فصل 05

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فصل 05

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Mr. Brocklehurst’s visit and its results

It was difficult for me to get used to the school rules at Lowood, and to the hard physical conditions. In January, February and March there was deep snow, but we still had to spend an hour outside every day. We had no boots or gloves, and my hands and feet ached badly. We were growing children, and needed more food than was provided. Sometimes the big girls bullied us little ones and made us hand over our teatime bread or evening biscuit.

One afternoon, when I had been at Lowood for three weeks, a visitor arrived. All the teachers and pupils stood respectfully as he entered the schoolroom. I looked up. There, next to Miss Temple, stood the same black column which had frowned on me in the breakfast-room at Gateshead. I had been afraid he would come. I remembered only too well Mrs. Reed’s description of my character, and the promise he had given her to warn teachers at Lowood about my wickedness. Now they would consider me a bad child for ever.

At first Mr. Brocklehurst spoke in a murmur to Miss Temple. I could just hear because I was at the front of the class.

‘Tell the housekeeper she must count the needles, and only give out one at a time to the girls - they lose them so easily! And Miss Temple, please make sure the girls’ stockings are mended more carefully. Some of them have a lot of holes.’’

‘I shall follow your instructions, sir,’ said Miss Temple.

‘And another thing which surprises me, I find that a lunch of bread and cheese has been served to the girls recently. Why is this? There is nothing about it in the rules! Who is responsible?’

‘I myself, sir,’ answered Miss Temple. “The breakfast was so badly cooked that the girls couldn’t possibly eat it, so they were hungry.’

‘Madam, listen to me for a moment. You know that I am trying to bring up these girls to be strong, patient and unselfish. If some little luxury is not available, do not replace it with something else, but tell them to be brave and suffer, like Christ Himself. Remember what the Bible says, man shall not live by bread alone, but by the word of God! Madam, when you put bread into these children’s mouths, you feed their bodies but you starve their souls!’

Miss Temple did not reply. She looked straight in front of her, and her face was as cold and hard as marble. Mr Brocklehurst, on the other hand, now looked round at the girls, and almost jumped in surprise.

‘Who - what is that girl with red hair, with curls, madam, with curls everywhere?’

‘That is Julia Severn,’ said Miss Temple quietly. ‘Her hair curls naturally, you see.’

‘Naturally! Yes, but it is God we obey, not nature! Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off. I have said again and again that hair must be arranged modestly and plainly. I see other girls here with too much hair. Yes, I shall send someone tomorrow to cut all the girls’ hair.’

‘Mr. Brocklehurst…’ began Miss Temple.

‘No, Miss Temple, I insist. To please God these girls must have short, straight hair and plain, simple clothes…’

He was interrupted by the arrival of three ladies, who had unfortunately not heard his comments on dress and hair. They all wore the most expensive clothes and had beautiful, long, curly hair. I heard Miss Temple greet them as the wife and daughters of Mr. Brocklehurst.

I had hoped to hide my face behind my slate while Mr. Brocklehurst was talking, so that he would not recognize me, but suddenly the slate fell from my hand and broke in two on the hard floor. I knew only too well what would happen next.

‘A careless girl!’ said Mr. Brocklehurst quietly, almost to himself. ‘The new girl, I see. I must not forget to say something to the whole school about her.’ And then to me, aloud: ‘Come here, child.’

I was too frightened to move, but two big girls pushed me towards him. Miss Temple whispered kindly in my ear:

‘Don’t be afraid, Jane. I saw it was an accident.’ Her kindness touched me, but I knew that soon she would hear the lies about me, and then she would hate me!

‘Put the child on that chair,’ said Mr. Brocklehurst. Someone lifted me up on to a high chair, so that I was close to his nose. Frightened and shaking, I felt everyone’s eyes on me.

‘You see this girl?’ began the black marble column. ‘She is young, she looks like an ordinary child. Nothing about her tells you she is evil. But she is all wickedness! Children, don’t talk to her, stay away from her. Teachers, watch her, punish her body to save her soul - if indeed she has a soul, because this child… I can hardly say it - this child is a liar!’

‘How shocking!’ said the two Brocklehurst daughters, each wiping a tear or two from their eyes.

‘I learned this fact,’ continued the great man, ‘from Mrs. Reed, the kind lady who took care of her after her parents’ death and brought her up as a member of the family. In the end Mrs. Reed was so afraid of this child’s evil influence on her own children that she had to send her here. Teachers, watch her carefully!’

The Brocklehurst family stood up and moved slowly out of the schoolroom. At the door, my judge turned and said, ‘She must stand half an hour longer on that chair, and nobody may speak to her for the rest of the day.’

So there I was, high up on the chair, publicly displayed as an ugly example of evil. Feelings of shame and anger boiled up inside me, but just as I felt I could not bear it any longer, Helen Burns walked past me and lifted her eyes to mine. Her look calmed me. What a smile she had! It was an intelligent, brave smile, lighting up her thin face and her tired grey eyes.

When all the girls left the schoolroom at five o’clock, I climbed down from the chair and sat on the floor. I no longer felt strong or calm, and I began to cry bitterly. I had wanted so much to make friends at Lowood, to be good, to deserve praise. Now nobody would believe me or perhaps even speak to me. Could I ever start a new life after this?

‘Never!’ I cried. ‘I wish I were dead!’ Just then Helen arrived, bringing my coffee and bread. I was too upset to eat or drink, but she sat with me for some time, talking gently to me, wiping away my tears, and helping me to recover. When Miss Temple came to look for me, she found us sitting quietly together.

‘Come up to my room, both of you,’ she said.

We went to her warm, comfortable room upstairs.

‘Now tell me the truth, Jane,’ she said. ‘You have been accused, and you must have the chance to defend yourself.’

And so I told her the whole story of my lonely childhood with the Reed family, and of my terrible experience in the red room.

‘I know Dr Lloyd, who saw you when you were ill,’ she said. ‘I’ll write to him and see if he agrees with what you say. If he does, I shall publicly tell the school you are not a liar. I believe you now, Jane.’ And she kissed me. She turned to Helen.

‘How are you tonight, Helen? Have you coughed a lot today?’

‘Not very much, ma’am.’

‘And the pain in your chest?’

‘It’s a little better, I think.’

Miss Temple examined Helen carefully, and sighed a little. Then she gave us some tea and toast. For a while I felt I was in heaven, eating and drinking in the warm, pretty room, with kind Miss Temple and Helen.

But when we reached our bedroom, Miss Scatcherd was checking the drawers.

‘Burns!’ she said. ‘Yours is far too untidy! Tomorrow, all day, you will wear a notice on your forehead saying UNTIDY!’

Helen said Miss Scatcherd was quite right, and wore the notice all the next day. But I was furious, and at the end of the afternoon, tore it off her head and threw it in the fire.

When Miss Temple received a letter from Dr Lloyd, agreeing that what I had said was true, she told the whole school that I had been wrongly accused and was not a liar. From that moment, I felt I was accepted, and set to work to learn as much as I could, and make as many friends as possible.

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