My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies #2)(2)

But who had killed Mr. Brocklehurst?

On this subject, the girls could only speculate. So far nobody—not the local authorities nor Scotland Yard—had been able to uncover the culprit.

“It was Miss Temple,” Charlotte heard a girl say as she crossed the gardens. Katelyn was her name. “She served the tea, didn’t she?”

“No, it was Miss Scatcherd,” argued Victoria, her friend. “I heard she had a husband once, Miss Scatcherd did, who died suspiciously.”

“That’s just a rumor,” said Katelyn. “Who’d marry Miss Scatcherd with a face like hers? I still say it was Miss Temple.”

Victoria shook her head. “Miss Temple wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s so sweet-natured and quiet.”

“Oh, tosh,” Katelyn said. “Everyone knows it’s the quiet ones who you have to watch out for.”

Charlotte smiled. She collected rumors the way some girls liked to accumulate dolls, recording the juicier details into a small notebook she kept. (Rumors were the one commodity that Lowood had in spades.) If the rumor were good enough, perhaps she’d compose a story about it later, to tell to her sisters at bedtime. But the death of Mr. Brocklehurst was much better than mere gossip passed around by a gaggle of teenage girls. It was a genuine, bona fide mystery.

The very best kind of story.

Once outside the walled gardens of Lowood, Charlotte pulled her notebook from her pocket and set off into the woods beyond the school at a brisk pace. It was difficult to walk and write at the same time, but she had long ago mastered this skill. Nothing so insignificant as getting from one destination to another should impede her writing, of course, and she knew the way by heart.

It’s the quiet ones who you have to watch out for. That was quite a good line. She’d have to work it into something later.

Miss Temple and Miss Scatcherd were both reasonable suspects, but Charlotte believed that the murderer was somebody that no one else would ever think to consider. Another teacher, who had until recently been a student at Lowood herself. Charlotte’s best friend.

Jane Eyre.

Charlotte climbed down into the dell and spotted Jane near the brook. Painting, as usual.

Talking to herself, as usual.

“It’s not that I don’t like Lowood. It’s that I’ve hardly been anywhere else,” she was saying to the empty air as she made a series of quick, short strokes onto her canvas. “But it’s a school. It’s not real life, is it? And there are no . . . boys.”

Jane was a peculiar girl. Which is part of why Charlotte and Jane got along so well.

Jane let out a sigh. “It is true that things are so much better here, now that Mr. Brocklehurst is dead.”

A thrill shivered down Charlotte’s spine. Never mind that this was (as we have previously reported) what every girl at Lowood had been saying regarding Brocklehurst’s untimely death. There was just something so satisfied about the tone in Jane’s voice when she said it. It seemed practically a confession.

It had been no secret that Jane had detested Mr. Brocklehurst. There’d been a particular incident the week that Jane had first come to the school, when Mr. Brocklehurst had forced her to stand on a stool in front of her entire class, called her a liar—worse than a heathen, he’d said—and ordered the other girls to avoid Jane’s company. (Mr. Brocklehurst had really been the worst.) And Charlotte remembered another time, after Mr. Brocklehurst had refused their request for more blankets, when the girls were waking up with chilblains (we looked this up, and a chilblain is a red, itchy, painful swelling on the fingers and toes, caused by exposure to cold—gosh, wasn’t Mr. Brocklehurst the worst?), when Jane had quietly muttered, “Something should be done about him.”

And now something had decisively been done about Mr. Brocklehurst. Coincidence? Charlotte thought not.

Jane looked up from her painting and smiled. “Oh, hello, Charlotte. Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“It is.” Charlotte smiled back. Yes, she suspected that Jane had murdered Mr. Brocklehurst, but Jane was still her best friend. She and Jane Eyre were kindred spirits. They were both poor as church mice: Jane a penniless orphan, Charlotte a parson’s daughter. They were both plain—they even somewhat resembled each other—both exceedingly thin (at a time when the standard of beauty called for ladies to have a pleasant roundness to them), with similarly sallow complexions, and unremarkable brown hair and eyes. They were the most obscure type of person—the kind people’s gazes would pass over without notice. This was also partially on account of the fact that they were both little—that is, short of stature, diminutive, petite, Charlotte preferred.

Still, there was beauty inside of them, if anyone cared to look. Charlotte had always known Jane to be a kind, thoughtful sort of person. Even when she was committing murder, she was thinking of others.

“What’s the subject today?” Charlotte stepped up beside Jane’s easel and lifted her spectacles to her eyes to examine Jane’s unfinished painting. It was a perfect facsimile of the view from where they were standing—the dell dappled with sunshine, the leafy boughs of the trees, the swaying grass—except that in the foreground of Jane’s painting, just across the brook, there was a golden-haired girl wearing a white dress. This figure had been featured in many of Jane’s paintings.

“That’s quite good,” Charlotte commented. “And you’ve captured a sort of intelligence in her expression.”

Cynthia Hand's Books