Bertha is still sane the first time she sees a rat in her room, and she screams in horror and disgust. Her first reflex is to throw something at the creature to make it go away, before running to the door. She bangs her fists against it, crying and screaming, begging to be let out, promising that she'll obey Edward in all he asks, that she'll be a good wife, that she'll do anything if she can just get out of the attic she still persists in calling her room. She's been here for a week already. She'd thought it was revenge for her behaviour on the boat, when she'd been furious that he'd taken her from her home, that he kept her inside their cabin day and night, that he still tried to force her into acting like an prised bitch, obedient and made for mating.
It's been a week.
But he's been angry long before they got on the boat.
It's been a week.
How long can he keep her there anyway?
Bertha gave up on screaming every time a rat or a pigeon finds its way to her room. She's learns she'll run out of voice and yet no one will come inside. Grace Poole comes in for each meal, and that's it. Edward never comes at all.
It's been two months.
She's had to ask Ms Poole to know it. It's difficult to keep track of the days now. They are all the same.
How long can Edward keep her there? He hates her, and the feeling is mutual, but she is his wife. Surely people must be wondering where the young Mr Rochester is hiding her. Surely someone will force him to free her, and she will demand to return to Jamaica. There's sun there, and flowers, and there's Louisa.
Bertha misses her so much.
When she's back in Spanish Town, with power over her own money and without Edward, she'll find Louisa again and offer her to come live in her house. Not as a maid anymore, but as her friend, and to hell with people. She's tried being normal, and look how well that worked out. She won't lie again.
As soon as she gets out.
As soon as she gets out.
Grace Poole is a gossiper. She'll chat with anyone who comes to the attic, especially if they come with a bottle of gin. If Bertha is careful enough, she can hear her.
She'd thought that Edward wasn't coming because he hated her.
She'd never have thought he hated her so much he had abandoned his own house and gone to the continent. He spoke so much of Thornfield Hall when they were in Jamaica... he had desired that house more than he ever desired her.
It is less of a surprise to learn that no one in England knows Edward is married.
She hears Grace theorise that the master immediately wrote to his family to tell them what sort of his insane monster his new wife is, so that the old master never told anyone, and neither did Mr Rochester.
So she'd been a monster because she'd cried when he'd tried to mount her, and begged to sleep with Louisa again.
She's starting to think the rats are an improvement after the company of her husband.
It's been six months.
Her only hope now is her brother Richard, and that's not much hope at all.
She's started talking to the rats after realising that the silence was making her lose her voice.
Sometimes, she shares her leftovers with them.
It's a relief, in a way, to still be capable of kindness. As long as she can be kind, she's still human, isn't she?
It's not two years yet, but it's more than one. Bertha knows it because the seasons change, but that's the only way she's keeping track of time. Grace often refuses to tell her the date, or she even gives a fake one on purpose, just to confuse the mad woman. She's not evil as such, just bored, as much as Bertha is, and she can't even watch the rats to distract herself.
Twelve little ones were born earlier in the week.
Bertha gave them all a name, and their mother too.
It probably should worry her that she can recognise each individual rat.
If she's aware of it, she's not mad yet, is she?
Edward is in Thornfield Hall. Bertha heard him talking to Grace. But he doesn't come to see her.
She'd hoped that when he'd be back, he would want to see her. That he'd ask for her submission as his wife, or offer to send her back to Jamaica. Something. Anything.
But he just stays home for two weeks and then leaves again without ever seeing her.
That's when Bertha realises.
She's never going to leave this attic.
When she falls to her knees and break into tears, the boldest of the rats run to her, hoping she has crumbs for them.
She only cries harder, knowing that these rats and Grace Pool are the only company she'll have for the rest of her life.
Bertha finds a way out of her attic
It has been a while since Edward's last visit, and Bertha has put that time to good use. To fill her long, dull days with something, she's started making plans of escape. It's easier than she'd have thought. Of course, it helps that Grace so often gets drunk, and that it makes her forgetful. The first time Bertha gets out, it's because Grace never locked the door after bringing her dinner.
The house is huge and old and dark and cold, so cold. It's summer, Bertha knows this, saw it from her tiny window, yet the house is freezing. It's cold in her attic too, of course, and she spends most of her time with a blanket wrapped around her, but she thought it'd be warmer in the rest of the house and she didn't bring it. Next time, she will.
But there won't be a next time, she tells herself. She's escaping for good, she's never going back to her attic. She'll miss the rats, but she can't go on like this. She needs to find someone who will help her go home. Her brother still hasn't come. Maybe he doesn't know. If he knew, he would help her. He's her brother. Surely he would help her. She needs to get out, and find someone who will write to him. Someone who will help her and protect her until she can go home at last.
It doesn't happen that night. It's been too long in her attic, and she gets lost in this huge, cold house. Looking for the main door, she ends up in the kitchen. She hasn't seen a mirror in years now, but the horror on the servants' faces tell her how terrible she looks. They shout and shriek and try to run away, except for the cook and her husband. Bertha has never met the cook, but she recognises her voice, a voice she's often heard sharing gossips with Grace. A voice that now sound terrified, but still capable of giving orders and demands that Bertha be caught because she's dangerous.
The idea of it is so shocking that Bertha doesn't run. Dangerous? She doesn't love men, and she talks to her rats. Is that truly dangerous? Edward must have lied to them, or Grace did, or it's simply because she looks so wild and unkept.
(she catches a glimpse of her reflection in a big copper saucepan and it scares her, too. She used to be beautiful, but now she looks like a witch, and it makes her want to cry)
They catch her, of course. She's too stunned to protest, even when they bring her back to this cursed attic and lock her inside.
Bertha cries then. She cries over wasting her chance to be free again. Over her lost beauty. Over all the things Edward took from her, all the things she'll never have again. She cries because death would be a kinder fate than this half life in which she is now stuck forever. She cries until she falls asleep, one of her rats licking at her tears for their salt.
In the morning Bertha is exhausted, her head aches from all the tears she shed. Yet she feels more alive than she has since the door of her attic first closed behind her.
There's a world outside that door, and she knows now that if she's smart enough, she might get back out there.
Bertha's still planning her next escape when Edward returns. Even from her attic, she can hear the agitation in the house, the servants rushing to make sure their master is comfortable and happy. Even Grace goes to help, but Bertha is smart enough not to use that to her advantage. She's not mad enough yet to go out there when she might have to face the man who calls himself her husband. She fears him, but above all she fears what she might do to him. Give her a knife, give her a stick, give her just a chance to be alone with him, and he'll pay for all he's done to her. Once she would have begged for forgiveness of crimes that she couldn't see as crimes, and she'd have promised to be the silent slave he seemed to expect a wife to be, but not anymore, not after so many weeks and months and years. Three years, or maybe four. Too long, anyway. If she sees Edward, he'll pay for it all. That's her promise to herself. And as she hears the agitation in the house, she tells her rats all the things she'd do to him, if she just had the chance.
She doesn't have the chance though. Her food that night tastes odd. Or maybe that's just what she tells herself after, when it's all over. It had to have tasted odd. It must have had something in it, something to make her calm. Otherwise she wouldn't have let Grace tie her down that way, the rope so tight on her wrist that her hands went cold. And she wouldn't have let Edward come out of the attic alive if she'd been her normal self. But she'd felt drowsy, everything soft and slow everywhere she looked, like a morning dream she could half control. Morning nightmare, rather. Edward had no place in a dream of hers. And it was night, not morning. Her attic was dark, she wasn't allowed candles. But Edward was. He had a candle in his hand as he looked down at her, his disgust made so much clearer in the dancing light of the flame.
“Do not try to escape again,” he told her, ordered her, as if he had a right to give orders. “There is nowhere for you to go. It's miles to the nearest village, and even if you don't get lost in the way, no one will help you there. They'll see you for what you are, a mad woman, and lock you up in a place far worse than this. You are treated well here, even I expect you're too stupid to see it. You eat what the servants eat, good, nourishing food, and you're given water to wash yourself which you're apparently wasting, and you're kept from the cold. It wouldn't be so in a madhouse, so be grateful of what you have!”
“But I'm not mad,” Bertha protested, her voice slow and odd, the words so hard to get out.
“A woman who longs for other women but denies her husband his right is mad,” Edward spat at her, his disdain still as strong as it had been when he first realised that. “A woman who strikes her husband and tries to humiliate him in public is mad. And if I killed you, or if I left you to rot and die in some bad house, the world would pity me! But I am kinder than this, kinder than you would be if you had power over me. You are well treated here. Do not escape again.”
“I'm not mad,” Bertha insisted, trying to get up and walk to him, but her body wouldn't obey her and she just fell on her face and laid down as Edward left again.
In the morning, Bertha's hatred of Rochester has increased until it seems like the only thing she can feel. Yes, she hit him sometimes, when he tried to force himself upon her, saying it would cure her of her demented desires. But he forgot that he hit her back, and that sometimes the first blow came from him. He forgets also how much he tried to control everything she said or did, and saw attempts to humiliate him in even her most innocent gestures and words. He's so self centred that he sees everything as an attack, cannot imagine that sometimes she just forgot he was there and she just spoke her mind or did something because she simply wanted to do it.
As for his kindness... if he truly could let her die, he would. Bertha is sure of it. If he really wanted to be kind to her, he'd have sent her back home, he'd have asked some doctor to see her, he'd have asked her brother to come. Instead he's hiding her. Maybe nobody would believe her if she escaped, she suspects that his reputation would still be forever tainted because people would doubt, and Edward can't stand that. And if she died... well, he'd have to answer to God if he let her die, if he killed her himself. He's a monster, but he must still fear the Lord's justice enough to not dare that final crime against her.
Bertha doesn't fear.
She will kill Edward if it's the only way to escape. She'll kill Grace. She'll kill the cook. She'll kill anyone who stands between her and freedom, if it comes to that. She'll kill and steal and do worse things and if God blames her for it, so be it. A God who could hate her for wanting to escape so much pain and misery doesn't deserve her love.
Because she's not mad, she knows this with the same intensity that she hates Edward. And even if she were mad, she still wouldn't deserve this. Nobody deserves this.
So she'll get out and she'll be free. Mad or not, she'll be free again, or die trying.
I woke up this morning, and Bertha was calling to me.
I wanted to write about her thoughts about Jane. Then, about her reaction to Adele's arrival. Then, about the first visit from her brother. In the end, I wrote about none of these things, though I still want to. So I guess this has become a multi chaptered thing, then?
Days and days and days and days turn into weeks and months and years and Bertha is losing count.
She's also losing her voice from lack of use, because talking to the rats and screaming her rage isn't enough.
She's losing her mind too, maybe. It's hard to know. She's been in this room for so long, she's forgetting what life was like before. She's forgotten Louisa's face. She's forgotten the streets of Spanish Town. She's forgotten the taste of proper food, the feeling of silk dresses. It all feels like a dream. Like something that happened to someone else. She's been in that room for so long. Maybe she's been there for ever. Nothing ever existed before, nothing will ever exist after...
It's that thought that always reminds her she's still sane. The thought of staying in that room for the rest of her days, to die in this hated house... It angers her beyond what words can express, and that anger gives her life. She's not mad. She is Bertha Mason, unfairly held prisoner by the man she married and who is now in possession of her fortune, a man who will not even tell the world he married her because she refused to bend to his will. She's not insane, she's just unrepentant about who she is. She's not a monster, she's a victim, and she will get justice. And when she gets justice, Rochester will be the one to get locked down.
The thought of that proud, haughty man in a cell, trapped and helpless... Bertha laughs and laughs and laughs, every time. Grace says it scares her, and that only make Bertha laugh louder. Grace too will pay for her role in this. Grace and all those other servants, all those people who know about her and never even thought of helping her. She will chase them down, one by one, and she will make them pay, ruin their lives like hers was ruined.
In the meanwhile she laughs and laughs, and waits for her chance to escape.
One day Bertha hears a laugh in the house, and it takes her a few moment to realise she's not the one laughing for once. She stills and listens, until she hears the laugh again. A high, loud voice. A child.
She has all but forgotten about children after so long without seeing one, but the sound of that joyful laughs brings back images of times long gone. She remembers playing with her brothers, Richard and... the one she forgot, the one who was locked away for being mad when she was still so young. She had forgotten about him, forgotten his name even. She couldn't have been more than ten when he disappeared and she was ordered to never talk about him again. Two years later and it was her mother who half disappeared, never leaving her room again, never wanting to see her younger children, but sometimes asking about her eldest son. Both gone mad, Richard had whispered to Bertha one day, terror in his voice. He hadn't laughed so much after that, but Bertha hadn't cared so much because there had been Louisa to love, and all too soon men her father asked her to seduce. And she married one of these men, only half understanding what it meant, just knowing it would please her father...
Bertha hasn't thought of her family in ages. Sometimes she still hopes that Richard will come and save her, but she suspects that he's too submissive towards Rochester to ever dare do that. The others are all dead now, as far as she knows. Her father died before Rochester made her leave for Europe. Her mother died shortly after her marriage, of some illness Bertha was never given the details of. As for her elder brother... in a way, he died when he disappeared all these years ago. She's alone in a world of enemies.
That laughing child, somewhere in the house, reminded her of that. She can't wait to be rescued. She can't wait for a chance. She's have to create that chance if she ever wants to be free again.
Day after day, she hears the child laughing and singing. It's a little girl, she learns, listening to Grace and the maid Leah. Rochester's bastard. His unwanted bastard, they say, and Thornfield is her prison just as it is Bertha's. Rochester can't send the brat of his French whore to a school, Leah says, so he's just dropped her in this damned house and try to forget about her. Leah is surprised that he's even asked old Mrs Fairfax to find a governess for the child.
“Why be surprised?” Grace objects. “He's not so bad a man. Even for that one in the room, he asks she's taken good care of, so why wouldn't he do his best for his bastard too?”
“So you don't think he's hiding the little frog here?”
“Oh, he's hiding her all right, and she won't leave any soon than my old friend. But for all the years she'll be here, she'll be treated decently, I'm sure.”
Bertha has to yell at that point, rage flooding through her once more. Decently? Nothing in her treatment is decent, and she can't see how anyone would not realise it.
Grace is lucky she's on the other side of the door, or Bertha swears in that instant, she might have killed her on the spot.
There's a celebration of some sort. A servant's celebration. Grace doesn't go, but Leah comes up to bring her food and something to drink. In a rare moment of generosity, she also brought a plate for Bertha, a small piece of cake. When she comes into the room to give it to her, Grace is clearly drunker than usual. Bertha doesn't care at first, knowing too well that Grace is never too drunk to fight her off if she tries to escape. She's learned the hard way. But alcohol makes her careless and as Bertha inspects her cake, wondering if it might be poisoned, she doesn't hear the clicks and clang of the lock.
Chance, for once, is on her side, because it's been ages since Grace was this forgetful.
Still, Bertha is careful. She doesn't touch the cake, still half fearing it's a plot to kill her. She waits until she can hear Grace's snores on the other side of the door, and then waits a little more, in case it's all a trap. When she's as sure as she's ever going to be that the way is clear, she sneaks out. It's been a long time since her last escape. She feels almost oppressed in the great, long corridors of Thornfield that seem to stretch endlessly before her. She feels weak, and aching too. It takes her a while to realise that she's cold, in spite of the shawl she's wearing. It doesn't help that she's barefoot. She hasn't needed shoes so much in her attic. She didn't use to need them much at home either, but this place is freezing like the ninth circle of hell. Still she walks on, looks for the way out. She knows enough now to avoid the kitchen. Any place where lights can be seen is a danger. It's late though, and the whole house seems asleep.
She does find the door, in the end. She unlocks it, opens it... and dies.
Or maybe not quite death. But it's cold, so cold that her heart feels like it's stopping, her chest clenches painfully and she sobs and bends in two. There's a cruel wind blowing, freezing her to the bones. She takes a step outside, on the cold stones that burn her foot, than another. At the third step she realises that she can't do this. It's too cold, and she might as well be naked for all the good her dress and shawl are doing her.
Another chance for escape, and another failure.
But she's too close to freedom to give up just yet. If her current clothes aren't suitable for the weather of this hellish place, she just needs to find more appropriate ones. The Rochesters are rich, there must be clothes around, coats, furs even left by passed mistresses of the house. She'd go through every room and outfit herself so she could confront the cold and run away, or get caught trying.
The first few rooms she gets through bear nothing of interest. They're dining room and drawing room and the such, empty and dusty and almost as cold as the world outside, but she still inspects them, in hope someone forgot something useful in there, but she can't be so lucky. It will have to be the bedroom, where the risk of detection is that much higher. Most should be empty. She won't bother with the servants' room, not if she can avoid it, because even now, after everything, a part of herself refuses to lower herself to this. She is Bertha Mason, the beauty of Spanish Town, she cannot wear servants clothes. She'll check only the main bedrooms then, and she's at little risk of meeting anyone there. There's just Mrs Fairfax who's apparently somewhat old, and the French child, probably with a nurse of some sort. Bertha doesn't think the governess has arrived yet, or she's quite sure she'd have heard about it.
The first few bedrooms are empty and hold nothing interesting. Bertha stumbles upon one unslept in, but that has a clean smell to it indicating that a new inhabitant is expected soon. The room next to it is lived in, she can tell as soon as she opens the door, so she's quick to close it again. Another empty room, and then a nursery. Bertha knows almost instantly that this is where she is. There's a certain air to a room that belongs to a child, a carelessness that cannot be tempered, that even darkness cannot hide. She should turn away and keep looking for a coat, but she's curious. That child is a prisoner of Thornfield, like her, and like her she's a victim of Rochester. Bertha wants to see her. Maybe... Maybe she can free that child as she frees herself, take her with her back home and then send lawyers to force Rochester to acknowledge his daughter. An act of kindness. Is she still capable of kindness, after so long alone with her hatred? She feels that if she see the child she'll know that.
It's madness to enter that room, where there's not only the child but also her nurse. It's madness too to open the curtain so the moon will let her see the sleeping girl. She's charming enough, like most children seem to be in their sleep. She's everything Bertha isn't, fair and delicate, the way Bertha always wished she might have looked when she was growing up, the way she knows Rochester would have wanted her to look. Why doesn't he want his child then, when she looks so perfect? He should adore her, pretty and delicate and joyful, if her laughter is anything to go by... But maybe that's the problem. Maybe this child is too perfect. Rochester is an ugly man, he must doubt that such a sweet looking girl can be his... or it might just be that she's a girl. A male bastard would surely have gotten more love from him, even with little resemblance.
But the child's face isn't the only thing to be revealed by moonlight. It falls on Bertha too, and makes her appear on a mirror than hangs on the wall. Or rather, it makes something looking marginally like her appear there, some strange creature with unkept hair and a wild face with sunken eyes. The thing in the mirror is a witch, a succubus, a terrifying female demon leaning above the bed of a sleeping girl, staring right at Bertha and looking like she might murder the resting child.
There's no mirror in the attic. She's figured long ago that it's because they're afraid she might break it and use the shards as a weapon. She wonders now if it's also so she doesn't she what she's turned into.
That's when the nurse wakes up and, looking at her, screams in horror. Bertha startles, still half afraid too of that vision of herself. She walks to the terrified woman and grabs her shoulders, tries to reason with her, but all that gets out of her mouth is half garbled sounds and growls. The nurse screams again before fainting and in her bed, the child is moving, waking up. She won't be the only one. Bertha must run out of the house now, coat or not, and try her chance in the cold and the wilderness before all the servants come running into the room.
Except when she starts running, she doesn't go to the door. She goes back to her attic without a look for Grace, still sleeping, closes the door behind her and crouches on her bed, hiding under her blanket as she starts crying.
Bertha Mason, beauty of the town, envy of all women, desired by all men. That was her once, but Rochester took that from her as he took all other things. If she's no longer beautiful, who will help her? It was her weapon, the only one she'd been taught to use. People might have taken pity on her if she'd still been young and beautiful, they would have sided with her against Rochester because people always did when her dark eyes filled with tears. But no one will help a crone, a dark monster with a mane as wild as Medusa's hair and eyes wilder still. Not even Richard would help her. He would not even know her if he saw her, her poor brother, her last hope.
She lost it all, then. She really has. But no, not lost. She had it all stolen instead, that's more accurate. Everything stolen by the man who claims to be her husband, and yet won't tell the world.
He's taken her love first, her dear sweet Louisa. Then her freedom. He's taken her voice, he's taken her looks, and now he's taken her hopes too.
She's never getting out of this place. And even if she could, what then? Had she been a man, she might have found her way back to her home, and fought for revenge. No one cares that a man was scarred by his hardships, that his wounds left him without grace or beauty. But a woman, without a suitable face, cannot get anything from the world. This Bertha knows, this she's been taught since childhood.
And so her prison turns into a refuge, now that she knows she truly can never get out.
She's still not mad.
She's starting to wish she were, because maybe it would make things a little easier.
I have started taking notes while re-reading Jane Eyre.
90% of my notes about Adèle just read "shut up about Adèle" because poor kid
Also, I don't know where I'm going with this fic. I just feel a lot about Bertha lately.
there's a new girl in the house, and Bertha is afraid
There is a new woman in the house. A new girl, rather. The new governess for Rochester’s bastard. She doesn’t know about Bertha. Leah and Grace and everyone else is strictly forbidden to say a word about the mad woman in the attic, so Leah and Grace speak of nothing else between themselves. What an odd girl she is, they claim, so calm and cold and distant from them. Grace, who has worked elsewhere before, says it’s always that way with governesses, that they’re always in a strange spot because they’re not quite proper ladies, but they certainly aren’t real servants either. They’re outsiders, never getting much company beside that of their charges, and Grace wouldn’t have wanted that job, certainly not. You’re better off with mad people than with children, she says. They’re all nasty and stupid, but at least the mad aren’t protected from fair punishment by soft hearted parents.
From her window, Bertha sometimes catches a glimpse of this girl. She’s not very tall, and she seems almost as slim as the child she’s teaching. A stiff little figure in the winter garden, with that young girl always running around her. An outsider, Grace said. Well, Bertha can relate to that, that’s certain.
Bertha doesn’t think so much of that girl, in fairness. She’s busy trying to become herself again. She was so frightened by what she saw in that nursery mirror, she can’t bear to think that’s how she looks now. A vain thought, but she was allowed, encouraged to be vain since childhood, and losing her beauty hurts in ways she’d never have imagined. Grace refuses her a comb, so she must arrange her hair with her fingers, and tie them with whatever strip of fabric she can find. She tries to keep clean too, and that’s easier because Grace, for all her faults, firmly believes in cleanliness. When all is done, Bertha tries to look at her reflection in her window, but the uneven glass only gives her a distorted image of herself, more monstrous than what she saw before.
Her beauty faded, Bertha thinks she might get her voice back at least. She makes efforts to speak, to use her words again. It doesn’t much please Grace, who always orders her to be quiet, mistaking her attempts for curses, never seeming to understand the broken syllables she utters, voice rough from lack of use. Bertha has lost her words too then, but she will not be silent. Nothing seems to anger Grace more than to hear her charge laugh, so that’s just what Bertha does. She laughs and laughs until her throat feels like it’s bleeding, laughs like the mad woman she might have become after all.
One winter evening, Rochester comes back. He doesn’t go visit his wife of course, but Bertha doesn’t need him to. Leah can never resist a chance to gossip with Grace, and their master’s visit always brings that. Does Rochester know how openly his servants talks about his mistresses? For men like him, servants barely exist, or they are little more than furniture anyway. Useful and necessary, but devoid of thoughts and intentions. Bertha’s father was like that too, and she probably was too, except when it came to Louisa. Rochester must not realise that Leah can read just well enough to catch interesting bits of the letters on his desk, and that no knowledge of letters is needed when she’s washing his things and find a forgotten glove covered in heavy perfume in the pocket of some old trousers. He’d be better off marrying some proper lady, Leah always says, gossipy little thing who fears for her master’s soul. Grace always answers that some men just aren’t the marrying sort, that they like their freedom and paid women. Her voice doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t waver as she lies, and Bertha has to admire her for it. How precious it must be to have words to use, and to use them so well!
But this time, Leah doesn’t bring news of the latest mistresses of her master. This time, she’s too busy being intrigued by his interest in the new governess. He asked her so many questions about this Jane Eyre, she tells Grace! She’s never seen him so interested in a new servant before, and even smiled sometimes at her answers, though all she said was that Miss Eyre was quiet and plain, hard working and helpful though oddly proud at times. Grace and her debate whether he’s finally taking an interest in his bastard and wants the best for her, or if maybe he’s got another child coming again from the continent, and is a little more certain that one is his.
Silly debate, Bertha thinks. Silly women! She knows, from the bottom of whatever heart she has left, that Edward has views on that girl. A girl young enough to be his daughter, without connections, without friends… Bertha thinks of that small, slight silhouette she’s seen outside, and her blood is boiling because that girl is still almost a child. That Rochester ruined women’s lives on the continent, that’s not her problem, she wasn’t there to do anything about it, and she’s fairly sure that all these women made sure to be properly compensated for what they had to endure. But she cannot let this happen in her house… and it is her house. Is she not the master’s wife? She is mistress in these walls, and it is her duty to ensure that her husband can do no harm.
She will save this Jane Eyre, and she will protect little Adèle’s future too, because surely the child will inherit when Rochester dies, won’t she?
It’s easy enough to escape again. All she has to do is pester Grace enough on a night she’s drunk too much, and she leaves the room in a hurry, forgetting to lock the door, just wanting to get away from her charge. Then Bertha only has to wait for the snores, steal her guardian’s candle.
Of course, she doesn’t know which room is her husband’s. She’s never been there, praise the lord for that. She knows which room it isn’t though, and that helps somehow. She walks past Mrs Fairfax’s room, past the new governess’s… she hesitates there. Wishes she could go in and warn the girl to run away, run to a better family, a better job… but Bertha still can’t speak and even if she could, would the girl listen, would she be able to flee this way? Young and without connections, Leah said. That girl is a prisoner of Thornfield just as much as Bertha herself, if in a different way. Rochester must die if they all are to be free. And die he will. Bertha doesn’t yet know how, but she’ll find a way. She might be mad, but she’s still clever enough to kill her abuser.
She finds his room at last. It’s odd to see him sleeping. He’s almost looking at peace and how dare he? How dare he be peaceful when he’s plotting the ruin of an innocent girl, when he’s a monster who destroyed Bertha’s life, who would gladly abandon his child. How dare he have the peace that Bertha can never have, when he should be rotting in hell? He should be devoured with remorse and guilt, he should burn in the flame that are reserved for the worst of sinners, down where the devil takes them for ever. He’s made Bertha’s life a living hell, and she wants him to get a taste of it too.
The curtains of his beds, the sheets, it all welcomes the flames so easily, even his furniture wants his death, his total destruction. At last Rochester is in hell where he deserves to be, and Bertha can only laugh. She’s never been so happy in her life, not in years, not since Louisa was driven away. She’s so elated she could dance and does a little before she hears noise outside and is called back to reality. She’s mad, mad, so mad and a murderess too now, but she’s lucid enough to know she could be punished, condemned to death if she’s discovered at the site of his death. She escapes, still half laughing, still happy that she’s going to be free at last.
But Rochester isn’t dead. The girl, the governess saved him. Cruel irony, cruel blow for Bertha, her plans foiled by the very person she intended to protect. And he’s furious at both her and Grace now, barely restraining himself from hitting them both. He used to not hesitate with Bertha when they were young and angry, but now he fancies himself a gentleman and he can’t be giving blows to mere women, can he? His words for Grace are sharper than anything he might have cut her with though, and by the time he leaves, Bertha is half convinced she’ll soon have a new guardian, one who doesn’t enjoy the drink so much… Certainly, Rochester must at the very least wish he could be get rid of Grace after her carelessness almost had him killed.
Can he, though? He entrusted too many of his secret to this woman, and now she holds power over him. Try as he might, he can’t fire him. There’s a link between all three of them that only death can undo. Their death, if Bertha has it her way. And she swear that she will, oh yes, she will have her way.
After all, unlike them, she has nothing left to lose.
what even is that fic anymore? I don't know.
Bertha is haunting me and I need to write her more and more, I guess.
But I don't think I'll let her die. I don't think I can be that cruel.
in which Bertha gets a secret, and a visit
A secret is a precious thing, especially for one whose intimacy has been ruined and violated so many times. A dangerous secret, more precious still.
Bertha’s secret is a couple inches long, made of sharp iron with a wood handle.
Lately Grace has taken to cooking for them both in Bertha’s little room. She’s tried to avoid the kitchen lately, because it’s too tempting to get beer there, and cooking gives her to do. She doesn’t let Bertha help of course, though she’s bored to death and would relish even such a low task as this. Grace seems to think that madness is contagious, or that Bertha might manage to poison the food. You never know what those creoles are capable of, she tells Leah. They all have Black blood in them sooner or later, and with that come magic blacker than their skin ever was. Leah agrees. Bertha hates them both, but she still manages to steal a knife from Grace and hide it. Grace notices, and is worried for a day or two, before she’s distracted by new events.
There’s a party in the house, and guests.
It’s not a first, of course. Rochester is a gentleman, it’s expected of him to have guests sometimes. And Bertha should be there at his side, welcoming these people, charming them, chatting with the women, looking at the young people flirting together and whispering about which ones will be married soon, and which alliances will have to be broken off because they are not suitable… The fun of young people is to fall in love, the amusement of older ones is to watch them and discuss it. But that’s something Bertha will never get to take part it. Now less than ever because she gets to hear to gossip, even from her attic, and what she hears is infuriating.
That little Jane Eyre must have been too resisting, or maybe it’s just that Rochester wants to secure himself a good position in society even as he keeps going on in his mission to ruin that poor girl. Leah tells Grace that their master is going to marry some girl from the neighbourhood, that she’s a clear favourite of his, that the house will soon have a mistress at last. Grace’s only reply is that Rochester doesn’t strike her as a man who will find happiness in marriage, and especially not with a harpy like that Blanche Ingram.
Because one thing is certain, the servants don’t like her. Not even her own, the maid she brought with her for her stay. Miss Ingram is a vain and haughty little pest they all agree, and she’s lucky to have been born rich or else even her pretty face wouldn’t suffice to give her any friends. She treats her inferior badly, which they are somewhat used to, but they’ve noticed that she’s hardly any kinder to her equals, and that’s not right. If she becomes mistress of the house, there will be changes, and not good ones.
“She’ll not keep Mrs Fairfax,” Leah says on the other side of Bertha’s door. “Or at least, she’ll try not to, because I don’t know if the master will agree to that. But she’s sure not to like that there’s anyone who knows how to run the house better than she does. And she’ll send the little girl away too, be sure of that. She hates the child something fierce, it’s awful to see! And she hates that poor miss Eyre even more if that’s possible, so she’ll want to be rid of both.”
“That girl will end up in Lowood just like the governess did,” Grace agrees. “But as to miss Eyre, I’d be surprised the master will let her go that easy. You can bet he’ll find her a good situation not too far from home, and he’ll call her back to him as soon as he gets a child out of his wife. He’s a little soft for that girl, I think.”
There’s a short silence. No exclamation, no surprise. Just enough time for a nod, and Bertha is worried. Rochester has already half ruined the girl certainly if the servants have noticed his preference.
“He’s having her stay with them every evening you know,” Leah claims. “Anyone can see she’s bored out of her mind, I saw her when I came to bring in tea, she’s always hiding in corners and away from all these nice people… and not one of them would talk to her I think. She’s beneath them. I’d look for a new situation if I were her, before there’s a mistress in the house to kick me out without a penny or a recommendation. Why, I think we all should start looking, because that miss Ingram feels the sort who’ll want to start afresh just so she can be in full control… you’re the only one of us who doesn’t have to fear for her place, Grace.”
“Oh, he won’t dare be rid of us,” Grace replied. “That girl might try if she like, but there’s not many who’ll want to work in a house where there’s a madwoman. And I don’t think the master is one to let his wife decide everything. He likes giving orders too, and if that girl thinks she’s got any power over her, she’s even more stupid than she seems. He looks at her like she’s less likeable than his dog, and I think he’s not wrong in that.”
They both laugh at that. Bertha stares at her knife, at her reflection on the blade. That’s one more woman for her to save. That Blanche Ingram might be horrible and detestable and worse things yet, but she doesn’t deserve to have Rochester inflicted upon her. There’s not a woman alive on Earth that would deserve such a fate and Bertha feels she’s the only one who can do anything. She’ll protect the little bastard and the governess and that new lady, she’ll protect everyone from the toxic proximity of her husband, so they do not end up like her, mad and broken and alone.
But before Bertha can escape and do what must be done, she gets a visit. One she used to hope for, desperately but now it just makes her angry, angrier than she has been in years because Richard, her brother Richard, is here and he looks healthy and well and terrified of her.
“I know you don’t understand me,” Richard says, hesitantly, looking at her like she’s some wild beast. “Edward warned me… wrote to me that you have… fallen to the same disease as mother. But I still wanted to… see you?”
I am not mad, Bertha wants to scream, but it only comes away as a growl and she wants to cry. She’s never wanted her words back so badly and she tries, she so tries, breathes and clears her throat and attempts to make out the right sounds.
“Please,” she manages to croak. “ Please .”
Please take her away from there, from this place, from this man. Please tell the world how Rochester treated her. Please save her, because she’s tried to save herself and she just can’t, this land hates her too much. Please don’t let her rot in this room any longer, please remember they are siblings and they have a duty to each other, that they used to love each other once and to stick together against the world.
But Richard only takes a step back, throwing a terrified glance at Grace who remains impassible.
Bertha’s heart is breaking. She wants to throw herself at his feet and beg, but she also wants to slap him for looking at Grace. As if that woman isn’t the enemy, their enemy.
Her compromise between the two is to grab his arm so she can grab his attention. She just wants him to look into her eyes, to see she’s not mad, or if she is then not in the way Rochester says, she’s just as mad as anyone would be locked in a room without company or occupation for ten years, and she’s sure her eyes would show this if only her brother would look into them directly.
Instead Richard panics, slapping her when she won’t let go of his sleeve and shoving her away as hard as he can. He’s never had much strength but Bertha is taken by surprise and Richard is in terror. She hits the nearest wall hard enough that her vision blurs and her ears ring. Or maybe it’s the tears that make everything look so unfocused. Richard’s visit was a miracle, a gift from God, but even that is taken from her. No one will help her. Rochester’s death will be her only way out… but then, what will happen after? If she cannot count on Richard to come for her, to care for her? She had thought that after learning of his friend’s death, his brother-in-law, Richard would come to England, see in what conditions she’s kept, and take her back home, but now… judging by the disgust on his face, it’s likely he’ll just leave her to rot in this miserable country, that he’ll just become Grace’s new employer and make sure Bertha stays hidden from the world.
And it’s unfair, so unfair, and she’s scared and her head hurts so much, but above all she’s angry. Angry at herself for hoping, angry at Rochester for all he’s done, angry at this man looking down at her now, this man who’s no longer her brother, just a stranger, a friend of Rochester…
The knife is hidden under the bed, where Grace never looks, where Bertha can see it now. Her secret. And having a secret gives her power.
She grabs the knife and launches herself at Richard, not to kill him but to threaten him, use him as an hostage to get out. She grabs him, chokes him with her elbow around his throat (she’s taller than him, always was, and stronger too), puts the knife at his stomach and growls at Grace.
“Door!” she manages to order, the word almost hurting her throat, but she’s speaking again, at last, fury making her human once more.
But Grace doesn’t open the door, just demands that she calms down and tries to get closer, probably so she can take the knife away from her. And Richard, weak and soft hearted Richard, suddenly finds some courage and fights back, tries to escape. His fists and elbows hit her hard, even when she waves her knife around to remind him she’s in control.
When she stabs him, it’s not her fault.
She had her eyes on Grace, trying to sneak behind her, when Richard both stomped hard on her naked foot and elbowed her stomach so hard the pain almost made her pass out. She didn’t mean to hurt him, she just wanted him to stop hurting her, but suddenly there’s blood and she never meant that.
They both panic after that, and so does Grace who must fear for her place. Bertha drops the knife but tries to keep Richard close, knowing even now he’s her only chance to escape. Grace pulls at her limbs, her hair, trying to get her away from her brother with Richard screams and claws at her like a desperate cat. Well, she’s desperate too, probably more than he’ll ever be. She knows true despair, she knows true loneliness, she knows there’s a fate worse than death if she lets them lock her up again. She fights with all she has but Grace still manages to grab her arms and pull them behind her, so Bertha plants her teeth into Richard’s shoulders and bites hard, tasting the blood but not letting go until she gets a hard blow to the side of her head. She’s so stunned by it that she lets Grace drag her back to her bed and lock her inside her little prison, while she can see Rochester taking Richard to safety.
She cries. Her body and her heart hurt beyond anything she’s ever known before. There’s that to be said for Rochester, even when it came to blows between them, he was never as nasty as Richard just was. Richard, her Richard, her brother, her hope, her last hope, the only man living who might have stood for her. She did believe in him, in a way no gods could have claimed her belief, but he turned against her anyway, and now she might have killed him. She wants him to die for the pain he caused her, for the bruises she’ll have for days, and the ache in her heart that will never settle. But she wants him to live also, because she remembers the boy she used to play with, the boy who made her laugh and whom she’d tease.
More than anything, she wishes he’d never come to see her. More than anything, she mourns the death of hope.
Bertha comes up with another escape plan, but her husband has learned to be careful.
Life becomes harder after Richard’s visit. Grace’s vigilance is increased, and she drinks less. The want of alcohol makes her unhappy, she snaps at everyone and everything. Bertha is worried at first that her guardian will strike her one day, that Grace will hit her the way her brother had… but Grace, for all her faults, is kinder than that. Or smarter maybe. Rochester takes such pride in what he calls a humane treatment of his wife, he probably draws the line at physical violence.
How humane of him.
How clever of them all. Their words, their attitudes, their imprisonment have left scars on Bertha’s mind, on her very soul, but those do not show. In a way, she almost relishes the bruises her brother left on her. A visual reminder of what was done to her, what is still being done.
Grace calls her perverse for the way she’s constantly lifting her clothes to touch the bruise on her stomach. It’s yellow now, almost blending in with her brown skin, but she remembers its blackness of the beginnings, a wide stain on her body that she couldn’t stop touching. She hurt but she was alive. She hurt because she was alive.
Outside her little domain, life goes on. Rochester is marrying that Blanche girl, it’s clear to all. They deserve each other, Bertha thinks, and yet she can’t help but wonder still if she’ll have a new companion someday. Blanche Ingram does not sound like someone she would have chosen to keep around her, no matter how desperate she is for someone to trust and confide in. Just like Rochester, she thinks of that Jane Eyre girl, poor but proud, plain but well educated…
Maybe Edward and her have more in common than she had thought, then, if they both fancy the same kind of companionship.
But one day, everything changes.
“Mrs Fairfax saw the master kiss miss Eyre,” Leah confided to Grace in a loud whisper. “Kiss her! And then this morning, he comes tell her that he’s intending to marry the governess, that they are very in love and very happy!”
Grace looks just as shocked as Bertha feels. There’s even something of disapproval on her face, if such a thing is possible.
“But she’s young enough that she could be his daughter! And she’s a nobody, she hasn’t a penny in the world, and… dear me! I thought she’d had the senses to resist him, but do you think she’s…”
“I wash her things, and she was still bleeding but some days ago, so it can’t be that. Who’d have thought! Such a plain little thing she is, and she’s succeeded where a great lady failed! Well, I’m happy enough for her. She’s a little too aware of the advantage going to school gave her, but she’s not a bad girl in the end, and he seems quite in love with her. I’d much rather have her as a mistress than that Blanche, that’s certain.”
Leah seems happy indeed, though a little surprised still. Grace on the other hand is pensive and dark. She looks at Bertha and their eyes meet, truly meet, perhaps for the first time ever. They share a same thought that it’s a cruel thing Rochester is doing to that girl, all the more cruel because she has no connections, no one to turn to when the secret gets out (it will, secrets always do) and she will be ruined, unable to find work among anyone who knows her story, dependent on him until the day he tires of her and send her away with some money or locks her away.
“Does she know about…” Grace asks with a little move of her head toward her charge.
Leah shakes her head, and laughs. “Oh, I never told you! Fairfax has her convinced that you’re the source of everything strange in the house! Apparently, she thinks you’re the one who tried to burn the master, and that it’s you who attacked that foreigner!”
Grace doesn’t share her friend’s hilarity, and instead grows more sombre. She’s getting a taste of her own medicine, learning what it’s like to have your entire reputation destroyed for the sake of another’s commodity. Bertha might have pitied her. She doesn’t.
“Then I don’t think he’ll keep her here when they’re married,” Grace guesses. “She’ll have too many questions he won’t want to answer. I’m betting it wouldn’t be long until she came here and demanded an explanation, and I’m not sure what I’d do.”
Bertha can’t help but laugh at that. She knows what Grace would do: she’d lie, like her master. Little miss Eyre might become mistress of the house, it's still Rochester who's paying Grace, and whatever loyalty she's capable of goes to him.
Grace glares at her, while Leah shudders and hunches her shoulders.
"Sometimes it's almost like she can still understand," Leah says.
"Oh, she understands almost everything. But she's so far gone she can't even speak, so who even knows? A dog too can seem clever but in the end it's still a dog."
Bertha is used to that insult. Grace never tires of reminding her she's an animal, as if she's any better. Usually it infuriates her, reminds her she's been stripped of any human dignity. Reminds her Rochester treats his dog and horse with more love and attention than he's ever shown her.
Today is different.
It's a fact that she's almost entirely forgotten how to speak. With only Grace and the rats for company, she didn't see the point in maintaining that skill. It's why she failed to get Richard's help though, she sees it now. Animals don't speak. Mad people don't make sense. If she had only managed to explain to him, calmly, like the refined lady she had once been...
It's too late for Richard and Bertha doesn't want his help anymore. She understands only too clearly that like Grace, her brother submits to Rochester's will. Everyone in this cursed home does. Everyone except maybe that little miss Eyre, who everyone says keeps a mind of her own, and (plie) only when she wishes too. It was Bertha's plan to save that girl and the little French bastard, maybe they can save her too...
But for that, she will have to prepare.
"God help us, she's almost more frightening when she gets so serious," Leah whispers. "I might prefer her laughing!"
"And I prefer her sleeping," Grace retorts. "it's the only time she's not crafting some wickedness."
Bertha smiles at them. Her plan is wicked indeed. Freedom is a sin for women, and she embraces that fully.
It takes effort, learning to speak again. It makes her throat raw, her lips dry, her tongue swollen. More than anything, it takes time, because she cannot do it around Grace. No one can know she's no longer an animal, not until the time is right for her great reveal.
Because she's taken to sleeping during the day, Grace calls her lazy. She cannot imagine how hard Bertha works in the moonlight. She'll never see the pride on her prisoner's face when, for the first time in years, she manages again to say her own name in a voice that's almost human. Grace will never have any idea of the efforts needed for a full sentence. She will never hear Bertha digging her memory for poems and songs of her childhood. She can never know how night after night, her victim tries out different ways to tell her story, different ways to beg for help, wondering which one will work best.
Grace is not paying her much attention anyway. The house is bursting with animation as the master prepares his wedding, and even Grace has to do her part, however reluctantly.
"It's not right what he's doing to that girl," she often says when she's alone with Bertha, the only other to know the truth. "But when you've got money, you can decide what's right and what's wrong, who will protest?"
If the secret of her voice regained weren't so precious, Bertha would point out that if Grace can pity miss Eyre, she should pity her prisoner too. Instead she laughs. It's as good an answer as any. And it's funny, in a way, to discover Grace does have a conscience.
Days and nights pass quickly, each of the two women busy in their own way. Each getting ready to leave the scrutiny of Rochester; if his unlawful marriage plan succeeds, he'll leave the country with his mistress. If Bertha wins, she'll be free and so will be that unfortunate girl.
Then one afternoon Bertha wakes up, and it is a day before that masquerade of a wedding. From her small window, Bertha can see the weather is appropriately gloomy, some distant mist having survived the weak spring sun. Nothing at all like the days preceding Bertha's wedding. It had been so sunny, so warm, a weather that promised glorious days and great happiness.
Sometimes the weather lied, like everything else. But not this time. This cloudy English hell was the perfect thing for her revenge on Rochester.
That's all she can think about. All afternoon she rehearses what she will tell little miss Eyre, how she will present herself to her. Should she try to steal some proper clothes, for fear her rags will spoil her case before she can speak? Or will the contrast of her measured speech with her ghostly looks make more of an impact? Should she speak softly, should she plead, should she act like a queen? There is so much to plan if she wants to seduce that governess into trusting her, and Bertha has never realised before how much she has missed this.
She's so excited about her plan that she eats dinner without thinking about it. She's halfway through her serving of stew when she finally registers how odd it tastes, unnaturally bitter and sweet at once. She's tasted that once before. The night of Rochester's only visit to her.
It's been so long since either party treated the other as anything but stupid and brutish, it's a real surprise to realise Rochester must have feared she'd try something. They both know how special tomorrow is, but Bertha expected she wouldn't be on his mind at the moment. How silly of her. She should have known her husband too would be obsessively reminiscing over their tragedy of a married life. She should have known of scared he'd be of anything coming to ruin his perfect little lie. That Grace, for all her scruples, would always answer the call of money.
The last thing she can do before passing out is roar at her smirking captor.
Night has fallen long ago when Bertha emerges again. It'd be wrong to say she awakes. There's a fog hanging around her mind, and her senses are so disturbed she can hear her eyes moving within her skull.
Sleep calls to her, and she longs for its darkness, but she must resist. Even now, she remembers there is something only she can do. Tomorrow is a big day, an important day. There is a wedding coming, though in that moment she can't remember whose. If she can go out, maybe she'll remember.
The door of her room is unlocked. But that shouldn't surprise her. She always leaves it open, so it's easier for Louisa to come join her at night, to kiss her and love her. But there's no Louisa outside tonight, only Grace's plain and hateful face, sleeping on her bed near the door. It'd be so easy to kill her, but Bertha doesn't have time. The wedding is getting near, she has no time to lose.
Her feet feel like as she escapes the attic, as she runs down stairs after stairs. It is a big house, her house, and she must find Louisa soon or something will go wrong with the wedding. Her dazed mind easily finds the way to her Louisa's room, and when she enters, the first thing she sees is the beautiful veil.
How long has it been since she last saw something so beautiful? Not since another life, centuries ago, when she was still young and beautiful. Maybe she is again. This might be her wedding day, and the thought delights her. Through the thick fog of her mind, she feels that Louisa too is getting married today, that the veil is for her beloved. It could be that they will be promised to each other, their love too strong to be contained within the rules of what's acceptable. It is their day of triumph, Bertha's day of triumph, and none shall ever harm her again.
The veil is on her head before she knows it. It's Louisa's veil but they share everything when no one can see them. It is amazing to wear something beautiful again, and Bertha needs to see herself, craves it even. If vanity is a sin it's her favourite one, and she's delighted to find a small mirror.
Her reflection is, as always, as slap in the face. Even through the drug she was fed, Bertha recognises what she has become, her face made more grotesque by her dazed expression, by the beauty of the veil. These pearls and that delicate muslin are not for the mad monster she's become, even for her sweet Louisa, lost for ever. That frail piece of fabric is a spider's web meant to entrap a prey, and that prey is poor Jane Eyre, the governess without friends to save her from the devil.
Bertha tears the veil from her head and easily rips it in two. That web will never catch another fly. In her drugged mind, the governess is safe, or almost.
She leaves the room, stomping on the spider's veil for good measure, and go to Rochester's room for good measure, to see if he too might be torn in two, but he is not there. She spits on his bed, the only thing she can think of to express her rage, and then returns to her prison.
Miss Eyre will not be marrying anyone, Bertha can feel it
Welp, here comes another chapter.
I'm wondering more and more how I want this to end. On one hand, I know Bertha can get freedom and revenge even within the limitations of canon. On the other hand, she deserves better than that...
A wedding fails, a house burns, Bertha finds freedom
Warning for minor character death, but I dont think you'll mind too much.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the morning, Grace forces Bertha to drink something while she's still too sleepy to protest. The taste goes unnoticed, and Bertha is sent again in a stupor that lasts for hours. She doesn't sleep the whole time, but she might as well. The drug must be different, or the dosage of it; either way it destroys her will almost entirely, and she spends much of that day at the window, looking at clouds. Four more times does Grace make her drink. A voice deep within begs her to fight, but even thinking of it takes so much effort while it is incredibly easy to simply let things happen.
Night comes and goes. Bertha thinks she hears Rochester's voice on the other side of the door. Giving instructions for Grace. Her old anger cannot take hold, the drowsiness too powerful. Rochester can do as he like. Rochester will do as he like. He always does.
Morning. Another dose of that odd mixture. Bertha could almost like it. Feeling nothing is better than... Whatever she was feeling before. Helpless. Despaired. Lonely. Yes, that one sounds right. She was so lonely. She always will be. But right now, she doesn't mind.
It's nearing the time for a next dose when guests come visit them. Bertha hears them speaking on the other side of her door, sees the surprise on Grace's face when that door opens.
Rochester comes in. He is as ugly as he ever was, though his clothes are good enough that his face doesn't matter so much. Bertha, still half in a daze, tries to remember if he was once a little more handsome, or if time improved his face. Did she ever convince himself he was attractive? Did she ever like this man, did she ever believe they could be happy together? She can't remember, and maybe she never managed to make up her mind before things went wrong.
Rochester talks to Grace, moves near his accomplice, and Bertha can now see the others. Richard is there, or maybe he's just an illusion. The other men she doesn't know. The only girl she knows too well, though it's the first time she sees her from such a close distance. Jane Eyre.
If Rochester is ugly, then that girl is indeed just as plain as Leah and Grace have said. Here, in her too fine, too pretty wedding dress, she's almost as ugly as their husband. Bertha pities her, until their eyes meet.
There's something in those eyes that shakes Bertha to the core. Little miss Eyre is in shock, and she's angry, a furious rage that nothing in her demeanour shows except a fire in her eyes. Little miss Eyre looks like she would let them all burn if she could: Rochester, Richard, Bertha and those other men. Little miss Eyre has been hurt so deeply it will leave a scar on her soul, just like on Bertha's.
Rochester did this to them.
"Sir, she's seen you!" Grace cries as Bertha launches herself at her husband. Her mind is still too sluggish for her to speak against him. He did this to her. He took her words, once again, but she can feel Jane Eyre's pain too keenly to let him live. She tries to bite and claw at his throat, desperate to feel his blood, to feel his death.
At any other time, Rochester would be fighting for his life, but the drug that clouds Bertha's mind is also affecting her body, making her weak. The husband she almost shared with Jane Eyre has no trouble taking hold of her, before mocking her in front of the men who came with him.
Her eyes, again, meet those of little miss Eyre. She sees pity there, and horror. But the pity is for Rochester, and the horror is for Bertha.
She stops fighting and let herself be locked away again, listen to Rochester and his guests walk away from her prison. When she cannot hear anything anymore, Bertha falls down and cry herself to sleep.
"Well, the girl is gone for good," Grace says as she comes in with their dinners. "No one around has so much as seen her since she left last week."
And for those seven days Bertha moped around, feeling the pain of hope lost again. She had decided to let herself become the animal they all wanted her to be, but this she can't resist.
It startles Grace to hear her speak in s voice so clear and human. Bertha's efforts paid off, even if it was all in vain.
"Shows how heartless you are," Grace says when she's recovered from the surprise. "That girl is probably dead in a ditch, or she was forced into some bad company worse than what the master offered. She's poor as dirt and she's got no one out there. Didn't even think to take the jewels he gave her, that stupid girl."
"Clever of her," Bertha retorts. "He'd have found her easily with the jewels."
Grace frowns at her and pinches her lips.
"Since when do you talk anyway? You're not planning another escape, are you? Won't work. Everyone in the county has heard of you now."
Bertha considers this, and shrugs. She longs for freedom the way a sinner longs for God. It sounds a beautiful idea, but not something she could live with after all that has happened.
Little miss Jane Eyre is braver than her, and Bertha feels proud of her.
"I'm bored," Bertha says. "I've been bored for fifteen years. You are not much to talk to, but I suppose you will have to do."
"I'm not going to chat with you, you wicked thing!" Grace cries, heading for the door with her dinner. "Talk to the rats, that's company fit for you!"
The door slams behind her, and Bertha sighs. Loneliness feels heavier with each passing moment.
Grace barely dares come in the room anymore because Bertha is determined to chat with her whenever she does. She gave up on ever being free again, but her heart still must long for something. It is human nature to want more from life than just food and drink. She could turn to God for comfort, but what good is He to her? He created her with this twisted mind that cannot love a husband, a heart that only ever beat for others of her sex, a mind and body that refused to submit to any will but her own. If God had wanted to love her, he would not have made her the way she is.
If she can't have God, the devil will do.
Or rather the devil's henchman. Rochester is crying the loss of his would-be bride, but Grace Poole is always there. So Bertha talks at her. Nonsensical ramblings for the most. She can say what she likes, Grace only ever ignores her or express disgust. It's liberating in a way. She gets to talk about her life in Madeira, about her dreams, about Louisa. How could it have been a sin when she still misses her so keenly, when all she wants is to know somewhere in this world, her beloved is happy?
Grace calls her perverse.
Bertha reminds her that one of them was willing to let a man trick an innocent into becoming his mistress, willing to help him by her silence, and that it's not her.
Grace rages at her and leaves.
Oh, the fun they have together.
Other times, when Grace isn't there, Bertha pretends she speaks to others. Louisa is a favourite of course, but so is miss Eyre. In moments of boredom, she might talk to the little French bastard, to Leah, to her mother.
To Louisa she says love poems, great ones she read once in another life, or mediocre ones she's improvising. Then one night she apologises for the trouble she's sure to have brought her beloved, for not protecting her, for not being a man who could have married her and made her safe.
To little Adèle, she tells a version of her life that takes the form of a cautionary tale. Don't trust in men, she warns. Don't trust women either unless you know them as well as yourself. Become what others want you to be, it's the only way to survive, even if that means you must kill your true soul. And more than anything, don't fall in love. Love is what dooms everyone, in the end.
To Leah she doesn't have much to say. Usually she only shares gossips of her youth, or gives an opinion of those she can hear from the other side of the door. It's the lightest of all her conversations, and it is such a relief to speak of things so unimportant.
To her mother she asks questions. Did she know Bertha's life would turn this way? Was she truly mad as people said, or simply too odd to be allowed in public, just like her daughter? Why did she never warn how cruel life is, why did she never say that there are worse things in this world than losing a favourite comb or spilling tea on a pretty dress?
To miss Eyre... Oh, miss Eyre. Bertha can still see her, so pathetic and small in her too gorgeous wedding dress. Such an insignificant creature, but this wilted flower did what stronger women would never have dared when she left. Better still, she avenged Bertha, she avenged all women when she broke the heart of Rochester, of another man who thought he could dispose of their soul and body however he liked.
"Like an angel or a demon," Bertha tells that ghost of hers. "Whichever it is that protects women. And you without family, without connection... Maybe you were only created to destroy him then, and having done that you returned to heaven or hell. If I had the power I would create a church in your name. Saint Jane Eyre, patron of abnormal women!"
" We all know you're going to hell already!" Grace shouts through the door. "Stop trying to drag that poor girl with you!"
Hell or heaven, Jane Eyre will go there by her own choice only.
Bertha's laughter is the only one to still resonate in the house. Adèle was sent to school.
"He never loved her much anyway," Leah says. "I don't know why he didn't just abandon her after the mother died."
"He fancies himself kind," Bertha replies.
Leah tilts her head, unconvinced.
It was Leah who demanded of Grace that they go in Bertha's room when they work together. There's more space and it's warmer. And, perhaps, she had grown curious of this mad woman who had learned to speak again. Especially now that the master of the house doesn't seem so sane himself. Jane Eyre broke his mind when she broke his heart.
Grace doesn't like this arrangement, doesn't like that Leah treats her prisoner like a person, but it's that or staying alone.
"I suppose he is kind enough in his own way," Leah muses. "He pays well, and doesn't demand too much. Or at least, it used to be so. What a pity he had to fall in love."
Leah doesn't take side in this, even now that she's discovered Bertha is somewhat human. She thinks a good wife should obey her husband, be soft and obedient. But then, she also thinks husbands should take be forgiving of their wives' faults. For her, they are both at fault, and Bertha can live with that.
Finally, someone who doesn't feel she is the sole culprit of the current situation.
"What a pity she wasn't smarter," Grace claims. "All our lives would be much happier."
"Stop this act," Leah says. "I know you are only trying to anger Mrs Rochester when you say those things."
Prisoner and guardian grimace alike. That's a title neither of them likes to hear. Bertha suspects that Leah knows it well and uses it for that exact reason. She can have a queer sense of humour.
"Anyway, the child is gone and I feel she's only the first," Leah sighs. "Mr Rochester gets in such terrible moods these days, I wouldn't be surprised if he sold Thornfield or burnt it to the ground now. Mrs Fairfax told John that most of us would be let go, but that she'd write us all good recommendations."
Bertha laughs. They glare at her. They think that mad or not, she's a lady of high birth who doesn't understand what a tragedy it can be to lose one's employment. They are not so wrong. Her mind is only preoccupied by the joy of seeing Rochester so thoroughly destroyed by little miss Eyre. She can't tell them this, though. Leah still has great respect for her master, and she will leave the room if Bertha tries to attack him.
"I was wondering if I'd be let go to," she cackles instead. "It's some letter of recommendation I'd get!"
Grace smiles, and so does Leah. It's a condescending smile, as if she were a foolish child dreaming the impossible. Not so wrong. What would she do if they let her go? Richard will not take her back, that coward, or only to lock her up again. She had money once, but she doubts Rochester would let her have it back. She'd have to work then, but she was raised to be a true lady and thus, utterly useless except for singing and drawing ugly miniatures. Even brothel work would not suit her, the thought of a man upon her making her sick.
"Have you heard the youngest miss Ingram is getting married?" Leah asks quickly. "She found herself a rich Lord in London, lucky girl!"
"And before her sister, too? Miss Blanche must be burning with envy. Another few years and her face won't be enough to detract from her character, and then that's spinster life for her."
Bertha stops listening as they list they many faults of Blanche Ingram. Despicable as she might have been, this is another victim of Rochester's games, another woman to be pitied.
Mostly there's the unease that servants know too much of their masters. She doesn't want to think what people might have thought of her when she was young and beautiful and convinced the world owed her everything.
Bertha did not start the fire. They will say she did, but that was not her.
All she did that night, and a few nights before that, was escape her prison and wander around Thornfield. Grace, at this point, has grown careless again. On nights when Leah doesn't join her, she drinks too much so she won't hear Bertha talking to herself. And Leah is busy more often than not, now most servants are gone.
And so in the dead of night, Bertha is finally free to visit her own home. It's a big place, and an old one, mostly abandoned. There's some antique treasure here and there, but most of it is junk as far she can tell.
After fifteen years in her attic, junk is a wonderful thing. Bertha loves discovering trinkets, old porcelaine figures of shepherdesses and sailors, mismatched sets of chinaware, forgotten toys, out of fashion dresses that were once flamboyant. Her life was stolen from her, and these are the ruins of existences she will never cross. A broken woman among broken things, it is fitting, and she finally gets to belong somewhere.
Some night, Bertha likes to play with her finds. Like a child, she has fake tea parties where no two cups are similar, and she pretends she's entertaining her closest friends. Louisa is here at her side, radiant in the most beautiful dress money can afford, with Bertha's mad brother across from her, taking care of their equally mad mother and feeding her delicate biscuits. Miss Eyre chats with them while keeping an eye on little Adèle who steals sweets from the table.
Happiness would have been that easy.
The night of the fire, Bertha is not in the mood for that game. Instead she has put on an old dress that must have belonged to her late mother-in-law. She had miss the cold feeling of silk and finely woven cotton on her skin, and though the dress was out of style even before Bertha was locked up, even if it has a large tea stain on its corsage, she still feels glorious. Combined with a half rotten fur cloak on her coulders, she feels lile a queen.
Her prison becomes her kingdom, and she proudly parades in it. She can't help but enjoy knowing she's not supposed to be roaming these corridors, wearing those clothes.
She's wicked and loving every moment of it.
Why did she go to the governess room though? Perhaps because that felt the most wicked thing she could. Jane Eyre's room is a shrine to her, a place to worship the angel who avenged her, avenged all women hurt by men. She's called to it like a moth to a flame. But she did not expect to find a real flame in there, so when she sees light, she approaches cautiously.
Rochester is in there. Lying on the girl's bed, crying over the wedding dress he laid down at his side. Bertha has never seen him crying before. It makes him uglier than usual. It also makes him more human than he's ever seemed in their long acquaintance. He looks the way Bertha felt when Louisa was fired. Part of her rejoices to see him so broken, to see what good work Jane Eyre has done for her.
Another part of her soul reminds her that Rochester truly is human too, and that he too has suffered from their marriage. And it appears he did love this girl as deeply as he was capable of.
Bertha pities him, if only for a moment. They have both suffered so much, and neither of them deserved to be thrown into this unhappy union that destroyed them both.
A moment, and that feeling is gone when Bertha remembers all that this man had done to her, simply because a divorce would have stained his name too much. Let him suffer, let other pity him and his tragic passion. Bertha's heart and soul have been broken too much for forgiveness.
She takes a step back. The floor creaks under her foot. Rochester's eyes meet hers.
There's no pity there either, only rage and hatred.
"This is your fault!" he roars, jumping from the bed. The candle on the nightstand is knocked down and rolls towards curtains. Neither of them notices. Neither of them cares.
It's the first time since her imprisonment that Bertha sees her husband without having been drugged before. She has a feeling it will be the last. Better make it count.
"You took Louisa from me," she hisses, as if that's his worst crime. It is. It weakened her and allowed the rest to happen. "Now you know how it feels to lose the one you love!"
"All you've ever known in your life was perversion," he retorts, disgust twisting his face into a terrible mask. "Your unnatural amusements... And you compare that to Jane, so good and pure! My little Janet, lost in this world, alone..."
"Dead or turned a whore," Bertha laughs, smirking at the pain on his face. "That's what happens to girls tricked by men such as you. And call me perverse or a monster, but I never had to lie to get who I wanted. Never had to hide my true nature. Never made anyone sin against their will, while you were ready to turn a poor sweet girl into your personal whore just because it suited you. So between us, who's the perverse one, eh?"
He launches himself at her with a terrible cry, and she barely escapes the blow, laughing even though she's terrified now. She must have struck him too close to his own thoughts, and he looks ready to kill her for it.
She starts running. He follows.
They never saw the flame of the candle licking at the curtain and devouring them.
They wouldn't have stopped anyway.
Bertha used to be a fast runner in her youth. Not anymore. She's lucky Rochester isn't so young either, that he's probably drunk, or he'd have caught her much faster. Instead she reaches the last floor, and when he gets too close she's able to grab a candelabra to hold as a weapon. He takes a step forward. She swings the candelabra his way. He steps back.
Almost all of Bertha's attention is on her husband, but other things are becoming harder to ignore. The smell. The noises. Voices crying out. Then the smoke, rising rapidly, and with it heat. Rochester sees it too, hears it too. The smoke makes him cough, but he stands his ground. They are going to die here, Bertha realises with horror, and miserable as her life has been, she isn't ready to let go of it yet.
"Let me go," she growls, before the smoke makes her cough. "Let me pass, let me go!"
Rochester does not move, but his eyes flicker to something behind Bertha.
It all happens in the course of a second. Bertha jumps to the side and turns, swinging her weapon right into the ribs of Grace who was trying to grab her. She had not planned what happens next. Her own momentum, coupled with the blow, sends Grace Poole over the rail and into the smoke.
Bertha's first thought is that she wouldn't miss the woman. Her second one is that she can barely see for all the smoke, and that the flames are climbing fast. Rochester must have had the same thought because after one last hateful look at his wife he runs downstairs.
Bertha isn't long to follow him. They are both in the stairs when the house starts collapsing, weakened by the fire. Things, after that, are a blur. Bertha remembers falling, and pain in her right arm, in both her ankles. Fire in her fur cloak. Panic. Running. She remembers so much running, her lungs in fire, her legs like shattered glass. Running without direction. Running away, never caring where to. Running until she stumbles on the side of a dirt road. Collapsing there, in the cold dawn.
She feels about to die, exhausted, chest burning, limbs shaking. But dying free. She wouldn't mind.
When she regains consciousness, Bertha is staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. Someone has undressed her and tended to her burns. She is in a bed, soft and clean. There is a presence at her side, a woman on a chair, but it isn't Grace. It's a girl no older than twelve, her face almost familiar even though Bertha cannot have met her before. When she sees Bertha is awake, the girl smiles kindly.
"There you are! Oh, mama and me were so worried when we found you by that road! We brought you here as fast as we could, and the doctor says it's lucky we found you!"
Bertha stares at her a little too long. She's forgotten about kindness and mercy. If her body didn't feel so heavy, she'd be trying to run away already. The girl notices, and her pretty little face falls down.
"Oh please, don't move, it's too early! You need rest, the doctor said, so if you need anything, only ask me! There, I'll give you some light tea, and then you should try to sleep some more."
Bertha accepts the drink, though swallowing takes effort.
"Where am I?" she tries to ask, but the smoke must have damaged her throat, and it comes out as an inhuman croak.
Gently, the girl scolds her for attempting to speak and orders her to sleep. Bertha panics for a second, a prisoner of new guardians. But she is in not state to fight now, she'll need her strength back. Obediently she closes her eyes, and sleep soon follows.
She half wakes hours later, feverish and delirious. Someone gives her water. A cool hand on her burning cheek. A caress almost. Gentleness. Safe. Bertha returns to sleep.
Voices wake her the third time, both of them familiar and strange. The first she eventually recognises as the young girl who cared for her. The second, a woman, makes her heart swell, her soul ache.
"If that's true, she's truly lucky your father's affairs brought us here and we found her," that voice says. "I never trusted that Rochester man, but I thought people like him had some honour at least."
"Mary said the people of that Thornfield place believe her to be dead," the girl replies. "That means they won't try to harm her again, will they?"
"Never again," the first voice says, hard as diamond when Bertha remembers it soft and tender.
Still, when she finally opens her eyes, it is indeed Louisa she sees. Her Louisa, changed by fifteen years and dressed in black silk, yet still the same as the girl who would laugh and kiss her, back in another life. Louisa who notices she is awake and smiles with the same affection as she used too, as if these terrible years were nothing more than a dream.
"Good morning, Bertha dearest," she says, taking Bertha's hand gently. "Hasn't it been so long? But don't you worry dear. You are safe with me now, and no harm will ever again."
Bertha smiles back, tears rushing to her eyes.
Louisa is here, and Bertha feels like she's finally home again.
And there we are. I was hesitant at first to bring Louisa in the picture, but this is a fic for a book full of coincidences, so I hope you'll forgive me. If Jane can be saved by her long lost cousins after her long lost uncle prevented her marriage because he's buddy with the groom's true brother in law, surely Bertha can be rescued by her true love, no?
Anyway. Thanks for reading this mostly therapeutic and odd fanfic. Bertha is dear to my heart, as much as Jane.
I'm hoping to soon write for this fandom again. I have plans for a modern AU with a Jane/Bertha endgame, and I'm super excited to write it!