Romancing Miss Bronte: A Novel - By Juliet Gael

Chapter One

He rode in on the back of a wagon loaded with crates of chickens and bales of hay, driven by a brutish farmer who had not uttered a word throughout the journey except to curse his horse. Arthur would have enjoyed a bit of conversation as the wagon lurched along the muddy ruts, but the natural world was a thing of splendor and inspiration to him, and he was content to gaze upon the vistas opening up before his eyes. It was September and the wind was balmy and thick-scented with heather. Each climb to the brow of a hill revealed rise after rise carpeted in swirls of purple, green, and gold, each growing paler until the moors faded into a violet haze, and thereafter only shelves of mist the color of blush that might be land or might be clouds. The upper reaches of the River Worth flowed from these hills and fed the becks that fed the mills that fed the people, when times were good.

Arthur and the Church of England had been an arranged marriage of sorts, but he had been one of those fortunate few who had fallen deeply in love with his bride despite her many foibles and warts. He had no tolerance for those who sought to strip her of her liturgy and beauty, and undermine her authority. He was a proud young man, conscious of the dignity vested in him as the newly appointed curate to Haworth, so it was understandable that he was a little vexed to be arriving in the village atop a bale of hay in a lowly wagon full of chickens. There was something unsavory about it, a hint of degradation. He meditated on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey but could not reconcile this image with the squawking birds all around him. He wished he had a horse, but a horse was not within his means.

By the time they arrived at the bottom of Main Street the sky had darkened and lead-gray clouds were moving up swiftly from the south. The wind rose. Workers from the outlying mills were returning home across the fields, hurrying down to the village and disappearing into the dense, hidden warrens of the poor.

At the tollgate the farmer ordered him down. “I’ll deliver yer box but ye walk from ’ere,” he muttered as he swiftly pocketed the coin Arthur dropped into his hand.

“Where might I find the parsonage?” Arthur asked stiffly. “I am Reverend Brontë’s new curate.”

For this bit of introduction all he got was a scowl and a sharp jerk of the head indicating the top of the steep hill.

A cold drizzle had blown in, sharp as needles.

The street was a long, brutal climb, and several times he threw an anxious glance over his shoulder at the old mare laboring slowly up the steep cobbled way. To the right the hillside fell off sharply, with ramshackle sheds and small garden plots scattered along the slope below. On the left rose a straggling row of small stone cottages built from millstone grit quarried in those treeless moors. A sense of oppression and harshness hung over the village.

Halfway up, Arthur paused to rest. Glancing back down the hill he saw that the horse had stalled and the farmer had resorted to a whip. Arthur was accustomed to dealing with recalcitrant draft horses, and he had a winning way with stubborn beasts, a talent that did not always translate to his own species. So when he turned back down the hill, it was more out of sympathy for the horse than for the brutish farmer. Drawing close, he could see the panic in the horse’s eyes and the strain that rippled along her muscled flanks. Arthur had once witnessed the carnage when a horse hitched to an overloaded wagon had been dragged backward down an icy slope, and he knew the animal had reason to fear. Arthur stepped up beside the horse and spoke soothingly to her, but when he reached for the bridle he was startled by the crack of the whip just over his head.

“Away with ye,” the farmer shouted. “Git away. Git yer hands off my horse.” Without warning he lashed out again with the whip, barely missing Arthur’s cheek.

Arthur’s eyes flashed with anger. He was a powerful man, with a good height and an oxlike build. He had it in him to drag the farmer from his seat and give him a thrashing, but his only concern