“Well here I am at Roe Head. . . .”
Manuscript, written at the Roe Head school, 4 February 1836
Henry H. Bonnell Collection, bequest of Helen Safford Bonnell, 1969
When she was nineteen, Brontë returned to the Roe Head school as a teacher. Though she had thrived as a student and made several lifelong friends there, she chafed in her new role. Taking up this folded sheet of paper one evening after “a day’s weary wandering,” she expressed her feelings of alienation then moved seamlessly into a fictional fantasy tinged with eroticism. She described herself as a voyeur peering through the windows of an exotic palace and watching Quashia Qamina, a character from her stories, reclining drunk and disheveled in a rival queen’s chamber.
Well, here I am at Roe-Head. It is seven o’clock at night, the young ladies are all at their lessons, the school-room is quiet, the fire is low, a stormy day is at this moment passing off in a murmuring and bleak night. I now assume my own thoughts; my mind relaxes from the stretch on which it has been for the last twelve hours & falls back onto the rest which no-body in this house knows of but myself.
I now, after a day’s weary wandering, return to the ark which for me floats alone on the face of this world’s desolate & boundless deluge. It is strange. I cannot get used to the ongoings that surround me. I fulfil my duties strictly & well, yet, so to speak, if the illustration be not profane, as God was not in the wind, nor the fire, nor the earth-quake, so neither is my heart in the task, the theme or the exercise. It is the still small voice alone that comes to me at eventide, that which like a breeze with a voice in it [comes] over the deeply blue hills & out of the now leafless forests & from the cities on distant river banks of a far & bright continent. It is that which wakes my spirit & engrosses all my living feelings, all my energies which are not merely mechanical, & like Haworth & home, wakes sensations which lie dormant elsewhere.
Last night I did indeed lean upon the thunder-wakening wings of such a stormy blast as I have seldom heard blow, & it whirled me away like heath in the wilderness for five seconds of ecstasy, and as I sat by myself in the dining-room while all the rest were at tea the trance seemed to descend on a sudden, & verily this foot trod the war-shaken shores of the Calabar & these eyes saw the defiled & violated Adrianopolis shedding its lights on the river from lattices whence the invader looked out & was not darkened.
I went through a trodden garden whose groves were crushed down. I ascended a great terrace, the marble surface of which shone wet with rain where it was not darkened by the mounds of dead leaves which were now showered on & now swept off by the vast & broken boughs which swung in the wind above them.
Up I went to the wall of the palace to the line of latticed arches which shimmered in light, passing along quick as thought, I glanced at what the internal glare revealed through the crystal. There was a room lined with mirrors & with lamps on tripods, & very darkened, & splendid couches & carpets & large half lucid vases white as snow, thickly embossed with whiter mouldings, & one large picture in a frame of massive beauty representing a young man whose gorgeous & shining locks seemed as if they would wave on the breath & whose eyes were half hid by the hand carved in ivory that shaded them & supported the awful looking coron[al?] head—a solitary picture, too great to admit of a companion—a likeness to be remembered full of beauty, not displayed, for it seemed as if the form had been copied so often in all imposing attitudes, that at length the painter, satiated with its luxuriant perfection, had resolved to conceal half & make the imperial Giant bend & hide under his cloudlike tresses, the radiance he was grown tired of gazing on.
Often had I seen this room before and felt, as I looked at it, the simple and exceeding magnificence of its single picture, its five colossal cups of sculptured marble, its soft carpets of most deep and brilliant hues, & its mirrors, broad, lofty, & liquidly clear. I had seen it in the stillness of evening when the lamps so quietly & steadily burnt in the tranquil air, & when their rays fell upon but one living figure, a young lady who generally at that time appeared sitting on a low sofa, a book in her hand, her head bent over it as she read, her light brown hair dropping in loose & unwaving curls, her dress falling to the floor as she sat in sweeping folds of silk. All stirless about her except her heart, softly beating under her satin bodice & all silent except her regular and very gentle respiration.
The haughty sadness of grandeur beamed out of her intent fixed hazel eye, & though so young, I always felt as if I dared not have spoken to her for my life, how lovely were the lines of her small & rosy mouth, but how very proud her white brow, spacious & wreathed with ringlets, & her neck, which, though so slender, had the superb curve of a queen’s about the snowy throat. I knew why she chose to be alone at that hour, & why she kept that shadow in the golden frame to gaze on her, & why she turned sometimes to her mirrors & looked to see if her loveliness & her adornments were quite perfect.
However this night she was not visible—no—but neither was her bower void. The red ray of the fire flashed upon a table covered with wine flasks, some drained and some brimming with the crimson juice. The cushions of a voluptuous ottoman which had often supported her slight, fine form were crushed by a dark bulk flung upon them in drunken prostration. Aye, where she had lain imperially robed and decked with pearls, every waft of her garments as she moved diffusing perfume, her beauty slumbering & still glowing as dreams of him for whom she kept herself in such hallowed & shrine-like separation wandered over her soul, on her own silken couch, a swarth & sinewy moor intoxicated to ferocious insensibility had stretched his athletic limbs, weary with wassail and stupefied with drunken sleep.
I knew it to be Quashia himself, and well could I guess why he had chosen the queen of Angria’s sanctuary for the scene of his solitary revelling. While he was full before my eyes, lying in his black dress on the disordered couch, his sable hair dishevelled on his forehead, his tusk-like teeth glancing vindictively through his parted lips, his brown complexion flushed with wine, & his broad chest heaving wildly as the breath issued in spurts from his distended nostrils, while I watched the fluttering of his white shirt ruffles starting through the more than half-unbuttoned waistcoat, & beheld the expression of his Arabian countenance savagely exulting even in sleep, Quashia triumphant Lord in the halls of Zamorna! in the bower of Zamorna’s lady! while this apparition was before me, the dining-room door opened and Miss W[ooler] came in with a plate of butter in her hand. “A very stormy night my dear!” said she. “It is ma’am,” said I.