Historical and Literary Fiction / Essays / Poetry / Reviews /Book Cover and Interior Illustrations / Pet Portraits and Other Commissioned Artwork … "Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant." ~ Edna Ferber, 1885-1968, American novelist, short story writer and playwright
Well, it seems unbelievable, but today marks forty-fiveyears since I was married (March 27, 1976). No, I can’t celebrate being married that long. The marriage lasted sixteen years before I returned to the US from England without my husband (he refused to live in the US). It was another two years or so before we were officially divorced.
I wrote and first posted this poem in 2011. I feel it will one day find its way into a story.
For now …
It might be she had dreamed up that courtship following an inclination over such green and pleasant hills.
A handful of tightly hopeful buds; much better to pick them that way, some warmth to open them slowly into daffodils- among her favorite flowers to this day.
Why would she write novels if only age, love, and death changed her? Poetry would be enough, a more natural and satisfying means of expression. It suited her pensiveness and piety, could be composed in isolated moments and reflect without analyzing. Poetry was a solitary art; even when read by others, its author could go unnoticed. It was perfect for disappearing into.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
That I might simply fancy there
One little flower — a primrose fair,
Just opening into sight;
As in the days of infancy,
An opening primrose seemed to me
A source of strange delight.
Sweet Memory! ever smile on me;
Nature’s chief beauties spring from thee,
Oh, still thy tribute bring!
Still make the golden crocus shine
Among the flowers the most divine,
The glory of the spring.
~ from the poem, Memory, by Anne Brontë
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
Despite the care of my 92 year old bedridden mother taking up most of my time and energy, I continue with my work-in-progress: a novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), The Dove Upon Her Branch.
Through barely leafy woods there were early spring flowers to accidentally come upon and search for. Birds broke the silence as if noting her intrusion. Squirrels didn’t need prompting to squawk less musically while flying as ably from tree to tree. The way opening onto a field offered the sweetness of lambs and moist grass, the earth was green, the sky was blue*, Christina saw and heard a skylark hang between the two*. Shelly had written a longer and loftier poem inspired by that spritely bird that singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest **.
*from The Skylark by Christina Rossetti
**from To the Skylark by Percy Shelly
Here is Christina’s exquisite poem, Spring, describing the burgeoning of the season, but, also, its transience.
Frost-locked all the winter,
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
What shall make their sap ascend
That they may put forth shoots?
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
Tips of tender green,
Leaf, or blade, or sheath;
Telling of the hidden life
That breaks forth underneath,
Life nursed in its grave by Death.
Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,
Drips the soaking rain,
By fits looks down the waking sun:
Young grass springs on the plain;
Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
Swollen with sap put forth their shoots;
Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane;
Birds sing and pair again.
There is no time like Spring,
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
When life’s alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track –
God guides their wing,
He spreads their table that they nothing lack, –
Before the daisy grows a common flower
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour.
There is no time like Spring,
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
Like Spring that passes by;
There is no life like Spring-life born to die, –
Piercing the sod,
Clothing the uncouth clod,
Hatched in the nest,
Fledged on the windy bough,
Strong on the wing:
There is no time like Spring that passes by,
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti
I also hope to someday write about one of my favorite writers, early 20th century novelist and poet Mary Webb.
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
There bloom immortal crocuses, beside
A live-rose hedge, and irises that grow
Along a far green inlet–circling wide
Anemone fields where none but stars may go.
The ardours of a thousand springs are there;
Through infinite deeps they quicken, bright and tender:
In that sequestered garden of the air …
~ from Winter Sunrise by Mary Webb
May the snow subside, the sun brighten and the rain cleanse!
VENICE, Italy — In another year, masks would be a sign of the gaiety in Venice, an accessory worn for games and parties as big crowds parade about to show off their frivolous, fanciful costumes, especially ones with decorative face coverings.
The Italian canal city’s Carnival festivities should have started Saturday (January 30 – February 16, 2021), but the covid-19 pandemic has made its annual appointment for more than two weeks of merry-making impossible. https://www.arkansasonline.com
So, celebrate virtually with this post (that I bring out every year anyway) including an excerpt from my novel A House Near Luccoli.
Today, February 16, 2021 is Martedí Grasso (Fat Tuesday) of Carnevale, a final celebration before Ash Wednesday and Lent.
It’s the main day of Carnival … The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. Italy is the birthplace of Carnival celebrations, having its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. ~ Wikipedia
There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:
This feast is named the Carnival, which being Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”: So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing, Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh.
With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevaledi Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.
Copyright by DM Denton 2015
For those of you who have read my historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, you will know that Martedi Grasso offers some pivotal scenes. Although the novel begins a few years after the 17th century composer Alessandro Stradella‘s arrival in Genoa, Carnevale was initially his reason for going (well, there might have been one or two other reasons …) and then he was encouraged to stay.
This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival … ~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677
I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent. ~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678
Read Chapter Twenty-three, one of the Carnevale Chapters of
Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~ Martin Shone, author of the poetry collections Silence Happens,Being Human, and After the Rain.
Sleep well tonight. She wished she had taken his advice, but she couldn’t stop looking at the explicitly elegant gown hanging on the wardrobe. Nonna would have enjoyed the sight. It was silk and pearl buttoned, curving and billowing white, beribboned in sapphire and trimmed in bronze. Also warm and cold, tight and loose, depending on what the weather and outcome would be. A few hours later she was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air.
Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again. “And practice on the way.”
“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.”
“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”
“You’ll see others turning green.”
Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.
“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.”
Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did. ~ Read full excerpt from A House Near Luccoli
It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey
But as above that mist’s control She rose, and brighter shone …
from Fluctuations by Anne Brontë
January 17, 2021, marks 201 years since Anne Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England, youngest of the six children of Maria Branwell from Penzance and Irish clergyman Patrick Brontë.
My novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit is my love letter to Anne. Not Anne, the ‘less gifted’ sister of Charlotte and Emily … nor the Anne who ‘also wrote two novels’, but Anne herself, courageous, committed, daring and fiercely individual: a writer of remarkable insight, prescience and moral courage whose work can still astonish us today. ~ Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books
2020 was Anne’s bicentennial, celebrations unexpectedly and unfortunately curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions. Of course, honoring Anne can be done at any time by reading her poetry and prose and what others have been inspired to write about her; also, (perhaps, a way that would please her the most) by following her example of good and purposeful living achieved through resilience, faith, honesty, compassion and – invaluable during an isolating pandemic – self-containment, patience, and flexibility.
Anne’s two novels and unfinished ‘Portrait of a girl with a dog’
Anne thought of … a word, more than a word, a philosophy, simple but profound, out of the mouth of someone who spoke simply and succinctly, not unlike Tabby, or, in the old days, Nancy and Sarah Garrs, who sometimes shared wisdom with just a comment on the weather.
Copyright 2017 by DM Denton
Now it was a title for a poem …
Anne stroked Flossy’s ears as she began to quietly read out loud, “‘Fluctuations. What though the Sun had left my sky—’” Her doe-eyed companion looked up, understanding nothing and everything, wagging his tail and letting it drop limply, whining because he didn’t like it when his mistress was upset. “Shh, shh. It’s all right, sweet pup. ‘To save me from despair the blessed Moon arose on high, and shone serenely there.’”
It was all right. It would be all right. Perhaps not every moment, not when she thought of who she must wait until she died to see again, or how there was less heartache but more frustration in believing she would never feel fully useful in society or even at home unless she accomplished something meaningful. Still, it could be worse if she was without the resolve to make her life fruitful, pursue a well-cultivated mind and well-disposed heart, have the strength to help others be strong, or, especially, the faith to endure and rise above endurance.
“‘I thought such wan and lifeless beams could ne’er my heart repay, for the bright sun’s most transient gleams that cheered me through the day. But as above that mist’s control she rose and brighter shone—’” Flossy looked up at her again. “‘I felt a light upon my soul!’”
Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer. She also valued family and friendship, which, of course, could be one and the same. At times it was stifling back at the parsonage, as though all the windows and doors that held her to being the smallest, quietest, last and least likely to surprise were kept locked by those who loved her for their own conclusions. Anne could never think of home as a prison, but once she flew the nest and realized she had the wherewithal to, if not quite soar, make survivable landings, she knew it was restrictive. She had always suspected being overly protected was as dangerous as being unguarded, like enjoying the rose without noticing its thorns. It wasn’t as though her family was unaware of the world and its ways. Daily and weekly doses of newspapers and magazines initiated lively discussions, mostly between Branwell and Charlotte with Emily grunting, about religion and revolution and parliamentary reform, potato famine and, closer to home, the plight of the wool laborers and sick in their father’s parish.
Anne was afraid responding to political, social, and moral issues through the amusement of fantasy was more about outwitting these realities than addressing them. She even felt some shame at having gone along with the juvenilia that made believe the world was at her fingertips, its maneuverings entertaining, romantic, and escapist, although she could almost forgive the child she was then. Halfway through her twenties, having lived most of the last four years away from her family, she was finally fully-fledged, the nature she was born with at last standing up for itself, wanting its voice to be heard, with the courage to admit she was meant to wear truths not masks.
In or away from Haworth, the best companionship was often with herself alone: the best being the reflection that wouldn’t falsely flatter for the sake of avoiding hard feelings, wasn’t eager to congratulate in order to keep her friendship, and didn’t encourage self-pity because it was wanted in return. Anne had long since decided to be honest with herself even when it meant facing a harsh reality, like the prospect of never marrying and having children. Whatever God’s will, she hoped a few of the schemes in her head, humble and limited as they were, might come to something. She could hear Emily guffawing. Why shouldn’t they? You worry too much. Yes, she did, a correction that was one of the most difficult to make if she thought she must choose between passion and dispassion.
Excerpt from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
Illustration (from Without the Veil Between) by DM Denton
What though the Sun had left my sky; To save me from despair The blessed Moon arose on high, And shone serenely there.
I watched her, with a tearful gaze, Rise slowly o’er the hill, While through the dim horizon’s haze Her light gleamed faint and chill.
I thought such wan and lifeless beams Could ne’er my heart repay, For the bright sun’s most transient gleams That cheered me through the day:
But as above that mist’s control She rose, and brighter shone, I felt her light upon my soul; But now–that light is gone!
Thick vapours snatched her from my sight, And I was darkling left, All in the cold and gloomy night, Of light and hope bereft:
Until, methought, a little star Shone forth with trembling ray, To cheer me with its light afar– But that, too, passed away.
Anon, an earthly meteor blazed The gloomy darkness through; I smiled, yet trembled while I gazed– But that soon vanished too!
And darker, drearier fell the night Upon my spirit then;– But what is that faint struggling light? Is it the Moon again?
Kind Heaven! increase that silvery gleam, And bid these clouds depart, And let her soft celestial beam Restore my fainting heart!
On this New Year’s Day 2021, I was reminder by the first two stanzas of this poem by Christina Rossetti (Old and New Year Ditties) of why I was and continue to be compelled to write my current work-in-progress novel about her, and how in sync I am with her melancholic hope and sensibilities:
New Year met me somewhat sad: Old Year leaves me tired, Stripped of favourite things I had Baulked of much desired: Yet farther on my road to-day God willing, farther on my way.
New Year coming on apace What have you to give me? Bring you scathe, or bring you grace, Face me with an honest face; You shall not deceive me: Be it good or ill, be it what you will, It needs shall help me on my road, My rugged way to heaven, please God.
Here is the rest of the poem, no doubt more overtly religious than I am, but full of rich spiritual contemplation I cannot help but relate to:
Watch with me, men, women, and children dear, You whom I love, for whom I hope and fear, Watch with me this last vigil of the year. Some hug their business, some their pleasure-scheme; Some seize the vacant hour to sleep or dream; Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.
Watch with me blessed spirits, who delight All through the holy night to walk in white, Or take your ease after the long-drawn fight. I know not if they watch with me: I know They count this eve of resurrection slow, And cry, ‘How long?’ with urgent utterance strong.
Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness: Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes; Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless. Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night; To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight: I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.
Passing away, saith the World, passing away: Chances, beauty and youth sapped day by day: Thy life never continueth in one stay. Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey That hath won neither laurel nor bay? I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May: Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay On my bosom for aye. Then I answered: Yea.
Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away: With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play; Hearken what the past doth witness and say: Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array, A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay. At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day Lo, the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay: Watch thou and pray. Then I answered: Yea.
Passing away, saith my God, passing away: Winter passeth after the long delay: New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray, Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May. Though I tarry wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray: Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day, My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say. Then I answered: Yea.
Wishing you health, fulfillment, love, and peace for 2021 and beyond.
Farewell to thee! but not farewell To all my fondest thoughts of thee: Within my heart they still shall dwell; And they shall cheer and comfort me. O, beautiful, and full of grace! If thou hadst never met mine eye, I had not dreamed a living face Could fancied charms so far outvie.
If I may ne’er behold again That form and face so dear to me, Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain Preserve, for aye, their memory.
That voice, the magic of whose tone Can wake an echo in my breast, Creating feelings that, alone, Can make my tranced spirit blest.
That laughing eye, whose sunny beam My memory would not cherish less; — And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam Nor mortal language can express.
Adieu, but let me cherish, still, The hope with which I cannot part. Contempt may wound, and coldness chill, But still it lingers in my heart.
And who can tell but Heaven, at last, May answer all my thousand prayers, And bid the future pay the past With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?
Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between,Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick.
Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
Only a few months after brother Branwell passed from their lives, beloved sister Emily followed him. One can only imagine the grief of losing two siblings and children so soon one after the other – not the first time this had happened for the Brontë family and not made easier by being just before Christmas, a time when they usually found themselves come together again after being away from home.
I wrote about the closeness (“like twins … inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption” ~ Ellen Nussey) of Anne and Emily Brontë in a previous post: The Very Closest Sympathy.
‘When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetry . . .’
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey
Or, in my case, prose …
“‘Powerful’. ‘Interesting’. ‘Coarse’. ‘Brutal’. ‘Morbid’. Do we write with any such adjectives in mind?” Anne had been reading through the reviews of Tenant she had collected, portions aloud to Emily, especially those that might stir any fight left in her. “Or go through the tormenting process of writing a novel for ‘reveling in scenes of debauchery’?”
Emily was quiet lying sideways on the sofa in the parlor. Since Anne had repositioned the pillow borrowed from one or other of their beds, Emily’s head had slipped to bow against her frail neck. Her torso was curled so her length was contracted, no definition to her arms or bosom within the sleeves and bodice of her dress, no movement under its skirt since Anne had lifted her sister’s skeletal legs up more than an hour before.
Anne wondered if Emily was still pulled by the brutishness and beauty of the moors and the similar punishment and reward of writing. Did a look out a window or opening of a door remind her of what she was missing, and new Gondal rascals or Heathcliffs or Catherines find her imagination receptive? Anne longed for one more conversation with her, whether playful or intense, one more chance to agree, argue and confirm they were good for each other’s inspiration, intellects and souls. Anne ached for one more meeting with the Emily who was wiry but robust, strong like a man and simple like a child, her head full of logic and fantastic stories at the same time, her choices uncompromising, as were her passions. If only Emily’s life could return to being routine and yet so exceptional, filled with writing brilliantly while she was bread making or sewing or everyone else was asleep, making music like a perfect lady and rambling the Pennine way like a free and easy lad.
Instead, Anne had to helplessly watch as Emily continued to disappear through those December days and nights. On that Monday evening, a week before Christmas, her stillness, half-open eyes and mouth, and leaning towards resignation indicated there was only one way she would be released from consumption’s captivity.
Today is the 190th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830
A Birthday By Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird Whose nest is in a water’d shoot; My heart is like an apple-tree Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit; My heart is like a rainbow shell That paddles in a halcyon sea; My heart is gladder than all these Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down; Hang it with vair and purple dyes; Carve it in doves and pomegranates, And peacocks with a hundred eyes; Work it in gold and silver grapes, In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys; Because the birthday of my life Is come, my love is come to me.
Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch
Christina and William Rossetti posing for the painting of Ecce Ancilla Domini by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in November 1849
In Depression-weary times, a little girl’s wish for a special doll touches a stoic heart. Through sacrifice and pure intent, giving her what she wants results in disappointment but eventually confirms that love and patience can work magic.
Time for another short story, a seasonal one for every season
The Snow White Gift
by DM Denton
A childish gasp greeted the wide-eyed porcelain doll. The exploration of a trunk full of old clothes uncovered it, eager hands lifting it from lying so long on its back in the dark. It blinked, dropped its arms, stretched its legs and lowered its chin while its sleeves were pinched out. An attempt was made to smooth the creases in its skirt and cape; the ribbon in its hair retied. Other than twisting awkwardly when it was hugged like a long lost friend, it offered no resistance to being rescued from what might have been the end of its story.
The Snow White Gift is available to read in its entirety on Kindle devices or for most other devices by downloading the Kindle app.
Who? At first, I didn’t think the question was directed at me. I didn’t want to be seen. If by some unintended wish I was, I didn’t feel inclined to answer, to reveal more than I had already. I didn’t want to be rude, either, the manners Aunt Elizabeth had instilled in me continuing to influence my judgment. It was the staircase I meant to be present for as I moved out of the shadows and onto its wide bottom step, Queen Anne in its demeanor and mine. Would there be the smell of polish and creaking on certain steps, its handrail smooth, cold, and substantial beneath my small hand? It was a miracle that I had found it again, and myself as eager and expectant as when the journey to my independent future packed more illusions—especially of the juvenile variety—than clothes. The staircase had darkened with age but in its afterlife had been restored for a brighter environment. Gone was the eighteenth-century oak paneling of its first home that eclipsed the rare beauty of its burred yew unless a candle was held near. Now surrounded by white-washed walls and ceilings, and light-fixtures with flames that didn’t flicker, the imperfections of the staircase’s wood glowed. Once again it seemed I was alone, or, at least, without anyone realizing my presence pretending to be other than it was. The first time I stepped onto the staircase I was still in awe of Blake Hall’s magnificence and certain I was at the threshold of an exciting time in my young life. In terms of my own actions, maintenance, faculties, and possibilities, I was just beginning. I intended to make the most of an opportunity for refinement and worthiness. It was April 1839. I was taken up a back way to a small but comfortable bedroom to briefly revive with refreshment and rest, leaving little time to tidy my appearance before I emerged less than an hour later. I walked along a paneled and papered hallway to a grander way down to meet new responsibilities, convinced the society below would put my shyness and insecurities at ease and improve and cultivate me. Lifting the mud-splattered hem of my skirt, I wished it clean and my petticoats, too, although I was wearing only one. I saw skimpy slippers on my feet rather than sensible boots. Somewhere, probably the drawing room, a piano was being played and there was singing, the latter much less in tune, but, as a young female child’s voice often was, sweet and pretty. My optimism in being entrusted with the care and education of children was enthused until I heard mockery and crying. A door slammed. A rude boy, no more than six or seven, bounded up past me, while the same stately woman who had met my arrival earlier with nothing more than was necessary to say, stood at the bottom of the stairs expressionless. I could go no further in that disagreeable direction. I hadn’t followed the fate of the staircase to revisit the pomposity, unpleasantness, and worse of the Inghams, or my own wickedness that I wasn’t proud of but seemed necessary at the time. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, opened them, and all that remained was my flight of fancy on those stairs.
My faith had prepared me to settle in heavenly peace where I was reunited with those I loved, one in particular even more agreeable in the hereafter. I was rarely nostalgic for the life I had abandoned too soon, especially once Charlotte and Flossy were with me again. I have to—affectionately—blame Emily, who was still into haunting, for alerting me to the demolition of Blake Hall after what was salvaged of its character and worth had been auctioned off. That was as far as Emily was willing to go with the news, while Charlotte had long ago grown disillusioned with London, so I made a second trip there on my own. Of course, I could do nothing but watch the dealings that started at a Kensington antiques fair, continued miles away in a damp, dusty warehouse, and culminated in the staircase’s sale and a plan to send it to be reassembled even farther away from fitting in. By then, I was curious about the couple who had crossed the Atlantic to flaunt their money and steal a little of the old world to the new. Giving into the temptation to eavesdrop on Allen and Gladys Topping during their return voyage, I meant to limit my spying to their discussions about “the English treasures” purchased for their new house on a “long island”. Instead, my fascination with their engaging if sometimes vulgar speech and mannerisms and Gladys’ spontaneous operatic singing, which made her husband’s eyes shine, became an inexcusable intrusion upon their privacy. No sooner I returned to time without measure than Allen Topping was there. I wanted to ask him about the staircase but decided not to because he didn’t know me. He was greeted by a crowd of condolences for the loss of his wife. I often wondered if William ever felt bereaved over what might have been between us, but I was still too shy to ask him. Heaven, like earth, was full of unfinished love stories. I knew Allen would be all right. Gladys would be, too, for, as my dearest Flossy told me, Allen had left her with a special gift.
“Mr. Wyk, what is it?” Mr. Wyk reminded me of Emily’s Keeper, intimidating until he wagged his tail and nuzzled my hand for a treat he wasn’t supposed to have. I was sure he was a comfort to his mistress who, unlike Emily, had no rules that kept him off her bed or from roaming anywhere in the house. Not that Emily and Keeper were less devoted to each other, their reunion as intensely emotional as mine had been with Flossy. “Mr. Wyk?” The young Doberman Pincher ran up the stairs to the first landing, his snout down on his front paws and his spine rising as he resumed growling. I began to ascend, thinking to put him at ease again, but he backed away whining and turned to Gladys. She had one hand over her mouth while the other lifted a chamber stick that illuminated the fear and curiosity in her eyes. I waited for the question I didn’t want to answer. Who? it came, although it wasn’t spoken. Quickly, once and for all, in a whisper meant to be an impression, I told her. I was surprised she had heard of me, also of my sisters and brother, and had even seen the lovely moors. “Ah, she’s gone.” Gladys stroked Mr. Wyk’s ears and went down the stairs. I moved aside, forgetting I didn’t need to. The faithful dog wanted to follow her but waited for me to gesture him to. “You must be hungry, Mr. Wyk. Will anyone believe we saw her? I wonder if she’ll be back.” I have been, but not so Gladys has actually observed me again. It’s hard to be sure about Mr. Wyk; perhaps he no longer sees anything unusual in my visits. I often make a detour to catch a sunrise over the ocean from one of Quoque’s beaches, before returning to Sanderling where I like to go up and down the staircase, rather like a madwoman, which I would never have done in life, or, hopefully, put in a novel. Sometimes, I offer little noises and other signs that get Gladys’ attention but don’t disturb her too much or give away more than I have already.
Read about the actual events that inspired The Staircase:
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered The Earth is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK Profits go to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which like so many cultural institutions is struggling financially during the pandemic.
More than 200 years since their births, the ghosts of the famous Bronte family – Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne – haunt their eager fans through novels, poetry, and the fascinating true story of genius tucked into unlikely spaces. It is all here waiting for you in this collection of spine-tingling Bronte-Inspired Ghost Stories, Local Legends, Paranormal Experiences, and Channelings. As one of our authors, Danette Camponeschi, says in her story Keepers of the Truth, “When shut inside during our own time of horror – while the world sleeps and waits and holds its collective breath – we continue the tradition of storytelling in our own way, keeping the truth alive and the imagination flourishing.” Open the cover of this book and enjoy a moonlit ramble on the moors. You never know what you’ll find…or what will find you…
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine And Subtle Spirit is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK