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For Want of a Governess

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1. 

 

Dear Ms. Vandergaard, 

 

I am writing in response to your recent advertisement. I have found myself in need of a governess and found your description held some amount of promise. If you are still seeking employment, a prompt reply with a more thorough description of yourself would be appreciated. If you are not, no reply is necessary. 

 

The Branwell Estate

 

2. 

 

Dear Mr. Branwell,

 

I assume your letter was from Mr. Branwell, though it was signed “the Estate.” If I am speaking to Mrs. Branwell, I deeply apologize. 

I appreciate your message! Unfortunately, I am not currently looking for a position. I received a hiring offer the day after I placed my advertisement and have already started on with my new employers. However, these jobs do not always last as long as one would hope. If you would like, I would be happy to keep your family in mind and write to you first the next time I find myself out of work! I do not anticipate it taking too long, so should your need not be urgent or your first governess become indisposed or ill-suited to the task shortly after joining your household, I would be honored if you would reach out again.

Should your need be urgent, I will take no offense. I know a fair number of governesses with a wide variety of talents and teaching methods. If you have any special skills or education you are seeking in an employee, I would be happy to ask around and see who might be up to the task. 

I am happy to be of assistance in your search. 

 

Thank you for your consideration,

Emilie Vandergaard

 

3. 

 

Dear Ms. Vandergaard, 

 

If you are writing to a potential future employer, mentioning how briefly you tend to stay in your position is generally regarded as a poor decision. This is the case twice over when that position in question is one in the field of childrearing and typically expected to be held until the child reaches adulthood. Though our need is not currently urgent, if you are new enough to your chosen field to not know better than this, I will respectfully decline your offer of contacting you at a later date.

I have few requirements for a governess. She must be well-educated, in good health presently and typically of a strong constitution, and unafraid of hard work. She must have a good sense of direction—the moors can be treacherous territory to navigate, as can the Manor. She must be willing to stay on with the family for far longer than it seems you would be.

 

The Branwell Estate

 

4. 

 

Dear Mr. Branwell, 

 

If I may be so frank, I resent your implication that I am not sufficiently skilled in my chosen field. Attached are several glowing letters of recommendation from former employers. No matter how brief my employments may or may not have been, I consider it a point of pride that I have never left a position while my services were still needed. In fact, one might go as far as to say that my history is a point in my favor: my shorter terms than most governesses serve have given me a wider variety of experiences with a much more diverse population of students than most governesses of my age can boast. I have adapted quickly to a myriad of learning styles and personalities, risen to every challenge that has been presented to me, and never found myself unable to suit a family’s needs. 

The length of my employment is in no way a reflection upon myself, simply a series of unfortunate circumstances. My most recent employment did not conclude with my being terminated. Though it ended rather abruptly, it was through no fault of mine. Theirs was a beautiful home on the edge of a glistening lake; it was peaceful and quiet and I enjoyed the seclusion immensely. If not for needless tragedy I would have been more than content to reside with them until the child reached her majority. I will firmly maintain that the blame lies solely with the mistress of the house. Had she not refused to permit me to teach the child to swim, then ordered me to attend to her while the girl played on her own by the shore, then I would still be in her employ and she would still be a mother. 

In further defense of my competence, regarding my belief that my current position will not be necessary for much longer: the child I am hired to educate is set to inherit a large estate with an even larger fortune. His elder half-brother, his father’s bastard son and the heir until my charge was born, has recently returned to the estate after being expelled from his boarding school due to sadistic behaviour and the tragic “accidental” death of his academic rival. I am forbidden to interact with him at all, and I am not permitted near his and my charge’s shared bedroom between sundown and sunup. If my employers see no issue with this arrangement, it is hardly my place to interfere; after all, a governess exists to fulfill the will of the parents unto the child in her care, and any “skeletons in the closet” or “ghosts in the attic,” so to speak, are to be politely ignored unless she is deliberately instructed otherwise. Therefore, I refuse to accept any of the blame for the length (or lack thereof) of my employment in this home. 

In addition, I am quite well-educated. Not only am I in good health, and always have been throughout my life, I have some training in the field of medicine so that I can keep both myself and any child in my care in top condition. I have never shied away from hard work; if I did, then I would hardly choose childrearing as a career, now, would I? The moors do not scare me, and nor does your manor, or even yourself, Mr. Branwell.

Since you have indicated yourself to be unwilling to look past circumstances outside my control and are therefore entirely unwilling to take me into your household, I would understand completely if you do not wish to take me up on my offer to assist you in finding a governess to suit your needs. If this is to be the case, then I see no reason for us to continue our correspondence. 

 

Sincerely, 

Emilie Vandergaard

 

5.

 

Dear Mr. Branwell, 

 

I must sincerely apologize for my previous letter. It was unforgivably rude of me. It would be a lie to say that I did not intend any offense; I did intend offense and I think that comes through plainly. The various endings of my former contracts have caused me no small measure of distress throughout my years, and I see no shame in admitting that your implication that they made me unworthy of employment hurt. But you had no way of knowing the incidents I have dealt with in the past. Therefore, throwing them in your face in the hopes that reading of them would sting you half as much as experiencing them stung me was immature, disgraceful behavior. 

Additionally, I spoke most callously about great harm that befell a child. Though I stand by my assessment that her death is not on my hands, she and her family deserve more respect than to be alluded to in such a manner. The fact of the matter is, our world is dangerous and full of harm, both deliberate and wholly coincidental. I have seen a fair amount of both. As such, I have become desensitized to the kinds of tragedies that often occur when monied families live on large estates with plenty of dark spaces in which secrets can be made, kept, or spilled. I have borne witness to drownings, poisonings, fires, disappearances, accidents, “accidents,” and more. I have seen them caused by jilted lovers, jealous housekeepers, unruly children, acts of God, “acts of God,” and others. But that does not mean that I have the right to subject others to them, especially not when my motivations are spiteful.

Therefore, I am sorry for that as well. I spend all of my time with children. It has been a while since I have spoken with an adult, especially one well-spoken and blunt. (I do appreciate honesty, in whatever form it arrives, and from whichever sender.) I forgot that “adult” does not necessarily mean hardened. That mistake is mine, and it is poor luck that you bore the brunt of my oversupply of honesty, verging on cruelty. 

As I said before, though with less accusation this time: if you wish to cease our conversation, I will understand completely. 

 

A thousand apologies, again, 

Emilie Vandergaard

 

6. 

 

Dear Ms. Vandergaard,

 

It appears the moors may not eat you alive after all. 

I would thank you not to imply that I am “soft” again. You will find no softness in me, nor in my home. If you think your letter was cruel, you know very little of cruelty. 

Part of me envies that in you. 

You were right when you said our world is dangerous and full of harm, both deliberate and wholly coincidental. I have seen much of it as well. You owe me no apology for speaking of it plainly. Refusing to speak of her will not bring your former charge back to life. Refusing to acknowledge any risk will not keep your current charge alive. There is no safety in avoiding darkness, only naivete. Jumping at shadows, including your own, will get you nowhere. Sometimes shapes in the fog are nefarious, and those who are not appropriately wary will not make it home to their hearths that evening or any other. This is the first advice I would give any considering to venture into the moors. 

In most aspects of my life, I value honesty as much as you claim to, so here is some:

You are lonely, I can see that quite plainly. You are willing to spill your soul to a complete stranger on the opposite side of the page, though you know nothing about me. I could be all that I say I am, or I could be something completely different. If you are not frightened by the moors, my manor, or me, as you claimed, then I see no reason that we must terminate our conversation. 

 

Most sincerely, 

Mr. Branwell

 

7. 

 

Dear Mr. Branwell, 

 

Your letter came as a surprise. I fully expected my previous two to go unanswered, and I would have deserved it. Your own harsh language in response to my own was much less unexpected. 

In response to your honesty, though yours was far more biting than I believe myself to be capable of being, I will offer you more of my own: I will admit to being unsure why I continue to write to you. You have not made yourself a very hopeful prospect for a friend. Prior to your informative words, I was not consciously aware that I was searching for such in you, but I appreciate your notification, especially for the way it was phrased to make clear that I will not find it. 

I have never thought of myself as lonely. My diversions tend to be solitary in nature, and that has never bothered me. When I take a turn around the grounds, I enjoy the trees and the sound of birds in the distance without wishing for someone to point them out to. When I practice my sewing, I hardly desire someone distracting me from my needle. When I practice my lute I wish for no disturbances, and when I write my own music I most vehemently do not wish for someone to overhear me. Since these are the ways I occupy my time when not tending to a child and I enjoy each of these activities without accompaniment, it never occurred to me that I might be feeling my lack of companionship in other parts of my life. 

But the more I have thought about it, the more I find that you might not be mistaken. I have rambled many feelings and opinions at you since we began this exchange; far more than necessary. I do believe I am doing it again presently. 

But I refuse to feel bad about it. You have already experienced my ramblings, and saw in them no reason that we must terminate our conversation. As you have the means to go back on that decision at any time, I will simply choose to take your continued responses as enjoyment of my words! 

So, if we are to be corresponding, tell me of yourself! I’ve shared plenty of me, but here’s more: My mother died when I was very little, and my father assigned my raising to a governess. She was a very lovely woman and the reason I found myself drawn to the profession. She has since passed on, as has my father. I have no siblings. 

I have already mentioned my enjoyment of the outdoors and of music (the sewing is more out of necessity than passion, unfortunately), but I also have a great passion for books! Some of the homes I have been employed in had libraries and I always have appreciated when they have given me access. You may think me silly for it, but I am weak for a good novel, anything I can get my hands on; dark dramas with secrets and betrayals, romances with heroic protagonists, and everything in between! Equally unladylike in opposite ways, of course, but it cannot hurt to indulge just a little bit every once in a while. 

You know my career better than most at this point. I tend to save my “horrible deaths” anecdotes until after one has at least offered me tea. Apologies, again. 

What of you? I’ve offered up my own answers in the hopes of reciprocity. You seem to not be as verbose as I am (my teachers always did try to break me of the habit), but I would appreciate learning as much more about you as you are willing to disclose! 

I await your response most eagerly. As a child, I longed for a pen-friend. I hope to be a worthy conversational partner. 

 

Enthusiastically yours, 

Emilie Vandergaard 

 

8. 

 

Dear Ms. Vandergaard, 

 

When you said you would take me up on my offer of continued correspondence, it seems you understated how eagerly you would do so. Maybe lonely, indeed. 

My, my. So many questions, and so much information shared with someone you do not even know. Are you brave or stupid? I see no harm in answering. If our communications did lead to injury for one of us, I find it easy to be sure that it would not be for me. 

My mother also died when I was born, shortly after the birth of my youngest sister. There are two of them: Agatha and Huldeygard. My father was a parson; he died recently as well. You have mentioned only parents and siblings, or lack thereof. It is atypical for a young woman such as yourself to be unwed and without child; are you content merely with raising other people’s children? Can you not have your own? Or have you neglected to mention a more permanent charge of your own? I share your enjoyment of walks outside. The moors are ideal for such a hobby, if one is unafraid of being eaten alive. I cannot sew and have few strong feelings regarding music, though I must respect that you are a woman of many talents. I imagine that comes in handy during the childrearing, as well; children should receive as well-rounded an education as possible. I am not much of one for dramas or romances. If one is not reading for the betterment of one’s own mind, I hardly see the point in reading at all. I have no time for frivolity. I have several histories I enjoyed, and a poetry collection or two, but not much beyond that. 

My apologies for not offering you a cup of tea prior to your morbid recountings. Most ungentlemanly of me. Should we ever meet in person, I shall provide you with a hot beverage before confessing my sins. Never let it be said that I do not know how to treat a lady right; business over dinner, murders over dessert, more enjoyable matters over wine if you are still amenable. I am sure you will look lovely, horrified, by firelight. 

I find it most interesting you acknowledged that I am hardly the proper choice for a friend then signed off implying a desire for me to fulfill your childhood dream for a pen-friend. I am not your pen-friend. I am no one’s childhood dream. You will come to see that eventually, I am sure. 

 

Regards, 

Mr. Branwell

 

9. 

 

Dear Mr. Branwell, 

 

At this point, I feel that it would not be improper for you to call me Emilie. We have conversed a fair amount. You know of my family, I now know of yours. If you are comfortable, I would most certainly not object to a shade more familiarity between us. 

I believe we have already discussed the way I feel about your implications that I am unintelligent. 

Siblings! How wonderful! Some part of me always longed for siblings as a child. You must tell me, what are they like? Agatha is such a beautiful name; I’m sure she’s lovely. And Huldeygard is so unique; I’ve not heard anything quite like it before! Though I noticed that your description of the household failed to mention the child you sought a governess for in the first place, bringing us together initially?

I have no children of my own, though I would not call that entirely by choice. I will confess I would love to have one some day; I simply haven’t come across the proper person to raise one with yet! I am confident enough in my skills to admit I have several deficits; any child of mine would need a strong influence to teach it that which I cannot. Someone firm, and brave, and more confident in their ability to weather the cruelties of the world without being eventually worn down than I am. Not that the children I govern suffer from a lack of such education! It is simply not my strongest point. Your child, should I come to be the one educating it. need not worry in that regard, though. You seem to have that well in hand. 

I respect your dedication to the bettering of your mind, though I must disagree with your comment on frivolity. Sometimes something sweet is a good counterbalance to the real world, and a little romance never goes amiss. I think even the most well-behaved young ladies would not say no to a story of a handsome, rebellious man every now and then, though they would never admit it! Especially not to you; no disrespect intended, but your sunny disposition seems to lend itself more to the kind of man a young lady pretends not to be drawn to than the one she confides her tastes in! 

I tease, of course, but only slightly. I have no doubt you are better behaved in the real world than you are behind the veil of near-anonymity letter-writing with a stranger provides us. 

I am enjoying your sense of humor. Murders over dessert seems more like a chapter in a novel I would read than something someone would discuss with me in real life; I’m afraid most of my aquaintinces are not half as interesting as that. Are you sure you do not read mysteries? It seems you would be quite adept at writing one…Regarding your comment about firelight, I am most flattered, but might I remind you again that we have never met? I have enclosed no photograph of myself, no drawing, not even a brief description. You have no knowledge of my appearance, be it lovely or otherwise. You are treading on dangerous ground, Mr. Branwell. Besides, firelight is known to be exceedingly flattering to most. I would hate to raise one’s hopes before letting them down again in the daylight. Not that it is relevant in our case, separated by paper and ink as we are. 

You say you are not my pen friend, but if not a friend, I hardly know what to call you, so I believe I shall be maintaining that terminology for the time being, if it’s all the same to you. If it’s not, then I shall simply have to do so in the privacy of my own mind, where there is nothing you can do about it!

So there. 

 

Your friend,

Emilie Vandergaard

 

10.

 

Dear Ms. Vandergaard,

 

Emilie. You have a unique level of comfort with me, offering me permission to use your given name, considering we have not met. I am unsure whether it reflects great boldness or great foolishness. Either way, its usage would be a liberty I am sure I have no right to take, regardless of your permission. 

Oh, dear. Further implications of your doubtable intelligence. It seems I cannot help myself. Either you will forgive me, or you will not. It is a risk I take every time I send you another letter. I cannot make that decision on your behalf, though I confess that with each response I receive I am appreciative of the choice you have made. 

I believe there are very few things I must tell you, especially on the topic of my sisters. Agatha is clever and Huldeygard is dramatic. There is little more to say of them. The child is a child. It is not mine. Even less is interesting about it, so there is even less to discuss. You flatter me with your commentary on what I might provide to the education of a child under my care, whether it be mine or otherwise. 

Was that sarcasm, little Emilie? I feel I must point out to you your own words: you call me the kind of man a young lady pretends not to be drawn to. Immediately prior to this, if I may continue to quote you, you said, I think even the most well-behaved young ladies would not say no to a story of a handsome, rebellious man every now and then, though they would never admit it! At the risk of overstating my point, you say the kind of man a young lady would not admit to being drawn to is handsome, rebellious, and you imply in the same paragraph that I am that kind of man. Do you think me rebellious, Emilie? Do you think me handsome?  

You tease, of course, but only slightly. I am serious, of course, but only mostly. Perhaps we balance each other. By all means, doubt that I am better behaved without the protections of anonymity. 

I have as little need for a photograph of you as I have for a description. I have studied poetry enough to know how those words are selected, and frankly, I find them ridiculous. I do not need to know if your hair is spun gold set aflame like a sunset glinting off of water or if your skin is delicate, petal-soft and near translucent. Hair has no need to resemble a lake and petal-delicate breakability is hardly an admirable trait in a human being one does not desire to destroy. Besides, one needn’t see another’s face to know whether or not they are lovely. Though I am sure yours would not disappoint, by firelight or otherwise. I have always found a strong personality far more important than a pleasant disposition, and even the less significant of the two is infinitely more important than any combination of potential facial features. Therefore I stand by what I said, murder and all. 

I am intrigued to know your thoughts on the matter. Do you have an image of me in your mind? Has it been developed to the point that failing to live up to it could cause disappointment? Not that it is relevant in our case, separated by paper and ink as we are— but you have caught my attention, and truly, that happens so rarely that I must take advantage of it whenever such an occasion arises. You say you think of us as friends, in the privacy of your own mind. Do you think of me as many things, in the privacy of your own mind, where there is nothing I can do about it? I would be interested in hearing more, if that were the case. 

If that is the manner in which you would prefer to refer to us, then far be it from me to tell you that you are mistaken. 

 

Your friend, then, if you insist,

Mr. Branwell  



11.

 

Dear Mr. Branwell, 

 

You claim you have no right to use my name, regardless of my thoughts on the matter. However, you say this immediately after using it. I wonder, what does this say about you? Perhaps it is your intelligence that ought to be under investigation, not mine. That, or your morals. 

I am also appreciative of your decision to keep returning my letters. In fact, “appreciative” might be an understatement. Especially with my current position being as tedious as it is, I find myself greatly enjoying the pleasure of your company. I believe this can be counted as company. I would find myself terribly lonesome, otherwise. 

I fear your last letter gave me great cause to blush. I did not mean to imply anything about your rebelliousness, or your handsomeness. (And my writing this does not mean that I concede the existence of either!) However, if you are quoting my letter accurately, (which I trust that you are more capable of than I, considering you have it in front of you) then that is indeed what I implied. I decline to apologize, as I doubt that is what you are seeking. Between that paragraph and the ones that came after, well. If I were to admit to intimidation, then it would hardly be unjust. 

Your words have reached either an unprecedented level of candor, or an undesirable level of cruelty. I genuinely find myself unsure of which is the case. If you are attempting to frighten me away from you, then it is working more than I would care to admit to someone I had not already established some measure of trust with. I am overwhelmed; you are far bolder than anyone I am used to conversing with, Mr. Branwell. I hardly know what to say. 

(This is not a request that you desist. Sometimes, a little bit of intimidation is good for the soul. We would all do well to remember on occasion that we are quite small, in comparison to other things.)

On the topic of overly bold: I have already admitted to an excess of warmth in my cheeks. I will admit to no more than that, and as such, will not be addressing your next line of conversation. (Except to comment on your eye for poetry. For one who claims not to waste their time with such matters, your analysis of poetic language, regarding flowers in particular, was exquisite.) But I will answer the question you posed. 

There is something quite mysterious about you. As such, I imagine your hair is dark, your eyes even darker. Neither are particularly likely to be described as shining, though your ruminations on the application of firelight are an intriguing invitation for further thought. Call me a romantic if you would like, but I envision you with a sharp jaw, a defined brow. A slim build, but strong shoulders. Strong hands, as well, but elegant fingers. Perhaps I have given this thought. Perhaps I have given it too much thought. Or perhaps I am confusing you with another reclusive, brooding gentleman who lives on the moors. There are a fair number of them in literature, and I have always loved a good story. 

If I told you what other ruminations may or may not be taking shape in the privacy of my mind, then it would hardly be private anymore, now, would it? 

I agree with your assessment on the rankings of the importance of various traits, though. A stunning conversationalist is more appealing than someone sweet but dull, and both are far preferable to one who is gorgeous but little else. 

I am wise enough to know that I have been mistaken a great number of times in my life, and I will be again. However, I am sure this is not one of those times. 

 

Your friend, 

Emilie

 

12. 

 

Dear Emilie, 

 

I can promise you, if either my intelligence or my morals are to be called into question, my morals are far more deserving. I have never claimed to be a good person, and I see no reason to lie to you about that subject. I think you know this already. I think this intrigues you more than it scares you. I would call into question your intelligence again, but at this point you are likely as aware as I am that the treatment of fear as an invitation rather than a deterrent is not something I have any right to mock. My father was a man of God; I know better than to throw a stone whilst living in a house of glass. 

“Appreciative” might be an understatement? The pleasure of my company? My, my, little Emilie. Speaking of throwing stones while living in glass houses; you say that I am bold? As you said, this is far, far from a request for you to desist. By all means, continue speaking. I would welcome elaboration. Which of my words, in particular, gave you cause to blush? It must have been more than my pointing out that you implied you think me to be rebellious and handsome. I like to think I am at least one of those things, though I decline to offer which. Perhaps someday we shall meet in person and you will be able to offer your own opinion on the matter. 

Candor, my dear, not cruelty. I will not say never cruelty, for I am quite capable of cruelty when I wish to be, and sometimes even when I am not trying to be. But in this instance, I am not being anything but truthful. I do question one part of your phrasing, though: some measure of trust? I do not believe I ever told you that you should trust me. In fact, I rather think you should not. Be most wary, Emilie. A scrap more caution would serve you well, both in our interactions and those you may have with others.

It is good to see you acknowledging your own capacity for boldness. It is clear at this point that I care little for what might or mightn’t be proper in terms of correspondence with a stranger, and I think you would be the first to argue against the usage of the word “stranger” to define us, regardless. I will not criticize your decision to bare more of yourself than you might otherwise have dared to. (Metaphorically, of course.) Your admittance to feeling a warmth, when paired with your refusal to address the comments I made regarding what external beauty you may or may not possess, is far more detailed of a response than you intended it to be. If I were proud of eliciting such a reaction within you, even smug, perhaps, then I would not dare mention it. For the sake of your dignity, of course. Definitely not in the hopes that in the not-so-distant future you might be willing to tell me more about the warmth I create within you and the locations in which I create it. 

Whether you are right or wrong in your imaginings of my physical form is irrelevant. I did not ask about them because I actually cared what you would say. No, I am solely interested in the fact that you had something to offer me in response. You have imagined me. 

You have pictured someone real, someone tangible, touchable. Someone with lungs that draw breath, with hot blood coursing through their veins. Someone whose eyes can be fixed on you, someone whose hair can reflect the firelight. You have pictured me, and in this picturing, you gave me strong hands and elegant fingers. You have spoken of your love for reading novels and writing music, hobbies that are commonly thought to encourage creativity. Imagination . Therefore I am confident in my analysis that you did not merely imagine my hands as an artist would, a collection of lines and angles forming a shape. Objective and clinical. You imagined my hands in terms of things that they are, but also things they can do. To what end did you imagine my strong hands and elegant fingers? What purpose did you give them, in your imaginings? What would you have them do, if you were feeling bold? And what of my strong shoulders and sharp jaw? What thought have you given to them? You say you might have given this too much thought, but I sincerely doubt you have given it as much thought as I have.  

Would you like to know what I have been thinking, my Emilie? Would you like me to return the favor? Tell you what thoughts I may or may not have had about your hair, your eyes? Your cheekbones, perhaps, or your fragile skin? My discussion of firelight and its application barely scratched the surface. If I thought that your reference to playing the lute meant that you were likely to have elegant fingers, callused and talented, would you want to know? I would like a performance one day, should it become possible. Strong hands, elegant fingers; what if I wondered if you would also sing for me? 

You tease me with your near-confirmation of what exists within the privacy of your mind. I wish to know more. My offer was genuine; I would be willing to return the favor. 

I would not say no to witnessing more of your boldness in the future. In fact, I might go as far as to say that I await it with some small measure of eagerness. 

 

I await your reply.

Mr. Branwell

 

13. 

 

Mr. Branwell— 

 

Was I meant to take your last letter in the manner in which I did? Was it some test? Perhaps an invitation? Regardless, your words have had me in a daze all day and I cannot articulate why. I lost track of the time some hours ago and fear I am hardly coherent. Your letter arrived on the last day of what has been an unforgivingly long week that left me feeling miserable and drained and while I cannot honestly say that it has given me new life, I must say that it has given me something. I was already weak when I opened the seal, and I cannot determine whether now I am weaker or strengthened. I have no words to suit. Have I said that already? I do not know. In addition to my exhaustion I know have custody of no small quantity of distraction and some dizziness I wish not to elaborate on. 

You were right; I can certainly no longer question your intelligence. You have displayed a fine grasp on the English language that you could not have achieved without deliberate study. You are clearly well-educated. You are also correct that if anything about you is to be questioned, it ought to be your morals. Have you no shame? No propriety? Not a shred of common decency? Of course not; haven't I learned that by now? I should not need to ask. You said your father was a man of God and yet made no such claims about yourself. You have now demonstrated precisely why. 

I have so much that I wish I could say in response to your letter and yet so little at the same time. I do not know how you ever found the ability to place a pen to paper and let those words flow out of it. Or perhaps it was easy for you. Perhaps you have done all of this before and found it as simple and habitual as signing your name. I do not know. But regardless of your experience, I have no knowledge of these sorts of matters outside of books. I have never received a letter like yours. I have never read anything in my life that led me to the kinds of thoughts your letter blatantly encouraged. Encouraged? Not a strong enough word. Your letter did everything short of force those kinds of thoughts upon me, whispering them into my ear as my candles burnt out and I was alone. And yet I cannot bring myself to regret reading it. 

Your letter was scandalous, Mr. Branwell. And yet I have read it more than twice; the part of me that those who educated me despaired most of wants nothing more than to revel in the indecency of it. You scare me and I scare myself when I allow my wandering thoughts to use your words as a road map.

You speak of my dignity, then immediately proceed to destroy it—think back on the words you have written. Do you honestly think I could have read them without any proper composure I was clinging to being shattered? You know better than that. It does not matter which of the words you wrote caused me the biggest blush in the past, because you have since drowned them out with more writings that burn so, so much hotter. 

Yes. Yes, I have imagined you. I admitted it once before; it will do me no harm to admit it again. Your speculation was not far off from the truth of my thoughts, my imagining . I will concede that we think of each other the same amount; you claim to have thought of me more in the recent days than I have thought of you, but I scarcely believe that is possible: if that were the case, then you would have been unable to get anything done. 

Yes, I want to know what you have thought about me. I have a musician’s fingers and would be honored to perform for you. I would love to show you that talent. I would love for you to hear me sing.  

You enjoy my boldness? You would welcome more of it? Very well then, I shall offer you some more. Excuse the ramblings of my worn out mind—I have not slept in days and my hands are shaking but if it is elaboration on the contents of my mind that you desire then that is what you shall receive. 

I feel most awful for saying this, even if it is just in a letter to you, who I know would not judge me for it. Perhaps you would be proud. But I wish my charge’s brother would make his move sooner rather than later. All of this waiting is driving me quite insane, and I cannot seem to shake the feeling that there is somewhere else I ought to be at this moment. Perhaps you would know something about that feeling, and why I have it? Perhaps you might even agree with me. In either case, I do not wish for the death of this child, but I know that it is imminent. There is nothing I can do to prevent it. I simply wish it would come faster so that I would not be stuck in these endless days of waiting, waiting, waiting. The only thing that makes them even slightly tolerable is your letters. 

I have come to treasure your letters. In light of your last confession, I will make one of my own: “treasure” is not an understatement. It is a very powerful word. However, I still find that it is not enough. I treasure your letters. I cherish them. Your words brighten my days, filling my mind and my heart and never letting me go. Everything I see reminds me of them: the petal of a flower calls to mind your descriptions of my skin. The candle burning down on my desk, limiting how much time I have left to write, makes me think again of your hair, or of mine and your fingers running through it. Even the grey of the sky in the last moments before the sun crosses the horizon makes me think of you; I have never seen your face, though I know it must be handsome, as someone who speaks as beautifully as you do could never be displeasing to my eye. Therefore, I cannot compare the grey to your eyes, or the brightness to your skin, or the streaks of sunlight warring against the clouds to the glint of candlelight on your hair when there is enough light to see you with, but only barely. (I have found myself returning to the topic of your hair again. Do you keep it long enough to brush? I rather hope so; if yes, I imagine I would take great pleasure in assisting you with that task.) But it reminds me of you regardless, this chilly, flickering grey. It reminds me of mornings we’ve yet to experience, and perhaps we never will, though I admit the thought saddens me greatly. It reminds me of the coolness of your words, always eloquent, no matter the topic. It reminds me of the days I spend counting down the hours: each moment that passes as the sun nears its emergence is a moment that brings me closer to the sun withdrawing again, closer to the minute the clock will chime the day’s end. I will play my final lullaby and tell my charge goodnight. Then I will be free to retreat to my rooms, locking the door behind me and extinguishing my only light. Finally, finally, I will be alone with you: it will be me and your letters, pressed close against my chest as if doing so might allow me to mistake the warmth of my own hands for that of yours. I can catch no aroma of your cologne from the pages. I can trap no hint of your essence in any way but the imprint of your mind, carved into the pages in the form of the words you choose to use. But a woman can pretend, can she not? She can hope, she can wish, she can dream

She can. Oh, how vividly she can. 

The hour grows late again, even later, perhaps late enough that I ought to be calling it ‘early’ instead, but that is just late enough for me to feel bolder than any lady ever ought to, so I will offer you one more confession before I seal these pages, sending them for delivery before I lose my nerve: 

There are nights, alone with only your words to keep me company, that I wish you were a woman. It is obscene, I know, but I beg of you not to discard my letter just yet—give me a chance to explain my thinking. 

If you were a woman, at this point in our correspondence, it would not be unreasonable for you to seal a letter with a kiss. 

Through your lipstick deposited on paper I would have an imprint of your lips, but beyond that, far more important than my improper desire for that, I would have an imprint of you . I would have something concrete, some proof that you are real, and something tangible, some shard of evidence that you might feel a fraction of my affection towards you, for me.

I could read into it far too deeply— if I had joined you when you wrote to me initially, if I were with you in this moment, would you kiss me, instead of a letter? Would you hold me in your arms as gently as you held that envelope up to your lips? 

I would be able to ask of you, please, give me a kiss, and have more than your word on which to rely if you claimed that you did. 

It is as I said before. 

A woman can dream, can she not?

I ask that you forgive me; it appears that an absence of sleep does not just lower my inhibitions, it also makes me far more verbose than I would otherwise be. Is my verboseness a topic we have spoken on already? (Or would that be verbosity?) Either way, I feel like it must have come up at some point. My apologies for redundancy.

I must conclude this letter now, or else I feel I will never be able to bring myself to put down the pen. There are infinite words I wish to share with you. I hope someday I can. 

In the meantime, I shall blow out the candle. It shall be me, your letters, and my dreams

 

Most affectionately yours, 

Emilie 

 

14. 

 

Dear Mr. Branwell,

 

Here we are again with me apologizing for a letter I ought to have known better than to send. I have been informed in the past by reliable sources that I become undignified when I am pushed past the point of exhaustion; it has an effect on my coherency not unlike that of intoxication. If I was so desperate to vent my frustrations onto paper, I should have done so, hidden it under my pillow, then burned it in the morning when I had a clearer head. Instead, I sealed my frustrations in an envelope and left them outside my door to be collected for posting before the sun was even in the sky. (It is like this exhausted me was attempting to play a practical joke on my much more level-headed self. I am quite annoyed, though I acknowledge the futility of retribution, as I have no external target.) I should not have troubled you with my rambling thoughts that may or may not have crossed the border between “annoying” and “offensive.” 

I would like to think that you will not be particularly bothered by whatever it is you read. You might find it amusing and mock my loss of dignity mercilessly. I would not mind; I would deserve it entirely. Though my memory of the words I put to paper is slightly hazy, to be frank, I am almost certain you have said worse. (If this is not the case, I tremble to think of what I may have written.)

However, there exists in our world a certain double standard. Certain descriptions, when coming from a gentleman, are daring. Blush-worthy and not to be admitted to in public, for sure, but scandalous in the kind of way that makes them good fun to gossip about. But when these sorts of descriptions come from the mouth (or hand, in our case) of a woman, they are uncouth. Disgraceful, jarring, scandalous in the kind of way that demolishes good social standing and results in apology letters such as this one in a frantic attempt to mitigate the damage done. 

If some of the words I remember drifting through my mind made it into my letter, I fear I may have gone beyond “unladylike.” 

There is a chance you will mock this offer, and truly, I hope you will, but I feel the need to make it nonetheless; if I crossed that line between interesting and disgusting that is no one’s fault but my own, regardless of whose words prompted mine. If you terminate our correspondence I shall regret it and miss you terribly, but I shall not blame you. In response to my actions, it is what any respectable gentleman would do. 

I anxiously relate your response but will lose no respect and fondness for you if it does not arrive. 

 

Nothing but the sincerest apologies,

Emilie Vandergaard

 

15.

 

Emilie—

 

It is my hope that one of these days you will stop apologizing for saying things you do not believe you have the right to. I have never given any thought to the matter of what society deems it ‘proper’ for a woman to say or do, and I see no reason to start doing so just because the woman in question is now you. 

I am glad you did not burn your letter. I have also read it more than twice. I would be happy to elaborate on which other responses to each other’s writings we have in common, but I believe I would not be mistaken in implying that we both would prefer to do so in person. 

Another offer to terminate our correspondence, and yet I find this one much more tempting—if you will allow me to offer an alternate means of further communication. 

If my calculations are correct, by the time you receive this letter it will have been approximately two weeks since you sent your own. Has the child died yet? I do not care. If he has, come at once. If he has not, come anyway. I wish to meet you without a page between us. 

Come to me, little Emilie. 

Directions are enclosed. 

 

As per your request, sealed with a kiss,

Mr. Branwell