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Chapter 8


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.


Charlotte Bronte