GOING TO SCHOOL.
Emily was now sixteen years old, and though the people in the village called her "t' cleverest o' t' Bronte childer," she had little to show of her cleverness. Her education was as home-made as her gowns, not such as would give distinction to a governess; and a governess Emily would have to be. The Bronte sisters were too severe and noble in their theories of life ever to contemplate marriage as a means of livelihood; but even worldly sisters would have owned that there was little chance of impatient Emily marrying at all. She was almost violent in her dislike of strangers. The first time that Ellen stayed at Haworth, Charlotte was ill one day and could not go out with her friend. To their surprise Emily volunteered to take the stranger a walk over the moors. Charlotte waited anxiously for their return, fearing some outbreak of impatience or disdain on the part of her untamable sister. The two girls at last came home. "How did Emily behave?" asked Charlotte, eagerly, drawing her friend aside. She had behaved well; she had shown her true self, her noble, energetic, truthful soul, and from that day there was a real friendship between the gentle Ellen and the intractable Emily; but none the less does Charlotte's question reveal in how different a manner the girl regarded strangers as a rule. In after days when the curates, looking for Mr. Bronte in his study, occasionally found Emily there instead, they used to beat such a hasty retreat that it was quite an established joke at the Parsonage that Emily appeared to the outer world in the likeness of an old bear. She hated strange faces and strange places. Her sisters must have seen that such a temperament, if it made her unlikely to attract a husband or to wish to attract one, also rendered her lamentably unfit to earn her living as a governess. In those days they could not tell that the defect was incurable, a congenital infirmity of nature; and doubtless Charlotte, the wise elder sister, thought she had found a cure for both the narrow education and the narrow sympathies when she suggested that Emily should go to school. She writes to her friend in July, 1835:—
"I had hoped to have had the extreme pleasure of seeing you at Haworth this summer, but human affairs are mutable, and human resolutions must bend to the course of events. We are all about to divide, break up, separate. Emily is going to school, Branwell is going to London, and I am going to be a governess. This last determination I formed myself, knowing I should have to take the step sometime, and 'better sune as syne,' to use a Scotch proverb; and knowing well that Papa would have enough to do with his limited income, should Branwell be placed at the Royal Academy and Emily at Roe Head. Where am I going to reside? you will ask. Within four miles of you, at a place neither of us are unacquainted with, being no other than the identical Roe Head mentioned above. Yes! I am going to teach in the very school where I was myself taught. Miss Wooler made me the offer, and I preferred it to one or two proposals of private governess-ship which I had before received. I am sad—very sad—at the thoughts of leaving home; but duty—necessity—these are stern mistresses, who will not be disobeyed. Did I not once say you ought to be thankful for your independence? I felt what I said at the time, and I repeat it now with double earnestness; if anything would cheer me it is the idea of being so near you. Surely you and Polly will come and see me; it would be wrong in me to doubt it; you were never unkind yet. Emily and I leave home on the 27th of this month; the idea of being together consoles us both somewhat, and, truth, since I must enter a situation, 'My lines have fallen in pleasant places.' I both love and respect Miss Wooler."
The wrench of leaving home, so much dreaded by Charlotte, was yet sharper to her younger sister, morbidly fearful of strangers, eccentric, unable to live without wide liberty. To go to school; it must have had a dreadful sound to that untamable, free creature, happiest alone with the dogs on the moors, with little sentiment or instinct for friendship; no desire to meet her fellows. Emily was perfectly happy at Haworth cooking the dinner, ironing the linen, writing poems at the Waterfall, taking her dog for miles over the moors, pacing round the parlour with her arm round gentle Anne's waist. Now she would have to leave all this, to separate from her dear little sister. But she was reasonable and just, and, feeling the attempt should be made, she packed up her scanty wardrobe, and, without repining, set out with Charlotte for Roe Head.
Charlotte knew where she was going. She loved and respected Miss Wooler; but with what anxiety must Emily have looked for the house where she was to live and not to be at home. At last she saw it, a cheerful, roomy, country house, standing a little apart in a field. There was a wide and pleasant view of fields and woods; but the green prospect was sullied and marred by the smoke from the frequent mills. Green fields, grey mills, all told of industry, labour, occupation. There was no wild stretch of moorland here, no possibility of solitude. I think when Emily Bronte saw the place, she must have known very well she would not be happy there.
"My sister Emily loved the moors," says Charlotte, writing of these days in the latter solitude—"flowers brighter than the rose bloomed in the blackest of the heath for her; out of a sullen hollow in a livid hillside her mind could make an Eden. She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best-loved was liberty. Liberty was the breath of Emily's nostrils; without it she perished. The change from her own home to a school, and from her own very noiseless, very secluded, but unrestricted and unartificial mode of life to one of disciplined routine (though under the kindest auspices) was what she failed in enduring. Her nature was here too strong for her fortitude. Every morning, when she woke, the visions of home and the moors rushed on her, and darkened and saddened the day that lay before her. Nobody knew what ailed her but me. I knew only too well. In this struggle her health was quickly broken: her white face, attenuated form, and failing strength threatened rapid decline. I felt in my heart she would die if she did not go home."
Thus looking on, Charlotte grew alarmed. She remembered the death of Maria and Elizabeth, and feared, feared with anguish, lest this best-beloved sister should follow them. She told Miss Wooler of her fear, and the schoolmistress, conscious of her own kindness and a little resentful at Emily's distress, consented that the girl should be sent home without delay. She did not care for Emily, and was not sorry to lose her. So in October she returned to Haworth, to the only place where she was happy and well. She returned to harder work and plainer living than she had known at school; but also to home, liberty, comprehension, her animals, and her flowers. In her native atmosphere she very soon recovered the health and strength that seemed so natural to her swift spirit; that were, alas, so easily endangered. She had only been at school three months.
Even so short an absence may very grievously alter the aspect of familiar things. Haworth itself was the same; prim, tidy Miss Branwell still pattered about in her huge caps and tiny clogs; the Vicar still told his horrible stories at breakfast, still fought vain battles with the parishioners who would not drain the village, and the women who would dry their linen on the tombstones. Anne was still as transparently pretty, as pensive and pious as of old; but over the hope of the house, the dashing, clever Branwell, who was to make the name of Bronte famous in art, a dim, tarnishing change had come. Emily must have seen it with fresh eyes, left more and more in Branwell's company, when, after the Christmas holidays, Anne returned with Charlotte to Roe Head.
There is in none of Charlotte's letters any further talk of sending Branwell to the Royal Academy. He earnestly desired to go, and for him, the only son, any sacrifice had willingly been made. But there were reasons why that brilliant unprincipled lad should not be trusted now, alone in London. Too frequent had been those visits to the "Black Bull," undertaken, at first, to amuse the travellers from London, Leeds and Manchester, who found their evenings dull. The Vicar's lad was following the proverbial fate of parsons' sons. Little as they foreboded the end in store, greatly as they hoped all his errors were a mere necessary attribute of manliness, the sisters must have read in his shaken nerves the dissipation for which their clever Branwell was already remarkable in Haworth. It is true that to be sometimes the worse for drink was no uncommon fault fifty years ago in Yorkshire; but the gradual coarsening of Branwell's nature, the growing flippancy, the altered health, must have given a cruel awakening to his sisters' dreams for his career. In 1836 this deterioration was at the beginning; a weed in bud that could only bear a bitter and poisonous fruit. Emily hoped the best; his father did not seem to see his danger; Miss Branwell spoiled the lad; and the village thought him a mighty pleasant young gentleman with a smile and a bow for every one, fond of a glass and a chat in the pleasant parlour of the "Black Bull" at nights; a gay, feckless, red-haired, smiling young fellow, full of ready courtesies to all his friends in the village; yet, none the less as full of thoughtless cruelties to his friends at home.
For the rest, he had nothing to do, and was scarcely to blame if he could not devote sixteen hours a day to writing verses for the Leeds Mercury, his only ostensible occupation. It seems incredible that Mr. Bronte, who well understood the peculiar temptations to which his son lay open, could have suffered him to loaf about the village, doing nothing, month after month, lured into ill by no set purpose, but by a weak social temper and foolish friends. Yet so it was, and with such training, little hope of salvation could there be for that vain, somewhat clever, untruthful, fascinating boy.
So things went on, drearily enough in reality, though perhaps more pleasantly in seeming—for Branwell, with his love of approbation and ready affectionateness, took all trouble consistent with self-indulgence to avoid the noise of his misdemeanours reaching home. Thus things went on till Charlotte returned from Miss Wooler's with little Anne in the midsummer holidays of 1836.
An interval of happiness to lonely Emily; Charlotte's friend came to the grey cold-looking Parsonage, enlivening that sombre place with her gay youth and sweet looks. Home with four young girls in it was more attractive to Branwell than the alluring parlour of the "Black Bull." The harvest moon that year can have looked on no happier meeting. "It would not be right," says the survivor of those eager spirits, "to pass over one record which should be made of the sisters' lives together, after their school-days, and before they were broken in health by their efforts to support themselves, that at this time they had all a taste of happiness and enjoyment. They were beginning to feel conscious of their powers, they were rich in each other's companionship, their health was good, their spirits were high, there was often joyousness and mirth; they commented on what they read; analysed articles and their writers also; the perfection of unrestrained talk and intelligence brightened the close of the days which were passing all too swiftly. The evening march in the sitting-room, a constant habit learned at school, kept time with their thoughts and feelings, it was free and rapid; they marched in pairs, Emily and Anne, Charlotte and her friend, with arms twined round each other in child-like fashion, except when Charlotte, in an exuberance of spirit, would for a moment start away, make a graceful pirouette (though she had never learned to dance) and return to her march."
So the evenings passed and the days, in happy fashion for a little while. Then Charlotte and Anne went back to Miss Wooler's, and Emily, too, took up the gauntlet against necessity. She was not of a character to let the distastefulness of any duty hinder her from undertaking it. She was very stern in her dealings with herself, though tender to the erring, and anxious to bear the burdens of the weak. She allowed no one but herself to decide what it behoved her to do. She could not see Charlotte labour, and not work herself. At home she worked, it is true, harder than servants; but she felt it right not only to work, but to earn. So, having recovered her natural strength, she left Haworth in September, and Charlotte writes from school to her friend: "My sister Emily has gone into a situation as teacher in a large school near Halifax. I have had one letter from her since her departure; it gives an appalling account of her duties; hard labour from six in the morning to eleven at night, with only one half-hour of exercise between. This is slavery. I fear she can never stand it."
She stood it, however, all that term; came back to Haworth for a brief rest at Christmas, and again left it for the hated life she led, drudging among strangers. But when spring came back, with its feverish weakness, with its beauty and memories, to that stern place of exile, she failed. Her health broke down, shattered by long-resisted homesickness. Weary and mortified at heart, Emily again went back to seek life and happiness on the wild moors of Haworth.
[Footnote 4: Mrs. Gaskell.]
GIRLHOOD AT HAWORTH.
The next two years passed very solitarily for Emily at Haworth; the Brontes were too poor for all to stay at home, and since it was definitely settled that Emily could not live away, she worked hard at home while her sisters went out in the world to gain their bread. She had no friend besides her sisters; far-off Anne was her only confidant. Outside her own circle the only person that she cared to meet was Charlotte's friend Ellen, and, of course, Ellen did not come to Haworth while Charlotte was away. Branwell, too, was absent. His first engagement was as usher in a school; but, mortified by the boys' sarcasms on his red hair and "downcast smallness," he speedily threw up his situation and returned to Haworth to confide his wounded vanity to the tender mercies of the rough and valiant Emily, or to loaf about the village seeking readier consolation.
Then he went as private tutor to a family in Broughton-in-Furness. One letter of his thence despatched to some congenial spirit in Haworth, long since dead, has been lent to me by the courtesy of Mr. William Wood, one of the last of Branwell's companions, in whose possession the torn, faded sheet remains. Much of it is unreadable from accidental rents and the purposed excision of private passages, and part of that which can be read cannot be quoted; such as it is, the letter is valuable as showing what things in life seemed desirable and worthy of attainment to this much-hoped-in brother of the austere Emily, the courageous Charlotte, the pious Anne.
"Broughton-in-Furness, March 15.
"OLD KNAVE OF TRUMPS,
"Don't think I have forgotten you though I have delayed so long in writing to you. It was my purpose to send you a yarn as soon as I could find materials to spin one with. And it is only just now I have had time to turn myself round and know where I am.
"If you saw me now you would not know me, and you would laugh to hear the character the people give me. Oh, the falsehood and hypocrisy of this world! I am fixed in a little town retired by the seashore, embowered in woody hills that rise round me, huge, rocky, and capped with clouds. My employer is a retired county magistrate and large landholder, of a right hearty, generous disposition. His wife is a quiet, silent, amiable woman; his sons are two fine, spirited lads. My landlord is a respectable surgeon, and six days out of seven as drunk as a lord; his wife is a bustling, chattering, kind-hearted soul; his daughter—oh! death and damnation! Well, what am I? that is, what do they think I am?—a most sober, abstemious, patient, mild-hearted, virtuous, gentlemanly philosopher, the picture of good works, the treasure-house of righteous thought. Cards are shuffled under the tablecloth, glasses are thrust into the cupboard, if I enter the room. I take neither spirit, wine, nor malt liquors. I dress in black, and smile like a saint or martyr. Every lady says, 'What a good young gentleman is the Postlethwaites' tutor.' This is fact, as I am a living soul, and right comfortably do I laugh at them; but in this humour do I mean them to continue. I took a half-year's farewell of old friend whisky at Kendal the night after I [left]. There was a party of gentlemen at the Royal Hotel; I joined them and ordered in supper and 'toddy as hot as Hell.' They thought I was a physician, and put me into the chair. I gave them some toasts of the stiffest sort ... washing them down at the same time till the room spun round and the candles danced in their eyes. One was a respectable old gentleman with powdered head, rosy cheeks, fat paunch, and ringed fingers ... he led off with a speech, and in two minutes, in the very middle of a grand sentence, stopped, wagged his head, looked wildly round, stammered, coughed, stopped again, called for his slippers, and so the waiter helped him to bed. Next a tall Irish squire and a native of the land of Israel began to quarrel about their countries, and in the warmth of argument discharged their glasses each at his neighbour's throat, instead of his own. I recommended blisters, bleeding [here illegible], so I flung my tumbler on the floor, too, and swore I'd join old Ireland. A regular rumpus ensued, but we were tamed at last, and I found myself in bed next morning, with a bottle of porter, a glass, and corkscrew beside me. Since then I have not tasted anything stronger than milk and water, nor, I hope, shall I till I return at Midsummer, when we will see about it. I am getting as fat as Prince Win at Springhead and as godly as his friend Parson Winterbottom. My hand shakes no longer: I write to the bankers at Ulverston with Mr. Postlethwaite, and sit drinking tea and talking slander with old ladies. As to the young ones, I have one sitting by me just now, fair-faced, blue-eyed, dark-haired, sweet eighteen. She little thinks the Devil is as near her. I was delighted to see thy note, old Squire, but don't understand one sentence—perhaps you will know what I mean............ .......................... How are all about you? I long... [all torn next] everything about Haworth folk. Does little Nosey think I have forgotten him. No, by Jupiter! nor is Alick either. I'll send him a remembrance one of these days. But I must talk to some one prettier; so good night, old boy. Write directly, and believe me to be thine,
Branwell's boasted reformation was not kept up for long. Soon he came back as heartless, as affectionate, as vain, as unprincipled as ever, to laugh and loiter about the steep street of Haworth. Then he went to Bradford as a portrait-painter, and—so impressive is audacity—actually succeeded for some months in gaining a living there, although his education was of the slenderest, and, judging from the specimens still treasured in Haworth, his natural talent on a level with that of the average new student in any school of art. His tawny mane, his pose of untaught genius, his verses in the poet's corner of the paper could not for ever keep afloat this untaught and thriftless portrait-painter of twenty. Soon there came an end to his painting there. He disappeared from Bradford suddenly, heavily in debt, and was lost to sight, until unnerved, a drunkard, and an opium-eater, he came back to home and Emily at Haworth.
Meanwhile impetuous Charlotte was growing nervous and weak, gentle Anne consumptive and dejected, in their work away from home; and Emily was toiling from dawn till dusk with her old servant Tabby for the old aunt who never cared for her, and the old father always courteous and distant.
They knew the face of necessity more nearly than any friend's, those Bronte girls, and the pinch of poverty was for their own foot; therefore were they always considerate to any that fell into the same plight. During the Christmas holidays of 1837, old Tabby fell on the steep and slippery street and broke her leg. She was already nearly seventy, and could do little work; now her accident laid her completely aside, leaving Emily, Charlotte, and Anne to spend their Christmas holidays in doing the housework and nursing the invalid. Miss Branwell, anxious to spare the girls' hands and her brother-in-law's pocket, insisted that Tabby should be sent to her sister's house to be nursed and another servant engaged for the Parsonage. Tabby, she represented, was fairly well off, her sister in comfortable circumstances; the Parsonage kitchen might supply her with broths and jellies in plenty, but why waste the girls' leisure and scanty patrimony on an old servant competent to keep herself. Mr. Bronte was finally persuaded, and his decision made known. But the girls were not persuaded. Tabby, so they averred, was one of the family, and they refused to abandon her in sickness. They did not say much, but they did more than say—they starved. When the tea was served, the three sat silent, fasting. Next morning found their will yet stronger than their hunger—no breakfast. They did the day's work, and dinner came. Still they held out, wan and sunk. Then the superiors gave in.
The girls gained their victory—no stubborn freak, but the right to make a generous sacrifice, and to bear an honourable burden.
That Christmas, of course, there could be no visiting nor the next. Tabby was slow in getting well; but she did not outweary the patience of her friends.
Two years later, Charlotte writes to her old schoolfellow:—
"December 21, 1839.
"We are at present, and have been during the last month, rather busy, as for that space of time we have been without a servant, except a little girl to run errands. Poor Tabby became so lame that she was at length obliged to leave us. She is residing with her sister, in a little house of her own, which she bought with her own savings a year or two since. She is very comfortable, and wants nothing. As she is near we see her very often. In the meantime, Emily and I are sufficiently busy, as you may suppose: I manage the ironing and keep the rooms clean; Emily does the baking and attends to the kitchen. We are such odd animals that we prefer this mode of contrivance to having a new face among us. Besides, we do not despair of Tabby's return, and she shall not be supplanted by a stranger in her absence. I excited aunt's wrath very much by burning the clothes the first time I attempted to iron; but I do better now. Human feelings are queer things; I am much happier blackleading the stoves, making the beds, and sweeping the floors at home than I should be living like a fine lady anywhere else."
The year 1840 found Emily, Branwell, and Charlotte all at home together. Unnerved and dissipated as he was, Branwell was still a welcome presence; his gay talk still awakened glad promises in the ambitious and loving household which hoped all things from him. His mistakes and faults they pardoned; thinking, poor souls, that the strong passions which led him astray betokened a strong character and not a powerless will.
It was still to Branwell that they looked for the fame of the family. Their poems, their stories, were to these girls but a legitimate means of amusement and relief. The serious business of their life was to teach, to cook, to clean; to earn or save the mere expense of their existence. No dream of literary fame gave a purpose to the quiet days of Emily Bronte. Charlotte and Branwell, more impulsive, more ambitious, had sent their work to Southey, to Coleridge, to Wordsworth, in vain, pathetic hope of encouragement, or recognition. Not so the sterner Emily, to whom expression was at once a necessity and a regret. Emily's brain, Emily's locked desk, these and nothing else knew the degree of her passion, her genius, her power. And yet acknowledged power would have been sweet to that dominant spirit.
Meanwhile the immediate difficulty was to earn a living. Even those patient and courageous girls could not accept the thought of a whole lifetime spent in dreary governessing by Charlotte and Anne, in solitary drudgery by homekeeping Emily. One way out of this hateful vista seemed not impossible of attainment. For years it was the wildest hope, the cherished dream of the author of 'Wuthering Heights' and the author of 'Villette.' And what was this dear and daring ambition?—to keep a ladies' school at Haworth.
Far enough off, difficult to reach, it looked to them, this paltry common-place ideal of theirs. For the house with its four bedrooms would have to be enlarged; for the girls' education, with its Anglo-French and stumbling music, would have to be adorned by the requisite accomplishments. This would take time; time and money; two luxuries most hard to get for the Vicar of Haworth's harassed daughters. They would sigh, and suddenly stop in their making of plans and drawing up of circulars. It seemed so difficult.
One person, indeed, might help them. Miss Branwell had saved out of her annuity of L50 a year. She had a certain sum; small enough, but to Charlotte and Emily it seemed as potent as the fairy's wand. The question was, would she risk it?
It seemed not. The old lady had always chiefly meant her savings for the dear prodigal who bore her name, and Emily and Charlotte were not her favourites. The girls indeed only asked for a loan, but she doubted, hesitated, doubted again. They were too proud to take an advantage so grudgingly proffered; and while their talk was still of what means they might employ, while they still painfully toiled through improper French novels as "the best substitute for French conversation," they gave up the dream for the present, and Charlotte again looked out for a situation. Nearly a year elapsed before she found it—a happy year, full of plans and talks with Emily and free from any more pressing anxiety than Anne's delicate health always gave her sisters. Branwell was away and doing well as station-master at Luddendenfoot, "set off to seek his fortune in the wild, wandering, adventurous, romantic, knight-errant-like capacity of clerk on the Leeds and Manchester Railway." Ellen came to stay at Haworth in the summer; it was quite sociable and lively now in the grey house on the moors; for, compelled by failing health, Mr. Bronte had engaged the help of a curate, and the Haworth curate brought his clerical friends about the house, to the great disgust of Emily, and the half-sentimental fluttering of pensive Anne, which laid on Charlotte the responsibility of talking for all three.
In the holidays when Anne was at home all the old glee and enjoyment of life returned. There was, moreover, the curate, "bonnie, pleasant, light-hearted, good-tempered, generous, careless, crafty, fickle, and unclerical," to add piquancy to the situation. "He sits opposite to Anne at church, sighing softly, and looking out of the corners of his eyes—and she is so quiet, her look so downcast; they are a picture," says merry Charlotte. This first curate at Haworth was exempted from Emily's liberal scorn; he was a favourite at the vicarage, a clever, bright-spirited, and handsome youth, greatly in Miss Branwell's good graces. He would tease and flatter the old lady with such graciousness as made him ever sure of a welcome; so that his daily visits to Mr. Bronte's study were nearly always followed up by a call in the opposite parlour, when Miss Branwell would frequently leave her upstairs retreat and join in the lively chatter. She always presided at the tea-table, at which the curate was a frequent guest, and her nieces would be kept well amused all through the tea hour by the curate's piquant sallies, baffling the old lady in her little schemes of control over the three high-spirited girls. None enjoyed the fun more than quiet Emily, always present and amused, "her countenance glimmering as it always did when she enjoyed herself," Miss Ellen Nussey tells me. Many happy legends, too familiar to be quoted here, record the light heart and gay spirit that Emily bore in those untroubled days. Foolish, pretty little stories of her dauntless protection of the other girls from too pressing suitors. Never was duenna so gallant, so gay, and so inevitable. In compliment to the excellence of her swashing and martial outside on such occasions, the little household dubbed her "The Major," a name that stuck to her in days when the dash and gaiety of her soldiery bearing was sadly sobered down, and only the courage and dauntless heart remained.
But in these early days of 1841, Emily was as happy as other healthy country girls in a congenial home. "She did what we did," says Miss Nussey, "and never absented herself when she could avoid it—life at this period must have been sweet and pleasant to her." An equal unchequered life, in which trifles seemed of great importance. We hear of the little joys and adventures of those days, so faithfully and long remembered, with a pathetic pleasurableness. So slight they are, and all their colour gone, like pressed roses, though a faint sweetness yet remains. The disasters when Miss Branwell was cross and in no humour to receive her guests; the long-expected excitement of a walk over the moors to Keighley where the curate was to give a lecture, the alarm and flurry when the curate, finding none of the four girls had ever received a valentine, proposed to send one to each on the next Valentine's Day. "No, no, the elders would never allow it, and yet it would certainly be an event to receive a valentine; still, there would be such a lecture from Miss Branwell." "Oh no," he said, "I shall post them at Bradford." And to Bradford he walked, ten miles and back again, so that on the eventful 14th of February the anxiously-expected postman brought four valentines, all on delicately tinted paper, all enhanced by a verse of original poetry, touching on some pleasant characteristic in each recipient. What merriment and comparing of notes! What pleased feigning of indignation! The girls determined to reward him with a Rowland for his Oliver, and Charlotte wrote some rhymes full of fun and raillery which all the girls signed—Emily entering into all this with much spirit and amusement—and finally despatched in mystery and secret glee.
At last this pleasant fooling came to an end. Charlotte advertised for a place, and found it. While she was away she had a letter from Miss Wooler, offering Charlotte the goodwill of her school at Dewsbury Moor. It was a chance not to be lost, although what inducement Emily and Charlotte could offer to their pupils it is not easy to imagine. But it was above all things necessary to make a home where delicate Anne might be sheltered, where homesick Emily could be happy, where Charlotte could have time to write, where all might live and work together. Miss Wooler's offer was immediately accepted. Miss Branwell was induced to lend the girls L100. No answer came from Miss Wooler. Then ambitious Charlotte, from her situation away, wrote to Miss Branwell at Haworth:—
"September 29, 1841.
"I have heard nothing of Miss Wooler yet since I wrote to her, intimating that I would accept her offer. I cannot conjecture the reason of this long silence, unless some unforeseen impediment has occurred in concluding the bargain. Meantime a plan has been suggested and approved by Mr. and Mrs. —— and others which I wish now to impart to you. My friends recommend, if I desire to secure permanent success, to delay commencing the school for six months longer, and by all means to contrive, by hook or by crook, to spend the intervening time in some school on the Continent. They say schools in England are so numerous, competition so great, that without some such step towards attaining superiority, we shall probably have a very hard struggle and may fail in the end. They say, moreover, that the loan of L100, which you have been so kind as to offer us, will perhaps not be all required now, as Miss Wooler will lend us the furniture; and that, if the speculation is intended to be a good and successful one, half the sum, at least, ought to be laid out in the manner I have mentioned, thereby insuring a more speedy repayment both of interest and principal.
"I would not go to France or to Paris. I would go to Brussels, in Belgium. The cost of the journey there, at the dearest rate of travelling, would be L5, living is there little more than half as dear as it is in England, and the facilities for education are equal or superior to any place in Europe. In half a year I could acquire a thorough familiarity with French. I could improve greatly in Italian and even get a dash at German; i.e. providing my health continued as good as it is now....
"These are advantages which would turn to real account when we actually commenced a school; and, if Emily could share them with me, we could take a footing in the world afterwards which we never can do now. I say Emily instead of Anne; for Anne might take her turn at some future period, if our school answered. I feel certain, while I am writing, that you will see the propriety of what I say. You always like to use your money to the best advantage. You are not fond of making shabby purchases; when you do confer a favour it is often done in style; and depend upon it L50 or L100, thus laid out, would be well employed. Of course, I know no other friend in the world to whom I could apply on this subject besides yourself. I feel an absolute conviction that if this advantage were allowed us, it would be the making of us for life. Papa will perhaps think it a wild and ambitious scheme; but who ever rose in the world without ambition. When he left Ireland to go to Cambridge University he was as ambitious as I am now."
That was true. It must have struck a vibrant chord in the old man's breast. Absorbed in parish gossip and his 'Cottage Poems,' caring no longer for the world but only for newspaper reports of it, actively idle, living a resultless life of ascetic self-indulgence, the Vicar of Haworth was very proud of his energetic past. He had always held it up to his children as a model for them to copy. Charlotte's appeal would certainly secure her father as an ally to her cause. Miss Branwell, on the other hand, would not wish for displays of ambition in her already too irrepressible nieces. But she was getting old; it would be a comfort to her, after all, to see them settled, and prosperously settled through her generosity. "I look to you, Aunt, to help us. I think you will not refuse," Charlotte had said. How, indeed, could Miss Branwell, living in their home, be happy, and refuse?
Yet many discussions went on before anxious Charlotte got the answer. Emily, whom it concerned as nearly, must have listened waiting in a strange perturbation of hope and fear. To leave home—she knew well what it meant. Since she was six years old she had never left Yorkshire; but those months of wearying homesickness at Roe Head, at Halifax, must have most painfully rushed back upon her memory. Haworth was health, content, the very possibility of existence to this girl. To leave Haworth for a strange town beyond the seas, to see strange faces all round, to hear and speak a strange language, Charlotte's welcome prospect of adventure must have taken a nightmare shape to Emily. And for this she must hope; this she must desire, plead for if necessary, and at least uphold. For Charlotte said the thing was essential to their future; and in all details of management, Charlotte's word was law to her sisters. Even Emily, the independent, indomitable Emily, so resolute in keeping to any chosen path, looked to Charlotte to choose the way in practical affairs.
At length consent was secured, written and despatched. Gleeful Charlotte gave notice to her employers and soon set out for home. There was much to be done. "Letters to write to Brussels, to Lille and to London, lots of work to be done, besides clothes to repair." It was decided that the sisters should give up their chance of the school at Dewsbury Moor, since the site was low and damp, and had not suited Anne. On their return from Brussels they were to set up a school in some healthy seaside place in the East Riding. Burlington was the place where their fancy chiefly dwelt. To this beautiful and healthy spot, fronting the sea, eager pupils would flock for the benefit of instruction by three daughters of a clergyman, "educated abroad" (for six months) speaking thorough French, improved Italian and a dash of German. A scintillating programme of accomplishment danced before their eyes.
There were, however, many practical difficulties to be vanquished first. The very initial step, the choice of a school, was hard to take. Charlotte writes to Ellen:—
"January 20, 1842.
"We expect to leave England in about three weeks, but we are not yet certain as to the day, as it will depend on the convenience of a French lady now in London, Madame Marzials, under whose escort we are to sail. Our place of destination is changed. Papa received an unfavourable account from Mr. or rather from Mrs. Jenkins of the French schools in Bruxelles, representing them as of an inferior caste in many respects. On further inquiry an institution at Lille in the North of France was highly recommended by Baptist Noel and other clergymen, and to that place it is decided that we are to go. The terms are L50 a year for each pupil for board and French alone; but a separate room will be allowed for this sum; without this indulgence they are something lower. I considered it kind in aunt to consent to an extra sum for a separate room. We shall find it a great privilege in many ways. I regret the change from Bruxelles to Lille on many accounts."
For Charlotte to regret the change was for an improvement to be discovered. She had set her heart on going to Brussels; Mrs. Jenkins redoubled her efforts and at length discovered the Pensionnat of Madame Heger in the Rue d'Isabelle.
Thither, as all the world is aware, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, both of age, went to school.
"We shall leave England in about three weeks." The words had a ring of happy daring in Charlotte's ears. Since at six years of age she had set out alone to discover the Golden City, romance, discovery, adventure, were sweet promises to her. She had often wished to see the world; now she will see it. She had thirsted for knowledge; here is the source. She longed to add new notes to that gamut of human character which she could play with so profound a science; she shall make a masterpiece out of her acquisitions. At this time her letters are full of busy gaiety, giving accounts of her work, making plans, making fun. As happy and hopeful a young woman as any that dwells in Haworth parish.
Emily is different. It is she who imagined the girl in heaven who broke her heart with weeping for earth, till the angels cast her out in anger, and flung her into the middle of the heath, to wake there sobbing for joy. She did not care to know fresh people; she hates strangers; to walk with her bulldog, Keeper, over the moors is her best adventure. To learn new things is very well, but she prizes above everything originality and the wild provincial flavour of her home. What she strongly, deeply loves is her moorland home, her own people, the creatures on the heath, the dogs who always feed from her hands, the flowers in the bleak garden that only grow at all because of the infinite care she lavishes upon them. The stunted thorn under which she sits to write her poems, is more beautiful to her than the cedars of Lebanon. To each and all of these she must now bid farewell. It is in a different tone that she says in her adieus, "We shall leave England in about three weeks."
[Footnote 5: Mrs. Gaskell.]
[Footnote 6: Mrs. Gaskell.]
IN THE RUE D'ISABELLE.
The Rue d'Isabelle had a character of its own. It lies below your feet as you stand in the Rue Royale, near the statue of General Beliard. Four flights of steps lead down to the street, half garden, half old houses, with at one end a large square mansion, owning the garden that runs behind it and to the right of it. The house is old; a Latin inscription shows it to have been given to the great Guild of Cross-bowmen by Queen Isabelle in the early years of the 17th century. The garden is older; long before the Guild of the Cross-bowmen of the Great Oath, in deference to the wish of Queen Isabelle, permitted the street to be made through it, the garden had been their exercising place. There Isabelle herself, a member of their order, had shot down the bird. But the garden had a yet more ancient past; when apple-trees, pear-trees and alleys of Bruges cherries, when plots of marjoram and mint, of thyme and sweet-basil, filled the orchard and herbary of the Hospital of the Poor. And the garden itself, before trees or flowers were planted, had resounded with the yelp of the Duke's hounds, when, in the thirteenth century, it had been the Fosse-aux-chiens. This historic garden, this mansion, built by a queen for a great order, belonged in 1842 to Monsieur and Madame Heger, and was a famous Pensionnat de Demoiselles.
There the Vicar of Haworth brought his two daughters one February day, spent one night in Brussels and went straight back to his old house on the moors, so modern in comparison with the mansion in Rue d'Isabelle. A change, indeed, for Emily and Charlotte. Even now, Brussels (the headquarters of Catholicism far more than modern Rome) has a taste for pageantry that recalls mediaeval days. The streets decked with boughs and strewn with flowers, through which pass slowly the processions of the Church, white-clad children, boys like angels scattering roses, standard-bearers with emblazoned banners. Surpliced choristers singing Latin praises, acolytes in scarlet swinging censers, reliquaries and images, before which the people fall down in prayer; all this to-day is no uncommon sight in Brussels, and must have been yet more frequent in 1842.
The flower-market out of doors, with clove-pinks, tall Mary-lilies and delicate roses d'amour, filling the quaint mediaeval square before the beautiful old facade of the Hotel de Ville. Ste.-Gudule with its spires and arches; the Montagne de la Cour (almost as steep as Haworth street), its windows ablaze at night with jewels; the little, lovely park, its great elms just coming into leaf, its statues just bursting from their winter sheaths of straw; the galleries of ancient pictures, their walls a sober glory of colours, blues, deep as a summer night, rich reds, brown golds, most vivid greens.
All this should have made an impression on the two home-keeping girls from Yorkshire; and Charlotte, indeed, perceived something of its beauty and strangeness. But Emily, from a bitter sense of exile, from a natural narrowness of spirit, rebelled against it all as an insult to the memory of her home—she longed, hopelessly, uselessly, for Haworth. The two Brontes were very different to the Belgian school-girls in Madame Heger's Pensionnat. They were, for one thing, ridiculously old to be at school—twenty-four and twenty-six—and they seemed to feel their position; their speech was strained and odd; all the "sceptical, wicked, immoral French novels, over forty of them, the best substitute for French conversation to be met with," which the girls had toiled through with so much singleness of spirit, had not cured the broadness of their accent nor the artificial idioms of their Yorkshire French. Monsieur Heger, indeed, considered that they knew no French at all. Their manners, even among English people, were stiff and prim; the hearty, vulgar, genial expansion of their Belgian schoolfellows must have made them seem as lifeless as marionettes. Their dress—Haworth had permitted itself to wonder at the uncouthness of those amazing leg-of-mutton sleeves (Emily's pet whim in and out of fashion), at the ill-cut lankness of those skirts, clumsy enough on round little Charlotte, but a very caricature of mediaevalism on Emily's tall, thin, slender figure. They knew they were not in their element and kept close together, rarely speaking. Yet Monsieur Heger, patiently watching, felt the presence of a strange power under those uncouth exteriors.
An odd little man of much penetration, this French schoolmaster. "Homme de zele et de conscience, il possede a un haut degre l'eloquence du bon sens et du coeur." Fierce and despotic in the exaction of obedience, yet tender of heart, magnanimous and tyrannical, absurdly vain and absolutely unselfish. His wife's school was a kingdom to him; he brought to it an energy, a zeal, a faculty of administration worthy to rule a kingdom. It was with the delight of a botanist discovering a rare plant in his garden, of a politician detecting a future statesman in his nursery, that he perceived the unusual faculty which lifted his two English pupils above their schoolfellows. He watched them silently for some weeks. When he had made quite sure, he came forwards and, so to speak, claimed them for his own.
Charlotte at once accepted the yoke. All that he set her to do she toiled to accomplish; she followed out his trains of thought; she adopted the style he recommended; she gave him in return for all his pains the most unflagging obedience, the affectionate comprehension of a large intelligence. She writes to Ellen of her delight in learning and serving: "It is very natural to me to submit, very unnatural to command."
Not so with Emily. The qualities which her sister understood and accepted, irritated her unspeakably. The masterfulness in little things, the irritability, the watchfulness of the fiery little professor of rhetoric were utterly distasteful to her. She contradicted his theories to his face; she did her lessons well, but as she chose to do them. She was as indomitable, fierce, unappeasable, as Charlotte was ready and submissive. And yet it was Emily who had the larger share of Monsieur Heger's admiration. Egotistic and exacting he thought her, who never yielded to his petulant, harmless egoism, who never gave way to his benevolent tyranny; but he gave her credit for logical powers, for a capacity for argument unusual in a man, and rare, indeed, in a woman. She, not Charlotte, was the genius in his eyes, although he complained that her stubborn will rendered her deaf to all reason, when her own determination, or her own sense of right, was concerned. He fancied she might be a great historian, so he told Mrs. Gaskell. "Her faculty of imagination was such, her views of scenes and characters would have been so vivid and so powerfully expressed, and supported by such a show of argument that it would have dominated over the reader, whatever might have been his previous opinions or his cooler perception of the truth. She should have been a man: a great navigator!" cried the little, dark, enthusiastic rhetorician. "Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty; never have given way but with life!"
Yet they were never friends; though Monsieur Heger could speak so well of Emily at a time, be it remembered, when it was Charlotte's praises that were sought, when Emily's genius was set down as a lunatic's hobgoblin of nightmare potency. He and she were alike too imperious, too independent, too stubborn. A couple of swords, neither of which could serve to sheathe the other.
That time in Brussels was wasted upon Emily. The trivial characters which Charlotte made immortal merely annoyed her. The new impressions which gave another scope to Charlotte's vision were nothing to her. All that was grand, remarkable, passionate, under the surface of that conventional Pensionnat de Demoiselles, was invisible to Emily. Notwithstanding her genius she was very hard and narrow.
Poor girl, she was sick for home. It was all nothing to her, less than a dream, this place she lived in. Charlotte's engrossment in her new life, her eagerness to please her master, was a contemptible weakness to this embittered heart. She would laugh when she found her elder sister trying to arrange her homely gowns in the French taste, and stalk silently through the large schoolrooms with a fierce satisfaction in her own ugly sleeves, in the Haworth cut of her skirts. She seldom spoke a word to any one; only sometimes she would argue with Monsieur Heger, perhaps secretly glad to have the chance of shocking Charlotte. If they went out to tea, she would sit still on her chair, answering "Yes" and "No;" inert, miserable, with a heart full of tears. When her work was done she would walk in the Cross-bowmen's ancient garden, under the trees, leaning on her shorter sister's arm, pale, silent—a tall, stooping figure. Often she said nothing at all. Charlotte, also, was very profitably speechless; under her eyes 'Villette' was taking shape. But Emily did not think of Brussels. She was dreaming of Haworth.
One poem that she wrote at this time may appropriately be quoted here. It was, Charlotte tells us, "composed at twilight, in the schoolroom, when the leisure of the evening play-hour brought back, in full tide, the thoughts of home:"
"A little while, a little while, The weary task is put away, And I can sing and I can smile Alike, while I have holiday.
"Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart— What thought, what scene invites thee now? What spot, or near or far apart, Has rest for thee, my weary brow?
"There is a spot mid barren hills, Where winter howls and driving rain; But, if the dreary tempest chills, There is a light that warms again.
"The house is old, the trees are bare, Moonless above bends twilight's dome, But what on earth is half so dear— So longed for—as the hearth of home?
"The mute bird sitting on the stone, The dark moss dripping from the wall, The thorn-tree gaunt, the walks o'ergrown, I love them; how I love them all!
"And, as I mused, the naked room, The alien fire-light died away; And from the midst of cheerless gloom I passed to bright, unclouded day.
"A little and a lone green lane, That opened on a common wide; A distant, dreary, dim, blue chain Of mountains circling every side:
"A heaven so dear, an earth so calm, So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air; And—deepening still the dream-like charm— Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.
"That was the scene, I knew it well; I knew the turfy pathway's sweep, That, winding o'er each billowy swell, Marked out the tracks of wandering sheep.
"Could I have lingered but an hour, It well had paid a week of toil; But truth has banished fancy's power, Restraint and heavy task recoil.
"Even as I stood with raptured eye, Absorbed in bliss so deep and dear, My hour of rest had fleeted by, And back came labour, bondage, care."
Charlotte meanwhile writes in good, even in high spirits to her friend: "I think I am never unhappy, my present life is so delightful, so congenial, compared to that of a governess. My time, constantly occupied, passes too rapidly. Hitherto both Emily and I have had good health, and therefore we have been able to work well. There is one individual of whom I have not yet spoken—Monsieur Heger, the husband of Madame. He is professor of rhetoric—a man of power as to mind, but very choleric and irritable as to temperament—a little, black, ugly being, with a face that varies in expression; sometimes he borrows the lineaments of an insane tom cat, sometimes those of a delirious hyena, occasionally—but very seldom—he discards these perilous attractions and assumes an air not a hundred times removed from what you would call mild and gentleman-like. He is very angry with me just at present, because I have written a translation which he chose to stigmatise as 'peu correct.' He did not tell me so, but wrote the words on the margin of my book, and asked, in brief, stern phrase, how it happened that my compositions were always better than my translations? adding that the thing seemed to him inexplicable."
The reader will already have recognised in the black, ugly, choleric little professor of rhetoric, the one absolutely natural hero of a woman's novel, the beloved and whimsical figure of the immortal Monsieur Paul Emanuel.
"He and Emily," adds Charlotte, "don't draw well together at all. Emily works like a horse, and she has had great difficulties to contend with, far greater than I have had."
Emily did indeed work hard. She was there to work, and not till she had learned a certain amount would her conscience permit her to return to Haworth. It was for dear liberty that she worked. She began German, a favourite study in after years, and of some purpose, since the style of Hofmann left its impression on the author of 'Wuthering Heights.' She worked hard at music; and in half a year the stumbling schoolgirl became a brilliant and proficient musician. Her playing is said to have been singularly accurate, vivid, and full of fire. French, too, both in grammar and in literature, was a constant study.
Monsieur Heger recognised the fact that in dealing with the Brontes he had not to make the customary allowances for a schoolgirl's undeveloped inexperience. These were women of mature and remarkable intelligence. The method he adopted in teaching them was rather that of a University professor than such as usually is used in a pensionnat. He would choose some masterpiece of French style, some passage of eloquence or portraiture, read it to them with a brief lecture on its distinctive qualities, pointing out what was exaggerated, what apt, what false, what subtle in the author's conception or his mode of expressing it. They were then dismissed to make a similar composition, without the aid of grammar or dictionary, availing themselves as far as possible of the nuances of style and the peculiarities of method of the writer chosen as the model of the hour. In this way the girls became intimately acquainted with the literary technique of the best French masters. To Charlotte the lessons were of incalculable value, perfecting in her that clear and accurate style which makes her best work never wearisome, never old-fashioned. But the very thought of imitating any one, especially of imitating any French writer, was repulsive to Emily, "rustic all through, moorish, wild and knotty as a root of heath." When Monsieur Heger had explained his plan to them, "Emily spoke first; and said that she saw no good to be derived from it; and that by adopting it they would lose all originality of thought and expression. She would have entered into an argument on the subject, but for this Monsieur Heger had no time. Charlotte then spoke; she also doubted the success of the plan; but she would follow out Monsieur Heger's advice, because she was bound to obey him while she was his pupil." Charlotte soon found a keen enjoyment in this species of literary composition, yet Emily's devoir was the best. They are, alas, no longer to be seen, no longer in the keeping of so courteous and proud a guardian as Mrs. Gaskell had to deal with; but she and Monsieur Heger both have expressed their opinions that in genius, imagination, power and force of language, Emily was the superior of the two sisters.
So great was the personality of this energetic, silent, brooding, ill-dressed young Englishwoman, that all who knew her recognised in her the genius they were slow to perceive in her more sociable and vehement sister. Madame Heger, the worldly, cold-mannered, surveillante of Villette, avowed the singular force of a nature most antipathetic to her own. Yet Emily had no companions; the only person of whom we hear, in even the most negative terms of friendliness, is one of the teachers, a certain Mademoiselle Marie, "talented and original, but of repulsive and arbitrary manners, which have made the whole school, except Emily and myself, her bitter enemies." No less arbitrary and repulsive seemed poor Emily herself, a sprig of purple heath at discord with those bright, smooth geraniums and lobelias; Emily, of whom every surviving friend extols the never-failing, quiet unselfishness, the genial spirit ready to help, the timid but faithful affection. She was so completely hors de son assiette that even her virtues were misplaced.
There was always one thing she could do, one thing as natural as breath to Emily—determined labour. In that merciful engrossment she could forget her heart-sick weariness and the jarring strangeness of things; every lesson conquered was another step taken on the long road home. And the days allowed ample space for work, although it was supported upon a somewhat slender diet.
Counting boarders and externes, Madame Heger's school numbered over a hundred pupils. These were divided into three classes; the second, in which the Brontes were, containing sixty students. In the last row, side by side, absorbed and quiet, sat Emily and Charlotte. Soon after rising, the pensionnaires were given their light Belgian breakfast of coffee and rolls. Then from nine to twelve they studied. Three mistresses and seven professors were engaged to take the different classes. At twelve a lunch of bread and fruit; then a turn in the green alley, Charlotte and Emily always walking together. From one till two fancy-work; from two till four, lessons again. Then dinner: the one solid meal of the day. From five till six the hour was free, Emily's musing-hour. From six till seven the terrible lecture pieuse, hateful to the Brontes' Protestant spirit. At eight a supper of rolls and water; then prayers, and to bed.
The room they slept in was a long school-dormitory. After all they could not get the luxury, so much desired, of a separate room. But their two beds were alone together at the further end, veiled in white curtains; discreet and retired as themselves. Here, after the day's hard work, they slept. In sleep, one is no longer an exile.
But often Emily did not sleep. The old well-known pain, wakefulness, longing, was again beginning to relax her very heartstrings. "The same suffering and conflict ensued, heightened by the strong recoil of her upright heretic and English spirit from the gentle Jesuitry of the foreign and Romish system. Once more she seemed sinking, but this time she rallied through the mere force of resolution: with inward remorse and shame she looked back on her former failure, and resolved to conquer, but the victory cost her dear. She was never happy till she carried her hard-won knowledge back to the remote English village, the old parsonage house and desolate Yorkshire hills."
But not yet, not yet, this happiness! The opportunity that had been so hardly won must not be thrown away before the utmost had been made of it. And she was not utterly alone. Charlotte was there. The success that she had in her work must have helped a little to make her foreign home tolerable to her. Soon she knew enough of music to give lessons to the younger pupils. Then German, costing her and Charlotte an extra ten francs the month, as also much severe study and struggle. Charlotte writes in the summer: "Emily is making rapid progress in French, German, music and drawing. Monsieur and Madame Heger begin to recognise the valuable parts of her character under her singularities."
It was doubtful, even, whether they would come home in September. Madame Heger made a proposal to her two English pupils for them to stay on, without paying, but without salary, for half a year. She would dismiss her English teacher, whose place Charlotte would take. Emily was to teach music to the younger pupils. The proposal was kind and would be of advantage to the sisters.
Charlotte declared herself inclined to accept it. "I have been happy in Brussels," she averred. And Emily, though she, indeed, was not happy, acknowledged the benefit to be derived from a longer term of study. Six months, after all, was rather short to gain a thorough knowledge of French, with Italian and German, when you add to these acquirements music and drawing, which Emily worked at with a will. Besides, she could not fail again, could not go back to Haworth leaving Charlotte behind; neither could she spoil Charlotte's future by persuading her to reject Madame Heger's terms. So both sisters agreed to stay in Brussels. They were not utterly friendless there; two Miss Taylors, schoolfellows and dear friends of Charlotte's, were at school at the Chateau de Kokleberg, just outside the barriers. Readers of 'Shirley' know them as Rose and Jessie Yorke. The Brontes met them often, nearly every week, at some cousins of the Taylors, who lived in the town. But this diversion, pleasant to Charlotte, was merely an added annoyance to Emily. She would sit stiff and silent, unable to say a word, longing to be somewhere at her ease. Mrs. Jenkins, too, had begun with asking them to spend their Sundays with her; but Emily never said a word, and Charlotte, though sometimes she got excited and spoke well and vehemently, never ventured on an opinion till she had gradually wheeled round in her chair with her back to the person she addressed. They were so shy, so rustic, Mrs. Jenkins gave over inviting them, feeling that they did not like to refuse, and found it no pleasure to come. Charlotte, indeed, still had the Taylors, their cousins, and the family of a doctor living in the town, whose daughter was a pupil and friend of hers. Charlotte, too, had Madame Heger and her admired professor of rhetoric; but Emily had no friend except her sister.
Nevertheless it was settled they should stay. The grandes vacances began on the 15th of August, and, as the journey to Yorkshire cost so much, and as they were anxious to work, the Bronte girls spent their holidays in Rue d'Isabelle. Besides themselves only six or eight boarders remained. All their friends were away holiday-making; but they worked hard, preparing their lessons for the masters who, holidayless as they, had stayed behind in white, dusty, blazing, airless Brussels, to give lectures to the scanty class at Madame Heger's pensionnat.
So the dreary six weeks passed away. In October the term began again, the pupils came back, new pupils were admitted, Monsieur Heger was more gesticulatory, vehement, commanding than usual, and Madame, in her quiet way, was no less occupied. Life and youth filled the empty rooms. The Bronte girls, sad enough indeed, for their friend Martha Taylor had died suddenly at the Chateau de Kokleberg, were, notwithstanding, able to feel themselves in a more natural position for women of their age. Charlotte, henceforth, by Monsieur Heger's orders, "Mademoiselle Charlotte," was the new English teacher; Emily the assistant music-mistress. But, in the middle of October, in the first flush of their employment, came a sudden recall to Haworth. Miss Branwell was very ill. Immediately the two girls, who owed so much to her, who, but for her bounty, could never have been so far away in time of need, decided to go home. They broke their determination to Monsieur and Madame Heger, who, sufficiently generous to place the girls' duty before their own convenience, upheld them in their course. They hastily packed up their things, took places via Antwerp to London, and prepared to start. At the last moment, the trunks packed, in the early morning the postman came. He brought another letter from Haworth. Their aunt was dead.
So much the greater need that they should hasten home. Their father, left without his companion of twenty years, to keep his house, to read to him at night, to discuss with him on equal terms, their father would be lonely and distressed. Henceforth one of his daughters must stay with him. Anne was in an excellent situation; must they ask her to give it up? And what now of the school, the school at Burlington? There was much to take counsel over and consider; they must hurry home. So, knowing the worst, their future hanging out of shape and loose before their eyes, they set out on their dreary journey knowing not whether or when they might return.
[Footnote 7: C. Bronte.]
[Footnote 8: Mrs. Gaskell.]
[Footnote 9: C. Bronte. Memoir of her sisters.]
"Poor, brilliant, gay, moody, moping, wildly excitable, miserable Bronte! No history records your many struggles after the good—your wit, brilliance, attractiveness, eagerness for excitement—all the qualities which made you such 'good company' and dragged you down to an untimely grave."
Thus ejaculates Mr. Francis H. Grundy, remembering the boon-companion of his early years, the half-insane, pitiful creature that opium and brandy had made of clever Branwell at twenty-two. Returned from Bradford, his nervous system racked by opium fumes, he had loitered about at Haworth until his father, stubborn as he was, perceived the obvious fact that every idle day led his only son more hopelessly down to the pit of ruin. At last he exerted his influence to find some work for Branwell, and obtained for his reckless, fanciful, morbid lad the post of station-master at a small roadside place, Luddendenfoot by name, on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Thither he went some months before Charlotte and Emily left for Brussels. It was there Mr. Grundy met him; a novel station-master.
"Had a position been chosen for this strange creature for the express purpose of driving him several steps to the bad, this must have been it. The line was only just opened. The station was a rude wooden hut, and there was no village near at hand. Alone in the wilds of Yorkshire, with few books, little to do, no prospects, and wretched pay, with no society congenial to his better taste, but plenty of wild, rollicking, hard-headed, half-educated manufacturers, who would welcome him to their houses, and drink with him as often as he chose to come, what was this morbid man, who couldn't bear to be alone, to do?"
What Branwell always did, in fine, was that which was easiest to him to do. He drank himself violent, when he did not drink himself maudlin. He left the porter at the station to keep the books, and would go off for days "on the drink" with his friends and fellow-carousers. About this time Mr. Grundy, then an engineer at Halifax, fell in with the poor, half-demented, lonely creature, and for a while things went a little better.
Drink and riot had not embellished the tawny-maned, laughing, handsome darling of Haworth. Here is his portrait as at this time he appeared to his friend:
"He was insignificantly small—one of his life's trials. He had a mass of red hair, which he wore brushed high off his forehead—to help his height, I fancy—a great, bumpy, intellectual forehead, nearly half the size of the whole facial contour; small ferrety eyes, deep-sunk and still further hidden by the never-removed spectacles; prominent nose, but weak lower features. He had a downcast look, which never varied, save for a rapid momentary glance at long intervals. Small and thin of person, he was the reverse of attractive at first sight."
Yet this insignificant, sunken-eyed slip of humanity had a spell for those who heard him speak. There was no subject, moral, intellectual, or philosophic too remote or too profound for him to measure it at a moment's notice, with the ever-ready, fallacious plumb-line of his brilliant vanity. He would talk for hours: be eloquent, convincing, almost noble; and afterwards accompany his audience to the nearest public-house.
"At times we would drive over in a gig to Haworth (twelve miles) and visit his people. He was there at his best, and would be eloquent and amusing, although sometimes he would burst into tears when returning, and swear that he meant to amend. I believe, however, that he was half mad and could not control himself."
So must his friends in kindness think. Mad; if haunting, morbid dreads and fancies conjured up by poisonous drugs and never to be laid; if a will laid prostrate under the yoke of unclean habits; if a constitution prone to nervous derangement and blighted by early excess; if such things forcing him by imperceptible daily pressure to choose the things he loathed, to be the thing he feared, to act a part abhorrent to his soul; if such estranging and falsification of a man's true self may count as lunacy, the luckless, worthless boy was mad.
It must have galled him, going home, to be welcomed so kindly, hoped so much from, by those who had forgiven amply, and did not dream how heavy a mortgage had since been laid upon their pardon; to have talked to the prim, pretty old lady who denied herself every day to save an inheritance for him; to watch pious, gentle Anne into whose dreams the sins she prayed against had never entered; worst of all, the sight of his respectable, well-preserved father, honoured by all the parish, successful, placed by his own stern, continued, will high beyond the onslaughts of temptation, yet with a temperament singularly akin to that morbid, passionate son's.
So he would weep going home; weep for his falling off, and perhaps more sincerely for the short life of his contrition. Then the long evenings alone with his thoughts in that lonely place would make him afraid of repentance, afraid of God, himself, night, all. He would drink.
He had fits of as contrary pride. "He was proud of his name, his strength and his abilities." Proud of his name! He wrote a poem on it, "Bronte," an eulogy of Nelson, which won the patronising approbation of Leigh Hunt, Miss Martineau and others, to whom, at his special request, it was submitted. Had he ever heard of his dozen aunts and uncles, the Pruntys of Ahaderg? Or if not, with what sensations must the Vicar of Haworth have listened to this blazoning forth and triumphing over the glories of his ancient name?
Branwell had fits of passion, too, the repetition of his father's vagaries. "I have seen him drive his doubled fist through the panels of a door—it seemed to soothe him." The rough side of his nature got full play, and perhaps won him some respect denied to his cleverness, in the society amongst which he was chiefly thrown. For a little time the companionship of Mr. Grundy served to rescue him from utter abandonment to license. But, in the midst of this improvement, the crash came. As he had sown, he reaped.
Those long absences, drinking at the houses of his friends, had been turned to account by the one other inhabitant of the station at Luddendenfoot. The luggage porter was left to keep the books, and, following his master's example, he sought his own enjoyment before his employers' gain. He must have made a pretty penny out of those escapades of Branwell's, for some months after the Vicar of Haworth had obtained his son's appointment, when the books received their customary examination, serious defalcations were discovered. An inquiry was instituted, which brought to light Branwell's peculiar method of managing the station. The lad himself was not suspected of actual theft; but so continued, so glaring had been his negligence, so hopeless the cause, that he was summarily dismissed the company's service, and sent home in dire disgrace to Haworth.
He came home not only in disgrace, but ill. Never strong, his constitution was deranged and broken by his excesses; yet, strangely enough, consumption, which carried off so prematurely the more highly-gifted, the more strongly-principled daughters of the house, consumption, which might have been originally produced by the vicious life this youth had led, laid no claim upon him. His mother's character and her disease descended to her daughters only. Branwell inherited his father's violent temper, strong passions and nervous weakness without the strength of will and moral fibre that made his father remarkable. Probably this brilliant, weak, shallow, selfish lad reproduced accurately enough the characteristics of some former Prunty; for Patrick Branwell was as distinctly an Irishman as if his childhood had been spent in his grandfather's cabin at Ahaderg.
He came home to find his sisters all away. Anne in her situation as governess. Emily and Charlotte in Rue d'Isabelle. No one, therefore, to be a check upon his habits, save the neat old lady, growing weaker day by day, who spent nearly all her time in her bedroom to avoid the paven floors of the basement; and the father, who did not care for company, took his meals alone for fear of indigestion, and found it necessary to spend the succeeding time in perfect quiet. The greater part of the day was, therefore, at Branwell's uncontrolled, unsupervised disposal.
To do him justice, he does seem to have made so much effort after a new place of work as was involved in writing letters to his friend Grundy, and probably to others, suing for employment. But his offence had been too glaring to be condoned. Mr. Grundy seems to have advised the hapless young man to take shelter in the Church, where the influence of his father and his mother's relatives might help him along; but, as Branwell said, he had not a single qualification, "save, perhaps hypocrisy." Parson's sons rarely have a great idea of the Church. The energy, self-denial, and endurance which a clergyman ought to possess were certainly not in Branwell's line. Besides, how could he take his degree? Montgomery, it seems, recommended him to make trial of literature. "All very well, but I have little conceit of myself and great desire for activity. You say that you write with feelings similar to those with which you last left me; keep them no longer. I trust I am somewhat changed, or I should not be worth a thought; and though nothing could ever give me your buoyant spirits and an outward man corresponding therewith, I may, in dress and appearance, emulate something like ordinary decency. And now, wherever coming years may lead—Greenland's snows or sands of Afric—I trust, etc. 9th June, 1842."
It is doubtful, judging from Branwell's letters and his verses, whether anything much better than his father's 'Cottage in the Wood' would have resulted from his following the advice of James Montgomery. Fluent ease, often on the verge of twaddle, with here and there a bright, felicitous touch, with here and there a smack of the conventional hymn-book and pulpit twang—such weak and characterless effusions are all that is left of the passion-ridden pseudo-genius of Haworth. Real genius is perhaps seldom of such showy temperament.
Poor Branwell! it needed greater strength than his to retrieve that first false step into ruin. He cannot help himself, and can find no one to help him; he appeals again to Mr. Grundy (in a letter which must, from internal evidence, have been written about this time, although a different and impossible year is printed at its heading):—
"I cannot avoid the temptation to cheer my spirits by scribbling a few lines to you while I sit here alone, all the household being at church—the sole occupant of an ancient parsonage among lonely hills, which probably will never hear the whistle of an engine till I am in my grave.
"After experiencing, since my return home, extreme pain and illness, with mental depression worse than either, I have at length acquired health and strength and soundness of mind, far superior, I trust, to anything shown by that miserable wreck you used to know under my name. I can now speak cheerfully and enjoy the company of another without the stimulus of six glasses of whisky. I can write, think and act with some apparent approach to resolution, and I only want a motive for exertion to be happier than I have been for years. But I feel my recovery from almost insanity to be retarded by having nothing to listen to except the wind moaning among old chimneys and older ash-trees—nothing to look at except heathery hills, walked over when life had all to hope for and nothing to regret with me—no one to speak to except crabbed old Greeks and Romans who have been dust the last five [sic] thousand years. And yet this quiet life, from its contrast, makes the year passed at Luddendenfoot appear like a nightmare, for I would rather give my hand than undergo again the grovelling carelessness, the malignant, yet cold debauchery, the determination to find out how far mind could carry body without both being chucked into hell, which too often marked my conduct when there, lost as I was to all I really liked, and seeking relief in the indulgence of feelings which form the blackest spot in my character.
"Yet I have something still left me which may do me service. But I ought not to remain too long in solitude, for the world soon forgets those who have bidden it 'good-bye.' Quiet is an excellent cure, but no medicine should be continued after a patient's recovery, so I am about, though ashamed of the business, to dun you for answers to ——.
"Excuse the trouble I am giving to one on whose kindness I have no claim, and for whose services I am offering no return except gratitude and thankfulness, which are already due to you. Give my sincere regards to Mr. Stephenson. A word or two to show you have not altogether forgotten me will greatly please,
Alas, no helping hand rescued the sinking wretch from the quicksands of idle sensuality which slowly engulfed him! Yet, at this time, there might have been hope, had he been kept from evil. Deliver himself he could not. His "great desire for activity" seems to have had to be in abeyance for some months, for on the 25th of October he is still at Haworth. He then writes to Mr. Grundy again. The letter brings us up to the time when—in the cheerless morning—Charlotte and Emily set out on their journey homewards; it reveals to us how much real undeserved suffering must have been going on side by side with Branwell's purposeless miseries in the grey old parsonage at Haworth. The good methodical old maiden aunt—who for twenty years had given the best of her heart to this gay affectionate nephew of hers—had come down to the edge of the grave, having waited long enough to see the hopeless fallacy of all her dreams for him, all her affection. Branwell, who was really tender-hearted, must have been sobered then.
He writes to Mr. Grundy in a sincere and manly strain:—
"MY DEAR SIR,
"There is no misunderstanding. I have had a long attendance at the death-bed of the Rev. Mr. Weightman, one of my dearest friends, and now I am attending at the death-bed of my Aunt, who has been for twenty years as my mother. I expect her to die in a few hours.
"As my sisters are far from home, I have had much on my mind, and these things must serve as an apology for what was never intended as neglect of your friendship to us.
"I had meant not only to have written to you, but to the Rev. James Martineau, gratefully and sincerely acknowledging the receipt of his most kindly and truthful criticism—at least in advice, though too generous far in praise—but one sad ceremony must, I fear, be gone through first. Give my most sincere respects to Mr. Stephenson, and excuse this scrawl; my eyes are too dim with sorrow to see well. Believe me, your not very happy, but obliged friend and servant,
"P. B. BRONTE."
But not till three days later the end came. By that time Anne was home to tend the woman who had taken her, a little child, into her love and always kept her there. Anne had ever lived gladly with Miss Branwell; her more dejected spirit did not resent the occasional oppressions, the little tyrannies, which revolted Charlotte and silenced Emily. And, at the last, all the constant self-sacrifice of those twenty years, spent for their sake in a strange and hated country, would shine out, and yet more endear the sufferer to those who had to lose her.
On the 29th of October Branwell again writes to his friend:—
"MY DEAR SIR,
"As I don't want to lose a real friend, I write in deprecation of the tone of your letter. Death only has made me neglectful of your kindness, and I have lately had so much experience with him, that your sister would not now blame me for indulging in gloomy visions either of this world or of another. I am incoherent, I fear, but I have been waking two nights witnessing such agonising suffering as I would not wish my worst enemy to endure; and I have now lost the pride and director of all the happy days connected with my childhood. I have suffered such sorrow since I last saw you at Haworth, that I do not now care if I were fighting in India, or —— since, when the mind is depressed, danger is the most effectual cure."
Miss Branwell was dead. All was over: she was buried on a Tuesday morning, before Charlotte and Emily, having travelled night and day, got home. They found Mr. Bronte and Anne sitting together, quietly mourning the customary presence to be known no more. Branwell was not there. It was the first time he would see his sisters since his great disgrace; he could not wait at home to welcome them.
Miss Branwell's will had to be made known. The little property that she had saved out of her frugal income was all left to her three nieces. Branwell had been her darling, the only son, called by her name; but his disgrace had wounded her too deeply. He was not even mentioned in her will.
[Footnote 10: 'Pictures of the Past.' F. H. Grundy.]
[Footnote 11: 'Pictures of the Past.']
[Footnote 12: 'Pictures of the Past.']
Suddenly recalled from what had seemed the line of duty, with all their future prospects broken, the three sisters found themselves again at Haworth together. There could be no question now of their keeping a school at Burlington; if at all, it must be at Haworth, where their father could live with them. Miss Branwell's legacies would amply provide for the necessary alterations in the house; the question before them was whether they should immediately begin these alterations, or first of all secure a higher education to themselves.
At all events one must stay at home to keep house for Mr. Bronte. Emily quickly volunteered to be the one. Her offer was welcome to all; she was the most experienced housekeeper. Anne had a comfortable situation, which she might resume at the end of the Christmas holidays, and Charlotte was anxious to get back to Brussels.
It would certainly be of advantage to their school, that cherished dream now so likely to come true, that the girls should be able to teach German, and that one of them at least should speak French with fluency and well. Monsieur Heger wrote to Mr. Bronte when Charlotte and Emily left, pointing out how much more stable and enduring their advantages would become, could they continue for another year at Brussels. "In a year," he says, "each of your daughters would be completely provided against the future; each of them was acquiring at the same time instruction and the science to instruct. Mademoiselle Emily has been learning the piano, receiving lessons from the best master that we have in Brussels, and already she had little pupils of her own; she was therefore losing at the same time a remainder of ignorance, and one, more embarrassing still, of timidity. Mademoiselle Charlotte was beginning to give lessons in French, and was acquiring that assurance and aplomb so necessary to a teacher. One year more, at the most, and the work had been completed, and completed well."
Emily, as we know, refused the lure. Once at Haworth, she was not to be induced, by offer of any advantages, to quit her native heath. On the other hand, Charlotte desired nothing better. Hers was a nature very capable of affection, of gratitude, of sentiment. It would have been a sore wrench to her to break so suddenly with her busy, quiet life in the old mansion, Rue d'Isabelle. Almost imperceptibly she had become fast friends with the place. Mary Taylor had left, it is true, and bright, engaging Martha slept there, too sound to hear her, in the Protestant cemetery. But in foreign, heretic, distant Brussels there were calling memories for the downright, plain little Yorkshire woman. She could not choose but hear. The blackavised, tender-hearted, fiery professor, for whom she felt the reverent, eager friendship that intellectual girls often give to a man much older than they; the doctor's family; even Madame Beck; even the Belgian schoolgirls—she should like to see them all again. She did not perhaps realise how different a place Brussels would seem without her sister. And it would certainly be an advantage for the school that she should know German. For these, and many reasons, Charlotte decided to renounce a salary of L50 a year offered her in England, and to accept that of L16 which she would earn in Brussels.
Thus it was determined that at the end of the Christmas holidays the three sisters were again to be divided. But first they were nearly three months together.
Branwell was at home. Even yet at Haworth that was a pleasure and not a burden. His sisters never saw him at his worst; his vehement repentance brought conviction to their hearts. They still hoped for his future, still said to each other that men were different from women, and that such strong passions betokened a nature which, if once directed right, would be passionately right. They did not feel the miserable flabbiness of his moral fibre; did not know that the weak slip down when they try to stand, and cannot march erect. They were both too tender and too harsh with their brother, because they could not recognise what a mere, poor creature was this erring genius of theirs.
Thus, when the first shock was over, the reunited family was most contented. Lightly, naturally, as an autumn leaf, the old aunt had fallen out of the household, her long duties over; and they—though they loved and mourned her—they were freer for her departure. There was no restraint now on their actions, their opinions; they were mistresses in their own home. It was a happy Christmas, though not free from burden. The sisters, parted for so long, had much experience to exchange, many plans to make. They had to revisit their old haunts on the moors, white now with snow. There were walks to the library at Keighley for such books as had been added during their absence. Ellen came to Haworth. Then, at the end of January 1843, Anne went back to her duties, and Charlotte set off alone for Brussels.
Emily was left behind with Branwell; but not for long. It must have been about this time that the ill-fated young man obtained a place as tutor in the house where Anne was governess. It appeared a most fortunate connection; the family was well known for its respectable position, came of a stock eminent in good works, and the sisters might well believe that, under Anne's gentle influence and such favouring auspices, their brother would be led into the way of the just.
Then Emily was alone in the grey house, save for her secluded father and old Tabby, now over seventy. She was not unhappy. No life could be freer than her own; it was she that disposed, she too that performed most of the household work. She always got up first in the morning and did the roughest part of the day's labour before frail old Tabby came down; since kindness and thought for others were part of the nature of this unsocial, rugged woman. She did the household ironing and most of the cookery. She made the bread; and her bread was famous in Haworth for its lightness and excellence. As she kneaded the dough, she would glance now and then at an open book propped up before her. It was her German lesson. But not always did she study out of books; those who worked with her in that kitchen, young girls called in to help in stress of business, remember how she would keep a scrap of paper, a pencil, at her side, and how, when the moment came that she could pause in her cooking or her ironing, she would jot down some impatient thought and then resume her work. With these girls she was always friendly and hearty—"pleasant, sometimes quite jovial like a boy," "so genial and kind, a little masculine," say my informants; but of strangers she was exceedingly timid, and if the butcher's boy or the baker's man came to the kitchen door she would be off like a bird into the hall or the parlour till she heard their hob-nails clumping down the path. No easy getting sight of that rare bird. Therefore, it may be, the Haworth people thought more of her powers than of those of Anne or Charlotte, who might be seen at school any Sunday. They say: "A deal o' folk thout her th' clever'st o' them a', hasumiver shoo wur so timid, shoo cudn't frame to let it aat."
For amusements she had her pets and the garden. She always fed the animals herself: the old cat; Flossy, Anne's favourite spaniel; Keeper, the fierce bulldog, her own constant, dear companion, whose portrait, drawn by her spirited hand, is still extant. And the creatures on the moor were all, in a sense, her pets and familiar with her. The intense devotion of this silent woman to all manner of dumb creatures has something pathetic, inexplicable, almost deranged. "She never showed regard to any human creature; all her love was reserved for animals," said some shallow jumper at conclusions to Mrs. Gaskell. Regard and help and staunch friendliness to all in need was ever characteristic of Emily Bronte; yet between her nature and that of the fierce, loving, faithful Keeper, that of the wild moor-fowl, of robins that die in confinement, of quick-running hares, of cloud-sweeping, tempest-boding sea-mews, there was a natural likeness.
The silent-growing flowers were also her friends. The little garden, open to all the winds that course over Lees Moor and Stillingworth Moor to the blowy summit of Haworth Street—that little garden whose only bulwark against the storm was the gravestones outside the railing, the stunted thorns and currant-bushes within—was nevertheless the home of many sweet and hardy flowers, creeping up under the house and close to the shelter of the bushes. So the days went swiftly enough in tending her house, her garden, her dumb creatures. In the evenings she would sit on the hearthrug in the lonely parlour, one arm thrown round Keeper's tawny neck, studying a book. For it was necessary to study. After the next Christmas holidays the sisters hoped to reduce to practice their long-cherished vision of keeping school together. Letters from Brussels showed Emily that Charlotte was troubled, excited, full of vague disquiet. She would be glad, then, to be home, to use the instrument it had cost so much pains to perfect. A costly instrument, indeed, wrought with love, anguish, lonely fears, vanquished passion; but in that time no one guessed that, not the school-teacher's German, not the fluent French acquired abroad, was the real result of this terrible firing, but a novel to be called 'Villette.'
Emily then, "Mine bonnie love," as Charlotte used to call her, cannot have been quite certain of this dear sister's happiness; and as time went on Anne's letters, too, began to give disquieting tidings. Not that her health was breaking down; it was, as usual, Branwell whose conduct distressed his sisters. He had altered so strangely; one day in the wildest spirits, the next moping in despair, giving himself mysterious airs of importance, expressing himself more than satisfied with his situation, smiling oddly, then, perhaps, the next moment all remorse and gloom. Anne could not understand what ailed him, but feared some evil.
At home, moreover, troubles slowly increased. Old Tabby grew very ill and could do no work; the girl Hannah left; Emily had all the business of investing the little property belonging to the three sisters since Miss Branwell's death; worse still, old Mr. Bronte's health began to flag, his sight to fail. Worst of all—in that darkness, despair, loneliness—the old man, so Emily feared, acquired the habit of drinking, though not to excess, yet more than his abstemious past allowed. Doubtless she exaggerated her fears, with Branwell always present in her thoughts. But Emily grew afraid, alone at Haworth, responsible, knowing herself deficient in that controlling influence so characteristic of her elder sister. Her burden of doubt was more than she could bear. She decided to write to Charlotte.