Yesterday's Magazette

9 – Emily Bronte

Down The Path She Walked, Emily Did

YM:Ong:Bronte2

Above: Photo of the “Bronte chair” at the bottom of a valley near Haworth, West Yorkshire, England.

By Richard Ong

I gripped the grass with both hands and braced myself on the wet, slippery side of the hill. My hiking shoes were caked with mud. There was mud on my sweat-stained shirt and my threadbare jeans. The backpack that I carried wasn’t getting any lighter. I was out of water and the heat of the noonday sun had already scorched the back of my neck. I neglected to put on sunscreen this morning and I was paying for it. But the worse part of it was losing my trail map somewhere down the bottom of the valley below.

I was in a precarious position and my entire weight was barely supported by the strong roots of the grass. I took a deep breath in order to calm myself and whispered to my guardian angel, “Dearest Emily. Please, please help me find the path for I am so very lost!”

Moments later, I felt a breeze rise from the valley. With all the remaining strength that I could muster, I hauled myself up, one grueling step at a time, toward the top of the hill.

*****

“Now remember class, your assignment for next week is to write a two thousand word essay on how life at the moors resulted in her creation of this masterpiece.”  Mrs. Schaeffer waved the small book in the air for anyone who cared to listen in her Grade Thirteen class. I groaned inwardly as I carried my bag, heavy with binders and walked out the door.

A two thousand word essay on Wuthering Heights!  I felt like I was being punished.

I spent the next several nights struggling over the tiny print of the yellowed pages of the worn paperback once owned by my sister. Armed with a dictionary I pored over each word, each sentence, and each paragraph of the novel. I tried my best to empathize with Cathy, Edgar, and the brooding, dark personality of Heathcliff. I’d always thought that the Victorians were prim and proper in their manners.

I didn’t realize how limited my knowledge was to the table scraps that Hollywood provided of Nineteenth Century life in the movies. I was appalled by the vicious cycle of conflict, unbridled love and hate among the characters in the story. I decided there was only one thing for me to do in order to truly connect with the novel.

I headed for the library the next day.

*****

With a little bit of luck, I found a small purchase on the side of the grassy hill – enough for me to lean back and get my bearings. I took a sharp intake of breath when I saw what I had been searching for. Reaching back, I unzipped the side pocket of my backpack and took out the small digital camera. The waterfall was not as spectacular as I had envisioned it to be. Perhaps due both to the lateness of the year and the recent dry spell of the summer, much of the previous spring’s water melt had been reduced to this mere unimpressive trickle.

Still, it was the same waterfall that Emily saw all her life.

The soft breeze I felt earlier came upon me in gusts as if urging me on to continue my trek up the hill. Storing my camera safely back into the pack, I slowly twisted around and tried to avoid looking down the sharp drop of the valley below. I grabbed hold of another clump of grass and squinted against the sun as I tried to make out the remaining distance between me and the elusive summit above.

*****

Emily Jane Bronte did not live a remarkable life. In fact, she spent most of her adult years at home and traveled less than her sisters. Nevertheless, she connected with her environment like no one else did in her family. She was as wild in spirit as the winds of the moors and it reflected in her writings. I quickly lost track of time as I scribbled these thoughts in my notepad, when I realized that the library was about to close for the night. I packed my things and took the bus home, eager to resume reading her novel.

Writing this essay did more for me than understand the life of the author. I began to develop an appreciation of life in the early part of the Nineteenth Century. I had many, many questions on how they led their daily lives, not just the opulent landowners in their English manors, but also the simple country folk and the growing middle class of the Industrial Age. I was smitten by that era and resolved to learn more. It was an age when reading and writing was the favorite past time. And the Brontes did a lot of those in their spare time.

Nineteen years later, I was onboard a plane en route to Leeds Bradford International on my first trip to England… and on my way to visit her home in Haworth.

*****

Finally, I reached the top of the hill. I was lucky enough to discover a small trail hidden by the wild foliage and grass which helped me negotiate the rest of the ascent. I stood for a minute to catch my breath and bathed under the merciless heat of the sun. I looked around and saw that the trail I recently discovered began to widen into a clearly discernible footpath on a plateau for at least a kilometer toward the distant horizon away from the valley behind me. I started the long trek toward God knows where, hoping that I would reach the village soon before sundown.

*****

“That would be five quids for the white rose, Sir.” The elderly woman smiled at the small flower shop in Haworth. “Your young lady should like that very much.”

“Thank you,” I said as I gave her the money. “I hope that she likes it, too. Today’s her birthday, you know.”

“Is that a fact? Well, she’s a very lucky girl.”

I started to wave goodbye when I remembered something and walked back to the counter. “Do you by any chance have a walking trail map of the moors towards the Bronte Waterfall?”

*****

As the sun began to dip down and cast long shadows all around, I could not help but admire the unspoiled beauty of the moors all around me. The purple heathers were just beginning to show, though it wouldn’t be for another few weeks before this path was ablaze with their colors in full bloom.

The temperature had already dropped with the waning sun and brought a refreshing breeze behind me, urging me to pick up my pace before sunset. There were two signposts ahead and as I approached the fork in the footpath, one of the signs pointing to my right read, “To Haworth Village – 0.5 km.” I smiled and quickened my pace.

*****

I carefully took the wet sponge off the base of the stem. With a sharp piece of rock, I dug a small hole and planted the white rose next to the large stone that was shaped like a chair. It was said that the Bronte sisters took turns sitting on this “chair” to write their manuscripts. I looked up and savored the moment of being on the exact same physical location where she spent countless hours of her life breathing in the same air that I now inhaled, more than a century-and-a-half ago.

It was as if time had stood still and we both occupied the same space in different centuries on the thirtieth of July. I placed the small book with the blue binding (a collection of her poetry) on the stone chair where she sat, and I whispered, “Happy Birthday, Emily.”

With one last look around the surrounding hillside, I slowly made my way up the valley in search of the waterfall.

*****

The sun had nearly set over the horizon. But it didn’t matter because I could already make out the tall silhouette of the church. The footpath continued for another few hundred meters before I realized that I was walking on the flagstones that led into the cemetery. Pointed iron bars lined the path on my left until I saw the stone steps that led up into the graveyard and toward a familiar sight. I immediately recognized the building as the Bronte Parsonage.

I paused on the steps with one hand resting on the iron guardrail and saw a little girl in a black gown skipping up the path between the gravestones. She turned around and brushed a long lock of fine dark hair from her eyes in the sudden gust of wind. I felt a cold shiver and was rooted on the spot.

She smiled at me, then turned around and continued on her merry way skipping up the path towards home.

Vol. 37 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2010

1 Comment »

  1. Richard – I loved your story about visiting Emily Bronte on her birthday. I don’t remember if anyone made me read Wuthering Heights for an assignment, but it’s one of the oldest books I have, and I have to re-read it every few years. Just to return to those moors. Thanks for reminding me. Jean

    Comment by Jean Johnson — March 2, 2010 @ 9:17 am | Reply


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