فصل 08

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فصل 08

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CHAPTER EIGHT

The best days, and the worst days

Emily and Anne did know, of course. They had known about Charlotte’s book for a long time. Jane Eyre was not the first book that Charlotte had sent to a publisher. Over a year ago she had written another book, The Professor, and sent it to one publisher after another. Each publisher had sent it back, in a packet addressed to Currer Bell. And then Charlotte had sent it, in the same old packet, to another publisher, and then another, and got it back again.

‘Why didn’t you change the paper on the packet, my dear?’ I asked.

Charlotte smiled. ‘I didn’t think of it, papa. The worst day was when we were in Manchester, going to the eye doctor. Do you remember? The packet came back then. That was the day before I started writing Jane Eyre.’

‘Do you mean that you started writing Jane Eyre while I was lying in that dark room in Manchester?’

‘That’s right, papa.’

‘But that’s only six months ago, and here is the book in my hand!’

‘Yes, papa. The book was printed a month after I sent it to the publisher.’

‘My dear! They decided very quickly that they liked it, then!’

‘I think they did, papa. After all, it is a good book, isn’t it?’

She smiled at me. I don’t think I have ever seen her so happy. She is a very small person, Charlotte, and not a beautiful woman; but when she smiles like that, her face shines like a fine painting. My wife, Maria, used to look like that sometimes when I first met her.

I took her hand in mine. ‘It is a very good book, my dear. I cannot tell you how proud I am.’

She touched my hand. ‘Thank you, papa. But you must not be proud of me alone, you know. Anne and Emily-‘

‘Oh no, Charlotte, please!’ Emily said.

But Charlotte did not stop. ‘… Anne and Emily have written books too - books just as good as mine - and their books will soon be published as well! Let me introduce you, papa. These young ladies are not your daughters - they are Acton Bell and Ellis Bell, brothers of the famous writer Currer Bell!’

Emily’s face was bright red, but Anne and Charlotte started laughing. I was very surprised.

‘All three of you!’ I said. ‘But… but why do you use these strange names?’

‘Because people are stupid, papa,’ Anne said. ‘No one thinks women can write good books, so we have used men’s names instead. And now they say that Currer Bell is a writer who understands women very well!’ She laughed again.

‘My dears, my dears!’ I held out my hands to them, and kissed each of them in turn, ‘I don’t know what to say. I am so pleased for you all. You have made your old papa happy today.’ Something in Emily’s face stopped me. ‘Emily? You will let me read your book, won’t you?’

She thought for a moment. ‘Yes, papa. Of course. But… it’s very different from Charlotte’s. I’m not sure you’ll like it.’

‘You yourself are very different from Charlotte, my dear, but I love you both. You must show me the book as soon as it comes - and you too, Anne.’

I read both their books that winter. They were very different. Anne’s book - Agnes Grey - was the story of an unhappy governess. As I read it, I was sad to think how miserable Anne had been, in a big house away from home, where no one understood her. It was a good book, but it was harder to read than Jane Eyre.

Emily’s book was called Wuthering Heights. It was a terrible, frightening, wonderful story. There is love in it, and hate, and fear, and a man called Heathcliff, who is strong and cruel like the devil himself. I read it late one night when the wind was screaming round the house, blowing snow against all the windows, and sometimes I was afraid. When I got up to go to bed, I saw Emily sitting quietly by the fire. She was stroking her big dog, Keeper, with one hand, and drawing a picture with the other.

She looked like a quiet, gentle young woman, I thought. Tall, pretty, and also… There was something different about her. Something very strange and very strong. There was something in her that was stronger than any of her sisters, even Charlotte. Something stronger than even me, or her brother Branwell.

Much stronger than Branwell.

All that year Branwell was very ill. He spent more and more time drinking. He slept most of the day, and was awake half of the night. His face was white, his hands shook when he tried to write. His sisters didn’t tell him about their books, or show him the new ones that they were writing. They were afraid that he would be unhappy about their success, because he had wanted to be a writer himself. He made life hard for all of us.

In September 1848 he became very ill. He coughed all day and all night. He began to talk of death, and asked us to pray with him. While we stood together, praying, he began to cough again. He fell to the ground. Emily and I put our arms round him, but he couldn’t get up. There was blood on his mouth, and on Emily’s dress.

When he stopped coughing, it was because he had stopped breathing. My only son was dead.

We buried him in the church beside his mother and little sisters. It was a cold, rainy afternoon. There were dead wet leaves in the graveyard, and the wind blew rain into our faces. I came back into the house soon afterwards, but Emily walked for an hour or two in the rain with her dog, Keeper. When she came back into the house, her dress was wet through.

Several days later Emily became ill. Her face was hot, she couldn’t eat, she kept moving round the house. It was difficult for her to breathe, and it took her a long time to climb the stairs. Charlotte felt her heart - it was beating a hundred and fifteen times a minute.

‘Let me call a doctor, Emily,’ Charlotte said.

But Emily refused. ‘If he comes, I won’t talk to him.’

‘Then go to bed and rest, please. I can light a fire in your room, and bring you milk and read to you if you like. You need rest, sister!’

‘I… do… not!’ said Emily slowly. She had to breathe hard between each word, and her face was as white as Branwell’s had been. ‘My body… doesn’t… matter now. I don’t… care… about it. I’ll live… as I always… have.’

And so, every day, she got up at seven o’clock, dressed herself, and stayed downstairs until ten at night. She ate little or nothing, and coughed for hours. Sometimes she coughed blood. She never went out of the house, but one day Charlotte brought some heather from the moors for her to look at. Emily was lying on the black sofa in the sitting-room. Her dog, Keeper, lay on the floor in front of her.

‘Look, Emily,’ Charlotte said. ‘I’ve found some purple heather for you. There are still one or two flowers left on the moor.’

‘Where?’ Emily asked.

‘Here. Look.’ Charlotte held out the small, bright purple flower.

Emily turned and looked at Charlotte, but I don’t think she could see the heather. Her eyes were too bad. Charlotte put it in Emily’s hands, but after a moment Emily dropped it on the floor.

At last she said: ‘Charlotte, I… will see… the doctor now. If he… comes.’ Then she closed her eyes.

Emily was so thin, and her white skin looked like paper. I knew it was too late, but I said to Anne: ‘Quick! Put on your coat and fetch him, now!’

We did not have long to wait.

The doctor came, half an hour later, to tell us what we already knew. Emily, my daughter, was dead.

1848 was a year of funerals. I buried many children from the village that year. There was a lot of sadness in Haworth. As I came out of the church with the dead flowers from Emily’s grave, I saw three other families walk past me. They had come to visit the graves of their own dead children.

The people understood that their children were with God, but no one could explain that to Emily’s dog, Keeper. He followed us to her funeral, and for weeks afterwards, he lay outside her bedroom and howled.

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