Thursday, June 6, 2013
ANNE EYRE (Rivers: chapter Twenty-five) #Jane Eyre Retelling
I’d been with the Rivers family for six months and I had not contacted Nathanial Rochester or Sophie or Mrs Fairfax in that time. Of course, it was impossible for them to contact me, even if they wanted to, as I’d abandoned all formal communication, including my email.
I was extremely grateful that Connor Rivers had found me a teaching assistant’s job at the local church school. At Lockwood, religion had been incorporated into our daily routine, so this was not new to me.
His sisters, Rainbow and Daisy, became my friends. They were one and two years’ younger than me and studying at the local fashion college. In the evenings, as I prepared items for the morning’s lessons with the television playing and the usual evening news in the foreground, they spread patterns on the floor and sewed and sketched. Between the three of us, the house looked like a remnants factory. One night, as I was sorting felt covering for arts and crafts, I looked up to see Connor looking at me, strangely.
‘Anne, I have something to tell you.’
‘What is it?’
‘I need to talk to you… in private.’
The girls looked up and giggled as we walked into the spare room.
‘Anne, there was a solicitor looking for you in the village this morning. I said I knew you; I did not tell him that you were staying with us.’
I had no idea what to say. He knew me well enough by now to know I was hiding from something, or someone. Connor gave me the solicitor’s details and told me to call him straight away. I borrowed his phone and went outside and stood in the street to make the call.
When I came inside, my life had changed.
My adopted family and I stood in the kitchen.
‘It’s my uncle, the one I met only briefly. He’s died and left me a fortune.’
Connor raised his eyebrows.
‘This can’t be for real.’
Instantly, I knew what I wanted to do.
‘I want to share it with you all; this family has treated me like a sister.’
Connor looked at the kitchen floor.
‘Anne, this is a bit of a shock. You can give something towards the school in India if you like, but you must keep the majority of the money. It’s the first time you’ve had any by the sounds of it, and we could never take it from you; it wouldn’t be… right.’
Rainbow chimed in, looking disappointed nevertheless, ‘ That’s so true, our brother is absolutely right, though I fancy that new frock I saw in town yesterday,’ she said smiling impishly and pointing to a fashionable dress in one of the magazines on the coffee table.
Connor glared at her.
Daisy smiled and said placidly, ‘I’m so happy for you, Anne. Truly, we cannot accept any money for ourselves but I would be so happy if you would give me something to share with the orphans in India…’
‘Of course,’ I said.
‘And come with us,’ Rainbow added, ‘Help us build the school.’
I smiled, thinking this seemed like a good, practical idea.
For the first time since I’d left Thornton, I felt I was part of a family. I also asked to stay with them as friends, be part of a house share. Daisy and Rainbow were quick to agree. Connor nodded with a more perplexed look on his face than I’d previously seen. This was my first experience of having house mates and I was prepared to enjoy this taste of self-devised freedom.
A few days later, Connor came to me and announced after dinner, ‘When we travel to India to build a school, help orphans and spread the word of God, I was wondering… I thought you might agree to come with me, as my wife.’
I was surprised. It wasn’t common for teenagers to marry but Connor appeared to know what he wanted; me. I was flattered in many ways but I could not hide my astonishment; nor could I go against my heart. He noted the look of disappointment on my face.
‘I know we don’t know each other that well but I would not wish to travel alone with you unless we are family.’
I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Connor but I knew I did not love him in a romantic way. I might possibly grow to love him – as I would a brother but I gathered that was not the kind of love he wanted from me.
The truth was, I had never loved any man before Rochester and now that I’d seen what I’d seen… that was history, but I was forever changed, forever older, less naïve, less able to bend to the wishes of a relative stranger.
‘I will let you think it over, Anne,’ he offered as he walked out of the room.
Days later, I felt lost and troubled. Connor had begun to treat me differently as he waited for my response. I knew I owed Connor an answer and an explanation. Later that night, after dinner, this is what I told him.
‘I have thought about your offer. I would like to go to India with you and help build the school but not as your wife - as your friend, as part of your family. You and your sisters have been more of a family than my own, far more, but I don’t think we should get married; I don’t love you.’
‘Love will come.’
His response was hard to fathom but he was stubborn in his beliefs.
I held firm to mine. ‘I don’t believe that kind of love can be forced,’ I replied.
‘And I do not think that we should travel together unless we are married, it is against my beliefs. God has put us together; we should marry and happiness will follow; you should not hesitate, Anne. You may not have another opportunity and I do not want to travel with you unless we are husband and wife. Even in this day and age where everyone is out of control and so many people just “hook up” and don’t bother to commit to each other, I want to do what I believe is right. You have a choice; I have brought you into my family, Anne, but there are limits, as to what is acceptable to my good nature.’
Wow. That made him sound like a real prince.
‘Are there limits to your love as well?’ I asked.
He did not smile, it was our first argument. Connor Rivers paused before he spoke again.
‘I know why you are hesitating; that solicitor I met told me he’d gone looking for you at Thornton Hall; it’s him, isn’t it? Your rich employer, the one you were in love with, the one you fled from in the night, the one you were sharing a roof with, a bed with. Did you really think he would bother to marry you after that? Not everyone in this community is as non-judgemental as me. You should abandon this unlawful desire of yours; it is against God’s plan for you.’
‘And who are you to judge me? Who are you to tell me that?’
‘I’m your friend, Anne. I’ve been your friend and I’d like to be more. Anne, listen to me; I am trying to help you. He was already married when he asked you to marry him. What kind of person does that? He didn’t tell you he had a wife? Or did you just not care? He’s a liar Anne, he’s ten years older than you, for starters, so he’s probably had a lot more practice telling girls he loves them.’
‘You know nothing about love!’
‘Oh, and you do?’
I paused as he continued to speak.
‘I know enough to know a man much older than you, a rich powerful man, was just using you. If he loved you, do you honestly think he would have let you go?’
‘He had no choice,’ I whispered, almost to myself.
‘But you do,’ he said.
By now, I wasn’t listening. I ran upstairs and gathered my bag, my purse.
On a whim I searched the internet for the bus timetable. Next, I stumbled upon a local news item about Thornton Hall. There was a photograph and half the estate appeared to be blackened ash. The article said two people had been killed in the blaze of a fire, one was a man. There were no more details released. I felt shocked and saddened.
My path was clear.
I packed my bags after the household had gone to bed. I wrote a note and left it on the kitchen table adding an envelope marked Daisy & Rainbow, lined with cash. I also wrote them a cheque to go towards the school in India and thanked the Rivers family for their kindness. There was something I had to do; some friends I had to go and see. I promised to stay in touch and hoped they would forgive me for leaving so abruptly.
I ran out of the house into the fading light and walked quickly, stumbling to the bus stop… I followed the dream in my head, the dream I’d had the night before about Nathanial and Sophie and Thornton Hall.