This story is my homage to my favourite novel, ‘Jane Eyre’. Don’t take it too seriously.
Despite my parents bequeathing me significant wealth, after their death I felt constant sadness and regret. I found myself frequently sitting alone in the large house, which previously belonged to them, with a heaviness of heart that no event or thought could subdue.
I found that during the day my work took much of my attention but in the afternoon, when there was little for me to do, I simply sat in my favourite arm chair in the study for hours on end. Slumped in the chair, simply staring out upon the gardens in front of me, I would reflect bitterly on my life up to that point and no amount of effort or prayer on my part could enable me to overcome the dark thoughts which clouded my mind at these times. Part of me had given up on life, yet I felt a deep brooding passion, that passion we experience in life which keeps us going despite the unpleasantness of our external world or the present hardships we face. For many years I had struggled and overcome supreme adversity, coping with grief and personal loss, yet now it felt beyond me. At the age of was forty two years, where men are on the cusp of the greatest achievements of their lives, I felt as though my sins were continually before me and that there was no hope for happiness in life. So I sat in a dimly lit room with all the affluence a man of my age could hope for, yet my heart heavy with sadness, a feeling of aloneness and a sense of the overwhelming futility of life.
As a friend of mine once said though, while we are busy licking our wounds, our lives can suddenly transform.
My parents named me Edmund Alexander. I was the fortunate, if fortunate is the right word, heir of a huge property estate. My parents had been the members of the original squattocracy, that is to say they were landlords and rack-rents owning several properties in inner Melbourne and significant parcels of rural land in country Victoria. A few years after the day of my illustrious birth, much of the families’ landholdings were sold off and the family purchased Fernleigh, an impressive mansion in East Melbourne. Even in the purchase of this property, my parents had revelled in their much prized shrewdness, having craftily purchased the property for less than its real value. The owner, an old lady whose family fortune had declined since the death of her husband, no longer had the desire nor the money to continue living in such a large residence, so my parents offered her a sum which she would not have accepted in better times but, owing to the down turn in the property market at the time, the absence of any other buyers and her frail state, she reluctantly agreed to sell. Harold and Elizabeth Alexander were quick to point out what a great service they had provided for the old lady, while privately rubbing their hands together at the bargain they drove. My parents died when I was still quite young as did my older brother, Charles who had been a merchant banker. Charles Alexander had been extremely successful in business, expecting to follow in his father’s footsteps and was expected to inherit most of the family wealth and property. I, on the other hand, was always considered by my parents to be somewhat “unsubstantial”. Edmund will never amount to anything. Yet things don’t always go to plan.
My twenties went by in something of a daze. I spent much time revelling, drinking myself into a stupor and associating with undesirable types who liked me for my parents’ money. In those days I knew nothing of the value of money and I spent everything I earned – or everything I was given – and had many unfortunate affairs with women of class that I wish I had not associated with. I wrestled with my inner demons – or rather let them wrestle me – trying to remain virtuous and unspotted but falling easy prey to the temptations of the world.
In my youth I loved to study the great military battles. I was inspired by men like Napoleon, Julius Caesar and in particular, Alexander the Great, my namesake. I had hoped to be a leader, to be successful in life and to have the respect and adoration of those around me. What a joke all of that turned out to be. Who cares what others think of you or how powerful you become? All is vanity! None of that leads to any lasting happiness. Now, there was me, at the age of 42 having never really achieved anything for myself. I was the result of wealthy parents who did not love me and of a failed loveless marriage. I had become embittered, and despite my wealth, I often shunned the outside world. So where was the benefit of all that wealth? Occasionally, I would read the newspapers or some enlightening work of fiction; however, often I would mainly simply stare out into the garden, my eyes glazing over when I thought of what might have been. Inwardly, I missed my parents desperately or to put it more precisely I missed never having felt the warm rays of their love. Despite the fact that they had always shunned me and I had never been able to live up to their expectations, I still missed them and had to cope with the hurtful feelings of knowing I had been neither wanted nor loved.
I attended a prestigious university but did not complete my studies. Wanting to get out and explore the world, I travelled to Europe and lived frugally there for several years with relatives before returning to work in Melbourne in my own business ventures, which were largely unsuccessful. In fact, for as long as my father lived, I considered myself a failure and my father, sadly, would have concurred with that assessment. However, once my brother, first, and then my father passed away I proved myself most adept in business dealings – this would have surprised them, as it did me! Instead of letting the estates go to rack and ruin and allowing their wealth to turn into poverty as many glibly predicted, I actually increased the wealth my parents had left me. It was as though the sense of purpose and desire to achieve had finally found an outlet. At this point, despite the feelings of achievement that suffused me with an inner glow as I became engrossed in the business dealings of my father, I always felt an underlying grief knowing that I had not lived up to his expectations.
I had never really been close to my brother either. Charles, an arrogant, petulant man, was more highly regarded and successful than me. In my stubborn pride I resented his achievements bitterly, seeking to live up to the powerful image he had created for himself, but always subsisting in his show, like some subterranean creature of low repute. Charles had always looked down on me from his lofty tower and our relationship was an icy, barren wasteland, never illuminated by the warm rays of human feeling.
The foolishness of my youth was not limited to my business affairs. I married at too a young an age. Although not handsome, I have a domineering, forceful character, and due to my parent’s wealth, I had many admirers – though admittedly not as many as Charles whose charms and appearance far exceeded my own humble attributes.
Unfortunately because of my perceived wealth, I received overtures from many women whose motives were less than pure. Even in this day and age a woman will throw herself at a man if she knows that she will be financially secure for life and get to live in the high standard she is accustomed to, even if this means a joyless marriage and a cold contempt existing between her and her husband. A woman will tolerate an unhappy marriage, provided she can control her husband and get whatever she wants. My marriage unfortunately ended acrimoniously, adding further to my sense of bitterness and loss. I am now the guardian of my former wife’s daughter, Natalie, who, abandoned by her mother brings some happiness to my life.
I remember my mother well. She had been very beautiful in her youth. A tall, thin woman, she dressed elegantly but she was consumed by envy and bitterness. Cold and aloof all of her life, she couldn’t stand me; I knew that only too well – she had absolutely nothing to say to me other than “you’re a terrible bore Edmund” or “please stop talking, your father and I are trying to get some peace and quiet, we would rather not hear your ramblings” even though I loved her dearly – what child will not love his mother? – I kept away from her and the older I got the more isolated she made me feel. She had already gone a bit “loopy” when I reached my adulthood and would rant and rave about the people we knew and about father’s business dealings. From what I saw of her, she was a very discontented lady – the family’s pursuit of wealth and possessions had driven her somewhat insane. [I am sure that her insanity in someway contributed to their accident but I was never quite sure what happened there.]
Typically, my day consists of speaking to real estate agents regarding my investments, or to a stock broker or to builders regarding the building projects that I am involved in. I spend much of my time at Fernleigh and if I am not involved in my investments, then I spend my time reading or writing. My mansion has several paid servants. I have a cleaner for Fernleigh who comes in twice a week and a gardener and a French woman who does the cooking three days a week. Otherwise, if I am hungry, I simply dine out or prepare my own victuals. Some days I go without eating altogether, particularly if “the blues” weigh too heavily upon me, and I simply sit around the house and feel no desire for company or food.
Despite being called a mansion, the layout of Fernleigh is fairly simple. The real value is in the lands – but it is beautiful old house anyway I suppose. There are several bedrooms upstairs; downstairs there is a library, a dining hall and a kitchen. I spend much of my time in the library, at my usual place in my comfortable arm chair. The outside of the house is the old Georgian style with the large rustic brickwork and gabled roof-tops and some old fashioned, ornate window frames, eaves and fascias. The gardens are another attractive feature of the property, but they remind me of my mother so I rarely walk around them. Since the death of parents who showed me little love or affection all memory of them is bitter and I try not to do anything that will remind me of my unhappy childhood. However, Fernleigh is a constant reminder and that is why when I am there I am normally morose and miserable. Anyway I like reading poetry sometime or some old novel. I wake up early most days and read the newspapers and learn about the day’s events and if there is nothing to do then I will simply stay in my library for hours without seeing a single soul. When I get like this I don’t eat, don’t drink other than a glass of whisky and I don’t wish to see anyone.
It was in late July when I returned from some business dealings in New South Wales and rather than sit in my office I decided to go for a walk.
After having had a particularly stressful week where my soul experienced more than its usual torment, I wanted to get some fresh air and enjoy a bit of sunshine. Occasionally I would walk to the gardens, though not often as it only tended to remind me of my mother and her coldness towards me. I remember praying on this occasion out of my despair, Lord I am so lonely, why don’t you send me some measure of happiness, a special soul mate, which I have been waiting for all these years? As I continued my walk, with the radiating sunlight overhead and a soft breeze blowing against my cheek, I felt calmness and hope tenderly well in my breast.
A lady arrived at the front gates. I started at first thinking I had a sudden answer to my prayers, but I realised it was Helene, the lady who prepared meals for me during the week.
I hire a French woman to do the cooking. My first wife was French and, as crazy as she was, that union created in me the desire for European cooking. So this cook came out from France, a poor peasant woman, but boy she can cook! Sometimes she and her husband and some of their friends will come over and we will play cards and drink too much until late in the evening. Helene makes wonderful chicken soup and stews and exquisite salad as well as being able to produce culinary delights from all cultures. For the amount of money I pay her, the service is much better than going to a restaurant every night and the food is much better. I never bother her or complain. I always make a point about being polite and tried to always have some nice words to say about her cooking. She knew better than to cross me though when I was in one of my foul moods.
“Bonjour” Mr Alexander
“Hello Helen, comment ca va?”
“How is votre jeune princess?”
“She is inside now doing her homework as she should be, ’
“Well it won’t be long until she has some help. I placed l’advertisement as you requested for a tutor,” said Helen.
“Natalie definitely needs help” I replied, “I’m not sure what a tutor will do for her. She had the same attitude to study her mother and her father had, so she is good for nothing other than attracting husband when she gets older and driving him crazy though his life.”
“You men are crazy. You’re just like my husband Philippe. If you men occasionally gave us women what we want, you wouldn’t have half the trouble you do.”
“It is women who are crazy – no one could even tell you what you want other than to drive a man to his grave though constant nagging! Now go in and do your cooking Helen before I call that husband and tell him what a naughty girl you are.”
So that was how I spent my days, taking care of real estate issues, sitting in my office or chatting with Helene about the evening meal. I felt an inner restlessness, a yearning for something more despite my material comforts.
Having been away several days on business, I came home late one evening. Driving my father’s Mercedes Benz, which he sadly never got to fully enjoy, I noticed a peculiar sight as I drove through the gate. I saw a lone figure in a plain dark dress walking around the grounds of the mansion. I looked over at the figure, noticing it was female but not being familiar which who it was I went over for a closer inspection.
The lady had long brown hair which was lustrous but which she wore in a bun, giving her the look of a spinster or a much older woman, even though I could clearly see she was in the first flush of youth. Her figure was slim, and taut, yet she dressed modestly as though not to attract unwanted attention. Her clothes were dark grey with a contrasting pale coloured shirt. She was of average height, with strong shoulders and a slow methodical manner of movement, expending no unnecessary energy. She had a solemn air about her indicating the mark of a serious, thoughtful person.
Who is this mysterious stranger roaming around my yard? I thought.
“Are you alright there?” I asked
“Fine” she replied “and you?”
“Yes, of course I’m fine…Can I help you?” I asked, a little incredulous that she had responded to me so calmly given that she was the stranger wandering around my yard and not vice versa.
“No I’m happy just to wander around.” She replied.
Obviously not understanding my meaning, I became more direct. “What the blazes are you doing walking around my yard?” I asked her.
“Your garden? So you’re Mr Alexander?” she said with a warm smile and a suppressed chuckle.
“Yes it is I.” I responded
“O, I heard that you were a bit gruff but I …we weren’t expecting you home so soon.”
“We… who on earth are you and who do you mean by we?”
“Natalie, who I presume is your daughter and I. I am her new tutor, and hence your employee. I started yesterday. My name is Kate Devilliers, Pleased to meet you, Mr Alexander.”
I recalled then the instructions I had given to Helen to arrange a tutor for Natalie. I felt the little devil wasn’t doing all that well in her studies and that she needed some further encouragement. I have never believed in the efficacy of the school system and have always cherished the view that children would learn a whole lot better with a ‘one on one’ education – not that that little rascal Natalie was ever going to learn much I thought – anyway a tutor is better than being in a classroom, which robs them of their intelligence and creativity.
I had forgotten about arranging a tutor and was surprised to see Mrs DeVilliers so promptly engaged.
“Well why don’t you come inside then – I assume it is Miss Devilliers? – And we can have something to eat. You’re a petite little flower and you look like you could use something to eat. I’m very hungry and I take it that Helene is preparing dinner by now. No doubt you have made yourself at home here? What I mean to say is, when placed the advertisement for a tutor, board and lodging were included. Are you residing here?”
“Yes I am staying in the little room upstairs; it is very comfortable”
After she had returned to the house, I instinctively lit up a cigarette. It was getting cold and the grey clouds had a menacing look. I rarely smoke, and only in private. I have a view about smoking and cigarette smokers that they have given up on the world. People who smoke in public have given up in the world. They no longer expect full success and happiness and have given themselves over to this disgusting vice. Even though I class myself in that category of people who has given up on the world, I do not allow myself to show this weakness to the world, so I only ever smoke privately. In the company of others, shamefully I try to give the impression that I am strong, confident and successful; that I do not need any vice to enable me to get by in the world, but in my private moments of despair, I sit by the window and quietly smoke, glass of whisky in my hand, thinking about what might have been, had circumstances turned out differently.
I went up to my room and went through my paperwork for the next few hours I came down for a late dinner leaving Natalie and Miss DeVilliers in the living room.
For some reason I felt an unsettling light-heartedness at the thought of this new presence at Fernleigh. I dismissed the thought and decided I should say hello to my wonderful daughter and check on the progress she was making with the tutor or at least check to see that she hadn’t destroyed the poor young girl. “Look I bought you something” I said and I gave her little model of a horse, “I know how much you like your horses.” And have you been good to Mrs DeVilliers, Natalie.
“Yes she had been well behaved,” said Kate,
“She better be, otherwise she will have me to answer to” said I with mock severity, giving her a gentle smile after a while.
Natalie talked incessantly for about an hour about all she had been doing. How like her mother I thought. After she had been given sufficient attention it was time for her to retire for the evening. She said goodnight to Miss Devilliers who she seemed to be already quite enamoured with and then I allowed her to kiss me on the cheek before she left to go to her room.
After I sent Natalie to bed, I was alone in the living room with Kate.
“So tell me a bit about yourself – What were you doing prior to coming to work here?” I asked.
“For last few years I have been working for a legal firm in the city, but I felt I needed a change.”
“I grew up in a remote part of Western Australia – in a country town. I had been from a poor family and from a young age had been a somewhat rebellious person who intensely disliked any form of discipline. I often felt lonely and stifled. My parents were simple people; they were quite poor but they worked hard to raise the family. Nevertheless, I patiently endured the yoke of discipline of those who were above me, first of my parents, then of my school masters, until I reached the point of removing this yoke to seek a life of freedom. I loved learning and would spend all of my time reading books; practising my French or German or reading some philosophy or Shakespeare. After I had reached the age of 18 my overbearing parents had made life difficult for me and I decided to see the world … my parents had little ambition and I wanted something more – at least to see more of Australia than their remote village where there were limited opportunities for an impressionable young lady with a heart full of wild dreams.
“So when I turned 18, I left home and headed to Melbourne with $500 in my pocket to seek out some form of employment for myself. I rented a hotel in Melbourne, each morning I would rise early, put on my best clothes and from morning to night went from door to door, from company to company, seeking employment. It was my first major project. I felt so alive and yet daunted and emotionally drained. I went out each day with no guarantee of success and came back to the hotel exhausted each night, despairing that I would not be able to secure a position but feeling so alive at the prospect of being able to do things for myself. The next morning I would a rise again early and set out again seeking employment. Then on the tenth day of my stay in Melbourne, when my money was running out and when I had thought of heading back to Perth to return to my parents, I heard back from one of the companies I had approached. A law firm in Collins Street offered me a position as a legal secretary. It would be a junior position at a low rate of pay, but it was my first real success!”
“So you are a woman with an independent, free spirit’ I said, “No doubt we will get to know each other better over the coming weeks. For now though, you have had a long day as have I so I will say good night and see you again tomorrow.”
Over the following months, Kate began her work tutoring Nathalie in earnest. She made herself at home and became a companion for me when I found myself getting to know her better and appreciating her for her strength of character and her pleasant manner. A feeling of comfort descended upon me as though from on high and I grew accustomed to Kate’s earthy yet serene presence.
We would speak to each other from time to time when the two of us were available. On one occasion after dinner the two of us were alone,
“There’s the master of the house in his fancy suit.” She said. I had just returned from business and was in my new Italian-made suit.
“You’re such a meticulous dresser Edmund; you are particular to the point of vanity.” said Kate to me,
“I must say, I am fairly particular about what I wear.” I replied, a little pleased by her attentions. I have always been particularly self-conscious about my appearance and, whilst it is fair to say I am unsightly to look at and could not be described as handsome, I take care to ensure that the aspects of my appearance I can control, look at least somewhat presentable. So I wear the best suits I can buy and my expensive cotton shirts are shipped over from England. You will allow me I hope this indulgence Kate. No doubt I spend far too much on clothes, but I suppose my pride drives me to this extent. I always wear well-polished shoes. I suppose I dress impeccably because I am extremely self conscious and do not want to give anyone a reason to criticise me – mind you they probably find fault with my manner of dress – and my other flaws – anyway!”
“You seem to wear too much dark clothing, reflecting your wintry temperament.” She said in a school mistress-like manner.
“But what do you think of me Kate, other than how I dress? How do I shape up in your learned eye?”
After what seemed to me a too-long pause, Kate replied,
“At times when I look at your face I see an uncertainty in your gaze, which suggests an inner hurt or a grudge you bear against the world. You obviously have a strong temperament and are confident in your bearing, but you cannot conceal your inner sorrow. No matter how much you seek to contain your self doubts and uncertainties, they rise to the surface – your eyes betray your hurt. I note that occasionally you smoke a cigarette or a cigar in quiet moments, which suggests a certain world weariness and regression to your former vices. You wear a gold Swiss watch so you are obviously a man of means, who does not hide this from the world. I see you keep your long black hair a little long, which combined with your dark skin, gives you the appearance of a gypsy. This suggests a wild side that is hidden by your well-heeled exterior. Your expression is confident and your eyes reveal a strong intellect. Despite your wide, proud forehead and your well-proportioned features, your face can not be described as handsome. However, your confidence and demeanour are impressive and reveal at once a man scarred by life’s turmoil, but confident in the sense of who he is in the world. You have a commanding presence which attracts people to you.”
After she had finished, I responded,
“Well thank you for your blunt assessment including your account of how I cannot be described as handsome – you are a direct one aren’t you?”
‘I always think a person should be honest. You asked me for me opinion and I don’t think I need to flatter you – as all of your other lady friends do! But I will say that, you should smile more frequently. You smile so rarely and, when you do, your whole face lightens with a mischievous energy; yet shortly after it resumes its sombre aspect.”
“Kate, you don’t know my entire story. Let me tell you something of myself and my loving wife. At the age of twenty six I felt that I had found the right women to marry. Cassandra was young carefree, confident – a breath of fresh air. I had had several liaisons up to that point now I fell totally in love. So I settled down and married this beautiful, passionate European girl, the daughter of a foreign diplomat. Her passion soon became tempestuous; she began to torment me night and day, bitterly reproaching me for everything under the sun. We soon became enemies and the moments of intimacy we had known before our marriage became bitter memories as married life eroded any love we had previously shared. Our differences in temperament and character soon divided us irrevocably. I confess that, wretch that I was; I looked for love in the arms of other women. Months turned into years and we agreed on a divorce, which became a bitter process, during which my wife sought to take from me whatever she could get my hands on, leaving me all but destitute and a broken man. Fortunately, the full family estate had not passed to me as father was still alive so my financial compensation was limited to what I owned personally, which was not all that much. The one thing she did leave me after she had taken as much of my money as she could, was a Natalie, her beautiful daughter. Heartless wench that she was, Cassandra had no interest in the child and once she had taken what money she could from me and had caused me as much pain as possible, left the child with me and demanded that I raise her. So I was left with a child; a blonde-haired blue-eyed daughter, unloved and unwanted by its mother. Henceforward, I raised Natalie in my home. The irony of it all is though I don’t believe the child is actually mine. Given that Cassandra was seeing other men, and given that she and I had only brief moments of intimacy I am all but certain the child is not mine.
“From what I hear of her – my former wife – she is faring very badly. Her temper has become full blown madness and it was several years after our separation she was committed to an insane asylum, penniless and destitute. She spends her days staring at a wall cutting herself with what ever sharp objects are nearby. I once went to visit her – it was a pitiable sight. When she caught sight of me, she charged at me and tried to strangle me to death. Her strength aided by her fury was incredible and she had to be subdued by several guards. I believe she will not live long, God bless her.”
“At least she left me with Natalie, who handful that she is, at time, brings some measure of joy into my life.
But now it has become a little difficult for me so I need someone to educate my Natalie, to guide her. I know it is an old-fashioned idea to have a tutor for a child, but I don’t place much faith in state institutions. They mass-produce students without allowing them the free reign for their creative and intellectual faculties.”
“It must have been hard for you living on your own,” said Kate,
“When my marriage failed, I moved into a small house in close proximity. I was in a difficult financial position, with limited business skill or references, but was given money from time to time from my parents; I scorned this money but accepted it nevertheless, having become accustomed to an extravagant lifestyle. After my failed marriage, for a while the company I kept was mostly dissolute. I became drunk regularly and associated with the sorts of people I despised. I had several affairs and never committed myself to any woman, believing that I would never be happily married and that women were all deceivers and flatterers, who would seek to destroy my soul as my first wife had done.”
Shortly after this my mother died and the father soon after that. My brother, who inherited all of the estate all likewise perished in a boating accident and so the whole of the estate fell to me. I had not remarried though I had become one of the wealthiest men in Melbourne. I often stayed home brooding and was not attracted to many of the women I met, most of whom I found irritating or pretentious or vain.”
“After my parents died, I moved into the mansion in East Melbourne. It was there, despite the remorse I felt for my past life, I began to once again to build up my mind. I began to read more widely, to take an interest in politics and social life. I had select groups of people visit me, but I kept mostly to myself – I spent my time managing the estate and meeting with real estate agents and tenants regarding the properties owned by the family. There were several building projects commenced by my parents, which I took over and continued to completion over a period of several years. Everything I put my hand to prospered and I won the respect and admiration from those who knew me.”
“That’s so wonderful, the idea that you could turn your life around and not give up”, said Kate. “What a terrible tragedy, what happened to your parents, but it’s great to hear that you were able to keep going despite your grief.”
“Well, as I say ‘I’ve always been a black sheep” replied Edmund, “somehow things worked out for me even despite the fact that I never really succeeded in anything”
“I could have been a better student in my school days for example. You see, I was not overly interested in my studies. In my early days, I spent much time alone with books and had preferred to study only those things that interested me; I resolutely pursued these interests and scorned the need to learn the syllabus of those who tried to pass their learning on to me. I worked hard and achieved moderate success at such things as Mathematics, French and Geography, but I was primarily interested in literature. Nevertheless, in all of my studies, I never reached the standards that I had hoped for. My parents, God bless them, were disappointed with me, always comparing me unfavourably to Charles, hoping I would become interested in commerce and economics but I was more interested in literature and poetry. I would rather read a book than study about money. I guess because I felt my parent’s coldness and the love they felt for Charles, I became something of a recluse in my books. I became surlier and I chose to live in the world of fantasy rather than think too much about reality.”
“You can always provide for me, father,” I said on one occasion, when reproached for my indifferent study habits.
It was getting late so I bid Kate goodnight.
‘Kate I think you are doing a good job with Natalie and I like having you here – you represent that rare species among humans – a genuine person.’
“Thank you Mr Alexander I have enjoyed my time at Fernleigh. I finally feel like I am at home.” She replied with a serious and earnest expression. I could see that she almost cried at these words as though the meaning she conveyed went far beyond the spoken word. Could there be a kindred spirit her, one who yearns for something more than service and slight companionship? Is this another heart desperately in search of love and the higher order of spiritual blessing that comes in the union of man and woman? But my cold heart, refusing to believe in love again which had so often hoped and just as often felt disappointment and failure, denied any suggestion of this possibility.
‘Call me Edmund,’ I said, ‘please.’
The following morning, I was sitting in his library surrounded by my books, feeling particularly heavyhearted. On the table in front of me was a half finished glass of whiskey; I was half slumped in my leather chesterfield desk chair, staring out at the garden and musing over various thoughts. I heard Kate enter the room softly and when she saw me she decided not to disturb me. As she turned to leave the room I stopped her, saying
Do you intend to leave me like this? You sneak softly in here like a church mouse and then seek to leave without saying so much as a word…Well Kate, eh?”
“I could see that you did not want to be disturbed that you were deep in thought”, I replied.
“Is that so? You could see all of that?” I asked, “And you did not think that I might need your company or perhaps you are cruel enough to withdraw yourself and deprive me of what I most desire and cherish?”
“I don’t think you can imply all of that Mr Alexander. I simply did not want to disturb you. I saw that you looked somewhat unhappy.”
“Well anyway what did you come to see me about?” he asked. “It does not matter. Now that you are here stay with me a while and keep me company.’
“Yes, I will gladly do that sir”
“Indeed, Kate you were right. I must look like someone in a trance. I have heavy thoughts on my mind night and day. Whereas, I see you are as carefree as a bird”
“You don’t know me well enough Mr Alexander, for if you did you would see that I am not so calm and relaxed as you suppose,” she answered
“Is that so?” I replied,
“Do you know, my parents bought this mansion only several years ago and they only lived here a short while before they passed away. People make all sorts of grandiose plans during their vain lives, but sometimes their lives are cut short before they get to execute these plans. They had hoped to live here with my brother and then, once they were old and full of years they planned to divest the entire estate to him, wonder boy, my brother Charles. But he died young in an accident with no family of his own, and the shock was surely what caused my father’s declining health and subsequent death. My mother had died when I was quite young and perhaps because I grew up without the moral constraint that only a close relationship with a mother can bring, my forays into the world of women have been so fruitless. Not that one should blame ones parents for problems of their own doing, yet it seems the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons…
We spend our entire lives chasing the love we lacked in our youth”
“So I inherited all the wealth. Edmund, the black sheep of the family. I am like crook-back Richard, the one no one suspected of ever amounting to much. Yet I did not plan for this; I had endeavoured to make my own way in the world, to show that I could succeed as well at my brother and to one day make my father proud. Yet the great tragedy is that up until the point when father died, I had brought him only disappointment. See, even my foolish plans, humble as they were, did not come to fruition. My father did not approve of my dissolute life, my marriage and my few vain attempts at business.”
“That is very sad” said Kate, “to have a family and to not have their love. Material wealth is a cold consolation for the loss of love of family – what is most important to human beings is love, not money or big houses and fine cars. Don’t you see, everything we strive for, it is all because we want to impress others, to gain their love. If you gain the whole world but lose your life and have not love, then you are like an instrument out of tune.”
“And what would you know of love at such a tender age?” I gave her a stern look,” I’m sure you know much and yet as you have correctly stated, my loss of love inspired me to do all that I did and yet for all that striving, I could not get another ounce of love. I must say my pride is something that has caused me many problems. I have always thought myself better than others and life has taught me in humiliating fashion how wrong I was.”
“You see me now, Kate and know that I am forty two years of age, a broken and worthless man; I am divorced with no family of my own, no brother or sister. Yes I posses some wealth, but even this fills me with remorse given that is was inherited wealth and has mainly been earned through the sweat of another’s brow. I am bitter to the point of misery and bear inner scars that refuse to heal – I long for some small morsel of happiness – something that has never come my way. Until I met you, the women I knew were only interested in money – they never saw the man within, with emotional and spiritual needs, they only saw a means to an end. They could not see that I needed a true companion who would love and care for me, providing the nurturing and kinship bond that I so desperately crave. I am left bereft of any friendship in this life. People only care for themselves. I don’t judge them; such is the way life is. Why should I complain about that? It is only that I have always longed for special companionship, for romance, love and a soul-mate who would be always by my side. “
“I know it sounds crazy. Since I have met you I have been so much happier. You have removed the emptiness and created a wonderful space of healing wholeness and sanctity. I know you are just here on a temporary assignment and no doubt you will shortly move on to some grander career, but I feel I need you around me. Even though, from my youth, despite some desperate failings, I have tried to devote my self to God, still I yearn for more. All my life I have yearned for that special friendship and love but my desires and pride have foolishly led me astray – to the arms of the wrong women, to a failed, loveless marriage and to the bitterness and desolation I have experienced these past years of my life. I have tried to remain honest, humble and pure but have sinned greatly. Surely though, just as there is a God in heaven, there can still be consolation for me in this life. Surely a man can hope for a moment of happiness, amidst a lifetime of suffering can’t he?”
I later that day I wrote in my diary.
Can I possibly hope for happiness in my life? All my years have only known bitterness. My parents did not love me; my brother the epitome of coldness. The world regards me either with bitterness or contempt or puts on fancy flattering guise on account of my father’s wealth. Inside I am so lonely and the hurt from my marriage has never fully healed – since, I have trusted know one. But is there really a hope? This girl is strange – purer than most girls these days. She knows what she wants and lives her life by sound values and an intense, brooding faith. She is not like the other frivolous ones who judge a man by the size of his wallet or the car he drives; then when your marry them they crucify you daily just to satisfy their precious whims! But what could she see in me, fool that I am? Other than one who has blown every chance he had, whose sins have weighed him down.
I love the way she is so confident in a calm and carefree way. Yet she makes every decision carefully, she watches what she says and is strong enough not to do anything against her better judgement. If only I were a younger man or that I did not have behind me this litany of errors which has confounded my path – then I would have a hope of winning her love! But what chance is there now? Still, one must try. But do I dare risk ruining her life by projecting my romantic fantasies on her? I will observe her closely and observe the feelings in her heart to see whether they are true or a mere passing fancy. I will look into the matter to see whether she has bewitched me or if there is a providence at work which shaping our ends so that He has brought me a love to console me.
I don’t know what she thinks of me either – I am sure she believes I am a tired wastrel, a cynical wreck – I have created only disaster in this life. That I am surly and cold and hard to get a long with. I probably bore her, no doubt she thinks me a fool; yet there is something in her eye, in her manner towards me that suggests that despite the fact she should feel this towards me – and more! – There is actual warmth in her attitude to me, a special affection and energy that is directed to me. I will monitor this also and see which way her heart lies, then we shall seize our destiny!
The following day I spoke to her as was our custom in the evenings after she had finished her work
“Kate, I’ve been lonely for so long,” is said to her, “Surely I have paid the price for my earlier mistakes. I was young and foolish – and now I’ve become old and foolish I thought. I did some horrible things some terribly immoral things. But surely there is hope of redemption for everyone. Surely there will be someone who I can love and who can love me. If it is possible for this to occur to others, than surely there is also a chance that I can be redeemed by love.”
“I’m sure you will find happiness and you should not be too hard on yourself, Mr Alexander. You have kind heart and a compassionate nature and the fact that you are somewhat fearsome to look at should not at all dissuade your from your endeavours.” She said mischievously.
“Kate you are such a wicked being, but I do love having you around”
“Sometimes it is not a good thing, for young men to have some much wealth, it is a great burden and one that must be borne responsibly. I worked hard from a young age and I made my way gradually into success, but I have always wanted something more.” she said.
I looked at her. She was plain in appearance, yet there was something in her manner and her personality that I found appealing.
“You are a queer fish aren’t you Kate? You seem on the one hand to be quiet, calm and self composed but I detect there is a wilful stubbornness about you, as though a malevolent spirit possesses you”
“I am the kind of person who does not like to create any disharmony,” she replied, “but where my personal liberty is likely to be threatened, I will stand up for my rights and demand justice.”
“Are you happy here Kate?” I asked. I felt the need to talk to her. I found her company captivating. For once I felt that I was with a kindred spirit. That someone cared for me, understand how I thought and was able to talk to me on my level. She seemed unaffected, straightforward and honest.
“Yes I am she replied, very. I must get back to work now Mr Alexander
‘you know I want you to call me Edmund. Don’t make me mad!’
I loved Fernleigh. I admit I much prefer wealth to being poor. I was accustomed to having servants administer to me and not having to worry about working for a living. I could concentrate on several basic duties and not be concerned about the every day pressures that workers have to endure. It saddens me to look at the building and be reminded of my parents and the wealth they created but were not able to enjoy.
I saw that Kate was walking through the gardens, her dour figure no doubt appraising the floral array, analysing in her curious way the rose bushes, the orchids and lilies. A gentle breeze was stirring as I thought to myself the garden really is quiet beautiful -. I should get out here and walk around more often. It calms my soul and the sight of young Katherine in amongst the wonders of nature stirs poetic feelings and strange longings in my aching breast.
I observed her from afar. She was looking calm and at ease with herself, the spritely being. I had been away for several weeks attending to some business in rural Victoria, where I owned several properties. She had the house to herself these past few days and would not know that I had returned. I advanced slowly towards her wanting to maintain my anonymity, but also curious to see if she would notice me. Part of me wanted to simply observe her, transfixed as I was by her calm pleasing image set against the hedges and rose bushes. Natalie was inside practicing the piano and the cleaner Mrs Jones was indoors cleaning the house so there was no one else around but us. The sun overhead shone brightly. There were few clouds in the sky and the sunshine brought out the colours of the garden; the green grass had a velvet-like aspect and appeared lush and healthy; the red roses gleamed in the sunlight and swayed in the gentle breeze, like English soldiers in their redcoats. The bushes were a light and dark green combination and, bathed in the sunlight, their colours looked resplendent, as they stretched to heaven, to receive more of its golden rays. The row of hedges, which were recently trimmed, formed two straight rows, like two line of soldiers, perfectly in step, making a promenade of the paved laneway that led from the house to the small rotunda. Kate had taken a seat in the shade of the rotunda and breathed in deeply, aware of the sunshine and its calming effect on her mind and soul. As I approached Kate turned her head slightly, yet she still hadn’t noticed me.
“The garden is quite beautiful isn’t it when the sun is shining so gently and the there is a stillness in the air?”
She moved in her seat, a little startled to see me. And why wouldn’t she be, handsome charming man that I am?
“No don’t move Kate, I don’t want you to leave on my account. “I especially love the way the roses are in bloom and I love the combination of red and white roses. They were imported from England by my mother all of those years ago and they still remind me of her.”
“You were gone, I thought you would not be back for days” she said
“How did you pass the time these past few days?’ I asked calmly, “surely you gave little thought to me and to my concerns, eh?”
“I have taken the afternoon off” she said in a carefree, confident manner. “Earlier I was helping your daughter with her studies but now Natalie has become tired and wanted to play her piano, so, given she has been making great progress of late, I left her to her own devices and I am taking the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful afternoon and to explore these gardens of yours.”
“It is Sunday” I said “you can take at least one day off. You are industrious Kate”
“And you too, Mr Alexander, always away on business”
“Ah that is nothing. Do you like it here at Fernleigh?” I asked her
“Yes, very much,” she said.
“What is it you like? The house? The gardens, the food that is prepared by Helena?
“Yes all of that Mr Alexander. I love this place very much and the people here also.”
“You mean Natalie? Or Helena, Mrs Jones?” Mrs Jones came to clean the house Mondays and Thursday and she and Kate seemed to get along quite well with each other.
“Yes of course, they are all wonderful… and you sir are very kind and I have been blessed by your company.”
“Is that so, so you admire my company and you believe I am kind, is that all you have to say about me?”
“You are indeed a noble fellow. What I mean to say is that I feel comfortable around you I feel home here because I love Fernleigh so much but also I feel home here because of you.” My heart filled with joy at the sound of her words and I saw the real emotion in her eyes signalling her heart-felt affections.
“Kate, since you came into my life I have begun to again know happiness. For years, sadness had been my constant companion, tempered only be a world-weary cynicism that scorns what is revealed by the senses. Due to my past sins, I felt that I could not trust anyone and that there was no hope for me in life; but now I hope again – indeed I laugh again, the lines of worry that so often beset my face are less severe.
I fell that somehow you cam into my life to bless me. You were sent by the Almighty to provide companionship and hope to me.”
‘Surely you and I have a bond that is closer than a brother’s!”
“Do you share any of these feelings Kate?”
“Oh yes Edmund. I think of you from morning to evening. I cannot wait to be by your side. I love talking to you, your fine manner. I love the way you dress and the kind way you speak to me. Even your rugged manly appearance has some appeal for me.”
“Then that’s it Kate, we should marry. I love you. This feeling has been building in me since we met and I don’t want to live without you in my life.
‘Say you will never leave me that you will become my wife. But wait, It cannot be, don’t answer yet”
‘I paused for a moment before saying do you not mind the fact that I have married before and that I have a dependent?’
“I feel that everyone is entitled to some degree of happiness in life. We are all sinners and when we truly repent and seek to live a decent life as I believe you have, then, you should be allowed to remarry and find love and happiness. As for your daughter, you see that we get along marvellously and I would hope that as a family we can live together in harmony and love.”
“Then we shall be married then Kate. It is settled. I am so happy”
‘Are you agreeable Kate?”
‘Yes I agree to marry you.”
“Are you pleased Kate?”
“Yes very, Edmund, my love.”
So the wedding was set for September 23, two weeks from that day. I was so excited, I felt like a young man once again like I was twenty years old and hope renewed in my heart.
A week later however, Kate received correspondence from her aunt. The tragic news came to inform her that her mother and father had been in a car accident and that her mother had died and her father was in a serious condition ion hospital. She broke off her engagement with me and it was with great anguish of heart that I released her to visit her family in Western Australia.
She went back grieving to her mother’s funeral and then attending her father’s bedside she spend many hours at her father’s bedside.
“Kate you always were something of an adventurer but I am happy that my little girl is getting married. You seem so happy. I’m sorry that I can’t be there for you. I have no will to live now that your mother has died. We have been following your exploits since you went to Melbourne; we were both very proud of you.’
Kate had never had a close relationship with her father and the scenes were particularly awkward for her and for her father. It seems such a devastating loss that now on his death bed she still couldn’t feel the closeness to her father that had eluded her and that she had so longed for during her childhood.
For many weeks after this, Kate was so distraught that she could not concentrate on our future wedding plans. Her family consumed all her energy and waiting by her father’s hospital bed took most of her time.
I rang her or wrote to her every day, but after a while her replies stopped coming. A week or so after our last conversation, she phoned me to say that her father had died. She sounded distraught and she mentioned that she would stay for the funeral and she needed to be involved in selling the house and looking after her brothers and sisters. My heart broke on the news that she would be staying over there for more weeks and in her anxious state of mind gave me no assurance that she would return to me.
“But … our wedding plans?” I asked
“I don’t mean to press you during such a difficult time as this, but what thought have you given to returning to me. I miss you terribly and I long to be able to console you in this time of grief. Just say the word and I will be on the first flight over there.”
“No, stay there, Edmund. Everything will be fine eventually. I just need a few weeks, then God willing I will return”
During this time I experienced much anxiety of heart. Having finally after many years of struggle come to the verge of happiness, it seemed destined once again to elude my grasp. For weeks Kate had not contacted me and she was not taking my phone calls. I paced the hallways every day and walked in the gardens. I sent in the same spot where I proposed to Kate. Daily my feelings of unease grew.
After what seemed an eternity, Kate returned to me and we were eventually married. Our joy became complete as we put behind us our sorrow and joined each other spiritually, physically and emotionally. For years now we have grown closer to each other, serving God in love and fellowship. Each year, the Lord’s favour has shone on us as we have been transformed more and more into his glory. We have had two beautiful children, who became loving companions to Natalie and we continued to prosper and enjoy the Lord’s favour year after year.