Thursday, June 6, 2013
ANNE EYRE (Secrets and Lies: chapter Eleven) #Jane Eyre Retelling
Secrets and Lies
After a few days’ absence, Mr Rochester returned. He was finalizing some paperwork in relation to the horse sales. Sophie and I were playing piano in the drawing room; there were more off notes than on when Sophie played her part. He could hear us from his desk and seemed to find the whole scenario very funny. Sophie looked up and ran to him until he said, ‘Off me, Sophie!’ Pretending to be annoyed, he added, ‘We have guests arriving this afternoon, I must finish my work.’ It was clear her affection for him existed despite his gruffness. On some level, Rochester’s basic kindness was obvious to Sophie. She would go to hug him regardless of his apparent coldness. It didn’t occur to her that someone raised undemonstratively, might not wish to hug her back. I believe most children have excellent instincts about those closest to them and Rochester responded to her regardless.
After music lessons finished, he took us for a long drive around the estate and we had an early lunch at the local pub. It was as far from my inner-city London reality as I could have imagined. I was embarrassed that the girl at the bar, who was new and didn’t know Rochester, assumed we were a family. Deep down, although it was not a vague possibility, the idea brought me a feeling of happiness I’d never previously known. Although Rochester, at twenty-eight, was older than me, I’d never met anyone like him – anyone as interesting or as strong minded as him. He was nothing like the boys or teachers I’d met. If I had known myself better, I would have been able to put words to the feelings I was experiencing for the first time. Instead, I looked away as he glanced at me when he carried a tired Sophie to the car. I was scared of getting close to anyone, much less this powerful man who was officially my employer.
That afternoon Rochester’s friends, the Ingram’s, arrived. They had already fallen asleep in the upstairs wing after their long trip. Sophie was at her riding lesson so Nate asked me to join him to play pool in the living room. It was a fine afternoon but already the faint glimmer of sunlight had fallen behind clouds in the sky. There was music playing in the drawing room and the kitchen staff were busy shopping in the village to buy extra food.
A warm silence had settled over the house as Nate told me about the people who were staying for the house party. I’d already heard about the “beautiful” Nicola Ingram from Mrs Fairfax.
‘I’m not sure, but I have a hunch he’s thinking of marrying this one,’ she had said. ‘Rochester is probably just biding his time to make sure she is genuine and not after his money. Although the Ingrams are one of the finest families in the district, she doesn’t stand to inherit anything like the fortune that Rochester has and he would never marry a woman who was just after prestige.’
I suppose that meant Nathanial’s future wife would become Lady Somebody, which all sounded a bit grand in the twenty-first century.
I’d never heard Nathanial mention his title and I was pretty sure he never used it. It was a bit embarrassing in this modern day and age. I’d seen so much need in some of the poorer boroughs of central London. I wondered if Mrs Fairfax was exaggerating as she was prone to doing. I knew her generation would be impressed by hereditary titles, but I wasn’t. I would have just fainted if, for example, he’d introduced himself as Lord Rochester and asked me to address him as Sir. In fact, I may have left.
I collected Sophie from her riding lesson. When we returned we had to walk past the sitting room. Unbeknownst to me, Sophie had taken pictures on her father’s mobile phone of all my paintings, her riding instructor, the food we had eaten and anything else she had found interesting during the day. When I walked into the kitchen to gather our drinks, Sophie and her father were flicking through the photos together. I noticed when she stopped at the photo of Enrique, the riding instructor, and added that we had arranged to have lunch together, he paused.
I couldn’t help but feel a slight thrill at the thought that he seemed jealous.
Mrs Fairfax came to take the child for her bath after her riding lesson and I picked up the smart phone.
‘I asked Sophie not to do that,’ I said, trying to hide my surprise.
‘Don’t be silly, Anne. I love your paintings. I enjoyed looking at your work. There are so many fine subjects to paint around here.’
‘Yes. There are so many amazing views, amazing architecture, the scenery itself. There are endless subjects to paint and draw. Art is not a chore - it’s fun.’
‘And what do you know of fun, Anne?’
‘Very little,’ I said wearily. ‘Before I came here, fun existed mostly in my imagination.’
Rochester nodded agreeably.
‘That is what I like about the country,’ he said heartily, ‘the animals, to ride, to be free here, away from prying eyes.’
I wondered what he could possibly wish to be free from.
Rochester looked away, as if he was suddenly bored with my conversation. I noticed the riding jacket he wore was made of black velvet; it suited him, made him look like the rich heir of a dynasty, the experienced, confident, older man that he was.
He flicked to the portrait I had done of him, standing in jeans and a t-shirt in the sun, hunched over and looking quite solemn at the pool table. He looked a lot younger than his twenty-eight years in that moment - almost innocent.
‘Is that how you view me?’
‘It was just a sketch. Not meant for other people to see.’
By other people, it was clear I meant him.
He smiled. His eyes were warm. I suppose he‘d suspected my little schoolgirl crush by now, but he was too polite to make me any more embarrassed than I already was.
He wandered over to the music, turned it down and announced, ‘My friends will be down soon. We are going riding; then I expect you to have dinner with us tonight, and every night, until they leave.’
‘Is that really necessary?’ I said. The thought of too much socializing with strangers made me want to hide from the world.
‘Yes, as your employer,’ he said jokingly, ‘I’m asking you to be there, Anne. We could use some young adult company. We are all older than you and rich and bored with ourselves. Besides, it will be good practice for Sophie to speak English in company.’
I made a mental note to wear the new items of clothing I’d bought from the village store; black denim jeans and a wine coloured sweater. I thought the outfit was fashionable and new and not too overdone. The main street of the village had a small selection of stores that sold clothes for young women and girls and Sophie and I had spent more than two hours shopping there recently. Sophie had squealed in delight at everything in the shop until I reminded her how I expected her to behave when we were outside the house. I looked at her sternly, but she just smiled, knowing, after weeks of being around each other every day, that she could almost twist me around her little finger. She also knew that, although neither gruff nor impatient like her father sometimes appeared to be, I meant what I said. She instantly stopped winding her coat around the dressing room partition and sat on the chair, humming softly, the songs we’d been teaching each other around the piano.
That night I took Sophie down to dinner. The child was dressed for the occasion wearing a burgundy velvet dress with matching stockings and ballet slippers.
The house guests were making more noise than Sophie ever had as they laughed uproariously at the punch line of a joke. Apparently, we’d missed both the set up and the ending.
Only the men, of whom there were three, smiled at me.
Nicola, dressed in a low top, short skirt and stilettos with her long hair straightened and falling down to her waist, remained blank faced and unwelcoming. The house guests spoke mostly amongst themselves and did their best to exclude me and Sophie.
Rochester was busy telling stories and when Sophie started to yawn, I excused myself, tired, and took her upstairs.
I’d been teaching her various English words previously unknown to her and she’d been teaching me a French song which we hummed as we walked. Then I sang some of a new song we’d heard on the radio and Sophie insisted on making up a dance to it when we reached her room. She looked like one of those kids on a reality show and I found myself laughing, despite myself, at her antics as I searched for her nightgown.
I made sure she cleaned her teeth properly by promising to tell her the story of Cinderella to help her fall asleep. Sophie loved that story; all about the beautiful girl with a wicked step-mother and the handsome Prince Charming who falls in love with the girl and identifies her from her missing slipper. It was a popular fairy tale for a reason and one I used to tell some of the smaller girls in foster care. We all loved it and it seemed to resonate with Sophie as she closed her eyes.
It had been a long day and I was grateful for the luxury of my own room when I too, fell fast asleep.