Roses in the Snow
Gateshead House, November, 1806
I had feared that Mr Childermass might send Bessie to bring me back to the red room, but instead he left Gateshead Hall. From the nursery window I watched him mount his horse, a sturdy, solid animal with saddle-bags slung across its flanks. I knew they must contain my Uncle Reed's books of magic, as well as The Language of Birds. I could not blame him, and nor could I blame his master, who did not know this latter book was mine, but I still felt a keen pang strike my heart at its loss.
As his horse took a few sideways steps, Mr Childermass turned and gazed up at the nursery window. And despite my fear, for my hands were still trembling at the memory of what had happened in the red room, I wanted to hammer on the glass to stop him from leaving, to call him back and beg him to tell me all he knew. Of magic, of Faerie, but most of all of the Raven King.
I think he would have obliged. I had not imagined the hunger in his eyes, which I now realise only reflected my own, but before I could act he took the reins and kicked his horse's flanks and he was gone.
I heard Bessie's tread upon the stairs, and shrank against the window seat, afraid that she might be angry with me for having run away. Instead she was smiling and happy and wistful as she crossed to the drawer containing scraps of silk in every shade and hue, and as she began to sew a new bonnet for Georgiana's doll she sang a ballad, her voice sweet and sorrowful.
"Her arms were all too feeble,
Though she claimed to love me so,
The Raven King stretched out his hand,
She sighed and let me go.
The land is all too shallow,
It is painted on the sky,
And trembles like the wind-shook rain,
When the Raven King passed by.
For always and for always,
I pray remember me,
Upon the moors, beneath the stars,
With the King's wild company."
The song was a mournful one, the tale of a young woman snatched from her parents and stolen away to Faerie, and my eyes filled with tears which spilled over my cheeks. Outside the watery November sun warmed my shoulder through the glass.
"Come, Miss Jane, don't cry," Bessie said, once she had come to the end of the song.
"You're not angry with me, Bessie?"
"Why should I be angry, Miss?"
"I thought that you might scold me because I ran away when the bird came down the chimney. "
"It gave me quite a start myself." She gave a soft laugh, and tugged at the needle, drawing a length of thread through a scrap of golden silk. "I half-expected it to be a raven. Thank goodness it only turned out to be a magpie."
"I'm glad you're not angry," I said, and as she seemed at that moment the prettiest, kindest creature in the world, and unlikely to scold or chide me for my childish curiosity, I asked her, my voice trembling with trepidation, about Mr Childermass. And, since it seemed that Mr Childermass was precisely the subject she longed to talk about, she told me all she knew.
It was not much, but I learned that he dealt with the affairs of a wealthy gentleman named Mr Norrell, who collected books of magic and owned an estate in Yorkshire called Hurtfew Abbey.
"Is Mr Norrell a magician, Bessie?" I asked, feeling certain that he must be.
"I'm sure I don't know, Miss," she said.
But I knew. Only a magician would have cause to buy so many books of magic, and he must be a terrible one indeed to employ a man of business so wild and disreputable in appearance as Mr Childermass. From Mrs Reed I knew of the ragtag magicians in London, with their booths draped with grimy yellow curtains, who sold charms and cast curses and told fortunes. They were wild and frightening in appearance, and from these descriptions I built up an impression of the dark and brooding Mr Norrell in my mind's eye, picturing him perhaps with a beard and flashing eyes like Arctic ice.
Even the name of his house – Hurtfew Abbey – filled me with unease. It was a strange, eerie name, which raised images of a lonely desolate house on the moors, with crumbling towers like a ruined castle, and ravens perched on its battlements, filled with spiralling staircases, and labyrinthine passages where one could get lost forever,
As the days and weeks passed I dreamed many times of Hurtfew Abbey and of Mr Childermass walking its corridors while I followed behind, silent as a shadow. A silvery thread spooled out behind me, connecting me to my sleeping body. Mr Childermass would lead me to a comfortable library with carved bookcases of English oak, where a fire burned in a grate and a figure sat in a high-backed armchair, wreathed with shadows and always, always, bent over a book. This then was the magician who had taken my book.
I could never make out his face or form, could only see how he turned the pages of the book open on his lap, as I had done many times before, and I thought I might be able to read the pages over his shoulder without him realising. I never quite managed it though; each time as I crept closer he lifted his head as if he sensed my presence. And then I was slipping back along the length of the silver thread like Theseus fleeing the labyrinth, through the corridors of the Abbey and back to my body, to my own little world. To my crib and to the separate closet in the nursery where I was now expected to sleep.
Since my attempt to use magic upon John Reed the line Mrs Reed drew between me and her darlings had grown more marked. She rarely addressed me, and, as I was to eat my meals alone and pass all of my time in the nursery, I seldom saw her, yet when I did I could feel how she watched me with suspicion. As for her fear, it had faded a little. I think she must have begun to think how foolish it was to think a child like me might be able to do magic, and with my Uncle Reed's books gone from the house, she began to doubt. Still if her fear of me receded, her distrust and aversion to my presence did not.
When Christmas came I was excluded from the festivities, and since Bessie would usually retreat to the kitchen to celebrate with the other servants, I was left to my own devices, and could either stay in the silent nursery, or creep to the top of the stairs, where I could sit like a spy and listen to the music below, to the soft hum of conversation and the low drifting laughter. When the drawing room door was closed, I could imagine the drawing room itself was empty and the distant sound of gaiety came from entirely another world, perhaps from the mirror in the hallway.
Once the clinking sound of the glass on the footman's tray sounded exactly like the tinkling of bells – a thousand bells, each as fragile and delicate as the flower of a foxglove – and a long stretching shadow seemed to claw its way along the hall towards me. I was struck with the certain notion that I was being watched, that the figure of a child had climbed from the mirror on the wall, and now stood watching me: that if I turned my head only an inch to the left I would see her hidden in shadow, with only her teeth – sharp, white little teeth – visible in a shaft of light from the hallway below.
I could feel her creeping closer, quiet as a cat, her bare feet making no sound on the rug, but the air grew chill around me, my heart began to pound, and I could still hear the chiming of the bells. A sudden burst of mocking laugher from below seemed directed at me. Closer and closer she crept, and I knew she was stretching out her hand, her fingers hooking into claws, and any moment I would feel a brushing touch against the nape of my neck and then, and then–
With a soft cry I sprang to my feet. Heard a soft, spiteful little chuckle as I fled along the hall and back to the nursery, where the fire had burned to red embers, and without bothering to undress, I scrambled beneath the covers of my crib and curled up, clinging to my little doll, my eyes squeezed shut.
Since Mr Childermass had bade me look into the mirror, I had been unable to look into them, afraid of what I might see. Until that moment in the hall I had thought the fairies – and the Raven King – had forgotten all about me. While I was awake at least.
But in my dreams everything was different. Every night I dreamed, if not of Hurtfew Abbey and the magician I had never met, then of a lake and a sky black with ravens. Of the rain filling me like an over-brimming cup. And of crystalline snow flakes falling from a sky as black as a raven's feather, each one a frozen kiss against my cheek.
I dreamed of Faerie. I dreamed of Yorkshire. Once I even dreamed of the Raven King's kingdom on the far side of Hell, although that I am thankful to say I do not remember.
Something was coming, something that would change everything, and it frightened and exhilarated me in equal measure.
One night I dreamed of Mr Childermass standing beside a hawthorn tree, cutting the flesh of his arm with a knife, and of something lying half-frozen in the snow at his feet. I dreamed of a man with sallow, sickly skin turning over cards in a filthy ale-house. I saw a man with black skin and a noble bearing, dressed in servant's livery but with a crown upon his head. He stood before a mirror, and I wanted to call out to him, to beg him to step away from the glass, because mirrors were not safe, but something choked me, stopping the words before I could utter them. A fragrance filled my mouth, and something rose up in my throat. There was a sensation in my mouth like silk, and a scent so strong I could not breathe. I bent double and retched onto the snow. At first it was just petals that spilled through my lips, then tightly bunched flower buds, and finally the blooming heads of roses, each as large as my fist. They fell onto the snow around my feet. In the darkness they looked as black as blood
I woke with a strange strangled cry, felt in my throat an echo of that choking sensation. But I could breathe, oh God, at least I could breathe. I sucked in breath after breath, crying, and hugging my doll to me. Roses, I thought, for silence.
"It has not happened yet."
The voice sounded so much like my own thoughts that at first I thought I had spoken aloud without realising. But as I recovered, I realised I was not alone in my closet. Something perched on the wall above my crib, clinging to it like a lizard or a bird. It was little more than a shadow, a hunched shape whose form I could not make out, but which I knew had claws and teeth and glittering eyes filled with malice.
"What are you?" I asked.
"Say, rather, 'Who are you?'," it said, and its voice was filled with spite. There was an echo of John Reed's voice about it, deliberate I think. It was using the person I feared most to taunt me. "You ought to have more respect for me, little magician."
"Why did you summon me, little magician? Why did you call me from my brugh?"
I swallowed, sitting up. "I didn't mean to. I only looked into the mirror."
"You must have done more than that or I should not be here. And if you do not know what it is you did then you ought to be more careful. I do not like this place. I do not like these people." It crept closer, a shadow swarming across the wall with the twitching rapid movements of a spider. "And I'm not altogether certain that I like you."
The shadow reached the crib and paused, seeming to regard me. A dark shape snaked out, moving so slowly I held my breath. It tested the bedding of the crib, very near where my ankle lay beneath the blanket. I gasped and snatched my leg back, rolling into as tight a ball as I could manage. The shadow-thing laughed, a cruel spiteful sound, and suddenly it swarmed onto the crib. I felt the feather bed dip beneath me and heard the hiss of its breathing, saw within the dark shape its eyes shining. A shadow fell across my arm, and I felt a spiteful pinch, nails digging into my flesh, rather like Georgiana might pinch me.
"Why do you not dance, little magician? Why do you hide here while they celebrate below?"
"Because I am not welcome," I said softly.
"They treat you very poorly. Why do you allow it? Why–" It drew ever closer, bringing the dark mass than might have been its face up to mine. There was a smell, a fragrance of flowers left for too long in a vase, perfumed but with an underlying stink of rot. It hissed, "Why do you not punish them?"
Perhaps Mrs Reed was right about me being a wicked little thing, because my first thought was not that I should be expected to forgive the Reeds, but that I was powerless. "I cannot."
"Why on earth not?"
"Because I do not know how."
There was a triumphant little hiss, and the shadow-thing's eyes gleamed. It drew closer still until the stink of it was so thick around me I could taste its sour rotting smell on my tongue. "Forgive me," it said, and pinched me again, harder this time. "I took you for a powerful magician to have summoned me hence. Now I see I was mistaken, and still..." No pinch now, but its hand closed around my wrist like a manacle. "You are very lucky I am so generous. I could show you how, little magician. Even though I see you are very small and weak and insignificant. Only take me on as your fairy-servant, and I could teach you how to do magic. I could teach you how to punish your enemies. That fat little boy who torments you, you could set wasps to burrowing beneath his skin to eat him from the inside out. His sisters you could enslave so that they would do only your bidding and you could torture and humiliate them at your leisure as they do you. And as for the mother–"
"No!" I squeezed my eyes shut as these words conjured up images of my cousins suffering at my bidding.
"No?" It drew back, coiling up like a snake about to strike.
"I... I do not want that. I do not want to torture them. Only to... Only to..." I did not know what I wanted, only that binding myself to a creature like this would surely be a form of indentured servitude worse than I currently suffered at Gateshead Hall. "I want only that they should leave me alone."
"You are very ungrateful, little magician." Another pinch, harder this time, so fierce I cried out, and tears rushed to my eyes.
"I'm sorry. I do not mean to be." There was silence for a long moment. So long I began to think I was half-dreaming, that the shadow spilling across the crib was nothing more than a trick of the light. And then it moved and spoke again and I felt something scratch gently at my cheek.
"Perhaps," the thing whispered, musingly, "perhaps you only need to be convinced. Perhaps I should show you what I can do, little magician, Would that convince you of my steadfastness?"
"Please do not. I don't want you to hurt anyone," I cried, but the shadow-creature was gone. There was only the blanket bunching on my lap.
Gateshead House, January, 1807
I dreamed of snow and woke to a world blanketed in white and to the windows of the nursery rimed with ice. In the nursery I found Georgiana sitting before the mirror, brushing her curls, but the reflection in the glass was not Georgiana. It cast me a sly look, its eyes hooding, and as I drew in a sharp, fearful breath its lips curled in a cruel smile. And then it was gone and there was only Georgiana regarding me with contempt. With her hair woken with flowers and feathers she looked like something of a fairy herself.
"You should not sit before the mirror," I warned her.
"Mama says you are not to talk to us," she rejoined. "I shall tell her if you do."
Very likely she would tell Mrs Reed whether I spoke to her or not, but it was clear she would not listen, and so I moved to the window and knelt on the seat to breathe on the glass and stare out over the gardens of Gateshead Hall, transformed by a blanket of white. Below I saw a figure pressing against the trunk of the cherry tree, its glittering eyes fixed on the nursery window. Georgiana, I saw, had all but forgotten me, busy weaving dusky silk roses through her golden hair. I shivered at the sight of it, remembering my dream and the roses scattered on the snow. She did not notice as I slipped from the room and hurried down the stairs like a shadow.
In the hall below I froze at the sound of Mrs Reed's voice but she only called to Abbott, and I hurried past the doorway to the drawing room and out into the garden. It was snowing again, the sky above as glassy as a mirror, and the snow flakes caught in my hair and on my clothes. Every sound was muffled by the weight of snow, and with the white blanket that lay over all, Gateshead itself seemed transformed, into somewhere much older and wilder. With no coat, only my shawl wrapped around my shoulders, I shivered and shrank back against the house as I looked towards the cherry tree and the dark shape clinging to its trunk.
I was not hardy like my cousins, but a slight little thing, with scant protection against the cold. The frozen air nipped at my fingers, reminding me how weak and helpless I was, and I was still shaken after what had passed in the red room, my ragged nerves on edge. So no wonder then that I was frightened. The fairy-creature sought to make an ally – or a slave – of me, and, while Mrs Reed's unfair judgement of me stung to the quick, I cannot deny that fairies were dangerous creatures, quick to take offence and savage in retaliation.
I had no doubt the Reeds would be in danger if the fairy-spirit remained at Gateshead House, and while I had not intended to draw it here I was still responsible. If I had brought it here, perhaps I could persuade it to leave.
I drew a breath and struck out across the lawn, but I found no figure by the tree. It was only a trick of light and shadow, a shadow cast by the heavy weight of snow on a branch. This discovery made me falter, and I wondered if I had not dreamed it all, or if what I had seen in the red room had caused me to lose my wits. At this possibility, tears rose to my eyes again, and only the sight of a little robin on a branch of the tree eased my mood. A sense of calm took over me. I wished I had a crumb or two to feed it, but I had nothing.
The bird regarded me with its bright black eyes, took a hopping jump along the branch. I held out my hand, hoping it might perch upon my fingers, but instead it took wing, flew down to the ground before me... and vanished.
My breath formed on the air as I gasped, and at the sound the robin reappeared, leaving bird tracks in the snow. It stopped, a few feet away to ruffle its feathers, and then it took another hopping jump and it was gone. This time my eyes were able to follow it, and I saw how the snow itself made a doorway upon the world which the robin was able to step through.
I was aware of a carriage drawing up to the house, but it seemed very far away. Indeed, the house seemed more distant than it ought to be, as if I had walked for a mile or two rather than a little way through the gardens. All my attention was focused on the world beyond the snow. It was as if I could take another step, this way rather than that, and slip between the snowflakes like the robin and be gone, not only from Gateshead but from this land entirely.
And I longed to do so. As I stepped closer to where the robin had vanished, I felt a tug at my heart. I could see the Other Land now, hidden beneath Gateshead, which seemed to have grown insubstantial, as it it were a pallid watercolour with no life or depth. Through the snow, I could see a forest carpeted with bluebells, a place where the sun streamed down through the canopy, casting dappled shadows over everything.
It would be warm there, I thought, and safe. All I had to do was take that first step...
I felt flakes of snow on my lips, remembering that mirrors were not the only road to Faerie.
Thomas Lanchester had written of it in The Language of Birds, how even the smallest, most insignificant bird such as a robin or a starling could pass between this world and the Other Lands as simply as breathing. So why was I fighting this? The Raven King had learned his magic from the rain and the land that surrounded him, so why should I not do the same? I took a step, and then another. One more would take me from this world, and then–
A hard shove on my back sent me sprawling in the snow.
"Trying to do magic again, you little rat?" John Reed had crept up behind me, his breath visible on the air. His cheeks were very red with the cold. "I shall tell my Mama you were trying to cast fairy-curses again."
"Leave me alone," I said. "I wasn't!"
"Yes, you were, you liar. I saw you,"
And then in the snow behind him I saw the fairy, not a shadow any longer, but a girl as slight and pale I was. She looked very like me, although her features would be called beautiful had they not been twisted in spite. She sat crouched in the snow, dressed only in a thin muslin dress. Her feet were bare and as white as the snow itself, and her fingers very long and thin and tipped with dark hooked nails. In fact they were not, I saw, nails at all, but thorns growing from her nail beds. Her teeth were very white and sharp as needles, and her hungry gaze was fixed on John.
"Don't," I whispered, and John Reed thought that I was talking to him.
"I can do what I like," he told me, bunching his hands into fists. As I tried to stand, he knocked me back down, so hard I was dazed. My hands rested in the snow, my reddened fingers numbed by the cold. He struck me again, and my fingers dug into the snow. Beneath I felt the hard frozen earth, and a door inside my chest burst open. The magic sang like a high clear note, surging up from the ground through my fingers.
As John drew his fist back to hit me again, the magic flashed. Briars grew out of the snow, snaking around his arms and legs. He cried out, first in surprise, and then in fear as he tugged at the briars and realised he was held fast. He turned a look on me, his eyes wide in fright. "Let me go," he cried, trying to sound angry, but his voice was high with fear.
I pushed myself to my feet, breathing hard, with the song still ringing in my head. The fairy had stopped creeping closer, and her lips peeled away from her white little teeth in a savage grin. He continued to struggle, then cried out in sudden pain. Blood stained his shirt where a thorn had bit into his skin
"I shall tell my Mama that you have done magic, and then you'll be sorry," he said, and the fairy's smile slipped as her eyes glittered with rage.
"Punish him, little magician. Turn him into a song-bird," she hissed, "and put him in a pie. Or turn him into a fly and trap him in a web and let a spider suck him dry as a husk."
John Reed could hear her. He turned his head, but she was creeping up behind him and the briars held him so tightly he could not see. "Who's there?" he cried out.
The fairy sniggered. "He will tell on you, the sneaking little brat. He will tell his mama."
"No, he won't," I said, trembling, although I knew that he would. Why could they not just leave me alone? I did everything in my power to stay out of their way, and still they tormented me.
"Yes, he will. Punish him, little magician. Or I will do it for you."
The magic rippled through me. Roses for silence, I thought, and the briars began to bloom, tight buds spreading into wild roses, pale petals touched with pink. Trembling, I stepped closer, aware of the sheen of sweat on John's brow and the watching fairy. I plucked one of the blooming roses. "You will tell no one," I told him. His eyes widened, and he pursed his lips to stop me from putting the rose at his mouth, but the little fairy took a bounding step forward and gave him a vicious pinch him with her thorny little fingernails. As he gave a cry of pain, his lips parted, and I slipped the rose between them and staggered away.
The briars fell away and John crumpled to the ground. The rose was gone, the briars gone, the little fairy gone. We were alone in the garden with nothing but the snow, and John staring at me with wide frightened eyes.
"You–" he began, and trailed off with a strangled noise. "What did you do?"
I backed away. The rose had gone, but I half-fancied I could still see it in a certain light, and from a certain angle – the wild rose at his mouth. "Please, John, you must not torment me any more or she will hurt you."
"I will tell my Mama," he said, clawing his scarf away from his throat. "I will tell her what you have done to me."
"Oh yes?" I said, with a sudden flash of boldness. "And what exactly is it that I have done to you?"
"You... You..." He made a choking retching sound, as if the words caught in his throat. There was a flare of terrified panic in his eyes, and he dropped his hands. There was blood on his fingers from where the thorns of the briars had bitten into his flesh, and at the side of it dripping on the snow my courage broke.
I turned and fled back to the house, snowflakes half-blinding me as I ran. I burst through the door, my breath coming fast as I ran up the stairs, and into the nursery, where I collided with Bessie, who was very flustered. "Miss Jane, where on earth have you been?"
"I... I have been outside, Bessie," I said.
She seemed to catch something of my fright, because her harsh voice eased and she pressed her warm hands against my frozen cheeks. "You'll catch your death," she said, softer now. "What were you doing in the garden? You look quite red, as if you've been about some mischief. Have you washed your hands and face this morning?"
"No, Bessie, but–"
"Oh, you troublesome, careless child. Take off your pinafore at once and get ready," she said as she hauled me across to the wash basin to scrub my face and hands. "There is someone here to see you."
"To see me?" I swallowed. "Is it Mr Childermass?"
"Mr Childermass?" She stared at me. "Why on earth would he have come to see you?"
Because I have done magic again, I thought. Instead, I whispered, "I don't know, Bessie." But who else could it be? I knew no one else. I would have asked who it was, would have demanded to know if Mrs Reed was there, but my thoughts were racing along with my heart, and before I could gather my wits enough to ask Bessie bundled me out of the nursery and had closed the door upon me. I had no choice.
I descended the stairs. This was the first time in three months that I had been called to Mrs Reed's presence, and I could not bring myself to enter the parlour, certain that John had run straight to his mother to tell her what I had done. Only the ringing of the breakfast room bell forced me on, because I could not bear to hear it and wanted to silence it. Even now, I cannot help but shudder at the sound of bells.
With both hands I turned the stiff door handle, and slipped inside. My first impression was that Bessie was wrong, and the visitor was Mr Childermass, for as I curtseyed low, I saw a tall figure in black standing upon the rug. But then I looked closer, and saw this was another man entirely, a gentleman, far more respectable in appearance than the man of business I had met in the kitchen, and much grimmer too, his face harsh and cold as marble.
Mrs Reed sat by the fireside, and beckoned me forward. "This is the little girl I wrote to you about, Mr Brocklehurst. You can see her fairy-blood in her face."
"She does have the look of a fairy, and fairies can be wicked, ungodly things," he said. "What is her age?"
"So much?" He studied me for some more minutes. "Your name, little girl?"
"Jane Eyre, sir."
"Well, Jane Eyre, and are you a good child?"
I could not answer yes, not after everything that had happened. Not after I had brought the cruel little shadow-creature into Gateshead and deliberately enchanted my cousin. I kept silent, and Mrs Reed shook her head. "Perhaps the less said on that subject the better, Mr Brocklehurst."
He bade me come forward and I stepped across the rug towards him. "There is no sight so sad as that of a naughty child," he began. "Especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?"
This at least was a question I could answer. "They go to hell," I said.
"And what is hell? Can you tell me that?"
"A pit full of fire."
"And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?"
"What must you do to avoid it?"
I thought for a moment. "I should become a practical magician, and travel into Faerie like one of the Aureates, where I shall not die."
"And how do you intend to do that when magic is gone from England and men far wiser and more learned than you are not able to do such a thing? How do you intend to learn magic?" Mr Brocklehurst asked me.
I kept my eyes on the rug, wishing that I had followed the robin through the snow and been away into that place of eternal summer.
"Besides," he said, "Faerie is a very wicked place. They tithe all their children to hell, and only a child with a wicked heart would long to go there. You must pray to God to take away your heart of stone and give you a new, clean heart of flesh. Do you pray, girl, morning and night?"
"I do, sir."
Mrs Reed interrupted. "As you can see, Mr Brocklehurst, the child cannot be trusted. She is capricious and full of spite. I told you in my letter how she pretended to cast a fairy spell upon my son. If you admit her into Lowood school, you must make sure a close eye is kept on her. I mention this in your hearing, Jane, that you may not attempt to impose on Mr. Brocklehurst."
At this, to hear myself branded a liar in front of a stranger, and one who would be likely to have some power over me in the future, I felt a sharp stab of pain within my heart. I saw the look the gentleman cast in my direction, saw him fix me as a liar and deceiver, and I was powerless to tell him otherwise. My eyes flooded with tears of shame and humiliation, and I wished, harder than ever, that I had taken that step through the snow and been away.
"She shall be watched, Mrs Reed," he said. "I will speak to Miss Temple and the teachers."
"I should wish her to be brought up in a manner suiting her prospects," Mrs Reed continued. "My husband, Mr Reed, was himself a theoretical magician, but his own interest in magic was always of a historical bent. He had no interest whatsoever in fairies, but the girl's father had a particular and very unhealthy obsession with the Other Lands, and I am afraid to say I believe she takes after him in that respect. You must take care, Mr Brocklehurst, particularly if she is allowed to study magic. Especially since..." She hesitated, her face a little paler. "Especially since Lowood School is in the north," she completed, quickly, "and so within the kingdom of the Raven King where magic is said to be strongest."
"Only the history of magic is taught at Lowood school, madam, and even then only what is necessary to ensure a rounded education. And in my opinion, it is a myth that magic is strongest in the north. I have lived beyond the Trent for thirty years and in all that time I have never seen so much of a sniff of the Raven King other than in the tales of credulous people. John Uskglass, if he was ever anything more than a legend, is long dead and gone."
I wiped away a tear, wondering what he would say if I told him that the Raven King was no more dead than him or Mrs Reed, that I had seen him in the mirror, that one of his ravens had scratched my cheek, and that a magician's man of business had thought I might be able to do magic, enough to put me to the test.
Mrs Reed nodded, a little colour creeping back to her cheeks. "I am relieved to hear you say that, sir. I myself have no great love for magic, and nor, I am glad to say, do my children, but Jane Eyre has always been a fey child. I may then depend upon this child being received as a pupil at Lowood, and there being trained in conformity to her position and prospects?"
"You may, madam."
"I will send her, then, as soon as possible, Mr. Brocklehurst. It has always made me uneasy to have a child with fairy blood beneath my roof, though I always strived never to show it."
"No doubt, madam. I shall send Miss Temple notice that she is to expect a new girl, so that there will be no difficulty about receiving her."
And having rung for his carriage, he departed.
I was left alone with Mrs Reed. Sitting on a low stool a few yards away, I watched her sewing, still stung at how she had talked of my character to Mr Brocklehurst. Some moments passed before she looked up, almost as if she had forgotten I was there, and as her eyes settled on mine her fingers stilled.
"Go out of the room," she ordered. "Return to the nursery."
On instinct, I stood and moved towards the door, but something – perhaps the memory of that little robin vanishing from sight – made me stop. I returned to the window, looked out for a moment on the expanse of snow, on the world that seemed quite unlike the familiar landscape of Gateshead Hall. Then I turned and walked towards her, my hands clenched into tight little fists.
"I am not deceitful," I said. "If I were, I should say I loved you, but I declare I do not love you. I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed. You stole my book, Mrs Reed, the book that belonged to my father, and book theft is a terrible crime. You should be glad that magic is gone from England, and you should pray it never returns."
Mrs Reed had gone very still. Her eyes were cold but in them I saw a flash of fear. "What more have you to say?"
I was shaking now, and it was like that moment when the rain had filled me, only now there was no magic, only fury and hurt and resentment. "I am glad you are no relation of mine," I cried. "I will never call you aunt again as long as I live, and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will tell them you treated me with miserable cruelty and locked me in the red room and stole my book from me. People think you a good woman, but you are not. You are bad and hard-hearted. You are deceitful and you are a thief!"
That flash of fear in her eyes had caught light. She looked frightened now, almost as if she was about to cry, and her sewing had slipped from her knee. "Jane, what is the matter with you? Why do you tremble so violently? You don't understand these things. Children must be corrected for their faults."
"Deceit is not my fault! There is something wicked in this house, but it is not me. Send me to school, Mrs Reed, for I cannot live here."
"I will indeed send her to school soon," Mrs Reed murmured. She snatched up her work and almost fled, leaving me alone with my victory. As my pounding heart took on a slower pace and my passion subsided, I found myself dizzy from the aftershock of my fury. Glorious though it might have felt at the time, it was a form of madness which had left the lingering taste of ashes in my mouth.
I slipped back into the breakfast room and stepped outside into the frozen world, hot tears on my cheeks. The first time I had done magic, the shivery thrill had been forgotten quickly. This time it was as if a doorway had been opened within my heart and had not quite slammed shut. It was still there, a silvery sensation inside my chest. Every inch of my skin prickled with it. Perhaps it was because the enchantment I had set on John Reed had not been broken.
I did not know whether I should be happy to leave Gateshead or if I should be frightened to go somewhere new, somewhere where I would already be branded a liar thanks to Mrs Reed.
But Lowood School was in the north, and for all Mr Brocklehurst had said magic was not stronger there I was certain he was lying or at the very least mistaken. He had said the Raven King no longer existed, and I knew that was untrue. I shivered at the thought of walking on the same land trodden by the Raven King, of breathing the same air.
I should be glad to leave, I thought, lifting my head and gazing up at the ceaseless sky. Seeing the world beyond the snow had changed everything. If I found I truly hated Lowood, all I had to do was open up a door and escape to Faerie, and at least I would be free of the Reeds. Perhaps I could, if I wished, even become a magician.
And if I left, I thought, the fairy would come with me. As much as I hated the Reeds, I did not want it to hurt them, and I was certain that would be the outcome if I stayed.
Nothing good could ever come of my remaining at Gateshead.
A/N: The ballad sung by Bessie in this chapter is taken from the novel JS&MN.