Part Five of Bronte Country

The presents were opened; twilight had fallen, and darkness was veiling the green hills and scraggy moors. The hour of the box-bed drew near; I had resolved to climb inside as soon as night fell. Though too afraid to sleep in it, I would certainly spend my evening inside it. Standing before the bed I shut my eyes and ‘slid back the paneled sides, got in with my light, pulled them together again’. They creaked terribly as I drew them back; the smell inside was a pleasant one of fresh pinewood – I pretended it was musty, and in my mind’s eye hung cobwebs in the corners. Shaking with fear and yet half laughing, a smile of nervous excitement frozen upon my lips, I leaned across the bed to examine the dreaded window. It was not exactly as described in the book; indeed, in Wuthering Heights the window bore more resemblance to the one outside the bed, already described, for in the book it opened, and was large enough so that ‘the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table.’. The local legend said however that this was the window, and for good reason, for it looked in many ways spookier than the other. It was very small and square, and cut strait out of the stone, and it did not open. It was placed back substantially from the wall, embedded deep in the wall, with a small slanting window ledge. But alas, carved upon it were no “Catherine”s. Outside the cold dark night pressed against the pane, and far off lights glimmered through the darkness. Condensation beaded the window, and a couple of drops were trickling down onto the window ledge. The stone below was rough, and when the drops reached the bottom they stuck between the bumps in the stone like little jewels. On the window ledge stood a huge old bible, half crumbled apart. Eagerly I turned over the huge leaves, half hoping – or should I say dreading – to find something written in the margins, though I knew it to be impossible. Disappointed in my search, I pulled the book off the ledge (carefully of course) and placed on the windowsill my wonderful writing desk already described in the last part. I folded it out, and taking out some paper and my pens and ink, I began to write.

Many times I was interrupted in my writing by the sight of a strange shadow reaching toward the window; twice on seeing it I nearly screamed, and had to hurry across the bed and, panting, throw open the door and look into the bright, reassuring room, wherein the adults were chatting. I tried to use the new blotter, but ended up splotching ink over all the paper. But if after I had finished it looked more like a mess of ink, I had certainly had fun writing it.

Box bed photos

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Part Three of Bronte Country

We drove on through the stirring countryside, now up through the moors, now plunging down again into the green hills. A light rain was falling, and a wintery haze, broken sometimes by the slanting sunlight that burst occasionally through the clouds above, seemed to hang about. As we neared our destination, a large reservoir came into view, reflecting the grey of the stern sky exactly, except that it added a feel of glossy silver. The rain pattered upon the glassy surface of the water, creating tiny splashes. And then Ponden Hall itself came into view; a long, sturdy grey building, with a slanted roof, and just below the roof a long line of windows clustered together on each side of the doorway, made of lots of tiny little pains. Directly above the doorway was a little arch-shaped crevice, with writing carved in it. I tried to read it as we drove up, and did not, alas, catch the words, ‘Hereton Earnshaw’. The doorway itself was classical in style, made of the same stone as the building, with a white door in it.

We stood on the step and rung the bell; we were not greeted either by a dark, glowering Heathcliff, or by a cascade of snarling dogs throwing us to the ground (these circumstances I regretted at the time, but found afterward were rather more of a relief) but instead by the very friendly owners of Ponden Hall who hurried us into the main room and gave us lots of cake and tea, which we were badly wanting after the cold and tiring walk back up to the car from Wycoller Valley, which had been particularly difficult for me as I was continually tripping over my long muddied skirts.

Being well lit, comfortable and not especially large, the room we were now in bore at first sight very little resemblance to the room in which the laughable Mr Lockwood is attached by dogs (it was this room that the “house” at Wuthering Heights, where the dog encounter occurs, must have been based on). But on looking more closely I noticed several things that bore, in fact, a striking resemblance to the room described in the book. One of the things I noticed was that the floor was paved with large slabs of stone, giving very much the feeling of Wuthering Heights, and actually described in the book (though in the book they are white; in reality grey). Indeed, take away the warmth and comfort of the room and place in it some rather more old-fashioned furniture, it was indeed very much as described in the book; excepting one thing, which was that it is rather smaller than I image the room in Wuthering Heights to be. We were told however by the owners of Ponden Hall (Steve and Julie) that the room used to be much bigger, and the Great Hall of the house. It was made smaller before Emily’s time, but still, she might have know that it used to be a Great Hall and transported the house back in time a little for her story.

After finishing our examination of the room and our cake and tea, we were shown upstairs into our rooms. The first room we were shown was comfortable-looking, but nevertheless it bore distinguished marks of Wuthering Heights about it. Among other things was the amazing ceiling. It was high and slanting, and covered with wooden planking as though it were the floor. Across the planking all the way up were a row of incredibly large, long beams, and altogether made an incredible sight when gazed up at from below. There were three beds; two singles and a double, and the double, the one that I was to share with my mother, was a four poster. It was not, however, one of those romantic sorts of four posters of which I generally dreamed; it was not a bed similar to that described by Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, ‘and the bed, of dark green stuff or purple velvet, presenting even a funereal appearance’ No. It was a very comfortable bed with white sheets and pillows, and the hangings were of gauzy transparent stuff. By the bed stood an old rocking horse, with two little seats attached to it that rocked also. My brother Tassy pleaded to be allowed on, but Mum said we had to see the other room first. This other room that was mentioned was the one my aunt and grandmother (who were also come with us to Ponden) were to sleep in, and on seeing it I would certainly have had a shock, had I not already had suspicions of what the second bed was to be.

We passed out of the room, and from there through two doors. A bookcase was attached to the wall in the space of hall between the two. We then went on through a carpeted corridor, the walls of which were hung with pictures; we then passed the stairs we had come up, and continued down a new section of the corridor we had not yet passed through. The corridor ended – in front of us stood a low doorway of shiny dark oak, in shape more in the gothic style than roman (though it was not quite gothic, for though it had a pointed top, it did not curve round gracefully toward the point; it was like two strait planks on either side, and then two more on top of them leaning toward each other, forming above something like that triangle shaped thing that stands on Greek temples). We opened the door; as it creaked open, I got for the first time in the Hall a real feeling of Wuthering Heights. The room stood before us in all its majesty – and in it – I have already said that I suspected, but yet my heart jumped at the sight of it. But I will not suffer the readers of this to discover what that surprise so startling to me is until I have described the less prominent details of the room.

The walls were made of stone with a very Wuthering Heights aspect, of a pale warm colouring; the was floor polished wood with a glazing of black over it, and the ceiling was like that in the other room, only a little less spectacular, for the beams were smaller, the ceiling was lower and there was no planking. However, this ceiling had the advantage of some lower beams going from one side of the room to the other. There was a large fireplace, and in front of it a wooden chest. On either side of the chest was a chair; on one side an arm-chair and on the other a rocking chair, and facing it was a sofa, in the same pattern and with the same throw as the armchair. On the right-hand wall was a window with a window-frame of heavy stone, divided into three panes, the middle pane of which opened up. In front of the window was a little table on which lay some vases, jugs and bowls of blue pottery, and a old edition of Wuthering Heights. Now the minor details of the room have been described, we may describe the other thing, that shocking thing, the crowning of the room. We will take to describe it a paragraph out of Wuthering Heights.

“I fastened my door and glanced round for the bed. The whole furniture consisted of a chair, a clothes-press, and a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top resembling coach windows. Having approached this structure, I looked inside, and perceived it to be a singular sort of old- fashioned couch, very conveniently designed to obviate the necessity for every member of the family having a room to himself. In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table. I slid back the panelled sides, got in with my light, pulled them together again, and felt secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff, and every one else.”

It was this ‘large oak case, with cut squares near the top resembling coach windows’ that now faced us. Sliding panel doors, little windows at the top, all was complete. Only the markings and shine of wear was wanting; this was no ancient box bed, but one placed in the room for Wuthering Heights tourists. But as this circumstance was not what I would have wished, I merely passed over it in imagination, added in my head the tatter and the wear, and that is what I mean the readers of this to do. But I did not bound toward it and enter at once – for one reason, I was to stupefied with amazement, thrill and a little of terror – for the other, I felt that it would spoil it to get in while the grown-ups were tramping round the room like buffalos, and chatting in a manner guarantied to ruin any romance. I would wait until the room was quieter, and until my mind was a little quieter also.

 

 

 

Photo 1 The rocking horse mentioned in text    Photo 2 The Box Bed Room

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of the Moors

(picture above is of me, standing on Bronte moors in Howarth

 

BRONTES

Wuthering Heights

It is impossible to imagine the impulse that made Emily write such a strange, such a powerful, such a passionate, such an unaccountable – in short such a unearthly book – impossible, that is, until you stand on the Bronte moors by Penistone Crag, and look down on that incredible expanse of wild land, with the wind stirring  the heather and moaning through the hills. Then and only then can you image how such characters as Heathcliff where invented. The moors can stir strange power in you; you might say it is they who had written Wuthering Heights, not Emily.