The next day commenced as before, getting up and dressing by rushlight; bu_his morning we were obliged to dispense with the ceremony of washing; th_ater in the pitchers was frozen. A change had taken place in the weather th_receding evening, and a keen north-east wind, whistling through the crevice_f our bedroom windows all night long, had made us shiver in our beds, an_urned the contents of the ewers to ice.
Before the long hour and a half of prayers and Bible-reading was over, I fel_eady to perish with cold. Breakfast-time came at last, and this morning th_orridge was not burnt; the quality was eatable, the quantity small. Ho_mall my portion seemed! I wished it had been doubled.
In the course of the day I was enrolled a member of the fourth class, an_egular tasks and occupations were assigned me: hitherto, I had only been _pectator 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 t_e 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, Mis_mith put into my hands a border of muslin two yards long, together wit_eedle, 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 sewin_ikewise; but one class still stood round Miss Scatcherd’s chair reading, an_s all was quiet, the subject of their lessons could be heard, together wit_he manner in which each girl acquitted herself, and the animadversions o_ommendations of Miss Scatcherd on the performance. It was English history: among the readers I observed my acquaintance of the verandah: at th_ommencement of the lesson, her place had been at the top of the class, bu_or some error of pronunciation, or some inattention to stops, she wa_uddenly sent to the very bottom. Even in that obscure position, Mis_catcherd continued to make her an object of constant notice: she wa_ontinually addressing to her such phrases as the following:—
“Burns” (such it seems was her name: the girls here were all called by thei_urnames, as boys are elsewhere), “Burns, you are standing on the side of you_hoe; turn your toes out immediately.” “Burns, you poke your chin mos_npleasantly; draw it in.” “Burns, I insist on your holding your head up; _ill not have you before me in that attitude,” &c. &c.
A chapter having been read through twice, the books were closed and the girl_xamined. The lesson had comprised part of the reign of Charles I., and ther_ere sundry questions about tonnage and poundage and ship-money, which most o_hem appeared unable to answer; still, every little difficulty was solve_nstantly when it reached Burns: her memory seemed to have retained th_ubstance of the whole lesson, and she was ready with answers on every point.
I kept expecting that Miss Scatcherd would praise her attention; but, instea_f that, she suddenly cried out—
“You dirty, disagreeable girl! you have never cleaned your nails thi_orning!”
Burns made no answer: I wondered at her silence. “Why,” thought I, “does sh_ot explain that she could neither clean her nails nor wash her face, as th_ater was frozen?”
My attention was now called off by Miss Smith desiring me to hold a skein o_hread: while she was winding it, she talked to me from time to time, askin_hether 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 Mis_catcherd’s movements. When I returned to my seat, that lady was jus_elivering an order of which I did not catch the import; but Burns immediatel_eft 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 tie_ogether at one end. This ominous tool she presented to Miss Scatcherd with _espectful curtesy; then she quietly, and without being told, unloosed he_inafore, and the teacher instantly and sharply inflicted on her neck a doze_trokes with the bunch of twigs. Not a tear rose to Burns’ eye; and, while _aused from my sewing, because my fingers quivered at this spectacle with _entiment of unavailing and impotent anger, not a feature of her pensive fac_ltered its ordinary expression.
“Hardened girl!” exclaimed Miss Scatcherd; “nothing can correct you of you_latternly 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 _ear glistened on her thin cheek.
The play-hour in the evening I thought the pleasantest fraction of the day a_owood: the bit of bread, the draught of coffee swallowed at five o’clock ha_evived vitality, if it had not satisfied hunger: the long restraint of th_ay was slackened; the schoolroom felt warmer than in the morning—its fire_eing allowed to burn a little more brightly, to supply, in some measure, th_lace 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 group_ithout a companion, yet not feeling lonely: when I passed the windows, I no_nd then lifted a blind, and looked out; it snowed fast, a drift was alread_orming against the lower panes; putting my ear close to the window, I coul_istinguish from the gleeful tumult within, the disconsolate moan of the win_utside.
Probably, if I had lately left a good home and kind parents, this would hav_een the hour when I should most keenly have regretted the separation; tha_ind would then have saddened my heart; this obscure chaos would hav_isturbed my peace! as it was, I derived from both a strange excitement, an_eckless and feverish, I wished the wind to howl more wildly, the gloom t_eepen to darkness, and the confusion to rise to clamour.
Jumping over forms, and creeping under tables, I made my way to one of th_ire-places; there, kneeling by the high wire fender, I found Burns, absorbed, silent, abstracted from all round her by the companionship of a book, whic_he 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,” though_, “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 b_f 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. I_he struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand; I should break i_nder her nose.”
“Probably you would do nothing of the sort: but if you did, Mr. Brocklehurs_ould expel you from the school; that would be a great grief to you_elations. It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feel_ut yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences wil_xtend to all connected with you; and besides, the Bible bids us return goo_or evil.”
“But then it seems disgraceful to be flogged, and to be sent to stand in th_iddle of a room full of people; and you are such a great girl: I am fa_ounger 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 wea_nd silly to say you _cannot bear_ what it is your fate to be required t_ear.”
I heard her with wonder: I could not comprehend this doctrine of endurance; and still less could I understand or sympathise with the forbearance sh_xpressed for her chastiser. Still I felt that Helen Burns considered thing_y 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 mor_onvenient 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 Scatcher_aid, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things, in order; I a_areless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have n_ethod; and sometimes I say, like you, I cannot _bear_ to be subjected t_ystematic arrangements. This is all very provoking to Miss Scatcherd, who i_aturally 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 grav_ace.
“Miss Temple is full of goodness; it pains her to be severe to any one, eve_he 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 stron_roof of my wretchedly defective nature is, that even her expostulations, s_ild, so rational, have not influence to cure me of my faults; and even he_raise, though I value it most highly, cannot stimulate me to continued car_nd 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 whil_iss Miller explained the lesson and questioned you. Now, mine continuall_ove away; when I should be listening to Miss Scatcherd, and collecting al_he says with assiduity, often I lose the very sound of her voice; I fall int_ sort of dream. Sometimes I think I am in Northumberland, and that th_oises I hear round me are the bubbling of a little brook which runs throug_eepden, near our house;—then, when it comes to my turn to reply, I have to b_wakened; and having heard nothing of what was read for listening to th_isionary 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 intereste_e. This afternoon, instead of dreaming of Deepden, I was wondering how a ma_ho wished to do right could act so unjustly and unwisely as Charles the Firs_ometimes did; and I thought what a pity it was that, with his integrity an_onscientiousness, 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 th_pirit of the age was tending! Still, I like Charles—I respect him—I pit_im, poor murdered king! Yes, his enemies were the worst: they shed bloo_hey had no right to shed. How dared they kill him!”
Helen was talking to herself now: she had forgotten I could not very wel_nderstand her—that I was ignorant, or nearly so, of the subject sh_iscussed. 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 sa_hich is newer than my own reflections; her language is singularly agreeabl_o me, and the information she communicates is often just what I wished t_ain.”
“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 eve_esire to be. If people were always kind and obedient to those who are crue_nd unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they woul_ever feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse an_orse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back agai_ery hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck u_ever to do it again.”
“You will change your mind, I hope, when you grow older: as yet you are but _ittle untaught girl.”
“But I feel this, Helen; I must dislike those who, whatever I do to pleas_hem, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. I_s as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit t_unishment when I feel it is deserved.”
“Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine, but Christians and civilise_ations disown it.”
“How? I don’t understand.”
“It is not violence that best overcomes hate—nor vengeance that most certainl_eals injury.”
“Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how He acts; mak_is 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 yo_nd 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 t_our out, in my own way, the tale of my sufferings and resentments. Bitte_nd 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 cas_f character, as Miss Scatcherd does mine; but how minutely you remember al_he has done and said to you! What a singularly deep impression her injustic_eems to have made on your heart! No ill-usage so brands its record on m_eelings. Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me to_hort to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs. We are, an_ust be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time wil_oon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptibl_odies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame o_lesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain,—the impalpable principl_f light and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire th_reature: whence it came it will return; perhaps again to be communicated t_ome being higher than man—perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, fro_he pale human soul to brighten to the seraph! Surely it will never, on th_ontrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend? No; I cannot believ_hat: I hold another creed: which no one ever taught me, and which I seldo_ention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling: for it extends hope t_ll: 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 crimina_nd 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 deepl_isgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking t_he end.”
Helen’s head, always drooping, sank a little lower as she finished thi_entence. I saw by her look she wished no longer to talk to me, but rather t_onverse with her own thoughts. She was not allowed much time for meditation: a monitor, a great rough girl, presently came up, exclaiming in a stron_umberland accent—
“Helen Burns, if you don’t go and put your drawer in order, and fold up you_ork 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 withou_eply as without delay.