Thursday, June 6, 2013
ANNE EYRE (Wedding: chapter Twenty-one) #Jane Eyre Retelling
Sophie and I rose early the morning of my wedding day. Mrs Fairfax took care of Sophie while I bathed and had my hair and make-up done. The church was filled with more than the usual amount of people from Sunday services and the local community. No expense had been spared in preparations for the wedding, but I’d requested a small and tasteful ceremony. The household staff were dressed in their best and the most luxurious of Nathanial’s cars was decorated with ribbons to take us to the church.
We had not seen each other for two days because Nate had to finalise some business in London. I arrived at the church with Sophie who looked so small trying to adjust my train. Leah, Merida and a few girls from the village library, whom I’d befriended, acted as my bridesmaids. I was not nervous, as I knew deep in my soul this would be the happiest day of my life, so far.
When I looked inside the church, preparations had been made for a far more lavish ceremony than I’d intended. Most of the villagers were seated. There were huge bunches of flowers and ribbons at the end of every pew, festive garlands as far as the eye could see. The stained glass windows shed light on the entire room, with just the right amount of sun to create patterns on the walls and coloured light from the glass. These details had been left to Mrs Fairfax and she’d done an incredible job. We had not hired a photographer because one of Nate’s friends, a cinematographer, was invited. He’d brought his camera with him. As the music played, I had the feeling this event would irrevocably change my life.
My diamond tiara was covered with flowers. My hairdresser from the village had decided with me that the flowers would be removed after I’d said my vows to reveal the glittering jewellery Nathanial had bestowed upon me. It was a very grand tiara but Nate had insisted upon my acceptance of this family heirloom.
There were mostly unfamiliar faces in the small crowd that gathered to wish us well. I knew some of the people from the village. The band was the same one that played at the local pub on Saturday nights. They were brilliantly talented and had learnt some classical pieces for the occasion, putting their own spin on them. Afterwards, the band would play our first song. Nate, alongside Sophie, had picked the music, which was to be a surprise. Afterwards we would celebrate with a few friends and spend our first night together in a luxurious hotel that overlooked the sea in Devon. The next day we would make our way to the airport and Nate’s private jet. Nathanial’s sports car, the one he was driving when we met, would be decked out with a Just Married sign for the trip.
There was a look of apprehension on Nathanial’s face as Sophie and I walked slowly down the aisle in time to the music. The church was perfect, the faces of the congregation were glowing and Sophie was practically delirious with happiness as she smiled up at me throwing flower petals near my shoes.
I leant down to whisper to her.
‘Now you have to go first,’ as the music started and Mrs Fairfax ushered her in front and she started dropping the pink petals shyly.
Everything was perfect in that moment and as I glanced through the veil towards the man who looked at me, expectantly, I felt only perfect hope and joy at the prospect of our imminent union.
The service began and our vows were traditional.
Rochester looked nervous as words were spoken aloud. His voice, normally rich and deep, cracked for a moment as a draft edged under the door.
Now, don’t quote me on the exact vows that were said. What follows, is my memory of them…
We reached the point in the service where the vicar asked both of us and the congregation if we knew of, ‘any impediment why we would not lawfully be joined together in holy matrimony and that if we did we should speak now…’ or something to that effect.
Those words jumbled in my mind. All I could think about was the face of my husband-to-be, Sophie’s delight and Mrs Fairfax. She looked humbled, pleased that her concerns were unfounded. Meanwhile, some mysterious friends of Nate’s had arrived and taken seats in the first isle whilst the musicians above us in the balcony prepared to play our post-marriage song…
In the silence between sentences, a loud bang could be heard at the far end of the ancient stone building.
The vicar paused and after a moment it was obvious that the rattle at the base of the village church was simply the wind on a summer’s day.
‘Speak now or forever hold your peace…’
There was more silence as the vicar went through the motions then asked the question he knew by rote and considered rhetorical. He had never, in all the hundreds of marriages he had presided over, ever been answered with anything other than perfect silence. I looked into the eyes of the man I loved as more indirect noise interrupted the service.
A door finally opened and slammed shut in the space of a few seconds.
‘The marriage ceremony cannot continue.’
A man’s voice spoke from behind me.
The entire congregation turned their heads; even Sophie, who was used to behaving as if she was in her own little world, had stopped fidgeting with the flower petals in her hair and on the train of my gown. I froze as she looked up.
Christopher Mason, dressed in an expensive suit, his curls brushed from the determined expression on his face, stood before us.
Nathanial turned to the vicar and said, ‘Just ignore him. Please… continue.’
‘I’m here to declare the existence of an impediment to this marriage.’
I was frozen. I’d always been wary of happiness being snatched from my grasp, just when it was within reach, but this was inconceivable.
‘Just continue…’ Nate said under his breath, turning from the small crowd of drop-jawed onlookers.
Rochester took my cold hand which was a good thing. If he hadn’t steadied me I think I might have collapsed.
‘Take no notice of him Anne,’ he whispered.
It was kind of hard not to.
‘I declare the existence of an impediment… an insurmountable impediment,’ Christopher announced from just a few feet away from us. He walked closer, near me until he was standing close by. He peered into my eyes as if he could see into my soul.
‘There is something you do not know,’ he turned to the congregation. ‘There is a secret that exists…’
Sophie looked up at me, wide-eyed and innocent. There were many things she had not been told, did not know, so those words were not particularly shocking to her. She took my hand as Nathanial held the other.
‘Proceed,’ Nathanial stated clearly, but he appeared to be talking to the vicar and ignoring Christopher Mason.
‘I’m sorry Nate; I tried to call you out on this; I tried to reason with you. There is no way I can let you go through with this; you could be charged with bigamy…’
The word had a vague meaning to me, but it hadn’t sunk in yet.
‘What are you saying?’ The vicar (in all his many Saturdays of repeating the standard words) had never encountered a wedding like this one. He was almost as surprised as me.
He cleared his throat before speaking.
‘Eight years ago Nathanial Fairfax Rochester married my sister, Berenice Antoinetta Mason in a church in New Orleans on the twenty-sixth day of November.’
‘How do you know this?’
‘I was there. I am her brother. This man, Nathanial, is my brother-in-law.’
I could literally hear the congregation give a collective sigh, but the judgement of others was not uppermost on my mind. In those seconds, I began to lose all hopes I may have had for my future.
The intruder continued, ‘Our father was a rich industrialist who had companies all over the world and it was thought a merging of class and money would be fortuitous for both families but who knows, maybe they were in love. I only know they were married quickly; they had only known each other for two weeks. I was a witness; here is the documentation.’
He pulled from his coat a piece of paper. I did not wish to see the contents as I slumped in the aisle. Later, I was told the document was a copy of the marriage certificate of Nathanial Fairfax Louis Rochester and Berenice Antoinetta Mason, signed by both parties, witnessed and dated in New Orleans.
Rochester looked at him.
‘That document may prove I was once married but it does not prove Berenice Mason Rochester is still alive.’
‘She was a few weeks ago.’
‘And where is this Berenice Antoinetta Rochester?’, the lawyer who stood with him asked Christopher. ‘We must ask you to produce her.’
At this point Rochester turned and faced the congregation.
‘This girl… my…Anne knew nothing about this,’ was all the words he could find to say. Then he took my hand and walked with me quickly down the aisle.
‘Come on then, all of you who would do anything within your power to make trouble; come and meet the first Mrs Rochester; meet my wife.’
The band did not play and the sun did not shine as we hurried down the steps. No rice was thrown in celebration and no bells chimed. No wedding ring joined the large sparkling stone of my engagement ring. But what was worse, our love had been built on what I hated most – a lie.
The journey in his car was the fastest of my life. Through it all he spluttered broken words, ‘forgive me Anne, I should have told you. There is an explanation, I promise you.’
I couldn’t speak. I leant my head on the window until it occurred to me to ask, ‘Where is Sophie?’
‘She is okay, she is alright. She is with Edwina Fairfax.’
‘Don’t blame Mrs Fairfax. She knew nothing, or she knew something. Edwina knew we had a visitor, a woman who stays upstairs but I’d convinced her she was a lodger. No one except Christopher knew I had been married. It’s a long story and one I will try to tell you soon, if you can stand to listen.’