Jane Eyre (Chapter 4, page 2 of 13)


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Chapter 4

"What would Uncle Reed say to you, if he were alive?" was my
scarcely voluntary demand. I say scarcely voluntary, for it seemed
as if my tongue pronounced words without my will consenting to their
utterance: something spoke out of me over which I had no control.

"What?" said Mrs. Reed under her breath: her usually cold composed
grey eye became troubled with a look like fear; she took her hand
from my arm, and gazed at me as if she really did not know whether I
were child or fiend. I was now in for it.

"My Uncle Reed is in heaven, and can see all you do and think; and
so can papa and mama: they know how you shut me up all day long,
and how you wish me dead."

Mrs. Reed soon rallied her spirits: she shook me most soundly, she
boxed both my ears, and then left me without a word. Bessie
supplied the hiatus by a homily of an hour's length, in which she
proved beyond a doubt that I was the most wicked and abandoned child
ever reared under a roof. I half believed her; for I felt indeed
only bad feelings surging in my breast.

November, December, and half of January passed away. Christmas and
the New Year had been celebrated at Gateshead with the usual festive
cheer; presents had been interchanged, dinners and evening parties
given. From every enjoyment I was, of course, excluded: my share
of the gaiety consisted in witnessing the daily apparelling of Eliza
and Georgiana, and seeing them descend to the drawing-room, dressed
out in thin muslin frocks and scarlet sashes, with hair elaborately
ringletted; and afterwards, in listening to the sound of the piano
or the harp played below, to the passing to and fro of the butler
and footman, to the jingling of glass and china as refreshments were
handed, to the broken hum of conversation as the drawing-room door
opened and closed. When tired of this occupation, I would retire
from the stairhead to the solitary and silent nursery: there,
though somewhat sad, I was not miserable. To speak truth, I had not
the least wish to go into company, for in company I was very rarely
noticed; and if Bessie had but been kind and companionable, I should
have deemed it a treat to spend the evenings quietly with her,
instead of passing them under the formidable eye of Mrs. Reed, in a
room full of ladies and gentlemen. But Bessie, as soon as she had
dressed her young ladies, used to take herself off to the lively
regions of the kitchen and housekeeper's room, generally bearing the
candle along with her. I then sat with my doll on my knee till the
fire got low, glancing round occasionally to make sure that nothing
worse than myself haunted the shadowy room; and when the embers sank
to a dull red, I undressed hastily, tugging at knots and strings as
I best might, and sought shelter from cold and darkness in my crib.
To this crib I always took my doll; human beings must love
something, and, in the dearth of worthier objects of affection, I
contrived to find a pleasure in loving and cherishing a faded graven
image, shabby as a miniature scarecrow. It puzzles me now to
remember with what absurd sincerity I doated on this little toy,
half fancying it alive and capable of sensation. I could not sleep
unless it was folded in my night-gown; and when it lay there safe
and warm, I was comparatively happy, believing it to be happy
likewise.

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