Sunday, April 28, 2013
ANNE EYRE (modern Jane Eyre) Chapter Seven: Lockwood
I said nothing as Rochester sipped his port, contemplating the interview.
‘And was it a strict religious education?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
I thought of morning prayers bringing a sense of calm, strength and routine to my days. Then I remembered mean girls hitting me with wet sheets after lights out and screaming at me for being foster care scum, ‘welfare scum, Social Services rubbish’. I thought of the teacher who’d snidely made remarks about writing my family tree in history ‘as if I’d know it’ and the headmistress who’d wrongly blamed me for a student prank because it looked better to blame a charity student whom no one would speak up for. I thought of the freezing cold mornings and the lack of hot water for baths we were expected to take. Prestige existed only on the surface of Lockwood School for Young Ladies. I think I may have fared better at a local comprehensive but then I might never have learnt French in the focused and careful manner Miss Stevens had taught the language to me… or music or probably have received such high marks on my final exams. Yes, it had been a privileged education.
Rochester’s words interrupted my recollections.
‘I went to boarding school… not far from here actually. There was no real reason that I should have been sent away, it was simply family tradition. All the children were sent to boarding school by age eight. My parents didn’t particularly care for us. Well, that’s an understatement. My brother and I got along though, lived in our own world. My family didn’t know any differently, nor did they educate themselves about children. I’m a great believer in education, Anne. Are you?
‘Yes, of course.’ I added, ‘…although there are many ways to be educated. ’
For one thing, formal education hadn’t prepared me for the verbal challenges of Mr Nathanial Rochester.
‘This is the twenty-first century but my father, before he died and left me his estate, still held the view that shooting helpless animals was the greatest sport in the world. He also didn’t believe it was useful to educate women. He thought the woman I’d marry would have so much money she wouldn’t need an education … You probably think his views were very… backward.’ I remained impassive. ‘I dropped out of Oxford because I couldn’t stand having to answer to my father. I then found myself in America, attended college in Los Angeles, and went to the South to produce a film in New Orleans.’
‘That sounds exciting.’
He raised an eyebrow and changed the subject.
‘I wish you had met my father, the original Lord Rochester. I wonder what you would have made of him. He spoke his mind even more than I do… much more than you.’
‘He sounds like just the sort of man I would have gotten along with,’ I said sarcastically.
‘On the contrary, both he and my brother would have had you drinking port by now. I fear they would have had you dancing on the table.’
I glared at him. ‘You must be joking,’ I said under my breath.
He smiled. ‘They liked straight talkers and you seem to tell it as it is. Father wasn’t very happy about me running around with my college friends, I can tell you that. Oh, at first he didn’t care because it was never supposed to have been me inheriting the house and the title but things happen. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. When my brother… passed away, I was expected to come back to this part of the world to take over the running of the estate but it’s not really me. I try to limit my time here. Before returning to England, I lived in Los Angeles and South America. I travelled to Brazil, Mexico, places I’d grown up imagining. I liked the Deep South…’
‘Wow,’ was all I could say.
‘…You enjoy Sophie’s company, don’t you?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘She has few talents beyond being pretty but… I don’t choose my pets based on their talent and this one was rather… foisted upon me.’
I was shocked by his candour and said nothing.
‘I wonder, would you like her as much if I told you her mother was a…’ he hesitated, trying to think of the right words, ‘a … French dancer?’
‘Is there something wrong with that?’
He laughed uproariously.
‘You are quite naïve aren’t you?’
‘No,’ I blurted out.
‘I think you are. What I meant to say is… I met her in Paris. Sophie’s mother sold her body… to men… for money. She said she was a dancer, Anne, a high class one as it turned out. Once I realised Sophie was mine, she agreed to sell her to me… for ten thousand pounds.’
‘Oh,’ I said, trying to hide my surprise.
‘Well, she worked evenings; she was beautiful, exotic… Still, we all make mistakes. You’ll realise that too, as you get older.’
‘It’s getting late,’ I said, pretending to take this conversation in my stride though I was completely at sea. I’d decided I had better bring the interview to an end as Rochester was onto his third drink and about to tell me more secrets I didn’t want to hear.
‘Don’t worry, Anne, I’ll let you in on the rest of the family story on a need to know basis,’ he laughed. ‘I’m not as bad as I seem.’
‘If you don’t mind me saying…Mr R - ’
‘Nathanial,’ he pre-empted his name.
‘Nathanial … you are too young to be worrying about the past. You have everything: wealth, comfort…. You can be anything you want to be. You should take what is good from the past and change your future to erase the bad. We are all capable of change and of doing what is right.’
He looked up at me incredulously in the dark.
‘Ah, a lesson in morality from little Miss Eyre.’ His gaze lingered on mine a moment, ‘Oh Anne, you really have a lot to learn. The past is what impacts the future and something I cannot erase.’
There was a moment’s silence and in that gap, as he drank his port and I sipped my tea, I could have sworn I heard a faint scream. It came from somewhere beyond the walls, beyond the rooftop even. It was out of this world.
I was startled.
‘What was that?’
He looked up at me. There was another thump on the roof.
‘That!’ I said.
‘Perhaps it’s Sophie or Mrs Poole, the lodger. Mrs Fairfax agreed to let her stay in the upstairs rooms for the summer, she’s an old family friend,’ he added, by way of explanation. They seemed to have a lot of them.
I hesitated at the door.
I think you’ve had too much to drink, I thought, as I went to leave. Our conversation had been smoother than I’d anticipated, given that my employer was gruff, and slightly inebriated. And yet, I hadn’t expected someone quite so young and handsome. Still, we had reached unfamiliar territory and I was uncomfortable talking with a relative stranger as if we were friends. Suddenly, I longed for the comfort of my own bed.
‘Anne?’ he said, turning back as I went to leave.
‘I’m glad you’ve come to stay here.’
‘It’s just for the summer, Mr Rochester.’
‘Yes, I know. Oh, and Anne? My name’s Nathanial. My friends call me Nate and sometimes by my surname, Rochester.’ I think he enjoyed the confusion he was creating between us.
I said goodnight and left the room.