There was no possibility of taking a walk that day, as it had pleased God to infect all of us with typhoid fever. Also cholera. And whooping cough. As well as consumption, smallpox, the bloody flux, bubonic plague, AIDS, Ebola and toenail fungus.
“Wicked, impudent girl!” my aunt, Mrs. Reed, said to me after we had recovered. She was raising me because I was an orphan. “How dare you make us fall ill!”
“Witch, witch, witch,” softly chanted Mrs. Reed’s children, Eliza, John and Georgiana, peeping out from behind her to stare intently at me. “Burn her, burn her, burn her.”
“Bessie, take her away to the red room,” Mrs. Reed told the nurse.
“Red room, red room,” the other children chanted.
“No, please, not again,” I said.
“What have you to say in your defense, Jane?” Mrs. Reed asked.
“I — ”
“How dare you talk back!”
I was forced upstairs into the red room, where I was subjected to unspeakable horrors. After a week, the other children took me outside and made me participate in a game they had invented called Orphan in the Latrine while Mrs. Reed sat in a lawn chair, sipped tea and looked on approvingly. I did not cry or complain but treasured up my murderous rage . . . for later.
A few days after that Bessie shoved me into the parlor. Mrs. Reed was there, along with a man I had never seen before.
“Mr. Brocklehurst, this is the she-devil I wish to send to your school to be educated and beaten,” Mrs. Reed said. “Mostly beaten.”
“Of course, ma’am,” he replied. “Orphans must be beaten. It’s their own fault that their parents died of natural causes. This thing, whatever its name is, will be punished eternally in the afterlife, of course, but we have a Christian duty to begin its torment here on Earth.”
“Quite right,” Mrs. Reed said. “If she were pretty, everything would naturally be different. But she’s as ugly as Satan, her lord and master.” Mrs. Reed then left the room, and Mr. Brocklehurst took me from Gateshead Hall to his school, Lowood.
At the school, a woman gave me an eye dropper full of gruel, then led me to a large room with four long tables, four long benches and eighty or so girls, ages ten to twenty. A teacher was walking around the room asking the students questions. I was put on the end of one bench, and my left foot was shackled to the leg of the bench.
The teacher, Miss Temple, walked over to me. “New girl?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am, if you please. Jane Ey—”
“How dare you try to tell me your name!” Miss Temple said with a scowl. “For the first twenty years of your time at Lowood, you will be known as new girl. After that we may deign to learn your worthless name. Now, then, translate this into Latin: No one in the history of mankind has deserved to go to hell more than I, the new girl, do. Compared to me, Judas was a saint. Well?”
“Begging your pardon, ma’am, but I don’t know Latin.”
All the other girls pointed and laughed at me, then began chanting, “Birch rod, birch rod.”
“Pamela, Clarissa, fetch Reamer,” Miss Temple said. “Marianne, Elinor, you help. Emma, Fanny, you supervise. Catherine, Anne, you witness.”
The girls took down a long, gold sheath from a shelf on the wall and, kneeling, presented it to Miss Temple. She took the rod out of the sheath.
“Now then, new girl. I give you one more chance to translate.”
When I made no reply, she told me to put out my hands, then beat them until they were bloody. The other students clapped and cheered. I was determined not to cry, and I didn’t.
And so the days, weeks and months passed. One of the girls took pity on me and taught me some Latin in exchange for most of my daily allowance of worm-bread. When the weather was warm and beautiful, we were all herded into the basement for eight hours of posture practice and prayer; when the weather was bitterly cold and rainy or snowy, we had eight hours of forced recess in an abandoned lead mine. The others made me participate in a game they had invented called New Girl in the Latrine.
Soon after my eighteenth birthday, when I had been at Lowood for six years, Miss Temple made all the girls in the school go on a thirty-mile forced march to the seaside. Some died on the way, which was as it should be — only the strong survive.
When we arrived, we saw a dead pirate hanging in chains from a gibbet. Miss Temple had us sit and stare at the pirate for hours. Any girl who fidgeted had to lick his festering wounds. Finally, Miss Temple told us to rise.
“Even the fate of this wretch will be too good for you,” she said, “unless you spend every second of your miserable lives, which you don’t even deserve to have, blindly obeying authority and never questioning a woman’s role in society, which is to — ” But at that moment there was a boom out at sea, and a few seconds later, Miss Temple was decapitated by a cannonball.
That was how I met Mr. Rochester. His pirate ship, the Charlotte, had fired the cannonball, and he and some of his men rowed to shore. The other girls had run away screaming, but I hid behind a rock to see what would happen next.
After beaching their boat, the pirates took down their comrade from the gibbet and put him in a large sack, which they dumped into the boat. “We’ll give him a proper burial at sea,” Mr. Rochester said.
Watching the way he handled that corpse, I fell in love with him immediately. Besides, I would always be grateful to him for killing that horrific bitch.
I continued watching as they took Miss Temple’s body, which was lying on the sand and spurting blood, put her in the chains and hung her up. I realized that I could never bear to be parted from Mr. Rochester. I had to get aboard the ship, and there was only one way to do it. While they were busy hanging up Miss Temple, I slipped into the sack with the dead pirate. I thought Mr. Rochester saw me out of the corner of his eye.
When the pirates got back to the ship, they dumped the sack on the deck. “Ho the stuns’l,” Mr. Rochester ordered the crew. “Upreef the larrums to the flickerlicks and set the fo’c’sle. Yarely, yarely!” We were soon under way — I felt the pitch and roll of the ship, and that, combined with the smell of the corpse, almost made me pass out.
Mr. Rochester ordered the sack taken to his cabin. After the door was closed he untied the sack and said, “Come out, whoever you are.”
There was no point in hiding anymore, so I emerged from the sack and told Mr. Rochester that I loved him. We soon arrived at an understanding. He dressed me like a boy and hid me in his cabin until we came to a port, where he pretended that I had just joined the crew.
The next few years were the happiest of my life. I learned how to drink all kinds of liquor and handle all kinds of weapons; I learned how to shoot, stab, hack, kill and pillage as we robbed merchant ships and the Spanish treasure fleet bringing gold and silver from the American colonies.
Not long after I came onboard, we captured a merchantman whose captain, we had heard, was carrying a cache of jewels. While the rest of the Charlotte’s crew searched the ship for other valuables, Mr. Rochester and I tied to the captain to a chair.
“Where are the jewels, señor?” Mr. Rochester asked.
The captain shook his head.
“Maybe he doesn’t know English,” I said.
“Let’s give him a lesson,” Mr. Rochester said, putting on a set of brass knuckles. “Where are they?” he asked again, but the captain again shook his head. Mr. Rochester punched him in the face. “Where are they?”
“¡Nunca te diré, hijo de puta!” the captain spat, along with blood.
“Where?” Mr. Rochester hit him again.
“¡Vete al diablo, coño!”
“Where?” Mr. Rochester hit him again.
“¡La puta madre que te parió!”
As I watched Mr. Rochester question the captain, a wonderful sensation, lasting maybe five seconds, came over me that I had never felt before. I didn’t know what it was, though later I would feel it again, sometimes, when Mr. Rochester and I engaged in what he referred to as walking the plank.
By the time I was again aware of my surroundings, the captain had died from the questioning. Then his bowels let go. That was how we found the jewels.
After we had had our way with the ship, we set fire to her. Mr. Rochester and I watched from his cabin as she drifted away in flames and heard the screams of the sailors, locked in the hold, being cooked alive, and he told me he loved me. Then we got plastered on Medeira. That night was the first time I let Mr. Rochester revel in my treasury.
“Why don’t we get married?” I asked Mr. Rochester one day during our winter vacation, as we were anchored off Curaçao.
“I’d love to marry you, Jane,” he said, “but I can’t. For one thing, if anything happened to me, what would you do?”
“You’re a pirate. What could happen?”
“But supposing it did. I can’t buy life insurance, you know. My peg leg is a pre-existing condition.”
“Oh, if they only knew what you could do with that leg . . . ”
“Now, Jane, don’t try to change the subject. The other reason I can’t marry you is because of my dark secret.”
“Dark secret?” I said, becoming alarmed. “You never told me you had a dark secret.”
“Now don’t go getting all curious about it,” Mr. Rochester said. “It’s just a dark, terrible secret, OK? So let’s just drop the subject of my dark, terrible, awful secret. I don’t want you wondering about my dark, terrible, awful, monstrous secret, which is in no way connected to that door in my cabin that I never open.”
“Come on, Rochie, won’t you at least give me a hint? Just a hint, Rochie-Wochie?”
“If I did that, Jane, unspeakable horrors would result.” With a shudder, I thought of the red room and let the matter drop. But even though Mr. Rochester had said nothing that would make me or anyone else wonder about his secret, I couldn’t help but be consumed by it.
Our vacation was rudely interrupted when the Charlotte was attacked simultaneously by ships of the line from Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Mongolia, Chile, Paraguay and Arkansas — all infamous for their wholly unjustified prejudice against pirates.
We fought bravely, but we were outnumbered, and the Charlotte’s masts were blown away and her deck set on fire. Unnoticed by our enemies, Mr. Rochester and I jumped into the sea and held on to some wreckage. As Mr. Rochester’s cabin burned, I saw the door he never opened fall off its hinges and a woman dressed in red emerge. The floor in front of her had given way, and all the decks below were on fire, so there was nowhere for her to go. But instead of screaming or panicking, she stoically stood and watched the ship burn.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s my wife,” he said.
“So that’s your dark secret? You had her locked up just because she went insane?”
“Insane? Oh, yes, right. Insane. That is definitely and unquestionably why I had her locked up.”
I waved to her and yelled, “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Rochester!” But she didn’t notice, and the next moment a shell from a British gun blew her into atoms.
“You owe me for this one,” I told Mr. Rochester. “From now on, we do things my way.”
“What way is that?”
Lowood looked the same as I remembered it, but Mr. Rochester and I looked different: we had disguised ourselves as a respectable middle-class couple. Mr. Brocklehurst obsequiously ushered us into his office and seated us on the other side of a desk from him.
“We’re thinking about enrolling our child here,” Mr. Rochester told Mr. Brocklehurst.
“Of course, of course,” Mr. Brocklehurst said. “And what, pray, is your child’s name?”
“Machete,” I said.
“Machete? Quite an unusual name.”
“Would you like to meet her?” I asked.
“I would be delighted,” Mr. Brocklehurst said. I nudged Mr. Rochester, who took out a machete from under his frock coat and put it to within an inch of Mr. Brocklehurst’s throat. I stood up, took off my bonnet and threw it on the floor.
“You remember me, Brocklehurst?”
“N-n-n-no,” he said, keeping his eyes on the machete.
“Jane Eyre,” I said, leaning closer to him.
“The orphan who you said should be punished because her parents died.”
“I s-s-say that to all the orphans,” Mr. Brocklehurst said, trembling.
“Well, I’m going to help you remember me.” And, with Mr. Rochester holding the machete at his back, we got him out of the building by a secret passage I had discovered in my school days and marched him to a meadow by a river, far from any other people, and had him kneel in front of a tree stump.
“Put your hands on the stump, fingers apart,” I told him. He did as I ordered. “Remember, if you try to run, machete won’t like it. Now, we’re going to play a game.” I took a meat cleaver from under my dress. “You’re going to translate some words into Latin. For every wrong answer, you lose a finger joint. Ready? Good. What’s the Latin for DVD player?”
“Sorry, wrong answer.” And I whacked off the tip of the little finger on his left hand. He screamed in agony as blood gushed out.
“You’re really going to have to get better at this, Brocklehurst,” I said. “Now, what’s the Latin for … for … ” But just then the Good Feeling came over me again, only much stronger than when Mr. Rochester had questioned the Spanish captain. I closed my eyes and let out a moan.
“Anything wrong, Jane?” Mr. Rochester asked.
“No, no,” I said, returning to myself. I looked at Mr. Brocklehurst again. “As I was saying, what’s the Latin for solar panel?”
He didn’t know that one either. In fact, Mr. Brocklehurst’s whole knowledge of Latin seemed to have abandoned him. What a pity. After he died of blood loss, we dumped his body in the river.
“Are you satisfied now, Jane?” Mr. Rochester asked.
“Of course not.” Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time, and I lusted for more. “Are you going soft on me?”
“Well, no, I just — ”
“Good. Because we’re only getting started.”
A few weeks later, I was sitting in a chair on the lawn of Gateshead Hall, smoking a Cuban and enjoying a cigar. It was dusk. Seated beside me was Mrs. Reed, bound and gagged, her eyelids propped open, watching John screaming as he was slowly roasted on a spit that Mr. Rochester was turning.
“Well, Mrs. Reed, are you sorry now for how you treated me all those years ago?”
Mrs. Reed made some desperate-sounding moans and groans.
“I can’t understand a word, Mrs. Reed,” I said laughing. From a cage, I took some vipers and cobras that Mr. Rochester and I had collected on our voyages, put them on Mrs. Reed and let them do their work.
Then the Good Feeling overwhelmed me again — wave after wave of exquisite pleasure, each lasting ten seconds or so and melting into the next. It was so much better than anything I had ever experienced, even with Mr. Rochester.
When it was over, I saw that he had stopped turning the spit. “I can’t do this anymore,” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t you see what you’ve become?”
“What have I become?” I said, angry and upset.
“A sadistic murderess.”
“Murderess? Murderess?! Excuse me — murderer! And what’s wrong with that?”
“It’s fine for a man, but for a woman it’s … ”
“What?” I said, growing even angrier.
“Well, it’s unbecoming.”
I shook my head. “I thought you were different, but you men are all the same. All you ever do is tell us what we can’t be: ‘You can’t be a doctor, you can’t be a lawyer, you can’t be a sadistic murderer.’ ”
Reader, I left him. I didn’t need Mr. Rochester; I didn’t need anybody. All that mattered was the Good Feeling, and now I knew that revenge was the way to get it. I had found my life’s work.
I would be revenged on the whole world.
Thanks to Cristina F. for help with the Spanish.
Sid Faulk is a history professor in Texas who sometimes deals in non-history.