Chapter 66: Down in Lincolnshire; Chapter 67: The Close of Esther’s Narrative

There is a hush upon Chesney Wold in these altered days, as there is upon a portion of the family history. The story goes that Sir Leicester paid some who could have spoken out to hold their peace; but it is a lame story, feebly whispering and creeping about, and any brighter spark of life it shows soon dies away. It is known for certain that the handsome Lady Dedlock lies in the mausoleum in the park, where the trees arch darkly overhead, and the owl is heard at night making the woods ring; but whence she was brought home to be laid among the echoes of that solitary place, or how she died, is all mystery. Some of her old friends, principally to be found among the peachy-cheeked charmers with the skeleton throats, did once occasionally say, as they toyed in a ghastly manner with large fans—like charmers reduced to flirting with grim death, after losing all their other beaux—did once occasionally say, when the world assembled together, that they wondered the ashes of the Dedlocks, entombed in the mausoleum, never rose against the profanation of her company. But the dead-and-gone Dedlocks take it very calmly and have never been known to object.

Up from among the fern in the hollow, and winding by the bridle-road among the trees, comes sometimes to this lonely spot the sound of horses’ hoofs. Then may be seen Sir Leicester—invalided, bent, and almost blind, but of worthy presence yet—riding with a stalwart man beside him, constant to his bridle-rein. When they come to a certain spot before the mausoleum-door, Sir Leicester’s accustomed horse stops of his own accord, and Sir Leicester, pulling off his hat, is still for a few moments before they ride away.

War rages yet with the audacious Boythorn, though at uncertain intervals, and now hotly, and now coolly, flickering like an unsteady fire. The truth is said to be that when Sir Leicester came down to Lincolnshire for good, Mr. Boythorn showed a manifest desire to abandon his right of way and do whatever Sir Leicester would, which Sir Leicester, conceiving to be a condescension to his illness or misfortune, took in such high dudgeon, and was so magnificently aggrieved by, that Mr. Boythorn found himself under the necessity of committing a flagrant trespass to restore his neighbour to himself. Similarly, Mr. Boythorn continues to post tremendous placards on the disputed thoroughfare and (with his bird upon his head) to hold forth vehemently against Sir Leicester in the sanctuary of his own home; similarly, also, he defies him as of old in the little church by testifying a bland unconsciousness of his existence. But it is whispered that when he is most ferocious towards his old foe, he is really most considerate, and that Sir Leicester, in the dignity of being implacable, little supposes how much he is humoured. As little does he think how near together he and his antagonist have suffered in the fortunes of two sisters, and his antagonist, who knows it now, is not the man to tell him. So the quarrel goes on to the satisfaction of both.

In one of the lodges of the park—that lodge within sight of the house where, once upon a time, when the waters were out down in Lincolnshire, my Lady used to see the keeper’s child—the stalwart man, the trooper formerly, is housed. Some relics of his old calling hang upon the walls, and these it is the chosen recreation of a little lame man about the stable-yard to keep gleaming bright. A busy little man he always is, in the polishing at harness-house doors, of stirrup-irons, bits, curb-chains, harness bosses, anything in the way of a stable-yard that will take a polish, leading a life of friction. A shaggy little damaged man, withal, not unlike an old dog of some mongrel breed, who has been considerably knocked about. He answers to the name of Phil.

A goodly sight it is to see the grand old housekeeper (harder of hearing now) going to church on the arm of her son and to observe—which few do, for the house is scant of company in these times—the relations of both towards Sir Leicester, and his towards them. They have visitors in the high summer weather, when a grey cloak and umbrella, unknown to Chesney Wold at other periods, are seen among the leaves; when two young ladies are occasionally found gambolling in sequestered saw-pits and such nooks of the park; and when the smoke of two pipes wreathes away into the fragrant evening air from the trooper’s door. Then is a fife heard trolling within the lodge on the inspiring topic of the “British Grenadiers”; and as the evening closes in, a gruff inflexible voice is heard to say, while two men pace together up and down, “But I never own to it before the old girl. Discipline must be maintained.”

The greater part of the house is shut up, and it is a show-house no longer; yet Sir Leicester holds his shrunken state in the long drawing-room for all that, and reposes in his old place before my Lady’s picture. Closed in by night with broad screens, and illumined only in that part, the light of the drawing-room seems gradually contracting and dwindling until it shall be no more. A little more, in truth, and it will be all extinguished for Sir Leicester; and the damp door in the mausoleum which shuts so tight, and looks so obdurate, will have opened and received him.

Volumnia, growing with the flight of time pinker as to the red in her face, and yellower as to the white, reads to Sir Leicester in the long evenings and is driven to various artifices to conceal her yawns, of which the chief and most efficacious is the insertion of the pearl necklace between her rosy lips. Long-winded treatises on the Buffy and Boodle question, showing how Buffy is immaculate and Boodle villainous, and how the country is lost by being all Boodle and no Buffy, or saved by being all Buffy and no Boodle (it must be one of the two, and cannot be anything else), are the staple of her reading. Sir Leicester is not particular what it is and does not appear to follow it very closely, further than that he always comes broad awake the moment Volumnia ventures to leave off, and sonorously repeating her last words, begs with some displeasure to know if she finds herself fatigued. However, Volumnia, in the course of her bird-like hopping about and pecking at papers, has alighted on a memorandum concerning herself in the event of “anything happening” to her kinsman, which is handsome compensation for an extensive course of reading and holds even the dragon Boredom at bay.

The cousins generally are rather shy of Chesney Wold in its dullness, but take to it a little in the shooting season, when guns are heard in the plantations, and a few scattered beaters and keepers wait at the old places of appointment for low-spirited twos and threes of cousins. The debilitated cousin, more debilitated by the dreariness of the place, gets into a fearful state of depression, groaning under penitential sofa-pillows in his gunless hours and protesting that such fernal old jail’s—nough t’sew fler up—frever.

The only great occasions for Volumnia in this changed aspect of the place in Lincolnshire are those occasions, rare and widely separated, when something is to be done for the county or the country in the way of gracing a public ball. Then, indeed, does the tuckered sylph come out in fairy form and proceed with joy under cousinly escort to the exhausted old assembly-room, fourteen heavy miles off, which, during three hundred and sixty-four days and nights of every ordinary year, is a kind of antipodean lumber-room full of old chairs and tables upside down. Then, indeed, does she captivate all hearts by her condescension, by her girlish vivacity, and by her skipping about as in the days when the hideous old general with the mouth too full of teeth had not cut one of them at two guineas each. Then does she twirl and twine, a pastoral nymph of good family, through the mazes of the dance. Then do the swains appear with tea, with lemonade, with sandwiches, with homage. Then is she kind and cruel, stately and unassuming, various, beautifully wilful. Then is there a singular kind of parallel between her and the little glass chandeliers of another age embellishing that assembly-room, which, with their meagre stems, their spare little drops, their disappointing knobs where no drops are, their bare little stalks from which knobs and drops have both departed, and their little feeble prismatic twinkling, all seem Volumnias.

For the rest, Lincolnshire life to Volumnia is a vast blank of overgrown house looking out upon trees, sighing, wringing their hands, bowing their heads, and casting their tears upon the window-panes in monotonous depressions. A labyrinth of grandeur, less the property of an old family of human beings and their ghostly likenesses than of an old family of echoings and thunderings which start out of their hundred graves at every sound and go resounding through the building. A waste of unused passages and staircases in which to drop a comb upon a bedroom floor at night is to send a stealthy footfall on an errand through the house. A place where few people care to go about alone, where a maid screams if an ash drops from the fire, takes to crying at all times and seasons, becomes the victim of a low disorder of the spirits, and gives warning and departs.

Thus Chesney Wold. With so much of itself abandoned to darkness and vacancy; with so little change under the summer shining or the wintry lowering; so sombre and motionless always—no flag flying now by day, no rows of lights sparkling by night; with no family to come and go, no visitors to be the souls of pale cold shapes of rooms, no stir of life about it—passion and pride, even to the stranger’s eye, have died away from the place in Lincolnshire and yielded it to dull repose.

Chapter 67

Full seven happy years I have been the mistress of Bleak House. The few words that I have to add to what I have written are soon penned; then I and the unknown friend to whom I write will part for ever. Not without much dear remembrance on my side. Not without some, I hope, on his or hers.

They gave my darling into my arms, and through many weeks I never left her. The little child who was to have done so much was born before the turf was planted on its father’s grave. It was a boy; and I, my husband, and my guardian gave him his father’s name.

The help that my dear counted on did come to her, though it came, in the eternal wisdom, for another purpose. Though to bless and restore his mother, not his father, was the errand of this baby, its power was mighty to do it. When I saw the strength of the weak little hand and how its touch could heal my darling’s heart and raised hope within her, I felt a new sense of the goodness and the tenderness of God.

They throve, and by degrees I saw my dear girl pass into my country garden and walk there with her infant in her arms. I was married then. I was the happiest of the happy.

It was at this time that my guardian joined us and asked Ada when she would come home.

“Both houses are your home, my dear,” said he, “but the older Bleak House claims priority. When you and my boy are strong enough to do it, come and take possession of your home.”

Ada called him “her dearest cousin, John.” But he said, no, it must be guardian now. He was her guardian henceforth, and the boy’s; and he had an old association with the name. So she called him guardian, and has called him guardian ever since. The children know him by no other name. I say the children; I have two little daughters.

It is difficult to believe that Charley (round-eyed still, and not at all grammatical) is married to a miller in our neighbourhood; yet so it is; and even now, looking up from my desk as I write early in the morning at my summer window, I see the very mill beginning to go round. I hope the miller will not spoil Charley; but he is very fond of her, and Charley is rather vain of such a match, for he is well to do and was in great request. So far as my small maid is concerned, I might suppose time to have stood for seven years as still as the mill did half an hour ago, since little Emma, Charley’s sister, is exactly what Charley used to be. As to Tom, Charley’s brother, I am really afraid to say what he did at school in ciphering, but I think it was decimals. He is apprenticed to the miller, whatever it was, and is a good bashful fellow, always falling in love with somebody and being ashamed of it.

Caddy Jellyby passed her very last holidays with us and was a dearer creature than ever, perpetually dancing in and out of the house with the children as if she had never given a dancing-lesson in her life. Caddy keeps her own little carriage now instead of hiring one, and lives full two miles further westward than Newman Street. She works very hard, her husband (an excellent one) being lame and able to do very little. Still, she is more than contented and does all she has to do with all her heart. Mr. Jellyby spends his evenings at her new house with his head against the wall as he used to do in her old one. I have heard that Mrs. Jellyby was understood to suffer great mortification from her daughter’s ignoble marriage and pursuits, but I hope she got over it in time. She has been disappointed in Borrioboola-Gha, which turned out a failure in consequence of the king of Borrioboola wanting to sell everybody—who survived the climate—for rum, but she has taken up with the rights of women to sit in Parliament, and Caddy tells me it is a mission involving more correspondence than the old one. I had almost forgotten Caddy’s poor little girl. She is not such a mite now, but she is deaf and dumb. I believe there never was a better mother than Caddy, who learns, in her scanty intervals of leisure, innumerable deaf and dumb arts to soften the affliction of her child.

As if I were never to have done with Caddy, I am reminded here of Peepy and old Mr. Turveydrop. Peepy is in the Custom House, and doing extremely well. Old Mr. Turveydrop, very apoplectic, still exhibits his deportment about town, still enjoys himself in the old manner, is still believed in in the old way. He is constant in his patronage of Peepy and is understood to have bequeathed him a favourite French clock in his dressing-room—which is not his property.

With the first money we saved at home, we added to our pretty house by throwing out a little growlery expressly for my guardian, which we inaugurated with great splendour the next time he came down to see us. I try to write all this lightly, because my heart is full in drawing to an end, but when I write of him, my tears will have their way.

I never look at him but I hear our poor dear Richard calling him a good man. To Ada and her pretty boy, he is the fondest father; to me he is what he has ever been, and what name can I give to that? He is my husband’s best and dearest friend, he is our children’s darling, he is the object of our deepest love and veneration. Yet while I feel towards him as if he were a superior being, I am so familiar with him and so easy with him that I almost wonder at myself. I have never lost my old names, nor has he lost his; nor do I ever, when he is with us, sit in any other place than in my old chair at his side, Dame Trot, Dame Durden, Little Woman—all just the same as ever; and I answer, “Yes, dear guardian!” just the same.

I have never known the wind to be in the east for a single moment since the day when he took me to the porch to read the name. I remarked to him once that the wind seemed never in the east now, and he said, no, truly; it had finally departed from that quarter on that very day.

I think my darling girl is more beautiful than ever. The sorrow that has been in her face—for it is not there now—seems to have purified even its innocent expression and to have given it a diviner quality. Sometimes when I raise my eyes and see her in the black dress that she still wears, teaching my Richard, I feel—it is difficult to express—as if it were so good to know that she remembers her dear Esther in her prayers.

I call him my Richard! But he says that he has two mamas, and I am one.

We are not rich in the bank, but we have always prospered, and we have quite enough. I never walk out with my husband but I hear the people bless him. I never go into a house of any degree but I hear his praises or see them in grateful eyes. I never lie down at night but I know that in the course of that day he has alleviated pain and soothed some fellow-creature in the time of need. I know that from the beds of those who were past recovery, thanks have often, often gone up, in the last hour, for his patient ministration. Is not this to be rich?

The people even praise me as the doctor’s wife. The people even like me as I go about, and make so much of me that I am quite abashed. I owe it all to him, my love, my pride! They like me for his sake, as I do everything I do in life for his sake.

A night or two ago, after bustling about preparing for my darling and my guardian and little Richard, who are coming to-morrow, I was sitting out in the porch of all places, that dearly memorable porch, when Allan came home. So he said, “My precious little woman, what are you doing here?” And I said, “The moon is shining so brightly, Allan, and the night is so delicious, that I have been sitting here thinking.”

“What have you been thinking about, my dear?” said Allan then.

“How curious you are!” said I. “I am almost ashamed to tell you, but I will. I have been thinking about my old looks—such as they were.”

“And what have you been thinking about THEM, my busy bee?” said Allan.

“I have been thinking that I thought it was impossible that you COULD have loved me any better, even if I had retained them.”

“‘Such as they were’?” said Allan, laughing.

“Such as they were, of course.”

“My dear Dame Durden,” said Allan, drawing my arm through his, “do you ever look in the glass?”

“You know I do; you see me do it.”

“And don’t you know that you are prettier than you ever were?”

“I did not know that; I am not certain that I know it now. But I know that my dearest little pets are very pretty, and that my darling is very beautiful, and that my husband is very handsome, and that my guardian has the brightest and most benevolent face that ever was seen, and that they can very well do without much beauty in me—even supposing—.”

Librivox Recording: Chapter 66
Librivox Recording: Chapter 67

(Image: “The Mausoleum at Chesney Wold”)

 

Chapters 65: Beginning the World

The term had commenced, and my guardian found an intimation from Mr. Kenge that the cause would come on in two days. As I had sufficient hopes of the will to be in a flutter about it, Allan and I agreed to go down to the court that morning. Richard was extremely agitated and was so weak and low, though his illness was still of the mind, that my dear girl indeed had sore occasion to be supported. But she looked forward—a very little way now—to the help that was to come to her, and never drooped.

It was at Westminster that the cause was to come on. It had come on there, I dare say, a hundred times before, but I could not divest myself of an idea that it MIGHT lead to some result now. We left home directly after breakfast to be at Westminster Hall in good time and walked down there through the lively streets—so happily and strangely it seemed!—together.

As we were going along, planning what we should do for Richard and Ada, I heard somebody calling “Esther! My dear Esther! Esther!” And there was Caddy Jellyby, with her head out of the window of a little carriage which she hired now to go about in to her pupils (she had so many), as if she wanted to embrace me at a hundred yards’ distance. I had written her a note to tell her of all that my guardian had done, but had not had a moment to go and see her. Of course we turned back, and the affectionate girl was in that state of rapture, and was so overjoyed to talk about the night when she brought me the flowers, and was so determined to squeeze my face (bonnet and all) between her hands, and go on in a wild manner altogether, calling me all kinds of precious names, and telling Allan I had done I don’t know what for her, that I was just obliged to get into the little carriage and calm her down by letting her say and do exactly what she liked. Allan, standing at the window, was as pleased as Caddy; and I was as pleased as either of them; and I wonder that I got away as I did, rather than that I came off laughing, and red, and anything but tidy, and looking after Caddy, who looked after us out of the coach-window as long as she could see us.

This made us some quarter of an hour late, and when we came to Westminster Hall we found that the day’s business was begun. Worse than that, we found such an unusual crowd in the Court of Chancery that it was full to the door, and we could neither see nor hear what was passing within. It appeared to be something droll, for occasionally there was a laugh and a cry of “Silence!” It appeared to be something interesting, for every one was pushing and striving to get nearer. It appeared to be something that made the professional gentlemen very merry, for there were several young counsellors in wigs and whiskers on the outside of the crowd, and when one of them told the others about it, they put their hands in their pockets, and quite doubled themselves up with laughter, and went stamping about the pavement of the Hall.

We asked a gentleman by us if he knew what cause was on. He told us Jarndyce and Jarndyce. We asked him if he knew what was doing in it. He said really, no he did not, nobody ever did, but as well as he could make out, it was over. Over for the day? we asked him. No, he said, over for good.

Over for good!

When we heard this unaccountable answer, we looked at one another quite lost in amazement. Could it be possible that the will had set things right at last and that Richard and Ada were going to be rich? It seemed too good to be true. Alas it was!

Our suspense was short, for a break-up soon took place in the crowd, and the people came streaming out looking flushed and hot and bringing a quantity of bad air with them. Still they were all exceedingly amused and were more like people coming out from a farce or a juggler than from a court of justice. We stood aside, watching for any countenance we knew, and presently great bundles of paper began to be carried out—bundles in bags, bundles too large to be got into any bags, immense masses of papers of all shapes and no shapes, which the bearers staggered under, and threw down for the time being, anyhow, on the Hall pavement, while they went back to bring out more. Even these clerks were laughing. We glanced at the papers, and seeing Jarndyce and Jarndyce everywhere, asked an official-looking person who was standing in the midst of them whether the cause was over. Yes, he said, it was all up with it at last, and burst out laughing too.

At this juncture we perceived Mr. Kenge coming out of court with an affable dignity upon him, listening to Mr. Vholes, who was deferential and carried his own bag. Mr. Vholes was the first to see us. “Here is Miss Summerson, sir,” he said. “And Mr. Woodcourt.”

“Oh, indeed! Yes. Truly!” said Mr. Kenge, raising his hat to me with polished politeness. “How do you do? Glad to see you. Mr. Jarndyce is not here?”

No. He never came there, I reminded him.

“Really,” returned Mr. Kenge, “it is as well that he is NOT here to-day, for his—shall I say, in my good friend’s absence, his indomitable singularity of opinion?—might have been strengthened, perhaps; not reasonably, but might have been strengthened.”

“Pray what has been done to-day?” asked Allan.

“I beg your pardon?” said Mr. Kenge with excessive urbanity.

“What has been done to-day?”

“What has been done,” repeated Mr. Kenge. “Quite so. Yes. Why, not much has been done; not much. We have been checked—brought up suddenly, I would say—upon the—shall I term it threshold?”

“Is this will considered a genuine document, sir?” said Allan. “Will you tell us that?”

“Most certainly, if I could,” said Mr. Kenge; “but we have not gone into that, we have not gone into that.”

“We have not gone into that,” repeated Mr. Vholes as if his low inward voice were an echo.

“You are to reflect, Mr. Woodcourt,” observed Mr. Kenge, using his silver trowel persuasively and smoothingly, “that this has been a great cause, that this has been a protracted cause, that this has been a complex cause. Jarndyce and Jarndyce has been termed, not inaptly, a monument of Chancery practice.”

“And patience has sat upon it a long time,” said Allan.

“Very well indeed, sir,” returned Mr. Kenge with a certain condescending laugh he had. “Very well! You are further to reflect, Mr. Woodcourt,” becoming dignified almost to severity, “that on the numerous difficulties, contingencies, masterly fictions, and forms of procedure in this great cause, there has been expended study, ability, eloquence, knowledge, intellect, Mr. Woodcourt, high intellect. For many years, the—a—I would say the flower of the bar, and the—a—I would presume to add, the matured autumnal fruits of the woolsack—have been lavished upon Jarndyce and Jarndyce. If the public have the benefit, and if the country have the adornment, of this great grasp, it must be paid for in money or money’s worth, sir.”

“Mr. Kenge,” said Allan, appearing enlightened all in a moment. “Excuse me, our time presses. Do I understand that the whole estate is found to have been absorbed in costs?”

“Hem! I believe so,” returned Mr. Kenge. “Mr. Vholes, what do YOU say?”

“I believe so,” said Mr. Vholes.

“And that thus the suit lapses and melts away?”

“Probably,” returned Mr. Kenge. “Mr. Vholes?”

“Probably,” said Mr. Vholes.

“My dearest life,” whispered Allan, “this will break Richard’s heart!”

There was such a shock of apprehension in his face, and he knew Richard so perfectly, and I too had seen so much of his gradual decay, that what my dear girl had said to me in the fullness of her foreboding love sounded like a knell in my ears.

“In case you should be wanting Mr. C., sir,” said Mr. Vholes, coming after us, “you’ll find him in court. I left him there resting himself a little. Good day, sir; good day, Miss Summerson.” As he gave me that slowly devouring look of his, while twisting up the strings of his bag before he hastened with it after Mr. Kenge, the benignant shadow of whose conversational presence he seemed afraid to leave, he gave one gasp as if he had swallowed the last morsel of his client, and his black buttoned-up unwholesome figure glided away to the low door at the end of the Hall.

“My dear love,” said Allan, “leave to me, for a little while, the charge you gave me. Go home with this intelligence and come to Ada’s by and by!”

I would not let him take me to a coach, but entreated him to go to Richard without a moment’s delay and leave me to do as he wished. Hurrying home, I found my guardian and told him gradually with what news I had returned. “Little woman,” said he, quite unmoved for himself, “to have done with the suit on any terms is a greater blessing than I had looked for. But my poor young cousins!”

We talked about them all the morning and discussed what it was possible to do. In the afternoon my guardian walked with me to Symond’s Inn and left me at the door. I went upstairs. When my darling heard my footsteps, she came out into the small passage and threw her arms round my neck, but she composed herself directly and said that Richard had asked for me several times. Allan had found him sitting in the corner of the court, she told me, like a stone figure. On being roused, he had broken away and made as if he would have spoken in a fierce voice to the judge. He was stopped by his mouth being full of blood, and Allan had brought him home.

He was lying on a sofa with his eyes closed when I went in. There were restoratives on the table; the room was made as airy as possible, and was darkened, and was very orderly and quiet. Allan stood behind him watching him gravely. His face appeared to me to be quite destitute of colour, and now that I saw him without his seeing me, I fully saw, for the first time, how worn away he was. But he looked handsomer than I had seen him look for many a day.

I sat down by his side in silence. Opening his eyes by and by, he said in a weak voice, but with his old smile, “Dame Durden, kiss me, my dear!”

It was a great comfort and surprise to me to find him in his low state cheerful and looking forward. He was happier, he said, in our intended marriage than he could find words to tell me. My husband had been a guardian angel to him and Ada, and he blessed us both and wished us all the joy that life could yield us. I almost felt as if my own heart would have broken when I saw him take my husband’s hand and hold it to his breast.

We spoke of the future as much as possible, and he said several times that he must be present at our marriage if he could stand upon his feet. Ada would contrive to take him, somehow, he said. “Yes, surely, dearest Richard!” But as my darling answered him thus hopefully, so serene and beautiful, with the help that was to come to her so near—I knew—I knew!

It was not good for him to talk too much, and when he was silent, we were silent too. Sitting beside him, I made a pretence of working for my dear, as he had always been used to joke about my being busy. Ada leaned upon his pillow, holding his head upon her arm. He dozed often, and whenever he awoke without seeing him, said first of all, “Where is Woodcourt?”

Evening had come on when I lifted up my eyes and saw my guardian standing in the little hall. “Who is that, Dame Durden?” Richard asked me. The door was behind him, but he had observed in my face that some one was there.

I looked to Allan for advice, and as he nodded “Yes,” bent over Richard and told him. My guardian saw what passed, came softly by me in a moment, and laid his hand on Richard’s. “Oh, sir,” said Richard, “you are a good man, you are a good man!” and burst into tears for the first time.

My guardian, the picture of a good man, sat down in my place, keeping his hand on Richard’s.

“My dear Rick,” said he, “the clouds have cleared away, and it is bright now. We can see now. We were all bewildered, Rick, more or less. What matters! And how are you, my dear boy?”

“I am very weak, sir, but I hope I shall be stronger. I have to begin the world.”

“Aye, truly; well said!” cried my guardian.

“I will not begin it in the old way now,” said Richard with a sad smile. “I have learned a lesson now, sir. It was a hard one, but you shall be assured, indeed, that I have learned it.”

“Well, well,” said my guardian, comforting him; “well, well, well, dear boy!”

“I was thinking, sir,” resumed Richard, “that there is nothing on earth I should so much like to see as their house—Dame Durden’s and Woodcourt’s house. If I could be removed there when I begin to recover my strength, I feel as if I should get well there sooner than anywhere.”

“Why, so have I been thinking too, Rick,” said my guardian, “and our little woman likewise; she and I have been talking of it this very day. I dare say her husband won’t object. What do you think?”

Richard smiled and lifted up his arm to touch him as he stood behind the head of the couch.

“I say nothing of Ada,” said Richard, “but I think of her, and have thought of her very much. Look at her! See her here, sir, bending over this pillow when she has so much need to rest upon it herself, my dear love, my poor girl!”

He clasped her in his arms, and none of us spoke. He gradually released her, and she looked upon us, and looked up to heaven, and moved her lips.

“When I get down to Bleak House,” said Richard, “I shall have much to tell you, sir, and you will have much to show me. You will go, won’t you?”

“Undoubtedly, dear Rick.”

“Thank you; like you, like you,” said Richard. “But it’s all like you. They have been telling me how you planned it and how you remembered all Esther’s familiar tastes and ways. It will be like coming to the old Bleak House again.”

“And you will come there too, I hope, Rick. I am a solitary man now, you know, and it will be a charity to come to me. A charity to come to me, my love!” he repeated to Ada as he gently passed his hand over her golden hair and put a lock of it to his lips. (I think he vowed within himself to cherish her if she were left alone.)

“It was a troubled dream?” said Richard, clasping both my guardian’s hands eagerly.

“Nothing more, Rick; nothing more.”

“And you, being a good man, can pass it as such, and forgive and pity the dreamer, and be lenient and encouraging when he wakes?”

“Indeed I can. What am I but another dreamer, Rick?”

“I will begin the world!” said Richard with a light in his eyes.

My husband drew a little nearer towards Ada, and I saw him solemnly lift up his hand to warn my guardian.

“When shall I go from this place to that pleasant country where the old times are, where I shall have strength to tell what Ada has been to me, where I shall be able to recall my many faults and blindnesses, where I shall prepare myself to be a guide to my unborn child?” said Richard. “When shall I go?”

“Dear Rick, when you are strong enough,” returned my guardian.

“Ada, my darling!”

He sought to raise himself a little. Allan raised him so that she could hold him on her bosom, which was what he wanted.

“I have done you many wrongs, my own. I have fallen like a poor stray shadow on your way, I have married you to poverty and trouble, I have scattered your means to the winds. You will forgive me all this, my Ada, before I begin the world?”

A smile irradiated his face as she bent to kiss him. He slowly laid his face down upon her bosom, drew his arms closer round her neck, and with one parting sob began the world. Not this world, oh, not this! The world that sets this right.

When all was still, at a late hour, poor crazed Miss Flite came weeping to me and told me she had given her birds their liberty.

Librivox Recording

Chapter 64: Esther’s Narrative

Soon after I had that conversation with my guardian, he put a sealed paper in my hand one morning and said, “This is for next month, my dear.” I found in it two hundred pounds.

I now began very quietly to make such preparations as I thought were necessary. Regulating my purchases by my guardian’s taste, which I knew very well of course, I arranged my wardrobe to please him and hoped I should be highly successful. I did it all so quietly because I was not quite free from my old apprehension that Ada would be rather sorry and because my guardian was so quiet himself. I had no doubt that under all the circumstances we should be married in the most private and simple manner. Perhaps I should only have to say to Ada, “Would you like to come and see me married to-morrow, my pet?” Perhaps our wedding might even be as unpretending as her own, and I might not find it necessary to say anything about it until it was over. I thought that if I were to choose, I would like this best.

The only exception I made was Mrs. Woodcourt. I told her that I was going to be married to my guardian and that we had been engaged some time. She highly approved. She could never do enough for me and was remarkably softened now in comparison with what she had been when we first knew her. There was no trouble she would not have taken to have been of use to me, but I need hardly say that I only allowed her to take as little as gratified her kindness without tasking it.

Of course this was not a time to neglect my guardian, and of course it was not a time for neglecting my darling. So I had plenty of occupation, which I was glad of; and as to Charley, she was absolutely not to be seen for needlework. To surround herself with great heaps of it—baskets full and tables full—and do a little, and spend a great deal of time in staring with her round eyes at what there was to do, and persuade herself that she was going to do it, were Charley’s great dignities and delights.

Meanwhile, I must say, I could not agree with my guardian on the subject of the will, and I had some sanguine hopes of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Which of us was right will soon appear, but I certainly did encourage expectations. In Richard, the discovery gave occasion for a burst of business and agitation that buoyed him up for a little time, but he had lost the elasticity even of hope now and seemed to me to retain only its feverish anxieties. From something my guardian said one day when we were talking about this, I understood that my marriage would not take place until after the term-time we had been told to look forward to; and I thought the more, for that, how rejoiced I should be if I could be married when Richard and Ada were a little more prosperous.

The term was very near indeed when my guardian was called out of town and went down into Yorkshire on Mr. Woodcourt’s business. He had told me beforehand that his presence there would be necessary. I had just come in one night from my dear girl’s and was sitting in the midst of all my new clothes, looking at them all around me and thinking, when a letter from my guardian was brought to me. It asked me to join him in the country and mentioned by what stage-coach my place was taken and at what time in the morning I should have to leave town. It added in a postscript that I would not be many hours from Ada.

I expected few things less than a journey at that time, but I was ready for it in half an hour and set off as appointed early next morning. I travelled all day, wondering all day what I could be wanted for at such a distance; now I thought it might be for this purpose, and now I thought it might be for that purpose, but I was never, never, never near the truth.

It was night when I came to my journey’s end and found my guardian waiting for me. This was a great relief, for towards evening I had begun to fear (the more so as his letter was a very short one) that he might be ill. However, there he was, as well as it was possible to be; and when I saw his genial face again at its brightest and best, I said to myself, he has been doing some other great kindness. Not that it required much penetration to say that, because I knew that his being there at all was an act of kindness.

Supper was ready at the hotel, and when we were alone at table he said, “Full of curiosity, no doubt, little woman, to know why I have brought you here?”

“Well, guardian,” said I, “without thinking myself a Fatima or you a Blue Beard, I am a little curious about it.”

“Then to ensure your night’s rest, my love,” he returned gaily, “I won’t wait until to-morrow to tell you. I have very much wished to express to Woodcourt, somehow, my sense of his humanity to poor unfortunate Jo, his inestimable services to my young cousins, and his value to us all. When it was decided that he should settle here, it came into my head that I might ask his acceptance of some unpretending and suitable little place to lay his own head in. I therefore caused such a place to be looked out for, and such a place was found on very easy terms, and I have been touching it up for him and making it habitable. However, when I walked over it the day before yesterday and it was reported ready, I found that I was not housekeeper enough to know whether things were all as they ought to be. So I sent off for the best little housekeeper that could possibly be got to come and give me her advice and opinion. And here she is,” said my guardian, “laughing and crying both together!”

Because he was so dear, so good, so admirable. I tried to tell him what I thought of him, but I could not articulate a word.

“Tut, tut!” said my guardian. “You make too much of it, little woman. Why, how you sob, Dame Durden, how you sob!”

“It is with exquisite pleasure, guardian—with a heart full of thanks.”

“Well, well,” said he. “I am delighted that you approve. I thought you would. I meant it as a pleasant surprise for the little mistress of Bleak House.”

I kissed him and dried my eyes. “I know now!” said I. “I have seen this in your face a long while.”

“No; have you really, my dear?” said he. “What a Dame Durden it is to read a face!”

He was so quaintly cheerful that I could not long be otherwise, and was almost ashamed of having been otherwise at all. When I went to bed, I cried. I am bound to confess that I cried; but I hope it was with pleasure, though I am not quite sure it was with pleasure. I repeated every word of the letter twice over.

A most beautiful summer morning succeeded, and after breakfast we went out arm in arm to see the house of which I was to give my mighty housekeeping opinion. We entered a flower-garden by a gate in a side wall, of which he had the key, and the first thing I saw was that the beds and flowers were all laid out according to the manner of my beds and flowers at home.

“You see, my dear,” observed my guardian, standing still with a delighted face to watch my looks, “knowing there could be no better plan, I borrowed yours.”

We went on by a pretty little orchard, where the cherries were nestling among the green leaves and the shadows of the apple-trees were sporting on the grass, to the house itself—a cottage, quite a rustic cottage of doll’s rooms; but such a lovely place, so tranquil and so beautiful, with such a rich and smiling country spread around it; with water sparkling away into the distance, here all overhung with summer-growth, there turning a humming mill; at its nearest point glancing through a meadow by the cheerful town, where cricket-players were assembling in bright groups and a flag was flying from a white tent that rippled in the sweet west wind. And still, as we went through the pretty rooms, out at the little rustic verandah doors, and underneath the tiny wooden colonnades garlanded with woodbine, jasmine, and honey-suckle, I saw in the papering on the walls, in the colours of the furniture, in the arrangement of all the pretty objects, MY little tastes and fancies, MY little methods and inventions which they used to laugh at while they praised them, my odd ways everywhere.

I could not say enough in admiration of what was all so beautiful, but one secret doubt arose in my mind when I saw this, I thought, oh, would he be the happier for it! Would it not have been better for his peace that I should not have been so brought before him? Because although I was not what he thought me, still he loved me very dearly, and it might remind him mournfully of what be believed he had lost. I did not wish him to forget me—perhaps he might not have done so, without these aids to his memory—but my way was easier than his, and I could have reconciled myself even to that so that he had been the happier for it.

“And now, little woman,” said my guardian, whom I had never seen so proud and joyful as in showing me these things and watching my appreciation of them, “now, last of all, for the name of this house.”

“What is it called, dear guardian?”

“My child,” said he, “come and see,”

He took me to the porch, which he had hitherto avoided, and said, pausing before we went out, “My dear child, don’t you guess the name?”

“No!” said I.

We went out of the porch and he showed me written over it, Bleak House.

He led me to a seat among the leaves close by, and sitting down beside me and taking my hand in his, spoke to me thus, “My darling girl, in what there has been between us, I have, I hope, been really solicitous for your happiness. When I wrote you the letter to which you brought the answer,” smiling as he referred to it, “I had my own too much in view; but I had yours too. Whether, under different circumstances, I might ever have renewed the old dream I sometimes dreamed when you were very young, of making you my wife one day, I need not ask myself. I did renew it, and I wrote my letter, and you brought your answer. You are following what I say, my child?”

I was cold, and I trembled violently, but not a word he uttered was lost. As I sat looking fixedly at him and the sun’s rays descended, softly shining through the leaves upon his bare head, I felt as if the brightness on him must be like the brightness of the angels.

“Hear me, my love, but do not speak. It is for me to speak now. When it was that I began to doubt whether what I had done would really make you happy is no matter. Woodcourt came home, and I soon had no doubt at all.”

I clasped him round the neck and hung my head upon his breast and wept. “Lie lightly, confidently here, my child,” said he, pressing me gently to him. “I am your guardian and your father now. Rest confidently here.”

Soothingly, like the gentle rustling of the leaves; and genially, like the ripening weather; and radiantly and beneficently, like the sunshine, he went on.

“Understand me, my dear girl. I had no doubt of your being contented and happy with me, being so dutiful and so devoted; but I saw with whom you would be happier. That I penetrated his secret when Dame Durden was blind to it is no wonder, for I knew the good that could never change in her better far than she did. Well! I have long been in Allan Woodcourt’s confidence, although he was not, until yesterday, a few hours before you came here, in mine. But I would not have my Esther’s bright example lost; I would not have a jot of my dear girl’s virtues unobserved and unhonoured; I would not have her admitted on sufferance into the line of Morgan ap-Kerrig, no, not for the weight in gold of all the mountains in Wales!”

He stopped to kiss me on the forehead, and I sobbed and wept afresh. For I felt as if I could not bear the painful delight of his praise.

“Hush, little woman! Don’t cry; this is to be a day of joy. I have looked forward to it,” he said exultingly, “for months on months! A few words more, Dame Trot, and I have said my say. Determined not to throw away one atom of my Esther’s worth, I took Mrs. Woodcourt into a separate confidence. ‘Now, madam,’ said I, ‘I clearly perceive—and indeed I know, to boot—that your son loves my ward. I am further very sure that my ward loves your son, but will sacrifice her love to a sense of duty and affection, and will sacrifice it so completely, so entirely, so religiously, that you should never suspect it though you watched her night and day.’ Then I told her all our story—ours—yours and mine. ‘Now, madam,’ said I, ‘come you, knowing this, and live with us. Come you, and see my child from hour to hour; set what you see against her pedigree, which is this, and this’—for I scorned to mince it—’and tell me what is the true legitimacy when you shall have quite made up your mind on that subject.’ Why, honour to her old Welsh blood, my dear,” cried my guardian with enthusiasm, “I believe the heart it animates beats no less warmly, no less admiringly, no less lovingly, towards Dame Durden than my own!”

He tenderly raised my head, and as I clung to him, kissed me in his old fatherly way again and again. What a light, now, on the protecting manner I had thought about!

“One more last word. When Allan Woodcourt spoke to you, my dear, he spoke with my knowledge and consent—but I gave him no encouragement, not I, for these surprises were my great reward, and I was too miserly to part with a scrap of it. He was to come and tell me all that passed, and he did. I have no more to say. My dearest, Allan Woodcourt stood beside your father when he lay dead—stood beside your mother. This is Bleak House. This day I give this house its little mistress; and before God, it is the brightest day in all my life!”

He rose and raised me with him. We were no longer alone. My husband—I have called him by that name full seven happy years now—stood at my side.

“Allan,” said my guardian, “take from me a willing gift, the best wife that ever man had. What more can I say for you than that I know you deserve her! Take with her the little home she brings you. You know what she will make it, Allan; you know what she has made its namesake. Let me share its felicity sometimes, and what do I sacrifice? Nothing, nothing.”

He kissed me once again, and now the tears were in his eyes as he said more softly, “Esther, my dearest, after so many years, there is a kind of parting in this too. I know that my mistake has caused you some distress. Forgive your old guardian, in restoring him to his old place in your affections; and blot it out of your memory. Allan, take my dear.”

He moved away from under the green roof of leaves, and stopping in the sunlight outside and turning cheerfully towards us, said, “I shall be found about here somewhere. It’s a west wind, little woman, due west! Let no one thank me any more, for I am going to revert to my bachelor habits, and if anybody disregards this warning, I’ll run away and never come back!”

What happiness was ours that day, what joy, what rest, what hope, what gratitude, what bliss! We were to be married before the month was out, but when we were to come and take possession of our own house was to depend on Richard and Ada.

We all three went home together next day. As soon as we arrived in town, Allan went straight to see Richard and to carry our joyful news to him and my darling. Late as it was, I meant to go to her for a few minutes before lying down to sleep, but I went home with my guardian first to make his tea for him and to occupy the old chair by his side, for I did not like to think of its being empty so soon.

When we came home we found that a young man had called three times in the course of that one day to see me and that having been told on the occasion of his third call that I was not expected to return before ten o’clock at night, he had left word that he would call about then. He had left his card three times. Mr. Guppy.

As I naturally speculated on the object of these visits, and as I always associated something ludicrous with the visitor, it fell out that in laughing about Mr. Guppy I told my guardian of his old proposal and his subsequent retraction. “After that,” said my guardian, “we will certainly receive this hero.” So instructions were given that Mr. Guppy should be shown in when he came again, and they were scarcely given when he did come again.

He was embarrassed when he found my guardian with me, but recovered himself and said, “How de do, sir?”

“How do you do, sir?” returned my guardian.

“Thank you, sir, I am tolerable,” returned Mr. Guppy. “Will you allow me to introduce my mother, Mrs. Guppy of the Old Street Road, and my particular friend, Mr. Weevle. That is to say, my friend has gone by the name of Weevle, but his name is really and truly Jobling.”

My guardian begged them to be seated, and they all sat down.

“Tony,” said Mr. Guppy to his friend after an awkward silence. “Will you open the case?”

“Do it yourself,” returned the friend rather tartly.

“Well, Mr. Jarndyce, sir,” Mr. Guppy, after a moment’s consideration, began, to the great diversion of his mother, which she displayed by nudging Mr. Jobling with her elbow and winking at me in a most remarkable manner, “I had an idea that I should see Miss Summerson by herself and was not quite prepared for your esteemed presence. But Miss Summerson has mentioned to you, perhaps, that something has passed between us on former occasions?”

“Miss Summerson,” returned my guardian, smiling, “has made a communication to that effect to me.”

“That,” said Mr. Guppy, “makes matters easier. Sir, I have come out of my articles at Kenge and Carboy’s, and I believe with satisfaction to all parties. I am now admitted (after undergoing an examination that’s enough to badger a man blue, touching a pack of nonsense that he don’t want to know) on the roll of attorneys and have taken out my certificate, if it would be any satisfaction to you to see it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Guppy,” returned my guardian. “I am quite willing—I believe I use a legal phrase—to admit the certificate.”

Mr. Guppy therefore desisted from taking something out of his pocket and proceeded without it.

“I have no capital myself, but my mother has a little property which takes the form of an annuity”—here Mr. Guppy’s mother rolled her head as if she never could sufficiently enjoy the observation, and put her handkerchief to her mouth, and again winked at me—”and a few pounds for expenses out of pocket in conducting business will never be wanting, free of interest, which is an advantage, you know,” said Mr. Guppy feelingly.

“Certainly an advantage,” returned my guardian.

“I HAVE some connexion,” pursued Mr. Guppy, “and it lays in the direction of Walcot Square, Lambeth. I have therefore taken a ‘ouse in that locality, which, in the opinion of my friends, is a hollow bargain (taxes ridiculous, and use of fixtures included in the rent), and intend setting up professionally for myself there forthwith.”

Here Mr. Guppy’s mother fell into an extraordinary passion of rolling her head and smiling waggishly at anybody who would look at her.

“It’s a six-roomer, exclusive of kitchens,” said Mr. Guppy, “and in the opinion of my friends, a commodious tenement. When I mention my friends, I refer principally to my friend Jobling, who I believe has known me,” Mr. Guppy looked at him with a sentimental air, “from boyhood’s hour.”

Mr. Jobling confirmed this with a sliding movement of his legs.

“My friend Jobling will render me his assistance in the capacity of clerk and will live in the ‘ouse,” said Mr. Guppy. “My mother will likewise live in the ‘ouse when her present quarter in the Old Street Road shall have ceased and expired; and consequently there will be no want of society. My friend Jobling is naturally aristocratic by taste, and besides being acquainted with the movements of the upper circles, fully backs me in the intentions I am now developing.”

Mr. Jobling said “Certainly” and withdrew a little from the elbow of Mr Guppy’s mother.

“Now, I have no occasion to mention to you, sir, you being in the confidence of Miss Summerson,” said Mr. Guppy, “(mother, I wish you’d be so good as to keep still), that Miss Summerson’s image was formerly imprinted on my ‘eart and that I made her a proposal of marriage.”

“That I have heard,” returned my guardian.

“Circumstances,” pursued Mr. Guppy, “over which I had no control, but quite the contrary, weakened the impression of that image for a time. At which time Miss Summerson’s conduct was highly genteel; I may even add, magnanimous.”

My guardian patted me on the shoulder and seemed much amused.

“Now, sir,” said Mr. Guppy, “I have got into that state of mind myself that I wish for a reciprocity of magnanimous behaviour. I wish to prove to Miss Summerson that I can rise to a heighth of which perhaps she hardly thought me capable. I find that the image which I did suppose had been eradicated from my ‘eart is NOT eradicated. Its influence over me is still tremenjous, and yielding to it, I am willing to overlook the circumstances over which none of us have had any control and to renew those proposals to Miss Summerson which I had the honour to make at a former period. I beg to lay the ‘ouse in Walcot Square, the business, and myself before Miss Summerson for her acceptance.”

“Very magnanimous indeed, sir,” observed my guardian.

“Well, sir,” replied Mr. Guppy with candour, “my wish is to BE magnanimous. I do not consider that in making this offer to Miss Summerson I am by any means throwing myself away; neither is that the opinion of my friends. Still, there are circumstances which I submit may be taken into account as a set off against any little drawbacks of mine, and so a fair and equitable balance arrived at.”

“I take upon myself, sir,” said my guardian, laughing as he rang the bell, “to reply to your proposals on behalf of Miss Summerson. She is very sensible of your handsome intentions, and wishes you good evening, and wishes you well.”

“Oh!” said Mr. Guppy with a blank look. “Is that tantamount, sir, to acceptance, or rejection, or consideration?”

“To decided rejection, if you please,” returned my guardian.

Mr. Guppy looked incredulously at his friend, and at his mother, who suddenly turned very angry, and at the floor, and at the ceiling.

“Indeed?” said he. “Then, Jobling, if you was the friend you represent yourself, I should think you might hand my mother out of the gangway instead of allowing her to remain where she ain’t wanted.”

But Mrs. Guppy positively refused to come out of the gangway. She wouldn’t hear of it. “Why, get along with you,” said she to my guardian, “what do you mean? Ain’t my son good enough for you? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Get out with you!”

“My good lady,” returned my guardian, “it is hardly reasonable to ask me to get out of my own room.”

“I don’t care for that,” said Mrs. Guppy. “Get out with you. If we ain’t good enough for you, go and procure somebody that is good enough. Go along and find ’em.”

I was quite unprepared for the rapid manner in which Mrs. Guppy’s power of jocularity merged into a power of taking the profoundest offence.

“Go along and find somebody that’s good enough for you,” repeated Mrs. Guppy. “Get out!” Nothing seemed to astonish Mr. Guppy’s mother so much and to make her so very indignant as our not getting out. “Why don’t you get out?” said Mrs. Guppy. “What are you stopping here for?”

“Mother,” interposed her son, always getting before her and pushing her back with one shoulder as she sidled at my guardian, “WILL you hold your tongue?”

“No, William,” she returned, “I won’t! Not unless he gets out, I won’t!”

However, Mr. Guppy and Mr. Jobling together closed on Mr. Guppy’s mother (who began to be quite abusive) and took her, very much against her will, downstairs, her voice rising a stair higher every time her figure got a stair lower, and insisting that we should immediately go and find somebody who was good enough for us, and above all things that we should get out.

Librivox Recording: Chapter 64

Chapter 63: Steel and Iron

George’s Shooting Gallery is to let, and the stock is sold off, and George himself is at Chesney Wold attending on Sir Leicester in his rides and riding very near his bridle-rein because of the uncertain hand with which he guides his horse. But not to-day is George so occupied. He is journeying to-day into the iron country farther north to look about him.

As he comes into the iron country farther north, such fresh green woods as those of Chesney Wold are left behind; and coal pits and ashes, high chimneys and red bricks, blighted verdure, scorching fires, and a heavy never-lightening cloud of smoke become the features of the scenery. Among such objects rides the trooper, looking about him and always looking for something he has come to find.

At last, on the black canal bridge of a busy town, with a clang of iron in it, and more fires and more smoke than he has seen yet, the trooper, swart with the dust of the coal roads, checks his horse and asks a workman does he know the name of Rouncewell thereabouts.

“Why, master,” quoth the workman, “do I know my own name?”

“‘Tis so well known here, is it, comrade?” asks the trooper.

“Rouncewell’s? Ah! You’re right.”

“And where might it be now?” asks the trooper with a glance before him.

“The bank, the factory, or the house?” the workman wants to know.

“Hum! Rouncewell’s is so great apparently,” mutters the trooper, stroking his chin, “that I have as good as half a mind to go back again. Why, I don’t know which I want. Should I find Mr. Rouncewell at the factory, do you think?”

“Tain’t easy to say where you’d find him—at this time of the day you might find either him or his son there, if he’s in town; but his contracts take him away.”

And which is the factory? Why, he sees those chimneys—the tallest ones! Yes, he sees THEM. Well! Let him keep his eye on those chimneys, going on as straight as ever he can, and presently he’ll see ’em down a turning on the left, shut in by a great brick wall which forms one side of the street. That’s Rouncewell’s.

The trooper thanks his informant and rides slowly on, looking about him. He does not turn back, but puts up his horse (and is much disposed to groom him too) at a public-house where some of Rouncewell’s hands are dining, as the ostler tells him. Some of Rouncewell’s hands have just knocked off for dinner-time and seem to be invading the whole town. They are very sinewy and strong, are Rouncewell’s hands—a little sooty too.

He comes to a gateway in the brick wall, looks in, and sees a great perplexity of iron lying about in every stage and in a vast variety of shapes—in bars, in wedges, in sheets; in tanks, in boilers, in axles, in wheels, in cogs, in cranks, in rails; twisted and wrenched into eccentric and perverse forms as separate parts of machinery; mountains of it broken up, and rusty in its age; distant furnaces of it glowing and bubbling in its youth; bright fireworks of it showering about under the blows of the steam-hammer; red-hot iron, white-hot iron, cold-black iron; an iron taste, an iron smell, and a Babel of iron sounds.

“This is a place to make a man’s head ache too!” says the trooper, looking about him for a counting-house. “Who comes here? This is very like me before I was set up. This ought to be my nephew, if likenesses run in families. Your servant, sir.”

“Yours, sir. Are you looking for any one?”

“Excuse me. Young Mr. Rouncewell, I believe?”

“Yes.”

“I was looking for your father, sir. I wish to have a word with him.”

The young man, telling him he is fortunate in his choice of a time, for his father is there, leads the way to the office where he is to be found. “Very like me before I was set up—devilish like me!” thinks the trooper as he follows. They come to a building in the yard with an office on an upper floor. At sight of the gentleman in the office, Mr. George turns very red.

“What name shall I say to my father?” asks the young man.

George, full of the idea of iron, in desperation answers “Steel,” and is so presented. He is left alone with the gentleman in the office, who sits at a table with account-books before him and some sheets of paper blotted with hosts of figures and drawings of cunning shapes. It is a bare office, with bare windows, looking on the iron view below. Tumbled together on the table are some pieces of iron, purposely broken to be tested at various periods of their service, in various capacities. There is iron-dust on everything; and the smoke is seen through the windows rolling heavily out of the tall chimneys to mingle with the smoke from a vaporous Babylon of other chimneys.

“I am at your service, Mr. Steel,” says the gentleman when his visitor has taken a rusty chair.

“Well, Mr. Rouncewell,” George replies, leaning forward with his left arm on his knee and his hat in his hand, and very chary of meeting his brother’s eye, “I am not without my expectations that in the present visit I may prove to be more free than welcome. I have served as a dragoon in my day, and a comrade of mine that I was once rather partial to was, if I don’t deceive myself, a brother of yours. I believe you had a brother who gave his family some trouble, and ran away, and never did any good but in keeping away?”

“Are you quite sure,” returns the ironmaster in an altered voice, “that your name is Steel?”

The trooper falters and looks at him. His brother starts up, calls him by his name, and grasps him by both hands.

“You are too quick for me!” cries the trooper with the tears springing out of his eyes. “How do you do, my dear old fellow? I never could have thought you would have been half so glad to see me as all this. How do you do, my dear old fellow, how do you do!”

They shake hands and embrace each other over and over again, the trooper still coupling his “How do you do, my dear old fellow!” with his protestation that he never thought his brother would have been half so glad to see him as all this!

“So far from it,” he declares at the end of a full account of what has preceded his arrival there, “I had very little idea of making myself known. I thought if you took by any means forgivingly to my name I might gradually get myself up to the point of writing a letter. But I should not have been surprised, brother, if you had considered it anything but welcome news to hear of me.”

“We will show you at home what kind of news we think it, George,” returns his brother. “This is a great day at home, and you could not have arrived, you bronzed old soldier, on a better. I make an agreement with my son Watt to-day that on this day twelvemonth he shall marry as pretty and as good a girl as you have seen in all your travels. She goes to Germany to-morrow with one of your nieces for a little polishing up in her education. We make a feast of the event, and you will be made the hero of it.”

Mr. George is so entirely overcome at first by this prospect that he resists the proposed honour with great earnestness. Being overborne, however, by his brother and his nephew—concerning whom he renews his protestations that he never could have thought they would have been half so glad to see him—he is taken home to an elegant house in all the arrangements of which there is to be observed a pleasant mixture of the originally simple habits of the father and mother with such as are suited to their altered station and the higher fortunes of their children. Here Mr. George is much dismayed by the graces and accomplishments of his nieces that are and by the beauty of Rosa, his niece that is to be, and by the affectionate salutations of these young ladies, which he receives in a sort of dream. He is sorely taken aback, too, by the dutiful behaviour of his nephew and has a woeful consciousness upon him of being a scapegrace. However, there is great rejoicing and a very hearty company and infinite enjoyment, and Mr. George comes bluff and martial through it all, and his pledge to be present at the marriage and give away the bride is received with universal favour. A whirling head has Mr. George that night when he lies down in the state-bed of his brother’s house to think of all these things and to see the images of his nieces (awful all the evening in their floating muslins) waltzing, after the German manner, over his counterpane.

The brothers are closeted next morning in the ironmaster’s room, where the elder is proceeding, in his clear sensible way, to show how he thinks he may best dispose of George in his business, when George squeezes his hand and stops him.

“Brother, I thank you a million times for your more than brotherly welcome, and a million times more to that for your more than brotherly intentions. But my plans are made. Before I say a word as to them, I wish to consult you upon one family point. How,” says the trooper, folding his arms and looking with indomitable firmness at his brother, “how is my mother to be got to scratch me?”

“I am not sure that I understand you, George,” replies the ironmaster.

“I say, brother, how is my mother to be got to scratch me? She must be got to do it somehow.”

“Scratch you out of her will, I think you mean?”

“Of course I do. In short,” says the trooper, folding his arms more resolutely yet, “I mean—TO—scratch me!”

“My dear George,” returns his brother, “is it so indispensable that you should undergo that process?”

“Quite! Absolutely! I couldn’t be guilty of the meanness of coming back without it. I should never be safe not to be off again. I have not sneaked home to rob your children, if not yourself, brother, of your rights. I, who forfeited mine long ago! If I am to remain and hold up my head, I must be scratched. Come. You are a man of celebrated penetration and intelligence, and you can tell me how it’s to be brought about.”

“I can tell you, George,” replies the ironmaster deliberately, “how it is not to be brought about, which I hope may answer the purpose as well. Look at our mother, think of her, recall her emotion when she recovered you. Do you believe there is a consideration in the world that would induce her to take such a step against her favourite son? Do you believe there is any chance of her consent, to balance against the outrage it would be to her (loving dear old lady!) to propose it? If you do, you are wrong. No, George! You must make up your mind to remain UNscratched, I think.” There is an amused smile on the ironmaster’s face as he watches his brother, who is pondering, deeply disappointed. “I think you may manage almost as well as if the thing were done, though.”

“How, brother?”

“Being bent upon it, you can dispose by will of anything you have the misfortune to inherit in any way you like, you know.”

“That’s true!” says the trooper, pondering again. Then he wistfully asks, with his hand on his brother’s, “Would you mind mentioning that, brother, to your wife and family?”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you. You wouldn’t object to say, perhaps, that although an undoubted vagabond, I am a vagabond of the harum-scarum order, and not of the mean sort?”

The ironmaster, repressing his amused smile, assents.

“Thank you. Thank you. It’s a weight off my mind,” says the trooper with a heave of his chest as he unfolds his arms and puts a hand on each leg, “though I had set my heart on being scratched, too!”

The brothers are very like each other, sitting face to face; but a certain massive simplicity and absence of usage in the ways of the world is all on the trooper’s side.

“Well,” he proceeds, throwing off his disappointment, “next and last, those plans of mine. You have been so brotherly as to propose to me to fall in here and take my place among the products of your perseverance and sense. I thank you heartily. It’s more than brotherly, as I said before, and I thank you heartily for it,” shaking him a long time by the hand. “But the truth is, brother, I am a—I am a kind of a weed, and it’s too late to plant me in a regular garden.”

“My dear George,” returns the elder, concentrating his strong steady brow upon him and smiling confidently, “leave that to me, and let me try.”

George shakes his head. “You could do it, I have not a doubt, if anybody could; but it’s not to be done. Not to be done, sir! Whereas it so falls out, on the other hand, that I am able to be of some trifle of use to Sir Leicester Dedlock since his illness—brought on by family sorrows—and that he would rather have that help from our mother’s son than from anybody else.”

“Well, my dear George,” returns the other with a very slight shade upon his open face, “if you prefer to serve in Sir Leicester Dedlock’s household brigade—”

“There it is, brother,” cries the trooper, checking him, with his hand upon his knee again; “there it is! You don’t take kindly to that idea; I don’t mind it. You are not used to being officered; I am. Everything about you is in perfect order and discipline; everything about me requires to be kept so. We are not accustomed to carry things with the same hand or to look at ’em from the same point. I don’t say much about my garrison manners because I found myself pretty well at my ease last night, and they wouldn’t be noticed here, I dare say, once and away. But I shall get on best at Chesney Wold, where there’s more room for a weed than there is here; and the dear old lady will be made happy besides. Therefore I accept of Sir Leicester Dedlock’s proposals. When I come over next year to give away the bride, or whenever I come, I shall have the sense to keep the household brigade in ambuscade and not to manoeuvre it on your ground. I thank you heartily again and am proud to think of the Rouncewells as they’ll be founded by you.”

“You know yourself, George,” says the elder brother, returning the grip of his hand, “and perhaps you know me better than I know myself. Take your way. So that we don’t quite lose one another again, take your way.”

“No fear of that!” returns the trooper. “Now, before I turn my horse’s head homewards, brother, I will ask you—if you’ll be so good—to look over a letter for me. I brought it with me to send from these parts, as Chesney Wold might be a painful name just now to the person it’s written to. I am not much accustomed to correspondence myself, and I am particular respecting this present letter because I want it to be both straightforward and delicate.”

Herewith he hands a letter, closely written in somewhat pale ink but in a neat round hand, to the ironmaster, who reads as follows:

Miss Esther Summerson,

A communication having been made to me by Inspector Bucket of a letter to myself being found among the papers of a certain person, I take the liberty to make known to you that it was but a few lines of instruction from abroad, when, where, and how to deliver an enclosed letter to a young and beautiful lady, then unmarried, in England. I duly observed the same.

I further take the liberty to make known to you that it was got from me as a proof of handwriting only and that otherwise I would not have given it up, as appearing to be the most harmless in my possession, without being previously shot through the heart.

I further take the liberty to mention that if I could have supposed a certain unfortunate gentleman to have been in existence, I never could and never would have rested until I had discovered his retreat and shared my last farthing with him, as my duty and my inclination would have equally been. But he was (officially) reported drowned, and assuredly went over the side of a transport-ship at night in an Irish harbour within a few hours of her arrival from the West Indies, as I have myself heard both from officers and men on board, and know to have been (officially) confirmed.

I further take the liberty to state that in my humble quality as one of the rank and file, I am, and shall ever continue to be, your thoroughly devoted and admiring servant and that I esteem the qualities you possess above all others far beyond the limits of the present dispatch.

I have the honour to be,

George

“A little formal,” observes the elder brother, refolding it with a puzzled face.

“But nothing that might not be sent to a pattern young lady?” asks the younger.

“Nothing at all.”

Therefore it is sealed and deposited for posting among the iron correspondence of the day. This done, Mr. George takes a hearty farewell of the family party and prepares to saddle and mount. His brother, however, unwilling to part with him so soon, proposes to ride with him in a light open carriage to the place where he will bait for the night, and there remain with him until morning, a servant riding for so much of the journey on the thoroughbred old grey from Chesney Wold. The offer, being gladly accepted, is followed by a pleasant ride, a pleasant dinner, and a pleasant breakfast, all in brotherly communion. Then they once more shake hands long and heartily and part, the ironmaster turning his face to the smoke and fires, and the trooper to the green country. Early in the afternoon the subdued sound of his heavy military trot is heard on the turf in the avenue as he rides on with imaginary clank and jingle of accoutrements under the old elm-trees.

Librivox Recording: Chapter 63

Chapter 62: Another Discovery

I had not the courage to see any one that night. I had not even the courage to see myself, for I was afraid that my tears might a little reproach me. I went up to my room in the dark, and prayed in the dark, and lay down in the dark to sleep. I had no need of any light to read my guardian’s letter by, for I knew it by heart. I took it from the place where I kept it, and repeated its contents by its own clear light of integrity and love, and went to sleep with it on my pillow.

I was up very early in the morning and called Charley to come for a walk. We bought flowers for the breakfast-table, and came back and arranged them, and were as busy as possible. We were so early that I had a good time still for Charley’s lesson before breakfast; Charley (who was not in the least improved in the old defective article of grammar) came through it with great applause; and we were altogether very notable. When my guardian appeared he said, “Why, little woman, you look fresher than your flowers!” And Mrs. Woodcourt repeated and translated a passage from the Mewlinnwillinwodd expressive of my being like a mountain with the sun upon it.

This was all so pleasant that I hope it made me still more like the mountain than I had been before. After breakfast I waited my opportunity and peeped about a little until I saw my guardian in his own room—the room of last night—by himself. Then I made an excuse to go in with my housekeeping keys, shutting the door after me.

“Well, Dame Durden?” said my guardian; the post had brought him several letters, and he was writing. “You want money?”

“No, indeed, I have plenty in hand.”

“There never was such a Dame Durden,” said my guardian, “for making money last.”

He had laid down his pen and leaned back in his chair looking at me. I have often spoken of his bright face, but I thought I had never seen it look so bright and good. There was a high happiness upon it which made me think, “He has been doing some great kindness this morning.”

“There never was,” said my guardian, musing as he smiled upon me, “such a Dame Durden for making money last.”

He had never yet altered his old manner. I loved it and him so much that when I now went up to him and took my usual chair, which was always put at his side—for sometimes I read to him, and sometimes I talked to him, and sometimes I silently worked by him—I hardly liked to disturb it by laying my hand on his breast. But I found I did not disturb it at all.

“Dear guardian,” said I, “I want to speak to you. Have I been remiss in anything?”

“Remiss in anything, my dear!”

“Have I not been what I have meant to be since—I brought the answer to your letter, guardian?”

“You have been everything I could desire, my love.”

“I am very glad indeed to hear that,” I returned. “You know, you said to me, was this the mistress of Bleak House. And I said, yes.”

“Yes,” said my guardian, nodding his head. He had put his arm about me as if there were something to protect me from and looked in my face, smiling.

“Since then,” said I, “we have never spoken on the subject except once.”

“And then I said Bleak House was thinning fast; and so it was, my dear.”

“And I said,” I timidly reminded him, “but its mistress remained.”

He still held me in the same protecting manner and with the same bright goodness in his face.

“Dear guardian,” said I, “I know how you have felt all that has happened, and how considerate you have been. As so much time has passed, and as you spoke only this morning of my being so well again, perhaps you expect me to renew the subject. Perhaps I ought to do so. I will be the mistress of Bleak House when you please.”

“See,” he returned gaily, “what a sympathy there must be between us! I have had nothing else, poor Rick excepted—it’s a large exception—in my mind. When you came in, I was full of it. When shall we give Bleak House its mistress, little woman?”

“When you please.”

“Next month?”

“Next month, dear guardian.”

“The day on which I take the happiest and best step of my life—the day on which I shall be a man more exulting and more enviable than any other man in the world—the day on which I give Bleak House its little mistress—shall be next month then,” said my guardian.

I put my arms round his neck and kissed him just as I had done on the day when I brought my answer.

A servant came to the door to announce Mr. Bucket, which was quite unnecessary, for Mr. Bucket was already looking in over the servant’s shoulder. “Mr. Jarndyce and Miss Summerson,” said he, rather out of breath, “with all apologies for intruding, WILL you allow me to order up a person that’s on the stairs and that objects to being left there in case of becoming the subject of observations in his absence? Thank you. Be so good as chair that there member in this direction, will you?” said Mr. Bucket, beckoning over the banisters.

This singular request produced an old man in a black skull-cap, unable to walk, who was carried up by a couple of bearers and deposited in the room near the door. Mr. Bucket immediately got rid of the bearers, mysteriously shut the door, and bolted it.

“Now you see, Mr. Jarndyce,” he then began, putting down his hat and opening his subject with a flourish of his well-remembered finger, “you know me, and Miss Summerson knows me. This gentleman likewise knows me, and his name is Smallweed. The discounting line is his line principally, and he’s what you may call a dealer in bills. That’s about what YOU are, you know, ain’t you?” said Mr. Bucket, stopping a little to address the gentleman in question, who was exceedingly suspicious of him.

He seemed about to dispute this designation of himself when he was seized with a violent fit of coughing.

“Now, moral, you know!” said Mr. Bucket, improving the accident. “Don’t you contradict when there ain’t no occasion, and you won’t be took in that way. Now, Mr. Jarndyce, I address myself to you. I’ve been negotiating with this gentleman on behalf of Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, and one way and another I’ve been in and out and about his premises a deal. His premises are the premises formerly occupied by Krook, marine store dealer—a relation of this gentleman’s that you saw in his lifetime if I don’t mistake?”

My guardian replied, “Yes.”

“Well! You are to understand,” said Mr. Bucket, “that this gentleman he come into Krook’s property, and a good deal of magpie property there was. Vast lots of waste-paper among the rest. Lord bless you, of no use to nobody!”

The cunning of Mr. Bucket’s eye and the masterly manner in which he contrived, without a look or a word against which his watchful auditor could protest, to let us know that he stated the case according to previous agreement and could say much more of Mr. Smallweed if he thought it advisable, deprived us of any merit in quite understanding him. His difficulty was increased by Mr. Smallweed’s being deaf as well as suspicious and watching his face with the closest attention.

“Among them odd heaps of old papers, this gentleman, when he comes into the property, naturally begins to rummage, don’t you see?” said Mr. Bucket.

“To which? Say that again,” cried Mr. Smallweed in a shrill, sharp voice.

“To rummage,” repeated Mr. Bucket. “Being a prudent man and accustomed to take care of your own affairs, you begin to rummage among the papers as you have come into; don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” cried Mr. Smallweed.

“Of course you do,” said Mr. Bucket conversationally, “and much to blame you would be if you didn’t. And so you chance to find, you know,” Mr. Bucket went on, stooping over him with an air of cheerful raillery which Mr. Smallweed by no means reciprocated, “and so you chance to find, you know, a paper with the signature of Jarndyce to it. Don’t you?”

Mr. Smallweed glanced with a troubled eye at us and grudgingly nodded assent.

“And coming to look at that paper at your full leisure and convenience—all in good time, for you’re not curious to read it, and why should you be?—what do you find it to be but a will, you see. That’s the drollery of it,” said Mr. Bucket with the same lively air of recalling a joke for the enjoyment of Mr. Smallweed, who still had the same crest-fallen appearance of not enjoying it at all; “what do you find it to be but a will?”

“I don’t know that it’s good as a will or as anything else,” snarled Mr. Smallweed.

Mr. Bucket eyed the old man for a moment—he had slipped and shrunk down in his chair into a mere bundle—as if he were much disposed to pounce upon him; nevertheless, he continued to bend over him with the same agreeable air, keeping the corner of one of his eyes upon us.

“Notwithstanding which,” said Mr. Bucket, “you get a little doubtful and uncomfortable in your mind about it, having a very tender mind of your own.”

“Eh? What do you say I have got of my own?” asked Mr. Smallweed with his hand to his ear.

“A very tender mind.”

“Ho! Well, go on,” said Mr. Smallweed.

“And as you’ve heard a good deal mentioned regarding a celebrated Chancery will case of the same name, and as you know what a card Krook was for buying all manner of old pieces of furniter, and books, and papers, and what not, and never liking to part with ’em, and always a-going to teach himself to read, you begin to think—and you never was more correct in your born days—’Ecod, if I don’t look about me, I may get into trouble regarding this will.'”

“Now, mind how you put it, Bucket,” cried the old man anxiously with his hand at his ear. “Speak up; none of your brimstone tricks. Pick me up; I want to hear better. Oh, Lord, I am shaken to bits!”

Mr. Bucket had certainly picked him up at a dart. However, as soon as he could be heard through Mr. Smallweed’s coughing and his vicious ejaculations of “Oh, my bones! Oh, dear! I’ve no breath in my body! I’m worse than the chattering, clattering, brimstone pig at home!” Mr. Bucket proceeded in the same convivial manner as before.

“So, as I happen to be in the habit of coming about your premises, you take me into your confidence, don’t you?”

I think it would be impossible to make an admission with more ill will and a worse grace than Mr. Smallweed displayed when he admitted this, rendering it perfectly evident that Mr. Bucket was the very last person he would have thought of taking into his confidence if he could by any possibility have kept him out of it.

“And I go into the business with you—very pleasant we are over it; and I confirm you in your well-founded fears that you will get yourself into a most precious line if you don’t come out with that there will,” said Mr. Bucket emphatically; “and accordingly you arrange with me that it shall be delivered up to this present Mr. Jarndyce, on no conditions. If it should prove to be valuable, you trusting yourself to him for your reward; that’s about where it is, ain’t it?”

“That’s what was agreed,” Mr. Smallweed assented with the same bad grace.

“In consequence of which,” said Mr. Bucket, dismissing his agreeable manner all at once and becoming strictly business-like, “you’ve got that will upon your person at the present time, and the only thing that remains for you to do is just to out with it!”

Having given us one glance out of the watching corner of his eye, and having given his nose one triumphant rub with his forefinger, Mr. Bucket stood with his eyes fastened on his confidential friend and his hand stretched forth ready to take the paper and present it to my guardian. It was not produced without much reluctance and many declarations on the part of Mr. Smallweed that he was a poor industrious man and that he left it to Mr. Jarndyce’s honour not to let him lose by his honesty. Little by little he very slowly took from a breast-pocket a stained, discoloured paper which was much singed upon the outside and a little burnt at the edges, as if it had long ago been thrown upon a fire and hastily snatched off again. Mr. Bucket lost no time in transferring this paper, with the dexterity of a conjuror, from Mr. Smallweed to Mr. Jarndyce. As he gave it to my guardian, he whispered behind his fingers, “Hadn’t settled how to make their market of it. Quarrelled and hinted about it. I laid out twenty pound upon it. First the avaricious grandchildren split upon him on account of their objections to his living so unreasonably long, and then they split on one another. Lord! There ain’t one of the family that wouldn’t sell the other for a pound or two, except the old lady—and she’s only out of it because she’s too weak in her mind to drive a bargain.”

“Mr Bucket,” said my guardian aloud, “whatever the worth of this paper may be to any one, my obligations are great to you; and if it be of any worth, I hold myself bound to see Mr. Smallweed remunerated accordingly.”

“Not according to your merits, you know,” said Mr. Bucket in friendly explanation to Mr. Smallweed. “Don’t you be afraid of that. According to its value.”

“That is what I mean,” said my guardian. “You may observe, Mr. Bucket, that I abstain from examining this paper myself. The plain truth is, I have forsworn and abjured the whole business these many years, and my soul is sick of it. But Miss Summerson and I will immediately place the paper in the hands of my solicitor in the cause, and its existence shall be made known without delay to all other parties interested.”

“Mr. Jarndyce can’t say fairer than that, you understand,” observed Mr. Bucket to his fellow-visitor. “And it being now made clear to you that nobody’s a-going to be wronged—which must be a great relief to YOUR mind—we may proceed with the ceremony of chairing you home again.”

He unbolted the door, called in the bearers, wished us good morning, and with a look full of meaning and a crook of his finger at parting went his way.

We went our way too, which was to Lincoln’s Inn, as quickly as possible. Mr. Kenge was disengaged, and we found him at his table in his dusty room with the inexpressive-looking books and the piles of papers. Chairs having been placed for us by Mr. Guppy, Mr. Kenge expressed the surprise and gratification he felt at the unusual sight of Mr. Jarndyce in his office. He turned over his double eye-glass as he spoke and was more Conversation Kenge than ever.

“I hope,” said Mr. Kenge, “that the genial influence of Miss Summerson,” he bowed to me, “may have induced Mr. Jarndyce,” he bowed to him, “to forego some little of his animosity towards a cause and towards a court which are—shall I say, which take their place in the stately vista of the pillars of our profession?”

“I am inclined to think,” returned my guardian, “that Miss Summerson has seen too much of the effects of the court and the cause to exert any influence in their favour. Nevertheless, they are a part of the occasion of my being here. Mr. Kenge, before I lay this paper on your desk and have done with it, let me tell you how it has come into my hands.”

He did so shortly and distinctly.

“It could not, sir,” said Mr. Kenge, “have been stated more plainly and to the purpose if it had been a case at law.”

“Did you ever know English law, or equity either, plain and to the purpose?” said my guardian.

“Oh, fie!” said Mr. Kenge.

At first he had not seemed to attach much importance to the paper, but when he saw it he appeared more interested, and when he had opened and read a little of it through his eye-glass, he became amazed. “Mr. Jarndyce,” he said, looking off it, “you have perused this?”

“Not I!” returned my guardian.

“But, my dear sir,” said Mr. Kenge, “it is a will of later date than any in the suit. It appears to be all in the testator’s handwriting. It is duly executed and attested. And even if intended to be cancelled, as might possibly be supposed to be denoted by these marks of fire, it is NOT cancelled. Here it is, a perfect instrument!”

“Well!” said my guardian. “What is that to me?”

“Mr. Guppy!” cried Mr. Kenge, raising his voice. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Jarndyce.”

“Sir.”

“Mr. Vholes of Symond’s Inn. My compliments. Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Glad to speak with him.”

Mr. Guppy disappeared.

“You ask me what is this to you, Mr. Jarndyce. If you had perused this document, you would have seen that it reduces your interest considerably, though still leaving it a very handsome one, still leaving it a very handsome one,” said Mr. Kenge, waving his hand persuasively and blandly. “You would further have seen that the interests of Mr. Richard Carstone and of Miss Ada Clare, now Mrs. Richard Carstone, are very materially advanced by it.”

“Kenge,” said my guardian, “if all the flourishing wealth that the suit brought into this vile court of Chancery could fall to my two young cousins, I should be well contented. But do you ask ME to believe that any good is to come of Jarndyce and Jarndyce?”

“Oh, really, Mr. Jarndyce! Prejudice, prejudice. My dear sir, this is a very great country, a very great country. Its system of equity is a very great system, a very great system. Really, really!”

My guardian said no more, and Mr. Vholes arrived. He was modestly impressed by Mr. Kenge’s professional eminence.

“How do you do, Mr. Vholes? Will you be so good as to take a chair here by me and look over this paper?”

Mr. Vholes did as he was asked and seemed to read it every word. He was not excited by it, but he was not excited by anything. When he had well examined it, he retired with Mr. Kenge into a window, and shading his mouth with his black glove, spoke to him at some length. I was not surprised to observe Mr. Kenge inclined to dispute what he said before he had said much, for I knew that no two people ever did agree about anything in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. But he seemed to get the better of Mr. Kenge too in a conversation that sounded as if it were almost composed of the words “Receiver-General,” “Accountant-General,” “report,” “estate,” and “costs.” When they had finished, they came back to Mr. Kenge’s table and spoke aloud.

“Well! But this is a very remarkable document, Mr. Vholes,” said Mr. Kenge.

Mr. Vholes said, “Very much so.”

“And a very important document, Mr. Vholes,” said Mr. Kenge.

Again Mr. Vholes said, “Very much so.”

“And as you say, Mr. Vholes, when the cause is in the paper next term, this document will be an unexpected and interesting feature in it,” said Mr. Kenge, looking loftily at my guardian.

Mr. Vholes was gratified, as a smaller practitioner striving to keep respectable, to be confirmed in any opinion of his own by such an authority.

“And when,” asked my guardian, rising after a pause, during which Mr. Kenge had rattled his money and Mr. Vholes had picked his pimples, “when is next term?”

“Next term, Mr. Jarndyce, will be next month,” said Mr. Kenge. “Of course we shall at once proceed to do what is necessary with this document and to collect the necessary evidence concerning it; and of course you will receive our usual notification of the cause being in the paper.”

“To which I shall pay, of course, my usual attention.”

“Still bent, my dear sir,” said Mr. Kenge, showing us through the outer office to the door, “still bent, even with your enlarged mind, on echoing a popular prejudice? We are a prosperous community, Mr. Jarndyce, a very prosperous community. We are a great country, Mr. Jarndyce, we are a very great country. This is a great system, Mr. Jarndyce, and would you wish a great country to have a little system? Now, really, really!”

He said this at the stair-head, gently moving his right hand as if it were a silver trowel with which to spread the cement of his words on the structure of the system and consolidate it for a thousand ages.

Librivox Recording: Chapter 62

Chapter 61: A Discovery

The days when I frequented that miserable corner which my dear girl brightened can never fade in my remembrance. I never see it, and I never wish to see it now; I have been there only once since, but in my memory there is a mournful glory shining on the place which will shine for ever.

Not a day passed without my going there, of course. At first I found Mr. Skimpole there, on two or three occasions, idly playing the piano and talking in his usual vivacious strain. Now, besides my very much mistrusting the probability of his being there without making Richard poorer, I felt as if there were something in his careless gaiety too inconsistent with what I knew of the depths of Ada’s life. I clearly perceived, too, that Ada shared my feelings. I therefore resolved, after much thinking of it, to make a private visit to Mr. Skimpole and try delicately to explain myself. My dear girl was the great consideration that made me bold.

I set off one morning, accompanied by Charley, for Somers Town. As I approached the house, I was strongly inclined to turn back, for I felt what a desperate attempt it was to make an impression on Mr. Skimpole and how extremely likely it was that he would signally defeat me. However, I thought that being there, I would go through with it. I knocked with a trembling hand at Mr. Skimpole’s door—literally with a hand, for the knocker was gone—and after a long parley gained admission from an Irishwoman, who was in the area when I knocked, breaking up the lid of a water-butt with a poker to light the fire with.

Mr. Skimpole, lying on the sofa in his room, playing the flute a little, was enchanted to see me. Now, who should receive me, he asked. Who would I prefer for mistress of the ceremonies? Would I have his Comedy daughter, his Beauty daughter, or his Sentiment daughter? Or would I have all the daughters at once in a perfect nosegay?

I replied, half defeated already, that I wished to speak to himself only if he would give me leave.

“My dear Miss Summerson, most joyfully! Of course,” he said, bringing his chair nearer mine and breaking into his fascinating smile, “of course it’s not business. Then it’s pleasure!”

I said it certainly was not business that I came upon, but it was not quite a pleasant matter.

“Then, my dear Miss Summerson,” said he with the frankest gaiety, “don’t allude to it. Why should you allude to anything that is NOT a pleasant matter? I never do. And you are a much pleasanter creature, in every point of view, than I. You are perfectly pleasant; I am imperfectly pleasant; then, if I never allude to an unpleasant matter, how much less should you! So that’s disposed of, and we will talk of something else.”

Although I was embarrassed, I took courage to intimate that I still wished to pursue the subject.

“I should think it a mistake,” said Mr. Skimpole with his airy laugh, “if I thought Miss Summerson capable of making one. But I don’t!”

“Mr. Skimpole,” said I, raising my eyes to his, “I have so often heard you say that you are unacquainted with the common affairs of life—”

“Meaning our three banking-house friends, L, S, and who’s the junior partner? D?” said Mr. Skimpole, brightly. “Not an idea of them!”

“—That perhaps,” I went on, “you will excuse my boldness on that account. I think you ought most seriously to know that Richard is poorer than he was.”

“Dear me!” said Mr. Skimpole. “So am I, they tell me.”

“And in very embarrassed circumstances.”

“Parallel case, exactly!” said Mr. Skimpole with a delighted countenance.

“This at present naturally causes Ada much secret anxiety, and as I think she is less anxious when no claims are made upon her by visitors, and as Richard has one uneasiness always heavy on his mind, it has occurred to me to take the liberty of saying that—if you would—not—”

I was coming to the point with great difficulty when he took me by both hands and with a radiant face and in the liveliest way anticipated it.

“Not go there? Certainly not, my dear Miss Summerson, most assuredly not. Why SHOULD I go there? When I go anywhere, I go for pleasure. I don’t go anywhere for pain, because I was made for pleasure. Pain comes to ME when it wants me. Now, I have had very little pleasure at our dear Richard’s lately, and your practical sagacity demonstrates why. Our young friends, losing the youthful poetry which was once so captivating in them, begin to think, ‘This is a man who wants pounds.’ So I am; I always want pounds; not for myself, but because tradespeople always want them of me. Next, our young friends begin to think, becoming mercenary, ‘This is the man who HAD pounds, who borrowed them,’ which I did. I always borrow pounds. So our young friends, reduced to prose (which is much to be regretted), degenerate in their power of imparting pleasure to me. Why should I go to see them, therefore? Absurd!”

Through the beaming smile with which he regarded me as he reasoned thus, there now broke forth a look of disinterested benevolence quite astonishing.

“Besides,” he said, pursuing his argument in his tone of light-hearted conviction, “if I don’t go anywhere for pain—which would be a perversion of the intention of my being, and a monstrous thing to do—why should I go anywhere to be the cause of pain? If I went to see our young friends in their present ill-regulated state of mind, I should give them pain. The associations with me would be disagreeable. They might say, ‘This is the man who had pounds and who can’t pay pounds,’ which I can’t, of course; nothing could be more out of the question! Then kindness requires that I shouldn’t go near them—and I won’t.”

He finished by genially kissing my hand and thanking me. Nothing but Miss Summerson’s fine tact, he said, would have found this out for him.

I was much disconcerted, but I reflected that if the main point were gained, it mattered little how strangely he perverted everything leading to it. I had determined to mention something else, however, and I thought I was not to be put off in that.

“Mr. Skimpole,” said I, “I must take the liberty of saying before I conclude my visit that I was much surprised to learn, on the best authority, some little time ago, that you knew with whom that poor boy left Bleak House and that you accepted a present on that occasion. I have not mentioned it to my guardian, for I fear it would hurt him unnecessarily; but I may say to you that I was much surprised.”

“No? Really surprised, my dear Miss Summerson?” he returned inquiringly, raising his pleasant eyebrows.

“Greatly surprised.”

He thought about it for a little while with a highly agreeable and whimsical expression of face, then quite gave it up and said in his most engaging manner, “You know what a child I am. Why surprised?”

I was reluctant to enter minutely into that question, but as he begged I would, for he was really curious to know, I gave him to understand in the gentlest words I could use that his conduct seemed to involve a disregard of several moral obligations. He was much amused and interested when he heard this and said, “No, really?” with ingenuous simplicity.

“You know I don’t intend to be responsible. I never could do it. Responsibility is a thing that has always been above me—or below me,” said Mr. Skimpole. “I don’t even know which; but as I understand the way in which my dear Miss Summerson (always remarkable for her practical good sense and clearness) puts this case, I should imagine it was chiefly a question of money, do you know?”

I incautiously gave a qualified assent to this.

“Ah! Then you see,” said Mr. Skimpole, shaking his head, “I am hopeless of understanding it.”

I suggested, as I rose to go, that it was not right to betray my guardian’s confidence for a bribe.

“My dear Miss Summerson,” he returned with a candid hilarity that was all his own, “I can’t be bribed.”

“Not by Mr. Bucket?” said I.

“No,” said he. “Not by anybody. I don’t attach any value to money. I don’t care about it, I don’t know about it, I don’t want it, I don’t keep it—it goes away from me directly. How can I be bribed?”

I showed that I was of a different opinion, though I had not the capacity for arguing the question.

“On the contrary,” said Mr. Skimpole, “I am exactly the man to be placed in a superior position in such a case as that. I am above the rest of mankind in such a case as that. I can act with philosophy in such a case as that. I am not warped by prejudices, as an Italian baby is by bandages. I am as free as the air. I feel myself as far above suspicion as Caesar’s wife.”

Anything to equal the lightness of his manner and the playful impartiality with which he seemed to convince himself, as he tossed the matter about like a ball of feathers, was surely never seen in anybody else!

“Observe the case, my dear Miss Summerson. Here is a boy received into the house and put to bed in a state that I strongly object to. The boy being in bed, a man arrives—like the house that Jack built. Here is the man who demands the boy who is received into the house and put to bed in a state that I strongly object to. Here is a bank-note produced by the man who demands the boy who is received into the house and put to bed in a state that I strongly object to. Here is the Skimpole who accepts the bank-note produced by the man who demands the boy who is received into the house and put to bed in a state that I strongly object to. Those are the facts. Very well. Should the Skimpole have refused the note? WHY should the Skimpole have refused the note? Skimpole protests to Bucket, ‘What’s this for? I don’t understand it, it is of no use to me, take it away.’ Bucket still entreats Skimpole to accept it. Are there reasons why Skimpole, not being warped by prejudices, should accept it? Yes. Skimpole perceives them. What are they? Skimpole reasons with himself, this is a tamed lynx, an active police-officer, an intelligent man, a person of a peculiarly directed energy and great subtlety both of conception and execution, who discovers our friends and enemies for us when they run away, recovers our property for us when we are robbed, avenges us comfortably when we are murdered. This active police-officer and intelligent man has acquired, in the exercise of his art, a strong faith in money; he finds it very useful to him, and he makes it very useful to society. Shall I shake that faith in Bucket because I want it myself; shall I deliberately blunt one of Bucket’s weapons; shall I positively paralyse Bucket in his next detective operation? And again. If it is blameable in Skimpole to take the note, it is blameable in Bucket to offer the note—much more blameable in Bucket, because he is the knowing man. Now, Skimpole wishes to think well of Bucket; Skimpole deems it essential, in its little place, to the general cohesion of things, that he SHOULD think well of Bucket. The state expressly asks him to trust to Bucket. And he does. And that’s all he does!”

I had nothing to offer in reply to this exposition and therefore took my leave. Mr. Skimpole, however, who was in excellent spirits, would not hear of my returning home attended only by “Little Coavinses,” and accompanied me himself. He entertained me on the way with a variety of delightful conversation and assured me, at parting, that he should never forget the fine tact with which I had found that out for him about our young friends.

As it so happened that I never saw Mr. Skimpole again, I may at once finish what I know of his history. A coolness arose between him and my guardian, based principally on the foregoing grounds and on his having heartlessly disregarded my guardian’s entreaties (as we afterwards learned from Ada) in reference to Richard. His being heavily in my guardian’s debt had nothing to do with their separation. He died some five years afterwards and left a diary behind him, with letters and other materials towards his life, which was published and which showed him to have been the victim of a combination on the part of mankind against an amiable child. It was considered very pleasant reading, but I never read more of it myself than the sentence on which I chanced to light on opening the book. It was this: “Jarndyce, in common with most other men I have known, is the incarnation of selfishness.”

And now I come to a part of my story touching myself very nearly indeed, and for which I was quite unprepared when the circumstance occurred. Whatever little lingerings may have now and then revived in my mind associated with my poor old face had only revived as belonging to a part of my life that was gone—gone like my infancy or my childhood. I have suppressed none of my many weaknesses on that subject, but have written them as faithfully as my memory has recalled them. And I hope to do, and mean to do, the same down to the last words of these pages, which I see now not so very far before me.

The months were gliding away, and my dear girl, sustained by the hopes she had confided in me, was the same beautiful star in the miserable corner. Richard, more worn and haggard, haunted the court day after day, listlessly sat there the whole day long when he knew there was no remote chance of the suit being mentioned, and became one of the stock sights of the place. I wonder whether any of the gentlemen remembered him as he was when he first went there.

So completely was he absorbed in his fixed idea that he used to avow in his cheerful moments that he should never have breathed the fresh air now “but for Woodcourt.” It was only Mr. Woodcourt who could occasionally divert his attention for a few hours at a time and rouse him, even when he sunk into a lethargy of mind and body that alarmed us greatly, and the returns of which became more frequent as the months went on. My dear girl was right in saying that he only pursued his errors the more desperately for her sake. I have no doubt that his desire to retrieve what he had lost was rendered the more intense by his grief for his young wife, and became like the madness of a gamester.

I was there, as I have mentioned, at all hours. When I was there at night, I generally went home with Charley in a coach; sometimes my guardian would meet me in the neighbourhood, and we would walk home together. One evening he had arranged to meet me at eight o’clock. I could not leave, as I usually did, quite punctually at the time, for I was working for my dear girl and had a few stitches more to do to finish what I was about; but it was within a few minutes of the hour when I bundled up my little work-basket, gave my darling my last kiss for the night, and hurried downstairs. Mr. Woodcourt went with me, as it was dusk.

When we came to the usual place of meeting—it was close by, and Mr. Woodcourt had often accompanied me before—my guardian was not there. We waited half an hour, walking up and down, but there were no signs of him. We agreed that he was either prevented from coming or that he had come and gone away, and Mr. Woodcourt proposed to walk home with me.

It was the first walk we had ever taken together, except that very short one to the usual place of meeting. We spoke of Richard and Ada the whole way. I did not thank him in words for what he had done—my appreciation of it had risen above all words then—but I hoped he might not be without some understanding of what I felt so strongly.

Arriving at home and going upstairs, we found that my guardian was out and that Mrs. Woodcourt was out too. We were in the very same room into which I had brought my blushing girl when her youthful lover, now her so altered husband, was the choice of her young heart, the very same room from which my guardian and I had watched them going away through the sunlight in the fresh bloom of their hope and promise.

We were standing by the opened window looking down into the street when Mr. Woodcourt spoke to me. I learned in a moment that he loved me. I learned in a moment that my scarred face was all unchanged to him. I learned in a moment that what I had thought was pity and compassion was devoted, generous, faithful love. Oh, too late to know it now, too late, too late. That was the first ungrateful thought I had. Too late.

“When I returned,” he told me, “when I came back, no richer than when I went away, and found you newly risen from a sick bed, yet so inspired by sweet consideration for others and so free from a selfishthought—”

“Oh, Mr. Woodcourt, forbear, forbear!” I entreated him. “I do not deserve your high praise. I had many selfish thoughts at that time, many!”

“Heaven knows, beloved of my life,” said he, “that my praise is not a lover’s praise, but the truth. You do not know what all around you see in Esther Summerson, how many hearts she touches and awakens, what sacred admiration and what love she wins.”

“Oh, Mr. Woodcourt,” cried I, “it is a great thing to win love, it is a great thing to win love! I am proud of it, and honoured by it; and the hearing of it causes me to shed these tears of mingled joy and sorrow—joy that I have won it, sorrow that I have not deserved it better; but I am not free to think of yours.”

I said it with a stronger heart, for when he praised me thus and when I heard his voice thrill with his belief that what he said was true, I aspired to be more worthy of it. It was not too late for that. Although I closed this unforeseen page in my life to-night, I could be worthier of it all through my life. And it was a comfort to me, and an impulse to me, and I felt a dignity rise up within me that was derived from him when I thought so.

He broke the silence.

“I should poorly show the trust that I have in the dear one who will evermore be as dear to me as now”—and the deep earnestness with which he said it at once strengthened me and made me weep—”if, after her assurance that she is not free to think of my love, I urged it. Dear Esther, let me only tell you that the fond idea of you which I took abroad was exalted to the heavens when I came home. I have always hoped, in the first hour when I seemed to stand in any ray of good fortune, to tell you this. I have always feared that I should tell it you in vain. My hopes and fears are both fulfilled to-night. I distress you. I have said enough.”

Something seemed to pass into my place that was like the angel he thought me, and I felt so sorrowful for the loss he had sustained! I wished to help him in his trouble, as I had wished to do when he showed that first commiseration for me.

“Dear Mr. Woodcourt,” said I, “before we part to-night, something is left for me to say. I never could say it as I wish—I never shall—but—”

I had to think again of being more deserving of his love and his affliction before I could go on.

“—I am deeply sensible of your generosity, and I shall treasure its remembrance to my dying hour. I know full well how changed I am, I know you are not unacquainted with my history, and I know what a noble love that is which is so faithful. What you have said to me could have affected me so much from no other lips, for there are none that could give it such a value to me. It shall not be lost. It shall make me better.”

He covered his eyes with his hand and turned away his head. How could I ever be worthy of those tears?

“If, in the unchanged intercourse we shall have together—in tending Richard and Ada, and I hope in many happier scenes of life—you ever find anything in me which you can honestly think is better than it used to be, believe that it will have sprung up from to-night and that I shall owe it to you. And never believe, dear dear Mr. Woodcourt, never believe that I forget this night or that while my heart beats it can be insensible to the pride and joy of having been beloved by you.”

He took my hand and kissed it. He was like himself again, and I felt still more encouraged.

“I am induced by what you said just now,” said I, “to hope that you have succeeded in your endeavour.”

“I have,” he answered. “With such help from Mr. Jarndyce as you who know him so well can imagine him to have rendered me, I have succeeded.”

“Heaven bless him for it,” said I, giving him my hand; “and heaven bless you in all you do!”

“I shall do it better for the wish,” he answered; “it will make me enter on these new duties as on another sacred trust from you.”

“Ah! Richard!” I exclaimed involuntarily, “What will he do when you are gone!”

“I am not required to go yet; I would not desert him, dear Miss Summerson, even if I were.”

One other thing I felt it needful to touch upon before he left me. I knew that I should not be worthier of the love I could not take if I reserved it.

“Mr. Woodcourt,” said I, “you will be glad to know from my lips before I say good night that in the future, which is clear and bright before me, I am most happy, most fortunate, have nothing to regret or desire.”

It was indeed a glad hearing to him, he replied.

“From my childhood I have been,” said I, “the object of the untiring goodness of the best of human beings, to whom I am so bound by every tie of attachment, gratitude, and love, that nothing I could do in the compass of a life could express the feelings of a single day.”

“I share those feelings,” he returned. “You speak of Mr. Jarndyce.”

“You know his virtues well,” said I, “but few can know the greatness of his character as I know it. All its highest and best qualities have been revealed to me in nothing more brightly than in the shaping out of that future in which I am so happy. And if your highest homage and respect had not been his already—which I know they are—they would have been his, I think, on this assurance and in the feeling it would have awakened in you towards him for my sake.”

He fervently replied that indeed indeed they would have been. I gave him my hand again.

“Good night,” I said, “Good-bye.”

“The first until we meet to-morrow, the second as a farewell to this theme between us for ever.”

“Yes.”

“Good night; good-bye.”

He left me, and I stood at the dark window watching the street. His love, in all its constancy and generosity, had come so suddenly upon me that he had not left me a minute when my fortitude gave way again and the street was blotted out by my rushing tears.

But they were not tears of regret and sorrow. No. He had called me the beloved of his life and had said I would be evermore as dear to him as I was then, and I felt as if my heart would not hold the triumph of having heard those words. My first wild thought had died away. It was not too late to hear them, for it was not too late to be animated by them to be good, true, grateful, and contented. How easy my path, how much easier than his!

Librivox Recording: Chapter 61

Chapter 60: Perspective

I proceed to other passages of my narrative. From the goodness of all about me I derived such consolation as I can never think of unmoved. I have already said so much of myself, and so much still remains, that I will not dwell upon my sorrow. I had an illness, but it was not a long one; and I would avoid even this mention of it if I could quite keep down the recollection of their sympathy.

I proceed to other passages of my narrative.

During the time of my illness, we were still in London, where Mrs. Woodcourt had come, on my guardian’s invitation, to stay with us. When my guardian thought me well and cheerful enough to talk with him in our old way—though I could have done that sooner if he would have believed me—I resumed my work and my chair beside his. He had appointed the time himself, and we were alone.

“Dame Trot,” said he, receiving me with a kiss, “welcome to the growlery again, my dear. I have a scheme to develop, little woman. I propose to remain here, perhaps for six months, perhaps for a longer time—as it may be. Quite to settle here for a while, in short.”

“And in the meanwhile leave Bleak House?” said I.

“Aye, my dear? Bleak House,” he returned, “must learn to take care of itself.”

I thought his tone sounded sorrowful, but looking at him, I saw his kind face lighted up by its pleasantest smile.

“Bleak House,” he repeated—and his tone did NOT sound sorrowful, I found—”must learn to take care of itself. It is a long way from Ada, my dear, and Ada stands much in need of you.”

“It’s like you, guardian,” said I, “to have been taking that into consideration for a happy surprise to both of us.”

“Not so disinterested either, my dear, if you mean to extol me for that virtue, since if you were generally on the road, you could be seldom with me. And besides, I wish to hear as much and as often of Ada as I can in this condition of estrangement from poor Rick. Not of her alone, but of him too, poor fellow.”

“Have you seen Mr. Woodcourt, this morning, guardian?”

“I see Mr. Woodcourt every morning, Dame Durden.”

“Does he still say the same of Richard?”

“Just the same. He knows of no direct bodily illness that he has; on the contrary, he believes that he has none. Yet he is not easy about him; who CAN be?”

My dear girl had been to see us lately every day, some times twice in a day. But we had foreseen, all along, that this would only last until I was quite myself. We knew full well that her fervent heart was as full of affection and gratitude towards her cousin John as it had ever been, and we acquitted Richard of laying any injunctions upon her to stay away; but we knew on the other hand that she felt it a part of her duty to him to be sparing of her visits at our house. My guardian’s delicacy had soon perceived this and had tried to convey to her that he thought she was right.

“Dear, unfortunate, mistaken Richard,” said I. “When will he awake from his delusion!”

“He is not in the way to do so now, my dear,” replied my guardian. “The more he suffers, the more averse he will be to me, having made me the principal representative of the great occasion of his suffering.”

I could not help adding, “So unreasonably!”

“Ah, Dame Trot, Dame Trot,” returned my guardian, “what shall we find reasonable in Jarndyce and Jarndyce! Unreason and injustice at the top, unreason and injustice at the heart and at the bottom, unreason and injustice from beginning to end—if it ever has an end—how should poor Rick, always hovering near it, pluck reason out of it? He no more gathers grapes from thorns or figs from thistles than older men did in old times.”

His gentleness and consideration for Richard whenever we spoke of him touched me so that I was always silent on this subject very soon.

“I suppose the Lord Chancellor, and the Vice Chancellors, and the whole Chancery battery of great guns would be infinitely astonished by such unreason and injustice in one of their suitors,” pursued my guardian. “When those learned gentlemen begin to raise moss-roses from the powder they sow in their wigs, I shall begin to be astonished too!”

He checked himself in glancing towards the window to look where the wind was and leaned on the back of my chair instead.

“Well, well, little woman! To go on, my dear. This rock we must leave to time, chance, and hopeful circumstance. We must not shipwreck Ada upon it. She cannot afford, and he cannot afford, the remotest chance of another separation from a friend. Therefore I have particularly begged of Woodcourt, and I now particularly beg of you, my dear, not to move this subject with Rick. Let it rest. Next week, next month, next year, sooner or later, he will see me with clearer eyes. I can wait.”

But I had already discussed it with him, I confessed; and so, I thought, had Mr. Woodcourt.

“So he tells me,” returned my guardian. “Very good. He has made his protest, and Dame Durden has made hers, and there is nothing more to be said about it. Now I come to Mrs. Woodcourt. How do you like her, my dear?”

In answer to this question, which was oddly abrupt, I said I liked her very much and thought she was more agreeable than she used to be.

“I think so too,” said my guardian. “Less pedigree? Not so much of Morgan ap—what’s his name?”

That was what I meant, I acknowledged, though he was a very harmless person, even when we had had more of him.

“Still, upon the whole, he is as well in his native mountains,” said my guardian. “I agree with you. Then, little woman, can I do better for a time than retain Mrs. Woodcourt here?”

No. And yet—

My guardian looked at me, waiting for what I had to say.

I had nothing to say. At least I had nothing in my mind that I could say. I had an undefined impression that it might have been better if we had had some other inmate, but I could hardly have explained why even to myself. Or, if to myself, certainly not to anybody else.

“You see,” said my guardian, “our neighbourhood is in Woodcourt’s way, and he can come here to see her as often as he likes, which is agreeable to them both; and she is familiar to us and fond of you.”

Yes. That was undeniable. I had nothing to say against it. I could not have suggested a better arrangement, but I was not quite easy in my mind. Esther, Esther, why not? Esther, think!

“It is a very good plan indeed, dear guardian, and we could not do better.”

“Sure, little woman?”

Quite sure. I had had a moment’s time to think, since I had urged that duty on myself, and I was quite sure.

“Good,” said my guardian. “It shall be done. Carried unanimously.”

“Carried unanimously,” I repeated, going on with my work.

It was a cover for his book-table that I happened to be ornamenting. It had been laid by on the night preceding my sad journey and never resumed. I showed it to him now, and he admired it highly. After I had explained the pattern to him and all the great effects that were to come out by and by, I thought I would go back to our last theme.

“You said, dear guardian, when we spoke of Mr. Woodcourt before Ada left us, that you thought he would give a long trial to another country. Have you been advising him since?”

“Yes, little woman, pretty often.”

“Has he decided to do so?”

“I rather think not.”

“Some other prospect has opened to him, perhaps?” said I.

“Why—yes—perhaps,” returned my guardian, beginning his answer in a very deliberate manner. “About half a year hence or so, there is a medical attendant for the poor to be appointed at a certain place in Yorkshire. It is a thriving place, pleasantly situated—streams and streets, town and country, mill and moor—and seems to present an opening for such a man. I mean a man whose hopes and aims may sometimes lie (as most men’s sometimes do, I dare say) above the ordinary level, but to whom the ordinary level will be high enough after all if it should prove to be a way of usefulness and good service leading to no other. All generous spirits are ambitious, I suppose, but the ambition that calmly trusts itself to such a road, instead of spasmodically trying to fly over it, is of the kind I care for. It is Woodcourt’s kind.”

“And will he get this appointment?” I asked.

“Why, little woman,” returned my guardian, smiling, “not being an oracle, I cannot confidently say, but I think so. His reputation stands very high; there were people from that part of the country in the shipwreck; and strange to say, I believe the best man has the best chance. You must not suppose it to be a fine endowment. It is a very, very commonplace affair, my dear, an appointment to a great amount of work and a small amount of pay; but better things will gather about it, it may be fairly hoped.”

“The poor of that place will have reason to bless the choice if it falls on Mr. Woodcourt, guardian.”

“You are right, little woman; that I am sure they will.”

We said no more about it, nor did he say a word about the future of Bleak House. But it was the first time I had taken my seat at his side in my mourning dress, and that accounted for it, I considered.

I now began to visit my dear girl every day in the dull dark corner where she lived. The morning was my usual time, but whenever I found I had an hour or so to spare, I put on my bonnet and bustled off to Chancery Lane. They were both so glad to see me at all hours, and used to brighten up so when they heard me opening the door and coming in (being quite at home, I never knocked), that I had no fear of becoming troublesome just yet.

On these occasions I frequently found Richard absent. At other times he would be writing or reading papers in the cause at that table of his, so covered with papers, which was never disturbed. Sometimes I would come upon him lingering at the door of Mr. Vholes’s office. Sometimes I would meet him in the neighbourhood lounging about and biting his nails. I often met him wandering in Lincoln’s Inn, near the place where I had first seen him, oh how different, how different!

That the money Ada brought him was melting away with the candles I used to see burning after dark in Mr. Vholes’s office I knew very well. It was not a large amount in the beginning, he had married in debt, and I could not fail to understand, by this time, what was meant by Mr. Vholes’s shoulder being at the wheel—as I still heard it was. My dear made the best of housekeepers and tried hard to save, but I knew that they were getting poorer and poorer every day.

She shone in the miserable corner like a beautiful star. She adorned and graced it so that it became another place. Paler than she had been at home, and a little quieter than I had thought natural when she was yet so cheerful and hopeful, her face was so unshadowed that I half believed she was blinded by her love for Richard to his ruinous career.

I went one day to dine with them while I was under this impression. As I turned into Symond’s Inn, I met little Miss Flite coming out. She had been to make a stately call upon the wards in Jarndyce, as she still called them, and had derived the highest gratification from that ceremony. Ada had already told me that she called every Monday at five o’clock, with one little extra white bow in her bonnet, which never appeared there at any other time, and with her largest reticule of documents on her arm.

“My dear!” she began. “So delighted! How do you do! So glad to see you. And you are going to visit our interesting Jarndyce wards? TO be sure! Our beauty is at home, my dear, and will be charmed to see you.”

“Then Richard is not come in yet?” said I. “I am glad of that, for I was afraid of being a little late.”

“No, he is not come in,” returned Miss Flite. “He has had a long day in court. I left him there with Vholes. You don’t like Vholes, I hope? DON’T like Vholes. Dan-gerous man!”

“I am afraid you see Richard oftener than ever now,” said I.

“My dearest,” returned Miss Flite, “daily and hourly. You know what I told you of the attraction on the Chancellor’s table? My dear, next to myself he is the most constant suitor in court. He begins quite to amuse our little party. Ve-ry friendly little party, are we not?”

It was miserable to hear this from her poor mad lips, though it was no surprise.

“In short, my valued friend,” pursued Miss Flite, advancing her lips to my ear with an air of equal patronage and mystery, “I must tell you a secret. I have made him my executor. Nominated, constituted, and appointed him. In my will. Ye-es.”

“Indeed?” said I.

“Ye-es,” repeated Miss Flite in her most genteel accents, “my executor, administrator, and assign. (Our Chancery phrases, my love.) I have reflected that if I should wear out, he will be able to watch that judgment. Being so very regular in his attendance.”

It made me sigh to think of him.

“I did at one time mean,” said Miss Flite, echoing the sigh, “to nominate, constitute, and appoint poor Gridley. Also very regular, my charming girl. I assure you, most exemplary! But he wore out, poor man, so I have appointed his successor. Don’t mention it. This is in confidence.”

She carefully opened her reticule a little way and showed me a folded piece of paper inside as the appointment of which she spoke.

“Another secret, my dear. I have added to my collection of birds.”

“Really, Miss Flite?” said I, knowing how it pleased her to have her confidence received with an appearance of interest.

She nodded several times, and her face became overcast and gloomy. “Two more. I call them the Wards in Jarndyce. They are caged up with all the others. With Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach!”

The poor soul kissed me with the most troubled look I had ever seen in her and went her way. Her manner of running over the names of her birds, as if she were afraid of hearing them even from her own lips, quite chilled me.

This was not a cheering preparation for my visit, and I could have dispensed with the company of Mr. Vholes, when Richard (who arrived within a minute or two after me) brought him to share our dinner. Although it was a very plain one, Ada and Richard were for some minutes both out of the room together helping to get ready what we were to eat and drink. Mr. Vholes took that opportunity of holding a little conversation in a low voice with me. He came to the window where I was sitting and began upon Symond’s Inn.

“A dull place, Miss Summerson, for a life that is not an official one,” said Mr. Vholes, smearing the glass with his black glove to make it clearer for me.

“There is not much to see here,” said I.

“Nor to hear, miss,” returned Mr. Vholes. “A little music does occasionally stray in, but we are not musical in the law and soon eject it. I hope Mr. Jarndyce is as well as his friends could wish him?”

I thanked Mr. Vholes and said he was quite well.

“I have not the pleasure to be admitted among the number of his friends myself,” said Mr. Vholes, “and I am aware that the gentlemen of our profession are sometimes regarded in such quarters with an unfavourable eye. Our plain course, however, under good report and evil report, and all kinds of prejudice (we are the victims of prejudice), is to have everything openly carried on. How do you find Mr. C. looking, Miss Summerson?”

“He looks very ill. Dreadfully anxious.”

“Just so,” said Mr. Vholes.

He stood behind me with his long black figure reaching nearly to the ceiling of those low rooms, feeling the pimples on his face as if they were ornaments and speaking inwardly and evenly as though there were not a human passion or emotion in his nature.

“Mr. Woodcourt is in attendance upon Mr. C., I believe?” he resumed.

“Mr. Woodcourt is his disinterested friend,” I answered.

“But I mean in professional attendance, medical attendance.”

“That can do little for an unhappy mind,” said I.

“Just so,” said Mr. Vholes.

So slow, so eager, so bloodless and gaunt, I felt as if Richard were wasting away beneath the eyes of this adviser and there were something of the vampire in him.

“Miss Summerson,” said Mr. Vholes, very slowly rubbing his gloved hands, as if, to his cold sense of touch, they were much the same in black kid or out of it, “this was an ill-advised marriage of Mr. C.’s.”

I begged he would excuse me from discussing it. They had been engaged when they were both very young, I told him (a little indignantly) and when the prospect before them was much fairer and brighter. When Richard had not yielded himself to the unhappy influence which now darkened his life.

“Just so,” assented Mr. Vholes again. “Still, with a view to everything being openly carried on, I will, with your permission, Miss Summerson, observe to you that I consider this a very ill-advised marriage indeed. I owe the opinion not only to Mr. C.’s connexions, against whom I should naturally wish to protect myself, but also to my own reputation—dear to myself as a professional man aiming to keep respectable; dear to my three girls at home, for whom I am striving to realize some little independence; dear, I will even say, to my aged father, whom it is my privilege to support.”

“It would become a very different marriage, a much happier and better marriage, another marriage altogether, Mr. Vholes,” said I, “if Richard were persuaded to turn his back on the fatal pursuit in which you are engaged with him.”

Mr. Vholes, with a noiseless cough—or rather gasp—into one of his black gloves, inclined his head as if he did not wholly dispute even that.

“Miss Summerson,” he said, “it may be so; and I freely admit that the young lady who has taken Mr. C.’s name upon herself in so ill-advised a manner—you will I am sure not quarrel with me for throwing out that remark again, as a duty I owe to Mr. C.’s connexions—is a highly genteel young lady. Business has prevented me from mixing much with general society in any but a professional character; still I trust I am competent to perceive that she is a highly genteel young lady. As to beauty, I am not a judge of that myself, and I never did give much attention to it from a boy, but I dare say the young lady is equally eligible in that point of view. She is considered so (I have heard) among the clerks in the Inn, and it is a point more in their way than in mine. In reference to Mr. C.’s pursuit of his interests—”

“Oh! His interests, Mr. Vholes!”

“Pardon me,” returned Mr. Vholes, going on in exactly the same inward and dispassionate manner. “Mr. C. takes certain interests under certain wills disputed in the suit. It is a term we use. In reference to Mr. C,’s pursuit of his interests, I mentioned to you, Miss Summerson, the first time I had the pleasure of seeing you, in my desire that everything should be openly carried on—I used those words, for I happened afterwards to note them in my diary, which is producible at any time—I mentioned to you that Mr. C. had laid down the principle of watching his own interests, and that when a client of mine laid down a principle which was not of an immoral (that is to say, unlawful) nature, it devolved upon me to carry it out. I HAVE carried it out; I do carry it out. But I will not smooth things over to any connexion of Mr. C.’s on any account. As open as I was to Mr. Jarndyce, I am to you. I regard it in the light of a professional duty to be so, though it can be charged to no one. I openly say, unpalatable as it may be, that I consider Mr. C.’s affairs in a very bad way, that I consider Mr. C. himself in a very bad way, and that I regard this as an exceedingly ill-advised marriage. Am I here, sir? Yes, I thank you; I am here, Mr. C., and enjoying the pleasure of some agreeable conversation with Miss Summerson, for which I have to thank you very much, sir!”

He broke off thus in answer to Richard, who addressed him as he came into the room. By this time I too well understood Mr. Vholes’s scrupulous way of saving himself and his respectability not to feel that our worst fears did but keep pace with his client’s progress.

We sat down to dinner, and I had an opportunity of observing Richard, anxiously. I was not disturbed by Mr. Vholes (who took off his gloves to dine), though he sat opposite to me at the small table, for I doubt if, looking up at all, he once removed his eyes from his host’s face. I found Richard thin and languid, slovenly in his dress, abstracted in his manner, forcing his spirits now and then, and at other intervals relapsing into a dull thoughtfulness. About his large bright eyes that used to be so merry there was a wanness and a restlessness that changed them altogether. I cannot use the expression that he looked old. There is a ruin of youth which is not like age, and into such a ruin Richard’s youth and youthful beauty had all fallen away.

He ate little and seemed indifferent what it was, showed himself to be much more impatient than he used to be, and was quick even with Ada. I thought at first that his old light-hearted manner was all gone, but it shone out of him sometimes as I had occasionally known little momentary glimpses of my own old face to look out upon me from the glass. His laugh had not quite left him either, but it was like the echo of a joyful sound, and that is always sorrowful.

Yet he was as glad as ever, in his old affectionate way, to have me there, and we talked of the old times pleasantly. These did not appear to be interesting to Mr. Vholes, though he occasionally made a gasp which I believe was his smile. He rose shortly after dinner and said that with the permission of the ladies he would retire to his office.

“Always devoted to business, Vholes!” cried Richard.

“Yes, Mr. C.,” he returned, “the interests of clients are never to be neglected, sir. They are paramount in the thoughts of a professional man like myself, who wishes to preserve a good name among his fellow-practitioners and society at large. My denying myself the pleasure of the present agreeable conversation may not be wholly irrespective of your own interests, Mr. C.”

Richard expressed himself quite sure of that and lighted Mr. Vholes out. On his return he told us, more than once, that Vholes was a good fellow, a safe fellow, a man who did what he pretended to do, a very good fellow indeed! He was so defiant about it that it struck me he had begun to doubt Mr. Vholes.

Then he threw himself on the sofa, tired out; and Ada and I put things to rights, for they had no other servant than the woman who attended to the chambers. My dear girl had a cottage piano there and quietly sat down to sing some of Richard’s favourites, the lamp being first removed into the next room, as he complained of its hurting his eyes.

I sat between them, at my dear girl’s side, and felt very melancholy listening to her sweet voice. I think Richard did too; I think he darkened the room for that reason. She had been singing some time, rising between whiles to bend over him and speak to him, when Mr. Woodcourt came in. Then he sat down by Richard and half playfully, half earnestly, quite naturally and easily, found out how he felt and where he had been all day. Presently he proposed to accompany him in a short walk on one of the bridges, as it was a moonlight airy night; and Richard readily consenting, they went out together.

They left my dear girl still sitting at the piano and me still sitting beside her. When they were gone out, I drew my arm round her waist. She put her left hand in mine (I was sitting on that side), but kept her right upon the keys, going over and over them without striking any note.

“Esther, my dearest,” she said, breaking silence, “Richard is never so well and I am never so easy about him as when he is with Allan Woodcourt. We have to thank you for that.”

I pointed out to my darling how this could scarcely be, because Mr. Woodcourt had come to her cousin John’s house and had known us all there, and because he had always liked Richard, and Richard had always liked him, and—and so forth.

“All true,” said Ada, “but that he is such a devoted friend to us we owe to you.”

I thought it best to let my dear girl have her way and to say no more about it. So I said as much. I said it lightly, because I felt her trembling.

“Esther, my dearest, I want to be a good wife, a very, very good wife indeed. You shall teach me.”

I teach! I said no more, for I noticed the hand that was fluttering over the keys, and I knew that it was not I who ought to speak, that it was she who had something to say to me.

“When I married Richard I was not insensible to what was before him. I had been perfectly happy for a long time with you, and I had never known any trouble or anxiety, so loved and cared for, but I understood the danger he was in, dear Esther.”

“I know, I know, my darling.”

“When we were married I had some little hope that I might be able to convince him of his mistake, that he might come to regard it in a new way as my husband and not pursue it all the more desperately for my sake—as he does. But if I had not had that hope, I would have married him just the same, Esther. Just the same!”

In the momentary firmness of the hand that was never still—a firmness inspired by the utterance of these last words, and dying away with them—I saw the confirmation of her earnest tones.

“You are not to think, my dearest Esther, that I fail to see what you see and fear what you fear. No one can understand him better than I do. The greatest wisdom that ever lived in the world could scarcely know Richard better than my love does.”

She spoke so modestly and softly and her trembling hand expressed such agitation as it moved to and fro upon the silent notes! My dear, dear girl!

“I see him at his worst every day. I watch him in his sleep. I know every change of his face. But when I married Richard I was quite determined, Esther, if heaven would help me, never to show him that I grieved for what he did and so to make him more unhappy. I want him, when he comes home, to find no trouble in my face. I want him, when he looks at me, to see what he loved in me. I married him to do this, and this supports me.”

I felt her trembling more. I waited for what was yet to come, and I now thought I began to know what it was.

“And something else supports me, Esther.”

She stopped a minute. Stopped speaking only; her hand was still in motion.

“I look forward a little while, and I don’t know what great aid may come to me. When Richard turns his eyes upon me then, there may be something lying on my breast more eloquent than I have been, with greater power than mine to show him his true course and win him back.”

Her hand stopped now. She clasped me in her arms, and I clasped her in mine.

“If that little creature should fail too, Esther, I still look forward. I look forward a long while, through years and years, and think that then, when I am growing old, or when I am dead perhaps, a beautiful woman, his daughter, happily married, may be proud of him and a blessing to him. Or that a generous brave man, as handsome as he used to be, as hopeful, and far more happy, may walk in the sunshine with him, honouring his grey head and saying to himself, ‘I thank God this is my father! Ruined by a fatal inheritance, and restored through me!'”

Oh, my sweet girl, what a heart was that which beat so fast against me!

“These hopes uphold me, my dear Esther, and I know they will. Though sometimes even they depart from me before a dread that arises when I look at Richard.”

I tried to cheer my darling, and asked her what it was. Sobbing and weeping, she replied, “That he may not live to see his child.”

Librivox Recording

Chapter 59: Esther’s Narrative

It was three o’clock in the morning when the houses outside London did at last begin to exclude the country and to close us in with streets. We had made our way along roads in a far worse condition than when we had traversed them by daylight, both the fall and the thaw having lasted ever since; but the energy of my companion never slackened. It had only been, as I thought, of less assistance than the horses in getting us on, and it had often aided them. They had stopped exhausted half-way up hills, they had been driven through streams of turbulent water, they had slipped down and become entangled with the harness; but he and his little lantern had been always ready, and when the mishap was set right, I had never heard any variation in his cool, “Get on, my lads!”

The steadiness and confidence with which he had directed our journey back I could not account for. Never wavering, he never even stopped to make an inquiry until we were within a few miles of London. A very few words, here and there, were then enough for him; and thus we came, at between three and four o’clock in the morning, into Islington.

I will not dwell on the suspense and anxiety with which I reflected all this time that we were leaving my mother farther and farther behind every minute. I think I had some strong hope that he must be right and could not fail to have a satisfactory object in following this woman, but I tormented myself with questioning it and discussing it during the whole journey. What was to ensue when we found her and what could compensate us for this loss of time were questions also that I could not possibly dismiss; my mind was quite tortured by long dwelling on such reflections when we stopped.

We stopped in a high-street where there was a coach-stand. My companion paid our two drivers, who were as completely covered with splashes as if they had been dragged along the roads like the carriage itself, and giving them some brief direction where to take it, lifted me out of it and into a hackney-coach he had chosen from the rest.

“Why, my dear!” he said as he did this. “How wet you are!”

I had not been conscious of it. But the melted snow had found its way into the carriage, and I had got out two or three times when a fallen horse was plunging and had to be got up, and the wet had penetrated my dress. I assured him it was no matter, but the driver, who knew him, would not be dissuaded by me from running down the street to his stable, whence he brought an armful of clean dry straw. They shook it out and strewed it well about me, and I found it warm and comfortable.

“Now, my dear,” said Mr. Bucket, with his head in at the window after I was shut up. “We’re a-going to mark this person down. It may take a little time, but you don’t mind that. You’re pretty sure that I’ve got a motive. Ain’t you?”

I little thought what it was, little thought in how short a time I should understand it better, but I assured him that I had confidence in him.

“So you may have, my dear,” he returned. “And I tell you what! If you only repose half as much confidence in me as I repose in you after what I’ve experienced of you, that’ll do. Lord! You’re no trouble at all. I never see a young woman in any station of society—and I’ve seen many elevated ones too—conduct herself like you have conducted yourself since you was called out of your bed. You’re a pattern, you know, that’s what you are,” said Mr. Bucket warmly; “you’re a pattern.”

I told him I was very glad, as indeed I was, to have been no hindrance to him, and that I hoped I should be none now.

“My dear,” he returned, “when a young lady is as mild as she’s game, and as game as she’s mild, that’s all I ask, and more than I expect. She then becomes a queen, and that’s about what you are yourself.”

With these encouraging words—they really were encouraging to me under those lonely and anxious circumstances—he got upon the box, and we once more drove away. Where we drove I neither knew then nor have ever known since, but we appeared to seek out the narrowest and worst streets in London. Whenever I saw him directing the driver, I was prepared for our descending into a deeper complication of such streets, and we never failed to do so.

Sometimes we emerged upon a wider thoroughfare or came to a larger building than the generality, well lighted. Then we stopped at offices like those we had visited when we began our journey, and I saw him in consultation with others. Sometimes he would get down by an archway or at a street corner and mysteriously show the light of his little lantern. This would attract similar lights from various dark quarters, like so many insects, and a fresh consultation would be held. By degrees we appeared to contract our search within narrower and easier limits. Single police-officers on duty could now tell Mr. Bucket what he wanted to know and point to him where to go. At last we stopped for a rather long conversation between him and one of these men, which I supposed to be satisfactory from his manner of nodding from time to time. When it was finished he came to me looking very busy and very attentive.

“Now, Miss Summerson,” he said to me, “you won’t be alarmed whatever comes off, I know. It’s not necessary for me to give you any further caution than to tell you that we have marked this person down and that you may be of use to me before I know it myself. I don’t like to ask such a thing, my dear, but would you walk a little way?”

Of course I got out directly and took his arm.

“It ain’t so easy to keep your feet,” said Mr. Bucket, “but take time.”

Although I looked about me confusedly and hurriedly as we crossed the street, I thought I knew the place. “Are we in Holborn?” I asked him.

“Yes,” said Mr. Bucket. “Do you know this turning?”

“It looks like Chancery Lane.”

“And was christened so, my dear,” said Mr. Bucket.

We turned down it, and as we went shuffling through the sleet, I heard the clocks strike half-past five. We passed on in silence and as quickly as we could with such a foot-hold, when some one coming towards us on the narrow pavement, wrapped in a cloak, stopped and stood aside to give me room. In the same moment I heard an exclamation of wonder and my own name from Mr. Woodcourt. I knew his voice very well.

It was so unexpected and so—I don’t know what to call it, whether pleasant or painful—to come upon it after my feverish wandering journey, and in the midst of the night, that I could not keep back the tears from my eyes. It was like hearing his voice in a strange country.

“My dear Miss Summerson, that you should be out at this hour, and in such weather!”

He had heard from my guardian of my having been called away on some uncommon business and said so to dispense with any explanation. I told him that we had but just left a coach and were going—but then I was obliged to look at my companion.

“Why, you see, Mr. Woodcourt”—he had caught the name from me—”we are a-going at present into the next street. Inspector Bucket.”

Mr. Woodcourt, disregarding my remonstrances, had hurriedly taken off his cloak and was putting it about me. “That’s a good move, too,” said Mr. Bucket, assisting, “a very good move.”

“May I go with you?” said Mr. Woodcourt. I don’t know whether to me or to my companion.

“Why, Lord!” exclaimed Mr. Bucket, taking the answer on himself. “Of course you may.”

It was all said in a moment, and they took me between them, wrapped in the cloak.

“I have just left Richard,” said Mr. Woodcourt. “I have been sitting with him since ten o’clock last night.”

“Oh, dear me, he is ill!”

“No, no, believe me; not ill, but not quite well. He was depressed and faint—you know he gets so worried and so worn sometimes—and Ada sent to me of course; and when I came home I found her note and came straight here. Well! Richard revived so much after a little while, and Ada was so happy and so convinced of its being my doing, though God knows I had little enough to do with it, that I remained with him until he had been fast asleep some hours. As fast asleep as she is now, I hope!”

His friendly and familiar way of speaking of them, his unaffected devotion to them, the grateful confidence with which I knew he had inspired my darling, and the comfort he was to her; could I separate all this from his promise to me? How thankless I must have been if it had not recalled the words he said to me when he was so moved by the change in my appearance: “I will accept him as a trust, and it shall be a sacred one!”

We now turned into another narrow street. “Mr. Woodcourt,” said Mr. Bucket, who had eyed him closely as we came along, “our business takes us to a law-stationer’s here, a certain Mr. Snagsby’s. What, you know him, do you?” He was so quick that he saw it in an instant.

“Yes, I know a little of him and have called upon him at this place.”

“Indeed, sir?” said Mr. Bucket. “Then you will be so good as to let me leave Miss Summerson with you for a moment while I go and have half a word with him?”

The last police-officer with whom he had conferred was standing silently behind us. I was not aware of it until he struck in on my saying I heard some one crying.

“Don’t be alarmed, miss,” he returned. “It’s Snagsby’s servant.”

“Why, you see,” said Mr. Bucket, “the girl’s subject to fits, and has ’em bad upon her to-night. A most contrary circumstance it is, for I want certain information out of that girl, and she must be brought to reason somehow.”

“At all events, they wouldn’t be up yet if it wasn’t for her, Mr. Bucket,” said the other man. “She’s been at it pretty well all night, sir.”

“Well, that’s true,” he returned. “My light’s burnt out. Show yours a moment.”

All this passed in a whisper a door or two from the house in which I could faintly hear crying and moaning. In the little round of light produced for the purpose, Mr. Bucket went up to the door and knocked. The door was opened after he had knocked twice, and he went in, leaving us standing in the street.

“Miss Summerson,” said Mr. Woodcourt, “if without obtruding myself on your confidence I may remain near you, pray let me do so.”

“You are truly kind,” I answered. “I need wish to keep no secret of my own from you; if I keep any, it is another’s.”

“I quite understand. Trust me, I will remain near you only so long as I can fully respect it.”

“I trust implicitly to you,” I said. “I know and deeply feel how sacredly you keep your promise.”

After a short time the little round of light shone out again, and Mr. Bucket advanced towards us in it with his earnest face. “Please to come in, Miss Summerson,” he said, “and sit down by the fire. Mr. Woodcourt, from information I have received I understand you are a medical man. Would you look to this girl and see if anything can be done to bring her round. She has a letter somewhere that I particularly want. It’s not in her box, and I think it must be about her; but she is so twisted and clenched up that she is difficult to handle without hurting.”

We all three went into the house together; although it was cold and raw, it smelt close too from being up all night. In the passage behind the door stood a scared, sorrowful-looking little man in a grey coat who seemed to have a naturally polite manner and spoke meekly.

“Downstairs, if you please, Mr. Bucket,” said he. “The lady will excuse the front kitchen; we use it as our workaday sitting-room. The back is Guster’s bedroom, and in it she’s a-carrying on, poor thing, to a frightful extent!”

We went downstairs, followed by Mr. Snagsby, as I soon found the little man to be. In the front kitchen, sitting by the fire, was Mrs. Snagsby, with very red eyes and a very severe expression of face.

“My little woman,” said Mr. Snagsby, entering behind us, “to wave—not to put too fine a point upon it, my dear—hostilities for one single moment in the course of this prolonged night, here is Inspector Bucket, Mr. Woodcourt, and a lady.”

She looked very much astonished, as she had reason for doing, and looked particularly hard at me.

“My little woman,” said Mr. Snagsby, sitting down in the remotest corner by the door, as if he were taking a liberty, “it is not unlikely that you may inquire of me why Inspector Bucket, Mr. Woodcourt, and a lady call upon us in Cook’s Court, Cursitor Street, at the present hour. I don’t know. I have not the least idea. If I was to be informed, I should despair of understanding, and I’d rather not be told.”

He appeared so miserable, sitting with his head upon his hand, and I appeared so unwelcome, that I was going to offer an apology when Mr. Bucket took the matter on himself.

“Now, Mr. Snagsby,” said he, “the best thing you can do is to go along with Mr. Woodcourt to look after your Guster—”

“My Guster, Mr. Bucket!” cried Mr. Snagsby. “Go on, sir, go on. I shall be charged with that next.”

“And to hold the candle,” pursued Mr. Bucket without correcting himself, “or hold her, or make yourself useful in any way you’re asked. Which there’s not a man alive more ready to do, for you’re a man of urbanity and suavity, you know, and you’ve got the sort of heart that can feel for another. Mr. Woodcourt, would you be so good as see to her, and if you can get that letter from her, to let me have it as soon as ever you can?”

As they went out, Mr. Bucket made me sit down in a corner by the fire and take off my wet shoes, which he turned up to dry upon the fender, talking all the time.

“Don’t you be at all put out, miss, by the want of a hospitable look from Mrs. Snagsby there, because she’s under a mistake altogether. She’ll find that out sooner than will be agreeable to a lady of her generally correct manner of forming her thoughts, because I’m a-going to explain it to her.” Here, standing on the hearth with his wet hat and shawls in his hand, himself a pile of wet, he turned to Mrs. Snagsby. “Now, the first thing that I say to you, as a married woman possessing what you may call charms, you know—’Believe Me, if All Those Endearing,’ and cetrer—you’re well acquainted with the song, because it’s in vain for you to tell me that you and good society are strangers—charms—attractions, mind you, that ought to give you confidence in yourself—is, that you’ve done it.”

Mrs. Snagsby looked rather alarmed, relented a little and faltered, what did Mr. Bucket mean.

“What does Mr. Bucket mean?” he repeated, and I saw by his face that all the time he talked he was listening for the discovery of the letter, to my own great agitation, for I knew then how important it must be; “I’ll tell you what he means, ma’am. Go and see Othello acted. That’s the tragedy for you.”

Mrs. Snagsby consciously asked why.

“Why?” said Mr. Bucket. “Because you’ll come to that if you don’t look out. Why, at the very moment while I speak, I know what your mind’s not wholly free from respecting this young lady. But shall I tell you who this young lady is? Now, come, you’re what I call an intellectual woman—with your soul too large for your body, if you come to that, and chafing it—and you know me, and you recollect where you saw me last, and what was talked of in that circle. Don’t you? Yes! Very well. This young lady is that young lady.”

Mrs. Snagsby appeared to understand the reference better than I did at the time.

“And Toughey—him as you call Jo—was mixed up in the same business, and no other; and the law-writer that you know of was mixed up in the same business, and no other; and your husband, with no more knowledge of it than your great grandfather, was mixed up (by Mr. Tulkinghorn, deceased, his best customer) in the same business, and no other; and the whole bileing of people was mixed up in the same business, and no other. And yet a married woman, possessing your attractions, shuts her eyes (and sparklers too), and goes and runs her delicate-formed head against a wall. Why, I am ashamed of you! (I expected Mr. Woodcourt might have got it by this time.)”

Mrs. Snagsby shook her head and put her handkerchief to her eyes.

“Is that all?” said Mr. Bucket excitedly. “No. See what happens. Another person mixed up in that business and no other, a person in a wretched state, comes here to-night and is seen a-speaking to your maid-servant; and between her and your maid-servant there passes a paper that I would give a hundred pound for, down. What do you do? You hide and you watch ’em, and you pounce upon that maid-servant—knowing what she’s subject to and what a little thing will bring ’em on—in that surprising manner and with that severity that, by the Lord, she goes off and keeps off, when a life may be hanging upon that girl’s words!”

He so thoroughly meant what he said now that I involuntarily clasped my hands and felt the room turning away from me. But it stopped. Mr. Woodcourt came in, put a paper into his hand, and went away again.

“Now, Mrs. Snagsby, the only amends you can make,” said Mr. Bucket, rapidly glancing at it, “is to let me speak a word to this young lady in private here. And if you know of any help that you can give to that gentleman in the next kitchen there or can think of any one thing that’s likelier than another to bring the girl round, do your swiftest and best!” In an instant she was gone, and he had shut the door. “Now my dear, you’re steady and quite sure of yourself?”

“Quite,” said I.

“Whose writing is that?”

It was my mother’s. A pencil-writing, on a crushed and torn piece of paper, blotted with wet. Folded roughly like a letter, and directed to me at my guardian’s.

“You know the hand,” he said, “and if you are firm enough to read it to me, do! But be particular to a word.”

It had been written in portions, at different times. I read what follows:

I came to the cottage with two objects. First, to see the dear one, if I could, once more—but only to see her—not to speak to her or let her know that I was near. The other object, to elude pursuit and to be lost. Do not blame the mother for her share. The assistance that she rendered me, she rendered on my strongest assurance that it was for the dear one’s good. You remember her dead child. The men’s consent I bought, but her help was freely given.

“‘I came.’ That was written,” said my companion, “when she rested there. It bears out what I made of it. I was right.”

The next was written at another time:

I have wandered a long distance, and for many hours, and I know that I must soon die. These streets! I have no purpose but to die. When I left, I had a worse, but I am saved from adding that guilt to the rest. Cold, wet, and fatigue are sufficient causes for my being found dead, but I shall die of others, though I suffer from these. It was right that all that had sustained me should give way at once and that I should die of terror and my conscience.

“Take courage,” said Mr. Bucket. “There’s only a few words more.”

Those, too, were written at another time. To all appearance, almost in the dark:

I have done all I could do to be lost. I shall be soon forgotten so, and shall disgrace him least. I have nothing about me by which I can be recognized. This paper I part with now. The place where I shall lie down, if I can get so far, has been often in my mind. Farewell. Forgive.

Mr. Bucket, supporting me with his arm, lowered me gently into my chair. “Cheer up! Don’t think me hard with you, my dear, but as soon as ever you feel equal to it, get your shoes on and be ready.”

I did as he required, but I was left there a long time, praying for my unhappy mother. They were all occupied with the poor girl, and I heard Mr. Woodcourt directing them and speaking to her often. At length he came in with Mr. Bucket and said that as it was important to address her gently, he thought it best that I should ask her for whatever information we desired to obtain. There was no doubt that she could now reply to questions if she were soothed and not alarmed. The questions, Mr. Bucket said, were how she came by the letter, what passed between her and the person who gave her the letter, and where the person went. Holding my mind as steadily as I could to these points, I went into the next room with them. Mr. Woodcourt would have remained outside, but at my solicitation went in with us.

The poor girl was sitting on the floor where they had laid her down. They stood around her, though at a little distance, that she might have air. She was not pretty and looked weak and poor, but she had a plaintive and a good face, though it was still a little wild. I kneeled on the ground beside her and put her poor head upon my shoulder, whereupon she drew her arm round my neck and burst into tears.

“My poor girl,” said I, laying my face against her forehead, for indeed I was crying too, and trembling, “it seems cruel to trouble you now, but more depends on our knowing something about this letter than I could tell you in an hour.”

She began piteously declaring that she didn’t mean any harm, she didn’t mean any harm, Mrs. Snagsby!

“We are all sure of that,” said I. “But pray tell me how you got it.”

“Yes, dear lady, I will, and tell you true. I’ll tell true, indeed, Mrs. Snagsby.”

“I am sure of that,” said I. “And how was it?”

“I had been out on an errand, dear lady—long after it was dark—quite late; and when I came home, I found a common-looking person, all wet and muddy, looking up at our house. When she saw me coming in at the door, she called me back and said did I live here. And I said yes, and she said she knew only one or two places about here, but had lost her way and couldn’t find them. Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do! They won’t believe me! She didn’t say any harm to me, and I didn’t say any harm to her, indeed, Mrs. Snagsby!”

It was necessary for her mistress to comfort her—which she did, I must say, with a good deal of contrition—before she could be got beyond this.

“She could not find those places,” said I.

“No!” cried the girl, shaking her head. “No! Couldn’t find them. And she was so faint, and lame, and miserable, Oh so wretched, that if you had seen her, Mr. Snagsby, you’d have given her half a crown, I know!”

“Well, Guster, my girl,” said he, at first not knowing what to say. “I hope I should.”

“And yet she was so well spoken,” said the girl, looking at me with wide open eyes, “that it made a person’s heart bleed. And so she said to me, did I know the way to the burying ground? And I asked her which burying ground. And she said, the poor burying ground. And so I told her I had been a poor child myself, and it was according to parishes. But she said she meant a poor burying ground not very far from here, where there was an archway, and a step, and an iron gate.”

As I watched her face and soothed her to go on, I saw that Mr. Bucket received this with a look which I could not separate from one of alarm.

“Oh, dear, dear!” cried the girl, pressing her hair back with her hands. “What shall I do, what shall I do! She meant the burying ground where the man was buried that took the sleeping-stuff—that you came home and told us of, Mr. Snagsby—that frightened me so, Mrs. Snagsby. Oh, I am frightened again. Hold me!”

“You are so much better now,” sald I. “Pray, pray tell me more.”

“Yes I will, yes I will! But don’t be angry with me, that’s a dear lady, because I have been so ill.”

Angry with her, poor soul!

“There! Now I will, now I will. So she said, could I tell her how to find it, and I said yes, and I told her; and she looked at me with eyes like almost as if she was blind, and herself all waving back. And so she took out the letter, and showed it me, and said if she was to put that in the post-office, it would be rubbed out and not minded and never sent; and would I take it from her, and send it, and the messenger would be paid at the house. And so I said yes, if it was no harm, and she said no—no harm. And so I took it from her, and she said she had nothing to give me, and I said I was poor myself and consequently wanted nothing. And so she said God bless you, and went.”

“And did she go—”

“Yes,” cried the girl, anticipating the inquiry. “Yes! She went the way I had shown her. Then I came in, and Mrs. Snagsby came behind me from somewhere and laid hold of me, and I was frightened.”

Mr. Woodcourt took her kindly from me. Mr. Bucket wrapped me up, and immediately we were in the street. Mr. Woodcourt hesitated, but I said, “Don’t leave me now!” and Mr. Bucket added, “You’ll be better with us, we may want you; don’t lose time!”

I have the most confused impressions of that walk. I recollect that it was neither night nor day, that morning was dawning but the street-lamps were not yet put out, that the sleet was still falling and that all the ways were deep with it. I recollect a few chilled people passing in the streets. I recollect the wet house-tops, the clogged and bursting gutters and water-spouts, the mounds of blackened ice and snow over which we passed, the narrowness of the courts by which we went. At the same time I remember that the poor girl seemed to be yet telling her story audibly and plainly in my hearing, that I could feel her resting on my arm, that the stained house-fronts put on human shapes and looked at me, that great water-gates seemed to be opening and closing in my head or in the air, and that the unreal things were more substantial than the real.

At last we stood under a dark and miserable covered way, where one lamp was burning over an iron gate and where the morning faintly struggled in. The gate was closed. Beyond it was a burial ground—a dreadful spot in which the night was very slowly stirring, but where I could dimly see heaps of dishonoured graves and stones, hemmed in by filthy houses with a few dull lights in their windows and on whose walls a thick humidity broke out like a disease. On the step at the gate, drenched in the fearful wet of such a place, which oozed and splashed down everywhere, I saw, with a cry of pity and horror, a woman lying—Jenny, the mother of the dead child.

I ran forward, but they stopped me, and Mr. Woodcourt entreated me with the greatest earnestness, even with tears, before I went up to the figure to listen for an instant to what Mr. Bucket said. I did so, as I thought. I did so, as I am sure.

“Miss Summerson, you’ll understand me, if you think a moment. They changed clothes at the cottage.”

They changed clothes at the cottage. I could repeat the words in my mind, and I knew what they meant of themselves, but I attached no meaning to them in any other connexion.

“And one returned,” said Mr. Bucket, “and one went on. And the one that went on only went on a certain way agreed upon to deceive and then turned across country and went home. Think a moment!”

I could repeat this in my mind too, but I had not the least idea what it meant. I saw before me, lying on the step, the mother of the dead child. She lay there with one arm creeping round a bar of the iron gate and seeming to embrace it. She lay there, who had so lately spoken to my mother. She lay there, a distressed, unsheltered, senseless creature. She who had brought my mother’s letter, who could give me the only clue to where my mother was; she, who was to guide us to rescue and save her whom we had sought so far, who had come to this condition by some means connected with my mother that I could not follow, and might be passing beyond our reach and help at that moment; she lay there, and they stopped me! I saw but did not comprehend the solemn and compassionate look in Mr. Woodcourt’s face. I saw but did not comprehend his touching the other on the breast to keep him back. I saw him stand uncovered in the bitter air, with a reverence for something. But my understanding for all this was gone.

I even heard it said between them, “Shall she go?”

“She had better go. Her hands should be the first to touch her. They have a higher right than ours.”

I passed on to the gate and stooped down. I lifted the heavy head, put the long dank hair aside, and turned the face. And it was my mother, cold and dead.

Librivox Recording

Chapter 58: A Wintry Day and Night

Still impassive, as behoves its breeding, the Dedlock town house carries itself as usual towards the street of dismal grandeur. There are powdered heads from time to time in the little windows of the hall, looking out at the untaxed powder falling all day from the sky; and in the same conservatory there is peach blossom turning itself exotically to the great hall fire from the nipping weather out of doors. It is given out that my Lady has gone down into Lincolnshire, but is expected to return presently.

Rumour, busy overmuch, however, will not go down into Lincolnshire. It persists in flitting and chattering about town. It knows that that poor unfortunate man, Sir Leicester, has been sadly used. It hears, my dear child, all sorts of shocking things. It makes the world of five miles round quite merry. Not to know that there is something wrong at the Dedlocks’ is to augur yourself unknown. One of the peachy-cheeked charmers with the skeleton throats is already apprised of all the principal circumstances that will come out before the Lords on Sir Leicester’s application for a bill of divorce.

At Blaze and Sparkle’s the jewellers and at Sheen and Gloss’s the mercers, it is and will be for several hours the topic of the age, the feature of the century. The patronesses of those establishments, albeit so loftily inscrutable, being as nicely weighed and measured there as any other article of the stock-in-trade, are perfectly understood in this new fashion by the rawest hand behind the counter. “Our people, Mr. Jones,” said Blaze and Sparkle to the hand in question on engaging him, “our people, sir, are sheep—mere sheep. Where two or three marked ones go, all the rest follow. Keep those two or three in your eye, Mr. Jones, and you have the flock.” So, likewise, Sheen and Gloss to THEIR Jones, in reference to knowing where to have the fashionable people and how to bring what they (Sheen and Gloss) choose into fashion. On similar unerring principles, Mr. Sladdery the librarian, and indeed the great farmer of gorgeous sheep, admits this very day, “Why yes, sir, there certainly ARE reports concerning Lady Dedlock, very current indeed among my high connexion, sir. You see, my high connexion must talk about something, sir; and it’s only to get a subject into vogue with one or two ladies I could name to make it go down with the whole. Just what I should have done with those ladies, sir, in the case of any novelty you had left to me to bring in, they have done of themselves in this case through knowing Lady Dedlock and being perhaps a little innocently jealous of her too, sir. You’ll find, sir, that this topic will be very popular among my high connexion. If it had been a speculation, sir, it would have brought money. And when I say so, you may trust to my being right, sir, for I have made it my business to study my high connexion and to be able to wind it up like a clock, sir.”

Thus rumour thrives in the capital, and will not go down into Lincolnshire. By half-past five, post meridian, Horse Guards’ time, it has even elicited a new remark from the Honourable Mr. Stables, which bids fair to outshine the old one, on which he has so long rested his colloquial reputation. This sparkling sally is to the effect that although he always knew she was the best-groomed woman in the stud, he had no idea she was a bolter. It is immensely received in turf-circles.

At feasts and festivals also, in firmaments she has often graced, and among constellations she outshone but yesterday, she is still the prevalent subject. What is it? Who is it? When was it? Where was it? How was it? She is discussed by her dear friends with all the genteelest slang in vogue, with the last new word, the last new manner, the last new drawl, and the perfection of polite indifference. A remarkable feature of the theme is that it is found to be so inspiring that several people come out upon it who never came out before—positively say things! William Buffy carries one of these smartnesses from the place where he dines down to the House, where the Whip for his party hands it about with his snuff-box to keep men together who want to be off, with such effect that the Speaker (who has had it privately insinuated into his own ear under the corner of his wig) cries, “Order at the bar!” three times without making an impression.

And not the least amazing circumstance connected with her being vaguely the town talk is that people hovering on the confines of Mr. Sladdery’s high connexion, people who know nothing and ever did know nothing about her, think it essential to their reputation to pretend that she is their topic too, and to retail her at second-hand with the last new word and the last new manner, and the last new drawl, and the last new polite indifference, and all the rest of it, all at second-hand but considered equal to new in inferior systems and to fainter stars. If there be any man of letters, art, or science among these little dealers, how noble in him to support the feeble sisters on such majestic crutches!

So goes the wintry day outside the Dedlock mansion. How within it?

Sir Leicester, lying in his bed, can speak a little, though with difficulty and indistinctness. He is enjoined to silence and to rest, and they have given him some opiate to lull his pain, for his old enemy is very hard with him. He is never asleep, though sometimes he seems to fall into a dull waking doze. He caused his bedstead to be moved out nearer to the window when he heard it was such inclement weather, and his head to be so adjusted that he could see the driving snow and sleet. He watches it as it falls, throughout the whole wintry day.

Upon the least noise in the house, which is kept hushed, his hand is at the pencil. The old housekeeper, sitting by him, knows what he would write and whispers, “No, he has not come back yet, Sir Leicester. It was late last night when he went. He has been but a little time gone yet.”

He withdraws his hand and falls to looking at the sleet and snow again until they seem, by being long looked at, to fall so thick and fast that he is obliged to close his eyes for a minute on the giddy whirl of white flakes and icy blots.

He began to look at them as soon as it was light. The day is not yet far spent when he conceives it to be necessary that her rooms should be prepared for her. It is very cold and wet. Let there be good fires. Let them know that she is expected. Please see to it yourself. He writes to this purpose on his slate, and Mrs. Rouncewell with a heavy heart obeys.

“For I dread, George,” the old lady says to her son, who waits below to keep her company when she has a little leisure, “I dread, my dear, that my Lady will never more set foot within these walls.”

“That’s a bad presentiment, mother.”

“Nor yet within the walls of Chesney Wold, my dear.”

“That’s worse. But why, mother?”

“When I saw my Lady yesterday, George, she looked to me—and I may say at me too—as if the step on the Ghost’s Walk had almost walked her down.”

“Come, come! You alarm yourself with old-story fears, mother.”

“No I don’t, my dear. No I don’t. It’s going on for sixty year that I have been in this family, and I never had any fears for it before. But it’s breaking up, my dear; the great old Dedlock family is breaking up.”

“I hope not, mother.”

“I am thankful I have lived long enough to be with Sir Leicester in this illness and trouble, for I know I am not too old nor too useless to be a welcomer sight to him than anybody else in my place would be. But the step on the Ghost’s Walk will walk my Lady down, George; it has been many a day behind her, and now it will pass her and go on.”

“Well, mother dear, I say again, I hope not.”

“Ah, so do I, George,” the old lady returns, shaking her head and parting her folded hands. “But if my fears come true, and he has to know it, who will tell him!”

“Are these her rooms?”

“These are my Lady’s rooms, just as she left them.”

“Why, now,” says the trooper, glancing round him and speaking in a lower voice, “I begin to understand how you come to think as you do think, mother. Rooms get an awful look about them when they are fitted up, like these, for one person you are used to see in them, and that person is away under any shadow, let alone being God knows where.”

He is not far out. As all partings foreshadow the great final one, so, empty rooms, bereft of a familiar presence, mournfully whisper what your room and what mine must one day be. My Lady’s state has a hollow look, thus gloomy and abandoned; and in the inner apartment, where Mr. Bucket last night made his secret perquisition, the traces of her dresses and her ornaments, even the mirrors accustomed to reflect them when they were a portion of herself, have a desolate and vacant air. Dark and cold as the wintry day is, it is darker and colder in these deserted chambers than in many a hut that will barely exclude the weather; and though the servants heap fires in the grates and set the couches and the chairs within the warm glass screens that let their ruddy light shoot through to the furthest corners, there is a heavy cloud upon the rooms which no light will dispel.

The old housekeeper and her son remain until the preparations are complete, and then she returns upstairs. Volumnia has taken Mrs. Rouncewell’s place in the meantime, though pearl necklaces and rouge pots, however calculated to embellish Bath, are but indifferent comforts to the invalid under present circumstances. Volumnia, not being supposed to know (and indeed not knowing) what is the matter, has found it a ticklish task to offer appropriate observations and consequently has supplied their place with distracting smoothings of the bed-linen, elaborate locomotion on tiptoe, vigilant peeping at her kinsman’s eyes, and one exasperating whisper to herself of, “He is asleep.” In disproof of which superfluous remark Sir Leicester has indignantly written on the slate, “I am not.”

Yielding, therefore, the chair at the bedside to the quaint old housekeeper, Volumnia sits at a table a little removed, sympathetically sighing. Sir Leicester watches the sleet and snow and listens for the returning steps that he expects. In the ears of his old servant, looking as if she had stepped out of an old picture-frame to attend a summoned Dedlock to another world, the silence is fraught with echoes of her own words, “Who will tell him!”

He has been under his valet’s hands this morning to be made presentable and is as well got up as the circumstances will allow. He is propped with pillows, his grey hair is brushed in its usual manner, his linen is arranged to a nicety, and he is wrapped in a responsible dressing-gown. His eye-glass and his watch are ready to his hand. It is necessary—less to his own dignity now perhaps than for her sake—that he should be seen as little disturbed and as much himself as may be. Women will talk, and Volumnia, though a Dedlock, is no exceptional case. He keeps her here, there is little doubt, to prevent her talking somewhere else. He is very ill, but he makes his present stand against distress of mind and body most courageously.

The fair Volumnia, being one of those sprightly girls who cannot long continue silent without imminent peril of seizure by the dragon Boredom, soon indicates the approach of that monster with a series of undisguisable yawns. Finding it impossible to suppress those yawns by any other process than conversation, she compliments Mrs. Rouncewell on her son, declaring that he positively is one of the finest figures she ever saw and as soldierly a looking person, she should think, as what’s his name, her favourite Life Guardsman—the man she dotes on, the dearest of creatures—who was killed at Waterloo.

Sir Leicester hears this tribute with so much surprise and stares about him in such a confused way that Mrs. Rouncewell feels it necessary to explain.

“Miss Dedlock don’t speak of my eldest son, Sir Leicester, but my youngest. I have found him. He has come home.”

Sir Leicester breaks silence with a harsh cry. “George? Your son George come home, Mrs. Rouncewell?”

The old housekeeper wipes her eyes. “Thank God. Yes, Sir Leicester.”

Does this discovery of some one lost, this return of some one so long gone, come upon him as a strong confirmation of his hopes? Does he think, “Shall I not, with the aid I have, recall her safely after this, there being fewer hours in her case than there are years in his?”

It is of no use entreating him; he is determined to speak now, and he does. In a thick crowd of sounds, but still intelligibly enough to be understood.

“Why did you not tell me, Mrs. Rouncewell?”

“It happened only yesterday, Sir Leicester, and I doubted your being well enough to be talked to of such things.”

Besides, the giddy Volumnia now remembers with her little scream that nobody was to have known of his being Mrs. Rouncewell’s son and that she was not to have told. But Mrs. Rouncewell protests, with warmth enough to swell the stomacher, that of course she would have told Sir Leicester as soon as he got better.

“Where is your son George, Mrs. Rouncewell?” asks Sir Leicester,

Mrs. Rouncewell, not a little alarmed by his disregard of the doctor’s injunctions, replies, in London.

“Where in London?”

Mrs. Rouncewell is constrained to admit that he is in the house.

“Bring him here to my room. Bring him directly.”

The old lady can do nothing but go in search of him. Sir Leicester, with such power of movement as he has, arranges himself a little to receive him. When he has done so, he looks out again at the falling sleet and snow and listens again for the returning steps. A quantity of straw has been tumbled down in the street to deaden the noises there, and she might be driven to the door perhaps without his hearing wheels.

He is lying thus, apparently forgetful of his newer and minor surprise, when the housekeeper returns, accompanied by her trooper son. Mr. George approaches softly to the bedside, makes his bow, squares his chest, and stands, with his face flushed, very heartily ashamed of himself.

“Good heaven, and it is really George Rouncewell!” exclaims Sir Leicester. “Do you remember me, George?”

The trooper needs to look at him and to separate this sound from that sound before he knows what he has said, but doing this and being a little helped by his mother, he replies, “I must have a very bad memory, indeed, Sir Leicester, if I failed to remember you.”

“When I look at you, George Rouncewell,” Sir Leicester observes with difficulty, “I see something of a boy at Chesney Wold—I remember well—very well.”

He looks at the trooper until tears come into his eyes, and then he looks at the sleet and snow again.

“I ask your pardon, Sir Leicester,” says the trooper, “but would you accept of my arms to raise you up? You would lie easier, Sir Leicester, if you would allow me to move you.”

“If you please, George Rouncewell; if you will be so good.”

The trooper takes him in his arms like a child, lightly raises him, and turns him with his face more towards the window. “Thank you. You have your mother’s gentleness,” returns Sir Leicester, “and your own strength. Thank you.”

He signs to him with his hand not to go away. George quietly remains at the bedside, waiting to be spoken to.

“Why did you wish for secrecy?” It takes Sir Leicester some time to ask this.

“Truly I am not much to boast of, Sir Leicester, and I—I should still, Sir Leicester, if you was not so indisposed—which I hope you will not be long—I should still hope for the favour of being allowed to remain unknown in general. That involves explanations not very hard to be guessed at, not very well timed here, and not very creditable to myself. However opinions may differ on a variety of subjects, I should think it would be universally agreed, Sir Leicester, that I am not much to boast of.”

“You have been a soldier,” observes Sir Leicester, “and a faithful one.”

George makes his military bow. “As far as that goes, Sir Leicester, I have done my duty under discipline, and it was the least I could do.”

“You find me,” says Sir Leicester, whose eyes are much attracted towards him, “far from well, George Rouncewell.”

“I am very sorry both to hear it and to see it, Sir Leicester.”

“I am sure you are. No. In addition to my older malady, I have had a sudden and bad attack. Something that deadens,” making an endeavour to pass one hand down one side, “and confuses,” touching his lips.

George, with a look of assent and sympathy, makes another bow. The different times when they were both young men (the trooper much the younger of the two) and looked at one another down at Chesney Wold arise before them both and soften both.

Sir Leicester, evidently with a great determination to say, in his own manner, something that is on his mind before relapsing into silence, tries to raise himself among his pillows a little more. George, observant of the action, takes him in his arms again and places him as he desires to be. “Thank you, George. You are another self to me. You have often carried my spare gun at Chesney Wold, George. You are familiar to me in these strange circumstances, very familiar.” He has put Sir Leicester’s sounder arm over his shoulder in lifting him up, and Sir Leicester is slow in drawing it away again as he says these words.

“I was about to add,” he presently goes on, “I was about to add, respecting this attack, that it was unfortunately simultaneous with a slight misunderstanding between my Lady and myself. I do not mean that there was any difference between us (for there has been none), but that there was a misunderstanding of certain circumstances important only to ourselves, which deprives me, for a little while, of my Lady’s society. She has found it necessary to make a journey—I trust will shortly return. Volumnia, do I make myself intelligible? The words are not quite under my command in the manner of pronouncing them.”

Volumnia understands him perfectly, and in truth he delivers himself with far greater plainness than could have been supposed possible a minute ago. The effort by which he does so is written in the anxious and labouring expression of his face. Nothing but the strength of his purpose enables him to make it.

“Therefore, Volumnia, I desire to say in your presence—and in the presence of my old retainer and friend, Mrs. Rouncewell, whose truth and fidelity no one can question, and in the presence of her son George, who comes back like a familiar recollection of my youth in the home of my ancestors at Chesney Wold—in case I should relapse, in case I should not recover, in case I should lose both my speech and the power of writing, though I hope for better things—”

The old housekeeper weeping silently; Volumnia in the greatest agitation, with the freshest bloom on her cheeks; the trooper with his arms folded and his head a little bent, respectfully attentive.

“Therefore I desire to say, and to call you all to witness—beginning, Volumnia, with yourself, most solemnly—that I am on unaltered terms with Lady Dedlock. That I assert no cause whatever of complaint against her. That I have ever had the strongest affection for her, and that I retain it undiminished. Say this to herself, and to every one. If you ever say less than this, you will be guilty of deliberate falsehood to me.”

Volumnia tremblingly protests that she will observe his injunctions to the letter.

“My Lady is too high in position, too handsome, too accomplished, too superior in most respects to the best of those by whom she is surrounded, not to have her enemies and traducers, I dare say. Let it be known to them, as I make it known to you, that being of sound mind, memory, and understanding, I revoke no disposition I have made in her favour. I abridge nothing I have ever bestowed upon her. I am on unaltered terms with her, and I recall—having the full power to do it if I were so disposed, as you see—no act I have done for her advantage and happiness.”

His formal array of words might have at any other time, as it has often had, something ludicrous in it, but at this time it is serious and affecting. His noble earnestness, his fidelity, his gallant shielding of her, his generous conquest of his own wrong and his own pride for her sake, are simply honourable, manly, and true. Nothing less worthy can be seen through the lustre of such qualities in the commonest mechanic, nothing less worthy can be seen in the best-born gentleman. In such a light both aspire alike, both rise alike, both children of the dust shine equally.

Overpowered by his exertions, he lays his head back on his pillows and closes his eyes for not more than a minute, when he again resumes his watching of the weather and his attention to the muffled sounds. In the rendering of those little services, and in the manner of their acceptance, the trooper has become installed as necessary to him. Nothing has been said, but it is quite understood. He falls a step or two backward to be out of sight and mounts guard a little behind his mother’s chair.

The day is now beginning to decline. The mist and the sleet into which the snow has all resolved itself are darker, and the blaze begins to tell more vividly upon the room walls and furniture. The gloom augments; the bright gas springs up in the streets; and the pertinacious oil lamps which yet hold their ground there, with their source of life half frozen and half thawed, twinkle gaspingly like fiery fish out of water—as they are. The world, which has been rumbling over the straw and pulling at the bell, “to inquire,” begins to go home, begins to dress, to dine, to discuss its dear friend with all the last new modes, as already mentioned.

Now does Sir Leicester become worse, restless, uneasy, and in great pain. Volumnia, lighting a candle (with a predestined aptitude for doing something objectionable), is bidden to put it out again, for it is not yet dark enough. Yet it is very dark too, as dark as it will be all night. By and by she tries again. No! Put it out. It is not dark enough yet.

His old housekeeper is the first to understand that he is striving to uphold the fiction with himself that it is not growing late.

“Dear Sir Leicester, my honoured master,” she softly whispers, “I must, for your own good, and my duty, take the freedom of begging and praying that you will not lie here in the lone darkness watching and waiting and dragging through the time. Let me draw the curtains, and light the candles, and make things more comfortable about you. The church-clocks will strike the hours just the same, Sir Leicester, and the night will pass away just the same. My Lady will come back, just the same.”

“I know it, Mrs. Rouncewell, but I am weak—and he has been so long gone.”

“Not so very long, Sir Leicester. Not twenty-four hours yet.”

“But that is a long time. Oh, it is a long time!”

He says it with a groan that wrings her heart.

She knows that this is not a period for bringing the rough light upon him; she thinks his tears too sacred to be seen, even by her. Therefore she sits in the darkness for a while without a word, then gently begins to move about, now stirring the fire, now standing at the dark window looking out. Finally he tells her, with recovered self-command, “As you say, Mrs. Rouncewell, it is no worse for being confessed. It is getting late, and they are not come. Light the room!” When it is lighted and the weather shut out, it is only left to him to listen.

But they find that however dejected and ill he is, he brightens when a quiet pretence is made of looking at the fires in her rooms and being sure that everything is ready to receive her. Poor pretence as it is, these allusions to her being expected keep up hope within him.

Midnight comes, and with it the same blank. The carriages in the streets are few, and other late sounds in that neighbourhood there are none, unless a man so very nomadically drunk as to stray into the frigid zone goes brawling and bellowing along the pavement. Upon this wintry night it is so still that listening to the intense silence is like looking at intense darkness. If any distant sound be audible in this case, it departs through the gloom like a feeble light in that, and all is heavier than before.

The corporation of servants are dismissed to bed (not unwilling to go, for they were up all last night), and only Mrs. Rouncewell and George keep watch in Sir Leicester’s room. As the night lags tardily on—or rather when it seems to stop altogether, at between two and three o’clock—they find a restless craving on him to know more about the weather, now he cannot see it. Hence George, patrolling regularly every half-hour to the rooms so carefully looked after, extends his march to the hall-door, looks about him, and brings back the best report he can make of the worst of nights, the sleet still falling and even the stone footways lying ankle-deep in icy sludge.

Volumnia, in her room up a retired landing on the staircase—the second turning past the end of the carving and gilding, a cousinly room containing a fearful abortion of a portrait of Sir Leicester banished for its crimes, and commanding in the day a solemn yard planted with dried-up shrubs like antediluvian specimens of black tea—is a prey to horrors of many kinds. Not last nor least among them, possibly, is a horror of what may befall her little income in the event, as she expresses it, “of anything happening” to Sir Leicester. Anything, in this sense, meaning one thing only; and that the last thing that can happen to the consciousness of any baronet in the known world.

An effect of these horrors is that Volumnia finds she cannot go to bed in her own room or sit by the fire in her own room, but must come forth with her fair head tied up in a profusion of shawl, and her fair form enrobed in drapery, and parade the mansion like a ghost, particularly haunting the rooms, warm and luxurious, prepared for one who still does not return. Solitude under such circumstances being not to be thought of, Volumnia is attended by her maid, who, impressed from her own bed for that purpose, extremely cold, very sleepy, and generally an injured maid as condemned by circumstances to take office with a cousin, when she had resolved to be maid to nothing less than ten thousand a year, has not a sweet expression of countenance.

The periodical visits of the trooper to these rooms, however, in the course of his patrolling is an assurance of protection and company both to mistress and maid, which renders them very acceptable in the small hours of the night. Whenever he is heard advancing, they both make some little decorative preparation to receive him; at other times they divide their watches into short scraps of oblivion and dialogues not wholly free from acerbity, as to whether Miss Dedlock, sitting with her feet upon the fender, was or was not falling into the fire when rescued (to her great displeasure) by her guardian genius the maid.

“How is Sir Leicester now, Mr. George?” inquires Volumnia, adjusting her cowl over her head.

“Why, Sir Leicester is much the same, miss. He is very low and ill, and he even wanders a little sometimes.”

“Has he asked for me?” inquires Volumnia tenderly.

“Why, no, I can’t say he has, miss. Not within my hearing, that is to say.”

“This is a truly sad time, Mr. George.”

“It is indeed, miss. Hadn’t you better go to bed?”

“You had a deal better go to bed, Miss Dedlock,” quoth the maid sharply.

But Volumnia answers No! No! She may be asked for, she may be wanted at a moment’s notice. She never should forgive herself “if anything was to happen” and she was not on the spot. She declines to enter on the question, mooted by the maid, how the spot comes to be there, and not in her room (which is nearer to Sir Leicester’s), but staunchly declares that on the spot she will remain. Volumnia further makes a merit of not having “closed an eye”—as if she had twenty or thirty—though it is hard to reconcile this statement with her having most indisputably opened two within five minutes.

But when it comes to four o’clock, and still the same blank, Volumnia’s constancy begins to fail her, or rather it begins to strengthen, for she now considers that it is her duty to be ready for the morrow, when much may be expected of her, that, in fact, howsoever anxious to remain upon the spot, it may be required of her, as an act of self-devotion, to desert the spot. So when the trooper reappears with his, “Hadn’t you better go to bed, miss?” and when the maid protests, more sharply than before, “You had a deal better go to bed, Miss Dedlock!” she meekly rises and says, “Do with me what you think best!”

Mr. George undoubtedly thinks it best to escort her on his arm to the door of her cousinly chamber, and the maid as undoubtedly thinks it best to hustle her into bed with mighty little ceremony. Accordingly, these steps are taken; and now the trooper, in his rounds, has the house to himself.

There is no improvement in the weather. From the portico, from the eaves, from the parapet, from every ledge and post and pillar, drips the thawed snow. It has crept, as if for shelter, into the lintels of the great door—under it, into the corners of the windows, into every chink and crevice of retreat, and there wastes and dies. It is falling still; upon the roof, upon the skylight, even through the skylight, and drip, drip, drip, with the regularity of the Ghost’s Walk, on the stone floor below.

The trooper, his old recollections awakened by the solitary grandeur of a great house—no novelty to him once at Chesney Wold—goes up the stairs and through the chief rooms, holding up his light at arm’s length. Thinking of his varied fortunes within the last few weeks, and of his rustic boyhood, and of the two periods of his life so strangely brought together across the wide intermediate space; thinking of the murdered man whose image is fresh in his mind; thinking of the lady who has disappeared from these very rooms and the tokens of whose recent presence are all here; thinking of the master of the house upstairs and of the foreboding, “Who will tell him!” he looks here and looks there, and reflects how he MIGHT see something now, which it would tax his boldness to walk up to, lay his hand upon, and prove to be a fancy. But it is all blank, blank as the darkness above and below, while he goes up the great staircase again, blank as the oppressive silence.

“All is still in readiness, George Rouncewell?”

“Quite orderly and right, Sir Leicester.”

“No word of any kind?”

The trooper shakes his head.

“No letter that can possibly have been overlooked?”

But he knows there is no such hope as that and lays his head down without looking for an answer.

Very familiar to him, as he said himself some hours ago, George Rouncewell lifts him into easier positions through the long remainder of the blank wintry night, and equally familiar with his unexpressed wish, extinguishes the light and undraws the curtains at the first late break of day. The day comes like a phantom. Cold, colourless, and vague, it sends a warning streak before it of a deathlike hue, as if it cried out, “Look what I am bringing you who watch there! Who will tell him!”

Librivox Recording

(Image: “The Morning”)

Chapter 57: Esther’s Narrative

I had gone to bed and fallen asleep when my guardian knocked at the door of my room and begged me to get up directly. On my hurrying to speak to him and learn what had happened, he told me, after a word or two of preparation, that there had been a discovery at Sir Leicester Dedlock’s. That my mother had fled, that a person was now at our door who was empowered to convey to her the fullest assurances of affectionate protection and forgiveness if he could possibly find her, and that I was sought for to accompany him in the hope that my entreaties might prevail upon her if his failed. Something to this general purpose I made out, but I was thrown into such a tumult of alarm, and hurry and distress, that in spite of every effort I could make to subdue my agitation, I did not seem, to myself, fully to recover my right mind until hours had passed.

But I dressed and wrapped up expeditiously without waking Charley or any one and went down to Mr. Bucket, who was the person entrusted with the secret. In taking me to him my guardian told me this, and also explained how it was that he had come to think of me. Mr. Bucket, in a low voice, by the light of my guardian’s candle, read to me in the hall a letter that my mother had left upon her table; and I suppose within ten minutes of my having been aroused I was sitting beside him, rolling swiftly through the streets.

His manner was very keen, and yet considerate when he explained to me that a great deal might depend on my being able to answer, without confusion, a few questions that he wished to ask me. These were, chiefly, whether I had had much communication with my mother (to whom he only referred as Lady Dedlock), when and where I had spoken with her last, and how she had become possessed of my handkerchief. When I had satisfied him on these points, he asked me particularly to consider—taking time to think—whether within my knowledge there was any one, no matter where, in whom she might be at all likely to confide under circumstances of the last necessity. I could think of no one but my guardian. But by and by I mentioned Mr. Boythorn. He came into my mind as connected with his old chivalrous manner of mentioning my mother’s name and with what my guardian had informed me of his engagement to her sister and his unconscious connexion with her unhappy story.

My companion had stopped the driver while we held this conversation, that we might the better hear each other. He now told him to go on again and said to me, after considering within himself for a few moments, that he had made up his mind how to proceed. He was quite willing to tell me what his plan was, but I did not feel clear enough to understand it.

We had not driven very far from our lodgings when we stopped in a by-street at a public-looking place lighted up with gas. Mr. Bucket took me in and sat me in an arm-chair by a bright fire. It was now past one, as I saw by the clock against the wall. Two police officers, looking in their perfectly neat uniform not at all like people who were up all night, were quietly writing at a desk; and the place seemed very quiet altogether, except for some beating and calling out at distant doors underground, to which nobody paid any attention.

A third man in uniform, whom Mr. Bucket called and to whom he whispered his instructions, went out; and then the two others advised together while one wrote from Mr. Bucket’s subdued dictation. It was a description of my mother that they were busy with, for Mr. Bucket brought it to me when it was done and read it in a whisper. It was very accurate indeed.

The second officer, who had attended to it closely, then copied it out and called in another man in uniform (there were several in an outer room), who took it up and went away with it. All this was done with the greatest dispatch and without the waste of a moment; yet nobody was at all hurried. As soon as the paper was sent out upon its travels, the two officers resumed their former quiet work of writing with neatness and care. Mr. Bucket thoughtfully came and warmed the soles of his boots, first one and then the other, at the fire.

“Are you well wrapped up, Miss Summerson?” he asked me as his eyes met mine. “It’s a desperate sharp night for a young lady to be out in.”

I told him I cared for no weather and was warmly clothed.

“It may be a long job,” he observed; “but so that it ends well, never mind, miss.”

“I pray to heaven it may end well!” said I.

He nodded comfortingly. “You see, whatever you do, don’t you go and fret yourself. You keep yourself cool and equal for anything that may happen, and it’ll be the better for you, the better for me, the better for Lady Dedlock, and the better for Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet.”

He was really very kind and gentle, and as he stood before the fire warming his boots and rubbing his face with his forefinger, I felt a confidence in his sagacity which reassured me. It was not yet a quarter to two when I heard horses’ feet and wheels outside. “Now, Miss Summerson,” said he, “we are off, if you please!”

He gave me his arm, and the two officers courteously bowed me out, and we found at the door a phaeton or barouche with a postilion and post horses. Mr. Bucket handed me in and took his own seat on the box. The man in uniform whom he had sent to fetch this equipage then handed him up a dark lantern at his request, and when he had given a few directions to the driver, we rattled away.

I was far from sure that I was not in a dream. We rattled with great rapidity through such a labyrinth of streets that I soon lost all idea where we were, except that we had crossed and re-crossed the river, and still seemed to be traversing a low-lying, waterside, dense neighbourhood of narrow thoroughfares chequered by docks and basins, high piles of warehouses, swing-bridges, and masts of ships. At length we stopped at the corner of a little slimy turning, which the wind from the river, rushing up it, did not purify; and I saw my companion, by the light of his lantern, in conference with several men who looked like a mixture of police and sailors. Against the mouldering wall by which they stood, there was a bill, on which I could discern the words, “Found Drowned”; and this and an inscription about drags possessed me with the awful suspicion shadowed forth in our visit to that place.

I had no need to remind myself that I was not there by the indulgence of any feeling of mine to increase the difficulties of the search, or to lessen its hopes, or enhance its delays. I remained quiet, but what I suffered in that dreadful spot I never can forget. And still it was like the horror of a dream. A man yet dark and muddy, in long swollen sodden boots and a hat like them, was called out of a boat and whispered with Mr. Bucket, who went away with him down some slippery steps—as if to look at something secret that he had to show. They came back, wiping their hands upon their coats, after turning over something wet; but thank God it was not what I feared!

After some further conference, Mr. Bucket (whom everybody seemed to know and defer to) went in with the others at a door and left me in the carriage, while the driver walked up and down by his horses to warm himself. The tide was coming in, as I judged from the sound it made, and I could hear it break at the end of the alley with a little rush towards me. It never did so—and I thought it did so, hundreds of times, in what can have been at the most a quarter of an hour, and probably was less—but the thought shuddered through me that it would cast my mother at the horses’ feet.

Mr. Bucket came out again, exhorting the others to be vigilant, darkened his lantern, and once more took his seat. “Don’t you be alarmed, Miss Summerson, on account of our coming down here,” he said, turning to me. “I only want to have everything in train and to know that it is in train by looking after it myself. Get on, my lad!”

We appeared to retrace the way we had come. Not that I had taken note of any particular objects in my perturbed state of mind, but judging from the general character of the streets. We called at another office or station for a minute and crossed the river again. During the whole of this time, and during the whole search, my companion, wrapped up on the box, never relaxed in his vigilance a single moment; but when we crossed the bridge he seemed, if possible, to be more on the alert than before. He stood up to look over the parapet, he alighted and went back after a shadowy female figure that flitted past us, and he gazed into the profound black pit of water with a face that made my heart die within me. The river had a fearful look, so overcast and secret, creeping away so fast between the low flat lines of shore—so heavy with indistinct and awful shapes, both of substance and shadow; so death-like and mysterious. I have seen it many times since then, by sunlight and by moonlight, but never free from the impressions of that journey. In my memory the lights upon the bridge are always burning dim, the cutting wind is eddying round the homeless woman whom we pass, the monotonous wheels are whirling on, and the light of the carriage-lamps reflected back looks palely in upon me—a face rising out of the dreaded water.

Clattering and clattering through the empty streets, we came at length from the pavement on to dark smooth roads and began to leave the houses behind us. After a while I recognized the familiar way to Saint Albans. At Barnet fresh horses were ready for us, and we changed and went on. It was very cold indeed, and the open country was white with snow, though none was falling then.

“An old acquaintance of yours, this road, Miss Summerson,” said Mr. Bucket cheerfully.

“Yes,” I returned. “Have you gathered any intelligence?”

“None that can be quite depended on as yet,” he answered, “but it’s early times as yet.”

He had gone into every late or early public-house where there was a light (they were not a few at that time, the road being then much frequented by drovers) and had got down to talk to the turnpike-keepers. I had heard him ordering drink, and chinking money, and making himself agreeable and merry everywhere; but whenever he took his seat upon the box again, his face resumed its watchful steady look, and he always said to the driver in the same business tone, “Get on, my lad!”

With all these stoppages, it was between five and six o’clock and we were yet a few miles short of Saint Albans when he came out of one of these houses and handed me in a cup of tea.

“Drink it, Miss Summerson, it’ll do you good. You’re beginning to get more yourself now, ain’t you?”

I thanked him and said I hoped so.

“You was what you may call stunned at first,” he returned; “and Lord, no wonder! Don’t speak loud, my dear. It’s all right. She’s on ahead.”

I don’t know what joyful exclamation I made or was going to make, but he put up his finger and I stopped myself.

“Passed through here on foot this evening about eight or nine. I heard of her first at the archway toll, over at Highgate, but couldn’t make quite sure. Traced her all along, on and off. Picked her up at one place, and dropped her at another; but she’s before us now, safe. Take hold of this cup and saucer, ostler. Now, if you wasn’t brought up to the butter trade, look out and see if you can catch half a crown in your t’other hand. One, two, three, and there you are! Now, my lad, try a gallop!”

We were soon in Saint Albans and alighted a little before day, when I was just beginning to arrange and comprehend the occurrences of the night and really to believe that they were not a dream. Leaving the carriage at the posting-house and ordering fresh horses to be ready, my companion gave me his arm, and we went towards home.

“As this is your regular abode, Miss Summerson, you see,” he observed, “I should like to know whether you’ve been asked for by any stranger answering the description, or whether Mr. Jarndyce has. I don’t much expect it, but it might be.”

As we ascended the hill, he looked about him with a sharp eye—the day was now breaking—and reminded me that I had come down it one night, as I had reason for remembering, with my little servant and poor Jo, whom he called Toughey.

I wondered how he knew that.

“When you passed a man upon the road, just yonder, you know,” said Mr. Bucket.

Yes, I remembered that too, very well.

“That was me,” said Mr. Bucket.

Seeing my surprise, he went on, “I drove down in a gig that afternoon to look after that boy. You might have heard my wheels when you came out to look after him yourself, for I was aware of you and your little maid going up when I was walking the horse down. Making an inquiry or two about him in the town, I soon heard what company he was in and was coming among the brick-fields to look for him when I observed you bringing him home here.”

“Had he committed any crime?” I asked.

“None was charged against him,” said Mr. Bucket, coolly lifting off his hat, “but I suppose he wasn’t over-particular. No. What I wanted him for was in connexion with keeping this very matter of Lady Dedlock quiet. He had been making his tongue more free than welcome as to a small accidental service he had been paid for by the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn; and it wouldn’t do, at any sort of price, to have him playing those games. So having warned him out of London, I made an afternoon of it to warn him to keep out of it now he WAS away, and go farther from it, and maintain a bright look-out that I didn’t catch him coming back again.”

“Poor creature!” said I.

“Poor enough,” assented Mr. Bucket, “and trouble enough, and well enough away from London, or anywhere else. I was regularly turned on my back when I found him taken up by your establishment, I do assure you.”

I asked him why. “Why, my dear?” said Mr. Bucket. “Naturally there was no end to his tongue then. He might as well have been born with a yard and a half of it, and a remnant over.”

Although I remember this conversation now, my head was in confusion at the time, and my power of attention hardly did more than enable me to understand that he entered into these particulars to divert me. With the same kind intention, manifestly, he often spoke to me of indifferent things, while his face was busy with the one object that we had in view. He still pursued this subject as we turned in at the garden-gate.

“Ah!” said Mr. Bucket. “Here we are, and a nice retired place it is. Puts a man in mind of the country house in the Woodpecker-tapping, that was known by the smoke which so gracefully curled. They’re early with the kitchen fire, and that denotes good servants. But what you’ve always got to be careful of with servants is who comes to see ’em; you never know what they’re up to if you don’t know that. And another thing, my dear. Whenever you find a young man behind the kitchen-door, you give that young man in charge on suspicion of being secreted in a dwelling-house with an unlawful purpose.”

We were now in front of the house; he looked attentively and closely at the gravel for footprints before he raised his eyes to the windows.

“Do you generally put that elderly young gentleman in the same room when he’s on a visit here, Miss Summerson?” he inquired, glancing at Mr. Skimpole’s usual chamber.

“You know Mr. Skimpole!” said I.

“What do you call him again?” returned Mr. Bucket, bending down his ear. “Skimpole, is it? I’ve often wondered what his name might be. Skimpole. Not John, I should say, nor yet Jacob?”

“Harold,” I told him.

“Harold. Yes. He’s a queer bird is Harold,” said Mr. Bucket, eyeing me with great expression.

“He is a singular character,” said I.

“No idea of money,” observed Mr. Bucket. “He takes it, though!”

I involuntarily returned for answer that I perceived Mr. Bucket knew him.

“Why, now I’ll tell you, Miss Summerson,” he replied. “Your mind will be all the better for not running on one point too continually, and I’ll tell you for a change. It was him as pointed out to me where Toughey was. I made up my mind that night to come to the door and ask for Toughey, if that was all; but willing to try a move or so first, if any such was on the board, I just pitched up a morsel of gravel at that window where I saw a shadow. As soon as Harold opens it and I have had a look at him, thinks I, you’re the man for me. So I smoothed him down a bit about not wanting to disturb the family after they was gone to bed and about its being a thing to be regretted that charitable young ladies should harbour vagrants; and then, when I pretty well understood his ways, I said I should consider a fypunnote well bestowed if I could relieve the premises of Toughey without causing any noise or trouble. Then says he, lifting up his eyebrows in the gayest way, ‘It’s no use mentioning a fypunnote to me, my friend, because I’m a mere child in such matters and have no idea of money.’ Of course I understood what his taking it so easy meant; and being now quite sure he was the man for me, I wrapped the note round a little stone and threw it up to him. Well! He laughs and beams, and looks as innocent as you like, and says, ‘But I don’t know the value of these things. What am I to DO with this?’ ‘Spend it, sir,’ says I. ‘But I shall be taken in,’ he says, ‘they won’t give me the right change, I shall lose it, it’s no use to me.’ Lord, you never saw such a face as he carried it with! Of course he told me where to find Toughey, and I found him.”

I regarded this as very treacherous on the part of Mr. Skimpole towards my guardian and as passing the usual bounds of his childish innocence.

“Bounds, my dear?” returned Mr. Bucket. “Bounds? Now, Miss Summerson, I’ll give you a piece of advice that your husband will find useful when you are happily married and have got a family about you. Whenever a person says to you that they are as innocent as can be in all concerning money, look well after your own money, for they are dead certain to collar it if they can. Whenever a person proclaims to you ‘In worldly matters I’m a child,’ you consider that that person is only a-crying off from being held accountable and that you have got that person’s number, and it’s Number One. Now, I am not a poetical man myself, except in a vocal way when it goes round a company, but I’m a practical one, and that’s my experience. So’s this rule. Fast and loose in one thing, fast and loose in everything. I never knew it fail. No more will you. Nor no one. With which caution to the unwary, my dear, I take the liberty of pulling this here bell, and so go back to our business.”

I believe it had not been for a moment out of his mind, any more than it had been out of my mind, or out of his face. The whole household were amazed to see me, without any notice, at that time in the morning, and so accompanied; and their surprise was not diminished by my inquiries. No one, however, had been there. It could not be doubted that this was the truth.

“Then, Miss Summerson,” said my companion, “we can’t be too soon at the cottage where those brickmakers are to be found. Most inquiries there I leave to you, if you’ll be so good as to make ’em. The naturalest way is the best way, and the naturalest way is your own way.”

We set off again immediately. On arriving at the cottage, we found it shut up and apparently deserted, but one of the neighbours who knew me and who came out when I was trying to make some one hear informed me that the two women and their husbands now lived together in another house, made of loose rough bricks, which stood on the margin of the piece of ground where the kilns were and where the long rows of bricks were drying. We lost no time in repairing to this place, which was within a few hundred yards; and as the door stood ajar, I pushed it open.

There were only three of them sitting at breakfast, the child lying asleep on a bed in the corner. It was Jenny, the mother of the dead child, who was absent. The other woman rose on seeing me; and the men, though they were, as usual, sulky and silent, each gave me a morose nod of recognition. A look passed between them when Mr. Bucket followed me in, and I was surprised to see that the woman evidently knew him.

I had asked leave to enter of course. Liz (the only name by which I knew her) rose to give me her own chair, but I sat down on a stool near the fire, and Mr. Bucket took a corner of the bedstead. Now that I had to speak and was among people with whom I was not familiar, I became conscious of being hurried and giddy. It was very difficult to begin, and I could not help bursting into tears.

“Liz,” said I, “I have come a long way in the night and through the snow to inquire after a lady—”

“Who has been here, you know,” Mr. Bucket struck in, addressing the whole group with a composed propitiatory face; “that’s the lady the young lady means. The lady that was here last night, you know.”

“And who told YOU as there was anybody here?” inquired Jenny’s husband, who had made a surly stop in his eating to listen and now measured him with his eye.

“A person of the name of Michael Jackson, with a blue welveteen waistcoat with a double row of mother of pearl buttons,” Mr. Bucket immediately answered.

“He had as good mind his own business, whoever he is,” growled the man.

“He’s out of employment, I believe,” said Mr. Bucket apologetically for Michael Jackson, “and so gets talking.”

The woman had not resumed her chair, but stood faltering with her hand upon its broken back, looking at me. I thought she would have spoken to me privately if she had dared. She was still in this attitude of uncertainty when her husband, who was eating with a lump of bread and fat in one hand and his clasp-knife in the other, struck the handle of his knife violently on the table and told her with an oath to mind HER own business at any rate and sit down.

“I should like to have seen Jenny very much,” said I, “for I am sure she would have told me all she could about this lady, whom I am very anxious indeed—you cannot think how anxious—to overtake. Will Jenny be here soon? Where is she?”

The woman had a great desire to answer, but the man, with another oath, openly kicked at her foot with his heavy boot. He left it to Jenny’s husband to say what he chose, and after a dogged silence the latter turned his shaggy head towards me.

“I’m not partial to gentlefolks coming into my place, as you’ve heerd me say afore now, I think, miss. I let their places be, and it’s curious they can’t let my place be. There’d be a pretty shine made if I was to go a-wisitin THEM, I think. Howsoever, I don’t so much complain of you as of some others, and I’m agreeable to make you a civil answer, though I give notice that I’m not a-going to be drawed like a badger. Will Jenny be here soon? No she won’t. Where is she? She’s gone up to Lunnun.”

“Did she go last night?” I asked.

“Did she go last night? Ah! She went last night,” he answered with a sulky jerk of his head.

“But was she here when the lady came? And what did the lady say to her? And where is the lady gone? I beg and pray you to be so kind as to tell me,” said I, “for I am in great distress to know.”

“If my master would let me speak, and not say a word of harm—” the woman timidly began.

“Your master,” said her husband, muttering an imprecation with slow emphasis, “will break your neck if you meddle with wot don’t concern you.”

After another silence, the husband of the absent woman, turning to me again, answered me with his usual grumbling unwillingness.

“Wos Jenny here when the lady come? Yes, she wos here when the lady come. Wot did the lady say to her? Well, I’ll tell you wot the lady said to her. She said, ‘You remember me as come one time to talk to you about the young lady as had been a-wisiting of you? You remember me as give you somethink handsome for a handkercher wot she had left?’ Ah, she remembered. So we all did. Well, then, wos that young lady up at the house now? No, she warn’t up at the house now. Well, then, lookee here. The lady was upon a journey all alone, strange as we might think it, and could she rest herself where you’re a setten for a hour or so. Yes she could, and so she did. Then she went—it might be at twenty minutes past eleven, and it might be at twenty minutes past twelve; we ain’t got no watches here to know the time by, nor yet clocks. Where did she go? I don’t know where she go’d. She went one way, and Jenny went another; one went right to Lunnun, and t’other went right from it. That’s all about it. Ask this man. He heerd it all, and see it all. He knows.”

The other man repeated, “That’s all about it.”

“Was the lady crying?” I inquired.

“Devil a bit,” returned the first man. “Her shoes was the worse, and her clothes was the worse, but she warn’t—not as I see.”

The woman sat with her arms crossed and her eyes upon the ground. Her husband had turned his seat a little so as to face her and kept his hammer-like hand upon the table as if it were in readiness to execute his threat if she disobeyed him.

“I hope you will not object to my asking your wife,” said I, “how the lady looked.”

“Come, then!” he gruffly cried to her. “You hear what she says. Cut it short and tell her.”

“Bad,” replied the woman. “Pale and exhausted. Very bad.”

“Did she speak much?”

“Not much, but her voice was hoarse.”

She answered, looking all the while at her husband for leave.

“Was she faint?” said I. “Did she eat or drink here?”

“Go on!” said the husband in answer to her look. “Tell her and cut it short.”

“She had a little water, miss, and Jenny fetched her some bread and tea. But she hardly touched it.”

“And when she went from here,” I was proceeding, when Jenny’s husband impatiently took me up.

“When she went from here, she went right away nor’ard by the high road. Ask on the road if you doubt me, and see if it warn’t so. Now, there’s the end. That’s all about it.”

I glanced at my companion, and finding that he had already risen and was ready to depart, thanked them for what they had told me, and took my leave. The woman looked full at Mr. Bucket as he went out, and he looked full at her.

“Now, Miss Summerson,” he said to me as we walked quickly away. “They’ve got her ladyship’s watch among ’em. That’s a positive fact.”

“You saw it?” I exclaimed.

“Just as good as saw it,” he returned. “Else why should he talk about his ‘twenty minutes past’ and about his having no watch to tell the time by? Twenty minutes! He don’t usually cut his time so fine as that. If he comes to half-hours, it’s as much as HE does. Now, you see, either her ladyship gave him that watch or he took it. I think she gave it him. Now, what should she give it him for? What should she give it him for?”

He repeated this question to himself several times as we hurried on, appearing to balance between a variety of answers that arose in his mind.

“If time could be spared,” said Mr. Bucket, “which is the only thing that can’t be spared in this case, I might get it out of that woman; but it’s too doubtful a chance to trust to under present circumstances. They are up to keeping a close eye upon her, and any fool knows that a poor creetur like her, beaten and kicked and scarred and bruised from head to foot, will stand by the husband that ill uses her through thick and thin. There’s something kept back. It’s a pity but what we had seen the other woman.”

I regretted it exceedingly, for she was very grateful, and I felt sure would have resisted no entreaty of mine.

“It’s possible, Miss Summerson,” said Mr. Bucket, pondering on it, “that her ladyship sent her up to London with some word for you, and it’s possible that her husband got the watch to let her go. It don’t come out altogether so plain as to please me, but it’s on the cards. Now, I don’t take kindly to laying out the money of Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, on these roughs, and I don’t see my way to the usefulness of it at present. No! So far our road, Miss Summerson, is for’ard—straight ahead—and keeping everything quiet!”

We called at home once more that I might send a hasty note to my guardian, and then we hurried back to where we had left the carriage. The horses were brought out as soon as we were seen coming, and we were on the road again in a few minutes.

It had set in snowing at daybreak, and it now snowed hard. The air was so thick with the darkness of the day and the density of the fall that we could see but a very little way in any direction. Although it was extremely cold, the snow was but partially frozen, and it churned—with a sound as if it were a beach of small shells—under the hoofs of the horses into mire and water. They sometimes slipped and floundered for a mile together, and we were obliged to come to a standstill to rest them. One horse fell three times in this first stage, and trembled so and was so shaken that the driver had to dismount from his saddle and lead him at last.

I could eat nothing and could not sleep, and I grew so nervous under those delays and the slow pace at which we travelled that I had an unreasonable desire upon me to get out and walk. Yielding to my companion’s better sense, however, I remained where I was. All this time, kept fresh by a certain enjoyment of the work in which he was engaged, he was up and down at every house we came to, addressing people whom he had never beheld before as old acquaintances, running in to warm himself at every fire he saw, talking and drinking and shaking hands at every bar and tap, friendly with every waggoner, wheelwright, blacksmith, and toll-taker, yet never seeming to lose time, and always mounting to the box again with his watchful, steady face and his business-like “Get on, my lad!”

When we were changing horses the next time, he came from the stable-yard, with the wet snow encrusted upon him and dropping off him—plashing and crashing through it to his wet knees as he had been doing frequently since we left Saint Albans—and spoke to me at the carriage side.

“Keep up your spirits. It’s certainly true that she came on here, Miss Summerson. There’s not a doubt of the dress by this time, and the dress has been seen here.”

“Still on foot?” said I.

“Still on foot. I think the gentleman you mentioned must be the point she’s aiming at, and yet I don’t like his living down in her own part of the country neither.”

“I know so little,” said I. “There may be some one else nearer here, of whom I never heard.”

“That’s true. But whatever you do, don’t you fall a-crying, my dear; and don’t you worry yourself no more than you can help. Get on, my lad!”

The sleet fell all that day unceasingly, a thick mist came on early, and it never rose or lightened for a moment. Such roads I had never seen. I sometimes feared we had missed the way and got into the ploughed grounds or the marshes. If I ever thought of the time I had been out, it presented itself as an indefinite period of great duration, and I seemed, in a strange way, never to have been free from the anxiety under which I then laboured.

As we advanced, I began to feel misgivings that my companion lost confidence. He was the same as before with all the roadside people, but he looked graver when he sat by himself on the box. I saw his finger uneasily going across and across his mouth during the whole of one long weary stage. I overheard that he began to ask the drivers of coaches and other vehicles coming towards us what passengers they had seen in other coaches and vehicles that were in advance. Their replies did not encourage him. He always gave me a reassuring beck of his finger and lift of his eyelid as he got upon the box again, but he seemed perplexed now when he said, “Get on, my lad!”

At last, when we were changing, he told me that he had lost the track of the dress so long that he began to be surprised. It was nothing, he said, to lose such a track for one while, and to take it up for another while, and so on; but it had disappeared here in an unaccountable manner, and we had not come upon it since. This corroborated the apprehensions I had formed, when he began to look at direction-posts, and to leave the carriage at cross roads for a quarter of an hour at a time while he explored them. But I was not to be down-hearted, he told me, for it was as likely as not that the next stage might set us right again.

The next stage, however, ended as that one ended; we had no new clue. There was a spacious inn here, solitary, but a comfortable substantial building, and as we drove in under a large gateway before I knew it, where a landlady and her pretty daughters came to the carriage-door, entreating me to alight and refresh myself while the horses were making ready, I thought it would be uncharitable to refuse. They took me upstairs to a warm room and left me there.

It was at the corner of the house, I remember, looking two ways. On one side to a stable-yard open to a by-road, where the ostlers were unharnessing the splashed and tired horses from the muddy carriage, and beyond that to the by-road itself, across which the sign was heavily swinging; on the other side to a wood of dark pine-trees. Their branches were encumbered with snow, and it silently dropped off in wet heaps while I stood at the window. Night was setting in, and its bleakness was enhanced by the contrast of the pictured fire glowing and gleaming in the window-pane. As I looked among the stems of the trees and followed the discoloured marks in the snow where the thaw was sinking into it and undermining it, I thought of the motherly face brightly set off by daughters that had just now welcomed me and of MY mother lying down in such a wood to die.

I was frightened when I found them all about me, but I remembered that before I fainted I tried very hard not to do it; and that was some little comfort. They cushioned me up on a large sofa by the fire, and then the comely landlady told me that I must travel no further to-night, but must go to bed. But this put me into such a tremble lest they should detain me there that she soon recalled her words and compromised for a rest of half an hour.

A good endearing creature she was. She and her three fair girls, all so busy about me. I was to take hot soup and broiled fowl, while Mr. Bucket dried himself and dined elsewhere; but I could not do it when a snug round table was presently spread by the fireside, though I was very unwilling to disappoint them. However, I could take some toast and some hot negus, and as I really enjoyed that refreshment, it made some recompense.

Punctual to the time, at the half-hour’s end the carriage came rumbling under the gateway, and they took me down, warmed, refreshed, comforted by kindness, and safe (I assured them) not to faint any more. After I had got in and had taken a grateful leave of them all, the youngest daughter—a blooming girl of nineteen, who was to be the first married, they had told me—got upon the carriage step, reached in, and kissed me. I have never seen her, from that hour, but I think of her to this hour as my friend.

The transparent windows with the fire and light, looking so bright and warm from the cold darkness out of doors, were soon gone, and again we were crushing and churning the loose snow. We went on with toil enough, but the dismal roads were not much worse than they had been, and the stage was only nine miles. My companion smoking on the box—I had thought at the last inn of begging him to do so when I saw him standing at a great fire in a comfortable cloud of tobacco—was as vigilant as ever and as quickly down and up again when we came to any human abode or any human creature. He had lighted his little dark lantern, which seemed to be a favourite with him, for we had lamps to the carriage; and every now and then he turned it upon me to see that I was doing well. There was a folding-window to the carriage-head, but I never closed it, for it seemed like shutting out hope.

We came to the end of the stage, and still the lost trace was not recovered. I looked at him anxiously when we stopped to change, but I knew by his yet graver face as he stood watching the ostlers that he had heard nothing. Almost in an instant afterwards, as I leaned back in my seat, he looked in, with his lighted lantern in his hand, an excited and quite different man.

“What is it?” said I, starting. “Is she here?”

“No, no. Don’t deceive yourself, my dear. Nobody’s here. But I’ve got it!”

The crystallized snow was in his eyelashes, in his hair, lying in ridges on his dress. He had to shake it from his face and get his breath before he spoke to me.

“Now, Miss Summerson,” said he, beating his finger on the apron, “don’t you be disappointed at what I’m a-going to do. You know me. I’m Inspector Bucket, and you can trust me. We’ve come a long way; never mind. Four horses out there for the next stage up! Quick!”

There was a commotion in the yard, and a man came running out of the stables to know if he meant up or down.

“Up, I tell you! Up! Ain’t it English? Up!”

“Up?” said I, astonished. “To London! Are we going back?”

“Miss Summerson,” he answered, “back. Straight back as a die. You know me. Don’t be afraid. I’ll follow the other, by G——”

“The other?” I repeated. “Who?”

“You called her Jenny, didn’t you? I’ll follow her. Bring those two pair out here for a crown a man. Wake up, some of you!”

“You will not desert this lady we are in search of; you will not abandon her on such a night and in such a state of mind as I know her to be in!” said I, in an agony, and grasping his hand.

“You are right, my dear, I won’t. But I’ll follow the other. Look alive here with them horses. Send a man for’ard in the saddle to the next stage, and let him send another for’ard again, and order four on, up, right through. My darling, don’t you be afraid!”

These orders and the way in which he ran about the yard urging them caused a general excitement that was scarcely less bewildering to me than the sudden change. But in the height of the confusion, a mounted man galloped away to order the relays, and our horses were put to with great speed.

“My dear,” said Mr. Bucket, jumping to his seat and looking in again, “—you’ll excuse me if I’m too familiar—don’t you fret and worry yourself no more than you can help. I say nothing else at present; but you know me, my dear; now, don’t you?”

I endeavoured to say that I knew he was far more capable than I of deciding what we ought to do, but was he sure that this was right? Could I not go forward by myself in search of—I grasped his hand again in my distress and whispered it to him—of my own mother.

“My dear,” he answered, “I know, I know, and would I put you wrong, do you think? Inspector Bucket. Now you know me, don’t you?”

What could I say but yes!

“Then you keep up as good a heart as you can, and you rely upon me for standing by you, no less than by Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet. Now, are you right there?”

“All right, sir!”

“Off she goes, then. And get on, my lads!”

We were again upon the melancholy road by which we had come, tearing up the miry sleet and thawing snow as if they were torn up by a waterwheel.

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(Image: “The Night”)