Part Three: The Other
He keeps a girl now. I have seen her strolling the grounds through my window (such a small window, they think I can’t see anything, but I can see enough), and I hear her playing with that child who spends so much time here. I have often demanded that Grace tell me whether the child is his, but she does not answer me. The girl, though — she, I have no doubt, is his, though I cannot for all the world imagine why. She’s a frail, sickly, mousy thing, and I feel certain that a girl with looks like that cannot possibly have much spirit.
He needs a woman with spirit. He needs a woman, not a girl who looks barely old enough to have outgrown a governess. He needs a woman with spirit, to match his own passion. He is a fire, and a fire cannot be with anything besides fire, or else it will consume or be put out. I’d wager that that girl is the thinnest paper. He’d consume her in an instant. I was his fire. I was! I am! He can lock me away in a room for fourteen years, but I am no less his wife!
Fourteen years. Fourteen. Four in our home in the islands after he received word that my mother was mad. She had been going mad since after I first escaped, they said, and she had become a drunkard in the midst of her madness, and madness runs in the family, so assuredly, it must be madness that is the cause of my hysteria as well. So they said. I heard them murmuring outside the door. The doctor had come to speak with me, asked me silly questions about how I felt about things, and then retreated from the room and told Edward that he was certain I had gone mad. It explained my screaming, it explained my love of the bottle, it explained my constant desires to flee to the tavern. This diagnosis has persuaded me that doctors know nothing. He doesn’t understand—no one does—what it is like to live the life that I have lived, to be controlled in the ways I have been controlled, to be isolated the way I have been isolated. But of course, I could say nothing in my own defense; I’m nothing but a madwoman. They’ve locked me away like a common, savage beast.
Well, perhaps I am mad now. But name me one person who would not be after seeing the same four walls for ten years! Perhaps if we had remained in the islands, my madness would have descended upon me more slowly. I felt very much myself there for the four years before we traveled back to England. I was distraught by my situation, of course, but I still had my windows, and I still had the sunshine. England is far more dreary, and they don’t want me to have windows after the time two years into my confinement when I broke one trying to escape. All that I accomplished by doing so was to gash my arm and convince them all the more firmly that I must be mad.
It does not matter what I do. All of my actions, they attribute to madness. She tried to leave her room? Ah, the madness, such a pity. She requested honey with her tea instead of sugar? The poor, mad dear!
When Grace fell asleep on her watch last night (she indulges heavily in gin, and she does not hold it well), I slipped past her and went to his room. I just looked upon him for a few minutes, watching him sleep. I marvel that he used to love me, but marvel even more that he no longer does. If he can love such a plain, pitiful creature like that girl, how can he possibly not love me? How can he possibly love her after having loved me? To this day, I cannot understand why he was so greatly changed so quickly when we married.
He slept peacefully. So peacefully. But he would wake soon, I intended to see to that. I laid the candle I held at the foot of his bed, and the bedspread caught alight. I left the room. I would be as a spectre to him. He would know, of course, that I was responsible for the fire. None of the few other people residing in this wretched, lonely house would be mad enough to do such a thing. None of them ever loved him deeply enough to go to such great lengths to remind him of who he was. That’s the purpose of the fire, really. He needs only to be reminded that he, like fire, is untamable, powerful, wild, passionate. If he remembers who he is, he will remember our love, and he will remember me, and he will set me free once again.
* * *
My plan, a complete failure. The girl rescued him.
The girl rescued him!
She, the very one from whom I was trying to draw him away, has further endeared herself to him by playing the heroine. If he had no cause to feel affection towards her before, he has a very good one now.
What I would not give to know by what arts she’s managed to ensnare him. How can one who has beheld the greatest masterpieces at the finest museums later esteem a child’s scrawling as equally great art? How, without completely forgetting the masterpieces?
Has he forgotten me? I had been so convinced that it was his own self that he had forgotten, but perhaps I am the one who has been forgotten. Can it really be that he has locked me away in a room in the same house in which he dwells, that we sleep under the same roof and see the same trees outside our windows, and yet he no longer remembers me? How could he forget what we had—our great, passionate love? We were the sort of lovers deserving of inclusion among the lovers of legend, with Lancelot and Guinevere, with Cleopatra and Antony, with Romeo and Juliet… how could he forget that?
* * *
I overheard Alice and Grace talking today of a wedding. My wound grows ever deeper. I had clung to the hope that perhaps the girl was only here as the governess of that little child (whose child is she? This is my second most afflicting question), even though I have caught glimpses of them walking the grounds shoulder to shoulder. But it is true: they are to wed soon. Now I know he must have forgotten me. Surely he cannot believe that he can have two wives. I am his wife! He cannot have her, and she cannot have him! He belongs to me, whether he will acknowledge it or not!
Grace’s flask has not left her hand all this evening, and I expect she will drift off to sleep soon, and when she does, I will give the girl a warning. I wonder if he has told her about me. I do not see how he could avoided it. How else could he have explained the fire from which she saved him? Yes, she must know, and therefore I hate her. How dare she romance a man who belongs to another woman. How dare she. Especially a man of whom she is so clearly unworthy.
Grace has nodded off… I cough, and she does not stir. Out the door, then, quietly, and down the hall and down the stairs… and here is her room. And there… there hang the bridal garments. And the luggage all prepared to be sent out, all labeled—the horror!—“Mrs. Rochester”! How can she have such audacity as to claim the title and the name that another woman already possesses?
I take the veil, and as I rend it in two, I’m reminded of the night I tore my own dress and left it on the side of the road. This dress also deserves such a fate.
The girl stirs, opens her eyes, looks frightened. I remain where I am intentionally, long enough for her to have no excuse that she did not know of my existence. She has seen me, and she has seen my hatred.
I retreat, confident in my warning.
* * *
But they are gone to the church, gone to be wed, gone to commit a hideous act! Gone, forming a union, pretending to be free while I am imprisoned! Richard knows, Richard, my brother, my perfect brother, I have never depended on you before, but I depend upon you now… Richard, stop them. She cannot have him, she cannot have him and live happily and freely while I am locked away. They are thieves, both of them! He has stolen my freedom, she is stealing my lover! I huddle on the floor, moaning and trying to believe that my anguish will not destroy me.
Footsteps coming up the stairs and down the hall, several pairs of footsteps. Grace sits up and watches me uneasily from her chair. The door opens, and I look, and there stand the my tormentors themselves. There is my husband dressed in his finest, and there is the girl masquerading as something beautiful in her wedding dress, and there is another man I do not recognize, and there is Richard! Oh, Richard, you did succeed!
I rise somewhat from my huddled position with strength renewed by justice. They are speaking of me as though I am a rabid beast! Have I not yet been thoroughly offended? To be discussed as though I cannot understand them, as though I am not even human—I am overcome with fury, with passion. He struck me once, and now I shall return an eye for an eye.
Flying across the room, barely even of my own will, it seems. Cries of alarm. His throat. He grips my arms so that I can’t strike him, but I must have my vengeance, I must have my vengeance. Sinking my teeth into his cheek, him holding me tightly. He is holding me to protect himself, but still, he has not held me in fourteen years, and I fight harder than I perhaps need to simply to feel his warmth and strength.
A chair, though. No longer his arms, but a chair, and rope. Now I am truly a beast to them, if they must trap me like this! I cry out in agony, in utter brokenheartedness, realizing now that there is no hope. And they close the door, fleeing my screams.