فصل 02

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کتاب های ساده

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

Cowan Bridge School

I was born in a small house in Ireland. There were only two rooms in our house, and I had nine brothers and sisters. My parents were very poor. We had no money, and only a small farm. But we did have a church near us, and that church had a school.

That school gave me my one chance of success. I worked very hard there, and when I was sixteen, I became a teacher. Then I went to St John’s College, Cambridge, to study some more. I became a curate. When I married, I was able to get a good job and a house for my family. I got all that because I worked so hard at school.

I wanted my children to go to the best school that I could find. Cowan Bridge School was a school for the daughters of churchmen. It belonged to a churchman - Mr Wilson. He was a good man, I thought. I liked the school, and it was not too expensive. So, in July 1824, I took Maria and Elizabeth there. In September, I took Charlotte and, in November, Emily as well. Emily was just six then, and Charlotte was eight.

I remember how quiet the house was that autumn. In the evenings I taught my son, Branwell, and my wife’s sister looked after the youngest child, Anne. I often thought about the girls. My eldest, Maria, was a good, clever girl - I thought she must be the best pupil in the school. I waited for her letters, and wondered what new things she was learning.

She did tell me some things in her letters, but not enough. She told me she liked the schoolwork, and I was pleased. But she did not tell me about the food, or the cold, or the unkind teachers. Charlotte told me those things, much later. I know Maria did not tell me that the food was often burnt and uneatable, or that they could not sleep because the beds were too cold. She did not tell me that the poor hungry children had to wash with ice in the morning, and walk through wet snow to sit for two hours with icy feet in a cold church on Sundays. She did not tell me that many of the children at the school were ill.

You didn’t tell me that, did you, Maria? Did you? Or did you try to write something, and stop because you were afraid of the teachers? You were a good, brave child, and I was so proud of you, so pleased because you were at school. I wanted you to learn everything; I didn’t want you to be poor like my sisters. God help me, I thought you were happy at Cowan Bridge School!

There were no Christmas holidays at the school, and it was too difficult to travel over the cold, windy hills to visit my little girls. So I sat at home here in Haworth, with Aunt Branwell, my son, and the little girl, Anne. Outside, the wind blew snow over the gravestones, and there was ice on our windows.

On Christmas Day little Anne looked lonely. She asked me about her sisters.

‘Don’t worry, my dear,’ I said. ‘They are happy, with the other girls at school. You shall go to Cowan Bridge, too, when you are older.’

I remember how strangely she looked at me then. She was only four, and very pretty. She smiled at me, but her face went very white, and her hands started to shake. I don’t know why. I thought she was cold, and I put some more wood on the fire. Then Aunt Branwell read her a story from the Bible, and I forgot about it.

In February a letter came. It was in an adult’s handwriting, not Maria’s. Dear Mr Bronte, it said. I am afraid I have some bad news for you. Many children in the school have been ill, and your daughter Maria…

My hand began to shake badly, and I dropped the letter on the floor. As I picked it up, I could see only one word - dead… If your daughter Maria does not come home soon, she will be dead.

I went over the hills to bring her back. My Maria was in a small bed in a cold room upstairs, coughing badly. Elizabeth and Charlotte and Emily stood beside her, waiting for me. They looked so sad and ill and frightened. I remember the big eyes in their small white faces. But I did not bring them home then; the school doctor said it was not necessary. So I took Maria home across the cold, windy moors to Haworth. I sat beside her in the coach and held her hand all the way. I remember how cold her hand was in mine. Thin cold fingers, that did not move at all.

It was too late to save her. She lay in bed upstairs for nearly three months, but she was too ill to eat. Her poor face was white, I remember, and it seemed thin and small like a dead child’s. Only her eyes looked alive - big dark eyes in a thin white face. ‘Don’t cry, father,’ she said to me once. ‘I shall be with mother soon, you know. And with God.’

I buried Maria beside her mother, and a month later I buried Elizabeth there, too. She became ill at school, and a woman from the school brought her home. I brought Charlotte and Emily home two weeks later. They were here when Elizabeth died. Her body lay all night in a wooden box on the table, and her little sisters and brother kissed her before she was buried.

I had wanted so much for these two girls, and now I had nothing. I stood in the church, and looked at the summer flowers I had put on their grave. I remembered how my wife had held the girls in her arms, and how she had smiled at me when we looked at them. ‘They have come back to you now, Maria,’ I said. ‘I am sorry. I am so sorry, my love.’

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