Jane Eyre (Chapter 6, page 2 of 7)


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Chapter 6

A chapter having been read through twice, the books were closed and
the girls examined. The lesson had comprised part of the reign of
Charles I., and there were sundry questions about tonnage and
poundage and ship-money, which most of them appeared unable to
answer; still, every little difficulty was solved instantly when it
reached Burns: her memory seemed to have retained the substance of
the whole lesson, and she was ready with answers on every point. I
kept expecting that Miss Scatcherd would praise her attention; but,
instead of that, she suddenly cried out "You dirty, disagreeable girl! you have never cleaned your nails
this morning!"

Burns made no answer: I wondered at her silence. "Why," thought I,
"does she not explain that she could neither clean her nails nor
wash her face, as the water was frozen?"

My attention was now called off by Miss Smith desiring me to hold a
skein of thread: while she was winding it, she talked to me from
time to time, asking whether I had ever been at school before,
whether I could mark, stitch, knit, &c.; till she dismissed me, I
could not pursue my observations on Miss Scatcherd's movements.
When I returned to my seat, that lady was just delivering an order
of which I did not catch the import; but Burns immediately left the
class, and going into the small inner room where the books were
kept, returned in half a minute, carrying in her hand a bundle of
twigs tied together at one end. This ominous tool she presented to
Miss Scatcherd with a respectful curtesy; then she quietly, and
without being told, unloosed her pinafore, and the teacher instantly
and sharply inflicted on her neck a dozen strokes with the bunch of
twigs. Not a tear rose to Burns' eye; and, while I paused from my
sewing, because my fingers quivered at this spectacle with a
sentiment of unavailing and impotent anger, not a feature of her
pensive face altered its ordinary expression.

"Hardened girl!" exclaimed Miss Scatcherd; "nothing can correct you
of your slatternly habits: carry the rod away."

Burns obeyed: I looked at her narrowly as she emerged from the
book-closet; she was just putting back her handkerchief into her
pocket, and the trace of a tear glistened on her thin cheek.

The play-hour in the evening I thought the pleasantest fraction of
the day at Lowood: the bit of bread, the draught of coffee
swallowed at five o'clock had revived vitality, if it had not
satisfied hunger: the long restraint of the day was slackened; the
schoolroom felt warmer than in the morning--its fires being allowed
to burn a little more brightly, to supply, in some measure, the
place of candles, not yet introduced: the ruddy gloaming, the
licensed uproar, the confusion of many voices gave one a welcome
sense of liberty.

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