Starting in their childhood, and well into their 20s, Charlotte and Branwell Bronte collaborated on a series of increasingly elaborate tales about an imaginary kingdom, supposedly founded by British heroes on the coast of Africa. A major character was the Byronic figure of Arthur, the Duke of Zamorna. Both Charlotte and Branwell were obsessed with his battles, and innumerable love affairs, his political career, and his passionate, amoral character.
In the first half of the story, Branwell and Zamorna switch places. It is the night before the Duke, thanks to his leadership in a recent war, is to be made King of Angria. Branwell, though baffled, is thrilled to inhabit the imaginary world that he spent so many years creating, while Zamorna is horrified to find himself in the dull, drab, morally rigid world of 1830s Yorkshire.
In Episode Five, Zamorna retreated to the local public house and got soused, while Branwell attended a glittering masquerade ball.
A loud, crashing noise resounded through the room, and the hundreds of masqueraders all stopped in their tracks. It was a gong, tolling the hour of midnight. By the rules of masquerade, all must remove their masks.
Branwell turned to the slim, feminine figure at his side, whose small hand continued to hold his firmly. The lady hesitated; she did not want to reveal her identity, and yet, with the masses all around her uncovering, she would be even more conspicuous if she did not. She guided Branwell into a recess where a large sweep of curtains partially concealed her, and removed her mask. His heart stood still; he recognized the beautiful, delicate pale face, the masses of black hair, the regal forehead, and the look of intelligent, uncoquettish, total devotion. It was his (Zamorna’s) first love.
He whispered, “Mina Laury, is it you?”
“Yes, my Lord, and believe me, I would never have approached in this way, if it wasn’t a matter of the utmost urgency. I have intelligence that what you suspected is true. The person you had doubts about plans to betray you.”
Branwell gazed at her aerial figure, her swanlike neck and exquisitely fragile ankles. He was distracted; and suddenly, she was gone.
Una, Lucien, and a crowd of other laughing strangers were jostling around him. It was time to go — he assumed, home to bed, as he was wholly ignorant of the scandalous habits of the band of young aristocrats who had elected themselves as his boon companions.
An ear-splitting explosion shook the old stone walls of Haworth Parsonage early in the morning, as it did every morning. It was the habit of the parson to discharge his fowling piece diurnally, to keep it from rusting.
Zamorna’s military habits had him on his feet before he knew where he was, or even who he was. The latter question, indeed, was not easily answered, even as he came to his senses.
His head felt as if it had become a trap for some small but vicious woodland creature, which was desperately trying to gnaw its way out somewhere to the north of his right eye. His stomach was luffing sourly. He was back in the same room where he had arrived on being unwillingly spirited out of Glass Town, and he glared angrily at the mirror which appeared to be the instrument of his transportation.
Approaching more nearly, he saw a horrible sight: himself.
His curling chestnut hair had become an appalling ginger. His aquiline nose was now merely a beak. His very stature seemed reduced, and his erstwhile hypnotic eyes were bloodshot and dim — although this was a not-unfamiliar result of a night of debauchery. He reached out his hand — ringless, now, and with the cuticles chewed and ragged — and touched the mirror’s surface. It was cold, hard, unyielding as steel.
There was a soft knock on the door, and Emily, the tallest sister, entered with a tray. She crossed the room and arranged the tea things with free, athletic movements. She had a bluestocking look, with wide-set gray eyes ringed in pale lavender shadows and light brown hair that wisped around her face in curls.
“You have been wild,” she said.
“Merely corning with the locals,” he replied.
“Are you ill?”
She poured out two small glasses of water, and unlocked, again, the dark little cabinet in the corner. This time, she removed a vial, and poured three drops of a tincture into each glass. She handed one to Zamorna, and drank the other.
It was opium.
Zamorna lay back as warmth suffused his veins. All became soft and comfortable, and he began to dream of what he would do when he returned to Glass Town. He would build himself a new palace in Angria — or no, an entirely new capital city, named after himself, with walls and turrets and staircases all around. Or no — he would build it in an Oriental style, with domes and minarets and hanging gardens. And down below would be waterfalls, plunging into vast crystal caverns, and a secret river would flow through the heart of the palace, making it a fortress that would be impossible to lay under siege. The rooms would be scented with cedar and gardenia, and glittering mosaics would portray his victories in battle, with each horse caparisoned in gold, and each spear gleaming with platinum as vast armies marched in endless processions.
Emily was gone, but she had shared with him the milk of Paradise.
Charlotte spent the day in a state of strange anxiety. A thousand questions reared up her mind, and she waited in nervous disbelief as her brother slept from breakfast to dinner to tea. Late in the afternoon, she had just made up her mind to knock on his door, when she heard male laughter coming from his room. She prodded the fire in the grate to a brighter flame, expecting him in the parlor at any moment. Instead, she heard the front door slam shut.
She looked out the window to see the figures of her brother and Luke, the hired hand, as they disappeared into the gloaming.
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