Sunday, April 28, 2013
ANNE EYRE by Summer Day (modern Jane Eyre) Chapter Nine
In the afternoon, while Sophie was riding, I’d commenced driving lessons in the village. With my driving instructor barking instructions at my side all the way, I practised. Mr Rochester had insisted I learn to drive along the country lanes, and after two weeks, I was driving almost as fast as him (though I tried to heed the speed limit – as a learner, I had to).
The day of my driving test arrived and was the cause of much excitement in the house. Leah and Mrs Fairfax had even baked a cake in anticipation of my success.
The previous afternoon Rochester had offered to take me out to practise my parking, particularly between two cars on a hill. I think he thought my hesitancy would amuse him. Since my driving course was officially over, I knew this extra practise could make all the difference. He turned on the stereo as we drove along the esplanade. We reached the flat expansive car park with the stereo on all the way. He turned it up and sang along with the words to a song he liked. It was refreshing to spend time with him like this – he was a different person outside the stuffy confines of his duty and work.
After two hours’ practise, neither of us were surprised when I gained my driver’s licence.
I walked into the kitchen where Mrs Fairfax and Sophie were waiting expectantly. I had purposely made Rochester drive me home. I covered the happiness I felt and instead wore a very long face with a downcast expression as we entered the kitchen. So did Rochester.
Sophie raced up to me and put her hands on either side of my cheeks.
‘Never mind Anne… Ne vous inquietez pas!’
I looked into her eyes and smiled, a true smile and one of many I’d shown since I’d arrived at Thornton.
‘Don’t look so worried Sophie. Guess what?’ I whispered, ‘I’m licensed to drive!’
‘Wow!’ the child exclaimed.
I scooped her up in my arms and even Leah and Merida clapped. Mrs Fairfax brought out the plates for afternoon tea on the manicured lawn.
Rochester walked in from the stables commenting, ‘We should all celebrate your achievement tonight, Anne; it means I can send you out to buy me whisky from the village.’
I looked at him, knowing he must be joking, almost understanding his upper class, country humour by now.
That night we all had a delicious roast dinner prepared by Leah who seemed, as Mrs Fairfax noted, to be in better humour these days which, according to Merida, had, ‘more to do with a boy she had met in the village than job satisfaction.’ After the meal, we went to the drawing room to watch some home movies Rochester made of Sophie; and more recently, there were scenes of parties and a group of young men trying to fly a plane to France. The plane barely got off the ground before filming was halted.
‘Those are friends of mine from university. You’ll meet them soon; they’re coming to stay.’
The images were colourful, playful even. Caught unawares by some friends, you could see the look of care and wonder in Rochester’s eyes as he raced Sophie and twirled her around in the air. The films were a collage of colour, sound and music, pool parties and apparently infamous house parties. I’d searched the family name on the internet (in a village café) while he was away. The Rochesters were quite notorious in these parts of England for their upper crust lineage, Nathanial’s generosity and adherence to charity, and various scandals involving most of his relatives.
I told myself the whisper of scandal was just cyber space gossip. The living room lights flickered while Rochester turned down the sound and put on some music, ‘a better soundtrack to our lives’, he assured me. The movies needn’t have been silent but he said he preferred them that way.
Mrs Fairfax excused herself by then to go to bed. Merida and Leah had left to go into town to meet their boyfriends and play pool on their night off. Sophie had fallen asleep on the couch, her head on Rochester’s thigh. Rochester was not normally demonstrative, but for the first time, I saw him lovingly scoop the child into his arms and take her upstairs to her room.
When he came back, I was watching an old movie in the drawing room on the large screen.
‘I love this film,’ he said. He was sipping a drink. ‘Sometimes I prefer films to real life.’
I thought it was a strange statement for a guy whose real life was pretty amazing.
‘Do you want a brandy?’ he asked.
‘No thank you,’ I replied.
‘Why not? Everyone out in the country drinks in the evening. There’s little else to do,’ he laughed.
‘I just don’t like the taste,’ I replied.
I hadn’t touched alcohol since Irma had had her drink spiked. Perhaps my new found sobriety was for the best. But who knew? If I was cold, brandy might be hard to resist. Seated by the fire, the night was warm and the atmosphere comforting.
‘Everything in moderation,’ Rochester said. ‘That’s what my father used to say. But then he died a washed up alcoholic, so what would he know?’
I was shocked that Rochester would say that about his father. It sounded so disrespectful, but later, when I learned more of his upbringing, I realized he was only being honest.
It had been such a nice day. If I went to the wall, past where Rochester was seated, pulled back the curtain and opened the window, I’d hear the ocean in the distance.
Meanwhile, Rochester took a few more sips of his drink, smiled and said, ‘Dutch courage,’ as he wandered over to the piano.
He played a few notes, then a few bars of a classical tune which was familiar to me, but not familiar enough for me to name. Then he started messing around with some jazz and a song that I’d once rocked out to at a karaoke party at the house of one of my classmates; another excuse to escape from school. That song, I knew. It was about hardship and survival and it had a memorable melody. I hummed along with it as I read my magazine, trying to find something interesting to say about the society ladies who lunched in these parts and held charity auctions after the meal.
‘You have a nice voice,’ he said, when he stopped playing.
‘Thank you,’ I replied. ‘You play well; I didn’t know you were a musician.’
‘I’m not. I manage a band sometimes. It’s just a hobby, if people still use that word. My friends stay here to rehearse in the vacant ball room. It has good acoustics,’ he chuckled.
I looked at the guitars stacked in the corner.
‘They’re sort of for show. The Ingram’s, my oldest friends from school, used to live across the village on one of the neighbouring houses, Highcliff. Now they live in the States but when they come home to visit their family… well, we put together the band; they play a few gigs in the village. I graduated from university as you’d call it, with first class honours but I don’t really use my education as it was intended. It’s not what father had in mind for me.’
‘Perhaps it’s true that no education is wasted.’
‘Do you really believe that Anne?’
‘I’m only eighteen. I try to believe what I’m told,’ I smiled.
He laughed. I doubted my father knew of my existence and I was pretty sure he’d never had anything in mind for me, so to speak. I could tell Rochester felt hemmed in by family expectations but all that bluster had changed along with a sadness that seemed to have washed over him since we first met.
‘You’re looking straight at me for once, Anne. Do you think I’m… hot?’ he joked.
I laughed out loud and shook my head at his conceit.
‘No,’ I lied, perhaps a bit too swiftly.
‘Well, that was quick,’ he mused.
‘It’s just that… I didn’t mean you are not… attractive; I should have made it clear that what people are like on the surface is not always of interest to me.’
‘Really? That betrays depth beyond your years. You should explain yourself further Anne. There aren’t too many schoolgirls who would have given me that answer.’
‘I should have said that beauty, although memorable, is not as meaningful as a person’s actions. I think society places too much emphasis on what people look like and not what people do.’ I glanced dismissively at a famous celebrity on the cover of a magazine near my feet.
Rochester laughed out loud as if my childish comments amused him endlessly.
‘You’re blushing, Anne.’
‘It’s the fire, it’s hot in here,’ I covered.
He laughed in my face over his brandy.
I got up.
‘Good night… Rochester… Nathanial… Nate,’ I hedged.
‘Are you leaving? Stay and play pool with me; we can watch the sunrise.’
‘I have to be up early.’
‘Sophie will sleep in on Sunday. She always does.’
‘Of course you are free to leave me, Anne, but won’t you sit for a moment while I play?’ He gestured to the piano, ‘… Anyway, we’ll be lucky to see the sun tomorrow; according to the weather report, no need to wake early.’
‘Goodnight,’ I said as I went to leave.
‘Goodnight Anne. Congratulations on getting your driver’s licence,’ he smiled as I walked out of the room.
The lights in the hallway were low and I couldn’t see a clear path to my bedroom so I put my hand on the rail. The house was long and the halls wide. I picked a torch out of the little cupboard at the top of the stairs, kept there for power blackouts. I found my way to my door and went to the bathroom. I noticed my bed had been turned down and a hot water bottle placed under the covers, along with a chocolate on the pillow. I think the chocolate was from Sophie but the water bottle was from Mrs Fairfax. I could have been forgiven for thinking Thornton was more like a six star hotel than a country house.
As I brushed my hair and cleaned my teeth, I heard laughter from another room - the one upstairs, again. I turned off the tap and pressed my ear to the wallpaper. I heard only silence.
That night, I tossed and turned for a while before falling into a deep sleep of perfect dreams, sunlight and ocean. Sophie and I were running along the beach barefoot through the sand. We were flying a kite we’d made from an online kit. The kite flew high, touching the sky.
When I woke up at nine in the morning, it was raining. The sky was overcast. Once again I heard laughter and music from the rooms upstairs although I’d assumed Mrs Poole had already gone out for her morning walk.