Ξ From the Journals of Edward Rochester – 1811-1815 Ξ
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 morning squall swept inland as I rode back to the house upon the hill. The rain passed swiftly, and the hot sun soon dried my clothes. The bustle and noise of the Spanish Town docks was far behind me as I crept back to the place I had departed late the night before. Too much rum had given me a thundering headache, and I felt like a wounded animal slinking back to its den.
I took a little-used path to the stables, where the last remaining groom took my horse. Walking up to the house on none too steady legs, I longed only for sleep. While passing up the shaded drive I noticed a fine-looking carriage standing at the front of the mansion. Strange. I recalled no appointments for visitors. But then, I never had visitors anymore.
Lucias stood on the back veranda. He rarely waited for me after one of my binges. Oh God, what had she done now, I thought, sinking beneath a feeling of sick anticipation.
“Lucias?” I eyed him suspiciously. “Are you here to scold me, or is there fresh trouble concerning your mistress?”
He smiled sadly. “No sir, Missah,” he sighed. “But Señor Richard has come.”
“Ah.” Relief washed over me. “What do you suppose could pry him away from his precious vineyards? Perhaps the rat who deserted the sinking ship had a change of heart.” I ordered tea to be brought to the library. “He is in the library, yes?” The old servant nodded. “And Lucias,” I winked. “Bring a little extra something…more robust to enhance its flavor, hmm?”
With a wearied eye, he surveyed my rumpled clothing and unshaven appearance. “Will Missah be having supper tonight? Or just da drink?”
Like a father’s rebuke, his skepticism stung me. He was my steward and took great pride in his duties over my household and its servants, at least when there had been such a staff. But having been in service with the Masons for more than twenty years, he, more than anyone else, understood the hopelessness of my circumstances.
“Of course I shall have supper. And no doubt Mr. Mason will join me.”
He went off to attend his duties while I hurried upstairs to change. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass and it startled me. I looked older than my 26 years. I had been here four years, but it seemed a lifetime ago when I was an eager young man, desperate to make his mark upon the world. I would give anything to have them back again.
But such musings would only sink me deeper into melancholy and were best left to another hour. Besides, it would be ill-mannered to keep my guest waiting. I made myself presentable, then went downstairs. In the library standing near the hearth stood Richard Mason, my brother-in-law.
“Well, well, Richard,” exclaimed I with feigned cheerfulness. “What brings you to my riotous little corner of the world?”
As I advanced, he stiffened. “Dick, what is it? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.” I thumped my chest. “But I assure, I am alive and breathing.”
I gestured for him to sit in my chair. After a few minutes of agitated silence, he said,
“Rochester, I am just returned from Madiera.”
“Jonas is dead so you decided to come back. Why?”
“There was little love between my father and I. Campbell wrote to me some time ago about a matter regarding the estate…but that is not really why I have come.”
Lucias appeared at this moment with the tea service. Mason fell silent as the old man poured out two cups, then departed.
“Certainly I don’t know what you could say to me that ought be kept from him.” I beckoned Mason to the table. “He is aware of everything that goes on in this house and has been for years, so do not pretend otherwise. But now…sit down. Have some refreshment.”
I took the bottle of whiskey which Lucias had brought with the tea, and put a drop or two into my cup. “Care for something a bit stronger?”
Mason refused the whiskey, but took a cup of tea. I waited for him to pick up the conversation where he had broken it off, but he merely sat there, saying nothing, drinking nothing.
“Your father, Richard…you say you had your disagreements with him?”
“Well, don’t let it be of such concern. It is the way of all sons with fathers, I fear. They have their differences and no way of overcoming them short of violence. So instead, they settle for uneasy silence, or as in your case and in mine, separation by great distances.”
“It is not something I am keen for others to know.”
“It’s the reason Jonas wanted a grandson, I suppose?”
Again, he nodded. “There was nothing for me here.”
“What is this other business you spoke off?”
“My concern must now be for the living. I am come to investigate certain…reports I have heard. I wish to believe them false, but I could not in conscience ignore them.”
“What are these reports you speak of?”
Mason was my wife’s only remaining blood relative. Etiquette dictated that I should consider him family. But I never could. He had scrupulously avoided the suitors, but after the wedding, he suddenly wanted to be my friend, and attached himself to me like a devoted dog. I found it all quite insufferable. I endured his servile attentions believing he was concerned for his sister, who had married this young foreigner. But it was unwitting sympathy born of ignorance. The letters Campbell had given me revealed his motives to be far less noble.
“Rochester,” he pursued quietly. “These rumors are of a most disturbing nature.”
“Reports, rumors? Which is it? Make up your mind.”
“Regardless,” he replied, “the business which brings me here concerns my sister’s welfare.”
“My wife, you mean?” I drank the rest of my tea, then filled the cup, again including more whiskey. “And these reports? They have finally made you aware of her shameful conduct, I suppose?”
Almost shaking, he whispered, “These reports, Fairfax, concern not my sister’s conduct—but yours.”
~ A World Far Away – End of Part VII ~
© 2016 by R.Q. Bell and Imaginality Press; All rights reserved.