Sunday, April 28, 2013
ANNE EYRE (modern Jane Eyre) Chapter Six: Mr Rochester
My employer was home that night and wanted to meet me in the sitting room after dinner. I attempted to look my most formal – proper shoes and hair swept off my face. I took a novel I was reading in case he just expected me to sit by the fire and there were too many empty pauses.
‘Mrs Fairfax, I’m not really used to making conversation with older men,’ I’d whispered.
‘Oh, Anne, he’s not that much older. He is a younger son and inherited when the older brother died. Before that he was in America living quite the bohemian life. He went to an expensive college; he wanted to be a film director. Instead, he produced some films and ran around with a very fast crowd.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘He’s not usually one to converse but when he does; he’ll do all the talking. Don’t worry, I doubt he’ll expect too much; just a progress report on Sophie.’
An hour later, I was in the sitting room with Sophie, reading, while she played with her dolls.
‘I need a new one,’ she exclaimed as she braided the doll’s blonde curls.
‘Oh Sophie, I have never seen so many dolls! Your doll’s house is overflowing and so is the play room. Soon we’ll be able to fill all of the rooms in the house with your toys,’ I joked.
The little girl looked up at me and smiled. She’d just lost her front teeth which made her look even cuter. Sophie was a naturally affectionate child, in a way I’d not been. She wrapped her hands around me, and then pulled the clip out of my brown hair, spreading the length of it across my shoulders.
‘Bien, good,’ she said. ‘I want to play hairdresser.’
‘No Sophie. Remember, tonight I’m going to be busy - for a while.’
‘Talking to Papa?’
I’d already guessed the younger Rochester was her father. Nobody had ever told me; it just seemed to be an obvious conclusion to reach. Sophie was a little girl from France who was all alone in the world and had been adopted by a Rochester? Of course, he had to be her father; she was way too young to be his sister. Besides, I was pretty sure adoption regulations would never allow Nathanial Rochester to drag a child from another country just to keep her in the lounge room like a prized possession.
As if on cue, the music coming from the drawing room stopped. I heard the rustle of feet. The owner of Thornton brushed past me as he entered the room and patted Sophie on the head like a pet. I couldn’t see his face. Sophie went to hug his leg but he pushed her off gently. He seemed otherwise engaged.
‘Where is the new tutor?’
‘I’m here,’ I said, standing up from behind the sofa and placing my novel on the table.
Mrs Fairfax, knitting in a comfortable leather arm chair, gathered Sophie and took her to the farthest corner of the room. I’d already been warned that grown men such as Rochester had little patience with young children. I hoped he had more tolerance talking with me because what I’d already heard about Rochester put me slightly on guard.
The fire provided most of the light in the room; and seeing him from behind, in shadow, at first I thought Sophie had lucked out. Nathanial Rochester was a tall, dark, (his photos made him look handsome in a gruff and uncompromising way) and dominating presence. I knew he must be seriously rich, that was obvious. While most of the stately homes in Britain were downsizing, he’d left all of the chandeliers on in the hallway and most of the skeleton staff remained; some even lived at Thornton, which was unusual in this day and age.
When the man looked up, I was unnerved to see he was the stranger I’d met in the country lane that afternoon. He even appeared to be limping from his accident.
‘You must be Anne Eyre. I’m Nathanial Rochester. I think we’ve met before.’
I gave a hesitant nod.
He smiled and gestured to Mrs Fairfax.
‘This girl made me swerve my car, Edwina; I nearly sprained my ankle from slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting her. What do you make of that?’
Mrs Fairfax looked quite alarmed.
‘Never mind,’ he laughed, ‘those country laneways can be quite tricky.’
‘I hope it’s nothing serious?’
‘I should be fine in the morning.’ He changed the topic now that he had my attention. ‘Do you drive Anne?’
‘No.’ I said, truthfully.
‘No,’ I added.
‘Well, you’ll have to learn to drive in the country. If you want to ride as well, you should take lessons while you are here, with Sophie.’
I was slightly afraid of horses, but I had to agree that learning to drive would be useful.
‘Sophie, I bought you a present,’ he said as an afterthought.
‘Merci! Merci! Bien! Oh yes, please,’ Sophie said, running over to Rochester, she took his hand. He distracted her with a huge gift he’d brought all the way from America.
Her face lit up as she pulled the doll from the wrapper and so did Rochester’s.
Mrs Fairfax gathered the child and said, ‘Come Sophie, it’s time for bed. You can add this to your collection up in your room.’
‘Bonne nuit et fais de beaux reves!’ Rochester said. I guessed he didn’t realise we’d had a pact only to speak English.
‘Bonne nuit,’ Sophie replied, kissing him on both cheeks. Then she looked at me and said in perfect English, ‘Good night, Anne.’
Sophie reluctantly left Rochester, after reaching up to kiss him again on the cheek. He brushed this show of sticky affection off, but I thought it was nice to see the sweet child show such an obvious liking for someone who clearly didn’t want others to know how fond he was of her or that he was even capable of affection and emotion.
He poured himself a drink and offered me one. I shook my head.
‘What have you done with Sophie?
‘I wrote our schedule here; you can read it if you like.’ I handed him the piece of paper, scented and pink at Sophie’s instigation. He raised his eyebrows.
‘Never mind, I already have. You’ve taken a lot of care with her, Anne. She’s frivolous.’
‘In her defence, many children are frivolous.’
‘And what are you, Anne? A teenage girl? Where did you learn all your child psychology?’ He teased.
‘From being one, from being around them,’ I said. I’d bet I’d minded more children than he had prior to his being stuck with Sophie.
‘Tell me what you did before you arrived here. Most of the staff who come to stay here, in the middle of nowhere have… let’s just say, something they are hiding from or running to.’
I was embarrassed by his comment, his partially accurate assessment of me.
‘I was in school, like most people my age.’
‘I can see that,’ he said, glancing at my CV. ‘You went to a very expensive ladies’ college in London. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be summering in Europe with all your little friends?’
‘I needed a job for the summer and I like working with children.’
‘Yes, I can see that,’ he looked away. ‘The previous girl who came to us was fleeing from an abusive boyfriend. Just wondering what your story is?’
‘I’m eighteen years old; I have no story.’
‘Well, you are the only other literate female in this house apart from Mrs Fairfax – and she’s heard all of my old stories. I just thought you might be good company for me this evening. You left your sketches lying around in the kitchen - or Sophie did,’ he chuckled.
I was alarmed and slightly irritated that he’d seen them. I would’ve preferred him to have had access to my email than to have been the first stranger to pour over my private drawings. Sophie and I had been sitting in the meadows taking turns to sketch each other from a distance then close up, hands and feet. Then I’d turned to the meadow, drawing lush images of the surrounding estate. They were personal images, displaying more of my internal world than I would have cared to show him at this point.
Sophie’s drawings were the colourful, childish outlines of a six year old. I didn’t want to admit it, but she had little artistic inclination, although she seemed to enjoy picking the flowers that afternoon and practising her cartwheels, I remembered that. Besides, little aptitude didn’t seem to hinder her enjoyment of art, nor did I feel it should. We’d set up a picnic with Mrs Fairfax in the low light of the meadow; the sun had shone brightly by lunch time and we lolled on the blankets. It had been one of the nicest afternoons in recent memory.
‘She has no talent,’ he said truthfully.
‘Pardon?’ I was miles away in the firelight, thinking of the meadow.
‘Sophie, as I said, has not a scrap of talent; but you do. She is not academic; I know she is only six but you can tell these things about a child. She is vain and frivolous. You are neither, yet you both seem to get along so well. ’
‘Perhaps our differences complement each other. Sophie is one of the sweetest children I have met,’ I said in her defence.
He smiled, a little sarcastically, I thought.
‘She’s manipulative like her mother, like most women. Anyway, how many children have you met recently? You’re barely more than a child yourself,’ he trailed off.
I decided to be assertive.
‘Many,’ I replied. ‘For years, I was in foster care. I had loads of foster siblings who were much more difficult to handle than Sophie.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘And the school?’
‘When I was twelve, an unknown benefactor paid all of my expenses to attend the college until I completed my A-levels, and then I was flung out onto the street.’
‘Ah,’ was all he said. I noticed a new tone, almost like respect in his voice when he spoke next. The fire flickered alongside us and he turned down the large, flat screen that was left on, playing an old movie that Mrs Fairfax had been watching earlier.
‘I think we can turn that off. She’s probably seen it before,’ he joked.