Continuing the saga that is Across the Sea, let’s catch up with Jane.
The children were restless the whole morning, finding a multitude of reasons to stop and fret.
“These sums are so difficult, Miss Eyre.” moaned Lizzy, my precocious nine year old charge. “Please, can we play outside instead?”
“Oh, yes, Miss, can we?” echoed her spirited younger brother, Erroll. “We cannot miss seeing Mamma and Papa arrive home with the beautiful ladies.”
“How do you know the guests will be ladies, Erroll?” I asked amusedly, “It could well be a lady and a gentleman.”
“It cannot be a lady and a gentleman because Mrs. Kirwan said she’s to prepare two rooms.” replied the astute boy.
“I’d rather it be ladies since I do so wish to see their pretty gowns!” chimed his sister.
I smiled inwardly. The master and mistress’s homecoming had been the children’s focus all this week, ever since Lord Blake’s letter arrived informing Ardfry of their imminent return – along with two unnamed guests. Since then the household had been in a whirl of frenzied preparation, sending the children into ecstatic expectation.
“So can we finish early, Miss Eyre?”
Their eager blue eyes gazed at me so excitedly that I struggled not to laugh. “Finish your arithmetic and we shall see about going outside to sketch.”
“By the pond?” asked Lizzy hopefully.
“If you complete all your sums in silence.”
That was motivation enough for the both them since they both loved to draw. They also knew full well that the pond afforded a good view of the drive, and hence of any incoming carriages.
As my pupils scribbled their answers upon their slates, I went to the window to look out upon the bare November garden, the green patchwork fields beyond, and the grey sky mirrored in the blue-grey sea. The sea. Three months ago I had never even glimpsed the sea, and now I was surrounded by it. The waters of Galway Bay encompassed Ardfry on three sides, making it feel as if the house was perpetually afloat.
So different from the refined, pastoral scenes at Thornfield – so wild.
The west coast of Ireland was more rugged than I ever imagined, much wilder than even the moors of Lowood. Here, one had no protection from the untamed squalls that blew in from the Atlantic, and all life seemed geared towards self-preservation. Plants were small and hardy, and the cottages squat and stout, as stout as the people who lived in them.
A world away from Thornfield. A world away from…
A flood of sorrow flowed through me as I thought of Mr. Rochester, of his mournful eyes as he bid me farewell. Where was he now? Far away from here, I was certain. Did he move on as I bid him to? Did he try to rebuild his life? Shall I ever know?
“Miss Eyre, we have finished!” I heard Erroll cry.
I turned around and saw that both the children had laid down their chalks. Their eagerness made me yearn for the simplicity of childhood and its lack of complications, but I knew that one cannot relive the past, just as one cannot predict the future.
Live in the present, Jane Eyre. Think of nothing more than the here and now.
But it is so hard!
Have faith, child.
I returned to the children and cast a quick eye over their work. With a grin I said, “Good work, the both of you. Now if you are quick to put on your warm things, we may go out to sketch before luncheon.”
They raced away after I had instructed them to meet me at the front door, leaving me free to return to my chamber down the corridor. My room here was smaller than my chamber at Thornfield, but what it lacked in dimension it made up for in its cheerfulness. Facing the south, it received the full face of the sun and afforded comforting views of the fields, hills, and mysterious grey mountains of the Burren.
As I put on my merino cloak, bonnet and gloves, I saw that the mountains were hidden under a covering of cloud – a sign that rain may be on its way. Knowing that time was precious, I retrieved my box of drawing materials and a blanket before making my way downstairs to the entrance hall. It was quiet there, most of the activity being in the kitchens where preparations for luncheon were taking place. I stood examining a portrait of a handsome officer, but I was not alone for long.
Mrs. Kirwan suddenly appeared from an adjoining room. Like Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper of Ardfry was middle-aged and widowed, but that was where the resemblance ended. Mrs. Kirwan was a formidable character – tall, stern, careful, and efficient. She was well-known for demanding high standards from those under her tutelage, particularly newcomers who had arrived unexpectedly.
“A girl sent all that way – alone?” I had once overheard her say, “She is either brilliant or trouble.”
Since then, she had kept a close eye on me, more so since Lord and Lady Blake departed for England. Now she took in my cloak, drawing box and blanket, and asked sternly, “Where are you going, Miss Eyre?”
“Taking the children to the pond for their art lessons.” I replied as calmly as I could.
“When it’s threatening rain?” she said disapprovingly.
“I shall not keep them out too long.”
“Humph. For your sake, I hope that they do not catch a cold, not with the master and mistress almost home.”
“I shall make certain that they are appropriately dressed, ma’am.”
“I hope so. Be certain to bring them in for luncheon at half past twelve – sharp, you understand.”
“Yes, Mrs. Kirwan.”
The arrival of the children thankfully saved me from further reprimand. Instead, Mrs. Kirwan gave the children an almost cheerful smile, adjusting Erroll’s coat and Lizzy’s bonnet, before sending us all on our way.
The air outside was crisp, but the children, excited to be out-of-doors after a rainy week, chattered and skipped happily along the path. We swiftly passed the carefully clipped hedges and bare flower beds of the ornamental garden, and soon arrived at the pond. There, I set out the blanket, took out the paper and pencils, and bid the children to sketch the pond in front of them.
As they set about this task, I added, “Now children, use your imagination. Imagine that the pond is in somewhere magical, like a jungle or a distant valley, and imagine that your favourite animal lives in it.”
“Like a hippopotamus?” asked Erroll.
“Yes. Imagine it swimming among the reeds.”
“Or a flamingo? They’re so lovely and pink.”
“Yes, Lizzy. Can you see it perched upon its long legs? I want you to draw these animals in your pond.”
As they continued drawing, I too began to sketch the pond. Working quickly, I drew the shoreline with its tall reeds, and then the hills beyond. But there were no hippopotamuses or flamingos to be seen in my drawing, but a lone horse and rider galloping away upon a distant road, followed closely behind by a great, shaggy dog.
“Are they on a hunt, Miss Eyre?” asked Erroll from over my shoulder.
I blushed, and quickly regaining composure, replied, “No, they are on a long journey.”
“I do not know,” I said sadly, “And I do not think the rider knows either.”
“They are on an adventure!” Erroll concluded joyfully. “I would love to go on an adventure!”
I gave a wistful smile as he told me of his future plans to explore the deepest, darkest Africa. His thirst for travel inevitably reminded me of Mr. Rochester. Was he like this boy as a child, full of dreams and vitality? To my chagrin, I felt a tear well and fall as I thought of how his dreams had been quashed by the cruel heel of life. Would his dreams ever be fulfilled? Would mine?
“Miss Eyre! Miss Eyre!” I heard the children cry. “Are you unwell?”
“No, I am fine.” I managed to reply, hastily wiping the tear away with the back of my hand.
Lizzy came up beside me and took my hand. “Don’t worry, Miss Eyre. We won’t go on any adventures before we are grown up. And you can come with us!”
I drew them both near and kissed each their foreheads. “Thank you. I am honoured to be invited.”
We continued outside for another half an hour until a misty rain began to fall. As we rushed back to the house, we heard a clatter of wheels over gravel, and through the rain I saw four figures alight from the carriage.
Of course, you might be thinking what Jane might have seen from Ardfry. Well, it might look something like this:
Catch up on previous sections…