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CHAPTER VII
My first quarter at Lowood seemed an age; and not the golden age either; it comprised
an irksome struggle with difficulties in habituating myself to new rules and
unwonted tasks.
The fear of failure in these points harassed me worse than the physical
hardships of my lot; though these were no trifles.
During January, February, and part of March, the deep snows, and, after their
melting, the almost impassable roads, prevented our stirring beyond the garden
walls, except to go to church; but within
these limits we had to pass an hour every day in the open air.
Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the
snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and
covered with chilblains, as were our feet:
I remember well the distracting irritation I endured from this cause every evening,
when my feet inflamed; and the torture of thrusting the swelled, raw, and stiff toes
into my shoes in the morning.
Then the scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of
growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate
invalid.
From this deficiency of nourishment resulted an abuse, which pressed hardly on
the younger pupils: whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would
coax or menace the little ones out of their portion.
Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown
bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents
of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the
remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigency of
hunger. Sundays were dreary days in that wintry
season.
We had to walk two miles to Brocklebridge Church, where our patron officiated.
We set out cold, we arrived at church colder: during the morning service we
became almost paralysed.
It was too far to return to dinner, and an allowance of cold meat and bread, in the
same penurious proportion observed in our ordinary meals, was served round between
the services.
At the close of the afternoon service we returned by an exposed and hilly road,
where the bitter winter wind, blowing over a range of snowy summits to the north,
almost flayed the skin from our faces.
I can remember Miss Temple walking lightly and rapidly along our drooping line, her
plaid cloak, which the frosty wind fluttered, gathered close about her, and
encouraging us, by precept and example, to
keep up our spirits, and march forward, as she said, "like stalwart soldiers."
The other teachers, poor things, were generally themselves too much dejected to
attempt the task of cheering others.
How we longed for the light and heat of a blazing fire when we got back!
But, to the little ones at least, this was denied: each hearth in the schoolroom was
immediately surrounded by a double row of great girls, and behind them the younger
children crouched in groups, wrapping their starved arms in their pinafores.
A little solace came at tea-time, in the shape of a double ration of bread--a whole,
instead of a half, slice--with the delicious addition of a thin scrape of
butter: it was the hebdomadal treat to
which we all looked forward from Sabbath to Sabbath.
I generally contrived to reserve a moiety of this bounteous repast for myself; but
the remainder I was invariably obliged to part with.
The Sunday evening was spent in repeating, by heart, the Church Catechism, and the
fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of St. Matthew; and in listening to a long sermon,
read by Miss Miller, whose irrepressible yawns attested her weariness.
A frequent interlude of these performances was the enactment of the part of Eutychus
by some half-dozen of little girls, who, overpowered with sleep, would fall down, if
not out of the third loft, yet off the fourth form, and be taken up half dead.
The remedy was, to thrust them forward into the centre of the schoolroom, and oblige
them to stand there till the sermon was finished.
Sometimes their feet failed them, and they sank together in a heap; they were then
propped up with the monitors' high stools.
I have not yet alluded to the visits of Mr. Brocklehurst; and indeed that gentleman was
from home during the greater part of the first month after my arrival; perhaps
prolonging his stay with his friend the archdeacon: his absence was a relief to me.
I need not say that I had my own reasons for dreading his coming: but come he did at
last.
One afternoon (I had then been three weeks at Lowood), as I was sitting with a slate
in my hand, puzzling over a sum in long division, my eyes, raised in abstraction to
the window, caught sight of a figure just
passing: I recognised almost instinctively that gaunt outline; and when, two minutes
after, all the school, teachers included, rose en masse, it was not necessary for
me to look up in order to ascertain whose entrance they thus greeted.
A long stride measured the schoolroom, and presently beside Miss Temple, who herself
had risen, stood the same black column which had frowned on me so ominously from
the hearthrug of Gateshead.
I now glanced sideways at this piece of architecture.
Yes, I was right: it was Mr. Brocklehurst, buttoned up in a surtout, and looking
longer, narrower, and more rigid than ever.
I had my own reasons for being dismayed at this apparition; too well I remembered the
perfidious hints given by Mrs. Reed about my disposition, &c.; the promise pledged by
Mr. Brocklehurst to apprise Miss Temple and the teachers of my vicious nature.
All along I had been dreading the fulfilment of this promise,--I had been
looking out daily for the "Coming Man," whose information respecting my past life
and conversation was to brand me as a bad child for ever: now there he was.
He stood at Miss Temple's side; he was speaking low in her ear: I did not doubt he
was making disclosures of my villainy; and I watched her eye with painful anxiety,
expecting every moment to see its dark orb
turn on me a glance of repugnance and contempt.
I listened too; and as I happened to be seated quite at the top of the room, I
caught most of what he said: its import relieved me from immediate apprehension.
"I suppose, Miss Temple, the thread I bought at Lowton will do; it struck me that
it would be just of the quality for the calico chemises, and I sorted the needles
to match.
You may tell Miss Smith that I forgot to make a memorandum of the darning needles,
but she shall have some papers sent in next week; and she is not, on any account, to
give out more than one at a time to each
pupil: if they have more, they are apt to be careless and lose them.
And, O ma'am!
I wish the woollen stockings were better looked to!--when I was here last, I went
into the kitchen-garden and examined the clothes drying on the line; there was a
quantity of black hose in a very bad state
of repair: from the size of the holes in them I was sure they had not been well
mended from time to time." He paused.
"Your directions shall be attended to, sir," said Miss Temple.
"And, ma'am," he continued, "the laundress tells me some of the girls have two clean
tuckers in the week: it is too much; the rules limit them to one."
"I think I can explain that circumstance, sir.
Agnes and Catherine Johnstone were invited to take tea with some friends at Lowton
last Thursday, and I gave them leave to put on clean tuckers for the occasion."
Mr. Brocklehurst nodded.
"Well, for once it may pass; but please not to let the circumstance occur too often.
And there is another thing which surprised me; I find, in settling accounts with the
housekeeper, that a lunch, consisting of bread and cheese, has twice been served out
to the girls during the past fortnight.
How is this? I looked over the regulations, and I find
no such meal as lunch mentioned. Who introduced this innovation? and by what
authority?"
"I must be responsible for the circumstance, sir," replied Miss Temple:
"the breakfast was so ill prepared that the pupils could not possibly eat it; and I
dared not allow them to remain fasting till dinner-time."
"Madam, allow me an instant.
You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to
habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self-denying.
Should any little accidental disappointment of the appetite occur, such as the spoiling
of a meal, the under or the over dressing of a dish, the incident ought not to be
neutralised by replacing with something
more delicate the comfort lost, thus pampering the body and obviating the aim of
this institution; it ought to be improved to the spiritual edification of the pupils,
by encouraging them to evince fortitude under temporary privation.
A brief address on those occasions would not be mistimed, wherein a judicious
instructor would take the opportunity of referring to the sufferings of the
primitive Christians; to the torments of
martyrs; to the exhortations of our blessed Lord Himself, calling upon His disciples to
take up their cross and follow Him; to His warnings that man shall not live by bread
alone, but by every word that proceedeth
out of the mouth of God; to His divine consolations, "If ye suffer hunger or
thirst for My sake, happy are ye."
Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these
children's mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how
you starve their immortal souls!"
Mr. Brocklehurst again paused--perhaps overcome by his feelings.
Miss Temple had looked down when he first began to speak to her; but she now gazed
straight before her, and her face, naturally pale as marble, appeared to be
assuming also the coldness and fixity of
that material; especially her mouth, closed as if it would have required a sculptor's
chisel to open it, and her brow settled gradually into petrified severity.
Meantime, Mr. Brocklehurst, standing on the hearth with his hands behind his back,
majestically surveyed the whole school.
Suddenly his eye gave a blink, as if it had met something that either dazzled or
shocked its pupil; turning, he said in more rapid accents than he had hitherto used--
"Miss Temple, Miss Temple, what--what is that girl with curled hair?
Red hair, ma'am, curled--curled all over?"
And extending his cane he pointed to the awful object, his hand shaking as he did
so. "It is Julia Severn," replied Miss Temple,
very quietly.
"Julia Severn, ma'am! And why has she, or any other, curled hair?
Why, in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, does she conform
to the world so openly--here in an evangelical, charitable establishment--as
to wear her hair one mass of curls?"
"Julia's hair curls naturally," returned Miss Temple, still more quietly.
"Naturally!
Yes, but we are not to conform to nature; I wish these girls to be the children of
Grace: and why that abundance?
I have again and again intimated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely,
modestly, plainly.
Miss Temple, that girl's hair must be cut off entirely; I will send a barber to-
morrow: and I see others who have far too much of the excrescence--that tall girl,
tell her to turn round.
Tell all the first form to rise up and direct their faces to the wall."
Miss Temple passed her handkerchief over her lips, as if to smooth away the
involuntary smile that curled them; she gave the order, however, and when the first
class could take in what was required of them, they obeyed.
Leaning a little back on my bench, I could see the looks and grimaces with which they
commented on this manoeuvre: it was a pity Mr. Brocklehurst could not see them too; he
would perhaps have felt that, whatever he
might do with the outside of the cup and platter, the inside was further beyond his
interference than he imagined.
He scrutinised the reverse of these living medals some five minutes, then pronounced
sentence. These words fell like the knell of doom--
"All those top-knots must be cut off."
Miss Temple seemed to remonstrate.
"Madam," he pursued, "I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world:
my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe
themselves with shame-facedness and
sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons
before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have
woven; these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of--"
Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered
the room.
They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they
were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs.
The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver
hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this
graceful head-dress fell a profusion of
light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet
shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls.
These ladies were deferentially received by Miss Temple, as Mrs. and the Misses
Brocklehurst, and conducted to seats of honour at the top of the room.
It seems they had come in the carriage with their reverend relative, and had been
conducting a rummaging scrutiny of the room upstairs, while he transacted business with
the housekeeper, questioned the laundress, and lectured the superintendent.
They now proceeded to address divers remarks and reproofs to Miss Smith, who was
charged with the care of the linen and the inspection of the dormitories: but I had no
time to listen to what they said; other
matters called off and enchanted my attention.
Hitherto, while gathering up the discourse of Mr. Brocklehurst and Miss Temple, I had
not, at the same time, neglected precautions to secure my personal safety;
which I thought would be effected, if I could only elude observation.
To this end, I had sat well back on the form, and while seeming to be busy with my
sum, had held my slate in such a manner as to conceal my face: I might have escaped
notice, had not my treacherous slate
somehow happened to slip from my hand, and falling with an obtrusive crash, directly
drawn every eye upon me; I knew it was all over now, and, as I stooped to pick up the
two fragments of slate, I rallied my forces for the worst.
It came.
"A careless girl!" said Mr. Brocklehurst, and immediately after--"It is the new
pupil, I perceive."
And before I could draw breath, "I must not forget I have a word to say respecting
her." Then aloud: how loud it seemed to me!
"Let the child who broke her slate come forward!"
Of my own accord I could not have stirred; I was paralysed: but the two great girls
who sit on each side of me, set me on my legs and pushed me towards the dread judge,
and then Miss Temple gently assisted me to
his very feet, and I caught her whispered counsel--
"Don't be afraid, Jane, I saw it was an accident; you shall not be punished."
The kind whisper went to my heart like a dagger.
"Another minute, and she will despise me for a hypocrite," thought I; and an impulse
of fury against Reed, Brocklehurst, and Co. bounded in my pulses at the conviction.
I was no Helen Burns.
"Fetch that stool," said Mr. Brocklehurst, pointing to a very high one from which a
monitor had just risen: it was brought. "Place the child upon it."
And I was placed there, by whom I don't know: I was in no condition to note
particulars; I was only aware that they had hoisted me up to the height of Mr.
Brocklehurst's nose, that he was within a
yard of me, and that a spread of shot orange and purple silk pelisses and a cloud
of silvery plumage extended and waved below me.
Mr. Brocklehurst hemmed.
"Ladies," said he, turning to his family, "Miss Temple, teachers, and children, you
all see this girl?"
Of course they did; for I felt their eyes directed like burning-glasses against my
scorched skin.
"You see she is yet young; you observe she possesses the ordinary form of childhood;
God has graciously given her the shape that He has given to all of us; no signal
deformity points her out as a marked character.
Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her?
Yet such, I grieve to say, is the case."
A pause--in which I began to steady the palsy of my nerves, and to feel that the
Rubicon was passed; and that the trial, no longer to be shirked, must be firmly
sustained.
"My dear children," pursued the black marble clergyman, with pathos, "this is a
sad, a melancholy occasion; for it becomes my duty to warn you, that this girl, who
might be one of God's own lambs, is a
little castaway: not a member of the true flock, but evidently an interloper and an
alien.
You must be on your guard against her; you must shun her example; if necessary, avoid
her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse.
Teachers, you must watch her: keep your eyes on her movements, weigh well her
words, scrutinise her actions, punish her body to save her soul: if, indeed, such
salvation be possible, for (my tongue
falters while I tell it) this girl, this child, the native of a Christian land,
worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before
Juggernaut--this girl is--a liar!"
Now came a pause of ten minutes, during which I, by this time in perfect possession
of my wits, observed all the female Brocklehursts produce their pocket-
handkerchiefs and apply them to their
optics, while the elderly lady swayed herself to and fro, and the two younger
ones whispered, "How shocking!" Mr. Brocklehurst resumed.
"This I learned from her benefactress; from the pious and charitable lady who adopted
her in her orphan state, reared her as her own daughter, and whose kindness, whose
generosity the unhappy girl repaid by an
ingratitude so bad, so dreadful, that at last her excellent patroness was obliged to
separate her from her own young ones, fearful lest her vicious example should
contaminate their purity: she has sent her
here to be healed, even as the Jews of old sent their diseased to the troubled pool of
Bethesda; and, teachers, superintendent, I beg of you not to allow the waters to
stagnate round her."
With this sublime conclusion, Mr. Brocklehurst adjusted the top button of his
surtout, muttered something to his family, who rose, bowed to Miss Temple, and then
all the great people sailed in state from the room.
Turning at the door, my judge said--
"Let her stand half-an-hour longer on that stool, and let no one speak to her during
the remainder of the day."
There was I, then, mounted aloft; I, who had said I could not bear the shame of
standing on my natural feet in the middle of the room, was now exposed to general
view on a pedestal of infamy.
What my sensations were no language can describe; but just as they all rose,
stifling my breath and constricting my throat, a girl came up and passed me: in
passing, she lifted her eyes.
What a strange light inspired them! What an extraordinary sensation that ray
sent through me! How the new feeling bore me up!
It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in
the transit.
I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the
stool.
Helen Burns asked some slight question about her work of Miss Smith, was chidden
for the triviality of the inquiry, returned to her place, and smiled at me as she again
went by.
What a smile!
I remember it now, and I know that it was the effluence of fine intellect, of true
courage; it lit up her marked lineaments, her thin face, her sunken grey eye, like a
reflection from the aspect of an angel.
Yet at that moment Helen Burns wore on her arm "the untidy badge;" scarcely an hour
ago I had heard her condemned by Miss Scatcherd to a dinner of bread and water on
the morrow because she had blotted an exercise in copying it out.
Such is the imperfect nature of man! such spots are there on the disc of the clearest
planet; and eyes like Miss Scatcherd's can only see those minute defects, and are
blind to the full brightness of the orb.
>
CHAPTER VIII
Ere the half-hour ended, five o'clock struck; school was dismissed, and all were
gone into the refectory to tea.
I now ventured to descend: it was deep dusk; I retired into a corner and sat down
on the floor.
The spell by which I had been so far supported began to dissolve; reaction took
place, and soon, so overwhelming was the grief that seized me, I sank prostrate with
my face to the ground.
Now I wept: Helen Burns was not here; nothing sustained me; left to myself I
abandoned myself, and my tears watered the boards.
I had meant to be so good, and to do so much at Lowood: to make so many friends, to
earn respect and win affection.
Already I had made visible progress: that very morning I had reached the head of my
class; Miss Miller had praised me warmly; Miss Temple had smiled approbation; she had
promised to teach me drawing, and to let me
learn French, if I continued to make similar improvement two months longer: and
then I was well received by my fellow- pupils; treated as an equal by those of my
own age, and not molested by any; now, here
I lay again crushed and trodden on; and could I ever rise more?
"Never," I thought; and ardently I wished to die.
While sobbing out this wish in broken accents, some one approached: I started up-
-again Helen Burns was near me; the fading fires just showed her coming up the long,
vacant room; she brought my coffee and bread.
"Come, eat something," she said; but I put both away from me, feeling as if a drop or
a crumb would have choked me in my present condition.
Helen regarded me, probably with surprise: I could not now abate my agitation, though
I tried hard; I continued to weep aloud.
She sat down on the ground near me, embraced her knees with her arms, and
rested her head upon them; in that attitude she remained silent as an Indian.
I was the first who spoke--
"Helen, why do you stay with a girl whom everybody believes to be a liar?"
"Everybody, Jane?
Why, there are only eighty people who have heard you called so, and the world contains
hundreds of millions." "But what have I to do with millions?
The eighty, I know, despise me."
"Jane, you are mistaken: probably not one in the school either despises or dislikes
you: many, I am sure, pity you much." "How can they pity me after what Mr.
Brocklehurst has said?"
"Mr. Brocklehurst is not a god: nor is he even a great and admired man: he is little
liked here; he never took steps to make himself liked.
Had he treated you as an especial favourite, you would have found enemies,
declared or covert, all around you; as it is, the greater number would offer you
sympathy if they dared.
Teachers and pupils may look coldly on you for a day or two, but friendly feelings are
concealed in their hearts; and if you persevere in doing well, these feelings
will ere long appear so much the more evidently for their temporary suppression.
Besides, Jane"--she paused.
"Well, Helen?" said I, putting my hand into hers: she chafed my fingers gently to warm
them, and went on--
"If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience
approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."
"No; I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don't
love me I would rather die than live--I cannot bear to be solitary and hated,
Helen.
Look here; to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I
truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a
bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking
horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest--"
"Hush, Jane! you think too much of the love of human beings; you are too impulsive, too
vehement; the sovereign hand that created your frame, and put life into it, has
provided you with other resources than your
feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you.
Besides this earth, and besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a
kingdom of spirits: that world is round us, for it is everywhere; and those spirits
watch us, for they are commissioned to
guard us; and if we were dying in pain and shame, if scorn smote us on all sides, and
hatred crushed us, angels see our tortures, recognise our innocence (if innocent we be:
as I know you are of this charge which Mr.
Brocklehurst has weakly and pompously repeated at second-hand from Mrs. Reed; for
I read a sincere nature in your ardent eyes and on your clear front), and God waits
only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward.
Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over,
and death is so certain an entrance to happiness--to glory?"
I was silent; Helen had calmed me; but in the tranquillity she imparted there was an
alloy of inexpressible sadness.
I felt the impression of woe as she spoke, but I could not tell whence it came; and
when, having done speaking, she breathed a little fast and coughed a short cough, I
momentarily forgot my own sorrows to yield to a vague concern for her.
Resting my head on Helen's shoulder, I put my arms round her waist; she drew me to
her, and we reposed in silence.
We had not sat long thus, when another person came in.
Some heavy clouds, swept from the sky by a rising wind, had left the moon bare; and
her light, streaming in through a window near, shone full both on us and on the
approaching figure, which we at once recognised as Miss Temple.
"I came on purpose to find you, Jane Eyre," said she; "I want you in my room; and as
Helen Burns is with you, she may come too."
We went; following the superintendent's guidance, we had to thread some intricate
passages, and mount a staircase before we reached her apartment; it contained a good
fire, and looked cheerful.
Miss Temple told Helen Burns to be seated in a low arm-chair on one side of the
hearth, and herself taking another, she called me to her side.
"Is it all over?" she asked, looking down at my face.
"Have you cried your grief away?" "I am afraid I never shall do that."
"Why?"
"Because I have been wrongly accused; and you, ma'am, and everybody else, will now
think me wicked." "We shall think you what you prove yourself
to be, my child.
Continue to act as a good girl, and you will satisfy us."
"Shall I, Miss Temple?" "You will," said she, passing her arm round
me.
"And now tell me who is the lady whom Mr. Brocklehurst called your benefactress?"
"Mrs. Reed, my uncle's wife. My uncle is dead, and he left me to her
care."
"Did she not, then, adopt you of her own accord?"
"No, ma'am; she was sorry to have to do it: but my uncle, as I have often heard the
servants say, got her to promise before he died that she would always keep me."
"Well now, Jane, you know, or at least I will tell you, that when a criminal is
accused, he is always allowed to speak in his own defence.
You have been charged with falsehood; defend yourself to me as well as you can.
Say whatever your memory suggests is true; but add nothing and exaggerate nothing."
I resolved, in the depth of my heart, that I would be most moderate--most correct;
and, having reflected a few minutes in order to arrange coherently what I had to
say, I told her all the story of my sad childhood.
Exhausted by emotion, my language was more subdued than it generally was when it
developed that sad theme; and mindful of Helen's warnings against the indulgence of
resentment, I infused into the narrative
far less of gall and wormwood than ordinary.
Thus restrained and simplified, it sounded more credible: I felt as I went on that
Miss Temple fully believed me.
In the course of the tale I had mentioned Mr. Lloyd as having come to see me after
the fit: for I never forgot the, to me, frightful episode of the red-room: in
detailing which, my excitement was sure, in
some degree, to break bounds; for nothing could soften in my recollection the spasm
of agony which clutched my heart when Mrs. Reed spurned my wild supplication for
pardon, and locked me a second time in the dark and haunted chamber.
I had finished: Miss Temple regarded me a few minutes in silence; she then said--
"I know something of Mr. Lloyd; I shall write to him; if his reply agrees with your
statement, you shall be publicly cleared from every imputation; to me, Jane, you are
clear now."
She kissed me, and still keeping me at her side (where I was well contented to stand,
for I derived a child's pleasure from the contemplation of her face, her dress, her
one or two ornaments, her white forehead,
her clustered and shining curls, and beaming dark eyes), she proceeded to
address Helen Burns. "How are you to-night, Helen?
Have you coughed much to-day?"
"Not quite so much, I think, ma'am." "And the pain in your chest?"
"It is a little better."
Miss Temple got up, took her hand and examined her pulse; then she returned to
her own seat: as she resumed it, I heard her sigh low.
She was pensive a few minutes, then rousing herself, she said cheerfully--
"But you two are my visitors to-night; I must treat you as such."
She rang her bell.
"Barbara," she said to the servant who answered it, "I have not yet had tea; bring
the tray and place cups for these two young ladies."
And a tray was soon brought.
How pretty, to my eyes, did the china cups and bright teapot look, placed on the
little round table near the fire!
How fragrant was the steam of the beverage, and the scent of the toast! of which,
however, I, to my dismay (for I was beginning to be hungry) discerned only a
very small portion: Miss Temple discerned it too.
"Barbara," said she, "can you not bring a little more bread and butter?
There is not enough for three."
Barbara went out: she returned soon-- "Madam, Mrs. Harden says she has sent up
the usual quantity."
Mrs. Harden, be it observed, was the housekeeper: a woman after Mr.
Brocklehurst's own heart, made up of equal parts of whalebone and iron.
"Oh, very well!" returned Miss Temple; "we must make it do, Barbara, I suppose."
And as the girl withdrew she added, smiling, "Fortunately, I have it in my
power to supply deficiencies for this once."
Having invited Helen and me to approach the table, and placed before each of us a cup
of tea with one delicious but thin morsel of toast, she got up, unlocked a drawer,
and taking from it a parcel wrapped in
paper, disclosed presently to our eyes a good-sized seed-cake.
"I meant to give each of you some of this to take with you," said she, "but as there
is so little toast, you must have it now," and she proceeded to cut slices with a
generous hand.
We feasted that evening as on nectar and ambrosia; and not the least delight of the
entertainment was the smile of gratification with which our hostess
regarded us, as we satisfied our famished
appetites on the delicate fare she liberally supplied.
Tea over and the tray removed, she again summoned us to the fire; we sat one on each
side of her, and now a conversation followed between her and Helen, which it
was indeed a privilege to be admitted to hear.
Miss Temple had always something of serenity in her air, of state in her mien,
of refined propriety in her language, which precluded deviation into the ardent, the
excited, the eager: something which
chastened the pleasure of those who looked on her and listened to her, by a
controlling sense of awe; and such was my feeling now: but as to Helen Burns, I was
struck with wonder.
The refreshing meal, the brilliant fire, the presence and kindness of her beloved
instructress, or, perhaps, more than all these, something in her own unique mind,
had roused her powers within her.
They woke, they kindled: first, they glowed in the bright tint of her cheek, which till
this hour I had never seen but pale and bloodless; then they shone in the liquid
lustre of her eyes, which had suddenly
acquired a beauty more singular than that of Miss Temple's--a beauty neither of fine
colour nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of
radiance.
Then her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed, from what source I cannot tell.
Has a girl of fourteen a heart large enough, vigorous enough, to hold the
swelling spring of pure, full, fervid eloquence?
Such was the characteristic of Helen's discourse on that, to me, memorable
evening; her spirit seemed hastening to live within a very brief span as much as
many live during a protracted existence.
They conversed of things I had never heard of; of nations and times past; of countries
far away; of secrets of nature discovered or guessed at: they spoke of books: how
many they had read!
What stores of knowledge they possessed!
Then they seemed so familiar with French names and French authors: but my amazement
reached its climax when Miss Temple asked Helen if she sometimes snatched a moment to
recall the Latin her father had taught her,
and taking a book from a shelf, bade her read and construe a page of Virgil; and
Helen obeyed, my organ of veneration expanding at every sounding line.
She had scarcely finished ere the bell announced bedtime! no delay could be
admitted; Miss Temple embraced us both, saying, as she drew us to her heart--
"God bless you, my children!"
Helen she held a little longer than me: she let her go more reluctantly; it was Helen
her eye followed to the door; it was for her she a second time breathed a sad sigh;
for her she wiped a tear from her cheek.
On reaching the bedroom, we heard the voice of Miss Scatcherd: she was examining
drawers; she had just pulled out Helen Burns's, and when we entered Helen was
greeted with a sharp reprimand, and told
that to-morrow she should have half-a-dozen of untidily folded articles pinned to her
shoulder.
"My things were indeed in shameful disorder," murmured Helen to me, in a low
voice: "I intended to have arranged them, but I forgot."
Next morning, Miss Scatcherd wrote in conspicuous characters on a piece of
pasteboard the word "Slattern," and bound it like a phylactery round Helen's large,
mild, intelligent, and benign-looking forehead.
She wore it till evening, patient, unresentful, regarding it as a deserved
punishment.
The moment Miss Scatcherd withdrew after afternoon school, I ran to Helen, tore it
off, and thrust it into the fire: the fury of which she was incapable had been burning
in my soul all day, and tears, hot and
large, had continually been scalding my cheek; for the spectacle of her sad
resignation gave me an intolerable pain at the heart.
About a week subsequently to the incidents above narrated, Miss Temple, who had
written to Mr. Lloyd, received his answer: it appeared that what he said went to
corroborate my account.
Miss Temple, having assembled the whole school, announced that inquiry had been
made into the charges alleged against Jane Eyre, and that she was most happy to be
able to pronounce her completely cleared from every imputation.
The teachers then shook hands with me and kissed me, and a murmur of pleasure ran
through the ranks of my companions.
Thus relieved of a grievous load, I from that hour set to work afresh, resolved to
pioneer my way through every difficulty: I toiled hard, and my success was
proportionate to my efforts; my memory, not
naturally tenacious, improved with practice; exercise sharpened my wits; in a
few weeks I was promoted to a higher class; in less than two months I was allowed to
commence French and drawing.
I learned the first two tenses of the verb Etre, and sketched my first cottage
(whose walls, by-the- bye, outrivalled in slope those of the leaning tower of Pisa),
on the same day.
That night, on going to bed, I forgot to prepare in imagination the Barmecide supper
of hot roast potatoes, or white bread and new milk, with which I was wont to amuse my
inward cravings: I feasted instead on the
spectacle of ideal drawings, which I saw in the dark; all the work of my own hands:
freely pencilled houses and trees, picturesque rocks and ruins, Cuyp-like
groups of cattle, sweet paintings of
butterflies hovering over unblown roses, of birds picking at ripe cherries, of wren's
nests enclosing pearl-like eggs, wreathed about with young ivy sprays.
I examined, too, in thought, the possibility of my ever being able to
translate currently a certain little French story which Madame Pierrot had that day
shown me; nor was that problem solved to my satisfaction ere I fell sweetly asleep.
Well has Solomon said--"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox
and hatred therewith."
I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations for Gateshead and its
daily luxuries.
>
CHAPTER IX
But the privations, or rather the hardships, of Lowood lessened.
Spring drew on: she was indeed already come; the frosts of winter had ceased; its
snows were melted, its cutting winds ameliorated.
My wretched feet, flayed and swollen to lameness by the sharp air of January, began
to heal and subside under the gentler breathings of April; the nights and
mornings no longer by their Canadian
temperature froze the very blood in our veins; we could now endure the play-hour
passed in the garden: sometimes on a sunny day it began even to be pleasant and
genial, and a greenness grew over those
brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed
them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.
Flowers peeped out amongst the leaves; snow-drops, crocuses, purple auriculas, and
golden-eyed pansies.
On Thursday afternoons (half-holidays) we now took walks, and found still sweeter
flowers opening by the wayside, under the hedges.
I discovered, too, that a great pleasure, an enjoyment which the horizon only
bounded, lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls of our garden: this
pleasure consisted in prospect of noble
summits girdling a great hill-hollow, rich in verdure and shadow; in a bright beck,
full of dark stones and sparkling eddies.
How different had this scene looked when I viewed it laid out beneath the iron sky of
winter, stiffened in frost, shrouded with snow!--when mists as chill as death
wandered to the impulse of east winds along
those purple peaks, and rolled down "ing" and holm till they blended with the frozen
fog of the beck!
That beck itself was then a torrent, turbid and curbless: it tore asunder the wood, and
sent a raving sound through the air, often thickened with wild rain or whirling sleet;
and for the forest on its banks, that showed only ranks of skeletons.
April advanced to May: a bright serene May it was; days of blue sky, placid sunshine,
and soft western or southern gales filled up its duration.
And now vegetation matured with vigour; Lowood shook loose its tresses; it became
all green, all flowery; its great elm, ash, and oak skeletons were restored to majestic
life; woodland plants sprang up profusely
in its recesses; unnumbered varieties of moss filled its hollows, and it made a
strange ground-sunshine out of the wealth of its wild primrose plants: I have seen
their pale gold gleam in overshadowed spots like scatterings of the sweetest lustre.
All this I enjoyed often and fully, free, unwatched, and almost alone: for this
unwonted liberty and pleasure there was a cause, to which it now becomes my task to
advert.
Have I not described a pleasant site for a dwelling, when I speak of it as bosomed in
hill and wood, and rising from the verge of a stream?
Assuredly, pleasant enough: but whether healthy or not is another question.
That forest-dell, where Lowood lay, was the cradle of fog and fog-bred pestilence;
which, quickening with the quickening spring, crept into the Orphan Asylum,
breathed typhus through its crowded
schoolroom and dormitory, and, ere May arrived, transformed the seminary into an
hospital.
Semi-starvation and neglected colds had predisposed most of the pupils to receive
infection: forty-five out of the eighty girls lay ill at one time.
Classes were broken up, rules relaxed.
The few who continued well were allowed almost unlimited license; because the
medical attendant insisted on the necessity of frequent exercise to keep them in
health: and had it been otherwise, no one had leisure to watch or restrain them.
Miss Temple's whole attention was absorbed by the patients: she lived in the sick-
room, never quitting it except to snatch a few hours' rest at night.
The teachers were fully occupied with packing up and making other necessary
preparations for the departure of those girls who were fortunate enough to have
friends and relations able and willing to remove them from the seat of contagion.
Many, already smitten, went home only to die: some died at the school, and were
buried quietly and quickly, the nature of the malady forbidding delay.
While disease had thus become an inhabitant of Lowood, and death its frequent visitor;
while there was gloom and fear within its walls; while its rooms and passages steamed
with hospital smells, the drug and the
pastille striving vainly to overcome the effluvia of mortality, that bright May
shone unclouded over the bold hills and beautiful woodland out of doors.
Its garden, too, glowed with flowers: hollyhocks had sprung up tall as trees,
lilies had opened, tulips and roses were in bloom; the borders of the little beds were
gay with pink thrift and crimson double
daisies; the sweetbriars gave out, morning and evening, their scent of spice and
apples; and these fragrant treasures were all useless for most of the inmates of
Lowood, except to furnish now and then a
handful of herbs and blossoms to put in a coffin.
But I, and the rest who continued well, enjoyed fully the beauties of the scene and
season; they let us ramble in the wood, like gipsies, from morning till night; we
did what we liked, went where we liked: we lived better too.
Mr. Brocklehurst and his family never came near Lowood now: household matters were not
scrutinised into; the cross housekeeper was gone, driven away by the fear of infection;
her successor, who had been matron at the
Lowton Dispensary, unused to the ways of her new abode, provided with comparative
liberality.
Besides, there were fewer to feed; the sick could eat little; our breakfast-basins were
better filled; when there was no time to prepare a regular dinner, which often
happened, she would give us a large piece
of cold pie, or a thick slice of bread and cheese, and this we carried away with us to
the wood, where we each chose the spot we liked best, and dined sumptuously.
My favourite seat was a smooth and broad stone, rising white and dry from the very
middle of the beck, and only to be got at by wading through the water; a feat I
accomplished barefoot.
The stone was just broad enough to accommodate, comfortably, another girl and
me, at that time my chosen comrade--one Mary Ann Wilson; a shrewd, observant
personage, whose society I took pleasure
in, partly because she was witty and original, and partly because she had a
manner which set me at my ease.
Some years older than I, she knew more of the world, and could tell me many things I
liked to hear: with her my curiosity found gratification: to my faults also she gave
ample indulgence, never imposing curb or rein on anything I said.
She had a turn for narrative, I for analysis; she liked to inform, I to
question; so we got on swimmingly together, deriving much entertainment, if not much
improvement, from our mutual intercourse.
And where, meantime, was Helen Burns? Why did I not spend these sweet days of
liberty with her? Had I forgotten her? or was I so worthless
as to have grown tired of her pure society?
Surely the Mary Ann Wilson I have mentioned was inferior to my first acquaintance: she
could only tell me amusing stories, and reciprocate any racy and pungent gossip I
chose to indulge in; while, if I have
spoken truth of Helen, she was qualified to give those who enjoyed the privilege of her
converse a taste of far higher things.
True, reader; and I knew and felt this: and though I am a defective being, with many
faults and few redeeming points, yet I never tired of Helen Burns; nor ever ceased
to cherish for her a sentiment of
attachment, as strong, tender, and respectful as any that ever animated my
heart.
How could it be otherwise, when Helen, at all times and under all circumstances,
evinced for me a quiet and faithful friendship, which ill-humour never soured,
nor irritation never troubled?
But Helen was ill at present: for some weeks she had been removed from my sight to
I knew not what room upstairs.
She was not, I was told, in the hospital portion of the house with the fever
patients; for her complaint was consumption, not typhus: and by consumption
I, in my ignorance, understood something
mild, which time and care would be sure to alleviate.
I was confirmed in this idea by the fact of her once or twice coming downstairs on very
warm sunny afternoons, and being taken by Miss Temple into the garden; but, on these
occasions, I was not allowed to go and
speak to her; I only saw her from the schoolroom window, and then not distinctly;
for she was much wrapped up, and sat at a distance under the verandah.
One evening, in the beginning of June, I had stayed out very late with Mary Ann in
the wood; we had, as usual, separated ourselves from the others, and had wandered
far; so far that we lost our way, and had
to ask it at a lonely cottage, where a man and woman lived, who looked after a herd of
half-wild swine that fed on the mast in the wood.
When we got back, it was after moonrise: a pony, which we knew to be the surgeon's,
was standing at the garden door.
Mary Ann remarked that she supposed some one must be very ill, as Mr. Bates had been
sent for at that time of the evening.
She went into the house; I stayed behind a few minutes to plant in my garden a handful
of roots I had dug up in the forest, and which I feared would wither if I left them
till the morning.
This done, I lingered yet a little longer: the flowers smelt so sweet as the dew fell;
it was such a pleasant evening, so serene, so warm; the still glowing west promised so
fairly another fine day on the morrow; the
moon rose with such majesty in the grave east.
I was noting these things and enjoying them as a child might, when it entered my mind
as it had never done before:--
"How sad to be lying now on a sick bed, and to be in danger of dying!
This world is pleasant--it would be dreary to be called from it, and to have to go who
knows where?"
And then my mind made its first earnest effort to comprehend what had been infused
into it concerning heaven and hell; and for the first time it recoiled, baffled; and
for the first time glancing behind, on each
side, and before it, it saw all round an unfathomed gulf: it felt the one point
where it stood--the present; all the rest was formless cloud and vacant depth; and it
shuddered at the thought of tottering, and plunging amid that chaos.
While pondering this new idea, I heard the front door open; Mr. Bates came out, and
with him was a nurse.
After she had seen him mount his horse and depart, she was about to close the door,
but I ran up to her. "How is Helen Burns?"
"Very poorly," was the answer.
"Is it her Mr. Bates has been to see?" "Yes."
"And what does he say about her?" "He says she'll not be here long."
This phrase, uttered in my hearing yesterday, would have only conveyed the
notion that she was about to be removed to Northumberland, to her own home.
I should not have suspected that it meant she was dying; but I knew instantly now!
It opened clear on my comprehension that Helen Burns was numbering her last days in
this world, and that she was going to be taken to the region of spirits, if such
region there were.
I experienced a shock of horror, then a strong thrill of grief, then a desire--a
necessity to see her; and I asked in what room she lay.
"She is in Miss Temple's room," said the nurse.
"May I go up and speak to her?" "Oh no, child!
It is not likely; and now it is time for you to come in; you'll catch the fever if
you stop out when the dew is falling."
The nurse closed the front door; I went in by the side entrance which led to the
schoolroom: I was just in time; it was nine o'clock, and Miss Miller was calling the
pupils to go to bed.
It might be two hours later, probably near eleven, when I--not having been able to
fall asleep, and deeming, from the perfect silence of the dormitory, that my
companions were all wrapt in profound
repose--rose softly, put on my frock over my night-dress, and, without shoes, crept
from the apartment, and set off in quest of Miss Temple's room.
It was quite at the other end of the house; but I knew my way; and the light of the
unclouded summer moon, entering here and there at passage windows, enabled me to
find it without difficulty.
An odour of camphor and burnt vinegar warned me when I came near the fever room:
and I passed its door quickly, fearful lest the nurse who sat up all night should hear
me.
I dreaded being discovered and sent back; for I must see Helen,--I must embrace her
before she died,--I must give her one last kiss, exchange with her one last word.
Having descended a staircase, traversed a portion of the house below, and succeeded
in opening and shutting, without noise, two doors, I reached another flight of steps;
these I mounted, and then just opposite to me was Miss Temple's room.
A light shone through the keyhole and from under the door; a profound stillness
pervaded the vicinity.
Coming near, I found the door slightly ajar; probably to admit some fresh air into
the close abode of sickness.
Indisposed to hesitate, and full of impatient impulses--soul and senses
quivering with keen throes--I put it back and looked in.
My eye sought Helen, and feared to find death.
Close by Miss Temple's bed, and half covered with its white curtains, there
stood a little crib.
I saw the outline of a form under the clothes, but the face was hid by the
hangings: the nurse I had spoken to in the garden sat in an easy-chair asleep; an
unsnuffed candle burnt dimly on the table.
Miss Temple was not to be seen: I knew afterwards that she had been called to a
delirious patient in the fever-room.
I advanced; then paused by the crib side: my hand was on the curtain, but I preferred
speaking before I withdrew it. I still recoiled at the dread of seeing a
corpse.
"Helen!" I whispered softly, "are you awake?"
She stirred herself, put back the curtain, and I saw her face, pale, wasted, but quite
composed: she looked so little changed that my fear was instantly dissipated.
"Can it be you, Jane?" she asked, in her own gentle voice.
"Oh!"
I thought, "she is not going to die; they are mistaken: she could not speak and look
so calmly if she were."
I got on to her crib and kissed her: her forehead was cold, and her cheek both cold
and thin, and so were her hand and wrist; but she smiled as of old.
"Why are you come here, Jane?
It is past eleven o'clock: I heard it strike some minutes since."
"I came to see you, Helen: I heard you were very ill, and I could not sleep till I had
spoken to you."
"You came to bid me good-bye, then: you are just in time probably."
"Are you going somewhere, Helen? Are you going home?"
"Yes; to my long home--my last home."
"No, no, Helen!" I stopped, distressed.
While I tried to devour my tears, a fit of coughing seized Helen; it did not, however,
wake the nurse; when it was over, she lay some minutes exhausted; then she whispered-
-
"Jane, your little feet are bare; lie down and cover yourself with my quilt."
I did so: she put her arm over me, and I nestled close to her.
After a long silence, she resumed, still whispering--
"I am very happy, Jane; and when you hear that I am dead, you must be sure and not
grieve: there is nothing to grieve about.
We all must die one day, and the illness which is removing me is not painful; it is
gentle and gradual: my mind is at rest.
I leave no one to regret me much: I have only a father; and he is lately married,
and will not miss me. By dying young, I shall escape great
sufferings.
I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have
been continually at fault." "But where are you going to, Helen?
Can you see?
Do you know?" "I believe; I have faith: I am going to
God." "Where is God?
What is God?"
"My Maker and yours, who will never destroy what He created.
I rely implicitly on His power, and confide wholly in His goodness: I count the hours
till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to Him, reveal Him to me."
"You are sure, then, Helen, that there is such a place as heaven, and that our souls
can get to it when we die?"
"I am sure there is a future state; I believe God is good; I can resign my
immortal part to Him without any misgiving. God is my father; God is my friend: I love
Him; I believe He loves me."
"And shall I see you again, Helen, when I die?"
"You will come to the same region of happiness: be received by the same mighty,
universal Parent, no doubt, dear Jane."
Again I questioned, but this time only in thought.
"Where is that region? Does it exist?"
And I clasped my arms closer round Helen; she seemed dearer to me than ever; I felt
as if I could not let her go; I lay with my face hidden on her neck.
Presently she said, in the sweetest tone--
"How comfortable I am! That last fit of coughing has tired me a
little; I feel as if I could sleep: but don't leave me, Jane; I like to have you
near me."
"I'll stay with you, dear Helen: no one shall take me away."
"Are you warm, darling?" "Yes."
"Good-night, Jane."
"Good-night, Helen." She kissed me, and I her, and we both soon
slumbered.
When I awoke it was day: an unusual movement roused me; I looked up; I was in
somebody's arms; the nurse held me; she was carrying me through the passage back to the
dormitory.
I was not reprimanded for leaving my bed; people had something else to think about;
no explanation was afforded then to my many questions; but a day or two afterwards I
learned that Miss Temple, on returning to
her own room at dawn, had found me laid in the little crib; my face against Helen
Burns's shoulder, my arms round her neck. I was asleep, and Helen was--dead.
Her grave is in Brocklebridge churchyard: for fifteen years after her death it was
only covered by a grassy mound; but now a grey marble tablet marks the spot,
inscribed with her name, and the word "Resurgam."
>
CHAPTER X
Hitherto I have recorded in detail the events of my insignificant existence: to
the first ten years of my life I have given almost as many chapters.
But this is not to be a regular autobiography.
I am only bound to invoke Memory where I know her responses will possess some degree
of interest; therefore I now pass a space of eight years almost in silence: a few
lines only are necessary to keep up the links of connection.
When the typhus fever had fulfilled its mission of devastation at Lowood, it
gradually disappeared from thence; but not till its virulence and the number of its
victims had drawn public attention on the school.
Inquiry was made into the origin of the scourge, and by degrees various facts came
out which excited public indignation in a high degree.
The unhealthy nature of the site; the quantity and quality of the children's
food; the brackish, fetid water used in its preparation; the pupils' wretched clothing
and accommodations--all these things were
discovered, and the discovery produced a result mortifying to Mr. Brocklehurst, but
beneficial to the institution.
Several wealthy and benevolent individuals in the county subscribed largely for the
erection of a more convenient building in a better situation; new regulations were
made; improvements in diet and clothing