Emily Bronte (Robinson 1883)/Chapter 10

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Emily Brontë  (1883)  by A. Mary F. Robinson
Chapter X. The Prospctuses.



Gradually Charlotte's first depression wore away. Long discussions with Emily, as they took their walks over the moors, long silent brooding of ways and means, as they sat together in the parlour making shirts for Branwell, long thinking, brought new counsel. She went, moreover, to stay with her friend Ellen, and the change helped to restore her weakened health. She writes to her friend:—

"March 25

"Dear Nell,

"I got home safely and was not too much tired on arriving at Haworth. I feel rather better to-day than I have been, and in time I hope to regain more strength. I found Emily and papa well, and a letter from Branwell intimating that he and Anne are pretty well too. Emily is much obliged to you for the seeds you sent. She wishes to know if the Sicilian pea and the crimson cornflower are hardy flowers, or if they are delicate and should be sown in warm and sheltered situations. Write to me to-morrow and let me know how you all are, if your mother continues to get better. . . . .

"Good morning, dear Nell, I shall say no more to you at present.

"C. Brontë."

"Monday morning.

"Our poor little cat has been ill two days and is just dead. It is piteous to see even an animal lying lifeless. Emily is sorry."

Side by side with all these lighter cares went on the schemes for the school. At last the two sisters determined to begin as soon as they saw a fair chance of getting pupils. They began the search in good earnest; but fortunately, postponed the necessary alterations in the house until they had the secure promise of, at any rate, three or four. Then their demands lessened as day by day that chance became more difficult and fainter. In early summer Charlotte writes: "As soon as I can get a chance of only one pupil, I will have cards of terms printed and will commence the repairs necessary in the house. I wish all to be done before the winter. I think of fixing the board and English education at £25 per annum."

Still no pupil was heard of, but the girls went courageously on, writing to every mother of daughters with whom they could claim acquaintance. But, alas, it was the case with one, that her children were already at school in Liverpool, with another that her child had just been promised to Miss C., with a third that she thought the undertaking praiseworthy, but Haworth was so very remote a spot. In vain did the girls explain that from some points of view the retired situation was an advantage; since, had they set up school in some fashionable place, they would have had house-rent to pay, and could not possibly have offered an excellent education for £25 a year. Parents are an expectant people. Still, every lady promised to recommend the school to mothers less squeamish, or less engaged; and, knowing how well they would show themselves worthy of the chance, once they had obtained it, Charlotte and Emily took heart to hope.

The holidays arrived and still nothing was settled. Anne came home and helped in the laying of schemes and writing of letters—but, alas, Branwell also came home, irritable, extravagant, wildly gay, or gloomily moping. His sisters could no longer blind themselves to the fact that he drank, drank habitually, to excess. And Anne had fears—vague, terrible, foreboding—which she could not altogether make plain.

By this time they had raised the charge to £35, considering, perhaps, that their first offer had been so low as to discredit their attempt. But still they got no favourable answers. It was hard, for the girls had not been chary of time, money, or trouble to fit themselves for their occupation. Looking round they could count up many schoolmistresses far less thoroughly equipped. Only the Brontës had no interest.

Meanwhile Branwell amused himself as best he could. There was always the "Black Bull," with its admiring circle of drink-fellows, and the girls who admired Patrick's courteous bow and Patrick's winning smile. Good people all, who little dreamed how much vice, how much misery they were encouraging by their approbation. Mr. Grundy, too, came over now and then to see his old friend. "I knew them all," he says—"The father, upright, handsome, distantly courteous, white-haired, tall; knowing me as his son's friend, he would treat me in the Grandisonian fashion, coming himself down to the little inn to invite me, a boy, up to his house, where I would be coldly uncomfortable until I could escape with Patrick Branwell to the moors. The daughters—distant and distrait, large of nose, small of figure, red of hair (!), prominent of spectacles; showing great intellectual development, but with eyes constantly cast down, very silent, painfully retiring. This was about the time of their first literary adventures, say 1843 or 1844." [1]

But of literary adventure there was at present little thought. The school still occupied their thoughts and dreams. At last, no pupil coming forward, some cards of terms were printed and given for distribution to the friends of Charlotte and Anne; Emily had no friends. There are none left of them, those pitiful cards of terms never granted ; records of such unfruitful hopes. They have fitly vanished, like the ghosts of children never born; and quicker still to vanish was the dream that called them forth. The weeks went on, and every week of seven letterless mornings, every week of seven anxious nights, made the sisters more fully aware that notice and employment would not come to them in the way they had dreamed ; made them think it well that Branwell's home should not be the dwelling of innocent children.

Anne went back to her work leaving the future as uncertain as before.

In October Charlotte, always the spokeswoman, writes again to her friend and diligent helper in this matter:—

"Dear Nell,

"I, Emily, and Anne are truly obliged to you for the efforts you have made in our behalf; and if you have not been successful you are only like ourselves. Everyone wishes us well; but there are no pupils to be had. We have no present intention, however, of breaking our hearts on the subject; still less of feeling mortified at our defeat. The effort must be beneficial, whatever the result may be, because it teaches us experience and an additional knowledge of this world.

"I send you two additional circulars, and will send you two more, if you desire it, when I write again."

Those four circulars also came to nothing; it was now more than six months since the three sisters had begun their earnest search for pupils: more than three years since they had taken for the ruling aim of their endeavours the formation of this little school. Not one pupil could they secure; not one promise. At last they knew that they were beaten.

In November Charlotte writes again to Ellen:—

"We have made no alterations yet in our house. It would be folly to do so while there is so little likelihood of our ever getting pupils. I fear you are giving yourself too much trouble on our account.

"Depend on it, if you were to persuade a mama to bring her child to Haworth, the aspect of the place would frighten her, and she would probably take the dear girl back with her instanter. We are glad that we have made the attempt, and we will not be cast down because it has not succeeded."[2]

There was no more to be said, only to put carefully by, as one puts by the thoughts of an interrupted marriage, all the dreams that had filled so many months only to lay aside in a drawer, as one lays aside the long sewn at garments of a still-born child, the plans drawn out for the builder, the printed cards, the lists of books to get; only to face again a future of separate toil among strangers, to renounce the vision of a home together.

  1. 'Pictures of the Past.'
  2. Mrs. Gaskell.