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Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Clement King Shorter
 
 
CHAPTER IV: THE PENSIONNAT HEGER, BRUSSELS

Had not the impulse come to Charlotte Bronte to add somewhat to her
scholastic accomplishments by a sojourn in Brussels, our literature would
have lost that powerful novel _Villette_, and the singularly charming
_Professor_. The impulse came from the persuasion that without
'languages' the school project was an entirely hopeless one. Mary and
Martha Taylor were at Brussels, staying with friends, and thence they had
sent kindly presents to Charlotte, at this time raging under the yoke of
governess at Upperwood House. Charlotte wrote the diplomatic letter to
her aunt which ended so satisfactorily. {96} The good lady--Miss
Branwell was then about sixty years of age--behaved handsomely by her
nieces, and it was agreed that Charlotte and Emily were to go to the
Continent, Anne retaining her post of governess with Mrs. Robinson at
Thorp Green. But Brussels schools did not seem at the first blush to be
very satisfactory. Something better promised at Lille.

Here is a letter written at this period of hesitation and doubt. A
portion of it only was printed by Mrs. Gaskell.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_January_ 20_th_, 1842.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I cannot quite enter into your friends' reasons for not
permitting you to come to Haworth; but as it is at present, and in
all human probability will be for an indefinite time to come,
impossible for me to get to Brookroyd, the balance of accounts is not
so unequal as it might otherwise be. We expect to leave England in
less than three weeks, but we are not yet certain of the day, as it
will depend upon the convenience of a French lady now in London,
Madame Marzials, under whose escort we are to sail. Our place of
destination is changed. Papa received an unfavourable account from
Mr. or rather Mrs. Jenkins of the French schools in Brussels, and on
further inquiry, an Institution in Lille, in the North of France, was
recommended by Baptist Noel and other clergymen, and to that place it
is decided that we are to go. The terms are fifty pounds for each
pupil for board and French alone.
'I considered it kind in aunt to consent to an extra sum for a
separate room. We shall find it a great privilege in many ways. I
regret the change from Brussels to Lille on many accounts, chiefly
that I shall not see Martha Taylor. Mary has been indefatigably kind
in providing me with information. She has grudged no labour, and
scarcely any expense, to that end. Mary's price is above rubies. I
have, in fact, two friends--you and her--staunch and true, in whose
faith and sincerity I have as strong a belief as I have in the Bible.
I have bothered you both, you especially; but you always get the
tongs and heap coals of fire upon my head. I have had letters to
write lately to Brussels, to Lille, and to London. I have lots of
chemises, night-gowns, pocket-handkerchiefs, and pockets to make,
besides clothes to repair. I have been, every week since I came
home, expecting to see Branwell, and he has never been able to get
over yet. We fully expect him, however, next Saturday. Under these
circumstances how can I go visiting? You tantalise me to death with
talking of conversations by the fireside. Depend upon it, we are not
to have any such for many a long month to come. I get an interesting
impression of old age upon my face, and when you see me next I shall
certainly wear caps and spectacles.--Yours affectionately,

'C. B.'

This Mr. Jenkins was chaplain to the British Embassy at Brussels, and not
Consul, as Charlotte at first supposed. The brother of his wife was a
clergyman living in the neighbourhood of Haworth. Mr. Jenkins, whose
English Episcopal chapel Charlotte attended during her stay in Brussels,
finally recommended the Pensionnat Heger in the Rue d'Isabelle. Madame
Heger wrote, accepting the two girls as pupils, and to Brussels their
father escorted them in February 1842, staying one night at the house of
Mr. Jenkins and then returning to Haworth.

The life of Charlotte Bronte at Brussels has been mirrored for us with
absolute accuracy in _Villette_ and _The Professor_. That, indeed, from
the point of view of local colour, is made sufficiently plain to the
casual visitor of to-day who calls in the Rue d'Isabelle. The house, it
is true, is dismantled with a view to its incorporation into some city
buildings in the background, but one may still eat pears from the 'old
and huge fruit-trees' which flourished when Charlotte and Emily walked
under them half a century ago; one may still wander through the
school-rooms, the long dormitories, and into the 'vine-draped
_berceau_'--little enough is changed within and without. Here is the
dormitory with its twenty beds, the two end ones being occupied by Emily
and Charlotte, they alone securing the privilege of age or English
eccentricity to curtain off their beds from the gaze of the eighteen
girls who shared the room with them. The crucifix, indeed, has been
removed from the niche in the _Oratoire_ where the children offered up
prayer every morning; but with a copy of _Villette_ in hand it is
possible to restore every feature of the place, not excluding the
adjoining Athenee with its small window overlooking the garden of the
Pensionnat and the _allee defendu_. It was from this window that Mr.
Crimsworth of _The Professor_ looked down upon the girls at play. It was
here, indeed, at the Royal Athenee, that M. Heger was Professor of Latin.
Externally, then, the Pensionnat Heger remains practically the same as it
appeared to Charlotte and Emily Bronte in February 1842, when they made
their first appearance in Brussels. The Rue Fossette of _Villette_, the
Rue d'Isabelle of _The Professor_, is the veritable Rue d'Isabelle of
Currer Bell's experience.

What, however, shall we say of the people who wandered through these
rooms and gardens--the hundred or more children, the three or four
governesses, the professor and his wife? Here there has been much
speculation and not a little misreading of the actual facts. Charlotte
and Emily went to Brussels to learn. They did learn with energy. It was
their first experience of foreign travel, and it came too late in life
for them to enter into it with that breadth of mind and tolerance of the
customs of other lands, lacking which the Englishman abroad is always an
offence. Charlotte and Emily hated the land and people. They had been
brought up ultra-Protestants. Their father was an Ulster man, and his
one venture into the polemics of his age was to attack the proposals for
Catholic emancipation. With this inheritance of intolerance, how could
Charlotte and Emily face with kindliness the Romanism which they saw
around them? How heartily they disapproved of it many a picture in
_Villette_ has made plain to us.

Charlotte had been in Brussels three months when she made the friendship
to which I am indebted for anything that there may be to add to this
episode in her life. Miss Laetitia Wheelwright was one of five sisters,
the daughters of a doctor in Lower Phillimore Place, Kensington. Dr.
Wheelwright went to Brussels for his health and for his children's
education. The girls were day boarders at the Pensionnat, but they lived
in the house for a full month or more at a time when their father and
mother were on a trip up the Rhine. Otherwise their abode was a flat in
the Hotel Clusyenaar in the Rue Royale, and there during her later stay
in Brussels Charlotte frequently paid them visits. In this earlier
period Charlotte and Emily were too busy with their books to think of
'calls' and the like frivolities, and it must be confessed also that at
this stage Laetitia Wheelwright would have thought it too high a price
for a visit from Charlotte to receive as a fellow-guest the apparently
unamiable Emily. Miss Wheelwright, who was herself fourteen years of age
when she entered the Pensionnat Heger, recalls the two sisters, thin and
sallow-looking, pacing up and down the garden, friendless and alone. It
was the sight of Laetitia standing up in the class-room and glancing
round with a semi-contemptuous air at all these Belgian girls which
attracted Charlotte Bronte to her. 'It was so very English,' Miss Bronte
laughingly remarked at a later period to her friend. There was one other
English girl at this time of sufficient age to be companionable; but with
Miss Maria Miller, whom Charlotte Bronte has depicted under the guise of
Ginevra Fanshawe, she had less in common. In later years Miss Miller
became Mrs. Robertson, the wife of an author in one form or another.

To Miss Wheelwright, and those of her sisters who are still living, the
descriptions of the Pensionnat Heger which are given in _Villette_ and
_The Professor_ are perfectly accurate. M. Heger, with his heavy black
moustache and his black hair, entering the class-room of an evening to
read to his pupils was a sufficiently familiar object, and his keen
intelligence amounting almost to genius had affected the Wheelwright
girls as forcibly as it had done the Brontes. Mme. Heger, again, for
ever peeping from behind doors and through the plate-glass partitions
which separate the passages from the school-rooms, was a constant source
of irritation to all the English pupils. This prying and spying is, it
is possible, more of a fine art with the school-mistresses of the
Continent than with those of our own land. In any case, Mme. Heger was
an accomplished spy, and in the midst of the most innocent work or
recreation the pupils would suddenly see a pair of eyes pierce the dusk
and disappear. This, and a hundred similar trifles, went to build up an
antipathy on both sides, which had, however, scarcely begun when
Charlotte and Emily were suddenly called home by their aunt's death in
October. A letter to Miss Nussey on her return sufficiently explains the
situation.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'HAWORTH, _November_ 10_th_, 1842.

'MY DEAR ELLEN,--I was not yet returned to England when your letter
arrived. We received the first news of aunt's illness, Wednesday,
Nov. 2nd. We decided to come home directly. Next morning a second
letter informed us of her death. We sailed from Antwerp on Sunday;
we travelled day and night and got home on Tuesday morning--and of
course the funeral and all was over. We shall see her no more. Papa
is pretty well. We found Anne at home; she is pretty well also. You
say you have had no letter from me for a long time. I wrote to you
three weeks ago. When you answer this note, I will write to you more
in detail. Aunt, Martha Taylor, and Mr. Weightman are now all gone;
how dreary and void everything seems. Mr. Weightman's illness was
exactly what Martha's was--he was ill the same length of time and
died in the same manner. Aunt's disease was internal obstruction;
she also was ill a fortnight.

'Good-bye, my dear Ellen.

'C. BRONTE.'

The aunt whose sudden death brought Charlotte and Emily Bronte thus
hastily from Brussels to Haworth must have been a very sensible woman in
the main. She left her money to those of her nieces who most needed it.
A perusal of her will is not without interest, and indeed it will be seen
that it clears up one or two errors into which Mrs. Gaskell and
subsequent biographers have rashly fallen through failing to expend the
necessary half-guinea upon a copy. This is it:--

Extracted from the District Probate Registry at York attached to Her
Majesty's High Court of Justice.

_Depending on the Father_, _Son_, _and Holy Ghost for peace here_,
_and glory and bliss forever hereafter_, _I leave this my last Will
and Testament_: _Should I die at Haworth_, _I request that my remains
may be deposited in the church in that place as near as convenient to
the remains of my dear sister_; _I moreover will that all my just
debts and funeral expenses be paid out of my property_, _and that my
funeral shall be conducted in a moderate and decent manner_. _My
Indian workbox I leave to my niece_, _Charlotte Bronte_; _my workbox
with a china top I leave to my niece_, _Emily Jane Bronte_, _together
with my ivory fan_; _my Japan dressing-box I leave to my nephew_,
_Patrick Branwell Bronte_; _to my niece Anne Bronte_, _I leave my
watch with all that belongs to it_; _as also my eye-glass and its
chain_, _my rings_, _silver-spoons_, _books_, _clothes_, _etc._,
_etc._, _I leave to be divided between my above-named three nieces_,
_Charlotte Bronte_, _Emily Jane Bronte_, _and Anne Bronte_,
_according as their father shall think proper_. _And I will that all
the money that shall remain_, _including twenty-five pounds
sterling_, _being the part of the proceeds of the sale of my goods
which belong to me in consequence of my having advanced to my sister
Kingston the sum of twenty-five pounds in lieu of her share of the
proceeds of my goods aforesaid_, _and deposited in the bank of
Bolitho Sons and Co._, _Esqrs._, _of Chiandower_, _near Penzance_,
_after the aforesaid sums and articles shall have been paid and
deducted_, _shall be put into some safe bank or lent on good landed
security_, _and there left to accumulate for the sole benefit of my
four nieces_, _Charlotte Bronte_, _Emily Jane Bronte_, _Anne Bronte_,
_and Elizabeth Jane Kingston_; _and this sum or sums_, _and whatever
other property I may have_, _shall be equally divided between them
when the youngest of them then living shall have arrived at the age
of twenty-one years_. _And should any one or more of these my four
nieces die_, _her or their part or parts shall be equally divided
amongst the survivors_; _and if but one is left_, _all shall go to
that one_: _And should they all die before the age of twenty-one
years_, _all their parts shall be given to my sister_, _Anne
Kingston_; _and should she die before that time specified_, _I will
that all that was to have been hers shall be equally divided between
all the surviving children of my dear brother and sisters_. _I
appoint my brother-in-law_, _the Rev. P. Bronte_, A.B., _now
Incumbent of Haworth_, _Yorkshire_; _the Rev. John Fennell_, _now
Incumbent of Cross Stone_, _near Halifax_; _the Rev. Theodore Dury_,
_Rector of Keighley_, _Yorkshire_; _and Mr. George Taylor of
Stanbury_, _in the chapelry of Haworth aforesaid_, _my executors_.
_Written by me_, ELIZABETH BRANWELL, _and signed_, _sealed_, _and
delivered on the_ 30_th_ _of April_, _in the year of our Lord one
thousand eight hundred and thirty-three_, ELIZABETH BRANWELL.
_Witnesses present_, _William Brown_, _John Tootill_, _William
Brown_, _Junr_.

_The twenty-eighth day of December_, 1842, _the Will of_ ELIZABETH
BRANWELL, _late of Haworth_, _in the parish of Bradford_, _in the
county of York_, _spinster (having bona notabilia within the province
of York_). _Deceased was proved in the prerogative court of York by
the oaths of the Reverend Patrick Bronte_, _clerk_, _brother-in-law_;
_and George Taylor_, _two of the executors to whom administration was
granted_ (_the Reverend Theodore Dury_, _another of the executors_,
_having renounced_), _they having been first sworn duly to
administer_.

Effects sworn under 1500 pounds.

Testatrix died 29th October 1842.

Now hear Mrs. Gaskell:--

_The small property_, _which she had accumulated by dint of personal
frugality and self-denial_, _was bequeathed to her nieces_.
_Branwell_, _her darling_, _was to have had his share_, _but his
reckless expenditure had distressed the good old lady_, _and his name
was omitted in her will_.

A perusal of the will in question indicates that it was made in 1833,
before Branwell had paid his first visit to London, and when, as all his
family supposed, he was on the high road to fame and fortune as an
artist. The old lady doubtless thought that the boy would be able to
take good care of himself. She had, indeed, other nieces down in
Cornwall, but with the general sympathy of her friends and relatives in
Penzance, Elizabeth Jane Kingston, who it was thought would want it most,
was to have a share. Had the Kingston girl, her mother, and the Bronte
girls all died before him, the boy Branwell, it will be seen, would have
shared the property with his Branwell cousins in Penzance, of whom two
are still alive. In any case, Branwell's name was mentioned, and he
received 'my Japan dressing-box,' whatever that may have been worth.

Three or four letters, above and beyond these already published, were
written by Charlotte to her friend in the interval between Miss
Branwell's death and her return to Brussels; and she paid a visit to Miss
Nussey at Brookroyd, and it was returned.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'HAWORTH, _November_ 20_th_, 1842.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I hope your brother is sufficiently recovered now to
dispense with your constant attendance. Papa desires his compliments
to you, and says he should be very glad if you could give us your
company at Haworth a little while. Can you come on Friday next? I
mention so early a day because Anne leaves us to return to York on
Monday, and she wishes very much to see you before her departure. I
think your brother is too good-natured to object to your coming.
There is little enough pleasure in this world, and it would be truly
unkind to deny to you and me that of meeting again after so long a
separation. Do not fear to find us melancholy or depressed. We are
all much as usual. You will see no difference from our former
demeanour. Send an immediate answer.

'My love and best wishes to your sister and mother.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'HAWORTH, _November_ 25_th_, 1842.

'MY DEAR ELLEN,--I hope that invitation of yours was given in real
earnest, for I intend to accept it. I wish to see you, and as in a
few weeks I shall probably again leave England, I will not be too
delicate and ceremonious and so let the present opportunity pass.
Something says to me that it will not be too convenient to have a
guest at Brookroyd while there is an invalid there--however, I listen
to no such suggestions. Anne leaves Haworth on Tuesday at 6 o'clock
in the morning, and we should reach Bradford at half-past eight.
There are many reasons why I should have preferred your coming to
Haworth, but as it appears there are always obstacles which prevent
that, I'll break through ceremony, or pride, or whatever it is, and,
like Mahomet, go to the mountain which won't or can't come to me.
The coach stops at the Bowling Green Inn, in Bradford. Give my love
to your sister and mother.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'HAWORTH, _January_ 10_th_, 1843.

'DEAR NELL,--It is a singular state of things to be obliged to write
and have nothing worth reading to say. I am glad you got home safe.
You are an excellent good girl for writing to me two letters,
especially as they were such long ones. Branwell wants to know why
you carefully exclude all mention of him when you particularly send
your regards to every other member of the family. He desires to know
whether and in what he has offended you, or whether it is considered
improper for a young lady to mention the gentlemen of a house. We
have been one walk on the moors since you left. We have been to
Keighley, where we met a person of our acquaintance, who uttered an
interjection of astonishment on meeting us, and when he could get his
breath, informed us that he had heard I was dead and buried.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'HAWORTH, _January_ 15_th_, 1843.

'DEAR NELL,--I am much obliged to you for transferring the roll of
muslin. Last Saturday I found the other gift, for which you deserve
smothering. I will deliver Branwell your message. You have left
your Bible--how can I send it? I cannot tell precisely what day I
leave home, but it will be the last week in this month. Are you
going with me? I admire exceedingly the costume you have chosen to
appear in at the Birstall rout. I think you say pink petticoat,
black jacket, and a wreath of roses--beautiful! For a change I would
advise a black coat, velvet stock and waistcoat, white pantaloons,
and smart boots. Address Rue d'Isabelle. Write to me again, that's
a good girl, very soon. Respectful remembrances to your mother and
sister.

'C. BRONTE.'

Then she is in Brussels again, as the following letter indicates.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'BRUSSELS, _January_ 30_th_, 1843.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I left Leeds for London last Friday at nine o'clock;
owing to delay we did not reach London till ten at night--two hours
after time. I took a cab the moment I arrived at Euston Square, and
went forthwith to London Bridge Wharf. The packet lay off that
wharf, and I went on board the same night. Next morning we sailed.
We had a prosperous and speedy voyage, and landed at Ostend at seven
o'clock next morning. I took the train at twelve and reached Rue
d'Isabelle at seven in the evening. Madame Heger received me with
great kindness. I am still tired with the continued excitement of
three days' travelling. I had no accident, but of course some
anxiety. Miss Dixon called this afternoon. {107} Mary Taylor had
told her I should be in Brussels the last week in January. I am
going there on Sunday, D.V. Address--Miss Bronte, Chez Mme. Heger,
32 Rue d'Isabelle, Bruxelles.--Good-bye, dear.

'C. B.'

This second visit of Charlotte Bronte to Brussels has given rise to much
speculation, some of it of not the pleasantest kind. It is well to face
the point bluntly, for it has been more than once implied that Charlotte
Bronte was in love with M. Heger, as her prototype Lucy Snowe was in love
with Paul Emanuel. The assumption, which is absolutely groundless, has
had certain plausible points in its favour, not the least obvious, of
course, being the inclination to read autobiography into every line of
Charlotte Bronte's writings. Then there is a passage in a printed letter
to Miss Nussey which has been quoted as if to bear out this suggestion:
'I returned to Brussels after aunt's death,' she writes, 'against my
conscience, prompted by what then seemed an irresistible impulse. I was
punished for my selfish folly by a total withdrawal for more than two
years of happiness and peace of mind.'

It is perfectly excusable for a man of the world, unacquainted with
qualifying facts, to assume that for these two years Charlotte Bronte's
heart was consumed with an unquenchable love for her professor--held in
restraint, no doubt, as the most censorious admit, but sufficiently
marked to secure the jealousy and ill-will of Madame Heger. Madame Heger
and her family, it must be admitted, have kept this impression afloat.
Madame Heger refused to see Mrs. Gaskell when she called upon her in the
Rue d'Isabelle; and her daughters will tell you that their father broke
off his correspondence with Miss Bronte because his favourite English
pupil showed an undue extravagance of devotion. 'Her attachment after
her return to Yorkshire,' to quote a recent essay on the subject, 'was
expressed in her frequent letters in a tone that her Brussels friends
considered it not only prudent but kind to check. She was warned by them
that the exaltation these letters betrayed needed to be toned down and
replaced by what was reasonable. She was further advised to write only
once in six months, and then to limit the subject of her letters to her
own health and that of her family, and to a plain account of her
circumstances and occupations.' {109a} Now to all this I do not hesitate
to give an emphatic contradiction, a contradiction based upon the only
independent authority available. Miss Laetitia Wheelwright and her
sisters saw much of Charlotte Bronte during this second sojourn in
Brussels, and they have a quite different tale to tell. That misgiving
of Charlotte, by the way, which weighed so heavily upon her mind
afterwards, was due to the fact that she had left her father practically
unprotected from the enticing company of a too festive curate. He gave
himself up at this time to a very copious whisky drinking, from which
Charlotte's home-coming speedily rescued him. {109b}
Madame Heger did indeed hate Charlotte Bronte in her later years. This
is not unnatural when we remember how that unfortunate woman has been
gibbeted for all time in the characters of Mlle. Zoraide Reuter and
Madame Beck. But in justice to the creator of these scathing portraits,
it may be mentioned that Charlotte Bronte took every precaution to
prevent _Villette_ from obtaining currency in the city which inspired it.
She told Miss Wheelwright, with whom naturally, on her visits to London,
she often discussed the Brussels life, that she had received a promise
that there should be no translation, and that the book would never appear
in the French language. One cannot therefore fix upon Charlotte Bronte
any responsibility for the circumstance that immediately after her death
the novel appeared in the only tongue understood by Madame Heger.

Miss Wheelwright informs me that Charlotte Bronte did certainly admire M.
Heger, as did all his pupils, very heartily. Charlotte's first
impression, indeed, was not flattering: 'He is professor of rhetoric, a
man of power as to mind, but very choleric and irritable in temperament;
a little black being, with a face that varies in expression. Sometimes
he borrows the lineaments of an insane tom-cat, sometimes those of a
delirious hyena; occasionally, but very seldom, he discards these
perilous attractions and assumes an air not above 100 degrees removed
from mild and gentleman-like.' But he was particularly attentive to
Charlotte; and as he was the first really intelligent man she had met,
the first man, that is to say, with intellectual interests--for we know
how much she despised the curates of her neighbourhood--she rejoiced at
every opportunity of doing verbal battle with him, for Charlotte
inherited, it may be said, the Irish love of debate. Some time after
Charlotte had returned to England, and when in the height of her fame,
she met her Brussels school-fellow in London. Miss Wheelwright asked her
whether she still corresponded with M. Heger. Charlotte replied that she
had discontinued to do so. M. Heger had mentioned in one letter that his
wife did not like the correspondence, and he asked her therefore to
address her letters to the Royal Athenee, where, as I have mentioned, he
gave lessons to the boys. 'I stopped writing at once,' Charlotte told
her friend. 'I would not have dreamt of writing to him when I found it
was disagreeable to his wife; certainly I would not write unknown to
her.' 'She said this,' Miss Wheelwright adds, 'with the sincerity of
manner which characterised her every utterance, and I would sooner have
doubted myself than her.' Let, then, this silly and offensive imputation
be now and for ever dismissed from the minds of Charlotte Bronte's
admirers, if indeed it had ever lodged there. {110}

Charlotte had not visited the Wheelwrights in the Rue Royale during her
first visit to Brussels. She had found the companionship of Emily
all-sufficing, and Emily was not sufficiently popular with the
Wheelwrights to have made her a welcome guest. They admitted her
cleverness, but they considered her hard, unsympathetic, and abrupt in
manner. We know that she was self-contained and homesick, pining for her
native moors. This was not evident to a girl of ten, the youngest of the
Wheelwright children, who was compelled to receive daily a music lesson
from Emily in her play-hours. When, however, Charlotte came back to
Brussels alone she was heartily welcomed into two or three English
families, including those of Mr. Dixon, of the Rev. Mr. Jenkins, and of
Dr. Wheelwright. With the Wheelwright children she sometimes spent the
Sunday, and with them she occasionally visited the English Episcopal
church which the Wheelwrights attended, and of which the clergyman was a
Mr. Drury. When Dr. Wheelwright took his wife for a Rhine trip in May he
left his four children--one little girl had died at Brussels, aged seven,
in the preceding November--in the care of Madame Heger at the Pensionnat,
and under the immediate supervision of Charlotte.
At this period there was plenty of cheerfulness in her life. She was
learning German. She was giving English lessons to M. Heger and to his
brother-in-law, M. Chappelle. She went to the Carnival, and described it
'animating to see the immense crowds and the general gaiety.' 'Whenever
I turn back,' she writes, 'to compare what I am with what I was, my place
here with my place at Mrs. Sidgwick's or Mrs. White's, I am thankful.'

In a letter to her brother, however, we find the darker side of the
picture. It reveals many things apart from what is actually written
down. In this, the only letter to Branwell that I have been able to
discover, apart from one written in childhood, it appears that the
brother and sister are upon very confidential terms. Up to this time, at
any rate, Branwell's conduct had not excited any apprehension as to his
future, and the absence of any substantial place in his aunt's will was
clearly not due to misconduct. Branwell was now under the same roof as
his sister Anne, having obtained an appointment as tutor to young Edmund
Robinson at Thorp Green, near York, where Anne was governess. The letter
is unsigned, concluding playfully with 'yourn; and the initials follow a
closing message to Anne on the same sheet of paper.

TO BRANWELL BRONTE

'BRUSSELS, _May_ 1_st_, 1843.

'DEAR BRANWELL,--I hear you have written a letter to me. This
letter, however, as usual, I have never received, which I am
exceedingly sorry for, as I have wished very much to hear from you.
Are you sure that you put the right address and that you paid the
English postage, 1s. 6d.? Without that, letters are never forwarded.
I heard from papa a day or two since. All appears to be going on
reasonably well at home. I grieve only that Emily is so solitary;
but, however, you and Anne will soon be returning for the holidays,
which will cheer the house for a time. Are you in better health and
spirits, and does Anne continue to be pretty well? I understand papa
has been to see you. Did he seem cheerful and well? Mind when you
write to me you answer these questions, as I wish to know. Also give
me a detailed account as to how you get on with your pupil and the
rest of the family. I have received a general assurance that you do
well and are in good odour, but I want to know particulars.

'As for me, I am very well and wag on as usual. I perceive, however,
that I grow exceedingly misanthropic and sour. You will say that
this is no news, and that you never knew me possessed of the contrary
qualities--philanthropy and sugariness. _Das ist wahr_ (which being
translated means, that is true); but the fact is, the people here are
no go whatsoever. Amongst 120 persons which compose the daily
population of this house, I can discern only one or two who deserve
anything like regard. This is not owing to foolish fastidiousness on
my part, but to the absence of decent qualities on theirs. They have
not intellect or politeness or good-nature or good-feeling. They are
nothing. I don't hate them--hatred would be too warm a feeling.
They have no sensations themselves and they excite none. But one
wearies from day to day of caring nothing, fearing nothing, liking
nothing, hating nothing, being nothing, doing nothing--yes, I teach
and sometimes get red in the face with impatience at their stupidity.
But don't think I ever scold or fly into a passion. If I spoke
warmly, as warmly as I sometimes used to do at Roe-Head, they would
think me mad. Nobody ever gets into a passion here. Such a thing is
not known. The phlegm that thickens their blood is too gluey to
boil. They are very false in their relations with each other, but
they rarely quarrel, and friendship is a folly they are unacquainted
with. The black Swan, M. Heger, is the only sole veritable exception
to this rule (for Madame, always cool and always reasoning, is not
quite an exception). But I rarely speak to Monsieur now, for not
being a pupil I have little or nothing to do with him. From time to
time he shows his kind-heartedness by loading me with books, so that
I am still indebted to him for all the pleasure or amusement I have.
Except for the total want of companionship I have nothing to complain
of. I have not too much to do, sufficient liberty, and I am rarely
interfered with. I lead an easeful, stagnant, silent life, for
which, when I think of Mrs. Sidgwick, I ought to be very thankful.
Be sure you write to me soon, and beg of Anne to inclose a small
billet in the same letter; it will be a real charity to do me this
kindness. Tell me everything you can think of.

'It is a curious metaphysical fact that always in the evening when I
am in the great dormitory alone, having no other company than a
number of beds with white curtains, I always recur as fanatically as
ever to the old ideas, the old faces, and the old scenes in the world
below.

'Give my love to Anne.--And believe me, yourn

'DEAR ANNE,--Write to me.--Your affectionate Schwester,

'C. B.

'Mr. Heger has just been in and given me a little German Testament as
a present. I was surprised, for since a good many days he has hardly
spoken to me.'

A little later she writes to Emily in similar strain.

TO MISS EMILY J. BRONTE

'BRUSSELS, _May_ 29_th_, 1843.

'DEAR E. J.,--The reason of the unconscionable demand for money is
explained in my letter to papa. Would you believe it, Mdlle. Muhl
demands as much for one pupil as for two, namely, 10 francs per
month. This, with the 5 francs per month to the Blanchisseuse, makes
havoc in 16 pounds per annum. You will perceive I have begun again
to take German lessons. Things wag on much as usual here. Only
Mdlle. Blanche and Mdlle. Hausse are at present on a system of war
without quarter. They hate each other like two cats. Mdlle. Blanche
frightens Mdlle. Hausse by her white passions (for they quarrel
venomously). Mdlle. Hausse complains that when Mdlle. Blanche is in
fury, "_elle n'a pas de levres_." I find also that Mdlle. Sophie
dislikes Mdlle. Blanche extremely. She says she is heartless,
insincere, and vindictive, which epithets, I assure you, are richly
deserved. Also I find she is the regular spy of Mme. Heger, to whom
she reports everything. Also she invents--which I should not have
thought. I have now the entire charge of the English lessons. I
have given two lessons to the first class. Hortense Jannoy was a
picture on these occasions, her face was black as a "blue-piled
thunder-loft," and her two ears were red as raw beef. To all
questions asked her reply was, "_je ne sais pas_." It is a pity but
her friends could meet with a person qualified to cast out a devil.
I am richly off for companionship in these parts. Of late days, M.
and Mde. Heger rarely speak to me, and I really don't pretend to care
a fig for any body else in the establishment. You are not to suppose
by that expression that I am under the influence of _warm_ affection
for Mde. Heger. I am convinced she does not like me--why, I can't
tell, nor do I think she herself has any definite reason for the
aversion; but for one thing, she cannot comprehend why I do not make
intimate friends of Mesdames Blanche, Sophie, and Hausse. M. Heger
is wonderously influenced by Madame, and I should not wonder if he
disapproves very much of my unamiable want of sociability. He has
already given me a brief lecture on universal _bienveillance_, and,
perceiving that I don't improve in consequence, I fancy he has taken
to considering me as a person to be let alone--left to the error of
her ways; and consequently he has in a great measure withdrawn the
light of his countenance, and I get on from day to day in a
Robinson-Crusoe-like condition--very lonely. That does not signify.
In other respects I have nothing substantial to complain of, nor is
even this a cause for complaint. Except the loss of M. Heger's
goodwill (if I have lost it) I care for none of 'em. I hope you are
well and hearty. Walk out often on the moors. Sorry am I to hear
that Hannah is gone, and that she has left you burdened with the
charge of the little girl, her sister. I hope Tabby will continue to
stay with you--give my love to her. Regards to the fighting gentry,
and to old asthma.--Your

'C. B.

'I have written to Branwell, though I never got a letter from him.'

In August she is still more dissatisfied, but 'I will continue to stay
some months longer, till I have acquired German, and then I hope to see
all your faces again.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'BRUSSELS, _August_ 6_th_, 1843.

'DEAR ELLEN,--You never answered my last letter; but, however,
forgiveness is a part of the Christian Creed, and so having an
opportunity to send a letter to England, I forgive you and write to
you again. Last Sunday afternoon, being at the Chapel Royal, in
Brussels, I was surprised to hear a voice proceed from the pulpit
which instantly brought all Birstall and Batley before my mind's eye.
I could see nothing, but certainly thought that that unclerical
little Welsh pony, Jenkins, was there. I buoyed up my mind with the
expectation of receiving a letter from you, but as, however, I have
got none, I suppose I must have been mistaken.

'C. B.

'Mr. Jenkins has called. He brought no letter from you, but said you
were at Harrogate, and that they could not find the letter you had
intended to send. He informed me of the death of your sister. Poor
Sarah, when I last bid her good-bye I little thought I should never
see her more. Certainly, however, she is happy where she is
gone--far happier than she was here. When the first days of mourning
are past, you will see that you have reason rather to rejoice at her
removal than to grieve for it. Your mother will have felt her death
much--and you also. I fear from the circumstance of your being at
Harrogate that you are yourself ill. Write to me soon.'

It was in September that the incident occurred which has found so
dramatic a setting in _Villette_--the confession to a priest of the Roman
Catholic Church of a daughter of the most militant type of Protestantism;
and not the least valuable of my newly-discovered Bronte treasures is the
letter which Charlotte wrote to Emily giving an unembellished account of
the incident.

TO MISS EMILY J. BRONTE

'BRUSSELS, _September_ 2_nd_, 1843.

'DEAR E. J.,--Another opportunity of writing to you coming to pass, I
shall improve it by scribbling a few lines. More than half the
holidays are now past, and rather better than I expected. The
weather has been exceedingly fine during the last fortnight, and yet
not so Asiatically hot as it was last year at this time.
Consequently I have tramped about a great deal and tried to get a
clearer acquaintance with the streets of Bruxelles. This week, as no
teacher is here except Mdlle. Blanche, who is returned from Paris, I
am always alone except at meal-times, for Mdlle. Blanche's character
is so false and so contemptible I can't force myself to associate
with her. She perceives my utter dislike and never now speaks to
me--a great relief.

'However, I should inevitably fall into the gulf of low spirits if I
stayed always by myself here without a human being to speak to, so I
go out and traverse the Boulevards and streets of Bruxelles sometimes
for hours together. Yesterday I went on a pilgrimage to the
cemetery, and far beyond it on to a hill where there was nothing but
fields as far as the horizon. When I came back it was evening; but I
had such a repugnance to return to the house, which contained nothing
that I cared for, I still kept threading the streets in the
neighbourhood of the Rue d'Isabelle and avoiding it. I found myself
opposite to Ste. Gudule, and the bell, whose voice you know, began to
toll for evening salut. I went in, quite alone (which procedure you
will say is not much like me), wandered about the aisles where a few
old women were saying their prayers, till vespers begun. I stayed
till they were over. Still I could not leave the church or force
myself to go home--to school I mean. An odd whim came into my head.
In a solitary part of the Cathedral six or seven people still
remained kneeling by the confessionals. In two confessionals I saw a
priest. I felt as if I did not care what I did, provided it was not
absolutely wrong, and that it served to vary my life and yield a
moment's interest. I took a fancy to change myself into a Catholic
and go and make a real confession to see what it was like. Knowing
me as you do, you will think this odd, but when people are by
themselves they have singular fancies. A penitent was occupied in
confessing. They do not go into the sort of pew or cloister which
the priest occupies, but kneel down on the steps and confess through
a grating. Both the confessor and the penitent whisper very low, you
can hardly hear their voices. After I had watched two or three
penitents go and return I approached at last and knelt down in a
niche which was just vacated. I had to kneel there ten minutes
waiting, for on the other side was another penitent invisible to me.
At last that went away and a little wooden door inside the grating
opened, and I saw the priest leaning his ear towards me. I was
obliged to begin, and yet I did not know a word of the formula with
which they always commence their confessions. It was a funny
position. I felt precisely as I did when alone on the Thames at
midnight. I commenced with saying I was a foreigner and had been
brought up a Protestant. The priest asked if I was a Protestant
then. I somehow could not tell a lie and said "yes." He replied
that in that case I could not "_jouir du bonheur de la confesse_";
but I was determined to confess, and at last he said he would allow
me because it might be the first step towards returning to the true
church. I actually did confess--a real confession. When I had done
he told me his address, and said that every morning I was to go to
the rue du Parc--to his house--and he would reason with me and try to
convince me of the error and enormity of being a Protestant!!! I
promised faithfully to go. Of course, however, the adventure stops
there, and I hope I shall never see the priest again. I think you
had better not tell papa of this. He will not understand that it was
only a freak, and will perhaps think I am going to turn Catholic.
Trusting that you and papa are well, and also Tabby and the Holyes,
and hoping you will write to me immediately,--I am, yours,

'C. B.'

'The Holyes,' it is perhaps hardly necessary to add, is Charlotte's
irreverent appellation for the curates--Mr. Smith and Mr. Grant.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'BRUSSELS, _October_ 13_th_, 1843.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I was glad to receive your last letter; but when I read
it, its contents gave me some pain. It was melancholy indeed that so
soon after the death of a sister you should be called from a distant
county by the news of the severe illness of a brother, and, after
your return home, your sister Ann should fall ill too. Mary Dixon
informs me your brother is scarcely expected to recover--is this
true? I hope not, for his sake and yours. His loss would indeed be
a blow--a blow which I hope Providence may avert. Do not, my dear
Ellen, fail to write to me soon of affairs at Brookroyd. I cannot
fail to be anxious on the subject, your family being amongst the
oldest and kindest friends I have. I trust this season of affliction
will soon pass. It has been a long one.

'C. B.'

TO MISS EMILY J. BRONTE

'BRUSSELS, _December_ 19_th_, 1843.

'DEAR E. J.,--I have taken my determination. I hope to be at home
the day after New Year's Day. I have told Mme. Heger. But in order
to come home I shall be obliged to draw on my cash for another 5
pounds. I have only 3 pounds at present, and as there are several
little things I should like to buy before I leave Brussels--which you
know cannot be got as well in England--3 pounds would not suffice.
Low spirits have afflicted me much lately, but I hope all will be
well when I get home--above all, if I find papa and you and B. and A.
well. I am not ill in body. It is only the mind which is a trifle
shaken--for want of comfort.

'I shall try to cheer up now.--Good-bye.

'C. B.'

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