There is comfort in reading a book on a chill and gloomy day. Tucked up in the window seat of the library, through the beauty of the illustrations in your book, you forget your hated and hating position in the Reed household at Gateshead Hall.
Mrs. Reed, your Aunt, was reluctant to accept you when you were orphaned as a babe, but your Uncle Reed insisted, and Mrs. Reed had no choice but to feed and clothe you along with her own children - John, Eliza, and Georgiana. When Mr. Reed died just a year later, Mrs. Reed was bound by her promise to her dead husband to keep and care for you. But she never showed you any love. Her children took after her in that way - John Reed was always teasing and tormenting you while Mrs. Reed looked away. Eliza and Georgiana were no better since they encouraged John in his malicious tricks.
The window drapery hides you from view should anyone happen to come into the room, and leisurely you peruse a copy of Bewick’s History of British Birds. You wish you could stay in that window seat forever but all too soon, the door to the library opens and John Reed’s nasal, tyrannical voice rings out, calling for you -
“Boh! Madam Mope! Where the dickens is she!”
You push aside the window curtains quickly, unwilling to let John see how nervous you are to face him. When John Reed sees you, he walks over to an armchair and sits down.
“What do you want?” you ask tremulously and with awkward diffidence.
“I want you to come here,” he replies haughtily.
You approach his chair slowly, observing his countenance. John Reed is fourteen years old, four years older than you, but he is large and stout for his age and his skin is unwholesome and dingy. He gorges himself habitually at the table, which makes him bilious and gives him a dim, bleared eye and flabby cheeks. He ought now to have been at school; but his mama had taken him home for a month or two, “on account of his delicate health.” In your opinion, it would have been better if Aunt Reed had kept more cakes and sweetmeats from him, but she was ever indulging her children.
When you come up to his chair, you know John will strike you soon, but while dreading the blow, you muse on his disgusting and ugly appearance. Perhaps he sees your thoughts in your face for he suddenly strikes you strongly.
“That is for your sneaking way of getting behind curtains, and for the look you had in your eyes, you rat!”
Accustomed to John Reed’s abuse, you never replied to it; your care was in how to endure it.
“What were you doing behind the curtain?” he asks.
“I was reading.”
“Show the book.”
You return to the window and fetch it for him.
“You have no business taking our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us. Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows.”
Standing where he directs you, you instinctively start aside with alarm when he raises his arm to throw the book, but not soon enough. The book hits you, and in falling you strike and cut your head against the door. The cut bleeds and the pain is sharp: your terror has passed its climax and a fury rises in you that you have never felt before.
Scarcely before you can even think of what you are about, you rise and run at John, grappling with him. Feeling a drop or two of blood trickle down your neck, you are sensible of your sufferings, and for a time these feelings predominate fear. As you strike him back, he calls out “Rat! Rat!” and bellows aloud. Aid is near him, as Eliza and Georgiana run for Mrs. Reed and she arrives at the scene, followed by the maids Bessie and Abbot.
Hands pull you from John Reed, even as you attempt to get in another blow, but your arms are quickly secured, and you hear the words --
“Dear! dear! What a fury to fly at Master John!”
“Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion!”
Then Mrs. Reed subjoins—
“Take her away to the red room and lock her in there.”
To allow yourself to be taken to the red room, go to TWO
To entreat Mrs. Reed to have mercy, go to THREE