jane eyre chapter 26


Finding shelter

I was put down at Whitcross, a crossroads on the moor, after travelling for two days in the coach. As it rolled away, I realized I had left my parcel inside, and given the coachman all the coins in my purse. I was alone on the open moor, with no money or possessions. Lonely white roads stretched across the great, wide moors as far as the hills. I was glad to see there were no towns here, because I did not want people to question me or pity me. So I walked across the moor, until I found a dry place to sleep, in the shelter of a small hill. Luckily it was a warm night, with no rain. The next day was hot and sunny, but I needed food and water, so I could not stay on the moor.

Taking one of the white roads, I eventually found a small village. I needed all my courage to knock on some of the doors, asking if there was any paid work I could do. None of the village people could help me, and I could not bring myself to beg for food, although by now I felt weak and faint. At the baker’s I offered to exchange my leather gloves for a small cake, but the baker’s wife looked at my dirty clothes and said, ‘I’m sorry, but how do I know you haven’t stolen them?’ All I ate that day was a piece of bread, which I begged from a farmer eating his supper. I spent another night on the moor, but this time the air was cold and the ground was damp. Next day I walked from house to house again, looking in vain for work. I was now very weak from lack of food, and I began to wonder why I should struggle to stay alive, when I did not want to live.

It was getting dark again, and I was alone on the moor. In the distance I could see a faint light, and I decided to try to reach it.

The wind and rain beat down on me, and I fell down several times, but finally I arrived at a long, low house, standing rather isolated in the middle of the moor. Hiding near the door, I could just see into the kitchen through a small uncurtained window. There was an elderly woman, who might be the housekeeper, mending clothes, and two young ladies, who seemed to be learning a language with dictionaries. The kitchen looked so clean and bright, and the ladies so kind and sensible, that I dared to knock at the door. The elderly woman opened it, but she must have thought I was a thief or a beggar, because she refused to let me speak to the young ladies. The door closed firmly, shutting me out from the warmth inside.

I dropped on to the wet doorstep, worn out and hopeless, prepared to die. There the young ladies’ brother found me, when he returned home a few minutes later, and he insisted, much against the housekeeper’s wishes, on bringing me into the house. They gave me bread and milk, and asked my name.

‘Jane Elliott,’ I replied. I did not want anybody to know where I had come from. To their further questions I answered that I was too tired to speak. Finally they helped me upstairs to a bedroom, and I sank gratefully into a warm, dry bed.

For three days and nights I lay in bed, exhausted by my experiences, and hardly conscious of my surroundings. As I was recovering, Hannah, the housekeeper, came to sit with me, and told me all about the family. She had known them since they were babies. Their mother had been dead for years, and their father had died only three weeks before. The girls, Diana and Mary Rivers, had to work as governesses, as their father had lost a lot of money in business. St John, their brother, was the vicar in the nearest village, Morton. They only used this house, called Moor House, in the holidays.

When I felt strong enough to get dressed and go downstairs, Diana and Mary looked after me very kindly, and made me feel welcome in their pleasant home. Their brother, however, seemed stern and cold. He was between twenty-eight and thirty, fair-haired and extremely handsome. Diana and Mary were curious about my past, but sensitive enough to avoid asking questions which would hurt me. St John, on the other hand, made determined efforts to discover who I was, but I, just as firmly, refused to explain more than necessary. I told them only that, after attending Lowood school, I became a governess in a wealthy family, where an unfortunate event, not in any way my fault, caused me to run away. That was all I was prepared to say. I offered to do any kind of work, teaching, sewing, cleaning, so that I could become independent again. St John approved of my keenness to work, and promised to find me some paid employment.


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