My first impressions of school
Mrs. Reed arranged for me to leave on the nineteenth of January. I had to get up very early to catch the coach, but Bessie helped me to get ready.
‘Will you say goodbye to Mrs. Reed, Jane?’ she asked.
‘No, she said, I shouldn’t disturb her so early. Anyway, I don’t want to say anything to her. She’s always hated me.’
‘Oh, Miss Jane, don’t say that!’
‘Goodbye to Gateshead!’ I shouted wildly, as we walked together out of the front door, to wait for the coach in the road. It arrived, pulled by four horses, and full of passengers. The coachman took my luggage and called me to hurry up. Bessie kissed me for the last time as I held tightly to her.
She shouted up to the coachman, ‘Make sure you take care of her! Fifty miles is a long way for a young child to go alone.’
‘I will!’ he answered. The door was closed, and the coach rolled off. What a strange feeling to be leaving Gateshead, my home for the whole of my childhood! Although I was sad to say goodbye to Bessie, I was both excited and nervous about the new places I would see, and the new people I would meet.
I do not remember much about the journey, except that it seemed far too long. We stopped for lunch, to change the horses. Then in the afternoon I realized we were driving through countryside. I slept for a short time but was woken when the coach stopped. The door opened and a servant called in:
‘Is there a little girl called Jane Eyre here?’
‘Yes,’ I answered, and was helped out of the coach with my luggage. Tired and confused after the journey, I followed the servant into a large building, where she left me in a sitting-room. In came a tall lady, with dark hair and eyes, and a large, pale forehead. I discovered that she was Miss Temple, the headmistress of Lowood school. She looked at me carefully.
‘You are very young to be sent alone. You look tired. Are you?’ she asked, putting her hand kindly on my shoulder.
‘A little, ma’am,’ I replied. ‘How old are you, and what is your name?’
‘I’m Jane Eyre, ma’am, and I’m ten years old.’
‘Well, I hope you will be a good child at school,’ she said, touching my cheek gently with her finger.
I was taken by a teacher, Miss Miller, through the silent corridors of the large school, to the long, wide schoolroom. There about eighty girls, aged from nine to twenty, sat doing their homework. I sat on a bench near the door, with my slate.
‘Put away the lesson-books and fetch the supper-trays!’ called Miss Miller. Four tall girls removed all the books, then went out and returned with trays which were handed round. Each child could have a drink of water out of the shared cup, and could take a small piece of biscuit. Then we all went quietly upstairs to the long, crowded bedroom, where two children shared every bed. I had to share Miss Miller’s, but I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately.
In the morning the ringing of a bell woke me, although it was still dark. I got dressed quickly in the bitter cold of the room, and washed when I could. There was only one basin for six girls. When the bell rang again, we all went downstairs, two by two, and silently entered the cold, badly lit schoolroom for prayers. As the bell rang a third time to indicate the beginning of lessons, the girls moved into four groups around four tables, and the teachers came into the room to start the Bible class. I was put in the bottom class. How glad I was when it was time for breakfast! I had hardly eaten anything the day before. But the only food served to us was porridge, which was burnt. It was so disgusting that we could not eat it, so we left the dining-room with empty stomachs. After breakfast came the one happy moment of the day, when the pupils could play and talk freely. We all complained bitterly about the uneatable breakfast. Lessons started again at nine o’clock and finished at twelve, when Miss Temple stood up to speak to the whole school.
‘Girls, this morning you had a breakfast which you couldn’t eat. You must be hungry, so I have ordered a lunch of bread and cheese for you all.’ The teachers looked at her in surprise.
‘Don’t worry, I take responsibility for it,’ she told them.
We were delighted, and all rushed out into the garden to eat our lunch. Nobody had taken any notice of me so far, but I did not mind that. I stood alone outside, watching some of the stronger girls playing, trying to forget the bitter cold, and thinking about my life. Gateshead and the Reed family seemed a long way away. I was not yet used to school life. And what sort of future could I look forward to?
As I wondered, I saw a girl near me reading a book. I felt brave enough to speak to her, since I too liked reading.
‘Is your book interesting? What is it about?’ I asked.
‘Well, I like it,’ she said after a pause, looking at me. ‘Here, have a look at it.’ I glanced quickly at it but found it too difficult to understand, so I gave it back.
‘What sort of school is this?’ I asked.
‘It’s called Lowood school. It’s a charity school. We’re all charity children, you see. I expect your parents are dead, aren’t they? All the girls here have lost either one or both parents.’
‘Don’t we pay anything? Is the school free?’ I asked.
‘We pay, or our relations pay, $15 a year for each of us. That isn’t enough, so some kind ladies and gentlemen in London pay the rest. That’s why it’s called a charity school.’
‘Who is Mr. Brocklehurst?’ was my next question.
‘His mother built this part of the school. He’s the manager, and looks after all financial matters. He lives in a large house near here.’
I did not see her again until during the afternoon lessons, when I noticed that she had been sent to stand alone in the middle of the schoolroom. I could not imagine what she had done to deserve such a punishment, but she did not look ashamed or unhappy. She was lost in thought, and did not seem to notice that everyone was looking at her.
‘If that happened to me,’ I thought, ‘I would be so embarrassed!’
After lessons we had a small cup of coffee and half a piece of brown bread, then half an hour’s play, then homework. Finally, after the evening biscuit and drink of water, we said prayers and went to bed. That was my first day at Lowood.