Miss Eyre was but eighteen years of age. She entered Lowood Institution when she was ten years old and stayed eight years, first as a pupil, then as a teacher. Lowood, and other schools like it, was little more than an oubliette of sorts for young girls whose families did not want them. It was a charitable concern in ----shire directed by a Mr. Brocklehurst, a sanctimonious prig of a parson. Though I said nothing to her at the time, I remembered the scandal that occurred there—how, due to his extreme parsimoniousness and misguided zealotry, Brocklehurst regularly semi-starved and neglected its pupils, and as a result, the typhus had killed many of them about seven or eight years before. Surely, she was there at the time; so she must have seen her friends go to their final resting place. This must have explained her sometimes mournful look, which I espied that morning after Adèle left her, as she paced through the gallery looking out to the window to the snowy landscape beyond Thornfield.
"Eight years! You must be tenacious of life," said I, "I thought half the time in such a place would have done up any constitution! No wonder you have the look of another world. I marveled where you got that sort of face. When you came upon me in Hay Lane last night, I thought accountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse. I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?"
Her parents died before she knew them. She had no kinsfolk such as uncles or aunts, no brothers or sisters, no home—in short, she had nothing earthly to attach herself to, adrift was she in the sea of humanity. Her only people were the men in green, suggested I, but as she reminded me, they all forsook England a hundred years ago. Upon hearing this strange repartee, simple Fairfax's jaw dropped an inch or two in utter bewilderment. Miss Eyre, however, looked straight ahead, the faintest hint of amusement playing upon her features.
Her education at Lowood was sufficient for a schoolgirl governess, grounded in the fundamentals of an English education: reading, arithmetic, French, art and music, some of which she was quite proficient but certainly not accomplished. (Miss Eyre was correct in her assessment, she played the piano a little, but not well, as I determined after hearing her play for a few minutes.) Earlier in the day, however, Adèle had shown me some of Miss Eyre's paintings and sketches. I had seen many young ladies' amateurish renderings of landscapes, portraits, etc., all called fine to flatter their conceit, but to my eyes conventional and uninteresting. Therefore, I was unprepared when I saw Miss Eyre's work. Although she was not as skilled in the art and science of a master, her drawings were dream-like, as if she saw these pictorial visions from second sight, which rendered them quite peculiar. They appeared from a world of only her imagination. Three stood out from the rest. The first was a scene of her own imagination: out in the open sea was the arm of a corpse coming up out of the waters, the victim of a shipwreck. Before it, perched on a floating piece of lumber was a cormorant bird holding in its beak a golden bracelet taken from the wrist of the drowned woman; the next was from what I perceived to be the Evening Star from the Greek legend: a woman's bust whose dim forehead was crowned with a star through vaporous moonlight; the third, a colossal head dressed in a black turban, with a strange look of despair on its bloodless face, inclined toward the pinnacle of a iceberg piercing a cold winter sky. I asked if she was happy when she drew them, and she replied that she derived much happiness working on them. But how could that be? Her pleasures were few indeed. I recognised Latmos in one of these drawings, but she had never been there, of course. How was she able to depict it so faithfully?
I discovered that no ordinary mind was hers, young as she was. These enigmatical paintings made me see that she had a yearning for, or a premonition of, something, which she knew not how to articulate. What were the meanings of them? I forgot where I was and spent several moments staring at them; I was fascinated and moved by these paintings though I scarcely knew why. Then I came back to myself and remembered my present state of misery.
"There, put the drawings away!" I exclaimed, for suddenly I wanted to be alone. It was nine o'clock, and imperious fool that I was, I scolded Miss Eyre for keeping Adèle up past her bedtime, when I, of course, was the guilty party. Then I wished them all good night and motioned them away with my hand. Mrs. Fairfax folded up her knitting, Miss Eyre gathered her portfolio, Adèle kissed me on the cheek and after curtsying, they all withdrew.Alone with Pilot, whose furry head rested on my knee, I spent the rest of the evening staring at the fire until it died down to small embers. All was quiet in the house, the servants had long since gone to sleep. Gradually, each candle burned out, and when at last the room was enshrouded in darkness, I withdrew to my chamber hoping for dreamless slumber.
Chapter 7: At a Disadvantage (Click here.)