"Anne," said Charlotte, poking her head into the door of the small sitting room. "Emily and I are going to walk into the village, our cloaks whipping tempestuously about us as we struggle to maintain our course, and buy the latest issue of Romantic Poets Gone Wild. Are you in?"
Anne looked up from her knitting reluctantly; this row was going particularly well, and she did not want to lose her momentum to her sisters' nonsense. "No. Why on earth should I want to leave the Parsonage?" She stretched her toes out toward the grate, and felt the welcome warmth even through her shoes and stockings. "If it has escaped your notice that it's chilly and mistful out, it has not escaped mine--I am content to remain here, and warm, and dry, I thank you."
"Good lord," said Emily, throwing the sitting-room door open wide to see past Charlotte. "I might have known you'd be poor-spirited about this, you little--I can't see why we ever bother to ask you along. You're probably going to spend the entire afternoon stitching and thinking about..." she paused, clearly casting about for something sufficiently, cuttingly boring to insert, before giving up and waving her hand, "whatever it is you enjoy thinking about, I don't even know, instead of dreaming of boys who attain new heights of boorishness with every half-demented sentence they utter. Where's the fun in that, I ask you?"
"I'm sure I cannot say,” said Anne, wriggling her toes in the delightful warmth. Positively basking, really. Charlotte and Emily exchanged a speaking glance and quitted the doorway without a further word, and the door itself ticked disapprovingly as it shut. Seconds later, she heard the outer door open with a whistling gust of breeze, then slam resoundingly, thrown closed by her sisters or the wind, Anne knew not which.
Anne shook her head, shivered without actually feeling the damp and seeping cold she knew to be without, picked up her stitch, and set herself to dreaming.
The door flew open again after a matter of mere minutes. "Anne! Only look who we have found practically on the doorstep!" sang Emily, clutching the curate's elbow. “William Weightman here, to see you!”
"Actually," began William tentatively, "I only came to see that your father--"
"Oh, but surely you know that Father is not home at present!" Emily gave William a firm push into the room, leering at Anne over William's shoulder. Anne could not perfectly see her, standing as she was outside the pools of light cast around the lamps, but she felt almost sure Emily's eyebrows were waggling. "And since you saw Charlotte and me in the lane, I can only assume you must want to see Anne."
"Really, Emily!" cried Anne. "You mustn't put Mr. Weightman to the blush in this way. If he says he came to see Father--"
"For Christ's sake, it is plain to anyone with eyes that William has deliberately schemed, possibly for some time, to get you alone so that he may compromise you sadly. I think it is not outside the realm of possibility that some sort of ravishment is in order!" William, aghast, turned to stare at Emily, who continued, paying not the slightest attention to his flaming cheeks and round eyes, and clasping her hands imploringly at her sister. "Anne, this is your big chance to become a Brontë in nature as well as in name! You'll consent to being compromised, won't you? Or ravished? For the sake of the family?"
"Emily, have you gone insane?" Anne snapped, rising, all her knitting dropping to her feet in an untidy heap. She stepped over the knitting and rustled over to William, drawing him to the settee. "If Mr. Weightman says he is here to see father, then he is here to see Father, and none of the arabesques of your fevered imagination will change his purpose. Mr. Weightman," she continued, giving William her full attention, "My sister is perfectly correct that our father is presently from home, but we will be happy to give you a cup of tea while you await him. It will save you a trip in this dreadful weather."
"Thank you," said William, seating himself on the settee in decidedly gingerly fashion, eying Emily with some trepidation, and pulling his hat from his head. "I should like to wait, if it will not inconvenience you."
"Of course it will not,” Anne assured him. “We'll just--"
"We? Who's this we?" Emily demanded, arms akimbo. "I delivered William to you, and I consider my work here to be complete, so I shall leave you to your ravishment, sister. I hope you will at least submit to it with some grace."
"There will be no ravishment," said Anne, firmly. William nodded, whites still showing all round his eyes.
Emily stared at William. "None?" she asked.
"No—none," William stammered.
"And you will not jerk Anne into your arms in a brutal embrace, compromising her to such a degree that you must be married against her will, and against the advice of both your families, which will turn out to have been a disastrous mistake for all concerned?"
"No," he said, recovering his equilibrium.
Emily bit her lip. "Will you not even tell me to fuck off, in a bestial growl?"
"Good lord, no!"
"Will you tell me to fuck off, politely?"
William shook his head.
"Well, then," said Emily, with the air of one who has made a palpable hit, "if you're not even going to try to be interesting, I see no need to stay." She marched to the door and turned to deliver a coup de grâce. "And you can get your own damned tea, for all I care."
The door slammed again, behind her.
Anne dropped heavily into the chair by the fire. "Mr. Weightman, I am so dreadfully, dreadfully sorry," she said into the astonished and bewildered silence left in Emily's wake. "My sister, she is a little...exuberant. Both my sisters, really."
William nodded. "Yes, indeed," he said fervently. "When I met them in the lane, they talked for some time about the Romantic poets, in the most inappropriate ways."
"Yes," said Anne. "They are mad for poetry. And this issue of Romantic Poets Gone Wild promises to be a most...stimulating one, I believe."
"Mad for poetry and poets, clearly. The things they knew about Lord Byron and Mr. Shelley!"
"We take our scholarship very seriously in this house," said Anne.
"I think," said William, warming to his subject, "that scholarship or no, they're given far too much freedom to pursue what may be unhealthy subjects for young ladies of breeding, of gentle birth."
Anne stiffened a little. "I do not know that you have any right to criticise my sisters' breeding, sir. It is true that they are imaginative, but their life here is so tightly circumscribed that they must needs give it some little colour--"
"Oh, I do not criticise their breeding," William assured her, "only the directions their thoughts are allowed to take. Why, do you know I have heard it said that they are both lady novelists? If I could believe such a thing, of any true lady--"
"They are, in fact, novelists," said Anne, coldly. "I confess, Mr. Weightman, that I am a novelist myself. What say you to that?"
William flushed. "I-I did not mean--but you seem so sensible--"
"What, I am writing a novel, so I could not possibly be a lady of sense or discretion?" Anne's voice was rising, by degrees.
"No, no--but I am sure that your novel is prudent and everything that a lady's--"
"It is a novel about a governess," said Anne.
"Well, you see?" said William, faint but pursuing. "That seems--"
"It is a novel about an abused governess who is terrorised by her own charges," said Anne. "There is a bird-torture scene I think you would find particularly edifying."
"Er..." said William.
"Yes," she continued, ruthlessly, "And what's more, I have another novel in mind. Would you like to hear about it?"
"Er..." said William.
"I'm quite excited by the premise. A woman takes her son and leaves her dissolute and drunken husband, preferring to live a lie on her own rather than submit to such a wastrel, thus flouting the laws of both God and Britain."
"Er..." said William.
"Her life with said wastrel, I think, will be chronicled in unsparing and loving detail."
For some time, silence prevailed again in the parlour of Haworth Parsonage.
"I think," said Anne, not altogether unkindly, "that at this point you could say 'Miss Anne, I am shocked, nay, stunned, by your lack of womanly feeling.' Then, you know, you could rise in dignified silence and leave without another word. I shouldn't blame you even a little bit." When William stayed put, looking deflated on the long settee, she rolled her eyes. "Mr. Weightman, do you know that I expect our father will yet be some little while in returning. I believe it best that you do not wait here for him, after all. I wouldn't want you compromised in any way." She walked to the parlour door, opening it quietly.
William rose, confounded, routed, hat still held in his hand. "Miss Anne," he said, "I would not like to suggest--"
"Sir," she replied, "if I have given you the impression that I think my sisters sad romps or half-hysterical drama queens--well, make no mistake about it, I do think so, actually. But be that as it may, I will brook no insult to them from they who reside without the family. In other words--” she paused, led the way to the door, and opened it.
"In other words?" He said, peering out into the dreary, misty Yorkshire gloom.
She gave him a mighty shove, sending him sprawling out into the rain. "In other words, fuck with my sisters, and you fuck with Daddy Smash, you fucking fuck," she said in absolutely her calmest voice, and turning into the house, closed the door with a final, undramatic click.
From the windows, she watched him hurrying down the lane. "Good riddance," she muttered, as the last of him disappeared from view, and then walked slowly back to the table before the fireplace. Her knitting still lay crumpled on on the floor, and she picked it up, smoothing it judiciously against the tabletop.
"What do you think?" she asked the future mitten. "Shall I walk out to meet them? If they linger in the village, we could walk all the way back to the Parsonage together. Our cloaks would indeed whip around us in a most tempestuous manner. They could tease me about being a stick; they like doing it, and to tell you the entire truth, I do not altogether dislike it. Not all the time, anyway."
After a moment, she took her place again in the comfortable wooden chair. "On balance, I think not," she said to the mitten, which failed to venture an opinion. Charlotte and Emily would no doubt derive even greater satisfaction upon arriving, windblown and soaked, to find her with her feet still stretched to the fire, still knitting. "Yes, I think I shall stay right where I am."
And so she did.