Recently on my old blog, I hosted a discussion of favorite scenes from Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the inspiration for my own September release, Sloane Hall, which is set in old Hollywood as films shifted from silent to sound.
A favorite Eyre scene for a bunch of folks was when Jane first encountered Rochester, not knowing who he was, on a walk near Thornfield Hall.
Here’s how I handled that scene in Sloane Hall, when chauffeur John Doyle encounters his starlet employer for the first time, not knowing who she is:
In a refreshed state of mind, I decided one Thursday afternoon to set out on a dirt road just north of the house, one that led away from the fields and into more barren land. I’d traveled nearly five miles by my reckoning and just made my way to the crest of a hill when I saw a tiny ball of fur in the middle of the road, trying to scamper to the side with no success.
Pushing my hat back on my head, I bent forward to help the poor creature. It was a baby rabbit with a leg cramped tight against its body, and it wouldn’t last long. Not in this land with sun and wind and other creatures aiming to hurt it. I felt the need to do something, so I took my hat off to scoop it up and into the brush where it could at least rest peacefully before death surely claimed it. Before I had a chance to touch its downy back and soothe its fright, I was put into a fright myself.
Heehaw, heehaw! A motorcar horn split the air, as out of place in that barren region as a snow-draped Christmas tree. I jumped back, just in time to save myself from being run over by a spitting new Duesenberg J, its long nose jutting down the road like a ramrod.
My gaze turned up to the vehicle, careening into a ditch while its driver cursed with a vocabulary I thought only my fellow reform-school inmates had mastered.
My hands clenched into fists. I marched toward the car, ready to give that driver more than just a piece of my mind. Out here on this sun-baked road, I could pound that rascal’s head into the ground, and no one would know but me and God. And I was sure, at that moment, that He was on my side.
But that feeling faded as I took long strides toward the car and . . . damn. Damn if the driver wasn’t beautiful. Soft and pretty like the small thing she’d destroyed.
A porcelain doll. A translucent face, too pale for California’s savage sun, and eyes as piercing as old Milqueton’s but blue instead of brown. Blue ice. Or blue flame, I suppose, depending on your perspective. Now they burned with anger, and her small rosebud of a mouth pursed in annoyance. Her hair was blond — white blond, like blinding sun–in one of those new short, wavy styles all the girls were favoring, and she wore a long-sleeved dress–something yellow and silky that gave the impression she had nothing on underneath. I was beaten back by all that, by the softness and the beauty. . .
. . . Opening the door, she jumped onto the road, but the car was leaning at an angle that made the distance from running board to ground farther than she’d counted on. Her knees buckled for an instant and she herself would have fallen had I not stretched out my hand to catch her arm.
Here was Eve herself. Soft skin, even though she herself was thin and bony, and sweet scent. . .
. . . I had to steady her with both my hands, while she latched onto my arms with her slender fingers. It was then that she looked me in the eyes and laughed. Here was the apple. That laugh. A silvery sound that rippled into the empty space like birds trilling in the distance, jangling my nerves. . .
“Dear boy, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”