Ξ From the Journals of Edward Rochester – 1811-1815 Ξ
~ But my triumph was hollow: it was a rigged game after all – and the prize? Nothing more than a fetter of servitude to madness!” ~
“My God, Edward. They knew?”
“No wonder they kept you apart.”
“Yes,” I replied bitterly. “They must protect their loathsome little secret.”
“But surely,” he continued, “someone on the island must have known something—?”
“Perhaps. But Jonas Mason was respected, even feared by others in that insular society. I doubt not he paid well to buy their silence.”
“An old story, to be sure.”
“These were vile discoveries, but before I knew any of it,
“But before I knew any of this, my wife’s conduct was such that she must be confined, for her own safety as well as that of others. Most of our servants had fled, fearful of her violent temper. I was forced in every way to become her warden. As the weeks dragged into months, I sank deeper into despair, and soon my only comfort came from a bottle.”
“Rochester,” he whispered. “I cannot imagine how you endured it.”
“Not very well, James. When the terrible truth in Campbell’s letters came thundering down upon me, I had nothing left to withstand the torrent, and it swept me away to a place I had been more times than I could count: the wharf in Spanish Town, its docks littered with the squalid watering holes to which her lunatic fascinations and monstrous appetites had time and again enticed her. But this time, I found myself there not to extricate my mad wife from the clutches of some drunken sailor, but rather to seek oblivion in whiskey and rum. I began to frequent one establishment in particular for the company of a young woman I had met there…”
The murmurs of a dozen conversations ceased as I entered the pub. Never before had I come to this wretched establishment as a patron, and yet the denizens all knew me, for they had heard the stories of that “English-man” who returned again and again to the shantytowns, searching for his wife, “the madwoman from up the hill,” to bring her back home again.
Their curious stares followed me as I took the bottle and glass from the bartender then retreated into a dark and dingy corner of the tavern. But soon enough, the novelty wore off and everyone went about his business. It seemed that even such a den of thieves as this honored the unspoken code that respected a man’s right to drink alone, even a man everyone knew to be rich.
I had drunk about half my bottle when I noticed a gaudily painted young woman watching me with dark, eager eyes and a smile she hoped would ellicit an invitation. Then, in exchange for a pitiful coin or two, she would charm and flatter, using whatever wiles she thought might please me, just as she would use them on any man who had stumbled through the door looking for intimacy, now matter how disagreeable or disgusting he might be.
I beckoned her to my table.
“Señor? You wish me to join you?”
She smiled shyly, unaware, or not caring, how her fresh-faced youth and pretty face would soon fade into weariness and despair under the terrible privations of her trade. Yet there she sat, fully expecting that I should toss a few pence on the table then follow her upstairs.
I remember her surprise, naïve though it was, when I refused her shy overtures. Was I not there for the same reason every other man came to that place? To get roaring drunk then enjoy some soft companionship? That I had come here to drink, I said, there could be no doubt. But could she not be satisfied merely to sit and talk with me, if I was content to do so?
Yes, she would try.
It had been years since I had conversed in peace with any woman who was not a servant in my house. And though it perhaps amused her to earn her coin in that way, she nevertheless accepted my money and kept company with me, and together we talked and laughed and drank long into the night.
“For weeks, Carter, whenever I met her, all we did was talk. It was enough. I wanted nothing from her. And, I might have kept that oath, but for your letter with news that my father was dead.”
“I was sorry to have to write it, Edward.”
“All that day, I sat alone and got very drunk. I was so angry! I felt cheated, knowing I could never curse my father to his face for what he had done to me. I remember stumbling my way to the stables, managing to saddle a horse, and riding away from the house. I found myself once again in Spanish Town, in that wretched tavern where she was, and this time, Carter, God help me: I followed her upstairs.”
He tried to comfort me. “Edward, don’t do this to yourself—”
“Why not, James? I had broken every other promise I made to myself, except this one. And now, that one, too, lay broken. I began to believe that my father had been right all along. The seed was sown the day of my marriage. It had grown week and month and year upon year, watered by emptiness, nurtured by loneliness. And now, I harvested it myself by abandoning this last vestige of my self-respect. That morning, I fled back to Alta Arboleta, full of shame and self-loathing. My humiliation now was so complete, I thought nothing else could bring me lower. But an unexpected visitor proved how wrong I was….”
~ A World Far Away – End of Part VI ~
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