Learning to like school
Life at Lowood no longer seemed so hard, as spring approached. We enjoyed walking and playing in the surrounding countryside. But, with fog lying constantly in the valley, it was not a healthy place for a school, and by May more than half the girls were seriously ill with typhus fever. As a result of poor food and bad living conditions, many girls died.
While there was fear and death inside the school, the sun shone on the flowers outside, and on the flowing streams in the valleys. So I and the few who had escaped illness enjoyed the beautiful summer weather, with no lessons or discipline at all.
Helen Burns could not come walking with me, because she was ill, not with typhus but with tuberculosis. At first I had thought she would recover, but when I learned her illness was serious, I decided to visit her at night, for what might be the last time. I found her lying in bed, looking pale and weak.
‘You’ve come to say goodbye,’ she whispered, coughing. ‘You are just in time. I’m going soon.’
‘Where, Helen? Are you going home?’ I asked.
‘Yes, to my long home — my last home.’
‘No, no, Helen!’ I was crying at the thought of losing her.
‘Jane, your feet are cold. Lie down with me and cover them with my blanket.’ I did so. ‘I am happy, Jane,’ she continued. ‘You mustn’t cry. By dying young, I’ll avoid suffering. I am going to heaven.’
‘Does heaven really exist?’ I asked.
‘Yes, I’m sure of it. I’m sure our souls go there when we die,’ she answered firmly. ‘Will I see you again, Helen, when I die?’
‘Yes, you will go to heaven too, Jane.’
I could not quite believe that heaven existed, and I held tightly to Helen. I did not want to let her go. We kissed goodnight and fell asleep. In the morning Miss Temple found me asleep, with Helen Burns dead in my arms. She was buried in the local churchyard.
Gradually the typhus fever left Lowood, but the number of deaths made the public aware of the poor conditions in which the pupils lived. Money was raised to build a new school in a better position, many improvements were made, and Mr. Brocklehurst lost his position as manager. So it became a really useful place of education. I stayed for eight more years, for the last two as a teacher. I was busy and happy all that time, relying greatly on the help and encouragement of my dear friend Miss Temple.
But when she married and moved to a distant part of the country, I decided it was the moment for me to change my life too. I realized I had never known any other world apart from Lowood or Gateshead. Suddenly I wanted freedom or at least a new master to serve. So I advertised in a newspaper for a job as a governess. When I received an answer from a Mrs. Fairfax, who wanted a governess for a girl under ten years old, I accepted, with the permission of the new headmistress of Lowood.