Your plan worked. Was there ever any doubt? It seems all your plans were successful, whether any reasonable person would want them to be or not: You wanted to be rid of your brother, and there he is, locked in the attic and chained to a wall. You wanted a governess, though you had no child for her to govern, and here I am, in your home, in your nursery. You wanted an heir so that your family could live on forever, and here I am, in your home, in your nursery, carrying your child.
It is your child. Though your brother might have been the man used to make our heir’s conception possible, he was a tool, nothing more. This is your child. It will never be his.
Your child is here with me, or I am here with your child, but you are with neither of us and neither of us are with you. That part of the plan did not work. We will not raise our child together. You will not raise our child at all. Our child will never know you.
This is such a delicate way of dancing around the subject, isn’t it? You would mock me mercilessly if you could read it. “Not here” is a very gentle way of saying “dead.”
You are dead.
You are dead, Agatha, and I do not know if I can bear it. I do not know what to do without you any more than I knew what to do when I first met you, when I arrived alone and unsupported to a manor in the middle of the moors with the dreadful feeling that should I turn around three times, I would lose myself entirely in the fog and never find my way home again. Not that I had anything to call home, at the time.
Do I have a home now? Is this my home? I think I must, and I think it must be. I asked for a place to stay in perpetuity because carrying a member of the family must, in a way, make me part of the family, and you did not entirely disagree.
You cannot disagree now. You cannot disagree, or agree, or call out my unfortunate tendency to repeat myself when uncomfortable because you cannot do anything because you are dead and I am alone but I am not alone because I am carrying a child, our child, your child that will never have the fortunate misfortune of knowing you and Agatha I truly do not know what to do.
I can do something. I am not dead and therefore I can do something and therefore it is practically required of me to do something because somebody must and you are not here to bear that burden and I will be damned if anyone will ever place any such burden upon our child.
I am sitting in your nursery in your manor. Your brother is in the attic, alive for now. Your sister is in her room, raging and sobbing in turns, and I believe I heard her throw something not so long ago. Your parlor maid is in the parlor cleaning up blood. The blood is yours and the house is yours and the child is yours and I am yours and I have inherited your responsibilities: I will look after what is yours.
I promise you, Agatha. I will look after what is yours.
Loyal to you still,
I do not understand. I do not understand either of them, but most of all, I do not understand you. Why would they have done this? Why would you have let this happen? What am I missing? Was I the only one who did not know that you were going to leave me?
Marjory and I are existing in a stiff, volatile sort of peace. Merely being in the same room as her is enough to make me feel cold, and judging by the looks she gives me as she completes her task as quickly as possible and removes herself from my sight, I think she feels the same way. I read her portion of her and Huldey’s shared diary. I know that your death was her idea, though I cannot imagine why. You would call me ‘soft’ again, but I cannot comprehend the decision that boredom and annoyance is a problem indomitable enough that the only way for it to be solved is murder. You were perfectly fair to her. Never nice, but then again, neither was she. Did she think Huldey would be a better mistress? Or did she think that, by orchestrating your death, she would inherit your position? Either way, she did not count on me; she looks at me and fears that I will become you, but worse. She fears that I will unleash upon her the same kind of hell you would have if she had taken something treasured by you the same way she took you from me.
I have no plans to move against her at this time. What would be the point? It would not bring you back; it would not punish her justly, as the only fair retribution would be to do unto her as she did unto others, and then she would no longer be alive to feel any sort of consequences; all it would do is make me have to search for another housekeeper. In the end, more trouble than the momentary satisfaction it would give me is worth.
I wonder if I should tell her that. Her hands do not shake as she brings me tea, but it is a very near thing. We only have one set of china; it would not do for her to break a part of it. No one has a need for an incomplete set. Removing one part of a functional unit makes the whole thing teeter on the brink of collapse, as we are seeing now.
I would not say that Huldey and I are existing in any sort of peace. We are hardly coexisting at all. She hides away in her room all day, alternating between screaming with rage and with grief. I think she is already punishing herself more than I could. This is not what she intended.
It is clear to me that Marjory was the mastermind of the operation. Frankly, I do not think Huldey is clever enough to think up the concept on her own. She has wanted for a while to be famous, yes, but it never occurred to her to do something about it. She dreamt of the fame her writing would bring her, while never actually attempting to share it outside of the household. She talked about the way she would interact with her fans, but never attempted to create something others would be fanatical about. She is far more a dreamer than a doer. I do believe that your murder is the first thing she has actually done in her life. I am nearly amazed that she managed to pull it off.
Huldey seems to agree with me. I do not think she actually thought her plan through. Would you be flattered to know that she misses you? At least, I assume she does; her sobbing is keeping me awake, so I am choosing to believe it is with regret for what she has done and not just for the fact that she did not become a world-famous murderess. I am starting to be able to tell the difference between the two. When she is angry, the walls shake. She throws things, some of them breakable. I believe she punches pillows. Her exhalations match those of violence, yet I have never seen her with bruises on her knuckles, leading me to believe that she must not be punching the walls. She screams until she grows hoarse, then slams things around at a volume she can no longer match on her own. But when she is sad, I will admit that the sounds she makes are heartbreaking. If I were still capable of it, I would feel sympathy for her.
I do not believe that I am still capable of sympathy. There is no room for sympathy on the moors. Did you say that to me, or is it simply something so like you to say that I am hearing it in your voice within my head? That has happened a time or two.
I do not understand you. Why do I have to hear your voice inside of my head, instead of all around me? Why are you not still here to condemn my naivete, tell me your sister brought this upon herself and I ought to leave her to deal with the consequences on her own? Why are you gone?
Why did you let this happen? Why did you choose to let your sister kill you? It was a choice. Do not assume that I do not know this. You ran this household strictly. I do not think this was unfair of you, but nothing happened within your manor that you did not know about or have some measure of control over. No one could have harmed you within your domain. Not without your consent. So why did you not fight her off? Why did you not save yourself? Why would you let her take you away from me?
I am trying so desperately to understand you. I am trying to understand all three of you, but I am having far more success with those you lived with than with you.
Writing to you is foolish. I cannot receive an answer, since you cannot write it. But I still find myself reaching for the pen. I still find myself saying things that you will never hear simply for the sake of having said them.
There is little else for me to say. I do not understand.
Another day, another letter.
I spent today with the dog. It is almost as if he is in mourning as well. He did not try to snap at me once, much less devour my face . Or perhaps you were lying about that too. You lied about a great many things, and I am yet undecided regarding which ones I hold against you and which ones I do not. I am fond of the dog. I do believe he is the only creature on these miserable moors who has not harmed me in one way or another. He is a most excellent companion. He knows the value of silence.
I did not speak to Marjory today. She served breakfast in silence. I did not speak to Huldey either. We ate breakfast in silence. Silence is honest. It is impossible to lie with silence. I was the only one thinking along these lines, though. Neither Marjory nor Huldey were comfortable with the silence. They fidgeted, or opened their mouths to speak before changing their minds.
I wonder, had you been here, what you would have said.
Yours, but quietly,
I am angry. I do not think I have ever been so angry in my life, especially not at someone who is so dear to me. I am absolutely livid, and every ounce of this emotion is aimed solely at you.
Why me? Why was I the unfortunate, lonely woman you dragged into all of this? What did I say or do that convinced you that I was the perfect target? I want to be flattered. I want to think that there was something about me that made you think that I was the ideal mother for your child. You said you considered others. I want to think that I stood out for all of the right reasons, that I was somehow irresistible. I want to think you were as helplessly drawn to me as I was to you, but something in me knows better.
I think that my selection was not a compliment. I think that you saw me through my letters and knew that I was lonely. I think you thought me desperate, that at the slightest hint of affection I would come running to you and be willing to do whatever it took to receive any small measure of affection in return. (How did you put it? Like a bee to a flower? Oh, how I loathe you.) I do not think I am completely wrong in this thinking, and if I am not, then I think you were not completely wrong in this thinking, either. After all, here I am. I think you knew that I was disposable; that if I were to meet my end here on these miserable moors, no one would come looking for me. I would not even be a cautionary tale because no one would ever speak of me; you would be free to try again as many times as it took.
You would have. I know you now, know your ruthless efficiency. If I had denied your request, if it can even be called a request, you would have promptly sought another governess better suited for your needs. I was not special. Gentle young women, naive, helpless young women with little family to speak of, are not so rare as I would like them to be. I am quite far from one-of-a-kind. I know that.
What I do not know is, was I the first? Were there other governesses to arrive before me? Did I pass some test that they all failed, or had you not gotten around to testing me yet? Did they last longer than I did before you were killed? Is it coincidence that I was the last woman standing, or did I do something right somehow?
How many were there before me? How do I compare? Were they smarter? Did they handle your sister’s attentions better? Did they handle yours with more grace? Did you offer them the same attentions you offered me? Did you write to them too, whisper sweet promises on paper? Did they know you the same way I do? Do I know you? Did you use the same lines again and again as soon as you had confirmation from another woman that they worked?
Or was I the trial run? Did you take note of which of your turns of phrase caused me the most emotional reactions so that after you disposed of me, you could seduce your next girl even quicker?
I do not know which of these options would be worse. I do not know which of these options I think are true. I know that all of them hurt. I want to think that I was as dear to you as you were to me, and yet, I fear that I was not.
I am not just angry, though, nor am I just using anger to cover up the broken heart I would never admit to possessing. I am also smug . Do you know why I am smug , Agatha? It is because in the end, it does not matter which of these is the case. It does not matter how many young ladies there were before me because I am the last, and therefore, I am the winner. I am the one carrying your child, I am the one eating dinner with your sister, I am the one falling asleep in your bedchambers at night, even if you are not there to fall asleep in them with me. No matter how many there were before me, I beat them all. I won.
There will be none after me. No more governesses. That I swear. It does not matter what you intended. You are dead. All that matters now is what I intend and I intend to be the last naive young woman swept off her feet with false promises and brought into this home. It is mine, just as this child is mine, and as you were mine. I am the winner and there is nothing anyone can do about it, you included.
I wish that you were here to tell me that I am capable of all that you have asked for me to do. I am trying to be. I am trying so, so hard to be, but today, as is the case with all other days that have passed since you left me, I am afraid.
I am carrying your child. I knew this already, but all of us in the house are aware of it now. It would be difficult to hide, not that I have attempted to do so. Your child turns my stomach and disrupts my sleep almost as much as you disrupt my waking hours, and yet, I love you both each day just as much as I loved you the day before.
As I write this, I find myself suddenly unsure: did I ever tell you that I loved you? I feel as if I must have. The thought was pervasive. It flooded my mind at the most inconvenient of moments; surely I let it slip at least once. And yet, I cannot say so with confidence. My hesitation stems from this: you had a habit of pointing out to me when I became overly emotional. You were derisive, or dismissive, or otherwise made it clear that my feelings were tolerated but never appreciated. While I truly believe that you While I hope that you returned my feelings While I sincerely doubt you would have reciprocated the words, I am certain that you would have had a reaction worth remembering. If I cannot remember the way you reacted, then it is likely I never said a word.
Whether I told you or not, it does not matter. I loved you. I loved you while I feared you, I loved you while you lied to me, and I loved you when all of our cards were on the table. I loved you in the attic with your brother, I loved you the day you died, and I love you now. But infinitely more important than that, I love our child.
When I say that I am afraid, I do not mean that I fear our child. I fear not being good enough to raise it. I fear who it may turn out to be, and I fear the way I will love it regardless. I will love a son as cold and cruel as you were, I will love a daughter as warm and gentle as I pride myself on being, and I will love the reverse: I will love a daughter who mirrors you far too closely, a fearsome woman who buries all the affections I know she feels, and I will love a son who is more like myself and far too soft to thrive in the unforgiving grip of these miserable moors.
I do believe that is thrice now, I have made some allusion to these moors being ‘miserable.’ While I stand by my assessment, I recognize that I may need to force myself to make another one. Perhaps if I am to survive the moors for long enough to bring your child into them, I will need to create for myself a better outlook. Perhaps they will not be so miserable if I put forth more effort, actively seek out some measure of beauty in them. It must be there somewhere. There is beauty in everything if you look hard enough. I shall simply have to look very hard, indeed.
I know that I am capable of it. I will find something out there in the fog worth appreciating. I will find some way to brighten the dark nights. Our child will know joy, Agatha. That is non-negotiable. It will know joy and felicity and warm soup made with love. Free laughter, tight hugs, soft blankets and beautiful music. I am not naive enough to think that is all it will know. It will know heartbreak and sorrow and grief before its days end. That is also part of life. But those moments will be few and not until much later if I have anything to say about it, and I have a great deal to say about it.
I will raise our child, and though I will grieve every day that you are not here to do so with me, I will do whatever it takes to ensure our child never feels there is something lacking from its life. Our child will be strong and brave and unafraid to show softness once in a while. It will be the perfect blend of all of these things in a way that neither of us ever managed to be on our own, but could eventually have been together if we’d only had the time.
I will tell our child I love it every day. Our child will never know a reason not to reciprocate those words.
All my love,
Agatha this house is ruining me and I do not know what to do
Agatha you must have spent the night on the floor of the parlor and your blood spent the night there with you and now you are gone but it is not it is not gone and it never will be
Hours and hours and hours we have spent Marjory Mallory and I avoiding each other and trading places taking our turns scrubbing at the blood on the floor of the parlor scrubbing with the typhus scrubbing with the baby putting our backs into it scrubbing like we mean it and yet there is no change there is no change there is never any change the blood is still there it has seeped into the floorboards into the very foundations of this awful awful home and you got what you wanted you will be a part of this house your house forever you will live on forever you will live on you will live
Agatha forgive me that I am incoherent; it is late in the night and I have not slept in days and I located your flask and all that you had in reserve to fill it with and nothing was able to help me, nothing was able to take away the shackles tugging at the walls and the smell of chemicals drifting through the halls and no matter how hazy I get from the fumes or from anything else I cannot escape the image of a single unmortared brick, it was a lie or else I would have been unable to enter to do my duty and yet the image haunts me
Haunts me haunts me haunts me, you know so much of haunting my love, you do it oh so well, it is as if every corner of this house contains the ghost of you and I walk into the parlor the dining room the sitting room the scullery you are waiting for me watching me are you listening to me? Do you hear my voice, my darling? Do these words echo in your head like my screams echo in your bedchambers when I finally manage to fall asleep just to be awoken minutes or hours later by my dreams of everything that happened and everything that did not?
I miss you, Agatha. I miss you and I miss you and I hate you and I hate myself for missing you after everything you put me through and I just wish you were here with me
why did you leave me why did you let her take you away from me why was I not worth staying for why was our child not worth staying for why
You were so beautiful and thishome was so beautifuland now you are both ruined and I am sitting with your our child in the center of the stains of you
I have decided that we are married. No, you do not get any say in the matter. I am worldly enough to know the level of respect that is offered to bastard children, and I refuse to have my child suffer that indignity. I acknowledge that a marriage between two women is hardly legal, and in response, I offer this: neither is sealing your brother in an attic indefinitely so that he may contribute to the continuation of the family line without in any way contributing to the family life. You have no moral high ground on which to stand. Therefore, for the sake of our unborn child’s legitimacy, you are now my wife.
Deal with it or do not, my love. Either way, I have said it and therefore it is true.
Our child will be born to wedded parents. Their aunt shall be my sister-in-law, if she ever deigns to look me in the eye (or the steadily-growing stomach) again without sniveling. If any government official ever attempts to investigate the goings-on of this unlawful abode, I shall simply do what you did: lie and declare that you and your brother were one and the same. After all, if you did it to me, you can hardly object when I do it to others. Then I shall tell him some version of the truth: that both of you are now dead. (I am assuming Branwell is dead. However, I have not returned to the attic since that night. I am assuming that he is dead in the same way I am assuming you are dead: all the evidence points toward it being true, and the subject is not in front of me contradicting the conclusion, therefore, there is no reason to believe it is wrong. Someday I might visit him to verify. I will do this the morning after I work up the nerve to visit you to verify. That is to say, never.)
Here are some pleasant lies for you: the ceremony was beautiful. The bride was radiant. The groom was handsome. Here is a less pleasant truth: several parties wept.
Your loyal wife forevermore,
I do not know where you are buried. I do not even know if you were buried. Marjory never volunteered the information, and I never asked. Perhaps you were cremated. One of the homes I worked in once had a very large pit in the backyard; they used it to roast animals for hours on end, burying them to cook through slowly and thoroughly. They said it made them more tender. I avoided it. I avoided the meat they served as well, after I witnessed them cleaning out the pit for re-use. I do not know what temperature hot coals must be at to roast a pig, but I have learned it is not hot enough to melt a belt buckle. Did I miss your cremation? Did I look out onto the moors and comment on the fog, not knowing that it was not fog at all? No, I doubt it. It takes a lot of heat to erase evidence entirely. That kind of heat would be noticeable, especially in a realm so damp.
Water, though, is a possibility. Bodies float, but it does not take much effort to counteract that. In an area with flowing water and few witnesses, one does not even need to bother. A strong current can carry away anything capable of keeping itself aloft, never to be seen again. Did you drift away from me, Agatha? Or are you somewhere far below? I remember the creek we encountered on our walk through the moors. You leapt over it elegantly, but I was afraid. You held out your hand ready to pull me steadily onto dry land should I fumble my landing. The words you offered me were harsh, demeaning. You made me feel inferior for being cautious, as though my objections about my skirt or my shoes were unreasonable. Your words were not reassuring, but the hand you offered me was. Did you go back to the river with Marjory? Did she come back to the manor alone?
What if she did not remove you from the premises at all? One of these days I could round the corner into the sitting room or parlor or lounge and see you, seated in front of me, eyes focused on nothing. Just like Branwell in the attic, your final resting place could be a room in the house you grew up in. Would that be poetic? Would you like it? Would you like to be here forever, overlooking us all? I am afraid I would not welcome you into the nursery; my stomach is upset most of the time these days and no matter how much I would cherish another few moments in your company, I fear the smell of rot would make me nauseous. I wonder how long I could tolerate it for. How long it would be worth it for. Would you still be presentable for company when your child arrived? We could lay you in your bed so that how presentable you were would not matter. No one is expected to be presentable in their own private chambers. Those who violate that privacy are owed no apology if they are uncomfortable with what they see. That might be the solution. That might be the way to keep you with me without others offering objection.
But it is far too late for that. If Marjory kept you in the house, she did not do so in a location that I have access to. I know that you are not in your chambers. Your chambers are not nicer than mine. I called them sparse once; that was an understatement. And yet, when questioned, that is the lie I told Marjory. It is also the lie I tell myself when I need to justify having taken them for my own. They are larger than mine; the view of the moors is nicer; they are closer to the dining room. All of these are decent excuses. It could be any one of them. It has nothing to do with the way the sheets still smell like you strongly enough that I may use them to imagine the weight of your head on the pillow next to mine.
I do not know if burial would be the easiest solution, but it would be the most traditional. I hope you were buried. You promised me that night that I would be buried here on the moors when I died, and that my body would become a part of this land forever. I did not say it then, but I liked the thought immensely. I had not considered my own mortality much at that point, but I have now. I have decided that when I die, I should like to be interred wherever you are. Whether that is cremated, or drowned (though is it drowning if one is already dead?), or drifted away down the creek, I wish to be with you forever. Though I hope that is in a grave, even if it is not a formal one. If you had a headstone, I would have found it already. I would have spent my nights seated at its side instead of alone in your bed. I would have brought you flowers, even though you would find them frivolous. I hope we can become a part of this land together, therefore becoming a part of each other.
Perhaps I shall talk to Marjory. Let her know exactly what is to be done with me when my time arrives. Perhaps I should ask her when she believes my time will arrive? Though if she has any plans for the matter, I doubt she would tell me. I doubt she has any plans. She is bitter, not heartless; she would not kill a child or resign one to death. But she does not wish to raise one, either, so I know if she wants me dead badly enough to do something about it (or to convince Huldey to do something about it) she will wait until our child is grown enough that she would not have to do something about it, too.
Perhaps I should ask her what she did with you. I am not sure that I entirely want to know, but if there is any place in this home or around it I could go to feel closer to you, then I need to know of it. I feel as if I am getting farther and farther from you every day.
I miss you, Agatha.
I had a dream last night. That in itself is nothing special. I have many dreams and I remember few of them. But last night, I dreamt of the days before I met you, before I ever stepped foot on your wretched, beautiful moors.
I dreamt that I was still serving in my last position, feeling a rush of butterflies in my stomach every time the housekeeper informed me that a letter had arrived bearing my name. I dreamt of the way those letters made me feel, the way I would steal away throughout the day, snatching moments for myself just to hold the still-sealed letter in my hands, gazing at it as if I would spontaneously develop the ability to see through the envelope and catch sight of the words within.
I long for those days, now. When I awoke, for a brief, beautiful moment, I felt that same joy: that I might open a letter from you, read your bold words and scandalous desires, and feel things I never dreamt it would be possible for me to feel.
I am feeling many things now, and it is true that none of them are things I would ever have expected to feel.
I thought I had grown immune to grief. I thought I had suffered great enough losses that none would be able to make me unable to eat, unable to sleep, sometimes unable to breathe without the crushing weight of loneliness shattering the insides of my lungs. I was wrong.
You promised once that you would change my life forever, that nothing would ever be the same. That I would never escape you. You did not mean it as a threat, but as a promise.
You were right.
Are you happy now?
Somehow, I doubt it.
If there is a heaven you are not there. I know this as well as you likely did. Your father was a pious man, you knew better than most exactly what did or did not await you, my love, and I am sure that wherever you are, you are ruling over it with an iron fist just as you did this household. I hope there are no governesses with you in hell. I hope there is no hell. Your sister once wrote that if she were to be reborn, she would want to be so as a rat because their lives are short. I think if you were to be reincarnated it would be as the moors themselves: powerful, all-encompassing, indomitable. Cold, but not in a way that stings your cheeks and makes you long for a fire. Cold in the way that invades your lungs and makes you feel alive.
You told me the moors were savage and everything in them fought. You fought. Your brother fought. Your sister is still fighting. But for someone to fight, there must be someone for them to fight. If someone is to win, then someone has to lose. Which am I, then? Where do I fit into this story? Am I the mastiff, or am I the moorhen? Sitting here, carrying the child that we were supposed to raise together, in perpetuity , I do not feel like either.
I have home now, with a sister-in-law and a scullery maid. Is that my trophy? I have footprints stamped on the inside of my stomach. Is that my consolation prize?
I suppose the dog could count for either. He sits by my feet when I read in the evenings. I take comfort in his presence.
Do you think if I let him sleep at the foot of our my bed, he can chase the dreams away? What do dogs dream of? Running through the woods, chasing moorhens? Perhaps not. There are moments when he looks at me with his deep, melancholy eyes and I wonder if he does not feel the same way I do. Perhaps he takes comfort in my presence, too.
If you are still capable of dreams, I hope they are sweet tonight.
“Agatha” is such a pretty name. I thought it was sweet, before we met. I liked the way the same “A” made two different vowel sounds. It sounded very gentle, very soft. I have no issues with my own name. “Emilie” is a very bright sound, and I like the “ie” it ends on. (Huldeygard is, of course, abysmal.)
I have been ruminating a lot on the concept of names, as of late. This is because sooner rather than later, our child is going to need one.
No child deserves to be named after either of us. It has not yet done anything to be worthy of that kind of punishment. I fear your name would be a curse. I know that mine would be.
I have always been good with children. As a younger woman with a relatively agreeable disposition, childcare at local events was often my responsibility, and the children were usually fond of me. They are not difficult. A lullaby can soothe the most ungentle of nights, and a ribbon or scrap of lace can bribe most young girls. The boys required a harsher tone, but nothing I could not handle. Becoming a governess was a natural progression; I had a knack for childcare, I enjoyed it, and frankly, other prospects were not exactly lining up outside my door. I have had a successful career up until this point and very rarely regretted my decision.
But this is different. Somehow, the knowledge that this child will be mine in its entirety is unsettling. I have done bedtime stories, I have done midnight feedings. I have changed diapers and fought off monsters underneath the bed. But for a child of my own? I suppose what I am trying to say is, I am scared of feeling trapped. I know that it is far, far too late to go back now. I am trapped in this house, on these moors, in this family, such as it is. But I worry that I would hold my child in my arms and know that no matter how loved it is, that does not stop me from wanting to run very far away from it. Is that wrong of me? I am terrified. I have never been so terrified. Never in my life have I looked out at my future and known that all of my choices have been taken away from me.
I fear I am becoming repetitive. I am scared, our child is on the way, and I am scared, and some day in the not-half-so-distant-as-I-would-wish future, our child will be here and I will likely be even more scared than I am now.
This letter is the only time I have allowed my feelings to be shared with another, if we agree to accept this as “shared.” You are not here to share with, but you are also not here to disagree. Outside of the privacy of our chambers, I have not let any of my distress be visible. I have instead been focusing on logistics.
Did you know Mallory has child delivering experience? It was the first thing she assured me of, once she and Huldey actually began to believe me. (It took until I was showing, and then some.) I am unsure whether I believe her. I would feel more comfortable with my own health and the child’s if we were to send for a nurse, but being so far from polite society, I know that if something were to go wrong there would not be time. So Mallory’s tender mercies, it is.
On the topic of Mallory: in light of my recent change in condition, Mallory has decided to no longer be with child. She thought two women with child in one house was a bit excessive, and after seeing how irrational my own pregnancy has made me at times, I must confess to agreeing with her. Since Marjory has the typhus and Mallory wanted to be more original, she now has a limp and also infertility.
While the child’s first name will certainly not be any derivative of either of ours, I think its last name must be. I considered mine, as I am its sole remaining parent, since you decided to leave me. But that would be unfair, removing you from the narrative entirely. You are the reason this child will exist, I am simply the method. I have no right to label it with the name of what was always intended to be a means to an end, not a mother. I also considered hyphenation, as this was in many ways a joint endeavor, but encountered the same issue. This child was never supposed to be half mine. The point of it was to continue the Branwell family, inherit the Branwell estate. Therefore, it will have to be a Branwell.
However, regardless of intent, this child is mine. I told you already that I have declared us to be wed. The world will be unkind to our child regardless of the circumstances of our birth but I refuse to make it worse by allowing our child to be born out of wedlock. I told you of my plan, should such a thing ever become necessary, to present myself as the grieving widow who carried the Branwell heir and simply not mention that you were not present at its conception. This leads to a complication: the wife and mother of a Branwell must herself be a Branwell. Therefore, I must too be a Branwell.
I will not force my last name upon your child. But I will take your child’s last name, and yours, for myself. There will never be any doubt that the child is legitimate and ours because on the surface, all will be natural. All will be right. We were, however briefly and however tragic the ending, a family.
Your grieving widow,
The mother of your child,
Did you know she wrote a ballad? There are nineteen different drafts of it in her diary. She wanted a ballad to be sung about her so she would be remembered. (You two are not so different in that regard—both of you wished to create a legacy. What sets you above her is that you actually made an effort. Your effort is turning my stomach in the mornings and also in the afternoons, waking me in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and swelling my ankles until I cannot bear to wear the tightly-laced, no-nonsense boots I wore to make a good first impression on your family. Your effort grows more prominent every day.) If I may speak bluntly, her ballad is not very good. I would be offended if the only reason someone killed me was for songwriting inspiration, and then they did such a poor job of it.
First of all, she plagiarized. She blatantly stole segments of the song I performed for the two of you the day of my arrival. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; I am not flattered. She has no reason to be proud: using my music to frame her own simply makes hers look even worse in comparison. Not that that takes much effort.
Second, she did not go back and correct it after she committed the deed. It makes a reference to decapitation, to her chopping your head off with one great swing , which I am quite sure is not what occurred. My initial thought was that there is no way she has the arm strength necessary to sever a head, not without many, many blows delivered to a willing, patient victim. My second was that I have witnessed the aftermath of limb removal in the past (a story which I decline to elaborate on) and the pattern of the blood you left behind does not match. Blood travels through the body at quite an impressive rate; therefore, when it is forcibly expelled, it does so at a speed that lets it travel great distances through the air. It gets on walls, furnitures, attackers. It does not puddle politely on the floor in a circle immediately; that only occurs after the body has fallen to the ground. There is no mark on the walls or ceiling; therefore, you were not decapitated.
I found a book in the library with the most vivid descriptions. It was a detective novel. The kind you would scorn. It may have been your brother’s, or your father’s, but I think it was yours. I saw the sarcastic commentary written in the margins, and I know that handwriting as well as I know my own. I think it was a guilty pleasure you would never admit to. I read it. It discussed the way blood puddles on the ground. The shape on the floor of the parlor matches its description near perfectly. I know now how you died. I do not know the circumstances that led to it, but I know now how to spot the remnants of blood gushing from a wound created by blunt force. Your sister is not very strong, therefore whatever not-axe weapon she used must have been very heavy. The room contained books. It contained a very large lamp. Various decorative objects she could have easily grabbed and you could have easily refused to deflect. I know how she killed you and I know how she abandoned you and I know that if I cared to take a proper measurement, I could calculate how long it was before someone carried you away and I don’t want to, Agatha, I never wanted to, I never wanted to know exactly what was done to you or why or how you were gone and I wish that I did not know it now.
I still hate her.
I still hate her so much for what she did and every time I think I am beginning to learn how to forgive, something happens that makes it all fresh again. I hate her and Marjory and Mallory and Margaret and I hate myself but I cannot hate our child.
She planned to kill you. She wrote a song in preparation to kill you. And then she used the wrong method yet achieved the intended outcome and I know her, I knew her before she took you from me, I know her well enough that I know she must have performed her goddamn ballad. Were you even dead yet? Or were you still bleeding out?
Part of me hopes some thread of your being was still conscious enough that the last thing you heard in your miserable, manipulative life was your little sister’s pathetic ballad about how she was killing you and she wasn’t even sorry .
Could you hear her?
Did you have enough blood left in your body to applaud?
I think I have come to a decision regarding names. Anora Lorraine for a girl, and Westley Joshua for a boy. Both are strong names. Neither resemble either of ours. Most importantly, I can think of no person I have ever met that bore either of them. (I had not realized just how many of my former charges died horribly and young until I was naming this new charge and every name that crossed my mind felt like a curse.)
Marjory is sure it will be a boy. She claims she spent so long with child that now she is an expert. Huldey disagrees; she says as we are both women, the child will be, as well. (Are you sure she knows how children come to be? If I hear mention of a stork, I shall be most concerned.)
I debated Huldeygard, for a middle name, briefly. Ultimately I decided against it. I felt it disrespected your memory. But I thought perhaps naming the child, in part, after her would awaken some sort of a protective instinct. I hope for her own sake she feels protective of our child. After all, if she treats it at all like she treated you in the end, I will have no choice but to provide her with the kind of life that will make her jealous of her dearest older brother’s peace.
Marjory fears me now. I have no concerns regarding her treatment of the child.
We are drawing ever nearer to the arrival of the child. The mastiff scarcely lets me out of his sight; I think he worries for our safety. You were needlessly hard on him. He’s a sweet thing. Very protective.
I have grown somewhat excited. Will we have an Anora or a Westley? I do not know. But we have a cradle in our chambers, though where Marjory unearthed it from, I do not know. Huldey made a blanket. It’s hideous, lopsided and with crooked stitching, and judging by the fabric I think it might have been made from some old clothing of your father’s. But it was a kind gesture. It is good to know I am not alone in preparing for the arrival. (I have abandoned the nursery. The windows let in a draft and the coloring was depressing and frankly, it was similar enough in design to your chambers that if I change my mind and put the baby in there when it is a little older, it will never know the difference. I may as well have the comfort of the remnants of your presence in the meantime.)
I have sworn it before and I shall swear it again—this child will be so, so loved and never have cause to doubt it.
With great affection,
It is a damn good thing you are dead already Agatha or I would kill you myself right now for putting me through this
I am in pain Agatha and yet Marjory says there are hours to go left and I should rest, perhaps read a book or get some sleep and soon we will have two dead bodies made and disposed of by women in this household if she does not learn how to shut up
Perhaps I shall call for your sister and see if she can give me any tips
Damn you and damn this godforsaken child and damn me for being weak-willed enough to fall for your “charms,” such as they were
Why me Agatha why me why ME
Agatha!!! Oh, Agatha!!!!
We have a son !
It has been three days but I have scarcely had time to breathe, much less put ink to paper, but we have a son and his name is Westley and he is small, smaller than any living thing I’ve ever seen before but somehow healthy and strong and oh so infinitely precious.
He does not sleep for longer than an hour, two at most, before he is screaming to be fed again, and he has such a set of lungs on him that Huldey has locked herself in her room after proclaiming that if anybody has need of her she will be unavailable because she is pressing pillows over her ears, the dramatic little hypocrite she is, but he, our Westley, is beautiful and perfect and mine .
It is too soon to know whether he looks like either of us but I swear he has your eyes. I did not notice how badly I missed those eyes until I was looking into them again, set in such a tiny, delicate face. It is hard to believe you were ever so delicate as this. It is strange to see those eyes so soft, with no trace of hatred or fear or any other quality I saw in your face. I hope that our darling Westley looks like you when he is older. You were so, so beautiful and the world would be a brighter place if some mimicry of your face were available in it.
He’s crying again, I must feed him, and therefore, farewell—
I do not know if it is late at night or early in the morning or perhaps midday. I have not opened the curtains in days. It has been just over two weeks since our son was born, and the time has simply flown by in a haze of sleepless nights and screaming and misery. I swear this child would tell you he has never known happiness, if he could speak. I do all that I can for him and yet, it seems never to be enough.
How am I supposed to do this? I do not suppose you would have an answer, but perhaps you would. You seemed to have an answer for everything. Did you care for Huldey when the two of you were younger? Do you recall the ways your parents cared for you? Or were you left to wet nurses, nannies, and eventually governesses such as myself? You were never one to share more than what you felt was necessary to make your point, so I do not know these things about you.
I could ask Huldey, but she is avoiding me. Fair enough. I would avoid me, too, if I were able. I look monstrous; I am not sure how many days it has been since I have bathed, but it has been enough that I can feel the grime of days of sweat and tears still on my face. I am eternally carrying a screeching bundle of stench and misery and nothing I do can soothe him.
Marjory says she was always with child, not with infant. She does not have more experience in this area than I do and fully believes in letting me lie in the bed I have made for myself.
Is it uncharitable of me to want to blame you? I know I agreed, and I know how juvenile it would be to point out that it was your idea. I am an adult, and am therefore responsible for the consequences of my own actions, no matter how unpleasant they may be.
Not that I am calling our son unpleasant, or a consequence. I adore him. I cherish the space he holds in my heart, and feel as if it were always there, something missing, just waiting for him to slot into place.
But part of me wonders if he would not be more gentle if you were here. You did not have a particularly soothing presence. We both remember how unsuited you were for lullabies, though I appreciated the effort you made. But I cannot help but wonder. Does he also feel as if there is a hole in his heart? Is he aware, even now, of the gaping void in his life where there should have been a father? I would never hesitate to allow him access to anything that could bring him whatever measure of comfort I am not capable of, but I fear that the thing he is missing is you, and there is very little I can do about that. I can tell him stories of you, if he quiets down enough to actually listen. I could attempt a portrait, though my strengths in the arts were always far more auditory than visual.
I fear that with his tiny, flailing fists, he is straining to tear me to pieces as punishment for me not managing to save you. He knows what he could have had and blames me for the fact that he does not have it, and frankly, I cannot hold it against him. I also blame myself, and if it were possible for me to exchange the two of us and let him grow with you, as you intended from the beginning, I would not hesitate.
His cries are trailing off now. Yes, I set him down and let him simply cry himself out. What else was I supposed to do? Truly, I am taking suggestions—if there is anything I have not yet tried then I will do so the moment I hear of it. In the meantime, I must take advantage of this blessed silence.
I have never in my life needed anything more than I need sleep in this moment.
Westley is well. He is eating frequently and beginning to sleep more peacefully, even when he is not being held. I was concerned he would never get to that point. Perhaps someday he will even be able to sleep for longer than two hours at a time.
Huldey is well. She is beginning to take an interest in Westley, now that he is not screaming every moment he is awake. He stares at the world around him, captivated. He tugs on her hair whenever it is within reach,
Marjory is well. She is smug that she was right about Westley being a boy. She says that Westley is charming, for a child, and that perhaps someday she will decide not to have infertility. She says that motherhood suits me.
I am as I always am, of course.
I hope that you are well.
Forever your Emilie
I asked you once, in one of these letters, why you did not save yourself. Why you could possibly have decided to let your sister take you away from that future you and I were going to build, the child we were going to raise together, the family we were going to create. I was furious, and I was heartbroken, and I was confused. I still miss you daily, but I am none of those things now.
I cannot be furious, because I can no longer be confused. I understand. I understand now why you did not raise a hand against Huldey. If your love for your sister was even halfway comparable to my love for our son, then I understand. She was your responsibility, yours to keep safe, just as he is mine. I would do anything to keep him safe. If some threat were to rise up against him, I would do whatever is necessary to eliminate it. If I were to discover that I was a threat, my response would remain the same. No one may harm my son.
I understand you, and I am no longer angry with you. I mourn you, but I forgive you.
I forgive you, Agatha. I forgive you for leaving me, leaving our son. I am here with him, and I love him, and I will do my best to raise him into the heir you hoped he would be, and I hope that someday when he is older he will forgive you too. I forgive you and I miss you and I love you.
Good morning, Agatha!
It is a beautiful day. The windows are open wide to allow a breeze in, and the sun is bright! I wish there were birds chirping. I have adjusted to life on the moors in many ways, but that will never be one of them. Growing up, I could never escape the sound of birds outside the house. It was a constant song in the background of my days and nowhere quite feels like home without it.
But the quiet is not a bad thing. It means Westley is sleeping! He is able to do that now! On days when I look particularly poorly, Marjory takes pity on me and removes him for several hours so that I am able to enjoy a nap of my own. I fall asleep when he does and wake when he does without knowing that there was a first, quieter waking somewhere in between several hours ago and Marjory took care of him until he was ready to sleep again.
I do not entirely trust Huldey to care for him when I am not awake and present, but I suppose trust, like all things, comes with time. Perhaps when he is old enough to speak I might leave for an entire afternoon and walk until I reach the edge of the woods. Perhaps there I will find birds other than the occasional distressed, preyed-upon moorhen.
We have had moorhen for dinner twice this week! I mentioned previously that the dear sweet dog seemed concerned for my health. He has taken to hunting for us! It is three times now that he has been let out for a run around the moors and returned a frightful sight, but holding a dead hen by one mangled wing! It is quite kind of him to provide for us. He is still missing you (he sleeps most nights at the foot of your bed, have I mentioned? I feel you must have had a soft spot for him that you never allowed me to see) but he is a valiant protector of what was yours in your place.
If he lives that long, I think he will make a fine companion for Westley. If he does not, perhaps I shall see about acquiring another dog. I always wanted a dog, growing up. Westley shall want for nothing.
I am awake. I am moderately well rested. I am enjoying a light breeze. Westley is asleep. I think I might go see if Huldey would care to join me for some tea.
Be well, my love—
I know that I said I forgive you Agatha but though I did not know it at the time I was lying
I can’t do this alone Agatha and I hate you for leaving me behind so I have no choice why do you get a choice why have I never had a choice
I was doomed from the moment I responded to your advertisement I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I know I signed on to take care of a child and here I am taking care of a child but this is not the same this is not what I asked for this is not what I thought I was asking for why did you do this to me
I love your son but I hate you
I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you
You have destroyed my life, you have gathered up my dreams and torched them to ashes like so many letters I should have known better than to keep, rereading, clutching to my chest as if they ever actually meant something to anyone other than me, as if they were able to be anything other than a lie, as if a part of me didn’t know better, whisper to me the stories of girls who trust strange men who seem too good to be true and you were too good to be true and yet I fell for you anyway and I am here and I have your child and I wish that I could say I would trade him to have you back but I wouldn’t I can’t but I wouldn’t if I could and even if I did, you would make me do the whole thing over again wouldn't you because I am nothing I am a means to an end and all that ever mattered to you throughout our little transaction was your procurement of an heir and I should be honored shouldn’t I not tired and still in pain and full of anguish and rage and grief Agatha grief for you and for Westley who will never know you and for me who knew you and lies awake at night wondering what would have become of my life if I were as lucky as our son
I miss you and I hate you and I am alone in this room and alone in my body and alone and alone and alone
Yours, Agatha, yours, always yours, regretfully, hatefully, miserably, forevermore yours
Previously in our correspondence this was the part where I wrote an apology for my harsh words and even harsher tone. Upon further contemplation, I have determined that there is no point in apologizing to a dead woman.
You are not reading these letters. You are not reading anything at all these days. You are dead. You were not hurt by my previous letter any more than you will be able to be consoled by the one I am writing now. This is because you did not read it and you will not read this because you are dead.
Maybe if I write to you one more time, I will cease to feel like you could walk through the door at any moment, chastising me for having the audacity to reside in your chambers without your permission. It was presumptuous of me, I know, but having married you posthumously and having bore your child, I felt as though I had the right. And here I am again, addressing you as if you could actually hear me. As if I was seeking a response.
There will be no response because you are dead.
Nothing I say will change this.
Therefore, I will stop saying anything at all.
With all my love,
I hope that you are well.
Westley is well. Huldey is well. Marjory is well and the dog is well and the moors are well.
I am not well.
I am not well, my darling, and I fear that I never shall be well again.
But Westley needs me to be well. Westley needs me to at least pretend that I am well. Huldey needs me to be well and Marjory has never needed me for anything, but it benefits her if I am well, as well, I am almost certain. Therefore, for all of our sakes except yours, I will continue pretending to be well.
Would you trade places with me if you could? If I were dead and you were the one caring for our son, would you be well? Would Westley be well with you? I fear he wouldn’t, but more than that, I fear he would. I fear you would do what you always intended: if I had died bearing your son, you would simply have advertised your immediate need for a governess.
All will be well in time.
All is not well, Agatha! All is not well. Time is passing every day and yet still, I am not well.
The more I look at my darling son’s precious little face, the more I struggle. The more I see your ice-cold eyes in miniature filled with warmth, the more I realize that what I longed for could never truly have existed. The more I look at your son, the more I realize that he was never meant to be mine.
I sit here in your home with your family and I feel like an imposter. I hold your child in my arms and feel like a thief. This life was meant to be yours, and yet here I am, having taken it for myself. I never claimed not to be selfish, Agatha. Every time I held myself back from lunging for a newly delivered letter, I knew exactly how selfish I was being. When I left my last position to come here, I knew I was choosing selfishness in perpetuity. And isn’t that funny?
I was willfully committing to being selfish with you forever.
The more I care for your child in your home, the more it feels selfless. The more I wonder what other options I might have.
You have come up in conversation three times now and each time the topic was swiftly changed. They refer to you as if they know nothing about what happened to you, what was done to you, what they conspired to do and actually did to you. If they are to be believed, it is as if you simply went for a stroll one evening and did not return. You did not go for a walk on the moors and never come back, even if many have done so before you. You were far too clever for that, and you would never have abandoned our son after everything you went through to get him. I know dealing with me made things more complicated than they needed to be, and I thank you for humoring me and my demands. Those memories mean a lot to me, especially now that I do not have you and do not even have the hopes of a new letter to press to my skin as I sleep alone. I have no new letters, nothing to look forward to, and no Agatha. All I have is streaks of glistening lightning carved across my stomach where none were previously. And, of course, a child.
A child who is off somewhere, being cared for by Marjory. Or does Huldey have him currently? I will admit I have lost track. One of them took him off of my hands so that I could steal a moment or two of peace for myself. Of course I spent it writing to you; since the moment we met, I have hardly known the meaning of the word “peace.” Now that it is offered to me, I do not know what to do with it. It does not matter. He is still in the house. If he cries, I will hear him. If he does not stop, I will go to him. I will sing him a lullaby, though I will also admit that in recent months I have lost the taste for them. I no longer associate them with the assurance that I am safe, that all will be well when I wake.
The last time someone sung me a lullaby, all was not well when I woke, and nothing has been well since. If I were never required to sing a lullaby again in my life, I do not believe I would miss it. But it seems Westley would miss having lullabies sung to him, and Marjory views herself as above such things and Huldey’s voice would only serve to make him cry harder and sleep less, so I will continue to sing them until such a time as his dependence has faded.
I do not know what to do with this free time. I suppose that is for the best; I have so little of it these days, it would not do for me to miss it. Constantly craving some activity for myself and never being able to do it would be frustrating. I will make peace with the idea that I will never have free time again, and then I will not have to deal with such misfortune.
Children are good for robbing one of one’s free time. I heard it often when I was younger, but never understood. As a governess, I only saw families who interacted with their children on their own terms and at their own convenience. They never seemed robbed of free time.
As a motherI understand better now. Without a governess to safeguard my free time from childish insurgence, I see that those people were right.
I believe I shall rest my eyes for a while. That is what I usually do when I have time to myself, and it has been working well so far. Why alter my schedule now?
Goodnight, my Agatha, though it is not yet evening. My day ends here; when the cries of your child awaken me, I will face a new dawn, no matter how much time has passed.
My dearest Agatha,
You can be sure that this will be my last letter, insomuch as you can be sure of anything. That is to say, this is my last letter but you cannot be sure of it because you are dead.
I know that we went through this once already, by which I mean that I tried to convince myself that writing to you was doing my psyche more harm than good. Ultimately, I was unsuccessful, hence the many letters since then and the many more started and discarded, never sealed away to be opened only by someone who no longer has hands with which to open them.
I have kept writing letters to no one. No one is reading my letters. I told Huldeygard that I do not keep a diary, though I might have been mistaken— is this really so different? I write about my day, I write my innermost thoughts, I write the words I cannot speak aloud and they sit here forever with the knowledge that they were never meant to be read.
I am far too old to keep a diary. Such matters are for immature little girls, desperate for a friend in whom to confide the latest gossip but not interesting enough to have anyone actually desire to listen to them.
I have derailed myself again. This was on purpose; I never wish for this letter to end. I wish it could go on forever because I swore to myself that it would be the last. It has been a year now since you died, and speaking to you as if you are here cannot be good for me. I need to move on. I need to let you go, as if I am somehow keeping you here. No, you are gone.
This will be my last letter because there is no point in writing to a dead woman, and you are most certainly dead. I will stop writing to you because there is no “you” for me to write to anymore and there has not been for some time.
My mind is made up, and no one will convince me otherwise.
One final time, in the hopes that I will manage to convince myself:
I am writing this letter to no one. My darling Agatha is dead. I loved her in the past and I miss her in the present and I will remember her in the future, but it is time now to relinquish the idea of her.
One final time,
I am sorry, but I cannot carry on like this.
I stand over the cradle of the child we were supposed to raise together, the sweet, perfect beautiful little boy that was supposed to be ours , and I cannot bear to look at his face. I cannot bear to think of all that was supposed to be that now never will and he is a precious symbol of everything I dreamt of and dreaded in equal measure. You were to be his father, and I his mother, and now with the loss of you, I fear that before he was even born he had lost us both.
I have been stretching the truth, in previous letters. All is not as idyllic as I have implied. No one is helping me half as much as I need, and I truly do not think I can do this without help. Huldey will be the best aunt he could ever wish for, someday when he is old enough to weather her enthusiasm, but right now she smothers him to the point of tears or forgets that he is here, forever flouncing off in whatever direction her whims take her. Marjory is scared of him, or scared of whatever I would think of to do to her if something were to happen to him while he is in her care. She only touches him when forced to. He will never go near the attic, nor the dog. I still remember what you said about it, though I have seen no evidence of it, myself. I have grown fond of it, but still you live inside my mind enough to keep me wary. I have not let our child near the dog. Apparently I will not let our child near anyone you ever spoke to me of. I will yield to your judgment in this matter, as I did so many others.
He will be a child of the moors. Wild, undisciplined. Fearless, a fighter. But I do not have the capacity to raise him as such. Not without you. I was not meant for the moors, though I fear I have assimilated more than I wished to. I was not meant for motherhood, either.
He will be strong, though. Well behaved, but able to weather whatever his harsh, unforgiving home has in store for him.
I hope, wherever you are, that you can forgive me someday. I broke my promise. I fear I might have broken several, though I cannot call them to mind at the moment. I have failed you, I have failed your family, and I have failed our son. But I tried my best, and now I am tired and I cannot do this anymore. It is best for everyone involved if I cease to try.
His governess is due to arrive in the morning. I trust she will look after him well.
All my love, forever,