Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
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The red room
We could not go for a walk that afternoon. There was such a freezing cold wind, and such heavy rain, that we all stayed indoors. I was glad of it. I never liked long walks, especially in winter. I used to hate coming home when it was almost dark, with ice-cold fingers and toes, feeling miserable because Bessie, the nursemaid, was always scolding me. All the time I knew I was different from my cousins, Eliza, John and Georgiana Reed.
They were taller and stronger than me, and they were loved.
These three usually spent their time crying and quarrelling, but today they were sitting quietly around their mother in the sitting-room. I wanted to join the family circle, but Mrs. Reed, my aunt, refused. Bessie had complained about me.
'No, I'm sorry, Jane. Until I hear from Bessie, or see for myself, that you are really trying to behave better, you cannot be treated as a good, happy child, like my children.'
'What does Bessie say I have done?' I asked.
'Jane, it is not polite to question me in that way. If you cannot speak pleasantly, be quiet.'
I crept out of the sitting-room and into the small room next door, where I chose a book full of pictures from the bookcase. I climbed on to the window-seat and drew the curtains, so that I was completely hidden. I sat there for a while. Sometimes I looked out of the window at the grey November afternoon, and saw the rain pouring down on the leafless garden. But most of the time I studied the book and stared, fascinated, at the pictures. Lost in the world of imagination, I forgot my sad, lonely existence for a while, and was happy. I was only afraid that my secret hiding-place might be discovered.
Suddenly the door of the room opened. John Reed rushed in.
'Where are you, rat?' he shouted. He did not see me behind the curtain. 'Eliza! Georgy! Jane isn't here! Tell Mamma she's run out into the rain — what a bad animal she is!'
'How lucky I drew the curtain,' I thought. He would never have found me, because he was not very intelligent. But Eliza guessed at once where I was.
'She's in the window-seat, John,' she called from the sitting-room. So I came out immediately, as I did not want him to pull me out.
'What do you want?' I asked him.
'Say, «What do you want, Master Reed»,' he answered, sitting in an armchair. 'I want you to come here.'
John Reed was fourteen and I was only ten. He was large and rather fat. He usually ate too much at meals, which made him ill. He should have been at boarding school, but his mother, who loved him very much, had brought him home for a month or two, because she thought his health was delicate. John did not love his mother or his sisters, and he hated me. He bullied and punished me, not two or three times a week, not once or twice a day, but all the time. My whole body trembled when he came near. Sometimes he hit me, sometimes he just threatened me, and I lived in terrible fear of him. I had no idea how to stop him. The servants did not want to offend their young master, and Mrs. Reed could see no fault in her dear boy.
So I obeyed John's order and approached his armchair, thinking how very ugly his face was. Perhaps he understood what I was thinking, for he hit me hard on the face.
'That is for your rudeness to Mamma just now,' he said, 'and for your wickedness in hiding, and for looking at me like that, you rat!'
I was so used to his bullying that I never thought of hitting him back.
'What were you doing behind that curtain?' he asked.
'I was reading,' I answered.
'Show me the book.' I gave it to him.
'You have no right to take our books,' he continued. 'You have no money and your father left you none. You ought to beg in the streets, not live here in comfort with a gentleman's family. Anyway, all these books are mine, and so is the whole house, or will be in a few years' time. I'll teach you not to borrow my books again.' He lifted the heavy book and threw it hard at me.
It hit me and I fell, cutting my head on the door. I was in great pain, and suddenly for the first time in my life, I forgot my fear of John Reed.
'You wicked, cruel boy!' I cried. 'You are a bully! You are as bad as a murderer!'
'What! What!' he cried. 'Did she say that to me? Did you hear, Eliza and Georgiana? I'll tell Mamma, but first...'
He rushed to attack me, but now he was fighting with a desperate girl. I really saw him as a wicked murderer. I felt the blood running down my face, and the pain gave me strength. I fought back as hard as I could. My resistance surprised him, and he shouted for help. His sisters ran for Mrs. Reed, who called her maid, Miss Abbott, and Bessie. They pulled us apart and I heard them say, 'What a wicked girl! She attacked Master John!'
Mrs. Reed said calmly, 'Take her away to the red room and lock her in there.' And so I was carried upstairs, arms waving and legs kicking.
As soon as we arrived in the red room, I became quiet again, and the two servants both started scolding me.
'Really, Miss Eyre,' said Miss Abbott, 'how could you hit him? He's your young master!'
'How can he be my master? I am not a servant!' I cried.
'No, Miss Eyre, you are less than a servant, because you do not work,' replied Miss Abbott. They both looked at me as if they strongly disapproved of me.
'You should remember, miss,' said Bessie, 'that your aunt pays for your food and clothes, and you should be grateful. You have no other relations or friends.'
All my short life I had been told this, and I had no answer to it. I stayed silent, listening to these painful reminders.
'And if you are angry and rude, Mrs. Reed may send you away,' added Bessie.
'Anyway,' said Miss Abbott, 'God will punish you, Jane Eyre, for your wicked heart. Pray to God, and say you're sorry.' They left the room, locking the door carefully behind them.
The red room was a cold, silent room, hardly ever used, although it was one of the largest bedrooms in the house. Nine years ago my uncle, Mr. Reed, had died in this room, and since then nobody had wanted to sleep in it.
Now that I was alone I thought bitterly of the people I lived with. John Reed, his sisters, his mother, the servants — they all accused me, scolded me, hated me. Why could I never please them? Eliza was selfish, but was respected. Georgiana had a bad temper, but she was popular with everybody because she was beautiful. John was rude, cruel and violent, but nobody punished him. I tried to make no mistakes, but they called me naughty every moment of the day. Now that I had turned against John to protect myself, everybody blamed me.
And so I spent that whole long afternoon in the red room asking myself why I had to suffer and why life was so unfair. Perhaps I would run away, or starve myself to death.
Gradually it became dark outside. The rain was still beating on the windows, and I could hear the wind in the trees. Now I was no longer angry, and I began to think the Reeds might be right. Perhaps I was wicked. Did I deserve to die, and be buried in the churchyard like my uncle Reed? I could not remember him, but knew he was my mother's brother, who had taken me to his house when my parents both died. On his death bed he had made his wife, Aunt Reed, promise to look after me like her own children. I supposed she now regretted her promise.
A strange idea came to me. I felt sure that if Mr. Reed had lived he would have treated me kindly, and now, as I looked round at the dark furniture and the walls in shadow, I began to fear that his ghost might come back to punish his wife for not keeping her promise. He might rise from the grave in the churchyard and appear in this room! I was so frightened by this thought that I hardly dared to breathe. Suddenly in the darkness I saw a light moving on the ceiling. It may have been from a lamp outside, but in my nervous state I did not think of that. I felt sure it must be a ghost, a visitor from another world. My head was hot, my heart beat fast. Was that the sound of wings in my ears? Was that something moving near me? Screaming wildly, I rushed to the door and shook it. Miss Abbott and Bessie came running to open it.
'Miss Eyre, are you ill?' asked Bessie.
'Take me out of here!' I screamed.
'Why? What's the matter?' she asked.
'I saw a light, and I thought it was a ghost,' I cried, holding tightly on to Bessie's hand.
'She's not even hurt,' said Miss Abbott in disgust. 'She screamed just to bring us here. I know all her little tricks.'
'What is all this?' demanded an angry voice. Mrs. Reed appeared at the door of the room. 'Abbott and Bessie, I think I told you to leave Jane Eyre in this room till I came.'
'She screamed so loudly, ma'am,' said Bessie softly.
'Let go of her hands, Bessie,' was Mrs. Reed's only answer. 'Jane Eyre, you need not think you can succeed in getting out of the room like this. Your naughty tricks will not work with me. You will stay here an hour longer as a punishment for trying to deceive us.'
'Oh aunt, please forgive me! I can't bear it! I shall die if you keep me here...' I screamed and kicked as she held me.
'Silence! Control yourself!' She pushed me, resisting wildly, back into the red room and locked me in. There I was in the darkness again, with the silence and the ghosts. I must have fainted. I cannot remember anything more.
I woke up to find the doctor lifting me very carefully into my own bed. It was good to be back in my familiar bedroom, with a warm fire and candle-light. It was also a great relief to recognize Dr Lloyd, who Mrs. Reed called in for her servants (she always called a specialist for herself and the children). He was looking after me so kindly. I felt he would protect me from Mrs. Reed. He talked to me a little, then gave Bessie orders to take good care of me. When he left, I felt very lonely again.
But I was surprised to find that Bessie did not scold me at all. In fact she was so kind to me that I became brave enough to ask a question.
'Bessie, what's happened? Am I ill?'
'Yes, you became ill in the red room, but you'll get better, don't worry, Miss Jane,' she answered. Then she went next door to fetch another servant. I could hear her whispers.
'Sarah, come in here and sleep with me and that poor child tonight. I daren't stay alone with her, she might die. She was so ill last night! Do you think she saw a ghost? Mrs. Reed was too hard on her, I think.' So the two servants slept in my room, while I lay awake all night, trembling with fear, and eyes wide open in horror, imagining ghosts in every corner.
Fortunately I suffered no serious illness as a result of my terrible experience in the red room, although I shall never forget that night. But the shock left me nervous and depressed for the next few days. I cried all day long and although Bessie tried hard to tempt me with nice things to eat or my favourite books, I took no pleasure in eating or even in reading. I knew I had no one to love me and nothing to look forward to.
When the doctor came again, he seemed a little surprised to find me looking so miserable.
'Perhaps she's crying because she couldn't go out with Mrs Reed in the carriage this morning,' suggested Bessie.
'Surely she's more sensible than that,' said the doctor, smiling at me. 'She's a big girl now.'
'I'm not crying about that. I hate going out in the carriage,' I said quickly. 'I'm crying because I'm miserable.'
'Oh really, Miss!' said Bessie.
The doctor looked at me thoughtfully. He had small, grey, intelligent eyes. Just then a bell rang for the servants' dinner.
'You can go, Bessie,' he said. 'I'll stay here talking to Miss Jane till you come back.'
After Bessie had left, he asked, 'What really made you ill?'
'I was locked up in a room with a ghost, in the dark.'
'Afraid of ghosts, are you?' he smiled.
'Of Mr. Reed's ghost, yes. He died in that room, you know. Nobody even goes in there any more. It was cruel to lock me in there alone without a candle. I shall never forget it!'
'But you aren't afraid now. There must be another reason why you are so sad,' he said, looking kindly at me.
How could I tell him all the reasons for my unhappiness!
'I have no father or mother, brothers or sisters,' I began.
'But you have a kind aunt and cousins.'
'But John Reed knocked me down and my aunt locked me in the red room,' I cried. There was a pause.
'Don't you like living at Gateshead, in such a beautiful house?' he asked.
'I would be glad to leave it, but I have nowhere else to go.'
'You have no relations apart from Mrs. Reed?'
'I think I may have some, who are very poor, but I know nothing about them,' I answered.
'Would you like to go to school?' he asked finally. I thought for a moment. I knew very little about school, but at least it would be a change, the start of a new life.
'Yes, I would like to go,' I replied in the end.
'Well, well,' said the doctor to himself as he got up, 'we'll see. The child is delicate, she ought to have a change of air.'
I heard later from the servants that he had spoken to Mrs. Reed about me, and that she had agreed immediately to send me to school. Abbott said Mrs. Reed would be glad to get rid of me. In this conversation I also learned for the first time that my father had been a poor vicar. When he married my mother, Miss Jane Reed of Gateshead, the Reed family were so angry that they disinherited her. I also heard that my parents both died of an illness only a year after their wedding.
But days and weeks passed, and Mrs. Reed still said nothing about sending me to school. One day, as she was scolding me, I suddenly threw a question at her. The words just came out without my planning to say them.
'What would uncle Reed say to you if he were alive?' I asked.
'What?' cried Mrs. Reed, her cold grey eyes full of fear, staring at me as if I were a ghost. I had to continue.
'My uncle Reed is now in heaven, and can see all you think and do, and so can my parents. They know how you hate me, and are cruel to me.'
Mrs. Reed smacked my face and left me without a word. I was scolded for an hour by Bessie as the most ungrateful child in the world, and indeed with so much hate in my heart I did feel wicked.
Christmas passed by, with no presents or new clothes for me. Every evening I watched Eliza and Georgiana putting on their new dresses and going out to parties. Sometimes Bessie would come up to me in my lonely bedroom, bringing a piece of cake, sometimes she would tell me a story, and sometimes she would kiss me good night. When she was kind to me I thought she was the best person in the world, but she did not always have time for me.
On the morning of the fifteenth of January, Bessie rushed up to my room, to tell me a visitor wanted to see me. Who could it be? I knew Mrs. Reed would be there too and I was frightened of seeing her again. When I nervously entered the breakfast-room I looked up at — a black column! At least that is what he looked like to me. He was a tall, thin man dressed all in black, with a cold, stony face at the top of the column.
'This is the little girl I wrote to you about,' said Mrs. Reed to the stony stranger.
'Well, Jane Eyre,' said the stranger heavily, 'and are you a good child?'
It was impossible to say yes, with Mrs. Reed sitting there, so I was silent.
'Perhaps the less said about that, the better, Mr. Brocklehurst,' said Mrs. Reed, shaking her head.
'I'm sorry to hear it,' he answered. 'Come here, Jane Eyre, and answer my questions. Where do the wicked go after death?'
'They go to hell,' I answered.
'And what must you do to avoid going there?' he asked.
I thought for a moment, but could not find the right answer.
'I must keep in good health, and not die,' I replied.
'Wrong! Children younger than you die all the time. Another question. Do you enjoy reading the
'Yes, sometimes,' I replied, hesitating.
'That is not enough. Your answers show me you have a wicked heart. You must pray to God to change it, if you ever want to go to heaven.'
'Mr. Brocklehurst,' interrupted Mrs. Reed, 'I mentioned to you in my letter that this little girl has in fact a very bad character. If you accept her at Lowood school, please make sure that the headmistress and teachers know how dishonest she is. She will try to lie to them of course. You see, Jane, you cannot try your tricks on Mr. Brocklehurst.'
However hard I had tried to please Mrs. Reed in the past, she always thought the worst of me. It was not surprising that I had come to hate her. Now she was accusing me in front of a stranger. My hopes of starting a new life at school began to fade.
'Do not worry, madam,' Mr. Brocklehurst said, 'the teachers will watch her carefully. Life at Lowood will do her good. We believe in hard work, plain food, simple clothes and no luxury of any kind.'
'I will send her as soon as possible then, Mr. Brocklehurst. I hope she will be taught according to her low position in life.'
'Indeed she will, madam. I hope she will be grateful for this opportunity to improve her character. Little girl, read this book. It tells the story of the sudden death of a young girl who was a liar. Read and pray.'
After Mr. Brocklehurst had given me the book and left, I felt I had to speak. Anger was boiling up inside me. I walked up to Mrs. Reed and looked straight into her eyes.
'I do not deceive people! If I told lies, I would say I loved you! But I don't, I hate you! I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. If anyone asks how you treated me, I will tell them the truth, that you were very cruel to me. People think you are a good woman, but you are lying to them!'
Even before I had finished I began to experience a great feeling of freedom and relief. At last I had said what I felt! Mrs. Reed looked frightened and unhappy.
'Jane, I want to be your friend. You don't know what you're saying. You are too excited. Go to your room and lie down.'
'I won't lie down. I'm quite calm. Send me to school soon, Mrs. Reed. I hate living here.'
'I will indeed send her soon,' murmured Mrs. Reed to herself.
My first impressions of school
Mrs. Reed arranged for me to leave on the nineteenth of January. I had to get up very early to catch the coach, but Bessie helped me to get ready.
'Will you say goodbye to Mrs. Reed, Jane?' she asked.
'No, she said, I shouldn't disturb her so early. Anyway, I don't want to say anything to her. She's always hated me.'
'Oh, Miss Jane, don't say that!'
'Goodbye to Gateshead!' I shouted wildly, as we walked together out of the front door, to wait for the coach in the road. It arrived, pulled by four horses, and full of passengers. The coachman took my luggage and called me to hurry up. Bessie kissed me for the last time as I held tightly to her.
She shouted up to the coachman, 'Make sure you take care of her! Fifty miles is a long way for a young child to go alone.'
'I will!' he answered. The door was closed, and the coach rolled off. What a strange feeling to be leaving Gateshead, my home for the whole of my childhood! Although I was sad to say goodbye to Bessie, I was both excited and nervous about the new places I would see, and the new people I would meet.
I do not remember much about the journey, except that it seemed far too long. We stopped for lunch, to change the horses. Then in the afternoon I realized we were driving through countryside. I slept for a short time but was woken when the coach stopped. The door opened and a servant called in:
'Is there a little girl called Jane Eyre here?'
'Yes,' I answered, and was helped out of the coach with my luggage. Tired and confused after the journey, I followed the servant into a large building, where she left me in a sitting-room. In came a tall lady, with dark hair and eyes, and a large, pale forehead. I discovered that she was Miss Temple, the headmistress of Lowood school. She looked at me carefully.
'You are very young to be sent alone. You look tired. Are you?' she asked, putting her hand kindly on my shoulder.
'A little, ma'am,' I replied. 'How old are you, and what is your name?'
'I'm Jane Eyre, ma'am, and I'm ten years old.'
'Well, I hope you will be a good child at school,' she said, touching my cheek gently with her finger.
I was taken by a teacher, Miss Miller, through the silent corridors of the large school, to the long, wide schoolroom. There about eighty girls, aged from nine to twenty, sat doing their homework. I sat on a bench near the door, with my slate.
'Put away the lesson-books and fetch the supper-trays!' called Miss Miller. Four tall girls removed all the books, then went out and returned with trays which were handed round. Each child could have a drink of water out of the shared cup, and could take a small piece of biscuit. Then we all went quietly upstairs to the long, crowded bedroom, where two children shared every bed. I had to share Miss Miller's, but I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately.
In the morning the ringing of a bell woke me, although it was still dark. I got dressed quickly in the bitter cold of the room, and washed when I could. There was only one basin for six girls. When the bell rang again, we all went downstairs, two by two, and silently entered the cold, badly lit schoolroom for prayers. As the bell rang a third time to indicate the beginning of lessons, the girls moved into four groups around four tables, and the teachers came into the room to start the Bible class. I was put in the bottom class. How glad I was when it was time for breakfast! I had hardly eaten anything the day before. But the only food served to us was porridge, which was burnt. It was so disgusting that we could not eat it, so we left the dining-room with empty stomachs. After breakfast came the one happy moment of the day, when the pupils could play and talk freely. We all complained bitterly about the uneatable breakfast. Lessons started again at nine o'clock and finished at twelve, when Miss Temple stood up to speak to the whole school.
'Girls, this morning you had a breakfast which you couldn't eat. You must be hungry, so I have ordered a lunch of bread and cheese for you all.' The teachers looked at her in surprise.
'Don't worry, I take responsibility for it,' she told them.
We were delighted, and all rushed out into the garden to eat our lunch. Nobody had taken any notice of me so far, but I did not mind that. I stood alone outside, watching some of the stronger girls playing, trying to forget the bitter cold, and thinking about my life. Gateshead and the Reed family seemed a long way away. I was not yet used to school life. And what sort of future could I look forward to?
As I wondered, I saw a girl near me reading a book. I felt brave enough to speak to her, since I too liked reading.
'Is your book interesting? What is it about?' I asked.
'Well, I like it,' she said after a pause, looking at me. 'Here, have a look at it.' I glanced quickly at it but found it too difficult to understand, so I gave it back.
'What sort of school is this?' I asked.
'It's called Lowood school. It's a charity school. We're all charity children, you see. I expect your parents are dead, aren't they? All the girls here have lost either one or both parents.'
'Don't we pay anything? Is the school free?' I asked.
'We pay, or our relations pay, $15 a year for each of us. That isn't enough, so some kind ladies and gentlemen in London pay the rest. That's why it's called a charity school.'
'Who is Mr. Brocklehurst?' was my next question.
'His mother built this part of the school. He's the manager, and looks after all financial matters. He lives in a large house near here.'
I did not see her again until during the afternoon lessons, when I noticed that she had been sent to stand alone in the middle of the schoolroom. I could not imagine what she had done to deserve such a punishment, but she did not look ashamed or unhappy. She was lost in thought, and did not seem to notice that everyone was looking at her.
'If that happened to me,' I thought, 'I would be so embarrassed!'
After lessons we had a small cup of coffee and half a piece of brown bread, then half an hour's play, then homework. Finally, after the evening biscuit and drink of water, we said prayers and went to bed. That was my first day at Lowood.
Making a friend
The next morning we got up in the dark as before, but the water was frozen, so we could not wash. It was freezing cold in all the rooms. This time the porridge was not burnt, but I still felt hungry, as the quantity was so small.
I stayed in the bottom class, but noticed the girl that I had been talking to was in another class. Her surname seemed to be Burns. Teachers called girls by their surnames in this school. Her class were studying history, and her teacher, Miss Scatcherd, appeared constantly annoyed by her.
'Burns, hold your head up, can't you!'
'Burns, don't stand like that!'
The history questions asked by Miss Scatcherd sounded very difficult, but Burns knew all the answers. I kept expecting the teacher to praise her, but instead she suddenly cried out:
'You dirty girl! You haven't washed your hands this morning!'
I was surprised that Burns did not explain that none of us could wash our faces or hands because the water had been frozen. Miss Scatcherd gave an order. Burns left the room and returned, carrying a stick. The teacher took it and hit Burns several times with it. The girl did not cry or change her expression.
'Wicked girl!' said Miss Scatcherd. 'Nothing will change your dirty habits!'
Later that day, during the play-hour, I found Burns alone by the fireside, reading the same book as before, and I started talking to her.
'What is the rest of your name?' I asked.
'Helen,' she replied.
'Do you want to leave Lowood?'
'No, why should I? I was sent to school here, so I must learn as much as I can.'
'But Miss Scatcherd is so cruel to you!' I burst out.
'Cruel? Not at all. She is strict and she sees my faults.'
'If I were you, I'd hate her,' I cried. 'If she hit me with a stick, I'd seize it and break it under her nose.'
'I don't think you would,' answered Helen quietly. 'And if you did, Mr Brocklehurst would send you away from school, and your relations would be upset. Anyway, the Bible tells us to do good, even if other people hurt us. Sometimes you have to put up with some hard things in life.'
I could not understand her ideas, but I had a feeling she might be right. I looked at her in wonder.
'You say you have faults, Helen. What are they? To me you seem very good.'
'You are wrong,' she answered. 'I'm untidy and careless and I forget the rules. I read when I should be doing my homework. You see, Miss Scatcherd is right to scold me.'
'Is Miss Temple as strict as that?' I asked.
A soft smile passed over Helen's normally serious face.
'Miss Temple is full of goodness. She gently tells me of my mistakes, and praises me if I do well. But even with her help I don't concentrate properly in class, I just dream away the time, and then I can't answer the teacher's questions.'
'But today in history you knew all the answers!' I said.
'I just happened to be interested, that's all,' she replied.
'I expect you are always interested in Miss Temple's lessons, because you like her and she is good to you. I'm like that. I love those who love me, and I hate those who punish me unfairly.'
'You should read the Bible and do what Christ says — people who believe in God should love their enemies,' said Helen.
'Then I should love Mrs. Reed and her son John, which is impossible,' I cried.
Helen asked me to explain what I meant, and listened carefully to the long story of what I had suffered at Gateshead.
'Well,' I asked impatiently at the end, 'isn't Mrs. Reed a bad woman? Don't you agree with me?'
'It's true she has been unkind to you, because she dislikes your faults, as Miss Scatcherd dislikes mine. But look how bitterly you remember every angry word! Wouldn't you be happier if you tried to forget her scolding? Life is too short to continue hating anyone for a long time. We all have faults, but the time will come soon when we die, when our wickedness will pass away with our bodies, leaving only the pure flame of the spirit. That's why I never think of revenge, I never consider life unfair. I live in calm, looking forward to the end.'
For a moment we both stayed silent. Then one of the big girls came up, calling, 'Helen Burns! Go and put away your work and tidy your drawer immediately, or I'll tell Miss Scatcherd!'
Helen sighed, and, getting up, silently obeyed.
Mr. Brocklehurst's visit and its results
It was difficult for me to get used to the school rules at Lowood, and to the hard physical conditions. In January, February and March there was deep snow, but we still had to spend an hour outside every day. We had no boots or gloves, and my hands and feet ached badly. We were growing children, and needed more food than was provided. Sometimes the big girls bullied us little ones and made us hand over our teatime bread or evening biscuit.
One afternoon, when I had been at Lowood for three weeks, a visitor arrived. All the teachers and pupils stood respectfully as he entered the schoolroom. I looked up. There, next to Miss Temple, stood the same black column which had frowned on me in the breakfast-room at Gateshead. I had been afraid he would come. I remembered only too well Mrs. Reed's description of my character, and the promise he had given her to warn teachers at Lowood about my wickedness. Now they would consider me a bad child for ever.
At first Mr. Brocklehurst spoke in a murmur to Miss Temple. I could just hear because I was at the front of the class.
'Tell the housekeeper she must count the needles, and only give out one at a time to the girls — they lose them so easily! And Miss Temple, please make sure the girls' stockings are mended more carefully. Some of them have a lot of holes.''
'I shall follow your instructions, sir,' said Miss Temple.
'And another thing which surprises me, I find that a lunch of bread and cheese has been served to the girls recently. Why is this? There is nothing about it in the rules! Who is responsible?'
'I myself, sir,' answered Miss Temple. «The breakfast was so badly cooked that the girls couldn't possibly eat it, so they were hungry.'
'Madam, listen to me for a moment. You know that I am trying to bring up these girls to be strong, patient and unselfish. If some little luxury is not available, do not replace it with something else, but tell them to be brave and suffer, like Christ Himself. Remember what the Bible says, man shall not live by bread alone, but by the word of God! Madam, when you put bread into these children's mouths, you feed their bodies but you starve their souls!'
Miss Temple did not reply. She looked straight in front of her, and her face was as cold and hard as marble. Mr Brocklehurst, on the other hand, now looked round at the girls, and almost jumped in surprise.
'Who — what is that girl with red hair, with curls, madam, with curls everywhere?'
'That is Julia Severn,' said Miss Temple quietly. 'Her hair curls naturally, you see.'
'Naturally! Yes, but it is God we obey, not nature! Miss Temple, that girl's hair must be cut off. I have said again and again that hair must be arranged modestly and plainly. I see other girls here with too much hair. Yes, I shall send someone tomorrow to cut all the girls' hair.'
'Mr. Brocklehurst...' began Miss Temple.
'No, Miss Temple, I insist. To please God these girls must have short, straight hair and plain, simple clothes...'
He was interrupted by the arrival of three ladies, who had unfortunately not heard his comments on dress and hair. They all wore the most expensive clothes and had beautiful, long, curly hair. I heard Miss Temple greet them as the wife and daughters of Mr. Brocklehurst.
I had hoped to hide my face behind my slate while Mr. Brocklehurst was talking, so that he would not recognize me, but suddenly the slate fell from my hand and broke in two on the hard floor. I knew only too well what would happen next.
'A careless girl!' said Mr. Brocklehurst quietly, almost to himself. 'The new girl, I see. I must not forget to say something to the whole school about her.' And then to me, aloud:
'Come here, child.'
I was too frightened to move, but two big girls pushed me towards him. Miss Temple whispered kindly in my ear:
'Don't be afraid, Jane. I saw it was an accident.' Her kindness touched me, but I knew that soon she would hear the lies about me, and then she would hate me!
'Put the child on that chair,' said Mr. Brocklehurst. Someone lifted me up on to a high chair, so that I was close to his nose. Frightened and shaking, I felt everyone's eyes on me.
'You see this girl?' began the black marble column. 'She is young, she looks like an ordinary child. Nothing about her tells you she is evil. But she is all wickedness! Children, don't talk to her, stay away from her. Teachers, watch her, punish her body to save her soul — if indeed she has a soul, because this child… I can hardly say it — this child is a liar!'
'How shocking!' said the two Brocklehurst daughters, each wiping a tear or two from their eyes.
'I learned this fact,' continued the great man, 'from Mrs. Reed, the kind lady who took care of her after her parents' death and brought her up as a member of the family. In the end Mrs. Reed was so afraid of this child's evil influence on her own children that she had to send her here. Teachers, watch her carefully!'
The Brocklehurst family stood up and moved slowly out of the schoolroom. At the door, my judge turned and said, 'She must stand half an hour longer on that chair, and nobody may speak to her for the rest of the day.'
So there I was, high up on the chair, publicly displayed as an ugly example of evil. Feelings of shame and anger boiled up inside me, but just as I felt I could not bear it any longer, Helen Burns walked past me and lifted her eyes to mine. Her look calmed me. What a smile she had! It was an intelligent, brave smile, lighting up her thin face and her tired grey eyes.
When all the girls left the schoolroom at five o'clock, I climbed down from the chair and sat on the floor. I no longer felt strong or calm, and I began to cry bitterly. I had wanted so much to make friends at Lowood, to be good, to deserve praise. Now nobody would believe me or perhaps even speak to me. Could I ever start a new life after this?
'Never!' I cried. 'I wish I were dead!' Just then Helen arrived, bringing my coffee and bread. I was too upset to eat or drink, but she sat with me for some time, talking gently to me, wiping away my tears, and helping me to recover. When Miss Temple came to look for me, she found us sitting quietly together.
'Come up to my room, both of you,' she said.
We went to her warm, comfortable room upstairs.
'Now tell me the truth, Jane,' she said. 'You have been accused, and you must have the chance to defend yourself.'
And so I told her the whole story of my lonely childhood with the Reed family, and of my terrible experience in the red room.
'I know Dr Lloyd, who saw you when you were ill,' she said. 'I'll write to him and see if he agrees with what you say. If he does, I shall publicly tell the school you are not a liar. I believe you now, Jane.' And she kissed me. She turned to Helen.
'How are you tonight, Helen? Have you coughed a lot today?'
'Not very much, ma'am.'
'And the pain in your chest?'
'It's a little better, I think.'
Miss Temple examined Helen carefully, and sighed a little. Then she gave us some tea and toast. For a while I felt I was in heaven, eating and drinking in the warm, pretty room, with kind Miss Temple and Helen.
But when we reached our bedroom, Miss Scatcherd was checking the drawers.
'Burns!' she said. 'Yours is far too untidy! Tomorrow, all day, you will wear a notice on your forehead saying UNTIDY!'
Helen said Miss Scatcherd was quite right, and wore the notice all the next day. But I was furious, and at the end of the afternoon, tore it off her head and threw it in the fire.
When Miss Temple received a letter from Dr Lloyd, agreeing that what I had said was true, she told the whole school that I had been wrongly accused and was not a liar. From that moment, I felt I was accepted, and set to work to learn as much as I could, and make as many friends as possible.
Learning to like school
Life at Lowood no longer seemed so hard, as spring approached. We enjoyed walking and playing in the surrounding countryside. But, with fog lying constantly in the valley, it was not a healthy place for a school, and by May more than half the girls were seriously ill with typhus fever. As a result of poor food and bad living conditions, many girls died.
While there was fear and death inside the school, the sun shone on the flowers outside, and on the flowing streams in the valleys. So I and the few who had escaped illness enjoyed the beautiful summer weather, with no lessons or discipline at all.
Helen Burns could not come walking with me, because she was ill, not with typhus but with tuberculosis. At first I had thought she would recover, but when I learned her illness was serious, I decided to visit her at night, for what might be the last time. I found her lying in bed, looking pale and weak.
'You've come to say goodbye,' she whispered, coughing. 'You are just in time. I'm going soon.'
'Where, Helen? Are you going home?' I asked.
'Yes, to my long home — my last home.'
'No, no, Helen!' I was crying at the thought of losing her.
'Jane, your feet are cold. Lie down with me and cover them with my blanket.' I did so. 'I am happy, Jane,' she continued. 'You mustn't cry. By dying young, I'll avoid suffering. I am going to heaven.'
'Does heaven really exist?' I asked.
'Yes, I'm sure of it. I'm sure our souls go there when we die,' she answered firmly. 'Will I see you again, Helen, when I die?'
'Yes, you will go to heaven too, Jane.'
I could not quite believe that heaven existed, and I held tightly to Helen. I did not want to let her go. We kissed goodnight and fell asleep. In the morning Miss Temple found me asleep, with Helen Burns dead in my arms. She was buried in the local churchyard.
Gradually the typhus fever left Lowood, but the number of deaths made the public aware of the poor conditions in which the pupils lived. Money was raised to build a new school in a better position, many improvements were made, and Mr. Brocklehurst lost his position as manager. So it became a really useful place of education. I stayed for eight more years, for the last two as a teacher. I was busy and happy all that time, relying greatly on the help and encouragement of my dear friend Miss Temple.
But when she married and moved to a distant part of the country, I decided it was the moment for me to change my life too. I realized I had never known any other world apart from Lowood or Gateshead. Suddenly I wanted freedom or at least a new master to serve. So I advertised in a newspaper for a job as a governess. When I received an answer from a Mrs. Fairfax, who wanted a governess for a girl under ten years old, I accepted, with the permission of the new headmistress of Lowood.
Thornfield and Mr. Rochester
Thornfield Hall was a large gentleman's house in the country, near a town called Millcote. There, after my sixteen-hour journey, I was welcomed by Mrs. Fairfax. She was a little old lady, dressed in black, who seemed glad to have someone else to talk to, apart from the servants. Although the house was dark and frightening, with its big rooms full of heavy furniture, I was excited at being in a new place, and looked forward to my new life there, working for kind Mrs. Fairfax.
But I was surprised to discover on my first full day at Thornfield that Mrs. Fairfax was not in fact the owner, as I had assumed, but the housekeeper, and that my new master was a Mr. Rochester, who was often away from home. My pupil was a girl called Adele, seven or eight years old, who was born in France and could hardly speak English. Luckily I had learnt French very well at Lowood, and had no difficulty in communicating with young Adele, a pretty, cheerful child. It appeared that Mr. Rochester, who had known Adele and her mother very well, had brought Adele back to England to live with him after her mother had died. I taught her for several hours every day in the library, although it was not easy to make her concentrate on anything for long, as she was clearly not used to the discipline of lessons.
One day I took the opportunity of asking Mrs. Fairfax a few questions about Mr. Rochester, as I was curious about him, and the little housekeeper seemed happy to talk.
'Is he liked by most people?' was my first question. 'Oh yes, his family have always been respected here. They've owned the land round here for years,' she replied.
'But do you like him? What is his character like?'
'I have always liked him, and I think he's a fair master to his servants. He's a little peculiar, perhaps. He's travelled a lot, you know. I expect he's clever, but I can't tell, really.'
'What do you mean, peculiar?' I asked, interested.
'It's not easy to describe. You're never sure whether he's serious or joking. You don't really understand him, at least I don't. But that doesn't matter, he's a very good master.'
I could get no further information from Mrs. Fairfax about Mr. Rochester, but instead she offered to show me round the whole house. We went through many large, impressive rooms, finally reaching the top floor, where there was a narrow corridor with several small black doors, all shut. I stopped to look at them, and thought for a moment they looked like prison doors, hiding evil secrets. No sooner had I turned away to go downstairs than I heard a strange, ghostly laugh.
'Mrs. Fairfax!' I called out, as the housekeeper was already on her way downstairs. 'Did you hear that laugh? Who is it?'
'It may be Grace Poole,' she answered calmly. 'She is paid to help the housemaid in her work, and always sews in one of those rooms.' I heard the laugh again. It did not sound human to me.
'Grace!' called Mrs. Fairfax. I did not expect anyone to answer, but in fact a door opened and a middle-aged woman appeared. She looked too plain and sensible to be a ghost.
'Too much noise, Grace,' said Mrs. Fairfax. 'Remember your instructions!' Grace nodded and went back into the room.
Several times in the next few months I went up to the top floor again, where I could look out of the high windows in the roof to see the surrounding countryside and be alone with my thoughts. I was very happy teaching pretty little Adele in the daytime, and talking to kind old Mrs. Fairfax in the evening, but I felt that something was missing from my life. I had dreams of a greater and better life, and above all, I wanted to do more. People are not always satisfied with a quiet life, and women as well as men need action.
While on the top floor I often heard Grace Poole's strange laugh, and sometimes I saw her too. She used to go silently in and out of the room with a plate of food or a glass of beer.
One day in January I had a free afternoon, as Adele was ill, so I decided to walk to Hay, a village two miles away, to post a letter for the housekeeper. It was a bright, frosty day, and I was enjoying the fresh air and the exercise. Stopping on the lonely road, I watched the sun go down in the trees behind Thornfield, and then in the silence I heard a horse approaching. Suddenly there was a crash as the horse slipped and fell on the ice, bringing down its rider. I ran to see if I could help the traveller, who was swearing furiously as he pulled himself free of his horse.
'Are you hurt, sir? Can I do anything?' I asked.
'Just stand back,' he growled, as he lifted himself painfully to his feet. Obviously his leg hurt him, and he sat down quickly.
'If you need help, sir, I can fetch someone either from Thornfield Hall or from Hay,' I offered.
'Thank you, but I don't need anyone. I haven't broken any bones,' he replied crossly. I could see him clearly in the moonlight. He was of medium height, with wide shoulders and a strong chest. He had a dark face, with angry-looking eyes, and was about thirty-five. If he had been a young, attractive gentleman, I would have been too shy to offer help, but as he was not handsome, and even quite rough, I felt I wanted to help him.
'I can't leave you, sir, so late on this lonely road, till I see you are fit enough to get on your horse,' I insisted.
He looked at me for the first time when I said this.
'I think you ought to be at home yourself,' he answered. 'Do you live near here?'
'In that house over there,' I said, 'and I'm not at all afraid of being out at night. I'm just going to Hay to post a letter, and I'll be happy to take a message for you.'
'You live in… in that house?' he asked, surprised, pointing to Thornfield Hall, which was lit up in the moonlight. 'Yes, sir,' I replied. 'Whose house is it?' he asked. 'Mr. Rochester's.'
'Do you know Mr. Rochester?' was his next question. 'No, I've never seen him,' I answered.
'You aren't a servant at Thornfield Hall, of course. You must be...'he hesitated, looking at my plain black dress. He seemed puzzled to know who I was, so I helped him. 'I am the governess.'
'Ah, the governess! I had forgotten?' He tried to get up but his leg was still hurting him badly. 'I don't want you to fetch help, but you could help me yourself, if you like.'
'Of course, sir,' I said. And so he leaned his weight on my shoulder and I helped him walk to his horse. In a moment he had jumped on to the horse's back. 'Thank you, now take your letter to Hay, then hurry home!' he called as he rode off into the distance. I walked on, glad to have helped someone, to have done something active for once. In my mind I saw that dark, strong face, and I still felt excited by our meeting. Even when I arrived back at Thornfield, I did not go in for a while. I did not want to go into the dark house, where I would spend the evening quietly with old Mrs Fairfax. So I stayed outside, staring up at the moon and the stars with a beating heart, wishing and dreaming of a different, more exciting life.
When I entered, the servants told me that Mr. Rochester had arrived, and that he had hurt his leg when his horse slipped on ice on the road to Hay.
Getting to Know Mr. Rochester
Thornfield Hall became quite busy the next day, now that the master had returned. People kept coming to visit him on business. I enjoyed the new, cheerful atmosphere. But I could not make Adele concentrate on her lessons because she was constantly talking about the presents Mr. Rochester had promised to bring her. That evening we were invited to have tea with him. I immediately recognized the traveller I had helped, with his dark hair and skin, his square forehead and his stern look. His leg was supported on a chair, but he made no effort to greet me when I entered. In fact, he neither spoke nor moved.
'Have you brought a present for Miss Eyre with you as well?' Adele asked him.
'A present? Who wants a present?' he said angrily. 'Did you expect a present, Miss Eyre? Do you like presents?'
'I haven't much experience of them, sir,' I answered. 'Anyway, I have no right to expect a present, as I haven't done anything to deserve one.'
'Don't be so modest! I've been talking to Adele. She's not very clever, but you've taught her well.'
'Sir, that is my present. That's what a teacher wants most, praise of her pupil's progress.'
Mr. Rochester drank his tea in silence. After tea, he called me closer to the fire, while Adele played with Mrs. Fairfax.
'Where were you before you came here?' he asked.
'I was at Lowood school, sir, for eight years.'
'Ah, yes, a charity school! Eight years! I'm surprised you lasted so long in such a place. There is something like magic in your face. When I met you on the road to Hay last night, I almost thought you had put a spell on my horse! I still wonder if you did. What about your parents?'
'They're dead. I don't remember them.'
'And your relations?'
'I have none.'
'Who recommended you to come here?'
'I advertised, and Mrs. Fairfax answered the advertisement.'
'Yes,' said the old housekeeper, 'and I thank God she did. She's a good teacher for Adele, and a kind friend to me.'
'Don't try to give her a good character, Mrs. Fairfax,' said Mr. Rochester sternly. 'She and her magic made my horse slip on the ice last night.'
Mrs. Fairfax looked puzzled and clearly did not understand. 'Miss Eyre,' continued Mr. Rochester, 'how old were you when you started at Lowood?'
'And you stayed there eight years, so you are now eighteen?' I nodded. 'I would never have been able to guess your age,' he went on. 'Now, what did you learn there? Can you play the piano? 'A little.'
'Of course, that's what all young women say. Go and play a tune on the piano in the library.' I did as he asked.
'That's enough!' he called after a few minutes. 'Yes, you do indeed play a little, just like any schoolgirl, better than some perhaps. Now, bring me your sketches.' I fetched them from my room. Having looked carefully at them, he chose three.
'These are interesting,' he said. 'You have only expressed the shadow of your ideas, because you aren't good enough at drawing or painting, but the ideas, where did they come from? Who taught you to draw wind, and space, and feeling? But put them away now, Miss Eyre. Do you realize it's nine o'clock? Adele should be in bed by now. Good night to you all.' Mr. Rochester's mood had suddenly changed, and he clearly wished to be alone.
Later that evening I talked to Mrs. Fairfax.
'You said Mr. Rochester was a little peculiar,' I said.
'Well, what do you think, Miss Eyre?'
'I think he is very peculiar, and quite rude.'
'He may seem like that to a stranger. I'm so used to him that I never notice it. And he has had family troubles, you know.'
'But he has no family,' I answered.
'Not now, that's true, but he did have an older brother, who died nine years ago.'
'Nine years is a long time. Surely he has recovered from losing his brother by now.'
'Well, there was a lot of bad feeling in the family. The father was very fond of money, and wanted to keep the family property together, so the elder brother inherited most of it. I don't know what happened, but I do know Mr. Edward (that's the master) quarrelled with his family. That's why he's travelled so much. When his brother died, he inherited Thornfield, but I'm not surprised he doesn't come here often.'
'Why should he stay away?' I asked, surprised.
'Perhaps he thinks it's a sad place. I really don't know.' It was clear that Mrs. Fairfax would not tell me any more.
One evening, a few days later, I was invited to talk to Mr. Rochester after dinner. At the far end of the room Adele was delightedly telling Mrs. Fairfax about the presents she had received. Mr. Rochester called me closer to the fire.
'I don't like the conversation of children or old ladies,' he murmured to me. 'But they are entertaining each other at the moment, so I can amuse myself.' Tonight he did not look so stern, and there was a softness in his fine, dark eyes. As I was looking at him, he suddenly turned and caught my look.
'Do you think I'm handsome, Miss Eyre?' he asked.
Normally I would have taken time to think, and said something polite, but somehow I answered at once, 'No, sir.'
'Ah, you really are unusual! You are a quiet, serious little person, but you can be almost rude.'
'Sir, I'm sorry. I should have said that beauty doesn't matter, or something like that.'
'No, you shouldn't! I see, you criticize my appearance, and then you stab me in the back! All right, tell me. What is wrong with my appearance?'
'Mr. Rochester, I didn't intend to criticize you.'
'Well, now you can. Look at my head. Do you think I am intelligent?' He pointed to his huge, square forehead.
'I do, sir. Is it rude to ask if you are also good?'
'Stabbing me again! Just because I said I didn't like talking to old ladies and children! Well, young lady, I wanted to be good when I was younger, but life has been a struggle for me, and I've become as hard and tough as a rubber ball. I only have a little goodness left inside.' He was speaking rather excitedly, and I thought perhaps he had been drinking. 'Miss Eyre, you look puzzled. Tonight I want conversation. It's your turn. Speak.'
I said nothing, but smiled coldly.
'I'm sorry if I'm rude, Miss Eyre. But I'm twenty years older, and more experienced, than you. Don't you think I have the right to command you?'
'No, sir, not just because you're older and more experienced than me. You would have the right only if you'd made good use of your experience of life.'
'I don't accept that, as I've made very bad use of my experience! But will you agree to obey my orders anyway?'
I thought, 'He is peculiar, he's forgotten that he's paying me $30 a year to obey his orders,' and I said, 'Not many masters bother to ask if their servants are offended by their orders:
'Of course! I'd forgotten that I pay you a salary! So will you agree because of the salary?'
'No, sir, not because of that, but because you forgot about it, and because you care whether a servant of yours is comfortable or not, I gladly agree.'
'You have honesty and feeling. There are not many girls like you. But perhaps I go too fast. Perhaps you have awful faults to counterbalance your few good points.'
'And perhaps you have too,' I thought.
He seemed to read my mind, and said quickly, 'Yes, you're right. I have plenty of faults. I went the wrong way when I was twenty-one, and have never found the right path again. I might have been very different. I might have been as good as you, and perhaps wiser. I am not a bad man, take my word for it, but I have done wrong. It wasn't my character, but circumstances which were to blame. Why do I tell you all this? Because you're the sort of person people tell their problems and secrets to, because you're sympathetic and give them hope.'
'Do you think so, sir?'
'I do. You see, when life was difficult, I became desperate, and now all I have is regret.'
'Asking forgiveness might cure it, sir.'
'No, it won't. What I really should do is change my character, and I still could but — it's difficult. And if I can't have happiness, I want pleasure, even if it's wrong.'
'Pleasure may taste bitter, sir.'
'How do you know, a pure young thing like you? You have no experience of life and its problems. But I will try to lead a better life.'
I stood up. The conversation was becoming hard to follow.
'I must put Adele to bed now,' I said.
'Don't be afraid of me, Miss Eyre. You don't relax or laugh very much, perhaps because of the effect Lowood school has had on you. But in time you will be more natural with me, and laugh, and speak freely. You're like a restless bird in a cage. When you get out of the cage, you'll fly very high. Good night.'
Mr. Rochester's past
Soon I discovered what Mr. Rochester meant when he said he had done wrong. One afternoon, while walking in the gardens of Thornfield, he told me the story of his love-affair in Paris with a French dancer, Celine.
'Yes, Miss Eyre, I was young and foolish then. I was so in love with her that I rented a house and hired servants for her. I gave her a carriage and jewels, in fact I threw away a fortune on her, just like any fool in love. One evening I visited her but found she was out, so I waited on her balcony, smoking a cigar. I heard her carriage arriving. Imagine my horror at seeing her step out followed by a man! You're so young, you've never felt love or jealousy, have you, Miss Eyre? You are floating along a quiet river now, you don't see the water boiling at the foot of the great rocks, but one day you'll come to a point in life's stream where the wild force of the waves may destroy you, where the noisy rushing water may drown you! I am calm enough now, calm enough to like living here at Thornfield. I like it because it's old, and grey, and dark, and yet I hate — ' He did not finish what he was saying, staring angrily up at the windows on the top floor of his house. It was a look of disgust, pain and shame. I could not understand what he meant, and wanted to hear more about Celine, so I encouraged him to finish the story.
'What happened when she entered the house, sir?'
'Oh, I'd forgotten Celine! By the way, it's strange my telling you all this, but I know my secret's safe with you, and I know, too, that it can't have an evil influence on you — your mind's too strong for that. Yes, I listened to her conversation with her lover, an elegant young fool, and I knew I was no longer in love with her. So I walked into the room, told her our relationship was over, and challenged her lover to fight me. Next day I shot him in the arm during our fight, thought that was the end of the whole thing, and left France. But a few months before, Celine had had a baby girl, Adele, and she claimed that Adele was my child. She may be, although I doubt it. So when, a few years later, Celine abandoned Adele and ran away to Italy with a singer, I went to Paris and brought Adele back to grow up in England.'
I felt proud that Mr. Rochester had trusted me with the story of his past life. I thought a lot about his character, and although I was aware of his faults, I also saw his goodness and kindness to me. From now on, my happiest moments were spent with him. I could not have imagined a better companion.
One night I was woken by a slight noise. I felt sure someone was outside my bedroom door. As I hurried to lock it, I called, 'Who's there?' There was a strange, inhuman sound, then I heard a door shut upstairs on the top floor. 'Was that Grace Poole?' I wondered, trembling. My curiosity made me open the door, and I found the corridor full of smoke. I saw it was coming from Mr. Rochester's door, which was slightly open. I completely forgot my fears and rushed into his room. He lay fast asleep, surrounded by flames and smoke. Even his sheets were on fire.
'Wake up! Wake up!' I shouted desperately, throwing water over him to put out the flames. Not until the fire was almost out did he wake up, swearing to find himself so wet.
'Is there a flood?' he cried. 'No, sir,' I answered, 'but there's been a fire.'
'Jane Eyre, is it you and your magic?' he asked. 'Have you put a spell on me again? Did you intend to drown me this time?'
'Please get up, sir. Someone has plotted to kill you!' and I explained what I had heard and how I had put out the fire. He looked very serious, and thought for a few seconds.
'Shall I fetch Mrs. Fairfax, sir, or the servants?' I asked. 'No, why bother them? Just stay here for a moment. I'm going up to the top floor. Don't call anyone. I'll be back soon.'
I waited, cold and tired, in his room for what seemed a very long time. Then I saw the light of his candle approaching through the darkness, and he appeared, looking pale and depressed.
'Did you see anything when you opened your bedroom door?' he asked, glancing sharply at me.
'No, sir, only a candle on the floor.'
'But you heard a strange laugh, did you say?'
'Yes, I've heard it before. Grace Poole laughs like that.'
'That's it. It must have been Grace Poole. You've guessed it. I shall consider what to do about it. But meanwhile I'm glad you're the only person who knows anything about all this. Say nothing to anybody else, and now, go back to your own room.'
'Good night, then, sir,' I said, moving towards the door. 'What! Are you leaving me already!?' he said, seeming surprised, although he had just told me to go, 'and so coldly?'
'You said I should go, sir.'
'But not without saying goodbye, not without a kind word or two. Why, you've saved my life. I hate being in debt to anyone, but with you it's different, Jane. I'm happy to owe you my life.' His voice was trembling as he took both my hands in his. 'I knew, when I first saw you, that you would do me good. I saw it in your eyes when I met you. I was right to like your smile and the magic in your face.' There was energy in his voice and a strange light in his eyes.
'I'm glad I happened to be awake,' I said, 'but I must go now. I'm cold.' I knew I could not control my feelings much longer, and I needed time to think. But he still held on to my hands. Then I thought of a way of escaping.
'I think I hear the servants moving, sir,' I said.
'Well, leave me,' he said, and let me go. That night, or what was left of it, I could not sleep. My mind was full of confusing pictures and disturbed emotions.
The mystery of Grace Poole
After this sleepless night I was eager to see Mr. Rochester in the morning, but there was no sign of him. He had obviously told the servants that he had accidentally set fire to his room by knocking over a lighted candle. As I passed his bedroom, I saw Grace Poole sitting inside, calmly mending the curtains. She certainly did not look desperate or mad enough to have tried to murder her master. But I decided to investigate.
'Good morning, Grace,' I said, entering the room. 'Tell me, what happened last night? The servants are talking about it.'
'Good morning, miss,' she replied, looking up innocently. 'Well, master was reading in bed and fell asleep, so he must have knocked the candle over. It set fire to the sheets, but luckily he managed to put the flames out with some water.'
'How strange!' I said quietly. 'Didn't anybody hear what was happening?' At this, she seemed to examine me carefully.