Jane Eyre (Chapter 3)
Một Bài Học Hóc Búa
Học kỳ một của tôi ở Lowood trôi qua như dài một thế hệ .Tôi hết sức khó khăn trong việc làm quen với những luật lệ mới và những bài học, nhưng nỗi lo sợ thất bại triền miên của tôi cứ làm tôi lo lắng nhiều hơn cả công việc nhọc nhằn hằng ngày.
Suốt tháng giêng, tháng hai và một phần tháng ba, lớp tuyết dày đã giữ chúng tôi ở trong khuôn viên nhà trường, trừ khi chúng tôi đi nhà thờ.Nhưng hằng ngày, chúng tôi phải trải qua một giờ ở ngoài trời và áo quần chúng tôi không đủ ấm để chống chọi với cái rét ghê hồn. Tuyết lọt vào trong giày của chúng tôi, tan ra, cả bàn chân , bàn tay đầy những chỗ sưng nhức nhối.
Tôi nhớ qúa rõ nỗi đau đớn và giận dữ tôi đã chịu đựng mỗi tối khi hai bàn chân mình bị sưng tấy lên và sự khốn khổ phải chuồi mấy ngón chân sưng nhức vào giày mỗi buổi sáng. Rồi thì sự thiếu ăn là một nỗi khổ triền miên, và việc này lại phát sinh ra cái tệ nạn bọn con gái lớn dụ dỗ , dọa dẫm bọn nhỏ sớt bớt phần ăn cho chúng, mặc dù khẩu phần của chúng đã ít ỏi. Nhiều lần tôi đã chứng kiến mẩu bánh mì qúy giá của tôi được chia cho hai đứa lớn, một nửa bình cà phê đứa thứ ba uống, tôi chỉ ăn chút ít còn lại, và chỉ biết khóc thầm mà thôi.
Chủ nhật là những ngày buồn thảm vào mùa đông. Chúng tôi phải đi bộ hai dặm đường để đến nhà thờ Brocklebridge, ở đây người bảo trợ chúng tôi là một mục sư.Chúng tôi bước ra là thấy lạnh, đến nhà thờ càng lạnh hơn sau khi đã đi bộ trên tuyết, và hầu như bị tê cóng vì lạnh suốt thời gian dài làm lễ.
Đường đi qúa xa nên không thể về đúng giữa trưa để ăn, cho nên chúng tôi phải ăn thịt và bánh mì nguội đợi đến bữa ăn chiều.
Xế chiều, chúng tôi phải đi bộ về trường trên con đường đồi lạnh lẽo. Tôi cứ nhớ cô Temple, áo choàng bị gió lạnh đánh phần phật, đi nhanh nhẹn giữa đoàn nữ sinh đang lom khom bước, cô cố động viên chúng tôi giữ vững tinh thần. Các giáo viên khác, thật khốn khổ, lại đi sát vào nhau để vui chân.
Chúng tôi mơ ước biết bao ánh sáng và hơi ấm của lò lửa bập bùng khi trở về! Nhưng điều này thật khó cho học sinh nhỏ, vì mỗi lò sưởi đều có các cô lớn ngồi quanh hai hàng rồi.
Một buổi chiều khi tôi đã ở Lowood được ba tuần , tôi đang ngồi với cái bảng đen trên tay, đang bối rối trước một bài toán chia dài thì tôi chợt thấy một bóng người đi ngang ngoài cửa sổ. Đó là ông Brocklehurst. Phút chốc , ông đã vào trong phòng học, đứng bên cạnh cô Temple, cũng cái dáng người cao ấy đã nghiêng người lên tôi ở Gateshead.
Tôi có lý do riêng để sợ chuyến đến viếng thăm này. Tôi sợ bất kỳ một phát hiện nào về qúa khứ của tôi trong trường hợp ông tố cáo tôi là một đứa trẻ xấu. Hình như tôi nghe được chuyện ông đang nói với cô Temple( cô đang ngồi ở gần cửa lớn), cho nên thoạt tiên tôi thấy yên ổn phần nào.
Ông Brocklehurst nói:
– Cô Temple à, khi tôi đến đây vừa rồi, tôi đã ra vườn sau và xem xét áo quần đang phơi trên dây. Nhiều đôi bít tất đen ở trong tình trạng tồi tệ khó chữa, do các lỗ thủng khá lớn , tôi e rằng chúng không cách gì vá mạng lại được.
Ông dừng lại. Cô Temple trả lời:
– Thưa ngài, chúng sẽ được điều chỉnh lại.
Ông Brocklehurst tiếp:
– Có điều khác nữa khiến tôi ngạc nhiên là khi coi lại sổ sách kế toán của quản gia, tôi thấy có một bữa ăn bánh mì và phó mát đã được dọn thêm lần thứ hai cho các cháu cách đây hai tuần. Ai cho phép làm việc này và ai ra lệnh vậy?
Cô Temple đáp:
– Thưa ngài, tôi xin chịu trách nhiệm việc này. Cháo nấu qúa cháy , các em không thể ăn được.
– Xin cô nghe cho. Cô biết là kế hoạch của tôi là làm cho những đứa nhỏ này biết kham khổ và biết kiên nhẫn, tự chế – không khuyến khích chúng sống xa hoa và tự mãn. Một sự nản chí nhỏ nhặt nào, như là làm hỏng một bữa ăn, đều là cơ hội để chúng ta giáo dục tinh thần cho chúng, dạy chúng có nghị lực để chống chọi với gian khổ. Ôi, thưa cô, khi cô cho chúng ăn bánh mì và pho- mát thay cho cháo cháy, thì cô đã nuôi nấng cái cơ thể khốn khổ của chúng, nhưng cô ít nghĩ đến việc cô đã bỏ đói linh hồn bất diệt của chúng cho đến chết!
Ông Brocklehurst lại ngưng nói , có lẽ vì ông qúa xúc động. Cô Temple nhìn thẳng trước mặt , môi cô mím chặt , mắt nghiêm nghị
Bỗng ông Brocklehurst tiếp tục, lần này ông nói nhanh:
– Này cô Temple, sao, sao cháu kia lại được phép uốn tóc? Cô tóc đỏ ấy, tóc uốn lên phải không? – ông hỏi.
Tay ông run rẩy khi chỉ cô gái.
Rất bình tĩnh , cô Temple đáp:
– Cháu ấy là Julia Severn.
– Julia Severn à? Tại sao ở trong nhà từ thiện này cháu ấy lại được phép để tóc quăn như vậy?
Cô Temple đáp:
– Tóc của cháu ấy quăn tự nhiên đấy ạ.
– Tự nhiên à? ở đây chúng ta không nên khuyến khích tự nhiên! Tôi thích tóc giản dị bình thường. Tóc như thế phải cắt bỏ hết! Ngày mai tôi sẽ cho một người thợ hớt tóc đến đây. Tôi còn thấy có nhiều cô để tóc dài qúa. Cô hãy cho các em lớn đứng dậy và quay mặt vào tường đi.
Cô Temple lấy khăn đưa lên môi. Nhưng rồi cô cũng ra lệnh, và lớp một tuân theo cô.Tất cả nghe một giọng nói quyết định:
– Tất cả những cái nơ và bím tóc phải cắt hết.
Cô Temple quay lại phản đối, ông Brocklehurst lại nói tiếp:
– Thưa cô, bổn phận của tôi là phải dạy cho các cô gái này biết quên mình , biết ăn mặc thô sơ giản dị. Những cái bím tóc này đã mất công bện hết sức cầu kỳ! Cô hãy nghĩ đến việc phí thì giờ.
Đến đây thì có ba phụ nữ bước vào cắt ngang câu nói của ông. Họ mặc áo quần hết sức lộng lẫy bằng nhung, lụa và lông thú. Hai cô gái còn trẻ khoảng mười sáu hay mười bảy tuổi, tóc họ xõa gợn sóng xinh đẹp dưới chiếc nón màu xám hợp thời trang, được uốn cong lên, chải chuốt kỹ càng. Bà lớn tuổi mặc áo nhung có may xen kẽ lông chồn, tóc cũng uốn cong xõa ngang trán. Cô Temple chào họ vì nhiệm vụ. Đó là bà Brocklehurst và hai cô con gái của bà ta.
Cho đến lúc ấy tôi mải nghe câu chuyện với cái bảng đen che trước mặt, như là tôi đang bận làm toán. Có thể tôi vẫn không bị chú ý đến, nhưng tấm bảng bỗng trượt khỏi tay tôi và rơi xuống nền nhà vỡ vụn, gây nên tiếng ồn khiến mọi người quay lại nhìn tôi.
Tôi biết thế là hết, tôi cúi xuống nhặt những mảnh vụn, và chờ đón điều tệ hại nhất xảy đến. Nó đến thật.
Ông Brocklehurst mắng:
– Đồ bất cẩn! học sinh mới phải không?
Không thoát được. Ông ta nói tiếp:
– Tôi nhớ ra rồi, tôi đã nói chuyện với cô bé này. Cho đứa bé làm bể cái bảng ra đứng phía trước đi.
Tôi điếng người. Tôi không nhúc nhích, nhưng hai học sinh lớn đã đẩy tôi tới trước mặt vị quan tòa đáng sợ ấy, và cô Temple nhẹ nhàng giúp tôi bước tới vừa nói nhỏ với tôi:
– Đừng sợ Jane. Cô thấy đây chỉ là việc rủi ro, em sẽ không bị phạt đâu.Tôi nghĩ:” Cô sẽ khinh mình khi cô nghe mình là một con nói láo độc địa”. Thế rồi tôi bỗng qúa căm thù gia đình Brocklehurst và Reed.
Ông Brocklehurst chỉ một cái ghế rất cao , bảo:
– Lấy cái ghế ấy và cho nó đứng lên trên.Không biết ai đã để tôi đứng lên trên ấy. Tôi chỉ biết bây giờ mình cao ngang mũi ông Brocklehurst, và ông chỉ cách tôi một tấc. Ông quay qua phía vợ con ông và nói:
– Các bà, cô Temple, các cô và các em, tất cả qúy vị trông thấy cô bé này chứ?
Dĩ nhiên là họ thấy. Tôi cảm thấy họ đang đổ dồn mắt hau háu nhìn tôi như bóc trần tôi ra, và tôi đứng đó, cao hơn họ.
– Qúy vị thấy cô ta còn nhỏ. Nhưng thật là buồn vì nhiệm vụ mà tôi báo cho qúy vị biết, cô gái này không đứng trong hàng ngũ của Chúa, mà chỉ là một kẻ xa lạ trong đám con chiên của Ngài. Qúy vị phải coi chừng nó, không chơi, không chuyện trò với nó.Thưa các cô, các cô phải canh chừng nó. Phải để ý đến mọi hành động của nó và sẵn sàng trừng phạt thể xác nó để cứu rỗi linh hồn nó. Bởi vì cô gái này – đứa bé xuất thân từ một nơi qúy tộc – là …một kẻ nói láo!
Ông ngừng nói một lúc khá lâu, tôi nghe cô Brocklehurst nhỏ thì thào:”Ghê qúa!”.
Ong Brocklehurst lại nói tiếp:
– Tôi biết được chuyện này là do một bà rất tốt đã nhận đứa bé mồ côi này và nuôi nấng nó cùng với các con ruột của mình – lòng từ tâm của bà đã được trả bằng sự vô ơn hèn hạ, một sự vô ơn hết sức hèn hạ , đến nỗi bà buộc phải tách nó ra khỏi các con mình để các hành vi bỉ ổi của nó khỏi gây ảnh hưởng xấu đến sự trong trắng của chúng. Bây giờ nó được gởi đến đây để sửa chữa lỗi lầm như người Do Thái xưa kia đã gửi bệnh nhân đến hồ Bethesda để chữa bệnh. Thưa qúy cô, tôi xin qúy cô xem đứa bé này cần được chữa bệnh bằng nước sạch của trường này.
Ông Brocklehurst cúi chào cô temple , gài nút áo rồi quay ra cửa, theo sau là vợ và con ông. Ông nói:
– Để nó đứng đấy trên nửa giờ, và đừng ai nói chuyện với nó trong suốt ngày hôm nay.
Thế là tôi đứng đấy cho mọi người thấy trong căn phòng lớn. Không có lời lẽ nào để miêu tả hết được tình cảm của tôi.Thế rồi khi tất cả đứng dậy, có một cô bé đi ngang gần tôi, cô ngước mắt nhìn tôi. cái nhìn lạ lùng làm sao! Nhìn mắt cô, một nghị lực mới trỗi dậy trong lòng tôi. Tôi giữ nước mắt khỏi chảy, ngẩng cao đầu, và đứng thẳng trên chiếc ghế cao. Helen Burns hỏi cô Smith cái gì đấy về công việc, khi quay về chỗ ngồi, đi ngang qua tôi, cô mỉm cười với tôi.
Nụ cười qúy hóa làm sao! Bây giờ tôi vẫn còn nhớ đến nụ cười ấy, vì đó là dấu hiệu của lòng can đảm thực sự và một tư cách tuyệt đẹp. Nụ cười làm sáng khuôn mặt thanh tú vá đôi mắt sâu của cô, ánh sáng thật hiếm trong cõi đời này. Thế mà tôi lại được biết cô Scatcherd đã phạt cô ngày hôm sau chỉ được ăn bánh mì với nước lã, bởi vì cô đã làm dơ một bài tập.
Khi đồng hồ đánh báo năm giờ, cả trường đều nghỉ và tất cả các cô gái đều đi uống trà. Tôi đánh liều bước xuống khỏi ghế. Trời đã tối, tôi đi đến một góc xa và ngồi xuống trên nền nhà. Sau cùng thì nghị lực của tôi cũng suy giảm, tôi nằm xuống đó vô cùng buồn rầu.
Helen Burns không có ở đó, không ai giúp đỡ, tôi mặc cho nước mắt tuôn trào. Tôi đã cố học hành tốt, làm việc tốt ở Lowood, kết bạn nhiều, được nể vì , được thương yêu. Mới sáng nay thôi, tôi đã đứng đầu lớp và cô Miller đã khen tôi. Có cả cô Temple đứng đấy mỉm cười xác nhận, cô lại còn hứa dạy tôi học vẽ và còn hứa sau này sẽ cho tôi học tiếng Pháp nữa. Bây giờ tôi đang nằm đây, đau đớn và thất bại – làm sao tôi có thể đứng lên được nữa? Tôi nghĩ: “Không bao giờ”, và trong lúc thất vọng, tôi ao ước mình chết đi cho khỏe.
Thế rồi tôi vùng dậy, bởi vì Helen Burns đang ở bên tôi. Qua ánh sáng lờ mờ nhờ lửa trong lò sưởi của lớp học, tôi thấy cô mang cà phê và bánh mì đến cho tôi. Cô bảo:
– Này , ăn đi.
Nhưng tôi đẩy đi và khóc to hơn. Helen ngồi xuống nền nhà cạnh tôi, hai tay ôm lấy đầu gối, ngồi yên lặng , tựa đầu lên hai cánh tay
Tôi lên tiếng trước:
– Helen, sao bạn lại chịu ngồi gần một đứa mà mọi người tin là nói dối?
– Mọi người à, Jane? Bạn lầm rồi. Mình chắc là phần nhiều đều lấy làm buồn cho bạn đấy.
– Tại sao lại lấy làm buồn cho mình , sau khi nghe ông Brocklehurst nói như thế?
– Ông Brocklehurst không phải là Chúa Trời, ở đây chẳng ai ưa ông ta hết. Nếu ông ấy đối xử với bồ đặc biệt ưu ái , thì bồ sẽ có nhiều kẻ thù đấy.Không, các cô gái caó thể thờ ơ với bồ trong một chốc lát, nhưng họ đều có cảm tình với bồ. Nếu bồ biết kiên nhẫn và hành động đúng đắn, tất cả sẽ bị lãng quên ngay. Vả lại , Jane à, cô ngừng lại.
– Sao, Helen?
Tôi đặt mấy ngón tay lên áo cô ta. Cô thoa nhẹ bàn tay tôi cho ấm. Helen bảo:
– Cho dù mọi người có ghét bạn và tin bạn là kẻ ác độc, mà nếu lương tâm bạn chân thật, không tội lỗi thì bạn vẫn luôn có bạn.
Tôi đồng ý:
– Đúng thế, nhưng chưa đủ, Helen ạ. Mình không chịu được cô đơn và bị ghét bỏ. Nếu kẻ khác không thương yêu mình, mình thà chết còn hơn.
– Này Jane! bạn nghĩ nhiếu qúa về tình thương của loài người. Bạn qúa phật ý về điều đó. Chúa đã tạo nên cơ thể yếu đuối của chúng ta, rồi cho sự sống vào đấy, Ngài cho chúng ta nghị lực khi cần. Ngoài trái đất và nhân loại ra, còn có một thế giới vô hình của thần linh bất tử. Mình biết bạn vô tội trong việc ông Brocklehurst đặt điều cho bạn, bởi vì mình thấy được thực chất trong đơi mắt chân thật của bạn. Hãy nhớ là Chúa biết hết sự thực và Ngài sẽ ban thưởng cho chúng ta khi hết đời.
Tôi ngồi yên. Helen dỗ dành tôi, nhưng có một nỗi buồn kỳ lạ đằng sau mỗi lời nói của cô. Khi cô nói xong, cô thở nhanh và ho, đến nỗi tôi quên hết nỗi buồn của mình và lo lắng cho bạn. Khi Helen kéo tôi lại gần cô, tôi dựa đầu mình vào vai cô, quàng tay quanh hông cô. Và chúng tôi ngồi yên bên nhau.
Chúng tôi ngồi yên như vậy một hồi, rồi có tiếng chân người vào phòng. Đó là cô Temple, cô nói:
– Cô có ý tìm em đây, Jane Eyre à! Cô muốn em đến phòng cô, và nhân tiện có Helen Burns đây, em có thể đến luôn.
Chúng tôi đi theo cô hiệu trưởng qua nhiều hành lang , rồi lên một thang lầu và đến phòng của cô. Một lò lửa đang cháy, chiếu sáng những đồ đạc chung quanh, trông vô cùng tươi tắn. Cô Temple bảo Helen ngồi trên một chiếc ghế bành gần lò sưởi, cô ngồi vào một chiếc ghế khác và kéo tôi đến gần cô. Cô nhìn mặt tôi rồi hỏi:
– Em khóc cho nhẹ bớt nỗi sầu , phải không?
– Em sợ không bao giờ được như vậy.
– Tại sao?
– Bởi vì em đã bị oan , và cô và mọi người chắc chắn sẽ cho em là đồ ác độc.
– Tất cả sẽ đánh giá em qua hành động của em.Em cứ tiếp tục làm điều tốt.
Cô quàng tay ôm lấy tôi:
– Bây giờ em cho cô biết về cái bà đã nuôi nấng em.
– Đó là bàReed, mợ của em. Cậu em mất và giao em cho bà ấy chăm sóc.
– Thế bà không bằng lòng nhận nuôi em à?
– Dạ không , bà bực mình vì phải làm điều đó. Nhưng em thường nghe gia nhân nói rằng, cậu em trước khi mất đã yêu cầu bà hứa nuôi em, bà hứa bà sẽ nuôi nấng em mãi mãi.
– Này Jane, khi ông ta buộc tội ai, ông đã đề phòng khi nói. Em bị buộc là kẻ nói dối. Em cũng phải đề phòng. Cho nên em hãy nói cái gì có thật mà em nhớ. Đừng thêm thắt, đừng phóng đại cái gì hết.
Tôi trình bày vô tư chính xác . Tôi kể cho cô nghe tất cả chuyện thời thơ ấu của tôi, cứ để ý lời dặn của Helen đừng nóng giận, và khi tôi tiếp tục kể, tôi cảm thấy cô Temple hoàn toàn tin tôi. Trong câu chuyện tôi kể cho cô nghe, tôi có nhắc đến lần thăm viếng của ông Lloyd, bởi vì tôi không bao giờ quên được cái ngày kinh khủng ấy trong phòng đỏ, cũng không bao giờ quên được trận ốm sau đó.
Khi tôi kể xong, cô Temple yên lặng nhìn tôi ít phút.Rồi cô nói:
– Cô biết ông Lloyd. Cô sẽ viết thư cho ông ấy, và nếu ông trả lời như em kể , em sẽ được sáng tỏ trước mọi người. Còn đối với cô thì, Jane à, chuyện em đã sáng tỏ rồi
Cô hôn tôi, và trong lúc vẫn giữ tôi bên mình, cô nói với Helen:
– Helen, đêm nay em có khá không? Hôm nay em ho nhiều , phải không?
– Theo em thì không nhiều lắm, thưa cô.
– Ngực em đau ra sao?
– Có đỡ chút đỉnh, cám ơn cô.
Cô Temple đứng dậy, nắm tay Helen và bắt mạch cho nó. Rồi cô trở lại chỗ ngồi và tôi nghe cô khẽ thở dài khi ngồi xuống. Bỗng cô vụt đứng dậy, rồi vui vẻ nói:
– Đêm nay hai em là khách của cô và cô phải đối xử với hai em như khách vậy.
Cô rung chuông, một gia nhân bước vào, cô bảo:
– Barbara, tôi chưa uống trà, chị mang khay đến cho tôi và thêm tách cho hai cô đây nhé.
Chị gia nhân mang đến ngay một khay trà. Đồ sứ trông xinh xắn làm sao!Tất cả xếp trên một bàn tròn cạnh lò sưởi.Trà thơm ngát, mùi bánh mì nướng ngon lành biết bao! Nhưng tôi thấy lo vì bánh ít qúa(vì tôi rất đói). Cô Temple cũng thấy vậy. Cho nên cô lại bảo:
– Này chị Babara, chị mang thêm bánh mì và bơ nữa chứ, chừng này không đủ cho ba người đâu.
Người tớ gái bước ra, nhưng chị lại quày qủa trở lại. Chị nói:
– Dạ thưa cô, bà Harden bảo đã đưa đủ số bánh như thường lệ đấy ạ.
bà Harden là quản gia , người đắc ý của ông Brocklehurst. Bà ta được lệnh phải cứng rắn mọi mặt.
Cô temple đáp:
– ồ, tốt lắm, chúng ta phải lo lấy thôi.
Khi người tớ gái đã đi khỏi , cô mỉm cười nói thêm:
– Mau thay là lần này cô có thể bù vào chỗ thiếu
Cô mời helen và tôi đến một cái bàn, đặt trước mặt tôi mỗi người một tách trà và một miếng bánh mì nướng ngon lành. Rồi cô đứng lên, mở tủ chè, lấy ra một gói giấy. Chúng tôi thấy, đó là một cái bánh lớn. Cô bảo:
– Cô định cho các em cái này đem về phòng mà ăn, nhưng vì bánh mì nướng qúa ít, cho nên các em phải dùng nó bây giờ.
Cô cắt bánh thành từng lát, bàn tay dịu dàng, chúng tôi thì ngồi ở bàn.
Đêm đó, chúng tôi dự một bữa tiệc thịnh soạn, khi chiếc khay dọn đi, chúng tôi ngồi bên lò sưởi, và tôi cảm thấy hoàn toàn hạnh phúc.
Rồi câu chuyện giữa cô Temple và Helen đã làm tôi hết sức ngạc nhiên và kính nể. Helen hình như đã biến đổi hẳn. Bữa ăn ngon lành, ngọn lửa sáng ấm, lòng tốt của cô giáo thân yêu- có cái gì đó độc đáo trong người cô- đã khơi dậy sức mạnh vô biên nơi Helen Burns. Khuôn mặt của cô ta sáng ngời đẹp đẽ mà trước đây tôi chưa từng thấy bao giờ.
Một cô gái mười bốn tuổi như Helen mà đã có đủ kiến thức để nói năng trôi chảy và trong sáng như thế ư?Đối với tôi, vào cái đêm đáng nhớ ấy, Helen đã sống đời sống tinh thần trong một giờ, bằng nhiều người trong một kiếp.
Họ nói về nhiều chuyện mà tôi chưa hề được nghe như về nhiều quốc gia, về nhiều nơi xa xôi, về bí mật của thiên nhiên về nhiều sách. Học đọc nhiều biết bao! Họ hiểu rộng và biết nhiều qúa! Họ quen thuộc nhiều tác phẩm và tác gỉa nước Pháp. Và tôi đã kinh ngạc vô cùng khi cô Temple hỏi Helen còn nhớ tiếng Latinh mà ba cô đã dạy cho không – rồi Helen lấy một cuốn sách của Virgil ở trên kệ sách. Cô đọc và dịch một trang cho chúng tôi nghe. Cô còn đọc tiếp thì bỗng chuông reo báo giờ đi ngủ, và chúng tôi đành phải giã từ cô .
Cô Temple ôm hôn chúng tôi. Cô bảo:
– Các em thân mến, cầu Chúa ban ơn cho các em.
Cô ôm hôn Helen lâu hơn tôi. Cô có vẻ miễn cưỡng để cho Helen đi và nhìn theo cô ta đến cửa. Cũng vì Helen mà cô đã thở dài sau lưng chúng tôi.
Về đến phòng ngủ, chúng tôi nghe giọng cô Scatcherd trong phòng. Cô ta đang khám tủ và kệ sách của chúng tôi. Vừa đi vào, Helen đã bị quở trách về tội thiếu ngăn nắp. Sáng hôm sau, cô scacherd buộc một miếng giấy dày quanh đầu Helen, có ghi hàng chữ lớn” Đồ ăn mặc cẩu thả”. tôi thấy Helen rất nhẫn nại. Cô không giận, xem đó như là một hình phạt xứng đáng.
Đúng lúc cô scatcherd hết giờ dạy buổi chiều, tôi chạy đến Helen, xé nát tờ giấy và ném vào lửa.Thấy bạn âm thầm chịu đựng, cơn giận nung nấu trong lòng tôi suốt ngày hôm ấy , bởi vì cái cảnh bạn cam chịu buồn phiền đã làm tôi đau đớn không chịu được.
Khoảng một tuần sau, cô Temple nhận được thư trả lời của ông lloyd. Ông xác nhận rõ ràng câu chuyện của tôi. Vào một buổi họp toàn trường, cô tuyên bố cô đã điều tra về lời buộc tội Jane Eyre. cô nói rằng cô sung sướng đã làm sáng tỏ vấn đề là tôi vô tội. Việc này đã cất đi cả một gánh nặng trong tâm trí tôi, và tôi định tâm để học hành trở lại, quyết làm tốt công việc hằng ngày.
Công sức của tôi đã có hiệu qủa. Trí nhớ của tôi khá lên , trí thông minh phát triển, cho nên chỉ trong mấy tuần, tôi lên được lớp cao hơn.Chưa đầy hai tháng tôi được phép bắt đầu học tiếng Pháp và học vẽ
Cái hôm mà tôi vẽ căn nhà lá đầu tiên của mình, tối đó đi ngủ tôi đã tưởng tượng tranh của tôi được đón nhận huy hoàng trong tương lai. Tôi không còn mơ đến khoai tây chiên nóng và thực phẩm ngon lành khác, như tôi từng mơ ước trước đây , mà thưởng thức những họa phẩm hoàn hảo qua tưởng tượng trong đêm tối: nhà cửa, cây cối, núi đá và các cảnh tàn phá; những bức tranh bướm vờn hoa; chim chóc líu lo giữa những trái anh đào chín muồi, tổ của chúng với những qủa trứng đẹp như ngọc trai, chúng luồn lách nhảy nhót trong đám lá trường sinh, cho đến khi tôi đi vào giấc ngủ êm ái dịu dàng.
Salomon đã nói một cách khôn ngoan rằng:” Thà ăn rau mà thương yêu nhau còn hơn ăn thịt mà thù ghét nhau”.
Bây giờ thì tôi không muốn đánh đổi Lowood với nhiều khó khăn gian khổ, để lấy Gateshead hall với cuộc sống xa hoa khắc nghiệt hằng ngày.
by Charlotte Bronte
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?”
“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 bearwhat 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.”
“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.
by Charlotte Bronte
My first quarter at Lowood seemed an age; and not the golden age either; it comprised an irksome struggle with difficulties in habituating myself to new rules and unwonted tasks. The fear of failure in these points harassed me worse than the physical hardships of my lot; though these were no trifles.
During January, February, and part of March, the deep snows, and, after their melting, the almost impassable roads, prevented our stirring beyond the garden walls, except to go to church; but within these limits we had to pass an hour every day in the open air. Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains, as were our feet: I remember well the distracting irritation I endured from this cause every evening, when my feet inflamed; and the torture of thrusting the swelled, raw, and stiff toes into my shoes in the morning. Then the scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid. From this deficiency of nourishment resulted an abuse, which pressed hardly on the younger pupils: whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion. Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigency of hunger.
Sundays were dreary days in that wintry season. We had to walk two miles to Brocklebridge Church, where our patron officiated. We set out cold, we arrived at church colder: during the morning service we became almost paralysed. It was too far to return to dinner, and an allowance of cold meat and bread, in the same penurious proportion observed in our ordinary meals, was served round between the services.
At the close of the afternoon service we returned by an exposed and hilly road, where the bitter winter wind, blowing over a range of snowy summits to the north, almost flayed the skin from our faces.
I can remember Miss Temple walking lightly and rapidly along our drooping line, her plaid cloak, which the frosty wind fluttered, gathered close about her, and encouraging us, by precept and example, to keep up our spirits, and march forward, as she said, “like stalwart soldiers.” The other teachers, poor things, were generally themselves too much dejected to attempt the task of cheering others.
How we longed for the light and heat of a blazing fire when we got back! But, to the little ones at least, this was denied: each hearth in the schoolroom was immediately surrounded by a double row of great girls, and behind them the younger children crouched in groups, wrapping their starved arms in their pinafores.
A little solace came at tea-time, in the shape of a double ration of bread–a whole, instead of a half, slice–with the delicious addition of a thin scrape of butter: it was the hebdomadal treat to which we all looked forward from Sabbath to Sabbath. I generally contrived to reserve a moiety of this bounteous repast for myself; but the remainder I was invariably obliged to part with.
The Sunday evening was spent in repeating, by heart, the Church Catechism, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of St. Matthew; and in listening to a long sermon, read by Miss Miller, whose irrepressible yawns attested her weariness. A frequent interlude of these performances was the enactment of the part of Eutychus by some half-dozen of little girls, who, overpowered with sleep, would fall down, if not out of the third loft, yet off the fourth form, and be taken up half dead. The remedy was, to thrust them forward into the centre of the schoolroom, and oblige them to stand there till the sermon was finished. Sometimes their feet failed them, and they sank together in a heap; they were then propped up with the monitors’ high stools.
I have not yet alluded to the visits of Mr. Brocklehurst; and indeed that gentleman was from home during the greater part of the first month after my arrival; perhaps prolonging his stay with his friend the archdeacon: his absence was a relief to me. I need not say that I had my own reasons for dreading his coming: but come he did at last.
One afternoon (I had then been three weeks at Lowood), as I was sitting with a slate in my hand, puzzling over a sum in long division, my eyes, raised in abstraction to the window, caught sight of a figure just passing: I recognised almost instinctively that gaunt outline; and when, two minutes after, all the school, teachers included, rose en masse, it was not necessary for me to look up in order to ascertain whose entrance they thus greeted. A long stride measured the schoolroom, and presently beside Miss Temple, who herself had risen, stood the same black column which had frowned on me so ominously from the hearthrug of Gateshead. I now glanced sideways at this piece of architecture. Yes, I was right: it was Mr. Brocklehurst, buttoned up in a surtout, and looking longer, narrower, and more rigid than ever.
I had my own reasons for being dismayed at this apparition; too well I remembered the perfidious hints given by Mrs. Reed about my disposition, &c.; the promise pledged by Mr. Brocklehurst to apprise Miss Temple and the teachers of my vicious nature. All along I had been dreading the fulfilment of this promise,–I had been looking out daily for the “Coming Man,” whose information respecting my past life and conversation was to brand me as a bad child for ever: now there he was.
He stood at Miss Temple’s side; he was speaking low in her ear: I did not doubt he was making disclosures of my villainy; and I watched her eye with painful anxiety, expecting every moment to see its dark orb turn on me a glance of repugnance and contempt. I listened too; and as I happened to be seated quite at the top of the room, I caught most of what he said: its import relieved me from immediate apprehension.
“I suppose, Miss Temple, the thread I bought at Lowton will do; it struck me that it would be just of the quality for the calico chemises, and I sorted the needles to match. You may tell Miss Smith that I forgot to make a memorandum of the darning needles, but she shall have some papers sent in next week; and she is not, on any account, to give out more than one at a time to each pupil: if they have more, they are apt to be careless and lose them. And, O ma’am! I wish the woollen stockings were better looked to!–when I was here last, I went into the kitchen-garden and examined the clothes drying on the line; there was a quantity of black hose in a very bad state of repair: from the size of the holes in them I was sure they had not been well mended from time to time.”
“Your directions shall be attended to, sir,” said Miss Temple.
“And, ma’am,” he continued, “the laundress tells me some of the girls have two clean tuckers in the week: it is too much; the rules limit them to one.”
“I think I can explain that circumstance, sir. Agnes and Catherine Johnstone were invited to take tea with some friends at Lowton last Thursday, and I gave them leave to put on clean tuckers for the occasion.”
Mr. Brocklehurst nodded.
“Well, for once it may pass; but please not to let the circumstance occur too often. And there is another thing which surprised me; I find, in settling accounts with the housekeeper, that a lunch, consisting of bread and cheese, has twice been served out to the girls during the past fortnight. How is this? I looked over the regulations, and I find no such meal as lunch mentioned. Who introduced this innovation? and by what authority?”
“I must be responsible for the circumstance, sir,” replied Miss Temple: “the breakfast was so ill prepared that the pupils could not possibly eat it; and I dared not allow them to remain fasting till dinner-time.”
“Madam, allow me an instant. You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self-denying. Should any little accidental disappointment of the appetite occur, such as the spoiling of a meal, the under or the over dressing of a dish, the incident ought not to be neutralised by replacing with something more delicate the comfort lost, thus pampering the body and obviating the aim of this institution; it ought to be improved to the spiritual edification of the pupils, by encouraging them to evince fortitude under temporary privation. A brief address on those occasions would not be mistimed, wherein a judicious instructor would take the opportunity of referring to the sufferings of the primitive Christians; to the torments of martyrs; to the exhortations of our blessed Lord Himself, calling upon His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him; to His warnings that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; to His divine consolations, “If ye suffer hunger or thirst for My sake, happy are ye.” Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children’s mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!”
Mr. Brocklehurst again paused–perhaps overcome by his feelings. Miss Temple had looked down when he first began to speak to her; but she now gazed straight before her, and her face, naturally pale as marble, appeared to be assuming also the coldness and fixity of that material; especially her mouth, closed as if it would have required a sculptor’s chisel to open it, and her brow settled gradually into petrified severity.
Meantime, Mr. Brocklehurst, standing on the hearth with his hands behind his back, majestically surveyed the whole school. Suddenly his eye gave a blink, as if it had met something that either dazzled or shocked its pupil; turning, he said in more rapid accents than he had hitherto used –
“Miss Temple, Miss Temple, what–what is that girl with curled hair? Red hair, ma’am, curled–curled all over?” And extending his cane he pointed to the awful object, his hand shaking as he did so.
“It is Julia Severn,” replied Miss Temple, very quietly.
“Julia Severn, ma’am! And why has she, or any other, curled hair? Why, in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, does she conform to the world so openly–here in an evangelical, charitable establishment–as to wear her hair one mass of curls?”
“Julia’s hair curls naturally,” returned Miss Temple, still more quietly.
“Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature; I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance? I have again and again intimated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely, modestly, plainly. Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off entirely; I will send a barber to-morrow: and I see others who have far too much of the excrescence–that tall girl, tell her to turn round. Tell all the first form to rise up and direct their faces to the wall.”
Miss Temple passed her handkerchief over her lips, as if to smooth away the involuntary smile that curled them; she gave the order, however, and when the first class could take in what was required of them, they obeyed. Leaning a little back on my bench, I could see the looks and grimaces with which they commented on this manoeuvre: it was a pity Mr. Brocklehurst could not see them too; he would perhaps have felt that, whatever he might do with the outside of the cup and platter, the inside was further beyond his interference than he imagined.
He scrutinised the reverse of these living medals some five minutes, then pronounced sentence. These words fell like the knell of doom –
“All those top-knots must be cut off.”
Miss Temple seemed to remonstrate.
“Madam,” he pursued, “I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven; these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of–”
Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs. The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this graceful head-dress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls.
These ladies were deferentially received by Miss Temple, as Mrs. and the Misses Brocklehurst, and conducted to seats of honour at the top of the room. It seems they had come in the carriage with their reverend relative, and had been conducting a rummaging scrutiny of the room upstairs, while he transacted business with the housekeeper, questioned the laundress, and lectured the superintendent. They now proceeded to address divers remarks and reproofs to Miss Smith, who was charged with the care of the linen and the inspection of the dormitories: but I had no time to listen to what they said; other matters called off and enchanted my attention.
Hitherto, while gathering up the discourse of Mr. Brocklehurst and Miss Temple, I had not, at the same time, neglected precautions to secure my personal safety; which I thought would be effected, if I could only elude observation. To this end, I had sat well back on the form, and while seeming to be busy with my sum, had held my slate in such a manner as to conceal my face: I might have escaped notice, had not my treacherous slate somehow happened to slip from my hand, and falling with an obtrusive crash, directly drawn every eye upon me; I knew it was all over now, and, as I stooped to pick up the two fragments of slate, I rallied my forces for the worst. It came.
“A careless girl!” said Mr. Brocklehurst, and immediately after–“It is the new pupil, I perceive.” And before I could draw breath, “I must not forget I have a word to say respecting her.” Then aloud: how loud it seemed to me! “Let the child who broke her slate come forward!”
Of my own accord I could not have stirred; I was paralysed: but the two great girls who sit on each side of me, set me on my legs and pushed me towards the dread judge, and then Miss Temple gently assisted me to his very feet, and I caught her whispered counsel –
“Don’t be afraid, Jane, I saw it was an accident; you shall not be punished.”
The kind whisper went to my heart like a dagger.
“Another minute, and she will despise me for a hypocrite,” thought I; and an impulse of fury against Reed, Brocklehurst, and Co. bounded in my pulses at the conviction. I was no Helen Burns.
“Fetch that stool,” said Mr. Brocklehurst, pointing to a very high one from which a monitor had just risen: it was brought.
“Place the child upon it.”
And I was placed there, by whom I don’t know: I was in no condition to note particulars; I was only aware that they had hoisted me up to the height of Mr. Brocklehurst’s nose, that he was within a yard of me, and that a spread of shot orange and purple silk pelisses and a cloud of silvery plumage extended and waved below me.
Mr. Brocklehurst hemmed.
“Ladies,” said he, turning to his family, “Miss Temple, teachers, and children, you all see this girl?”
Of course they did; for I felt their eyes directed like burning- glasses against my scorched skin.
“You see she is yet young; you observe she possesses the ordinary form of childhood; God has graciously given her the shape that He has given to all of us; no signal deformity points her out as a marked character. Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her? Yet such, I grieve to say, is the case.”
A pause–in which I began to steady the palsy of my nerves, and to feel that the Rubicon was passed; and that the trial, no longer to be shirked, must be firmly sustained.
“My dear children,” pursued the black marble clergyman, with pathos, “this is a sad, a melancholy occasion; for it becomes my duty to warn you, that this girl, who might be one of God’s own lambs, is a little castaway: not a member of the true flock, but evidently an interloper and an alien. You must be on your guard against her; you must shun her example; if necessary, avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse. Teachers, you must watch her: keep your eyes on her movements, weigh well her words, scrutinise her actions, punish her body to save her soul: if, indeed, such salvation be possible, for (my tongue falters while I tell it) this girl, this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut–this girl is–a liar!”
Now came a pause of ten minutes, during which I, by this time in perfect possession of my wits, observed all the female Brocklehursts produce their pocket-handkerchiefs and apply them to their optics, while the elderly lady swayed herself to and fro, and the two younger ones whispered, “How shocking!” Mr. Brocklehurst resumed.
“This I learned from her benefactress; from the pious and charitable lady who adopted her in her orphan state, reared her as her own daughter, and whose kindness, whose generosity the unhappy girl repaid by an ingratitude so bad, so dreadful, that at last her excellent patroness was obliged to separate her from her own young ones, fearful lest her vicious example should contaminate their purity: she has sent her here to be healed, even as the Jews of old sent their diseased to the troubled pool of Bethesda; and, teachers, superintendent, I beg of you not to allow the waters to stagnate round her.”
With this sublime conclusion, Mr. Brocklehurst adjusted the top button of his surtout, muttered something to his family, who rose, bowed to Miss Temple, and then all the great people sailed in state from the room. Turning at the door, my judge said –
“Let her stand half-an-hour longer on that stool, and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day.”
There was I, then, mounted aloft; I, who had said I could not bear the shame of standing on my natural feet in the middle of the room, was now exposed to general view on a pedestal of infamy. What my sensations were no language can describe; but just as they all rose, stifling my breath and constricting my throat, a girl came up and passed me: in passing, she lifted her eyes. What a strange light inspired them! What an extraordinary sensation that ray sent through me! How the new feeling bore me up! It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in the transit. I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the stool. Helen Burns asked some slight question about her work of Miss Smith, was chidden for the triviality of the inquiry, returned to her place, and smiled at me as she again went by. What a smile! I remember it now, and I know that it was the effluence of fine intellect, of true courage; it lit up her marked lineaments, her thin face, her sunken grey eye, like a reflection from the aspect of an angel. Yet at that moment Helen Burns wore on her arm “the untidy badge;” scarcely an hour ago I had heard her condemned by Miss Scatcherd to a dinner of bread and water on the morrow because she had blotted an exercise in copying it out. Such is the imperfect nature of man! such spots are there on the disc of the clearest planet; and eyes like Miss Scatcherd’s can only see those minute defects, and are blind to the full brightness of the orb.
by Charlotte Bronte
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.”
“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.