Sunday, April 28, 2013

ANNE EYRE (modern Jane Eyre) Chapter Four: Lessons

Chapter Four
     The next morning I slept in.
     When I walked out of my bedroom to introduce myself to my English student, Sophie was sitting at the top of the stairs. She wore her pyjamas and those spongy, brightly coloured curlers, in her hair. She had a smile on her adorable face that lit up the overcast morning and spoke in a sweet voice, ‘Bonjour!  Je m’appelle Sophie. Comment allez – vous?’
     ‘Je vais bien, merci. You must be Sophie,’ I said and smiled, ‘I am Anne Eyre.’
     She dragged me into my room as I explained to her in French that we should try to speak mostly English together from now on. Sophie asked me if I had a present and I gave her a colouring set I’d bought for her at the station. She seemed pleased with this.
     ‘Merci. Thank you,’ she said hesitantly.
     I explained to Sophie that if we worked well together this week, we would go into the village for a cream tea and movie on Saturday afternoon. This seemed to excite her. The girl of six was now seated at the end of my bed. She pulled out an apple from her pocket and began to eat it.  
    ‘This is my breakfast,’ the child said in a French accent. ‘Leah also made me cereal.’ Leah helped in the kitchen and organised the catering. I was told she lived nearby but sometimes she stayed at the estate when there was a large house party.      
    As we walked down the stairs together, there seemed to me to be little to do except speak to Sophie in English and entertain her. Slowly, we made plans for the day. Her schedule went something like this: swimming, breakfast, morning English lesson, lunch, and a walk around the farm or into town, riding lessons, painting, dinner. After dinner we read or watched television and played music. Our days began to fall into different variations of this routine from the first week I arrived.
    By the second week, Sophie would bound into my room before breakfast and request that I take her swimming.
    ‘Bonjour, maintenant!’ she would whisper loudly in my ear.
    ‘Not now, Sophie, soon. And remember we are speaking in English. ’
    It was a challenge for her but she became fluent very quickly.
     If Sophie, who was an early riser, woke me too early, I pulled the pillow over my face in protest.
    ‘Wake up!’ Sophie giggled as she took my hand and pulled me out of bed the next morning.
    Our days quickly fell into a routine.  
    In the morning if I woke first, I got Sophie and helped her choose an outfit for the day. We’d go to the kitchen where Leah or Merida, the other kitchen hand, would have eggs cooking and various grooms and workmen were gathered around the kitchen table eating hungrily.  
     Some mornings Sophie and I had porridge with brown sugar, honey and bananas. On other occasions we had toast and poached eggs or fruit.
      Sometimes, I’d read the paper that was delivered from the village - or just the headlines - because Sophie would distract me or be keen to go outside. She often played with her dolls after breakfast while I read. I was trying to finish my reading list for the start of the university year. I intended to study literature but I was still waiting to hear the final result of my scholarship interviews.
     We always started our school work by nine in the morning. In the play room upstairs, an ancient desk had been cleared and set aside for homework. It was the same room used by generations of Rochesters for a similar purpose. No one ever told me who Sophie’s parents were and I assumed it was impolite to ask unless someone offered an explanation.
     Sophie herself just made a hand signal like an aeroplane and slipped back into French, announcing, ‘Je viens de France. La France est un pays merveilieux,’ asking me, ‘Vous etes-vous plu ici?’ in her most polite voice.
     ‘Of course I like it here!’ I replied. ‘This is an amazing house.’
      Then she explained her origins to me, as if her family lived overseas and she’d travel there by aeroplane one day! I have to admit, this was a bit strange but when life offers you the beauty and wonder of a second chance amidst the chaos of normal, everyday existence, you don’t ask questions.
    I was told Sophie’s last name was Varens; her mother lived in Paris and she was being raised at her mother’s request here at Thornton Hall. I assumed her mother had some link to this place.  Mrs Fairfax used an old fashioned term, stating that Sophie would have been a “ward of the state,” had Mr Rochester not taken her in. This, I could relate to. Her relatives had been French; beyond that, her origins were unknown to me. By my second week at Thornton Hall the mystery was no clearer.  
    Sophie liked simple pleasures: drawing, music and sports were her joys. Schoolwork was not - that became clear. Because it was summer, I tried to incorporate her hobbies into her learning. We walked to the stables and named all of the objects we saw in both French and English. Sophie was a fast learner where the language of her adopted country was concerned and already had a good, basic vocabulary.
     Daily, her English improved and after a fortnight we were speaking together more often in English than in French. It was exciting to see my young charge, so delicate and frivolous naturally, running wild across the land with me, exploring, and sketching and teaching me things too. From the start, I now realize, Sophie was teaching me trust and the nature of acceptance; perhaps even how to expect happiness. She had a wicked sense of humour. She constantly played jokes on Mrs Fairfax and me and hid clever notes and funny pictures in unexpected places, using both the French words and the English translation. In this way, we learned together.   
    On one occasion during the first weeks I was at Thornton, Mrs Fairfax was dismayed when Sophie performed some songs and outrageous dance moves that were clearly learnt from video clips. 
    I quickly encouraged Sophie to move on to the poem we’d been learning but not until I saw Mrs Fairfax frowning. ‘Sophie should concentrate on her drawings and her riding and run the songs by me should she wish to give an impromptu performance in future,’ Mrs Fairfax commented, a look of surprise on her face.
    ‘I rarely encourage Sophie to watch television, but sometimes I worry about Rochester’s friends - they can be such a wayward influence.  They leave the music channel on all day and night when they are here. Is it any wonder the child has learnt all of those dance moves. Still, I suppose it’s in her nature when you consider how she was raised before she came here,’ Mrs Fairfax added.
     I wasn’t sure what she meant and I didn’t press for details. I would hate to be judged on my background and tried not to do the same to others. Besides, Sophie had an ability to make me laugh and she was just having fun trying to emulate teenagers who danced like that. I thought it would be good for her to mix with children her own age, though, so we enrolled her in the village ballet class after her impromptu performance.
      I grew to like Sophie a great deal over those first weeks and it was to my huge advantage that she seemed to like me. In the afternoons, we went outside and sketched and painted in the meadow if it was warm enough. We swam in the vast, warm indoor pool that was built on the lower level of the estate; the water was heated even though it was summer. The air outside was sometimes cool again by mid-afternoon, so we had to remember to dry off completely before going outside.          Besides being one of the most garrulous children I’d ever met, Sophie was also one of the nicest. She and Mrs Fairfax restored my belief in human kindness as the endless, perfect summer continued.
     Sophie was happiest face painting and dancing and playing with her many dolls and chatting endlessly using her newly acquired English. I was happiest sketching and going for long walks into the village and around the vast estate. I liked to walk over to the cliffs to write and draw as I sat near the ocean.
     What could have been a strange and solitary life at the hall had become full and energetic by the time I was woken early one morning by Mrs Fairfax knocking on my bedroom door.
    ‘Good morning, Anne. I thought I should tell you, Nathanial Rochester is returning from America today.’
    ‘Oh,’ I said. The arrival of a complete stranger - the owner of this vast estate - was sure to shake up our comfortable routine.
    ‘I thought I’d tell you because he has requested to meet you at dinner time.’
    ‘And Sophie?’
    Mrs Fairfax laughed, ‘He’ll speak to her when he arrives in the afternoon but I should warn you; basically, he is a good natured person but he seems to have had more than an undue amount of stress in his life and he has little interest in small children. Besides, he’s met Sophie before. He can be terse at times but he has been a very solid guardian.’
   ‘Oh,’ was all I could think to say.
   ‘You should put on something a little less drab, Anne. He and his friends are used to dressing for dinner and he’ll expect you and Sophie to join him tonight. Do you have something a little more formal? 
    I thought it was all a bit impolite to be told what “not to wear” but it was their house, their rules and I thought it was in both my interests and Sophie’s to play along.
    ‘Um, not really, but I can get something in the village this afternoon.’
     ‘Good. You need to be on your toes with Nathanial. He can be quite rude, but he means well. ’
    I smiled, hoping he wouldn’t be all bad. Besides, my lack of care for what was fashionable might be mistaken for a lack of care in relation to Sophie. I resolved to go into the village to buy something new to wear for dinner tonight with the small amount of funds I had left.
     As I was about to leave the room Mrs Fairfax reached into a jar in the kitchen cupboard and pulled out a generous amount of money – more than enough for a new outfit.
     ‘Take this, Anne. It’s set aside for household expenses and a nice dress definitely fits that bill.’
       Since she would not take “no” for an answer, I didn’t know what to say so I accepted the generous gift and thanked her again.
      I looked into the mirror as I dressed to take Sophie into the village. I looked tired and unrested.
      I’d had a sleepless night with terrible dreams for the first time in weeks. I imagined I’d heard scratching at the door and furniture being moved across the floor boards above me. When I asked Mrs Fairfax, she just shook her head and said, ‘Mrs Poole has been restless. She writes novels and sometimes works into the small hours – or so I’m told. You have to take the good with the bad in life, Anne.’
     I was certainly used to doing that.