Part 2 out of 21
My simple darling! She was quite unconscious that she only praised
herself and that it was in the goodness of her own heart that she
made so much of me!
"May I ask you a question?" said I when we had sat before the fire
a little while.
"Five hundred," said Ada.
"Your cousin, Mr. Jarndyce. I owe so much to him. Would you mind
describing him to me?"
Shaking her golden hair, Ada turned her eyes upon me with such
laughing wonder that I was full of wonder too, partly at her
beauty, partly at her surprise.
"Esther!" she cried.
"You want a description of my cousin Jarndyce?"
"My dear, I never saw him."
"And I never saw him!" returned Ada.
Well, to be sure!
No, she had never seen him. Young as she was when her mama died,
she remembered how the tears would come into her eyes when she
spoke of him and of the noble generosity of his character, which
she had said was to be trusted above all earthly things; and Ada
trusted it. Her cousin Jarndyce had written to her a few months
ago--"a plain, honest letter," Ada said--proposing the arrangement
we were now to enter on and telling her that "in time it might heal
some of the wounds made by the miserable Chancery suit." She had
replied, gratefully accepting his proposal. Richard had received a
similar letter and had made a similar response. He HAD seen Mr.
Jarndyce once, but only once, five years ago, at Winchester school.
He had told Ada, when they were leaning on the screen before the
fire where I found them, that he recollected him as "a bluff, rosy
fellow." This was the utmost description Ada could give me.
It set me thinking so that when Ada was asleep, I still remained
before the fire, wondering and wondering about Bleak House, and
wondering and wondering that yesterday morning should seem so long
ago. I don't know where my thoughts had wandered when they were
recalled by a tap at the door.
I opened it softly and found Miss Jellyby shivering there with a
broken candle in a broken candlestick in one hand and an egg-cup in
"Good night!" she said very sulkily.
"Good night!" said I.
"May I come in?" she shortly and unexpectedly asked me in the same
"Certainly," said I. "Don't wake Miss Clare."
She would not sit down, but stood by the fire dipping her inky
middle finger in the egg-cup, which contained vinegar, and smearing
it over the ink stains on her face, frowning the whole time and
looking very gloomy.
"I wish Africa was dead!" she said on a sudden.
I was going to remonstrate.
"I do!" she said "Don't talk to me, Miss Summerson. I hate it and
detest it. It's a beast!"
I told her she was tired, and I was sorry. I put my hand upon her
head, and touched her forehead, and said it was hot now but would
be cool tomorrow. She still stood pouting and frowning at me, but
presently put down her egg-cup and turned softly towards the bed
where Ada lay.
"She is very pretty!" she said with the same knitted brow and in
the same uncivil manner.
I assented with a smile.
"An orphan. Ain't she?"
"But knows a quantity, I suppose? Can dance, and play music, and
sing? She can talk French, I suppose, and do geography, and
globes, and needlework, and everything?"
"No doubt," said I.
"I can't," she returned. "I can't do anything hardly, except
write. I'm always writing for Ma. I wonder you two were not
ashamed of yourselves to come in this afternoon and see me able to
do nothing else. It was like your ill nature. Yet you think
yourselves very fine, I dare say!"
I could see that the poor girl was near crying, and I resumed my
chair without speaking and looked at her (I hope) as mildly as I
felt towards her.
"It's disgraceful," she said. "You know it is. The whole house is
disgraceful. The children are disgraceful. I'M disgraceful. Pa's
miserable, and no wonder! Priscilla drinks--she's always drinking.
It's a great shame and a great story of you if you say you didn't
smell her today. It was as bad as a public-house, waiting at
dinner; you know it was!"
"My dear, I don't know it," said I.
"You do," she said very shortly. "You shan't say you don't. You
"Oh, my dear!" said I. "If you won't let me speak--"
"You're speaking now. You know you are. Don't tell stories, Miss
"My dear," said I, "as long as you won't hear me out--"
"I don't want to hear you out."
"Oh, yes, I think you do," said I, "because that would be so very
unreasonable. I did not know what you tell me because the servant
did not come near me at dinner; but I don't doubt what you tell me,
and I am sorry to hear it."
"You needn't make a merit of that," said she.
"No, my dear," said I. "That would be very foolish."
She was still standing by the bed, and now stooped down (but still
with the same discontented face) and kissed Ada. That done, she
came softly back and stood by the side of my chair. Her bosom was
heaving in a distressful manner that I greatly pitied, but I
thought it better not to speak.
"I wish I was dead!" she broke out. "I wish we were all dead. It
would be a great deal better for us.
In a moment afterwards, she knelt on the ground at my side, hid her
face in my dress, passionately begged my pardon, and wept. I
comforted her and would have raised her, but she cried no, no; she
wanted to stay there!
"You used to teach girls," she said, "If you could only have taught
me, I could have learnt from you! I am so very miserable, and I
like you so much!"
I could not persuade her to sit by me or to do anything but move a
ragged stool to where she was kneeling, and take that, and still
hold my dress in the same manner. By degrees the poor tired girl
fell asleep, and then I contrived to raise her head so that it
should rest on my lap, and to cover us both with shawls. The fire
went out, and all night long she slumbered thus before the ashy
grate. At first I was painfully awake and vainly tried to lose
myself, with my eyes closed, among the scenes of the day. At
length, by slow degrees, they became indistinct and mingled. I
began to lose the identity of the sleeper resting on me. Now it
was Ada, now one of my old Reading friends from whom I could not
believe I had so recently parted. Now it was the little mad woman
worn out with curtsying and smiling, now some one in authority at
Bleak House. Lastly, it was no one, and I was no one.
The purblind day was feebly struggling with the fog when I opened
my eyes to encounter those of a dirty-faced little spectre fixed
upon me. Peepy had scaled his crib, and crept down in his bed-gown
and cap, and was so cold that his teeth were chattering as if he
had cut them all.
A Morning Adventure
Although the morning was raw, and although the fog still seemed
heavy--I say seemed, for the windows were so encrusted with dirt
that they would have made midsummer sunshine dim--I was
sufficiently forewarned of the discomfort within doors at that
early hour and sufficiently curious about London to think it a good
idea on the part of Miss Jellyby when she proposed that we should
go out for a walk.
"Ma won't be down for ever so long," she said, "and then it's a
chance if breakfast's ready for an hour afterwards, they dawdle so.
As to Pa, he gets what he can and goes to the office. He never has
what you would call a regular breakfast. Priscilla leaves him out
the loaf and some milk, when there is any, overnight. Sometimes
there isn't any milk, and sometimes the cat drinks it. But I'm
afraid you must be tired, Miss Summerson, and perhaps you would
rather go to bed."
"I am not at all tired, my dear," said I, "and would much prefer to
"If you're sure you would," returned Miss Jellyby, "I'll get my
Ada said she would go too, and was soon astir. I made a proposal
to Peepy, in default of being able to do anything better for him,
that he should let me wash him and afterwards lay him down on my
bed again. To this he submitted with the best grace possible,
staring at me during the whole operation as if he never had been,
and never could again be, so astonished in his life--looking very
miserable also, certainly, but making no complaint, and going
snugly to sleep as soon as it was over. At first I was in two
minds about taking such a liberty, but I soon reflected that nobody
in the house was likely to notice it.
What with the bustle of dispatching Peepy and the bustle of getting
myself ready and helping Ada, I was soon quite in a glow. We found
Miss Jellyby trying to warm herself at the fire in the writing-
room, which Priscilla was then lighting with a smutty parlour
candlestick, throwing the candle in to make it burn better.
Everything was just as we had left it last night and was evidently
intended to remain so. Below-stairs the dinner-cloth had not been
taken away, but had been left ready for breakfast. Crumbs, dust,
and waste-paper were all over the house. Some pewter pots and a
milk-can hung on the area railings; the door stood open; and we met
the cook round the corner coming out of a public-house, wiping her
mouth. She mentioned, as she passed us, that she had been to see
what o'clock it was.
But before we met the cook, we met Richard, who was dancing up and
down Thavies Inn to warm his feet. He was agreeably surprised to
see us stirring so soon and said he would gladly share our walk.
So he took care of Ada, and Miss Jellyby and I went first. I may
mention that Miss Jellyby had relapsed into her sulky manner and
that I really should not have thought she liked me much unless she
had told me so.
"Where would you wish to go?" she asked.
"Anywhere, my dear," I replied.
"Anywhere's nowhere," said Miss Jellyby, stopping perversely.
"Let us go somewhere at any rate," said I.
She then walked me on very fast.
"I don't care!" she said. "Now, you are my witness, Miss
Summerson, I say I don't care-but if he was to come to our house
with his great, shining, lumpy forehead night after night till he
was as old as Methuselah, I wouldn't have anything to say to him.
Such ASSES as he and Ma make of themselves!"
"My dear!" I remonstrated, in allusion to the epithet and the
vigorous emphasis Miss Jellyby set upon it. "Your duty as a child--"
"Oh! Don't talk of duty as a child, Miss Summerson; where's Ma's
duty as a parent? All made over to the public and Africa, I
suppose! Then let the public and Africa show duty as a child; it's
much more their affair than mine. You are shocked, I dare say!
Very well, so am I shocked too; so we are both shocked, and there's
an end of it!"
She walked me on faster yet.
"But for all that, I say again, he may come, and come, and come,
and I won't have anything to say to him. I can't bear him. If
there's any stuff in the world that I hate and detest, it's the
stuff he and Ma talk. I wonder the very paving-stones opposite our
house can have the patience to stay there and be a witness of such
inconsistencies and contradictions as all that sounding nonsense,
and Ma's management!"
I could not but understand her to refer to Mr. Quale, the young
gentleman who had appeared after dinner yesterday. I was saved the
disagreeable necessity of pursuing the subject by Richard and Ada
coming up at a round pace, laughing and asking us if we meant to
run a race. Thus interrupted, Miss Jellyby became silent and
walked moodily on at my side while I admired the long successions
and varieties of streets, the quantity of people already going to
and fro, the number of vehicles passing and repassing, the busy
preparations in the setting forth of shop windows and the sweeping
out of shops, and the extraordinary creatures in rags secretly
groping among the swept-out rubbish for pins and other refuse.
"So, cousin," said the cheerful voice of Richard to Ada behind me.
"We are never to get out of Chancery! We have come by another way
to our place of meeting yesterday, and--by the Great Seal, here's
the old lady again!"
Truly, there she was, immediately in front of us, curtsying, and
smiling, and saying with her yesterday's air of patronage, "The
wards in Jarndyce! Ve-ry happy, I am sure!"
"You are out early, ma'am," said I as she curtsied to me.
"Ye-es! I usually walk here early. Before the court sits. It's
retired. I collect my thoughts here for the business of the day,"
said the old lady mincingly. "The business of the day requires a
great deal of thought. Chancery justice is so ve-ry difficult to
"Who's this, Miss Summerson?" whispered Miss Jellyby, drawing my
arm tighter through her own.
The little old lady's hearing was remarkably quick. She answered
for herself directly.
"A suitor, my child. At your service. I have the honour to attend
court regularly. With my documents. Have I the pleasure of
addressing another of the youthful parties in Jarndyce?" said the
old lady, recovering herself, with her head on one side, from a
very low curtsy.
Richard, anxious to atone for his thoughtlessness of yesterday,
good-naturedly explained that Miss Jellyby was not connected with
"Ha!" said the old lady. "She does not expect a judgment? She
will still grow old. But not so old. Oh, dear, no! This is the
garden of Lincoln's Inn. I call it my garden. It is quite a bower
in the summer-time. Where the birds sing melodiously. I pass the
greater part of the long vacation here. In contemplation. You
find the long vacation exceedingly long, don't you?"
We said yes, as she seemed to expect us to say so.
"When the leaves are falling from the trees and there are no more
flowers in bloom to make up into nosegays for the Lord Chancellor's
court," said the old lady, "the vacation is fulfilled and the sixth
seal, mentioned in the Revelations, again prevails. Pray come and
see my lodging. It will be a good omen for me. Youth, and hope,
and beauty are very seldom there. It is a long, long time since I
had a visit from either."
She had taken my hand, and leading me and Miss Jellyby away,
beckoned Richard and Ada to come too. I did not know how to excuse
myself and looked to Richard for aid. As he was half amused and
half curious and all in doubt how to get rid of the old lady
without offence, she continued to lead us away, and he and Ada
continued to follow, our strange conductress informing us all the
time, with much smiling condescension, that she lived close by.
It was quite true, as it soon appeared. She lived so close by that
we had not time to have done humouring her for a few moments before
she was at home. Slipping us out at a little side gate, the old
lady stopped most unexpectedly in a narrow back street, part of
some courts and lanes immediately outside the wall of the inn, and
said, "This is my lodging. Pray walk up!"
She had stopped at a shop over which was written KROOK, RAG AND
BOTTLE WAREHOUSE. Also, in long thin letters, KROOK, DEALER IN
MARINE STORES. In one part of the window was a picture of a red
paper mill at which a cart was unloading a quantity of sacks of old
rags. In another was the inscription BONES BOUGHT. In another,
KITCHEN-STUFF BOUGHT. In another, OLD IRON BOUGHT. In another,
WASTE-PAPER BOUGHT. In another, LADIES' AND GENTLEMEN'S WARDROBES
BOUGHT. Everything seemed to be bought and nothing to be sold
there. In all parts of the window were quantities of dirty
bottles--blacking bottles, medicine bottles, ginger-beer and soda-
water bottles, pickle bottles, wine bottles, ink bottles; I am
reminded by mentioning the latter that the shop had in several
little particulars the air of being in a legal neighbourhood and of
being, as it were, a dirty hanger-on and disowned relation of the
law. There were a great many ink bottles. There was a little
tottering bench of shabby old volumes outside the door, labelled
"Law Books, all at 9d." Some of the inscriptions I have enumerated
were written in law-hand, like the papers I had seen in Kenge and
Carboy's office and the letters I had so long received from the
firm. Among them was one, in the same writing, having nothing to
do with the business of the shop, but announcing that a respectable
man aged forty-five wanted engrossing or copying to execute with
neatness and dispatch: Address to Nemo, care of Mr. Krook, within.
There were several second-hand bags, blue and red, hanging up. A
little way within the shop-door lay heaps of old crackled parchment
scrolls and discoloured and dog's-eared law-papers. I could have
fancied that all the rusty keys, of which there must have been
hundreds huddled together as old iron, had once belonged to doors
of rooms or strong chests in lawyers' offices. The litter of rags
tumbled partly into and partly out of a one-legged wooden scale,
hanging without any counterpoise from a beam, might have been
counsellors' bands and gowns torn up. One had only to fancy, as
Richard whispered to Ada and me while we all stood looking in, that
yonder bones in a corner, piled together and picked very clean,
were the bones of clients, to make the picture complete.
As it was still foggy and dark, and as the shop was blinded besides
by the wall of Lincoln's Inn, intercepting the light within a
couple of yards, we should not have seen so much but for a lighted
lantern that an old man in spectacles and a hairy cap was carrying
about in the shop. Turning towards the door, he now caught sight
of us. He was short, cadaverous, and withered, with his head sunk
sideways between his shoulders and the breath issuing in visible
smoke from his mouth as if he were on fire within. His throat,
chin, and eyebrows were so frosted with white hairs and so gnarled
with veins and puckered skin that he looked from his breast upward
like some old root in a fall of snow.
"Hi, hi!" said the old man, coming to the door. "Have you anything
We naturally drew back and glanced at our conductress, who had been
trying to open the house-door with a key she had taken from her
pocket, and to whom Richard now said that as we had had the
pleasure of seeing where she lived, we would leave her, being
pressed for time. But she was not to be so easily left. She
became so fantastically and pressingly earnest in her entreaties
that we would walk up and see her apartment for an instant, and was
so bent, in her harmless way, on leading me in, as part of the good
omen she desired, that I (whatever the others might do) saw nothing
for it but to comply. I suppose we were all more or less curious;
at any rate, when the old man added his persuasions to hers and
said, "Aye, aye! Please her! It won't take a minute! Come in,
come in! Come in through the shop if t'other door's out of order!"
we all went in, stimulated by Richard's laughing encouragement and
relying on his protection.
"My landlord, Krook," said the little old lady, condescending to
him from her lofty station as she presented him to us. "He is
called among the neighbours the Lord Chancellor. His shop is
called the Court of Chancery. He is a very eccentric person. He
is very odd. Oh, I assure you he is very odd!"
She shook her head a great many times and tapped her forehead with
her finger to express to us that we must have the goodness to
excuse him, "For he is a little--you know--M!" said the old lady
with great stateliness. The old man overheard, and laughed.
"It's true enough," he said, going before us with the lantern,
"that they call me the lord chancellor and call my shop Chancery.
And why do you think they call me the Lord Chancellor and my shop
"I don't know, I am sure!" said Richard rather carelessly.
"You see," said the old man, stopping and turning round, "they--Hi!
Here's lovely hair! I have got three sacks of ladies' hair below,
but none so beautiful and fine as this. What colour, and what
"That'll do, my good friend!" said Richard, strongly disapproving
of his having drawn one of Ada's tresses through his yellow hand.
"You can admire as the rest of us do without taking that liberty."
The old man darted at him a sudden look which even called my
attention from Ada, who, startled and blushing, was so remarkably
beautiful that she seemed to fix the wandering attention of the
little old lady herself. But as Ada interposed and laughingly said
she could only feel proud of such genuine admiration, Mr. Krook
shrunk into his former self as suddenly as he had leaped out of it.
"You see, I have so many things here," he resumed, holding up the
lantern, "of so many kinds, and all as the neighbours think (but
THEY know nothing), wasting away and going to rack and ruin, that
that's why they have given me and my place a christening. And I
have so many old parchmentses and papers in my stock. And I have a
liking for rust and must and cobwebs. And all's fish that comes to
my net. And I can't abear to part with anything I once lay hold of
(or so my neighbours think, but what do THEY know?) or to alter
anything, or to have any sweeping, nor scouring, nor cleaning, nor
repairing going on about me. That's the way I've got the ill name
of Chancery. I don't mind. I go to see my noble and learned
brother pretty well every day, when he sits in the Inn. He don't
notice me, but I notice him. There's no great odds betwixt us. We
both grub on in a muddle. Hi, Lady Jane!"
A large grey cat leaped from some neighbouring shelf on his
shoulder and startled us all.
"Hi! Show 'em how you scratch. Hi! Tear, my lady!" said her
The cat leaped down and ripped at a bundle of rags with her
tigerish claws, with a sound that it set my teeth on edge to hear.
"She'd do as much for any one I was to set her on," said the old
man. "I deal in cat-skins among other general matters, and hers
was offered to me. It's a very fine skin, as you may see, but I
didn't have it stripped off! THAT warn't like Chancery practice
though, says you!"
He had by this time led us across the shop, and now opened a door
in the back part of it, leading to the house-entry. As he stood
with his hand upon the lock, the little old lady graciously
observed to him before passing out, "That will do, Krook. You mean
well, but are tiresome. My young friends are pressed for time. I
have none to spare myself, having to attend court very soon. My
young friends are the wards in Jarndyce."
"Jarndyce!" said the old man with a start.
"Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The great suit, Krook," returned his
"Hi!" exclaimed the old man in a tone of thoughtful amazement and
with a wider stare than before. "Think of it!"
He seemed so rapt all in a moment and looked so curiously at us
that Richard said, "Why, you appear to trouble yourself a good deal
about the causes before your noble and learned brother, the other
"Yes," said the old man abstractedly. "Sure! YOUR name now will
"Carstone," he repeated, slowly checking off that name upon his
forefinger; and each of the others he went on to mention upon a
separate finger. "Yes. There was the name of Barbary, and the
name of Clare, and the name of Dedlock, too, I think."
"He knows as much of the cause as the real salaried Chancellor!"
said Richard, quite astonished, to Ada and me.
"Aye!" said the old man, coming slowly out of his abstraction.
"Yes! Tom Jarndyce--you'll excuse me, being related; but he was
never known about court by any other name, and was as well known
there as--she is now," nodding slightly at his lodger. "Tom
Jarndyce was often in here. He got into a restless habit of
strolling about when the cause was on, or expected, talking to the
little shopkeepers and telling 'em to keep out of Chancery,
whatever they did. 'For,' says he, 'it's being ground to bits in a
slow mill; it's being roasted at a slow fire; it's being stung to
death by single bees; it's being drowned by drops; it's going mad
by grains.' He was as near making away with himself, just where
the young lady stands, as near could be."
We listened with horror.
"He come in at the door," said the old man, slowly pointing an
imaginary track along the shop, "on the day he did it--the whole
neighbourhood had said for months before that he would do it, of a
certainty sooner or later--he come in at the door that day, and
walked along there, and sat himself on a bench that stood there,
and asked me (you'll judge I was a mortal sight younger then) to
fetch him a pint of wine. 'For,' says he, 'Krook, I am much
depressed; my cause is on again, and I think I'm nearer judgment
than I ever was.' I hadn't a mind to leave him alone; and I
persuaded him to go to the tavern over the way there, t'other side
my lane (I mean Chancery Lane); and I followed and looked in at the
window, and saw him, comfortable as I thought, in the arm-chair by
the fire, and company with him. I hadn't hardly got back here when
I heard a shot go echoing and rattling right away into the inn. I
ran out--neighbours ran out--twenty of us cried at once, 'Tom
The old man stopped, looked hard at us, looked down into the
lantern, blew the light out, and shut the lantern up.
"We were right, I needn't tell the present hearers. Hi! To be
sure, how the neighbourhood poured into court that afternoon while
the cause was on! How my noble and learned brother, and all the
rest of 'em, grubbed and muddled away as usual and tried to look as
if they hadn't heard a word of the last fact in the case or as if
they had--Oh, dear me!--nothing at all to do with it if they had
heard of it by any chance!"
Ada's colour had entirely left her, and Richard was scarcely less
pale. Nor could I wonder, judging even from my emotions, and I was
no party in the suit, that to hearts so untried and fresh it was a
shock to come into the inheritance of a protracted misery, attended
in the minds of many people with such dreadful recollections. I
had another uneasiness, in the application of the painful story to
the poor half-witted creature who had brought us there; but, to my
surprise, she seemed perfectly unconscious of that and only led the
way upstairs again, informing us with the toleration of a superior
creature for the infirmities of a common mortal that her landlord
was "a little M, you know!"
She lived at the top of the house, in a pretty large room, from
which she had a glimpse of Lincoln's Inn Hall. This seemed to have
been her principal inducement, originally, for taking up her
residence there. She could look at it, she said, in the night,
especially in the moonshine. Her room was clean, but very, very
bare. I noticed the scantiest necessaries in the way of furniture;
a few old prints from books, of Chancellors and barristers, wafered
against the wall; and some half-dozen reticles and work-bags,
"containing documents," as she informed us. There were neither
coals nor ashes in the grate, and I saw no articles of clothing
anywhere, nor any kind of food. Upon a shelf in an open cupboard
were a plate or two, a cup or two, and so forth, but all dry and
empty. There was a more affecting meaning in her pinched
appearance, I thought as I looked round, than I had understood
"Extremely honoured, I am sure," said our poor hostess with the
greatest suavity, "by this visit from the wards in Jarndyce. And
very much indebted for the omen. It is a retired situation.
Considering. I am limited as to situation. In consequence of the
necessity of attending on the Chancellor. I have lived here many
years. I pass my days in court, my evenings and my nights here. I
find the nights long, for I sleep but little and think much. That
is, of course, unavoidable, being in Chancery. I am sorry I cannot
offer chocolate. I expect a judgment shortly and shall then place
my establishment on a superior footing. At present, I don't mind
confessing to the wards in Jarndyce (in strict confidence) that I
sometimes find it difficult to keep up a genteel appearance. I
have felt the cold here. I have felt something sharper than cold.
It matters very little. Pray excuse the introduction of such mean
She partly drew aside the curtain of the long, low garret window
and called our attention to a number of bird-cages hanging there,
some containing several birds. There were larks, linnets, and
goldfinches--I should think at least twenty.
"I began to keep the little creatures," she said, "with an object
that the wards will readily comprehend. With the intention of
restoring them to liberty. When my judgment should be given. Ye-
es! They die in prison, though. Their lives, poor silly things,
are so short in comparison with Chancery proceedings that, one by
one, the whole collection has died over and over again. I doubt,
do you know, whether one of these, though they are all young, will
live to be free! Ve-ry mortifying, is it not?"
Although she sometimes asked a question, she never seemed to expect
a reply, but rambled on as if she were in the habit of doing so
when no one but herself was present.
"Indeed," she pursued, "I positively doubt sometimes, I do assure
you, whether while matters are still unsettled, and the sixth or
Great Seal still prevails, I may not one day be found lying stark
and senseless here, as I have found so many birds!"
Richard, answering what he saw in Ada's compassionate eyes, took
the opportunity of laying some money, softly and unobserved, on the
chimney-piece. We all drew nearer to the cages, feigning to
examine the birds.
"I can't allow them to sing much," said the little old lady, "for
(you'll think this curious) I find my mind confused by the idea
that they are singing while I am following the arguments in court.
And my mind requires to be so very clear, you know! Another time,
I'll tell you their names. Not at present. On a day of such good
omen, they shall sing as much as they like. In honour of youth," a
smile and curtsy, "hope," a smile and curtsy, "and beauty," a smile
and curtsy. "There! We'll let in the full light."
The birds began to stir and chirp.
"I cannot admit the air freely," said the little old lady--the room
was close, and would have been the better for it--"because the cat
you saw downstairs, called Lady Jane, is greedy for their lives.
She crouches on the parapet outside for hours and hours. I have
discovered," whispering mysteriously, "that her natural cruelty is
sharpened by a jealous fear of their regaining their liberty. In
consequence of the judgment I expect being shortly given. She is
sly and full of malice. I half believe, sometimes, that she is no
cat, but the wolf of the old saying. It is so very difficult to
keep her from the door."
Some neighbouring bells, reminding the poor soul that it was half-
past nine, did more for us in the way of bringing our visit to an
end than we could easily have done for ourselves. She hurriedly
took up her little bag of documents, which she had laid upon the
table on coming in, and asked if we were also going into court. On
our answering no, and that we would on no account detain her, she
opened the door to attend us downstairs.
"With such an omen, it is even more necessary than usual that I
should be there before the Chancellor comes in," said she, "for he
might mention my case the first thing. I have a presentiment that
he WILL mention it the first thing this morning"
She stopped to tell us in a whisper as we were going down that the
whole house was filled with strange lumber which her landlord had
bought piecemeal and had no wish to sell, in consequence of being a
little M. This was on the first floor. But she had made a
previous stoppage on the second floor and had silently pointed at a
dark door there.
"The only other lodger," she now whispered in explanation, "a law-
writer. The children in the lanes here say he has sold himself to
the devil. I don't know what he can have done with the money.
She appeared to mistrust that the lodger might hear her even there,
and repeating "Hush!" went before us on tiptoe as though even the
sound of her footsteps might reveal to him what she had said.
Passing through the shop on our way out, as we had passed through
it on our way in, we found the old man storing a quantity of
packets of waste-paper in a kind of well in the floor. He seemed
to be working hard, with the perspiration standing on his forehead,
and had a piece of chalk by him, with which, as he put each
separate package or bundle down, he made a crooked mark on the
panelling of the wall.
Richard and Ada, and Miss Jellyby, and the little old lady had gone
by him, and I was going when he touched me on the arm to stay me,
and chalked the letter J upon the wall--in a very curious manner,
beginning with the end of the letter and shaping it backward. It
was a capital letter, not a printed one, but just such a letter as
any clerk in Messrs. Kenge and Carboy's office would have made.
"Can you read it?" he asked me with a keen glance.
"Surely," said I. "It's very plain."
"What is it?"
With another glance at me, and a glance at the door, he rubbed it
out and turned an "a" in its place (not a capital letter this
time), and said, "What's that?"
I told him. He then rubbed that out and turned the letter "r," and
asked me the same question. He went on quickly until he had formed
in the same curious manner, beginning at the ends and bottoms of
the letters, the word Jarndyce, without once leaving two letters on
the wall together.
"What does that spell?" he asked me.
When I told him, he laughed. In the same odd way, yet with the
same rapidity, he then produced singly, and rubbed out singly, the
letters forming the words Bleak House. These, in some
astonishment, I also read; and he laughed again.
"Hi!" said the old man, laying aside the chalk. "I have a turn for
copying from memory, you see, miss, though I can neither read nor
He looked so disagreeable and his cat looked so wickedly at me, as
if I were a blood-relation of the birds upstairs, that I was quite
relieved by Richard's appearing at the door and saying, "Miss
Summerson, I hope you are not bargaining for the sale of your hair.
Don't be tempted. Three sacks below are quite enough for Mr. Krook!"
I lost no time in wishing Mr. Krook good morning and joining my
friends outside, where we parted with the little old lady, who gave
us her blessing with great ceremony and renewed her assurance of
yesterday in reference to her intention of settling estates on Ada
and me. Before we finally turned out of those lanes, we looked
back and saw Mr. Krook standing at his shop-door, in his
spectacles, looking after us, with his cat upon his shoulder, and
her tail sticking up on one side of his hairy cap like a tall
"Quite an adventure for a morning in London!" said Richard with a
sigh. "Ah, cousin, cousin, it's a weary word this Chancery!"
"It is to me, and has been ever since I can remember," returned
Ada. "I am grieved that I should be the enemy---as I suppose I am
--of a great number of relations and others, and that they should be
my enemies--as I suppose they are--and that we should all be
ruining one another without knowing how or why and be in constant
doubt and discord all our lives. It seems very strange, as there
must be right somewhere, that an honest judge in real earnest has
not been able to find out through all these years where it is."
"Ah, cousin!" said Richard. "Strange, indeed! All this wasteful,
wanton chess-playing IS very strange. To see that composed court
yesterday jogging on so serenely and to think of the wretchedness
of the pieces on the board gave me the headache and the heartache
both together. My head ached with wondering how it happened, if
men were neither fools nor rascals; and my heart ached to think
they could possibly be either. But at all events, Ada--I may call
"Of course you may, cousin Richard."
"At all events, Chancery will work none of its bad influences on
US. We have happily been brought together, thanks to our good
kinsman, and it can't divide us now!"
"Never, I hope, cousin Richard!" said Ada gently.
Miss Jellyby gave my arm a squeeze and me a very significant look.
I smiled in return, and we made the rest of the way back very
In half an hour after our arrival, Mrs. Jellyby appeared; and in
the course of an hour the various things necessary for breakfast
straggled one by one into the dining-room. I do not doubt that
Mrs. Jellyby had gone to bed and got up in the usual manner, but
she presented no appearance of having changed her dress. She was
greatly occupied during breakfast, for the morning's post brought a
heavy correspondence relative to Borrioboola-Gha, which would
occasion her (she said) to pass a busy day. The children tumbled
about, and notched memoranda of their accidents in their legs,
which were perfect little calendars of distress; and Peepy was lost
for an hour and a half, and brought home from Newgate market by a
policeman. The equable manner in which Mrs. Jellyby sustained both
his absence and his restoration to the family circle surprised us
She was by that time perseveringly dictating to Caddy, and Caddy
was fast relapsing into the inky condition in which we had found
her. At one o'clock an open carriage arrived for us, and a cart
for our luggage. Mrs. Jellyby charged us with many remembrances to
her good friend Mr. Jarndyce; Caddy left her desk to see us depart,
kissed me in the passage, and stood biting her pen and sobbing on
the steps; Peepy, I am happy to say, was asleep and spared the pain
of separation (I was not without misgivings that he had gone to
Newgate market in search of me); and all the other children got up
behind the barouche and fell off, and we saw them, with great
concern, scattered over the surface of Thavies Inn as we rolled out
of its precincts.
Quite at Home
The day had brightened very much, and still brightened as we went
westward. We went our way through the sunshine and the fresh air,
wondering more and more at the extent of the streets, the
brilliancy of the shops, the great traffic, and the crowds of
people whom the pleasanter weather seemed to have brought out like
many-coloured flowers. By and by we began to leave the wonderful
city and to proceed through suburbs which, of themselves, would
have made a pretty large town in my eyes; and at last we got into a
real country road again, with windmills, rick-yards, milestones,
farmers' waggons, scents of old hay, swinging signs, and horse
troughs: trees, fields, and hedge-rows. It was delightful to see
the green landscape before us and the immense metropolis behind;
and when a waggon with a train of beautiful horses, furnished with
red trappings and clear-sounding bells, came by us with its music,
I believe we could all three have sung to the bells, so cheerful
were the influences around.
"The whole road has been reminding me of my name-sake Whittington,"
said Richard, "and that waggon is the finishing touch. Halloa!
What's the matter?"
We had stopped, and the waggon had stopped too. Its music changed
as the horses came to a stand, and subsided to a gentle tinkling,
except when a horse tossed his head or shook himself and sprinkled
off a little shower of bell-ringing.
"Our postilion is looking after the waggoner," said Richard, "and
the waggoner is coming back after us. Good day, friend!" The
waggoner was at our coach-door. "Why, here's an extraordinary
thing!" added Richard, looking closely at the man. "He has got
your name, Ada, in his hat!"
He had all our names in his hat. Tucked within the band were three
small notes--one addressed to Ada, one to Richard, one to me.
These the waggoner delivered to each of us respectively, reading
the name aloud first. In answer to Richard's inquiry from whom
they came, he briefly answered, "Master, sir, if you please"; and
putting on his hat again (which was like a soft bowl), cracked his
whip, re-awakened his music, and went melodiously away.
"Is that Mr. Jarndyce's waggon?" said Richard, calling to our post-
"Yes, sir," he replied. "Going to London."
We opened the notes. Each was a counterpart of the other and
contained these words in a solid, plain hand.
"I look forward, my dear, to our meeting easily and without
constraint on either side. I therefore have to propose that we
meet as old friends and take the past for granted. It will be a
relief to you possibly, and to me certainly, and so my love to you.
I had perhaps less reason to be surprised than either of my
companions, having never yet enjoyed an opportunity of thanking one
who had been my benefactor and sole earthly dependence through so
many years. I had not considered how I could thank him, my
gratitude lying too deep in my heart for that; but I now began to
consider how I could meet him without thanking him, and felt it
would be very difficult indeed.
The notes revived in Richard and Ada a general impression that they
both had, without quite knowing how they came by it, that their
cousin Jarndyce could never bear acknowledgments for any kindness
he performed and that sooner than receive any he would resort to
the most singular expedients and evasions or would even run away.
Ada dimly remembered to have heard her mother tell, when she was a
very little child, that he had once done her an act of uncommon
generosity and that on her going to his house to thank him, he
happened to see her through a window coming to the door, and
immediately escaped by the back gate, and was not heard of for
three months. This discourse led to a great deal more on the same
theme, and indeed it lasted us all day, and we talked of scarcely
anything else. If we did by any chance diverge into another
subject, we soon returned to this, and wondered what the house
would be like, and when we should get there, and whether we should
see Mr. Jarndyce as soon as we arrived or after a delay, and what
he would say to us, and what we should say to him. All of which we
wondered about, over and over again.
The roads were very heavy for the horses, but the pathway was
generally good, so we alighted and walked up all the hills, and
liked it so well that we prolonged our walk on the level ground
when we got to the top. At Barnet there were other horses waiting
for us, but as they had only just been fed, we had to wait for them
too, and got a long fresh walk over a common and an old battle-
field before the carriage came up. These delays so protracted the
journey that the short day was spent and the long night had closed
in before we came to St. Albans, near to which town Bleak House
was, we knew.
By that time we were so anxious and nervous that even Richard
confessed, as we rattled over the stones of the old street, to
feeling an irrational desire to drive back again. As to Ada and
me, whom he had wrapped up with great care, the night being sharp
and frosty, we trembled from head to foot. When we turned out of
the town, round a corner, and Richard told us that the post-boy,
who had for a long time sympathized with our heightened
expectation, was looking back and nodding, we both stood up in the
carriage (Richard holding Ada lest she should be jolted down) and
gazed round upon the open country and the starlight night for our
destination. There was a light sparkling on the top of a hill
before us, and the driver, pointing to it with his whip and crying,
"That's Bleak House!" put his horses into a canter and took us
forward at such a rate, uphill though it was, that the wheels sent
the road drift flying about our heads like spray from a water-mill.
Presently we lost the light, presently saw it, presently lost it,
presently saw it, and turned into an avenue of trees and cantered
up towards where it was beaming brightly. It was in a window of
what seemed to be an old-fashioned house with three peaks in the
roof in front and a circular sweep leading to the porch. A bell
was rung as we drew up, and amidst the sound of its deep voice in
the still air, and the distant barking of some dogs, and a gush of
light from the opened door, and the smoking and steaming of the
heated horses, and the quickened beating of our own hearts, we
alighted in no inconsiderable confusion.
"Ada, my love, Esther, my dear, you are welcome. I rejoice to see
you! Rick, if I had a hand to spare at present, I would give it
The gentleman who said these words in a clear, bright, hospitable
voice had one of his arms round Ada's waist and the other round
mine, and kissed us both in a fatherly way, and bore us across the
hall into a ruddy little room, all in a glow with a blazing fire.
Here he kissed us again, and opening his arms, made us sit down
side by side on a sofa ready drawn out near the hearth. I felt
that if we had been at all demonstrative, he would have run away in
"Now, Rick!" said he. "I have a hand at liberty. A word in
earnest is as good as a speech. I am heartily glad to see you.
You are at home. Warm yourself!"
Richard shook him by both hands with an intuitive mixture of
respect and frankness, and only saying (though with an earnestness
that rather alarmed me, I was so afraid of Mr. Jarndyce's suddenly
disappearing), "You are very kind, sir! We are very much obliged
to you!" laid aside his hat and coat and came up to the fire.
"And how did you like the ride? And how did you like Mrs. Jellyby,
my dear?" said Mr. Jarndyce to Ada.
While Ada was speaking to him in reply, I glanced (I need not say
with how much interest) at his face. It was a handsome, lively,
quick face, full of change and motion; and his hair was a silvered
iron-grey. I took him to be nearer sixty than fifty, but he was
upright, hearty, and robust. From the moment of his first speaking
to us his voice had connected itself with an association in my mind
that I could not define; but now, all at once, a something sudden
in his manner and a pleasant expression in his eyes recalled the
gentleman in the stagecoach six years ago on the memorable day of
my journey to Reading. I was certain it was he. I never was so
frightened in my life as when I made the discovery, for he caught
my glance, and appearing to read my thoughts, gave such a look at
the door that I thought we had lost him.
However, I am happy to say he remained where he was, and asked me
what I thought of Mrs. Jellyby.
"She exerts herself very much for Africa, sir," I said.
"Nobly!" returned Mr. Jarndyce. "But you answer like Ada." Whom I
had not heard. "You all think something else, I see."
"We rather thought," said I, glancing at Richard and Ada, who
entreated me with their eyes to speak, "that perhaps she was a
little unmindful of her home."
"Floored!" cried Mr. Jarndyce.
I was rather alarmed again.
"Well! I want to know your real thoughts, my dear. I may have
sent you there on purpose."
"We thought that, perhaps," said I, hesitating, "it is right to
begin with the obligations of home, sir; and that, perhaps, while
those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be
substituted for them."
"The little Jellybys," said Richard, coming to my relief, "are
really--I can't help expressing myself strongly, sir--in a devil of
"She means well," said Mr. Jarndyce hastily. "The wind's in the
"It was in the north, sir, as we came down," observed Richard.
"My dear Rick," said Mr. Jarndyce, poking the fire, "I'll take an
oath it's either in the east or going to be. I am always conscious
of an uncomfortable sensation now and then when the wind is blowing
in the east."
"Rheumatism, sir?" said Richard.
"I dare say it is, Rick. I believe it is. And so the little Jell
--I had my doubts about 'em--are in a--oh, Lord, yes, it's
easterly!" said Mr. Jarndyce.
He had taken two or three undecided turns up and down while
uttering these broken sentences, retaining the poker in one hand
and rubbing his hair with the other, with a good-natured vexation
at once so whimsical and so lovable that I am sure we were more
delighted with him than we could possibly have expressed in any
words. He gave an arm to Ada and an arm to me, and bidding Richard
bring a candle, was leading the way out when he suddenly turned us
all back again.
"Those little Jellybys. Couldn't you--didn't you--now, if it had
rained sugar-plums, or three-cornered raspberry tarts, or anything
of that sort!" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Oh, cousin--" Ada hastily began.
"Good, my pretty pet. I like cousin. Cousin John, perhaps, is
"Then, cousin John--" Ada laughingly began again.
"Ha, ha! Very good indeed!" said Mr. Jarndyce with great
enjoyment. "Sounds uncommonly natural. Yes, my dear?"
"It did better than that. It rained Esther."
"Aye?" said Mr. Jarndyce. "What did Esther do?"
"Why, cousin John," said Ada, clasping her hands upon his arm and
shaking her head at me across him--for I wanted her to be quiet--
"Esther was their friend directly. Esther nursed them, coaxed them
to sleep, washed and dressed them, told them stories, kept them
quiet, bought them keepsakes"--My dear girl! I had only gone out
with Peepy after he was found and given him a little, tiny horse!--
"and, cousin John, she softened poor Caroline, the eldest one, so
much and was so thoughtful for me and so amiable! No, no, I won't
be contradicted, Esther dear! You know, you know, it's true!"
The warm-hearted darling leaned across her cousin John and kissed
me, and then looking up in his face, boldly said, "At all events,
cousin John, I WILL thank you for the companion you have given me."
I felt as if she challenged him to run away. But he didn't.
"Where did you say the wind was, Rick?" asked Mr. Jarndyce.
"In the north as we came down, sir."
"You are right. There's no east in it. A mistake of mine. Come,
girls, come and see your home!"
It was one of those delightfully irregular houses where you go up
and down steps out of one room into another, and where you come
upon more rooms when you think you have seen all there are, and
where there is a bountiful provision of little halls and passages,
and where you find still older cottage-rooms in unexpected places
with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them. Mine,
which we entered first, was of this kind, with an up-and-down roof
that had more corners in it than I ever counted afterwards and a
chimney (there was a wood fire on the hearth) paved all around with
pure white tiles, in every one of which a bright miniature of the
fire was blazing. Out of this room, you went down two steps into a
charming little sitting-room looking down upon a flower-garden,
which room was henceforth to belong to Ada and me. Out of this you
went up three steps into Ada's bedroom, which had a fine broad
window commanding a beautiful view (we saw a great expanse of
darkness lying underneath the stars), to which there was a hollow
window-seat, in which, with a spring-lock, three dear Adas might
have been lost at once. Out of this room you passed into a little
gallery, with which the other best rooms (only two) communicated,
and so, by a little staircase of shallow steps with a number of
corner stairs in it, considering its length, down into the hall.
But if instead of going out at Ada's door you came back into my
room, and went out at the door by which you had entered it, and
turned up a few crooked steps that branched off in an unexpected
manner from the stairs, you lost yourself in passages, with mangles
in them, and three-cornered tables, and a native Hindu chair, which
was also a sofa, a box, and a bedstead, and looked in every form
something between a bamboo skeleton and a great bird-cage, and had
been brought from India nobody knew by whom or when. From these
you came on Richard's room, which was part library, part sitting-
room, part bedroom, and seemed indeed a comfortable compound of
many rooms. Out of that you went straight, with a little interval
of passage, to the plain room where Mr. Jarndyce slept, all the
year round, with his window open, his bedstead without any
furniture standing in the middle of the floor for more air, and his
cold bath gaping for him in a smaller room adjoining. Out of that
you came into another passage, where there were back-stairs and
where you could hear the horses being rubbed down outside the
stable and being told to "Hold up" and "Get over," as they slipped
about very much on the uneven stones. Or you might, if you came
out at another door (every room had at least two doors), go
straight down to the hall again by half-a-dozen steps and a low
archway, wondering how you got back there or had ever got out of
The furniture, old-fashioned rather than old, like the house, was
as pleasantly irregular. Ada's sleeping-room was all flowers--in
chintz and paper, in velvet, in needlework, in the brocade of two
stiff courtly chairs which stood, each attended by a little page of
a stool for greater state, on either side of the fire-place. Our
sitting-room was green and had framed and glazed upon the walls
numbers of surprising and surprised birds, staring out of pictures
at a real trout in a case, as brown and shining as if it had been
served with gravy; at the death of Captain Cook; and at the whole
process of preparing tea in China, as depicted by Chinese artists.
In my room there were oval engravings of the months--ladies
haymaking in short waists and large hats tied under the chin, for
June; smooth-legged noblemen pointing with cocked-hats to village
steeples, for October. Half-length portraits in crayons abounded
all through the house, but were so dispersed that I found the
brother of a youthful officer of mine in the china-closet and the
grey old age of my pretty young bride, with a flower in her bodice,
in the breakfast-room. As substitutes, I had four angels, of Queen
Anne's reign, taking a complacent gentleman to heaven, in festoons,
with some difficulty; and a composition in needlework representing
fruit, a kettle, and an alphabet. All the movables, from the
wardrobes to the chairs and tables, hangings, glasses, even to the
pincushions and scent-bottles on the dressing-tables, displayed the
same quaint variety. They agreed in nothing but their perfect
neatness, their display of the whitest linen, and their storing-up,
wheresoever the existence of a drawer, small or large, rendered it
possible, of quantities of rose-leaves and sweet lavender. Such,
with its illuminated windows, softened here and there by shadows of
curtains, shining out upon the starlight night; with its light, and
warmth, and comfort; with its hospitable jingle, at a distance, of
preparations for dinner; with the face of its generous master
brightening everything we saw; and just wind enough without to
sound a low accompaniment to everything we heard, were our first
impressions of Bleak House.
"I am glad you like it," said Mr. Jarndyce when he had brought us
round again to Ada's sitting-room. "It makes no pretensions, but
it is a comfortable little place, I hope, and will be more so with
such bright young looks in it. You have barely half an hour before
dinner. There's no one here but the finest creature upon earth--a
"More children, Esther!" said Ada.
"I don't mean literally a child," pursued Mr. Jarndyce; "not a
child in years. He is grown up--he is at least as old as I am--but
in simplicity, and freshness, and enthusiasm, and a fine guileless
inaptitude for all worldly affairs, he is a perfect child."
We felt that he must be very interesting.
"He knows Mrs. Jellyby," said Mr. Jarndyce. "He is a musical man,
an amateur, but might have been a professional. He is an artist
too, an amateur, but might have been a professional. He is a man
of attainments and of captivating manners. He has been unfortunate
in his affairs, and unfortunate in his pursuits, and unfortunate in
his family; but he don't care--he's a child!"
"Did you imply that he has children of his own, sir?" inquired
"Yes, Rick! Half-a-dozen. More! Nearer a dozen, I should think.
But he has never looked after them. How could he? He wanted
somebody to look after HIM. He is a child, you know!" said Mr.
"And have the children looked after themselves at all, sir?"
"Why, just as you may suppose," said Mr. Jarndyce, his countenance
suddenly falling. "It is said that the children of the very poor
are not brought up, but dragged up. Harold Skimpole's children
have tumbled up somehow or other. The wind's getting round again,
I am afraid. I feel it rather!"
Richard observed that the situation was exposed on a sharp night.
"It IS exposed," said Mr. Jarndyce. "No doubt that's the cause.
Bleak House has an exposed sound. But you are coming my way. Come
Our luggage having arrived and being all at hand, I was dressed in
a few minutes and engaged in putting my worldly goods away when a
maid (not the one in attendance upon Ada, but another, whom I had
not seen) brought a basket into my room with two bunches of keys in
it, all labelled.
"For you, miss, if you please," said she.
"For me?" said I.
"The housekeeping keys, miss."
I showed my surprise, for she added with some little surprise on
her own part, "I was told to bring them as soon as you was alone,
miss. Miss Summerson, if I don't deceive myself?"
"Yes," said I. "That is my name."
"The large bunch is the housekeeping, and the little bunch is the
cellars, miss. Any time you was pleased to appoint tomorrow
morning, I was to show you the presses and things they belong to."
I said I would be ready at half-past six, and after she was gone,
stood looking at the basket, quite lost in the magnitude of my
trust. Ada found me thus and had such a delightful confidence in
me when I showed her the keys and told her about them that it would
have been insensibility and ingratitude not to feel encouraged. I
knew, to be sure, that it was the dear girl's kindness, but I liked
to be so pleasantly cheated.
When we went downstairs, we were presented to Mr. Skimpole, who was
standing before the fire telling Richard how fond he used to be, in
his school-time, of football. He was a little bright creature with
a rather large head, but a delicate face and a sweet voice, and
there was a perfect charm in him. All he said was so free from
effort and spontaneous and was said with such a captivating gaiety
that it was fascinating to hear him talk. Being of a more slender
figure than Mr. Jarndyce and having a richer complexion, with
browner hair, he looked younger. Indeed, he had more the
appearance in all respects of a damaged young man than a well-
preserved elderly one. There was an easy negligence in his manner
and even in his dress (his hair carelessly disposed, and his
neckkerchief loose and flowing, as I have seen artists paint their
own portraits) which I could not separate from the idea of a
romantic youth who had undergone some unique process of
depreciation. It struck me as being not at all like the manner or
appearance of a man who had advanced in life by the usual road of
years, cares, and experiences.
I gathered from the conversation that Mr. Skimpole had been
educated for the medical profession and had once lived, in his
professional capacity, in the household of a German prince. He
told us, however, that as he had always been a mere child in point
of weights and measures and had never known anything about them
(except that they disgusted him), he had never been able to
prescribe with the requisite accuracy of detail. In fact, he said,
he had no head for detail. And he told us, with great humour, that
when he was wanted to bleed the prince or physic any of his people,
he was generally found lying on his back in bed, reading the
newspapers or making fancy-sketches in pencil, and couldn't come.
The prince, at last, objecting to this, "in which," said Mr.
Skimpole, in the frankest manner, "he was perfectly right," the
engagement terminated, and Mr. Skimpole having (as he added with
delightful gaiety) "nothing to live upon but love, fell in love,
and married, and surrounded himself with rosy cheeks." His good
friend Jarndyce and some other of his good friends then helped him,
in quicker or slower succession, to several openings in life, but
to no purpose, for he must confess to two of the oldest infirmities
in the world: one was that he had no idea of time, the other that
he had no idea of money. In consequence of which he never kept an
appointment, never could transact any business, and never knew the
value of anything! Well! So he had got on in life, and here he
was! He was very fond of reading the papers, very fond of making
fancy-sketches with a pencil, very fond of nature, very fond of
art. All he asked of society was to let him live. THAT wasn't
much. His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation,
music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets
of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more. He
was a mere child in the world, but he didn't cry for the moon. He
said to the world, "Go your several ways in peace! Wear red coats,
blue coats, lawn sleeves; put pens behind your ears, wear aprons;
go after glory, holiness, commerce, trade, any object you prefer;
only--let Harold Skimpole live!"
All this and a great deal more he told us, not only with the utmost
brilliancy and enjoyment, but with a certain vivacious candour--
speaking of himself as if he were not at all his own affair, as if
Skimpole were a third person, as if he knew that Skimpole had his
singularities but still had his claims too, which were the general
business of the community and must not be slighted. He was quite
enchanting. If I felt at all confused at that early time in
endeavouring to reconcile anything he said with anything I had
thought about the duties and accountabilities of life (which I am
far from sure of), I was confused by not exactly understanding why
he was free of them. That he WAS free of them, I scarcely doubted;
he was so very clear about it himself.
"I covet nothing," said Mr. Skimpole in the same light way.
"Possession is nothing to me. Here is my friend Jarndyce's
excellent house. I feel obliged to him for possessing it. I can
sketch it and alter it. I can set it to music. When I am here, I
have sufficient possession of it and have neither trouble, cost,
nor responsibility. My steward's name, in short, is Jarndyce, and
he can't cheat me. We have been mentioning Mrs. Jellyby. There is
a bright-eyed woman, of a strong will and immense power of business
detail, who throws herself into objects with surprising ardour! I
don't regret that I have not a strong will and an immense power of
business detail to throw myself into objects with surprising
ardour. I can admire her without envy. I can sympathize with the
objects. I can dream of them. I can lie down on the grass--in
fine weather--and float along an African river, embracing all the
natives I meet, as sensible of the deep silence and sketching the
dense overhanging tropical growth as accurately as if I were there.
I don't know that it's of any direct use my doing so, but it's all
I can do, and I do it thoroughly. Then, for heaven's sake, having
Harold Skimpole, a confiding child, petitioning you, the world, an
agglomeration of practical people of business habits, to let him
live and admire the human family, do it somehow or other, like good
souls, and suffer him to ride his rocking-horse!"
It was plain enough that Mr. Jarndyce had not been neglectful of
the adjuration. Mr. Skimpole's general position there would have
rendered it so without the addition of what he presently said.
"It's only you, the generous creatures, whom I envy," said Mr.
Skimpole, addressing us, his new friends, in an impersonal manner.
"I envy you your power of doing what you do. It is what I should
revel in myself. I don't feel any vulgar gratitude to you. I
almost feel as if YOU ought to be grateful to ME for giving you the
opportunity of enjoying the luxury of generosity. I know you like
it. For anything I can tell, I may have come into the world
expressly for the purpose of increasing your stock of happiness. I
may have been born to be a benefactor to you by sometimes giving
you an opportunity of assisting me in my little perplexities. Why
should I regret my incapacity for details and worldly affairs when
it leads to such pleasant consequences? I don't regret it
Of all his playful speeches (playful, yet always fully meaning what
they expressed) none seemed to be more to the taste of Mr. Jarndyce
than this. I had often new temptations, afterwards, to wonder
whether it was really singular, or only singular to me, that he,
who was probably the most grateful of mankind upon the least
occasion, should so desire to escape the gratitude of others.
We were all enchanted. I felt it a merited tribute to the engaging
qualities of Ada and Richard that Mr. Skimpole, seeing them for the
first time, should he so unreserved and should lay himself out to
be so exquisitely agreeable. They (and especially Richard) were
naturally pleased; for similar reasons, and considered it no common
privilege to be so freely confided in by such an attractive man.
The more we listened, the more gaily Mr. Skimpole talked. And what
with his fine hilarious manner and his engaging candour and his
genial way of lightly tossing his own weaknesses about, as if he
had said, "I am a child, you know! You are designing people
compared with me" (he really made me consider myself in that light)
"but I am gay and innocent; forget your worldly arts and play with
me!" the effect was absolutely dazzling.
He was so full of feeling too and had such a delicate sentiment for
what was beautiful or tender that he could have won a heart by that
alone. In the evening, when I was preparing to make tea and Ada
was touching the piano in the adjoining room and softly humming a
tune to her cousin Richard, which they had happened to mention, he
came and sat down on the sofa near me and so spoke of Ada that I
almost loved him.
"She is like the morning," he said. "With that golden hair, those
blue eyes, and that fresh bloom on her cheek, she is like the
summer morning. The birds here will mistake her for it. We will
not call such a lovely young creature as that, who is a joy to all
mankind, an orphan. She is the child of the universe."
Mr. Jarndyce, I found, was standing near us with his hands behind
him and an attentive smile upon his face.
"The universe," he observed, "makes rather an indifferent parent, I
"Oh! I don't know!" cried Mr. Skimpole buoyantly.
"I think I do know," said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Well!" cried Mr. Skimpole. "You know the world (which in your
sense is the universe), and I know nothing of it, so you shall have
your way. But if I had mine," glancing at the cousins, "there
should be no brambles of sordid realities in such a path as that.
It should be strewn with roses; it should lie through bowers, where
there was no spring, autumn, nor winter, but perpetual summer. Age
or change should never wither it. The base word money should never
be breathed near it!"
Mr. Jarndyce patted him on the head with a smile, as if he had been
really a child, and passing a step or two on, and stopping a
moment, glanced at the young cousins. His look was thoughtful, but
had a benignant expression in it which I often (how often!) saw
again, which has long been engraven on my heart. The room in which
they were, communicating with that in which he stood, was only
lighted by the fire. Ada sat at the piano; Richard stood beside
her, bending down. Upon the wall, their shadows blended together,
surrounded by strange forms, not without a ghostly motion caught
from the unsteady fire, though reflecting from motionless objects.
Ada touched the notes so softly and sang so low that the wind,
sighing away to the distant hills, was as audible as the music.
The mystery of the future and the little clue afforded to it by the
voice of the present seemed expressed in the whole picture.
But it is not to recall this fancy, well as I remember it, that I
recall the scene. First, I was not quite unconscious of the
contrast in respect of meaning and intention between the silent
look directed that way and the flow of words that had preceded it.
Secondly, though Mr. Jarndyce's glance as he withdrew it rested for
but a moment on me, I felt as if in that moment he confided to me--
and knew that he confided to me and that I received the confidence
--his hope that Ada and Richard might one day enter on a dearer
Mr. Skimpole could play on the piano and the violoncello, and he
was a composer--had composed half an opera once, but got tired of
it--and played what he composed with taste. After tea we had quite
a little concert, in which Richard--who was enthralled by Ada's
singing and told me that she seemed to know all the songs that ever
were written--and Mr. Jarndyce, and I were the audience. After a
little while I missed first Mr. Skimpole and afterwards Richard,
and while I was thinking how could Richard stay away so long and
lose so much, the maid who had given me the keys looked in at the
door, saying, "If you please, miss, could you spare a minute?"
When I was shut out with her in the hall, she said, holding up her
hands, "Oh, if you please, miss, Mr. Carstone says would you come
upstairs to Mr. Skimpole's room. He has been took, miss!"
"Took?" said I.
"Took, miss. Sudden," said the maid.
I was apprehensive that his illness might be of a dangerous kind,
but of course I begged her to be quiet and not disturb any one and
collected myself, as I followed her quickly upstairs, sufficiently
to consider what were the best remedies to be applied if it should
prove to be a fit. She threw open a door and I went into a
chamber, where, to my unspeakable surprise, instead of finding Mr.
Skimpole stretched upon the bed or prostrate on the floor, I found
him standing before the fire smiling at Richard, while Richard,
with a face of great embarrassment, looked at a person on the sofa,
in a white great-coat, with smooth hair upon his head and not much
of it, which he was wiping smoother and making less of with a
"Miss Summerson," said Richard hurriedly, "I am glad you are come.
You will be able to advise us. Our friend Mr. Skimpole--don't be
alarmed!--is arrested for debt."
"And really, my dear Miss Summerson," said Mr. Skimpole with his
agreeable candour, "I never was in a situation in which that
excellent sense and quiet habit of method and usefulness, which
anybody must observe in you who has the happiness of being a
quarter of an hour in your society, was more needed."
The person on the sofa, who appeared to have a cold in his head,
gave such a very loud snort that he startled me.
"Are you arrested for much, sir?" I inquired of Mr. Skimpole.
"My dear Miss Summerson," said he, shaking his head pleasantly, "I
don't know. Some pounds, odd shillings, and halfpence, I think,
"It's twenty-four pound, sixteen, and sevenpence ha'penny,"
observed the stranger. "That's wot it is."
"And it sounds--somehow it sounds," said Mr. Skimpole, "like a
The strange man said nothing but made another snort. It was such a
powerful one that it seemed quite to lift him out of his seat.
"Mr. Skimpole," said Richard to me, "has a delicacy in applying to
my cousin Jarndyce because he has lately--I think, sir, I
understood you that you had lately--"
"Oh, yes!" returned Mr. Skimpole, smiling. "Though I forgot how
much it was and when it was. Jarndyce would readily do it again,
but I have the epicure-like feeling that I would prefer a novelty
in help, that I would rather," and he looked at Richard and me,
"develop generosity in a new soil and in a new form of flower."
"What do you think will be best, Miss Summerson?" said Richard,
I ventured to inquire, generally, before replying, what would
happen if the money were not produced.
"Jail," said the strange man, coolly putting his handkerchief into
his hat, which was on the floor at his feet. "Or Coavinses."
"May I ask, sir, what is--"
"Coavinses?" said the strange man. "A 'ouse."
Richard and I looked at one another again. It was a most singular
thing that the arrest was our embarrassment and not Mr. Skimpole's.
He observed us with a genial interest, but there seemed, if I may
venture on such a contradiction, nothing selfish in it. He had
entirely washed his hands of the difficulty, and it had become
"I thought," he suggested, as if good-naturedly to help us out,
"that being parties in a Chancery suit concerning (as people say) a
large amount of property, Mr. Richard or his beautiful cousin, or
both, could sign something, or make over something, or give some
sort of undertaking, or pledge, or bond? I don't know what the
business name of it may be, but I suppose there is some instrument
within their power that would settle this?"
"Not a bit on it," said the strange man.
"Really?" returned Mr. Skimpole. "That seems odd, now, to one who
is no judge of these things!"
"Odd or even," said the stranger gruffly, "I tell you, not a bit on
"Keep your temper, my good fellow, keep your temper!" Mr. Skimpole
gently reasoned with him as he made a little drawing of his head on
the fly-leaf of a book. "Don't be ruffled by your occupation. We
can separate you from your office; we can separate the individual
from the pursuit. We are not so prejudiced as to suppose that in
private life you are otherwise than a very estimable man, with a
great deal of poetry in your nature, of which you may not be
The stranger only answered with another violent snort, whether in
acceptance of the poetry-tribute or in disdainful rejection of it,
he did not express to me.
"Now, my dear Miss Summerson, and my dear Mr. Richard," said Mr.
Skimpole gaily, innocently, and confidingly as he looked at his
drawing with his head on one side, "here you see me utterly
incapable of helping myself, and entirely in your hands! I only
ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not
deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies!"
"My dear Miss Summerson," said Richard in a whisper, "I have ten
pounds that I received from Mr. Kenge. I must try what that will
I possessed fifteen pounds, odd shillings, which I had saved from
my quarterly allowance during several years. I had always thought
that some accident might happen which would throw me suddenly,
without any relation or any property, on the world and had always
tried to keep some little money by me that I might not be quite
penniless. I told Richard of my having this little store and
having no present need of it, and I asked him delicately to inform
Mr. Skimpole, while I should be gone to fetch it, that we would
have the pleasure of paying his debt.
When I came back, Mr. Skimpole kissed my hand and seemed quite
touched. Not on his own account (I was again aware of that
perplexing and extraordinary contradiction), but on ours, as if
personal considerations were impossible with him and the
contemplation of our happiness alone affected him. Richard,
begging me, for the greater grace of the transaction, as he said,
to settle with Coavinses (as Mr. Skimpole now jocularly called
him), I counted out the money and received the necessary
acknowledgment. This, too, delighted Mr. Skimpole.
His compliments were so delicately administered that I blushed less
than I might have done and settled with the stranger in the white
coat without making any mistakes. He put the money in his pocket
and shortly said, "Well, then, I'll wish you a good evening, miss.
"My friend," said Mr. Skimpole, standing with his back to the fire
after giving up the sketch when it was half finished, "I should
like to ask you something, without offence."
I think the reply was, "Cut away, then!"
"Did you know this morning, now, that you were coming out on this
errand?" said Mr. Skimpole.
"Know'd it yes'day aft'noon at tea-time," said Coavinses.
"It didn't affect your appetite? Didn't make you at all uneasy?"
"Not a hit," said Coavinses. "I know'd if you wos missed to-day,
you wouldn't be missed to-morrow. A day makes no such odds."
"But when you came down here," proceeded Mr. Skimpole, "it was a
fine day. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, the lights
and shadows were passing across the fields, the birds were
"Nobody said they warn't, in MY hearing," returned Coavinses.
"No," observed Mr. Skimpole. "But what did you think upon the
"Wot do you mean?" growled Coavinses with an appearance of strong
resentment. "Think! I've got enough to do, and little enough to
get for it without thinking. Thinking!" (with profound contempt).
"Then you didn't think, at all events," proceeded Mr. Skimpole, "to
this effect: 'Harold Skimpole loves to see the sun shine, loves to
hear the wind blow, loves to watch the changing lights and shadows,
loves to hear the birds, those choristers in Nature's great
cathedral. And does it seem to me that I am about to deprive
Harold Skimpole of his share in such possessions, which are his
only birthright!' You thought nothing to that effect?"
"I--certainly--did--NOT," said Coavinses, whose doggedness in
utterly renouncing the idea was of that intense kind that he could
only give adequate expression to it by putting a long interval
between each word, and accompanying the last with a jerk that might
have dislocated his neck.
"Very odd and very curious, the mental process is, in you men of
business!" said Mr. Skimpole thoughtfully. "Thank you, my friend.
As our absence had been long enough already to seem strange
downstairs, I returned at once and found Ada sitting at work by the
fireside talking to her cousin John. Mr. Skimpole presently
appeared, and Richard shortly after him. I was sufficiently
engaged during the remainder of the evening in taking my first
lesson in backgammon from Mr. Jarndyce, who was very fond of the
game and from whom I wished of course to learn it as quickly as I
could in order that I might be of the very small use of being able
to play when he had no better adversary. But I thought,
occasionally, when Mr. Skimpole played some fragments of his own
compositions or when, both at the piano and the violoncello, and at
our table, he preserved with an absence of all effort his
delightful spirits and his easy flow of conversation, that Richard
and I seemed to retain the transferred impression of having been
arrested since dinner and that it was very curious altogether.
It was late before we separated, for when Ada was going at eleven
o'clock, Mr. Skimpole went to the piano and rattled hilariously
that the best of all ways to lengthen our days was to steal a few
hours from night, my dear! It was past twelve before he took his
candle and his radiant face out of the room, and I think he might
have kept us there, if he had seen fit, until daybreak. Ada and
Richard were lingering for a few moments by the fire, wondering
whether Mrs. Jellyby had yet finished her dictation for the day,
when Mr. Jarndyce, who had been out of the room, returned.
"Oh, dear me, what's this, what's this!" he said, rubbing his head
and walking about with his good-humoured vexation. "What's this
they tell me? Rick, my boy, Esther, my dear, what have you been
doing? Why did you do it? How could you do it? How much apiece
was it? The wind's round again. I feel it all over me!"
We neither of us quite knew what to answer.
"Come, Rick, come! I must settle this before I sleep. How much
are you out of pocket? You two made the money up, you know! Why
did you? How could you? Oh, Lord, yes, it's due east--must be!"
"Really, sir," said Richard, "I don't think it would be honourable
in me to tell you. Mr. Skimpole relied upon us--"
"Lord bless you, my dear boy! He relies upon everybody!" said Mr.
Jarndyce, giving his head a great rub and stopping short.
"Everybody! And he'll be in the same scrape again next week!" said
Mr. Jarndyce, walking again at a great pace, with a candle in his
hand that had gone out. "He's always in the same scrape. He was
born in the same scrape. I verily believe that the announcement in
the newspapers when his mother was confined was 'On Tuesday last,
at her residence in Botheration Buildings, Mrs. Skimpole of a son
Richard laughed heartily but added, "Still, sir, I don't want to
shake his confidence or to break his confidence, and if I submit to
your better knowledge again, that I ought to keep his secret, I
hope you will consider before you press me any more. Of course, if
you do press me, sir, I shall know I am wrong and will tell you."
"Well!" cried Mr. Jarndyce, stopping again, and making several
absent endeavours to put his candlestick in his pocket. "I--here!
Take it away, my dear. I don't know what I am about with it; it's
all the wind--invariably has that effect--I won't press you, Rick;
you may be right. But really--to get hold of you and Esther--and
to squeeze you like a couple of tender young Saint Michael's
oranges! It'll blow a gale in the course of the night!"
He was now alternately putting his hands into his pockets as if he
were going to keep them there a long time, and taking them out
again and vehemently rubbing them all over his head.
I ventured to take this opportunity of hinting that Mr. Skimpole,
being in all such matters quite a child--
"Eh, my dear?" said Mr. Jarndyce, catching at the word.
Being quite a child, sir," said I, "and so different from other
"You are right!" said Mr. Jarndyce, brightening. "Your woman's wit
hits the mark. He is a child--an absolute child. I told you he
was a child, you know, when I first mentioned him."
Certainly! Certainly! we said.
"And he IS a child. Now, isn't he?" asked Mr. Jarndyce,
brightening more and more.
He was indeed, we said.
"When you come to think of it, it's the height of childishness in
you--I mean me--" said Mr. Jarodyce, "to regard him for a moment as
a man. You can't make HIM responsible. The idea of Harold
Skimpole with designs or plans, or knowledge of consequences! Ha,
It was so delicious to see the clouds about his bright face
clearing, and to see him so heartily pleased, and to know, as it
was impossible not to know, that the source of his pleasure was the
goodness which was tortured by condemning, or mistrusting, or
secretly accusing any one, that I saw the tears in Ada's eyes,
while she echoed his laugh, and felt them in my own.
"Why, what a cod's head and shoulders I am," said Mr. Jarndyce, "to
require reminding of it! The whole business shows the child from
beginning to end. Nobody but a child would have thought of
singling YOU two out for parties in the affair! Nobody but a child
would have thought of YOUR having the money! If it had been a
thousand pounds, it would have been just the same!" said Mr.
Jarndyce with his whole face in a glow.
We all confirmed it from our night's experience.
"To be sure, to be sure!" said Mr. Jarndyce. "However, Rick,
Esther, and you too, Ada, for I don't know that even your little
purse is safe from his inexperience--I must have a promise all
round that nothing of this sort shall ever be done any more. No
advances! Not even sixpences."
We all promised faithfully, Richard with a merry glance at me
touching his pocket as if to remind me that there was no danger of
"As to Skimpole," said Mr. Jarndyce, "a habitable doll's house with
good board and a few tin people to get into debt with and borrow
money of would set the boy up in life. He is in a child's sleep by
this time, I suppose; it's time I should take my craftier head to
my more worldly pillow. Good night, my dears. God bless you!"
He peeped in again, with a smiling face, before we had lighted our
candles, and said, "Oh! I have been looking at the weather-cock. I
find it was a false alarm about the wind. It's in the south!" And
went away singing to himself.
Ada and I agreed, as we talked together for a little while
upstairs, that this caprice about the wind was a fiction and that
he used the pretence to account for any disappointment he could not
conceal, rather than he would blame the real cause of it or
disparage or depreciate any one. We thought this very
characteristic of his eccentric gentleness and of the difference
between him and those petulant people who make the weather and the
winds (particularly that unlucky wind which he had chosen for such
a different purpose) the stalking-horses of their splenetic and
Indeed, so much affection for him had been added in this one
evening to my gratitude that I hoped I already began to understand
him through that mingled feeling. Any seeming inconsistencies in
Mr. Skimpole or in Mrs. Jellyby I could not expect to be able to
reconcile, having so little experience or practical knowledge.
Neither did I try, for my thoughts were busy when I was alone, with
Ada and Richard and with the confidence I had seemed to receive
concerning them. My fancy, made a little wild by the wind perhaps,
would not consent to be all unselfish, either, though I would have
persuaded it to be so if I could. It wandered back to my
godmother's house and came along the intervening track, raising up
shadowy speculations which had sometimes trembled there in the dark
as to what knowledge Mr. Jarndyce had of my earliest history--even
as to the possibility of his being my father, though that idle
dream was quite gone now.
It was all gone now, I remembered, getting up from the fire. It was
not for me to muse over bygones, but to act with a cheerful spirit
and a grateful heart. So I said to myself, "Esther, Esther, Esther!
Duty, my dear!" and gave my little basket of housekeeping keys such
a shake that they sounded like little bells and rang me hopefully to
The Ghost's Walk
While Esther sleeps, and while Esther wakes, it is still wet weather
down at the place in Lincolnshire. The rain is ever falling--drip,
drip, drip--by day and night upon the broad flagged terrace-
pavement, the Ghost's Walk. The weather is so very bad down in
Lincolnshire that the liveliest imagination can scarcely apprehend
its ever being fine again. Not that there is any superabundant life
of imagination on the spot, for Sir Leicester is not here (and,
truly, even if he were, would not do much for it in that
particular), but is in Paris with my Lady; and solitude, with dusky
wings, sits brooding upon Chesney Wold.
There may be some motions of fancy among the lower animals at
Chesney Wold. The horses in the stables--the long stables in a
barren, red-brick court-yard, where there is a great bell in a
turret, and a clock with a large face, which the pigeons who live
near it and who love to perch upon its shoulders seem to be always
consulting--THEY may contemplate some mental pictures of fine
weather on occasions, and may be better artists at them than the
grooms. The old roan, so famous for cross-country work, turning his
large eyeball to the grated window near his rack, may remember the
fresh leaves that glisten there at other times and the scents that
stream in, and may have a fine run with the hounds, while the human
helper, clearing out the next stall, never stirs beyond his
pitchfork and birch-broom. The grey, whose place is opposite the
door and who with an impatient rattle of his halter pricks his ears
and turns his head so wistfully when it is opened, and to whom the
opener says, "'Woa grey, then, steady! Noabody wants you to-day!"
may know it quite as well as the man. The whole seemingly
monotonous and uncompanionable half-dozen, stabled together, may
pass the long wet hours when the door is shut in livelier
communication than is held in the servants' hall or at the Dedlock
Arms, or may even beguile the time by improving (perhaps corrupting)
the pony in the loose-box in the corner.
So the mastiff, dozing in his kennel in the court-yard with his
large head on his paws, may think of the hot sunshine when the
shadows of the stable-buildings tire his patience out by changing
and leave him at one time of the day no broader refuge than the
shadow of his own house, where he sits on end, panting and growling
short, and very much wanting something to worry besides himself and
his chain. So now, half-waking and all-winking, he may recall the
house full of company, the coach-houses full of vehicles, the
stables fall of horses, and the out-buildings full of attendants
upon horses, until he is undecided about the present and comes forth
to see how it is. Then, with that impatient shake of himself, he
may growl in the spirit, "Rain, rain, rain! Nothing but rain--and
no family here!" as he goes in again and lies down with a gloomy
So with the dogs in the kennel-buildings across the park, who have
their resfless fits and whose doleful voices when the wind has been
very obstinate have even made it known in the house itself--
upstairs, downstairs, and in my Lady's chamber. They may hunt the
whole country-side, while the raindrops are pattering round their
inactivity. So the rabbits with their self-betraying tails,
frisking in and out of holes at roots of trees, may be lively with
ideas of the breezy days when their ears are blown about or of those
seasons of interest when there are sweet young plants to gnaw. The
turkey in the poultry-yard, always troubled with a class-grievance
(probably Christmas), may be reminiscent of that summer morning
wrongfully taken from him when he got into the lane among the felled
trees, where there was a barn and barley. The discontented goose,
who stoops to pass under the old gateway, twenty feet high, may
gabble out, if we only knew it, a waddling preference for weather
when the gateway casts its shadow on the ground.
Be this as it may, there is not much fancy otherwise stirring at
Chesney Wold. If there be a little at any odd moment, it goes,
like a little noise in that old echoing place, a long way and
usually leads off to ghosts and mystery.
It has rained so hard and rained so long down in Lincolnshire that
Mrs. Rouncewell, the old housekeeper at Chesney Wold, has several
times taken off her spectacles and cleaned them to make certain
that the drops were not upon the glasses. Mrs. Rouncewell might
have been sufficiently assured by hearing the rain, but that she is
rather deaf, which nothing will induce her to believe. She is a
fine old lady, handsome, stately, wonderfully neat, and has such a
back and such a stomacher that if her stays should turn out when
she dies to have been a broad old-fashioned family fire-grate,
nobody who knows her would have cause to be surprised. Weather
affects Mrs. Rouncewell little. The house is there in all
weathers, and the house, as she expresses it, "is what she looks
at." She sits in her room (in a side passage on the ground floor,
with an arched window commanding a smooth quadrangle, adorned at
regular intervals with smooth round trees and smooth round blocks
of stone, as if the trees were going to play at bowls with the
stones), and the whole house reposes on her mind. She can open it
on occasion and be busy and fluttered, but it is shut up now and
lies on the breadth of Mrs. Rouncewell's iron-bound bosom in a
It is the next difficult thing to an impossibility to imagine
Chesney Wold without Mrs. Rouncewell, but she has only been here
fifty years. Ask her how long, this rainy day, and she shall
answer "fifty year, three months, and a fortnight, by the blessing
of heaven, if I live till Tuesday." Mr. Rouncewell died some time
before the decease of the pretty fashion of pig-tails, and modestly
hid his own (if he took it with him) in a corner of the churchyard
in the park near the mouldy porch. He was born in the market-town,
and so was his young widow. Her progress in the family began in
the time of the last Sir Leicester and originated in the still-room.
The present representative of the Dedlocks is an excellent master.
He supposes all his dependents to be utterly bereft of individual
characters, intentions, or opinions, and is persuaded that he was
born to supersede the necessity of their having any. If he were to
make a discovery to the contrary, he would be simply stunned--would
never recover himself, most likely, except to gasp and die. But he
is an excellent master still, holding it a part of his state to be
so. He has a great liking for Mrs. Rouncewell; he says she is a
most respectable, creditable woman. He always shakes hands with
her when he comes down to Chesney Wold and when he goes away; and
if he were very ill, or if he were knocked down by accident, or run
over, or placed in any situation expressive of a Dedlock at a
disadvantage, he would say if he could speak, "Leave me, and send
Mrs. Rouncewell here!" feeling his dignity, at such a pass, safer
with her than with anybody else.
Mrs. Rouncewell has known trouble. She has had two sons, of whom
the younger ran wild, and went for a soldier, and never came back.
Even to this hour, Mrs. Rouncewell's calm hands lose their
composure when she speaks of him, and unfolding themselves from her
stomacher, hover about her in an agitated manner as she says what a
likely lad, what a fine lad, what a gay, good-humoured, clever lad
he was! Her second son would have been provided for at Chesney
Wold and would have been made steward in due season, but he took,
when he was a schoolboy, to constructing steam-engines out of
saucepans and setting birds to draw their own water with the least
possible amount of labour, so assisting them with artful
contrivance of hydraulic pressure that a thirsty canary had only,
in a literal sense, to put his shoulder to the wheel and the job
was done. This propensity gave Mrs. Rouncewell great uneasiness.
She felt it with a mother's anguish to be a move in the Wat Tyler
direction, well knowing that Sir Leicester had that general
impression of an aptitude for any art to which smoke and a tall
chimney might be considered essential. But the doomed young rebel
(otherwise a mild youth, and very persevering), showing no sign of
grace as he got older but, on the contrary, constructing a model of
a power-loom, she was fain, with many tears, to mention his
backslidings to the baronet. "Mrs. Rouncewell," said Sir
Leicester, "I can never consent to argue, as you know, with any one
on any subject. You had better get rid of your boy; you had better
get him into some Works. The iron country farther north is, I
suppose, the congenial direction for a boy with these tendencies."
Farther north he went, and farther north he grew up; and if Sir
Leicester Dedlock ever saw him when he came to Chesney Wold to
visit his mother, or ever thought of him afterwards, it is certain
that he only regarded him as one of a body of some odd thousand
conspirators, swarthy and grim, who were in the habit of turning
out by torchlight two or three nights in the week for unlawful
Nevertheless, Mrs. Rouncewell's son has, in the course of nature
and art, grown up, and established himself, and married, and called
unto him Mrs. Rouncewell's grandson, who, being out of his
apprenticeship, and home from a journey in far countries, whither
he was sent to enlarge his knowledge and complete his preparations
for the venture of this life, stands leaning against the chimney-
piece this very day in Mrs. Rouncewell's room at Chesney Wold.
"And, again and again, I am glad to see you, Watt! And, once
again, I am glad to see you, Watt!" says Mrs. Rouncewell. "You are
a fine young fellow. You are like your poor uncle George. Ah!"
Mrs. Rouncewell's hands unquiet, as usual, on this reference.
"They say I am like my father, grandmother."
"Like him, also, my dear--but most like your poor uncle George!
And your dear father." Mrs. Rouncewell folds her hands again. "He
"Thriving, grandmother, in every way."
"I am thankful!" Mrs. Rouncewell is fond of her son but has a
plaintive feeling towards him, much as if he were a very honourable
soldier who had gone over to the enemy.
"He is quite happy?" says she.
"I am thankful! So he has brought you up to follow in his ways and
has sent you into foreign countries and the like? Well, he knows
best. There may be a world beyond Chesney Wold that I don't
understand. Though I am not young, either. And I have seen a
quantity of good company too!"
"Grandmother," says the young man, changing the subject, "what a
very pretty girl that was I found with you just now. You called
"Yes, child. She is daughter of a widow in the village. Maids are
so hard to teach, now-a-days, that I have put her about me young.
She's an apt scholar and will do well. She shows the house
already, very pretty. She lives with me at my table here."
"I hope I have not driven her away?"
"She supposes we have family affairs to speak about, I dare say.
She is very modest. It is a fine quality in a young woman. And
scarcer," says Mrs. Rouncewell, expanding her stomacher to its
utmost limits, "than it formerly was!"
The young man inclines his head in acknowledgment of the precepts
of experience. Mrs. Rouncewell listens.
"Wheels!" says she. They have long been audible to the younger
ears of her companion. "What wheels on such a day as this, for
After a short interval, a tap at the door. "Come in!" A dark-
eyed, dark-haired, shy, village beauty comes in--so fresh in her
rosy and yet delicate bloom that the drops of rain which have
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