Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

CHAPTER I

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been
wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but
since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold
winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so
penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly
afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with
nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie,
the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to
Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama
in the drawing-room: she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with
her darlings about her (for the time neither quarrelling nor crying)
looked perfectly happy. Me, she had dispensed from joining the group;
saying, “She regretted to be under the necessity of keeping me at a
distance; but that until she heard from Bessie, and could discover by her
own observation, that I was endeavouring in good earnest to acquire a
more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly
manner–something lighter, franker, more natural, as it were–she really
must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy,
little children.”

“What does Bessie say I have done?” I asked.

“Jane, I don’t like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something
truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be
seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent.”

A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It
contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care
that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-
seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having
drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double
retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left
were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the
drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my
book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a
pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat
shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and
lamentable blast.

I returned to my book–Bewick’s History of British Birds: the letterpress
thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were
certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite
as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of
“the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the
coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the
Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape–

“Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.”

Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland,
Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with “the vast
sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space,–that
reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation
of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround
the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold.” Of
these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all
the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children’s brains,
but strangely impressive. The words in these introductory pages
connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance
to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken
boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing
through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.

I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary churchyard, with
its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low horizon,
girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent, attesting the
hour of eventide.

The two ships becalmed on a torpid sea, I believed to be marine phantoms.

The fiend pinning down the thief’s pack behind him, I passed over
quickly: it was an object of terror.

So was the black horned thing seated aloof on a rock, surveying a distant
crowd surrounding a gallows.

Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped
understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as
interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings,
when she chanced to be in good humour; and when, having brought her
ironing-table to the nursery hearth, she allowed us to sit about it, and
while she got up Mrs. Reed’s lace frills, and crimped her nightcap
borders, fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure
taken from old fairy tales and other ballads; or (as at a later period I
discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland.

With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy: happy at least in my way. I
feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon. The breakfast-
room door opened.

“Boh! Madam Mope!” cried the voice of John Reed; then he paused: he
found the room apparently empty.

“Where the dickens is she!” he continued. “Lizzy! Georgy! (calling to
his sisters) Joan is not here: tell mama she is run out into the rain–bad
animal!”

“It is well I drew the curtain,” thought I; and I wished fervently he
might not discover my hiding-place: nor would John Reed have found it out
himself; he was not quick either of vision or conception; but Eliza just
put her head in at the door, and said at once–

“She is in the window-seat, to be sure, Jack.”

And I came out immediately, for I trembled at the idea of being dragged
forth by the said Jack.

“What do you want?” I asked, with awkward diffidence.

“Say, ‘What do you want, Master Reed?'” was the answer. “I want you to
come here;” and seating himself in an arm-chair, he intimated by a
gesture that I was to approach and stand before him.

John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older than I,
for I was but ten: large and stout for his age, with a dingy and
unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and
large extremities. He gorged himself habitually at table, which made him
bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks. He ought
now to have been at school; but his mama had taken him home for a month
or two, “on account of his delicate health.” Mr. Miles, the master,
affirmed that he would do very well if he had fewer cakes and sweetmeats
sent him from home; but the mother’s heart turned from an opinion so
harsh, and inclined rather to the more refined idea that John’s
sallowness was owing to over-application and, perhaps, to pining after
home.

John had not much affection for his mother and sisters, and an antipathy
to me. He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week,
nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared
him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near.
There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired,
because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his
inflictions; the servants did not like to offend their young master by
taking my part against him, and Mrs. Reed was blind and deaf on the
subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me, though he did
both now and then in her very presence, more frequently, however, behind
her back.

Habitually obedient to John, I came up to his chair: he spent some three
minutes in thrusting out his tongue at me as far as he could without
damaging the roots: I knew he would soon strike, and while dreading the
blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of him who would
presently deal it. I wonder if he read that notion in my face; for, all
at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and strongly. I tottered,
and on regaining my equilibrium retired back a step or two from his
chair.

“That is for your impudence in answering mama awhile since,” said he,
“and for your sneaking way of getting behind curtains, and for the look
you had in your eyes two minutes since, you rat!”

Accustomed to John Reed’s abuse, I never had an idea of replying to it;
my care was how to endure the blow which would certainly follow the
insult.

“What were you doing behind the curtain?” he asked.

“I was reading.”

“Show the book.”

I returned to the window and fetched it thence.

“You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says;
you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not
to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals we
do, and wear clothes at our mama’s expense. Now, I’ll teach you to
rummage my bookshelves: for they _are_ mine; all the house belongs to me,
or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of
the mirror and the windows.”

I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him
lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively
started aside with a cry of alarm: not soon enough, however; the volume
was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and
cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its
climax; other feelings succeeded.

“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer–you are like a
slave-driver–you are like the Roman emperors!”

I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of
Nero, Caligula, etc. Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I never
thought thus to have declared aloud.

“What! what!” he cried. “Did she say that to me? Did you hear her,
Eliza and Georgiana? Won’t I tell mama? but first–”

He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had
closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer.
I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck, and was
sensible of somewhat pungent suffering: these sensations for the time
predominated over fear, and I received him in frantic sort. I don’t very
well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat! Rat!” and
bellowed out aloud. Aid was near him: Eliza and Georgiana had run for
Mrs. Reed, who was gone upstairs: she now came upon the scene, followed
by Bessie and her maid Abbot. We were parted: I heard the words–

“Dear! dear! What a fury to fly at Master John!”

“Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion!”

Then Mrs. Reed subjoined–

“Take her away to the red-room, and lock her in there.” Four hands were
immediately laid upon me, and I was borne upstairs.

CHAPTER II

I resisted all the way: a new thing for me, and a circumstance which
greatly strengthened the bad opinion Bessie and Miss Abbot were disposed
to entertain of me. The fact is, I was a trifle beside myself; or rather
_out_ of myself, as the French would say: I was conscious that a moment’s
mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any
other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths.

“Hold her arms, Miss Abbot: she’s like a mad cat.”

“For shame! for shame!” cried the lady’s-maid. “What shocking conduct,
Miss Eyre, to strike a young gentleman, your benefactress’s son! Your
young master.”

“Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant?”

“No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep.
There, sit down, and think over your wickedness.”

They had got me by this time into the apartment indicated by Mrs. Reed,
and had thrust me upon a stool: my impulse was to rise from it like a
spring; their two pair of hands arrested me instantly.

“If you don’t sit still, you must be tied down,” said Bessie. “Miss
Abbot, lend me your garters; she would break mine directly.”

Miss Abbot turned to divest a stout leg of the necessary ligature. This
preparation for bonds, and the additional ignominy it inferred, took a
little of the excitement out of me.

“Don’t take them off,” I cried; “I will not stir.”

In guarantee whereof, I attached myself to my seat by my hands.

“Mind you don’t,” said Bessie; and when she had ascertained that I was
really subsiding, she loosened her hold of me; then she and Miss Abbot
stood with folded arms, looking darkly and doubtfully on my face, as
incredulous of my sanity.

“She never did so before,” at last said Bessie, turning to the Abigail.

“But it was always in her,” was the reply. “I’ve told Missis often my
opinion about the child, and Missis agreed with me. She’s an underhand
little thing: I never saw a girl of her age with so much cover.”

Bessie answered not; but ere long, addressing me, she said–“You ought to
be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps
you: if she were to turn you off, you would have to go to the poorhouse.”

I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me: my very
first recollections of existence included hints of the same kind. This
reproach of my dependence had become a vague sing-song in my ear: very
painful and crushing, but only half intelligible. Miss Abbot joined in–

“And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed
and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with
them. They will have a great deal of money, and you will have none: it
is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to
them.”

“What we tell you is for your good,” added Bessie, in no harsh voice,
“you should try to be useful and pleasant, then, perhaps, you would have
a home here; but if you become passionate and rude, Missis will send you
away, I am sure.”

“Besides,” said Miss Abbot, “God will punish her: He might strike her
dead in the midst of her tantrums, and then where would she go? Come,
Bessie, we will leave her: I wouldn’t have her heart for anything. Say
your prayers, Miss Eyre, when you are by yourself; for if you don’t
repent, something bad might be permitted to come down the chimney and
fetch you away.”

They went, shutting the door, and locking it behind them.

The red-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in, I might say
never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall
rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it
contained: yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the
mansion. A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with
curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre;
the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half
shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red;
the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth; the
walls were a soft fawn colour with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe,
the toilet-table, the chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany. Out
of these deep surrounding shades rose high, and glared white, the piled-
up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles
counterpane. Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy-chair
near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it; and
looking, as I thought, like a pale throne.

This room was chill, because it seldom had a fire; it was silent, because
remote from the nursery and kitchen; solemn, because it was known to be
so seldom entered. The house-maid alone came here on Saturdays, to wipe
from the mirrors and the furniture a week’s quiet dust: and Mrs. Reed
herself, at far intervals, visited it to review the contents of a certain
secret drawer in the wardrobe, where were stored divers parchments, her
jewel-casket, and a miniature of her deceased husband; and in those last
words lies the secret of the red-room–the spell which kept it so lonely
in spite of its grandeur.

Mr. Reed had been dead nine years: it was in this chamber he breathed his
last; here he lay in state; hence his coffin was borne by the
undertaker’s men; and, since that day, a sense of dreary consecration had
guarded it from frequent intrusion.

My seat, to which Bessie and the bitter Miss Abbot had left me riveted,
was a low ottoman near the marble chimney-piece; the bed rose before me;
to my right hand there was the high, dark wardrobe, with subdued, broken
reflections varying the gloss of its panels; to my left were the muffled
windows; a great looking-glass between them repeated the vacant majesty
of the bed and room. I was not quite sure whether they had locked the
door; and when I dared move, I got up and went to see. Alas! yes: no
jail was ever more secure. Returning, I had to cross before the looking-
glass; my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed.
All looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality:
and the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and
arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all
else was still, had the effect of a real spirit: I thought it like one of
the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp, Bessie’s evening stories
represented as coming out of lone, ferny dells in moors, and appearing
before the eyes of belated travellers. I returned to my stool.

Superstition was with me at that moment; but it was not yet her hour for
complete victory: my blood was still warm; the mood of the revolted slave
was still bracing me with its bitter vigour; I had to stem a rapid rush
of retrospective thought before I quailed to the dismal present.

All John Reed’s violent tyrannies, all his sisters’ proud indifference,
all his mother’s aversion, all the servants’ partiality, turned up in my
disturbed mind like a dark deposit in a turbid well. Why was I always
suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, for ever condemned? Why
could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win any one’s favour?
Eliza, who was headstrong and selfish, was respected. Georgiana, who had
a spoiled temper, a very acrid spite, a captious and insolent carriage,
was universally indulged. Her beauty, her pink cheeks and golden curls,
seemed to give delight to all who looked at her, and to purchase
indemnity for every fault. John no one thwarted, much less punished;
though he twisted the necks of the pigeons, killed the little pea-chicks,
set the dogs at the sheep, stripped the hothouse vines of their fruit,
and broke the buds off the choicest plants in the conservatory: he called
his mother “old girl,” too; sometimes reviled her for her dark skin,
similar to his own; bluntly disregarded her wishes; not unfrequently tore
and spoiled her silk attire; and he was still “her own darling.” I dared
commit no fault: I strove to fulfil every duty; and I was termed naughty
and tiresome, sullen and sneaking, from morning to noon, and from noon to
night.

My head still ached and bled with the blow and fall I had received: no
one had reproved John for wantonly striking me; and because I had turned
against him to avert farther irrational violence, I was loaded with
general opprobrium.

“Unjust!–unjust!” said my reason, forced by the agonising stimulus into
precocious though transitory power: and Resolve, equally wrought up,
instigated some strange expedient to achieve escape from insupportable
oppression–as running away, or, if that could not be effected, never
eating or drinking more, and letting myself die.

What a consternation of soul was mine that dreary afternoon! How all my
brain was in tumult, and all my heart in insurrection! Yet in what
darkness, what dense ignorance, was the mental battle fought! I could
not answer the ceaseless inward question–_why_ I thus suffered; now, at
the distance of–I will not say how many years, I see it clearly.

I was a discord in Gateshead Hall: I was like nobody there; I had nothing
in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage. If
they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them. They were not
bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathise with one
amongst them; a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in
capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of serving their
interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the
germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgment. I
know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome,
romping child–though equally dependent and friendless–Mrs. Reed would
have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have
entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants
would have been less prone to make me the scapegoat of the nursery.

Daylight began to forsake the red-room; it was past four o’clock, and the
beclouded afternoon was tending to drear twilight. I heard the rain
still beating continuously on the staircase window, and the wind howling
in the grove behind the hall; I grew by degrees cold as a stone, and then
my courage sank. My habitual mood of humiliation, self-doubt, forlorn
depression, fell damp on the embers of my decaying ire. All said I was
wicked, and perhaps I might be so; what thought had I been but just
conceiving of starving myself to death? That certainly was a crime: and
was I fit to die? Or was the vault under the chancel of Gateshead Church
an inviting bourne? In such vault I had been told did Mr. Reed lie
buried; and led by this thought to recall his idea, I dwelt on it with
gathering dread. I could not remember him; but I knew that he was my own
uncle–my mother’s brother–that he had taken me when a parentless infant
to his house; and that in his last moments he had required a promise of
Mrs. Reed that she would rear and maintain me as one of her own children.
Mrs. Reed probably considered she had kept this promise; and so she had,
I dare say, as well as her nature would permit her; but how could she
really like an interloper not of her race, and unconnected with her,
after her husband’s death, by any tie? It must have been most irksome to
find herself bound by a hard-wrung pledge to stand in the stead of a
parent to a strange child she could not love, and to see an uncongenial
alien permanently intruded on her own family group.

A singular notion dawned upon me. I doubted not–never doubted–that if
Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly; and now, as I
sat looking at the white bed and overshadowed walls–occasionally also
turning a fascinated eye towards the dimly gleaning mirror–I began to
recall what I had heard of dead men, troubled in their graves by the
violation of their last wishes, revisiting the earth to punish the
perjured and avenge the oppressed; and I thought Mr. Reed’s spirit,
harassed by the wrongs of his sister’s child, might quit its
abode–whether in the church vault or in the unknown world of the
departed–and rise before me in this chamber. I wiped my tears and
hushed my sobs, fearful lest any sign of violent grief might waken a
preternatural voice to comfort me, or elicit from the gloom some haloed
face, bending over me with strange pity. This idea, consolatory in
theory, I felt would be terrible if realised: with all my might I
endeavoured to stifle it–I endeavoured to be firm. Shaking my hair from
my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room;
at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a
ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight
was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling
and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak
of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern carried by some
one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken
as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift darting beam was a
herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my
head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of
wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance
broke down; I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort.
Steps came running along the outer passage; the key turned, Bessie and
Abbot entered.

“Miss Eyre, are you ill?” said Bessie.

“What a dreadful noise! it went quite through me!” exclaimed Abbot.

“Take me out! Let me go into the nursery!” was my cry.

“What for? Are you hurt? Have you seen something?” again demanded
Bessie.

“Oh! I saw a light, and I thought a ghost would come.” I had now got
hold of Bessie’s hand, and she did not snatch it from me.

“She has screamed out on purpose,” declared Abbot, in some disgust. “And
what a scream! If she had been in great pain one would have excused it,
but she only wanted to bring us all here: I know her naughty tricks.”

“What is all this?” demanded another voice peremptorily; and Mrs. Reed
came along the corridor, her cap flying wide, her gown rustling stormily.
“Abbot and Bessie, I believe I gave orders that Jane Eyre should be left
in the red-room till I came to her myself.”

“Miss Jane screamed so loud, ma’am,” pleaded Bessie.

“Let her go,” was the only answer. “Loose Bessie’s hand, child: you
cannot succeed in getting out by these means, be assured. I abhor
artifice, particularly in children; it is my duty to show you that tricks
will not answer: you will now stay here an hour longer, and it is only on
condition of perfect submission and stillness that I shall liberate you
then.”

“O aunt! have pity! Forgive me! I cannot endure it–let me be punished
some other way! I shall be killed if–”

“Silence! This violence is all most repulsive:” and so, no doubt, she
felt it. I was a precocious actress in her eyes; she sincerely looked on
me as a compound of virulent passions, mean spirit, and dangerous
duplicity.

Bessie and Abbot having retreated, Mrs. Reed, impatient of my now frantic
anguish and wild sobs, abruptly thrust me back and locked me in, without
farther parley. I heard her sweeping away; and soon after she was gone,
I suppose I had a species of fit: unconsciousness closed the scene.