Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1852-1853) - Chapter 9 -
Signs and Tokens
Signs and Tokens
I don't know how it is I seem to be always writing
about myself. I mean all the time to write about other people, and I try to
think about myself as little as possible, and I am sure, when I find myself
coming into the story again, I am really vexed and say, "Dear, dear, you
tiresome little creature, I wish you wouldn't!" but it is all of no use. I
hope any one who may read what I write will understand that if these pages
contain a great deal about me, I can only suppose it must be because I have
really something to do with them and can't be kept out.
My darling and I read together, and worked, and
practised, and found so much employment for our time that the winter days flew
by us like bright-winged birds. Generally in the afternoons, and always in the
evenings, Richard gave us his company. Although he was one of the most restless
creatures in the world, he certainly was very fond of our society.
He was very, very, very fond of Ada. I mean it, and I
had better say it at once. I had never seen any young people falling in love
before, but I found them out quite soon. I could not say so, of course, or show
that I knew anything about it. On the contrary, I was so demure and used to seem
so unconscious that sometimes I considered within myself while I was sitting at
work whether I was not growing quite deceitful.
But there was no help for it. All I had to do was to be
quiet, and I was as quiet as a mouse. They were as quiet as mice too, so far as
any words were concerned, but the innocent manner in which they relied more and
more upon me as they took more and more to one another was so charming that I
had great difficulty in not showing how it interested me.
"Our dear little old woman is such a capital old
woman," Richard would say, coming up to meet me in the garden early, with
his pleasant laugh and perhaps the least tinge of a blush, "that I can't
get on without her. Before I begin my harum-scarum day-- grinding away at those
books and instruments and then galloping up hill and down dale, all the country
round, like a highwayman--it does me so much good to come and have a steady walk
with our comfortable friend, that here I am again!"
"You know, Dame Durden, dear," Ada would say
at night, with her head upon my shoulder and the firelight shining in her
thoughtful eyes, "I don't want to talk when we come upstairs here. Only to
sit a little while thinking, with your dear face for company, and to hear the
wind and remember the poor sailors at sea--"
Ah! Perhaps Richard was going to be a sailor. We had
talked it over very often now, and there was some talk of gratifying the
inclination of his childhood for the sea. Mr. Jarndyce had written to a relation
of the family, a great Sir Leicester Dedlock, for his interest in Richard's
favour, generally; and Sir Leicester had replied in a gracious manner that he
would be happy to advance the prospects of the young gentleman if it should ever
prove to be within his power, which was not at all probable, and that my Lady
sent her compliments to the young gentleman (to whom she perfectly remembered
that she was allied by remote consanguinity) and trusted that he would ever do
his duty in any honourable profession to which he might devote himself.
"So I apprehend it's pretty clear," said
Richard to me, "that I shall have to work my own way. Never mind! Plenty of
people have had to do that before now, and have done it. I only wish I had the
command of a clipping privateer to begin with and could carry off the Chancellor
and keep him on short allowance until he gave judgment in our cause. He'd find
himself growing thin, if he didn't look sharp!"
With a buoyancy and hopefulness and a gaiety that hardly
ever flagged, Richard had a carelessness in his character that quite perplexed
me, principally because he mistook it, in such a very odd way, for prudence. It
entered into all his calculations about money in a singular manner which I don't
think I can better explain than by reverting for a moment to our loan to Mr.
Mr. Jarndyce had ascertained the amount, either from Mr.
Skimpole himself or from Coavinses, and had placed the money in my hands with
instructions to me to retain my own part of it and hand the rest to Richard. The
number of little acts of thoughtless expenditure which Richard justified by the
recovery of his ten pounds, and the number of times he talked to me as if he had
saved or realized that amount, would form a sum in simple addition.
"My prudent Mother Hubbard, why not?" he said
to me when he wanted, without the least consideration, to bestow five pounds on
the brickmaker. "I made ten pounds, clear, out of Coavinses'
"How was that?" said I.
"Why, I got rid of ten pounds which I was quite
content to get rid of and never expected to see any more. You don't deny
"No," said I.
"Very well! Then I came into possession of ten
"The same ten pounds," I hinted.
"That has nothing to do with it!" returned
Richard. "I have got ten pounds more than I expected to have, and
consequently I can afford to spend it without being particular."
In exactly the same way, when he was persuaded out of
the sacrifice of these five pounds by being convinced that it would do no good,
he carried that sum to his credit and drew upon it.
"Let me see!" he would say. "I saved five
pounds out of the brickmaker's affair, so if I have a good rattle to London and
back in a post-chaise and put that down at four pounds, I shall have saved one.
And it's a very good thing to save one, let me tell you: a penny saved is a
I believe Richard's was as frank and generous a nature
as there possibly can be. He was ardent and brave, and in the midst of all his
wild restlessness, was so gentle that I knew him like a brother in a few weeks.
His gentleness was natural to him and would have shown itself abundantly even
without Ada's influence; but with it, he became one of the most winning of
companions, always so ready to be interested and always so happy, sanguine, and
light-hearted. I am sure that I, sitting with them, and walking with them, and
talking with them, and noticing from day to day how they went on, falling deeper
and deeper in love, and saying nothing about it, and each shyly thinking that
this love was the greatest of secrets, perhaps not yet suspected even by the
other--I am sure that I was scarcely less enchanted than they were and scarcely
less pleased with the pretty dream.
We were going on in this way, when one morning at
breakfast Mr. Jarndyce received a letter, and looking at the superscription,
said, "From Boythorn? Aye, aye!" and opened and read it with evident
pleasure, announcing to us in a parenthesis when he was about half-way through,
that Boythorn was "coming down" on a visit. Now who was Boythorn, we
all thought. And I dare say we all thought too--I am sure I did, for one--would
Boythorn at all interfere with what was going forward?
"I went to school with this fellow, Lawrence
Boythorn," said Mr. Jarndyce, tapping the letter as he laid it on the
table, "more than five and forty years ago. He was then the most impetuous
boy in the world, and he is now the most impetuous man. He was then the loudest
boy in the world, and he is now the loudest man. He was then the heartiest and
sturdiest boy in the world, and he is now the heartiest and sturdiest man. He is
a tremendous fellow."
"In stature, sir?" asked Richard.
"Pretty well, Rick, in that respect," said Mr.
Jarndyce; "being some ten years older than I and a couple of inches taller,
with his head thrown back like an old soldier, his stalwart chest squared, his
hands like a clean blacksmith's, and his lungs! There's no simile for his lungs.
Talking, laughing, or snoring, they make the beams of the house shake."
As Mr. Jarndyce sat enjoying the image of his friend
Boythorn, we observed the favourable omen that there was not the least
indication of any change in the wind.
"But it's the inside of the man, the warm heart of
the man, the passion of the man, the fresh blood of the man, Rick--and Ada, and
little Cobweb too, for you are all interested in a visitor--that I speak
of," he pursued. "His language is as sounding as his voice. He is
always in extremes, perpetually in the superlative degree. In his condemnation
he is all ferocity. You might suppose him to be an ogre from what he says, and I
believe he has the reputation of one with some people. There! I tell you no more
of him beforehand. You must not be surprised to see him take me under his
protection, for he has never forgotten that I was a low boy at school and that
our friendship began in his knocking two of my head tyrant's teeth out (he says
six) before breakfast. Boythorn and his man," to me, "will be here
this afternoon, my dear."
I took care that the necessary preparations were made
for Mr. Boythorn's reception, and we looked forward to his arrival with some
curiosity. The afternoon wore away, however, and he did not appear. The
dinner-hour arrived, and still he did not appear. The dinner was put back an
hour, and we were sitting round the fire with no light but the blaze when the
hall-door suddenly burst open and the hall resounded with these words, uttered
with the greatest vehemence and in a stentorian tone: "We have been
misdirected, Jarndyce, by a most abandoned ruffian, who told us to take the
turning to the right instead of to the left. He is the most intolerable
scoundrel on the face of the earth. His father must have been a most consummate
villain, ever to have such a son. I would have had that fellow shot without the
"Did he do it on purpose?" Mr. Jarndyce
"I have not the slightest doubt that the scoundrel
has passed his whole existence in misdirecting travellers!" returned the
other. "By my soul, I thought him the worst-looking dog I had ever beheld
when he was telling me to take the turning to the right. And yet I stood before
that fellow face to face and didn't knock his brains out!"
"Teeth, you mean?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Mr. Lawrence Boythorn,
really making the whole house vibrate. "What, you have not forgotten it
yet! Ha, ha, ha! And that was another most consummate vagabond! By my soul, the
countenance of that fellow when he was a boy was the blackest image of perfidy,
cowardice, and cruelty ever set up as a scarecrow in a field of scoundrels. If I
were to meet that most unparalleled despot in the streets to-morrow, I would
fell him like a rotten tree!"
"I have no doubt of it," said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Now, will you come upstairs?"
"By my soul, Jarndyce," returned his guest,
who seemed to refer to his watch, "if you had been married, I would have
turned back at the garden-gate and gone away to the remotest summits of the
Himalaya Mountains sooner than I would have presented myself at this
"Not quite so far, I hope?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"By my life and honour, yes!" cried the
visitor. "I wouldn't be guilty of the audacious insolence of keeping a lady
of the house waiting all this time for any earthly consideration. I would
infinitely rather destroy myself--infinitely rather!"
Talking thus, they went upstairs, and presently we heard
him in his bedroom thundering "Ha, ha, ha!" and again "Ha, ha,
ha!" until the flattest echo in the neighbourhood seemed to catch the
contagion and to laugh as enjoyingly as he did or as we did when we heard him
We all conceived a prepossession in his favour, for
there was a sterling quality in this laugh, and in his vigorous, healthy voice,
and in the roundness and fullness with which he uttered every word he spoke, and
in the very fury of his superlatives, which seemed to go off like blank cannons
and hurt nothing. But we were hardly prepared to have it so confirmed by his
appearance when Mr. Jarndyce presented him. He was not only a very handsome old
gentleman--upright and stalwart as he had been described to us-- with a massive
grey head, a fine composure of face when silent, a figure that might have become
corpulent but for his being so continually in earnest that he gave it no rest,
and a chin that might have subsided into a double chin but for the vehement
emphasis in which it was constantly required to assist; but he was such a true
gentleman in his manner, so chivalrously polite, his face was lighted by a smile
of so much sweetness and tenderness, and it seemed so plain that he had nothing
to hide, but showed himself exactly as he was--incapable, as Richard said, of
anything on a limited scale, and firing away with those blank great guns because
he carried no small arms whatever--that really I could not help looking at him
with equal pleasure as he sat at dinner, whether he smilingly conversed with Ada
and me, or was led by Mr. Jarndyce into some great volley of superlatives, or
threw up his head like a bloodhound and gave out that tremendous "Ha, ha,
"You have brought your bird with you, I
suppose?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"By heaven, he is the most astonishing bird in
Europe!" replied the other. "He IS the most wonderful creature! I
wouldn't take ten thousand guineas for that bird. I have left an annuity for his
sole support in case he should outlive me. He is, in sense and attachment, a
phenomenon. And his father before him was one of the most astonishing birds that
The subject of this laudation was a very little canary,
who was so tame that he was brought down by Mr. Boythorn's man, on his
forefinger, and after taking a gentle flight round the room, alighted on his
master's head. To hear Mr. Boythorn presently expressing the most implacable and
passionate sentiments, with this fragile mite of a creature quietly perched on
his forehead, was to have a good illustration of his character, I thought.
"By my soul, Jarndyce," he said, very gently
holding up a bit of bread to the canary to peck at, "if I were in your
place I would seize every master in Chancery by the throat tomorrow morning and
shake him until his money rolled out of his pockets and his bones rattled in his
skin. I would have a settlement out of somebody, by fair means or by foul. If
you would empower me to do it, I would do it for you with the greatest
satisfaction!" (All this time the very small canary was eating out of his
"I thank you, Lawrence, but the suit is hardly at
such a point at present," returned Mr. Jarndyce, laughing, "that it
would be greatly advanced even by the legal process of shaking the bench and the
"There never was such an infernal cauldron as that
Chancery on the face of the earth!" said Mr. Boythorn. "Nothing but a
mine below it on a busy day in term time, with all its records, rules, and
precedents collected in it and every functionary belonging to it also, high and
low, upward and downward, from its son the Accountant-General to its father the
Devil, and the whole blown to atoms with ten thousand hundredweight of
gunpowder, would reform it in the least!"
It was impossible not to laugh at the energetic gravity
with which he recommended this strong measure of reform. When we laughed, he
threw up his head and shook his broad chest, and again the whole country seemed
to echo to his "Ha, ha, ha!" It had not the least effect in disturbing
the bird, whose sense of security was complete and who hopped about the table
with its quick head now on this side and now on that, turning its bright sudden
eye on its master as if he were no more than another bird.
"But how do you and your neighbour get on about the
disputed right of way?" said Mr. Jarndyce. "You are not free from the
toils of the law yourself!"
"The fellow has brought actions against ME for
trespass, and I have brought actions against HIM for trespass," returned
Mr. Boythorn. "By heaven, he is the proudest fellow breathing. It is
morally impossible that his name can be Sir Leicester. It must be Sir
"Complimentary to our distant relation!" said
my guardian laughingly to Ada and Richard.
"I would beg Miss Clare's pardon and Mr. Carstone's
pardon," resumed our visitor, "if I were not reassured by seeing in
the fair face of the lady and the smile of the gentleman that it is quite
unnecessary and that they keep their distant relation at a comfortable
"Or he keeps us," suggested Richard.
"By my soul," exclaimed Mr. Boythorn, suddenly
firing another volley, "that fellow is, and his father was, and his
grandfather was, the most stiff-necked, arrogant imbecile, pig-headed numskull,
ever, by some inexplicable mistake of Nature, born in any station of life but a
walking-stick's! The whole of that family are the most solemnly conceited and
consummate blockheads! But it's no matter; he should not shut up my path if he
were fifty baronets melted into one and living in a hundred Chesney Wolds, one
within another, like the ivory balls in a Chinese carving. The fellow, by his
agent, or secretary, or somebody, writes to me 'Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet,
presents his compliments to Mr. Lawrence Boythorn, and has to call his attention
to the fact that the green pathway by the old parsonage-house, now the property
of Mr. Lawrence Boythorn, is Sir Leicester's right of way, being in fact a
portion of the park of chesney Wold, and that Sir Leicester finds it convenient
to close up the same.' I write to the fellow, 'Mr. Lawrence Boythorn presents
his compliments to Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, and has to call HIS attention
to the fact that he totally denies the whole of Sir Leicester Dedlock's
positions on every possible subject and has to add, in reference to closing up
the pathway, that he will be glad to see the man who may undertake to do it.'
The fellow sends a most abandoned villain with one eye to construct a gateway. I
play upon that execrable scoundrel with a fire-engine until the breath is nearly
driven out of his body. The fellow erects a gate in the night. I chop it down
and burn it in the morning. He sends his myrmidons to come over the fence and
pass and repass. I catch them in humane man traps, fire split peas at their
legs, play upon them with the engine--resolve to free mankind from the
insupportable burden of the existence of those lurking ruffians. He brings
actions for trespass; I bring actions for trespass. He brings actions for
assault and battery; I defend them and continue to assault and batter. Ha, ha,
To hear him say all this with unimaginable energy, one
might have thought him the angriest of mankind. To see him at the very same
time, looking at the bird now perched upon his thumb and softly smoothing its
feathers with his forefinger, one might have thought him the gentlest. To hear
him laugh and see the broad good nature of his face then, one might have
supposed that he had not a care in the world, or a dispute, or a dislike, but
that his whole existence was a summer joke.
"No, no," he said, "no closing up of my
paths by any Dedlock! Though I willingly confess," here he softened in a
moment, "that Lady Dedlock is the most accomplished lady in the world, to
whom I would do any homage that a plain gentleman, and no baronet with a head
seven hundred years thick, may. A man who joined his regiment at twenty and
within a week challenged the most imperious and presumptuous coxcomb of a
commanding officer that ever drew the breath of life through a tight waist--and
got broke for it--is not the man to be walked over by all the Sir Lucifers, dead
or alive, locked or unlocked. Ha, ha, ha!"
"Nor the man to allow his junior to be walked over
either?" said my guardian.
"Most assuredly not!" said Mr. Boythorn,
clapping him on the shoulder with an air of protection that had something
serious in it, though he laughed. "He will stand by the low boy, always.
Jarndyce, you may rely upon him! But speaking of this trespass-- with apologies
to Miss Clare and Miss Summerson for the length at which I have pursued so dry a
subject--is there nothing for me from your men Kenge and Carboy?"
"I think not, Esther?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Much obliged!" said Mr. Boythorn. "Had
no need to ask, after even my slight experience of Miss Summerson's forethought
for every one about her." (They all encouraged me; they were determined to
do it.) "I inquired because, coming from Lincolnshire, I of course have not
yet been in town, and I thought some letters might have been sent down here. I
dare say they will report progress to- morrow morning."
I saw him so often in the course of the evening, which
passed very pleasantly, contemplate Richard and Ada with an interest and a
satisfaction that made his fine face remarkably agreeable as he sat at a little
distance from the piano listening to the music--and he had small occasion to
tell us that he was passionately fond of music, for his face showed it--that I
asked my guardian as we sat at the backgammon board whether Mr. Boythorn had
ever been married.
"No," said he. "No."
"But he meant to be!" said I.
"How did you find out that?" he returned with
a smile. "Why, guardian," I explained, not without reddening a little
at hazarding what was in my thoughts, "there is something so tender in his
manner, after all, and he is so very courtly and gentle to us, and --"
Mr. Jarndyce directed his eyes to where he was sitting
as I have just described him.
I said no more.
"You are right, little woman," he answered.
"He was all but married once. Long ago. And once."
"Did the lady die?"
"No--but she died to him. That time has had its
influence on all his later life. Would you suppose him to have a head and a
heart full of romance yet?"
"I think, guardian, I might have supposed so. But
it is easy to say that when you have told me so."
"He has never since been what he might have
been," said Mr. Jarndyce, "and now you see him in his age with no one
near him but his servant and his little yellow friend. It's your throw, my
I felt, from my guardian's manner, that beyond this
point I could not pursue the subject without changing the wind. I therefore
forbore to ask any further questions. I was interested, but not curious. I
thought a little while about this old love story in the night, when I was
awakened by Mr. Boythorn's lusty snoring; and I tried to do that very difficult
thing, imagine old people young again and invested with the graces of youth. But
I fell asleep before I had succeeded, and dreamed of the days when I lived in my
godmother's house. I am not sufficiently acquainted with such subjects to know
whether it is at all remarkable that I almost always dreamed of that period of
With the morning there came a letter from Messrs. Kenge
and Carboy to Mr. Boythorn informing him that one of their clerks would wait
upon him at noon. As it was the day of the week on which I paid the bills, and
added up my books, and made all the household affairs as compact as possible, I
remained at home while Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and Richard took advantage of a very
fine day to make a little excursion, Mr. Boythorn was to wait for Kenge and
Carboy's clerk and then was to go on foot to meet them on their return.
Well! I was full of business, examining tradesmen's
books, adding up columns, paying money, filing receipts, and I dare say making a
great bustle about it when Mr. Guppy was announced and shown in. I had had some
idea that the clerk who was to be sent down might be the young gentleman who had
met me at the coach-office, and I was glad to see him, because he was associated
with my present happiness.
I scarcely knew him again, he was so uncommonly smart.
He had an entirely new suit of glossy clothes on, a shining hat, lilac-kid
gloves, a neckerchief of a variety of colours, a large hot-house flower in his
button-hole, and a thick gold ring on his little finger. Besides which, he quite
scented the dining-room with bear's-grease and other perfumery. He looked at me
with an attention that quite confused me when I begged him to take a seat until
the servant should return; and as he sat there crossing and uncrossing his legs
in a corner, and I asked him if he had had a pleasant ride, and hoped that Mr.
Kenge was well, I never looked at him, but I found him looking at me in the same
scrutinizing and curious way.
When the request was brought to him that he would go
up-stairs to Mr. Boythorn's room, I mentioned that he would find lunch prepared
for him when he came down, of which Mr. Jarndyce hoped he would partake. He said
with some embarrassment, holding the handle of the door, '"Shall I have the
honour of finding you here, miss?" I replied yes, I should be there; and he
went out with a bow and another look.
I thought him only awkward and shy, for he was evidently
much embarrassed; and I fancied that the best thing I could do would be to wait
until I saw that he had everything he wanted and then to leave him to himself.
The lunch was soon brought, but it remained for some time on the table. The
interview with Mr. Boythorn was a long one, and a stormy one too, I should
think, for although his room was at some distance I heard his loud voice rising
every now and then like a high wind, and evidently blowing perfect broadsides of
At last Mr. Guppy came back, looking something the worse
for the conference. "My eye, miss," he said in a low voice, "he's
"Pray take some refreshment, sir," said I.
Mr. Guppy sat down at the table and began nervously
sharpening the carving-knife on the carving-fork, still looking at me (as I felt
quite sure without looking at him) in the same unusual manner. The sharpening
lasted so long that at last I felt a kind of obligation on me to raise my eyes
in order that I might break the spell under which he seemed to labour, of not
being able to leave off.
He immediately looked at the dish and began to carve.
"What will you take yourself, miss? You'll take a
morsel of something?"
"No, thank you," said I.
"Shan't I give you a piece of anything at all,
miss?" said Mr. Guppy, hurriedly drinking off a glass of wine.
"Nothing, thank you," said I. "I have
only waited to see that you have everything you want. Is there anything I can
order for you?"
"No, I am much obliged to you, miss, I'm sure. I've
everything that I can require to make me comfortable--at least I--not
comfortable-- I'm never that." He drank off two more glasses of wine, one
I thought I had better go.
"I beg your pardon, miss!" said Mr. Guppy,
rising when he saw me rise. "But would you allow me the favour of a
minute's private conversation?"
Not knowing what to say, I sat down again.
"What follows is without prejudice, miss?"
said Mr. Guppy, anxiously bringing a chair towards my table.
"I don't understand what you mean," said I,
"It's one of our law terms, miss. You won't make
any use of it to my detriment at Kenge and Carboy's or elsewhere. If our
conversation shouldn't lead to anything, I am to be as I was and am not to be
prejudiced in my situation or worldly prospects. In short, it's in total
"I am at a loss, sir," said I, "to
imagine what you can have to communicate in total confidence to me, whom you
have never seen but once; but I should be very sorry to do you any injury."
"Thank you, miss. I'm sure of it--that's quite
sufficient." All this time Mr. Guppy was either planing his forehead with
his handkerchief or tightly rubbing the palm of his left hand with the palm of
his right. "If you would excuse my taking another glass of wine, miss, I
think it might assist me in getting on without a continual choke that cannot
fail to be mutually unpleasant."
He did so, and came back again. I took the opportunity
of moving well behind my table.
"You wouldn't allow me to offer you one, would you
miss?" said Mr. Guppy, apparently refreshed.
"Not any," said I.
"Not half a glass?" said Mr. Guppy.
"Quarter? No! Then, to proceed. My present salary, Miss Summerson, at Kenge
and Carboy's, is two pound a week. When I first had the happiness of looking
upon you, it was one fifteen, and had stood at that figure for a lengthened
period. A rise of five has since taken place, and a further rise of five is
guaranteed at the expiration of a term not exceeding twelve months from the
present date. My mother has a little property, which takes the form of a small
life annuity, upon which she lives in an independent though unassuming manner in
the Old Street Road. She is eminently calculated for a mother-in-law. She never
interferes, is all for peace, and her disposition easy. She has her failings--as
who has not?--but I never knew her do it when company was present, at which time
you may freely trust her with wines, spirits, or malt liquors. My own abode is
lodgings at Penton Place, Pentonville. It is lowly, but airy, open at the back,
and considered one of the 'ealthiest outlets. Miss Summerson! In the mildest
language, I adore you. Would you be so kind as to allow me (as I may say) to
file a declaration--to make an offer!"
Mr. Guppy went down on his knees. I was well behind my
table and not much frightened. I said, "Get up from that ridiculous
position lmmediately, sir, or you will oblige me to break my implied promise and
ring the bell!"
"Hear me out, miss!" said Mr. Guppy, folding
"I cannot consent to hear another word, sir,"
I returned, "Unless you get up from the carpet directly and go and sit down
at the table as you ought to do if you have any sense at all."
He looked piteously, but slowly rose and did so.
"Yet what a mockery it is, miss," he said with
his hand upon his heart and shaking his head at me in a melancholy manner over
the tray, "to be stationed behind food at such a moment. The soul recoils
from food at such a moment, miss."
"I beg you to conclude," said I; "you
have asked me to hear you out, and I beg you to conclude."
"I will, miss," said Mr. Guppy. "As I
love and honour, so likewise I obey. Would that I could make thee the subject of
that vow before the shrine!"
"That is quite impossible," said I, "and
entirely out of the question."
"I am aware," said Mr. Guppy, leaning forward
over the tray and regarding me, as I again strangely felt, though my eyes were
not directed to him, with his late intent look, "I am aware that in a
worldly point of view, according to all appearances, my offer is a poor one.
But, Miss Summerson! Angel! No, don't ring--I have been brought up in a sharp
school and am accustomed to a variety of general practice. Though a young man, I
have ferreted out evidence, got up cases, and seen lots of life. Blest with your
hand, what means might I not find of advancing your interests and pushing your
fortunes! What might I not get to know, nearly concerning you? I know nothing
now, certainly; but what MIGHT I not if I had your confidence, and you set me
I told him that he addressed my interest or what he
supposed to be my interest quite as unsuccessfully as he addressed my
inclination, and he would now understand that I requested him, if he pleased, to
go away immediately.
"Cruel miss," said Mr. Guppy, "hear but
another word! I think you must have seen that I was struck with those charms on
the day when I waited at the Whytorseller. I think you must have remarked that I
could not forbear a tribute to those charms when I put up the steps of the 'ackney-coach.
It was a feeble tribute to thee, but it was well meant. Thy image has ever since
been fixed in my breast. I have walked up and down of an evening opposite
Jellyby's house only to look upon the bricks that once contained thee. This out
of to- day, quite an unnecessary out so far as the attendance, which was its
pretended object, went, was planned by me alone for thee alone. If I speak of
interest, it is only to recommend myself and my respectful wretchedness. Love
was before it, and is before it."
"I should be pained, Mr. Guppy," said I,
rising and putting my hand upon the bell-rope, "to do you or any one who
was sincere the injustice of slighting any honest feeling, however disagreeably
expressed. If you have really meant to give me a proof of your good opinion,
though ill-timed and misplaced, I feel that I ought to thank you. I have very
little reason to be proud, and I am not proud. I hope," I think I added,
without very well knowing what I said, "that you will now go away as if you
had never been so exceedingly foolish and attend to Messrs. Kenge and Carboy's
"Half a minute, miss!" cried Mr. Guppy,
checking me as I was about to ring. "This has been without prejudice?"
"I will never mention it," said I,
"unless you should give me future occasion to do so."
"A quarter of a minute, miss! In case you should
think better at any time, however distant--THAT'S no consequence, for my
feelings can never alter--of anything I have said, particularly what might I not
do, Mr. William Guppy, eighty-seven, Penton Place, or if removed, or dead (of
blighted hopes or anything of that sort), care of Mrs. Guppy, three hundred and
two, Old Street Road, will be sufficient."
I rang the bell, the servant came, and Mr. Guppy, laying
his written card upon the table and making a dejected bow, departed. Raising my
eyes as he went out, I once more saw him looking at me after he had passed the
I sat there for another hour or more, finishing my books
and payments and getting through plenty of business. Then I arranged my desk,
and put everything away, and was so composed and cheerful that I thought I had
quite dismissed this unexpected incident. But, when I went upstairs to my own
room, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh about it and then surprised
myself still more by beginning to cry about it. In short, I was in a flutter for
a little while and felt as if an old chord had been more coarsely touched than
it ever had been since the days of the dear old doll, long buried in the garden.