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Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Part 14 out of 21

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becomes a saint. A maid of honour of the court of Charles the
Second, with large round eyes (and other charms to correspond),
seems to bathe in glowing water, and it ripples as it glows.

But the fire of the sun is dying. Even now the floor is dusky, and
shadow slowly mounts the walls, bringing the Dedlocks down like age
and death. And now, upon my Lady's picture over the great chimney-
piece, a weird shade falls from some old tree, that turns it pale,
and flutters it, and looks as if a great arm held a veil or hood,
watching an opportunity to draw it over her. Higher and darker
rises shadow on the wall--now a red gloom on the ceiling--now the
fire is out.

All that prospect, which from the terrace looked so near, has moved
solemnly away and changed--not the first nor the last of beautiful
things that look so near and will so change--into a distant
phantom. Light mists arise, and the dew falls, and all the sweet
scents in the garden are heavv in the air. Now the woods settle
into great masses as if they were each one profound tree. And now
the moon rises to separate them, and to glimmer here and there in
horizontal lines behind their stems, and to make the avenue a
pavement of light among high cathedral arches fantastically broken.

Now the moon is high; and the great house, needing habitation more
than ever, is like a body without life. Now it is even awful,
stealing through it, to think of the live people who have slept in
the solitary bedrooms, to say nothing of the dead. Now is the time
for shadow, when every corner is a cavern and every downward step a
pit, when the stained glass is reflected in pale and faded hues
upon the floors, when anything and everything can be made of the
heavy staircase beams excepting their own proper shapes, when the
armour has dull lights upon it not easily to be distinguished from
stealthy movement, and when barred helmets are frightfully
suggestive of heads inside. But of all the shadows in Chesney
Wold, the shadow in the long drawing-room upon my Lady's picture is
the first to come, the last to be disturbed. At this hour and by
this light it changes into threatening hands raised up and menacing
the handsome face with every breath that stirs.

"She is not well, ma'am," says a groom in Mrs. Rouncewell's
audience-chamber.

"My Lady not well! What's the matter?"

"Why, my Lady has been but poorly, ma'am, since she was last here--
I don't mean with the family, ma'am, but when she was here as a
bird of passage like. My Lady has not been out much for her and
has kept her room a good deal."

"Chesney Wold, Thomas," rejoins the housekeeper with proud
complacency, "will set my Lady up! There is no finer air and no
healthier soil in the world!"

Thomas may have his own personal opinions on this subject, probably
hints them in his manner of smoothing his sleek head from the nape
of his neck to his temples, but he forbears to express them further
and retires to the servants' hall to regale on cold meat-pie and
ale.

This groom is the pilot-fish before the nobler shark. Next
evening, down come Sir Leicester and my Lady with their largest
retinue, and down come the cousins and others from all the points
of the compass. Thenceforth for some weeks backward and forward
rush mysterious men with no names, who fly about all those
particular parts of the country on which Doodle is at present
throwing himself in an auriferous and malty shower, but who are
merely persons of a restless disposition and never do anything
anywhere.

On these national occasions Sir Leicester finds the cousins useful.
A better man than the Honourable Bob Stables to meet the Hunt at
dinner, there could not possibly be. Better got up gentlemen than
the other cousins to ride over to polling-booths and hustings here
and there, and show themselves on the side of England, it would be
hard to find. Volumnia is a little dim, but she is of the true
descent; and there are many who appreciate her sprightly
conversation, her French conundrums so old as to have become in the
cycles of time almost new again, the honour of taking the fair
Dedlock in to dinner, or even the privilege of her hand in the
dance. On these national occasions dancing may be a patriotic
service, and Volumnia is constantly seen hopping about for the good
of an ungrateful and unpensioning country.

My Lady takes no great pains to entertain the numerous guests, and
being still unwell, rarely appears until late in the day. But at
all the dismal dinners, leaden lunches, basilisk balls, and other
melancholy pageants, her mere appearance is a relief. As to Sir
Leicester, he conceives it utterly impossible that anything can be
wanting, in any direction, by any one who has the good fortune to
be received under that roof; and in a state of sublime
satisfaction, he moves among the company, a magnificent
refrigerator.

Daily the cousins trot through dust and canter over roadside turf,
away to hustings and polling-booths (with leather gloves and
hunting-whips for the counties and kid gloves and riding-canes for
the boroughs), and daily bring back reports on which Sir Leicester
holds forth after dinner. Daily the restless men who have no
occupation in life present the appearance of being rather busy.
Daily Volumnia has a little cousinly talk with Sir Leicester on the
state of the nation, from which Sir Leicester is disposed to
conclude that Volumnia is a more reflecting woman than he had
thought her.

"How are we getting on?" says Miss Volumnia, clasping her hands.
"ARE we safe?"

The mighty business is nearly over by this time, and Doodle will
throw himself off the country in a few days more. Sir Leicester
has just appeared in the long drawing-room after dinner, a bright
particular star surrounded by clouds of cousins.

"Volumnia," replies Sir Leicester, who has a list in his hand, "we
are doing tolerably."

"Only tolerably!"

Although it is summer weather, Sir Leicester always has his own
particular fire in the evening. He takes his usual screened seat
near it and repeats with much firmness and a little displeasure, as
who should say, I am not a common man, and when I say tolerably, it
must not be understood as a common expression, "Volumnia, we are
doing tolerably."

"At least there is no opposition to YOU," Volumnia asserts with
confidence.

"No, Volumnia. This distracted country has lost its senses in many
respects, I grieve to say, but--"

"It is not so mad as that. I am glad to hear it!"

Volumnia's finishing the sentence restores her to favour. Sir
Leicester, with a gracious inclination of his head, seems to say to
himself, "A sensible woman this, on the whole, though occasionally
precipitate."

In fact, as to this question of opposition, the fair Dedlock's
observation was superfluous, Sir Leicester on these occasions
always delivering in his own candidateship, as a kind of handsome
wholesale order to be promptly executed. Two other little seats
that belong to him he treats as retail orders of less importance,
merely sending down the men and signifying to the tradespeople,
"You will have the goodness to make these materials into two
members of Parliament and to send them home when done."

"I regret to say, Volumnia, that in many places the people have
shown a bad spirit, and that this opposition to the government has
been of a most determined and most implacable description."

"W-r-retches!" says Volumnia.

"Even," proceeds Sir Leicester, glancing at the circumjacent
cousins on sofas and ottomans, "even in many--in fact, in most--of
those places in which the government has carried it against a
faction--"

(Note, by the way, that the Coodleites are always a faction with
the Doodleites, and that the Doodleites occupy exactly the same
position towards the Coodleites.)

"--Even in them I am shocked, for the credit of Englishmen, to be
constrained to inform you that the party has not triumphed without
being put to an enormous expense. Hundreds," says Sir Leicester,
eyeing the cousins with increasing dignity and swelling
indignation, "hundreds of thousands of pounds!"

If Volumnia have a fault, it is the fault of being a trifle too
innocent, seeing that the innocence which would go extremely well
with a sash and tucker is a little out of keeping with the rouge
and pearl necklace. Howbeit, impelled by innocence, she asks,
"What for?"

"Volumnia," remonstrates Sir Leicester with his utmost severity.
"Volumnia!"

"No, no, I don't mean what for," cries Volumnia with her favourite
little scream. "How stupid I am! I mean what a pity!"

"I am glad," returns Sir Leicester, "that you do mean what a pity."

Volumnia hastens to express her opinion that the shocking people
ought to be tried as traitors and made to support the party.

"I am glad, Volumnia," repeats Sir Leicester, unmindful of these
mollifying sentiments, "that you do mean what a pity. It is
disgraceful to the electors. But as you, though inadvertently and
without intending so unreasonable a question, asked me 'what for?'
let me reply to you. For necessary expenses. And I trust to your
good sense, Volumnia, not to pursue the subject, here or
elsewhere."

Sir Leicester feels it incumbent on him to observe a crushing
aspect towards Volumnia because it is whispered abroad that these
necessary expenses will, in some two hundred election petitions, be
unpleasantly connected with the word bribery, and because some
graceless jokers have consequently suggested the omission from the
Church service of the ordinary supplication in behalf of the High
Court of Parliament and have recommended instead that the prayers
of the congregation be requested for six hundred and fifty-eight
gentlemen in a very unhealthy state.

"I suppose," observes Volumnia, having taken a little time to
recover her spirits after her late castigation, "I suppose Mr.
Tulkinghorn has been worked to death."

"I don't know," says Sir Leicester, opening his eyes, "why Mr.
Tulkinghorn should be worked to death. I don't know what Mr.
Tulkinghorn's engagements may be. He is not a candidate."

Volumnia had thought he might have been employed. Sir Leicester
could desire to know by whom, and what for. Volumnia, abashed
again, suggests, by somebody--to advise and make arrangements. Sir
Leicester is not aware that any client of Mr. Tulkinghorn has been
in need of his assistance.

Lady Dedlock, seated at an open window with her arm upon its
cushioned ledge and looking out at the evening shadows falling on
the park, has seemed to attend since the lawyer's name was
mentioned.

A languid cousin with a moustache in a state of extreme debility
now observes from his couch that man told him ya'as'dy that
Tulkinghorn had gone down t' that iron place t' give legal 'pinion
'bout something, and that contest being over t' day, 'twould be
highly jawlly thing if Tulkinghorn should 'pear with news that
Coodle man was floored.

Mercury in attendance with coffee informs Sir Leicester, hereupon,
that Mr. Tulkinghorn has arrived and is taking dinner. My Lady
turns her head inward for the moment, then looks out again as
before.

Volumnia is charmed to hear that her delight is come. He is so
original, such a stolid creature, such an immense being for knowing
all sorts of things and never telling them! Volumnia is persuaded
that he must be a Freemason. Is sure he is at the head of a lodge,
and wears short aprons, and is made a perfect idol of with
candlesticks and trowels. These lively remarks the fair Dedlock
delivers in her youthful manner, while making a purse.

"He has not been here once," she adds, "since I came. I really had
some thoughts of breaking my heart for the inconstant creature. I
had almost made up my mind that he was dead."

It may be the gathering gloom of evening, or it may be the darker
gloom within herself, but a shade is on my Lady's face, as if she
thought, "I would he were!"

"Mr. Tulkinghorn," says Sir Leicester, "is always welcome here and
always discreet wheresoever he is. A very valuable person, and
deservedly respected."

The debilitated cousin supposes he is "'normously rich fler."

"He has a stake in the country," says Sir Leicester, "I have no
doubt. He is, of course, handsomely paid, and he associates almost
on a footing of equality with the highest society."

Everybody starts. For a gun is fired close by.

"Good gracious, what's that?" cries Volumnia with her little
withered scream.

"A rat," says my Lady. "And they have shot him."

Enter Mr. Tulkinghorn, followed by Mercuries with lamps and
candles.

"No, no," says Sir Leicester, "I think not. My Lady, do you object
to the twilight?"

On the contrary, my Lady prefers it.

"Volumnia?"

Oh! Nothing is so delicious to Volumnia as to sit and talk in the
dark.

"Then take them away," says Sir Leicester. "Tulkinghorn, I beg
your pardon. How do you do?"

Mr. Tulkinghorn with his usual leisurely ease advances, renders his
passing homage to my Lady, shakes Sir Leicester's hand, and
subsides into the chair proper to him when he has anything to
communicate, on the opposite side of the Baronet's little
newspaper-table. Sir Leicester is apprehensive that my Lady, not
being very well, will take cold at that open window. My Lady is
obliged to him, but would rather sit there for the air. Sir
Leicester rises, adjusts her scarf about her, and returns to his
seat. Mr. Tulkinghorn in the meanwhile takes a pinch of snuff.

"Now," says Sir Leicester. "How has that contest gone?"

"Oh, hollow from the beginning. Not a chance. They have brought
in both their people. You are beaten out of all reason. Three to
one."

It is a part of Mr. Tulkinghorn's policy and mastery to have no
political opinions; indeed, NO opinions. Therefore he says "you"
are beaten, and not "we."

Sir Leicester is majestically wroth. Volumnia never heard of such
a thing. 'The debilitated cousin holds that it's sort of thing
that's sure tapn slongs votes--giv'n--Mob.

"It's the place, you know," Mr. Tulkinghorn goes on to say in the
fast-increasing darkness when there is silence again, "where they
wanted to put up Mrs. Rouncewell's son."

"A proposal which, as you correctly informed me at the time, he had
the becoming taste and perception," observes Sir Leicester, "to
decline. I cannot say that I by any means approve of the
sentiments expressed by Mr. Rouncewell when he was here for some
half-hour in this room, but there was a sense of propriety in his
decision which I am glad to acknowledge."

"Ha!" says Mr. Tulkinghorn. "It did not prevent him from being
very active in this election, though."

Sir Leicester is distinctly heard to gasp before speaking. "Did I
understand you? Did you say that Mr. Rouncewell had been very
active in this election?"

"Uncommonly active."

"Against--"

"Oh, dear yes, against you. He is a very good speaker. Plain and
emphatic. He made a damaging effect, and has great influence. In
the business part of the proceedings he carried all before him."

It is evident to the whole company, though nobody can see him, that
Sir Leicester is staring majestically.

"And he was much assisted," says Mr. Tulkinghorn as a wind-up, "by
his son."

"By his son, sir?" repeats Sir Leicester with awful politeness.

"By his son."

"The son who wished to marry the young woman in my Lady's service?"

"That son. He has but one."

"Then upon my honour," says Sir Leicester after a terrific pause
during which he has been heard to snort and felt to stare, "then
upon my honour, upon my life, upon my reputation and principles,
the floodgates of society are burst open, and the waters have--a--
obliterated the landmarks of the framework of the cohesion by which
things are held together!"

General burst of cousinly indignation. Volumnia thinks it is
really high time, you know, for somebody in power to step in and do
something strong. Debilitated cousin thinks--country's going--
Dayvle--steeple-chase pace.

"I beg," says Sir Leicester in a breathless condition, "that we may
not comment further on this circumstance. Comment is superfluous.
My Lady, let me suggest in reference to that young woman--"

"I have no intention," observes my Lady from her window in a low
but decided tone, "of parting with her."

"That was not my meaning," returns Sir Leicester. "I am glad to
hear you say so. I would suggest that as you think her worthy of
your patronage, you should exert your influence to keep her from
these dangerous hands. You might show her what violence would be
done in such association to her duties and principles, and you
might preserve her for a better fate. You might point out to her
that she probably would, in good time, find a husband at Chesney
Wold by whom she would not be--" Sir Leicester adds, after a
moment's consideration, "dragged from the altars of her
forefathers."

These remarks he offers with his unvarying politeness and deference
when he addresses himself to his wife. She merely moves her head
in reply. The moon is rising, and where she sits there is a little
stream of cold pale light, in which her head is seen.

"It is worthy of remark," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, "however, that
these people are, in their way, very proud."

"Proud?" Sir Leicester doubts his hearing.

"I should not be surprised if they all voluntarily abandoned the
girl--yes, lover and all--instead of her abandoning them, supposing
she remained at Chesney Wold under such circumstances."

"Well!" says Sir Leicester tremulously. "Well! You should know,
Mr. Tulkinghorn. You have been among them."

"Really, Sir Leicester," returns the lawyer, "I state the fact.
Why, I could tell you a story--with Lady Dedlock's permission."

Her head concedes it, and Volumnia is enchanted. A story! Oh, he
is going to tell something at last! A ghost in it, Volumnia hopes?

"No. Real flesh and blood." Mr. Tulkinghorn stops for an instant
and repeats with some little emphasis grafted upon his usual
monotony, "Real flesh and blood, Miss Dedlock. Sir Leicester,
these particulars have only lately become known to me. They are
very brief. They exemplify what I have said. I suppress names for
the present. Lady Dedlock will not think me ill-bred, I hope?"

By the light of the fire, which is low, he can be seen looking
towards the moonlight. By the light of the moon Lady Dedlock can
be seen, perfecfly still.

"A townsman of this Mrs. Rouncewell, a man in exactly parallel
circumstances as I am told, had the good fortune to have a daughter
who attracted the notice of a great lady. I speak of really a
great lady, not merely great to him, but married to a gentleman of
your condition, Sir Leicester."

Sir Leicester condescendingly says, "Yes, Mr. Tulkinghorn,"
implying that then she must have appeared of very considerable
moral dimensions indeed in the eyes of an iron-master.

"The lady was wealthy and beautiful, and had a liking for the girl,
and treated her with great kindness, and kept her always near her.
Now this lady preserved a secret under all her greatness, which she
had preserved for many years. In fact, she had in early life been
engaged to marry a young rake--he was a captain in the army--
nothing connected with whom came to any good. She never did marry
him, but she gave birth to a child of which he was the father."

By the light of the fire he can be seen looking towards the
moonlight. By the moonlight, Lady Dedlock can be seen in profile,
perfectly still.

"The captain in the army being dead, she believed herself safe; but
a train of circumstances with which I need not trouble you led to
discovery. As I received the story, they began in an imprudence on
her own part one day when she was taken by surprise, which shows
how difficult it is for the firmest of us (she was very firm) to be
always guarded. There was great domestic trouble and amazement,
you may suppose; I leave you to imagine, Sir Leicester, the
husband's grief. But that is not the present point. When Mr.
Rouncewell's townsman heard of the disclosure, he no more allowed
the girl to be patronized and honoured than he would have suffered
her to be trodden underfoot before his eyes. Such was his pride,
that he indignantly took her away, as if from reproach and
disgrace. He had no sense of the honour done him and his daughter
by the lady's condescension; not the least. He resented the girl's
position, as if the lady had been the commonest of commoners. That
is the story. I hope Lady Dedlock will excuse its painful nature."

There are various opinions on the merits, more or less conflicting
with Volumnia's. That fair young creature cannot believe there
ever was any such lady and rejects the whole history on the
threshold. The majority incline to the debilitated cousin's
sentiment, which is in few words--"no business--Rouncewell's fernal
townsman." Sir Leicester generally refers back in his mind to Wat
Tyler and arranges a sequence of events on a plan of his own.

There is not much conversation in all, for late hours have been
kept at Chesney Wold since the necessary expenses elsewhere began,
and this is the first night in many on which the family have been
alone. It is past ten when Sir Leicester begs Mr. Tulkinghorn to
ring for candles. Then the stream of moonlight has swelled into a
lake, and then Lady Dedlock for the first time moves, and rises,
and comes forward to a table for a glass of water. Winking
cousins, bat-like in the candle glare, crowd round to give it;
Volumnia (always ready for something better if procurable) takes
another, a very mild sip of which contents her; Lady Dedlock,
graceful, self-possessed, looked after by admiring eyes, passes
away slowly down the long perspective by the side of that nymph,
not at all improving her as a question of contrast.

CHAPTER XLI

In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Room

Mr. Tulkinghorn arrives in his turret-room a little breathed by the
journey up, though leisurely performed. There is an expression on
his face as if he had discharged his mind of some grave matter and
were, in his close way, satisfied. To say of a man so severely and
strictly self-repressed that he is triumphant would be to do him as
great an injustice as to suppose him troubled with love or
sentiment or any romantic weakness. He is sedately satisfied.
Perhaps there is a rather increased sense of power upon him as he
loosely grasps one of his veinous wrists with his other hand and
holding it behind his back walks noiselessly up and down.

There is a capacious writing-table in the room on which is a pretty
large accumulation of papers. The green lamp is lighted, his
reading-glasses lie upon the desk, the easy-chair is wheeled up to
it, and it would seem as though he had intended to bestow an hour
or so upon these claims on his attention before going to bed. But
he happens not to be in a business mind. After a glance at the
documents awaiting his notice--with his head bent low over the
table, the old man's sight for print or writing being defective at
night--he opens the French window and steps out upon the leads.
There he again walks slowly up and down in the same attitude,
subsiding, if a man so cool may have any need to subside, from the
story he has related downstairs.

The time was once when men as knowing as Mr. Tulkinghorn would walk
on turret-tops in the starlight and look up into the sky to read
their fortunes there. Hosts of stars are visible to-night, though
their brilliancy is eclipsed by the splendour of the moon. If he
be seeking his own star as he methodically turns and turns upon the
leads, it should be but a pale one to be so rustily represented
below. If he be tracing out his destiny, that may be written in
other characters nearer to his hand.

As he paces the leads with his eyes most probably as high above his
thoughts as they are high above the earth, he is suddenly stopped
in passing the window by two eyes that meet his own. The ceiling
of his room is rather low; and the upper part of the door, which is
opposite the window, is of glass. There is an inner baize door,
too, but the night being warm he did not close it when he came
upstairs. These eyes that meet his own are looking in through the
glass from the corridor outside. He knows them well. The blood
has not flushed into his face so suddenly and redly for many a long
year as when he recognizes Lady Dedlock.

He steps into the room, and she comes in too, closing both the
doors behind her. There is a wild disturbance--is it fear or
anger?--in her eyes. In her carriage and all else she looks as she
looked downstairs two hours ago.

Is it fear or is it anger now? He cannot be sure. Both might be
as pale, both as intent.

"Lady Dedlock?"

She does not speak at first, nor even when she has slowly dropped
into the easy-chair by the table. They look at each other, like
two pictures.

"Why have you told my story to so many persons?"

"Lady Dedlock, it was necessary for me to inform you that I knew
it."

"How long have you known it?"

"I have suspected it a long while--fully known it a little while."

"Months?"

"Days."

He stands before her with one hand on a chair-back and the other in
his old-fashioned waistcoat and shirt-frill, exactly as he has
stood before her at any time since her marriage. The same formal
politeness, the same composed deference that might as well be
defiance; the whole man the same dark, cold object, at the same
distance, which nothing has ever diminished.

"Is this true concerning the poor girl?"

He slightly inclines and advances his head as not quite
understanding the question.

"You know what you related. Is it true? Do her friends know my
story also? Is it the town-talk yet? Is it chalked upon the walls
and cried in the streets?"

So! Anger, and fear, and shame. All three contending. What power
this woman has to keep these raging passions down! Mr.
Tulkinghorn's thoughts take such form as he looks at her, with his
ragged grey eyebrows a hair's breadth more contracted than usual
under her gaze.

"No, Lady Dedlock. That was a hypothetical case, arising out of
Sir Leicester's unconsciously carrying the matter with so high a
hand. But it would be a real case if they knew--what we know."

"Then they do not know it yet?"

"No."

"Can I save the poor girl from injury before they know it?"

"Really, Lady Dedlock," Mr. Tulkinghorn replies, "I cannot give a
satisfactory opinion on that point."

And he thinks, with the interest of attentive curiosity, as he
watches the struggle in her breast, "The power and force of this
woman are astonishing!"

"Sir," she says, for the moment obliged to set her lips with all
the energy she has, that she may speak distinctly, "I will make it
plainer. I do not dispute your hypothetical case. I anticipated
it, and felt its truth as strongly as you can do, when I saw Mr.
Rouncewell here. I knew very well that if he could have had the
power of seeing me as I was, he would consider the poor girl
tarnished by having for a moment been, although most innocently,
the subject of my great and distinguished patronage. But I have an
interest in her, or I should rather say--no longer belonging to
this place--I had, and if you can find so much consideration for
the woman under your foot as to remember that, she will be very
sensible of your mercy."

Mr. Tulkinghorn, profoundly attentive, throws this off with a shrug
of self-depreciation and contracts his eyebrows a little more.

"You have prepared me for my exposure, and I thank you for that
too. Is there anything that you require of me? Is there any claim
that I can release or any charge or trouble that I can spare my
husband in obtaining HIS release by certifying to the exactness of
your discovery? I will write anything, here and now, that you will
dictate. I am ready to do it."

And she would do it, thinks the lawver, watchful of the firm hand
with which she takes the pen!

"I will not trouble you, Lady Dedlock. Pray spare yourself."

"I have long expected this, as you know. I neither wish to spare
myself nor to be spared. You can do nothing worse to me than you
have done. Do what remains now."

"Lady Dedlock, there is nothing to be done. I will take leave to
say a few words when you have finished."

Their need for watching one another should be over now, but they do
it all this time, and the stars watch them both through the opened
window. Away in the moonlight lie the woodland fields at rest, and
the wide house is as quiet as the narrow one. The narrow one!
Where are the digger and the spade, this peaceful night, destined
to add the last great secret to the many secrets of the Tulkinghorn
existence? Is the man born yet, is the spade wrought yet? Curious
questions to consider, more curious perhaps not to consider, under
the watching stars upon a summer night.

"Of repentance or remorse or any feeling of mine," Lady Dedlock
presently proceeds, "I say not a word. If I were not dumb, you
would be deaf. Let that go by. It is not for your ears."

He makes a feint of offering a protest, but she sweeps it away with
her disdainful hand.

"Of other and very different things I come to speak to you. My
jewels are all in their proper places of keeping. They will be
found there. So, my dresses. So, all the valuables I have. Some
ready money I had with me, please to say, but no large amount. I
did not wear my own dress, in order that I might avoid observation.
I went to be henceforward lost. Make this known. I leave no other
charge with you."

"Excuse me, Lady Dedlock," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, quite unmoved. "I
am not sure that I understand you. You want--"

"To be lost to all here. I leave Chesney Wold to-night. I go this
hour."

Mr. Tulkinghorn shakes his head. She rises, but he, without moving
hand from chair-back or from old-fashioned waistcoat and shirt-
frill, shakes his head.

"What? Not go as I have said?"

"No, Lady Dedlock," he very calmly replies.

"Do you know the relief that my disappearance will be? Have you
forgotten the stain and blot upon this place, and where it is, and
who it is?"

"No, Lady Dedlock, not by any means."

Without deigning to rejoin, she moves to the inner door and has it
in her hand when he says to her, without himself stirring hand or
foot or raising his voice, "Lady Dedlock, have the goodness to stop
and hear me, or before you reach the staircase I shall ring the
alarm-bell and rouse the house. And then I must speak out before
every guest and servant, every man and woman, in it."

He has conquered her. She falters, trembles, and puts her hand
confusedly to her head. Slight tokens these in any one else, but
when so practised an eye as Mr. Tulkinghorn's sees indecision for a
moment in such a subject, he thoroughly knows its value.

He promptly says again, "Have the goodness to hear me, Lady
Dedlock," and motions to the chair from which she has risen. She
hesitates, but he motions again, and she sits down.

"The relations between us are of an unfortunate description, Lady
Dedlock; but as they are not of my making, I will not apologize for
them. The position I hold in reference to Sir Leicester is so well
known to you that I can hardly imagine but that I must long have
appeared in your eyes the natural person to make this discovery."

"Sir," she returns without looking up from the ground on which her
eyes are now fixed, "I had better have gone. It would have been
far better not to have detained me. I have no more to say."

"Excuse me, Lady Dedlock, if I add a little more to hear."

"I wish to hear it at the window, then. I can't breathe where I
am."

His jealous glance as she walks that way betrays an instant's
misgiving that she may have it in her thoughts to leap over, and
dashing against ledge and cornice, strike her life out upon the
terrace below. But a moment's observation of her figure as she
stands in the window without any support, looking out at the stars
--not up-gloomily out at those stars which are low in the heavens,
reassures him. By facing round as she has moved, he stands a
little behind her.

"Lady Dedlock, I have not yet been able to come to a decision
satisfactory to myself on the course before me. I am not clear
what to do or how to act next. I must request you, in the
meantime, to keep your secret as you have kept it so long and not
to wonder that I keep it too."

He pauses, but she makes no reply.

"Pardon me, Lady Dedlock. This is an important subject. You are
honouring me with your attention?"

"I am."

"'Thank you. I might have known it from what I have seen of your
strength of character. I ought not to have asked the question, but
I have the habit of making sure of my ground, step by step, as I go
on. The sole consideration in this unhappy case is Sir Leicester."

"'Then why," she asks in a low voice and without removing her
gloomy look from those distant stars, "do you detain me in his
house?"

"Because he IS the consideration. Lady Dedlock, I have no occasion
to tell you that Sir Leicester is a very proud man, that his
reliance upon you is implicit, that the fall of that moon out of
the sky would not amaze him more than your fall from your high
position as his wife."

She breathes quickly and heavily, but she stands as unflinchingly
as ever he has seen her in the midst of her grandest company.

"I declare to you, Lady Dedlock, that with anything short of this
case that I have, I would as soon have hoped to root up by means of
my own strength and my own hands the oldest tree on this estate as
to shake your hold upon Sir Leicester and Sir Leicester's trust and
confidence in you. And even now, with this case, I hesitate. Not
that he could doubt (that, even with him, is impossible), but that
nothing can prepare him for the blow."

"Not my flight?" she returned. "Think of it again."

"Your flight, Lady Dedlock, would spread the whole truth, and a
hundred times the whole truth, far and wide. It would be
impossible to save the family credit for a day. It is not to be
thought of."

There is a quiet decision in his reply which admits of no
remonstrance.

"When I speak of Sir Leicester being the sole consideration, he and
the family credit are one. Sir Leicester and the baronetcy, Sir
Leicester and Chesney Wold, Sir Leicester and his ancestors and his
patrimony"--Mr. Tulkinghorn very dry here--"are, I need not say to
you, Lady Dedlock, inseparable."

"Go on!"

"Therefore," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, pursuing his case in his jog-
trot style, "I have much to consider. This is to be hushed up if
it can be. How can it be, if Sir Leicester is driven out of his
wits or laid upon a death-bed? If I inflicted this shock upon him
to-morrow morning, how could the immediate change in him be
accounted for? What could have caused it? What could have divided
you? Lady Dedlock, the wall-chalking and the street-crying would
come on directly, and you are to remember that it would not affect
you merely (whom I cannot at all consider in this business) but
your husband, Lady Dedlock, your husband."

He gets plainer as he gets on, but not an atom more emphatic or
animated.

"There is another point of view," he continues, "in which the case
presents itself. Sir Leicester is devoted to you almost to
infatuation. He might not be able to overcome that infatuation,
even knowing what we know. I am putting an extreme case, but it
might be so. If so, it were better that he knew nothing. Better
for common sense, better for him, better for me. I must take all
this into account, and it combines to render a decision very
difficult."

She stands looking out at the same stars without a word. They are
beginning to pale, and she looks as if their coldness froze her.

"My experience teaches me," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, who has by this
time got his hands in his pockets and is going on in his business
consideration of the matter like a machine. "My experience teaches
me, Lady Dedlock, that most of the people I know would do far
better to leave marriage alone. It is at the bottom of three
fourths of their troubles. So I thought when Sir Leicester
married, and so I always have thought since. No more about that.
I must now be guided by circumstances. In the meanwhile I must beg
you to keep your own counsel, and I will keep mine."

"I am to drag my present life on, holding its pains at your
pleasure, day by day?" she asks, still looking at the distant sky.

"Yes, I am afraid so, Lady Dedlock."

"It is necessary, you think, that I should be so tied to the
stake?"

"I am sure that what I recommend is necessary."

"I am to remain on this gaudy platforna on which my miserable
deception has been so long acted, and it is to fall beneath me when
you give the signal?" she said slowly.

"Not without notice, Lady Dedlock. I shall take no step without
forewarning you."

She asks all her questions as if she were repeating them from
memory or calling them over in her sleep.

"We are to meet as usual?"

"Precisely as usual, if you please."

"And I am to hide my guilt, as I have done so many years?"

"As you have done so many years. I should not have made that
reference myself, Lady Dedlock, but I may now remind you that your
secret can be no heavier to you than it was, and is no worse and no
better than it was. I know it certainly, but I believe we have
never wholly trusted each other."

She stands absorbed in the same frozen way for some little time
before asking, "Is there anything more to be sald to-night?"

"Why," Mr. Tulkinghorn returns methodically as he softly rubs his
hands, "I should like to be assured of your acquiescence in my
arrangements, Lady Dedlock."

"You may be assured of it."

"Good. And I would wish in conclusion to remind you, as a business
precaution, in case it should be necessary to recall the fact in
any communication with Sir Leicester, that throughout our interview
I have expressly stated my sole consideration to be Sir Leicester's
feelings and honour and the family reputation. I should have been
happy to have made Lady Dedlock a prominent consideration, too, if
the case had admitted of it; but unfortunately it does not."

"I can attest your fidelity, sir."

Both before and after saving it she remains absorbed, but at length
moves, and turns, unshaken in her natural and acquired presence,
towards the door. Mr. Tulkinghorn opens both the doors exactly as
he would have done yesterday, or as he would have done ten years
ago, and makes his old-fashioned bow as she passes out. It is not
an ordinary look that he receives from the handsome face as it goes
into the darkness, and it is not an ordinary movement, though a
very slight one, that acknowledges his courtesy. But as he
reflects when he is left alone, the woman has been putting no
common constraint upon herself.

He would know it all the better if he saw the woman pacing her own
rooms with her hair wildly thrown from her flung-back face, her
hands clasped behind her head, her figure twisted as if by pain.
He would think so all the more if he saw the woman thus hurrying up
and down for hours, without fatigue, without intermission, followed
by the faithful step upon the Ghost's Walk. But he shuts out the
now chilled air, draws the window-curtain, goes to bed, and falls
asleep. And truly when the stars go out and the wan day peeps into
the turret-chamber, finding him at his oldest, he looks as if the
digger and the spade were both commissioned and would soon be
digging.

The same wan day peeps in at Sir Leicester pardoning the repentant
country in a majestically condescending dream; and at the cousins
entering on various public employments, principally receipt of
salary; and at the chaste Volumnia, bestowing a dower of fifty
thousand pounds upon a hideous old general with a mouth of false
teeth like a pianoforte too full of keys, long the admiration of
Bath and the terror of every other commuuity. Also into rooms high
in the roof, and into offices in court-yards, and over stables,
where humbler ambition dreams of bliss, in keepers' lodges, and in
holy matrimony with Will or Sally. Up comes the bright sun,
drawing everything up with it--the Wills and Sallys, the latent
vapour in the earth, the drooping leaves and flowers, the birds and
beasts and creeping things, the gardeners to sweep the dewy turf
and unfold emerald velvet where the roller passes, the smoke of the
great kitchen fire wreathing itself straight and high into the
lightsome air. Lastly, up comes the flag over Mr. Tulkinghorn's
unconscious head cheerfully proclaiming that Sir Leicester and Lady
Dedlock are in their happy home and that there is hospitality at
the place in Lincolnshire.

CHAPTER XLII

In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Chambers

From the verdant undulations and the spreading oaks of the Dedlock
property, Mr. Tulkinghorn transfers himself to the stale heat and
dust of London. His manner of coming and going between the two
places is one of his impenetrabilities. He walks into Chesney Wold
as if it were next door to his chambers and returns to his chambers
as if he had never been out of Lincoln's Inn Fields. He neither
changes his dress before the journey nor talks of it afterwards.
He melted out of his turret-room this morning, just as now, in the
late twilight, he melts into his own square.

Like a dingy London bird among the birds at roost in these pleasant
fields, where the sheep are all made into parchment, the goats into
wigs, and the pasture into chaff, the lawyer, smoke-dried and
faded, dwelling among mankind but not consorting with them, aged
without experience of genial youth, and so long used to make his
cramped nest in holes and corners of human nature that he has
forgotten its broader and better range, comes sauntering home. In
the oven made by the hot pavements and hot buildings, he has baked
himself dryer than usual; and he has in his thirsty mind his
mellowed port-wine half a century old.

The lamplighter is skipping up and down his ladder on Mr.
Tulkinghorn's side of the Fields when that high-priest of noble
mysteries arrives at his own dull court-yard. He ascends the door-
steps and is gliding into the dusky hall when he encounters, on the
top step, a bowing and propitiatory little man.

"Is that Snagsby?"

"Yes, sir. I hope you are well, sir. I was just giving you up,
sir, and going home."

"Aye? What is it? What do you want with me?"

"Well, sir," says Mr. Snagsby, holding his hat at the side of his
head in his deference towards his best customer, "I was wishful to
say a word to you, sir."

"Can you say it here?"

"Perfectly, sir."

"Say it then." The lawyer turns, leans his arms on the iron
railing at the top of the steps, and looks at the lamplighter
lighting the court-yard.

"It is relating," says Mr. Snagsby in a mysterious low voice, "it
is relating--not to put too fine a point upon it--to the foreigner,
sir!"

Mr. Tulkinghorn eyes him with some surprise. "What foreigner?"

"The foreign female, sir. French, if I don't mistake? I am not
acquainted with that language myself, but I should judge from her
manners and appearance that she was French; anyways, certainly
foreign. Her that was upstairs, sir, when Mr. Bucket and me had
the honour of waiting upon you with the sweeping-boy that night."

"Oh! Yes, yes. Mademoiselle Hortense."

"Indeed, sir?" Mr. Snagsby coughs his cough of submission behind
his hat. "I am not acquainted myself with the names of foreigners
in general, but I have no doubt it WOULD be that." Mr. Snagsby
appears to have set out in this reply with some desperate design of
repeating the name, but on reflection coughs again to excuse
himself.

"And what can you have to say, Snagsby," demands Mr. Tulkinghorn,
"about her?"

"Well, sir," returns the stationer, shading his communication with
his hat, "it falls a little hard upon me. My domestic happiness is
very great--at least, it's as great as can be expected, I'm sure--
but my little woman is rather given to jealousy. Not to put too
fine a point upon it, she is very much given to jealousy. And you
see, a foreign female of that genteel appearance coming into the
shop, and hovering--I should be the last to make use of a strong
expression if I could avoid it, but hovering, sir--in the court--
you know it is--now ain't it? I only put it to yourself, sir.

Mr. Snagsby, having said this in a very plaintive manner, throws in
a cough of general application to fill up all the blanks.

"Why, what do you mean?" asks Mr. Tulkinghorn.

"Just so, sir," returns Mr. Snagsby; "I was sure you would feel it
yourself and would excuse the reasonableness of MY feelings when
coupled with the known excitableness of my little woman. You see,
the foreign female--which you mentioned her name just now, with
quite a native sound I am sure--caught up the word Snagsby that
night, being uncommon quick, and made inquiry, and got the
direction and come at dinner-time. Now Guster, our young woman, is
timid and has fits, and she, taking fright at the foreigner's
looks--which are fierce--and at a grinding manner that she has of
speaking--which is calculated to alarm a weak mind--gave way to it,
instead of bearing up against it, and tumbled down the kitchen
stairs out of one into another, such fits as I do sometimes think
are never gone into, or come out of, in any house but ours.
Consequently there was by good fortune ample occupation for my
little woman, and only me to answer the shop. When she DID say
that Mr. Tulkinghorn, being always denied to her by his employer
(which I had no doubt at the time was a foreign mode of viewing a
clerk), she would do herself the pleasure of continually calling at
my place until she was let in here. Since then she has been, as I
began by saying, hovering, hovering, sir"--Mr. Snagsby repeats the
word with pathetic emphasis--"in the court. The effects of which
movement it is impossible to calculate. I shouldn't wonder if it
might have already given rise to the painfullest mistakes even in
the neighbours' minds, not mentioning (if such a thing was
possible) my little woman. Whereas, goodness knows," says Mr.
Snagsby, shaking his head, "I never had an idea of a foreign
female, except as being formerly connected with a bunch of brooms
and a baby, or at the present time with a tambourine and earrings.
I never had, I do assure you, sir!"

Mr. Tulkinghorn had listened gravely to this complaint and inquires
when the stationer has finished, "And that's all, is it, Snagsby?"

"Why yes, sir, that's all," says Mr. Snagsby, ending with a cough
that plainly adds, "and it's enough too--for me."

"I don't know what Mademoiselle Hortense may want or mean, unless
she is mad," says the lawyer.

"Even if she was, you know, sir," Mr. Snagsby pleads, "it wouldn't
be a consolation to have some weapon or another in the form of a
foreign dagger planted in the family."

"No," says the other. "Well, well! This shall be stopped. I am
sorry you have been inconvenienced. If she comes again, send her
here."

Mr. Snagsby, with much bowing and short apologetic coughing, takes
his leave, lightened in heart. Mr. Tulkinghorn goes upstairs,
saying to himself, "These women were created to give trouble the
whole earth over. The mistress not being enough to deal with,
here's the maid now! But I will be short with THIS jade at least!"

So saying, he unlocks his door, gropes his way into his murky
rooms, lights his candles, and looks about him. It is too dark to
see much of the Allegory over-head there, but that importunate
Roman, who is for ever toppling out of the clouds and pointing, is
at his old work pretty distinctly. Not honouring him with much
attention, Mr. Tulkinghorn takes a small key from his pocket,
unlocks a drawer in which there is another key, which unlocks a
chest in which there is another, and so comes to the cellar-key,
with which he prepares to descend to the regions of old wine. He
is going towards the door with a candle in his hand when a knock
comes.

"Who's this? Aye, aye, mistress, it's you, is it? You appear at a
good time. I have just been hearing of you. Now! What do you
want?"

He stands the candle on the chimney-piece in the clerk's hall and
taps his dry cheek with the key as he addresses these words of
welcome to Mademoiselle Hortense. That feline personage, with her
lips tightly shut and her eyes looking out at him sideways, softly
closes the door before replying.

"I have had great deal of trouble to find you, sir."

"HAVE you!"

"I have been here very often, sir. It has always been said to me,
he is not at home, he is engage, he is this and that, he is not for
you."

"Quite right, and quite true."

"Not true. Lies!"

At times there is a suddenness in the manner of Mademoiselle
Hortense so like a bodily spring upon the subject of it that such
subject involuntarily starts and fails back. It is Mr.
Tulkinghorn's case at present, though Mademoiselle Hortense, with
her eyes almost shut up (but still looking out sideways), is only
smiling contemptuously and shaking her head.

"Now, mistress," says the lawyer, tapping the key hastily upon the
chimney-piece. "If you have anything to say, say it, say it."

"Sir, you have not use me well. You have been mean and shabby."

"Mean and shabby, eh?" returns the lawyer, rubbing his nose with
the key.

"Yes. What is it that I tell you? You know you have. You have
attrapped me--catched me--to give you information; you have asked
me to show you the dress of mine my Lady must have wore that night,
you have prayed me to come in it here to meet that boy. Say! Is it
not?" Mademoiselle Hortense makes another spring.

"You are a vixen, a vixen!" Mr. Tulkinghorn seems to meditate as
he looks distrustfully at her, then he replies, "Well, wench, well.
I paid you."

"You paid me!" she repeats with fierce disdain. "Two sovereign! I
have not change them, I re-fuse them, I des-pise them, I throw them
from me!" Which she literally does, taking them out of her bosom
as she speaks and flinging them with such violence on the floor
that they jerk up again into the light before they roll away into
corners and slowly settle down there after spinning vehemently.

"Now!" says Mademoiselle Hortense, darkening her large eyes again.
"You have paid me? Eh, my God, oh yes!"

Mr. Tulkinghorn rubs his head with the key while she entertains
herself with a sarcastic laugh.

"You must be rich, my fair friend," he composedly observes, "to
throw money about in that way!"

"I AM rich," she returns. "I am very rich in hate. I hate my
Lady, of all my heart. You know that."

"Know it? How should I know it?"

"Because you have known it perfectly before you prayed me to give
you that information. Because you have known perfectly that I was
en-r-r-r-raged!" It appears impossible for mademoiselle to roll
the letter "r" sufficiently in this word, notwithstanding that she
assists her energetic delivery by clenching both her hands and
setting all her teeth.

"Oh! I knew that, did I?" says Mr. Tulkinghorn, examining the wards
of the key.

"Yes, without doubt. I am not blind. You have made sure of me
because you knew that. You had reason! I det-est her."
Mademoiselle folds her arms and throws this last remark at him over
one of her shoulders.

"Having said this, have you anything else to say, mademoiselle?"

"I am not yet placed. Place me well. Find me a good condition!
If you cannot, or do not choose to do that, employ me to pursue
her, to chase her, to disgrace and to dishonour her. I will help
you well, and with a good will. It is what YOU do. Do I not know
that?"

"You appear to know a good deal," Mr. Tulkinghorn retorts.

"Do I not? Is it that I am so weak as to believe, like a child,
that I come here in that dress to rec-cive that boy only to decide
a little bet, a wager? Eh, my God, oh yes!" In this reply, down
to the word "wager" inclusive, mademoiselle has been ironically
polite and tender, then as suddenly dashed into the bitterest and
most defiant scorn, with her black eyes in one and the same moment
very nearly shut and staringly wide open.

"Now, let us see," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, tapping his chin with the
key and looking imperturbably at her, "how this matter stands."

"Ah! Let us see," mademoiselle assents, with many angry and tight
nods of her head.

"You come here to make a remarkably modest demand, which you have
just stated, and it not being conceded, you will come again."

"And again," says mademoiselle with more tight and angry nods.
"And yet again. And yet again. And many times again. In effect,
for ever!"

"And not only here, but you will go to Mr, Snagsby's too, perhaps?
That visit not succeeding either, you will go again perhaps?"

"And again," repeats mademoiselle, cataleptic with determination.
"And yet again. And yet again. And many times again. In effect,
for ever!"

"Very well. Now, Mademoiselle Hortense, let me recommend you to
take the candle and pick up that money of yours. I think you will
find it behind the clerk's partition in the corner yonder."

She merely throws a laugh over her shoulder and stands her ground
with folded arms.

"You will not, eh?"

"No, I will not!"

"So much the poorer you; so much the richer I! Look, mistress,
this is the key of my wine-cellar. It is a large key, but the keys
of prisons are larger. In this city there are houses of correction
(where the treadmills are, for women), the gates of which are very
strong and heavy, and no doubt the keys too. I am afraid a lady of
your spirit and activity would find it an inconvenience to have one
of those keys turned upon her for any length of time. What do you
think?"

"I think," mademoiselle replies without any action and in a clear,
obliging voice, "that you are a miserable wretch."

"Probably," returns Mr. Tulkinghorn, quietly blowing his nose.
"But I don't ask what you think of myself; I ask what you think of
the prison."

"Nothing. What does it matter to me?"

"Why, it matters this much, mistress," says the lawyer,
deliberately putting away his handkerchief and adjusting his frill;
"the law is so despotic here that it interferes to prevent any of
our good English citizens from being troubled, even by a lady's
visits against his desire. And on his complaining that he is so
troubled, it takes hold of the troublesome lady and shuts her up in
prison under hard discipline. Turns the key upon her, mistress."
Illustrating with the cellar-key.

"Truly?" returns mademoiselle in the same pleasant voice. "That is
droll! But--my faith! --still what does it matter to me?"

"My fair friend," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, "make another visit here,
or at Mr. Snagsby's, and you shall learn."

"In that case you will send me to the prison, perhaps?"

"Perhaps."

It would be contradictory for one in mademoiselle's state of
agreeable jocularity to foam at the mouth, otherwise a tigerish
expansion thereabouts might look as if a very little more would
make her do it.

"In a word, mistress," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, "I am sorry to be
unpolite, but if you ever present yourself uninvited here--or
there--again, I will give you over to the police. Their gallantry
is great, but they carry troublesome people through the streets in
an ignominious manner, strapped down on a board, my good wench."

"I will prove you," whispers mademoiselle, stretching out her hand,
"I will try if you dare to do it!"

"And if," pursues the lawyer without minding her, "I place you in
that good condition of being locked up in jail, it will be some
time before you find yourself at liberty again."

"I will prove you," repeats mademoiselle in her former whisper.

"And now," proceeds the lawyer, still without minding her, "you had
better go. Think twice before you come here again."

"Think you," she answers, "twice two hundred times!"

"You were dismissed by your lady, you know," Mr. Tulkinghorn
observes, following her out upon the staircase, "as the most
implacable and unmanageable of women. Now turn over a new leaf and
take warning by what I say to you. For what I say, I mean; and
what I threaten, I will do, mistress."

She goes down without answering or looking behind her. When she is
gone, he goes down too, and returning with his cobweb-covered
bottle, devotes himself to a leisurely enjoyment of its contents,
now and then, as he throws his head back in his chair, catching
sight of the pertinacious Roman pointing from the ceiling.

CHAPTER XLIII

Esther's Narrative

It matters little now how much I thought of my living mother who
had told me evermore to consider her dead. I could not venture to
approach her or to communicate with her in writing, for my sense of
the peril in which her life was passed was only to be equalled by
my fears of increasing it. Knowing that my mere existence as a
living creature was an unforeseen danger in her way, I could not
always conquer that terror of myself which had seized me when I
first knew the secret. At no time did I dare to utter her name. I
felt as if I did not even dare to hear it. If the conversation
anywhere, when I was present, took that direction, as it sometimes
naturally did, I tried not to hear: I mentally counted, repeated
something that I knew, or went out of the room. I am conscious now
that I often did these things when there can have been no danger of
her being spoken of, but I did them in the dread I had of hearing
anything that might lead to her betrayal, and to her betrayal
through me.

It matters little now how often I recalled the tones of my mother's
voice, wondered whether I should ever hear it again as I so longed
to do, and thought how strange and desolate it was that it should
be so new to me. It matters little that I watched for every public
mention of my mother's name; that I passed and repassed the door of
her house in town, loving it, but afraid to look at it; that I once
sat in the theatre when my mother was there and saw me, and when we
were so wide asunder before the great company of all degrees that
any link or confidence between us seemed a dream. It is all, all
over. My lot has been so blest that I can relate little of myself
which is not a story of goodness and generosity in others. I may
well pass that little and go on.

When we were settled at home again, Ada and I had many
conversations with my guardian of which Richard was the theme. My
dear girl was deeply grieved that he should do their kind cousin so
much wrong, but she was so faithful to Richard that she could not
bear to blame him even for that. My guardian was assured of it,
and never coupled his name with a word of reproof. "Rick is
mistaken, my dear," he would say to her. "Well, well! We have all
been mistaken over and over again. We must trust to you and time
to set him right."

We knew afterwards what we suspected then, that he did not trust to
time until he had often tried to open Richard's eyes. That he had
written to him, gone to him, talked with him, tried every gentle
and persuasive art his kindness could devise. Our poor devoted
Richard was deaf and blind to all. If he were wrong, he would make
amends when the Chancery suit was over. If he were groping in the
dark, he could not do better than do his utmost to clear away those
clouds in which so much was confused and obscured. Suspicion and
misunderstanding were the fault of the suit? Then let him work the
suit out and come through it to his right mind. This was his
unvarying reply. Jarndyce and Jarndyce had obtained such
possession of his whole nature that it was impossible to place any
consideration before him which he did not, with a distorted kind of
reason, make a new argument in favour of his doing what he did.
"So that it is even more mischievous," said my guardian once to me,
"to remonstrate with the poor dear fellow than to leave him alone."

I took one of these opportunities of mentioning my doubts of Mr.
Skimpole as a good adviser for Richard.

"Adviser!" returned my guardian, laughing, "My dear, who would
advise with Skimpole?"

"Encourager would perhaps have been a better word," said I.

"Encourager!" returned my guardian again. "Who could be encouraged
by Skimpole?"

"Not Richard?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "Such an unworldly, uncalculating, gossamer
creature is a relief to him and an amusement. But as to advising
or encouraging or occupying a serious station towards anybody or
anything, it is simply not to be thought of in such a child as
Skimpole."

"Pray, cousin John," said Ada, who had just joined us and now
looked over my shoulder, "what made him such a child?"

"What made him such a child?" inquired my guardian, rubbing his
head, a little at a loss.

"Yes, cousin John."

"Why," he slowly replied, roughening his head more and more, "he is
all sentiment, and--and susceptibility, and--and sensibility, and--
and imagination. And these qualities are not regulated in him,
somehow. I suppose the people who admired him for them in his
youth attached too much importance to them and too little to any
training that would have balanced and adjusted them, and so he
became what he is. Hey?" said my guardian, stopping short and
looking at us hopefully. "What do you think, you two?"

Ada, glancing at me, said she thought it was a pity he should be an
expense to Richard.

"So it is, so it is," returned my guardian hurriedly. "That must
not be. We must arrange that. I must prevent it. That will never
do."

And I said I thought it was to be regretted that he had ever
introduced Richard to Mr. Vholes for a present of five pounds.

"Did he?" said my guardian with a passing shade of vexation on his
face. "But there you have the man. There you have the man! There
is nothing mercenary in that with him. He has no idea of the value
of money. He introduces Rick, and then he is good friends with Mr.
Vholes and borrows five pounds of him. He means nothing by it and
thinks nothing of it. He told you himself, I'll be bound, my
dear?"

"Oh, yes!" said I.

"Exactly!" cried my guardian, quite triumphant. "There you have
the man! If he had meant any harm by it or was conscious of any
harm in it, he wouldn't tell it. He tells it as he does it in mere
simplicity. But you shall see him in his own home, and then you'll
understand him better. We must pay a visit to Harold Skimpole and
caution him on these points. Lord bless you, my dears, an infant,
an infant!"

In pursuance of this plan, we went into London on an early day and
presented ourselves at Mr. Skimpole's door.

He lived in a place called the Polygon, in Somers Town, where there
were at that time a number of poor Spanish refugees walking about
in cloaks, smoking little paper cigars. Whether he was a better
tenant than one might have supposed, in consequence of his friend
Somebody always paying his rent at last, or whether his inaptitude
for business rendered it particularly difficult to turn him out, I
don't know; but he had occupied the same house some years. It was
in a state of dilapidation quite equal to our expectation. Two or
three of the area railings were gone, the water-butt was broken,
the knocker was loose, the bell-handle had been pulled off a long
time to judge from the rusty state of the wire, and dirty
footprints on the steps were the only signs of its being inhabited.

A slatternly full-blown girl who seemed to be bursting out at the
rents in her gown and the cracks in her shoes like an over-ripe
berry answered our knock by opening the door a very little way and
stopping up the gap with her figure. As she knew Mr. Jarndyce
(indeed Ada and I both thought that she evidently associated him
with the receipt of her wages), she immediately relented and
allowed us to pass in. The lock of the door being in a disabled
condition, she then applied herself to securing it with the chain,
which was not in good action either, and said would we go upstairs?

We went upstairs to the first floor, still seeing no other
furniture than the dirty footprints. Mr. Jarndyce without further
ceremony entered a room there, and we followed. It was dingy
enough and not at all clean, but furnished with an odd kind of
shabby luxury, with a large footstool, a sofa, and plenty of
cushions, an easy-chair, and plenty of pillows, a piano, books,
drawing materials, music, newspapers, and a few sketches and
pictures. A broken pane of glass in one of the dirty windows was
papered and wafered over, but there was a little plate of hothouse
nectarines on the table, and there was another of grapes, and
another of sponge-cakes, and there was a bottle of light wine. Mr.
Skimpole himself reclined upon the sofa in a dressing-gown,
drinking some fragrant coffee from an old china cup--it was then
about mid-day--and looking at a collection of wallflowers in the
balcony.

He was not in the least disconcerted by our appearance, but rose
and received us in his usual airy manner.

"Here I am, you see!" he said when we were seated, not without some
little difficulty, the greater part of the chairs being broken.
"Here I am! This is my frugal breakfast. Some men want legs of
beef and mutton for breakfast; I don't. Give me my peach, my cup
of coffee, and my claret; I am content. I don't want them for
themselves, but they remind me of the sun. There's nothing solar
about legs of beef and mutton. Mere animal satisfaction!"

"This is our friend's consulting-room (or would be, if he ever
prescribed), his sanctum, his studio," said my guardian to us.

"Yes," said Mr. Skimpole, turning his bright face about, "this is
the bird's cage. This is where the bird lives and sings. They
pluck his feathers now and then and clip his wings, but he sings,
he sings!"

He handed us the grapes, repeating in his radiant way, "He sings!
Not an ambitious note, but still he sings."

"These are very fine," said my guardian. "A present?"

"No," he answered. "No! Some amiable gardener sells them. His man
wanted to know, when he brought them last evening, whether he
should wait for the money. 'Really, my friend,' I said, 'I think
not--if your time is of any value to you.' I suppose it was, for
he went away."

My guardian looked at us with a smile, as though he asked us, "Is
it possible to be worldly with this baby?"

"This is a day," said Mr. Skimpole, gaily taking a little claret in
a tumbler, "that will ever be remembered here. We shall call it
Saint Clare and Saint Summerson day. You must see my daughters. I
have a blue-eyed daughter who is my Beauty daughter, I have a
Sentiment daughter, and I have a Comedy daughter. You must see
them all. They'll be enchanted."

He was going to summon them when my guardian interposed and asked
him to pause a moment, as he wished to say a word to him first.
"My dear Jarndyce," he cheerfully replied, going back to his sofa,
"as many moments as you please. Time is no object here. We never
know what o'clock it is, and we never care. Not the way to get on
in life, you'll tell me? Certainly. But we DON'T get on in life.
We don't pretend to do it."

My guardian looked at us again, plainly saying, "You hear him?"

"Now, Harold," he began, "the word I have to say relates to Rick."

"The dearest friend I have!" returned Mr. Skimpole cordially. "I
suppose he ought not to be my dearest friend, as he is not on terms
with you. But he is, I can't help it; he is full of youthful
poetry, and I love him. If you don't like it, I can't help it. I
love him."

The engaging frankness with which he made this declaration really
had a disinterested appearance and captivated my guardian, if not,
for the moment, Ada too.

"You are welcome to love him as much as you like," returned Mr.
Jarndyce, "but we must save his pocket, Harold."

"Oh!" said Mr. Skimpole. "His pocket? Now you are coming to what
I don't understand." Taking a little more claret and dipping one
of the cakes in it, he shook his head and smiled at Ada and me with
an ingenuous foreboding that he never could be made to understand.

"If you go with him here or there," said my guardian plainly, "you
must not let him pay for both."

"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole, his genial face
irradiated by the comicality of this idea, "what am I to do? If he
takes me anywhere, I must go. And how can I pay? I never have any
money. If I had any money, I don't know anything about it.
Suppose I say to a man, how much? Suppose the man says to me seven
and sixpence? I know nothing about seven and sixpence. It is
impossible for me to pursue the subject with any consideration for
the man. I don't go about asking busy people what seven and
sixpence is in Moorish--which I don't understand. Why should I go
about asking them what seven and sixpence is in Money--which I
don't understand?"

"Well," said my guardian, by no means displeased with this artless
reply, "if you come to any kind of journeying with Rick, you must
borrow the money of me (never breathing the least allusion to that
circumstance), and leave the calculation to him."

"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole, "I will do anything to
give you pleasure, but it seems an idle form--a superstition.
Besides, I give you my word, Miss Clare and my dear Miss Summerson,
I thought Mr. Carstone was immensely rich. I thought he had only
to make over something, or to sign a bond, or a draft, or a cheque,
or a bill, or to put something on a file somewhere, to bring down a
shower of money."

"Indeed it is not so, sir," said Ada. "He is poor."

"No, really?" returned Mr. Skimpole with his bright smile. "You
surprise me.

"And not being the richer for trusting in a rotten reed," said my
guardian, laying his hand emphatically on the sleeve of Mr.
Skimpole's dressing-gown, "be you very careful not to encourage him
in that reliance, Harold."

"My dear good friend," returned Mr. Skimpole, "and my dear Miss
Siunmerson, and my dear Miss Clare, how can I do that? It's
business, and I don't know business. It is he who encourages me.
He emerges from great feats of business, presents the brightest
prospects before me as their result, and calls upon me to admire
them. I do admire them--as bright prospects. But I know no more
about them, and I tell him so."

The helpless kind of candour with which he presented this before
us, the light-hearted manner in which he was amused by his
innocence, the fantastic way in which he took himself under his own
protection and argued about that curious person, combined with the
delightful ease of everything he said exactly to make out my
guardian's case. The more I saw of him, the more unlikely it
seemed to me, when he was present, that he could design, conceal,
or influence anything; and yet the less likely that appeared when
he was not present, and the less agreeable it was to think of his
having anything to do with any one for whom I cared.

Hearing that his examination (as he called it) was now over, Mr.
Skimpole left the room with a radiant face to fetch his daughters
(his sons had run away at various times), leaving my guardian quite
delighted by the manner in which he had vindicated his childish
character. He soon came back, bringing with him the three young
ladies and Mrs. Skimpole, who had once been a beauty but was now a
delicate high-nosed invalid suffering under a complication of
disorders.

"This," said Mr. Skimpole, "is my Beauty daughter, Arethusa--plays
and sings odds and ends like her father. This is my Sentiment
daughter, Laura--plays a little but don't sing. This is my Comedy
daughter, Kitty--sings a little but don't play. We all draw a
little and compose a little, and none of us have any idea of time
or money."

Mrs. Skimpole sighed, I thought, as if she would have been glad to
strike out this item in the family attainments. I also thought
that she rather impressed her sigh upon my guardian and that she
took every opportunity of throwing in another.

"It is pleasant," said Mr. Skimpole, turning his sprightly eyes
from one to the other of us, "and it is whimsically interesting to
trace peculiarities in families. In this family we are all
children, and I am the youngest."

The daughters, who appeared to be very fond of him, were amused by
this droll fact, particularly the Comedy daughter.

"My dears, it is true," said Mr. Skimpole, "is it not? So it is,
and so it must be, because like the dogs in the hymn, 'it is our
nature to.' Now, here is Miss Summerson with a fine administrative
capacity and a knowledge of details perfectly surprising. It will
sound very strange in Miss Summerson's ears, I dare say, that we
know nothing about chops in this house. But we don't, not the
least. We can't cook anything whatever. A needle and thread we
don't know how to use. We admire the people who possess the
practical wisdom we want, but we don't quarrel with them. Then why
should they quarrel with us? Live and let live, we say to them.
Live upon your practical wisdom, and let us live upon you!"

He laughed, but as usual seemed quite candid and really to mean
what he said.

"We have sympathy, my roses," said Mr. Skimpole, "sympathy for
everything. Have we not?"

"Oh, yes, papa!" cried the three daughters.

"In fact, that is our family department," said Mr. Skimpole, "in
this hurly-burly of life. We are capable of looking on and of
being interested, and we DO look on, and we ARE interested. What
more can we do? Here is my Beauty daughter, married these three
years. Now I dare say her marrying another child, and having two
more, was all wrong in point of political economy, but it was very
agreeable. We had our little festivities on those occasions and
exchanged social ideas. She brought her young husband home one
day, and they and their young fledglings have their nest upstairs.
I dare say at some time or other Sentiment and Comedy will bring
THEIR husbands home and have THEIR nests upstairs too. So we get
on, we don't know how, but somehow."

She looked very young indeed to be the mother of two children, and
I could not help pitying both her and them. It was evident that
the three daughters had grown up as they could and had had just as
little haphazard instruction as qualified them to be their father's
playthings in his idlest hours. His pictorial tastes were
consulted, I observed, in their respective styles of wearing their
hair, the Beauty daughter being in the classic manner, the
Sentiment daughter luxuriant and flowing, and the Comedy daughter
in the arch style, with a good deal of sprightly forehead, and
vivacious little curls dotted about the corners of her eyes. They
were dressed to correspond, though in a most untidy and negligent
way.

Ada and I conversed with these young ladies and found them
wonderfully like their father. In the meanwhile Mr. Jarndyce (who
had been rubbing his head to a great extent, and hinted at a change
in the wind) talked with Mrs. Skimpole in a corner, where we could
not help hearing the chink of money. Mr. Skimpole had previously
volunteered to go home with us and had withdrawn to dress himself
for the purpose.

"My roses," he said when he came back, "take care of mama. She is
poorly to-day. By going home with Mr. Jarndyce for a day or two, I
shall hear the larks sing and preserve my amiability. It has been
tried, you know, and would be tried again if I remained at home."

"That bad man!" said the Comedy daughter.

"At the very time when he knew papa was lying ill by his
wallflowers, looking at the blue sky," Laura complained.

"And when the smell of hay was in the air!" said Arethusa.

"It showed a want of poetry in the man," Mr. Skimpole assented, but
with perfect good humour. "It was coarse. There was an absence of
the finer touches of humanity in it! My daughters have taken great
offence," he explained to us, "at an honest man--"

"Not honest, papa. Impossible!" they all three protested.

"At a rough kind of fellow--a sort of human hedgehog rolled up,"
said Mr. Skimpole, "who is a baker in this neighbourhood and from
whom we borrowed a couple of armchairs. We wanted a couple of arm-
chairs, and we hadn't got them, and therefore of course we looked
to a man who HAD got them, to lend them. Well! This morose person
lent them, and we wore them out. When they were worn out, he
wanted them back. He had them back. He was contented, you will
say. Not at all. He objected to their being worn. I reasoned
with him, and pointed out his mistake. I said, 'Can you, at your
time of life, be so headstrong, my friend, as to persist that an
arm-chair is a thing to put upon a shelf and look at? That it is
an object to contemplate, to survey from a distance, to consider
from a point of sight? Don't you KNOW that these arm-chairs were
borrowed to be sat upon?' He was unreasonable and unpersuadable
and used intemperate language. Being as patient as I am at this
minute, I addressed another appeal to him. I said, 'Now, my good
man, however our business capacities may vary, we are all children
of one great mother, Nature. On this blooming summer morning here
you see me' (I was on the sofa) 'with flowers before me, fruit upon
the table, the cloudless sky above me, the air full of fragrance,
contemplating Nature. I entreat you, by our common brotherhood,
not to interpose between me and a subject so sublime, the absurd
figure of an angry baker!' But he did," said Mr. Skimpole, raising
his laughing eyes in playful astonishinent; "he did interpose that
ridiculous figure, and he does, and he will again. And therefore I
am very glad to get out of his way and to go home with my friend
Jarndyce."

It seemed to escape his consideration that Mrs. Skimpole and the
daughters remained behind to encounter the baker, but this was so
old a story to all of them that it had become a matter of course.
He took leave of his family with a tenderness as airy and graceful
as any other aspect in which he showed himself and rode away with
us in perfect harmony of mind. We had an opportunity of seeing
through some open doors, as we went downstairs, that his own
apartment was a palace to the rest of the house.

I could have no anticipation, and I had none, that something very
startling to me at the moment, and ever memorable to me in what
ensued from it, was to happen before this day was out. Our guest
was in such spirits on the way home that I could do nothing but
listen to him and wonder at him; nor was I alone in this, for Ada
yielded to the same fascination. As to my guardian, the wind,
which had threatened to become fixed in the east when we left
Somers Town, veered completely round before we were a couple of
miles from it.

Whether of questionable childishness or not in any other matters,
Mr. Skimpole had a child's enjoyment of change and bright weather.
In no way wearied by his sallies on the road, he was in the
drawing-room before any of us; and I heard him at the piano while I
was yet looking after my housekeeping, singing refrains of
barcaroles and drinking songs, Italian and German, by the score.

We were all assembled shortly before dinner, and he was still at
the piano idly picking out in his luxurious way little strains of
music, and talking between whiles of finishing some sketches of the
ruined old Verulam wall to-morrow, which he had begun a year or two
ago and had got tired of, when a card was brought in and my
guardian read aloud in a surprised voice, "Sir Leicester Dedlock!"

The visitor was in the room while it was yet turning round with me
and before I had the power to stir. If I had had it, I should have
hurried away. I had not even the presence of mind, in my
giddiness, to retire to Ada in the window, or to see the window, or
to know where it was. I heard my name and found that my guardian
was presenting me before I could move to a chair.

"Pray be seated, Sir Leicester."

"Mr. Jarndyce," said Sir Leicester in reply as he bowed and seated
himself, "I do myself the honour of calling here--"

"You do ME the honour, Sir Leicester."

"Thank you--of calling here on my road from Lincolnshire to express
my regret that any cause of complaint, however strong, that I may
have against a gentleman who--who is known to you and has been your
host, and to whom therefore I will make no farther reference,
should have prevented you, still more ladies under your escort and
charge, from seeing whatever little there may be to gratify a
polite and refined taste at my house, Chesney Wold."

"You are exceedingly obliging, Sir Leicester, and on behalf of
those ladies (who are present) and for myself, I thank you very
much."

"It is possible, Mr. Jarndyce, that the gentleman to whom, for the
reasons I have mentioned, I refrain from making further allusion--
it is possible, Mr. Jarndyce, that that gentleman may have done me
the honour so far to misapprehend my character as to induce you to
believe that you would not have been received by my local
establishment in Lincolnshire with that urbanity, that courtesy,
which its members are instructed to show to all ladies and
gentlemen who present themselves at that house. I merely beg to
observe, sir, that the fact is the reverse."

My guardian delicately dismissed this remark without making any
verbal answer.

"It has given me pain, Mr. Jarndyce," Sir Leicester weightily
proceeded. "I assure you, sir, it has given--me--pain--to learn
from the housekeeper at Chesney Wold that a gentleman who was in
your company in that part of the county, and who would appear to
possess a cultivated taste for the fine arts, was likewise deterred
by some such cause from examining the family pictures with that
leisure, that attention, that care, which he might have desired to
bestow upon them and which some of them might possibly have
repaid." Here he produced a card and read, with much gravity and a
little trouble, through his eye-glass, "Mr. Hirrold--Herald--
Harold--Skampling--Skumpling--I beg your pardon--Skimpole."

"This is Mr. Harold Skimpole," said my guardian, evidently
surprised.

"Oh!" exclaimed Sir Leicester, "I am happy to meet Mr. Skimpole and
to have the opportunity of tendering my personal regrets. I hope,
sir, that when you again find yourself in my part of the county,
you will be under no similar sense of restraint."

"You are very obliging, Sir Leicester Dedlock. So encouraged, I
shall certainly give myself the pleasure and advantage of another
visit to your beautiful house. The owners of such places as
Chesney Wold," said Mr. Skimpole with his usual happy and easy air,
"are public benefactors. They are good enough to maintain a number
of delightful objects for the admiration and pleasure of us poor
men; and not to reap all the admiration and pleasure that they
yield is to be ungrateful to our benefactors."

Sir Leicester seemed to approve of this sentiment highly. "An
artist, sir?"

"No," returned Mr. Skimpole. "A perfectly idle man. A mere
amateur."

Sir Leicester seemed to approve of this even more. He hoped he
might have the good fortune to be at Chesney Wold when Mr. Skimpole
next came down into Lincolnshire. Mr. Skimpole professed himself
much flattered and honoured.

"Mr. Skimpole mentioned," pursued Sir Leicester, addressing himself
again to my guardian, "mentioned to the house-keeper, who, as he
may have observed, is an old and attached retainer of the family--"

("That is, when I walked through the house the other day, on the
occasion of my going down to visit Miss Summerson and Miss Clare,"
Mr. Skimpole airily explained to us.)

"--That the friend with whom he had formerly been staying there was
Mr. Jarndyce." Sir Leicester bowed to the bearer of that name.
"And hence I became aware of the circumstance for which I have
professed my regret. That this should have occurred to any
gentleman, Mr. Jarndyce, but especially a gentleman formerly known
to Lady Dedlock, and indeed claiming some distant connexion with
her, and for whom (as I learn from my Lady herself) she entertains
a high respect, does, I assure you, give--me--pain."

"Pray say no more about it, Sir Leicester," returned my guardian.
"I am very sensible, as I am sure we all are, of your
consideration. Indeed the mistake was mine, and I ought to
apologize for it."

I had not once looked up. I had not seen the visitor and had not
even appeared to myself to hear the conversation. It surprises me
to find that I can recall it, for it seemed to make no impression
on me as it passed. I heard them speaking, but my mind was so
confused and my instinctive avoidance of this gentleman made his
presence so distressing to me that I thought I understood nothing,
through the rushing in my head and the beating of my heart.

"I mentioned the subject to Lady Dedlock," said Sir Leicester,
rising, "and my Lady informed me that she had had the pleasure of
exchanging a few words with Mr. Jarndyce and his wards on the
occasion of an accidental meeting during their sojourn in the
vicinity. Permit me, Mr. Jarndyce, to repeat to yourself, and to
these ladies, the assurance I have already tendered to Mr.
Skimpole. Circumstances undoubtedly prevent my saying that it
would afford me any gratification to hear that Mr. Boythorn had
favoured my house with his presence, but those circumstances are
confined to that gentleman himself and do not extend beyond him."

"You know my old opinion of him," said Mr. Skimpole, lightly
appealing to us. "An amiable bull who is detenined to make every
colour scarlet!"

Sir Leicester Dedlock coughed as if he could not possibly hear
another word in reference to such an individual and took his leave
with great ceremony and politeness. I got to my own room with all
possible speed and remained there until I had recovered my self-
command. It had been very much disturbed, but I was thankful to
find when I went downstairs again that they only rallied me for
having been shy and mute before the great Lincolnshire baronet.

By that time I had made up my mind that the period was come when I
must tell my guardian what I knew. The possibility of my being
brought into contact with my mother, of my being taken to her
house, even of Mr. Skimpole's, however distantly associated with
me, receiving kindnesses and obligations from her husband, was so
painful that I felt I could no longer guide myself without his
assistance.

When we had retired for the night, and Ada and I had had our usual
talk in our pretty room, I went out at my door again and sought my
guardian among his books. I knew he always read at that hour, and
as I drew near I saw the light shining out into the passage from
his reading-lamp.

"May I come in, guardian?"

"Surely, little woman. What's the matter?"

"Nothing is the matter. I thought I would like to take this quiet
time of saying a word to you about myself."

He put a chair for me, shut his book, and put it by, and turned his
kind attentive face towards me. I could not help observing that it
wore that curious expression I had observed in it once before--on
that night when he had said that he was in no trouble which I could
readily understand.

"What concerns you, my dear Esther," said he, "concerns us all.
You cannot be more ready to speak than I am to hear."

"I know that, guardian. But I have such need of your advice and
support. Oh! You don't know how much need I have to-night."

He looked unprepared for my being so earnest, and even a little
alarmed.

"Or how anxious I have been to speak to you," said I, "ever since
the visitor was here to-day."

"The visitor, my dear! Sir Leicester Dedlock?"

"Yes."

He folded his arms and sat looking at me with an air of the
profoundest astonishment, awaiting what I should say next. I did
not know how to prepare him.

"Why, Esther," said he, breaking into a smile, "our visitor and you
are the two last persons on earth I should have thought of
connecting together!"

"Oh, yes, guardian, I know it. And I too, but a little while ago."

The smile passed from his face, and he became graver than before.
He crossed to the door to see that it was shut (but I had seen to
that) and resumed his seat before me.

"Guardian," said I, "do you remensher, when we were overtaken by
the thunder-storm, Lady Dedlock's speaking to you of her sister?"

"Of course. Of course I do."

"And reminding you that she and her sister had differed, had gone
their several ways?"

"Of course."

"Why did they separate, guardian?"

His face quite altered as he looked at me. "My child, what
questions are these! I never knew. No one but themselves ever did
know, I believe. Who could tell what the secrets of those two
handsome and proud women were! You have seen Lady Dedlock. If you
had ever seen her sister, you would know her to have been as
resolute and haughty as she."

"Oh, guardian, I have seen her many and many a time!"

"Seen her?"

He paused a little, biting his lip. "Then, Esther, when you spoke
to me long ago of Boythorn, and when I told you that he was all but
married once, and that the lady did not die, but died to him, and
that that time had had its influence on his later life--did you
know it all, and know who the lady was?"

"No, guardian," I returned, fearful of the light that dimly broke
upon me. "Nor do I know yet."

"Lady Dedlock's sister."

"And why," I could scarcely ask him, "why, guardian, pray tell me
why were THEY parted?"

"It was her act, and she kept its motives in her inflexible heart.
He afterwards did conjecture (but it was mere conjecture) that some
injury which her haughty spirit had received in her cause of
quarrel with her sister had wounded her beyond all reason, but she
wrote him that from the date of that letter she died to him--as in
literal truth she did--and that the resolution was exacted from her
by her knowledge of his proud temper and his strained sense of
honour, which were both her nature too. In consideration for those
master points in him, and even in consideration for them in
herself, she made the sacrifice, she said, and would live in it and
die in it. She did both, I fear; certainly he never saw her, never
heard of her from that hour. Nor did any one."

"Oh, guardian, what have I done!" I cried, giving way to my grief;
"what sorrow have I innocently caused!"

"You caused, Esther?"

"Yes, guardian. Innocently, but most surely. That secluded sister
is my first remembrance."

"No, no!" he cried, starting.

"Yes, guardian, yes! And HER sister is my mother!"

I would have told him all my mother's letter, but he would not hear
it then. He spoke so tenderly and wisely to me, and he put so
plainly before me all I had myself imperfectly thought and hoped in
my better state of mind, that, penetrated as I had been with
fervent gratitude towards him through so many years, I believed I
had never loved him so dearly, never thanked him in my heart so
fully, as I did that night. And when he had taken me to my room
and kissed me at the door, and when at last I lay down to sleep, my
thought was how could I ever be busy enough, how could I ever be
good enough, how in my little way could I ever hope to be forgetful
enough of myself, devoted enough to him, and useful enough to
others, to show him how I blessed and honoured him.

CHAPTER XLIV

The Letter and the Answer

My guardian called me into his room next morning, and then I told
him what had been left untold on the previous night. There was
nothing to be done, he said, but to keep the secret and to avoid
another such encounter as that of yesterday. He understood my
feeling and entirely shared it. He charged himself even with
restraining Mr. Skimpole from improving his opportunity. One
person whom he need not name to me, it was not now possible for him
to advise or help. He wished it were, but no such thing could be.
If her mistrust of the lawyer whom she had mentioned were well-
founded, which he scarcely doubted, he dreaded discovery. He knew
something of him, both by sight and by reputation, and it was

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