فصل 07

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فصل 07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell

At about this time, in 1845, I was almost blind. I had a new curate to do my work - Arthur Nicholls, a young man of twenty-eight. He came from Northern Ireland like myself. He was a good, hard worker. I spoke in the church on Sundays, but Arthur Nicholls did the rest of my work.

Branwell became worse and worse. Mr Robinson died in 1846, but Mrs Robinson didn’t marry Branwell - oh no! She was a cold wicked woman. She sent my son Branwell away, and later married a rich old man. And so Branwell spent more and more time drinking, and taking laudanum, and walking alone on the moors.

When you are blind, you listen to things very carefully. I used to sit alone in my room and listen to the sounds of the wind outside the house. The wind talks and whispers and sings - it has many voices. I listened to the sounds of the clock on the stairs, and the wood in the fire, and the footsteps and voices of the girls walking round the house. They talked a lot to each other, and sometimes I could hear what they said, even when they were in another room.

Anne had had a poem published in a magazine, and one day I heard a conversation between Charlotte and Emily. Charlotte had found something that Emily had written, and was talking to her about it.

‘But they’re wonderful, Emily,’ Charlotte said. ‘They’re much better than mine or Anne’s.’

‘They’re not for people to read,’ Emily said. ‘They’re part of the Gondal story. Nobody would understand them, except me and Anne.’

I realized that they were talking about some poems of Emily’s. I knew that Emily and Anne wrote a lot about the country of Gondal, but I didn’t know much about it. Emily kept all her papers locked in her desk.

Charlotte was arguing with her. ‘Emily, listen to me! These are fine poems. I think we should put some of them in a book, together with mine and Anne’s, and try to publish it. People should read them!’

‘No!’ Emily shouted. Then her dog Keeper began to bark, and I didn’t hear any more. But I think they talked about this again several times. I often heard voices arguing, and usually they never argued about their writing.

I wanted to tell them not to do it. I had published several small books myself, but I always lost money. I had to pay the publisher to print the books, and not many people bought them. It’s an easy way to lose money. But I was too ill, so I said nothing.

I learnt, many years later, that they paid over 30 pounds to have a book of poems printed, and that it sold two copies. I am not surprised that they didn’t tell me about it; we had very little money in our house.

I began to feel that there was something wrong with my head, as well as my eyes. Several times the postman brought an old packet to our house, which was addressed to a man called Currer Bell. I told him that no Currer Bell lived in Haworth, and sent him away. But then, a month or two later, he came back again, with the same old packet.

In the summer of 1846 Charlotte took me to see an eye doctor in Manchester. We stayed in rooms in the town. The doctor decided to operate on my eyes, and the next morning we got up early. I was afraid. Could I hold my head still while the doctor cut into my eyes with a knife? Perhaps the pain would be too terrible. Perhaps I would move, or stand up, or…

Charlotte held my hand. As we left our rooms, we met a postman.

‘Good morning, Miss,’ he said. ‘There’s a packet here for Currer Bell.’

‘Oh… thank you.’ Charlotte sounded sad, but she took the packet, and put it in her room. She did not open it. Then we walked to the eye doctor’s.

The pain was terrible, but it was over in fifteen minutes, and I didn’t move. Afterwards, I had to lie on a bed in a dark room. We couldn’t go home for a month. A nurse came sometimes, but Charlotte stayed with me all day.

I asked her once about the packet. She said: ‘Oh, it’s for a friend of mine, papa. It had a letter for me in it. I have posted it away again now.’

I didn’t understand, but I didn’t ask again. I lay quietly on my bed most of the day, and Charlotte sat in the next room writing. She wrote very fast, for many hours, and never put her pen down once. She seemed quiet, but strangely happy.

I was happy too. The doctor had helped; I could see again. It was wonderful - the colours, the shapes of everything were beautiful. When we came back to Haworth, I could see everything clearly at last - our home, the church, the graveyard, the moors, the faces of my Emily and Anne!

And Branwell.

Branwell’s face looked terrible. White, thin, with big dark eyes and untidy hair. His clothes were dirty, he smelt, his hands shook. All the time he was either shouting or crying. And always, every day, he asked me for money.

I let him sleep in my room at night, and he kept me awake for hours talking about Mrs Robinson. I remembered his paintings, his stories, his happy childish laughter. My fine, clever son had become a drunken animal.

The winter of 1846 was terribly cold. The wind blew snow around the house and over the gravestones. A lot of children died in the village. Anne was ill, Branwell was worse. We lit fires in all the rooms, but there was ice inside the windows in the mornings. I spent most of my time with Branwell, so I didn’t think very much about the girls.

And then, one afternoon, Charlotte came into my room. I was sitting here, in this same chair, beside the fire. She had a book in her hand, and that strange, happy look on her face.

‘Papa,’ she said. ‘I’ve been writing a book.’

I smiled. ‘Have you, my dear?’ I thought she had written another little book about Angria.

‘Yes, and I want you to read it.’

‘Oh, I’m afraid it will hurt my eyes too much.’ My eyes were much better, but the tiny writing in the Angria books was too small for me.

‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘It’s not in my handwriting; it is printed.’ She held out the book in her hand.

‘My dear! Think how much it will cost! You will almost certainly lose money, because no one will buy it! No one knows your name!’

‘I don’t think so, father. I didn’t pay to get it printed, you know. The publishers paid me. Listen to what people say about it in these magazines.’

She sat down, and read to me from some of the most famous magazines in England. There were long articles in them, about a book called Jane Eyre, by Currer Bell. They were kind articles; most of the magazine writers liked the book.

‘This Currer Bell, then,’ I asked. ‘Is it you?’

Charlotte laughed. ‘Yes, papa. It’s a man’s name, with the same first letters: CB - Charlotte Bronte, Currer Bell.’

She gave me the book, and went out. I began to read.

I think I read for two hours, but it seemed like ten minutes. It was a wonderful, beautiful book-the story of a little girl called Jane Eyre. Her parents are dead, so she lives with an unkind aunt and her children. Then Jane goes away to a school called Lowood. This school is a terrible place, and it is very like the school at Cowan Bridge. Jane Eyre’s best friend, Helen Burns, falls ill at the school, and dies. This Helen is just like my own little Maria. When I read about her death, my eyes filled with tears. But it was a beautiful book, too; I did not want to put it down.

At five o’clock I got up and went into the sitting-room. My three daughters sat there waiting for me. Their eyes were very bright. I still had tears in my eyes, but I had a big smile on my face too. I held up Jane Eyre in my hand, and said: ‘Girls, do you know Charlotte has written a book? And it is more than good, you know - it is very, very fine indeed!’

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