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Chapter 6


CHAPTER VI


The next day commenced as before, getting up and dressing by
rushlight; but this morning we were obliged to dispense with the
ceremony of washing; the water in the pitchers was frozen.  A change
had taken place in the weather the preceding evening, and a keen
north-east wind, whistling through the crevices of our bedroom
windows all night long, had made us shiver in our beds, and turned
the contents of the ewers to ice.

Before the long hour and a half of prayers and Bible-reading was
over, I felt ready to perish with cold.  Breakfast-time came at
last, and this morning the porridge was not burnt; the quality was
eatable, the quantity small.  How small my portion seemed!  I wished
it had been doubled.

In the course of the day I was enrolled a member of the fourth
class, and regular tasks and occupations were assigned me:
hitherto, I had only been a spectator of the proceedings at Lowood;
I was now to become an actor therein.  At first, being little
accustomed to learn by heart, the lessons appeared to me both long
and difficult; the frequent change from task to task, too,
bewildered me; and I was glad when, about three o'clock in the
afternoon, Miss Smith put into my hands a border of muslin two yards
long, together with needle, thimble, &c., and sent me to sit in a
quiet corner of the schoolroom, with directions to hem the same.  At
that hour most of the others were sewing likewise; but one class
still stood round Miss Scatcherd's chair reading, and as all was
quiet, the subject of their lessons could be heard, together with
the manner in which each girl acquitted herself, and the
animadversions or commendations of Miss Scatcherd on the
performance.  It was English history:  among the readers I observed
my acquaintance of the verandah:  at the commencement of the lesson,
her place had been at the top of the class, but for some error of
pronunciation, or some inattention to stops, she was suddenly sent
to the very bottom.  Even in that obscure position, Miss Scatcherd
continued to make her an object of constant notice:  she was
continually addressing to her such phrases as the following:-

"Burns" (such it seems was her name:  the girls here were all called
by their surnames, as boys are elsewhere), "Burns, you are standing
on the side of your shoe; turn your toes out immediately."  "Burns,
you poke your chin most unpleasantly; draw it in."  "Burns, I insist
on your holding your head up; I will not have you before me in that
attitude," &c. &c.

A chapter having been read through twice, the books were closed and
the girls examined.  The lesson had comprised part of the reign of
Charles I., and there were sundry questions about tonnage and
poundage and ship-money, which most of them appeared unable to
answer; still, every little difficulty was solved instantly when it
reached Burns:  her memory seemed to have retained the substance of
the whole lesson, and she was ready with answers on every point.  I
kept expecting that Miss Scatcherd would praise her attention; but,
instead of that, she suddenly cried out -

"You dirty, disagreeable girl! you have never cleaned your nails
this morning!"

Burns made no answer:  I wondered at her silence.  "Why," thought I,
"does she not explain that she could neither clean her nails nor
wash her face, as the water was frozen?"

My attention was now called off by Miss Smith desiring me to hold a
skein of thread:  while she was winding it, she talked to me from
time to time, asking whether I had ever been at school before,
whether I could mark, stitch, knit, &c.; till she dismissed me, I
could not pursue my observations on Miss Scatcherd's movements.
When I returned to my seat, that lady was just delivering an order
of which I did not catch the import; but Burns immediately left the
class, and going into the small inner room where the books were
kept, returned in half a minute, carrying in her hand a bundle of
twigs tied together at one end.  This ominous tool she presented to
Miss Scatcherd with a respectful curtesy; then she quietly, and
without being told, unloosed her pinafore, and the teacher instantly
and sharply inflicted on her neck a dozen strokes with the bunch of
twigs.  Not a tear rose to Burns' eye; and, while I paused from my
sewing, because my fingers quivered at this spectacle with a
sentiment of unavailing and impotent anger, not a feature of her
pensive face altered its ordinary expression.

"Hardened girl!" exclaimed Miss Scatcherd; "nothing can correct you
of your slatternly habits:  carry the rod away."

Burns obeyed:  I looked at her narrowly as she emerged from the
book-closet; she was just putting back her handkerchief into her
pocket, and the trace of a tear glistened on her thin cheek.

The play-hour in the evening I thought the pleasantest fraction of
the day at Lowood:  the bit of bread, the draught of coffee
swallowed at five o'clock had revived vitality, if it had not
satisfied hunger:  the long restraint of the day was slackened; the
schoolroom felt warmer than in the morning--its fires being allowed
to burn a little more brightly, to supply, in some measure, the
place of candles, not yet introduced:  the ruddy gloaming, the
licensed uproar, the confusion of many voices gave one a welcome
sense of liberty.

On the evening of the day on which I had seen Miss Scatcherd flog
her pupil, Burns, I wandered as usual among the forms and tables and
laughing groups without a companion, yet not feeling lonely:  when I
passed the windows, I now and then lifted a blind, and looked out;
it snowed fast, a drift was already forming against the lower panes;
putting my ear close to the window, I could distinguish from the
gleeful tumult within, the disconsolate moan of the wind outside.

Probably, if I had lately left a good home and kind parents, this
would have been the hour when I should most keenly have regretted
the separation; that wind would then have saddened my heart; this
obscure chaos would have disturbed my peace! as it was, I derived
from both a strange excitement, and reckless and feverish, I wished
the wind to howl more wildly, the gloom to deepen to darkness, and
the confusion to rise to clamour.

Jumping over forms, and creeping under tables, I made my way to one
of the fire-places; there, kneeling by the high wire fender, I found
Burns, absorbed, silent, abstracted from all round her by the
companionship of a book, which she read by the dim glare of the
embers.

"Is it still 'Rasselas'?" I asked, coming behind her.

"Yes," she said, "and I have just finished it."

And in five minutes more she shut it up.  I was glad of this.
"Now," thought I, "I can perhaps get her to talk."  I sat down by
her on the floor.

"What is your name besides Burns?"

"Helen."

"Do you come a long way from here?"

"I come from a place farther north, quite on the borders of
Scotland."

"Will you ever go back?"

"I hope so; but nobody can be sure of the future."

"You must wish to leave Lowood?"

"No! why should I?  I was sent to Lowood to get an education; and it
would be of no use going away until I have attained that object."

"But that teacher, Miss Scatcherd, is so cruel to you?"

"Cruel?  Not at all!  She is severe:  she dislikes my faults."

"And if I were in your place I should dislike her; I should resist
her.  If she struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand;
I should break it under her nose."

"Probably you would do nothing of the sort:  but if you did, Mr.
Brocklehurst would expel you from the school; that would be a great
grief to your relations.  It is far better to endure patiently a
smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action
whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you; and
besides, the Bible bids us return good for evil."

"But then it seems disgraceful to be flogged, and to be sent to
stand in the middle of a room full of people; and you are such a
great girl:  I am far younger than you, and I could not bear it."

"Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it:
it is weak and silly to say you CANNOT BEAR what it is your fate to
be required to bear."

I heard her with wonder:  I could not comprehend this doctrine of
endurance; and still less could I understand or sympathise with the
forbearance she expressed for her chastiser.  Still I felt that
Helen Burns considered things by a light invisible to my eyes.  I
suspected she might be right and I wrong; but I would not ponder the
matter deeply; like Felix, I put it off to a more convenient season.

"You say you have faults, Helen:  what are they?  To me you seem
very good."

"Then learn from me, not to judge by appearances:  I am, as Miss
Scatcherd said, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things, in
order; I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my
lessons; I have no method; and sometimes I say, like you, I cannot
BEAR to be subjected to systematic arrangements.  This is all very
provoking to Miss Scatcherd, who is naturally neat, punctual, and
particular."

"And cross and cruel," I added; but Helen Burns would not admit my
addition:  she kept silence.

"Is Miss Temple as severe to you as Miss Scatcherd?"

At the utterance of Miss Temple's name, a soft smile flitted over
her grave face.

"Miss Temple is full of goodness; it pains her to be severe to any
one, even the worst in the school:  she sees my errors, and tells me
of them gently; and, if I do anything worthy of praise, she gives me
my meed liberally.  One strong proof of my wretchedly defective
nature is, that even her expostulations, so mild, so rational, have
not influence to cure me of my faults; and even her praise, though I
value it most highly, cannot stimulate me to continued care and
foresight."

"That is curious," said I, "it is so easy to be careful."

"For YOU I have no doubt it is.  I observed you in your class this
morning, and saw you were closely attentive:  your thoughts never
seemed to wander while Miss Miller explained the lesson and
questioned you.  Now, mine continually rove away; when I should be
listening to Miss Scatcherd, and collecting all she says with
assiduity, often I lose the very sound of her voice; I fall into a
sort of dream.  Sometimes I think I am in Northumberland, and that
the noises I hear round me are the bubbling of a little brook which
runs through Deepden, near our house;--then, when it comes to my
turn to reply, I have to be awakened; and having heard nothing of
what was read for listening to the visionary brook, I have no answer
ready."

"Yet how well you replied this afternoon."

"It was mere chance; the subject on which we had been reading had
interested me.  This afternoon, instead of dreaming of Deepden, I
was wondering how a man who wished to do right could act so unjustly
and unwisely as Charles the First sometimes did; and I thought what
a pity it was that, with his integrity and conscientiousness, he
could see no farther than the prerogatives of the crown.  If he had
but been able to look to a distance, and see how what they call the
spirit of the age was tending!  Still, I like Charles--I respect
him--I pity him, poor murdered king!  Yes, his enemies were the
worst:  they shed blood they had no right to shed.  How dared they
kill him!"

Helen was talking to herself now:  she had forgotten I could not
very well understand her--that I was ignorant, or nearly so, of the
subject she discussed.  I recalled her to my level.

"And when Miss Temple teaches you, do your thoughts wander then?"

"No, certainly, not often; because Miss Temple has generally
something to say which is newer than my own reflections; her
language is singularly agreeable to me, and the information she
communicates is often just what I wished to gain."

"Well, then, with Miss Temple you are good?"

"Yes, in a passive way:  I make no effort; I follow as inclination
guides me.  There is no merit in such goodness."

"A great deal:  you are good to those who are good to you.  It is
all I ever desire to be.  If people were always kind and obedient to
those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all
their own way:  they would never feel afraid, and so they would
never alter, but would grow worse and worse.  When we are struck at
without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure
we should--so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do
it again."

"You will change your mind, I hope, when you grow older:  as yet you
are but a little untaught girl."

"But I feel this, Helen; I must dislike those who, whatever I do to
please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish
me unjustly.  It is as natural as that I should love those who show
me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved."

"Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine, but Christians and
civilised nations disown it."

"How?  I don't understand."

"It is not violence that best overcomes hate--nor vengeance that
most certainly heals injury."

"What then?"

"Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how He
acts; make His word your rule, and His conduct your example."

"What does He say?"

"Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that
hate you and despitefully use you."

"Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her
son John, which is impossible."

In her turn, Helen Burns asked me to explain, and I proceeded
forthwith to pour out, in my own way, the tale of my sufferings and
resentments.  Bitter and truculent when excited, I spoke as I felt,
without reserve or softening.

Helen heard me patiently to the end:  I expected she would then make
a remark, but she said nothing.

"Well," I asked impatiently, "is not Mrs. Reed a hard-hearted, bad
woman?"

"She has been unkind to you, no doubt; because you see, she dislikes
your cast of character, as Miss Scatcherd does mine; but how
minutely you remember all she has done and said to you!  What a
singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your
heart!  No ill-usage so brands its record on my feelings.  Would you
not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with
the passionate emotions it excited?  Life appears to me too short to
be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.  We are, and
must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world:  but the
time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting
off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from
us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the
spirit will remain,--the impalpable principle of light and thought,
pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature:  whence it
came it will return; perhaps again to be communicated to some being
higher than man--perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, from
the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph!  Surely it will
never, on the contrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend?
No; I cannot believe that:  I hold another creed:  which no one ever
taught me, and which I seldom mention; but in which I delight, and
to which I cling:  for it extends hope to all:  it makes Eternity a
rest--a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss.  Besides, with this
creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his
crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last:
with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never
too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low:  I live
in calm, looking to the end."

Helen's head, always drooping, sank a little lower as she finished
this sentence.  I saw by her look she wished no longer to talk to
me, but rather to converse with her own thoughts.  She was not
allowed much time for meditation:  a monitor, a great rough girl,
presently came up, exclaiming in a strong Cumberland accent -

"Helen Burns, if you don't go and put your drawer in order, and fold
up your work this minute, I'll tell Miss Scatcherd to come and look
at it!"

Helen sighed as her reverie fled, and getting up, obeyed the monitor
without reply as without delay.


Charlotte Bronte