Thursday, June 6, 2013
ANNE EYRE (Fire: chapter Twelve) #Jane Eyre Retelling
Hacking and coughing, I was awoken at two in the morning, barely able to breathe. The faint trace of smoke had started to funnel under the door of my bedroom. I wore only a light t-shirt and pyjama pants to bed, and it was cold when I threw the covers off me; but there was no time to pause and dress or even grab my coat.
Gasping, I heard a piercing scream from above. I could smell more smoke as I began to cough. I ran down the hallway, pushing my messy bed hair from my eyes.
The trail of smoke seemed to lead to Rochester’s room, six doors down. Everyone had stayed up to all hours and the rest of the house guests seemed oblivious to the danger.
I knocked frantically on the door. When I turned the handle it opened easily.
The room itself was enormous, with high, Baroque ceilings and a wide old-fashioned bed situated in the middle. There was no time to think. I ran to the bed where Rochester lay. Perhaps he’d already inhaled smoke because he didn’t move when I said his name.
‘Wake up Nathanial,’ I said, shaking him. He didn’t stir. I reached over his bare chest and grabbed his broad shoulders and shook him again. He finally opened his eyes, then coughed and spluttered in the greying air.
‘Anne,’ he whispered, ‘what’s happening?’
‘The curtain! Look, fire - Nathanial, get up!’
I tried to drag him but he was tall and twice my weight in muscle. He managed to get out of bed and with my help sat upright and then he moved suddenly.
‘Get the blanket Anne, quickly!’
He ripped the mats up and threw the blankets onto the curtains and the edge of the bed. I turned on the tap in the bathroom and filled a bucket that was sitting under the basin. I started throwing water at the drapes, wondering where I could dial for the fire department, but in just a few minutes we managed to contain the fire. The stone floors where the carpet had been ripped up prevented the fire from spreading beyond the curtains. Rochester had been planning renovations for a while and the lack of floor covering curtailed the heat at the foot of his bed.
When the flames had been put out, I felt intense relief mixed with exhaustion.
I leaned on the wall then slumped to the floor.
Rochester collapsed at the foot of the bed, head in hands. Then, it seemed like the only thing left to kill us was smoke inhalation.
Slowly, he rose. He was shirtless and beautiful in the moonlight as I looked out for a moment from behind my own hands. I was shivering from the open window, the icy water sloshing at my feet.
He brought me a towelling robe from the bathroom and handed it to me.
‘You are cold, put this on. Tell no one about the fire.’
‘Tell no one about what has happened here tonight.’
‘Can I trust you Anne?’
I looked at him from behind my messed up hair, my cold feet suckered together.
‘Yes,’ I answered, hesitantly.
He knelt down beside me in the dark, finally the same height as me, eye to eye.
‘I promise. You can trust me,’ I said slowly.
‘Stay here for a moment, it’s safe now. I’ll be back.’
I was frozen and in shock but somehow, curled in his dressing gown after moving to the dry couch on the other side of the room, I fell fast asleep. I heard him walking into the room; it seemed like moments later, but was in reality probably half an hour.
He leaned over me; he’d hastily put on a t-shirt, one printed with a photograph of some old rock band he must have liked from about ten years ago. He smelled of a person freshly showered, so close was he when I opened my eyes I could see his chest moving, breathing heavily; I was bleary eyed, deep in dreams. Suddenly he looked like no one I trusted, like one of the numerous strangers who’d beaten down a door to my path in life. He reached towards me but I pushed him away. He wasn’t easily dissuaded.
Without asking, Rochester scooped me up close and carried me in his arms quietly, down the hall to my bedroom, and placed me on my bed. The covers were already pulled back where I’d hastily left them. I was tired, sleepy, and almost delirious. He leant over me as if he was checking my breathing which was steady.
He touched my wrist.
‘Open your eyes.’
‘What happened? Who lit the fire?’ I asked. My questions fell over themselves without care.
‘I think one of the maids dropped a match; Merida was smoking when she returned from the village; it’s nothing for you to worry about. The extra staff will be leaving soon enough and I’ll get Mrs Fairfax to talk to them and my guests about fire safety over the next few days,’ he mused.
‘Don’t joke,’ I said. ‘We could have been killed.’
‘It wasn’t that bad.’
‘It could have been.’
Instinct told me he was lying, lying to protect someone, but I couldn’t put all of my suspicions together to form another accusation in the dark. Nor would I question a person who obviously did not trust me enough to share the truth, whatever that was.
The handsome man in the night paused before he looked down at me and spoke again, ‘You saved my life tonight, Anne. Thank you. I owe you.’ He leant closer to me and took my hand. I pulled it away, sensing his lie in the dark.
‘You owe me nothing, Rochester,’ I said.
I would be lying if I didn’t say the memory of his flat, hard chest against me as he held me and carried me to my bed, did not conjure unexpected feelings of warmth and security that had always eluded me.
There was also a new sensation, one I’d pushed aside and never allowed myself to feel before - desire. Wanting the closeness of another human being was new to me; trusting someone was almost incomprehensible. I’d avoided human contact for years, ever since my aunt had abandoned me. I pulled the covers to my chest as I lay on my side, thinking he’d go soon enough.
‘Are you just going to let me leave Anne?’ He asked.
I turned around, my eyes made out his shadow in the moonlight.
‘I want to know the rest,’ I whispered, reaching to touch his face.
His voice cracked, as he spoke, low and hesitant.
‘When I was younger, a year older than you, I made a terrible mistake; one that has haunted me to this day.’
He stopped talking. The room was filled with silence. I reached out and touched his chest, leant into him, listened to his beating heart. He knelt on the bed and held me close and warm, whispering my name in the night. Then he pulled me tighter, slightly, wrapping his arms around me and breathing into me as if his breath could also sustain my own. Nate was warm and close enough to hear my heart beat for the first time. I listened to his breathing as he seemed to contemplate whether or not to tell me something.
Then, for a moment, I wanted to kiss him, wanted him to stay with me. But it was only for a moment and I’d never admit it to a man who appeared to have the upper hand in all aspects of knowledge.
Instead, I pushed him away from me, annoyed that he held back whilst expecting so much from me. He seemed wary of offering me more information or even a plausible explanation for the inexplicable.
Besides, I thought, the last thing I needed was an older, more experienced man taking what was, for a moment, freely offered, then surely laughing in my face.
I wrapped my blanket around my shoulders, got off the bed and stood at the door.
‘Please leave now. It is time for me to go to sleep.’
He got up reluctantly and left the room. The door slapped behind him softly and all was quiet in the house except my breathing which was deep as I crawled under my covers and drifted back into an unsettled sleep and an even more unsettling dream.
In my dream, I was getting married.
It was my wedding day and I was dressed in a long cream gown with the finest lace and flowers in a posy of pink that spilled out across the front of my dress. Then I looked across the room as I prepared to walk down the aisle and Sophie was smiling, dressed in ivory and lace, excited to be my bridesmaid.
Music played as we began to walk down the aisle.
I walked alone. This bothered me, initially; but little Sophie caught the train of my dress and I didn’t notice my aloneness at all, because I was about to be joined to someone… but who? I couldn’t remember his name and when I reached the front of the church after passing hundreds of seated guests whose faces were unfamiliar to me, Nicola, dressed as a bride, greeted me with a smile and pushed me to one side.
‘What are you doing here?’ She demanded to know. ‘This is my wedding and this man is to be my husband.’
The man who stood in the corner talking to his best man was Nathanial Rochester. In silence, he turned to face us.
‘Get out,’ Nicola said. ‘Get out you poor, plain, uninteresting girl! Leave this place!’
It was more like a nightmare than a dream.