The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë
by Laura Joh Rowland
There are certain events that have the power to ravage lives
and alter the fate of nations, yet they transpire
unnoticed by the general public and leave no
record because their history is a secret locked within the minds of the
few mortals involved. Such were the events that I, Charlotte
in the year of 1848.
have sworn to take the secret to my grave, and to speak any
word of it would bring censure, scandal, and disgrace upon
myself and betray a sacred
trust. Still, my knowledge burns inside me like a fire under pressure that
must find release or shatter the fragile vessel of my being. I cannot bear
that the most singular episode of my own history should go untold.
It occurred at a time when my life held meaning and promise, and I had the
companionship of persons most beloved to me. We struggled, suffered, and finally
triumphed together, as if fulfilling the highest purpose of our existence.
But now, as I write, a year has since passed, and my companions are gone. Stripped
and bereaved, I spend night after night in terrible solitude, haunted by memories.
I have decided that I must record the events of that summer—come what
may—and although I know not whether anyone will ever read what I write,
it shall be my tribute to the valor of those whose loss I mourn. Let these
pages survive them, that they shall not fade into obscurity as their mortal
remains disintegrate into dust. The fantastic narrative which I am about to
commence is the truth as I know it, and I shall be as candid as the truth requires.
God is my ultimate witness, and I beg His forgiveness if I say anything to
story does not begin with me, nor at the time and place that I innocently
stumbled into the events that transformed my life. It begins on the other side
of the world, in Canton, the port of foreign trade in southern China. The date
is 14 May, 1841. My pen now depicts a twilight sky swollen with storm clouds
above British warships on the river outside Canton. Their tall, square sails
heave like dragon wings in the tropical wind; cannons and guns on the decks
thunder, bombarding the waterfront. The Chinese Imperial Army returns fire
from forts and watch towers on the riverbank and from war junks. Flames consume
docks and warehouses on shore. The turbulent water reflects the blaze, gleaming
crimson as if layered with blood. Smoke drifts toward the wall surrounding
Canton's Old City, inside which crowds of Chinese stampede through alleys on
a desperate flight from the attack. Ruffians loot abandoned shops; renegade
soldiers brawl in the street outside an estate belonging to a high imperial
incident that precipitated everything which befell me occurred within this
estate, a complex of courtyards and gardens surrounding a mansion. Precisely
what happened there that night is known only to persons no longer able to speak,
but I shall recreate the terrible drama and hope that speculation based on
facts will not compromise the truth.
the mansion, a woman named Beautiful Jade huddles in her chamber on a carved
bed draped with satin curtains. She wears multicolored silk robes;
tinsel ornaments sparkle in her black hair. Her slim arms encircle her two
daughters, small versions of herself. Who they are, and what connection they
have with me, will emerge in good time. Their delicate faces pinched with fright,
the three listen to the rioting in the streets and the constant gunfire. The
bitter fumes of gunpowder mingle with the scent of flowers in the garden. Beautiful
Jade fears that the battle will rage until Canton lies in ruins and everyone
inside it is dead. All the estate's guards and servants have fled. She longs
to follow suit and take her beloved children away from danger, but her husband
has told them to stay inside until he returns, and she is an obedient wife.
She prays that they will be safe and the barbarians won't break through the
loud crash outside startles Beautiful Jade. She looks through the window.
The night glows with the ruddy, fitful light of a sky reflecting fire. Beautiful
Jade hears rapid footsteps in the courtyard; erelong, she sees shadows moving
in the garden, where palm trees rustle. The footsteps mount the stairs to the
veranda, and the door creaks open. Comprehension spreads an icy terror through
Beautiful Jade. The barbarians have invaded Canton. They are here!
scrambles off the bed, tugging her daughters with her. Five men burst through
the doorway, one bearing a torch that splays flame light onto the chamber
walls. They are not foreigners but Chinese ruffians dressed in ragged clothes
and straw hats. Each carries a long knife. As her daughters squeal in fright,
she asks who the men are and what they want. They command her to tell them
where her husband is. When she replies that she doesn't know, they rampage
around the chamber, hurling vases to the floor, overturning tables, smashing
chairs, ripping down tapestries. The children scream, clinging to Beautiful
Jade. Again, the men demand her husband's whereabouts. Yet even had she known,
Beautiful Jade could not have betrayed him.
Now two ruffians grab the girls. Aghast, Beautiful Jade holds tight to them,
but the men drag them away from her. The girls sob while she begs the men not
to hurt them. Another ruffian lashes out at her with his knife—she
screams. The blade cuts through her robe, searing pain across her bosom. Faint
with horror, mouth agape, she clasps her hands over the welling blood. The
knife slashes again. Beautiful Jade flings up her arms and feels the blade
slicing open her flesh. Desperate, she stumbles away from her tormentor, but
he keeps coming and slashing. Beyond him she sees her daughters helplessly
flailing in their captors' grasp. They shrill in a high pitched chorus that
pierces her heart. She falls to her knees, bleeding from countless cuts, weeping
in pain and terror, crying in vain for help.
the last sounds she heard the thunder of cannons from the attacking ships
and her daughters' screams?
know not what these three innocent victims actually thought or perceived,
but I do know that their throats were cut, their bodies mutilated. As to why
they were slain, and what were the consequences, the facts became apparent
during my own part of the story, which began seven years thence.
Charlotte Brontë, July
With a tale spinner's sleight of hand I advance the calendar—the
date is now Friday 7 July 1848. I revolve the globe of the world and sight
upon my home village of Haworth, in the North of England. Reader, I present
for you a picture of Haworth on the morning of that fateful day when my adventures
began. The sun, glinting from between cloud masses in the vast, cerulean Yorkshire
sky, illuminates the ancient stone houses that line the steep, stone paved
main street. Shopkeepers scrub their doorsteps; a farmer herds a flock of sheep,
and village women carry baskets past a horse drawn cart piled high with raw
wool. At the top of Church Lane, past the church, and isolated at the highest
point in the village, stands the parsonage, a two storied house built of gray
brick, roofed with stone flags, and flanked by graveyards. Beyond the parsonage
lie the moors—undulating hills, cloaked in gray green heather,
shading into the far horizon.
Inside the parsonage, I was sweeping the hall when I heard a thud outside.
Puzzled, I set aside the broom and opened the door. My younger brother Branwell
toppled toward me and crashed at my feet, sprawling across the threshold.
"Branwell," I said,
peering with consternation at him through my spectacles.
He pushed himself to his knees
and smiled jauntily up at me. "Ah, my
dear sister Charlotte," he said, slurring the words. "How convenient
that you should be here just in time to welcome me home."
As I regarded his bleary eyes
and livid complexion, his disheveled clothes and shaggy auburn hair, I smelled
rank fumes of whisky. "You have been
drinking again." I felt the anger, disgust, and helplessness that Branwell's
inebriation always occasioned in me. "And you promised you would not."
"It was just a little tipple down at the Black Bull Inn," Branwell
protested, clambering to his feet. "Life gets unbearably dull hereabouts,
and surely you wouldn't deny me a bit of amusement now and then?"
"Except that it isn't only now and then." I shut the door more
firmly than was necessary. "And it's not just the drink. You've taken
laudanum, haven't you?" Branwell had, alas, degenerated into a habitual
user of that tincture of opium dissolved in spirits.
"I'm sorry, Charlotte," Branwell said, "but I was so in need
of comfort." A coughing fit wracked his thin body. "Can you not see
how miserable I am? Please forgive me."
Reluctant compassion quenched my anger as I observed my brother. He was only
thirty one but looked a decade older, his once handsome features haggard. Still,
I could see in him a vestige of the robust, bright eyed boy who'd been my favorite
"You had better go upstairs before Papa sees you like this," I said.
The door of the study opened,
and out stepped our father. Though in his seventies, Papa was still an imposing
figure—over six feet tall, white haired, stern
featured and proud of posture. Beneath his black clerical garb he wore a voluminous
white silk cravat wound high around his neck to protect him from drafts and
prevent bronchitis. He squinted at Branwell through the spectacles perched
on his prominent nose, and a look of anxious confusion came over his face.
"I thought you were asleep upstairs," he said to Branwell. "When
did you leave? Were you gone all night?"
Branwell hung his head; his
coughs subsided into wheezes. "Not all night.
I just slipped out for a few hours. That's God's honest truth."
"It is a sin to deceive," Papa said, frowning in reproach, "and
shameful of you to invoke God as your accomplice."
My younger sisters, Emily and
Anne, appeared in the parlor doorway. Anne, neat and unobtrusive as always,
held a cloth with which she'd been dusting
furniture; when she saw Branwell, distress clouded her violet eyes and gentle
features. "Oh, dear," she murmured.
Emily pushed up her leg of mutton sleeves. Always indifferent to her appearance,
she stubbornly clung to that outmoded style of dress. She'd been canning blackberry
preserves, and purple stains blotched her apron. Heat had frizzed her brown
hair and flushed her long face, and that day she looked even more wild and
singular than usual. Tall and lanky, she glared at Branwell. She had lost tolerance
for the sickness, the convulsive fits, and unpredictable moods that Branwell
inflicted upon our household.
"Well, have you all gotten a proper look at me?" Branwell said
with sudden belligerence. Our servant, Martha Brown, entered the hall, and
Branwell's hostile stare included her. "Then I believe I shall go to bed.
I'm all done in."
Reeling toward the stairs, he stumbled. Emily grudgingly stepped forward
and helped me assist him up the stairs. Papa and Anne followed us past the
family portrait painted by Branwell. He had, while young, possessed artistic
talent, and Papa had sacrificed much money to buy him painting lessons. All
of us had wished Branwell to attend the Royal Academy, but his ambitions and
our dreams had come to naught. Now Branwell began to weep.
"Lydia, my distant, darling Lydia," he keened. "My
love for you has ruined me!"
Six years ago, Branwell had become a tutor to the son of the Reverend and
Mrs. Robinson at Thorpe Green Hall, near York. Lydia Robinson, a lascivious
woman of forty, had seduced Branwell. He had fallen madly in love with her,
and they'd conducted a torrid affair until her husband had discovered it and
dismissed Branwell. Ever since then, Branwell had pined for Lydia, drowning
his woes in liquor. What a sorry waste he and that terrible woman had made
of his life!
Emily and I dragged Branwell into the bedroom he shared with Papa. Anne turned
down the coverlet of Branwell's bed and pulled out the pillows he'd arranged
to trick our father. Emily and I heaved Branwell onto the bed.
"None of you understand how I suffer," he moaned as Emily tugged
off his shoes. "You've never loved and lost as I have!"
With great self control, I forbore to remind him that our father had many
years ago lost his beloved wife, and we our mother. Emily, stern and unrelenting,
went downstairs without a word, but Anne tenderly arranged the coverlet over
"Oh, Anne, don't fuss so," Branwell cried. "Lord,
I wish you would all go away!"
Chastened, Anne crept out
of the room. Papa sat beside Branwell. "We
must pray for God to forgive your sins and give you the strength to reform."
"I can't bear another sermon now," Branwell said in a tone of rising
hysteria, "and besides, there's no use moralizing, Father; it's too late,
it's all over with me."
Stifling a sigh, I left the room. I knew I ought to finish sweeping then
visit parishioners suffering from the hard times that had fallen upon the country.
Yet the tedious routine of my days oppressed me so that I succumbed to the
powerful urge to escape to my other life, the secret existence known to but
three other people besides myself.
Furtively, I slipped into
the small room above the front hall. Near its window stood a battered desk.
I took from my pocket a key, then unlocked and opened
the desk drawer. I lifted out a book entitled, "Agnes Grey, a novel by
Acton Bell." Opening it to the title page, I read the handwritten inscription: "To
my dear sister Charlotte, with much love, Anne Brontë."
In another book, "Wuthering
Heights, by Ellis Bell," Emily had
simply penned her signature. I then took up my own book, and pride swelled
within me as I caressed the gilt lettering that read, "Jane Eyre, by Currer
Bell." Almost ten months had passed since its publication, but I felt
the same ecstatic thrill as when I'd first held it in my hands. I could still
hardly believe that Emily, Anne, and I had achieved our dream of becoming authors.
But the drawer contained further proof of this miracle. I perused book reviews
cut out of newspapers. The one from the Westminster Review read, "Decidedly
the best novel of the season."
There were also letters from
my publisher, informing me that the first edition of my work had sold out,
and notices of two further editions. I smiled at a
handbill for a play, "Jane Eyre, The Secrets of Thornfield Manor," produced
in London. Finally, I turned to the account book where I had recorded my income—one
hundred pounds for the copyright of the novel, and an additional hundred pounds
in royalties. This was no great fortune, but it represented ten times more
than the annual salary I'd earned in my former occupation as a governess. Yet
uncertainty about the future and a nagging dissatisfaction with the present
worsened as I paged through the notebooks that contained the manuscript of
my next, unfinished novel, Shirley.
I'd developed serious doubts about this novel and its reception by my publisher
and readers. I feared their high expectations of Currer Bell, whose identity
was a subject of intense speculation among the literati. And I mourned that
my present success hadn't brought me everything I craved.
As a young girl, scribbling stories and dreaming of a future as an author,
I'd believed that publication would gain me passage into a world of art galleries,
concerts, the theater, and travel, where people conversed brilliantly. I'd
hoped to win the friendship of writers, artists, and intellectuals; yet here
I remained, hidden behind a nom de plume, the surface of my life as a parson's
spinster daughter virtually unchanged. A wistful melancholy stole over me as
I looked out the window and down the hill upon the gray rooftops of Haworth
and the gray smoke from the textile mills in the wooded valley. Beyond these
familiar environs lay the world of my dreams, forever unreachable. I was thirty
two years old, and apparently destined to spend the rest of my days in torpid
Then I spied the postman coming
up the road, and my spirits lifted: The post was a source of light and life
to me. I carefully locked the desk drawer, because
although Papa had been told the secret of Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell, no
one else must know—not even Branwell, who could not be trusted
with the secret. I tucked the key in my pocket, hurried downstairs, and eagerly
accepted a letter from the postman. I read the sender's address on the envelope: "Smith,
Elder & Company, 65 Cornhill, London."
This was the letter that would launch me on a dangerous path through worlds
beyond my imagination, but all I then understood was that the letter came from
my publisher. As I scanned the two sheets, my anticipation of good news turned
to dismay. I rushed downstairs and found Emily stirring a cauldron of preserves
on the stove. Her bulldog, Keeper, lay beneath the table where Martha Brown
and Anne sealed jars. The kitchen was humid with fruity steam, hot from the
"Emily. Anne," I said, "we
My face must have revealed my agitation, for they immediately followed me
through the back door to the yard, out of Martha's hearing. Above and away
from us spread the moors, their hilly expanses broken only by a few stunted
trees and the distant black lines of stone walls. Blustering wind whipped our
"Currer Bell has just received a disturbing communication," I
explained, then read aloud:
"My Dear Sir,
As you will no doubt recall, Smith, Elder & Company has secured from you
the exclusive right to publish your next novel and to grant secondary right
of publication to our counterparts abroad. However, it has come to my attention
that Mr. Thomas Cautley Newby, publisher of the works of Acton and Ellis Bell,
has sold to an American publisher, for a high price, a book entitled The
Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which he claims to be the new work by Currer Bell.
We at Smith, Elder & Company
were quite indignant to learn that a rival business has a gained a property
which is lawfully ours. Are we to believe
that you have deliberately breached your contract with us? (It would appear
so, judging by the enclosed document.)
We respectfully request an explanation of this circumstance.
Emily and Anne stared in astonishment. I cried, "Anne, my publisher thinks
your book is mine and I've cheated him!"
"There must be a mistake," Anne said hesitantly. "My
publisher knows that Acton Bell and Currer Bell are two separate individuals.
Mr. Newby would not claim otherwise."
"But he has," I said, holding out the paper that had accompanied
George Smith's letter. "This is an extract from a letter written by Mr.
Newby to the American publisher: 'To the best of my belief, Jane Eyre, Wuthering
Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are all the production
of one writer.'"
Emily shook her head, frowning.
Anne, looking bewildered, ventured, "I
can't believe that Mr. Newby would intentionally misrepresent me."
"I can," I said, "because
he has already treated you both in a shabby fashion. Remember that he charged
the printing expenses for Agnes
Grey and Wuthering Heights to you. Then he delayed publication of your books.
And he hasn't yet sent you the royalties he owes you. Mr. Newby is an unscrupulous
man who would do anything to profit himself."
"And he is doing so by capitalizing on the success of Currer Bell," Emily
said. Her large, luminous eyes seemed a magical mixture of fire and ocean,
of a hue that changed with her moods; now anger darkened them to slate blue. "He
seeks to elevate little known authors by confusing them with a celebrated one."
I winced: Emily was a person of few words, and those often too blunt for
comfort. The differing degrees of success achieved by Currer, Acton, and Ellis
Bell comprised a sensitive issue that we avoided discussing. Though Emily and
Anne were genuinely pleased by my good fortune, I knew that if our positions
were reversed, I would envy them, in spite of our affection for one another.
I also knew how badly they must feel about the reviews of their books.
"There is not in the entire dramatis
personae a single character which
is not utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible," the Atlas had said
of Wuthering Heights. Agnes Grey had fared no better. "It leaves no painful
impression on the mind—some may think it leaves no impression
at all." Worse, both Emily and Anne had suffered from comparison to me
when the Athenaeum had proclaimed of Jane Eyre, Wuthering
Heights, and Agnes
Grey: "All three might be the work of one hand, but the first issued remains
How much I regretted that our writing had set me apart from my sisters! Would
that today's problem had not arisen to further damage our harmony!
"Dear Charlotte, I'm so sorry that my book has endangered your reputation," Anne
She was always too ready to accept blame and thereby restore peace. "The
fault belongs to Mr. Newby," I said. "And I fear he has endangered
more than my reputation." I paced the yard in a fever of anxiety. "I
know little of the law, but enough to see that appearances suggest that I've
broken it." I had a horrible vision of police descending upon the parsonage,
myself arrested and thrown into prison. "What am I to do?"
"Write to Mr. Smith. Tell him that Currer Bell is one person and Acton
Bell and Ellis Bell are others, and anyone who says differently is a liar," said
"But I told him as much when the critics raised the question of our
identities," I said. "If he doubts me now, why should another letter
"Perhaps I could order Mr. Newby to set matters right," Anne
"Why would he, and put himself in the
wrong?" I said, dismissing the notion that mild natured
Anne could force anyone to do anything. I halted, facing my
sisters. "The only way to solve the problem is to dispense
with pen names and reveal who we really are."
in alarm. Emily burst out, "No!"
her normally quiet, melodious voice; her eyes darkened to
a stormy gray green. "When
you first suggested that we try to publish our works, we all
promised that we would always use pen names."
and I had adopted pen names because we'd enjoyed the secret
and thought that male aliases would
assure our work a more favorable reception, Emily had wished
to avoid unwanted exposure. Neither my sisters nor I participated
much in any society, but Emily was the most reclusive of us.
She was like a wild creature—happiest when rambling
the moors alone. She shot a pleading glance at Anne, who moved
close to her.
"Dear Charlotte," said Anne, "I
know your situation is grave, but surely there's some other
solution than revealing our true identities."
took Emily's side, for they shared a special intimacy that
excluded everyone else. Anne was the
one person in whom Emily ever confided; they were like twins
sharing one heart. A pang of familiar envy needled me because
Emily was my favorite sister as well as Anne’s.
"But there is not another solution," I
insisted. "Even if I somehow manage to convince Mr. Smith
that I didn't write The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, similar problems
will continue to arise as long as there remains a mystery about
who Acton, Ellis, and Currer Bell are. People will always confuse
"Let them," Emily declared, tossing
her head. Her hair swirled in the wind; with her back to the
clouded sky and sweeping moors, she seemed a wild force of
nature. "I don't care."
"Well, I do," said I. Even as I
admired Emily's independent spirit and hated to cause her pain,
I felt a tremendous impatience to cast off the pen name that
obscured me like a suffocating shroud. "We must let Mr.
Smith and everyone else know us at last."
"But . . . " Anne wrung her hands. "If
Mr. Smith doesn't believe there are three authors named Bell,
why would he believe you if you write informing him that the
authors are three Misses Brontë?"
"He would probably not," I said,
encouraged by a sense that Anne shared my desire for recognition. "Therefore,
I propose that we go to London, so that Mr. Smith may see us
with his own eyes." As I spoke the words, my heart fluttered
like wings inside my chest because the world of my dreams seemed
suddenly within reach.
"London?" Emily said, as though
I'd suggested a trip to Hades. The color drained from her face,
and she retreated from me. "I won't go. I can't!"
Here I must add more strokes to my portrait
of Emily. She had spent almost her entire life in Haworth.
Each brief time away, she'd become sickly and lifeless, like
a plant torn from its native soil. She feared strangers and
crowds, hated noisy, dirty cities. She made me feel selfishly
cruel for asking her to travel to London; however, I was determined
for us to go.
"Please, Emily," I said, "it
won't be so terrible. We needn't stay very long, and we won't
reveal our identities to anyone outside Smith, Elder & Company."
ran to the parsonage and pressed herself against its brick
wall, looking more a
frightened child than the woman of thirty years she then was.
cautiously, "When would we
"Today," I said. "I must mend
my relations with Smith, Elder & Company as soon as possible."
"Anne! You wish to go, too?" Emily
gazed at Anne in disbelief. "You want to break your promise
"Oh, no," Anne hastened to say. "It's
just that I think we must do what is right, and perhaps Charlotte
knows best . . . " She quailed under the look of hurt
outrage that Emily gave her, then turned to me. "But we
can't just arrive at Smith, Elder & Company without warning.
What would they think of us?"
wavered, for we possessed among us no beauty to help us gain
favor, and I considered
myself the plainest—so small and thin am I, with
a head too large for my body, irregular features, and a pallid
complexion. Furthermore, my plan seemed audaciously forward,
defying convention that required modesty of the female sex.
But I put aside vanity and fear of social censure; I got a
firmer grip on my resolve.
"Smith, Elder & Company can hardly
think less of us than they do at this moment," I said. "We
must risk a minor discourtesy for the sake of achieving a greater
"Well, I'm not going," Emily said.
She was breathing hard, and her fingers kneaded her folded
arms. "It's not my problem anyway. Mr. Smith's complaint
only regards you and Anne. I've done nothing to deserve exposure.
And I forbid you to tell anyone anything about me!"
that Emily would never be persuaded. "Very
well; you may stay home," I said reluctantly. "I
won't reveal your identity. I suppose that two of us will be
enough to prove ourselves separate individuals to Mr. Smith
. . . if you'll come with me, Anne?"
Biting her lips, Anne looked from me to Emily,
obviously torn between the person she loved best and her sense
of duty. When I became nurse, tutor, and disciplinarian to
my younger siblings after the deaths of our mother and eldest
sisters long ago, Anne was the only one never to disobey me.
She'd meekly come with me to the school where I'd taught and
studied hard because she knew my salary paid her tuition. And
I knew she still felt indebted to me.
A small sigh
issued from Anne. Bowing her head, she murmured, "We'll
need Papa's permission."
Emily stood in stricken silence. Her eyes
blazed with her fury and pain at Anne's betrayal. Uttering
a cry of despair, she turned from us and ran with the swift
grace of a fleeing deer. Anne and I silently watched her recede
into the wilderness of moorland and sky; then, without looking
at each other, we went into the parsonage.
Papa was in
his study, writing a sermon. When I told him about George
Smith's letter and our decision, he
said, "Of course you must uphold your honor, and your
plan seems the only way." Though I always defer to his
authority, his generous heart is loath to deny me anything;
thus, I usually manage to obtain permission for whatever I
want to do. "However, the idea of your traveling two hundred
miles to London disturbs me. These are dangerous times."
of revolution had convulsed Europe during the year. In France,
radicals had rebelled against a
corrupt, oppressive regime; strikes, riots, and warfare had
beset Paris; the King had abdicated and gone into exile. In
the Germanies, mobs had clashed with the army in the streets
of Berlin. The Italian states had risen up against Austrian
rule; in Vienna, the Hapsburg monarchy had battled its own
citizens who clamored for social reform. In Britain, Irish
nationalists had revolted against English domination, while
across England, radicals known as Chartists had staged mass
demonstrations. Their quest for voting rights for all men and
equal representation in Parliament had incited violent disturbances.
Queen Victoria had fled London. Yet I had no inkling that these
events held personal significance for me—they seemed
but a minor obstacle.
"Things are somewhat quieted lately,
Papa," I said. "Anne and I should be safe enough."
does not go?"
"No, Papa." Guilt
with reluctance, "I should
escort you and Anne."
"Oh, no, Papa," I said, "you
must not risk your health." He was susceptible to bad
colds, and besides, I'd set my heart on myself and Anne going
unaccompanied. "We'll be fine by ourselves. Since I've
visited London before, I know my way around the city."
"Very well," Papa said with evident
relief. "But do be careful."
"We will, Papa." I hesitated, then
asked, "May we stay a few days to see the sights?"
After some debate, Papa consented. Jubilant,
I hurried Anne upstairs, where we began hastily packing. I
was folding garments into a trunk when I noticed Anne standing
at the bedroom window. Outside stretched the moors, like an
empty sea. Emily had disappeared.
"She'll realize that we have no choice.
She'll forgive us," I endeavored to reassure both Anne
Anne blinked away tears. I suffered a fresh
onslaught of guilt, but resumed packing. The brilliant future
Now, as the hour grows late and the candles
burn low, I wonder if I would have gone to London had I known
that I was taking my first step toward a man who personified
evil and madness. Would I have gone knowing what pleasure and
pain, hope and despair, terror and glory, would be mine? But
the fact is that I did go; and perhaps, when I have finished
recording my tale, I will know whether I am more glad or sorry.
THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË
a novel by Laura Joh Rowland
Overlook Press, April 2008