Letters From Prague

Letters From Prague by Sue Gee Read Free Book Online

Book: Letters From Prague by Sue Gee Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sue Gee
of her Professor, of a look, a word, a smile.
    She slipped inside the front door, her heart pounding, and moved, oh so quietly – was he here? Was he coming? Was that his footstep, crossing the hall? – towards the stairs. Younger pupils descended, giggling; they stopped at the sight of their mouselike English acquaintance, hands to their mouths, nodding politely, stepping aside as she crept past. Up in her room Charlotte removed her bonnet, her cloak, laying them on the narrow iron bed, pressing her hands to her face. After a while, she crossed to the gabled window. She stood looking out at the rooftops, slate-grey beneath gathering cloud. Was this how she had imagined it all, planning it out with Emily in the Parsonage dining room? She had not imagined such pain, such longing.
    In 1843 Charlotte returned to Haworth and the moors. She wrote long, impassioned letters to Professor Heger, receiving no reply.
I suppose animals kept in cages, and so scantily fed as to be always on the verge of famine, await their food as I awaited a letter …
    Years later, renaming the city Villette, she poured her remembered suffering into the fine and disturbing novel in which Lucy Snowe, impoverished and friendless, took a teaching post in a girls’school in Brussels, falling in love with its handsome English doctor. Her feelings were not returned; in the long summer vacation when the school was empty, she was driven by loneliness to the borders of breakdown and despair. One wet evening she crept into the cold and sombre refuge of a Catholic church. Bells rang; she was almost fainting –
    â€˜Mon père, je suis Protestante …’
    The current of air at the open windows was cool and fresh. There was no sound, where a sound had been. Harriet, waking, realised that the rain had stopped. She rose from her chair, and went out on to the balcony. Ivy, shining and wet, trailed along the wrought-iron railing. Wet geraniums stood in clay pots in a corner; a fuchsia dripped. Harriet stood surveying the street below, the elegant houses opposite, waiting for Marsha’s return from the shower, and Susanna’s summons for tea.
    The houses opposite were like this house: neoclassical, graceful; stone façades supporting slender pilasters. Susanna was a slender pilaster: decorative, but incapable of bearing weight. Was that true? What was it, over a crowded birthday lunch in her parents’dining room, which had felt, somehow, not quite right? Had Harriet imagined it, or had Susanna, today, been deliberate in deflecting questions about herself as they drove, from the station, along the Boulevard St Lazare? The Jardin Botanique should be pointed out, of course, but even so.
    Balconies hung on the houses opposite; at the same level as Harriet, net curtains obscured another life. No, not quite: a shadowy figure moved past them. So. Who was at home in the afternoon, alone in a silent apartment? Who was somebody waiting for, nerves on edge at the discreet buzz of the intercom? Charlotte Brontë had suffered and wept, but Brussels in 1993 did not, so far, feel like a city for romantic assignation. Still. You never knew. For a moment, Harriet wondered: how does Susanna spend her days? Her afternoons? And then, surprising herself at her own intensity: if she hurts Hugh, I shall never forgive her.
    She leaned on the balcony, looking down at the to and fro of traffic. She had not quite got her bearings here, but she knew that not far away in the south-west stood the Palais de Justice and, sprawling in its magnificent shadow, the impoverished, densely populated district of the Marolles. Tomorrow was for exploration, and settling in – and perhaps, in a day or two, she might also find her bearings in relation to her brother’s marriage. She brushed shining water from the curve of the balcony railing. Please, she thought, again surprising herself: don’t let this one go wrong.
    A sound behind her: she turned, seeing

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