The red room
We could not go for a walk that afternoon. There was such a freezing cold wind, and such heavy rain, that we all stayed indoors. I was glad of it. I never liked long walks, especially in winter. I used to hate coming home when it was almost dark, with ice-cold fingers and toes, feeling miserable because Bessie, the nursemaid, was always scolding me. All the time I knew I was different from my cousins, Eliza, John and Georgiana Reed.
They were taller and stronger than me, and they were loved.
These three usually spent their time crying and quarrelling, but today they were sitting quietly around their mother in the sitting-room. I wanted to join the family circle, but Mrs. Reed, my aunt, refused. Bessie had complained about me.
‘No, I’m sorry, Jane. Until I hear from Bessie, or see for myself, that you are really trying to behave better, you cannot be treated as a good, happy child, like my children.’
‘What does Bessie say I have done?’ I asked.
‘Jane, it is not polite to question me in that way. If you cannot speak pleasantly, be quiet.’
I crept out of the sitting-room and into the small room next door, where I chose a book full of pictures from the bookcase. I climbed on to the window-seat and drew the curtains, so that I was completely hidden. I sat there for a while. Sometimes I looked out of the window at the grey November afternoon, and saw the rain pouring down on the leafless garden. But most of the time I studied the book and stared, fascinated, at the pictures. Lost in the world of imagination, I forgot my sad, lonely existence for a while, and was happy. I was only afraid that my secret hiding-place might be discovered.
Suddenly the door of the room opened. John Reed rushed in.
‘Where are you, rat?’ he shouted. He did not see me behind the curtain. ‘Eliza! Georgy! Jane isn’t here! Tell Mamma she’s run out into the rain — what a bad animal she is!’
‘How lucky I drew the curtain,’ I thought. He would never have found me, because he was not very intelligent. But Eliza guessed at once where I was.
‘She’s in the window-seat, John,’ she called from the sitting-room. So I came out immediately, as I did not want him to pull me out.
‘What do you want?’ I asked him.
‘Say, «What do you want, Master Reed»,’ he answered, sitting in an armchair. ‘I want you to come here.’
John Reed was fourteen and I was only ten. He was large and rather fat. He usually ate too much at meals, which made him ill. He should have been at boarding school, but his mother, who loved him very much, had brought him home for a month or two, because she thought his health was delicate. John did not love his mother or his sisters, and he hated me. He bullied and punished me, not two or three times a week, not once or twice a day, but all the time. My whole body trembled when he came near. Sometimes he hit me, sometimes he just threatened me, and I lived in terrible fear of him. I had no idea how to stop him. The servants did not want to offend their young master, and Mrs. Reed could see no fault in her dear boy.
So I obeyed John’s order and approached his armchair, thinking how very ugly his face was. Perhaps he understood what I was thinking, for he hit me hard on the face.
‘That is for your rudeness to Mamma just now,’ he said, ‘and for your wickedness in hiding, and for looking at me like that, you rat!’
I was so used to his bullying that I never thought of hitting him back.
‘What were you doing behind that curtain?’ he asked.
‘I was reading,’ I answered.
‘Show me the book.’ I gave it to him.
‘You have no right to take our books,’ he continued. ‘You have no money and your father left you none. You ought to beg in the streets, not live here in comfort with a gentleman’s family. Anyway, all these books are mine, and so is the whole house, or will be in a few years’ time. I’ll teach you not to borrow my books again.’ He lifted the heavy book and threw it hard at me.
It hit me and I fell, cutting my head on the door. I was in great pain, and suddenly for the first time in my life, I forgot my fear of John Reed.
‘You wicked, cruel boy!’ I cried. ‘You are a bully! You are as bad as a murderer!’
‘What! What!’ he cried. ‘Did she say that to me? Did you hear, Eliza and Georgiana? I’ll tell Mamma, but first…’
He rushed to attack me, but now he was fighting with a desperate girl. I really saw him as a wicked murderer. I felt the blood running down my face, and the pain gave me strength. I fought back as hard as I could. My resistance surprised him, and he shouted for help. His sisters ran for Mrs. Reed, who called her maid, Miss Abbott, and Bessie. They pulled us apart and I heard them say, ‘What a wicked girl! She attacked Master John!’
Mrs. Reed said calmly, ‘Take her away to the red room and lock her in there.’ And so I was carried upstairs, arms waving and legs kicking.
As soon as we arrived in the red room, I became quiet again, and the two servants both started scolding me.
‘Really, Miss Eyre,’ said Miss Abbott, ‘how could you hit him? He’s your young master!’