Thursday, June 6, 2013
ANNE EYRE (Wounded: chapter Sixteen) #Jane Eyre Retelling
Days and nights continued in a strange pattern as the house guests came and went. Sophie and I tried to maintain our learning routine (her spoken English was nearly perfect), but most evenings there was extra noise and the atmosphere of a party; I didn’t mind this. In fact, I enjoyed falling asleep knowing that Sophie had learnt all that was required of her, and more. The atmosphere of the house was often enhanced by these merry parties. It was only occasionally, during dinner, that I was quick to retreat.
The following night, Nicola was making more pointed comments about her dreadful childhood nannies and how they were all, miserable women with few prospects, calling them, dowdy and plain in the nicest possible way. I began to shift uncomfortably in my seat. I felt her comments were directed at me, even though her brother interrupted her and contradicted her. Nicola’s opinions were loudly vocalised; enough was enough.
When I slipped out of the room, I heard footsteps following behind me.
‘Anne, what’s the matter? You look unhappy.’ Nathanial said.
‘I’m tired. I’m going to bed.’
‘Since I returned with The Eatons you haven’t been the same.’
Was he trying to make me admit jealousy or was he just not perceptive enough to care?
‘Really?’ I said, playing cool. ‘Perhaps it’s since you played that stupid trick pretending to be a fortune teller - as if I would pour all of my thoughts onto your table.’
In his presence, it felt as if my own feelings were a mystery, even to me. Turning at the top of the staircase, I challenged him.
‘These days of merriment have been frivolous but mostly fun.’
He smiled approvingly.
I didn’t tell him about the previous afternoon when I had tried unsuccessfully to unbolt the door that led to the highest floor of Thornton Hall.
Instead, I blurted out, ‘As if the dinner conversation wasn’t humiliation enough, I have heard screams in the night. Last night, again, I heard a woman’s laughter. It was not Mrs Poole who was in the village having dinner with friends.’
‘The house is full of guests, Anne. The rooms are packed; sometimes there are hangers on in the music business; I cannot be responsible for every stranger that friends drag in here. It’s all a bit of a joke, a bit of summer fun. It will all be over soon,’ he shrugged, ‘and then everyone will return to their normal life. I doubt the band will last beyond this contract. It’s their final album and the others didn’t exactly set the world on fire. I’m sorry if they are annoying. The walls are paper thin in these old places; I’ve been intending to get proper insulation for years. If it’s a problem, you could move to a cottage on the estate until my guests leave.’
‘Sure,’ I said, turning from him. ‘In fact, maybe Sophie should come with me,’ I said sarcastically, adding, ‘since we are both so unwanted.’
He went to take my arm but I shook it free. In truth I was less worried about things that went bump in the night than I was about Nicola Ingram. I wasn’t sure how long I could cope with a changed household where I would soon be superfluous. I had no intention of moving to an isolated cottage on the estate, as he well knew. When we reached my room, I said, ‘Goodnight.’ Turning, I shut the door.
That night I was again woken from my sleep; not by Sophie or Mrs Fairfax but by Rochester.
‘What is it?’ I whispered. The look on his face was intense and troubled.
‘Anne? Wake up, Anne! Didn’t you do some sort of first aid course?’
‘Yes, I had to, to work with children,’ I said groggily.
‘I need your help, Anne. Would you help me? Please come with me, now?’
I grabbed my coat and pulled on my socks; my feet were freezing. The heating was turned off in the summer evenings but the house was so large and icy in the night. We went to one of the upstairs sitting rooms where I was surprised to see Christopher Mason lying on the sofa curled up in some sort of obvious pain.
‘I’m warning you Christopher, don’t tell her anything.’
‘And Anne? If he talks, don’t listen to him.’
I was left hovering by the door. The light was low as Rochester went to grab a first aid kit from the kitchen two floors below us. He came running back a few minutes later. I stood mute as he handed it to me.
‘Can you manage this, Anne? Help him?’
I was already pressing a bundled up t-shirt onto the gash in Christopher’s stomach.
I put on some gloves while Rochester took over. I cleaned the wound, just as I’d been shown to and got some hot water from the bathroom and generally did anything I could, including wrapping a bandage around Christopher’s stomach. This was only temporary help. The man needed stitches, badly, and probably a tetanus shot. There were knife wounds and puncture marks the size of pencil dots across his veins in some sort of pattern I couldn’t begin to make out.
Typically, once I looked like I had it under control, Rochester had disappeared. When he returned, ten minutes later, looking stressed out, Christopher was doubled up in pain as I applied pressure to the bandage.
It was no use.
‘We need help,’ I said.
‘I know,’ he replied.
Our house guest lay limp, moaning in pain as Rochester hoisted Christopher Mason over his shoulders and carried him downstairs via the scullery. Outside, there was a waiting car.
I was left shaking my head. I could not have imagined what fight had caused Christopher’s wounds or how they had been inflicted. I sat on a couch in the dark of the drawing room and finally fell asleep, crumpled under an old coat, still wondering.
‘Anne, Anne, wake up.’ Rochester shook me awake. It was six in the morning and the sun had barely risen. The house was quiet. A hush had settled over it like mist.
‘Come with me.’
I grabbed my coat and hastily pulled it on over my pyjamas.
We walked together outside to the stables in the cool morning air.
‘I didn’t want to talk in the house. Our voices might wake everyone up.’
‘How is he?’
‘Who… who did that to him?’
Rochester took my arm as if he wanted to tell me something but was weighing up the cost of speaking aloud. He shook his head as he spoke.
‘I can’t tell you.’
I turned to leave but his voice stopped me.
‘When I was your age I made a mistake. Its consequences have marked me for life. But recently…’ He leant towards me as we spoke, ‘I have met someone who might understand, who might want to… be with me if only I could tell them the truth; with her I feel I could reform myself and learn to live again.’
He was clearly describing his feelings for Nicola Ingram.
‘Do you think love justifies telling a lie?’
‘I think you are talking in riddles. But if I’m to treat your words as if they are meant in all seriousness, I would say that love should not need a lie but that sometimes the truth is less kind.’
He slumped up against a stone wall, centuries old.
‘What do you mean, Anne?’
‘When we lie, if we do so to save a person we love from hurt, that’s understandable. When you wore a riding jacket that didn’t suit you as well as your velvet one, I didn’t tell you because you were already saddled up and ready to ride out when you asked my opinion.’
‘Ah,’ then he laughed. Nathanial reached over and took my hand. ‘Just your presence here makes the day better. I do not know what I shall do without you.’
‘Am I leaving?’
‘I fear that you will… someday.’
So, he was already planning for the time when I would leave, when he would ask me to go because Sophie was going to school and Nicola would be her stepmother. Poor child, I thought, but there seemed no point in vocalising my feelings. The man had clearly made up his mind to go through with the marriage that all of the household staff whispered about behind closed doors. Nicola Ingram was the sort of woman who was only nice to children and underlings when others (particularly the man she’d set her sights on) noticed.
Of course, in front of Nathanial, she was all smiles. Like most men in love, he couldn’t see through her and he would resent me for pointing out her faults, so I stayed silent on the matter of the beautiful Nicola Ingram.
I wondered how he could think so little of my feelings, how he could imagine I had none. He had trusted me with last night’s secrets and told me about Nicola so easily, as if I was now more than an employee but less than a girlfriend; a friend, of sorts, was how he had begun to treat me.
I did not want to think about Nicola Ingram and turned away. There was still a secret in this house that intrigued me. I wondered why, after all these months of friendship (if indeed we were friends), he did not trust me enough to share it.
‘I still don’t understand about last night.’ I ventured. ‘Were you and Christopher fighting over a woman?’
‘You could say that.’
‘Does he… does he like Nicola too?’
Nathanial laughed. I changed tack.
‘Did you… it looked like someone stabbed him with a pen or worse.’
‘I cannot explain further, Anne. I must entrust you only with my silence. I value your opinion Anne. I need to know if I’m justified in not telling the woman I love everything about me.’
‘You mean, about this, about whatever has occurred here tonight with Christopher?’
I shrugged, annoyed that he would never offer me a straight answer but always asked my opinions as if they should be freely supplied. I had nothing to lose any more so I told him exactly what I thought.
‘I think true love should overcome all obstacles. Just because the woman in question doesn’t have as big a fortune as you, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a total gold digger… I guess, well, she is attractive, beautiful even, that’s if you go for trashy blondes. Her father is also a lord or whatever and I mean, clearly, you are an appealing alliance. Both families will be thrilled.’
Nate’s face went blank.
‘Anne? Who do you think I’m talking about?’
I looked him square in the eyes.
‘I’m not talking about her. I’m asking you what you would do to secure your own happiness? What lengths would you go to for true love?’
He reached over and wound his scarf around my shoulders as I began to shiver. He leant into me, closely; I wanted to touch him but I held back; I didn’t want to be bought with riddles, rhymes and lies.
‘I would do anything within the limits of my own conscience.’
‘Yet I cannot risk telling you everything,’ he looked away.
‘Nor I you,’ I whispered, half turning from him.
‘You are an unusual person, Anne. You see things from an unconventional angle.’
‘Well, I’ve had an unconventional life, so far.’
‘Do you ever want a conventional one? Are you too young to think about marriage and children?’
‘Of course, unless I met the right person.’
‘I think in the end, most of us want the normal things: love, security, protection. Am I right, Anne? Is that what you want from life?’
‘At the moment, I’m planning to go to university,’ I laughed. ‘But it is true that for someone who studied hard at school, I have no great desire to continue studying. I might get a job instead or as well. I want to see more of the world after I leave here.’
‘Yes, of course. I suppose what I’m asking is, if it took a lie to get to a greater good, would you be prepared to be involved in something like that?
‘I’ve often thought that people who never tell lies have never had to; but sometimes I wonder if anything good can come from bad. If there is something you haven’t told the woman you wish to be your wife, then maybe you should tell her.’
‘Even if telling her means she’ll probably leave me?’
‘You must be the judge of that, Nate.’
‘You called me Nate,’ he smiled. ‘I liked it.’
I turned from him, shivering, fed up with his egotistical flirting and the constant talking about this other woman as if I was just a teenage girl with no feelings of my own. I moved towards the house.
‘Where are you going?’
‘I don’t think this conversation is going anywhere. I’m cold, I’m going inside; Sophie has her riding lesson and I need to get her clothes ready.’
I walked down the driveway, my head reeling with questions. His words were loaded, like a gun.