There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering,
indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs.
Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had
brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door
exercise was now out of the question.
I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful
to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and
a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the
consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.
The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in the
drawing-room: she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings
about her (for the time neither quarrelling nor crying) looked perfectly happy. Me,
she had dispensed from joining the group; saying, "She regretted to be under the
necessity of keeping me at a distance; but that until she heard from Bessie, and
could discover by her own observation, that I was endeavouring in good earnest
to acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and
sprightly manner-- something lighter, franker, more natural, as it were--she really
must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy, little
"What does Bessie say I have done?" I asked.
"Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something truly
forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere;
and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent."
A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a
bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one
stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat
cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close,
I was shrined in double retirement.
Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the
clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November
day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of
that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene
of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly
before a long and lamentable blast.
I returned to my book--Bewick's History of British Birds: the letterpress thereof I
cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages
that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which
treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of "the solitary rocks and promontories" by them
only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern
extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape -
"Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles