Ξ From the Journals of Edward Rochester – 1811-1815 Ξ
Carter sat in silence. Before he could ask any more questions, the post boy announced our coach was about to depart. I tossed a coin onto the table and we left the inn.
Outside, the gloomy weather did not help my mood. A drizzling, gray mist obscured the morning sun as we hurried across the yard. Pilot raced ahead and leapt up into the coach, followed by myself and Carter. The door was slammed shut, then we lurched forward and rumbled on our way.
“Edward, what was the voyage like?” He broke the silence after we had bumped a few miles along the road. “Did you know? I had planned to ship out on the HMS Magnamine as ship’s surgeon not long after you departed England, but my father’s death prevented me.”
“The Royal Navy? I had no idea you had a pirate’s heart, James.”
He laughed. “The chance for adventure, not to mention the steady wage, were irresistable. Had my father lived, I don’t believe I would have remained behind.”
“It’s a mercy for me that you did not go. As to my own voyage—you know I am not much of a sailor. The crossing to the West Indies lasted a month, and I was sick for the whole of it, I can tell you. Three days out from port, we ran into a terrible storm. Nearly dead with seasickness, exhaustion and hunger, now I thought I should be drowned as well. A most decidedly unpleasant experience, I can tell you.”
“And yet you survived the passage—twice.”
“Yes, but would that I never had gone to Jamaica at all. There I was, washed up on the shores of a foreign land, in the home of a complete stranger, Jonas Mason. Resigned to my fate, I fully expected, nay hoped, to be introduced to my bride-to-be that very day. Yet she was no where in sight.”
He looked surprised. “Why ever not?”
“At first they insisted I recoup my strength, for the voyage had been difficult. But I soon rose from my sickbed, assuring Mason and his son that I was fit and ready. Yet for another week, they prevented even a glimpse of her.”
“They intended our first meeting should be in the grande ballroom of the governor’s mansion in Spanish Town, at a gala affaire hosted by the colonial governor himself. Mason was one of the wealthiest men on the island. His connections and influence reached into every corner of its society. The ball was to be the highlight of the season.
“To what end?”
“Oh, there were devious hearts at play, James, and for a long time, I did not realize just how treacherous. It had been more than two weeks since my arrival, but the introduction was continually delayed, the litany of excuses being first my illness, then Miss Mason must overcome her “low spirits.” Was I to interpret this as her reluctance respecting our engagement? I was anxious to acquit myself well, but I became hesitant, wondering if she was even desirous of the match. Yet my impatience to begin was difficult to suppress. I had come there to marry her, for God’s sake! Ought I not be accorded the courtesy of an introduction before the wedding day? But her father would not be moved. I must await the ball.”
“Perhaps it was the simplest way to proclaim the match,” remarked Carter thoughtfully. “Were you not the guest of honor, after all? Did not the idea of such a magnificent welcome please you?”
“Oh, if that had been their intent, perhaps. It was a very grande affair, to be sure. But Carter, what do you think? When I strode into that ballroom, my hands were sweating. I had plucked up my courage and screwed it to the sticking place, convinced I was ready to make a go of it. But after traveling thousands of miles, enduring weeks of seasickness, tropical storms, and illness, did I find a woman already courted, won and waiting at the top of the ballroom for me? I did not. Just another wretched fool among many, I was there with half a dozen others that evening, most of whom like me, were foreigners: an Italian, a Spaniard, even an American from Virginia. And they had been enticed by the same inducement: matrimony to a rich man’s daughter.”
“But what your father had told you…”
“…all lies, from beginning to end. Everything I thought I knew about the arrangement was nothing more than a tapestry of falsehoods. I had blundered into an arena, and of course there could be only one left standing. Which one of us would it be? Had I been rational and taken a moment to consider, to think things through, I should have realized what was going on.”
“And yet, whispered Carter. “You remained.”
“I thought only of my father’s anger, of Rowland’s smug satisfaction should I return to England a loser, vanquished in the sport of courtship. How he would ridicule me for my incompetence! For my entire life, James, I had been a failure in my father’s eyes. When I stood in that ballroom, watching the others crowd around her, contending for a smile, in a flash I knew with more certainty than ever I felt in my life that this was it. This one chance, tossed to me like a bone to a starving dog, was slipping through my teeth! It was now or never. I resolved on the spot that Edward Fairfax Rochester—and no other—must be, would be, the winner of the field.”
~ A World Far Away ~ End Part I ~
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