Part 12 out of 21
good to. But it's impossible for an old vagabond comrade to like
your wife and family better than I like 'em, Mat, and I trust
you'll look upon me as forgivingly as you can. Don't think I've
kept anything from you. I haven't had the letter more than a
quarter of an hour."
"Old girl," murmurs Mr. Bagnet after a short silence, "will you
tell him my opinion?"
"Oh! Why didn't he marry," Mrs. Bagnet answers, half laughing and
half crying, "Joe Pouch's widder in North America? Then he
wouldn't have got himself into these troubles."
"The old girl," says Mr. Baguet, "puts it correct--why didn't you?"
"Well, she has a better husband by this time, I hope," returns the
trooper. "Anyhow, here I stand, this present day, NOT married to
Joe Pouch's widder. What shall I do? You see all I have got about
me. It's not mine; it's yours. Give the word, and I'll sell off
every morsel. If I could have hoped it would have brought in
nearly the sum wanted, I'd have sold all long ago. Don't believe
that I'll leave you or yours in the lurch, Mat. I'd sell myself
first. I only wish," says the trooper, giving himself a
disparaging blow in the chest, "that I knew of any one who'd buy
such a second-hand piece of old stores."
"Old girl," murmurs Mr. Bagnet, "give him another bit of my mind."
"George," says the old girl, "you are not so much to be blamed, on
full consideration, except for ever taking this business without
"And that was like me!" observes the penitent trooper, shaking his
head. "Like me, I know."
"Silence! The old girl," says Mr. Bagnet, "is correct--in her way
of giving my opinions--hear me out!"
"That was when you never ought to have asked for the security,
George, and when you never ought to have got it, all things
considered. But what's done can't be undone. You are always an
honourable and straightforward fellow, as far as lays in your
power, though a little flighty. On the other hand, you can't admit
but what it's natural in us to be anxious with such a thing hanging
over our heads. So forget and forgive all round, George. Come!
Forget and forgive all round!"
Mrs. Bagnet, giving him one of her honest hands and giving her
husband the other, Mr. George gives each of them one of his and
holds them while he speaks.
"I do assure you both, there's nothing I wouldn't do to discharge
this obligation. But whatever I have been able to scrape together
has gone every two months in keeping it up. We have lived plainly
enough here, Phil and I. But the gallery don't quite do what was
expected of it, and it's not--in short, it's not the mint. It was
wrong in me to take it? Well, so it was. But I was in a manner
drawn into that step, and I thought it might steady me, and set me
up, and you'll try to overlook my having such expectations, and
upon my soul, I am very much obliged to you, and very much ashamed
of myself." With these concluding words, Mr. George gives a shake
to each of the hands he holds, and relinquishing them, backs a pace
or two in a broad-chested, upright attitude, as if he had made a
final confession and were immediately going to be shot with all
"George, hear me out!" says Mr. Bagnet, glancing at his wife. "Old
girl, go on!"
Mr. Bagnet, being in this singular manner heard out, has merely to
observe that the letter must be attended to without any delay, that
it is advisable that George and he should immediately wait on Mr.
Smallweed in person, and that the primary object is to save and
hold harmless Mr. Bagnet, who had none of the money. Mr. George,
entirely assenting, puts on his hat and prepares to march with Mr.
Bagnet to the enemy's camp.
"Don't you mind a woman's hasty word, George," says Mrs. Bagnet,
patting him on the shoulder. "I trust my old Lignum to you, and I
am sure you'll bring him through it."
The trooper returns that this is kindly said and that he WILL bring
Lignum through it somehow. Upon which Mrs. Bagnet, with her cloak,
basket, and umbrella, goes home, bright-eyed again, to the rest of
her family, and the comrades sally forth on the hopeful errand of
mollifying Mr. Smallweed.
Whether there are two people in England less likely to come
satisfactorily out of any negotiation with Mr. Smallweed than Mr.
George and Mr. Matthew Bagnet may be very reasonably questioned.
Also, notwithstanding their martial appearance, broad square
shoulders, and heavy tread, whether there are within the same
limits two more simple and unaccustomed children in all the
Smallweedy affairs of life. As they proceed with great gravity
through the streets towards the region of Mount Pleasant, Mr.
Bagnet, observing his companion to be thoughtful, considers it a
friendly part to refer to Mrs. Bagnet's late sally.
"George, you know the old girl--she's as sweet and as mild as milk.
But touch her on the children--or myself--and she's off like
"It does her credit, Mat!"
"George," says Mr. Bagnet, looking straight before him, "the old
girl--can't do anything--that don't do her credit. More or less.
I never say so. Discipline must he maintained."
"She's worth her weight in gold," says the trooper.
"In gold?" says Mr. Bagnet. "I'll tell you what. The old girl's
weight--is twelve stone six. Would I take that weight--in any
metal--for the old girl? No. Why not? Because the old girl's
metal is far more precious---than the preciousest metal. And she's
"You are right, Mat!"
"When she took me--and accepted of the ring--she 'listed under me
and the children--heart and head, for life. She's that earnest,"
says Mr. Bagnet, "and true to her colours--that, touch us with a
finger--and she turns out--and stands to her arms. If the old girl
fires wide--once in a way--at the call of duty--look over it,
George. For she's loyal!"
"Why, bless her, Mat," returns the trooper, "I think the higher of
her for it!"
"You are right!" says Mr. Bagnet with the warmest enthusiasm,
though without relaxing the rigidity of a single muscle. "Think as
high of the old girl--as the rock of Gibraltar--and still you'll be
thinking low--of such merits. But I never own to it before her.
Discipline must be maintained."
These encomiums bring them to Mount Pleasant and to Grandfather
Smallweed's house. The door is opened by the perennial Judy, who,
having surveyed them from top to toe with no particular favour, but
indeed with a malignant sneer, leaves them standing there while she
consults the oracle as to their admission. The oracle may be
inferred to give consent from the circumstance of her returning
with the words on her honey lips that they can come in if they want
to it. Thus privileged, they come in and find Mr. Smallweed with
his feet in the drawer of his chair as if it were a paper foot-bath
and Mrs. Smallweed obscured with the cushion like a bird that is
not to sing.
"My dear friend," says Grandfather Smallweed with those two lean
affectionate arms of his stretched forth. "How de do? How de do?
Who is our friend, my dear friend?"
"Why this," returns George, not able to be very conciliatory at
first, "is Matthew Bagnet, who has obliged me in that matter of
ours, you know."
"Oh! Mr. Bagnet? Surely!" The old man looks at him under his
"Hope you're well, Mr. Bagnet? Fine man, Mr. George! Military
No chairs being offered, Mr. George brings one forward for Bagnet
and one for himself. They sit down, Mr. Bagnet as if he had no
power of bending himself, except at the hips, for that purpose.
"Judy," says Mr. Smallweed, "bring the pipe."
"Why, I don't know," Mr. George interposes, "that the young woman
need give herself that trouble, for to tell you the truth, I am not
inclined to smoke it to-day."
"Ain't you?" returns the old man. "Judy, bring the pipe."
"The fact is, Mr. Smallweed," proceeds George, "that I find myself
in rather an unpleasant state of mind. It appears to me, sir, that
your friend in the city has been playing tricks."
"Oh, dear no!" says Grandfather Smallweed. "He never does that!"
"Don't he? Well, I am glad to hear it, because I thought it might
be HIS doing. This, you know, I am speaking of. This letter."
Grandfather Smallweed smiles in a very ugly way in recognition of
"What does it mean?" asks Mr. George.
"Judy," says the old man. "Have you got the pipe? Give it to me.
Did you say what does it mean, my good friend?"
"Aye! Now, come, come, you know, Mr. Smallweed," urges the
trooper, constraining himself to speak as smoothly and
confidentially as he can, holding the open letter in one hand and
resting the broad knuckles of the other on his thigh, "a good lot
of money has passed between us, and we are face to face at the
present moment, and are both well aware of the understanding there
has always been. I am prepared to do the usual thing which I have
done regularly and to keep this matter going. I never got a letter
like this from you before, and I have been a little put about by it
this morning, because here's my friend Matthew Bagnet, who, you
know, had none of the money--"
"I DON'T know it, you know," says the old man quietly.
"Why, con-found you--it, I mean--I tell you so, don't I?"
"Oh, yes, you tell me so," returns Grandfather Smallweed. "But I
don't know it."
"Well!" says the trooper, swallowing his fire. "I know it."
Mr. Smallweed replies with excellent temper, "Ah! That's quite
another thing!" And adds, "But it don't matter. Mr. Bagnet's
situation is all one, whether or no."
The unfortunate George makes a great effort to arrange the affair
comfortably and to propitiate Mr. Smallweed by taking him upon his
"That's just what I mean. As you say, Mr. Smallweed, here's
Matthew Bagnet liable to be fixed whether or no. Now, you see,
that makes his good lady very uneasy in her mind, and me too, for
whereas I'm a harurn-scarum sort of a good-for-nought that more
kicks than halfpence come natural to, why he's a steady family man,
don't you see? Now, Mr. Smallweed," says the trooper, gaining
confidence as he proceeds in his soldierly mode of doing business,
"although you and I are good friends enough in a certain sort of a
way, I am well aware that I can't ask you to let my friend Bagnet
"Oh, dear, you are too modest. You can ASK me anything, Mr.
George." (There is an ogreish kind of jocularity in Grandfather
"And you can refuse, you mean, eh? Or not you so much, perhaps, as
your friend in the city? Ha ha ha!"
"Ha ha ha!" echoes Grandfather Smallweed. In such a very hard
manner and with eyes so particularly green that Mr. Bagnet's
natural gravity is much deepened by the contemplation of that
"Come!" says the sanguine George. "I am glad to find we can be
pleasant, because I want to arrange this pleasantly. Here's my
friend Bagnet, and here am I. We'll settle the matter on the spot,
if you please, Mr. Smallweed, in the usual way. And you'll ease my
friend Bagnet's mind, and his family's mind, a good deal if you'll
just mention to him what our understanding is."
Here some shrill spectre cries out in a mocking manner, "Oh, good
gracious! Oh!" Unless, indeed, it be the sportive Judy, who is
found to be silent when the startled visitors look round, but whose
chin has received a recent toss, expressive of derision and
contempt. Mr. Bagnet's gravity becomes yet more profound.
"But I think you asked me, Mr. George"--old Smallweed, who all this
time has had the pipe in his hand, is the speaker now--"I think you
asked me, what did the letter mean?"
"Why, yes, I did," returns the trooper in his off-hand way, "but I
don't care to know particularly, if it's all correct and pleasant."
Mr. Smallweed, purposely balking himself in an aim at the trooper's
head, throws the pipe on the ground and breaks it to pieces.
"That's what it means, my dear friend. I'll smash you. I'll
crumble you. I'll powder you. Go to the devil!"
The two friends rise and look at one another. Mr. Bagnet's gravity
has now attained its profoundest point.
"Go to the devil!" repeats the old man. "I'll have no more of your
pipe-smokings and swaggerings. What? You're an independent
dragoon, too! Go to my lawyer (you remember where; you have been
there before) and show your independeuce now, will you? Come, my
dear friend, there's a chance for you. Open the street door, Judy;
put these blusterers out! Call in help if they don't go. Put 'em
He vociferates this so loudly that Mr. Bagnet, laying his hands on
the shoulders of his comrade before the latter can recover from his
amazement, gets him on the outside of the street door, which is
instantly slammed by the triumphant Judy. Utterly confounded, Mr.
George awhile stands looking at the knocker. Mr. Bagnet, in a
perfect abyss of gravity, walks up and down before the little
parlour window like a sentry and looks in every time he passes,
apparently revolving something in his mind.
"Come, Mat," says Mr. George when he has recovered himself, "we
must try the lawyer. Now, what do you think of this rascal?"
Mr. Bagnet, stopping to take a farewell look into the parlour,
replies with one shake of his head directed at the interior, "If my
old girl had been here--I'd have told him!" Having so discharged
himself of the subject of his cogitations, he falls into step and
marches off with the trooper, shoulder to shoulder.
When they present themselves in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mr.
Tulkinghorn is engaged and not to be seen. He is not at all
willing to see them, for when they have waited a full hour, and the
clerk, on his bell being rung, takes the opportunity of mentioning
as much, he brings forth no more encouraging message than that Mr.
Tulkinghorn has nothing to say to them and they had better not
wait. They do wait, however, with the perseverance of military
tactics, and at last the bell rings again and the client in
possession comes out of Mr. Tulkinghorn's room.
The client is a handsome old lady, no other than Mrs. Rouncewell,
housekeeper at Chesney Wold. She comes out of the sanctuary with a
fair old-fashioned curtsy and softly shuts the door. She is
treated with some distinction there, for the clerk steps out of his
pew to show her through the outer office and to let her out. The
old lady is thanking him for his attention when she observes the
comrades in waiting.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but I think those gentlemen are military?"
The clerk referring the question to them with his eye, and Mr.
George not turning round from the almanac over the fire-place. Mr.
Bagnet takes upon himself to reply, "Yes, ma'am. Formerly."
"I thought so. I was sure of it. My heart warms, gentlemen, at
the sight of you. It always does at the sight of such. God bless
you, gentlemen! You'll excuse an old woman, but I had a son once
who went for a soldier. A fine handsome youth he was, and good in
his bold way, though some people did disparage him to his poor
mother. I ask your pardon for troubling you, sir. God bless you,
"Same to you, ma'am!" returns Mr. Bagnet with right good will.
There is something very touching in the earnestness of the old
lady's voice and in the tremble that goes through her quaint old
figure. But Mr. George is so occupied with the almanac over the
fireplace (calculating the coming months by it perhaps) that he
does not look round until she has gone away and the door is closed
"George," Mr. Bagnet gruffly whispers when he does turn from the
almanac at last. "Don't be cast down! 'Why, soldiers, why--should
we be melancholy, boys?' Cheer up, my hearty!"
The clerk having now again gone in to say that they are still there
and Mr. Tulkinghorn being heard to return with some irascibility,
"Let 'em come in then!" they pass into the great room with the
painted ceiling and find him standing before the fire.
"Now, you men, what do you want? Sergeant, I told you the last
time I saw you that I don't desire your company here."
Sergeant replies--dashed within the last few minutes as to his
usual manner of speech, and even as to his usual carriage--that he
has received this letter, has been to Mr. Smallweed about it, and
has been referred there.
"I have nothing to say to you," rejoins Mr. Tulkinghorn. "If you
get into debt, you must pay your debts or take the consequences.
You have no occasion to come here to learn that, I suppose?"
Sergeant is sorry to say that he is not prepared with the money.
"Very well! Then the other man--this man, if this is he--must pay
it for you."
Sergeant is sorry to add that the other man is not prepared with
the money either.
"Very well! Then you must pay it between you or you must both be
sued for it and both suffer. You have had the money and must
refund it. You are not to pocket other people's pounds, shillings,
and pence and escape scot-free."
The lawyer sits down in his easy-chair and stirs the fire. Mr.
George hopes he will have the goodness to--
"I tell you, sergeant, I have nothing to say to you. I don't like
your associates and don't want you here. This matter is not at all
in my course of practice and is not in my office. Mr. Smallweed is
good enough to offer these affairs to me, but they are not in my
way. You must go to Melchisedech's in Clifford's Inn."
"I must make an apology to you, sir," says Mr. George, "for
pressing myself upon you with so little encouragement--which is
almost as unpleasant to me as it can be to you--but would you let
me say a private word to you?"
Mr. Tulkinghorn rises with his hands in his pockets and walks into
one of the window recesses. "Now! I have no time to waste." In
the midst of his perfect assumption of indifference, he directs a
sharp look at the trooper, taking care to stand with his own back
to the light and to have the other with his face towards it.
"Well, sir," says Mr. George, "this man with me is the other party
implicated in this unfortunate affair--nominally, only nominally--
and my sole object is to prevent his getting into trouble on my
account. He is a most respectable man with a wife and family,
formerly in the Royal Artillery--"
"My friend, I don't care a pinch of snuff for the whole Royal
Artillery establishment--officers, men, tumbrils, waggons, horses,
guns, and ammunition."
"'Tis likely, sir. But I care a good deal for Bagnet and his wife
and family being injured on my account. And if I could bring them
through this matter, I should have no help for it but to give up
without any other consideration what you wanted of me the other
"Have you got it here?"
"I have got it here, sir."
"Sergeant," the lawyer proceeds in his dry passionless manner, far
more hopeless in the dealing with than any amount of vehemence,
"make up your mind while I speak to you, for this is final. After
I have finished speaking I have closed the subject, and I won't re-
open it. Understand that. You can leave here, for a few days,
what you say you have brought here if you choose; you can take it
away at once if you choose. In case you choose to leave it here, I
can do this for you--I can replace this matter on its old footing,
and I can go so far besides as to give you a written undertaking
that this man Bagnet shall never be troubled in any way until you
have been proceeded against to the utmost, that your means shall be
exhausted before the creditor looks to his. This is in fact all
but freeing him. Have you decided?"
The trooper puts his hand into his breast and answers with a long
breath, "I must do it, sir."
So Mr. Tulkinghorn, putting on his spectacles, sits down and writes
the undertaking, which he slowly reads and explains to Bagnet, who
has all this time been staring at the ceiling and who puts his hand
on his bald head again, under this new verbal shower-bath, and
seems exceedingly in need of the old girl through whom to express
his sentiments. The trooper then takes from his breast-pocket a
folded paper, which he lays with an unwilling hand at the lawyer's
elbow. "'Tis ouly a letter of instructions, sir. The last I ever
had from him."
Look at a millstone, Mr. George, for some change in its expression,
and you will find it quite as soon as in the face of Mr.
Tulkinghorn when he opens and reads the letter! He refolds it and
lays it in his desk with a countenance as unperturbable as death.
Nor has he anything more to say or do but to nod once in the same
frigid and discourteous manner and to say briefly, "You can go.
Show these men out, there!" Being shown out, they repair to Mr.
Bagnet's residence to dine.
Boiled beef and greens constitute the day's variety on the former
repast of boiled pork and greens, and Mrs. Bagnet serves out the
meal in the same way and seasons it with the best of temper, being
that rare sort of old girl that she receives Good to her arms
without a hint that it might be Better and catches light from any
little spot of darkness near her. The spot on this occasion is the
darkened brow of Mr. George; he is unusually thoughtful and
depressed. At first Mrs. Bagnet trusts to the combined endearments
of Quebec and Malta to restore him, but finding those young ladies
sensible that their existing Bluffy is not the Bluffy of their
usual frolicsome acquaintance, she winks off the light infantry and
leaves him to deploy at leisure on the open ground of the domestic
But he does not. He remains in close order, clouded and depressed.
During the lengthy cleaning up and pattening process, when he and
Mr. Bagnet are supplied with their pipes, he is no better than he
was at dinner. He forgets to smoke, looks at the fire and ponders,
lets his pipe out, fills the breast of Mr. Bagnet with perturbation
and dismay by showing that he has no enjoyment of tobacco.
Therefore when Mrs. Bagnet at last appears, rosy from the
invigorating pail, and sits down to her work, Mr. Bagnet growls,
"Old girl!" and winks monitions to her to find out what's the
"Why, George!" says Mrs. Bagnet, quietly threading her needle.
"How low you are!"
"Am I? Not good company? Well, I am afraid I am not."
"He ain't at all like Blulfy, mother!" cries little Malta.
"Because he ain't well, I think, mother," adds Quebec.
"Sure that's a bad sign not to be like Bluffy, too!" returns the
trooper, kissing the young damsels. "But it's true," with a sigh,
"true, I am afraid. These little ones are always right!"
"George," says Mrs. Bagnet, working busily, "if I thought you cross
enough to think of anything that a shrill old soldier's wife--who
could have bitten her tongue off afterwards and ought to have done
it almost--said this morning, I don't know what I shouldn't say to
"My kind soul of a darling," returns the trooper. "Not a morsel of
"Because really and truly, George, what I said and meant to say was
that I trusted Lignum to you and was sure you'd bring him through
it. And you HAVE brought him through it, noble!"
"Thankee, my dear!" says George. "I am glad of your good opinion."
In giving Mrs. Bagnet's hand, with her work in it, a friendly
shake--for she took her seat beside him--the trooper's attention is
attracted to her face. After looking at it for a little while as
she plies her needle, he looks to young Woolwich, sitting on his
stool in the corner, and beckons that fifer to him.
"See there, my boy," says George, very gently smoothing the
mother's hair with his hand, "there's a good loving forehead for
you! All bright with love of you, my boy. A little touched by the
sun and the weather through following your father about and taking
care of you, but as fresh and wholesome as a ripe apple on a tree."
Mr. Bagnet's face expresses, so far as in its wooden material lies,
the highest approbation and acquiescence.
"The time will come, my boy," pursues the trooper, "when this hair
of your mother's will be grey, and this forehead all crossed and
re-crossed with wrinkles, and a fine old lady she'll be then. Take
care, while you are young, that you can think in those days, 'I
never whitened a hair of her dear head--I never marked a sorrowful
line in her face!' For of all the many things that you can think
of when you are a man, you had better have THAT by you, Woolwich!"
Mr. George concludes by rising from his chair, seating the boy
beside his mother in it, and saying, with something of a hurry
about him, that he'll smoke his pipe in the street a bit.
I lay ill through several weeks, and the usual tenor of my life
became like an old remembrance. But this was not the effect of
time so much as of the change in all my habits made by the
helplessness and inaction of a sick-room. Before I had been
confined to it many days, everything else seemed to have retired
into a remote distance where there was little or no separation
between the various stages of my life which had been really divided
by years. In falling ill, I seemed to have crossed a dark lake and
to have left all my experiences, mingled together by the great
distance, on the healthy shore.
My housekeeping duties, though at first it caused me great anxiety
to think that they were unperformed, were soon as far off as the
oldest of the old duties at Greenleaf or the summer afternoons when
I went home from school with my portfolio under my arm, and my
childish shadow at my side, to my godmother's house. I had never
known before how short life really was and into how small a space
the mind could put it.
While I was very ill, the way in which these divisions of time
became confused with one another distressed my mind exceedingly.
At once a child, an elder girl, and the little woman I had been so
happy as, I was not only oppressed by cares and difficulties
adapted to each station, but by the great perplexity of endlessly
trying to reconcile them. I suppose that few who have not been in
such a condition can quite understand what I mean or what painful
unrest arose from this source.
For the same reason I am almost afraid to hint at that time in my
disorder--it seemed one long night, but I believe there were both
nights and days in it--when I laboured up colossal staircases, ever
striving to reach the top, and ever turned, as I have seen a worm
in a garden path, by some obstruction, and labouring again. I knew
perfectly at intervals, and I think vaguely at most times, that I
was in my bed; and I talked with Charley, and felt her touch, and
knew her very well; yet I would find myself complaining, "Oh, more
of these never-ending stairs, Charley--more and more--piled up to
the sky', I think!" and labouring on again.
Dare I hint at that worse time when, strung together somewhere in
great black space, there was a flaming necklace, or ring, or starry
circle of some kind, of which I was one of the beads! And when my
only prayer was to be taken off from the rest and when it was such
inexplicable agony and misery to be a part of the dreadful thing?
Perhaps the less I say of these sick experiences, the less tedious
and the more intelligible I shall be. I do not recall them to make
others unhappy or because I am now the least unhappy in remembering
them. It may be that if we knew more of such strange afflictions
we might be the better able to alleviate their intensity.
The repose that succeeded, the long delicious sleep, the blissful
rest, when in my weakness I was too calm to have any care for
myself and could have heard (or so I think now) that I was dying,
with no other emotion than with a pitying love for those I left
behind--this state can be perhaps more widely understood. I was in
this state when I first shrunk from the light as it twinkled on me
once more, and knew with a boundless joy for which no words are
rapturous enough that I should see again.
I had heard my Ada crying at the door, day and night; I had heard
her calling to me that I was cruel and did not love her; I had
heard her praying and imploring to be let in to nurse and comfort
me and to leave my bedside no more; but I had only said, when I
could speak, "Never, my sweet girl, never!" and I had over and over
again reminded Charley that she was to keep my darling from the
room whether I lived or died. Charley had been true to me in that
time of need, and with her little hand and her great heart had kept
the door fast.
But now, my sight strengthening and the glorious light coming every
day more fully and brightly on me, I could read the letters that my
dear wrote to me every morning and evening and could put them to my
lips and lay my cheek upon them with no fear of hurting her. I
could see my little maid, so tender and so careful, going about the
two rooms setting everything in order and speaking cheerfully to
Ada from the open window again. I could understand the stillness
in the house and the thoughtfulness it expressed on the part of all
those who had always been so good to me. I could weep in the
exquisite felicity of my heart and be as happy in my weakness as
ever I had been in my strength.
By and by my strength began to be restored. Instead of lying, with
so strange a calmness, watching what was done for me, as if it were
done for some one else whom I was quietly sorry for, I helped it a
little, and so on to a little more and much more, until I became
useful to myself, and interested, and attached to life again.
How well I remember the pleasant afternoon when I was raised in bed
with pillows for the first time to enjoy a great tea-drinking with
Charley! The little creature--sent into the world, surely, to
minister to the weak and sick--was so happy, and so busy, and
stopped so often in her preparations to lay her head upon my bosom,
and fondle me, and cry with joyful tears she was so glad, she was
so glad, that I was obliged to say, "Charley, if you go on in this
way, I must lie down again, my darling, for I am weaker than I
thought I was!" So Charley became as quiet as a mouse and took her
bright face here and there across and across the two rooms, out of
the shade into the divine sunshine, and out of the sunshine into
the shade, while I watched her peacefully. When all her
preparations were concluded and the pretty tea-table with its
little delicacies to tempt me, and its white cloth, and its
flowers, and everything so lovingly and beautifully arranged for me
by Ada downstairs, was ready at the bedside, I felt sure I was
steady enough to say something to Charley that was not new to my
First I complimented Charley on the room, and indeed it was so
fresh and airy, so spotless and neat, that I could scarce believe I
had been lying there so long. This delighted Charley, and her face
was brighter than before.
"Yet, Charley," said I, looking round, "I miss something, surely,
that I am accustomed to?"
Poor little Charley looked round too and pretended to shake her
head as if there were nothing absent.
"Are the pictures all as they used to be?" I asked her.
"Every one of them, miss," said Charley.
"And the furniture, Charley?"
"Except where I have moved it about to make more room, miss."
"And yet," said I, "I miss some familiar object. Ah, I know what
it is, Charley! It's the looking-glass."
Charley got up from the table, making as if she had forgotten
something, and went into the next room; and I heard her sob there.
I had thought of this very often. I was now certain of it. I
could thank God that it was not a shock to me now. I called
Charley back, and when she came--at first pretending to smile, but
as she drew nearer to me, looking grieved--I took her in my arms
and said, "It matters very little, Charley. I hope I can do
without my old face very well."
I was presently so far advanced as to be able to sit up in a great
chair and even giddily to walk into the adjoining room, leaning on
Charley. The mirror was gone from its usual place in that room
too, but what I had to bear was none the harder to bear for that.
My guardian had throughout been earnest to visit me, and there was
now no good reason why I should deny myself that happiness. He
came one morning, and when he first came in, could only hold me in
his embrace and say, "My dear, dear girl!" I had long known--who
could know better?--what a deep fountain of affection and
generosity his heart was; and was it not worth my trivial suffering
and change to fill such a place in it? "Oh, yes!" I thought. "He
has seen me, and he loves me better than he did; he has seen me and
is even fonder of me than he was before; and what have I to mourn
He sat down by me on the sofa, supporting me with his arm. For a
little while he sat with his hand over his face, but when he
removed it, fell into his usual manner. There never can have been,
there never can be, a pleasanter manner.
"My little woman," said he, "what a sad time this has been. Such
an inflexible little woman, too, through all!"
"Only for the best, guardian," said I.
"For the best?" he repeated tenderly. "Of course, for the best.
But here have Ada and I been perfectly forlorn and miserable; here
has your friend Caddy been coming and going late and early; here
has every one about the house been utterly lost and dejected; here
has even poor Rick been writing--to ME too--in his anxiety for
I had read of Caddy in Ada's letters, but not of Richard. I told
"Why, no, my dear," he replied. "I have thought it better not to
mention it to her."
"And you speak of his writing to YOU," said I, repeating his
emphasis. "As if it were not natural for him to do so, guardian;
as if he could write to a better friend!"
"He thinks he could, my love," returned my guardian, "and to many a
better. The truth is, he wrote to me under a sort of protest while
unable to write to you with any hope of an answer--wrote coldly,
haughtily, distantly, resentfully. Well, dearest little woman, we
must look forbearingly on it. He is not to blame. Jarndyce and
Jarndyce has warped him out of himself and perverted me in his
eyes. I have known it do as bad deeds, and worse, many a time. If
two angels could be concerned in it, I believe it would change
"It has not changed yours, guardian."
"Oh, yes, it has, my dear," he said laughingly. "It has made the
south wind easterly, I don't know how often. Rick mistrusts and
suspects me--goes to lawyers, and is taught to mistrust and suspect
me. Hears I have conflicting interests, claims clashing against
his and what not. Whereas, heaven knows that if I could get out of
the mountains of wiglomeration on which my unfortunate name has
been so long bestowed (which I can't) or could level them by the
extinction of my own original right (which I can't either, and no
human power ever can, anyhow, I believe, to such a pass have we
got), I would do it this hour. I would rather restore to poor Rick
his proper nature than be endowed with all the money that dead
suitors, broken, heart and soul, upon the wheel of Chancery, have
left unclaimed with the Accountant-General--and that's money
enough, my dear, to be cast into a pyramid, in memory of Chancery's
"IS it possible, guardian," I asked, amazed, "that Richard can be
suspicious of you?"
"Ah, my love, my love," he said, "it is in the subtle poison of
such abuses to breed such diseases. His blood is infected, and
objects lose their natural aspects in his sight. It is not HIS
"But it is a terrible misfortune, guardian."
"It is a terrible misfortune, little woman, to be ever drawn within
the influences of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. I know none greater. By
little and little he has been induced to trust in that rotten reed,
and it communicates some portion of its rottenness to everything
around him. But again I say with all my soul, we must be patient
with poor Rick and not blame him. What a troop of fine fresh
hearts like his have I seen in my time turned by the same means!"
I could not help expressing something of my wonder and regret that
his benevolent, disinterested intentions had prospered so little.
"We must not say so, Dame Durden," he cheerfully rephed; "Ada is
the happier, I hope, and that is much. I did think that I and both
these young creatures might be friends instead of distrustful foes
and that we might so far counter-act the suit and prove too strong
for it. But it was too much to expect. Jarndyce and Jarndyce was
the curtain of Rick's cradle."
"But, guardian, may we not hope that a little experience will teach
him what a false and wretched thing it is?"
"We WILL hope so, my Esther," said Mr. Jarndyce, "and that it may
not teach him so too late. In any case we must not be hard on him.
There are not many grown and matured men living while we speak,
good men too, who if they were thrown into this same court as
suitors would not be vitally changed and depreciated within three
years--within two--within one. How can we stand amazed at poor
Rick? A young man so unfortunate," here he fell into a lower tone,
as if he were thinking aloud, "cannot at first believe (who could?)
that Chancery is what it is. He looks to it, flushed and fitfully,
to do something with his interests and bring them to some
settlement. It procrastinates, disappoints, tries, tortures him;
wears out his sanguine hopes and patience, thread by thread; but he
still looks to it, and hankers after it, and finds his whole world
treacherous and hollow. Well, well, well! Enough of this, my
He had supported me, as at first, all this time, and his tenderness
was so precious to me that I leaned my head upon his shoulder and
loved him as if he had been my father. I resolved in my own mind
in this little pause, by some means, to see Richard when I grew
strong and try to set him right.
"There are better subjects than these," said my guardian, "for such
a joyful time as the time of our dear girl's recovery. And I had a
commission to broach one of them as soon as I should begin to talk.
When shall Ada come to see you, my love?"
I had been thinking of that too. A little in connexion with the
absent mirrors, but not much, for I knew my loving girl would be
changed by no change in my looks.
"Dear guardian," said I, "as I have shut her out so long--though
indeed, indeed, she is like the light to me--"
"I know it well, Dame Durden, well."
He was so good, his touch expressed such endearing compassion and
affection, and the tone of his voice carried such comfort into my
heart that I stopped for a little while, quite unable to go on.
"Yes, yes, you are tired," said he, "Rest a little."
"As I have kept Ada out so long," I began afresh after a short
while, "I think I should like to have my own way a little longer,
guardian. It would be best to be away from here before I see her.
If Charley and I were to go to some country lodging as soon as I
can move, and if I had a week there in which to grow stronger and
to be revived by the sweet air and to look forward to the happiness
of having Ada with me again, I think it would be better for us."
I hope it was not a poor thing in me to wish to be a little more
used to my altered self before I met the eyes of the dear girl I
longed so ardently to see, but it is the truth. I did. He
understood me, I was sure; but I was not afraid of that. If it
were a poor thing, I knew he would pass it over.
"Our spoilt little woman," said my guardian, "shall have her own
way even in her inflexibility, though at the price, I know, of
tears downstairs. And see here! Here is Boythorn, heart of
chivalry, breathing such ferocious vows as never were breathed on
paper before, that if you don't go and occupy his whole house, he
having already turned out of it expressly for that purpose, by
heaven and by earth he'll pull it down and not leave one brick
standing on another!"
And my guardian put a letter in my hand, without any ordinary
beginning such as "My dear Jarndyce," but rushing at once into the
words, "I swear if Miss Summerson do not come down and take
possession of my house, which I vacate for her this day at one
o'clock, P.M.," and then with the utmost seriousness, and in the
most emphatic terms, going on to make the extraordinary declaration
he had quoted. We did not appreciate the writer the less for
laughing heartily over it, and we settled that I should send him a
letter of thanks on the morrow and accept his offer. It was a most
agreeable one to me, for all the places I could have thought of, I
should have liked to go to none so well as Chesney Wold.
"Now, little housewife," said my guardian, looking at his watch, "I
was strictly timed before I came upstairs, for you must not be
tired too soon; and my time has waned away to the last minute. I
have one other petition. Little Miss Flite, hearing a rumour that
you were ill, made nothing of walking down here--twenty miles, poor
soul, in a pair of dancing shoes--to inquire. It was heaven's
mercy we were at home, or she would have walked back again."
The old conspiracy to make me happy! Everybody seemed to be in it!
"Now, pet," said my guardian, "if it would not be irksome to you to
admit the harmless little creature one afternoon before you save
Boythorn's otherwise devoted house from demolition, I believe you
would make her prouder and better pleased with herself than I--
though my eminent name is Jarndyce--could do in a lifetime."
I have no doubt he knew there would be something in the simple
image of the poor afflicted creature that would fall like a gentle
lesson on my mind at that time. I felt it as he spoke to me. I
could not tell him heartily enough how ready I was to receive her.
I had always pitied her, never so much as now. I had always been
glad of my little power to soothe her under her calamity, but
never, never, half so glad before.
We arranged a time for Miss Flite to come out by the coach and
share my early dinner. When my guardian left me, I turned my face
away upon my couch and prayed to be forgiven if I, surrounded by
such blessings, had magnified to myself the little trial that I had
to undergo. The childish prayer of that old birthday when I had
aspired to be industrious, contented, and true-hearted and to do
good to some one and win some love to myself if I could came back
into my mind with a reproachful sense of all the happiness I had
since enjoyed and all the affectionate hearts that had been turned
towards me. If I were weak now, what had I profited by those
mercies? I repeated the old childish prayer in its old childish
words and found that its old peace had not departed from it.
My guardian now came every day. In a week or so more I could walk
about our rooms and hold long talks with Ada from behind the
window-curtain. Yet I never saw her, for I had not as yet the
courage to look at the dear face, though I could have done so
easily without her seeing me.
On the appointed day Miss Flite arrived. The poor little creature
ran into my room quite forgetful of her usual dignity, and crying
from her very heart of hearts, "My dear Fitz Jarndyce!" fell upon
my neck and kissed me twenty times.
"Dear me!" said she, putting her hand into her reticule, "I have
nothing here but documents, my dear Fitz Jarndyce; I must borrow a
Charley gave her one, and the good creature certainly made use of
it, for she held it to her eyes with both hands and sat so,
shedding tears for the next ten minutes.
"With pleasure, my dear Fitz Jarndyce," she was careful to explain.
"Not the least pain. Pleasure to see you well again. Pleasure at
having the honour of being admitted to see you. I am so much
fonder of you, my love, than of the Chancellor. Though I DO attend
court regularly. By the by, my dear, mentioning pocket
Miss Flite here looked at Charley, who had been to meet her at the
place where the coach stopped. Charley glanced at me and looked
unwilling to pursue the suggestion.
"Ve-ry right!" said Miss Flite, "Ve-ry correct. Truly! Highly
indiscreet of me to mention it; but my dear Miss Fitz Jarndyce, I
am afraid I am at times (between ourselves, you wouldn't think it)
a little--rambling you know," said Miss Flite, touching her
forehead. "Nothing more,"
"What were you going to tell me?" said I, smiling, for I saw she
wanted to go on. "You have roused my curiosity, and now you must
Miss Flite looked at Charley for advice in this important crisis,
who said, "If you please, ma'am, you had better tell then," and
therein gratified Miss Flite beyond measure.
"So sagacious, our young friend," said she to me in her mysterious
way. "Diminutive. But ve-ry sagacious! Well, my dear, it's a
pretty anecdote. Nothing more. Still I think it charming. Who
should follow us down the road from the coach, my dear, but a poor
person in a very ungenteel bonnet--"
"Jenny, if you please, miss," said Charley.
"Just so!" Miss Flite acquiesced with the greatest suavity.
"Jenny. Ye-es! And what does she tell our young friend but that
there has been a lady with a veil inquiring at her cottage after my
dear Fitz Jarndyce's health and taking a handkerchief away with her
as a little keepsake merely because it was my amiable Fitz
Jarndyce's! Now, you know, so very prepossessing in the lady with
"If you please, miss," said Charley, to whom I looked in some
astonishment, "Jenny says that when her baby died, you left a
handkerchief there, and that she put it away and kept it with the
baby's little things. I think, if you please, partly because it
was yours, miss, and partly because it had covered the baby."
"Diminutive," whispered Miss Flite, making a variety of motions
about her own forehead to express intellect in Charley. "But ex-
ceedingly sagacious! And so dear! My love, she's clearer than any
counsel I ever heard!"
"Yes, Charley," I returned. "I remember it. Well?"
"Well, miss," said Charley, "and that's the handkerchief the lady
took. And Jenny wants you to know that she wouldn't have made away
with it herself for a heap of money but that the lady took it and
left some money instead. Jenny don't know her at all, if you
"Why, who can she be?" said I.
"My love," Miss Flite suggested, advancing her lips to my ear with
her most mysterious look, "in MY opinion--don't mention this to our
diminutive friend--she's the Lord Chancellor's wife. He's married,
you know. And I understand she leads him a terrible life. Throws
his lordship's papers into the fire, my dear, if he won't pay the
I did not think very much about this lady then, for I had an
impression that it might be Caddy. Besides, my attention was
diverted by my visitor, who was cold after her ride and looked
hungry and who, our dinner being brought in, required some little
assistance in arraying herself with great satisfaction in a
pitiable old scarf and a much-worn and often-mended pair of gloves,
which she had brought down in a paper parcel. I had to preside,
too, over the entertainment, consisting of a dish of fish, a roast
fowl, a sweetbread, vegetables, pudding, and Madeira; and it was so
pleasant to see how she enjoyed it, and with what state and
ceremony she did honour to it, that I was soon thinking of nothing
When we had finished and had our little dessert before us,
embellished by the hands of my dear, who would yield the
superintendence of everything prepared for me to no one, Miss Flite
was so very chatty and happy that I thought I would lead her to her
own history, as she was always pleased to talk about herself. I
began by saying "You have attended on the Lord Chancellor many
years, Miss Flite?"
"Oh, many, many, many years, my dear. But I expect a judgment.
There was an anxiety even in her hopefulness that made me doubtful
if I had done right in approaching the subject. I thought I would
say no more about it.
"My father expected a judgment," said Miss Flite. "My brother. My
sister. They all expected a judgment. The same that I expect."
"They are all--"
"Ye-es. Dead of course, my dear," said she.
As I saw she would go on, I thought it best to try to be
serviceable to her by meeting the theme rather than avoiding it.
"Would it not be wiser," said I, "to expect this judgment no more?"
"Why, my dear," she answered promptly, "of course it would!"
"And to attend the court no more?"
"Equally of course," said she. "Very wearing to be always in
expectation of what never comes, my dear Fitz Jarndyce! Wearing, I
assure you, to the bone!"
She slightly showed me her arm, and it was fearfully thin indeed.
"But, my dear," she went on in her mysterious way, "there's a
dreadful attraction in the place. Hush! Don't mention it to our
diminutive friend when she comes in. Or it may frighten her. With
good reason. There's a cruel attraction in the place. You CAN'T
leave it. And you MUST expect."
I tried to assure her that this was not so. She heard me patiently
and smilingly, but was ready with her own answer.
"Aye, aye, aye! You think so because I am a little rambling. Ve-
ry absurd, to be a little rambling, is it not? Ve-ry confusing,
too. To the head. I find it so. But, my dear, I have been there
many years, and I have noticed. It's the mace and seal upon the
What could they do, did she think? I mildly asked her.
"Draw," returned Miss Flite. "Draw people on, my dear. Draw peace
out of them. Sense out of them. Good looks out of them. Good
qualities out of them. I have felt them even drawing my rest away
in the night. Cold and glittering devils!"
She tapped me several times upon the arm and nodded good-humouredly
as if she were anxious I should understand that I had no cause to
fear her, though she spoke so gloomily, and confided these awful
secrets to me.
"Let me see," said she. "I'll tell you my own case. Before they
ever drew me--before I had ever seen them--what was it I used to
do? Tambourine playing? No. Tambour work. I and my sister
worked at tambour work. Our father and our brother had a builder's
business. We all lived together. Ve-ry respectably, my dear!
First, our father was drawn--slowly. Home was drawn with him. In
a few years he was a fierce, sour, angry bankrupt without a kind
word or a kind look for any one. He had been so different, Fitz
Jarndyce. He was drawn to a debtors' prison. There he died. Then
our brother was drawn--swiftly--to drunkenness. And rags. And
death. Then my sister was drawn. Hush! Never ask to what! Then
I was ill and in misery, and heard, as I had often heard before,
that this was all the work of Chancery. When I got better, I went
to look at the monster. And then I found out how it was, and I was
drawn to stay there."
Having got over her own short narrative, in the delivery of which
she had spoken in a low, strained voice, as if the shock were fresh
upon her, she gradually resumed her usual air of amiable
"You don't quite credit me, my dear! Well, well! You will, some
day. I am a little rambling. But I have noticed. I have seen
many new faces come, unsuspicious, within the influence of the mace
and seal in these many years. As my father's came there. As my
brother's. As my sister's. As my own. I hear Conversation Kenge
and the rest of them say to the new faces, 'Here's little Miss
Flite. Oh, you are new here; and you must come and be presented to
little Miss Flite!' Ve-ry good. Proud I am sure to have the
honour! And we all laugh. But, Fitz Jarndyce, I know what will
happen. I know, far better than they do, when the attraction has
begun. I know the signs, my dear. I saw them begin in Gridley.
And I saw them end. Fitz Jarndyce, my love," speaking low again,
"I saw them beginning in our friend the ward in Jarndyce. Let some
one hold him back. Or he'll be drawn to ruin.
She looked at me in silence for some moments, with her face
gradually softening into a smile. Seeming to fear that she had
been too gloomy, and seeming also to lose the connexion in her
mind, she said politely as she sipped her glass of wine, "Yes, my
dear, as I was saying, I expect a judgment shortly. Then I shall
release my birds, you know, and confer estates."
I was much impressed by her allusion to Richard and by the sad
meaning, so sadly illustrated in her poor pinched form, that made
its way through all her incoherence. But happily for her, she was
quite complacent again now and beamed with nods and smiles.
"But, my dear," she said, gaily, reaching another hand to put it
upon mine. "You have not congratulated me on my physician.
Positively not once, yet!"
I was obliged to confess that I did not quite know what she meant.
"My physician, Mr. Woodcourt, my dear, who was so exceedingly
attentive to me. Though his services were rendered quite
gratuitously. Until the Day of Judgment. I mean THE judgment that
will dissolve the spell upon me of the mace and seal."
"Mr. Woodcourt is so far away, now," said I, "that I thought the
time for such congratulation was past, Miss Flite."
"But, my child," she returned, "is it possible that you don't know
what has happened?"
"No," said I.
"Not what everybody has been talking of, my beloved Fitz Jarndyce!"
"No," said I. "You forget how long I have been here."
"True! My dear, for the moment--true. I blame myself. But my
memory has been drawn out of me, with everything else, by what I
mentioned. Ve-ry strong influence, is it not? Well, my dear,
there has been a terrible shipwreck over in those East Indian
"Mr. Woodcourt shipwrecked!"
"Don't be agitated, my dear. He is safe. An awful scene. Death
in all shapes. Hundreds of dead and dying. Fire, storm, and
darkness. Numbers of the drowning thrown upon a rock. There, and
through it all, my dear physician was a hero. Calm and brave
through everything. Saved many lives, never complained in hunger
and thirst, wrapped naked people in his spare clothes, took the
lead, showed them what to do, governed them, tended the sick,
buried the dead, and brought the poor survivors safely off at last!
My dear, the poor emaciated creatures all but worshipped him. They
fell down at his feet when they got to the land and blessed him.
The whole country rings with it. Stay! Where's my bag of
documents? I have got it there, and you shall read it, you shall
And I DID read all the noble history, though very slowly and
imperfectly then, for my eyes were so dimmed that I could not see
the words, and I cried so much that I was many times obliged to lay
down the long account she had cut out of the newspaper. I felt so
triumphant ever to have known the man who had done such generous
and gallant deeds, I felt such glowing exultation in his renown, I
so admired and loved what he had done, that I envied the storm-worn
people who had fallen at his feet and blessed him as their
preserver. I could myself have kneeled down then, so far away, and
blessed him in my rapture that he should be so truly good and
brave. I felt that no one--mother, sister, wife--could honour him
more than I. I did, indeed!
My poor little visitor made me a present of the account, and when
as the evening began to close in she rose to take her leave, lest
she should miss the coach by which she was to return, she was still
full of the shipwreck, which I had not yet sufflciently composed
myself to understand in all its details.
"My dear," said she as she carefully folded up her scarf and
gloves, "my brave physician ought to have a title bestowed upon
him. And no doubt he will. You are of that opinlon?"
That he well deserved one, yes. That he would ever have one, no.
"Why not, Fitz Jarndyce?" she asked rather sharply.
I said it was not the custom in England to confer titles on men
distinguished by peaceful services, however good and great, unless
occasionally when they consisted of the accumulation of some very
large amount of money.
"Why, good gracious," said Miss Flite, "how can you say that?
Surely you know, my dear, that all the greatest ornaments of
England in knowledge, imagination, active humanity, and improvement
of every sort are added to its nobility! Look round you, my dear,
and consider. YOU must be rambling a little now, I think, if you
don't know that this is the great reason why titles will always
last in the land!"
I am afraid she believed what she said, for there were moments when
she was very mad indeed.
And now I must part with the little secret I have thus far tried to
keep. I had thought, sometimes, that Mr. Woodcourt loved me and
that if he had been richer he would perhaps have told me that he
loved me before he went away. I had thought, sometimes, that if he
had done so, I should have been glad of it. But how much better it
was now that this had never happened! What should I have suffered
if I had had to write to him and tell him that the poor face he had
known as mine was quite gone from me and that I freely released him
from his bondage to one whom he had never seen!
Oh, it was so much better as it was! With a great pang mercifully
spared me, I could take back to my heart my childish prayer to be
all he had so brightly shown himself; and there was nothing to be
undone: no chain for me to break or for him to drag; and I could
go, please God, my lowly way along the path of duty, and he could
go his nobler way upon its broader road; and though we were apart
upon the journey, I might aspire to meet him, unselfishly,
innocently, better far than he had thought me when I found some
favour in his eyes, at the journey's end.
Charley and I did not set off alone upon our expedition into
Lincolnshire. My guardian had made up his mind not to lose sight
of me until I was safe in Mr. Boythorn's house, so he accompanied
us, and we were two days upon the road. I found every breath of
air, and every scent, and every flower and leaf and blade of grass,
and every passing cloud, and everything in nature, more beautiful
and wonderful to me than I had ever found it yet. This was my
first gain from my illness. How little I had lost, when the wide
world was so full of delight for me.
My guardian intending to go back immediately, we appointed, on our
way down, a day when my dear girl should come. I wrote her a
letter, of which he took charge, and he left us within half an hour
of our arrival at our destination, on a delightful evening in the
If a good fairy had built the house for me with a wave of her wand,
and I had been a princess and her favoured god-child, I could not
have been more considered in it. So many preparations were made
for me and such an endearing remembrance was shown of all my little
tastes and likings that I could have sat down, overcome, a dozen
times before I had revisited half the rooms. I did better than
that, however, by showing them all to Charley instead. Charley's
delight calmed mine; and after we had had a walk in the garden, and
Charley had exhausted her whole vocabulary of admiring expressions,
I was as tranquilly happy as I ought to have been. It was a great
comfort to be able to say to myself after tea, "Esther, my dear, I
think you are quite sensible enough to sit down now and write a
note of thanks to your host." He had left a note of welcome for
me, as sunny as his own face, and had confided his bird to my care,
which I knew to be his highest mark of confidence. Accordingly I
wrote a little note to him in London, telling him how all his
favourite plants and trees were looking, and how the most
astonishing of birds had chirped the honours of the house to me in
the most hospitable manner, and how, after singing on my shoulder,
to the inconceivable rapture of my little maid, he was then at
roost in the usual corner of his cage, but whether dreaming or no I
could not report. My note finished and sent off to the post, I
made myself very busy in unpacking and arranging; and I sent
Charley to bed in good time and told her I should want her no more
For I had not yet looked in the glass and had never asked to have
my own restored to me. I knew this to be a weakness which must be
overcome, but I had always said to myself that I would begin afresh
when I got to where I now was. Therefore I had wanted to be alone,
and therefore I said, now alone, in my own room, "Esther, if you
are to be happy, if you are to have any right to pray to be true-
hearted, you must keep your word, my dear." I was quite resolved
to keep it, but I sat down for a little while first to reflect upon
all my blessings. And then I said my prayers and thought a little
My hair had not been cut off, though it had been in danger more
than once. It was long and thick. I let it down, and shook it
out, and went up to the glass upon the dressing-table. There was a
little muslin curtain drawn across it. I drew it back and stood
for a moment looking through such a veil of my own hair that I
could see nothing else. Then I put my hair aside and looked at the
reflection in the mirror, encouraged by seeing how placidly it
looked at me. I was very much changed--oh, very, very much. At
first my face was so strange to me that I think I should have put
my hands before it and started back but for the encouragement I
have mentioned. Very soon it became more familiar, and then I knew
the extent of the alteration in it better than I had done at first.
It was not like what I had expected, but I had expected nothing
definite, and I dare say anything definite would have surprised me.
I had never been a beauty and had never thought myself one, but I
had been very different from this. It was all gone now. Heaven
was so good to me that I could let it go with a few not bitter
tears and could stand there arranging my hair for the night quite
One thing troubled me, and I considered it for a long time before I
went to sleep. I had kept Mr. Woodcourt's flowers. When they were
withered I had dried them and put them in a book that I was fond
of. Nobody knew this, not even Ada. I was doubtful whether I had
a right to preserve what he had sent to one so different--whether
it was generous towards him to do it. I wished to be generous to
him, even in the secret depths of my heart, which he would never
know, because I could have loved him--could have been devoted to
him. At last I came to the conclusion that I might keep them if I
treasured them only as a remembrance of what was irrevocably past
and gone, never to be looked back on any more, in any other light.
I hope this may not seem trivial. I was very much in earnest.
I took care to be up early in the morning and to be before the
glass when Charley came in on tiptoe.
"Dear, dear, miss!" cried Charley, starting. "Is that you?"
"Yes, Charley," said I, quietly putting up my hair. "And I am very
well indeed, and very happy."
I saw it was a weight off Charley's mind, but it was a greater
weight off mine. I knew the worst now and was composed to it. I
shall not conceal, as I go on, the weaknesses I could not quite
conquer, but they always passed from me soon and the happier frame
of mind stayed by me faithfully.
Wishing to be fully re-established in my strength and my good
spirits before Ada came, I now laid down a little series of plans
with Charley for being in the fresh air all day long. We were to
be out before breakfast, and were to dine early, and were to be out
again before and after dinner, and were to talk in the garden after
tea, and were to go to rest betimes, and were to climb every hill
and explore every road, lane, and field in the neighbourhood. As
to restoratives and strengthening delicacies, Mr. Boythorn's good
housekeeper was for ever trotting about with something to eat or
drink in her hand; I could not even be heard of as resting in the
park but she would come trotting after me with a basket, her
cheerful face shining with a lecture on the importance of frequent
nourishment. Then there was a pony expressly for my riding, a
chubby pony with a short neck and a mane all over his eyes who
could canter--when he would--so easily and quietly that he was a
treasure. In a very few days he would come to me in the paddock
when I called him, and eat out of my hand, and follow me about. We
arrived at such a capital understanding that when he was jogging
with me lazily, and rather obstinately, down some shady lane, if I
patted his neck and said, "Stubbs, I am surprised you don't canter
when you know how much I like it; and I think you might oblige me,
for you are only getting stupid and going to sleep," he would give
his head a comical shake or two and set off directly, while Charley
would stand still and laugh with such enjoyment that her laughter
was like music. I don't know who had given Stubbs his name, but it
seemed to belong to him as naturally as his rough coat. Once we
put him in a little chaise and drove him triumphantly through the
green lanes for five miles; but all at once, as we were extolling
him to the skies, he seemed to take it ill that he should have been
accompanied so far by the circle of tantalizing little gnats that
had been hovering round and round his ears the whole way without
appearing to advance an inch, and stopped to think about it. I
suppose he came to the decision that it was not to be borne, for he
steadily refused to move until I gave the reins to Charley and got
out and walked, when he followed me with a sturdy sort of good
humour, putting his head under my arm and rubbing his ear against
my sleeve. It was in vain for me to say, "Now, Stubbs, I feel
quite sure from what I know of you that you will go on if I ride a
little while," for the moment I left him, he stood stock still
again. Consequently I was obliged to lead the way, as before; and
in this order we returned home, to the great delight of the
Charley and I had reason to call it the most friendly of villages,
I am sure, for in a week's time the people were so glad to see us
go by, though ever so frequently in the course of a day, that there
were faces of greeting in every cottage. I had known many of the
grown people before and almost all the children, but now the very
steeple began to wear a familiar and affectionate look. Among my
new friends was an old old woman who lived in such a little
thatched and whitewashed dwelling that when the outside shutter was
turned up on its hinges, it shut up the whole house-front. This
old lady had a grandson who was a sailor, and I wrote a letter to
him for her and drew at the top of it the chimney-corner in which
she had brought him up and where his old stool yet occupied its old
place. This was considered by the whole village the most wonderful
achievement in the world, but when an answer came back all the way
from Plymouth, in which he mentioned that he was going to take the
picture all the way to America, and from America would write again,
I got all the credit that ought to have been given to the post-
office and was invested with the merit of the whole system.
Thus, what with being so much in the air, playing with so many
children, gossiping with so many people, sitting on invitation in
so many cottages, going on with Charley's education, and writing
long letters to Ada every day, I had scarcely any time to think
about that little loss of mine and was almost always cheerful. If
I did think of it at odd moments now and then, I had only to be
busy and forget it. I felt it more than I had hoped I should once
when a child said, "Mother, why is the lady not a pretty lady now
like she used to be?" But when I found the child was not less fond
of me, and drew its soft hand over my face with a kind of pitying
protection in its touch, that soon set me up again. There were
many little occurrences which suggested to me, with great
consolation, how natural it is to gentle hearts to be considerate
and delicate towards any inferiority. One of these particularly
touched me. I happened to stroll into the little church when a
marriage was just concluded, and the young couple had to sign the
The bridegroom, to whom the pen was handed first, made a rude cross
for his mark; the bride, who came next, did the same. Now, I had
known the bride when I was last there, not only as the prettiest
girl in the place, but as having quite distinguished herself in the
school, and I could not help looking at her with some surprise.
She came aside and whispered to me, while tears of honest love and
admiration stood in her bright eyes, "He's a dear good fellow,
miss; but he can't write yet--he's going to learn of me--and I
wouldn't shame him for the world!" Why, what had I to fear, I
thought, when there was this nobility in the soul of a labouring
The air blew as freshly and revivingly upon me as it had ever
blown, and the healthy colour came into my new face as it had come
into my old one. Charley was wonderful to see, she was so radiant
and so rosy; and we both enjoyed the whole day and slept soundly
the whole night.
There was a favourite spot of mine in the park-woods of Chesney
Wold where a seat had been erected commanding a lovely view. The
wood had been cleared and opened to improve this point of sight,
and the bright sunny landscape beyond was so beautiful that I
rested there at least once every day. A picturesque part of the
Hall, called the Ghost's Walk, was seen to advantage from this
higher ground; and the startling name, and the old legend in the
Dedlock family which I had heard from Mr. Boythorn accounting for
it, mingled with the view and gave it something of a mysterious
interest in addition to its real charms. There was a bank here,
too, which was a famous one for violets; and as it was a daily
delight of Charley's to gather wild flowers, she took as much to
the spot as I did.
It would be idle to inquire now why I never went close to the house
or never went inside it. The family were not there, I had heard on
my arrival, and were not expected. I was far from being incurious
or uninterested about the building; on the contrary, I often sat in
this place wondering how the rooms ranged and whether any echo like
a footstep really did resound at times, as the story said, upon the
lonely Ghost's Walk. The indefinable feeling with which Lady
Dedlock had impressed me may have had some influence in keeping me
from the house even when she was absent. I am not sure. Her face
and figure were associated with it, naturally; but I cannot say
that they repelled me from it, though something did. For whatever
reason or no reason, I had never once gone near it, down to the day
at which my story now arrives.
I was resting at my favourite point after a long ramble, and
Charley was gathering violets at a little distance from me. I had
been looking at the Ghost's Walk lying in a deep shade of masonry
afar off and picturing to myself the female shape that was said to
haunt it when I became aware of a figure approaching through the
wood. The perspective was so long and so darkened by leaves, and
the shadows of the branches on the ground made it so much more
intricate to the eye, that at first I could not discern what figure
it was. By little and little it revealed itself to be a woman's--a
lady's--Lady Dedlock's. She was alone and coming to where I sat
with a much quicker step, I observed to my surprise, than was usual
I was fluttered by her being unexpectedly so near (she was almost
within speaking distance before I knew her) and would have risen to
continue my walk. But I could not. I was rendered motionless.
Not so much by her hurried gesture of entreaty, not so much by her
quick advance and outstretched hands, not so much by the great
change in her manner and the absence of her haughty self-restraint,
as by a something in her face that I had pined for and dreamed of
when I was a little child, something I had never seen in any face,
something I had never seen in hers before.
A dread and faintness fell upon me, and I called to Charley. Lady
Dedlock stopped upon the instant and changed back almost to what I
had known her.
"Miss Summerson, I am afraid I have startled you," she said, now
advancing slowly. "You can scarcely be strong yet. You have been
very ill, I know. I have been much concerned to hear it."
I could no more have removed my eyes from her pale face than I
could have stirred from the bench on which I sat. She gave me her
hand, and its deadly coldness, so at variance with the enforced
composure of her features, deepened the fascination that
overpowered me. I cannot say what was in my whirling thoughts.
"You are recovering again?" she asked kindly.
"I was quite well but a moment ago, Lady Dedlock."
"Is this your young attendant?"
"Will you send her on before and walk towards your house with me?"
"Charley," said I, "take your flowers home, and I will follow you
Charley, with her best curtsy, blushingly tied on her bonnet and
went her way. When she was gone, Lady Dedlock sat down on the seat
I cannot tell in any words what the state of my mind was when I saw
in her hand my handkerchief with which I had covered the dead baby.
I looked at her, but I could not see her, I could not hear her, I
could not draw my breath. The beating of my heart was so violent
and wild that I felt as if my life were breaking from me. But when
she caught me to her breast, kissed me, wept over me,
compassionated me, and called me back to myself; when she fell down
on her knees and cried to me, "Oh, my child, my child, I am your
wicked and unhappy mother! Oh, try to forgive me!"--when I saw her
at my feet on the bare earth in her great agony of mind, I felt,
through all my tumult of emotion, a burst of gratitude to the
providence of God that I was so changed as that I never could
disgrace her by any trace of likeness, as that nobody could ever
now look at me and look at her and remotely think of any near tie
I raised my mother up, praying and beseeching her not to stoop
before me in such affliction and humiliation. I did so in broken,
incoherent words, for besides the trouble I was in, it frightened
me to see her at MY feet. I told her--or I tried to tell her--that
if it were for me, her child, under any circumstances to take upon
me to forgive her, I did it, and had done it, many, many years. I
told her that my heart overflowed with love for her, that it was
natural love which nothing in the past had changed or could change.
That it was not for me, then resting for the first time on my
mother's bosom, to take her to account for having given me life,
but that my duty was to bless her and receive her, though the whole
world turned from her, and that I only asked her leave to do it. I
held my mother in my embrace, and she held me in hers, and among
the still woods in the silence of the summer day there seemed to be
nothing but our two troubled minds that was not at peace.
"To bless and receive me," groaned my mother, "it is far too late.
I must travel my dark road alone, and it will lead me where it
will. From day to day, sometimes from hour to hour, I do not see
the way before my guilty feet. This is the earthly punishment I
have brought upon myself. I bear it, and I hide it."
Even in the thinking of her endurance, she drew her habitual air of
proud indifference about her like a veil, though she soon cast it
"I must keep this secret, if by any means it can be kept, not
wholly for myself. I have a husband, wretched and dishonouring
creature that I am!"
These words she uttered with a suppressed cry of despair, more
terrible in its sound than any shriek. Covering her face with her
hands, she shrank down in my embrace as if she were unwilling that
I should touch her; nor could I, by my utmost persuasions or by any
endearments I could use, prevail upon her to rise. She said, no,
no, no, she could only speak to me so; she must be proud and
disdainful everywhere else; she would be humbled and ashamed there,
in the only natural moments of her life.
My unhappy mother told me that in my illness she had been nearly
frantic. She had but then known that her child was living. She
could not have suspected me to be that child before. She had
followed me down here to speak to me but once in all her life. We
never could associate, never could communicate, never probably from
that time forth could interchange another word on earth. She put
into my hands a letter she had written for my reading only and said
when I had read it and destroyed it--but not so much for her sake,
since she asked nothing, as for her husband's and my own--I must
evermore consider her as dead. If I could believe that she loved
me, in this agony in which I saw her, with a mother's love, she
asked me to do that, for then I might think of her with a greater
pity, imagining what she suffered. She had put herself beyond all
hope and beyond all help. Whether she preserved her secret until
death or it came to be discovered and she brought dishonour and
disgrace upon the name she had taken, it was her solitary struggle
always; and no affection could come near her, and no human creature
could render her any aid.
"But is the secret safe so far?" I asked. "Is it safe now, dearest
"No," replied my mother. "It has been very near discovery. It was
saved by an accident. It may be lost by another accident--to-
morrow, any day."
"Do you dread a particular person?"
"Hush! Do not tremble and cry so much for me. I am not worthy of
these tears," said my mother, kissing my hands. "I dread one
person very much."
"Not a friend. One who is too passionless to be either. He is Sir
Leicester Dedlock's lawyer, mechanically faithful without
attachment, and very jealous of the profit, privilege, and
reputation of being master of the mysteries of great houses."
"Has he any suspicions?"
"Not of you?" I said alarmed.
"Yes! He is always vigilant and always near me. I may keep him at
a standstill, but I can never shake him off."
"Has he so little pity or compunction?"
"He has none, and no anger. He is indifferent to everything but
his calling. His calling is the acquisition of secrets and the
holding possession of such power as they give him, with no sharer
or opponent in it."
"Could you trust in him?"
"I shall never try. The dark road I have trodden for so many years
will end where it will. I follow it alone to the end, whatever the
end be. It may be near, it may be distant; while the road lasts,
nothing turns me."
"Dear mother, are you so resolved?"
"I AM resolved. I have long outbidden folly with folly, pride with
pride, scorn with scorn, insolence with insolence, and have
outlived many vanities with many more. I will outlive this danger,
and outdie it, if I can. It has closed around me almost as awfully
as if these woods of Chesney Wold had closed around the house, but
my course through it is the same. I have but one; I can have but
"Mr. Jarndyce--" I was beginning when my mother hurriedly
inquired, "Does HE suspect?"
"No," said I. "No, indeed! Be assured that he does not!" And I
told her what he had related to me as his knowledge of my story.
"But he is so good and sensible," said I, "that perhaps if he knew--"
My mother, who until this time had made no change in her position,
raised her hand up to my lips and stopped me.
"Confide fully in him," she said after a little while. "You have
my free consent--a small gift from such a mother to her injured
child!- -but do not tell me of it. Some pride is left in me even
I explained, as nearly as I could then, or can recall now--for my
agitation and distress throughout were so great that I scarcely
understood myself, though every word that was uttered in the
mother's voice, so unfamiliar and so melancholy to me, which in my
childhood I had never learned to love and recognize, had never been
sung to sleep with, had never heard a blessing from, had never had
a hope inspired by, made an enduring impression on my memory--I say
I explained, or tried to do it, how I had only hoped that Mr.
Jarndyce, who had been the best of fathers to me, might be able to
afford some counsel and support to her. But my mother answered no,
it was impossible; no one could help her. Through the desert that
lay before her, she must go alone.
"My child, my child!" she said. "For the last time! These kisses
for the last time! These arms upon my neck for the last time! We
shall meet no more. To hope to do what I seek to do, I must be
what I have been so long. Such is my reward and doom. If you hear
of Lady Dedlock, brilliant, prosperous, and flattered, think of
your wretched mother, conscience-stricken, underneath that mask!
Think that the reality is in her suffering, in her useless remorse,
in her murdering within her breast the only love and truth of which
it is capable! And then forgive her if you can, and cry to heaven
to forgive her, which it never can!"
We held one another for a little space yet, but she was so firm
that she took my hands away, and put them back against my breast,
and with a last kiss as she held them there, released them, and
went from me into the wood. I was alone, and calm and quiet below
me in the sun and shade lay the old house, with its terraces and
turrets, on which there had seemed to me to be such complete repose
when I first saw it, but which now looked like the obdurate and
unpitying watcher of my mother's misery.
Stunned as I was, as weak and helpless at first as I had ever been
in my sick chamber, the necessity of guarding against the danger of
discovery, or even of the remotest suspicion, did me service. I
took such precautions as I could to hide from Charley that I had
been crying, and I constrained myself to think of every sacred
obligation that there was upon me to be careful and collected. It
was not a little while before I could succeed or could even
restrain bursts of grief, but after an hour or so I was better and
felt that I might return. I went home very slowly and told
Charley, whom I found at the gate looking for me, that I had been
tempted to extend my walk after Lady Dedlock had left me and that I
was over-tired and would lie down. Safe in my own room, I read the
letter. I clearly derived from it--and that was much then--that I
had not been abandoned by my mother. Her elder and only sister,
the godmother of my childhood, discovering signs of life in me when
I had been laid aside as dead, had in her stern sense of duty, with
no desire or willingness that I should live, reared me in rigid
secrecy and had never again beheld my mother's face from within a
few hours of my birth. So strangely did I hold my place in this
world that until within a short time back I had never, to my own
mother's knowledge, breathed--had been buried--had never been
endowed with life--had never borne a name. When she had first seen
me in the church she had been startled and had thought of what
would have been like me if it had ever lived, and had lived on, but
that was all then.
What more the letter told me needs not to be repeated here. It has
its own times and places in my story.
My first care was to burn what my mother had written and to consume
even its ashes. I hope it may not appear very unnatural or bad in
me that I then became heavily sorrowful to think I had ever been
reared. That I felt as if I knew it would have been better and
happier for many people if indeed I had never breathed. That I had
a terror of myself as the danger and the possible disgrace of my
own mother and of a proud family name. That I was so confused and
shaken as to be possessed by a belief that it was right and had
been intended that I should die in my birth, and that it was wrong
and not intended that I should be then alive.
These are the real feelings that I had. I fell asleep worn out,
and when I awoke I cried afresh to think that I was back in the
world with my load of trouble for others. I was more than ever
frightened of myself, thinking anew of her against whom I was a
witness, of the owner of Chesney Wold, of the new and terrible
meaning of the old words now moaning in my ear like a surge upon
the shore, "Your mother, Esther, was your disgrace, and you are
hers. The time will come--and soon enough--when you will
understand this better, and will feel it too, as no one save a
woman can." With them, those other words returned, "Pray daily
that the sins of others be not visited upon your head." I could
not disentangle all that was about me, and I felt as if the blame
and the shame were all in me, and the visitation had come down.
The day waned into a gloomy evening, overcast and sad, and I still
contended with the same distress. I went out alone, and after
walking a little in the park, watching the dark shades falling on
the trees and the fitful flight of the bats, which sometimes almost
touched me, was attracted to the house for the first time. Perhaps
I might not have gone near it if I had been in a stronger frame of
mind. As it was, I took the path that led close by it.
I did not dare to linger or to look up, but I passed before the
terrace garden with its fragrant odours, and its broad walks, and
its well-kept beds and smooth turf; and I saw how beautiful and
grave it was, and how the old stone balustrades and parapets, and
wide flights of shallow steps, were seamed by time and weather; and
how the trained moss and ivy grew about them, and around the old
stone pedestal of the sun-dial; and I heard the fountain falling.
Then the way went by long lines of dark windows diversified by
turreted towers and porches of eccentric shapes, where old stone
lions and grotesque monsters bristled outside dens of shadow and
snarled at the evening gloom over the escutcheons they held in
their grip. Thence the path wound underneath a gateway, and
through a court-yard where the principal entrance was (I hurried
quickly on), and by the stables where none but deep voices seemed
to be, whether in the murmuring of the wind through the strong mass
of ivy holding to a high red wall, or in the low complaining of the
weathercock, or in the barking of the dogs, or in the slow striking
of a clock. So, encountering presently a sweet smell of limes,
whose rustling I could hear, I turned with the turning of the path
to the south front, and there above me were the balustrades of the
Ghost's Walk and one lighted window that might be my mother's.
The way was paved here, like the terrace overhead, and my footsteps
from being noiseless made an echoing sound upon the flags.
Stopping to look at nothing, but seeing all I did see as I went, I
was passing quickly on, and in a few moments should have passed the
lighted window, when my echoing footsteps brought it suddenly into
my mind that there was a dreadful truth in the legend of the
Ghost's Walk, that it was I who was to bring calamity upon the
stately house and that my warning feet were haunting it even then.
Seized with an augmented terror of myself which turned me cold, I
ran from myself and everything, retraced the way by which I had
come, and never paused until I had gained the lodge-gate, and the
park lay sullen and black behind me.
Not before I was alone in my own room for the night and had again
been dejected and unhappy there did I begin to know how wrong and
thankless this state was. But from my darling who was coming on
the morrow, I found a joyful letter, full of such loving
anticipation that I must have been of marble if it had not moved
me; from my guardian, too, I found another letter, asking me to
tell Dame Durden, if I should see that little woman anywhere, that
they had moped most pitiably without her, that the housekeeping was
going to rack and ruin, that nobody else could manage the keys, and
that everybody in and about the house declared it was not the same
house and was becoming rebellious for her return. Two such letters
together made me think how far beyond my deserts I was beloved and
how happy I ought to be. That made me think of all my past life;
and that brought me, as it ought to have done before, into a better
For I saw very well that I could not have been intended to die, or
I should never have lived; not to say should never have been
reserved for such a happy life. I saw very well how many things
had worked together for my welfare, and that if the sins of the
fathers were sometimes visited upon the children, the phrase did
not mean what I had in the morning feared it meant. I knew I was
as innocent of my birth as a queen of hers and that before my
Heavenly Father I should not be punished for birth nor a queen
rewarded for it. I had had experience, in the shock of that very
day, that I could, even thus soon, find comforting reconcilements
to the change that had fallen on me. I renewed my resolutions and
prayed to be strengthened in them, pouring out my heart for myself
and for my unhappy mother and feeling that the darkness of the
morning was passing away. It was not upon my sleep; and when the
next day's light awoke me, it was gone.
My dear girl was to arrive at five o'clock in the afternoon. How
to help myself through the intermediate time better than by taking
a long walk along the road by which she was to come, I did not
know; so Charley and I and Stubbs--Stubbs saddled, for we never
drove him after the one great occasion--made a long expedition
along that road and back. On our return, we held a great review of
the house and garden and saw that everything was in its prettiest
condition, and had the bird out ready as an important part of the
There were more than two full hours yet to elapse before she could
come, and in that interval, which seemed a long one, I must confess
I was nervously anxious about my altered looks. I loved my darling
so well that I was more concerned for their effect on her than on
any one. I was not in this slight distress because I at all
repined--I am quite certain I did not, that day--but, I thought,
would she be wholly prepared? When she first saw me, might she not
be a little shocked and disappointed? Might it not prove a little
worse than she expected? Might she not look for her old Esther and
not find her? Might she not have to grow used to me and to begin
all over again?
I knew the various expressions of my sweet girl's face so well, and
it was such an honest face in its loveliness, that I was sure
beforehand she could not hide that first look from me. And I
considered whether, if it should signify any one of these meanings,
which was so very likely, could I quite answer for myself?
Well, I thought I could. After last night, I thought I could. But
to wait and wait, and expect and expect, and think and think, was
such bad preparation that I resolved to go along the road again and
So I said to Charley, '"Charley, I will go by myself and walk along
the road until she comes." Charley highly approving of anything
that pleased me, I went and left her at home.
But before I got to the second milestone, I had been in so many
palpitations from seeing dust in the distance (though I knew it was
not, and could not, be the coach yet) that I resolved to turn back
and go home again. And when I had turned, I was in such fear of
the coach coming up behind me (though I still knew that it neither
would, nor could, do any such thing) that I ran the greater part of
the way to avoid being overtaken.
Then, I considered, when I had got safe back again, this was a nice
thing to have done! Now I was hot and had made the worst of it
instead of the best.
At last, when I believed there was at least a quarter of an hour
more yet, Charley all at once cried out to me as I was trembling in
the garden, "Here she comes, miss! Here she is!"
I did not mean to do it, but I ran upstairs into my room and hid
myself behind the door. There I stood trembling, even when I heard
my darling calling as she came upstairs, "Esther, my dear, my love,
where are you? Little woman, dear Dame Durden!"
She ran in, and was running out again when she saw me. Ah, my
angel girl! The old dear look, all love, all fondness, all
affection. Nothing else in it--no, nothing, nothing!
Oh, how happy I was, down upon the floor, with my sweet beautiful
girl down upon the floor too, holding my scarred face to her lovely
cheek, bathing it with tears and kisses, rocking me to and fro like
a child, calling me by every tender name that she could think of,
and pressing me to her faithful heart.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce
If the secret I had to keep had been mine, I must have confided it
to Ada before we had been long together. But it was not mine, and
I did not feel that I had a right to tell it, even to my guardian,
unless some great emergency arose. It was a weight to bear alone;
still my present duty appeared to be plain, and blest in the
attachment of my dear, I did not want an impulse and encouragement
to do it. Though often when she was asleep and all was quiet, the
remembrance of my mother kept me waking and made the night
sorrowful, I did not yield to it at another time; and Ada found me
what I used to be--except, of course, in that particular of which I
have said enough and which I have no intention of mentioning any
more just now, if I can help it.
The difficulty that I felt in being quite composed that first
evening when Ada asked me, over our work, if the family were at the
house, and when I was obliged to answer yes, I believed so, for
Lady Dedlock had spoken to me in the woods the day before
yesterday, was great. Greater still when Ada asked me what she had
said, and when I replied that she had been kind and interested, and
when Ada, while admitting her beauty and elegance, remarked upon
her proud manner and her imperious chilling air. But Charley
helped me through, unconsciously, by telling us that Lady Dedlock
had only stayed at the house two nights on her way from London to
visit at some other great house in the next county and that she had
left early on the morning after we had seen her at our view, as we
called it. Charley verified the adage about little pitchers, I am
sure, for she heard of more sayings and doings in a day than would
have come to my ears in a month.
We were to stay a month at Mr. Boythorn's. My pet had scarcely
been there a bright week, as I recollect the time, when one evening
after we had finished helping the gardener in watering his flowers,
and just as the candles were lighted, Charley, appearing with a
very important air behind Ada's chair, beckoned me mysteriously out
of the room.
"Oh! If you please, miss," said Charley in a whisper, with her eyes
at their roundest and largest. "You're wanted at the Dedlock
"Why, Charley," said I, "who can possibly want me at the public-
"I don't know, miss," returned Charley, putting her head forward
and folding her hands tight upon the band of her little apron,
which she always did in the enjoyment of anything mysterious or
confidential, "but it's a gentleman, miss, and his compliments, and
will you please to come without saying anything about it."
"Whose compliments, Charley?"
"His'n, miss," returned Charley, whose grammatical education was
advancing, but not very rapidly.
"And how do you come to be the messenger, Charley?"
"I am not the messenger, if you please, miss," returned my little
maid. "It was W. Grubble, miss."
"And who is W. Grubble, Charley?"
"Mister Grubble, miss," returned Charley. "Don't you know, miss?
The Dedlock Arms, by W. Grubble," which Charley delivered as if she
were slowly spelling out the sign.
"Aye? The landlord, Charley?"
"Yes, miss. If you please, miss, his wife is a beautiful woman,
but she broke her ankle, and it never joined. And her brother's
the sawyer that was put in the cage, miss, and they expect he'll
drink himself to death entirely on beer," said Charley.
Not knowing what might be the matter, and being easily apprehensive
now, I thought it best to go to this place by myself. I bade
Charley be quick with my bonnet and veil and my shawl, and having
put them on, went away down the little hilly street, where I was as
much at home as in Mr. Boythorn's garden.
Mr. Grubble was standing in his shirt-sleeves at the door of his
very clean little tavern waiting for me. He lifted off his hat
with both hands when he saw me coming, and carrying it so, as if it
were an iron vessel (it looked as heavy), preceded me along the
sanded passage to his best parlour, a neat carpeted room with more
plants in it than were quite convenient, a coloured print of Queen
Caroline, several shells, a good many tea-trays, two stuffed and
dried fish in glass cases, and either a curious egg or a curious
pumpkin (but I don't know which, and I doubt if many people did)
hanging from his ceiling. I knew Mr. Grubble very well by sight,
from his often standing at his door. A pleasant-looking, stoutish,
middle-aged man who never seemed to consider himself cozily dressed
for his own fire-side without his hat and top-boots, but who never
wore a coat except at church.
He snuffed the candle, and backing away a little to see how it
looked, backed out of the room--unexpectedly to me, for I was going
to ask him by whom he had been sent. The door of the opposite
parlour being then opened, I heard some voices, familiar in my ears
I thought, which stopped. A quick light step approached the room
in which I was, and who should stand before me but Richard!
"My dear Esther!" he said. "My best friend!" And he really was so
warm-hearted and earnest that in the first surprise and pleasure of
his brotherly greeting I could scarcely find breath to tell him
that Ada was well.
"Answering my very thoughts--always the same dear girl!" said
Richard, leading me to a chair and seating himself beside me.
I put my veil up, but not quite.
"Always the same dear girl!" said Richard just as heartily as
I put up my veil altogether, and laying my hand on Richard's sleeve
and looking in his face, told him how much I thanked him for his
kind welcome and how greatly I rejoiced to see him, the more so
because of the determination I had made in my illness, which I now
conveyed to him.
"My love," said Richard, "there is no one with whom I have a
greater wish to talk than you, for I want you to understand me."