Thursday, June 6, 2013
ANNE EYRE (Leaving: chapter Seventeen) #Jane Eyre Retelling
The telephone rang again the next afternoon. Leah picked it up. The voice on the other end of the line was asking for me; Anne Eyre. Nobody ever rang Thornton Hall asking after me.
‘Perhaps it is your aunt?’ Mrs Fairfax offered.
I shook my head.
More likely someone from Social Services, doing a survey about my progress since leaving the system, I thought, inwardly cringing. Then I remembered the system was overcrowded, so that was unlikely. I shook my head again yet Leah persisted until I got up from my seat and went to the door of the kitchen.
‘Anne, it’s some lawyer in London by the name of Price. He says he got your address from Social Services. It must be important.’
I took the phone.
‘You can take the call in the study, Anne. It’s private in there,’ Mrs Fairfax said.
The study was one of the most imposing rooms in the entire mansion, yet it was designed to be the most comfortable with large brown leather lounge chairs and Rochester’s relatives dotted in paintings all over the walls, staring out at me, judging me.
‘Is this Anne Elizabeth Eyre?’ the voice on the line said. He repeated my full name, date and place of birth.
‘Yes, who is this?’
‘This is Louis Price from Price & Sons. We’re a legal firm based in London. Anne, I have some news for you. Your aunt is failing and she has instructed me to ask you to come and see her. It is her one and only desire, her final wish to set things right with you. She has something of legal importance to tell you and she asked me to make a formal request for you to come and see her.’
‘I… I’m in Cornwall.’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘Since she threw me out of her house when I was small, I have no idea why she would wish to speak to me now.’
‘She asked me to appeal to your good nature, Anne, your intelligence. It’s very important and would be to your advantage if you speak with her and not on the telephone; she wishes to do this in person.’
Minutes later, I stood with the telephone receiver in my hand. I had not really thought about going into London again so soon, but something inside me, some family instinct, told me I should go. I could not deny her this final wish, although she had been cruel to me when I was younger. Two wrongs did not seem to make a right in my world. I needed to hear what the woman had to say.
I threw some overnight belongings into a bag along with my sketches and realized I had no money, no wages for the month. I would have to ask Rochester for a cash-in-hand payment, something I didn’t wish to do, but I had no choice.
I walked outside in my shirt, which was rolled up, along with my jeans, and a cardigan wrapped around my shoulders to shield me from the light, summer breeze.
Rochester was playing water polo with Nicola, (who was dressed in a revealing bikini), Nicola’s brother and Sophie. Sophie kept shouting in French which made me smile. They made a fine family in the sun, all of the intruders (as I thought of them), so blonde and pale, unlike me, soon to be sun-kissed. I hovered near the edge of the rippled, blue water.
Nicola scowled at me. ‘What do you want?’ she said speaking to me as if she was in no doubt that I was merely the help. ‘If you want Sophie, we’re in the middle of a game,’ she added.
I ignored her and looked at Nathanial Rochester.
‘I need to speak with you. It can’t wait.’
He paused, nodded and got out of the pool.
Can I just say that the sight of a man as hot as Rochester, emerging wet and dripping from the water on a sunny day, was one I would literally engrave in the final pages of my teenage diary? Nicola and I and even Mrs Fairfax, who was seated in the corner, couldn’t stop staring. Mrs Fairfax, who was reading a magazine, actually pulled down her sunglasses slightly to get a proper look at his muscular chest. Apart from Sophie, we all literally stopped and stared at him; his beautiful face and body in the warmth of sun on his skin.
Nicola swam over to Nate as he was picking up his towel and leaned up to peck him on the cheek. He smiled in return, playfully, appearing to respond. Sophie frowned because the game had halted.
‘I’ll just be a minute,’ he said to her.
Sophie huffed and gave a slight smile when she realised it was me creating the interruption.
My employer and I walked together in the sun, my hair trailing down my back as I hadn’t bothered to tie it up. My faded jeans were rolled up into shorter ones as my one concession to summer. I had bare feet. It was the weekend and on my days off, I’d turned one of the bathrooms into an old-fashioned darkroom and had been developing photos of Sophie and the surrounding areas of Cornwall. There was also a picture perfect image of the estate cottage which was situated by the sea.
Nathanial Rochester had wrapped a towel around his waist and pulled on his crumpled t-shirt over his wet chest. I’d noticed the T-shirt, the old rock band one, was his favourite. He started to dry his thick, wet hair with a hand towel as we walked. It was endearing; this lack of interest in fashion, this need he had for a woman (not a girl, like me, I supposed) to look after him. Nicola was twenty-one and certainly seemed to display the confidence that announced she was up to the job of looking after this lonely young man.
‘What is it Anne?’ He asked.
‘I just spoke to a lawyer. I need to return to London to visit my aunt who is ill and not expected to recover. She has something to tell me, apparently, that cannot be said over the phone.’
He paused for a minute, taking in my words and what they meant.
‘So, you are leaving?’ He looked at me incredulously. ‘How will Sophie and I cope without you?’
‘I am sure you will both be fine. You appear to be otherwise engaged.’
I tried to hide my jealousy, telling myself I had no right to feel it. I could see Nicola fussing over Sophie in the distance and then she took off her towel, spread it on the lawn and lay out in brightest light, displaying her perfect body in the sun. Meanwhile, Rochester was studying my face intently.
He raised his eyebrows.
‘Isn’t this the aunt who was cruel to you? Who practically threw you out onto the street?’
‘Yes, but she is the only family member I have. I cannot ignore her final wish.’
‘Well you’re a better person than I am… When are you coming back?’ he asked me directly.
Rochester was surprisingly anxious about my proposed return. He realized he would have to find a new nanny - if that is what I was - one who could also speak French. Not an easy task, late in the summer, and very impractical for him. Although his relationship with Sophie had appeared to have improved since I’d arrived at Thornton, he was generally distracted by work and horses. He had not intended to be his child’s hand maid as he sarcastically worded it.
‘It all began, when she called Social Services after I held an iron to my aunt’s boyfriend’s hand.’
‘Why did you do that?’
I looked away.
‘He tried to get too close. ’
He looked a little disconcerted. Apparently, I didn’t need to draw a picture.
I continued… ‘My aunt felt I was partly to blame for ruining her relationship with her boyfriend and in retrospect, if I’d known how much trouble my accusation would cause, I probably should have kept quiet. Had I been older… ’
Rochester sighed ‘How old were you Anne?’
‘About Sophie’s age,’ I replied, aware the more he knew about me the less he would like me. It was always this way with me. That was why I’d stopped sharing my upbringing with strangers. At first, they pretended to have empathy, even a little sympathy, but then they started distancing themselves from me. They would treat me as if I was damaged goods and not worth knowing.
‘Anne, listen to me. You were not to blame and I don’t think you owe this aunt of yours anything. She should have stood up for you - I would have.’
‘I can stand up for myself,’ I whispered.
‘I know,’ he smiled.
‘I need to go to London.’
‘And I need to borrow some money since I haven’t been paid this….’
I didn’t want to tell him that last month’s pay had gone on the novels I needed for my reading list at university and the camera. I’d purchased an expensive one because I’d wanted the best. All would have been unnecessary trinkets in my aunt’s eyes. Recently, my life had been so amazing and for the first time, I wanted to record it. I wanted to remember everything. However, I didn’t want to tell Rochester about the purchase of the camera which was none of his business anyway. He’d have told me I could use his movie camera, and I wanted my own; something that I knew could never be taken from me.
He scribbled his signature on a cheque and went to hand it to me. I was shocked at the amount of zeros at the end. This was way too much.
‘It needs to be cash, Rochester. I cannot pay for my train ticket with a cheque.’
‘Of course,’ he said without hesitation. We had walked all the way to his office. He handed me some cash from a locked drawer in his desk.
I took it and said, ‘thank you.’
‘So, it’s Rochester now?’
‘You are… officially my employer.’
‘I am your friend, Anne, as you are mine. Please come back to me… and Sophie… and this place. We need you.’
I squeezed the large bundle of money, surprised he would think that I’d be dishonest about my intentions. Well, not surprised, really. I mean, what did he expect? He’d allowed me to become close to him and Sophie only to flaunt his girlfriend in my face. Still, he owed me nothing except my wages and his kindness had been extremely unexpected. I turned from him with the notes in my hand then I realised, as I went to stuff them in my purse, that they made a larger bundle than I’d earned.
I hesitated at the door.
‘But this is next month’s wages also…’
‘I want you to return,’ he said.
‘I have promised that I will… in a week.’
‘It’s a bonus. Added incentive,’ he said.
Why? I wondered… I had nowhere else I wanted to be, except by his side. Yet I used all of my strength at that moment to leave him without a backward glance. My own survival depended on my detachment. Without a touch, I left, lest he should realize how much he now meant to me.