a small, sickly girl of seven, the youngest of a large brood of children. Two of her older sisters were also in the school. She had a pale, almost translucent, pointy face, not beautiful, but with an endearing grace and inquisitiveness which almost made it so. Her eyes, of a murky green, were curiously shaped, and so sagacious it often perturbed me. Children were closer to God, and I had no doubt that Mary was closest to Him than many. She seemed to see what no-one else could, and in such times her eyes took on a grave sort of glassiness which made me ashamed even of my smallest, most unconscious sins. And yet, in other times she was childlike as any girl her age would be, eager for reassurance and protection.
"A wolf, Mary?" I asked, sitting down. "Do you think a wolf would go to such trouble on a night such as this? Could it not be warm in its cave, feasting on the prey it hunted, recoiling from the cutting cold like men?"
She shuddered. "No, Miss Eyre – wolves like nights such as these. It calls to their nature."
"Do you not believe that perhaps even a beast can suppress its worst instincts and fight to better itself?"
"How can they, when they cannot help what they truly are?"
With any other frightened child at night, I would take a second to dispel a nightmare and return to bed. But with Mary, as always, I found myself thinking deeper than I'd first intended.
"Perhaps," I replied, hoping my fantastical words could lure her away from her fears, "this wolf is a magical being, one who turns into a man precisely on every bitter, cold night. It does not frighten men – it becomes one of them. It shares their fears, and fights to answer his conscience and suppress any evil instinct, like all men do. Do you not think that possible?"
"Could such a being love?" she murmured.
"Do you believe so?"
"Love is the only potion men drink that makes them want to erase their sins and better themselves faster and more willingly than anything else on this earth. Mama used to say so," the child mumbled, her eyes far-away.
"Perhaps there is wisdom hidden in your mama's words," I conceded, awestruck, as always, at her manner of speaking and thinking.
"A wolf-man would never love a mere mortal woman," Mary conceded, putting great thought into it. "He would only love someone as unusual as he was."
"And what would that be?"
"A fairy," she declared. "One he would always chase, and love, for faeries do not allow themselves to get caught."
"Not even if the fairy returned his love?"
The little philosopher pondered for a minute, then gravely shook her head. "I don't believe so."
"Why ever not?"
"It is against her nature. It is a kind of curse, like the wolf-man's. They could never be together."
"Would you have them wither away and die from pining for each other?"
She hesitated. "They should not suffer," she began. "But each of them is cursed. Many things separate them. There is no place in the world for them."
"Such bleak thoughts, Mary," I half-teased her, foolishly distressed by the powerful resonance of her words. "You will have trouble sleeping. Imagine this, if you cannot be persuaded that the wind is just the wind, and will not harm you: imagine that God is good, and smiles upon all creatures, and, if He saw no viciousness in their hearts, or, at least, a conscious effort to rid themselves of it, He would give them His blessing. If the wolf and the fairy were good, and pure of heart, total solitude and isolation would surely not be their lot. I hope this eases your mind about the matter. Now, sleep. Our chatter will wake the girls," I squeezed her hand kindly and tucked the blanket closer round her. She did not object, but followed me with her eyes as I got up and walked out of the room.
The subject was not broached the next day, or ever again, and Mary returned to what she always was, a feeble being, who sometimes trailed behind her companions, but retained all the wonder in her nature. One who displayed all its wisdom with a single look and warmed my heart when she broke into a smile, pure and childlike and entirely devoid of pretence. I continued to care for her deeply and waited with interest to see what life would make of her, hoping God would spare her any pain or infirmity so that she could come to make use of her gifts. As for me, my life returned to normal, monotonous, but satisfactory, something which I felt someday, when the ardours and impatiences of youth faded, I would look back upon fondly, even nostalgically. At that time, I did not think of taking measures to change my life, nor did I truly think I would someday find the need to. And, in a way, I kept at what I had been trained to do, hoping for no more, and I was happy.