My Heart is in Haworth : My Brontë stories:
For the second installment of my Brontë stories, I was going to post a story I made up about Arthur at seventeen earning an invitation to ride with the Banagher Hunt. He wins this distinction by his determination over the years while following the hunt on foot with the other village lads since his arrival at the village.
The Banagher hunt was run by a Captain Armstrong. Captain Armstrong was a wealthy landowner and a Protestant. He kindly gave the local Roman Catholic congregation the land with which to build their church.
Did Arthur ride with the Armstrong Hunt? I don't know. But as long as his Uncle, Dr. Alan Bell, was alive and running the Banagher Royal School, and of even more import, had the use of the vast track of farmland that was attached to the Royal School's main building, Cuba House, Arthur's social status in the village would certainly allow such doings. So why not? I have him outfitted in Aunt Bell's brother, Joe Adamson’s old riding jacket and I even gave Arthur a hunt nickname,
It was given to him because no impediment would stop him. Even as a young boy on foot, Arthur could always be found at the climax of the hunt ; covered in mud from the many fields and ditches he traveled though.
Arthur starts out a figure of fun, a serious young boy, covered in mud. But though his grit and determination, over time, he gains respect, even affection and is invited to join the hunt fully
All this would of course forecast his determination and success during a different kind of hunt later in Haworth.
In the spring of 1854, when Charlotte became "what people call engaged", she wrote to her lifelong friend, Ellen Nussey, to give her an over view of what happened since their falling out over the matter in the summer of 1853. Charlotte sighted one event after another, but she summed up Arthur's winning strategy in three, crisp words
"He has persevered."
Indeed. One had better have a remarkable stick to it quality to win a Brontë. Being pessimists, they required a lot of convincing!
However, then I thought," You know the Brontë content should be high in these early installments." That's what folks care about most, naturally. So, my Arthur at seventeen hunt story will wait.
I'm now presenting two parts of a three-part story from January of 1850
This is when when Arthur Bell Nicholls learned Mr. Currer Bell meant Miss Charlotte Brontë. My story is called, Currer Bell means Charlotte Brontë 1850
We know it was 1850 because Charlotte reports in her letters to Ellen that Arthur was reading her books at that time.
I don't think people appreciate what an utter bombshell learning this about Charlotte must of been for Arthur. It would be a shock for us, today, much less for people a hundred and seventy + years ago, to learn, out of the blue, that someone we knew as a private person was in fact a hugely successful author, even a celebrity. Consequently, I have Arthur shocked by the news, but also at first, upset and dismayed.
Not because he is against women writing, per se. (he hadn't thought that far!) But because Arthur learns that the Parson's Charlotte, Miss Brontë, the woman he loves, is not simply a retired governess living quietly at Haworth Parsonage. She is in fact a world-renowned author.
This placed Charlotte even farther from Arthur's sphere than she was already. His faint hopes in that direction are smashed beyond dreaming when he learns just who Charlotte is and that all of London is at her diminutive feet. How can it be? We, today, still ask that question.
It took nearly three years of seeing how this world renown did little to ease Charlotte's horrific loneliness in order for Arthur to gather his courage and hope anew. The fame was tried and was found wanting.
Then “The Mudder" rides again.
For those not current with Brontë history, the people mentioned in the story; Rev. Joe Grant, Rev. James Smith, Rev. David Bradley and Arthur's best friend, Rev. Sutcliffe Sowden, were real clergymen in the area.
Who " old Fennell'" is, is explained. Those who know the history will see how I weaved it in among the fiction. I wish to point out "genius" was a term Arthur himself used when speaking about Charlotte 's gift.
Also it's true that years before Smith and Elder published Jane Eyre, the firm published a book length poem by a Rev. Alexander Ross, who happened to be Arthur's pastor as he was growing up in Banagher. Rev. Ross was a good friend still in 1850.
So here is my Brontë story about how Arthur Bell Nicholls learned Miss Charlotte Brontë was Mr. Currer Bell
Part one and two. Part three will be the next installment.
I hope you enjoy it.
Currer Bell means
Charlotte Brontë 1850
By Anne Lloyd
At the beginning of the New Year and decade, early January of 1850, I received a note from Sowden telling me to come see him at once, that very evening.
I write in haste to insist you to come to my rooms this evening without fail. I have learned something you must know. It is of the greatest import. I have ordered a fire and an extra dinner from Mrs. Ward. Don't fail me.
I could only wonder what it was about. Sowden was the most moderate of men. Rarely have I heard him use such a tone of urgency. I told Mrs. Brown I would be absent for dinner and after my afternoon parish visiting, I made haste to travel the eight miles to Sowden's lodging at Mrs. Wards's house in Hebden Bridge. As I came up the stairs, Sowden met me at the door to his rooms.
"Thank Providence you have come Arthur! Come to the fire! You look frozen through."
Once we had sat down, I asked him what it was all about. Sowden said wait until we have had our dinner at least. It was on the table. He told me later he wanted me to eat, as he was afraid, I would be too overwrought for the meal after I learned his news.
It may seem strange I agreed, but no curate living would ever be party to refusing a good dinner waiting. It was an odd meal to be sure. Between mouthfuls of Mrs. Ward's excellent food, Sowden seemed to smile to himself or looked fearfully in my direction.
When the dinner tray was at last placed in the hall, Sowden looked at me intently and said.
“Now to business." But his nerve failed him. He seemed unable to begin.
“Sutcliffe! What is this all about?"
He studied me for a moment and with a wince asked me,
"Arthur, are you familiar, that is , do you know the name.... Currer Bell?
I was dumbfounded. Sowden had urgently called me to his rooms for such a ridiculous question? I became nettled. All this fuss for such a frivolous reason! Calling me to speed across the frozen moor, saying,”Don’t fail me!", so I may answer an inquiry that could have waited until the second Christmas after Our Lord's return!
“Faith! Is that all Sowden? Have you gone mad?"
“Just answer me, Nicholls.”
If I had not been annoyed, perhaps I would have not growled my answer.
But growl, I did.
“Yes, I know the name,” I said. ”I know it well. I have reason to. You may recall, I was against that fellow's book, called Jane Eyre was it? I was against its inclusion to the Mechanics Library in '48. About this time of year actually."
“I recall" Sowden said quietly,”You indeed did not win that vote and I heard about it to be sure, from you! I recall that event, Nicholls. But I was wondering if you did."
“How can I forget it?" I said, warming to the topic. "So far it has been my only defeat in such matters. Before the vote, I made public remarks about its unsuitability. They were quite conclusive I thought.
"I have another reason to remember that author and book. "I said." Years ago Smith Elder, the publishing firm of Jane Eyre, published a book length poem composed by my pastor and good friend at home, Rev. Ross."
" Yes, the subject was the Seventh Crusade. A very edifying production, I have a copy Rev.Ross gave me himself. This Jane Eyre is a most unfortunate falling off for that firm."
"So it seems ." Sowden said.
"You know, I even read aloud passages from literary reviews to the committee to back my stand." I went on. " Yet the other members, some among our greatest families, voted for it. They paid no mind to my arguments. Mine was the only down vote among the committee, and Jane Eyre was so ordered. It was all rather lowering."
"Yes, but it’s very popular, you know," he offered in consolation.
“That is not a mark in its favor, Sowden!"
“No, but perhaps its eventuality."
"Hmm, yes, but one wonders why people call on the curate to give his counsel and then disregard it. It was an inglorious defeat and there the three volumes sit today, when not lent out. But why in Heaven’s name do you call me here on a January night to ask about some novel-writing fellow now?"
Rather than answering me directly, Sowden asked me if I remembered what those published reviews said about the novel, Jane Eyre. Because of my excellent memory, I answered in the affirmative and reported some of the review's contents.
"While I would hardly dare mention such doings in public,” I said “that is say so at the committee meeting itself, the reviews said one of the main actors in the book seeks to marry another woman whilst his wife still lived and behind the back of the innocent bride to be! Yet Mr. Bell paints this villain as a hero, an ideal, lavishing him with undue, indeed, overt affection, no matter how caddish he behaves. How could I approve of such a production? Naturally the reviews said that it would be injurious to young minds. Also, it was said that slang was not rare and that the author quoted the Bible as flippantly as one would employ Shakespeare. Shocking. The Quarterly was most damning. My duty was clear."
At the mention of that publication, Sowden's eyes brightened and he snatched up some papers.
"That review was the one I was alluding to, Nicholls. And because I never get rid of anything of a literary or liturgical bent, I have that '48 edition of The Quarterly here. I routed it out among the piles this morning. Let me read you another passage from it that might make things clear to you."
At this junction, our interview seemed even more uncanny. He well knew I thought ill of novels, as any responsible High Churchman would. Particularly one who educated the Parish’s youth as I did. I cared not at all for novels or their authors and only concerned myself with the questionable items when duty compelled me as an officer of the Mechanics Institute Lending Library. My main concern was for the vast majority of the Haworth flock; those who had no time or funds for such indulgences.
Sowden read to me a passage of the review that asserted the author of the novel Jane Eyre, one Mr. Currer Bell, must be not a man as the name indicated. The author was not a man at all, but a woman. A well, if eccentrically, educated woman who from the use of certain words and terms, must have been born and reared in the North of England. This woman may even be trained in Church matters. Yet this female authoress was most shockingly disrespectful of the clergy. They are often made to be villains of the piece.
Sowden looked up expectedly to my blank face.
“Arthur! Does not all that tell you something?"
"No, Sowden. It communicates nothing to me," I said. “Save I was right to vote against this book, Jane Eyre. Apart from that, all I can say is that while my middle name is Bell, this Mr. Currer Bell you keep on about is no relative of mine. If he were, my Bell people at home would have claimed him! I have novel readers in that part of the family. So, this Mr. Bell must be using a nom de plume."
Sowden laughed in triumph, “Nicholls! You have hit upon it at last! Indeed, it is!"
“What can you mean? Hit on what?"
“A nom de plume!" Sowden cried." That the name Currer Bell is a nom de plume! Arthur, have I not been trying to tell you all evening!?”
"Tell me what, Sowden? What?”
"That Currer Bell means Charlotte Brontë!"
After a stunned silence, I became furious. I cried out! How he could make such a joke, knowing my feelings for Miss Brontë? How could he prank me on this tender topic? Sowden was stung that I doubted his tremendous news.
"Nicholls! As if I would jest about this! It is no joke, Arthur! No hoax!"
I leaped up from my chair.
"It cannot be true!" I insisted. It was just too fantastic.
"Oh?" Sowden answered back. "I heard it directly from John Fennell, my old pastor and great uncle to Miss Brontë." Sowden said. "Fennell was told by Patrick Brontë himself. They are related by marriage and have known each other nearly forty years. Brontë told Fennell, Arthur, and Fennell told me!"
I was flattened by this information. And it was then I knew the truth of it. I gasped. It was as if I had been struck
Then I said , “Yes, of course I know Rev. Fennell." If he was Sowden's source, it was unimpeachable.
“It’s supposed to be a grand secret," Sowden said, cooling down, "and has been for some time. But Brontë finally could not refrain from telling such news to his old friend, who in turn, could not keep it from me. It has been rumored elsewhere much longer," Sowden said.
“I never heard such talk!" I said.
“Who would be brave enough to tell you such gossip?” Sowden answered. “Not I for one, until I knew it for dead certain. You are known for disliking novels and being soft on Miss Brontë! I told you those furtive looks you cast her way would out you one day. Remember how rumors about you two flew when you had been here but a year? Frankly, it is my contention everyone currently in on the secret assumes you do know, or does not think of you at all. I, your friend, tell you now, the moment I had it confirmed to me. Because you need to know it, Arthur. You must know it. Otherwise, I would never repeat what Fennell told me.”
"Yes, I see."
“Hearing the news from old Fennell is like hearing it from Brontë himself," Sowden said. "Fennell couldn't dream of such a thing any more than you or I could. He barely believes it himself. But it is perfectly true, Arthur. As true as you are standing there. Currer Bell is Charlotte Brontë."
Every dream I had was shattered, even those I did not know I still held. There were already so many impediments to any alliance between Charlotte and me. After all the deaths within the family, she was still in mourning, dressed still in the deepest black. Charlotte’s own health was currently not the best (and it would grow poorer for some time to come) plus there was my immutable poverty; a curate could barely keep himself much less a wife; add to all this, was Miss Brontë’s own lack of enthusiasm. It was all impossible before; now came this fantastical news to add a final seal.
Charlotte Brontë was not merely a former governess and spinster of Haworth Parsonage, Near Bradford. She was an authoress known throughout the world. So far as any hope I could have, Charlotte might as well have been placed on the moon.
I sank down again, overcome.
“It is fantastic, fantastic!" I said. “How can it be so? “ I looked up to him.
“They’ve always been odd, “ Sowden said."Kept strictly to themselves, at least the girls, and dressed wholly out of fashion, even for poor clergyman's daughters. And they run like rabbits if one meets them on the moor, at least the younger girls."
“All that is no explanation for this!”
“Then there is none save, it's true," Sowden said. "And the truth can dispense with logic."
“Have you read Miss Brontë’s book?” I asked him, my voice rather shaking.” Jane Eyre?”
“Of course," Sowden said. "I dare say everyone in the Worth valley who can read has and some may have read the new one too."
"Miss Brontë' has written two novels?" I asked aghast.
"Oh yes. The first one was such a success, it is only natural there should be more. I dare say you'll be voted down again over this new one too." He smiled ruefully. "Her second novel is not here, locally, as yet," Sowden said. "I had to travel to Bradford a few weeks ago to find those volumes to read. But it is coming our way undoubtedly."
"But Sowden," I said, "You told me you just learned of her identity, not a few weeks ago."
"I just learned it for certain, Arthur," Sowden said. "For absolute fact. But as I say, the rumor of Miss Brontë's authorship has been abroad for some time."
"You mean to say you traveled to Bradford to read a novel based on a mere rumor?" I couldn't understand a busy clergyman doing so. However, my question puzzled him. After a few moments Sowden replied, soberly.
"You have no conception of her renown, do you?"
In short order, I would discover Charlotte's genius and I have never ceased to receive jarring lessons as to her fame. But when you love the woman as I love her, everything else, all that the world holds dear, is inconsequential to that and her. I never could bend to the fame as others did. You see, I loved the woman.
I loved Charlotte Brontë long before the world valued her in the least and I basked in the brilliant light of the noonday Sun of the woman herself. Should I then turn to the pale Moon's reflection, her fame? Nay, a thousand times.
All this I thought out, long after. Presently, all I could say to Sowden, was that I was too dumbfounded to understand anything.
"What is this second novel called?" I asked him. Might as well know the name.
"Is it like the first one?" I dared to know.
"Not as full of startling incidents if that's what you mean. Rather prosaic next to the first one."
"Oh?" I said hopefully.
"However, it is this new novel that has revealed Miss Brontë's identity and loosened Brontë's and Fennell's lips. Its great sensation is based upon the fact her book is so frank about the set in the Lancaster district. Even though the story is placed thirty years ago, it's like sharp daguerreotypes of several actual persons they say. People are claiming to be the models, some are furious, some delighted, and all are talking about it! There is no hiding for her now."
From recalling the reviews, I began to remember there were more Bells authors and I then remembered at times bringing large parcels of paper to the Parsonage from Greenwood's shop for all of them, for letters to former pupils I thought. I had a hand in this!
"All that paper!” I said.
“Nothing Sowden, are there not more.... Bells?”
"Indeed. It's quite a controversy. Some say there is truly only one Bell author, acting as three brothers. But Fennell says all the Brontë girls have written and published books!"
“There are five Bell, that is to say, Brontë novels...as of yet." He said.
“Five?" Five novels written at the Parsonage and I had not a notion.
"And a book of poems too! If you disapprove of novels Nicholls, I know you favor poetry. "
I then remembered a day in '45 when the Parsonage was in the highest tumult. I was there to meet with Rev.Bronte. I found Tabby and Martha hiding in the kitchen, warning me not to go further. Female shouts and slamming doors boomed from the family quarters above. Rev. Brontë was embarrassed enough to allude to the ruckus and begged my pardon. He said dryly that as far as he could tell from the noise," My adult children are fighting over some poems. " I thought he was joking.
"Oh! " said Sowden," From Miss Brontë’s second novel, I copied out the description of you, Nicholls! I knew this passage would come in handy one day when you finally learnt the truth."
Sowden smiled as he brought forth a paper from his pocket.
“A description of me!?” Here was a danger I could not have imagined.
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
“I just told you she pens exact portraits of people known to her! There is a portrait of James Smith throughout, which I think it rather overdone myself. But she makes one laugh about him none-the-less. Joe Grant too! You know Grant's love of tarts and his habit of pocketing at least one for later when at tea?" Sowden laughed. "We always leave him one! Well, Miss Brontë’ put even that foible in her book! Young Bradley is there too! Though she showed him some mercy due to his youth I'm sure," Sowden almost laughed again.
Of course, I was horrified to learn that clergymen were held up to ridicule and even scorn in this novel, and worse, a novel penned by a clergyman’s daughter! I couldn't possibly know I would soon be reading aloud with relish those very passages about the curates to others, even the book's victims, such was my need to share its humor and we all laughed as intended. Though some more than others.
Presently, I had other concerns.
"But you say there is a portrait of me?" I asked, for that naturally was my greatest interest.
“Oh yes, and no mistake!" Sowden said.
It was only later I realized these were the first words I would knowingly hear from Charlotte's books and it was about myself. Few can understand such an experience. I certainly did not then.
“It comes at the very end," Sowden said. "You only appear when Smith's character has left the scene. You are the Irish curate replacement "
" The Irish curate!” I felt a cold dread like a stab.
"Yes, she’s that plain and bold about it! Bold as brass, I must say. The passage fair jumped out to me. I copied it down word for word. Now listen to this and you tell me who else it can possibly be." And he began to read aloud.
Perhaps I ought to remark that on the premature and sudden vanishing of Mr. Malone from the stage of Briarfield parish (you cannot know how it happened, reader; your curiosity must be robbed to pay your elegant love of the pretty and pleasing), there came as his successor another Irish curate, Mr. Macarthey. I am happy to be able to inform you, with truth, that this gentleman did as much credit to his country as Malone had done it discredit. He proved himself as decent, decorous, and conscientious as Peter was rampant, boisterous, and—— this last epithet I choose to suppress, because it would let the cat out of the bag.
He labored faithfully in the parish. The schools, both Sunday and day schools, flourished under his sway like green bay trees. Being human, of course he had his faults. These, however, were proper, steady-going, clerical faults—what many would call virtues. The circumstance of finding himself invited to tea with a Dissenter would unhinge him for a week. The spectacle of a Quaker wearing his hat in the church, the thought of an unbaptized fellow-creature being interred with Christian rites—these things could make strange havoc in Mr. Macarthey's physical and mental economy. Otherwise, he was sane and rational, diligent and charitable.
I felt every comforting delusion about myself scrapped away with a dull knife. You are rendered naked and helpless upon the world.
Sowden saw it differently.
"Ho! Nicholls have you splashed lamb's blood above your doorway? You were passed over from the worst of Miss Brontë's scorn."
"The other's fared worse than that?” I asked, amazed.
"Oh much! You have gotten the kid glove from Miss Brontë. Recall, she calls you decent, decorous, and conscientious! "
" Sowden, if it be true, that Miss Brontë is being kind to me, I don't understand why. Because we have tilted lances over the Parsonage tea table for years and when in the mood, Miss Brontë's antagonism is very apparent. The lady highly disapproves of my views."
"But she approves of you, Nicholls."
“Surely not." It was unthinkable.
"I am no expert on Miss Brontë's likes or dislikes," Sowden said, "but I have read this second novel of hers and her treatment of you is singular. Why it's as if the authoress suppressed her usual mode. Her customary sharp manner when describing human beings is blunted when it comes to Arthur Bell Nichols."
"You know more of literary modes than I.”
“It’s more than that. But surly when you read the book you will see the difference in treatment from the others for yourself."
“It troubles me, Sowden.”
" I would think you would be glad!"
“Glad! To have myself drawn so before the public? But I am apprehensive also for another matter as well."
“Dear fellow why? She’s kind to you! It would seem your appreciation of the lady is returned somewhat Nicholls." He was watching me.
“I'll not believe it. But, Sowden by this notice Miss Brontë plays with fire. She encourages the arousing of powerful sentiments and she will likely regret doing so. I, myself know not what to think. Perhaps this kindness means I do not interest her enough for her usual censure?"
"No, man. Not in my estimation." He held up his note. "Miss Brontë has observed you carefully and there is gentle, even, forgiving humor here that is saved for her favorites."
Sowden found the place and reread.
Being human of course he had his faults. These however were proper steady- going clerical faults - what many would call virtues.
He chuckled. "Very good. So dry. Dry enough to go over the head of many. You have told me of Miss Brontë's humor. I had not seen it before this."
The circumstance of finding himself invited to tea with a Dissenter would unhinge him for a week.
Sowden laughed. “Your social graces on full display. Marvelous!"
The spectacle of a Quaker wearing his hat in the church, the thought of an unbaptized fellow creature being interred with Christian rites, these things would make strange havoc in Mr Macarthey's physical and mental economy. Otherwise, he was sane and rational, diligent and charitable.
“How well done! It could only be you Nicholls! How does she know all that about you? Your temper just in check? The tumult under the reserve? For I know you are statue-like at the Parsonage."
"Miss Brontë is just the same is my surmise,” I said. “Do not be fooled by that Brontë formality and frost."
"It is rather formidable," he said.
"I have seen them on a near daily basis for five years and at full roar. They are wild Irish at heart."
“I don't expect such words from you, Nicholls, being an Irishman yourself."
"Accept them as a tribute, Sowden. I can see the truth of them without being locked in iron prejudice. You know I speak of individuals, not of the whole."
"She calls you 'charitable' Arthur. From Miss Brontë that is great approbation.”
I nodded. It was an attribute that rarely issued from Charlotte and among her highest. I was disturbed anew.
"Sowden, I have gotten on at Haworth all these years by having no hope in that quarter. Now as I say, I fear Miss Brontë has awakened a sleeping tiger and just when I learned any chance I made have had with her is even more impossible than it seemed this morning."
I was rather dazed and asked him to read the passage to me again.
It was when he repeated the lines:
Being human, of course he had his faults. These, however, were proper, steady-going, clerical faults—what many would call virtues.
At that my lips twitched and I did laugh, then I laughed out loud.
Sowden looked up surprised and after a moment he laughed as well.
“See? I told you it was droll," Sowden said. “But how about this?”
The circumstance of finding himself invited to tea with a Dissenter would unhinge him for a week.
And he laughed some more. “Oh, I don't mean to laugh again, Nicholls, but you must admit it has a germ of truth to it. However this is nothing Arthur, next to the frank drubbing Miss Brontë gives to other local curates in the beginning of the book. As I say, Smith and Grant among them! I was laughing and scandalized at once when reading their treatment. Make no mistake, it's them to the life."
At this junction, different thoughts and feelings arose. I began to slowly see it Sowden's way and appreciate the notice. It was a strange feeling. Afterwards, I did come to even triumph over the character Charlotte had drawn of me. In time I would often read my portrait within Charlotte’s novel, in order to feel those brilliant eyes upon me. After I began to read her works, I would be drawn to the books again and again in order to experience, what I felt emanating from the little figure from the first; her exquisite, extraordinary sensibility. It was sensual, singular and unique in all the world.
Her genius was Charlotte articulated this sensibility and by her words, seared the reader forever with her feelings. At times I had to put the books away, such was their power to excite a longing within me to join that sensibility. A desire, which so many times, seemed pointless to harbour.
However all this lay ahead. During that evening, in Sowden's rooms, I was in a confused muddle and, when not speaking, I simply stared into the fire.
Sowden thought of something else.
“Much of the first book, Jane Eyre, is written in French. It will be a nuisance if you can't decipher it. Can you at least read French, Nicholls?"
"Yes. Though I have rarely used it, I am fluent enough." I assured him. “ Certainly enough for reading. I learnt it years ago as a lad."
"Indeed? How did that come to be?”
"French and German was taught in my Uncle's school where I was raised," I said. "I studied everything the school had to offer in turn and later taught some subjects when there was no one else. Though not that course I admit. Uncle would have a native for the modern languages."
This struck Sowden. “French taught in an Irish school?” he smiled. "Whatever for?"
“We were educating gentleman's sons, Sowden and.... in case they came back.“ I smiled. I was not perturbed enough to forgo a jest at his expense.
“In case they come back? Oh!" Sowden said, "You mean when the Frenchies return to lead another Irish rebellion! You are joking Nicholls, surely."
But I could not keep from smiling still. It was a pleasure at times to gently shake his complacency.
“That is not your wish!" Sowden said.
“So, my country can be laid waste again and the oppressor's coils drawn even tighter? No, by God," I answered. “I am Tory enough to not wish that. I agree with Brontë that reform is the way. But like any loyal Irishman, I am also at the ready with a pike under the bed."
"Oh, nonsense!" Sowden snortted. "You’re a Scot, as you have told me repeatedly, and so avoid the thickest part of the conflict so you say."
I could not refute it. I learnt that lesson at Uncle Alan's knee. We Scots were the professional class, the doctors, the lawyers, the clergymen.
"We are the buffer, Sowden. Seeing to business between the two warring camps who do not trust each other."
"But they trust you, Scots?" He wondered
I laughed. "More than they do each other."
”Yes, I see. What an odd humor you have at times, Nicholls. You and Miss Brontë would be well-matched! But as it turned out, the knowledge of French has come in handy for you already, today! It goes on for pages and pages in Miss Brontë's books and at most telling points,”
I marveled again at a fate which gave an Irish farm lad such knowledge and so much more.
Sowden still looked concerned.
“Be at ease, man," I said. “My Uncle’s school trained landowner's sons for, at most, University, not for rebellion."
”Knowledge is rebellion,” Sowden said.
I loved him as a brother, but he was English and I am an Irishman, even though most of the people of my country would say nay, and call me a rank newcomer at only four or so generations. Why I had barely arrived.
“Rebellion, is it?” I said. “Is that what I am doing for two hours every day at the Church School then and you the same at your school? Instructing our scholars in Rebellion?"
“No. In that case, knowledge is revolution," Sowden said. “We are fostering better mill hands with better morals, who do not injure themselves so frequently from ignorance."
"I aim to make a few something else besides,” I said.
"Teachers at least, Sowden. Get some out of smocks and in front of following scholars, rather than always behind a loom."
“What is wrong with employment at a loom?”
“Naught if there be a choice.“
“You and Brontë disagree on religion, but you both are equally keen about education."
"We’ve always had that footing and respect between us regardless of anything else,“ I said, “as it raised us both from the muck."
“It is well you both reach behind you to raise others then," Sowden nodded.
“What ungrateful louts we would be if we didn't! Sowden, I must read those Bell books, Miss Brontë's most of all!"
“I thought on that “Sowden said. “I could lend you our local copy of Jane Eyre." But he did not sound eager. I thought on the inconvenience both to him and myself in such an arrangement and I thought of something far better.
“No, I will ask Brontë himself to lend me his copy," I said.
“Ask Brontë?!" Sowden said. “You amaze me.”
“A desperate situation calls for desperate measures."
“Is it so desperate as that?" Sowden wondered.
"You know it is to me, Sowden. I must have those books and I must be open about it! It is not enough to read them. The Parsonage must know that I am doing so."
Now that I had a goal, I found my moorings. My confusion left and I could not bare any more subterfuge or waste of time.
"I will apply to Brontë, right after Church School tomorrow morning."
"What will you say to him? It's still supposed to be a secret."
“Not a very well kept one you tell me! I will inform Rev. Brontë I'm aware of the situation and ask for a denial or confirmation.”
“Don’t mention me or old Fennell!" Sowden said urgently. "He did not ask me to keep it in confidence, I think he forgot to! But I’ll not like to see him called to account by Rev. Brontë because I told you."
“Of course not!" I said. “I will expose neither you nor Fennell. I will say it was a rumor. Then when Brontë confirms the truth of it, I will ask to borrow his copy. He must have one."
"Do you think he will lend it to you?" Sowden asked.
"I do, Sowden,” I said. “Brontë’s pride made him boast to Fennell. Let him now boast to me."
The next day, I knocked upon Rev. Brontë's study door and waited for his call to enter.
Brontë looked up for a moment from some employment upon his desk.
“Was there something particular, Nicholls?" he asked me. I had come unexpectedly and I had closed the door behind me. Usually, Brontë's door was open unless alone.
I nodded, "Yes Sir," and took the chair he offered with a flick of his eyes.
"Well then? What is it?"
"Rev Brontë, I heard some remarkable news I can hardly credit and I wish your say on the matter."
“My say? And what could your news be?" I saw he was far more interested in reading and pasting newspaper pieces into a scrap book. Review articles? Why had I not noticed before?
"Sir, I have been told that the famous author, Currer Bell, is none other than Miss Brontë."
His head jerked up from reading to stare at me and then at the door. He was glad it was indeed shut.
"Who told you that Nicholls?" Brontë demanded.
“I am not at liberty to say Sir," I answered. “But the source is unimpeachable.”
Brontë knew I was great friends with Sowden and that Sowden was at one time Fennell’s curate. In quick order, Brontë had to suspect he, himself was the source of my information. A crimson flush rose above his voluminous cravat. A sign of his displeasure.
“Can you deny or confirm it, Sir?” I asked mildly while quaking.
Rev. Brontë fought with himself for some moments, glaring. I imagine he was under a ban, which failed with his old friend Fennell, who was family by marriage after all. Then Brontë's pride bested him again.
“Oh very well!" He said quietly, “Yes, it's true! My daughter Charlotte is Currer Bell, authoress of the great success, Jane Eyre." Brontë’s eyes shone with pride.
“And the new book by Currer Bell as well," I asked, "called, Shirley?"
“Yes, of course. She has penned both," Brontë confirmed stoutly.
“I don't see why?” Brontë bristled. “I have accomplishments in literature and my children have even greater gifts. They are fitted to be among the best!"
I was struck how he referred to them as if they were all still living.
“Oh, no reflection on Miss Brontë, Sir!" I answered. "It is just unexpected that such a light of fame would shine upon our remote village."
“Nicholls, that is too smooth for you, by more than half,” Brontë said. “You sound more like James Smith, than yourself."
I did rather. It came from the folly of rehearsal. Rev. Brontë then bent closer to speak in a conspiratorial manner.
“I ask you, man to man, to keep this information to yourself. You have so far, have you not?"
"Yes, indeed Sir."
Brontë sat back, already becoming a river of information.
"Much talk is coming from the area near Lancaster," he said. "I suspect Joe Taylor. He is a brother of my Daughter's old school fellow, Miss Mary Taylor."
"I have seen Mr. Taylor, Sir,” I said.
Any regular visitor to the Parsonage would have taken note of Mr. Joseph Taylor. He came often to the Parsonage and stood out from the usual visitors of clergymen, tradesmen and humble folk. A strikingly self-possessed, well dressed Yorkshire gentleman and merchant, who tended to look though the local curate as if he were not before him. Yet he always had a word or a nod for Tabby and Martha. He was among the very few allowed the intimacy of the sailing though Parsonage's back kitchen door unannounced.
Mr. Taylor, indeed, treated Haworth Parsonage as if it was his own home; dropping in for teas and even dinners with an aplomb the aforementioned James Smith would envy. Mr. Taylor was condescending enough however to send a hasty note beforehand to announce his intentions. Then shortly thereafter, Mr. Taylor himself would arrive.
I knew all this because the sudden inclusion of such a guest caused an excited havoc in the Parsonage’s kitchen and was greatly remarked upon at the Browns. But no one minded any effort for this fine gentleman. Joe Taylor was a close friend of Miss Brontë's and a favorite.
"Joe Taylor!" Brontë said again, ” For this second book of hers my Daughter was rash enough to supply him with her written manuscript to read! "Rev. Brontë said,"Supplying him with actual proof of her authorship! She said she was merely seeking his opinion! Bah! I'll not believe it. Taylor likes to gossip as she well knows, at least he indulges in it greatly when here at tea. He is a good sort over-all. But he likes being the first to tell others any great news."
Brontë looked grim.
"There is no more ready ground for rumor than Joe Taylor! When I pointed this out, when I said to my Daughter that the manuscript she had handed Mr. Taylor was in fact a torch and that torch will ignite the whole district, my Daughter said nothing. I must conclude she wants her authorship known and has used Joe Taylor as a sure means. She could do no better to proclaim herself Currer Bell if she took an advertisement in the Bradford Observer!
"In light of all that," Brontë looked sheepish. ”I... saw no harm in telling Fennell."
I had not said how I learned of it and said nothing now.
"You heard it from Rev. Fennell did you not?" Brontë asked. As soon as he did, Rev. Brontë realized that fine gentleman would never betray him to me, his own curate. A closer bond would be needed.
“One of the Sowden boys." He said almost to himself.
I made no answer, but I hardly needed to.
“In justice, I cannot complain Fennell didn't keep the secret, when I did not myself," Brontë said. "Well, it can't be kept completely unknown for long in any case."
In truth, he was glad. He was smiling.
"I have not mentioned it Sir. I don't like gossip. That is why I came to you."
"Now Sir, may I borrow a copy of Miss Brontë's book?" I asked him.
Brontë started. "You? Borrow her book?"
“Why?" he asked sharply.
"So I may read it." Did he think I needed a door stop?
"You disprove of novels, Nicholls, that is my understanding," Brontë frowned. "Very much so."
Usually, I would say he was correct. Novels were a waste of time to my thinking then, even dangerous. Made for rich idlers who had the leisure and money for such vain pursuits and I found it shocking a clergyman's daughter has engaged in such practices. But I wanted that book as much as I wanted anything before in my life and though I did not like myself for it, I held my tongue to answer him mildly.
"Indeed Rev Brontë, but I have never been acquainted with an authoress of any kind before. It would be remarkable to read a book in such a light."
“So it is mere curiosity that causes your request Nicholls?" Brontë asked.
“I would not say that, Sir. Do you have a copy?"
"Of course!" Brontë said.
"I should hope there's nothing in it I should not read?" I said. I knew that would goad him further my way.
“Naturally not!" Brontë said. "I will lend you the first one, Jane Eyre. Then the other one."
“I thank you Sir, I would indeed like read to them in their proper sequence." And so I seemed to have secured the lending of both books by Currer Bell.
Rev. Brontë got up and from the book case took the first volume and presented it to me. My eyes flicked to the other two. So that was where it lived. Miss Brontë's book! Indeed, I recognized the backs from the Mechanics Institute's Lending Library.
He extended it to me, but thought better of it.
My hand grasped mere air.
“No, I'll not lend out my copy,"Brontë said, drawing it back. “My Daughter has a lending copy. Go to her now and tell her I said you may read it."
Brontë was not wholly approving of all this, but again, he could not help himself. The love of Charlotte's fame was already strong upon him.
“It has had many excellent reviews in the finest publications," Brontë said, his chin rising. Then he remembered it was merely me to whom he spoke and wished me good day.
“Ask Miss Brontë for the book?" I said tonelessly.
This was something I had not counted on. I'd rather Brontë tell her I knew her secret, a job he just adroitly avoided altogether.
“Indeed. Just do be sure to inform her I was not the one who first told you, Nicholls," Brontë said. “Let her see now the fruit of taking Joe Taylor into her confidence and that I was right. The news has reached even my curate."
Without further thought, Brontë waved me off to the dining room to apply directly to Miss Brontë for her lending copy of Jane Eyre.
©Anne Lloyd 2023