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Chapter 1


CHAPTER I


There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.  We had been
wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning;
but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early)
the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a
rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of
the question.

I was glad of it:  I never liked long walks, especially on chilly
afternoons:  dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight,
with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings
of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my
physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their
mama in the drawing-room:  she lay reclined on a sofa by the
fireside, and with her darlings about her (for the time neither
quarrelling nor crying) looked perfectly happy.  Me, she had
dispensed from joining the group; saying, "She regretted to be under
the necessity of keeping me at a distance; but that until she heard
from Bessie, and could discover by her own observation, that I was
endeavouring in good earnest to acquire a more sociable and
childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner--
something lighter, franker, more natural, as it were--she really
must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy,
little children."

"What does Bessie say I have done?" I asked.

"Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is
something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that
manner.  Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly,
remain silent."

A  breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there.  It
contained a bookcase:  I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking
care that it should be one stored with pictures.  I mounted into the
window-seat:  gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk;
and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined
in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the
left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating
me from the drear November day.  At intervals, while turning over
the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter
afternoon.  Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a
scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping
away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

I returned to my book--Bewick's History of British Birds:  the
letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet
there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could
not pass quite as a blank.  They were those which treat of the
haunts of sea-fowl; of "the solitary rocks and promontories" by them
only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its
southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape -


"Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides."


Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of
Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with
"the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of
dreary space,--that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields
of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine
heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the
multiplied rigours of extreme cold."  Of these death-white realms I
formed an idea of my own:  shadowy, like all the half-comprehended
notions that float dim through children's brains, but strangely
impressive.  The words in these introductory pages connected
themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to
the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the
broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly
moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.

I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary churchyard,
with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low
horizon, girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent,
attesting the hour of eventide.

The two ships becalmed on a torpid sea, I believed to be marine
phantoms.

The fiend pinning down the thief's pack behind him, I passed over
quickly:  it was an object of terror.

So was the black horned thing seated aloof on a rock, surveying a
distant crowd surrounding a gallows.

Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped
understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly
interesting:  as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated
on winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour; and when,
having brought her ironing-table to the nursery hearth, she allowed
us to sit about it, and while she got up Mrs. Reed's lace frills,
and crimped her nightcap borders, fed our eager attention with
passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales and other
ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of
Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland.

With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy:  happy at least in my way.
I feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon.  The
breakfast-room door opened.

"Boh!  Madam Mope!" cried the voice of John Reed; then he paused:
he found the room apparently empty.

"Where the dickens is she!" he continued.  "Lizzy!  Georgy! (calling
to his sisters) Joan is not here:  tell mama she is run out into the
rain--bad animal!"

"It is well I drew the curtain," thought I; and I wished fervently
he might not discover my hiding-place:  nor would John Reed have
found it out himself; he was not quick either of vision or
conception; but Eliza just put her head in at the door, and said at
once -

"She is in the window-seat, to be sure, Jack."

And I came out immediately, for I trembled at the idea of being
dragged forth by the said Jack.

"What do you want?" I asked, with awkward diffidence.

"Say, 'What do you want, Master Reed?'" was the answer.  "I want you
to come here;" and seating himself in an arm-chair, he intimated by
a gesture that I was to approach and stand before him.

John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older
than I, for I was but ten:  large and stout for his age, with a
dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage,
heavy limbs and large extremities.  He gorged himself habitually at
table, which made him bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye
and flabby cheeks.  He ought now to have been at school; but his
mama had taken him home for a month or two, "on account of his
delicate health."  Mr. Miles, the master, affirmed that he would do
very well if he had fewer cakes and sweetmeats sent him from home;
but the mother's heart turned from an opinion so harsh, and inclined
rather to the more refined idea that John's sallowness was owing to
over-application and, perhaps, to pining after home.

John had not much affection for his mother and sisters, and an
antipathy to me.  He bullied and punished me; not two or three times
in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually:  every
nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank
when he came near.  There were moments when I was bewildered by the
terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either
his menaces or his inflictions; the servants did not like to offend
their young master by taking my part against him, and Mrs. Reed was
blind and deaf on the subject:  she never saw him strike or heard
him abuse me, though he did both now and then in her very presence,
more frequently, however, behind her back.

Habitually obedient to John, I came up to his chair:  he spent some
three minutes in thrusting out his tongue at me as far as he could
without damaging the roots:  I knew he would soon strike, and while
dreading the blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of
him who would presently deal it.  I wonder if he read that notion in
my face; for, all at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and
strongly.  I tottered, and on regaining my equilibrium retired back
a step or two from his chair.

"That is for your impudence in answering mama awhile since," said
he, "and for your sneaking way of getting behind curtains, and for
the look you had in your eyes two minutes since, you rat!"

Accustomed to John Reed's abuse, I never had an idea of replying to
it; my care was how to endure the blow which would certainly follow
the insult.

"What were you doing behind the curtain?" he asked.

"I was reading."

"Show the book."

I returned to the window and fetched it thence.

"You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama
says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to
beg, and not to live here with gentlemen's children like us, and eat
the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama's expense.  Now,
I'll teach you to rummage my bookshelves:  for they ARE mine; all
the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years.  Go and stand by
the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows."

I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw
him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I
instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm:  not soon enough,
however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my
head against the door and cutting it.  The cut bled, the pain was
sharp:  my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.

"Wicked and cruel boy!" I said.  "You are like a murderer--you are
like a slave-driver--you are like the Roman emperors!"

I had read Goldsmith's History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of
Nero, Caligula, &c.  Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I
never thought thus to have declared aloud.

"What! what!" he cried.  "Did she say that to me?  Did you hear her,
Eliza and Georgiana?  Won't I tell mama? but first--"

He ran headlong at me:  I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder:
he had closed with a desperate thing.  I really saw in him a tyrant,
a murderer.  I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down
my neck, and was sensible of somewhat pungent suffering:  these
sensations for the time predominated over fear, and I received him
in frantic sort.  I don't very well know what I did with my hands,
but he called me "Rat!  Rat!" and bellowed out aloud.  Aid was near
him:  Eliza and Georgiana had run for Mrs. Reed, who was gone
upstairs:  she now came upon the scene, followed by Bessie and her
maid Abbot.  We were parted:  I heard the words -

"Dear! dear!  What a fury to fly at Master John!"

"Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion!"

Then Mrs. Reed subjoined -

"Take her away to the red-room, and lock her in there."  Four hands
were immediately laid upon me, and I was borne upstairs.


Charlotte Bronte