I know also that the father will be sitting in the room to my right— sitting at his solitary meal, for his digestion is queer, and he prefers to dine alone: a strange, small, purblind man, full of sorrow and strong will. He is a clergyman, but carries a revolver always in his pocket by day, and by night sleeps with it under his pillow. He has done so ever since some one told him that the moors above were unsafe for a person with his opinions.
All this the glass shows me, and more. I see the children growing up. I see the girls droop and pine in this dreary parsonage, where the winds nip, and the miasma from the churchyard chokes them. I see the handsome promising boy going to the devil—slowly at first, then by strides. As their hope fades from his sisters’ faces, he drinks and takes to opium-eating—and worse. He comes home from a short absence, wrecked in body and soul. After this there is no rest in the house. He sleeps in the room with that small, persistent father of his, and often there are sounds of horrible strugglings within it. And the girls lie awake, sick with fear, listening, till their ears grow heavy and dull, for the report of their father’s pistol. At morning, the drunkard will stagger out, and look perhaps into this glass, that gives him back more than all his despair. “The poor old man and I have had a terrible night of it,” he stammers; “he does his best—the poor old man! but it’s all over with me.”
I see him go headlong at last and meet his end in the room above after twenty minutes’ struggle, with a curious desire at the last to play the man and face his death standing. I see the second sister fight with a swiftly wasting disease; and, because she is a solitary Titanic spirit, refuse all help and solace. She gets up one morning, insists on dressing herself, and dies; and the youngest sister follows her but more slowly and tranquilly, as beseems her gentler nature.
Two only are left now—the queer father and the eldest of the four children, the reddish-eyed girl with the small hands, the girl who “never talked hopefully.” Fame has come to her and to her dead sisters. For looking from childhood into this livid glass that reflected their world, they have peopled it with strange spirits. Men and women in the real world recognise the awful power of these spirits, without understanding them, not having been brought up themselves in front of this mirror. But the survivor knows the mirror too well.
“Mademoiselle, vous etes triste.”
“Monsieur, j’en ai bien le droit.”
With a last look I see into the small, commonplace church that lies just below the parsonage: and on a tablet by the altar I read a list of many names. . .
And the last is that of Charlotte Bronte.
THE SMALL PEOPLE.
To a Lady who had asked for a Fairy Tale.