Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1852-1853) - Chapter 38 -
When our time came for returning to Bleak House again,
we were punctual to the day and were received with an overpowering welcome. I
was perfectly restored to health and strength, and finding my housekeeping keys
laid ready for me in my room, rang myself in as if I had been a new year, with a
merry little peal. "Once more, duty, duty, Esther," said I; "and
if you are not overjoyed to do it, more than cheerfully and contentedly, through
anything and everything, you ought to be. That's all I have to say to you, my
The first few mornings were mornings of so much bustle
and business, devoted to such settlements of accounts, such repeated journeys to
and fro between the growlery and all other parts of the house, so many
rearrangements of drawers and presses, and such a general new beginning
altogether, that I had not a moment's leisure. But when these arrangements were
completed and everything was in order, I paid a visit of a few hours to London,
which something in the letter I had destroyed at Chesney Wold had induced me to
decide upon in my own mind.
I made Caddy Jellyby--her maiden name was so natural to
me that I always called her by it--the pretext for this visit and wrote her a
note previously asking the favour of her company on a little business
expedition. Leaving home very early in the morning, I got to London by
stage-coach in such good time that I got to Newman Street with the day before
Caddy, who had not seen me since her wedding-day, was so
glad and so affectionate that I was half inclined to fear I should make her
husband jealous. But he was, in his way, just as bad--I mean as good; and in
short it was the old story, and nobody would leave me any possibility of doing
The elder Mr. Turveydrop was in bed, I found, and Caddy
was milling his chocolate, which a melancholy little boy who was an apprentice
--it seemed such a curious thing to be apprenticed to the trade of dancing--was
waiting to carry upstairs. Her father-in-law was extremely kind and considerate,
Caddy told me, and they lived most happily together. (When she spoke of their
living together, she meant that the old gentleman had all the good things and
all the good lodging, while she and her husband had what they could get, and
were poked into two corner rooms over the Mews.)
"And how is your mama, Caddy?" said I.
"Why, I hear of her, Esther," replied Caddy,
"through Pa, but I see very little of her. We are good friends, I am glad
to say, but Ma thinks there is something absurd in my having married a dancing-
master, and she is rather afraid of its extending to her."
It struck me that if Mrs. Jellyby had discharged her own
natural duties and obligations before she swept the horizon with a telescope in
search of others, she would have taken the best precautions against becoming
absurd, but I need scarcely observe that I kept this to myself.
"And your papa, Caddy?"
"He comes here every evening," returned Caddy,
"and is so fond of sitting in the corner there that it's a treat to see
Looking at the corner, I plainly perceived the mark of
Mr. Jellyby's head against the wall. It was consolatory to know that he had
found such a resting-place for it.
"And you, Caddy," said I, "you are always
busy, I'll be bound?"
"Well, my dear," returned Caddy, "I am
indeed, for to tell you a grand secret, I am qualifying myself to give lessons.
Prince's health is not strong, and I want to be able to assist him. What with
schools, and classes here, and private pupils, AND the apprentices, he really
has too much to do, poor fellow!"
The notion of the apprentices was still so odd to me
that I asked Caddy if there were many of them.
"Four," said Caddy. "One in-door, and
three out. They are very good children; only when they get together they WILL
play-- children-like--instead of attending to their work. So the little boy you
saw just now waltzes by himself in the empty kitchen, and we distribute the
others over the house as well as we can."
"That is only for their steps, of course?"
"Only for their steps," said Caddy. "In
that way they practise, so many hours at a time, whatever steps they happen to
be upon. They dance in the academy, and at this time of year we do figures at
five every morning."
"Why, what a laborious life!" I exclaimed.
"I assure you, my dear," returned Caddy,
smiling, "when the out- door apprentices ring us up in the morning (the
bell rings into our room, not to disturb old Mr. Turveydrop), and when I put up
the window and see them standing on the door-step with their little pumps under
their arms, I am actually reminded of the Sweeps."
All this presented the art to me in a singular light, to
be sure. Caddy enjoyed the effect of her communication and cheerfully recounted
the particulars of her own studies.
"You see, my dear, to save expense I ought to know
something of the piano, and I ought to know something of the kit too, and
consequently I have to practise those two instruments as well as the details of
our profession. If Ma had been like anybody else, I might have had some little
musical knowledge to begin upon. However, I hadn't any; and that part of the
work is, at first, a little discouraging, I must allow. But I have a very good
ear, and I am used to drudgery--I have to thank Ma for that, at all events-- and
where there's a will there's a way, you know, Esther, the world over."
Saying these words, Caddy laughingly sat down at a little jingling square piano
and really rattled off a quadrille with great spirit. Then she good-humouredly
and blushingly got up again, and while she still laughed herself, said,
"Don't laugh at me, please; that's a dear girl!"
I would sooner have cried, but I did neither. I
encouraged her and praised her with all my heart. For I conscientiously
believed, dancing-master's wife though she was, and dancing-mistress though in
her limited ambition she aspired to be, she had struck out a natural, wholesome,
loving course of industry and perseverance that was quite as good as a mission.
"My dear," said Caddy, delighted, "you
can't think how you cheer me. I shall owe you, you don't know how much. What
changes, Esther, even in my small world! You recollect that first night, when I
was so unpolite and inky? Who would have thought, then, of my ever teaching
people to dance, of all other possibilities and impossibilities!"
Her husband, who had left us while we had this chat, now
coming back, preparatory to exercising the apprentices in the ball-room, Caddy
informed me she was quite at my disposal. But it was not my time yet, I was glad
to tell her, for I should have been vexed to take her away then. Therefore we
three adjourned to the apprentices together, and I made one in the dance.
The apprentices were the queerest little people. Besides
the melancholy boy, who, I hoped, had not been made so by waltzing alone in the
empty kitchen, there were two other boys and one dirty little limp girl in a
gauzy dress. Such a precocious little girl, with such a dowdy bonnet on (that,
too, of a gauzy texture), who brought her sandalled shoes in an old threadbare
velvet reticule. Such mean little boys, when they were not dancing, with string,
and marbles, and cramp-bones in their pockets, and the most untidy legs and
feet--and heels particularly.
I asked Caddy what had made their parents choose this
profession for them. Caddy said she didn't know; perhaps they were designed for
teachers, perhaps for the stage. They were all people in humble circumstances,
and the melancholy boy's mother kept a ginger-beer shop.
We danced for an hour with great gravity, the melancholy
child doing wonders with his lower extremities, in which there appeared to be
some sense of enjoyment though it never rose above his waist. Caddy, while she
was observant of her husband and was evidently founded upon him, had acquired a
grace and self-possession of her own, which, united to her pretty face and
figure, was uncommonly agreeable. She already relieved him of much of the
instruction of these young people, and he seldom interfered except to walk his
part in the figure if he had anything to do in it. He always played the tune.
The affectation of the gauzy child, and her condescension to the boys, was a
sight. And thus we danced an hour by the clock.
When the practice was concluded, Caddy's husband made
himself ready to go out of town to a school, and Caddy ran away to get ready to
go out with me. I sat in the ball-room in the interval, contemplating the
apprentices. The two out-door boys went upon the staircase to put on their
half-boots and pull the in-door boy's hair, as I judged from the nature of his
objections. Returning with their jackets buttoned and their pumps stuck in them,
they then produced packets of cold bread and meat and bivouacked under a painted
lyre on the wall. The little gauzy child, having whisked her sandals into the
reticule and put on a trodden-down pair of shoes, shook her head into the dowdy
bonnet at one shake, and answering my inquiry whether she liked dancing by
replying, "Not with boys," tied it across her chin, and went home
"Old Mr. Turveydrop is so sorry," said Caddy,
"that he has not finished dressing yet and cannot have the pleasure of
seeing you before you go. You are such a favourite of his, Esther."
I expressed myself much obliged to him, but did not
think it necessary to add that I readily dispensed with this attention.
"It takes him a long time to dress," said
Caddy, "because he is very much looked up to in such things, you know, and
has a reputation to support. You can't think how kind he is to Pa. He talks to
Pa of an evening about the Prince Regent, and I never saw Pa so
There was something in the picture of Mr. Turveydrop
bestowing his deportment on Mr. Jellyby that quite took my fancy. I asked Caddy
if he brought her papa out much.
"No," said Caddy, "I don't know that he
does that, but he talks to Pa, and Pa greatly admires him, and listens, and
likes it. Of course I am aware that Pa has hardly any claims to deportment, but
they get on together delightfully. You can't think what good companions they
make. I never saw Pa take snuff before in my life, but he takes one pinch out of
Mr. Turveydrop's box regularly and keeps putting it to his nose and taking it
away again all the evening."
That old Mr. Turveydrop should ever, in the chances and
changes of life, have come to the rescue of Mr. Jellyby from Borrioboola-Gha
appeared to me to be one of the pleasantest of oddities.
"As to Peepy," said Caddy with a little
hesitation, "whom I was most afraid of--next to having any family of my
own, Esther--as an inconvenience to Mr. Turveydrop, the kindness of the old
gentleman to that child is beyond everything. He asks to see him, my dear! He
lets him take the newspaper up to him in bed; he gives him the crusts of his
toast to eat; he sends him on little errands about the house; he tells him to
come to me for sixpences. In short," said Caddy cheerily, "and not to
prose, I am a very fortunate girl and ought to be very grateful. Where are we
"To the Old Street Road," said I, "where
I have a few words to say to the solicitor's clerk who was sent to meet me at
the coach- office on the very day when I came to London and first saw you, my
dear. Now I think of it, the gentleman who brought us to your house."
"Then, indeed, I seem to be naturally the person to
go with you," returned Caddy.
To the Old Street Road we went and there inquired at
Mrs. Guppy's residence for Mrs. Guppy. Mrs. Guppy, occupying the parlours and
having indeed been visibly in danger of cracking herself like a nut in the
front-parlour door by peeping out before she was asked for, immediately
presented herself and requested us to walk in. She was an old lady in a large
cap, with rather a red nose and rather an unsteady eye, but smiling all over.
Her close little sitting-room was prepared for a visit, and there was a portrait
of her son in it which, I had almost written here, was more like than life: it
insisted upon him with such obstinacy, and was so determined not to let him off.
Not only was the portrait there, but we found the
original there too. He was dressed in a great many colours and was discovered at
a table reading law-papers with his forefinger to his forehead.
"Miss Summerson," said Mr. Guppy, rising,
"this is indeed an oasis. Mother, will you be so good as to put a chair for
the other lady and get out of the gangway."
Mrs. Guppy, whose incessant smiling gave her quite a
waggish appearance, did as her son requested and then sat down in a corner,
holding her pocket handkerchief to her chest, like a fomentation, with both
I presented Caddy, and Mr. Guppy said that any friend of
mine was more than welcome. I then proceeded to the object of my visit.
"I took the liberty of sending you a note,
sir," said I.
Mr. Guppy acknowledged the receipt by taking it out of
his breast- pocket, putting it to his lips, and returning it to his pocket with
a bow. Mr. Guppy's mother was so diverted that she rolled her head as she smiled
and made a silent appeal to Caddy with her elbow.
"Could I speak to you alone for a moment?"
Anything like the jocoseness of Mr. Guppy's mother just
now, I think I never saw. She made no sound of laughter, but she rolled her
head, and shook it, and put her handkerchief to her mouth, and appealed to Caddy
with her elbow, and her hand, and her shoulder, and was so unspeakably
entertained altogether that it was with some difficulty she could marshal Caddy
through the little folding-door into her bedroom adjoining.
"Miss Summerson," said Mr. Guppy, "you
will excuse the waywardness of a parent ever mindful of a son's appiness. My
mother, though highly exasperating to the feelings, is actuated by maternal
I could hardly have believed that anybody could in a
moment have turned so red or changed so much as Mr. Guppy did when I now put up
"I asked the favour of seeing you for a few moments
here," said I, "in preference to calling at Mr. Kenge's because,
remembering what you said on an occasion when you spoke to me in confidence, I
feared I might otherwise cause you some embarrassment, Mr. Guppy."
I caused him embarrassment enough as it was, I am sure.
I never saw such faltering, such confusion, such amazement and apprehension.
"Miss Summerson," stammered Mr. Guppy,
"I--I--beg your pardon, but in our profession--we--we--find it necessary to
be explicit. You have referred to an occasion, miss, when I--when I did myself
the honour of making a declaration which--"
Something seemed to rise in his throat that he could not
possibly swallow. He put his hand there, coughed, made faces, tried again to
swallow it, coughed again, made faces again, looked all round the room, and
fluttered his papers.
"A kind of giddy sensation has come upon me,
miss," he explained, "which rather knocks me over. I--er--a little
subject to this sort of thing--er--by George!"
I gave him a little time to recover. He consumed it in
putting his hand to his forehead and taking it away again, and in backing his
chair into the corner behind him.
"My intention was to remark, miss," said Mr.
Guppy, "dear me-- something bronchial, I think--hem!--to remark that you
was so good on that occasion as to repel and repudiate that declaration. You--
you wouldn't perhaps object to admit that? Though no witnesses are present, it
might be a satisfaction to--to your mind--if you was to put in that
"There can be no doubt," said I, "that I
declined your proposal without any reservation or qualification whatever, Mr.
"Thank you, miss," he returned, measuring the
table with his troubled hands. "So far that's satisfactory, and it does you
credit. Er--this is certainly bronchial!--must be in the tubes-- er--you
wouldn't perhaps be offended if I was to mention--not that it's necessary, for
your own good sense or any person's sense must show 'em that--if I was to
mention that such declaration on my part was final, and there terminated?"
"I quite understand that," said I.
"Perhaps--er--it may not be worth the form, but it
might be a satisfaction to your mind--perhaps you wouldn't object to admit that,
miss?" said Mr. Guppy.
"I admit it most fully and freely," said I.
"Thank you," returned Mr. Guppy. "Very
honourable, I am sure. I regret that my arrangements in life, combined with
circumstances over which I have no control, will put it out of my power ever to
fall back upon that offer or to renew it in any shape or form whatever, but it
will ever be a retrospect entwined--er--with friendship's bowers." Mr.
Guppy's bronchitis came to his relief and stopped his measurement of the table.
"I may now perhaps mention what I wished to say to
you?" I began.
"I shall be honoured, I am sure," said Mr.
Guppy. "I am so persuaded that your own good sense and right feeling, miss,
will-- will keep you as square as possible--that I can have nothing but
pleasure, I am sure, in hearing any observations you may wish to offer."
"You were so good as to imply, on that
"Excuse me, miss," said Mr. Guppy, "but
we had better not travel out of the record into implication. I cannot admit that
I implied anything."
"You said on that occasion," I recommenced,
"that you might possibly have the means of advancing my interests and
promoting my fortunes by making discoveries of which I should be the subject. I
presume that you founded that belief upon your general knowledge of my being an
orphan girl, indebted for everything to the benevolence of Mr. Jarndyce. Now,
the beginning and the end of what I have come to beg of you is, Mr. Guppy, that
you will have the kindness to relinquish all idea of so serving me. I have
thought of this sometimes, and I have thought of it most lately--since I have
been ill. At length I have decided, in case you should at any time recall that
purpose and act upon it in any way, to come to you and assure you that you are
altogether mistaken. You could make no discovery in reference to me that would
do me the least service or give me the least pleasure. I am acquainted with my
personal history, and I have it in my power to assure you that you never can
advance my welfare by such means. You may, perhaps, have abandoned this project
a long time. If so, excuse my giving you unnecessary trouble. If not, I entreat
you, on the assurance I have given you, henceforth to lay it aside. I beg you to
do this, for my peace."
"I am bound to confess," said Mr. Guppy,
"that you express yourself, miss, with that good sense and right feeling
for which I gave you credit. Nothing can be more satisfactory than such right
feeling, and if I mistook any intentions on your part just now, I am prepared to
tender a full apology. I should wish to be understood, miss, as hereby offering
that apology--limiting it, as your own good sense and right feeling will point
out the necessity of, to the present proceedings."
I must say for Mr. Guppy that the snuffling manner he
had had upon him improved very much. He seemed truly glad to be able to do
something I asked, and he looked ashamed.
"If you will allow me to finish what I have to say
at once so that I may have no occasion to resume," I went on, seeing him
about to speak, "you will do me a kindness, sir. I come to you as privately
as possible because you announced this impression of yours to me in a confidence
which I have really wished to respect--and which I always have respected, as you
remember. I have mentioned my illness. There really is no reason why I should
hesitate to say that I know very well that any little delicacy I might have had
in making a request to you is quite removed. Therefore I make the entreaty I
have now preferred, and I hope you will have sufficient consideration for me to
accede to it."
I must do Mr. Guppy the further justice of saying that
he had looked more and more ashamed and that he looked most ashamed and very
earnest when he now replied with a burning face, "Upon my word and honour,
upon my life, upon my soul, Miss Summerson, as I am a living man, I'll act
according to your wish! I'll never go another step in opposition to it. I'll
take my oath to it if it will be any satisfaction to you. In what I promise at
this present time touching the matters now in question," continued Mr.
Guppy rapidly, as if he were repeating a familiar form of words, "I speak
the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so--"
"I am quite satisfied," said I, rising at this
point, "and I thank you very much. Caddy, my dear, I am ready!"
Mr. Guppy's mother returned with Caddy (now making me
the recipient of her silent laughter and her nudges), and we took our leave. Mr.
Guppy saw us to the door with the air of one who was either imperfectly awake or
walking in his sleep; and we left him there, staring.
But in a minute he came after us down the street without
any hat, and with his long hair all blown about, and stopped us, saying
fervently, "Miss Summerson, upon my honour and soul, you may depend upon
"I do," said I, "quite confidently."
"I beg your pardon, miss," said Mr. Guppy,
going with one leg and staying with the other, "but this lady being
present--your own witness--it might be a satisfaction to your mind (which I
should wish to set at rest) if you was to repeat those admissions."
"Well, Caddy," said I, turning to her,
"perhaps you will not be surprised when I tell you, my dear, that there
never has been any engagement--"
"No proposal or promise of marriage
whatsoever," suggested Mr. Guppy.
"No proposal or promise of marriage
whatsoever," said I, "between this gentleman--"
"William Guppy, of Penton Place, Pentonville, in
the county of Middlesex," he murmured.
"Between this gentleman, Mr. William Guppy, of
Penton Place, Pentonville, in the county of Middlesex, and myself."
"Thank you, miss," said Mr. Guppy. "Very
full--er--excuse me-- lady's name, Christian and surname both?"
I gave them.
"Married woman, I believe?" said Mr. Guppy.
"Married woman. Thank you. Formerly Caroline Jellyby, spinster, then of
Thavies Inn, within the city of London, but extra-parochial; now of Newman
Street, Oxford Street. Much obliged."
He ran home and came running back again.
"Touching that matter, you know, I really and truly
am very sorry that my arrangements in life, combined with circumstances over
which I have no control, should prevent a renewal of what was wholly terminated
some time back," said Mr. Guppy to me forlornly and despondently, "but
it couldn't be. Now COULD it, you know! I only put it to you."
I replied it certainly could not. The subject did not
admit of a doubt. He thanked me and ran to his mother's again--and back again.
"It's very honourable of you, miss, I am
sure," said Mr. Guppy. "If an altar could be erected in the bowers of
friendship--but, upon my soul, you may rely upon me in every respect save and
except the tender passion only!"
The struggle in Mr. Guppy's breast and the numerous
oscillations it occasioned him between his mother's door and us were
sufficiently conspicuous in the windy street (particularly as his hair wanted
cutting) to make us hurry away. I did so with a lightened heart; but when we
last looked back, Mr. Guppy was still oscillating in the same troubled state of