Things get a little bit better at Lowood when winter dissolves into spring; not only is it warmer and more comfortable for the girls, but Jane also discovers how beautiful the landscape around the school really is, now that it isn’t covered with snow and ice anymore. She even gets to wander around in the woods alone enjoying herself. By herself? That’s the catch.
Spring may be warmer and prettier at Lowood, but it’s also unhealthy. After all, the girls are already half-starved, and they’ve had colds and other winter illnesses; now that the stream and forest are damp and warm, they start catching typhus, and soon it’s practically an epidemic.
[Wait a minute, we can hear you saying: they get sick because it’s misty? What’s all this about "fog and fog-bred pestilence" (1.9.5)? That’s not something they covered in your biology class, is it? Well, here’s the thing: contagious disease wasn’t completely understood in the nineteenth century, and one theory (known as "the miasma theory") was that fogs and air currents and so forth caused disease. Later in the century scientists confirmed the existence of microorganisms (known to you as "germs," or "the what’s-really-going-on theory").]
Anyway, whatever the reason, more than half the girls are sick, many die, and they can’t run the school and classes as usual.
The beautiful natural landscape and blooming flowers outside contrasts strangely with the disease and death inside the school.
Jane, luckily, remains healthy, and pretty much gets to do whatever she wants while everyone else is busy being sick or tending to the sick.
There is one bonus: the Brocklehursts are too afraid to visit the school, so at least all this isn’t made worse by their self-righteous hypocrisy. Now that’s a silver lining, sort of. The girls get to eat larger portions and things are generally nicer – except for the whole lots-of-people-dying thing.
Jane’s new best friend is a girl called Mary Ann Wilson, who is a little older than her and can tell her lots of "amusing stories" and "racy and pungent gossip" (1.9.10). Jane admits that Mary Ann isn’t anywhere near as wonderful as Helen Burns, but unfortunately Helen is sick and confined to her bed.
Unlike the other sick girls, Helen doesn’t have typhus – she has consumption (which is the nineteenth-century name for tuberculosis). Jane doesn’t really understand what consumption is, and she thinks Helen is going to be OK, so she doesn’t worry about it too much.
One evening Jane and Mary Ann get lost and return to Lowood late at night to find the surgeon, Mr. Bates, is at the house. Mary Ann goes in, but Jane stays outside to plant some things in her garden that she collected in the woods.
While outside, Jane starts to realize how terrible death and mortality really are, and how incomprehensible the leap into the next world is.
Jane’s thoughts are interrupted by Mr. Bates and a nurse coming out; she asks the nurse about Helen Burns, and learns that Helen is dying. She tells Jane that she can’t see her, either.
Jane goes to bed, but can’t sleep. She sneaks out of the bedroom to Miss Temple’s room, where Helen has been lying sick.
Jane creeps past the nurse quietly and is able to speak to Helen. She can’t believe how calm Helen is in the face of death.
Helen asks Jane to lie in the bed and cuddle with her to stay warm while they talk. While Jane snuggles warmly beside her, she explains that she thinks her death is fortunate: everyone dies, and at least her death is quiet and comfortable. She doesn’t think she would have done well in the world, anyway, and she has faith in God’s love. Helen is so perfect we could just scream, but Jane is comforted by her.
Jane and Helen fall asleep, and Jane wakes up being carried back to her own bed. It’s not until two days later that she finds out Helen died that night, with Jane’s arms around her neck. That is so creepy. And it’s not like we had any hints that Helen was going to die young or anything.