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!’