I am sitting on a bench on the immaculate grounds of Castlemore Manor, reading a book. I glanced up from its pages when my mind became occupied with memories of the place I once called home where I lived with my dear uncle and his family before he died and I was sent to Lowood. I remember how I used to love go for walks with my uncle who was the only one who treated me kindly and showed any affection.
He used to tell me such delightful and exciting stories of his travels at sea. It created in me a desire to see the world and when I was alone, I would lie in my room and daydream of adventures at sea, with swashbuckling pirates. I took to drawing these adventures of mine and was quite pleased when my uncle commended my work, going so far as to frame some of them and display them in his study. “We have an artist in our midst,” he used to say, puffing out his massive chest with pride, his eyes twinkling as they met mine.
Oh, I adored him. He was like a father to me. I never knew my father. He died when I was but an infant and my mother died when I was six. I had no brothers or sisters. I had hoped that my cousins would be such to me but from the day I arrived at, they made it quite clear that any association with their poor relative would be at a minimum. So, when my uncle was away, I spent many lonely hours with only my books and drawings to occupy my time.
My world turned upside down when my uncle died. Claimed him and along with his life, it snatched away the little happiness and security I had known for the year following his death, I was sent to Lowood. I was eleven years old. Lowood was a school for poor and orphaned girls like me. Life at the school was harsh. The rooms were cold, the meals inedible and meagre and our uniforms thin. Mr. Brocklehurst, the director was a cruel and harsh man.
One girl, Jane Eyre, a plain, little thing was the most unhappy recipient of his abuses. One day he humiliated her by having her stand on a stool and accused her of being a liar. Miss Temple, whom I greatly esteemed, came to her defense and she was declared innocent of Mr. Brocklehurst’s accusations. Many girls fell ill when a typhus epidemic struck Lowood.
I remained at Lowood after Miss Temple married and left. Jane Eyre left a year after I did. Both of us were fortunate to find employment as governesses. And here, I am at Castlemore Manor, governess to Mr. Wakefield’s young daughter, Estella. I have been here for three years and yet, I still recall the first time my employer and I met.
I was out walking as was my custom when I wasn’t teaching. It was a day much like today—sunny, pleasant and the aroma of wild flowers filled the air. I removed my bonnet so that the light breeze would cool my head. I hadn’t gone far when I came upon a gentleman standing beside the lake with water so calm, it had the appearance of a mirror.
Hesitant to intrude upon his solitude, I was about to turn around and retrace my steps to Castlemore Manor when he turned suddenly and espied me. From where I stood, I could see that he was a very handsome man—tall, splendidly dressed. He was a gentleman.
As I wondered who he might be, he came towards me. He moved with graceful, lithe movements which mesmerized me. I stood there, transfixed, unable to move. It was as if the grass upon which I stood and I were fused together.
When he was standing a few feet from me, he inquired, “I have never seen you before. Where do you belong?”
I remember rising my chin because I resented his tone. He acted as if I had no right to be there. “I belong to Castlemore Manor,” I informed him stiffly.
His eyebrows rose. They were as black as his thick hair which brushed the back of the collar of his jacket. His swarthy complexion indicated that he spent a lot of time outdoors. His eyes were light brown and framed by long dark lashes. He truly was a very handsome man. Realizing that I was staring, I averted my gaze. “You’re the new governess, then?”
I looked at him then. “Yes. Are you at all acquainted with Mr. Wakefield and his daughter?”
His lips twitched. “Yes, I am very well acquainted with the gentleman and his daughter.”
“I have yet to meet him. Mrs. Godwin said that he went to London on business.”
“How long have you been at Castlemore?”
“How do you find it?”
“Well, let us hope that you find Mr. Wakefield agreeable too.”
“I’m sure I will, if he is anything like his daughter.
He didn’t reply. Instead, he studied me. I wasn’t used to be under such direct scrutiny. I could feel my face grow hot.
Looking away, I muttered, “I had better head back. Excuse me.”
“Perhaps, I should accompany you.”
“It is not necessary, Sir.”
“I insist.” He went to unhitch a fine looking horse from the tree. I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t noticed the animal until that moment. I had been so fixated upon its rider.
The three of us slowly head back to the manor. At first no words are exchanged between the gentleman and me and then he proceeded to ask questions about my family. I could see that he was doing this out of genuine interest and not politeness. I answered his questions only because he was acquainted with my employer. I did not wish to offend him in any way.
We soon reached Castlemore and as we passed the stables, a young lad ran out. “Mister Wakefield, Sir,” he said as he took the reins from him. “It’s good to see ya, Sir.”
As I stared at my companion in great shock, he smiled at the lad. “Thank you, Bertram. It is good to be back at Castlemore.” After the lad took the stallion away, he turned to face me, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.
“You’re Mr. Wakefield,” I said, feeling embarrassed. I was sure that my face was beet red.
“You deceived me.”
“Not so, Miss Blakewell. It was not my intention to deceive you. And I did tell you that I was very well acquainted with your employer.”
I didn’t answer. We walked to the entrance of the manor, I lagged a little behind. When we stepped into the foyer, I opened my mouth to excuse myself and head to my room when he said rather abruptly, “This evening, I shall expect you to take tea with me in the drawing-room this evening.” He curtly bowed and strode away.
I stood there for several minutes before I retired to my room where I remained until it was time for dinner. Dinner was as pleasant as always with Mrs. Godwin but I found myself anxiously looking forward to spending the rest of the evening in the drawing-room with Mr. Wakefield.
We had very engaging conversations and talked about various subjects, mostly religion. I shared my deep faith in God with him and my desire to be a missionary one day. Every evening, we had such stimulating conversations.
One evening he asked me rather abruptly, “Do you believe in God?”
“Yes, I do, Sir.”
“So do I. I believe that life is too short, too fragile and too precious to waste on empty reflections. We should live each day as if it were our last, don’t you think so, Miss Blakewell?”
“I do, Sir.”
“Let’s take a turn in the garden,” he said, suddenly rising to his feet. “I believe it’s a full moon tonight.”
I hear what sounds like a footstep behind me now, interrupting my reverie and I turn. It is Mr. Wakefield. I am unable to prevent my gaze from drinking in his regal stature and handsome features. He is a gentleman, not only in manner but in appearance. It is a reminder for me that men of his station do not marry their governesses.
There is a curious expression on his face now and I fear that he has sobering news to impart. Perhaps, he is going to take leave for several weeks as he has been wont to do, making life at Castlemore unbearable with his absence.
“Miss Blakewell,” he greeted me.
“Mr. Wakefield,” I lowered my head in greeting.
He didn’t sit beside me but continued to stand. “Miss Blakewell, I will get straight to the point. I’m want of a wife and Estella is in want of a mother.”
I felt as if my whole world had crumbled around me. “Oh,” I said. “Are the nuptials to be soon?”
“I shall like them to be, if the lady is agreeable.”
So, there was a lady but who? Could it be the lovely Miss Charlotte Whittock or the beautiful Miss Agnes Habsburg? I was confused because aside of him being courteous to them, I saw no keen interest on his part for either of them. Was there another lady I knew nothing of?
Distressed, I rose to my feet and turned away so that he wouldn’t see how much his news had affected me. “I shall make arrangements for another leave before–before the nuptials.”
There was silence and then, he was standing in front of me, making me step back in alarm, my heart pounding and my eyes wide as they met his. “What the devil are you talking about?” he demanded. “Why should you be making arrangements to leave?”
“You’re getting married, Sir. I cannot remain in your employ. Once you are married, you will have no need for my services. Estella will have a mother–” The word ended in a sob. I pressed my hand against my mouth, mortified. I wanted to turn and bolt but his hands were on my shoulders, holding me firmly in place. I struggled but to no avail. “Please let me take leave of you, Sir.”
“Not until I have cleared up this misunderstanding.”
“There is no misunderstanding, Sir. You-you are to be married and as such I must quit my post here at Castlemore Manor just as soon as I have advertised and found another post.”
“Miss Blakefield–Anne, your place is here with Estella and me.”
“Marry me, Anne.”
I stared at him, shocked. “Marry you?” I exclaimed. He was asking me to marry him? I couldn’t believe it. Mr. Wakefield was asking me, his daughter’s governess to marry him.
“But–but why? Why me?”
“Why you, you ask? Because, my dear sweet Anne, I love you passionately.”
“You do?” For a moment, I almost swooned, but I quickly regained my strength.
He smiled and cupping my flushed face between his hands, he kissed me first on the forehead and then on the lips. An hour later, we walked hand in hand back to the manor to tell Estella that she was going to have a new mother. I was rather keen on seeing Mrs. Godwin’s reaction. It was her expressed belief that gentlemen like Mr. Wakefield were not in the habit of marrying their governesses.