The Brocklehurst family stood up and moved slowly out of the schoolroom. At the door, my judge turned and said, ‘She must stand half an hour longer on that chair, and nobody may speak to her for the rest of the day.’
So there I was, high up on the chair, publicly displayed as an ugly example of evil. Feelings of shame and anger boiled up inside me, but just as I felt I could not bear it any longer, Helen Burns walked past me and lifted her eyes to mine. Her look calmed me. What a smile she had! It was an intelligent, brave smile, lighting up her thin face and her tired grey eyes.
When all the girls left the schoolroom at five o’clock, I climbed down from the chair and sat on the floor. I no longer felt strong or calm, and I began to cry bitterly. I had wanted so much to make friends at Lowood, to be good, to deserve praise. Now nobody would believe me or perhaps even speak to me. Could I ever start a new life after this?
‘Never!’ I cried. ‘I wish I were dead!’ Just then Helen arrived, bringing my coffee and bread. I was too upset to eat or drink, but she sat with me for some time, talking gently to me, wiping away my tears, and helping me to recover. When Miss Temple came to look for me, she found us sitting quietly together.
‘Come up to my room, both of you,’ she said.
We went to her warm, comfortable room upstairs.
‘Now tell me the truth, Jane,’ she said. ‘You have been accused, and you must have the chance to defend yourself.’
And so I told her the whole story of my lonely childhood with the Reed family, and of my terrible experience in the red room.
‘I know Dr Lloyd, who saw you when you were ill,’ she said. ‘I’ll write to him and see if he agrees with what you say. If he does, I shall publicly tell the school you are not a liar. I believe you now, Jane.’ And she kissed me. She turned to Helen.
‘How are you tonight, Helen? Have you coughed a lot today?’
‘Not very much, ma’am.’
‘And the pain in your chest?’
‘It’s a little better, I think.’
Miss Temple examined Helen carefully, and sighed a little. Then she gave us some tea and toast. For a while I felt I was in heaven, eating and drinking in the warm, pretty room, with kind Miss Temple and Helen.
But when we reached our bedroom, Miss Scatcherd was checking the drawers.
‘Burns!’ she said. ‘Yours is far too untidy! Tomorrow, all day, you will wear a notice on your forehead saying UNTIDY!’
Helen said Miss Scatcherd was quite right, and wore the notice all the next day. But I was furious, and at the end of the afternoon, tore it off her head and threw it in the fire.
When Miss Temple received a letter from Dr Lloyd, agreeing that what I had said was true, she told the whole school that I had been wrongly accused and was not a liar. From that moment, I felt I was accepted, and set to work to learn as much as I could, and make as many friends as possible.