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  • CHAPTER SEVEN of Jane Eyre This is a Librivox recording.

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  • Recording by Elizabeth Klett Jane Eyre by Charlotte BRONTË Chapter Seven

  • 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