Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 8

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Chapter VIII

Ere the half-hour ended, five o’clock struck; school was dismissed, and all were gone into the refectory to tea.  I now ventured to descend: it was deep dusk; I retired into a corner and sat down on the floor.  The spell by which I had been so far supported began to dissolve; reaction took place, and soon, so overwhelming was the grief that seized me, I sank prostrate with my face to the ground.  Now I wept: Helen Burns was not here; nothing sustained me; left to myself I abandoned myself, and my tears watered the boards.  I had meant to be so good, and to do so much at Lowood: to make so many friends, to earn respect and win affection.  Already I had made visible progress: that very morning I had reached the head of my class; Miss Miller had praised me warmly; Miss Temple had smiled approbation;w she had promised to teach me drawing, and to let me learn French, if I continued to make similar improvement two months longer: and then I was well received by my fellow-pupils; treated as an equal by those of my own age, and not molested by any; now, here I lay again crushed and trodden on; and could I ever rise more?

“Never,” I thought; and ardently I wished to die.  While sobbing out this wish in broken accents, some one approached: I started up—again Helen Burns was near me; the fading fires just showed her coming up the long, vacant room; she brought my coffee and bread.

“Come, eat something,” she said; but I put both away from me, feeling as if a drop or a crumb would have choked me in my present condition.  Helen regarded me, probably with surprise: I could not now abate my agitation, though I tried hard; I continued to weep aloud.  She sat down on the ground near me, embraced her knees with her arms, and rested her head upon them; in that attitude she remained silent as an Indian.  I was the first who spoke—

“Helen, why do you stay with a girl whom everybody believes to be a liar?”

“Everybody, Jane?  Why, there are only eighty people who have heard you called so, and the world contains hundreds of millions.”

“But what have I to do with millions?  The eighty, I know, despise me.”

“Jane, you are mistaken: probably not one in the school either despises or dislikes you: many, I am sure, pity you much.”

“How can they pity me after what Mr. Brocklehurst has said?”

“Mr. Brocklehurst is not a god: nor is he even a great and admired man: he is little liked here; he never took steps to make himself liked.  Had he treated you as an especial favourite, you would have found enemies, declared or covert, all around you; as it is, the greater number would offer you sympathy if they dared.  Teachers and pupils may look coldly on you for a day or two, but friendly feelings are concealed in their hearts; and if you persevere in doing well, these feelings will ere long appear so much the more evidently for their temporary suppression.  Besides, Jane”—she paused.

“Well, Helen?” said I, putting my hand into hers: she chafed my fingers gently to warm them, and went on—

“If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

X [w] approbation;

Approval.