Reader, He Died

Done as a final project for my Women’s Literature class, this alternative-ending to the novel Jane Eyre provides a new spin on an old classic. I loved this novel, but in many ways, I found the original ending unsatisfying. So I wrote my own.

~

As you can probably imagine, I was in quite a state when I discovered the burned ruins of my former lodging. After collecting myself, it seemed the only way to find out the truth of the matter was to return to the inn, which I did at once. There I was treated to a harrowing story. I shall spare you the details, and the spat of emotions that followed them. Suffice to say, it was a grim matter, made only grimmer by my regretful and heavy heart.

Reader, he died. In the great fire that consumed the place, lit by that raving woman he worked so hard for so long to keep from me, my dear Rochester was struck down. All the servants survived, I was assured, but Rochester and his cursed wife—poor wretched creature—perished in the flames.

In my grief, I forgot to ask after Mrs. Fairfax or the rest, beyond their basic survival. I didn’t know where they ended up, but I fancy they were in a happier spot than I found myself. Their burdens were, if anything, lifted by the ghastly fire, while mine seemed only heavier. My one solace was that he, my dear Rochester, died attempting to make up for all those follies of his life. Attempting to save his servants, and succeeding; attempting to save his suicidal and murderous wife, and, alas, falling with her instead.

I had not until then given much thought to the poor creature, that woman who had been half my punishment and half my shame. What kind of creature she had truly been I may never know; I only knew the final result of a cursed life, and I hope she rests easier in death than she did in that windowless room on the third floor. I hope they both rest easy, at last.

I do not remember the day following my journey to the manor, and the final revelation at the inn. I imagine I took a room there, but whatever I did, I was acting out of pure instinct. I have no memory of ascending to lodging, of taking dinner, of even the conclusion of the conversation. In truth, I remember little until many months later, when the dark shroud of grief began to lift, and my life began, slowly, to resume.

I found myself in a small hamlet, some days journey from Thornfield. I took rooms and gave correspondence to my relatives. At least, I must have done, because presently I heard word from them. Diana and Mary were getting along quite well at home, and St. John was making quite well in India. I did not hear from him directly, of course. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never receive direct correspondence, or speak with him in the flesh, ever again, because he was destined to give his life to that continent; as I had so suspected my own life would be sacrificed. It was a fitting destiny for one so determined to deny himself happiness, and I never pitied him for it, or regretted my decision to stay behind.

After some months of grief, dulled by the slow thaw of my heart, the world began to have beauty in it again.

When my senses had quite returned, I felt that familiar restlessness creep upon me. All my life, I have felt a calling outside myself. Perhaps it is similar to that holy calling felt by members of the clergy, but in me it does not feel like a divine calling so much as a human one. I wished to move on. And I realized, as the layers of grief began to sluff off, that for the first time in my life, I might travel uninhibited; no longer hindered by family, poor fortunes, or old lovers. I could go where I wished, and see whom I wished.

But to where, and to whom?

To solve this problem, I began, through my own letters, and correspondence with my cousins and our legal advisers, to track down old acquaintances. I was thrilled when letters arrived from Bessie, from Mrs. Fairfax, and from some of my old teaching colleagues, but none thrilled me so as the letter I received from that great personage who had first nurtured my soul: Miss Temple—or Mrs. Nasmyth, as she now went by; but she would forever be my Miss Temple.

She was living presently in a little coastal town, and married life seemed to quite agree with her. The reverend she had married was a nice man, and she had already born him four children. She kept herself busy with them, and with attending services with her husband, and reaching out to his community. She still, on occasion, taught. Above all, she was pleased to hear from me, to learn of my successes in life, and she entreated me most ardently to visit her.

As I’ve mentioned, I at the moment had no ties to the hamlet in which I’d found myself, and no obligations keeping me in one place or another; I sent back immediately to warn her of my coming, and began to prepare for the journey. I had some small possessions sent to my home—for that is how I thought of Moor House then, and will forever more think of it—and the rest I took with me. For even then, with my fortunes much improved, I kept few things about me. And with that, I left the sleepy little hamlet with much the affect I had entered it—quietly and without much mark of passing—and quite higher spirits.

The journey was long, and I was immediately reminded of journeys of the past. There is so much changed by money, dear reader. What is a sorrowful trek to the poor is a veritable pleasure to the wealthy, and so I found my trip, not exhausting and painstaking as past ones had been, but exhilarating. At every stop, I was able to treat myself to the delicacies of the town, and the comforts of formal lodging. I knew only relaxation, and that exquisite expectation of my destination.

A week out of the coastal town, a young girl joined our company, with a large trunk much like the ones they send with children to boarding schools. She was of meager upbringing, judging from her attire. I must confess that despite my history as a teacher and governess, I have never developed an especial fondness for children. They can, I find, be like any other of our race; kind in some cases, ghastly in others. But this girl, by the name of Mary, was pleasant in a way few children are. I did not ask much about her life, nor did we talk but for on a few instances, but I saw in her something of myself. When our carriage finally reached the fine town, I slipped a small bag of coins into her hand and told her to keep them safe. Something for her own future; so that, after school was done with her, she might be able to make some small choice about her destiny.

I think no matter how old I get, or how comfortable in my fortunes, I shall always remember the freshness of a new place, and the fears a poor girl experiences on arriving there. In this case, with my own coins to rely on, and no need to heed another or be indebted to any, I felt no shame in summoning a carriage to take me to Miss Temple’s home. The quick ride was pleasant; the sea air rejuvenating; and upon arrival, I was met with such welcome and lightening of spirit, it is hard to put into words.

Mrs. Nasmyth was much changed from the young woman I had known—for now that I was nearing twenty, I knew how young my Miss Temple had really been all those years ago when I appeared in her care. But the changes of age had been kind to her; she looked happy, plump, and with the same bright spirit that I remembered. We spent the afternoon in catching up, and by supper, it felt as if we had never been apart. It was at that meal, however, that I learned I was not her only guest at present. It was at that meal, dear reader, that my life was forever changed.

Her name was Annabelle. Even as I write this, her first smile comes back to me, forcible and yet as innocent as a kitten. Its powers have not lessened over the years, but now that I know it better, I see it with new depth. I recognize the spark in her eye, the slight raise at the right of her smile, and the pure intelligence shining through. But at that first dinner, I knew nothing about Annabelle and the way our lives would be intertwined, and I saw only a pretty girl. Dark haired, with fair skin that belied a fragile constitution; her eyes a stunning blue.

Annabelle Temple was Mrs. Nasmyth’s cousin, come to visit for the summer. I learned later of her fiery wit and her clever tongue, but on meeting her, she seemed quite demure. Her eyes were soft, her features delicate, and, when used, her voice soft and musical. I knew at once that she must have quite a singing voice, and sure enough, when prompted, she gave us quite a performance on the piano.

We got along almost immediately. Annabelle was quite well educated, and had spent some time in France, so that the three of us were able to carry on quite well in the language. I hadn’t been able to practice the tongue in some time; not properly since I had last been with little Adelle, and it felt so natural to converse thusly. Looking back, I can see how the ruins of my abused heart began to slowly mend themselves, beside that sweet figure.

“You have seen such things,” she said to me one evening, as we took tea on the porch, the sea stretching out beyond us. “I can’t imagine you are content to linger here for long.”

I reflected on this. I had been there then some time. Summer was still strong, but the leaves were beginning to tint, and I knew that soon this dreamlike season would come to an end. As of yet, I had not felt that tickle in my breast which pushed me forward, tracing roads into the mist; but I had never been content to stay idle for long, and the calling was sure to come to me again.

“I suppose you shall return to town soon,” I replied, pushing her question aside for the time being. “I’m sure there are many gentlemen awaiting your return.”

Annabelle gave a small laugh; the chiming of a bell, which I would learn in time was reserved for things she could dismiss as smoke on air. “Many, surely, and yet none that would suit me, I’m afraid.” She sipped her tea. “Dear Miss Eyre, I blush to confess it, but you must see how ill-fitted I am for managing a house. I haven’t the sensitivities for it.”

“I’m sure there are many men that may disagree with that sentiment. You do yourself injustice.”

“No such thing, indeed. I know my worth, my abilities, and I declare I would be no use in such a position. Men may disagree, and they are free to; but nonetheless, there is no husband for me. Do you think you will marry, Miss Eyre?”

In the past few months, I had learned to lock away the feelings that had once tortured me. I had trained myself not to think of Mr. Rochester; or, when I could not keep the thoughts away, to focus on the good aspects, and leave the bad behind. And yet, I could not imagine having a husband other than him. With St. John, I had seen the cost of being married; how my position, and my new abilities, would be swept away in such a union. How I would wither and die, a prisoner in my own house—or in his home, more precisely.

“I think not,” I said at last. I had been so lost in revelry that Annabelle had quite turned away, but at my response, her head turned back to me, and I was treated with one of her most beautiful smiles.

The next few weeks passed without remark. Mrs. Nasmyth was often called away by her responsibilities, and although Annabelle and I frequently accompanied her, we were often left alone to our own devices around the manor. We spent most of our time in reading, for we had a tradition of discourse over supper, and a challenge to see who could produce the most enticing anecdotes from the Nasmyth’s library. In my first few days in town, I had made sure to acquire a small set of painting supplies, since my hand was long out of practice, and only now did I remember this passion. I took to my paints again, taking great care to capture the beautiful summer visages. None quite as beautiful as Annabelle.

She was delighted by my paints. Despite all her accomplishments, she claimed she had never had a hand for art. Now I can say with a fact that she was mistaken, as I’ve seen the result of such attempts, and know well her humble soul. But at the time, I was much puffed up with my ability to impress her, and took great pleasure in sketching her at every opportunity. For her part, she was a willing and capable model.

We were lounging upon a beach, me with my paints and her with her parasol, when she turned to me with a peculiar look on her face. I was not yet the expert on her expressions that I was to become, but I could tell there was something of nerves there. She looked, if one could believe it, as if her heart were open before me.

“I do not think you have ever been to France, Miss Eyre, if I’m not quite mistaken. My brother has quite a love for the country and has invited me to go with him in two months’ time. Would you care to accompany us?”

I can not speak to her nerves, but I myself was overcome with a delight I can not quite describe. I had felt more alive, more truly myself, in these last few weeks, and, knowing that our time together must be limited, I was already dreading saying goodbye to my new friend. Truly, the idea of being separated from Annabelle by a great sea was almost unbearable, so I had only one option for my answer.

“Of course I will accompany you,” I said. Annabelle’s eyes dipped from mine, for just a second, and when they caught mine again, hers were shining.

We spent two years in France, dear reader, and I can say without a doubt that they were some of the happiest of my life. Annabelle’s brother was in love with a French lady, and once they were married, the four of us returned to England, to the Temple estates, where we have lived since; the happy couple in the main house, and Annabelle and I in a smaller house on the grounds. It is no luxury; we have a small garden all our own, and but one servant to help us attend to the house. It is comfortable and clean, and whenever we wish, we can close-up the house, and once again set our boots upon the road.

I sometimes wonder at Annabelle’s insistence not to take a husband, but for myself, I am quite content with spinsterhood. The company is most excellent.

~

Reader, He Died © Lucy Softich 2020

Header image by Alina Lomilova, free-to-use license on pexels.com

About Lucy

Lucy lives in Portland, OR, and likes to write about books, anime, and relatable teens living their lives (magical or otherwise). She's a co-host on the CLAMPCAST IN WONDERLAND and WRITE FOR ME, WRITE FOR YOU podcasts.
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