Written by Charlotte BrontĂŤ Retold by Julie Berry Illustrated by Runa Rudaya
Chapter 1 There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. The cold wintry wind had brought clouds and rain. I was glad. I hated how chilly afternoon walks left me with frozen fingers and toes, which Bessie would always scold me for. All the servants found me plain and unpleasant, unlike Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed, my cousins, whom they called adorable. Certainly their mother, my aunt, Mrs Reed, saw her children that way. They clustered around her on the sofa. Bessie said I’d been cross with my cousins.
They were constantly cruel to me. But neither Bessie nor Mrs Reed ever noticed. I wasn’t allowed to join in with the family, because, “Such privileges,” explained Mrs Reed, “were for happy, pleasant children.” “Why, what does Bessie say I’ve done?” “Don’t ask questions of your elders,” snapped Mrs Reed. I was ten. My parents died when I was a baby. Mr Reed, my mother’s brother, took me in, and made his wife promise on his deathbed to keep me. She couldn’t deny his dying wishes. I’d spent my life at Gateshead – an elegant country mansion, rich with every luxury except love and kindness for a poor, unwanted orphan girl.
I crept into the breakfast room and sat cross-legged on a window seat, hidden by the curtains, to read Bewick’s History of English Birds. Its beautifully coloured illustrations made me forget my sadness, though not for long. “Where the dickens is she?” cried John Reed. My 14-year-old cousin loved tormenting me. I kept still. But my breath stirred the curtain. He snatched it back. John Reed was a large and pudgy boy, who gobbled sweets. His mother spoilt him. “What do you want, John?” “Say, ‘What do you want, Master Reed?’” I repeated the words. He clenched his fists, and I waited for a blow to strike.
“What’s that?” he demanded. “A book.” “How dare you read my books?” he said. “This belongs to me, or it will, once I’m master of the house. Even your clothes belong to me. You’re an orphan and a beggar.” I couldn’t keep still. “Wicked and cruel boy!” I cried. John’s flabby face quivered. “Mamma! Ugly Jane called me wicked!” Mrs Reed appeared. “Vicious girl!” she cried. “How dare you insult Master John? Bessie, take Miss Jane and lock her in the red room.”
It was no use telling Mrs Reed this was unfair, nor struggling against Bessie’s grip as she marched me upstairs. She unlocked the red room and set me on a stool, scolding me for my wicked behaviour. I ought to be grateful to the Reeds, she said. I ought to treat young Master Reed with gratitude. She left, turning the key in the lock. The red room was rarely used and cold. It was a grand, elegant, lonely bedroom, thickly carpeted and curtained in red, with a huge four-poster bed covered in dark crimson covers and drapes. I remembered: Mr Reed died in the red room. Perhaps his ghost is here. Perhaps his ghost sees how cruelly Mrs Reed treats his sister’s only child.
The idea of ghosts terrified me. I shivered. Just then, a shimmering patch of light slid slowly across the wall. Perhaps it was reflected light from a servant’s lantern outside, but I became certain it was a ghost. I screamed a hideous cry. “Let me out! Let me out!” 7
Footsteps came running – first Bessie; then Mrs Reed. “What’s the matter, miss?” panted Bessie. I pointed to the wall. “A g-ghost!” I stammered. “I saw a light. It was a ghost!” Mrs Reed scowled. “It’s a trick to make us let her out.” She glared at me. “Now you’ll stay an hour longer, Jane.” I pleaded for mercy, for any other punishment, but she herself locked me back in. Fear and misery made my legs grow weak. I fainted, fell to the ground and remembered no more. 8
When I woke, I lay in my bed, looking into the patient eyes of Dr Lloyd, the physician. “You’ve slept a long time,” he said kindly. Was I dreaming? No one was ever kind to me at Gateshead. Tears filled my eyes. “Now, now, what’s the matter?” I told him everything about my sad life. I wondered if he believed me. He listened. His eyes were full of pity. “Miss Eyre,” he said, “tell me, what would you think about going away to school?”