A story Charlotte wrote as French homework while staying in Brussels in 1842, has recently turned up in a Belgian Museum. The story about a young rat, “L’Ingratitude,” was her reply to an assignment set her by the man with whom she ended up falling passionately in love, M. Constantin Heger.
Writer Brian Bracken found the story at Brussels' Musée Royal de Mariemont while researching a biography of M. Heger. It describes the last day of the rat’s life, as he sets off to travel, free of his father... and meets a sticky end.
A translation of one paragraph, reads: “Waking with the lark he felt his limbs numbed by the cold, his hard bed hurt him; then he remembered his father, the ingrate recalled the care and tenderness of the good old rat, he formed vain resolutions for the future, but it was too late, the cold had frozen his blood. Experience was for him an austere mistress, she gave him but one lesson and one punishment; it was death.”
But although Charlotte's French was fairly fluent, she makes mistakes: the piece contains several misspellings, and wrongly-used tenses over its seven paragraphs.
By moving to Brussels with Emily to improve her French, Charlotte had hoped to improve enough to offer French as an option at the school they planned to open together. Once in Belgium, she fell passionately in love with M. Heger, but her love was not reciprocated. She left the city in 1844 with no answering sign of his affections, and, though she wrote to him repeatedly from Yorkshire, her passion was unrequited. Heger tore up her letters, but his wife found the pieces and sewed them back together. The planned school attracted no pupils, and the idea was shelved.
In 1913, long after M. Heger, Charlotte, and her eventual husband Arthur Bell Nicholls, were dead, Heger's son Paul donated her letters to the British Museum. He passed the story, 'L'Ingratitude' to a collector of Bronteana, and it has only now resurfaced.