Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1852-1853) - Chapter 37 -
Jarndyce and Jarndyce
Jarndyce and Jarndyce
If the secret I had to keep had been mine, I must have
confided it to Ada before we had been long together. But it was not mine, and I
did not feel that I had a right to tell it, even to my guardian, unless some
great emergency arose. It was a weight to bear alone; still my present duty
appeared to be plain, and blest in the attachment of my dear, I did not want an
impulse and encouragement to do it. Though often when she was asleep and all was
quiet, the remembrance of my mother kept me waking and made the night sorrowful,
I did not yield to it at another time; and Ada found me what I used to
be--except, of course, in that particular of which I have said enough and which
I have no intention of mentioning any more just now, if I can help it.
The difficulty that I felt in being quite composed that
first evening when Ada asked me, over our work, if the family were at the house,
and when I was obliged to answer yes, I believed so, for Lady Dedlock had spoken
to me in the woods the day before yesterday, was great. Greater still when Ada
asked me what she had said, and when I replied that she had been kind and
interested, and when Ada, while admitting her beauty and elegance, remarked upon
her proud manner and her imperious chilling air. But Charley helped me through,
unconsciously, by telling us that Lady Dedlock had only stayed at the house two
nights on her way from London to visit at some other great house in the next
county and that she had left early on the morning after we had seen her at our
view, as we called it. Charley verified the adage about little pitchers, I am
sure, for she heard of more sayings and doings in a day than would have come to
my ears in a month.
We were to stay a month at Mr. Boythorn's. My pet had
scarcely been there a bright week, as I recollect the time, when one evening
after we had finished helping the gardener in watering his flowers, and just as
the candles were lighted, Charley, appearing with a very important air behind
Ada's chair, beckoned me mysteriously out of the room.
"Oh! If you please, miss," said Charley in a
whisper, with her eyes at their roundest and largest. "You're wanted at the
"Why, Charley," said I, "who can possibly
want me at the public- house?"
"I don't know, miss," returned Charley,
putting her head forward and folding her hands tight upon the band of her little
apron, which she always did in the enjoyment of anything mysterious or
confidential, "but it's a gentleman, miss, and his compliments, and will
you please to come without saying anything about it."
"Whose compliments, Charley?"
"His'n, miss," returned Charley, whose
grammatical education was advancing, but not very rapidly.
"And how do you come to be the messenger,
"I am not the messenger, if you please, miss,"
returned my little maid. "It was W. Grubble, miss."
"And who is W. Grubble, Charley?"
"Mister Grubble, miss," returned Charley.
"Don't you know, miss? The Dedlock Arms, by W. Grubble," which Charley
delivered as if she were slowly spelling out the sign.
"Aye? The landlord, Charley?"
"Yes, miss. If you please, miss, his wife is a
beautiful woman, but she broke her ankle, and it never joined. And her brother's
the sawyer that was put in the cage, miss, and they expect he'll drink himself
to death entirely on beer," said Charley.
Not knowing what might be the matter, and being easily
apprehensive now, I thought it best to go to this place by myself. I bade
Charley be quick with my bonnet and veil and my shawl, and having put them on,
went away down the little hilly street, where I was as much at home as in Mr.
Mr. Grubble was standing in his shirt-sleeves at the
door of his very clean little tavern waiting for me. He lifted off his hat with
both hands when he saw me coming, and carrying it so, as if it were an iron
vessel (it looked as heavy), preceded me along the sanded passage to his best
parlour, a neat carpeted room with more plants in it than were quite convenient,
a coloured print of Queen Caroline, several shells, a good many tea-trays, two
stuffed and dried fish in glass cases, and either a curious egg or a curious
pumpkin (but I don't know which, and I doubt if many people did) hanging from
his ceiling. I knew Mr. Grubble very well by sight, from his often standing at
his door. A pleasant-looking, stoutish, middle-aged man who never seemed to
consider himself cozily dressed for his own fire-side without his hat and
top-boots, but who never wore a coat except at church.
He snuffed the candle, and backing away a little to see
how it looked, backed out of the room--unexpectedly to me, for I was going to
ask him by whom he had been sent. The door of the opposite parlour being then
opened, I heard some voices, familiar in my ears I thought, which stopped. A
quick light step approached the room in which I was, and who should stand before
me but Richard!
"My dear Esther!" he said. "My best
friend!" And he really was so warm-hearted and earnest that in the first
surprise and pleasure of his brotherly greeting I could scarcely find breath to
tell him that Ada was well.
"Answering my very thoughts--always the same dear
girl!" said Richard, leading me to a chair and seating himself beside me.
I put my veil up, but not quite.
"Always the same dear girl!" said Richard just
as heartily as before.
I put up my veil altogether, and laying my hand on
Richard's sleeve and looking in his face, told him how much I thanked him for
his kind welcome and how greatly I rejoiced to see him, the more so because of
the determination I had made in my illness, which I now conveyed to him.
"My love," said Richard, "there is no one
with whom I have a greater wish to talk than you, for I want you to understand
"And I want you, Richard," said I, shaking my
head, "to understand some one else."
"Since you refer so immediately to John Jarndyce,"
said Richard, " --I suppose you mean him?"
"Of course I do."
"Then I may say at once that I am glad of it,
because it is on that subject that I am anxious to be understood. By you,
mind--you, my dear! I am not accountable to Mr. Jarndyce or Mr. Anybody."
I was pained to find him taking this tone, and he
"Well, well, my dear," said Richard, "we
won't go into that now. I want to appear quietly in your country-house here,
with you under my arm, and give my charming cousin a surprise. I suppose your
loyalty to John Jarndyce will allow that?"
"My dear Richard," I returned, "you know
you would be heartily welcome at his house--your home, if you will but consider
it so; and you are as heartily welcome here!"
"Spoken like the best of little women!" cried
I asked him how he liked his profession.
"Oh, I like it well enough!" said Richard.
"It's all right. It does as well as anything else, for a time. I don't know
that I shall care about it when I come to be settled, but I can sell out then
and--however, never mind all that botheration at present."
So young and handsome, and in all respects so perfectly
the opposite of Miss Flite! And yet, in the clouded, eager, seeking look that
passed over him, so dreadfully like her!
"I am in town on leave just now," said
"Yes. I have run over to look after my--my Chancery
interests before the long vacation," said Richard, forcing a careless
laugh. "We are beginning to spin along with that old suit at last, I
No wonder that I shook my head!
"As you say, it's not a pleasant subject."
Richard spoke with the same shade crossing his face as before. "Let it go
to the four winds for to-night. Puff! Gone! Who do you suppose is with me?"
"Was it Mr. Skimpole's voice I heard?"
"That's the man! He does me more good than anybody.
What a fascinating child it is!"
I asked Richard if any one knew of their coming down
together. He answered, no, nobody. He had been to call upon the dear old
infant--so he called Mr. Skimpole--and the dear old infant had told him where we
were, and he had told the dear old infant he was bent on coming to see us, and
the dear old infant had directly wanted to come too; and so he had brought him.
"And he is worth--not to say his sordid expenses--but thrice his weight in
gold," said Richard. "He is such a cheery fellow. No worldliness about
him. Fresh and green-hearted!"
I certainly did not see the proof of Mr. Skimpole's
worldliness in his having his expenses paid by Richard, but I made no remark
about that. Indeed, he came in and turned our conversation. He was charmed to
see me, said he had been shedding delicious tears of joy and sympathy at
intervals for six weeks on my account, had never been so happy as in hearing of
my progress, began to understand the mixture of good and evil in the world now,
felt that he appreciated health the more when somebody else was ill, didn't know
but what it might be in the scheme of things that A should squint to make B
happier in looking straight or that C should carry a wooden leg to make D better
satisfied with his flesh and blood in a silk stocking.
"My dear Miss Summerson, here is our friend
Richard," said Mr. Skimpole, "full of the brightest visions of the
future, which he evokes out of the darkness of Chancery. Now that's delightful,
that's inspiriting, that's full of poetry! In old times the woods and solitudes
were made joyous to the shepherd by the imaginary piping and dancing of Pan and
the nymphs. This present shepherd, our pastoral Richard, brightens the dull Inns
of Court by making Fortune and her train sport through them to the melodious
notes of a judgment from the bench. That's very pleasant, you know! Some
ill-conditioned growling fellow may say to me, 'What's the use of these legal
and equitable abuses? How do you defend them?' I reply, 'My growling friend, I
DON'T defend them, but they are very agreeable to me. There is a
shepherd--youth, a friend of mine, who transmutes them into something highly
fascinating to my simplicity. I don't say it is for this that they exist--for I
am a child among you worldly grumblers, and not called upon to account to you or
myself for anything--but it may be so.'"
I began seriously to think that Richard could scarcely
have found a worse friend than this. It made me uneasy that at such a time when
he most required some right principle and purpose he should have this
captivating looseness and putting-off of everything, this airy dispensing with
all principle and purpose, at his elbow. I thought I could understand how such a
nature as my guardian's, experienced in the world and forced to contemplate the
miserable evasions and contentions of the family misfortune, found an immense
relief in Mr. Skimpole's avowal of his weaknesses and display of guileless
candour; but I could not satisfy myself that it was as artless as it seemed or
that it did not serve Mr. Skimpole's idle turn quite as well as any other part,
and with less trouble.
They both walked back with me, and Mr. Skimpole leaving
us at the gate, I walked softly in with Richard and said, "Ada, my love, I
have brought a gentleman to visit you." It was not difficult to read the
blushing, startled face. She loved him dearly, and he knew it, and I knew it. It
was a very transparent business, that meeting as cousins only.
I almost mistrusted myself as growing quite wicked in my
suspicions, but I was not so sure that Richard loved her dearly. He admired her
very much--any one must have done that--and I dare say would have renewed their
youthful engagement with great pride and ardour but that he knew how she would
respect her promise to my guardian. Still I had a tormenting idea that the
influence upon him extended even here, that he was postponing his best truth and
earnestness in this as in all things until Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be off
his mind. Ah me! What Richard would have been without that blight, I never shall
He told Ada, in his most ingenuous way, that he had not
come to make any secret inroad on the terms she had accepted (rather too
implicitly and confidingly, he thought) from Mr. Jarndyce, that he had come
openly to see her and to see me and to justify himself for the present terms on
which he stood with Mr. Jarndyce. As the dear old infant would be with us
directly, he begged that I would make an appointment for the morning, when he
might set himself right through the means of an unreserved conversation with me.
I proposed to walk with him in the park at seven o'clock, and this was arranged.
Mr. Skimpole soon afterwards appeared and made us merry for an hour. He
particularly requested to see little Coavinses (meaning Charley) and told her,
with a patriarchal air, that he had given her late father all the business in
his power and that if one of her little brothers would make haste to get set up
in the same profession, he hoped he should still be able to put a good deal of
employment in his way.
"For I am constantly being taken in these
nets," said Mr. Skimpole, looking beamingly at us over a glass of
wine-and-water, "and am constantly being bailed out--like a boat. Or paid
off--like a ship's company. Somebody always does it for me. I can't do it, you
know, for I never have any money. But somebody does it. I get out by somebody's
means; I am not like the starling; I get out. If you were to ask me who somebody
is, upon my word I couldn't tell you. Let us drink to somebody. God bless
Richard was a little late in the morning, but I had not
to wait for him long, and we turned into the park. The air was bright and dewy
and the sky without a cloud. The birds sang delightfully; the sparkles in the
fern, the grass, and trees, were exquisite to see; the richness of the woods
seemed to have increased twenty-fold since yesterday, as if, in the still night
when they had looked so massively hushed in sleep, Nature, through all the
minute details of every wonderful leaf, had been more wakeful than usual for the
glory of that day.
"This is a lovely place," said Richard,
looking round. "None of the jar and discord of law-suits here!"
But there was other trouble.
"I tell you what, my dear girl," said Richard,
"when I get affairs in general settled, I shall come down here, I think,
"Would it not be better to rest now?" I asked.
"Oh, as to resting NOW," said Richard,
"or as to doing anything very definite NOW, that's not easy. In short, it
can't be done; I can't do it at least."
"Why not?" said I.
"You know why not, Esther. If you were living in an
unfinished house, liable to have the roof put on or taken off--to be from top to
bottom pulled down or built up--to-morrow, next day, next week, next month, next
year--you would find it hard to rest or settle. So do I. Now? There's no now for
I could almost have believed in the attraction on which
my poor little wandering friend had expatiated when I saw again the darkened
look of last night. Terrible to think it bad in it also a shade of that
unfortunate man who had died.
"My dear Richard," said I, "this is a bad
beginning of our conversation."
"I knew you would tell me so, Dame Durden."
"And not I alone, dear Richard. It was not I who
cautioned you once never to found a hope or expectation on the family
"There you come back to John Jarndyce!" said
Richard impatiently. "Well! We must approach him sooner or later, for he is
the staple of what I have to say, and it's as well at once. My dear Esther, how
can you be so blind? Don't you see that he is an interested party and that it
may be very well for him to wish me to know nothing of the suit, and care
nothing about it, but that it may not be quite so well for me?"
"Oh, Richard," I remonstrated, "is it
possible that you can ever have seen him and heard him, that you can ever have
lived under his roof and known him, and can yet breathe, even to me in this
solitary place where there is no one to hear us, such unworthy suspicions?"
He reddened deeply, as if his natural generosity felt a
pang of reproach. He was silent for a little while before he replied in a
subdued voice, "Esther, I am sure you know that I am not a mean fellow and
that I have some sense of suspicion and distrust being poor qualities in one of
"I know it very well," said I. "I am not
more sure of anything."
"That's a dear girl," retorted Richard,
"and like you, because it gives me comfort. I had need to get some scrap of
comfort out of all this business, for it's a bad one at the best, as I have no
occasion to tell you."
"I know perfectly," said I. "I know as
well, Richard--what shall I say? as well as you do--that such misconstructions
are foreign to your nature. And I know, as well as you know, what so changes
"Come, sister, come," said Richard a little
more gaily, "you will be fair with me at all events. If I have the
misfortune to be under that influence, so has he. If it has a little twisted me,
it may have a little twisted him too. I don't say that he is not an honourable
man, out of all this complication and uncertainty; I am sure he is. But it
taints everybody. You know it taints everybody. You have heard him say so fifty
times. Then why should HE escape?"
"Because," said I, "his is an uncommon
character, and he has resolutely kept himself outside the circle, Richard."
"Oh, because and because!" replied Richard in
his vivacious way. "I am not sure, my dear girl, but that it may be wise
and specious to preserve that outward indifference. It may cause other parties
interested to become lax about their interests; and people may die off, and
points may drag themselves out of memory, and many things may smoothly happen
that are convenient enough."
I was so touched with pity for Richard that I could not
reproach him any more, even by a look. I remembered my guardian's gentleness
towards his errors and with what perfect freedom from resentment he had spoken
"Esther," Richard resumed, "you are not
to suppose that I have come here to make underhanded charges against John
Jarndyce. I have only come to justify myself. What I say is, it was all very
well and we got on very well while I was a boy, utterly regardless of this same
suit; but as soon as I began to take an interest in it and to look into it, then
it was quite another thing. Then John Jarndyce discovers that Ada and I must
break off and that if I don't amend that very objectionable course, I am not fit
for her. Now, Esther, I don't mean to amend that very objectionable course: I
will not hold John Jarndyce's favour on those unfair terms of compromise, which
he has no right to dictate. Whether it pleases him or displeases him, I must
maintain my rights and Ada's. I have been thinking about it a good deal, and
this is the conclusion I have come to."
Poor dear Richard! He had indeed been thinking about it
a good deal. His face, his voice, his manner, all showed that too plainly.
"So I tell him honourably (you are to know I have
written to him about all this) that we are at issue and that we had better be at
issue openly than covertly. I thank him for his goodwill and his protection, and
he goes his road, and I go mine. The fact is, our roads are not the same. Under
one of the wills in dispute, I should take much more than he. I don't mean to
say that it is the one to be established, but there it is, and it has its
"I have not to learn from you, my dear
Richard," said I, "of your letter. I had heard of it already without
an offended or angry word."
"Indeed?" replied Richard, softening. "I
am glad I said he was an honourable man, out of all this wretched affair. But I
always say that and have never doubted it. Now, my dear Esther, I know these
views of mine appear extremely harsh to you, and will to Ada when you tell her
what has passed between us. But if you had gone into the case as I have, if you
had only applied yourself to the papers as I did when I was at Kenge's, if you
only knew what an accumulation of charges and counter-charges, and suspicions
and cross-suspicions, they involve, you would think me moderate in
"Perhaps so," said I. "But do you think
that, among those many papers, there is much truth and justice, Richard?"
"There is truth and justice somewhere in the case,
"Or was once, long ago," said I.
"Is--is--must be somewhere," pursued Richard
impetuously, "and must be brought out. To allow Ada to be made a bribe and
hush-money of is not the way to bring it out. You say the suit is changing me;
John Jarndyce says it changes, has changed, and will change everybody who has
any share in it. Then the greater right I have on my side when I resolve to do
all I can to bring it to an end."
"All you can, Richard! Do you think that in these
many years no others have done all they could? Has the difficulty grown easier
because of so many failures?"
"It can't last for ever," returned Richard
with a fierceness kindling in him which again presented to me that last sad
reminder. "I am young and earnest, and energy and determination have done
wonders many a time. Others have only half thrown themselves into it. I devote
myself to it. I make it the object of my life."
"Oh, Richard, my dear, so much the worse, so much
"No, no, no, don't you be afraid for me," he
returned affectionately. "You're a dear, good, wise, quiet, blessed girl;
but you have your prepossessions. So I come round to John Jarndyce. I tell you,
my good Esther, when he and I were on those terms which he found so convenient,
we were not on natural terms."
"Are division and animosity your natural terms,
"No, I don't say that. I mean that all this
business puts us on unnatural terms, with which natural relations are
incompatible. See another reason for urging it on! I may find out when it's over
that I have been mistaken in John Jarndyce. My head may be clearer when I am
free of it, and I may then agree with what you say to- day. Very well. Then I
shall acknowledge it and make him reparation."
Everything postponed to that imaginary time! Everything
held in confusion and indecision until then!
"Now, my best of confidantes," said Richard,
"I want my cousin Ada to understand that I am not captious, fickle, and
wilful about John Jarndyce, but that I have this purpose and reason at my back.
I wish to represent myself to her through you, because she has a great esteem
and respect for her cousin John; and I know you will soften the course I take,
even though you disapprove of it; and-- and in short," said Richard, who
had been hesitating through these words, "I--I don't like to represent
myself in this litigious, contentious, doubting character to a confiding girl
I told him that he was more like himself in those latter
words than in anything he had said yet.
"Why," acknowledged Richard, "that may be
true enough, my love. I rather feel it to be so. But I shall be able to give
myself fair- play by and by. I shall come all right again, then, don't you be
I asked him if this were all he wished me to tell Ada.
"Not quite," said Richard. "I am bound
not to withhold from her that John Jarndyce answered my letter in his usual
manner, addressing me as 'My dear Rick,' trying to argue me out of my opinions,
and telling me that they should make no difference in him. (All very well of
course, but not altering the case.) I also want Ada to know that if I see her
seldom just now, I am looking after her interests as well as my own--we two
being in the same boat exactly--and that I hope she will not suppose from any
flying rumours she may hear that I am at all light-headed or imprudent; on the
contrary, I am always looking forward to the termination of the suit, and always
planning in that direction. Being of age now and having taken the step I have
taken, I consider myself free from any accountability to John Jarndyce; but Ada
being still a ward of the court, I don't yet ask her to renew our engagement.
When she is free to act for herself, I shall be myself once more and we shall
both be in very different worldly circumstances, I believe. If you tell her all
this with the advantage of your considerate way, you will do me a very great and
a very kind service, my dear Esther; and I shall knock Jarndyce and Jarndyce on
the head with greater vigour. Of course I ask for no secrecy at Bleak
"Richard," said I, "you place great
confidence in me, but I fear you will not take advice from me?"
"It's impossible that I can on this subject, my
dear girl. On any other, readily."
As if there were any other in his life! As if his whole
career and character were not being dyed one colour!
"But I may ask you a question, Richard?"
"I think so," said he, laughing. "I don't
know who may not, if you may not."
"You say, yourself, you are not leading a very
"How can I, my dear Esther, with nothing
"Are you in debt again?"
"Why, of course I am," said Richard,
astonished at my simplicity.
"Is it of course?"
"My dear child, certainly. I can't throw myself
into an object so completely without expense. You forget, or perhaps you don't
know, that under either of the wills Ada and I take something. It's only a
question between the larger sum and the smaller. I shall be within the mark any
way. Bless your heart, my excellent girl," said Richard, quite amused with
me, "I shall be all right! I shall pull through, my dear!"
I felt so deeply sensible of the danger in which he
stood that I tried, in Ada's name, in my guardian's, in my own, by every fervent
means that I could think of, to warn him of it and to show him some of his
mistakes. He received everything I said with patience and gentleness, but it all
rebounded from him without taking the least effect. I could not wonder at this
after the reception his preoccupied mind had given to my guardian's letter, but
I determined to try Ada's influence yet.
So when our walk brought us round to the village again,
and I went home to breakfast, I prepared Ada for the account I was going to give
her and told her exactly what reason we had to dread that Richard was losing
himself and scattering his whole life to the winds. It made her very unhappy, of
course, though she had a far, far greater reliance on his correcting his errors
than I could have--which was so natural and loving in my dear!--and she
presently wrote him this little letter:
My dearest cousin,
Esther has told me all you said to her this morning. I
write this to repeat most earnestly for myself all that she said to you and to
let you know how sure I am that you will sooner or later find our cousin John a
pattern of truth, sincerity, and goodness, when you will deeply, deeply grieve
to have done him (without intending it) so much wrong.
I do not quite know how to write what I wish to say
next, but I trust you will understand it as I mean it. I have some fears, my
dearest cousin, that it may be partly for my sake you are now laying up so much
unhappiness for yourself--and if for yourself, for me. In case this should be
so, or in case you should entertain much thought of me in what you are doing, I
most earnestly entreat and beg you to desist. You can do nothing for my sake
that will make me half so happy as for ever turning your back upon the shadow in
which we both were born. Do not be angry with me for saying this. Pray, pray,
dear Richard, for my sake, and for your own, and in a natural repugnance for
that source of trouble which had its share in making us both orphans when we
were very young, pray, pray, let it go for ever. We have reason to know by this
time that there is no good in it and no hope, that there is nothing to be got
from it but sorrow.
My dearest cousin, it is needless for me to say that you
are quite free and that it is very likely you may find some one whom you will
love much better than your first fancy. I am quite sure, if you will let me say
so, that the object of your choice would greatly prefer to follow your fortunes
far and wide, however moderate or poor, and see you happy, doing your duty and
pursuing your chosen way, than to have the hope of being, or even to be, very
rich with you (if such a thing were possible) at the cost of dragging years of
procrastination and anxiety and of your indifference to other aims. You may
wonder at my saying this so confidently with so little knowledge or experience,
but I know it for a certainty from my own heart.
Ever, my dearest cousin, your most affectionate
This note brought Richard to us very soon, but it made
little change in him if any. We would fairly try, he said, who was right and who
was wrong--he would show us--we should see! He was animated and glowing, as if
Ada's tenderness had gratified him; but I could only hope, with a sigh, that the
letter might have some stronger effect upon his mind on re-perusal than it
assuredly had then.
As they were to remain with us that day and had taken
their places to return by the coach next morning, I sought an opportunity of
speaking to Mr. Skimpole. Our out-of-door life easily threw one in my way, and I
delicately said that there was a responsibility in encouraging Richard.
"Responsibility, my dear Miss Summerson?" he
repeated, catching at the word with the pleasantest smile. "I am the last
man in the world for such a thing. I never was responsible in my life--I can't
"I am afraid everybody is obliged to be," said
I timidly enough, he being so much older and more clever than I.
"No, really?" said Mr. Skimpole, receiving
this new light with a most agreeable jocularity of surprise. "But every
man's not obliged to be solvent? I am not. I never was. See, my dear Miss
Summerson," he took a handful of loose silver and halfpence from his
pocket, "there's so much money. I have not an idea how much. I have not the
power of counting. Call it four and ninepence--call it four pound nine. They
tell me I owe more than that. I dare say I do. I dare say I owe as much as
good-natured people will let me owe. If they don't stop, why should I? There you
have Harold Skimpole in little. If that's responsibility, I am
The perfect ease of manner with which he put the money
up again and looked at me with a smile on his refined face, as if he had been
mentioning a curious little fact about somebody else, almost made me feel as if
he really had nothing to do with it.
"Now, when you mention responsibility," he
resumed, "I am disposed to say that I never had the happiness of knowing
any one whom I should consider so refreshingly responsible as yourself. You
appear to me to be the very touchstone of responsibility. When I see you, my
dear Miss Summerson, intent upon the perfect working of the whole little orderly
system of which you are the centre, I feel inclined to say to myself--in fact I
do say to myself very often-- THAT'S responsibility!"
It was difficult, after this, to explain what I meant;
but I persisted so far as to say that we all hoped he would check and not
confirm Richard in the sanguine views he entertained just then.
"Most willingly," he retorted, "if I
could. But, my dear Miss Summerson, I have no art, no disguise. If he takes me
by the hand and leads me through Westminster Hall in an airy procession after
fortune, I must go. If he says, 'Skimpole, join the dance!' I must join it.
Common sense wouldn't, I know, but I have NO common sense."
It was very unfortunate for Richard, I said.
"Do you think so!" returned Mr. Skimpole.
"Don't say that, don't say that. Let us suppose him keeping company with
Common Sense--an excellent man--a good deal wrinkled--dreadfully
practical--change for a ten-pound note in every pocket--ruled account-book in
his hand--say, upon the whole, resembling a tax-gatherer. Our dear Richard,
sanguine, ardent, overleaping obstacles, bursting with poetry like a young bud,
says to this highly respectable companion, 'I see a golden prospect before me;
it's very bright, it's very beautiful, it's very joyous; here I go, bounding
over the landscape to come at it!' The respectable companion instantly knocks
him down with the ruled account-book; tells him in a literal, prosaic way that
he sees no such thing; shows him it's nothing but fees, fraud, horsehair wigs,
and black gowns. Now you know that's a painful change--sensible in the last
degree, I have no doubt, but disagreeable. I can't do it. I haven't got the
ruled account- book, I have none of the tax-gatherlng elements in my
composition, I am not at all respectable, and I don't want to be. Odd perhaps,
but so it is!"
It was idle to say more, so I proposed that we should
join Ada and Richard, who were a little in advance, and I gave up Mr. Skimpole
in despair. He had been over the Hall in the course of the morning and
whimsically described the family pictures as we walked. There were such
portentous shepherdesses among the Ladies Dedlock dead and gone, he told us,
that peaceful crooks became weapons of assault in their hands. They tended their
flocks severely in buckram and powder and put their sticking-plaster patches on
to terrify commoners as the chiefs of some other tribes put on their war-paint.
There was a Sir Somebody Dedlock, with a battle, a sprung-mine, volumes of
smoke, flashes of lightning, a town on fire, and a stormed fort, all in full
action between his horse's two hind legs, showing, he supposed, how little a
Dedlock made of such trifles. The whole race he represented as having evidently
been, in life, what he called "stuffed people"--a large collection,
glassy eyed, set up in the most approved manner on their various twigs and
perches, very correct, perfectly free from animation, and always in glass cases.
I was not so easy now during any reference to the name
but that I felt it a relief when Richard, with an exclamation of surprise,
hurried away to meet a stranger whom he first descried coming slowly towards us.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Skimpole.
We asked if that were a friend of Richard's.
"Friend and legal adviser," said Mr. Skimpole.
"Now, my dear Miss Summerson, if you want common sense, responsibility, and
respectability, all united--if you want an exemplary man--Vholes is THE
We had not known, we said, that Richard was assisted by
any gentleman of that name.
"When he emerged from legal infancy," returned
Mr. Skimpole, "he parted from our conversational friend Kenge and took up,
I believe, with Vholes. Indeed, I know he did, because I introduced him to
"Had you known him long?" asked Ada.
"Vholes? My dear Miss Clare, I had had that kind of
acquaintance with him which I have had with several gentlemen of his profession.
He had done something or other in a very agreeable, civil manner-- taken
proceedings, I think, is the expression--which ended in the proceeding of his
taking ME. Somebody was so good as to step in and pay the money--something and
fourpence was the amount; I forget the pounds and shillings, but I know it ended
with fourpence, because it struck me at the time as being so odd that I could
owe anybody fourpence--and after that I brought them together. Vholes asked me
for the introduction, and I gave it. Now I come to think of it," he looked
inquiringly at us with his frankest smile as he made the discovery, "Vholes
bribed me, perhaps? He gave me something and called it commission. Was it a
five-pound note? Do you know, I think it MUST have been a five-pound note!"
His further consideration of the point was prevented by
Richard's coming back to us in an excited state and hastily representing Mr.
Vholes--a sallow man with pinched lips that looked as if they were cold, a red
eruption here and there upon his face, tall and thin, about fifty years of age,
high-shouldered, and stooping. Dressed in black, black-gloved, and buttoned to
the chin, there was nothing so remarkable in him as a lifeless manner and a
slow, fixed way he had of looking at Richard.
"I hope I don't disturb you, ladies," said Mr.
Vholes, and now I observed that he was further remarkable for an inward manner
of speaking. "I arranged with Mr. Carstone that he should always know when
his cause was in the Chancelor's paper, and being informed by one of my clerks
last night after post time that it stood, rather unexpectedly, in the paper for
to-morrow, I put myself into the coach early this morning and came down to
confer with him."
"Yes," said Richard, flushed, and looking
triumphantly at Ada and me, "we don't do these things in the old slow way
now. We spin along now! Mr. Vholes, we must hire something to get over to the
post town in, and catch the mail to-night, and go up by it!"
"Anything you please, sir," returned Mr.
Vholes. "I am quite at your service."
"Let me see," said Richard, looking at his
watch. "If I run down to the Dedlock, and get my portmanteau fastened up,
and order a gig, or a chaise, or whatever's to be got, we shall have an hour
then before starting. I'll come back to tea. Cousin Ada, will you and Esther
take care of Mr. Vholes when I am gone?"
He was away directly, in his heat and hurry, and was
soon lost in the dusk of evening. We who were left walked on towards the house.
"Is Mr. Carstone's presence necessary to-morrow,
Sir?" said I. "Can it do any good?"
"No, miss," Mr. Vholes replied. "I am not
aware that it can."
Both Ada and I expressed our regret that he should go,
then, only to be disappointed.
"Mr. Carstone has laid down the principle of
watching his own interests," said Mr. Vholes, "and when a client lays
down his own principle, and it is not immoral, it devolves upon me to carry it
out. I wish in business to be exact and open. I am a widower with three
daughters--Emma, Jane, and Caroline--and my desire is so to discharge the duties
of life as to leave them a good name. This appears to be a pleasant spot,
The remark being made to me in consequence of my being
next him as we walked, I assented and enumerated its chief attractions.
"Indeed?" said Mr. Vholes. "I have the
privilege of supporting an aged father in the Vale of Taunton--his native
place--and I admire that country very much. I had no idea there was anything so
To keep up the conversation, I asked Mr. Vholes if he
would like to live altogether in the country.
"There, miss," said he, "you touch me on
a tender string. My health is not good (my digestion being much impaired), and
if I had only myself to consider, I should take refuge in rural habits,
especially as the cares of business have prevented me from ever coming much into
contact with general society, and particularly with ladies' society, which I
have most wished to mix in. But with my three daughters, Emma, Jane, and
Caroline--and my aged father--I cannot afford to be selfish. It is true I have
no longer to maintain a dear grandmother who died in her hundred and second
year, but enough remains to render it indispensable that the mill should be
It required some attention to hear him on account of his
inward speaking and his lifeless manner.
"You will excuse my having mentioned my
daughters," he said. "They are my weak point. I wish to leave the poor
girls some little independence, as well as a good name."
We now arrived at Mr. Boythorn's house, where the
tea-table, all prepared, was awaiting us. Richard came in restless and hurried
shortly afterwards, and leaning over Mr. Vholes's chair, whispered something in
his ear. Mr. Vholes replied aloud--or as nearly aloud I suppose as he had ever
replied to anything--"You will drive me, will you, sir? It is all the same
to me, sir. Anything you please. I am quite at your service."
We understood from what followed that Mr. Skimpole was
to be left until the morning to occupy the two places which had been already
paid for. As Ada and I were both in low spirits concerning Richard and very
sorry so to part with him, we made it as plain as we politely could that we
should leave Mr. Skimpole to the Dedlock Arms and retire when the
night-travellers were gone.
Richard's high spirits carrying everything before them,
we all went out together to the top of the hill above the village, where he had
ordered a gig to wait and where we found a man with a lantern standing at the
head of the gaunt pale horse that had been harnessed to it.
I never shall forget those two seated side by side in
the lantern's light, Richard all flush and fire and laughter, with the reins in
his hand; Mr. Vholes quite still, black-gloved, and buttoned up, looking at him
as if he were looking at his prey and charming it. I have before me the whole
picture of the warm dark night, the summer lightning, the dusty track of road
closed in by hedgerows and high trees, the gaunt pale horse with his ears
pricked up, and the driving away at speed to Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
My dear girl told me that night how Richard's being
thereafter prosperous or ruined, befriended or deserted, could only make this
difference to her, that the more he needed love from one unchanging heart, the
more love that unchanging heart would have to give him; how he thought of her
through his present errors, and she would think of him at all times--never of
herself if she could devote herself to him, never of her own delights if she
could minister to his.
And she kept her word?
I look along the road before me, where the distance
already shortens and the journey's end is growing visible; and true and good
above the dead sea of the Chancery suit and all the ashy fruit it cast ashore, I
think I see my darling.