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  • CHAPTER VII

  • 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." He paused.

  • "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