Shirley by Charlotte Brontë (1849): A plot summary
By Skyler Gomez | On July 8, 2019 | Updated June 5, 2023 | Comments (0)
While Charlotte was at work on this book, her remaining siblings died (two sisters had died in childhood). The first to go was her troubled brother Branwell. He was soon followed to the grave by Emily and Anne, who would also come to be celebrated for their literary accomplishments.
The lengthy novel has two female protagonists — the eponymous Shirley Keeldar, as well as Caroline Helstone. Set in Charlotte’s native Yorkshire, it takes place against the background of the textile industry’s Luddite uprisings of 1811 and 1812.
Shirley: A Tale, as it was originally titled, is considered an example of the mid-19th century “social novel.” The social novels that emerged from that period were works of fiction dealing with themes like labor injustice, bias against women, and poverty.
Charlotte supposedly told Elizabeth Gaskell (who, not long after the former’s death would become her first biographer) that the character of Shirley was how she imagined Emily might have turned out if she’d had the benefits of wealth and privilege.
Like Shirley, Emily was always accompanied by a “rather large, strong, and fierce-looking dog, very ugly, being of a breed between a mastiff and a bulldog.”
Following is a lengthy plot summary of Shirley by Charlotte Brontë from 1910, befitting a very long and detailed novel. In the early 1900s, interest in the Brontë sisters was still going strong on both sides of the Atlantic, evidenced by the frequency with which their life stories and analyses of their novels showed up in newspapers.
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A lengthy plot summary of Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
From the original article in the Boston Globe, March 13, 1910:
Shirley was Charlotte Brontë’s second novel. While it was hardly as popular as Jane Eyre, it was a success from the date of its appearance and has long remained a favorite.
In many respects, it is a much more finished and artistic production than Jane Eyre and is free from many of the crudities and absurdities that are in that first book of “Currer Bell’s.” Of course, Jane Eyre will always exceed Shirley in popularity. But, from an artistic and literary point of view, Shirley is much the better story.
In Shirley, Charlotte Brontë drew her characters from real life, used people with whom she was associated, her own family and her dearest friends as models for her fiction people, and did it with as little faltering and as frankly as did Dickens, who did not hesitate to portray the weaknesses of his own father and mother to advance his literary fame and his worldly fortunes.
Shirley, it will be seen when reading the story, was rather inclined to be “strong-minded.” So was Jane Eyre, it will be remembered, so are most of Charlotte Brontë’s stories.
When Robert Gerald Moore came to the West Riding of Yorkshire and leased Hollow’s mill, the people of the neighborhood regarded him, not as a countryman returned to them, but as a semi-foreigner. And foreigners at that time, whether of the whole or semi-variety, were not popular in England.
Neither were cloth manufacturers who persisted in introducing into their mills those new-fangled machines, one of which did the work of half a dozen hands and thereby deprived working people, honest or dishonest, of the chance of making a living.
Times were hard enough, anyway, without machinery coming to make them harder, for it was at about the darkest hour of that great struggle which a determined stolid nation was waging against the power and splendor of a world-compelling genius.
Napoleon and England had engaged in a struggle. The rest of the nations were pawns on the chessboard of a mighty game. In response to Napoleon’s Milan and Berlin decrees, the British government prohibited all commercial intercourse with nations which accepted the Napoleonic decrees.
The harvest of discontent
America, irritated, declared an embargo. The commerce of the world stood still. The European market had long been practically lost to the manufacturers of England and now the American market, upon which they mainly relied, was closed to them. Their warehouses were piled high with unstable goods. Mill owners shut down or ran their establishments with reduced hands.
Hunger was in the cottage of the operative and bankruptcy in the counting-house of the mill owner. Then came the machinery to make matters worse, as the working people thought: as a straw to clutch at, the owners thought. Improved machinery means less demand for labor, said the operative. Improved machinery means a lessened cost for production, said the owner.
Workmen went about destroying the new inventions. It was a time of harvest for the agitator, the worthless being who lives by the sweat of other men’s brows and wafts himself to ease and power upon the breath of popular discontent; who craftily plays upon ignorance and amuses himself with fanning the flames of evil discord. And the agitators took advantage of the opportunity.
Obsessed with an idea
This was the condition of affairs in commercial England which supervened soon after Robert Moore had set to work at Hollow’s mill with a fixed determination to carry out a purpose which he felt sacred–the purpose of making enough money to pay off the debts of his father and reestablish the name of the once great firm of Gerard & Moore above the gloom of the bankruptcy into which it had fallen.
His mother had been a native of Antwerp and his father of one of the oldest families of Yorkshire. The principal office of the house of Gerard & Moore had been in Antwerp and there his father had married his mother – there Robert had been born and where he had spent much of his youth, though some of it had been passed with his grandfather, who ran the Yorkshire end of the business.
Those great continental wars which swept away nations and thrones also swept away mercantile houses and among them that of Gerard & Moore. There are a proud lot, those mercantile families of long descent, as proud as if they had “all the blood of all the Howards” and the credit of their name is dear to them.
When Robert came back to Yorkshire, the one idea of reestablishing the name of the house obsessed him. Neither love nor mercy should stand in his way. Then he found himself confronted by the situation stated.
The mystery surrounding Caroline
Briarfields was the nearest village to Hollow’s mill, and the rector of Briarfields was a sort of relative by marriage of Robert. His brother had married the half-sister of Robert’s father, and living with Rev Heistone, the rector, was Caroline Helstone, the only offspring of this marriage.
Of her mother Caroline knew nothing. The wild and dissipated career of her husband had been such that when the crisis came and the rector had offered to take charge of the girl the mother, seeing in the face the looks of her father, had abandoned her to the charge of her uncle and had disappeared.
The poor woman shuddered as she looked at the replies in the face of her child of that false, fair face of him who had wrecked her life and abandoned her. No one ever mentioned her mother to Caroline. When she inquired of her she was put off with evasive answers. She saw that her mother had committed some crime–as she thought.
What it really was those of whom she asked felt that the mother had not been true to her trust, that in spite of everything, she should have made herself a part of her daughter’s life.
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See also: A Plot Summary of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
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An apostle of authority
Mr. Helstone was a dictatorial, domineering man who thought that authority was the beginning and the end of existence. The orders in council were right because they proceeded from authority. The church was right because it had authority.
He had been twice married and had crushed out the lives of his wives with authority. He was not a bad man; he was a good man, according to his light and went about doing good.
But to him, the crazy king, the solute prince regent, the ministry, the established order of things, in short, were not to be tampered with, come weal to woe.
He was a friend of Moore’s and was prompt to aid him, not only with advice but with physical force when the unemployed workmen, led by demagogues, broke the machines which Moore was transporting to his mills in the Hollow.
All the more was he enlisted on the side of the mill-owner because some self-created preacher of a dissenting denomination had incited the “frame breakers” and had lured people from his parish to listen to his “tub oratory,” as the person called it.
The cottage in the hollow
The rector used to like to have Caroline go to the cottage in the Hollow, where she called Robert and his sister Hortense cousins, and where she took lessons in French from the old maid.
Now and then Robert irritated Mr. Hellstone by being “English.” Why the man would sometimes inveigh against the orders in council! But the times were too exciting, there were too many things to be done to preserve authority, for Mr. Helstone to pay much attention to these heretical opinions of Robert just then. As soon as things quieted down he would reason with him.
In the meantime, the thing to be done was to see that Robert got new machinery in place of that which had been destroyed and that the Moores–to whom Mr. Helstone was proud to be related–were reestablished in their rightful place among the people of Yorkshire.
Intolerant Mr. Yorke
Another of Moore’s neighbors was Mr. Yorke. He was a Yorkshire gentleman, par excellence, in every point. About 50 years old, but looking older because of his white hair, he dwelt in his ancestral house upon his ancestral acres, was intolerant to those above him–kings, nobles, priests, dynasties and parliaments. “All rubbish,” he said, and found no pleasure in them.
He was not irreligious, though a member of no sect; but his religion was that of a man who knows not how to venerate. He believed in God and heaven, but his God and his heaven were those of a man in whom awe and imagination and tenderness were lacking.
He had been a youth once and had traveled and lived in southern Europe. On the wall of his old house were many beautiful and well-selected pictures. He liked to talk about freedom and equality, but at heart, he was a very proud man. He sympathized with all below him but could brook no superior and scarcely an equal.
Yorke and the rector
He hated the rector, not only because they looked at things from different points of view, but also because Mr. Yorke had heard and believed them, and was unforgiving.
Yorke had not been so deeply in love that it had prevented him from marrying afterward a very different sort of woman from the one the rector had taken from him, but he never forgave.
Strange to say, he liked Moore, and though he abused him for what he called grinding the face of the poor and roundly abused the rector for taking any part in the quarrel between Moore and the unemployed workmen, he did, in fact, help Moore to keep his mill going and to get in his new machinery.
Perhaps it was Moore’s habit of speaking French with him upon occasions — for Yorke was a fine French scholar, perhaps it was the half-foreign looks and half foreign way of thinking about Moore, which brought back to the Yorkshireman memories of his youthful days on the continent that attracted him.
Walking in a dream
The day after that first lot of machinery which Moore had ordered was destroyed in its passage across the heath by the “frame-breakers,” Caroline Heistone visited the cottage at the Hollow and staid to tea.
She had fallen in love with Robert when he first came, and as the days passed and she saw him in trouble and peril her love increased. “And when people love,” mused Caroline, “the next thing is they marry.”
Robert was very tender to her that day after the breaking of the “frames,” and when Caroline went back to the rectory she walked into a happy dream.
Robert, too, as he went to the mill, had a dream for the moment of the beautiful girl with her statue-like face; but he put it away from him sternly. Love and marriage were not for him – unless love and marriage could help in the rehabilitation of the house of Gerard & Moore.
Yet Robert spoke much of Caroline to his sister Hortense that evening–asked how the girl was getting on with her French, asked many little things about her, what she said and what she thought and how her health was. But he dreamed of machinery and of markets and finances that night, and not of Caroline.
As for Caroline, she lay for a while upon her bed, watching through the windows the shadows of the trees slant down the moonlit sward and then fell into slumbers which were haunted by visions of Robert.
As plainly as she could
So things went on for a while, Caroline finding Robert dearer and dearer to her, and Robert sternly putting out of his mind of all thought of love and matrimony.
As plainly as she could, without violating her native maiden modesty, Caroline intimated to Robert her love for him. Once they were talking about the future, and Caroline said:
“O, I shall probably stay and keep house for my uncle until–”
“Until what?” said Robert, as she paused, “until he dies?”
“No, no,” replied Caroline, blushing a little, “until events, in short, offer some other occupation for me.” She looked at Robert steadily, but he could not, or would not, see.
“I love Robert,” Caroline said to herself that night, “and he ought to see it. I believe he loves me, but will not give in to it. That infatuation of his love for business swallows up all else. My love is dashed against a rock. I will torment myself no more by seeing him.”
But she did see him and when he was a little tender, even when he was kind, hope was renewed in her.
The coming of the heiress
Now into this community, into these affairs, and among these people, came Shirley Keedlar. Mr. Yorke was one of her trustees. The young lady had just come of age, and at Yorke’s request, or rather command, had journeyed down into Yorkshire to live in the ancient house of her father.
For though Miss Keeldar had a masculine name [note — at the time this book was written, Shirley was considered a masculine first name], she was a young lady with all the feminine graces, most beautiful to look upon and with a will of her own not to be disputed by anyone with impunity.
There were many wealthier families in the district, but the Keeldar had lived there, at their place at Fieldhead, for a thousand years, and all the gentry roundabout, titled and untitled, regarded them as a superior clay.
Shirley’s parents had much wished for a boy as the inheritor of their ancient line, and when a girl was born to them they did the best they could with the situation by giving to the girl the name they had selected for the boy who did not appear.
Mrs. Pryor’s greeting
Mr. Helstone, as soon as he heard of the arrival of the heiress of Fieldhead, made his niece put on her bonnet and shawl and accompany him to the mansion house.
In a low-ceilinged, oak-paneled parlor they were received by a woman of matronly form, and though she could not have been more than 45, of no youthful aspect nor, apparently, the wish to assume it, she had a face across which was written as legibly as if in words, “I have seen sorrow.”
It was Mrs. Pryor, formerly the governess of Shirley Keeldar and now her companion. Mrs. Pryor seemed strangely embarrassed when the rector and his niece were announced. Diffident Caroline was delighted to find someone more ill at ease than herself, she began to talk freely with the lady feeling strangely drawn to her.
Mrs. Pryor gazed upon her tenderly yet doubtfully and replied in soft, low tones.
A Jacobin’s confession
Then came in Shirley, fresh and radiant from the garden, through a window opening to the floor, and held in her apron a great mass of flowers which she had just picked. With her was a great dog, half mastiff, half bulldog, which she addressed by the name of Tartar.
Tall, erect, slight, the girl still retaining with her left hand her apron full of flowers, gave her right hand to the rector and said:
“I knew you would come to see me, though you do think Mr. Yorke has made a Jacobin out of me. Good morning.”
“But we will have you no Jacobin,” replied the rector, “they will not steal the flower of
my parish. Now that you are amongst us again you shall by my pupil in politics and religion. I’ll teach you sound doctrine on both points. We are a little Jacobin, for what I know, a confession of faith on the spot.”
He took the two hands of the heiress causing her to let fall her whole cargo of flowers and seated her by him on the sofa.
“Say your creed,” he ordered.
“Yes.” She said it like a child.
“Now for St. Athanasius’, that’s the test.”
“O, let me pick up my flowers first,” cried Shirley. “Tartar will tread on them.”
Shirley turned her attention to Caroline. “You look pale,” she said, “is she always pale, Mr. Helstone?”
“She used to be the rosiest of flowers,” replied the rector.
“What has altered her, has she been ill?”
“She tells me she wants a change.”
Caroline did, indeed, look pale and she had been begging her uncle to let her go away somewhere–she did want a change. Her love for Robert now seemed hopeless.
Her uncle had a heated argument with Robert over politics and, after declaring that the mill man was no better than Jacobin, had forbidden her to visit the cottage at the Hollow more.
But this prohibition did not distress Caroline. She was, in fact, glad of an excuse to keep herself away from the company of the man who was so insensible to her devotion. She felt that in his presence she could not help showing her love for him and she felt humiliated at the lack of response which this evoked.
Yes, Caroline was pale, disheartened — life was a desert to her.
Arranging a marriage
But with the coming of Shirley entered into Caroline’s life, if not a consolation, at least a comfort. Shirley was so strong, so dominant, such a woman to lean upon. She and Caroline became fast friends, they were every day together and Shirley helped Caroline to become reconciled to life and fate.
In the company of Mrs. Pryor, too, Caroline felt pleasure and soothing influence which she could not explain. As for Robert Moore, he and Shirley were naturally thrown much together, for not only was he Shirley’s tenant, but the strong-willed girl took up his cause, aided him financially and in every other way, almost made herself a partner of his in his enterprises.
And Hiram Yorke assented to this, even by many hints showed to Robert the advisability of his marrying Shirley. He thought from the interest Shirley took in Robert and his affairs that the heart of the heiress was engaged with the man, and almost said so to both of them.
But Shirley laughed and put the question by. Even Yorke could not stand against Shirley’s laugh and Shirley’s will.
As for Caroline, she saw or thought she saw, the way things were shaping themselves. “Yes,” she thought, “Shirley is certainly the wife for Robert. Her strength, her money would be of great help to him.”
Poor Caroline’s life fell into days more dreary, if possible, than before, and all the more so because she now saw a little of Shirley. The heiress had gone visiting her uncle and aunt, the Sympsons of Sympson’s Grove, every grand people from the south of England, with their two daughters and their son, the latter a small boy who was accompanied by his tutor.
This tutor was none other than Louis Moore, brother of Robert Moore. He had been in the employ of the Sympsons for several years and as Shirley had spent much of her girlhood in her uncle’s family she had been a pupil of Louis. Robert had not seen his brother for some years. Caroline had never seen him–this was his first visit to Yorkshire since his boyhood.
As for Shirley, it had been only a few months since she had looked into Louis’ eyes, but the months seemed very long to her. The fact was that Louis loved Shirley and Shirley loved Louis. But Louis was very poor and as proud as he was poor. So the wealth of the girl he loved seemed to him an insurmountable barrier raised between them forever.
It was curious about the way these two people treated each other. Shirley would be all sweetness to the tutor for a time. Then suddenly Louis would freeze and hold her at arm’s length. Then Shirley would become piqued and would treat Louis in a supercilious manner as if he were merely some sort of an upper servant and should remember his position.
The danger point passed, Louis would thaw out again, only to freeze once more when Shirley thawed. So they played at cross purposes with each other. Shirley angry that Louis did not speak, Louis too proud to speak and afraid that he might someday forget himself and do so.
The only way in which they could meet with anything like ease and comfort to each other was as teacher and pupil. So Shirley decided that she wanted to take up her French again, and in the schoolroom was all gentleness and docility–a model pupil–while Louis was the kind pedagogue laboring with his favorite scholar.
Finding a mother
Meantime, Robert Moore pursued the stern course he had marked out for himself and deserted Caroline fell sick with a fever. As soon as the news of her illness reached Fieldhead. Mrs. Pryor went to the rectory. She had a long private talk with the rector and then installed herself as Caroline’s nurse.
Shirley, of course, came often to inquire about her friend and messages and inquiries came from the Moore cottage in the Hollow. But the bedside of Caroline was tended night and day by Mrs. Pryor.
The fever left Caroline, but she lay listless and weak with apparently no vitality remaining, with no desire to live on. One day Caroline said:
“I believe that grief is and always has been, my worst ailment. I sometimes think that if an abundant gush of happiness came to me I could revive yet.”
“I have no object in life.”
“You love me, Caroline?”
“Very much, very truly, inexpressibly, sometimes. Just now I almost feel as if I could grow to your heart.”
“Then, if you love,” said the matron, speaking rapidly in an altered voice, “it will be neither shock nor pain to you to know that my heart is the source from which yours was filled–that from my veins issued the tide which flows in yours. If I have given you nothing else, at least I have given you life. I am your mother. And you are mine, my daughter, my child.”
“My mother, my own mother!” cried Caroline, and nestled close to that heart to which she had long been a stranger.
The mother crooned over her like a dove fostering its young and covered her with noiseless kisses. It was indeed, Caroline’s mother returned to her. The child had looked so like its father that the mother had been afraid of what the girl might develop into and had willingly given her up and disappeared.
But when she had seen Caroline at Fieldhead, had come to know her and to realize what she was, all the long pent-up mother feeling had come over her.
Shirley had long suspected the true state of affairs and the window had revealed herself to the rector upon the occasion of her first coming to the rectory as Caroline’s nurse. Now everybody knew and Mrs. Helstone took her residence for good, at the rector’s request, with her daughter.
Caroline with this new incentive for a living began rapidly to recover. She was still sad and pensive–thinking of Robert–but she gained strength day by day.
Just before Caroline had taken sick an attack had been made by a mob upon the Hollow’s mill, an attack which had been repulsed by Robert and his men which the aid of half a dozen soldiers he had got over from a neighboring garrison town.
Robert had hunted down the ring-leaders, had caused their arrest, and had gone up to London to attend their trial, not ceasing his efforts until he had seen them transported for life.
Then he had been heard of in Birmingham, where he was investigating some new machinery. But he delayed his homeward journey inexplicably and everybody wondered why.
A cold-blooded proposal
The reason was that before he left Yorkshire Robert had proposed to Shirley and had been rejected. He had proposed in a cold-blooded manner, scarcely trying to veil the fact that he wanted her for her money.
Shirley had fallen upon him with a tempest of tears and reproaches; he confessed that he was a despicable culprit, had been forgiven by the heiress which he was now rather ashamed and loath to return.
Shirley knew what kept him away, but she did not tell. She took counsel, however, with Mr. Yorke and Louis, and they all agreed that the business required Robert’s immediate return and that the thing that’s sure to bring him back was a knowledge of her rumor about the country that he was afraid to return on account of the vengeance which the “frame-breakers” and their leaders had sworn against him for the conviction of their comrades.
A letter from Mr. Yorke informed Robert of these rumors, and Robert set out his return as fast as his horse could carry him.
Caroline was so much improved in health now that she was able to visit Fieldhead, and she did so at the earnest request of Shirley, who often came to the rectory to see her.
She met Louis Moore, of course, and took a special interest in this newfound cousin of hers. Also, she felt a relief of heart which she hardly dared acknowledge to herself when her woman’s intuition told her that it was Louis and not Robert that Shirley loved.
Then, one night as they walked together, Shirley confided to Caroline the true state of her heart and Caroline hoped again. Returning toward Briarfields from his journey, Robert stopped at the market town of Stillboro. It happened to be market day, and Mr. Yorke was there. The two, at nightfall, rode homeward together.
Robert lingered a little behind Yorke to water his horse at a brook. A shot rang out, and the mill man fell from his horse; the “frame-breakers” had kept their oath, and one of them had shot him from behind a hedge.
“Come at Last”
Yorke’s place of Briarmaine was not far off. Yorke managed to get the wounded man there, where he hovered between life and death for days and was confined to his bed for many weeks.
Mrs. Yorke was a dragon and she hired a nurse who was also a dragon. Even when he was convalescent none of “Robert’s friends were allowed to see him, the only sister at rare intervals. Caroline, repulsed by Mrs. Yorke in her attempts to visit the sick man’s chamber, walked daily in the woods near the house. She wanted to be as near the man she loved as possible.
In the woods one day she met one of the Yorke youngsters and made friends with him that the boy not only brought her daily news of Robert but, at last, arranged to smuggle her up the backstairs into the invalid’s room. “You come at last, Cary,” said the meager man, gazing at his visitor with hollow eyes.
“Did you expect me?”
Cured by Love
The very evening of his arrival at his own house, Robert requested his sister to send a note to the rectory asking Caroline to come and take tea with her. The rector’s interdict against Hollow cottage and its inmates had been modified or rather had fallen into something forgotten, and Caroline came.
Left alone by Hortense, the two became confidential. Robert told her with shame the story of his proposal to Shirley, and Caroline, in turn, told Robert of Shirley’s love for Louis.
He was very, very tender with her, declared that he felt like falling at her feet and that he could not bear to have her away from him–but he did not quite say the word which Caroline was waiting to hear.
However, she was satisfied, joyously, abundantly satisfied with what he did say, for he showed her beyond all doubt who held his heart, and after waiting so long she could wait a little longer with patience.
While these events were taking place Mr. Sympson had been busy arranging suitable matches for his niece. Two most eligible young men of the neighborhood, one of them a baronet, had been brought to pay court at Shirley, and Shirley had rejected them both!
When Mr. Sympson found that Shirley had rejected the baronet he arose in wrath and said things which aroused all Shirley’s spirit. The way she talked to her venerated and stately relative made that pompous individual gasp.
He declared that he would leave Fieldhead at once, and Shirley pretty plainly intimated to him that the sooner he got out of her house the better she would be pleased. But the Sympsons did not depart at once. Their quarters were comfortable, and they lingered on.
Suddenly a great change came over Shirley. She lost all her spirits, seemed nervous and as if haunted by some secret dread.
One day while still in this mood she rode over to Stillboro and saw her lawyer. Within two hours the rumor was all over the neighborhood — Shirley Keeldar had made her will!
Louis Forces a Confession.
Louis Moore heard it and sent for Shirley to come to the schoolroom.
“Do you want me, sir?” said Shirley, as she came in.
“Yes,” replied Louis, “pray be seated, I have observed that of late your spirits are at a low ebb; there is a nervous look of apprehension in your eyes, a disquiet in your manner. This is not the natural bearing of Miss Keeldar. If Miss Keeldar is nervous, she is not nervous without cause. Your pain is mental, what is it?”
He spoke with authority, as a doctor would speak to his patient or a tutor to his pupil, yet with a certain undertone of tenderness. Shirley, after a little attempted fencing with him, told him all.
She had been one day walking in a woodland path when a dog ran her way. His tongue was hanging out and the animal was evidently highly excited. She had attempted to catch him and calm him as he passed, and the dog had bitten her in the arm so as to draw blood.
Soon after, a gamekeeper came up asking if she had seen a dog pass, as she had gone mad and he was after it to kill it.
Shirley had gone back to the house and to the laundry, where she seared her wound with white-hot iron. Then she waited day after day for the appearance of the bread hydrophobia.
“And promise me, Louis,” she said, “that when the awful time arrives, no surgeon, no nurse, no living person but yourself shall hold me and control me in my agony.”
Louis promised, and, placing his hand upon her shoulder, looked into her eyes and said, “Do you feel calmer now?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I can bear all now–with you.”
Louis investigated and found that the dog was not mad, but merely suffering from ill-usage. So Shirley resumed her high spirits and vigorous life again, also her old manner toward Louis Moore.
Seeking a Master
Then there came a day when Louis and Shirley being alone in the school-room, the tutor said:
“This day week you will be alone at Fieldhead, Miss Keedlar.”
“Yes, I believe you my uncle has finally made up his mind to depart,” she replied pertly.
“And I,” said he, “shall resign my position as tutor to your cousin; I shall marry.”
“You — marry!” exclaimed Shirley with a sudden alarm in her voice.
“Yes, marry. And I so suppose, will you? That is,” he continued, “we will both marry when we have found the right one.”
“The man that marries me must better me,” said Shirley. “My husband must improve me or else we part.”
“God knows there is need of it,” said Moore.
“What do you mean by that remark, Mr. Moore?” cried Shirley up in arms.
“Sister of the bright and fiery spotted leopard, I mean what I say,”
“May I pass?” she said haughtily, making for the door.
“No,” said Louis, barring her way.
“I would rather die than let you go without saying the word I want so much to hear you say now.”
Saying the Word
Of course when the grand Sympsons of Sympson’s grove found out that Shirley was to marry the penniless tutor they fled the house with horror and shook the dust of Yorkshire from their fest.
Only once more did Shirley assert herself against Louis. That was just before their wedding day, when, with her old domineering fire, she said to him.
“Myself and everything this is mine is now yours — and don’t you ever again at your peril, mention such sordid things as money, or poverty, or inequality in my presence. It will be absolutely dangerous for you to torment me with these maddening scruples which kept us apart for so long.”
Winter and spring passed and now it was the middle of June — the June of 1812. Napoleon had retreated from Moscow and preceding winter and was so evidently nearing the end of his imperial sway that the orders in council were revoked and the commerce of the world moved once more.
All commercial England rejoiced once more. The humblest of Yorkshire joined in the festivities and the sound of public bells aroused the most secluded abode with their call to be gay.
“Will the repeal of the orders in council help you, Robert, “Now I shall give up my business and quit England as I had intended to do. Now I shall be no longer poor; now I can pay my debts, now all the cloth I have in my warehouse will be taken off my hands.
“This day lays for my fortunes abroad a firm foundation. Now I can take on more workmen, give better wages, lay wiser and more liberal plans, do some good, be less selfish. Now I can think of marriage–now I can seek a wife.”
At the end of the chapter
He waited for Caroline to speak, but she did not speak. Then he said, very gently:
“Will Caroline forgive all that I have made her suffer–all the long pain I have wickedly caused her–all the sickness of body and mind she owed to me? Will she forget what she known of my poor ambitions, my gorged schemes? I can now love faithfully, cherish fondly, treasure tenderly.”
He took Caroline’s hand, a gentle pressure answered his.
“Is Caroline mine?” he asked.
“Caroline is yours,” was the reply.
More about Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
- Reader discussion on Goodreads
- Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley: The Power of Female Friendship
- Listen on Librivox
- Full text of Shirley on Project Gutenberg