The Governess of Thornfield

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Early the next morning you are awakened by Bessie who brings a candle to help you dress and ready yourself for the long journey. She presses you to take a few spoonfuls of milk and bread, but you are far too excited to sit down and eat. Soon it is time to go down and meet the coach and as you pass Mrs. Reed’s door, Bessie whispers, “Miss, will you go in and bid missis goodbye?”

“No, Bessie, she came by my crib last night and said I need not disturb her in the morning, or my cousins either. I am glad to leave, your missis has not been my friend, she has been my foe.”

“Oh, Miss, don’t say so!”

“Goodbye to Gateshead!” you cry as you pass through the hall and out the front door.

It’s very dark yet, the sun has not begun to peek over the horizon, but Bessie carries a lantern whose light glances on wet steps and a gravel road sodden by a recent thaw. The raw chill of the winter morning sets your teeth to chattering as you make your way quickly to the edge of the drive.

The coach draws up at the gates. Clinging to Bessie, you give her a kiss - she has been the kindest person to you at Gateshead and for that you are grateful. “Be sure and take good care of her,” Bessie cries to the guard as he lifts you up and places you inside.

The coach whirls you away, and your journey over hundreds of miles of road is dreary and monotonous. You alight at inns when passing through large towns, but they all seem the same and with your anticipation, your appetite seems to have flown.

In a sudden cessation of movement, you are startled awake in the coach. A person like a servant opens the coach door and by the light of the lamp she is carrying, you get a clear view of a woman enveloped in a shawl with a ruddy complexion and a careworn countenance. Later you’ll learn her name is Miss Miller, and she serves as a kind of under-teacher at Lowood. She quickly ushers you outside, where you discern the building in front of you is spread far - with many windows and lights burning in some.

Once inside, you are left in a room to warm numbed fingers over a fire. A tall lady with dark hair and eyes, and a grave, erect bearing regards you with a smile. Miss Miller calls her Miss Temple, and you find out later that she is the director of Lowood.

“The child is very young to be sent alone,” Miss Temple says, adding “She had better be put to bed soon - she looks tired. Are you tired?” she asks, placing a hand on your shoulder.

“A little, ma’am.”

“Follow Miss Miller to the dormitories. Gather your uniform from her as well. I hope you will be a good child.” The lady touches your cheek gently with a forefinger and dismisses you.

Miss Miller ushers you along the corridor, stopping at one room to gather a brown stuff frock of quaint fashion and a long Holland pinafore.

Fatigue settles in rapidly once you have gained your own bed. You awake only once to hear the wind rave in furious gusts. When next you unclose your eyes, a loud bell is ringing and the other girls are up and dressing, the day not yet beginning to dawn. Reluctantly you rise as well, for it is bitterly cold and you dress as well as you can for shivering. When you reach the water basin you see the water is frozen over.

Miss Miller calls the room full of girls to order and leads them to the schoolroom. After a session of Scripture reading and a breakfast of burnt porridge, the bell rings again for all the girls to troop over and attend classes. Your first day of class mostly consists of observing and aiding Miss Miller with her knitting.

Several days of the same routine pass and you grow accustomed to your surroundings. You are placed in a class with girls the same age as you, and gradually you habituate yourself to the new rules and unwonted tasks. The fear of failure harasses you worse than the physical hardships of your lot.

One morning, as you are bent over your slate, a motion in the window of the schoolroom happens to catch your eye. A tall pillar of a man passes by. Mr. Brocklehurst. Silently you dread his arrival, fearing he will cast a shadow on your efforts to be a good student.

You bring your slate up to partially cover your face, as Mr. Brocklehurst enters the schoolroom. After the room of girls acknowledges his presence, Mr. Brocklehurst speaks with Miss Temple. If you strain your ears from your seat, you can hear some of their whispered conversations. The tenor of their words puts you at ease.

“Madam, I have found in settling the accounts that a lunch of bread and cheese has twice been served to the girls during the past fortnight. Who introduced this innovation?”

“I must be responsible, sir,” Miss Temple replies, “the breakfast was so ill-prepared that I dared not allow the pupils to remain fasting till dinner.”

“Madam, you are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is not to accustom them to luxury but to render them hardy and self-denying. Should an accidental disappointment of the appetite occur, this incident should be used to improve the spiritual edification of the pupils by encouraging them to evince fortitude under temporary privation.”

Miss Temple bows her head, but you notice by the compression of her mouth, that she is not pleased. Amusement bubbles up inside of you, and in your effort to stop a laugh, your slate slips from your hand and crashes to the floor.

Mr. Brocklehurst’s eyes narrow as they perceive you. “A careless girl!” And then immediately after - “It is the new pupil; I have a word to say respecting her.” To the room, he says “Let the child who broke her slate come forward!”

Almost paralyzed with fear, you find your limbs strangely moving towards the front where a stool has materialized. Mr. Brocklehurst indicates that you should stand on that stool. Your heart pounds painfully as you step up.

“Miss Temple, teachers, children, you all see this girl? I am grieved to say that the Evil One has already found a servant and agent in her. I have learned from her pious and charitable benefactress that this girl is -- a liar!”

Despite the palsy of your nerves you begin to feel resolved as the trial - no longer to be shirked - must be firmly sustained.

“I beg of you to avoid her company and shun her example; you must be on your guard against her.” Mr. Brocklehurst gazes on you with truly formidable conviction. “Let her stand half an hour longer on that stool and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day.”

Truly might you hate Mrs. Reed for sowing the seeds of your shame and infamy. As sensations mere language is inadequate to describe rises in you, a girl comes up and passes you, and in passing, she lifts her eyes. What a strange light inspires them. It’s as if a martyr or hero had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in the transit. You know that girl - it is Helen Burns - an older girl whom you have admired for her kindness to the other girls in your class.

Mastering your rising hysteria, you take a firm stand on the stool.


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