Ξ From the Journals of Edward Rochester – 1811-1815 Ξ
Almost shaking, he whispered, “These reports, Fairfax, concern not my sister’s conduct—but yours.”
“My conduct?” I swallowed another mouthful of tea. “What sort of nonsense is this?”
He turned away, afraid to meet my eye. “I have been informed…that is to say that you have—”
“That I what, man? Dammit, face me, and say what you mean.”
Mason turned sharply. He was shaking violently, but suddenly blurted out, “You have been beating her, Rochester! You mistreat her cruelly, and—”
“I? Beat my wife?” I interrupted. “Where ever did you hear such nonsense?”
“I have received letters from an old friend of my father.”
He stood a little taller as he confronted me with this claim, evincing a kind of boldness I had never seen in him before.
“An old friend?” I asked with contempt. “What is his name?”
Mason hesitated. “I…cannot say—”
“A man has a right to face his accuser!” I cried. “And of such a contemptible act? Don’t dissemble with me, Richard. Who makes this scurrilous claim?”
He fell back, unprepared for my vehement denial.
“You must believe these accusations to be true,” I continued, “otherwise why would you have come?”
He looked away again. “I…I don’t know.”
“A fine thing, Dick. I am your brother. Yet without so much as a word to me, you travel all the way from Madiera to condemn me on the word of a stranger?”
He was silent.
“You know all too well the history of this sordid little arrangement?” I gestured to the house around us. “Or have you forgotten how eagerly you gave your unreserved blessings to the match?”
I knew he wished to deny it, but could not.
“Let me assure you, I have not. All those years ago we suitors, like so many prize cattle, were paraded daily before your sister, but it was a pointless exercise. Like Judas, my own father sold me for £30,000 of blood money before ever I set foot on this cursed island.”
His mouth dropped open, and he went white, quite white.
“Oh yes, Richard. I know all about that devilish bargain.”
I began pacing before him, my ire roused afresh by the remembrance of it all. The memories swept over me like a foul wind, clinging to every nerve, their collective voice groaning with never-ending condemnation.
He sat down, still quite pale, still mute.
“Well, Richard? Are you going to deny it?”
“Rochester,” he whispered. “It is what I…what we thought best.”
“You thought, you thought! I have long suspected that all the parties and festivities were mere exhibitions for my benefit. And all the while you watched, like a spy in the shadows, the unfolding of your plan.”
Of all his family, he was the only one who had ever shown the slightest affection for her. I half filled my cup with whiskey, and drained it in one, burning draught. I was getting drunk again, but I did not care. I paced before him, agitated by his noxious presence, angered by the baseless charges he had hurled in my face.
“Now Dick you will tell me. Who is this bastard who wrote such things to you?”
He sat quavering in his chair, but found the courage to say, “Perhaps I have been hasty. Perhaps the accusations against you…have been exaggerated.”
The iron restraint I had forced upon myself these four years was slipping away. My resolve to repress the deep antipathy I felt towards all who had conspired in the plot was beginning to fail me. The whiskey worked its rancorous charm, loosening my tongue, imperiling the tenuous hold by which I yet held my temper.
“But you cannot deny, Rochester,” he continued timidly, “that she is no longer mistress of this house.” Suddenly he rose from his chair and came nearer. “All her servants have been dismissed, have they not? She is now held in close quarters, like a captive in her own home!”
“Oh no, you are not at all mistaken,” I assured him, laughing bitterly. “But only a fool would consider that she is the captive. It is quite the reverse, Mason. It is everyone in this house who is prisoner: we are all at the mercy of her demons. She is mad, you know. Quite insane.”
~ A World Far Away – End of Part VIII ~
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