Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1852-1853) - Chapter 43 -
It matters little now how much I thought of my living
mother who had told me evermore to consider her dead. I could not venture to
approach her or to communicate with her in writing, for my sense of the peril in
which her life was passed was only to be equalled by my fears of increasing it.
Knowing that my mere existence as a living creature was an unforeseen danger in
her way, I could not always conquer that terror of myself which had seized me
when I first knew the secret. At no time did I dare to utter her name. I felt as
if I did not even dare to hear it. If the conversation anywhere, when I was
present, took that direction, as it sometimes naturally did, I tried not to
hear: I mentally counted, repeated something that I knew, or went out of the
room. I am conscious now that I often did these things when there can have been
no danger of her being spoken of, but I did them in the dread I had of hearing
anything that might lead to her betrayal, and to her betrayal through me.
It matters little now how often I recalled the tones of
my mother's voice, wondered whether I should ever hear it again as I so longed
to do, and thought how strange and desolate it was that it should be so new to
me. It matters little that I watched for every public mention of my mother's
name; that I passed and repassed the door of her house in town, loving it, but
afraid to look at it; that I once sat in the theatre when my mother was there
and saw me, and when we were so wide asunder before the great company of all
degrees that any link or confidence between us seemed a dream. It is all, all
over. My lot has been so blest that I can relate little of myself which is not a
story of goodness and generosity in others. I may well pass that little and go
When we were settled at home again, Ada and I had many conversations with my
guardian of which Richard was the theme. My dear girl was deeply grieved that he
should do their kind cousin so much wrong, but she was so faithful to Richard
that she could not bear to blame him even for that. My guardian was assured of
it, and never coupled his name with a word of reproof. "Rick is mistaken,
my dear," he would say to her. "Well, well! We have all been mistaken
over and over again. We must trust to you and time to set him right."
We knew afterwards what we suspected then, that he did
not trust to time until he had often tried to open Richard's eyes. That he had
written to him, gone to him, talked with him, tried every gentle and persuasive
art his kindness could devise. Our poor devoted Richard was deaf and blind to
all. If he were wrong, he would make amends when the Chancery suit was over. If
he were groping in the dark, he could not do better than do his utmost to clear
away those clouds in which so much was confused and obscured. Suspicion and
misunderstanding were the fault of the suit? Then let him work the suit out and
come through it to his right mind. This was his unvarying reply. Jarndyce and
Jarndyce had obtained such possession of his whole nature that it was impossible
to place any consideration before him which he did not, with a distorted kind of
reason, make a new argument in favour of his doing what he did. "So that it
is even more mischievous," said my guardian once to me, "to
remonstrate with the poor dear fellow than to leave him alone."
I took one of these opportunities of mentioning my
doubts of Mr. Skimpole as a good adviser for Richard.
"Adviser!" returned my guardian, laughing,
"My dear, who would advise with Skimpole?"
"Encourager would perhaps have been a better
word," said I.
"Encourager!" returned my guardian again.
"Who could be encouraged by Skimpole?"
"Not Richard?" I asked.
"No," he replied. "Such an unworldly,
uncalculating, gossamer creature is a relief to him and an amusement. But as to
advising or encouraging or occupying a serious station towards anybody or
anything, it is simply not to be thought of in such a child as Skimpole."
"Pray, cousin John," said Ada, who had just
joined us and now looked over my shoulder, "what made him such a
"What made him such a child?" inquired my
guardian, rubbing his head, a little at a loss.
"Yes, cousin John."
"Why," he slowly replied, roughening his head
more and more, "he is all sentiment, and--and susceptibility, and--and
sensibility, and-- and imagination. And these qualities are not regulated in
him, somehow. I suppose the people who admired him for them in his youth
attached too much importance to them and too little to any training that would
have balanced and adjusted them, and so he became what he is. Hey?" said my
guardian, stopping short and looking at us hopefully. "What do you think,
Ada, glancing at me, said she thought it was a pity he
should be an expense to Richard.
"So it is, so it is," returned my guardian
hurriedly. "That must not be. We must arrange that. I must prevent it. That
will never do."
And I said I thought it was to be regretted that he had
ever introduced Richard to Mr. Vholes for a present of five pounds.
"Did he?" said my guardian with a passing
shade of vexation on his face. "But there you have the man. There you have
the man! There is nothing mercenary in that with him. He has no idea of the
value of money. He introduces Rick, and then he is good friends with Mr. Vholes
and borrows five pounds of him. He means nothing by it and thinks nothing of it.
He told you himself, I'll be bound, my dear?"
"Oh, yes!" said I.
"Exactly!" cried my guardian, quite
triumphant. "There you have the man! If he had meant any harm by it or was
conscious of any harm in it, he wouldn't tell it. He tells it as he does it in
mere simplicity. But you shall see him in his own home, and then you'll
understand him better. We must pay a visit to Harold Skimpole and caution him on
these points. Lord bless you, my dears, an infant, an infant!"
In pursuance of this plan, we went into London on an
early day and presented ourselves at Mr. Skimpole's door.
He lived in a place called the Polygon, in Somers Town,
where there were at that time a number of poor Spanish refugees walking about in
cloaks, smoking little paper cigars. Whether he was a better tenant than one
might have supposed, in consequence of his friend Somebody always paying his
rent at last, or whether his inaptitude for business rendered it particularly
difficult to turn him out, I don't know; but he had occupied the same house some
years. It was in a state of dilapidation quite equal to our expectation. Two or
three of the area railings were gone, the water-butt was broken, the knocker was
loose, the bell-handle had been pulled off a long time to judge from the rusty
state of the wire, and dirty footprints on the steps were the only signs of its
A slatternly full-blown girl who seemed to be bursting
out at the rents in her gown and the cracks in her shoes like an over-ripe berry
answered our knock by opening the door a very little way and stopping up the gap
with her figure. As she knew Mr. Jarndyce (indeed Ada and I both thought that
she evidently associated him with the receipt of her wages), she immediately
relented and allowed us to pass in. The lock of the door being in a disabled
condition, she then applied herself to securing it with the chain, which was not
in good action either, and said would we go upstairs?
We went upstairs to the first floor, still seeing no
other furniture than the dirty footprints. Mr. Jarndyce without further ceremony
entered a room there, and we followed. It was dingy enough and not at all clean,
but furnished with an odd kind of shabby luxury, with a large footstool, a sofa,
and plenty of cushions, an easy-chair, and plenty of pillows, a piano, books,
drawing materials, music, newspapers, and a few sketches and pictures. A broken
pane of glass in one of the dirty windows was papered and wafered over, but
there was a little plate of hothouse nectarines on the table, and there was
another of grapes, and another of sponge-cakes, and there was a bottle of light
wine. Mr. Skimpole himself reclined upon the sofa in a dressing-gown, drinking
some fragrant coffee from an old china cup--it was then about mid-day--and
looking at a collection of wallflowers in the balcony.
He was not in the least disconcerted by our appearance,
but rose and received us in his usual airy manner.
"Here I am, you see!" he said when we were
seated, not without some little difficulty, the greater part of the chairs being
broken. "Here I am! This is my frugal breakfast. Some men want legs of beef
and mutton for breakfast; I don't. Give me my peach, my cup of coffee, and my
claret; I am content. I don't want them for themselves, but they remind me of
the sun. There's nothing solar about legs of beef and mutton. Mere animal
"This is our friend's consulting-room (or would be,
if he ever prescribed), his sanctum, his studio," said my guardian to us.
"Yes," said Mr. Skimpole, turning his bright
face about, "this is the bird's cage. This is where the bird lives and
sings. They pluck his feathers now and then and clip his wings, but he sings, he
He handed us the grapes, repeating in his radiant way,
"He sings! Not an ambitious note, but still he sings."
"These are very fine," said my guardian.
"No," he answered. "No! Some amiable
gardener sells them. His man wanted to know, when he brought them last evening,
whether he should wait for the money. 'Really, my friend,' I said, 'I think
not--if your time is of any value to you.' I suppose it was, for he went
My guardian looked at us with a smile, as though he
asked us, "Is it possible to be worldly with this baby?"
"This is a day," said Mr. Skimpole, gaily
taking a little claret in a tumbler, "that will ever be remembered here. We
shall call it Saint Clare and Saint Summerson day. You must see my daughters. I
have a blue-eyed daughter who is my Beauty daughter, I have a Sentiment
daughter, and I have a Comedy daughter. You must see them all. They'll be
He was going to summon them when my guardian interposed
and asked him to pause a moment, as he wished to say a word to him first.
"My dear Jarndyce," he cheerfully replied, going back to his sofa,
"as many moments as you please. Time is no object here. We never know what
o'clock it is, and we never care. Not the way to get on in life, you'll tell me?
Certainly. But we DON'T get on in life. We don't pretend to do it."
My guardian looked at us again, plainly saying,
"You hear him?"
"Now, Harold," he began, "the word I have
to say relates to Rick."
"The dearest friend I have!" returned Mr.
Skimpole cordially. "I suppose he ought not to be my dearest friend, as he
is not on terms with you. But he is, I can't help it; he is full of youthful
poetry, and I love him. If you don't like it, I can't help it. I love him."
The engaging frankness with which he made this
declaration really had a disinterested appearance and captivated my guardian, if
not, for the moment, Ada too.
"You are welcome to love him as much as you
like," returned Mr. Jarndyce, "but we must save his pocket,
"Oh!" said Mr. Skimpole. "His pocket? Now
you are coming to what I don't understand." Taking a little more claret and
dipping one of the cakes in it, he shook his head and smiled at Ada and me with
an ingenuous foreboding that he never could be made to understand.
"If you go with him here or there," said my
guardian plainly, "you must not let him pay for both."
"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole, his
genial face irradiated by the comicality of this idea, "what am I to do? If
he takes me anywhere, I must go. And how can I pay? I never have any money. If I
had any money, I don't know anything about it. Suppose I say to a man, how much?
Suppose the man says to me seven and sixpence? I know nothing about seven and
sixpence. It is impossible for me to pursue the subject with any consideration
for the man. I don't go about asking busy people what seven and sixpence is in
Moorish--which I don't understand. Why should I go about asking them what seven
and sixpence is in Money--which I don't understand?"
"Well," said my guardian, by no means
displeased with this artless reply, "if you come to any kind of journeying
with Rick, you must borrow the money of me (never breathing the least allusion
to that circumstance), and leave the calculation to him."
"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole,
"I will do anything to give you pleasure, but it seems an idle form--a
superstition. Besides, I give you my word, Miss Clare and my dear Miss Summerson,
I thought Mr. Carstone was immensely rich. I thought he had only to make over
something, or to sign a bond, or a draft, or a cheque, or a bill, or to put
something on a file somewhere, to bring down a shower of money."
"Indeed it is not so, sir," said Ada. "He
"No, really?" returned Mr. Skimpole with his
bright smile. "You surprise me.
"And not being the richer for trusting in a rotten
reed," said my guardian, laying his hand emphatically on the sleeve of Mr.
Skimpole's dressing-gown, "be you very careful not to encourage him in that
"My dear good friend," returned Mr. Skimpole,
"and my dear Miss Siunmerson, and my dear Miss Clare, how can I do that?
It's business, and I don't know business. It is he who encourages me. He emerges
from great feats of business, presents the brightest prospects before me as
their result, and calls upon me to admire them. I do admire them--as bright
prospects. But I know no more about them, and I tell him so."
The helpless kind of candour with which he presented
this before us, the light-hearted manner in which he was amused by his
innocence, the fantastic way in which he took himself under his own protection
and argued about that curious person, combined with the delightful ease of
everything he said exactly to make out my guardian's case. The more I saw of
him, the more unlikely it seemed to me, when he was present, that he could
design, conceal, or influence anything; and yet the less likely that appeared
when he was not present, and the less agreeable it was to think of his having
anything to do with any one for whom I cared.
Hearing that his examination (as he called it) was now
over, Mr. Skimpole left the room with a radiant face to fetch his daughters (his
sons had run away at various times), leaving my guardian quite delighted by the
manner in which he had vindicated his childish character. He soon came back,
bringing with him the three young ladies and Mrs. Skimpole, who had once been a
beauty but was now a delicate high-nosed invalid suffering under a complication
"This," said Mr. Skimpole, "is my Beauty
daughter, Arethusa--plays and sings odds and ends like her father. This is my
Sentiment daughter, Laura--plays a little but don't sing. This is my Comedy
daughter, Kitty--sings a little but don't play. We all draw a little and compose
a little, and none of us have any idea of time or money."
Mrs. Skimpole sighed, I thought, as if she would have
been glad to strike out this item in the family attainments. I also thought that
she rather impressed her sigh upon my guardian and that she took every
opportunity of throwing in another.
"It is pleasant," said Mr. Skimpole, turning
his sprightly eyes from one to the other of us, "and it is whimsically
interesting to trace peculiarities in families. In this family we are all
children, and I am the youngest."
The daughters, who appeared to be very fond of him, were
amused by this droll fact, particularly the Comedy daughter.
"My dears, it is true," said Mr. Skimpole,
"is it not? So it is, and so it must be, because like the dogs in the hymn,
'it is our nature to.' Now, here is Miss Summerson with a fine administrative
capacity and a knowledge of details perfectly surprising. It will sound very
strange in Miss Summerson's ears, I dare say, that we know nothing about chops
in this house. But we don't, not the least. We can't cook anything whatever. A
needle and thread we don't know how to use. We admire the people who possess the
practical wisdom we want, but we don't quarrel with them. Then why should they
quarrel with us? Live and let live, we say to them. Live upon your practical
wisdom, and let us live upon you!"
He laughed, but as usual seemed quite candid and really
to mean what he said.
"We have sympathy, my roses," said Mr.
Skimpole, "sympathy for everything. Have we not?"
"Oh, yes, papa!" cried the three daughters.
"In fact, that is our family department," said
Mr. Skimpole, "in this hurly-burly of life. We are capable of looking on
and of being interested, and we DO look on, and we ARE interested. What more can
we do? Here is my Beauty daughter, married these three years. Now I dare say her
marrying another child, and having two more, was all wrong in point of political
economy, but it was very agreeable. We had our little festivities on those
occasions and exchanged social ideas. She brought her young husband home one
day, and they and their young fledglings have their nest upstairs. I dare say at
some time or other Sentiment and Comedy will bring THEIR husbands home and have
THEIR nests upstairs too. So we get on, we don't know how, but somehow."
She looked very young indeed to be the mother of two
children, and I could not help pitying both her and them. It was evident that
the three daughters had grown up as they could and had had just as little
haphazard instruction as qualified them to be their father's playthings in his
idlest hours. His pictorial tastes were consulted, I observed, in their
respective styles of wearing their hair, the Beauty daughter being in the
classic manner, the Sentiment daughter luxuriant and flowing, and the Comedy
daughter in the arch style, with a good deal of sprightly forehead, and
vivacious little curls dotted about the corners of her eyes. They were dressed
to correspond, though in a most untidy and negligent way.
Ada and I conversed with these young ladies and found
them wonderfully like their father. In the meanwhile Mr. Jarndyce (who had been
rubbing his head to a great extent, and hinted at a change in the wind) talked
with Mrs. Skimpole in a corner, where we could not help hearing the chink of
money. Mr. Skimpole had previously volunteered to go home with us and had
withdrawn to dress himself for the purpose.
"My roses," he said when he came back,
"take care of mama. She is poorly to-day. By going home with Mr. Jarndyce
for a day or two, I shall hear the larks sing and preserve my amiability. It has
been tried, you know, and would be tried again if I remained at home."
"That bad man!" said the Comedy daughter.
"At the very time when he knew papa was lying ill
by his wallflowers, looking at the blue sky," Laura complained.
"And when the smell of hay was in the air!"
"It showed a want of poetry in the man," Mr.
Skimpole assented, but with perfect good humour. "It was coarse. There was
an absence of the finer touches of humanity in it! My daughters have taken great
offence," he explained to us, "at an honest man--"
"Not honest, papa. Impossible!" they all three
"At a rough kind of fellow--a sort of human
hedgehog rolled up," said Mr. Skimpole, "who is a baker in this
neighbourhood and from whom we borrowed a couple of armchairs. We wanted a
couple of arm- chairs, and we hadn't got them, and therefore of course we looked
to a man who HAD got them, to lend them. Well! This morose person lent them, and
we wore them out. When they were worn out, he wanted them back. He had them
back. He was contented, you will say. Not at all. He objected to their being
worn. I reasoned with him, and pointed out his mistake. I said, 'Can you, at
your time of life, be so headstrong, my friend, as to persist that an arm-chair
is a thing to put upon a shelf and look at? That it is an object to contemplate,
to survey from a distance, to consider from a point of sight? Don't you KNOW
that these arm-chairs were borrowed to be sat upon?' He was unreasonable and
unpersuadable and used intemperate language. Being as patient as I am at this
minute, I addressed another appeal to him. I said, 'Now, my good man, however
our business capacities may vary, we are all children of one great mother,
Nature. On this blooming summer morning here you see me' (I was on the sofa)
'with flowers before me, fruit upon the table, the cloudless sky above me, the
air full of fragrance, contemplating Nature. I entreat you, by our common
brotherhood, not to interpose between me and a subject so sublime, the absurd
figure of an angry baker!' But he did," said Mr. Skimpole, raising his
laughing eyes in playful astonishinent; "he did interpose that ridiculous
figure, and he does, and he will again. And therefore I am very glad to get out
of his way and to go home with my friend Jarndyce."
It seemed to escape his consideration that Mrs. Skimpole
and the daughters remained behind to encounter the baker, but this was so old a
story to all of them that it had become a matter of course. He took leave of his
family with a tenderness as airy and graceful as any other aspect in which he
showed himself and rode away with us in perfect harmony of mind. We had an
opportunity of seeing through some open doors, as we went downstairs, that his
own apartment was a palace to the rest of the house.
I could have no anticipation, and I had none, that
something very startling to me at the moment, and ever memorable to me in what
ensued from it, was to happen before this day was out. Our guest was in such
spirits on the way home that I could do nothing but listen to him and wonder at
him; nor was I alone in this, for Ada yielded to the same fascination. As to my
guardian, the wind, which had threatened to become fixed in the east when we
left Somers Town, veered completely round before we were a couple of miles from
Whether of questionable childishness or not in any other
matters, Mr. Skimpole had a child's enjoyment of change and bright weather. In
no way wearied by his sallies on the road, he was in the drawing-room before any
of us; and I heard him at the piano while I was yet looking after my
housekeeping, singing refrains of barcaroles and drinking songs, Italian and
German, by the score.
We were all assembled shortly before dinner, and he was
still at the piano idly picking out in his luxurious way little strains of
music, and talking between whiles of finishing some sketches of the ruined old
Verulam wall to-morrow, which he had begun a year or two ago and had got tired
of, when a card was brought in and my guardian read aloud in a surprised voice,
"Sir Leicester Dedlock!"
The visitor was in the room while it was yet turning
round with me and before I had the power to stir. If I had had it, I should have
hurried away. I had not even the presence of mind, in my giddiness, to retire to
Ada in the window, or to see the window, or to know where it was. I heard my
name and found that my guardian was presenting me before I could move to a
"Pray be seated, Sir Leicester."
"Mr. Jarndyce," said Sir Leicester in reply as
he bowed and seated himself, "I do myself the honour of calling
"You do ME the honour, Sir Leicester."
"Thank you--of calling here on my road from
Lincolnshire to express my regret that any cause of complaint, however strong,
that I may have against a gentleman who--who is known to you and has been your
host, and to whom therefore I will make no farther reference, should have
prevented you, still more ladies under your escort and charge, from seeing
whatever little there may be to gratify a polite and refined taste at my house,
"You are exceedingly obliging, Sir Leicester, and
on behalf of those ladies (who are present) and for myself, I thank you very
"It is possible, Mr. Jarndyce, that the gentleman
to whom, for the reasons I have mentioned, I refrain from making further
allusion-- it is possible, Mr. Jarndyce, that that gentleman may have done me
the honour so far to misapprehend my character as to induce you to believe that
you would not have been received by my local establishment in Lincolnshire with
that urbanity, that courtesy, which its members are instructed to show to all
ladies and gentlemen who present themselves at that house. I merely beg to
observe, sir, that the fact is the reverse."
My guardian delicately dismissed this remark without
making any verbal answer.
"It has given me pain, Mr. Jarndyce," Sir
Leicester weightily proceeded. "I assure you, sir, it has
given--me--pain--to learn from the housekeeper at Chesney Wold that a gentleman
who was in your company in that part of the county, and who would appear to
possess a cultivated taste for the fine arts, was likewise deterred by some such
cause from examining the family pictures with that leisure, that attention, that
care, which he might have desired to bestow upon them and which some of them
might possibly have repaid." Here he produced a card and read, with much
gravity and a little trouble, through his eye-glass, "Mr. Hirrold--Herald--
Harold--Skampling--Skumpling--I beg your pardon--Skimpole."
"This is Mr. Harold Skimpole," said my
guardian, evidently surprised.
"Oh!" exclaimed Sir Leicester, "I am
happy to meet Mr. Skimpole and to have the opportunity of tendering my personal
regrets. I hope, sir, that when you again find yourself in my part of the
county, you will be under no similar sense of restraint."
"You are very obliging, Sir Leicester Dedlock. So
encouraged, I shall certainly give myself the pleasure and advantage of another
visit to your beautiful house. The owners of such places as Chesney Wold,"
said Mr. Skimpole with his usual happy and easy air, "are public
benefactors. They are good enough to maintain a number of delightful objects for
the admiration and pleasure of us poor men; and not to reap all the admiration
and pleasure that they yield is to be ungrateful to our benefactors."
Sir Leicester seemed to approve of this sentiment
highly. "An artist, sir?"
"No," returned Mr. Skimpole. "A perfectly
idle man. A mere amateur."
Sir Leicester seemed to approve of this even more. He
hoped he might have the good fortune to be at Chesney Wold when Mr. Skimpole
next came down into Lincolnshire. Mr. Skimpole professed himself much flattered
"Mr. Skimpole mentioned," pursued Sir
Leicester, addressing himself again to my guardian, "mentioned to the
house-keeper, who, as he may have observed, is an old and attached retainer of
("That is, when I walked through the house the
other day, on the occasion of my going down to visit Miss Summerson and Miss
Clare," Mr. Skimpole airily explained to us.)
"--That the friend with whom he had formerly been
staying there was Mr. Jarndyce." Sir Leicester bowed to the bearer of that
name. "And hence I became aware of the circumstance for which I have
professed my regret. That this should have occurred to any gentleman, Mr.
Jarndyce, but especially a gentleman formerly known to Lady Dedlock, and indeed
claiming some distant connexion with her, and for whom (as I learn from my Lady
herself) she entertains a high respect, does, I assure you,
"Pray say no more about it, Sir Leicester,"
returned my guardian. "I am very sensible, as I am sure we all are, of your
consideration. Indeed the mistake was mine, and I ought to apologize for
I had not once looked up. I had not seen the visitor and
had not even appeared to myself to hear the conversation. It surprises me to
find that I can recall it, for it seemed to make no impression on me as it
passed. I heard them speaking, but my mind was so confused and my instinctive
avoidance of this gentleman made his presence so distressing to me that I
thought I understood nothing, through the rushing in my head and the beating of
"I mentioned the subject to Lady Dedlock,"
said Sir Leicester, rising, "and my Lady informed me that she had had the
pleasure of exchanging a few words with Mr. Jarndyce and his wards on the
occasion of an accidental meeting during their sojourn in the vicinity. Permit
me, Mr. Jarndyce, to repeat to yourself, and to these ladies, the assurance I
have already tendered to Mr. Skimpole. Circumstances undoubtedly prevent my
saying that it would afford me any gratification to hear that Mr. Boythorn had
favoured my house with his presence, but those circumstances are confined to
that gentleman himself and do not extend beyond him."
"You know my old opinion of him," said Mr.
Skimpole, lightly appealing to us. "An amiable bull who is detenined to
make every colour scarlet!"
Sir Leicester Dedlock coughed as if he could not
possibly hear another word in reference to such an individual and took his leave
with great ceremony and politeness. I got to my own room with all possible speed
and remained there until I had recovered my self- command. It had been very much
disturbed, but I was thankful to find when I went downstairs again that they
only rallied me for having been shy and mute before the great Lincolnshire
By that time I had made up my mind that the period was
come when I must tell my guardian what I knew. The possibility of my being
brought into contact with my mother, of my being taken to her house, even of Mr.
Skimpole's, however distantly associated with me, receiving kindnesses and
obligations from her husband, was so painful that I felt I could no longer guide
myself without his assistance.
When we had retired for the night, and Ada and I had had
our usual talk in our pretty room, I went out at my door again and sought my
guardian among his books. I knew he always read at that hour, and as I drew near
I saw the light shining out into the passage from his reading-lamp.
"May I come in, guardian?"
"Surely, little woman. What's the matter?"
"Nothing is the matter. I thought I would like to
take this quiet time of saying a word to you about myself."
He put a chair for me, shut his book, and put it by, and
turned his kind attentive face towards me. I could not help observing that it
wore that curious expression I had observed in it once before--on that night
when he had said that he was in no trouble which I could readily understand.
"What concerns you, my dear Esther," said he,
"concerns us all. You cannot be more ready to speak than I am to
"I know that, guardian. But I have such need of
your advice and support. Oh! You don't know how much need I have to-night."
He looked unprepared for my being so earnest, and even a
"Or how anxious I have been to speak to you,"
said I, "ever since the visitor was here to-day."
"The visitor, my dear! Sir Leicester Dedlock?"
He folded his arms and sat looking at me with an air of
the profoundest astonishment, awaiting what I should say next. I did not know
how to prepare him.
"Why, Esther," said he, breaking into a smile,
"our visitor and you are the two last persons on earth I should have
thought of connecting together!"
"Oh, yes, guardian, I know it. And I too, but a
little while ago."
The smile passed from his face, and he became graver
than before. He crossed to the door to see that it was shut (but I had seen to
that) and resumed his seat before me.
"Guardian," said I, "do you remensher,
when we were overtaken by the thunder-storm, Lady Dedlock's speaking to you of
"Of course. Of course I do."
"And reminding you that she and her sister had
differed, had gone their several ways?"
"Why did they separate, guardian?"
His face quite altered as he looked at me. "My
child, what questions are these! I never knew. No one but themselves ever did
know, I believe. Who could tell what the secrets of those two handsome and proud
women were! You have seen Lady Dedlock. If you had ever seen her sister, you
would know her to have been as resolute and haughty as she."
"Oh, guardian, I have seen her many and many a
He paused a little, biting his lip. "Then, Esther,
when you spoke to me long ago of Boythorn, and when I told you that he was all
but married once, and that the lady did not die, but died to him, and that that
time had had its influence on his later life--did you know it all, and know who
the lady was?"
"No, guardian," I returned, fearful of the
light that dimly broke upon me. "Nor do I know yet."
"Lady Dedlock's sister."
"And why," I could scarcely ask him,
"why, guardian, pray tell me why were THEY parted?"
"It was her act, and she kept its motives in her
inflexible heart. He afterwards did conjecture (but it was mere conjecture) that
some injury which her haughty spirit had received in her cause of quarrel with
her sister had wounded her beyond all reason, but she wrote him that from the
date of that letter she died to him--as in literal truth she did--and that the
resolution was exacted from her by her knowledge of his proud temper and his
strained sense of honour, which were both her nature too. In consideration for
those master points in him, and even in consideration for them in herself, she
made the sacrifice, she said, and would live in it and die in it. She did both,
I fear; certainly he never saw her, never heard of her from that hour. Nor did
"Oh, guardian, what have I done!" I cried,
giving way to my grief; "what sorrow have I innocently caused!"
"You caused, Esther?"
"Yes, guardian. Innocently, but most surely. That
secluded sister is my first remembrance."
"No, no!" he cried, starting.
"Yes, guardian, yes! And HER sister is my
I would have told him all my mother's letter, but he
would not hear it then. He spoke so tenderly and wisely to me, and he put so
plainly before me all I had myself imperfectly thought and hoped in my better
state of mind, that, penetrated as I had been with fervent gratitude towards him
through so many years, I believed I had never loved him so dearly, never thanked
him in my heart so fully, as I did that night. And when he had taken me to my
room and kissed me at the door, and when at last I lay down to sleep, my thought
was how could I ever be busy enough, how could I ever be good enough, how in my
little way could I ever hope to be forgetful enough of myself, devoted enough to
him, and useful enough to others, to show him how I blessed and honoured him.