Towards the end of January, the time came for Charlotte to return to
Brussels. Her journey thither was rather disastrous. She had to make her
way alone; and the
train from Leeds to London, which should have reached Euston-square early in the afternoon, was so much delayed that it did not get in till ten at night. She had
intended to seek out the Chapter Coffee-house, where she had stayed before, and which would have been near the place where the steam-boats lay; but she seems
to have been frightened by the idea of arriving at an hour which, to Yorkshire notions, was so late and unseemly; and taking a cab, therefore, at the station, she drove
straight to the London Bridge Wharf, and desired a waterman to row her to the Ostend packet, which was to sail the next morning. She described to me, pretty
much as she has since described it in Villette her sense of loneliness, and yet her strange pleasure in the excitement of the situation, as in the dead of that winter's
night she went swiftly over the dark river to the black hull's side, and was at first refused leave to ascend to the deck. "No passengers might sleep on board," they
said, with some appearance of disrespect. She looked back to the lights and subdued noises of London - that "Mighty Heart" in which she had no place - and,
standing up in the rocking boat, she asked to speak to some one in authority on board the packet. He came, and her quiet simple statement of her wish, and her
reason for it, quelled the feeling of sneering distrust in those who had first heard her request; and impressed the authority so favourably that he allowed her to come
on board, and take possession of a berth. The next morning she sailed; and at seven on Sunday evening she reached the Rue d'Isabelle once more; having only left
Haworth on Friday morning at an early hour.
Her salary was £16 a year; out of which she had to pay for her
German lessons, for which she was charged as much (the lessons being probably
rated by time) as
when Emily learnt with her and divided the expense; viz., ten francs a month. By Miss Brontë's own desire, she gave her English lessons in the classe, or
school-room, without the supervision of Madame or M. Héger. They offered to be present, with a view to maintain order among the unruly Belgian girls; but she
declined this, saying that she would rather enforce discipline by her own manner and character than be indebted for obedience to the presence of a gendarme. She
ruled over a new school-room, which had been built on the space in the play-ground adjoining the house. Over that First Class she was surveillante at all hours; and
henceforward she was called Mademoiselle Charlotte, by M. Héger's orders. She continued her own studies, principally attending to German, and to Literature; and
every Sunday she went alone to the German and English chapels. Her walks too were solitary, and principally taken in the allee defendue, where she was secure
from intrusion. This solitude was a perilous luxury to one of her temperament; so liable as she was to morbid and acute mental suffering.
On March 6th, 1843, she writes thus: -
"I am settled by this time, of course. I am not too much overloaded
with occupation; and besides teaching English, I have time to improve myself
in German. I ought
to consider myself well off, and to be thankful for my good fortunes. I hope I am thankful; and if I could always keep up my spirits, and never feel lonely, or long for
companionship, or friendship, or whatever they call it, I should do very well. As I told you before, M. and Madame Héger are the only two persons in the house for
whom I really experience regard and esteem, and, of course, I cannot be always with them, nor even very often. They told me, when I first returned, that I was to
consider their sitting-room my sitting-room also, and to go there whenever I was not engaged in the school-room. This, however, I cannot do. In the day-time it is a
public room, where music masters and mistresses are constantly passing in and out; and in the evening, I will not, and ought not to intrude on M. and Madame Héger
and their children. Thus I am a good deal by myself, out of school-hours; but that does not signify. I now regularly give English lessons to M. Héger and his
brother-in-law. They get on with wonderful rapidity; especially the first. He already begins to speak English very decently. If you could see and hear the efforts I
make to teach them to pronounce like Englishmen, and their unavailing attempts to imitate, you would laugh to all eternity.
"The Carnival is just over, and we have entered upon the gloom and abstinence
of Lent. The first day of Lent we had coffee without milk for breakfast;
vegetables, with a very little salt fish, for dinner; and bread for supper. The Carnival was nothing but masking and mummery. M. Héger took me and one of the
pupils into the town to see the masks. It was animating to see the immense crowds, and the general gaiety, but the masks were nothing. I have been twice to the
D.'s." (those cousins of Mary's of whom I have before made mention). "When she leaves Bruxelles, I shall have nowhere to go to. I have had two letters from Mary.
She does not tell me she has been ill, and she does not complain; but her letters are not the letters of a person in the enjoyment of great happiness. She has nobody
to be as good to her as M. Héger is to me; to lend her books; to converse with her sometimes, etc.
"Good-bye. When I say so, it seems to me that you will hardly hear me; all the waves of the Channel heaving and roaring between must deaden the sound."
From the tone of this letter it may easily be perceived that the Brussels
of 1843 was a different place from that of 1842. Then she had Emily for
a daily and nightly
solace and companion. She had the weekly variety of a visit to the family of the D.'s; and she had the frequent happiness of seeing Mary and Martha. Now Emily
was far away in Haworth - where she, or any other loved one, might die, before Charlotte, with her utmost speed, could reach them, as experience, in her aunt's
case, had taught her. The D.'s were leaving Brussels; so, henceforth, her weekly holiday would have to be passed in the Rue d'Isabelle, or so she thought. Mary was
gone off on her own independent course; Martha alone remained - still and quiet for ever, in the cemetery beyond the Porte de Louvain. The weather, too, for the
first few weeks after Charlotte's return, had been piercingly cold; and her feeble constitution was always painfully sensitive to an inclement season. Mere bodily pain,
however acute, she could always put aside; but too often ill-health assailed her in a part far more to be dreaded. Her depression of spirits, when she was not well,
was pitiful in its extremity. She was aware that it was constitutional, and could reason about it; but no reason prevented her suffering mental agony, while the bodily
cause remained in force.
The Hégers have discovered, since the publication of Villette,
that, at this beginning of her career as English teacher in their school,
the conduct of her pupils was
often impertinent and mutinous in the highest degree. But of this they were unaware at the time, as she had declined their presence, and never made any complaint.
Still, it must have been a depressing thought to her at this period, that her joyous, healthy, obtuse pupils, were so little answerable to the powers she could bring to
bear upon them; and though, from their own testimony, her patience, firmness, and resolution, at length obtained their just reward, yet, with one so weak in health
and spirits as she was, the reaction after such struggles as she frequently had with her pupils, must have been very sad and painful.
She thus writes to her friend E.: -
"Is there any talk of your coming to Brussels? During the bitter cold weather we had through February, and the principal part of March, I did not regret that you had
not accompanied me. If I had seen you shivering as I shivered myself, if I had seen your hands and feet as red and swelled as mine were, my discomfort would just
have been doubled. I can do very well under this sort of thing; it does not fret me; it only makes me numb and silent; but if you were to pass a winter in Belgium, you
would be ill. However, more genial weather is coming now, and I wish you were here. Yet I never have pressed you, and never would press you too warmly to
come. There are privations and humiliations to submit to; there is monotony and uniformity of life; and, above all, there in a constant sense of solitude in the midst of
numbers. The Protestant, the foreigner, is a solitary being, whether as teacher or pupil. I do not say this by way of complaining of my own lot; for though I
acknowledge that there are certain disadvantages in my present position, what position on earth is without them? And, whenever I turn back to compare what I am
with what I was - my place here with my place at Mrs. --'s for instance - I am thankful. There was an observation in your last letter which excited, for a moment, my
wrath. At first, I thought it would be folly to reply to it, and I would let it die. Afterwards, I determined to give one answer, once for all. 'Three or four people,' it
seems, 'have the idea that the future épouse of Mademoiselle Brontë is on the Continent.' These people are wiser than I am. They could not believe that I crossed the
sea merely to return as teacher to Madame Héger's. I must have some more powerful motive than respect for my master and mistress, gratitude for their kindness,
etc., to induce me to refuse a salary of £50 in England, and accept one of £16 in Belgium. I must, forsooth, have some remote hope of entrapping a husband
somehow, or somewhere. If these charitable people knew the total seclusion of the life I lead, that I never exchange a word with any other man than Monsieur
Héger, and seldom indeed with him, they would, perhaps, cease to suppose that any such chimerical and groundless notion had influenced my proceedings. Have I
said enough to clear myself of so silly an imputation? Not that it is a crime to marry, or a crime to wish to be married; but it is an imbecility, which I reject with
contempt, for women, who have neither fortune nor beauty, to make marriage the principal object of their wishes. and hopes, and the aim of all their actions; not to
be able to convince themselves that they are unattractive, and that they had better be quiet, and think of other things than wedlock."
The following is an extract from one of the few letters Which have been preserved, of her correspondence with her sister Emily.
"May 29, 1843.
"I get on here from day to day in a Robinson-Crusoe-like sort of way, very lonely, but that does not signify. In other respects, I have nothing substantial to complain
of, nor is this a cause for complaint. I hope you are well. Walk out often on the moors. My love to Tabby. I hope she keeps well."
And about this time she wrote to her father.
"June 2nd, 1843.
"I was very glad to hear from home. I had begun to get low-spirited at not receiving any news, and to entertain. indefinite fears that something was wrong. You do
not say anything about your own health, but I hope you are well, and Emily also. I am afraid she will have a good deal of hard work to - do now that Hannah (a
servant-girl. who had been assisting Tabby) "is gone. I am exceedingly glad to hear that you still keep Tabby" (considerably upwards of seventy). "It is an act of
great charity to her, and I do not think it will be unrewarded, for she is very faithful, and will always serve you, when she has occasion, to the best of her abilities;
besides, she will be company for Emily, who, without her, would be very lonely."
I gave a devoir; written after she had been four months under M. Héger's
tuition. I will now copy out another, written nearly a year later, during
which the progress
made appears to me very great.
"31 Mai, 1843.
"SUR LA MORT DE NAPOLEON
"Napoléon naquit en Corse at mourut à St. Hélène.
Entre ces deux îles rien qu'un vaste et brûlant désert
et l'océan immense. Il naquit fils d'un simple gentilhomme, et
mourut empereur, mais sans couronne et dans les fers. Entre son berçeau et sa tombe qu' y a-t-il? la carrière d'un soldat parvenu, des champs de bataille, une mer
de sang, un trône, puis du sang encore, et des fers. Sa vie, c'est l'arc en ciel; les deux points extrêmes touchent la terre; la comble lumineuse mesure les cieux. Sur
Napoléon au berceau une mère brillait; dans la maison paternelle il avait des frères et des soeurs; plus tard dans son palais il eut une femme qui l'aimait. Mais sur son
lit de mort Napoléon est seul; plus de mère, ni de frère, ni de soeur, ni de femme, ni d'enfant! D'autres ont dit et rediront ses exploits, moi, je m'arrête à contempler
l'abandonnement de sa dernière heure!
"Il est là, exilé et captif, enchaîné sur
un écuell. Nouveau Promethée il subit le châtiment
de son orgueil! Promethée avait voulu être Dieu et Créeateur;
il déroba le feu
du Ciel pour animer le corps qu'il avait formé. Et lui, Buonaparte, il a voulu créer, non pas un homme, mais un empire, et pour donner une existence, une âme, à son
oeuvre gigantesque, il n'a pas hésité à arracher la vie à des nations entières. Jupiter indigné de l'impiété de Promethée le riva vivant à la cime du Caucase. Ainsi, pour
punir l'ambition rapace de Buonaparte, la Providence l'a enchaîné jusqu'a ce que mort s'en suivit, sur un roc isolé de l'Atlantique. Peutêtre là aussi a-t-il senti lui
fouillant le flanc cet insatiable vautours dont parle la fable, peutêtre a-t-il souffert aussi cette soif du coeur, cette faim de l'âme, qui torturent l'exilé, loin de sa famille,
et de sa patrie. Mais parler ainsi n'est-ce pas attribuer gratuitement à Napoléon une humaine faiblesse qu'il n'éprouva jamais? Quand donc s'est-il laissé enchaîner
par un lien d'affection? Sans doute d'autres conquérants ont hésité dans leur carrière de gloire, arrétés par un obstacle d'amour ou d'amitié, retenus par la main d'une
femme, rappelés par la voix d'un ami - lui, jamais! Il n'eut pas besoin comme Ulysse, de se lier au mât du navire, ni de se boucher les oreilles avec de la cire; il ne
redoutait pas le chant des Sirènes-il le dédaignait; il se fit marbre et fer pour exécuter ses grands projets. Napoléon ne se regardait pas comme un homme, mais
comme l'incarnation d'un peuple. Il n'aimait pas; il ne considérait ses amis et ses proches que comme des instruments auxquels il tint, tant qu'ils furent utiles, et qu'il
jeta de côté quand ils cessèrent de l'être. Qu'on ne se permette donc pas d'approcher du Sépulchre du Corse, avec sentiments de pitié, ou de souiller de larmes la
pierre que couvre ses restes, son âme répudierait tout cela. On a dit, je le sais, qu'elle fut cruelle la main qui le sépara de sa femme, et de son enfant. Non, c'était une
main qui, comme la sienne, ne tremblait ni de passion ni de crainte, c'était la main d'un homme froid, convaincu, qui avait su deviner Buonaparte; et voici ce que disait
cet homme que la défaite n'a pu humilier, ni la victoire enorgueillir. 'Marie-Louise n'est pas la femme de Napoléon; c'est la France que Napoléon a épousée; c'est la
France qu'il aime, leur union enfante la perte de l'Europe; voila la divorce que je veux; voila l'union qu'il faut briser.'
"La voix des timides et des traitres protesta contre cette sentence.
' C'est abuser du droits de la victoire! C'est fouler aux pieds le vaincu!
Que l'Angleterre se montre
clémente, qu'elle ouvre ses bras pour recevoir comme hôte son ennemi désarmé.' L'Angleterre aurait peutêtre écouté ce conseil, car partout et toujours il y a des
âmes faibles et timorées bientôt séduites par la flatterie ou effrayées par le reproche. Mais la Providence permit qu'un homme se trouvât qui n'a jamais su ce que
c'est que la crainte; qui aima sa patrie mieux que sa renommée; impénétrable devant les menaces, inaccessible aux louanges, il se présenta devant le conseil de la
nation, et levant son front tranquille et haut, il osa dire: "Que la trahison se taise! car c'est trahir que de conseiller de temporiser avec Buonaparte. Moi je sais ce que
sont ces guerres dont l'Europe saigne encore, comme une victime sous le couteau du boucher. Il faut en finir avec Napoléon Buonaparte. Vous vous effrayez de tort
d'un mot si dur! Je n'ai pas de magnanimité, dit-on? Soit! que m'importe ce qu'on dit de moi. Je n'ai pas ici à me faire une réputation de héros magnanime, mais à
guérir si la cure est possible, l'Europe qui se meurt, épuisée de ressources et de sang, l'Europe dont vous négligez les vrais intérêts, préoccupés que vous êtes d'une
vaine renommée de clémence. Vous êtes faibles. Eh bien! je viens vous aider. Envoyez Buonaparte à Ste. Héléne! n'hésitez pas, ne cherchez pas un autre endroit;
c'est le seul convenable. Je vous le dis, j'ai réfléchi pour vous; c'est là qu'il doit être et non pas ailleurs. Quant à Napoléon, homme, soldat, je n'ai rien contre lui; c'est
un Lion Royal, auprès de qui vous n'êtes que des Chacals. Mais Napoléon Empereur, c'est autre chose, je l'extirperai du sol de l'Europe.' Et celui qui parla ainsi
toujours su garder sa promesse, celle-là, comme toutes les autres. Je l'ai dit, et je le répète, cet homm est l'égal de Napoléon par la génie; comme trempe de
caractére, comme droiture, comme élévation de pensée et de but, il est d'une tout autre espéce. Napoléon Buonaparte était avide de renommée et de gloire; Arthur
Wellesley ne se soucie ni de l'une, ni de l'autre; 1'opinion publique, la popularité, étaient choses de grand valeur aux yeux de Napoléon; pour Wellington l'opinion
publique est une rumeur, un rien que le souffle de son inflexible volonté fait disparaître comme une bulle de savon. Napoléon flattait le peuple; Wellington le brusque;
l'un cherchait les applaudissements, l'autre ne se soucie que du témoignage de sa conscience; quand elle approuve, c'est assez; toute autre louange l'obsède. Aussi ce
peuple, qui adorait Buonaparte, s'irritait, s'insurgeait contre la morgue de Wellington; parfois il lui témoigna sa colère et sa haine par des grognements, par des
hurlements de bêtes fauves; et alors avec une impassibilité de sénateur Romaine, le moderne Coriolan, torsait du regard l'émeute furieuse; il croisait ses bras nerveux
sur sa large poitrine, et seul, debout sur son seuil, il attendait, il bravait cette tempête populaire dont les flots venaient mourir à quelques pas de lui: et quand la foule
honteuse de sa rébellion, venait lécher les pieds du maître, le hautain patricien méprisait 1'hommage d'aujourd'hui comme la haine d'hier, et dans les rues de Londres,
et devant son palais ducal d'Apsley, il repoussait d'un genre plein de froid dédain l'incommode empressement du peuple enthousiaste. Cette fierté néanmoins
n'excluait pas en lui une rare modestie; partout il se soustrait à l'éloge; se dérobe au panégyrique; jamais il ne parle de ses exploits, et jamais il ne souffre qu'un autre
que lui en parle en sa présence. Son caractere égale en grandeur et surpasse en vérité celui de tout autre héros ancien ou moderne. La gloire de Napoléon crût en
une nuit, comme la vigne de Jonah, et il suffit d'un jour pour la flétrir; la gloire de Wellington est comme les vieux chênes qui ombragent le château de ses pères sur
les rives du Shannon; le chêne croît lentement; il lui faut du temps pour pousser vers le ciel ses branches noueusses, et pour enfoncer dans le sol, ces racines
profondes qui s'enchevêtrent dans les fondements solides de la terre; mais alors, l'arbre séculaire, inébranlable comme le roc où il a sa base, brave et la faux du
temps et l'effort des vents et des tempêtes. Il faudra peutêtre un siècle à l'Angleterre pour qu'elle connaisse la valeur de son héros. Dans un siècle, l'Europe entière
saura combien Wellington a de droit à sa reonnaissance."
How often in writing this paper "in a strange land," must Miss Brontë
have thought of the old childish disputes in the kitchen of Haworth parsonage,
respective merits of Wellington and Buonaparte! Although the title given to her devoir is, "On the Death of Napoléon," she seems yet to have considered it a point of
honour rather to sing praises to an English hero than to dwell on the character of a foreigner, placed as she was among those who cared little either for England or for
Wellington. She now felt that she had made great progress towards obtaining proficiency in the French language, which had been her main object in coming to
Brussels. But to the zealous learner "Alps on Alps arise." No sooner is one difficulty surmounted than some other desirable attainment appears, and must be laboured
after. A knowledge of German now became her object; and she resolved to compel herself to remain in Brussels till that was gained. The strong yearning to go home
came upon her; the stronger self-denying will forbade. There was a great internal struggle; every fibre of her heart quivered in the strain to master her will; and, when
she conquered herself, she remained, not like a victor calm and supreme on the throne, but like a panting, torn, and suffering victim. Her nerves and her spirits gave
way. Her health became much shaken.
"Brussels, August 1st, 1843.
"If I complain in this letter, have mercy and don't blame me, for, I forewarn you, I am in low spirits, and that earth and heaven are dreary and empty to me at this
moment. In a few days our vacation will begin; everybody is joyous and animated at the prospect, because everybody is to go home. I know that I am to stay here
during the five weeks that the holidays last, and that I shall be much alone during that time, and consequently get downcast, and find both days and nights of a weary
length. It is the first time in my life that I have really dreaded the vacation. Alas! I can hardly write, I have such a dreary weight at my heart; and I do so wish to go
home. Is not this childish? Pardon me, for I cannot help it. However, though I am not strong enough to bear up cheerfully, I can still bear up; and I will continue to
stay (D. V.) some .months. longer, till I have acquired German; and then I hope to see all your faces again. Would that the vacation were well over! it will pass so
slowly. Do have the Christian charity to write me a long, long letter; fill it with the minutest details; nothing will be uninteresting. Do not think it is because people are
unkind to me that I wish to leave Belgium; nothing of the sort. Everybody is abundantly civil, but home-sickness keeps creeping over me. I cannot shake it off.
Believe me, very merrily, vivaciously, gaily, yours,
The grandes vacances began soon after the date of this letter, when
she was left in the great deserted pensionnat, with only one teacher for
a companion. This
teacher, a Frenchwoman, had always been uncongenial to her; but, left to each other's sole companionship, Charlotte soon discovered that her associate was more
profligate, more steeped in a kind of cold, systematic sensuality, than she had before imagined it possible for a human being to be; and her whole nature revolted
from this woman's society. A low nervous fever was gaining upon Miss Brontë. She had never been a good sleeper, but now she could not sleep at all. Whatever
had been disagreeable, or obnoxious, to her during the day, was presented when it was over with exaggerated vividness to her disordered fancy. There were causes
for distress and anxiety in the news from home, particularly as regarded Branwell. In the dead of the night, lying awake at the end of the long deserted dormitory, in
the vast and silent house, every fear respecting those whom she loved, and who were so faroff in another country, became a terrible reality, oppressing her and
choking up the very life-blood in her heart. Those nights were times of sick, dreary, wakeful misery; precursors of many such in after years.
In the day-time, driven abroad by loathing of her companion and by the
weak restlessness of fever, she tried to walk herself into such a state
of bodily fatigue as
would induce sleep. So she went out, and with weary steps would traverse the Boulevards and the streets, sometimes for hours together; faltering and resting
occasionally on some of the many benches placed for the repose of happy groups, or for solitary wanderers like herself. Then up again - anywhere but to the
pensionnat - out to the cemetery where Martha lay - out beyond it, to the hills whence there is nothing to be seen but fields as far as the horizon. The shades of
evening made her retrace her footsteps - sick for want of food, but not hungry; fatigued with long continued exercise - yet restless still, and doomed to another
weary, haunted night of sleeplessness. She would thread the streets in the neighbourhood of the Rue d'Isabelle, and yet avoid it and its occupant, till as late an hour
as she dared be out. At last, she was compelled to keep her bed for some days, and this compulsory rest did her good. She was weak, but less depressed in spirits
than she had been, when the school re-opened, and her positive practical duties recommenced.
She writes thus -
"October 13, 1843.
"Mary is getting on well, as she deserves to do. I often hear from her. Her letters and yours are one of my few pleasures. She urges me very much to leave Brussels
and go to her; but, at present, however tempted to take such a step, I should not feel justified in doing so. To leave a certainty for a complete uncertainty, would be
to the last degree imprudent. Notwithstanding that, Brussels is indeed desolate to me now. Since the D.'s left, I have had no friend. I had, indeed, some very kind
acquaintances in the family of a Dr. --, but they too are gone now. They left in the latter part of August, and I am completely alone. I cannot count the Belgians
anything. It is a curious position to be so utterly solitary in the midst of numbers. Sometimes the solitude oppresses me to an excess. One day, lately, I felt as if I
could bear it no longer, and I went to Madame Héger, and gave her notice. If it had depended on her, I should certainly have soon been at liberty; but M. Héger,
having heard of what was in agitation, sent for me the day after, and pronounced with vehemence his decision, that I should not leave. I could not, at that time, have
persevered in my intention without exciting him to anger; so I promised to stay a little while longer. How long that will be, I do not know. I should not like to return to
England to do nothing. I am too old for that now; but if I could hear of a favourable opportunity for commencing a school, I think I should embrace it. We have as
yet no fires here, and I suffer much from cold; otherwise, I am well in health. Mr. -- will take this letter to England. He is a pretty-looking and pretty behaved young
man, apparently constructed without a backbone; by which I don't allude to his corporal spine, which is all right enough, but to his character.
"I get on here after a fashion; but now that Mary D. has left Brussels,
I have nobody to speak to, for I count the Belgians as nothing. Sometimes
I ask myself how
long shall I stay here; but as yet I have only asked the question; I have not answered it. However, when I have acquired as much German as I think fit, I think I shall
pack up bag and baggage, and depart. Twinges of home-sickness cut me to the heart, every now and then. To-day the weather is glaring, and I am stupefied with a
bad cold and headache. I have nothing to tell you. One day is like another in this place. I know you, living in the country, can hardly believe it is possible life can be
monotonous in the centre of a brilliant capital like Brussels; but so it is. I feel it most on holidays, when all the girls and teachers go out to visit, and it sometimes
happens that I am left, during several hours, quite alone, with four great desolate school-rooms at my disposition. I try to read, I try to write; but in vain. I then
wander about from room to room, but the silence and loneliness of all the house weighs down one's spirits like lead. You will hardly believe that Madame Héger
(good and kind as I have described her) never comes near me on these occasions. I own, I was astonished the first time I was left alone thus; when everybody else
was enjoying the pleasures of a fête day with their friends, and she knew I was quite by myself, and never took the least notice of me. Yet, I understand, she praises
me very much to everybody, and says what excellent lessons I give. She is not colder to me than she is to the other teachers; but they are less dependent on her than
I am. They have relations and acquaintances in Bruxelles. You remember the letter she wrote me, when I was in England? How kind and affectionate that was? is it
not odd? In the meantime, the complaints I make at present are a sort of relief which I permit myself. In all other respects I am well satisfied with my position, and
you may say so to people who inquire after me (if any one does). Write to me, dear, whenever you can. You do a good deed when you send me a letter, for you
comfort a very desolate heart."
One of the reasons for the silent estrangement between Madame Héger
and Miss Brontë, in the second year of her residence at Brussels,
is to be found in the fact,
that the English Protestant's dislike of Romanism increased with her knowledge of it, and its effects upon those who professed it; and when occasion called for an
expression of opinion from Charlotte Brontë, she was uncompromising truth. Madame Héger, on the opposite side, was not merely a Roman Catholic, she was
dévote. Not of a warm or impulsive temperament, she was naturally governed by her conscience, rather than by her affections; and her conscience was in the hands
of her religious guides. She considered any slight thrown upon her Church as blasphemy against the Holy Truth; and, though she was not given to open expression of
her thoughts and feelings, yet her increasing coolness of behaviour showed how much her most cherished opinions had been wounded. Thus, although there was
never any explanation of Madame Héger's change of manner, this may be given as one great reason why, about this time, Charlotte was made painfully conscious of
a silent estrangement between them; an estrangement of which, perhaps, the former was hardly aware. I have before alluded to intelligence from home, calculated to
distress Charlotte exceedingly with fears respecting Branwell, which I shall speak of more at large when the realisation of her worst apprehensions came to affect the
daily life of herself and her sisters. I allude to the subject again here, in order that the reader may remember the gnawing, private cares, which she had to bury in her
own heart; and the pain of which could only be smothered for a time under the diligent fulfilment of present duty. Another dim sorrow was faintly perceived at this
time. Her father's eyesight began to fail; it was not unlikely that he might shortly become blind; more of his duty must devolve on a curate, and Mr. Brontë, always
liberal, would have to pay at a higher rate than he had heretofore done for this assistance.
She wrote thus to Emily: -
"Dec. 1st, 1843.
"This is Sunday morning. They are at their idolatrous 'messe,' and I am here, that is in the Refectoire. I should like uncommonly to be in the dining-room at home, or
in the kitchen, or in the back kitchen. I should like even to be cutting up the hash, with the clerk and some register people at the other table, and you standing by,
watching that I put enough flour, not too much pepper, and, above all, that I save the best pieces of the leg of mutton for Tiger and Keeper, the first of which
personages would be jumping about the dish and carving-knife, and the latter standing like a devouring flame on the kitchen-floor. To complete the picture, Tabby
blowing the fire, in order to boil the potatoes to a sort of vegetable glue! How divine are these recollections to me at this moment! Yet I have no thought of coming
home just now. I lack a real pretext for doing so: it is true this place is dismal to me, but I cannot go home without a fixed prospect when I get there; and this
prospect must not be a situation; that would be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. You call yourself idle! absurd, absurd! . . . Is papa well? Are you well? and
Tabby? You ask about Queen Victoria's visit to Brussels. I saw her for an instant flashing through the Rue Royale in a carriage and six, surrounded by soldiers. She
was laughing and talking very gaily. She looked a little stout, vivacious lady, very plainly dressed, not much dignity or pretension about her. The Belgians liked her
very well on the whole. They said she enlivened the sombre court of King Leopold, which is usually as gloomy as a conventicle. Write to me again soon. Tell me
whether papa really wants me very much to come home, and whether you do likewise. I have an idea that I should be of no use there - a sort of aged person upon
the parish. I pray, with heart and soul, that all may continue well at Haworth; above all in our grey half-inhabited house. God bless the walls thereof! Safety, health,
happiness, and prosperity to you, papa, and Tabby. Amen.
Towards the end of this year (1843) various reasons conspired with the
causes of anxiety which have been mentioned, to make her feel that her
absolutely and imperatively required at home, while she had acquired all that she proposed to herself in coming to Brussels the second time; and was, moreover, no
longer regarded with the former kindliness of feeling by Madame Héger. In consequence of this state of things, working down with sharp edge into a sensitive mind,
she suddenly announced to that lady her immediate intention of returning to England. Both M. and Madame Héger agreed that it would be for the best, when they
learnt only that part of the case which she could reveal to them - namely, Mr. Brontë's increasing blindness. But as the inevitable moment of separation from people
and places, among which she had spent so many happy hours, drew near, her spirits gave way; she had the natural presentiment that she saw them all for the last
time, and she received but a dead kind of comfort from being reminded by her friends that Brussels and Haworth were not so very far apart; that access from one
place to the other was not so difficult or impracticable as her tears would seem to predicate; nay, there was some talk of one of Madame Héger's daughters being
sent to her as a pupil if she fulfilled her intention of trying to begin a school. To facilitate her success in this plan, should she ever engage in it, M. Héger gave her a
kind of diploma, dated from, and sealed with the seal of the Athénée Royale de Bruxelles, certifying that she was perfectly capable of teaching the French language,
having well studied the grammar and composition thereof, and, moreover, having prepared herself for teaching by studying and practising the best methods of
instruction. This certificate is dated December 29th, 1843, and on the 2nd of January, 1844, she arrived at Haworth.
On the 23rd of the month she writes as follows: -
"Every one asks me what I am going to do, now that I am returned home;
and every one 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 M. Héger cost me. It grieved
me so much to grieve him
who has been so true, kind, and disinterested a friend. At parting he gave me a kind of diploma certifying my abilities as a teacher, sealed with the seal of the
Athenee Royal, of which he is professor. I was surprised also at the degree of regret expressed by my Belgian pupils, when they knew I was going to leave. I did not
think it had been in their phlegmatic nature. . . . I do not know whether you feel as I do, but there are times now when it appears to me as if all my ideas and feelings,
except a few friendships and affections, are changed from what they used to be; something in me, which used to be enthusiasm, is tamed down and broken. I have
fewer illusions; what I wish for now is active exertion - a stake in life. 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. It is,
however, my duty to restrain this feeling at present, and I will endeavour to do so."
Of course her absent sister and brother obtained a holiday to welcome
her return home, and in a few weeks she was spared to pay a visit to her
friend at B. But she
was far from well or strong, and the short journey of fourteen miles seems to have fatigued her greatly.
Soon after she came back to Haworth, in a letter to one of the household
in which she had been staying, there occurs this passage: - "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." These few words relate to points in the characters of the two sisters,
which I must dwell upon a little. Charlotte was more than commonly tender in her treatment of all dumb creatures, and they, with that fine instinct so often noticed,
were invariably attracted towards her. The deep and exaggerated consciousness of her personal defects - the constitutional absence of hope, which made her slow
to trust in human affection, and consequently slow to respond to any manifestation of it - made her manner shy and constrained to men and women, and even to
children. We have seen something of this trembling distrust of her own capability of inspiring affection, in the grateful surprise she expresses at the regret felt by her
Belgian pupils at her departure. But not merely were her actions kind, her words and tones were ever gentle and caressing, towards animals; and she quickly noticed
the least want of care or tenderness on the part of others towards any poor brute creature. The readers of Shirley may remember that it is one of the tests which the
heroine applies to her lover.
"Do you know what soothsayers I would consult?" . . . ". . . The little
Irish beggar that comes barefoot to my door; the mouse that steals out
of the cranny in my
wainscot; the bird in frost and snow that pecks at my window for a crumb; the dog that licks my hand and sits beside my knee. . . . I know somebody to whose
knee the black cat loves to climb, against whose shoulder and cheek it likes to purr. The old dog always comes out of his kennel and wags his tail, and whines
affectionately when somebody passes." [For "somebody" and "he," read "Charlotte Brontë" and "she."] "He quietly strokes the cat, and lets her sit while he
conveniently can; and when he must disturb her by rising, he puts her softly down, and never flings her from him roughly: he always whistles to the dog, and gives him
The feeling, which in Charlotte partook of something of the nature of
an affection, was, with Emily, more of a passion. Some one speaking of
her to me, in a careless
kind of strength of expression, said, "she never showed regard to any human creature; all her love was reserved for animals." The helplessness of an animal was its
passport to Charlotte's heart; the fierce, wild, intractability of its nature was what often recommended it to Emily. Speaking of her dead sister, the former told me that
from her many traits in Shirley's character were taken; her way of sitting on the rug reading, with her arm round her rough bull-dog's neck; her calling to a strange
dog, running past, with hanging head and lolling tongue, to give it a merciful draught of water, its maddened snap at her, her nobly stern presence of mind, going right
into the kitchen, and taking up one of Tabby's red-hot Italian irons to sear the bitten place, and telling no one, till the danger was well-nigh over, for fear of the terrors
that might beset their weaker minds. All this, looked upon as a well-invented fiction in Shirley, was written down by Charlotte with streaming eyes; it was the literal
true account of what Emily had done. The same tawny bull-dog (with his "strangled whistle"), called "Tartar" in Shirley, was "Keeper" in Haworth parsonage; a gift
to Emily. With the gift came a warning. Keeper was faithful to the depths of his nature as long as he was with friends; but he who struck him with a stick or whip,
roused the relentless nature of the brute, who flew at his throat forthwith, and held him there till one or the other was at the point of death. Now Keeper's household
fault was this. He loved to steal up-stairs, and stretch his square, tawny limbs, on the comfortable beds, covered over with delicate white counterpanes. But the
cleanliness of the parsonage arrangements was perfect; and this habit of Keeper's was so objectionable, that Emily, in reply to Tabby's remonstrances, declared that,
if he was found again transgressing, she herself, in defiance of warning and his well-known ferocity of nature, would beat him so severely that he would never offend
again. In the gathering dusk of an autumn evening, Tabby came, half triumphant, half trembling, but in great wrath, to tell Emily that Keeper was lying on the best bed,
in drowsy voluptuousness. Charlotte saw Emily's whitening face, and set mouth, but dared not speak to interfere; no one dared when Emily's eyes glowed in that
manner out of the paleness of her face, and when her lips were so compressed into stone. She went upstairs, and Tabby and Charlotte stood in the gloomy passage
below, full of the dark shadows of coming night. Down-stairs came Emily, dragging after her the unwilling Keeper, his hind legs set in a heavy attitude of resistance,
held by the "scuft of his neck," but growling low and savagely all the time. The watchers would fain have spoken, but durst not, for fear of taking off Emily's attention,
and causing her to avert her head for a moment from the enraged brute. She let him go, planted in a dark corner at the bottom of the stairs; no time was there to
fetch stick or rod, for fear of the strangling clutch at her throat - her bare clenched fist struck against his red fierce eyes, before he had time to make his spring, and,
in the language of the turf, she "punished him" till his eyes were swelled up, and the half-blind, stupefied beast was led to his accustomed lair, to have his swelled head
fomented and cared for by the very Emily herself. The generous dog owed her no grudge; he loved her dearly ever after; he walked first among the mourners to her
funeral; he slept moaning for nights at the door of her empty room, and never, so to speak, rejoiced, dog fashion, after her death. He, in his turn, was mourned over
by the surviving sister. Let us somehow hope, in half Red Indian creed, that he follows Emily now; and, when he rests, sleeps on some soft white bed of dreams,
unpunished when he awakens to the life of the land of shadows.
Now we can understand the force of the words, "Our poor little cat is
dead. Emily is sorry."