Part 1 out of 21
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, Toronto, Canada
by Charles Dickens
A Chancery judge once had the kindness to inform me, as one of a
company of some hundred and fifty men and women not labouring under
any suspicions of lunacy, that the Court of Chancery, though the
shining subject of much popular prejudice (at which point I thought
the judge's eye had a cast in my direction), was almost immaculate.
There had been, he admitted, a trivial blemish or so in its rate of
progress, but this was exaggerated and had been entirely owing to
the "parsimony of the public," which guilty public, it appeared,
had been until lately bent in the most determined manner on by no
means enlarging the number of Chancery judges appointed--I believe
by Richard the Second, but any other king will do as well.
This seemed to me too profound a joke to be inserted in the body of
this book or I should have restored it to Conversation Kenge or to
Mr. Vholes, with one or other of whom I think it must have
originated. In such mouths I might have coupled it with an apt
quotation from one of Shakespeare's sonnets:
"My nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed!"
But as it is wholesome that the parsimonious public should know
what has been doing, and still is doing, in this connexion, I
mention here that everything set forth in these pages concerning
the Court of Chancery is substantially true, and within the truth.
The case of Gridley is in no essential altered from one of actual
occurrence, made public by a disinterested person who was
professionally acquainted with the whole of the monstrous wrong
from beginning to end. At the present moment (August, 1853) there
is a suit before the court which was commenced nearly twenty years
ago, in which from thirty to forty counsel have been known to
appear at one time, in which costs have been incurred to the amount
of seventy thousand pounds, which is A FRIENDLY SUIT, and which is
(I am assured) no nearer to its termination now than when it was
begun. There is another well-known suit in Chancery, not yet
decided, which was commenced before the close of the last century
and in which more than double the amount of seventy thousand pounds
has been swallowed up in costs. If I wanted other authorities for
Jarndyce and Jarndyce, I could rain them on these pages, to the
shame of--a parsimonious public.
There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark.
The possibility of what is called spontaneous combustion has been
denied since the death of Mr. Krook; and my good friend Mr. Lewes
(quite mistaken, as he soon found, in supposing the thing to have
been abandoned by all authorities) published some ingenious letters
to me at the time when that event was chronicled, arguing that
spontaneous combustion could not possibly be. I have no need to
observe that I do not wilfully or negligently mislead my readers
and that before I wrote that description I took pains to
investigate the subject. There are about thirty cases on record,
of which the most famous, that of the Countess Cornelia de Baudi
Cesenate, was minutely investigated and described by Giuseppe
Bianchini, a prebendary of Verona, otherwise distinguished in
letters, who published an account of it at Verona in 1731, which he
afterwards republished at Rome. The appearances, beyond all
rational doubt, observed in that case are the appearances observed
in Mr. Krook's case. The next most famous instance happened at
Rheims six years earlier, and the historian in that case is Le Cat,
one of the most renowned surgeons produced by France. The subject
was a woman, whose husband was ignorantly convicted of having
murdered her; but on solemn appeal to a higher court, he was
acquitted because it was shown upon the evidence that she had died
the death of which this name of spontaneous combustion is given. I
do not think it necessary to add to these notable facts, and that
general reference to the authorities which will be found at page
30, vol. ii.,* the recorded opinions and experiences of
distinguished medical professors, French, English, and Scotch, in
more modern days, contenting myself with observing that I shall not
abandon the facts until there shall have been a considerable
spontaneous combustion of the testimony on which human occurrences
are usually received.
In Bleak House I have purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of
* Another case, very clearly described by a dentist, occurred at
the town of Columbus, in the United States of America, quite
recently. The subject was a German who kept a liquor-shop aud was
an inveterate drunkard.
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor
sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As
much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from
the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a
Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine
lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots,
making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as
full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for
the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses,
scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers,
jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill
temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of
thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding
since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits
to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points
tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits
and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the
tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and
dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.
Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on
the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping
on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and
throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides
of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of
the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching
the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck.
Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a
nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a
balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.
Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much
as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by
husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours
before their time--as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard
and unwilling look.
The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the
muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction,
appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old
corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn
Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor
in his High Court of Chancery.
Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and
mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition
which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners,
holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.
On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be
sitting her--as here he is--with a foggy glory round his head,
softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a
large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an
interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to
the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog. On such
an afternoon some score of members of the High Court of Chancery
bar ought to be--as here they are--mistily engaged in one of the
ten thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up on
slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running
their goat-hair and horsehair warded heads against walls of words
and making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players
might. On such an afternoon the various solicitors in the cause,
some two or three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, who
made a fortune by it, ought to be--as are they not?--ranged in a
line, in a long matted well (but you might look in vain for truth
at the bottom of it) between the registrar's red table and the silk
gowns, with bills, cross-bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions,
affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters' reports,
mountains of costly nonsense, piled before them. Well may the
court be dim, with wasting candles here and there; well may the fog
hang heavy in it, as if it would never get out; well may the
stained-glass windows lose their colour and admit no light of day
into the place; well may the uninitiated from the streets, who peep
in through the glass panes in the door, be deterred from entrance
by its owlish aspect and by the drawl, languidly echoing to the
roof from the padded dais where the Lord High Chancellor looks into
the lantern that has no light in it and where the attendant wigs
are all stuck in a fog-bank! This is the Court of Chancery, which
has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire,
which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in
every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod
heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round
of every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means
abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances,
patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the
heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners
who would not give--who does not often give--the warning, "Suffer
any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"
Who happen to be in the Lord Chancellor's court this murky
afternoon besides the Lord Chancellor, the counsel in the cause,
two or three counsel who are never in any cause, and the well of
solicitors before mentioned? There is the registrar below the
judge, in wig and gown; and there are two or three maces, or petty-
bags, or privy purses, or whatever they may be, in legal court
suits. These are all yawning, for no crumb of amusement ever falls
from Jarndyce and Jarndyce (the cause in hand), which was squeezed
dry years upon years ago. The short-hand writers, the reporters of
the court, and the reporters of the newspapers invariably decamp
with the rest of the regulars when Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes on.
Their places are a blank. Standing on a seat at the side of the
hall, the better to peer into the curtained sanctuary, is a little
mad old woman in a squeezed bonnet who is always in court, from its
sitting to its rising, and always expecting some incomprehensible
judgment to be given in her favour. Some say she really is, or
was, a party to a suit, but no one knows for certain because no one
cares. She carries some small litter in a reticule which she calls
her documents, principally consisting of paper matches and dry
lavender. A sallow prisoner has come up, in custody, for the half-
dozenth time to make a personal application "to purge himself of
his contempt," which, being a solitary surviving executor who has
fallen into a state of conglomeration about accounts of which it is
not pretended that he had ever any knowledge, he is not at all
likely ever to do. In the meantime his prospects in life are
ended. Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears from
Shropshire and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor at
the close of the day's business and who can by no means be made to
understand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existence
after making it desolate for a quarter of a century, plants himself
in a good place and keeps an eye on the judge, ready to call out
"My Lord!" in a voice of sonorous complaint on the instant of his
rising. A few lawyers' clerks and others who know this suitor by
sight linger on the chance of his furnishing some fun and
enlivening the dismal weather a little.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in
course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what
it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been
observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five
minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the
premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause;
innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old
people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously
found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without
knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds
with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised
a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled
has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away
into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers
and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and
gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed
into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left
upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his
brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and
Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court,
Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only
good that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it
is a joke in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had a
reference out of it. Every Chancellor was "in it," for somebody or
other, when he was counsel at the bar. Good things have been said
about it by blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers in select port-
wine committee after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been in
the habit of fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last Lord
Chancellor handled it neatly, when, correcting Mr. Blowers, the
eminent silk gown who said that such a thing might happen when the
sky rained potatoes, he observed, "or when we get through Jarndyce
and Jarndyce, Mr. Blowers"--a pleasantry that particularly tickled
the maces, bags, and purses.
How many people out of the suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretched
forth its unwholesome hand to spoil and corrupt would be a very
wide question. From the master upon whose impaling files reams of
dusty warrants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce have grimly writhed into
many shapes, down to the copying-clerk in the Six Clerks' Office
who has copied his tens of thousands of Chancery folio-pages under
that eternal heading, no man's nature has been made better by it.
In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration,
under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can
never come to good. The very solicitors' boys who have kept the
wretched suitors at bay, by protesting time out of mind that Mr.
Chizzle, Mizzle, or otherwise was particularly engaged and had
appointments until dinner, may have got an extra moral twist and
shuffle into themselves out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The receiver
in the cause has acquired a goodly sum of money by it but has
acquired too a distrust of his own mother and a contempt for his
own kind. Chizzle, Mizzle, and otherwise have lapsed into a habit
of vaguely promising themselves that they will look into that
outstanding little matter and see what can be done for Drizzle--who
was not well used--when Jarndyce and Jarndyce shall be got out of
the office. Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties have
been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have
contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil
have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things
alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the
world go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to go
Thus, in the midst of the mud and at the heart of the fog, sits the
Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.
"Mr. Tangle," says the Lord High Chancellor, latterly something
restless under the eloquence of that learned gentleman.
"Mlud," says Mr. Tangle. Mr. Tangle knows more of Jarndyce and
Jarndyce than anybody. He is famous for it--supposed never to have
read anything else since he left school.
"Have you nearly concluded your argument?"
"Mlud, no--variety of points--feel it my duty tsubmit--ludship," is
the reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.
"Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?" says
the Chancellor with a slight smile.
Eighteen of Mr. Tangle's learned friends, each armed with a little
summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in
a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen
places of obscurity.
"We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight," says the
Chancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs,
a mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really will
come to a settlement one of these days.
The Chancellor rises; the bar rises; the prisoner is brought
forward in a hurry; the man from Shropshire cries, "My lord!"
Maces, bags, and purses indignantly proclaim silence and frown at
the man from Shropshire.
"In reference," proceeds the Chancellor, still on Jarndyce and
Jarndyce, "to the young girl--"
"Begludship's pardon--boy," says Mr. Tangle prematurely. "In
reference," proceeds the Chancellor with extra distinctness, "to
the young girl and boy, the two young people"--Mr. Tangle crushed--
"whom I directed to be in attendance to-day and who are now in my
private room, I will see them and satisfy myself as to the
expediency of making the order for their residing with their
Mr. Tangle on his legs again. "Begludship's pardon--dead."
"With their"--Chancellor looking through his double eyeglass at the
papers on his desk--"grandfather."
"Begludship's pardon--victim of rash action--brains."
Suddenly a very little counsel with a terrific bass voice arises,
fully inflated, in the back settlements of the fog, and says, "Will
your lordship allow me? I appear for him. He is a cousin, several
times removed. I am not at the moment prepared to inform the court
in what exact remove he is a cousin, but he IS a cousin.
Leaving this address (delivered like a sepulchral message) ringing
in the rafters of the roof, the very little counsel drops, and the
fog knows him no more. Everybody looks for him. Nobody can see
"I will speak with both the young people," says the Chancellor
anew, "and satisfy myself on the subject of their residing with
their cousin. I will mention the matter to-morrow morning when I
take my seat."
The Chancellor is about to bow to the bar when the prisoner is
presented. Nothing can possibly come of the prisoner's
conglomeration but his being sent back to prison, which is soon
done. The man from Shropshire ventures another remonstrative "My
lord!" but the Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterously
vanished. Everybody else quickly vanishes too. A battery of blue
bags is loaded with heavy charges of papers and carried off by
clerks; the little mad old woman marches off with her documents;
the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice it has
committed and all the misery it has caused could only be locked up
with it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre--why so
much the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce and
It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion that we want on this
same miry afternoon. It is not so unlike the Court of Chancery but
that we may pass from the one scene to the other, as the crow
flies. Both the world of fashion and the Court of Chancery are
things of precedent and usage: oversleeping Rip Van Winkles who
have played at strange games through a deal of thundery weather;
sleeping beauties whom the knight will wake one day, when all the
stopped spits in the kitchen shall begin to turn prodigiously!
It is not a large world. Relatively even to this world of ours,
which has its limits too (as your Highness shall find when you have
made the tour of it and are come to the brink of the void beyond),
it is a very little speck. There is much good in it; there are
many good and true people in it; it has its appointed place. But
the evil of it is that it is a world wrapped up in too much
jeweller's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the
larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle round the sun.
It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for
want of air.
My Lady Dedlock has returned to her house in town for a few days
previous to her departure for Paris, where her ladyship intends to
stay some weeks, after which her movements are uncertain. The
fashionable intelligence says so for the comfort of the Parisians,
and it knows all fashionable things. To know things otherwise were
to be unfashionable. My Lady Dedlock has been down at what she
calls, in familiar conversation, her "place" in Lincolnshire. The
waters are out in Lincolnshire. An arch of the bridge in the park
has been sapped and sopped away. The adjacent low-lying ground for
half a mile in breadth is a stagnant river with melancholy trees
for islands in it and a surface punctured all over, all day long,
with falling rain. My Lady Dedlock's place has been extremely
dreary. The weather for many a day and night has been so wet that
the trees seem wet through, and the soft loppings and prunings of
the woodman's axe can make no crash or crackle as they fall. The
deer, looking soaked, leave quagmires where they pass. The shot of
a rifle loses its sharpness in the moist air, and its smoke moves
in a tardy little cloud towards the green rise, coppice-topped,
that makes a background for the falling rain. The view from my
Lady Dedlock's own windows is alternately a lead-coloured view and
a view in Indian ink. The vases on the stone terrace in the
foreground catch the rain all day; and the heavy drops fall--drip,
drip, drip--upon the broad flagged pavement, called from old time
the Ghost's Walk, all night. On Sundays the little church in the
park is mouldy; the oaken pulpit breaks out into a cold sweat; and
there is a general smell and taste as of the ancient Dedlocks in
their graves. My Lady Dedlock (who is childless), looking out in
the early twilight from her boudoir at a keeper's lodge and seeing
the light of a fire upon the latticed panes, and smoke rising from
the chimney, and a child, chased by a woman, running out into the
rain to meet the shining figure of a wrapped-up man coming through
the gate, has been put quite out of temper. My Lady Dedlock says
she has been "bored to death."
Therefore my Lady Dedlock has come away from the place in
Lincolnshire and has left it to the rain, and the crows, and the
rabbits, and the deer, and the partridges and pheasants. The
pictures of the Dedlocks past and gone have seemed to vanish into
the damp walls in mere lowness of spirits, as the housekeeper has
passed along the old rooms shutting up the shutters. And when they
will next come forth again, the fashionable intelligence--which,
like the fiend, is omniscient of the past and present, but not the
future--cannot yet undertake to say.
Sir Leicester Dedlock is only a baronet, but there is no mightier
baronet than he. His family is as old as the hills, and infinitely
more respectable. He has a general opinion that the world might
get on without hills but would be done up without Dedlocks. He
would on the whole admit nature to be a good idea (a little low,
perhaps, when not enclosed with a park-fence), but an idea
dependent for its execution on your great county families. He is a
gentleman of strict conscience, disdainful of all littleness and
meanness and ready on the shortest notice to die any death you may
please to mention rather than give occasion for the least
impeachment of his integrity. He is an honourable, obstinate,
truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly
Sir Leicester is twenty years, full measure, older than my Lady.
He will never see sixty-five again, nor perhaps sixty-six, nor yet
sixty-seven. He has a twist of the gout now and then and walks a
little stiffly. He is of a worthy presence, with his light-grey
hair and whiskers, his fine shirt-frill, his pure-white waistcoat,
and his blue coat with bright buttons always buttoned. He is
ceremonious, stately, most polite on every occasion to my Lady, and
holds her personal attractions in the highest estimation. His
gallantry to my Lady, which has never changed since he courted her,
is the one little touch of romantic fancy in him.
Indeed, he married her for love. A whisper still goes about that
she had not even family; howbeit, Sir Leicester had so much family
that perhaps he had enough and could dispense with any more. But
she had beauty, pride, ambition, insolent resolve, and sense enough
to portion out a legion of fine ladies. Wealth and station, added
to these, soon floated her upward, and for years now my Lady
Dedlock has been at the centre of the fashionable intelligence and
at the top of the fashionable tree.
How Alexander wept when he had no more worlds to conquer, everybody
knows--or has some reason to know by this time, the matter having
been rather frequently mentioned. My Lady Dedlock, having
conquered HER world, fell not into the melting, but rather into the
freezing, mood. An exhausted composure, a worn-out placidity, an
equanimity of fatigue not to be ruffled by interest or satisfaction,
are the trophies of her victory. She is perfectly well-bred.
If she could be translated to heaven to-morrow, she might be
expected to ascend without any rapture.
She has beauty still, and if it be not in its heyday, it is not yet
in its autumn. She has a fine face--originally of a character that
would be rather called very pretty than handsome, but improved into
classicality by the acquired expression of her fashionable state.
Her figure is elegant and has the effect of being tall. Not that
she is so, but that "the most is made," as the Honourable Bob
Stables has frequently asserted upon oath, "of all her points."
The same authority observes that she is perfectly got up and
remarks in commendation of her hair especially that she is the
best-groomed woman in the whole stud.
With all her perfections on her head, my Lady Dedlock has come up
from her place in Lincolnshire (hotly pursued by the fashionable
intelligence) to pass a few days at her house in town previous to
her departure for Paris, where her ladyship intends to stay some
weeks, after which her movements are uncertain. And at her house
in town, upon this muddy, murky afternoon, presents himself an old-
fashioned old gentleman, attorney-at-law and eke solicitor of the
High Court of Chancery, who has the honour of acting as legal
adviser of the Dedlocks and has as many cast-iron boxes in his
office with that name outside as if the present baronet were the
coin of the conjuror's trick and were constantly being juggled
through the whole set. Across the hall, and up the stairs, and
along the passages, and through the rooms, which are very brilliant
in the season and very dismal out of it--fairy-land to visit, but a
desert to live in--the old gentleman is conducted by a Mercury in
powder to my Lady's presence.
The old gentleman is rusty to look at, but is reputed to have made
good thrift out of aristocratic marriage settlements and
aristocratic wills, and to be very rich. He is surrounded by a
mysterious halo of family confidences, of which he is known to be
the silent depository. There are noble mausoleums rooted for
centuries in retired glades of parks among the growing timber and
the fern, which perhaps hold fewer noble secrets than walk abroad
among men, shut up in the breast of Mr. Tulkinghorn. He is of what
is called the old school--a phrase generally meaning any school
that seems never to have been young--and wears knee-breeches tied
with ribbons, and gaiters or stockings. One peculiarity of his
black clothes and of his black stockings, be they silk or worsted,
is that they never shine. Mute, close, irresponsive to any
glancing light, his dress is like himself. He never converses when
not professionaly consulted. He is found sometimes, speechless but
quite at home, at corners of dinner-tables in great country houses
and near doors of drawing-rooms, concerning which the fashionable
intelligence is eloquent, where everybody knows him and where half
the Peerage stops to say "How do you do, Mr. Tulkinghorn?" He
receives these salutations with gravity and buries them along with
the rest of his knowledge.
Sir Leicester Dedlock is with my Lady and is happy to see Mr.
Tulkinghorn. There is an air of prescription about him which is
always agreeable to Sir Leicester; he receives it as a kind of
tribute. He likes Mr. Tulkinghorn's dress; there is a kind of
tribute in that too. It is eminently respectable, and likewise, in
a general way, retainer-like. It expresses, as it were, the
steward of the legal mysteries, the butler of the legal cellar, of
Has Mr. Tulkinghorn any idea of this himself? It may be so, or it
may not, but there is this remarkable circumstance to be noted in
everything associated with my Lady Dedlock as one of a class--as
one of the leaders and representatives of her little world. She
supposes herself to be an inscrutable Being, quite out of the reach
and ken of ordinary mortals--seeing herself in her glass, where
indeed she looks so. Yet every dim little star revolving about
her, from her maid to the manager of the Italian Opera, knows her
weaknesses, prejudices, follies, haughtinesses, and caprices and
lives upon as accurate a calculation and as nice a measure of her
moral nature as her dressmaker takes of her physical proportions.
Is a new dress, a new custom, a new singer, a new dancer, a new
form of jewellery, a new dwarf or giant, a new chapel, a new
anything, to be set up? There are deferential people in a dozen
callings whom my Lady Dedlock suspects of nothing but prostration
before her, who can tell you how to manage her as if she were a
baby, who do nothing but nurse her all their lives, who, humbly
affecting to follow with profound subservience, lead her and her
whole troop after them; who, in hooking one, hook all and bear them
off as Lemuel Gulliver bore away the stately fleet of the majestic
Lilliput. "If you want to address our people, sir," say Blaze and
Sparkle, the jewellers--meaning by our people Lady Dedlock and the
rest--"you must remember that you are not dealing with the general
public; you must hit our people in their weakest place, and their
weakest place is such a place." "To make this article go down,
gentlemen," say Sheen and Gloss, the mercers, to their friends the
manufacturers, "you must come to us, because we know where to have
the fashionable people, and we can make it fashionable." "If you
want to get this print upon the tables of my high connexion, sir,"
says Mr. Sladdery, the librarian, "or if you want to get this dwarf
or giant into the houses of my high connexion, sir, or if you want
to secure to this entertainment the patronage of my high connexion,
sir, you must leave it, if you please, to me, for I have been
accustomed to study the leaders of my high connexion, sir, and I
may tell you without vanity that I can turn them round my finger"--
in which Mr. Sladdery, who is an honest man, does not exaggerate at
Therefore, while Mr. Tulkinghorn may not know what is passing in
the Dedlock mind at present, it is very possible that he may.
"My Lady's cause has been again before the Chancellor, has it, Mr.
Tulkinghorn?" says Sir Leicester, giving him his hand.
"Yes. It has been on again to-day," Mr. Tulkinghorn replies,
making one of his quiet bows to my Lady, who is on a sofa near the
fire, shading her face with a hand-screen.
"It would be useless to ask," says my Lady with the dreariness of
the place in Lincolnshire still upon her, "whether anything has
"Nothing that YOU would call anything has been done to-day,"
replies Mr. Tulkinghorn.
"Nor ever will be," says my Lady.
Sir Leicester has no objection to an interminable Chancery suit.
It is a slow, expensive, British, constitutional kind of thing. To
be sure, he has not a vital interest in the suit in question, her
part in which was the only property my Lady brought him; and he has
a shadowy impression that for his name--the name of Dedlock--to be
in a cause, and not in the title of that cause, is a most
ridiculous accident. But he regards the Court of Chancery, even if
it should involve an occasional delay of justice and a trifling
amount of confusion, as a something devised in conjunction with a
variety of other somethings by the perfection of human wisdom for
the eternal settlement (humanly speaking) of everything. And he is
upon the whole of a fixed opinion that to give the sanction of his
countenance to any complaints respecting it would be to encourage
some person in the lower classes to rise up somewhere--like Wat
"As a few fresh affidavits have been put upon the file," says Mr.
Tulkinghorn, "and as they are short, and as I proceed upon the
troublesome principle of begging leave to possess my clients with
any new proceedings in a cause"--cautious man Mr. Tulkinghorn,
taking no more responsibility than necessary--"and further, as I
see you are going to Paris, I have brought them in my pocket."
(Sir Leicester was going to Paris too, by the by, but the delight
of the fashionable intelligence was in his Lady.)
Mr. Tulkinghorn takes out his papers, asks permission to place them
on a golden talisman of a table at my Lady's elbow, puts on his
spectacles, and begins to read by the light of a shaded lamp.
"'In Chancery. Between John Jarndyce--'"
My Lady interrupts, requesting him to miss as many of the formal
horrors as he can.
Mr. Tulkinghorn glances over his spectacles and begins again lower
down. My Lady carelessly and scornfully abstracts her attention.
Sir Leicester in a great chair looks at the file and appears to
have a stately liking for the legal repetitions and prolixities as
ranging among the national bulwarks. It happens that the fire is
hot where my Lady sits and that the hand-screen is more beautiful
than useful, being priceless but small. My Lady, changing her
position, sees the papers on the table--looks at them nearer--looks
at them nearer still--asks impulsively, "Who copied that?"
Mr. Tulkinghorn stops short, surprised by my Lady's animation and
her unusual tone.
"Is it what you people call law-hand?" she asks, looking full at
him in her careless way again and toying with her screen.
"Not quite. Probably"--Mr. Tulkinghorn examines it as he speaks--
"the legal character which it has was acquired after the original
hand was formed. Why do you ask?"
"Anything to vary this detestable monotony. Oh, go on, do!"
Mr. Tulkinghorn reads again. The heat is greater; my Lady screens
her face. Sir Leicester dozes, starts up suddenly, and cries, "Eh?
What do you say?"
"I say I am afraid," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, who had risen hastily,
"that Lady Dedlock is ill."
"Faint," my Lady murmurs with white lips, "only that; but it is
like the faintness of death. Don't speak to me. Ring, and take me
to my room!"
Mr. Tulkinghorn retires into another chamber; bells ring, feet
shuffle and patter, silence ensues. Mercury at last begs Mr.
Tulkinghorn to return.
"Better now," quoth Sir Leicester, motioning the lawyer to sit down
and read to him alone. "I have been quite alarmed. I never knew
my Lady swoon before. But the weather is extremely trying, and she
really has been bored to death down at our place in Lincolnshire."
I have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write my portion
of these pages, for I know I am not clever. I always knew that. I
can remember, when I was a very little girl indeed, I used to say
to my doll when we were alone together, "Now, Dolly, I am not
clever, you know very well, and you must be patient with me, like a
dear!" And so she used to sit propped up in a great arm-chair,
with her beautiful complexion and rosy lips, staring at me--or not
so much at me, I think, as at nothing--while I busily stitched away
and told her every one of my secrets.
My dear old doll! I was such a shy little thing that I seldom
dared to open my lips, and never dared to open my heart, to anybody
else. It almost makes me cry to think what a relief it used to be
to me when I came home from school of a day to run upstairs to my
room and say, "Oh, you dear faithful Dolly, I knew you would be
expecting me!" and then to sit down on the floor, leaning on the
elbow of her great chair, and tell her all I had noticed since we
parted. I had always rather a noticing way--not a quick way, oh,
no!--a silent way of noticing what passed before me and thinking I
should like to understand it better. I have not by any means a
quick understanding. When I love a person very tenderly indeed, it
seems to brighten. But even that may be my vanity.
I was brought up, from my earliest remembrance--like some of the
princesses in the fairy stories, only I was not charming--by my
godmother. At least, I only knew her as such. She was a good,
good woman! She went to church three times every Sunday, and to
morning prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and to lectures whenever
there were lectures; and never missed. She was handsome; and if
she had ever smiled, would have been (I used to think) like an
angel--but she never smiled. She was always grave and strict. She
was so very good herself, I thought, that the badness of other
people made her frown all her life. I felt so different from her,
even making every allowance for the differences between a child and
a woman; I felt so poor, so trifling, and so far off that I never
could be unrestrained with her--no, could never even love her as I
wished. It made me very sorry to consider how good she was and how
unworthy of her I was, and I used ardently to hope that I might
have a better heart; and I talked it over very often with the dear
old doll, but I never loved my godmother as I ought to have loved
her and as I felt I must have loved her if I had been a better
This made me, I dare say, more timid and retiring than I naturally
was and cast me upon Dolly as the only friend with whom I felt at
ease. But something happened when I was still quite a little thing
that helped it very much.
I had never heard my mama spoken of. I had never heard of my papa
either, but I felt more interested about my mama. I had never worn
a black frock, that I could recollect. I had never been shown my
mama's grave. I had never been told where it was. Yet I had never
been taught to pray for any relation but my godmother. I had more
than once approached this subject of my thoughts with Mrs. Rachael,
our only servant, who took my light away when I was in bed (another
very good woman, but austere to me), and she had only said,
"Esther, good night!" and gone away and left me.
Although there were seven girls at the neighbouring school where I
was a day boarder, and although they called me little Esther
Summerson, I knew none of them at home. All of them were older
than I, to be sure (I was the youngest there by a good deal), but
there seemed to be some other separation between us besides that,
and besides their being far more clever than I was and knowing much
more than I did. One of them in the first week of my going to the
school (I remember it very well) invited me home to a little party,
to my great joy. But my godmother wrote a stiff letter declining
for me, and I never went. I never went out at all.
It was my birthday. There were holidays at school on other
birthdays--none on mine. There were rejoicings at home on other
birthdays, as I knew from what I heard the girls relate to one
another--there were none on mine. My birthday was the most
melancholy day at home in the whole year.
I have mentioned that unless my vanity should deceive me (as I know
it may, for I may be very vain without suspecting it, though indeed
I don't), my comprehension is quickened when my affection is. My
disposition is very affectionate, and perhaps I might still feel
such a wound if such a wound could be received more than once with
the quickness of that birthday.
Dinner was over, and my godmother and I were sitting at the table
before the fire. The clock ticked, the fire clicked; not another
sound had been heard in the room or in the house for I don't know
how long. I happened to look timidly up from my stitching, across
the table at my godmother, and I saw in her face, looking gloomily
at me, "It would have been far better, little Esther, that you had
had no birthday, that you had never been born!"
I broke out crying and sobbing, and I said, "Oh, dear godmother,
tell me, pray do tell me, did Mama die on my birthday?"
"No," she returned. "Ask me no more, child!"
"Oh, do pray tell me something of her. Do now, at last, dear
godmother, if you please! What did I do to her? How did I lose
her? Why am I so different from other children, and why is it my
fault, dear godmother? No, no, no, don't go away. Oh, speak to
I was in a kind of fright beyond my grief, and I caught hold of her
dress and was kneeling to her. She had been saying all the while,
"Let me go!" But now she stood still.
Her darkened face had such power over me that it stopped me in the
midst of my vehemence. I put up my trembling little hand to clasp
hers or to beg her pardon with what earnestness I might, but
withdrew it as she looked at me, and laid it on my fluttering
heart. She raised me, sat in her chair, and standing me before
her, said slowly in a cold, low voice--I see her knitted brow and
pointed finger--"Your mother, Esther, is your disgrace, and you
were hers. The time will come--and soon enough--when you will
understand this better and will feel it too, as no one save a woman
can. I have forgiven her"--but her face did not relent--"the wrong
she did to me, and I say no more of it, though it was greater than
you will ever know--than any one will ever know but I, the
sufferer. For yourself, unfortunate girl, orphaned and degraded
from the first of these evil anniversaries, pray daily that the
sins of others be not visited upon your head, according to what is
written. Forget your mother and leave all other people to forget
her who will do her unhappy child that greatest kindness. Now,
She checked me, however, as I was about to depart from her--so
frozen as I was!--and added this, "Submission, self-denial,
diligent work, are the preparations for a life begun with such a
shadow on it. You are different from other children, Esther,
because you were not born, like them, in common sinfulness and
wrath. You are set apart."
I went up to my room, and crept to bed, and laid my doll's cheek
against mine wet with tears, and holding that solitary friend upon
my bosom, cried myself to sleep. Imperfect as my understanding of
my sorrow was, I knew that I had brought no joy at any time to
anybody's heart and that I was to no one upon earth what Dolly was
Dear, dear, to think how much time we passed alone together
afterwards, and how often I repeated to the doll the story of my
birthday and confided to her that I would try as hard as ever I
could to repair the fault I had been born with (of which I
confessedly felt guilty and yet innocent) and would strive as I
grew up to be industrious, contented, and kind-hearted and to do
some good to some one, and win some love to myself if I could. I
hope it is not self-indulgent to shed these tears as I think of it.
I am very thankful, I am very cheerful, but I cannot quite help
their coming to my eyes.
There! I have wiped them away now and can go on again properly.
I felt the distance between my godmother and myself so much more
after the birthday, and felt so sensible of filling a place in her
house which ought to have been empty, that I found her more
difficult of approach, though I was fervently grateful to her in my
heart, than ever. I felt in the same way towards my school
companions; I felt in the same way towards Mrs. Rachael, who was a
widow; and oh, towards her daughter, of whom she was proud, who
came to see her once a fortnight! I was very retired and quiet,
and tried to be very diligent.
One sunny afternoon when I had come home from school with my books
and portfolio, watching my long shadow at my side, and as I was
gliding upstairs to my room as usual, my godmother looked out of
the parlour-door and called me back. Sitting with her, I found--
which was very unusual indeed--a stranger. A portly, important-
looking gentleman, dressed all in black, with a white cravat, large
gold watch seals, a pair of gold eye-glasses, and a large seal-ring
upon his little finger.
"This," said my godmother in an undertone, "is the child." Then
she said in her naturally stern way of speaking, "This is Esther,
The gentleman put up his eye-glasses to look at me and said, "Come
here, my dear!" He shook hands with me and asked me to take off my
bonnet, looking at me all the while. When I had complied, he said,
"Ah!" and afterwards "Yes!" And then, taking off his eye-glasses
and folding them in a red case, and leaning back in his arm-chair,
turning the case about in his two hands, he gave my godmother a
nod. Upon that, my godmother said, "You may go upstairs, Esther!"
And I made him my curtsy and left him.
It must have been two years afterwards, and I was almost fourteen,
when one dreadful night my godmother and I sat at the fireside. I
was reading aloud, and she was listening. I had come down at nine
o'clock as I always did to read the Bible to her, and was reading
from St. John how our Saviour stooped down, writing with his finger
in the dust, when they brought the sinful woman to him.
"'So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said
unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a
stone at her!'"
I was stopped by my godmother's rising, putting her hand to her
head, and crying out in an awful voice from quite another part of
the book, "'Watch ye, therefore, lest coming suddenly he find you
sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch!'"
In an instant, while she stood before me repeating these words, she
fell down on the floor. I had no need to cry out; her voice had
sounded through the house and been heard in the street.
She was laid upon her bed. For more than a week she lay there,
little altered outwardly, with her old handsome resolute frown that
I so well knew carved upon her face. Many and many a time, in the
day and in the night, with my head upon the pillow by her that my
whispers might be plainer to her, I kissed her, thanked her, prayed
for her, asked her for her blessing and forgiveness, entreated her
to give me the least sign that she knew or heard me. No, no, no.
Her face was immovable. To the very last, and even afterwards, her
frown remained unsoftened.
On the day after my poor good godmother was buried, the gentleman
in black with the white neckcloth reappeared. I was sent for by
Mrs. Rachael, and found him in the same place, as if he had never
"My name is Kenge," he said; "you may remember it, my child; Kenge
and Carboy, Lincoln's Inn."
I replied that I remembered to have seen him once before.
"Pray be seated--here near me. Don't distress yourself; it's of no
use. Mrs. Rachael, I needn't inform you who were acquainted with
the late Miss Barbary's affairs, that her means die with her and
that this young lady, now her aunt is dead--"
"My aunt, sir!"
"It is really of no use carrying on a deception when no object is
to be gained by it," said Mr. Kenge smoothly, "Aunt in fact, though
not in law. Don't distress yourself! Don't weep! Don't tremble!
Mrs. Rachael, our young friend has no doubt heard of--the--a--
Jarndyce and Jarndyce."
"Never," said Mrs. Rachael.
"Is it possible," pursued Mr. Kenge, putting up his eye-glasses,
"that our young friend--I BEG you won't distress yourself!--never
heard of Jarndyce and Jarndyce!"
I shook my head, wondering even what it was.
"Not of Jarndyce and Jarndyce?" said Mr. Kenge, looking over his
glasses at me and softly turning the case about and about as if he
were petting something. "Not of one of the greatest Chancery suits
known? Not of Jarndyce and Jarndyce--the--a--in itself a monument
of Chancery practice. In which (I would say) every difficulty,
every contingency, every masterly fiction, every form of procedure
known in that court, is represented over and over again? It is a
cause that could not exist out of this free and great country. I
should say that the aggregate of costs in Jarndyce and Jarndyce,
Mrs. Rachael"--I was afraid he addressed himself to her because I
appeared inattentive"--amounts at the present hour to from SIX-ty
to SEVEN-ty THOUSAND POUNDS!" said Mr. Kenge, leaning back in his
I felt very ignorant, but what could I do? I was so entirely
unacquainted with the subject that I understood nothing about it
"And she really never heard of the cause!" said Mr. Kenge.
"Miss Barbary, sir," returned Mrs. Rachael, "who is now among the
"I hope so, I am sure," said Mr. Kenge politely.
"--Wished Esther only to know what would be serviceable to her.
And she knows, from any teaching she has had here, nothing more."
"Well!" said Mr. Kenge. "Upon the whole, very proper. Now to the
point," addressing me. "Miss Barbary, your sole relation (in fact
that is, for I am bound to observe that in law you had none) being
deceased and it naturally not being to be expected that Mrs.
"Oh, dear no!" said Mrs. Rachael quickly.
"Quite so," assented Mr. Kenge; "--that Mrs. Rachael should charge
herself with your maintenance and support (I beg you won't distress
yourself), you are in a position to receive the renewal of an offer
which I was instructed to make to Miss Barbary some two years ago
and which, though rejected then, was understood to be renewable
under the lamentable circumstances that have since occurred. Now,
if I avow that I represent, in Jarndyce and Jarndyce and otherwise,
a highly humane, but at the same time singular, man, shall I
compromise myself by any stretch of my professional caution?" said
Mr. Kenge, leaning back in his chair again and looking calmly at us
He appeared to enjoy beyond everything the sound of his own voice.
I couldn't wonder at that, for it was mellow and full and gave
great importance to every word he uttered. He listened to himself
with obvious satisfaction and sometimes gently beat time to his own
music with his head or rounded a sentence with his hand. I was
very much impressed by him--even then, before I knew that he formed
himself on the model of a great lord who was his client and that he
was generally called Conversation Kenge.
"Mr. Jarndyce," he pursued, "being aware of the--I would say,
desolate--position of our young friend, offers to place her at a
first-rate establishment where her education shall be completed,
where her comfort shall be secured, where her reasonable wants
shall be anticipated, where she shall be eminently qualified to
discharge her duty in that station of life unto which it has
pleased--shall I say Providence?--to call her."
My heart was filled so full, both by what he said and by his
affecting manner of saying it, that I was not able to speak, though
"Mr. Jarndyce," he went on, "makes no condition beyond expressing
his expectation that our young friend will not at any time remove
herself from the establishment in question without his knowledge
and concurrence. That she will faithfully apply herself to the
acquisition of those accomplishments, upon the exercise of which
she will be ultimately dependent. That she will tread in the paths
of virtue and honour, and--the--a--so forth."
I was still less able to speak than before.
"Now, what does our young friend say?" proceeded Mr, Kenge. "Take
time, take time! I pause for her reply. But take time!"
What the destitute subject of such an offer tried to say, I need
not repeat. What she did say, I could more easily tell, if it were
worth the telling. What she felt, and will feel to her dying hour,
I could never relate.
This interview took place at Windsor, where I had passed (as far as
I knew) my whole life. On that day week, amply provided with all
necessaries, I left it, inside the stagecoach, for Reading.
Mrs. Rachael was too good to feel any emotion at parting, but I was
not so good, and wept bitterly. I thought that I ought to have
known her better after so many years and ought to have made myself
enough of a favourite with her to make her sorry then. When she
gave me one cold parting kiss upon my forehead, like a thaw-drop
from the stone porch--it was a very frosty day--I felt so miserable
and self-reproachful that I clung to her and told her it was my
fault, I knew, that she could say good-bye so easily!
"No, Esther!" she returned. "It is your misfortune!"
The coach was at the little lawn-gate--we had not come out until we
heard the wheels--and thus I left her, with a sorrowful heart. She
went in before my boxes were lifted to the coach-roof and shut the
door. As long as I could see the house, I looked back at it from
the window through my tears. My godmother had left Mrs. Rachael
all the little property she possessed; and there was to be a sale;
and an old hearth-rug with roses on it, which always seemed to me
the first thing in the world I had ever seen, was hanging outside
in the frost and snow. A day or two before, I had wrapped the dear
old doll in her own shawl and quietly laid her--I am half ashamed
to tell it--in the garden-earth under the tree that shaded my old
window. I had no companion left but my bird, and him I carried
with me in his cage.
When the house was out of sight, I sat, with my bird-cage in the
straw at my feet, forward on the low seat to look out of the high
window, watching the frosty trees, that were like beautiful pieces
of spar, and the fields all smooth and white with last night's
snow, and the sun, so red but yielding so little heat, and the ice,
dark like metal where the skaters and sliders had brushed the snow
away. There was a gentleman in the coach who sat on the opposite
seat and looked very large in a quantity of wrappings, but he sat
gazing out of the other window and took no notice of me.
I thought of my dead godmother, of the night when I read to her, of
her frowning so fixedly and sternly in her bed, of the strange
place I was going to, of the people I should find there, and what
they would be like, and what they would say to me, when a voice in
the coach gave me a terrible start.
It said, "What the de-vil are you crying for?"
I was so frightened that I lost my voice and could only answer in a
whisper, "Me, sir?" For of course I knew it must have been the
gentleman in the quantity of wrappings, though he was still looking
out of his window.
"Yes, you," he said, turning round.
"I didn't know I was crying, sir," I faltered.
"But you are!" said the gentleman. "Look here!" He came quite
opposite to me from the other corner of the coach, brushed one of
his large furry cuffs across my eyes (but without hurting me), and
showed me that it was wet.
"There! Now you know you are," he said. "Don't you?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
"And what are you crying for?" said the genfleman, "Don't you want
to go there?"
"Where? Why, wherever you are going," said the gentleman.
"I am very glad to go there, sir," I answered.
"Well, then! Look glad!" said the gentleman.
I thought he was very strange, or at least that what I could see of
him was very strange, for he was wrapped up to the chin, and his
face was almost hidden in a fur cap with broad fur straps at the
side of his head fastened under his chin; but I was composed again,
and not afraid of him. So I told him that I thought I must have
been crying because of my godmother's death and because of Mrs.
Rachael's not being sorry to part with me.
"Confound Mrs. Rachael!" said the gentleman. "Let her fly away in
a high wind on a broomstick!"
I began to be really afraid of him now and looked at him with the
greatest astonishment. But I thought that he had pleasant eyes,
although he kept on muttering to himself in an angry manner and
calling Mrs. Rachael names.
After a little while he opened his outer wrapper, which appeared to
me large enough to wrap up the whole coach, and put his arm down
into a deep pocket in the side.
"Now, look here!" he said. "In this paper," which was nicely
folded, "is a piece of the best plum-cake that can be got for
money--sugar on the outside an inch thick, like fat on mutton
chops. Here's a little pie (a gem this is, both for size and
quality), made in France. And what do you suppose it's made of?
Livers of fat geese. There's a pie! Now let's see you eat 'em."
"Thank you, sir," I replied; "thank you very much indeed, but I
hope you won't be offended--they are too rich for me."
"Floored again!" said the gentleman, which I didn't at all
understand, and threw them both out of window.
He did not speak to me any more until he got out of the coach a
little way short of Reading, when he advised me to be a good girl
and to be studious, and shook hands with me. I must say I was
relieved by his departure. We left him at a milestone. I often
walked past it afterwards, and never for a long time without
thinking of him and half expecting to meet him. But I never did;
and so, as time went on, he passed out of my mind.
When the coach stopped, a very neat lady looked up at the window
and said, "Miss Donny."
"No, ma'am, Esther Summerson."
"That is quite right," said the lady, "Miss Donny."
I now understood that she introduced herself by that name, and
begged Miss Donny's pardon for my mistake, and pointed out my boxes
at her request. Under the direction of a very neat maid, they were
put outside a very small green carriage; and then Miss Donny, the
maid, and I got inside and were driven away.
"Everything is ready for you, Esther," said Miss Donny, "and the
scheme of your pursuits has been arranged in exact accordance with
the wishes of your guardian, Mr. Jarndyce."
"Of--did you say, ma'am?"
"Of your guardian, Mr. Jarndyce," said Miss Donny.
I was so bewildered that Miss Donny thought the cold had been too
severe for me and lent me her smelling-bottle.
"Do you know my--guardian, Mr. Jarndyce, ma'am?" I asked after a
good deal of hesitation.
"Not personally, Esther," said Miss Donny; "merely through his
solicitors, Messrs. Kenge and Carboy, of London. A very superior
gentleman, Mr. Kenge. Truly eloquent indeed. Some of his periods
I felt this to be very true but was too confused to attend to it.
Our speedy arrival at our destination, before I had time to recover
myself, increased my confusion, and I never shall forget the
uncertain and the unreal air of everything at Greenleaf (Miss
Donny's house) that afternoon!
But I soon became used to it. I was so adapted to the routine of
Greenleaf before long that I seemed to have been there a great
while and almost to have dreamed rather than really lived my old
life at my godmother's. Nothing could be more precise, exact, and
orderly than Greenleaf. There was a time for everything all round
the dial of the clock, and everything was done at its appointed
We were twelve boarders, and there were two Miss Donnys, twins. It
was understood that I would have to depend, by and by, on my
qualifications as a governess, and I was not only instructed in
everything that was taught at Greenleaf, but was very soon engaged
in helping to instruct others. Although I was treated in every
other respect like the rest of the school, this single difference
was made in my case from the first. As I began to know more, I
taught more, and so in course of time I had plenty to do, which I
was very fond of doing because it made the dear girls fond of me.
At last, whenever a new pupil came who was a little downcast and
unhappy, she was so sure--indeed I don't know why--to make a friend
of me that all new-comers were confided to my care. They said I
was so gentle, but I am sure THEY were! I often thought of the
resolution I had made on my birthday to try to be industrious,
contented, and true-hearted and to do some good to some one and win
some love if I could; and indeed, indeed, I felt almost ashamed to
have done so little and have won so much.
I passed at Greenleaf six happy, quiet years. I never saw in any
face there, thank heaven, on my birthday, that it would have been
better if I had never been born. When the day came round, it
brought me so many tokens of affectionate remembrance that my room
was beautiful with them from New Year's Day to Christmas.
In those six years I had never been away except on visits at
holiday time in the neighbourhood. After the first six months or
so I had taken Miss Donny's advice in reference to the propriety of
writing to Mr. Kenge to say that I was happy and grateful, and with
her approval I had written such a letter. I had received a formal
answer acknowledging its receipt and saying, "We note the contents
thereof, which shall be duly communicated to our client." After
that I sometimes heard Miss Donny and her sister mention how
regular my accounts were paid, and about twice a year I ventured to
write a similar letter. I always received by return of post
exactly the same answer in the same round hand, with the signature
of Kenge and Carboy in another writing, which I supposed to be Mr.
It seems so curious to me to be obliged to write all this about
myself! As if this narrative were the narrative of MY life! But
my little body will soon fall into the background now.
Six quiet years (I find I am saying it for the second time) I had
passed at Greenleaf, seeing in those around me, as it might be in a
looking-glass, every stage of my own growth and change there, when,
one November morning, I received this letter. I omit the date.
Old Square, Lincoln's Inn
Jarndyce and Jarndyce
Our clt Mr. Jarndyce being abt to rece into his house, under an
Order of the Ct of Chy, a Ward of the Ct in this cause, for whom he
wishes to secure an elgble compn, directs us to inform you that he
will be glad of your serces in the afsd capacity.
We have arrngd for your being forded, carriage free, pr eight
o'clock coach from Reading, on Monday morning next, to White Horse
Cellar, Piccadilly, London, where one of our clks will be in
waiting to convey you to our offe as above.
We are, Madam, Your obedt Servts,
Kenge and Carboy
Miss Esther Summerson
Oh, never, never, never shall I forget the emotion this letter
caused in the house! It was so tender in them to care so much for
me, it was so gracious in that father who had not forgotten me to
have made my orphan way so smooth and easy and to have inclined so
many youthful natures towards me, that I could hardly bear it. Not
that I would have had them less sorry--I am afraid not; but the
pleasure of it, and the pain of it, and the pride and joy of it,
and the humble regret of it were so blended that my heart seemed
almost breaking while it was full of rapture.
The letter gave me only five days' notice of my removal. When
every minute added to the proofs of love and kindness that were
given me in those five days, and when at last the morning came and
when they took me through all the rooms that I might see them for
the last time, and when some cried, "Esther, dear, say good-bye to
me here at my bedside, where you first spoke so kindly to me!" and
when others asked me only to write their names, "With Esther's
love," and when they all surrounded me with their parting presents
and clung to me weeping and cried, "What shall we do when dear,
dear Esther's gone!" and when I tried to tell them how forbearing
and how good they had all been to me and how I blessed and thanked
them every one, what a heart I had!
And when the two Miss Donnys grieved as much to part with me as the
least among them, and when the maids said, "Bless you, miss,
wherever you go!" and when the ugly lame old gardener, who I
thought had hardly noticed me in all those years, came panting
after the coach to give me a little nosegay of geraniums and told
me I had been the light of his eyes--indeed the old man said so!--
what a heart I had then!
And could I help it if with all this, and the coming to the little
school, and the unexpected sight of the poor children outside
waving their hats and bonnets to me, and of a grey-haired gentleman
and lady whose daughter I had helped to teach and at whose house I
had visited (who were said to be the proudest people in all that
country), caring for nothing but calling out, "Good-bye, Esther.
May you be very happy!"--could I help it if I was quite bowed down
in the coach by myself and said "Oh, I am so thankful, I am so
thankful!" many times over!
But of course I soon considered that I must not take tears where I
was going after all that had been done for me. Therefore, of
course, I made myself sob less and persuaded myself to be quiet by
saying very often, "Esther, now you really must! This WILL NOT
do!" I cheered myself up pretty well at last, though I am afraid I
was longer about it than I ought to have been; and when I had
cooled my eyes with lavender water, it was time to watch for
I was quite persuaded that we were there when we were ten miles
off, and when we really were there, that we should never get there.
However, when we began to jolt upon a stone pavement, and
particularly when every other conveyance seemed to be running into
us, and we seemed to be running into every other conveyance, I
began to believe that we really were approaching the end of our
journey. Very soon afterwards we stopped.
A young gentleman who had inked himself by accident addressed me
from the pavement and said, "I am from Kenge and Carboy's, miss, of
"If you please, sir," said I.
He was very obliging, and as he handed me into a fly after
superintending the removal of my boxes, I asked him whether there
was a great fire anywhere? For the streets were so full of dense
brown smoke that scarcely anything was to be seen.
"Oh, dear no, miss," he said. "This is a London particular."
I had never heard of such a thing.
"A fog, miss," said the young gentleman.
"Oh, indeed!" said I.
We drove slowly through the dirtiest and darkest streets that ever
were seen in the world (I thought) and in such a distracting state
of confusion that I wondered how the people kept their senses,
until we passed into sudden quietude under an old gateway and drove
on through a silent square until we came to an odd nook in a
corner, where there was an entrance up a steep, broad flight of
stairs, like an entrance to a church. And there really was a
churchyard outside under some cloisters, for I saw the gravestones
from the staircase window.
This was Kenge and Carboy's. The young gentleman showed me through
an outer office into Mr. Kenge's room--there was no one in it--and
politely put an arm-chair for me by the fire. He then called my
attention to a little looking-glass hanging from a nail on one side
of the chimney-piece.
"In case you should wish to look at yourself, miss, after the
journey, as you're going before the Chancellor. Not that it's
requisite, I am sure," said the young gentleman civilly.
"Going before the Chancellor?" I said, startled for a moment.
"Only a matter of form, miss," returned the young gentleman. "Mr.
Kenge is in court now. He left his compliments, and would you
partake of some refreshment"--there were biscuits and a decanter of
wine on a small table--"and look over the paper," which the young
gentleman gave me as he spoke. He then stirred the fire and left
Everything was so strange--the stranger from its being night in the
day-time, the candles burning with a white flame, and looking raw
and cold--that I read the words in the newspaper without knowing
what they meant and found myself reading the same words repeatedly.
As it was of no use going on in that way, I put the paper down,
took a peep at my bonnet in the glass to see if it was neat, and
looked at the room, which was not half lighted, and at the shabby,
dusty tables, and at the piles of writings, and at a bookcase full
of the most inexpressive-looking books that ever had anything to
say for themselves. Then I went on, thinking, thinking, thinking;
and the fire went on, burning, burning, burning; and the candles
went on flickering and guttering, and there were no snuffers--until
the young gentleman by and by brought a very dirty pair--for two
At last Mr. Kenge came. HE was not altered, but he was surprised
to see how altered I was and appeared quite pleased. "As you are
going to be the companion of the young lady who is now in the
Chancellor's private room, Miss Summerson," he said, "we thought it
well that you should be in attendance also. You will not be
discomposed by the Lord Chancellor, I dare say?"
"No, sir," I said, "I don't think I shall," really not seeing on
consideration why I should be.
So Mr. Kenge gave me his arm and we went round the corner, under a
colonnade, and in at a side door. And so we came, along a passage,
into a comfortable sort of room where a young lady and a young
gentleman were standing near a great, loud-roaring fire. A screen
was interposed between them and it, and they were leaning on the
They both looked up when I came in, and I saw in the young lady,
with the fire shining upon her, such a beautiful girl! With such
rich golden hair, such soft blue eyes, and such a bright, innocent,
"Miss Ada," said Mr. Kenge, "this is Miss Summerson."
She came to meet me with a smile of welcome and her hand extended,
but seemed to change her mind in a moment and kissed me. In short,
she had such a natural, captivating, winning manner that in a few
minutes we were sitting in the window-seat, with the light of the
fire upon us, talking together as free and happy as could be.
What a load off my mind! It was so delightful to know that she
could confide in me and like me! It was so good of her, and so
encouraging to me!
The young gentleman was her distant cousin, she told me, and his
name Richard Carstone. He was a handsome youth with an ingenuous
face and a most engaging laugh; and after she had called him up to
where we sat, he stood by us, in the light of the fire, talking
gaily, like a light-hearted boy. He was very young, not more than
nineteen then, if quite so much, but nearly two years older than
she was. They were both orphans and (what was very unexpected and
curious to me) had never met before that day. Our all three coming
together for the first time in such an unusual place was a thing to
talk about, and we talked about it; and the fire, which had left
off roaring, winked its red eyes at us--as Richard said--like a
drowsy old Chancery lion.
We conversed in a low tone because a full-dressed gentleman in a
bag wig frequenfly came in and out, and when he did so, we could
hear a drawling sound in the distance, which he said was one of the
counsel in our case addressing the Lord Chancellor. He told Mr.
Kenge that the Chancellor would be up in five minutes; and
presently we heard a bustle and a tread of feet, and Mr. Kenge said
that the Court had risen and his lordship was in the next room.
The gentleman in the bag wig opened the door almost directly and
requested Mr. Kenge to come in. Upon that, we all went into the
next room, Mr. Kenge first, with my darling--it is so natural to me
now that I can't help writing it; and there, plainly dressed in
black and sitting in an arm-chair at a table near the fire, was his
lordship, whose robe, trimmed with beautiful gold lace, was thrown
upon another chair. He gave us a searching look as we entered, but
his manner was both courtly and kind.
The gentleman in the bag wig laid bundles of papers on his
lordship's table, and his lordship silently selected one and turned
over the leaves.
"Miss Clare," said the Lord Chancellor. "Miss Ada Clare?"
Mr. Kenge presented her, and his lordship begged her to sit down
near him. That he admired her and was interested by her even I
could see in a moment. It touched me that the home of such a
beautiful young creature should be represented by that dry,
official place. The Lord High Chancellor, at his best, appeared so
poor a substitute for the love and pride of parents.
"The Jarndyce in question," said the Lord Chancellor, still turning
over leaves, "is Jarndyce of Bleak House."
"Jarndyce of Bleak House, my lord," said Mr. Kenge.
"A dreary name," said the Lord Chancellor.
"But not a dreary place at present, my lord," said Mr. Kenge.
"And Bleak House," said his lordship, "is in--"
"Hertfordshire, my lord."
"Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House is not married?" said his lordship.
"He is not, my lord," said Mr. Kenge.
"Young Mr. Richard Carstone is present?" said the Lord Chancellor,
glancing towards him.
Richard bowed and stepped forward.
"Hum!" said the Lord Chancellor, turning over more leaves.
"Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House, my lord," Mr. Kenge observed in a low
voice, "if I may venture to remind your lordship, provides a
suitable companion for--"
"For Mr. Richard Carstone?" I thought (but I am not quite sure) I
heard his lordship say in an equally low voice and with a smile.
"For Miss Ada Clare. This is the young lady. Miss Summerson."
His lordship gave me an indulgent look and acknowledged my curtsy
"Miss Summerson is not related to any party in the cause, I think?"
"No, my lord."
Mr. Kenge leant over before it was quite said and whispered. His
lordship, with his eyes upon his papers, listened, nodded twice or
thrice, turned over more leaves, and did not look towards me again
until we were going away.
Mr. Kenge now retired, and Richard with him, to where I was, near
the door, leaving my pet (it is so natural to me that again I can't
help it!) sitting near the Lord Chancellor, with whom his lordship
spoke a little part, asking her, as she told me afterwards, whether
she had well reflected on the proposed arrangement, and if she
thought she would be happy under the roof of Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak
House, and why she thought so? Presently he rose courteously and
released her, and then he spoke for a minute or two with Richard
Carstone, not seated, but standing, and altogether with more ease
and less ceremony, as if he still knew, though he WAS Lord
Chancellor, how to go straight to the candour of a boy.
"Very well!" said his lordship aloud. "I shall make the order.
Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House has chosen, so far as I may judge," and
this was when he looked at me, "a very good companion for the young
lady, and the arrangement altogether seems the best of which the
He dismissed us pleasantly, and we all went out, very much obliged
to him for being so affable and polite, by which he had certainly
lost no dignity but seemed to us to have gained some.
When we got under the colonnade, Mr. Kenge remembered that he must
go back for a moment to ask a question and left us in the fog, with
the Lord Chancellor's carriage and servants waiting for him to come
"Well!" said Richard Carstone. "THAT'S over! And where do we go
next, Miss Summerson?"
"Don't you know?" I said.
"Not in the least," said he.
"And don't YOU know, my love?" I asked Ada.
"No!" said she. "Don't you?"
"Not at all!" said I.
We looked at one another, half laughing at our being like the
children in the wood, when a curious little old woman in a squeezed
bonnet and carrying a reticule came curtsying and smiling up to us
with an air of great ceremony.
"Oh!" said she. "The wards in Jarndyce! Ve-ry happy, I am sure,
to have the honour! It is a good omen for youth, and hope, and
beauty when they find themselves in this place, and don't know
what's to come of it."
"Mad!" whispered Richard, not thinking she could hear him.
"Right! Mad, young gentleman," she returned so quickly that he was
quite abashed. "I was a ward myself. I was not mad at that time,"
curtsying low and smiling between every little sentence. "I had
youth and hope. I believe, beauty. It matters very little now.
Neither of the three served or saved me. I have the honour to
attend court regularly. With my documents. I expect a judgment.
Shortly. On the Day of Judgment. I have discovered that the sixth
seal mentioned in the Revelations is the Great Seal. It has been
open a long time! Pray accept my blessing."
As Ada was a little frightened, I said, to humour the poor old
lady, that we were much obliged to her.
"Ye-es!" she said mincingly. "I imagine so. And here is
Conversation Kenge. With HIS documents! How does your honourable
"Quite well, quite well! Now don't be troublesome, that's a good
soul!" said Mr. Kenge, leading the way back.
"By no means," said the poor old lady, keeping up with Ada and me.
"Anything but troublesome. I shall confer estates on both--which
is not being troublesome, I trust? I expect a judgment. Shortly.
On the Day of Judgment. This is a good omen for you. Accept my
She stopped at the bottom of the steep, broad flight of stairs; but
we looked back as we went up, and she was still there, saying,
still with a curtsy and a smile between every little sentence,
"Youth. And hope. And beauty. And Chancery. And Conversation
Kenge! Ha! Pray accept my blessing!"
We were to pass the night, Mr. Kenge told us when we arrived in his
room, at Mrs. Jellyby's; and then he turned to me and said he took
it for granted I knew who Mrs. Jellyby was.
"I really don't, sir," I returned. "Perhaps Mr. Carstone--or Miss
But no, they knew nothing whatever about Mrs. Jellyby. "In-deed!
Mrs. Jellyby," said Mr. Kenge, standing with his back to the fire
and casting his eyes over the dusty hearth-rug as if it were Mrs.
Jellyby's biography, "is a lady of very remarkable strength of
character who devotes herself entirely to the public. She has
devoted herself to an extensive variety of public subjects at
various times and is at present (until something else attracts her)
devoted to the subject of Africa, with a view to the general
cultivation of the coffee berry--AND the natives--and the happy
settlement, on the banks of the African rivers, of our
superabundant home population. Mr. Jarndyce, who is desirous to
aid any work that is considered likely to be a good work and who is
much sought after by philanthropists, has, I believe, a very high
opinion of Mrs. Jellyby."
Mr. Kenge, adjusting his cravat, then looked at us.
"And Mr. Jellyby, sir?" suggested Richard.
"Ah! Mr. Jellyby," said Mr. Kenge, "is--a--I don't know that I can
describe him to you better than by saying that he is the husband of
"A nonentity, sir?" said Richard with a droll look.
"I don't say that," returned Mr. Kenge gravely. "I can't say that,
indeed, for I know nothing whatever OF Mr. Jellyby. I never, to my
knowledge, had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Jellyby. He may be a
very superior man, but he is, so to speak, merged--merged--in the
more shining qualities of his wife." Mr. Kenge proceeded to tell
us that as the road to Bleak House would have been very long, dark,
and tedious on such an evening, and as we had been travelling
already, Mr. Jarndyce had himself proposed this arrangement. A
carriage would be at Mrs. Jellyby's to convey us out of town early
in the forenoon of to-morrow.
He then rang a little bell, and the young gentleman came in.
Addressing him by the name of Guppy, Mr. Kenge inquired whether
Miss Summerson's boxes and the rest of the baggage had been "sent
round." Mr. Guppy said yes, they had been sent round, and a coach
was waiting to take us round too as soon as we pleased.
"Then it only remains," said Mr. Kenge, shaking hands with us, "for
me to express my lively satisfaction in (good day, Miss Clare!) the
arrangement this day concluded and my (GOOD-bye to you, Miss
Summerson!) lively hope that it will conduce to the happiness, the
(glad to have had the honour of making your acquaintance, Mr.
Carstone!) welfare, the advantage in all points of view, of all
concerned! Guppy, see the party safely there."
"Where IS 'there,' Mr. Guppy?" said Richard as we went downstairs.
"No distance," said Mr. Guppy; "round in Thavies Inn, you know."
"I can't say I know where it is, for I come from Winchester and am
strange in London."
"Only round the corner," said Mr. Guppy. "We just twist up
Chancery Lane, and cut along Holborn, and there we are in four
minutes' time, as near as a toucher. This is about a London
particular NOW, ain't it, miss?" He seemed quite delighted with it
on my account.
"The fog is very dense indeed!" said I.
"Not that it affects you, though, I'm sure," said Mr. Guppy,
putting up the steps. "On the contrary, it seems to do you good,
miss, judging from your appearance."
I knew he meant well in paying me this compliment, so I laughed at
myself for blushing at it when he had shut the door and got upon
the box; and we all three laughed and chatted about our
inexperience and the strangeness of London until we turned up under
an archway to our destination--a narrow street of high houses like
an oblong cistern to hold the fog. There was a confused little
crowd of people, principally children, gathered about the house at
which we stopped, which had a tarnished brass plate on the door
with the inscription JELLYBY.
"Don't be frightened!" said Mr. Guppy, looking in at the coach-
window. "One of the young Jellybys been and got his head through
the area railings!"
"Oh, poor child," said I; "let me out, if you please!"
"Pray be careful of yourself, miss. The young Jellybys are always
up to something," said Mr. Guppy.
I made my way to the poor child, who was one of the dirtiest little
unfortunates I ever saw, and found him very hot and frightened and
crying loudly, fixed by the neck between two iron railings, while a
milkman and a beadle, with the kindest intentions possible, were
endeavouring to drag him back by the legs, under a general
impression that his skull was compressible by those means. As I
found (after pacifying him) that he was a little boy with a
naturally large head, I thought that perhaps where his head could
go, his body could follow, and mentioned that the best mode of
extrication might be to push him forward. This was so favourably
received by the milkman and beadle that he would immediately have
been pushed into the area if I had not held his pinafore while
Richard and Mr. Guppy ran down through the kitchen to catch him
when he should be released. At last he was happily got down
without any accident, and then he began to beat Mr. Guppy with a
hoop-stick in quite a frantic manner.
Nobody had appeared belonging to the house except a person in
pattens, who had been poking at the child from below with a broom;
I don't know with what object, and I don't think she did. I
therefore supposed that Mrs. Jellyby was not at home, and was quite
surprised when the person appeared in the passage without the
pattens, and going up to the back room on the first floor before
Ada and me, announced us as, "Them two young ladies, Missis
Jellyby!" We passed several more children on the way up, whom it
was difficult to avoid treading on in the dark; and as we came into
Mrs. Jellyby's presence, one of the poor little things fell
downstairs--down a whole flight (as it sounded to me), with a great
Mrs. Jellyby, whose face reflected none of the uneasiness which we
could not help showing in our own faces as the dear child's head
recorded its passage with a bump on every stair--Richard afterwards
said he counted seven, besides one for the landing--received us
with perfect equanimity. She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump
woman of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a
curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if--I am
quoting Richard again--they could see nothing nearer than Africa!
"I am very glad indeed," said Mrs. Jellyby in an agreeable voice,
"to have the pleasure of receiving you. I have a great respect for
Mr. Jarndyce, and no one in whom he is interested can be an object
of indifference to me."
We expressed our acknowledgments and sat down behind the door,
where there was a lame invalid of a sofa. Mrs. Jellyby had very
good hair but was too much occupied with her African duties to
brush it. The shawl in which she had been loosely muffled dropped
onto her chair when she advanced to us; and as she turned to resume
her seat, we could not help noticing that her dress didn't nearly
meet up the back and that the open space was railed across with a
lattice-work of stay-lace--like a summer-house.
The room, which was strewn with papers and nearly filled by a great
writing-table covered with similar litter, was, I must say, not
only very untidy but very dirty. We were obliged to take notice of
that with our sense of sight, even while, with our sense of
hearing, we followed the poor child who had tumbled downstairs: I
think into the back kitchen, where somebody seemed to stifle him.
But what principally struck us was a jaded and unhealthy-looking
though by no means plain girl at the writing-table, who sat biting
the feather of her pen and staring at us. I suppose nobody ever
was in such a state of ink. And from her tumbled hair to her
pretty feet, which were disfigured with frayed and broken satin
slippers trodden down at heel, she really seemed to have no article
of dress upon her, from a pin upwards, that was in its proper
condition or its right place.
"You find me, my dears," said Mrs. Jellyby, snuffing the two great
office candles in tin candlesticks, which made the room taste
strongly of hot tallow (the fire had gone out, and there was
nothing in the grate but ashes, a bundle of wood, and a poker),
"you find me, my dears, as usual, very busy; but that you will
excuse. The African project at present employs my whole time. It
involves me in correspondence with public bodies and with private
individuals anxious for the welfare of their species all over the
country. I am happy to say it is advancing. We hope by this time
next year to have from a hundred and fifty to two hundred healthy
families cultivating coffee and educating the natives of
Borrioboola-Gha, on the left bank of the Niger."
As Ada said nothing, but looked at me, I said it must be very
"It IS gratifying," said Mrs. Jellyby. "It involves the devotion
of all my energies, such as they are; but that is nothing, so that
it succeeds; and I am more confident of success every day. Do you
know, Miss Summerson, I almost wonder that YOU never turned your
thoughts to Africa."
This application of the subject was really so unexpected to me that
I was quite at a loss how to receive it. I hinted that the
"The finest climate in the world!" said Mrs. Jellyby.
"Certainly. With precaution," said Mrs. Jellyby. "You may go into
Holborn, without precaution, and be run over. You may go into
Holborn, with precaution, and never be run over. Just so with
I said, "No doubt." I meant as to Holborn.
"If you would like," said Mrs. Jellyby, putting a number of papers
towards us, "to look over some remarks on that head, and on the
general subject, which have been extensively circulated, while I
finish a letter I am now dictating to my eldest daughter, who is my
The girl at the table left off biting her pen and made a return to
our recognition, which was half bashful and half sulky.
"--I shall then have finished for the present," proceeded Mrs.
Jellyby with a sweet smile, "though my work is never done. Where
are you, Caddy?"
"'Presents her compliments to Mr. Swallow, and begs--'" said Caddy.
"'And begs,'" said Mrs. Jellyby, dictating, "'to inform him, in
reference to his letter of inquiry on the African project--' No,
Peepy! Not on my account!"
Peepy (so self-named) was the unfortunate child who had fallen
downstairs, who now interrupted the correspondence by presenting
himself, with a strip of plaster on his forehead, to exhibit his
wounded knees, in which Ada and I did not know which to pity most--
the bruises or the dirt. Mrs. Jellyby merely added, with the
serene composure with which she said everything, "Go along, you
naughty Peepy!" and fixed her fine eyes on Africa again.
However, as she at once proceeded with her dictation, and as I
interrupted nothing by doing it, I ventured quietly to stop poor
Peepy as he was going out and to take him up to nurse. He looked
very much astonished at it and at Ada's kissing him, but soon fell
fast asleep in my arms, sobbing at longer and longer intervals,
until he was quiet. I was so occupied with Peepy that I lost the
letter in detail, though I derived such a general impression from
it of the momentous importance of Africa, and the utter
insignificance of all other places and things, that I felt quite
ashamed to have thought so little about it.
"Six o'clock!" said Mrs. Jellyby. "And our dinner hour is
nominally (for we dine at all hours) five! Caddy, show Miss Clare
and Miss Summerson their rooms. You will like to make some change,
perhaps? You will excuse me, I know, being so much occupied. Oh,
that very bad child! Pray put him down, Miss Summerson!"
I begged permission to retain him, truly saying that he was not at
all troublesome, and carried him upstairs and laid him on my bed.
Ada and I had two upper rooms with a door of communication between.
They were excessively bare and disorderly, and the curtain to my
window was fastened up with a fork.
"You would like some hot water, wouldn't you?" said Miss Jellyby,
looking round for a jug with a handle to it, but looking in vain.
"If it is not being troublesome," said we.
"Oh, it's not the trouble," returned Miss Jellyby; "the question
is, if there IS any."
The evening was so very cold and the rooms had such a marshy smell
that I must confess it was a little miserable, and Ada was half
crying. We soon laughed, however, and were busily unpacking when
Miss Jellyby came back to say that she was sorry there was no hot
water, but they couldn't find the kettle, and the boiler was out of
We begged her not to mention it and made all the haste we could to
get down to the fire again. But all the little children had come
up to the landing outside to look at the phenomenon of Peepy lying
on my bed, and our attention was distracted by the constant
apparition of noses and fingers in situations of danger between the
hinges of the doors. It was impossible to shut the door of either
room, for my lock, with no knob to it, looked as if it wanted to be
wound up; and though the handle of Ada's went round and round with
the greatest smoothness, it was attended with no effect whatever on
the door. Therefore I proposed to the children that they should
come in and be very good at my table, and I would tell them the
story of Little Red Riding Hood while I dressed; which they did,
and were as quiet as mice, including Peepy, who awoke opportunely
before the appearance of the wolf.
When we went downstairs we found a mug with "A Present from
Tunbridge Wells" on it lighted up in the staircase window with a
floating wick, and a young woman, with a swelled face bound up in a
flannel bandage blowing the fire of the drawing-room (now connected
by an open door with Mrs. Jellyby's room) and choking dreadfully.
It smoked to that degree, in short, that we all sat coughing and
crying with the windows open for half an hour, during which Mrs.
Jellyby, with the same sweetness of temper, directed letters about
Africa. Her being so employed was, I must say, a great relief to
me, for Richard told us that he had washed his hands in a pie-dish
and that they had found the kettle on his dressing-table, and he
made Ada laugh so that they made me laugh in the most ridiculous
Soon after seven o'clock we went down to dinner, carefully, by Mrs.
Jellyby's advice, for the stair-carpets, besides being very
deficient in stair-wires, were so torn as to be absolute traps. We
had a fine cod-fish, a piece of roast beef, a dish of cutlets, and
a pudding; an excellent dinner, if it had had any cooking to speak
of, but it was almost raw. The young woman with the flannel
bandage waited, and dropped everything on the table wherever it
happened to go, and never moved it again until she put it on the
stairs. The person I had seen in pattens, who I suppose to have
been the cook, frequently came and skirmished with her at the door,
and there appeared to be ill will between them.
All through dinner--which was long, in consequence of such
accidents as the dish of potatoes being mislaid in the coal skuttle
and the handle of the corkscrew coming off and striking the young
woman in the chin--Mrs. Jellyby preserved the evenness of her
disposition. She told us a great deal that was interesting about
Borrioboola-Gha and the natives, and received so many letters that
Richard, who sat by her, saw four envelopes in the gravy at once.
Some of the letters were proceedings of ladies' committees or
resolutions of ladies' meetings, which she read to us; others were
applications from people excited in various ways about the
cultivation of coffee, and natives; others required answers, and
these she sent her eldest daughter from the table three or four
times to write. She was full of business and undoubtedly was, as
she had told us, devoted to the cause.
I was a little curious to know who a mild bald gentleman in
spectacles was, who dropped into a vacant chair (there was no top
or bottom in particular) after the fish was taken away and seemed
passively to submit himself to Borriohoola-Gha but not to be
actively interested in that settlement. As he never spoke a word,
he might have been a native but for his complexion. It was not
until we left the table and he remained alone with Richard that the
possibility of his being Mr. Jellyby ever entered my head. But he
WAS Mr. Jellyby; and a loquacious young man called Mr. Quale, with
large shining knobs for temples and his hair all brushed to the
back of his head, who came in the evening, and told Ada he was a
philanthropist, also informed her that he called the matrimonial
alliance of Mrs. Jellyby with Mr. Jellyby the union of mind and
This young man, besides having a great deal to say for himself
about Africa and a project of his for teaching the coffee colonists
to teach the natives to turn piano-forte legs and establish an
export trade, delighted in drawing Mrs. Jellyby out by saving, "I
believe now, Mrs. Jellyby, you have received as many as from one
hundred and fifty to two hundred letters respecting Africa in a
single day, have you not?" or, "If my memory does not deceive me,
Mrs. Jellyby, you once mentioned that you had sent off five
thousand circulars from one post-office at one time?"--always
repeating Mrs. Jellyby's answer to us like an interpreter. During
the whole evening, Mr. Jellyby sat in a corner with his head
against the wall as if he were subject to low spirits. It seemed
that he had several times opened his mouth when alone with Richard
after dinner, as if he had something on his mind, but had always
shut it again, to Richard's extreme confusion, without saying
Mrs. Jellyby, sitting in quite a nest of waste paper, drank coffee
all the evening and dictated at intervals to her eldest daughter.
She also held a discussion with Mr. Quale, of which the subject
seemed to be--if I understood it--the brotherhood of humanity, and
gave utterance to some beautiful sentiments. I was not so
attentive an auditor as I might have wished to be, however, for
Peepy and the other children came flocking about Ada and me in a
corner of the drawing-room to ask for another story; so we sat down
among them and told them in whispers "Puss in Boots" and I don't
know what else until Mrs. Jellyby, accidentally remembering them,
sent them to bed. As Peepy cried for me to take him to bed, I
carried him upstairs, where the young woman with the flannel
bandage charged into the midst of the little family like a dragon
and overturned them into cribs.
After that I occupied myself in making our room a little tidy and
in coaxing a very cross fire that had been lighted to burn, which
at last it did, quite brightly. On my return downstairs, I felt
that Mrs. Jellyby looked down upon me rather for being so
frivolous, and I was sorry for it, though at the same time I knew
that I had no higher pretensions.
It was nearly midnight before we found an opportunity of going to
bed, and even then we left Mrs. Jellyby among her papers drinking
coffee and Miss Jellyby biting the feather of her pen.
"What a strange house!" said Ada when we got upstairs. "How
curious of my cousin Jarndyce to send us here!"
"My love," said I, "it quite confuses me. I want to understand it,
and I can't understand it at all."
"What?" asked Ada with her pretty smile.
"All this, my dear," said I. "It MUST be very good of Mrs. Jellyby
to take such pains about a scheme for the benefit of natives--and
yet--Peepy and the housekeeping!"
Ada laughed and put her arm about my neck as I stood looking at the
fire, and told me I was a quiet, dear, good creature and had won
her heart. "You are so thoughtful, Esther," she said, "and yet so
cheerful! And you do so much, so unpretendingly! You would make a
home out of even this house."
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