Part 19 out of 21
"Bad," replied the woman. "Pale and exhausted. Very bad."
"Did she speak much?"
"Not much, but her voice was hoarse."
She answered, looking all the while at her husband for leave.
"Was she faint?" said I. "Did she eat or drink here?"
"Go on!" said the husband in answer to her look. "Tell her and cut
"She had a little water, miss, and Jenny fetched her some bread and
tea. But she hardly touched it."
"And when she went from here," I was proceeding, when Jenny's
husband impatiently took me up.
"When she went from here, she went right away nor'ard by the high
road. Ask on the road if you doubt me, and see if it warn't so.
Now, there's the end. That's all about it."
I glanced at my companion, and finding that he had already risen
and was ready to depart, thanked them for what they had told me,
and took my leave. The woman looked full at Mr. Bucket as he went
out, and he looked full at her.
"Now, Miss Summerson," he said to me as we walked quickly away.
"They've got her ladyship's watch among 'em. That's a positive
"You saw it?" I exclaimed.
"Just as good as saw it," he returned. "Else why should he talk
about his 'twenty minutes past' and about his having no watch to
tell the time by? Twenty minutes! He don't usually cut his time
so fine as that. If he comes to half-hours, it's as much as HE
does. Now, you see, either her ladyship gave him that watch or he
took it. I think she gave it him. Now, what should she give it
him for? What should she give it him for?"
He repeated this question to himself several times as we hurried
on, appearing to balance between a variety of answers that arose in
"If time could be spared," said Mr. Bucket, "which is the only
thing that can't be spared in this case, I might get it out of that
woman; but it's too doubtful a chance to trust to under present
circumstances. They are up to keeping a close eye upon her, and
any fool knows that a poor creetur like her, beaten and kicked and
scarred and bruised from head to foot, will stand by the husband
that ill uses her through thick and thin. There's something kept
back. It's a pity but what we had seen the other woman."
I regretted it exceedingly, for she was very grateful, and I felt
sure would have resisted no entreaty of mine.
"It's possible, Miss Summerson," said Mr. Bucket, pondering on it,
"that her ladyship sent her up to London with some word for you,
and it's possible that her husband got the watch to let her go. It
don't come out altogether so plain as to please me, but it's on the
cards. Now, I don't take kindly to laying out the money of Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, on these roughs, and I don't see my way
to the usefulness of it at present. No! So far our road, Miss
Summerson, is for'ard--straight ahead--and keeping everything
We called at home once more that I might send a hasty note to my
guardian, and then we hurried back to where we had left the
carriage. The horses were brought out as soon as we were seen
coming, and we were on the road again in a few minutes.
It had set in snowing at daybreak, and it now snowed hard. The air
was so thick with the darkness of the day and the density of the
fall that we could see but a very little way in any direction.
Although it was extremely cold, the snow was but partially frozen,
and it churned--with a sound as if it were a beach of small shells
--under the hoofs of the horses into mire and water. They sometimes
slipped and floundered for a mile together, and we were obliged to
come to a standstill to rest them. One horse fell three times in
this first stage, and trembled so and was so shaken that the driver
had to dismount from his saddle and lead him at last.
I could eat nothing and could not sleep, and I grew so nervous
under those delays and the slow pace at which we travelled that I
had an unreasonable desire upon me to get out and walk. Yielding
to my companion's better sense, however, I remained where I was.
All this time, kept fresh by a certain enjoyment of the work in
which he was engaged, he was up and down at every house we came to,
addressing people whom he had never beheld before as old
acquaintances, running in to warm himself at every fire he saw,
talking and drinking and shaking hands at every bar and tap,
friendly with every waggoner, wheelwright, blacksmith, and toll-
taker, yet never seeming to lose time, and always mounting to the
box again with his watchful, steady face and his business-like "Get
on, my lad!"
When we were changing horses the next time, he came from the
stable-yard, with the wet snow encrusted upon him and dropping off
him--plashing and crashing through it to his wet knees as he had
been doing frequently since we left Saint Albans--and spoke to me
at the carriage side.
"Keep up your spirits. It's certainly true that she came on here,
Miss Summerson. There's not a doubt of the dress by this time, and
the dress has been seen here."
"Still on foot?" said I.
"Still on foot. I think the gentleman you mentioned must be the
point she's aiming at, and yet I don't like his living down in her
own part of the country neither."
"I know so little," said I. "There may be some one else nearer
here, of whom I never heard."
"That's true. But whatever you do, don't you fall a-crying, my
dear; and don't you worry yourself no more than you can help. Get
on, my lad!"
The sleet fell all that day unceasingly, a thick mist came on
early, and it never rose or lightened for a moment. Such roads I
had never seen. I sometimes feared we had missed the way and got
into the ploughed grounds or the marshes. If I ever thought of the
time I had been out, it presented itself as an indefinite period of
great duration, and I seemed, in a strange way, never to have been
free from the anxiety under which I then laboured.
As we advanced, I began to feel misgivings that my companion lost
confidence. He was the same as before with all the roadside
people, but he looked graver when he sat by himself on the box. I
saw his finger uneasily going across and across his mouth during
the whole of one long weary stage. I overheard that he began to
ask the drivers of coaches and other vehicles coming towards us
what passengers they had seen in other coaches and vehicles that
were in advance. Their replies did not encourage him. He always
gave me a reassuring beck of his finger and lift of his eyelid as
he got upon the box again, but he seemed perplexed now when he
said, "Get on, my lad!"
At last, when we were changing, he told me that he had lost the
track of the dress so long that he began to be surprised. It was
nothing, he said, to lose such a track for one while, and to take
it up for another while, and so on; but it had disappeared here in
an unaccountable manner, and we had not come upon it since. This
corroborated the apprehensions I had formed, when he began to look
at direction-posts, and to leave the carriage at cross roads for a
quarter of an hour at a time while he explored them. But I was not
to be down-hearted, he told me, for it was as likely as not that
the next stage might set us right again.
The next stage, however, ended as that one ended; we had no new
clue. There was a spacious inn here, solitary, but a comfortable
substantial building, and as we drove in under a large gateway
before I knew it, where a landlady and her pretty daughters came to
the carriage-door, entreating me to alight and refresh myself while
the horses were making ready, I thought it would be uncharitable to
refuse. They took me upstairs to a warm room and left me there.
It was at the corner of the house, I remember, looking two ways.
On one side to a stable-yard open to a by-road, where the ostlers
were unharnessing the splashed and tired horses from the muddy
carriage, and beyond that to the by-road itself, across which the
sign was heavily swinging; on the other side to a wood of dark
pine-trees. Their branches were encumbered with snow, and it
silently dropped off in wet heaps while I stood at the window.
Night was setting in, and its bleakness was enhanced by the
contrast of the pictured fire glowing and gleaming in the window-
pane. As I looked among the stems of the trees and followed the
discoloured marks in the snow where the thaw was sinking into it
and undermining it, I thought of the motherly face brightly set off
by daughters that had just now welcomed me and of MY mother lying
down in such a wood to die.
I was frightened when I found them all about me, but I remembered
that before I fainted I tried very hard not to do it; and that was
some little comfort. They cushioned me up on a large sofa by the
fire, and then the comely landlady told me that I must travel no
further to-night, but must go to bed. But this put me into such a
tremble lest they should detain me there that she soon recalled her
words and compromised for a rest of half an hour.
A good endearing creature she was. She and her three fair girls,
all so busy about me. I was to take hot soup and broiled fowl,
while Mr. Bucket dried himself and dined elsewhere; but I could not
do it when a snug round table was presently spread by the fireside,
though I was very unwilling to disappoint them. However, I could
take some toast and some hot negus, and as I really enjoyed that
refreshment, it made some recompense.
Punctual to the time, at the half-hour's end the carriage came
rumbling under the gateway, and they took me down, warmed,
refreshed, comforted by kindness, and safe (I assured them) not to
faint any more. After I had got in and had taken a grateful leave
of them all, the youngest daughter--a blooming girl of nineteen,
who was to be the first married, they had told me--got upon the
carriage step, reached in, and kissed me. I have never seen her,
from that hour, but I think of her to this hour as my friend.
The transparent windows with the fire and light, looking so bright
and warm from the cold darkness out of doors, were soon gone, and
again we were crushing and churning the loose snow. We went on
with toil enough, but the dismal roads were not much worse than
they had been, and the stage was only nine miles. My companion
smoking on the box--I had thought at the last inn of begging him to
do so when I saw him standing at a great fire in a comfortable
cloud of tobacco--was as vigilant as ever and as quickly down and
up again when we came to any human abode or any human creature. He
had lighted his little dark lantern, which seemed to be a favourite
with him, for we had lamps to the carriage; and every now and then
he turned it upon me to see that I was doing well. There was a
folding-window to the carriage-head, but I never closed it, for it
seemed like shutting out hope.
We came to the end of the stage, and still the lost trace was not
recovered. I looked at him anxiously when we stopped to change,
but I knew by his yet graver face as he stood watching the ostlers
that he had heard nothing. Almost in an instant afterwards, as I
leaned back in my seat, he looked in, with his lighted lantern in
his hand, an excited and quite different man.
"What is it?" said I, starting. "Is she here?"
"No, no. Don't deceive yourself, my dear. Nobody's here. But
I've got it!"
The crystallized snow was in his eyelashes, in his hair, lying in
ridges on his dress. He had to shake it from his face and get his
breath before he spoke to me.
"Now, Miss Summerson," said he, beating his finger on the apron,
"don't you be disappointed at what I'm a-going to do. You know me.
I'm Inspector Bucket, and you can trust me. We've come a long way;
never mind. Four horses out there for the next stage up! Quick!"
There was a commotion in the yard, and a man came running out of
the stables to know if he meant up or down.
"Up, I tell you! Up! Ain't it English? Up!"
"Up?" said I, astonished. "To London! Are we going back?"
"Miss Summerson," he answered, "back. Straight back as a die. You
know me. Don't be afraid. I'll follow the other, by G--"
"The other?" I repeated. "Who?"
"You called her Jenny, didn't you? I'll follow her. Bring those
two pair out here for a crown a man. Wake up, some of you!"
"You will not desert this lady we are in search of; you will not
abandon her on such a night and in such a state of mind as I know
her to be in!" said I, in an agony, and grasping his hand.
"You are right, my dear, I won't. But I'll follow the other. Look
alive here with them horses. Send a man for'ard in the saddle to
the next stage, and let him send another for'ard again, and order
four on, up, right through. My darling, don't you be afraid!"
These orders and the way in which he ran about the yard urging them
caused a general excitement that was scarcely less bewildering to
me than the sudden change. But in the height of the confusion, a
mounted man galloped away to order the relays, and our horses were
put to with great speed.
"My dear," said Mr. Bucket, jumping to his seat and looking in
again, "--you'll excuse me if I'm too familiar--don't you fret and
worry yourself no more than you can help. I say nothing else at
present; but you know me, my dear; now, don't you?"
I endeavoured to say that I knew he was far more capable than I of
deciding what we ought to do, but was he sure that this was right?
Could I not go forward by myself in search of--I grasped his hand
again in my distress and whispered it to him--of my own mother.
"My dear," he answered, "I know, I know, and would I put you wrong,
do you think? Inspector Bucket. Now you know me, don't you?"
What could I say but yes!
"Then you keep up as good a heart as you can, and you rely upon me
for standing by you, no less than by Sir Leicester Dedlock,
Baronet. Now, are you right there?"
"All right, sir!"
"Off she goes, then. And get on, my lads!"
We were again upon the melancholy road by which we had come,
tearing up the miry sleet and thawing snow as if they were torn up
by a waterwheel.
A Wintry Day and Night
Still impassive, as behoves its breeding, the Dedlock town house
carries itself as usual towards the street of dismal grandeur.
There are powdered heads from time to time in the little windows of
the hall, looking out at the untaxed powder falling all day from
the sky; and in the same conservatory there is peach blossom
turning itself exotically to the great hall fire from the nipping
weather out of doors. It is given out that my Lady has gone down
into Lincolnshire, but is expected to return presently.
Rumour, busy overmuch, however, will not go down into Lincolnshire.
It persists in flitting and chattering about town. It knows that
that poor unfortunate man, Sir Leicester, has been sadly used. It
hears, my dear child, all sorts of shocking things. It makes the
world of five miles round quite merry. Not to know that there is
something wrong at the Dedlocks' is to augur yourself unknown. One
of the peachy-cheeked charmers with the skeleton throats is already
apprised of all the principal circumstances that will come out
before the Lords on Sir Leicester's application for a bill of
At Blaze and Sparkle's the jewellers and at Sheen and Gloss's the
mercers, it is and will be for several hours the topic of the age,
the feature of the century. The patronesses of those
establishments, albeit so loftily inscrutable, being as nicely
weighed and measured there as any other article of the stock-in-
trade, are perfectly understood in this new fashion by the rawest
hand behind the counter. "Our people, Mr. Jones," said Blaze and
Sparkle to the hand in question on engaging him, "our people, sir,
are sheep--mere sheep. Where two or three marked ones go, all the
rest follow. Keep those two or three in your eye, Mr. Jones, and
you have the flock." So, likewise, Sheen and Gloss to THEIR Jones,
in reference to knowing where to have the fashionable people and
how to bring what they (Sheen and Gloss) choose into fashion. On
similar unerring principles, Mr. Sladdery the librarian, and indeed
the great farmer of gorgeous sheep, admits this very day, "Why yes,
sir, there certainly ARE reports concerning Lady Dedlock, very
current indeed among my high connexion, sir. You see, my high
connexion must talk about something, sir; and it's only to get a
subject into vogue with one or two ladies I could name to make it
go down with the whole. Just what I should have done with those
ladies, sir, in the case of any novelty you had left to me to bring
in, they have done of themselves in this case through knowing Lady
Dedlock and being perhaps a little innocently jealous of her too,
sir. You'll find, sir, that this topic will be very popular among
my high connexion. If it had been a speculation, sir, it would
have brought money. And when I say so, you may trust to my being
right, sir, for I have made it my business to study my high
connexion and to be able to wind it up like a clock, sir."
Thus rumour thrives in the capital, and will not go down into
Lincolnshire. By half-past five, post meridian, Horse Guards'
time, it has even elicited a new remark from the Honourable Mr.
Stables, which bids fair to outshine the old one, on which he has
so long rested his colloquial reputation. This sparkling sally is
to the effect that although he always knew she was the best-groomed
woman in the stud, he had no idea she was a bolter. It is
immensely received in turf-circles.
At feasts and festivals also, in firmaments she has often graced,
and among constellations she outshone but yesterday, she is still
the prevalent subject. What is it? Who is it? When was it?
Where was it? How was it? She is discussed by her dear friends
with all the genteelest slang in vogue, with the last new word, the
last new manner, the last new drawl, and the perfection of polite
indifference. A remarkable feature of the theme is that it is
found to be so inspiring that several people come out upon it who
never came out before--positively say things! William Buffy
carries one of these smartnesses from the place where he dines down
to the House, where the Whip for his party hands it about with his
snuff-box to keep men together who want to be off, with such effect
that the Speaker (who has had it privately insinuated into his own
ear under the corner of his wig) cries, "Order at the bar!" three
times without making an impression.
And not the least amazing circumstance connected with her being
vaguely the town talk is that people hovering on the confines of
Mr. Sladdery's high connexion, people who know nothing and ever did
know nothing about her, think it essential to their reputation to
pretend that she is their topic too, and to retail her at second-
hand with the last new word and the last new manner, and the last
new drawl, and the last new polite indifference, and all the rest
of it, all at second-hand but considered equal to new in inferior
systems and to fainter stars. If there be any man of letters, art,
or science among these little dealers, how noble in him to support
the feeble sisters on such majestic crutches!
So goes the wintry day outside the Dedlock mansion. How within it?
Sir Leicester, lying in his bed, can speak a little, though with
difficulty and indistinctness. He is enjoined to silence and to
rest, and they have given him some opiate to lull his pain, for his
old enemy is very hard with him. He is never asleep, though
sometimes he seems to fall into a dull waking doze. He caused his
bedstead to be moved out nearer to the window when he heard it was
such inclement weather, and his head to be so adjusted that he
could see the driving snow and sleet. He watches it as it falls,
throughout the whole wintry day.
Upon the least noise in the house, which is kept hushed, his hand
is at the pencil. The old housekeeper, sitting by him, knows what
he would write and whispers, "No, he has not come back yet, Sir
Leicester. It was late last night when he went. He has been but a
little time gone yet."
He withdraws his hand and falls to looking at the sleet and snow
again until they seem, by being long looked at, to fall so thick
and fast that he is obliged to close his eyes for a minute on the
giddy whirl of white flakes and icy blots.
He began to look at them as soon as it was light. The day is not
yet far spent when he conceives it to be necessary that her rooms
should be prepared for her. It is very cold and wet. Let there be
good fires. Let them know that she is expected. Please see to it
yourself. He writes to this purpose on his slate, and Mrs.
Rouncewell with a heavy heart obeys.
"For I dread, George," the old lady says to her son, who waits
below to keep her company when she has a little leisure, "I dread,
my dear, that my Lady will never more set foot within these walls."
"That's a bad presentiment, mother."
"Nor yet within the walls of Chesney Wold, my dear."
"That's worse. But why, mother?"
"When I saw my Lady yesterday, George, she looked to me--and I may
say at me too--as if the step on the Ghost's Walk had almost walked
"Come, come! You alarm yourself with old-story fears, mother."
"No I don't, my dear. No I don't. It's going on for sixty year
that I have been in this family, and I never had any fears for it
before. But it's breaking up, my dear; the great old Dedlock
family is breaking up."
"I hope not, mother."
"I am thankful I have lived long enough to be with Sir Leicester in
this illness and trouble, for I know I am not too old nor too
useless to be a welcomer sight to him than anybody else in my place
would be. But the step on the Ghost's Walk will walk my Lady down,
George; it has been many a day behind her, and now it will pass her
and go on."
"Well, mother dear, I say again, I hope not."
"Ah, so do I, George," the old lady returns, shaking her head and
parting her folded hands. "But if my fears come true, and he has
to know it, who will tell him!"
"Are these her rooms?"
"These are my Lady's rooms, just as she left them."
"Why, now," says the trooper, glancing round him and speaking in a
lower voice, "I begin to understand how you come to think as you do
think, mother. Rooms get an awful look about them when they are
fitted up, like these, for one person you are used to see in them,
and that person is away under any shadow, let alone being God knows
He is not far out. As all partings foreshadow the great final one,
so, empty rooms, bereft of a familiar presence, mournfully whisper
what your room and what mine must one day be. My Lady's state has
a hollow look, thus gloomy and abandoned; and in the inner
apartment, where Mr. Bucket last night made his secret
perquisition, the traces of her dresses and her ornaments, even the
mirrors accustomed to reflect them when they were a portion of
herself, have a desolate and vacant air. Dark and cold as the
wintry day is, it is darker and colder in these deserted chambers
than in many a hut that will barely exclude the weather; and though
the servants heap fires in the grates and set the couches and the
chairs within the warm glass screens that let their ruddy light
shoot through to the furthest corners, there is a heavy cloud upon
the rooms which no light will dispel.
The old housekeeper and her son remain until the preparations are
complete, and then she returns upstairs. Volumnia has taken Mrs.
Rouncewell's place in the meantime, though pearl necklaces and
rouge pots, however calculated to embellish Bath, are but
indifferent comforts to the invalid under present circumstances.
Volumnia, not being supposed to know (and indeed not knowing) what
is the matter, has found it a ticklish task to offer appropriate
observations and consequently has supplied their place with
distracting smoothings of the bed-linen, elaborate locomotion on
tiptoe, vigilant peeping at her kinsman's eyes, and one
exasperating whisper to herself of, "He is asleep." In disproof of
which superfluous remark Sir Leicester has indignantly written on
the slate, "I am not."
Yielding, therefore, the chair at the bedside to the quaint old
housekeeper, Volumnia sits at a table a little removed,
sympathetically sighing. Sir Leicester watches the sleet and snow
and listens for the returning steps that he expects. In the ears
of his old servant, looking as if she had stepped out of an old
picture-frame to attend a summoned Dedlock to another world, the
silence is fraught with echoes of her own words, "who will tell
He has been under his valet's hands this morning to be made
presentable and is as well got up as the circumstances will allow.
He is propped with pillows, his grey hair is brushed in its usual
manner, his linen is arranged to a nicety, and he is wrapped in a
responsible dressing-gown. His eye-glass and his watch are ready
to his hand. It is necessary--less to his own dignity now perhaps
than for her sake--that he should be seen as little disturbed and
as much himself as may be. Women will talk, and Volumnia, though a
Dedlock, is no exceptional case. He keeps her here, there is
little doubt, to prevent her talking somewhere else. He is very
ill, but he makes his present stand against distress of mind and
body most courageously.
The fair Volumnia, being one of those sprightly girls who cannot
long continue silent without imminent peril of seizure by the
dragon Boredom, soon indicates the approach of that monster with a
series of undisguisable yawns. Finding it impossible to suppress
those yawns by any other process than conversation, she compliments
Mrs. Rouncewell on her son, declaring that he positively is one of
the finest figures she ever saw and as soldierly a looking person,
she should think, as what's his name, her favourite Life Guardsman
--the man she dotes on, the dearest of creatures--who was killed at
Sir Leicester hears this tribute with so much surprise and stares
about him in such a confused way that Mrs. Rouncewell feels it
necesary to explain.
"Miss Dedlock don't speak of my eldest son, Sir Leicester, but my
youngest. I have found him. He has come home."
Sir Leicester breaks silence with a harsh cry. "George? Your son
George come home, Mrs. Rouncewell?"
The old housekeeper wipes her eyes. "Thank God. Yes, Sir
Does this discovery of some one lost, this return of some one so
long gone, come upon him as a strong confirmation of his hopes?
Does he think, "Shall I not, with the aid I have, recall her safely
after this, there being fewer hours in her case than there are
years in his?"
It is of no use entreating him; he is determined to speak now, and
he does. In a thick crowd of sounds, but still intelligibly enough
to be understood.
"Why did you not tell me, Mrs. Rouncewell?"
"It happened only yesterday, Sir Leicester, and I doubted your
being well enough to be talked to of such things."
Besides, the giddy Volumnia now remembers with her little scream
that nobody was to have known of his being Mrs. Rouncewell's son
and that she was not to have told. But Mrs. Rouncewell protests,
with warmth enough to swell the stomacher, that of course she would
have told Sir Leicester as soon as he got better.
"Where is your son George, Mrs. Rouncewell?" asks Sir Leicester,
Mrs. Rouncewell, not a little alarmed by his disregard of the
doctor's injunctions, replies, in London.
"Where in London?"
Mrs. Rouncewell is constrained to admit that he is in the house.
"Bring him here to my room. Bring him directly."
The old lady can do nothing but go in search of him. Sir
Leicester, with such power of movement as he has, arranges himself
a little to receive him. When he has done so, he looks out again
at the falling sleet and snow and listens again for the returning
steps. A quantity of straw has been tumbled down in the street to
deaden the noises there, and she might be driven to the door
perhaps without his hearing wheels.
He is lying thus, apparently forgetful of his newer and minor
surprise, when the housekeeper returns, accompanied by her trooper
son. Mr. George approaches softly to the bedside, makes his bow,
squares his chest, and stands, with his face flushed, very heartily
ashamed of himself.
"Good heaven, and it is really George Rouncewell!" exclaims Sir
Leicester. "Do you remember me, George?"
The trooper needs to look at him and to separate this sound from
that sound before he knows what he has said, but doing this and
being a little helped by his mother, he replies, "I must have a
very bad memory, indeed, Sir Leicester, if I failed to remember
"When I look at you, George Rouncewell," Sir Leicester observes
with difficulty, "I see something of a boy at Chesney Wold--I
remember well--very well."
He looks at the trooper until tears come into his eyes, and then he
looks at the sleet and snow again.
"I ask your pardon, Sir Leicester," says the trooper, "but would
you accept of my arms to raise you up? You would lie easier, Sir
Leicester, if you would allow me to move you."
"If you please, George Rouncewell; if you will be so good."
The trooper takes him in his arms like a child, lightly raises him,
and turns him with his face more towards the window. "Thank you.
You have your mother's gentleness," returns Sir Leicester, "and
your own strength. Thank you."
He signs to him with his hand not to go away. George quietly
remains at the bedside, waiting to be spoken to.
"Why did you wish for secrecy?" It takes Sir Leicester some time
to ask this.
"Truly I am not much to boast of, Sir Leicester, and I--I should
still, Sir Leicester, if you was not so indisposed--which I hope
you will not be long--I should still hope for the favour of being
allowed to remain unknown in general. That involves explanations
not very hard to be guessed at, not very well timed here, and not
very creditable to myself. However opinions may differ on a
variety of subjects, I should think it would be universally agreed,
Sir Leicester, that I am not much to boast of."
"You have been a soldier," observes Sir Leicester, "and a faithful
George makes his military how. "As far as that goes, Sir
Leicester, I have done my duty under discipline, and it was the
least I could do."
"You find me," says Sir Leicester, whose eyes are much attracted
towards him, "far from well, George Rouncewell."
"I am very sorry both to hear it and to see it, Sir Leicester."
"I am sure you are. No. In addition to my older malady, I have
had a sudden and bad attack. Something that deadens," making an
endeavour to pass one hand down one side, "and confuses," touching
George, with a look of assent and sympathy, makes another bow. The
different times when they were both young men (the trooper much the
younger of the two) and looked at one another down at Chesney Wold
arise before them both and soften both.
Sir Leicester, evidently with a great determination to say, in his
own manner, something that is on his mind before relapsing into
silence, tries to raise himself among his pillows a little more.
George, observant of the action, takes him in his arms again and
places him as he desires to be. "Thank you, George. You are
another self to me. You have often carried my spare gun at Chesney
Wold, George. You are familiar to me in these strange
circumstances, very familiar." He has put Sir Leicester's sounder
arm over his shoulder in lifting him up, and Sir Leicester is slow
in drawing it away again as he says these words.
"I was about to add," he presently goes on, "I was about to add,
respecting this attack, that it was unfortunately simultaneous with
a slight misunderstanding between my Lady and myself. I do not
mean that there was any difference between us (for there has been
none), but that there was a misunderstanding of certain
circumstances important only to ourselves, which deprives me, for a
little while, of my Lady's society. She has found it necessary to
make a journey--I trust will shortly return. Volumnia, do I make
myself intelligible? The words are not quite under my command in
the manner of pronouncing them."
Volumnia understands him perfectly, and in truth be delivers
himself with far greater plainness than could have been supposed
possible a minute ago. The effort by which he does so is written
in the anxious and labouring expression of his face. Nothing but
the strength of his purpose enables him to make it.
"Therefore, Volumnia, I desire to say in your presence--and in the
presence of my old retainer and friend, Mrs. Rouncewell, whose
truth and fidelity no one can question, and in the presence of her
son George, who comes back like a familiar recollection of my youth
in the home of my ancestors at Chesney Wold--in case I should
relapse, in case I should not recover, in case I should lose both
my speech and the power of writing, though I hope for better
The old housekeeper weeping silently; Volumnia in the greatest
agitation, with the freshest bloom on her cheeks; the trooper with
his arms folded and his head a little bent, respectfully attentive.
"Therefore I desire to say, and to call you all to witness--
beginning, Volumnia, with yourself, most solemnly--that I am on
unaltered terms with Lady Dedlock. That I assert no cause whatever
of complaint against her. That I have ever had the strongest
affection for her, and that I retain it undiminished. Say this to
herself, and to every one. If you ever say less than this, you
will be guilty of deliberate falsehood to me."
Volumnia tremblingly protests that she will observe his injunctions
to the letter.
"My Lady is too high in position, too handsome, too accomplished,
too superior in most respects to the best of those by whom she is
surrounded, not to have her enemies and traducers, I dare say. Let
it be known to them, as I make it known to you, that being of sound
mind, memory, and understanding, I revoke no disposition I have
made in her favour. I abridge nothing I have ever bestowed upon
her. I am on unaltered terms with her, and I recall--having the
full power to do it if I were so disposed, as you see--no act I
have done for her advantage and happiness."
His formal array of words might have at any other time, as it has
often had, something ludicrous in it, but at this time it is
serious and affecting. His noble earnestness, his fidelity, his
gallant shielding of her, his generous conquest of his own wrong
and his own pride for her sake, are simply honourable, manly, and
true. Nothing less worthy can be seen through the lustre of such
qualities in the commonest mechanic, nothing less worthy can be
seen in the best-born gentleman. In such a light both aspire
alike, both rise alike, both children of the dust shine equally.
Overpowered by his exertions, he lays his head back on his pillows
and closes his eyes for not more than a minute, when he again
resumes his watching of the weather and his attention to the
muffled sounds. In the rendering of those little services, and in
the manner of their acceptance, the trooper has become installed as
necessary to him. Nothing has been said, but it is quite
understood. He falls a step or two backward to be out of sight and
mounts guard a little behind his mother's chair.
The day is now beginning to decline. The mist and the sleet into
which the snow has all resolved itself are darker, and the blaze
begins to tell more vividly upon the room walls and furniture. The
gloom augments; the bright gas springs up in the streets; and the
pertinacious oil lamps which yet hold their ground there, with
their source of life half frozen and half thawed, twinkle gaspingly
like fiery fish out of water--as they are. The world, which has
been rumbling over the straw and pulling at the bell, "to inquire,"
begins to go home, begins to dress, to dine, to discuss its dear
friend with all the last new modes, as already mentioned.
Now does Sir Leicester become worse, restless, uneasy, and in great
pain. Volumnia, lighting a candle (with a predestined aptitude for
doing something objectionable), is bidden to put it out again, for
it is not yet dark enough. Yet it is very dark too, as dark as it
will be all night. By and by she tries again. No! Put it out.
It is not dark enough yet.
His old housekeeper is the first to understand that he is striving
to uphold the fiction with himself that it is not growing late.
"Dear Sir Leicester, my honoured master," she softly whispers, "I
must, for your own good, and my duty, take the freedom of begging
and praying that you will not lie here in the lone darkness
watching and waiting and dragging through the time. Let me draw
the curtains, and light the candles, and make things more
comfortable about you. The church-clocks will strike the hours
just the same, Sir Leicester, and the night will pass away just the
same. My Lady will come back, just the same."
"I know it, Mrs. Rouncewell, but I am weak--and he has been so long
"Not so very long, Sir Leicester. Not twenty-four hours yet."
"But that is a long time. Oh, it is a long time!"
He says it with a groan that wrings her heart.
She knows that this is not a period for bringing the rough light
upon him; she thinks his tears too sacred to be seen, even by her.
Therefore she sits in the darkness for a while without a word, then
gently begins to move about, now stirring the fire, now standing at
the dark window looking out. Finally he tells her, with recovered
self-command, "As you say, Mrs. Rouncewell, it is no worse for
being confessed. It is getting late, and they are not come. Light
the room!" When it is lighted and the weather shut out, it is only
left to him to listen.
But they find that however dejected and ill he is, he brightens
when a quiet pretence is made of looking at the fires in her rooms
and being sure that everything is ready to receive her. Poor
pretence as it is, these allusions to her being expected keep up
hope within him.
Midnight comes, and with it the same blank. The carriages in the
streets are few, and other late sounds in that neighbourhood there
are none, unless a man so very nomadically drunk as to stray into
the frigid zone goes brawling and bellowing along the pavement.
Upon this wintry night it is so still that listening to the intense
silence is like looking at intense darkness. If any distant sound
be audible in this case, it departs through the gloom like a feeble
light in that, and all is heavier than before.
The corporation of servants are dismissed to bed (not unwilling to
go, for they were up all last night), and only Mrs. Rouncewell and
George keep watch in Sir Leicester's room. As the night lags
tardily on--or rather when it seems to stop altogether, at between
two and three o'clock--they find a restless craving on him to know
more about the weather, now he cannot see it. Hence George,
patrolling regularly every half-hour to the rooms so carefully
looked after, extends his march to the hall-door, looks about him,
and brings back the best report he can make of the worst of nights,
the sleet still falling and even the stone footways lying ankle-
deep in icy sludge.
Volumnia, in her room up a retired landing on the stair-case--the
second turning past the end of the carving and gilding, a cousinly
room containing a fearful abortion of a portrait of Sir Leicester
banished for its crimes, and commanding in the day a solemn yard
planted with dried-up shrubs like antediluvian specimens of black
tea--is a prey to horrors of many kinds. Not last nor least among
them, possibly, is a horror of what may befall her little income in
the event, as she expresses it, "of anything happening" to Sir
Leicester. Anything, in this sense, meaning one thing only; and
that the last thing that can happen to the consciousness of any
baronet in the known world.
An effect of these horrors is that Volumnia finds she cannot go to
bed in her own room or sit by the fire in her own room, but must
come forth with her fair head tied up in a profusion of shawl, and
her fair form enrobed in drapery, and parade the mansion like a
ghost, particularly haunting the rooms, warm and luxurious,
prepared for one who still does not return. Solitude under such
circumstances being not to be thought of, Volumnia is attended by
her maid, who, impressed from her own bed for that purpose,
extremely cold, very sleepy, and generally an injured maid as
condemned by circumstances to take office with a cousin, when she
had resolved to be maid to nothing less than ten thousand a year,
has not a sweet expression of countenance.
The periodical visits of the trooper to these rooms, however, in
the course of his patrolling is an assurance of protection and
company both to mistress and maid, which renders them very
acceptable in the small hours of the night. Whenever he is heard
advancing, they both make some little decorative preparation to
receive him; at other times they divide their watches into short
scraps of oblivion and dialogues not wholly free from acerbity, as
to whether Miss Dedlock, sitting with her feet upon the fender, was
or was not falling into the fire when rescued (to her great
displeasure) by her guardian genius the maid.
"How is Sir Leicester now, Mr. George?" inquires Volumnia,
adjusting her cowl over her head.
"Why, Sir Leicester is much the same, miss. He is very low and
ill, and he even wanders a little sometimes."
"Has he asked for me?" inquires Volumnia tenderly.
"Why, no, I can't say he has, miss. Not within my hearing, that is
"This is a truly sad time, Mr. George."
"It is indeed, miss. Hadn't you better go to bed?"
"You had a deal better go to bed, Miss Dedlock," quoth the maid
But Volumnia answers No! No! She may be asked for, she may be
wanted at a moment's notice. She never should forgive herself "if
anything was to happen" and she was not on the spot. She declines
to enter on the question, mooted by the maid, how the spot comes to
be there, and not in her room (which is nearer to Sir Leicester's),
but staunchly declares that on the spot she will remain. Volumnia
further makes a merit of not having "closed an eye"--as if she had
twenty or thirty--though it is hard to reconcile this statement
with her having most indisputably opened two within five minutes.
But when it comes to four o'clock, and still the same blank,
Volumnia's constancy begins to fail her, or rather it begins to
strengthen, for she now considers that it is her duty to be ready
for the morrow, when much may be expected of her, that, in fact,
howsoever anxious to remain upon the spot, it may be required of
her, as an act of self-devotion, to desert the spot. So when the
trooper reappears with his, "Hadn't you better go to bed, miss?"
and when the maid protests, more sharply than before, "You had a
deal better go to bed, Miss Dedlock!" she meekly rises and says,
"Do with me what you think best!"
Mr. George undoubtedly thinks it best to escort her on his arm to
the door of her cousinly chamber, and the maid as undoubtedly
thinks it best to hustle her into bed with mighty little ceremony.
Accordingly, these steps are taken; and now the trooper, in his
rounds, has the house to himself.
There is no improvement in the weather. From the portico, from the
eaves, from the parapet, from every ledge and post and pillar,
drips the thawed snow. It has crept, as if for shelter, into the
lintels of the great door--under it, into the corners of the
windows, into every chink and crevice of retreat, and there wastes
and dies. It is falling still; upon the roof, upon the skylight,
even through the skylight, and drip, drip, drip, with the
regularity of the Ghost's Walk, on the stone floor below.
The trooper, his old recollections awakened by the solitary
grandeur of a great house--no novelty to him once at Chesney Wold--
goes up the stairs and through the chief rooms, holding up his
light at arm's length. Thinking of his varied fortunes within the
last few weeks, and of his rustic boyhood, and of the two periods
of his life so strangely brought together across the wide
intermediate space; thinking of the murdered man whose image is
fresh in his mind; thinking of the lady who has disappeared from
these very rooms and the tokens of whose recent presence are all
here; thinking of the master of the house upstairs and of the
foreboding, "Who will tell him!" he looks here and looks there, and
reflects how he MIGHT see something now, which it would tax his
boldness to walk up to, lay his hand upon, and prove to be a fancy.
But it is all blank, blank as the darkness above and below, while
he goes up the great staircase again, blank as the oppressive
"All is still in readiness, George Rouncewell?"
"Quite orderly and right, Sir Leicester."
"No word of any kind?"
The trooper shakes his head.
"No letter that can possibly have been overlooked?"
But he knows there is no such hope as that and lays his head down
without looking for an answer.
Very familiar to him, as he said himself some hours ago, George
Rouncewell lifts him into easier positions through the long
remainder of the blank wintry night, and equally familiar with his
unexpressed wish, extinguishes the light and undraws the curtains
at the first late break of day. The day comes like a phantom.
Cold, colourless, and vague, it sends a warning streak before it of
a deathlike hue, as if it cried out, "Look what I am bringing you
who watch there! Who will tell him!"
It was three o'clock in the morning when the houses outside London
did at last begin to exclude the country and to close us in with
streets. We had made our way along roads in a far worse condition
than when we had traversed them by daylight, both the fall and the
thaw having lasted ever since; but the energy of my companion never
slackened. It had only been, as I thought, of less assistance than
the horses in getting us on, and it had often aided them. They had
stopped exhausted halfway up hills, they had been driven through
streams of turbulent water, they had slipped down and become
entangled with the harness; but he and his little lantern had been
always ready, and when the mishap was set right, I had never heard
any variation in his cool, "Get on, my lads!"
The steadiness and confidence with which he had directed our
journey back I could not account for. Never wavering, he never
even stopped to make an inquiry until we were within a few miles of
London. A very few words, here and there, were then enough for
him; and thus we came, at between three and four o'clock in the
morning, into Islington.
I will not dwell on the suspense and anxiety with which I reflected
all this time that we were leaving my mother farther and farther
behind every minute. I think I had some strong hope that he must
be right and could not fail to have a satisfactory object in
following this woman, but I tormented myself with questioning it
and discussing it during the whole journey. What was to ensue when
we found her and what could compensate us for this loss of time
were questions also that I could not possibly dismiss; my mind was
quite tortured by long dwelling on such reflections when we
We stopped in a high-street where there was a coach-stand. My
companion paid our two drivers, who were as completely covered with
splashes as if they had been dragged along the roads like the
carriage itself, and giving them some brief direction where to take
it, lifted me out of it and into a hackney-coach he had chosen from
"Why, my dear!" he said as he did this. "How wet you are!"
I had not been conscious of it. But the melted snow had found its
way into the carriage, and I had got out two or three times when a
fallen horse was plunging and had to be got up, and the wet had
penetrated my dress. I assured him it was no matter, but the
driver, who knew him, would not be dissuaded by me from running
down the street to his stable, whence he brought an armful of clean
dry straw. They shook it out and strewed it well about me, and I
found it warm and comfortable.
"Now, my dear," said Mr. Bucket, with his head in at the window
after I was shut up. "We're a-going to mark this person down. It
may take a little time, but you don't mind that. You're pretty
sure that I've got a motive. Ain't you?"
I little thought what it was, little thought in how short a time I
should understand it better, but I assured him that I had
confidence in him.
"So you may have, my dear," he returned. "And I tell you what! If
you only repose half as much confidence in me as I repose in you
after what I've experienced of you, that'll do. Lord! You're no
trouble at all. I never see a young woman in any station of
society--and I've seen many elevated ones too--conduct herself like
you have conducted yourself since you was called out of your bed.
You're a pattern, you know, that's what you are," said Mr. Bucket
warmly; "you're a pattern."
I told him I was very glad, as indeed I was, to have been no
hindrance to him, and that I hoped I should be none now.
"My dear," he returned, "when a young lady is as mild as she's
game, and as game as she's mild, that's all I ask, and more than I
expect. She then becomes a queen, and that's about what you are
With these encouraging words--they really were encouraging to me
under those lonely and anxious circumstances--he got upon the box,
and we once more drove away. Where we drove I neither knew then
nor have ever known since, but we appeared to seek out the
narrowest and worst streets in London. Whenever I saw him
directing the driver, I was prepared for our descending into a
deeper complication of such streets, and we never failed to do so.
Sometimes we emerged upon a wider thoroughfare or came to a larger
building than the generality, well lighted. Then we stopped at
offices like those we had visited when we began our journey, and I
saw him in consultation with others. Sometimes he would get down
by an archway or at a street corner and mysteriously show the light
of his little lantern. This would attract similar lights from
various dark quarters, like so many insects, and a fresh
consultation would be held. By degrees we appeared to contract our
search within narrower and easier limits. Single police-officers
on duty could now tell Mr. Bucket what he wanted to know and point
to him where to go. At last we stopped for a rather long
conversation between him and one of these men, which I supposed to
be satisfactory from his manner of nodding from time to time. When
it was finished he came to me looking very busy and very attentive.
"Now, Miss Summerson, he said to me, "you won't be alarmed whatever
comes off, I know. It's not necessary for me to give you any
further caution than to tell you that we have marked this person
down and that you may be of use to me before I know it myself. I
don't like to ask such a thing, my dear, but would you walk a
Of course I got out directly and took his arm.
"It ain't so easy to keep your feet," said Mr. Bucket, "but take
Although I looked about me confusedly and hurriedly as we crossed
the street, I thought I knew the place. "Are we in Holborn?" I
"Yes," said Mr. Bucket. "Do you know this turning?"
"It looks like Chancery Lane."
"And was christened so, my dear," said Mr. Bucket.
We turned down it, and as we went shuffling through the sleet, I
heard the clocks strike half-past five. We passed on in silence
and as quickly as we could with such a foothold, when some one
coming towards us on the narrow pavement, wrapped in a cloak,
stopped and stood aside to give me room. In the same moment I
heard an exclamation of wonder and my own name from Mr. Woodcourt.
I knew his voice very well.
It was so unexpected and so--I don't know what to call it, whether
pleasant or painful--to come upon it after my feverish wandering
journey, and in the midst of the night, that I could not keep back
the tears from my eyes. It was like hearing his voice in a strange
"My dear Miss Summerson, that you should be out at this hour, and
in such weather!"
He had heard from my guardian of my having been called away on some
uncommon business and said so to dispense with any explanation. I
told him that we had but just left a coach and were going--but then
I was obliged to look at my companion.
"Why, you see, Mr. Woodcourt"--he had caught the name from me--"we
are a-going at present into the next street. Inspector Bucket."
Mr. Woodcourt, disregarding my remonstrances, had hurriedly taken
off his cloak and was putting it about me. "That's a good move,
too," said Mr. Bucket, assisting, "a very good move."
"May I go with you?" said Mr. Woodcourt. I don't know whether to
me or to my companion.
"Why, Lord!" exclaimed Mr. Bucket, taking the answer on himself.
"Of course you may."
It was all said in a moment, and they took me between them, wrapped
in the cloak.
"I have just left Richard," said Mr. Woodcourt. "I have been
sitting with him since ten o'clock last night."
"Oh, dear me, he is ill!"
"No, no, believe me; not ill, but not quite well. He was depressed
and faint--you know he gets so worried and so worn sometimes--and
Ada sent to me of course; and when I came home I found her note and
came straight here. Well! Richard revived so much after a little
while, and Ada was so happy and so convinced of its being my doing,
though God knows I had little enough to do with it, that I remained
with him until he had been fast asleep some hours. As fast asleep
as she is now, I hope!"
His friendly and familiar way of speaking of them, his unaffected
devotion to them, the grateful confidence with which I knew he had
inspired my darling, and the comfort he was to her; could I
separate all this from his promise to me? How thankless I must
have been if it had not recalled the words he said to me when he
was so moved by the change in my appearance: "I will accept him as
a trust, and it shall be a sacred one!"
We now turned into another narrow street. "Mr. Woodcourt," said
Mr. Bucket, who had eyed him closely as we came along, "our
business takes us to a law-stationer's here, a certain Mr.
Snagsby's. What, you know him, do you?" He was so quick that he
saw it in an instant.
"Yes, I know a little of him and have called upon him at this
"Indeed, sir?" said Mr. Bucket. "Then you will be so good as to
let me leave Miss Summerson with you for a moment while I go and
have half a word with him?"
The last police-officer with whom he had conferred was standing
silently behind us. I was not aware of it until he struck in on my
saying I heard some one crying.
"Don't be alarmed, miss," he returned. "It's Snagsby's servant."
"Why, you see," said Mr. Bucket, "the girl's subject to fits, and
has 'em bad upon her to-night. A most contrary circumstance it is,
for I want certain information out of that girl, and she must be
brought to reason somehow."
"At all events, they wouldn't be up yet if it wasn't for her, Mr.
Bucket," said the other man. "She's been at it pretty well all
"Well, that's true," he returned. "My light's burnt out. Show
yours a moment."
All this passed in a whisper a door or two from the house in which
I could faintly hear crying and moaning. In the little round of
light produced for the purpose, Mr. Bucket went up to the door and
knocked. The door was opened after he had knocked twice, and he
went in, leaving us standing in the street.
"Miss Summerson," said Mr. Woodcourt, "if without obtruding myself
on your confidence I may remain near you, pray let me do so."
"You are truly kind," I answered. "I need wish to keep no secret
of my own from you; if I keep any, it is another's."
"I quite understand. Trust me, I will remain near you only so long
as I can fully respect it."
"I trust implicitly to you," I said. "I know and deeply feel how
sacredly you keep your promise.
After a short time the little round of light shone out again, and
Mr. Bucket advanced towards us in it with his earnest face.
"Please to come in, Miss Summerson," he said, "and sit down by the
fire. Mr. Woodcourt, from information I have received I understand
you are a medical man. Would you look to this girl and see if
anything can be done to bring her round. She has a letter
somewhere that I particularly want. It's not in her box, and I
think it must be about her; but she is so twisted and clenched up
that she is difficult to handle without hurting."
We all three went into the house together; although it was cold and
raw, it smelt close too from being up all night. In the passage
behind the door stood a scared, sorrowful-looking little man in a
grey coat who seemed to have a naturally polite manner and spoke
"Downstairs, if you please, Mr. Bucket," said he. "The lady will
excuse the front kitchen; we use it as our workaday sitting-room.
The back is Guster's bedroom, and in it she's a-carrying on, poor
thing, to a frightful extent!"
We went downstairs, followed by Mr. Snagsby, as I soon found the
little man to be. In the front kitchen, sitting by the fire, was
Mrs. Snagsby, with very red eyes and a very severe expression of
"My little woman," said Mr. Snagsby, entering behind us, "to wave--
not to put too fine a point upon it, my dear--hostilities for one
single moment in the course of this prolonged night, here is
Inspector Bucket, Mr. Woodcourt, and a lady."
She looked very much astonished, as she had reason for doing, and
looked particularly hard at me.
"My little woman," said Mr. Snagsby, sitting down in the remotest
corner by the door, as if he were taking a liberty, "it is not
unlikely that you may inquire of me why Inspector Bucket, Mr.
Woodcourt, and a lady call upon us in Cook's Court, Cursitor
Street, at the present hour. I don't know. I have not the least
idea. If I was to be informed, I should despair of understanding,
and I'd rather not be told."
He appeared so miserable, sitting with his head upon his hand, and
I appeared so unwelcome, that I was going to offer an apology when
Mr. Bucket took the matter on himself.
"Now, Mr. Snagsby," said he, "the best thing you can do is to go
along with Mr. Woodcourt to look after your Guster--"
"My Guster, Mr. Bucket!" cried Mr. Snagsby. "Go on, sir, go on. I
shall be charged with that next."
"And to hold the candle," pursued Mr. Bucket without correcting
himself, "or hold her, or make yourself useful in any way you're
asked. Which there's not a man alive more ready to do, for you're
a man of urbanity and suavity, you know, and you've got the sort of
heart that can feel for another. Mr. Woodcourt, would you be so
good as see to her, and if you can get that letter from her, to let
me have it as soon as ever you can?"
As they went out, Mr. Bucket made me sit down in a corner by the
fire and take off my wet shoes, which he turned up to dry upon the
fender, talking all the time.
"Don't you be at all put out, miss, by the want of a hospitable
look from Mrs. Snagsby there, because she's under a mistake
altogether. She'll find that out sooner than will be agreeable to
a lady of her generally correct manner of forming her thoughts,
because I'm a-going to explain it to her." Here, standing on the
hearth with his wet hat and shawls in his hand, himself a pile of
wet, he turned to Mrs. Snagsby. "Now, the first thing that I say
to you, as a married woman possessing what you may call charms, you
know--'Believe Me, if All Those Endearing,' and cetrer--you're well
acquainted with the song, because it's in vain for you to tell me
that you and good society are strangers--charms--attractions, mind
you, that ought to give you confidence in yourself--is, that you've
Mrs. Snagsby looked rather alarmed, relented a little and faltered,
what did Mr. Bucket mean.
"What does Mr. Bucket mean?" he repeated, and I saw by his face
that all the time he talked he was listening for the discovery of
the letter, to my own great agitation, for I knew then how
important it must be; "I'll tell you what he means, ma'am. Go and
see Othello acted. That's the tragedy for you."
Mrs. Snagsby consciously asked why.
"Why?" said Mr. Bucket. "Because you'll come to that if you don't
look out. Why, at the very moment while I speak, I know what your
mind's not wholly free from respecting this young lady. But shall
I tell you who this young lady is? Now, come, you're what I call
an intellectual woman--with your soul too large for your body, if
you come to that, and chafing it--and you know me, and you
recollect where you saw me last, and what was talked of in that
circle. Don't you? Yes! Very well. This young lady is that
Mrs. Snagsby appeared to understand the reference better than I did
at the time.
"And Toughey--him as you call Jo--was mixed up in the same
business, and no other; and the law-writer that you know of was
mixed up in the same business, and no other; and your husband, with
no more knowledge of it than your great grandfather, was mixed up
(by Mr. Tulkinghorn, deceased, his best customer) in the same
business, and no other; and the whole bileing of people was mixed
up in the same business, and no other. And yet a married woman,
possessing your attractions, shuts her eyes (and sparklers too),
and goes and runs her delicate-formed head against a wall. Why, I
am ashamed of you! (I expected Mr. Woodcourt might have got it by
Mrs. Snagsby shook her head and put her handkerchief to her eyes.
"Is that all?" said Mr. Bucket excitedly. "No. See what happens.
Another person mixed up in that business and no other, a person in
a wretched state, comes here to-night and is seen a-speaking to
your maid-servant; and between her and your maid-servant there
passes a paper that I would give a hundred pound for, down. What
do you do? You hide and you watch 'em, and you pounce upon that
maid-servant--knowing what she's subject to and what a little thing
will bring 'em on--in that surprising manner and with that severity
that, by the Lord, she goes off and keeps off, when a life may be
hanging upon that girl's words!"
He so thoroughly meant what he said now that I involuntarily
clasped my hands and felt the room turning away from me. But it
stopped. Mr. Woodcourt came in, put a paper into his hand, and
went away again.
"Now, Mrs, Snagsby, the only amends you can make," said Mr. Bucket,
rapidly glancing at it, "is to let me speak a word to this young
lady in private here. And if you know of any help that you can
give to that gentleman in the next kitchen there or can think of
any one thing that's likelier than another to bring the girl round,
do your swiftest and best!" In an instant she was gone, and he had
shut the door. "Now my dear, you're steady and quite sure of
"Quite," said I.
"Whose writing is that?"
It was my mother's. A pencil-writing, on a crushed and torn piece
of paper, blotted with wet. Folded roughly like a letter, and
directed to me at my guardian's.
"You know the hand," he said, "and if you are firm enough to read
it to me, do! But be particular to a word."
It had been written in portions, at different times. I read what
"I came to the cottage with two objects. First, to see the dear
one, if I could, once more--but only to see her--not to speak to
her or let her know that I was near. The other object, to elude
pursuit and to be lost. Do not blame the mother for her share.
The assistance that she rendered me, she rendered on my strongest
assurance that it was for the dear one's good. You remember her
dead child. The men's consent I bought, but her help was freely
"'I came.' That was written," said my companion, "when she rested
there. It bears out what I made of it. I was right."
The next was written at another time:
"I have wandered a long distance, and for many hours, and I know
that I must soon die. These streets! I have no purpose but to
die. When I left, I had a worse, but I am saved from adding that
guilt to the rest. Cold, wet, and fatigue are sufficient causes
for my being found dead, but I shall die of others, though I suffer
from these. It was right that all that had sustained me should
give way at once and that I should die of terror and my conscience.
"Take courage," said Mr. Bucket. "There's only a few words more."
Those, too, were written at another time. To all appearance,
almost in the dark:
"I have done all I could do to be lost. I shall be soon forgotten
so, and shall disgrace him least. I have nothing about me by which
I can be recognized. This paper I part with now. The place where
I shall lie down, if I can get so far, has been often in my mind.
Mr. Bucket, supporting me with his arm, lowered me gently into my
chair. "Cheer up! Don't think me hard with you, my dear, but as
soon as ever you feel equal to it, get your shoes on and be ready."
I did as he required, but I was left there a long time, praying for
my unhappy mother. They were all occupied with the poor girl, and
I heard Mr. Woodcourt directing them and speaking to her often. At
length he came in with Mr. Bucket and said that as it was important
to address her gently, he thought it best that I should ask her for
whatever information we desired to obtain. There was no doubt that
she could now reply to questions if she were soothed and not
alarmed. The questions, Mr. Bucket said, were how she came by the
letter, what passed between her and the person who gave her the
letter, and where the person went. Holding my mind as steadily as
I could to these points, I went into the next room with them. Mr.
Woodcourt would have remained outside, but at my solicitation went
in with us.
The poor girl was sitting on the floor where they had laid her
down. They stood around her, though at a little distance, that she
might have air. She was not pretty and looked weak and poor, but
she had a plaintive and a good face, though it was still a little
wild. I kneeled on the ground beside her and put her poor head
upon my shoulder, whereupon she drew her arm round my neck and
burst into tears.
"My poor girl," said I, laying my face against her forehead, for
indeed I was crying too, and trembling, "it seems cruel to trouble
you now, but more depends on our knowing something about this
letter than I could tell you in an hour."
She began piteously declaring that she didn't mean any harm, she
didn't mean any harm, Mrs. Snagsby!
"We are all sure of that," said I. "But pray tell me how you got
"Yes, dear lady, I will, and tell you true. I'll tell true,
indeed, Mrs. Snagsby."
"I am sure of that," said I. "And how was it?"
"I had been out on an errand, dear lady--long after it was dark--
quite late; and when I came home, I found a common-looking person,
all wet and muddy, looking up at our house. When she saw me coming
in at the door, she called me back and said did I live here. And I
said yes, and she said she knew only one or two places about here,
but had lost her way and couldn't find them. Oh, what shall I do,
what shall I do! They won't believe me! She didn't say any harm
to me, and I didn't say any harm to her, indeed, Mrs. Snagsby!"
It was necessary for her mistress to comfort her--which she did, I
must say, with a good deal of contrition--before she could be got
"She could not find those places," said I.
"No!" cried the girl, shaking her head. "No! Couldn't find them.
And she was so faint, and lame, and miserable, Oh so wretched, that
if you had seen her, Mr. Snagsby, you'd have given her half a
crown, I know!"
"Well, Guster, my girl," said he, at first not knowing what to say.
"I hope I should."
"And yet she was so well spoken," said the girl, looking at me with
wide open eyes, "that it made a person's heart bleed. And so she
said to me, did I know the way to the burying ground? And I asked
her which burying ground. And she said, the poor burying ground.
And so I told her I had been a poor child myself, and it was
according to parishes. But she said she meant a poor burying
ground not very far from here, where there was an archway, and a
step, and an iron gate."
As I watched her face and soothed her to go on, I saw that Mr.
Bucket received this with a look which I could not separate from
one of alarm.
"Oh, dear, dear!" cried the girl, pressing her hair back with her
hands. "What shall I do, what shall I do! She meant the burying
ground where the man was buried that took the sleeping-stuff--that
you came home and told us of, Mr. Snagsby--that frightened me so,
Mrs. Snagsby. Oh, I am frightened again. Hold me!"
"You are so much better now," sald I. "Pray, pray tell me more."
"Yes I will, yes I will! But don't be angry with me, that's a dear
lady, because I have been so ill."
Angry with her, poor soul!
"There! Now I will, now I will. So she said, could I tell her how
to find it, and I said yes, and I told her; and she looked at me
with eyes like almost as if she was blind, and herself all waving
back. And so she took out the letter, and showed it me, and said
if she was to put that in the post-office, it would be rubbed out
and not minded and never sent; and would I take it from her, and
send it, and the messenger would be paid at the house. And so I
said yes, if it was no harm, and she said no--no harm. And so I
took it from her, and she said she had nothing to give me, and I
said I was poor myself and consequently wanted nothing. And so she
said God bless you, and went."
"And did she go--"
"Yes," cried the girl, anticipating the inquiry. "Yes! She went
the way I had shown her. Then I came in, and Mrs. Snagsby came
behind me from somewhere and laid hold of me, and I was
Mr. Woodcourt took her kindly from me. Mr. Bucket wrapped me up,
and immediately we were in the street. Mr. Woodcourt hesitated,
but I said, "Don't leave me now!" and Mr. Bucket added, "You'll be
better with us, we may want you; don't lose time!"
I have the most confused impressions of that walk. I recollect
that it was neither night nor day, that morning was dawning but the
street-lamps were not yet put out, that the sleet was still falling
and that all the ways were deep with it. I recollect a few chilled
people passing in the streets. I recollect the wet house-tops, the
clogged and bursting gutters and water-spouts, the mounds of
blackened ice and snow over which we passed, the narrowness of the
courts by which we went. At the same time I remember that the poor
girl seemed to be yet telling her story audibly and plainly in my
hearing, that I could feel her resting on my arm, that the stained
house-fronts put on human shapes and looked at me, that great
water-gates seemed to be opening and closing in my head or in the
air, and that the unreal things were more substantial than the
At last we stood under a dark and miserable covered way, where one
lamp was burning over an iron gate and where the morning faintly
struggled in. The gate was closed. Beyond it was a burial ground
--a dreadful spot in which the night was very slowly stirring, but
where I could dimly see heaps of dishonoured graves and stones,
hemmed in by filthy houses with a few dull lights in their windows
and on whose walls a thick humidity broke out like a disease. On
the step at the gate, drenched in the fearful wet of such a place,
which oozed and splashed down everywhere, I saw, with a cry of pity
and horror, a woman lying--Jenny, the mother of the dead child.
I ran forward, but they stopped me, and Mr. Woodcourt entreated me
with the greatest earnestness, even with tears, before I went up to
the figure to listen for an instant to what Mr. Bucket said. I did
so, as I thought. I did so, as I am sure.
"Miss Summerson, you'll understand me, if you think a moment. They
changed clothes at the cottage."
They changed clothes at the cottage. I could repeat the words in
my mind, and I knew what they meant of themselves, but I attached
no meaning to them in any other connexion.
"And one returned," said Mr. Bucket, "and one went on. And the one
that went on only went on a certain way agreed upon to deceive and
then turned across country and went home. Think a moment!"
I could repeat this in my mind too, but I had not the least idea
what it meant. I saw before me, lying on the step, the mother of
the dead child. She lay there with one arm creeping round a bar of
the iron gate and seeming to embrace it. She lay there, who had so
lately spoken to my mother. She lay there, a distressed,
unsheltered, senseless creature. She who had brought my mother's
letter, who could give me the only clue to where my mother was;
she, who was to guide us to rescue and save her whom we had sought
so far, who had come to this condition by some means connected with
my mother that I could not follow, and might be passing beyond our
reach and help at that moment; she lay there, and they stopped me!
I saw but did not comprehend the solemn and compassionate look in
Mr. Woodcourt's face. I saw but did not comprehend his touching
the other on the breast to keep him back. I saw him stand
uncovered in the bitter air, with a reverence for something. But
my understanding for all this was gone.
I even heard it said between them, "Shall she go?"
"She had better go. Her hands should be the first to touch her.
They have a higher right than ours."
I passed on to the gate and stooped down. I lifted the heavy head,
put the long dank hair aside, and turned the face. And it was my
mother, cold and dead.
I proceed to other passages of my narrative. From the goodness of
all about me I derived such consolation as I can never think of
unmoved. I have already said so much of myself, and so much still
remains, that I will not dwell upon my sorrow. I had an illness,
but it was not a long one; and I would avoid even this mention of
it if I could quite keep down the recollection of their sympathy.
I proceed to other passages of my narrative.
During the time of my illness, we were still in London, where Mrs.
Woodcourt had come, on my guardian's invitation, to stay with us.
When my guardian thought me well and cheerful enough to talk with
him in our old way--though I could have done that sooner if he
would have believed me--I resumed my work and my chair beside his.
He had appointed the time himself, and we were alone.
"Dame Trot," said he, receiving me with a kiss, "welcome to the
growlery again, my dear. I have a scheme to develop, little woman.
I propose to remain here, perhaps for six months, perhaps for a
longer time--as it may be. Quite to settle here for a while, in
"And in the meanwhile leave Bleak House?" said I.
"Aye, my dear? Bleak House," he returned, "must learn to take care
I thought his tone sounded sorrowful, but looking at him, I saw his
kind face lighted up by its pleasantest smile.
"Bleak House," he repeated--and his tone did NOT sound sorrowful, I
found--"must learn to take care of itself. It is a long way from
Ada, my dear, and Ada stands much in need of you."
"It's like you, guardian," said I, "to have been taking that into
consideration for a happy surprise to both of us."
"Not so disinterested either, my dear, if you mean to extol me for
that virtue, since if you were generally on the road, you could be
seldom with me. And besides, I wish to hear as much and as often
of Ada as I can in this condition of estrangement from poor Rick.
Not of her alone, but of him too, poor fellow."
"Have you seen Mr. Woodcourt, this morning, guardian?"
"I see Mr. Woodcourt every morning, Dame Durden."
"Does he still say the same of Richard?"
"Just the same. He knows of no direct bodily illness that he has;
on the contrary, he believes that he has none. Yet he is not easy
about him; who CAN be?"
My dear girl had been to see us lately every day, some times twice
in a day. But we had foreseen, all along, that this would only
last until I was quite myself. We knew full well that her fervent
heart was as full of affection and gratitude towards her cousin
John as it had ever been, and we acquitted Richard of laying any
injunctions upon her to stay away; but we knew on the other hand
that she felt it a part of her duty to him to be sparing of her
visits at our house. My guardian's delicacy had soon perceived
this and had tried to convey to her that he thought she was right.
"Dear, unfortunate, mistaken Richard," said I. "When will he awake
from his delusion!"
"He is not in the way to do so now, my dear," replied my guardian.
"The more he suffers, the more averse he will be to me, having made
me the principal representative of the great occasion of his
I could not help adding, "So unreasonably!"
"Ah, Dame Trot, Dame Trot," returned my guardian, "what shall we
find reasonable in Jarndyce and Jarndyce! Unreason and injustice
at the top, unreason and injustice at the heart and at the bottom,
unreason and injustice from beginning to end--if it ever has an
end--how should poor Rick, always hovering near it, pluck reason
out of it? He no more gathers grapes from thorns or figs from
thistles than older men did in old times."
His gentleness and consideration for Richard whenever we spoke of
him touched me so that I was always silent on this subject very
"I suppose the Lord Chancellor, and the Vice Chancellors, and the
whole Chancery battery of great guns would be infinitely astonished
by such unreason and injustice in one of their suitors," pursued my
guardian. "When those learned gentlemen begin to raise moss-roses
from the powder they sow in their wigs, I shall begin to be
He checked himself in glancing towards the window to look where the
wind was and leaned on the back of my chair instead.
"Well, well, little woman! To go on, my dear. This rock we must
leave to time, chance, and hopeful circumstance. We must not
shipwreck Ada upon it. She cannot afford, and he cannot afford,
the remotest chance of another separation from a friend. Therefore
I have particularly begged of Woodcourt, and I now particularly beg
of you, my dear, not to move this subject with Rick. Let it rest.
Next week, next month, next year, sooner or later, he will see me
with clearer eyes. I can wait."
But I had already discussed it with him, I confessed; and so, I
thought, had Mr. Woodcourt.
"So he tells me," returned my guardian. "Very good. He has made
his protest, and Dame Durden has made hers, and there is nothing
more to be said about it. Now I come to Mrs. Woodcourt. How do
you like her, my dear?"
In answer to this question, which was oddly abrupt, I said I liked
her very much and thought she was more agreeable than she used to
"I think so too," said my guardian. "Less pedigree? Not so much
of Morgan ap--what's his name?"
That was what I meant, I acknowledged, though he was a very
harmless person, even when we had had more of him.
"Still, upon the whole, he is as well in his native mountains,"
said my guardian. "I agree with you. Then, little woman, can I do
better for a time than retain Mrs. Woodcourt here?"
No. And yet--
My guardian looked at me, waiting for what I had to say.
I had nothing to say. At least I had nothing in my mind that I
could say. I had an undefined impression that it might have been
better if we had had some other inmate, but I could hardly have
explained why even to myself. Or, if to myself, certainly not to
"You see," said my guardian, "our neighbourhood is in Woodcourt's
way, and he can come here to see her as often as he likes, which is
agreeable to them both; and she is familiar to us and fond of you."
Yes. That was undeniable. I had nothing to say against it. I
could not have suggested a better arrangement, but I was not quite
easy in my mind. Esther, Esther, why not? Esther, think!
"It is a very good plan indeed, dear guardian, and we could not do
"Sure, little woman?"
Quite sure. I had had a moment's time to think, since I had urged
that duty on myself, and I was quite sure.
"Good," said my guardian. "It shall be done. Carried
"Carried unanimously," I repeated, going on with my work.
It was a cover for his book-table that I happened to be
ornamenting. It had been laid by on the night preceding my sad
journey and never resumed. I showed it to him now, and he admired
it highly. After I had explained the pattern to him and all the
great effects that were to come out by and by, I thought I would go
back to our last theme.
"You said, dear guardian, when we spoke of Mr. Woodcourt before Ada
left us, that you thought he would give a long trial to another
country. Have you been advising him since?"
"Yes, little woman, pretty often."
"Has he decided to do so?"
"I rather think not."
"Some other prospect has opened to him, perhaps?" said I.
"Why--yes--perhaps," returned my guardian, beginning his answer in
a very deliberate manner. "About half a year hence or so, there is
a medical attendant for the poor to be appointed at a certain place
in Yorkshire. It is a thriving place, pleasantly situated--streams
and streets, town and country, mill and moor--and seems to present
an opening for such a man. I mean a man whose hopes and aims may
sometimes lie (as most men's sometimes do, I dare say) above the
ordinary level, but to whom the ordinary level will be high enough
after all if it should prove to be a way of usefulness and good
service leading to no other. All generous spirits are ambitious, I
suppose, but the ambition that calmly trusts itself to such a road,
instead of spasmodically trying to fly over it, is of the kind I
care for. It is Woodcourt's kind."
"And will he get this appointment?" I asked.
"Why, little woman," returned my guardian, smiling, "not being an
oracle, I cannot confidently say, but I think so. His reputation
stands very high; there were people from that part of the country
in the shipwreck; and strange to say, I believe the best man has
the best chance. You must not suppose it to be a fine endowment.
It is a very, very commonplace affair, my dear, an appointment to a
great amount of work and a small amount of pay; but better things
will gather about it, it may be fairly hoped."
"The poor of that place will have reason to bless the choice if it
falls on Mr. Woodcourt, guardian."
"You are right, little woman; that I am sure they will."
We said no more about it, nor did he say a word about the future of
Bleak House. But it was the first time I had taken my seat at his
side in my mourning dress, and that accounted for it, I considered.
I now began to visit my dear girl every day in the dull dark corner
where she lived. The morning was my usual time, but whenever I
found I had an hour or so to spare, I put on my bonnet and bustled
off to Chancery Lane. They were both so glad to see me at all
hours, and used to brighten up so when they heard me opening the
door and coming in (being quite at home, I never knocked), that I
had no fear of becoming troublesome just yet.
On these occasions I frequently found Richard absent. At other
times he would be writing or reading papers in the cause at that
table of his, so covered with papers, which was never disturbed.
Sometimes I would come upon him lingering at the door of Mr.
Vholes's office. Sometimes I would meet him in the neighbourhood
lounging about and biting his nails. I often met him wandering in
Lincoln's Inn, near the place where I had first seen him, oh how
different, how different!
That the money Ada brought him was melting away with the candles I
used to see burning after dark in Mr. Vholes's office I knew very
well. It was not a large amount in the beginning, he had married
in debt, and I could not fail to understand, by this time, what was
meant by Mr. Vholes's shoulder being at the wheel--as I still heard
it was. My dear made the best of housekeepers and tried hard to
save, but I knew that they were getting poorer and poorer every
She shone in the miserable corner like a beautiful star. She
adorned and graced it so that it became another place. Paler than
she had been at home, and a little quieter than I had thought
natural when she was yet so cheerful and hopeful, her face was so
unshadowed that I half believed she was blinded by her love for
Richard to his ruinous career.
I went one day to dine with them while I was under this impression.
As I turned into Symond's Inn, I met little Miss Flite coming out.
She had been to make a stately call upon the wards in Jarndyce, as
she still called them, and had derived the highest gratification
from that ceremony. Ada had already told me that she called every
Monday at five o'clock, with one little extra white bow in her
bonnet, which never appeared there at any other time, and with her
largest reticule of documents on her arm.
"My dear!" she began. "So delighted! How do you do! So glad to
see you. And you are going to visit our interesting Jarndyce
wards? TO be sure! Our beauty is at home, my dear, and will be
charmed to see you."
"Then Richard is not come in yet?" said I. "I am glad of that, for
I was afraid of being a little late."
"No, he is not come in," returned Miss Flite. "He has had a long
day in court. I left him there with Vholes. You don't like
Vholes, I hope? DON'T like Vholes. Dan-gerous man!"
"I am afraid you see Richard oftener than ever now," said I.
"My dearest," returned Miss Flite, "daily and hourly. You know
what I told you of the attraction on the Chancellor's table? My
dear, next to myself he is the most constant suitor in court. He
begins quite to amuse our little party. Ve-ry friendly little
party, are we not?"
It was miserable to hear this from her poor mad lips, though it was
"In short, my valued friend," pursued Miss Flite, advancing her
lips to my ear with an air of equal patronage and mystery, "I must
tell you a secret. I have made him my executor. Nominated,
constituted, and appointed him. In my will. Ye-es."
"Indeed?" said I.
"Ye-es," repeated Miss Flite in her most genteel accents, "my
executor, administrator, and assign. (Our Chancery phrases, my
love.) I have reflected that if I should wear out, he will be able
to watch that judgment. Being so very regular in his attendance."
It made me sigh to think of him.
"I did at one time mean," said Miss Flite, echoing the sigh, "to
nominate, constitute, and appoint poor Gridley. Also very regular,
my charming girl. I assure you, most exemplary! But he wore out,
poor man, so I have appointed his successor. Don't mention it.
This is in confidence."
She carefully opened her reticule a little way and showed me a
folded piece of paper inside as the appointment of which she spoke.
"Another secret, my dear. I have added to my collection of birds."
"Really, Miss Flite?" said I, knowing how it pleased her to have
her confidence received with an appearance of interest.
She nodded several times, and her face became overcast and gloomy.
"Two more. I call them the Wards in Jarndyce. They are caged up
with all the others. With Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life,
Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning,
Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon,
Gammon, and Spinach!"
The poor soul kissed me with the most troubled look I had ever seen
in her and went her way. Her manner of running over the names of
her birds, as if she were afraid of hearing them even from her own
lips, quite chilled me.
This was not a cheering preparation for my visit, and I could have
dispensed with the company of Mr. Vholes, when Richard (who arrived
within a minute or two after me) brought him to share our dinner.
Although it was a very plain one, Ada and Richard were for some
minutes both out of the room together helping to get ready what we
were to eat and drink. Mr. Vholes took that opportunity of holding
a little conversation in a low voice with me. He came to the
window where I was sitting and began upon Symond's Inn.
"A dull place, Miss Summerson, for a life that is not an official
one," said Mr. Vholes, smearing the glass with his black glove to
make it clearer for me.
"There is not much to see here," said I.
"Nor to hear, miss," returned Mr. Vholes. "A little music does
occasionally stray in, but we are not musical in the law and soon
eject it. I hope Mr. Jarndyce is as well as his friends could wish
I thanked Mr. Vholes and said he was quite well.
"I have not the pleasure to be admitted among the number of his
friends myself," said Mr. Vholes, "and I am aware that the
gentlemen of our profession are sometimes regarded in such quarters
with an unfavourable eye. Our plain course, however, under good
report and evil report, and all kinds of prejudice (we are the
victims of prejudice), is to have everything openly carried on.
How do you find Mr. C. looking, Miss Summerson?"
"He looks very ill. Dreadfully anxious."
"Just so," said Mr. Vholes.
He stood behind me with his long black figure reaching nearly to
the ceiling of those low rooms, feeling the pimples on his face as
if they were ornaments and speaking inwardly and evenly as though
there were not a human passion or emotion in his nature.
"Mr. Woodcourt is in attendance upon Mr. C., I believe?" he
"Mr. Woodcourt is his disinterested friend," I answered.
"But I mean in professional attendance, medical attendance."
"That can do little for an unhappy mind," said I.
"Just so," said Mr. Vholes.
So slow, so eager, so bloodless and gaunt, I felt as if Richard
were wasting away beneath the eyes of this adviser and there were
something of the vampire in him.
"Miss Summerson," said Mr. Vholes, very slowly rubbing his gloved
hands, as if, to his cold sense of touch, they were much the same
in black kid or out of it, "this was an ill-advised marriage of Mr.
I begged he would excuse me from discussing it. They had been
engaged when they were both very young, I told him (a little
indignantly) and when the prospect before them was much fairer and
brighter. When Richard had not yielded himself to the unhappy
influence which now darkened his life.
"Just so," assented Mr. Vholes again. "Still, with a view to
everything being openly carried on, I will, with your permission,
Miss Summerson, observe to you that I consider this a very ill-
advised marriage indeed. I owe the opinion not only to Mr. C.'s
connexions, against whom I should naturally wish to protect myself,
but also to my own reputation--dear to myself as a professional man
aiming to keep respectable; dear to my three girls at home, for
whom I am striving to realize some little independence; dear, I
will even say, to my aged father, whom it is my privilege to
"It would become a very different marriage, a much happier and
better marriage, another marriage altogether, Mr. Vholes," said I,
"if Richard were persuaded to turn his back on the fatal pursuit in
which you are engaged with him."
Mr. Vholes, with a noiseless cough--or rather gasp--into one of his
black gloves, inclined his head as if he did not wholly dispute
"Miss Summerson," he said, "it may be so; and I freely admit that
the young lady who has taken Mr. C.'s name upon herself in so ill-
advised a manner--you will I am sure not quarrel with me for
throwing out that remark again, as a duty I owe to Mr. C.'s
connexions--is a highly genteel young lady. Business has prevented
me from mixing much with general society in any but a professional
character; still I trust I am competent to perceive that she is a
highly genteel young lady. As to beauty, I am not a judge of that
myself, and I never did give much attention to it from a boy, but I
dare say the young lady is equally eligible in that point of view.
She is considered so (I have heard) among the clerks in the Inn,
and it is a point more in their way than in mine. In reference to
Mr. C.'s pursult of his interests--"
"Oh! His interests, Mr. Vholes!"
"Pardon me," returned Mr. Vholes, going on in exactly the same
inward and dispassionate manner. "Mr. C. takes certain interests
under certain wills disputed in the suit. It is a term we use. In
reference to Mr. C,'s pursuit of his interests, I mentioned to you,
Miss Summerson, the first time I had the pleasure of seeing you, in
my desire that everything should he openly carried on--I used those
words, for I happened afterwards to note them in my diary, which is
producible at any time--I mentioned to you that Mr. C. had laid
down the principle of watching his own interests, and that when a
client of mine laid down a principle which was not of an immoral
(that is to say, unlawful) nature, it devolved upon me to carry it
out. I HAVE carried it out; I do carry it out. But I will not
smooth things over to any connexion of Mr. C.'s on any account. As
open as I was to Mr. Jarndyce, I am to you. I regard it in the
light of a professional duty to be so, though it can be charged to
no one. I openly say, unpalatable as it may be, that I consider
Mr. C.'s affairs in a very bad way, that I consider Mr. C. himself
in a very bad way, and that I regard this as an exceedingly ill-
advised marriage. Am I here, sir? Yes, I thank you; I am here,
Mr. C., and enjoying the pleasure of some agreeable conversation
with Miss Summerson, for which I have to thank you very much, sir!"
He broke off thus in answer to Richard, who addressed him as he
came into the room. By this time I too well understood Mr.
Vholes's scrupulous way of saving himself and his respectability
not to feel that our worst fears did but keep pace with his
We sat down to dinner, and I had an opportunity of observing