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The Devil Gets His Due

~ Part Two

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The next morning, Rochester awoke from a sound sleep, lying on the beach. He was outside. The room was gone. The house was gone. The other man was gone. He looked at the wide, pristine beach and his jaw dropped. After more than 300 years he found himself outside. He looked at the sky. It was clear and blue. Soft clouds floated by on a gentle breeze. The sun was in the east. It was early morning. The sea lapped at the beach and looked inviting.

Rochester slowly approached the water’s edge. He looked down and discovered he had no shoes on and took a step forward. The water was warm and inviting. He realized he was naked and laughed. There was no one else here, no one to impress, no one to please except himself. He strode out into deeper waters and dived in. His whole being seemed to soak up the moisture. “This is heavenly.” He said quietly to no one except himself. He felt completely pleased with himself. Now this was the… death. He smiled; a genuine smile. Not the false or forced smile he’d often pressed on his compatriots at court. What a marvelous feeling to have no one to face, no obligations to live up to, no one to have to please or impress.

When he returned to shore he found items of clothing, studied them and finally clad himself in them. He strode along the waters edge. He held his shoes in his hand, letting the warm waters lap at his feet. The water was soothing and inviting. Now, though, he was on a mission.

He looked at the odd shoes he held. Sneakers they were called. He wondered if they truly helped one sneak. Then there were the breeches he wore. They were made of a durable blue weave and while the material was a bit stiff, they were perfectly comfortable even as they draped all the way to his feet. They were wet at the bottom where he had splashed through the sea.

His mission now was to find out what had happened. Why, after so long, had he been released from the room with the devilish fellow? What had transpired to grant him his freedom? The damned man had said that if even one person cared about him, outside of his family, he could win his liberty. With so much time elapsed, he had no idea where to begin to look for that someone. However, it was such a joy to be free of that room, to see sky, sun, waves; he strode along with a spring in his step. He didn’t ever remember feeling so totally well as an adult. Neither did he abhor the solitude. To be alone, really alone, never happened at court; or in the country. There was always a servant within shouting distance… or a wench. He smiled ruefully. He wouldn’t mind if a maid wandered up to him. He looked around. It was unlikely to occur, so he kept walking.

As the sun began to set on Rochester’s first day of emancipation, he gathered pieces of driftwood and made a fire. He had no need for food nor drink, still feeling utterly wholesome in his body. Once the flames began to dance and blaze highly, he lay himself down and promptly fell asleep.

Many days passed of a similar nature and he felt himself to be content to continue his journey. He found he would often recite aloud bits of poetry or sing snatches of song. To be so alone was no punishment for him. The degree of wellness he felt left him a peacefulness he never before experienced. If this was heaven, he’d take it. Thankfully there were no angels, nor pinheads for dance upon.

His only real concern, or perhaps wonderment would be a better word, was how he had been granted his freedom. Had one of his poems survived? Perhaps someone had taken a fancy to one and that had been enough. He pondered, but seemed to find no suitable vindication.

The days passed. The only change that became apparent was the difference in the color of his skin. He was becoming as brown as his old boots and as leathery. He smiled. He had noted this phenomenon on board ship, but once returned to the city his usual pallor was restored.

One day, to his complete surprise, Rochester came upon a building. It was an odd outbuilding that the purpose of which was not easily discerned. He stood and stared at it. With great hesitancy he approached. He had no desire to enter, thinking of his previous circumstances. Instead he decided to reconnoiter. He carefully, with great apprehension, circled the edifice.

To his astonishment it was not an enclosed structure. When he got to the side that faced away from the sea he discovered a theater of sorts. It was unlike any play house he had ever before set foot into. There were only four or five seats, a very unprofitable idea. And the seats looked more like a divan than an actual chair. There was no proscenium arch, and the scrim backdrop was of a most unusual material. It appeared to be bright white and oddly reflective. He sat. Even if there was no play, he discovered the seat to be agreeable . He would not have to sleep on the sand tonight. He found he was comfortable and closed his eyes, just to rest them.

“My name is John Wilmot and I do not want you to like me.”

His eyes flew open. Up there on the scrim was a man, bigger than life, and just his face. What was this? Had Man of Mode become famous? Was damned Etheridge behind all this? But no. He watched. It was not Dorimant who showed on screen. The fellow said he was Wilmot. Apparently some fellow had set himself the task to play Rochester.

“I’m far prettier than that,” was his first thought. “That fellow is not handsome. He looks a good bit larger than me as well.” He muttered to no one. “But there is no sentimentality and he plays it fair.” He was entertained for now. Later as he thought on it he wondered again if perhaps he were yet in hell if he was to be forced to watch another play out his life.

He slept finally. In the morning glare he awoke to find himself still a free man. He had control of his movements and actions. While yesterday had been interesting, he felt no desire to repeat the process. He bade farewell to the comfortable chair and the oddly appointed theater and set off once more down the beach.

So, perhaps that man’s actions and acting had set him free. Was that the answer? He pondered and realized he had no real way to know.

A few days later he came to a similar structure. As he circled the theater this time he saw it was far better appointed. There was a roof to this structure. The chairs were far better upholstered. He took a seat and sunk into its velvety arms. A determination came upon him. He would not fall asleep. He would witness the entire show and not miss a jot of it. He yawned. Damn this tiredness. He had not felt the least sleepy as he walked, yet to sit meant to dream. His eyes closed.

“Thank you for coming to Loews. Sit back and relax, enjoy the show!” The screen seemed to be singing at him. His eyes popped open. Lights flickered in front of him as the music was replaced by dancing cups. “Enjoy the popcorn. Enjoy the drink. Do not liter. Do not think… to liter.” The cup danced into a trash bin. How odd.

Next a man dressed all in red stood in front of a metal looking carriage he had just stepped out from. There were no horses. The carriage seemed to propel itself. He could have happily watched that, trying to understand its complexities. But the man insisted you watch him as he stalked from scene to scene. He was saying something about a drink and making money for a charity. The horseless carriage was fascinating. It didn’t last very long. After proclaiming “Drink coke!” the man was replaced by another, oddly dressed, who carried a box of tools. Music swelled. He seemed a very sad fellow. He sat and wrote, well at least that made sense. He slept. He awoke to find a mermaid in his wading pool. Did these people believe in mermaids? Wilmot knew them to be legend, not real. Had he been misinformed?

The screen went black. A disembodied voice said, “Welcome to Loews/AMC theaters. Please turn off all cell phones. Now enjoy your feature presentation.”

The black screen was suddenly filled with a line of text “In 1660 following years of repressive Puritan rule…”

A man sat forward. “Allow me to be frank at the commencement. You will not like me.” He seemed to chew his wine.

Rochester’s eye brows rose, a second man. This one was more fairly shaped. “He is pretty enough to play me.” He smiled. He sat back to take it all in. They seemed to get it mostly right. Not too much literary license. Lizzie Barrie, well she had not been quite so attractive. Charles had been far more the bore. Alcock, well Alcock was Alcock. To see Elizabeth again and so well looking had warmed him. For the first time he truly missed the warmth of her touch. She had been an exceptional woman.

By the end he found himself annoyed with himself. Why had he no self-control? Why had he thrown it all away to be Charles’ performing monkey? He’d lost his wit, his love, his life and all for Charles’ occasional approval? He was about to smash his fist into the chair when he heard a soft sob.

He turned. A few of the other chairs were now occupied. It was the woman who sat closest to him who had been crying. “Madam, are you well?”

“Well enough,” she sniffed. “It’s so sad.” She stated simply.

“You feel sorry for this fellow?”

“How can one not? He was such a good man, played badly by the King and by his own times.” She wiped a tear from her eye with a lace hanky.

“And you think you understand this man?”

“Dunno. I appreciate him though. He was brilliant. And by God! He’s played by Johnny Depp. How can I not like him?”

“This Depp fellow is an actor?” Theater has, at least, survived me, he thought to himself.

“He is the best film actor today. Wilmot should feel honored to be portrayed by him.”

“Is that so? A film actor you say? Not of the play house?”

“Yes. He doesn’t do stage, but film. And he’s the best and the handsomest.” She looked at the man next to her but couldn’t see him so well in the theater’s dark. He seemed tall, thin and long-haired.

“And so now you sigh for Rochester?” His eyes glowed.

“Not just me.” She flashed a smile. Maybe this guy got what it was Johnny was doing. “All of us.” She indicated the audience.

He was wonderstruck by what he saw. There were now many rows of seats, a fully populated theater. Many handkerchiefs were in evidence.

Snatches of conversation came to him. “…was robbed of an Oscar.” “I’d like Wilmot to put it round when I was round.” “I don’t want him to be dead.” “I’m crying over a man who died nearly 350 years ago.” “I want him to live and live differently.”

He felt warm. He realized that he hadn’t felt that sensation in… nearly 350 years. He stood up. “Excuse me.”

He left the theater behind. So someone did care about him. No, not someone; many someones. He smiled. He’d found his reprieve.

He continued down the beach as the sun rose. It was going to be a beautiful day.


The End