Emily Bronte (Robinson 1883)/Chapter 9

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Emily Brontë  (1883)  by A. Mary F. Robinson
Chapter IX. The Recall



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. Brontë. 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 Héger wrote to Mr. Brontë 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 £50 a year offered her in England, and to accept that of £16 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 Brontë; 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. Brontë'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 that she could bear. She decided to write to Charlotte.

On the 2nd of January, 1844, Charlotte arrived at Haworth.

On the 23rd of the month she wrote to her friend:—
"Everyone asks me what I am going to do now that I am returned home, and everyone seems to expect that I should immediately commence a school. In truth it is what I should wish to do. I desire it above all things, I have sufficient money for the undertaking, and I hope now sufficient qualifications to give me a fair chance of success; yet I cannot yet permit myself to enter upon life—to touch the object which seems now within my reach, and which I have been so long straining to attain. You will ask me why? It is on papa's account; he is now, as you know, getting old; and it grieves me to tell you that he is losing his sight. I have felt for some months that I ought not to be away from him, and I feel now that it would be too selfish to leave him (at least as long as Branwell and Anne are absent) in order to pursue selfish interests of my own. With the help of God, I will try to deny myself in this matter, and to wait.

"I suffered much before I left Brussels. I think, however long I live, I shall not forget what the parting with Monsieur Héger cost me. It grieved me so much to grieve him who has been so true, kind, disinterested a friend ..... Haworth seems such a lonely quiet spot, buried away from the world. I no longer regard myself as young, indeed, I shall soon be twenty-eight; and it seems as if I ought to be working, and braving the rough realities of the world, as other people do——." [1]

Wait, eager Charlotte, there are in store for you enough and to spare of rude realities, enough of working and braving, in this secluded Haworth. No need to go forth in quest of dangers and trials. The air is growing thick with gloom round your mountain eyrie. High as it is, quiet, lonely, the storms of heaven and the storms of earth have found it out, to break there.

  1. Mrs. Gaskell