As the five o’clock bell strikes and school is dismissed, you venture to descend. It is deep dusk and retiring to a corner, you sit on the floor. The spell by which you had been so far supported begins to dissolve and reaction takes place - overwhelming grief seizes you and you hold your hands to your face as you weep. Just that morning Miss Miller had praised you so warmly and Miss Temple had smiled approbation. Now your fellow-pupils will no longer welcome you and your progress in school has been for naught.
While sobbing you hear someone approach. Starting up, you see it is Helen Burns with a mug of coffee and bread.
“Come, eat something,” she says, but you put both away from you, afraid that a drop or a crumb would choke you in your present condition.
“Helen, why do you stay with a girl whom everybody believes to be a liar?”
“Everybody? Why you are mistaken, you are very well-liked here and I am sure many pity you.”
“How can they pity me after what Mr. Brocklehurst said?”
“Mr. Brocklehurst is not a great and admired man; he never took steps to make himself liked. Teachers and pupils may look coldly on you for a day or two, but friendly feelings will soon surface and if you persevere in doing well, they will become more evident. Besides, if all the world hated you while your own conscience approved you, you would not be without friends.”
“I know I should think well of myself, but that is not enough - I cannot bear to be solitary and hated.”
“Hush, you think too much of the love of human beings: you are too impulsive, too vehement: I read a sincere nature in your eyes, and God only waits for the separation of the spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward. Why should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over and death is so certain an entrance to happiness?”
You are silent a moment. What Helen says is compelling, but you wish for approbation and love now and somehow feel that you deserve it. But Helen seems like such a kind and wonderful soul. Surely there must be some error in your own judgment if Helen believes that God’s reward is paramount.
After all, daily you see how well Helen bears being punished by one of the teachers, Miss Scatcherd, who seemed to have a particular dislike for Helen. Miss Scatcherd always seems to notice when Helen forgets to put away her things, daydreams in class or exhibits poor posture. And then she takes a switch to Helen, who never complains or objects. If there is anyone in the school you want to be more like, it is Helen Burns.
“Helen, do you like being at Lowood?”
Helen muses over your questions thoughtfully. “I was sent to Lowood to get an education. I appreciate the opportunity I have here.”
“Where do you come from?”
“I come from a place farther north, quite on the borders of Scotland.”
“Will you ever go back?”
“I hope so; but nobody can be sure of the future.”
Helen has calmed you, but in the tranquility, she imparts there is an alloy of inexpressible sadness. Helen offers her shoulder for you to lean your head upon and the two of you repose in silence. Gradually you tell her where you are from, and of your situation and treatment by Mrs. Reed at Gateshead.
Helen hears you patiently to the end, without making a remark. When you are done you impatiently ask, “Well, is not Mrs. Reed a hard-hearted, bad woman?”
“She has been unkind to you, no doubt, because she dislikes your cast of character, but how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you. Would you be happier if you tried to forget her severity and the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”
Helen’s head, always drooping, sinks a little lower as she finishes this sentence. You see by her face that she no longer wishes to talk but to converse with her own thoughts.
She does not have long for meditation however, as the bell summons all for the evening study hour.
As the days pass you find great comfort in Helen’s company. And she was right, soon your schoolmates seem to have forgotten Brocklehurst’s invective and you feel pleasure in your studies.
Helen has become your closest friend, and after many months of companionship, you notice she seems unable to shake an awful, throaty cough. Her condition only worsens as time goes on, and in alarm, you plead with Helen to ask Miss Temple to send for the doctor. Helen refuses. “I’m sure it is not serious.” You disagree, but she insists on not bothering anyone.
To insist on sending for the doctor, go to NINE
To defer to Helen’s wishes, go to TEN