Part 3 out of 21
rosy and yet delicate bloom that the drops of rain which have
beaten on her hair look like the dew upon a flower fresh gathered.
"What company is this, Rosa?" says Mrs. Rouncewell.
"It's two young men in a gig, ma'am, who want to see the house--
yes, and if you please, I told them so!" in quick reply to a
gesture of dissent from the housekeeper. "I went to the hall-door
and told them it was the wrong day and the wrong hour, but the
young man who was driving took off his hat in the wet and begged me
to bring this card to you."
"Read it, my dear Watt," says the housekeeper.
Rosa is so shy as she gives it to him that they drop it between
them and almost knock their foreheads together as they pick it up.
Rosa is shyer than before.
"Mr. Guppy" is all the information the card yields.
"Guppy!" repeats Mrs. Rouncewell, "MR. Guppy! Nonsense, I never
heard of him!"
"If you please, he told ME that!" says Rosa. "But he said that he
and the other young gentleman came from London only last night by
the mail, on business at the magistrates' meeting, ten miles off,
this morning, and that as their business was soon over, and they
had heard a great deal said of Chesney Wold, and really didn't know
what to do with themselves, they had come through the wet to see
it. They are lawyers. He says he is not in Mr. Tulkinghorn's
office, but he is sure he may make use of Mr. Tulkinghorn's name if
necessary." Finding, now she leaves off, that she has been making
quite a long speech, Rosa is shyer than ever.
Now, Mr. Tulkinghorn is, in a manner, part and parcel of the place,
and besides, is supposed to have made Mrs. Rouncewell's will. The
old lady relaxes, consents to the admission of the visitors as a
favour, and dismisses Rosa. The grandson, however, being smitten
by a sudden wish to see the house himself, proposes to join the
party. The grandmother, who is pleased that he should have that
interest, accompanies him--though to do him justice, he is
exceedingly unwilling to trouble her.
"Much obliged to you, ma'am!" says Mr. Guppy, divesting himself of
his wet dreadnought in the hall. "Us London lawyers don't often
get an out, and when we do, we like to make the most of it, you
The old housekeeper, with a gracious severity of deportment, waves
her hand towards the great staircase. Mr. Guppy and his friend
follow Rosa; Mrs. Rouncewell and her grandson follow them; a young
gardener goes before to open the shutters.
As is usually the case with people who go over houses, Mr. Guppy
and his friend are dead beat before they have well begun. They
straggle about in wrong places, look at wrong things, don't care
for the right things, gape when more rooms are opened, exhibit
profound depression of spirits, and are clearly knocked up. In
each successive chamber that they enter, Mrs. Rouncewell, who is as
upright as the house itself, rests apart in a window-seat or other
such nook and listens with stately approval to Rosa's exposition.
Her grandson is so attentive to it that Rosa is shyer than ever--
and prettier. Thus they pass on from room to room, raising the
pictured Dedlocks for a few brief minutes as the young gardener
admits the light, and reconsigning them to their graves as he shuts
it out again. It appears to the afflicted Mr. Guppy and his
inconsolable friend that there is no end to the Dedlocks, whose
family greatness seems to consist in their never having done
anything to distinguish themselves for seven hundred years.
Even the long drawing-room of Chesney Wold cannot revive Mr.
Guppy's spirits. He is so low that he droops on the threshold and
has hardly strength of mind to enter. But a portrait over the
chimney-piece, painted by the fashionable artist of the day, acts
upon him like a charm. He recovers in a moment. He stares at it
with uncommon interest; he seems to be fixed and fascinated by it.
"Dear me!" says Mr. Guppy. "Who's that?"
"The picture over the fire-place," says Rosa, "is the portrait of
the present Lady Dedlock. It is considered a perfect likeness, and
the best work of the master."
"Blest," says Mr. Guppy, staring in a kind of dismay at his
friend, "if I can ever have seen her. Yet I know her! Has the
picture been engraved, miss?"
"The picture has never been engraved. Sir Leicester has always
"Well!" says Mr. Guppy in a low voice. "I'll be shot if it ain't
very curious how well I know that picture! So that's Lady Dedlock,
"The picture on the right is the present Sir Leicester Dedlock.
The picture on the left is his father, the late Sir Leicester."
Mr. Guppy has no eyes for either of these magnates. "It's
unaccountable to me," he says, still staring at the portrait, "how
well I know that picture! I'm dashed," adds Mr. Guppy, looking
round, "if I don't think I must have had a dream of that picture,
As no one present takes any especial interest in Mr. Guppy's
dreams, the probability is not pursued. But he still remains so
absorbed by the portrait that he stands immovable before it until
the young gardener has closed the shutters, when he comes out of
the room in a dazed state that is an odd though a sufficient
substitute for interest and follows into the succeeding rooms with
a confused stare, as if he were looking everywhere for Lady Dedlock
He sees no more of her. He sees her rooms, which are the last
shown, as being very elegant, and he looks out of the windows from
which she looked out, not long ago, upon the weather that bored her
to death. All things have an end, even houses that people take
infinite pains to see and are tired of before they begin to see
them. He has come to the end of the sight, and the fresh village
beauty to the end of her description; which is always this: "The
terrace below is much admired. It is called, from an old story in
the family, the Ghost's Walk."
"No?" says Mr. Guppy, greedily curious. "What's the story, miss?
Is it anything about a picture?"
"Pray tell us the story," says Watt in a half whisper.
"I don't know it, sir." Rosa is shyer than ever.
"It is not related to visitors; it is almost forgotten," says the
housekeeper, advancing. "It has never been more than a family
"You'll excuse my asking again if it has anything to do with a
picture, ma'am," observes Mr. Guppy, "because I do assure you that
the more I think of that picture the better I know it, without
knowing how I know it!"
The story has nothing to do with a picture; the housekeeper can
guarantee that. Mr. Guppy is obliged to her for the information
and is, moreover, generally obliged. He retires with his friend,
guided down another staircase by the young gardener, and presently
is heard to drive away. It is now dusk. Mrs. Rouncewell can trust
to the discretion of her two young hearers and may tell THEM how
the terrace came to have that ghostly name.
She seats herself in a large chair by the fast-darkening window and
tells them: "In the wicked days, my dears, of King Charles the
First--I mean, of course, in the wicked days of the rebels who
leagued themselves against that excellent king--Sir Morbury Dedlock
was the owner of Chesney Wold. Whether there was any account of a
ghost in the family before those days, I can't say. I should think
it very likely indeed."
Mrs. Rouncewell holds this opinion because she considers that a
family of such antiquity and importance has a right to a ghost.
She regards a ghost as one of the privileges of the upper classes,
a genteel distinction to which the common people have no claim.
"Sir Morbury Dedlock," says Mrs. Rouncewell, "was, I have no
occasion to say, on the side of the blessed martyr. But it IS
supposed that his Lady, who had none of the family blood in her
veins, favoured the bad cause. It is said that she had relations
among King Charles's enemies, that she was in correspondence with
them, and that she gave them information. When any of the country
gentlemen who followed his Majesty's cause met here, it is said
that my Lady was always nearer to the door of their council-room
than they supposed. Do you hear a sound like a footstep passing
along the terrace, Watt?"
Rosa draws nearer to the housekeeper.
"I hear the rain-drip on the stones," replies the young man, "and I
hear a curious echo--I suppose an echo--which is very like a
The housekeeper gravely nods and continues: "Partly on account of
this division between them, and partly on other accounts, Sir
Morbury and his Lady led a troubled life. She was a lady of a
haughty temper. They were not well suited to each other in age or
character, and they had no children to moderate between them.
After her favourite brother, a young gentleman, was killed in the
civil wars (by Sir Morbury's near kinsman), her feeling was so
violent that she hated the race into which she had married. When
the Dedlocks were about to ride out from Chesney Wold in the king's
cause, she is supposed to have more than once stolen down into the
stables in the dead of night and lamed their horses; and the story
is that once at such an hour, her husband saw her gliding down the
stairs and followed her into the stall where his own favourite
horse stood. There he seized her by the wrist, and in a struggle
or in a fall or through the horse being frightened and lashing out,
she was lamed in the hip and from that hour began to pine away."
The housekeeper has dropped her voice to a little more than a
"She had been a lady of a handsome figure and a noble carriage.
She never complained of the change; she never spoke to any one of
being crippled or of being in pain, but day by day she tried to
walk upon the terrace, and with the help of the stone balustrade,
went up and down, up and down, up and down, in sun and shadow, with
greater difficulty every day. At last, one afternoon her husband
(to whom she had never, on any persuasion, opened her lips since
that night), standing at the great south window, saw her drop upon
the pavement. He hastened down to raise her, but she repulsed him
as he bent over her, and looking at him fixedly and coldly, said,
'I will die here where I have walked. And I will walk here, though
I am in my grave. I will walk here until the pride of this house
is humbled. And when calamity or when disgrace is coming to it,
let the Dedlocks listen for my step!'"
Watt looks at Rosa. Rosa in the deepening gloom looks down upon
the ground, half frightened and half shy.
"There and then she died. And from those days," says Mrs.
Rouncewell, "the name has come down--the Ghost's Walk. If the
tread is an echo, it is an echo that is only heard after dark, and
is often unheard for a long while together. But it comes back from
time to time; and so sure as there is sickness or death in the
family, it will be heard then."
"And disgrace, grandmother--" says Watt.
"Disgrace never comes to Chesney Wold," returns the housekeeper.
Her grandson apologizes with "True. True."
"That is the story. Whatever the sound is, it is a worrying
sound," says Mrs. Rouncewell, getting up from her chair; "and what
is to be noticed in it is that it MUST BE HEARD. My Lady, who is
afraid of nothing, admits that when it is there, it must be heard.
You cannot shut it out. Watt, there is a tall French clock behind
you (placed there, 'a purpose) that has a loud beat when it is in
motion and can play music. You understand how those things are
"Pretty well, grandmother, I think."
"Set it a-going."
Watt sets it a-going--music and all.
"Now, come hither," says the housekeeper. "Hither, child, towards
my Lady's pillow. I am not sure that it is dark enough yet, but
listen! Can you hear the sound upon the terrace, through the
music, and the beat, and everything?"
"I certainly can!"
"So my Lady says."
Covering a Multitude of Sins
It was interesting when I dressed before daylight to peep out of
window, where my candles were reflected in the black panes like two
beacons, and finding all beyond still enshrouded in the
indistinctness of last night, to watch how it turned out when the
day came on. As the prospect gradually revealed itself and
disclosed the scene over which the wind had wandered in the dark,
like my memory over my life, I had a pleasure in discovering the
unknown objects that had been around me in my sleep. At first they
were faintly discernible in the mist, and above them the later
stars still glimmered. That pale interval over, the picture began
to enlarge and fill up so fast that at every new peep I could have
found enough to look at for an hour. Imperceptibly my candles
became the only incongruous part of the morning, the dark places in
my room all melted away, and the day shone bright upon a cheerful
landscape, prominent in which the old Abbey Church, with its
massive tower, threw a softer train of shadow on the view than
seemed compatible with its rugged character. But so from rough
outsides (I hope I have learnt), serene and gentle influences often
Every part of the house was in such order, and every one was so
attentive to me, that I had no trouble with my two bunches of keys,
though what with trying to remember the contents of each little
store-room drawer and cupboard; and what with making notes on a
slate about jams, and pickles, and preserves, and bottles, and
glass, and china, and a great many other things; and what with
being generally a methodical, old-maidish sort of foolish little
person, I was so busy that I could not believe it was breakfast-
time when I heard the bell ring. Away I ran, however, and made
tea, as I had already been installed into the responsibility of the
tea-pot; and then, as they were all rather late and nobody was down
yet, I thought I would take a peep at the garden and get some
knowledge of that too. I found it quite a delightful place--in
front, the pretty avenue and drive by which we had approached (and
where, by the by, we had cut up the gravel so terribly with our
wheels that I asked the gardener to roll it); at the back, the
flower-garden, with my darling at her window up there, throwing it
open to smile out at me, as if she would have kissed me from that
distance. Beyond the flower-garden was a kitchen-garden, and then
a paddock, and then a snug little rick-yard, and then a dear little
farm-yard. As to the house itself, with its three peaks in the
roof; its various-shaped windows, some so large, some so small, and
all so pretty; its trellis-work, against the southfront for roses
and honey-suckle, and its homely, comfortable, welcoming look--it
was, as Ada said when she came out to meet me with her arm through
that of its master, worthy of her cousin John, a bold thing to say,
though he only pinched her dear cheek for it.
Mr. Skimpole was as agreeable at breakfast as he had been
overnight. There was honey on the table, and it led him into a
discourse about bees. He had no objection to honey, he said (and I
should think he had not, for he seemed to like it), but he
protested against the overweening assumptions of bees. He didn't
at all see why the busy bee should be proposed as a model to him;
he supposed the bee liked to make honey, or he wouldn't do it--
nobody asked him. It was not necessary for the bee to make such a
merit of his tastes. If every confectioner went buzzing about the
world banging against everything that came in his way and
egotistically calling upon everybody to take notice that he was
going to his work and must not be interrupted, the world would be
quite an unsupportable place. Then, after all, it was a ridiculous
position to be smoked out of your fortune with brimstone as soon as
you had made it. You would have a very mean opinion of a
Manchester man if he spun cotton for no other purpose. He must say
he thought a drone the embodiment of a pleasanter and wiser idea.
The drone said unaffectedly, "You will excuse me; I really cannot
attend to the shop! I find myself in a world in which there is so
much to see and so short a time to see it in that I must take the
liberty of looking about me and begging to be provided for by
somebody who doesn't want to look about him." This appeared to Mr.
Skimpole to be the drone philosophy, and he thought it a very good
philosophy, always supposing the drone to be willing to be on good
terms with the bee, which, so far as he knew, the easy fellow
always was, if the consequential creature would only let him, and
not be so conceited about his honey!
He pursued this fancy with the lightest foot over a variety of
ground and made us all merry, though again he seemed to have as
serious a meaning in what he said as he was capable of having. I
left them still listening to him when I withdrew to attend to my
new duties. They had occupied me for some time, and I was passing
through the passages on my return with my basket of keys on my arm
when Mr. Jarndyce called me into a small room next his bed-chamber,
which I found to be in part a little library of books and papers
and in part quite a little museum of his boots and shoes and hat-
"Sit down, my dear," said Mr. Jarndyce. "This, you must know, is
the growlery. When I am out of humour, I come and growl here."
"You must be here very seldom, sir," said I.
"Oh, you don't know me!" he returned. "When I am deceived or
disappointed in--the wind, and it's easterly, I take refuge here.
The growlery is the best-used room in the house. You are not aware
of half my humours yet. My dear, how you are trembling!"
I could not help it; I tried very hard, but being alone with that
benevolent presence, and meeting his kind eyes, and feeling so
happy and so honoured there, and my heart so full--
I kissed his hand. I don't know what I said, or even that I spoke.
He was disconcerted and walked to the window; I almost believed
with an intention of jumping out, until he turned and I was
reassured by seeing in his eyes what he had gone there to hide. He
gently patted me on the head, and I sat down.
"There! There!" he said. "That's over. Pooh! Don't be foolish."
"It shall not happen again, sir," I returned, "but at first it is
"Nonsense!" he said. "It's easy, easy. Why not? I hear of a good
little orphan girl without a protector, and I take it into my head
to be that protector. She grows up, and more than justifies my
good opinion, and I remain her guardian and her friend. What is
there in all this? So, so! Now, we have cleared off old scores,
and I have before me thy pleasant, trusting, trusty face again."
I said to myself, "Esther, my dear, you surprise me! This really
is not what I expected of you!" And it had such a good effect that
I folded my hands upon my basket and quite recovered myself. Mr.
Jarndyce, expressing his approval in his face, began to talk to me
as confidentially as if I had been in the habit of conversing with
him every morning for I don't know how long. I almost felt as if I
"Of course, Esther," he said, "you don't understand this Chancery
And of course I shook my head.
"I don't know who does," he returned. "The lawyers have twisted it
into such a state of bedevilment that the original merits of the
case have long disappeared from the face of the earth. It's about
a will and the trusts under a will--or it was once. It's about
nothing but costs now. We are always appearing, and disappearing,
and swearing, and interrogating, and filing, and cross-filing, and
arguing, and sealing, and motioning, and referring, and reporting,
and revolving about the Lord Chancellor and all his satellites, and
equitably waltzing ourselves off to dusty death, about costs.
That's the great question. All the rest, by some extraordinary
means, has melted away."
"But it was, sir," said I, to bring him back, for he began to rub
his head, "about a will?"
"Why, yes, it was about a will when it was about anything," he
returned. "A certain Jarndyce, in an evil hour, made a great
fortune, and made a great will. In the question how the trusts
under that will are to be administered, the fortune left by the
will is squandered away; the legatees under the will are reduced to
such a miserable condition that they would be sufficiently punished
if they had committed an enormous crime in having money left them,
and the will itself is made a dead letter. All through the
deplorable cause, everything that everybody in it, except one man,
knows already is referred to that only one man who don't know, it to
find out--all through the deplorable cause, everybody must have
copies, over and over again, of everything that has accumulated
about it in the way of cartloads of papers (or must pay for them
without having them, which is the usual course, for nobody wants
them) and must go down the middle and up again through such an
infernal country-dance of costs and fees and nonsense and
corruption as was never dreamed of in the wildest visions of a
witch's Sabbath. Equity sends questions to law, law sends
questions back to equity; law finds it can't do this, equity finds
it can't do that; neither can so much as say it can't do anything,
without this solicitor instructing and this counsel appearing for
A, and that solicitor instructing and that counsel appearing for B;
and so on through the whole alphabet, like the history of the apple
pie. And thus, through years and years, and lives and lives,
everything goes on, constantly beginning over and over again, and
nothing ever ends. And we can't get out of the suit on any terms,
for we are made parties to it, and MUST BE parties to it, whether
we like it or not. But it won't do to think of it! When my great
uncle, poor Tom Jarndyce, began to think of it, it was the
beginning of the end!"
"The Mr. Jarndyce, sir, whose story I have heard?"
He nodded gravely. "I was his heir, and this was his house,
Esther. When I came here, it was bleak indeed. He had left the
signs of his misery upon it."
"How changed it must be now!" I said.
"It had been called, before his time, the Peaks. He gave it its
present name and lived here shut up, day and night poring over the
wicked heaps of papers in the suit and hoping against hope to
disentangle it from its mystification and bring it to a close. In
the meantime, the place became dilapidated, the wind whistled
through the cracked walls, the rain fell through the broken roof,
the weeds choked the passage to the rotting door. When I brought
what remained of him home here, the brains seemed to me to have
been blown out of the house too, it was so shattered and ruined."
He walked a little to and fro after saying this to himself with a
shudder, and then looked at me, and brightened, and came and sat
down again with his hands in his pockets.
"I told you this was the growlery, my dear. Where was I?"
I reminded him, at the hopeful change he had made in Bleak House.
"Bleak House; true. There is, in that city of London there, some
property of ours which is much at this day what Bleak House was
then; I say property of ours, meaning of the suit's, but I ought to
call it the property of costs, for costs is the only power on earth
that will ever get anything out of it now or will ever know it for
anything but an eyesore and a heartsore. It is a street of
perishing blind houses, with their eyes stoned out, without a pane
of glass, without so much as a window-frame, with the bare blank
shutters tumbling from their hinges and falling asunder, the iron
rails peeling away in flakes of rust, the chimneys sinking in, the
stone steps to every door (and every door might be death's door)
turning stagnant green, the very crutches on which the ruins are
propped decaying. Although Bleak House was not in Chancery, its
master was, and it was stamped with the same seal. These are the
Great Seal's impressions, my dear, all over England--the children
"How changed it is!" I said again.
"Why, so it is," he answered much more cheerfully; "and it is
wisdom in you to keep me to the bright side of the picture." (The
idea of my wisdom!) "These are things I never talk about or even
think about, excepting in the growlery here. If you consider it
right to mention them to Rick and Ada," looking seriously at me,
"you can. I leave it to your discretion, Esther."
"I hope, sir--" said I.
"I think you had better call me guardian, my dear."
I felt that I was choking again--I taxed myself with it, "Esther,
now, you know you are!"--when he feigned to say this slightly, as
if it were a whim instead of a thoughtful tenderness. But I gave
the housekeeping keys the least shake in the world as a reminder to
myself, and folding my hands in a still more determined manner on
the basket, looked at him quietly.
"I hope, guardian," said I, "that you may not trust too much to my
discretion. I hope you may not mistake me. I am afraid it will be
a disappointment to you to know that I am not clever, but it really
is the truth, and you would soon find it out if I had not the
honesty to confess it."
He did not seem at all disappointed; quite the contrary. He told
me, with a smile all over his face, that he knew me very well
indeed and that I was quite clever enough for him.
"I hope I may turn out so," said I, "but I am much afraid of it,
"You are clever enough to be the good little woman of our lives
here, my dear," he returned playfully; "the little old woman of the
child's (I don't mean Skimpole's) rhyme:
"'Little old woman, and whither so high?'
'To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky.'
"You will sweep them so neatly out of OUR sky in the course of your
housekeeping, Esther, that one of these days we shall have to
abandon the growlery and nail up the door."
This was the beginning of my being called Old Woman, and Little Old
Woman, and Cobweb, and Mrs. Shipton, and Mother Hubbard, and Dame
Durden, and so many names of that sort that my own name soon became
quite lost among them.
"However," said Mr. Jarndyce, "to return to our gossip. Here's
Rick, a fine young fellow full of promise. What's to be done with
Oh, my goodness, the idea of asking my advice on such a point!
"Here he is, Esther," said Mr. Jarndyce, comfortably putting his
hands into his pockets and stretching out his legs. "He must have
a profession; he must make some choice for himself. There will be
a world more wiglomeration about it, I suppose, but it must be
"More what, guardian?" said I.
"More wiglomeration," said he. "It's the only name I know for the
thing. He is a ward in Chancery, my dear. Kenge and Carboy will
have something to say about it; Master Somebody--a sort of
ridiculous sexton, digging graves for the merits of causes in a
back room at the end of Quality Court, Chancery Lane--will have
something to say about it; counsel will have something to say about
it; the Chancellor will have something to say about it; the
satellites will have something to say about it; they will all have
to be handsomely feed, all round, about it; the whole thing will be
vastly ceremonious, wordy, unsatisfactory, and expensive, and I
call it, in general, wiglomeration. How mankind ever came to be
afflicted with wiglomeration, or for whose sins these young people
ever fell into a pit of it, I don't know; so it is."
He began to rub his head again and to hint that he felt the wind.
But it was a delightful instance of his kindness towards me that
whether he rubbed his head, or walked about, or did both, his face
was sure to recover its benignant expression as it looked at mine;
and he was sure to turn comfortable again and put his hands in his
pockets and stretch out his legs.
"Perhaps it would be best, first of all," said I, "to ask Mr.
Richard what he inclines to himself."
"Exactly so," he returned. "That's what I mean! You know, just
accustom yourself to talk it over, with your tact and in your quiet
way, with him and Ada, and see what you all make of it. We are
sure to come at the heart of the matter by your means, little
I really was frightened at the thought of the importance I was
attaining and the number of things that were being confided to me.
I had not meant this at all; I had meant that he should speak to
Richard. But of course I said nothing in reply except that I would
do my best, though I feared (I realty felt it necessary to repeat
this) that he thought me much more sagacious than I was. At which
my guardian only laughed the pleasantest laugh I ever heard.
"Come!" he said, rising and pushing back his chair. "I think we
may have done with the growlery for one day! Only a concluding
word. Esther, my dear, do you wish to ask me anything?"
He looked so attentively at me that I looked attentively at him and
felt sure I understood him.
"About myself, sir?" said I.
"Guardian," said I, venturing to put my hand, which was suddenly
colder than I could have wished, in his, "nothing! I am quite sure
that if there were anything I ought to know or had any need to
know, I should not have to ask you to tell it to me. If my whole
reliance and confidence were not placed in you, I must have a hard
heart indeed. I have nothing to ask you, nothing in the world."
He drew my hand through his arm and we went away to look for Ada.
From that hour I felt quite easy with him, quite unreserved, quite
content to know no more, quite happy.
We lived, at first, rather a busy life at Bleak House, for we had
to become acquainted with many residents in and out of the
neighbourhood who knew Mr. Jarndyce. It seemed to Ada and me that
everybody knew him who wanted to do anything with anybody else's
money. It amazed us when we began to sort his letters and to
answer some of them for him in the growlery of a morning to find
how the great object of the lives of nearly all his correspondents
appeared to be to form themselves into committees for getting in
and laying out money. The ladies were as desperate as the
gentlemen; indeed, I think they were even more so. They threw
themselves into committees in the most impassioned manner and
collected subscriptions with a vehemence quite extraordinary. It
appeared to us that some of them must pass their whole lives in
dealing out subscription-cards to the whole post-office directory--
shilling cards, half-crown cards, half-sovereign cards, penny
cards. They wanted everything. They wanted wearing apparel, they
wanted linen rags, they wanted money, they wanted coals, they
wanted soup, they wanted interest, they wanted autographs, they
wanted flannel, they wanted whatever Mr. Jarndyce had--or had not.
Their objects were as various as their demands. They were going to
raise new buildings, they were going to pay off debts on old
buildings, they were going to establish in a picturesque building
(engraving of proposed west elevation attached) the Sisterhood of
Mediaeval Marys, they were going to give a testimonial to Mrs.
Jellyby, they were going to have their secretary's portrait painted
and presented to his mother-in-law, whose deep devotion to him was
well known, they were going to get up everything, I really believe,
from five hundred thousand tracts to an annuity and from a marble
monument to a silver tea-pot. They took a multitude of titles.
They were the Women of England, the Daughters of Britain, the
Sisters of all the cardinal virtues separately, the Females of
America, the Ladies of a hundred denominations. They appeared to
be always excited about canvassing and electing. They seemed to
our poor wits, and according to their own accounts, to be
constantly polling people by tens of thousands, yet never bringing
their candidates in for anything. It made our heads ache to think,
on the whole, what feverish lives they must lead.
Among the ladies who were most distinguished for this rapacious
benevolence (if I may use the expression) was a Mrs. Pardiggle, who
seemed, as I judged from the number of her letters to Mr. Jarndyce,
to be almost as powerful a correspondent as Mrs. Jellyby herself.
We observed that the wind always changed when Mrs. Pardiggle became
the subject of conversation and that it invariably interrupted Mr.
Jarndyce and prevented his going any farther, when he had remarked
that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the people
who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the
people who did a great deal and made no noise at all. We were
therefore curious to see Mrs. Pardiggle, suspecting her to be a
type of the former class, and were glad when she called one day
with her five young sons.
She was a formidable style of lady with spectacles, a prominent
nose, and a loud voice, who had the effect of wanting a great deal
of room. And she really did, for she knocked down little chairs
with her skirts that were quite a great way off. As only Ada and I
were at home, we received her timidly, for she seemed to come in
like cold weather and to make the little Pardiggles blue as they
"These, young ladies," said Mrs. Pardiggle with great volubility
after the first salutations, "are my five boys. You may have seen
their names in a printed subscription list (perhaps more than one)
in the possession of our esteemed friend Mr. Jarndyce. Egbert, my
eldest (twelve), is the boy who sent out his pocket-money, to the
amount of five and threepence, to the Tockahoopo Indians. Oswald,
my second (ten and a half), is the child who contributed two and
nine-pence to the Great National Smithers Testimonial. Francis, my
third (nine), one and sixpence halfpenny; Felix, my fourth (seven),
eightpence to the Superannuated Widows; Alfred, my youngest (five),
has voluntarily enrolled himself in the Infant Bonds of Joy, and is
pledged never, through life, to use tobacco in any form."
We had never seen such dissatisfied children. It was not merely
that they were weazened and shrivelled--though they were certainly
that too--but they looked absolutely ferocious with discontent. At
the mention of the Tockahoopo Indians, I could really have supposed
Egbert to be one of the most baleful members of that tribe, he gave
me such a savage frown. The face of each child, as the amount of
his contribution was mentioned, darkened in a peculiarly vindictive
manner, but his was by far the worst. I must except, however, the
little recruit into the Infant Bonds of Joy, who was stolidly and
"You have been visiting, I understand," said Mrs. Pardiggle, "at
We said yes, we had passed one night there.
"Mrs. Jellyby," pursued the lady, always speaking in the same
demonstrative, loud, hard tone, so that her voice impressed my
fancy as if it had a sort of spectacles on too--and I may take the
opportunity of remarking that her spectacles were made the less
engaging by her eyes being what Ada called "choking eyes," meaning
very prominent--"Mrs. Jellyby is a benefactor to society and
deserves a helping hand. My boys have contributed to the African
project--Egbert, one and six, being the entire allowance of nine
weeks; Oswald, one and a penny halfpenny, being the same; the rest,
according to their little means. Nevertheless, I do not go with
Mrs. Jellyby in all things. I do not go with Mrs. Jellyby in her
treatment of her young family. It has been noticed. It has been
observed that her young family are excluded from participation in
the objects to which she is devoted. She may be right, she may be
wrong; but, right or wrong, this is not my course with MY young
family. I take them everywhere."
I was afterwards convinced (and so was Ada) that from the ill-
conditioned eldest child, these words extorted a sharp yell. He
turned it off into a yawn, but it began as a yell.
"They attend matins with me (very prettily done) at half-past six
o'clock in the morning all the year round, including of course the
depth of winter," said Mrs. Pardiggle rapidly, "and they are with
me during the revolving duties of the day. I am a School lady, I
am a Visiting lady, I am a Reading lady, I am a Distributing lady;
I am on the local Linen Box Committee and many general committees;
and my canvassing alone is very extensive--perhaps no one's more
so. But they are my companions everywhere; and by these means they
acquire that knowledge of the poor, and that capacity of doing
charitable business in general--in short, that taste for the sort
of thing--which will render them in after life a service to their
neighbours and a satisfaction to themselves. My young family are
not frivolous; they expend the entire amount of their allowance in
subscriptions, under my direction; and they have attended as many
public meetings and listened to as many lectures, orations, and
discussions as generally fall to the lot of few grown people.
Alfred (five), who, as I mentioned, has of his own election joined
the Infant Bonds of Joy, was one of the very few children who
manifested consciousness on that occasion after a fervid address of
two hours from the chairman of the evening."
Alfred glowered at us as if he never could, or would, forgive the
injury of that night.
"You may have observed, Miss Summerson," said Mrs. Pardiggle, "in
some of the lists to which I have referred, in the possession of
our esteemed friend Mr. Jarndyce, that the names of my young family
are concluded with the name of O. A. Pardiggle, F.R.S., one pound.
That is their father. We usually observe the same routine. I put
down my mite first; then my young family enrol their contributions,
according to their ages and their little means; and then Mr.
Pardiggle brings up the rear. Mr. Pardiggle is happy to throw in
his limited donation, under my direction; and thus things are made
not only pleasant to ourselves, but, we trust, improving to
Suppose Mr. Pardiggle were to dine with Mr. Jellyby, and suppose
Mr. Jellyby were to relieve his mind after dinner to Mr. Pardiggle,
would Mr. Pardiggle, in return, make any confidential communication
to Mr. Jellyby? I was quite confused to find myself thinking this,
but it came into my head.
"You are very pleasantly situated here!" said Mrs. Pardiggle.
We were glad to change the subject, and going to the window,
pointed out the beauties of the prospect, on which the spectacles
appeared to me to rest with curious indifference.
"You know Mr. Gusher?" said our visitor.
We were obliged to say that we had not the pleasure of Mr. Gusher's
"The loss is yours, I assure you," said Mrs. Pardiggle with her
commanding deportment. "He is a very fervid, impassioned speaker--
full of fire! Stationed in a waggon on this lawn, now, which, from
the shape of the land, is naturally adapted to a public meeting, he
would improve almost any occasion you could mention for hours and
hours! By this time, young ladies," said Mrs. Pardiggle, moving
back to her chair and overturning, as if by invisible agency, a
little round table at a considerable distance with my work-basket
on it, "by this time you have found me out, I dare say?"
This was really such a confusing question that Ada looked at me in
perfect dismay. As to the guilty nature of my own consciousness
after what I had been thinking, it must have been expressed in the
colour of my cheeks.
"Found out, I mean," said Mrs. Pardiggle, "the prominent point in
my character. I am aware that it is so prominent as to be
discoverable immediately. I lay myself open to detection, I know.
Well! I freely admit, I am a woman of business. I love hard work;
I enjoy hard work. The excitement does me good. I am so
accustomed and inured to hard work that I don't know what fatigue
We murmured that it was very astonishing and very gratifying, or
something to that effect. I don't think we knew what it was
either, but this is what our politeness expressed.
"I do not understand what it is to be tired; you cannot tire me if
you try!" said Mrs. Pardiggle. "The quantity of exertion (which is
no exertion to me), the amount of business (which I regard as
nothing), that I go through sometimes astonishes myself. I have
seen my young family, and Mr. Pardiggle, quite worn out with
witnessing it, when I may truly say I have been as fresh as a
If that dark-visaged eldest boy could look more malicious than he
had already looked, this was the time when he did it. I observed
that he doubled his right fist and delivered a secret blow into the
crown of his cap, which was under his left arm.
"This gives me a great advantage when I am making my rounds," said
Mrs. Pardiggle. "If I find a person unwilling to hear what I have
to say, I tell that person directly, 'I am incapable of fatigue, my
good friend, I am never tired, and I mean to go on until I have
done.' It answers admirably! Miss Summerson, I hope I shall have
your assistance in my visiting rounds immediately, and Miss Clare's
At first I tried to excuse myself for the present on the general
ground of having occupations to attend to which I must not neglect.
But as this was an ineffectual protest, I then said, more
particularly, that I was not sure of my qualifications. That I was
inexperienced in the art of adapting my mind to minds very
differently situated, and addressing them from suitable points of
view. That I had not that delicate knowledge of the heart which
must be essential to such a work. That I had much to learn,
myself, before I could teach others, and that I could not confide
in my good intentions alone. For these reasons I thought it best
to be as useful as I could, and to render what kind services I
could to those immediately about me, and to try to let that circle
of duty gradually and naturally expand itself. All this I said
with anything but confidence, because Mrs. Pardiggle was much older
than I, and had great experience, and was so very military in her
"You are wrong, Miss Summerson," said she, "but perhaps you are not
equal to hard work or the excitement of it, and that makes a vast
difference. If you would like to see how I go through my work, I
am now about--with my young family--to visit a brickmaker in the
neighbourhood (a very bad character) and shall be glad to take you
with me. Miss Clare also, if she will do me the favour."
Ada and I interchanged looks, and as we were going out in any case,
accepted the offer. When we hastily returned from putting on our
bonnets, we found the young family languishing in a corner and Mrs.
Pardiggle sweeping about the room, knocking down nearly all the
light objects it contained. Mrs. Pardiggle took possession of Ada,
and I followed with the family.
Ada told me afterwards that Mrs. Pardiggle talked in the same loud
tone (that, indeed, I overheard) all the way to the brickmaker's
about an exciting contest which she had for two or three years
waged against another lady relative to the bringing in of their
rival candidates for a pension somewhere. There had been a
quantity of printing, and promising, and proxying, and polling, and
it appeared to have imparted great liveliness to all concerned,
except the pensioners--who were not elected yet.
I am very fond of being confided in by children and am happy in
being usually favoured in that respect, but on this occasion it
gave me great uneasiness. As soon as we were out of doors, Egbert,
with the manner of a little footpad, demanded a shilling of me on
the ground that his pocket-money was "boned" from him. On my
pointing out the great impropriety of the word, especially in
connexion with his parent (for he added sulkily "By her!"), he
pinched me and said, "Oh, then! Now! Who are you! YOU wouldn't
like it, I think? What does she make a sham for, and pretend to
give me money, and take it away again? Why do you call it my
allowance, and never let me spend it?" These exasperating
questions so inflamed his mind and the minds of Oswald and Francis
that they all pinched me at once, and in a dreadfully expert way--
screwing up such little pieces of my arms that I could hardly
forbear crying out. Felix, at the same time, stamped upon my toes.
And the Bond of Joy, who on account of always having the whole of
his little income anticipated stood in fact pledged to abstain from
cakes as well as tobacco, so swelled with grief and rage when we
passed a pastry-cook's shop that he terrified me by becoming
purple. I never underwent so much, both in body and mind, in the
course of a walk with young people as from these unnaturally
constrained children when they paid me the compliment of being
I was glad when we came to the brickmaker's house, though it was
one of a cluster of wretched hovels in a brick-field, with pigsties
close to the broken windows and miserable little gardens before the
doors growing nothing but stagnant pools. Here and there an old
tub was put to catch the droppings of rain-water from a roof, or
they were banked up with mud into a little pond like a large dirt-
pie. At the doors and windows some men and women lounged or
prowled about, and took little notice of us except to laugh to one
another or to say something as we passed about gentlefolks minding
their own business and not troubling their heads and muddying their
shoes with coming to look after other people's.
Mrs. Pardiggle, leading the way with a great show of moral
determination and talking with much volubility about the untidy
habits of the people (though I doubted if the best of us could have
been tidy in such a place), conducted us into a cottage at the
farthest corner, the ground-floor room of which we nearly filled.
Besides ourselves, there were in this damp, offensive room a woman
with a black eye, nursing a poor little gasping baby by the fire; a
man, all stained with clay and mud and looking very dissipated,
lying at full length on the ground, smoking a pipe; a powerful
young man fastening a collar on a dog; and a bold girl doing some
kind of washing in very dirty water. They all looked up at us as
we came in, and the woman seemed to turn her face towards the fire
as if to hide her bruised eye; nobody gave us any welcome.
"Well, my friends," said Mrs. Pardiggle, but her voice had not a
friendly sound, I thought; it was much too business-like and
systematic. "How do you do, all of you? I am here again. I told
you, you couldn't tire me, you know. I am fond of hard work, and
am true to my word."
"There an't," growled the man on the floor, whose head rested on
his hand as he stared at us, "any more on you to come in, is
"No, my friend," said Mrs. Pardiggle, seating herself on one stool
and knocking down another. "We are all here."
"Because I thought there warn't enough of you, perhaps?" said the
man, with his pipe between his lips as he looked round upon us.
The young man and the girl both laughed. Two friends of the young
man, whom we had attracted to the doorway and who stood there with
their hands in their pockets, echoed the laugh noisily.
"You can't tire me, good people," said Mrs. Pardiggle to these
latter. "I enjoy hard work, and the harder you make mine, the
better I like it."
"Then make it easy for her!" growled the man upon the floor. "I
wants it done, and over. I wants a end of these liberties took
with my place. I wants an end of being drawed like a badger. Now
you're a-going to poll-pry and question according to custom--I know
what you're a-going to be up to. Well! You haven't got no
occasion to be up to it. I'll save you the trouble. Is my
daughter a-washin? Yes, she IS a-washin. Look at the water.
Smell it! That's wot we drinks. How do you like it, and what do
you think of gin instead! An't my place dirty? Yes, it is dirty--
it's nat'rally dirty, and it's nat'rally onwholesome; and we've had
five dirty and onwholesome children, as is all dead infants, and so
much the better for them, and for us besides. Have I read the
little book wot you left? No, I an't read the little book wot you
left. There an't nobody here as knows how to read it; and if there
wos, it wouldn't be suitable to me. It's a book fit for a babby,
and I'm not a babby. If you was to leave me a doll, I shouldn't
nuss it. How have I been conducting of myself? Why, I've been
drunk for three days; and I'da been drunk four if I'da had the
money. Don't I never mean for to go to church? No, I don't never
mean for to go to church. I shouldn't be expected there, if I did;
the beadle's too gen-teel for me. And how did my wife get that
black eye? Why, I give it her; and if she says I didn't, she's a
He had pulled his pipe out of his mouth to say all this, and he now
turned over on his other side and smoked again. Mrs. Pardiggle,
who had been regarding him through her spectacles with a forcible
composure, calculated, I could not help thinking, to increase his
antagonism, pulled out a good book as if it were a constable's
staff and took the whole family into custody. I mean into
religious custody, of course; but she really did it as if she were
an inexorable moral policeman carrying them all off to a station-
Ada and I were very uncomfortable. We both felt intrusive and out
of place, and we both thought that Mrs. Pardiggle would have got on
infinitely better if she had not had such a mechanical way of
taking possession of people. The children sulked and stared; the
family took no notice of us whatever, except when the young man
made the dog bark, which he usually did when Mrs. Pardiggle was
most emphatic. We both felt painfully sensible that between us and
these people there was an iron barrier which could not be removed
by our new friend. By whom or how it could be removed, we did not
know, but we knew that. Even what she read and said seemed to us
to be ill-chosen for such auditors, if it had been imparted ever so
modestly and with ever so much tact. As to the little book to
which the man on the floor had referred, we acquired a knowledge of
it afterwards, and Mr. Jarndyce said he doubted if Robinson Crusoe
could have read it, though he had had no other on his desolate
We were much relieved, under these circumstances, when Mrs.
Pardiggle left off.
The man on the floor, then turning his head round again, said
morosely, "Well! You've done, have you?"
"For to-day, I have, my friend. But I am never fatigued. I shall
come to you again in your regular order," returned Mrs. Pardiggle
with demonstrative cheerfulness.
"So long as you goes now," said he, folding his arms and shutting
his eyes with an oath, "you may do wot you like!"
Mrs. Pardiggle accordingly rose and made a little vortex in the
confined room from which the pipe itself very narrowly escaped.
Taking one of her young family in each hand, and telling the others
to follow closely, and expressing her hope that the brickmaker and
all his house would be improved when she saw them next, she then
proceeded to another cottage. I hope it is not unkind in me to say
that she certainly did make, in this as in everything else, a show
that was not conciliatory of doing charity by wholesale and of
dealing in it to a large extent.
She supposed that we were following her, but as soon as the space
was left clear, we approached the woman sitting by the fire to ask
if the baby were ill.
She only looked at it as it lay on her lap. We had observed before
that when she looked at it she covered her discoloured eye with her
hand, as though she wished to separate any association with noise
and violence and ill treatment from the poor little child.
Ada, whose gentle heart was moved by its appearance, bent down to
touch its little face. As she did so, I saw what happened and drew
her back. The child died.
"Oh, Esther!" cried Ada, sinking on her knees beside it. "Look
here! Oh, Esther, my love, the little thing! The suffering,
quiet, pretty little thing! I am so sorry for it. I am so sorry
for the mother. I never saw a sight so pitiful as this before!
Oh, baby, baby!"
Such compassion, such gentleness, as that with which she bent down
weeping and put her hand upon the mother's might have softened any
mother's heart that ever beat. The woman at first gazed at her in
astonishment and then burst into tears.
Presently I took the light burden from her lap, did what I could to
make the baby's rest the prettier and gentler, laid it on a shelf,
and covered it with my own handkerchief. We tried to comfort the
mother, and we whispered to her what Our Saviour said of children.
She answered nothing, but sat weeping--weeping very much.
When I turned, I found that the young man had taken out the dog and
was standing at the door looking in upon us with dry eyes, but
quiet. The girl was quiet too and sat in a corner looking on the
ground. The man had risen. He still smoked his pipe with an air
of defiance, but he was silent.
An ugly woman, very poorly clothed, hurried in while I was glancing
at them, and coming straight up to the mother, said, "Jenny!
Jenny!" The mother rose on being so addressed and fell upon the
She also had upon her face and arms the marks of ill usage. She
had no kind of grace about her, but the grace of sympathy; but when
she condoled with the woman, and her own tears fell, she wanted no
beauty. I say condoled, but her only words were "Jenny! Jenny!"
All the rest was in the tone in which she said them.
I thought it very touching to see these two women, coarse and
shabby and beaten, so united; to see what they could be to one
another; to see how they felt for one another, how the heart of
each to each was softened by the hard trials of their lives. I
think the best side of such people is almost hidden from us. What
the poor are to the poor is little known, excepting to themselves
We felt it better to withdraw and leave them uninterrupted. We
stole out quietly and without notice from any one except the man.
He was leaning against the wall near the door, and finding that
there was scarcely room for us to pass, went out before us. He
seemed to want to hide that he did this on our account, but we
perceived that he did, and thanked him. He made no answer.
Ada was so full of grief all the way home, and Richard, whom we
found at home, was so distressed to see her in tears (though he
said to me, when she was not present, how beautiful it was too!),
that we arranged to return at night with some little comforts and
repeat our visit at the brick-maker's house. We said as little as
we could to Mr. Jarndyce, but the wind changed directly.
Richard accompanied us at night to the scene of our morning
expedition. On our way there, we had to pass a noisy drinking-
house, where a number of men were flocking about the door. Among
them, and prominent in some dispute, was the father of the little
child. At a short distance, we passed the young man and the dog,
in congenial company. The sister was standing laughing and talking
with some other young women at the corner of the row of cottages,
but she seemed ashamed and turned away as we went by.
We left our escort within sight of the brickmaker's dwelling and
proceeded by ourselves. When we came to the door, we found the
woman who had brought such consolation with her standing there
looking anxiously out.
"It's you, young ladies, is it?" she said in a whisper. "I'm a-
watching for my master. My heart's in my mouth. If he was to
catch me away from home, he'd pretty near murder me."
"Do you mean your husband?" said I.
"Yes, miss, my master. Jenny's asleep, quite worn out. She's
scarcely had the child off her lap, poor thing, these seven days
and nights, except when I've been able to take it for a minute or
As she gave way for us, she went softly in and put what we had
brought near the miserable bed on which the mother slept. No
effort had been made to clean the room--it seemed in its nature
almost hopeless of being clean; but the small waxen form from which
so much solemnity diffused itself had been composed afresh, and
washed, and neatly dressed in some fragments of white linen; and on
my handkerchief, which still covered the poor baby, a little bunch
of sweet herbs had been laid by the same rough, scarred hands, so
lightly, so tenderly!
"May heaven reward you!" we said to her. "You are a good woman."
"Me, young ladies?" she returned with surprise. "Hush! Jenny,
The mother had moaned in her sleep and moved. The sound of the
familiar voice seemed to calm her again. She was quiet once more.
How little I thought, when I raised my handkerchief to look upon
the tiny sleeper underneath and seemed to see a halo shine around
the child through Ada's drooping hair as her pity bent her head--
how little I thought in whose unquiet bosom that handkerchief would
come to lie after covering the motionless and peaceful breast! I
only thought that perhaps the Angel of the child might not be all
unconscious of the woman who replaced it with so compassionate a
hand; not all unconscious of her presently, when we had taken
leave, and left her at the door, by turns looking, and listening in
terror for herself, and saying in her old soothing manner, "Jenny,
Signs and Tokens
I don't know how it is I seem to be always writing about myself. I
mean all the time to write about other people, and I try to think
about myself as little as possible, and I am sure, when I find
myself coming into the story again, I am really vexed and say,
"Dear, dear, you tiresome little creature, I wish you wouldn't!"
but it is all of no use. I hope any one who may read what I write
will understand that if these pages contain a great deal about me,
I can only suppose it must be because I have really something to do
with them and can't be kept out.
My darling and I read together, and worked, and practised, and
found so much employment for our time that the winter days flew by
us like bright-winged birds. Generally in the afternoons, and
always in the evenings, Richard gave us his company. Although he
was one of the most restless creatures in the world, he certainly
was very fond of our society.
He was very, very, very fond of Ada. I mean it, and I had better
say it at once. I had never seen any young people falling in love
before, but I found them out quite soon. I could not say so, of
course, or show that I knew anything about it. On the contrary, I
was so demure and used to seem so unconscious that sometimes I
considered within myself while I was sitting at work whether I was
not growing quite deceitful.
But there was no help for it. All I had to do was to be quiet, and
I was as quiet as a mouse. They were as quiet as mice too, so far
as any words were concerned, but the innocent manner in which they
relied more and more upon me as they took more and more to one
another was so charming that I had great difficulty in not showing
how it interested me.
"Our dear little old woman is such a capital old woman," Richard
would say, coming up to meet me in the garden early, with his
pleasant laugh and perhaps the least tinge of a blush, "that I
can't get on without her. Before I begin my harum-scarum day--
grinding away at those books and instruments and then galloping up
hill and down dale, all the country round, like a highwayman--it
does me so much good to come and have a steady walk with our
comfortable friend, that here I am again!"
"You know, Dame Durden, dear," Ada would say at night, with her
head upon my shoulder and the firelight shining in her thoughtful
eyes, "I don't want to talk when we come upstairs here. Only to
sit a little while thinking, with your dear face for company, and
to hear the wind and remember the poor sailors at sea--"
Ah! Perhaps Richard was going to be a sailor. We had talked it
over very often now, and there was some talk of gratifying the
inclination of his childhood for the sea. Mr. Jarndyce had written
to a relation of the family, a great Sir Leicester Dedlock, for his
interest in Richard's favour, generally; and Sir Leicester had
replied in a gracious manner that he would be happy to advance the
prospects of the young gentleman if it should ever prove to be
within his power, which was not at all probable, and that my Lady
sent her compliments to the young gentleman (to whom she perfectly
remembered that she was allied by remote consanguinity) and trusted
that he would ever do his duty in any honourable profession to
which he might devote himself.
"So I apprehend it's pretty clear," said Richard to me, "that I
shall have to work my own way. Never mind! Plenty of people have
had to do that before now, and have done it. I only wish I had the
command of a clipping privateer to begin with and could carry off
the Chancellor and keep him on short allowance until he gave
judgment in our cause. He'd find himself growing thin, if he
didn't look sharp!"
With a buoyancy and hopefulness and a gaiety that hardly ever
flagged, Richard had a carelessness in his character that quite
perplexed me, principally because he mistook it, in such a very odd
way, for prudence. It entered into all his calculations about
money in a singular manner which I don't think I can better explain
than by reverting for a moment to our loan to Mr. Skimpole.
Mr. Jarndyce had ascertained the amount, either from Mr. Skimpole
himself or from Coavinses, and had placed the money in my hands
with instructions to me to retain my own part of it and hand the
rest to Richard. The number of little acts of thoughtless
expenditure which Richard justified by the recovery of his ten
pounds, and the number of times he talked to me as if he had saved
or realized that amount, would form a sum in simple addition.
"My prudent Mother Hubbard, why not?" he said to me when he wanted,
without the least consideration, to bestow five pounds on the
brickmaker. "I made ten pounds, clear, out of Coavinses'
"How was that?" said I.
"Why, I got rid of ten pounds which I was quite content to get rid
of and never expected to see any more. You don't deny that?"
"No," said I.
"Very well! Then I came into possession of ten pounds--"
"The same ten pounds," I hinted.
"That has nothing to do with it!" returned Richard. "I have got
ten pounds more than I expected to have, and consequently I can
afford to spend it without being particular."
In exactly the same way, when he was persuaded out of the sacrifice
of these five pounds by being convinced that it would do no good,
he carried that sum to his credit and drew upon it.
"Let me see!" he would say. "I saved five pounds out of the
brickmaker's affair, so if I have a good rattle to London and back
in a post-chaise and put that down at four pounds, I shall have
saved one. And it's a very good thing to save one, let me tell
you: a penny saved is a penny got!"
I believe Richard's was as frank and generous a nature as there
possibly can be. He was ardent and brave, and in the midst of all
his wild restlessness, was so gentle that I knew him like a brother
in a few weeks. His gentleness was natural to him and would have
shown itself abundantly even without Ada's influence; but with it,
he became one of the most winning of companions, always so ready to
be interested and always so happy, sanguine, and light-hearted. I
am sure that I, sitting with them, and walking with them, and
talking with them, and noticing from day to day how they went on,
falling deeper and deeper in love, and saying nothing about it, and
each shyly thinking that this love was the greatest of secrets,
perhaps not yet suspected even by the other--I am sure that I was
scarcely less enchanted than they were and scarcely less pleased
with the pretty dream.
We were going on in this way, when one morning at breakfast Mr.
Jarndyce received a letter, and looking at the superscription,
said, "From Boythorn? Aye, aye!" and opened and read it with
evident pleasure, announcing to us in a parenthesis when he was
about half-way through, that Boythorn was "coming down" on a visit.
Now who was Boythorn, we all thought. And I dare say we all
thought too--I am sure I did, for one--would Boythorn at all
interfere with what was going forward?
"I went to school with this fellow, Lawrence Boythorn," said Mr.
Jarndyce, tapping the letter as he laid it on the table, "more than
five and forty years ago. He was then the most impetuous boy in
the world, and he is now the most impetuous man. He was then the
loudest boy in the world, and he is now the loudest man. He was
then the heartiest and sturdiest boy in the world, and he is now
the heartiest and sturdiest man. He is a tremendous fellow."
"In stature, sir?" asked Richard.
"Pretty well, Rick, in that respect," said Mr. Jarndyce; "being
some ten years older than I and a couple of inches taller, with his
head thrown back like an old soldier, his stalwart chest squared,
his hands like a clean blacksmith's, and his lungs! There's no
simile for his lungs. Talking, laughing, or snoring, they make the
beams of the house shake."
As Mr. Jarndyce sat enjoying the image of his friend Boythorn, we
observed the favourable omen that there was not the least
indication of any change in the wind.
"But it's the inside of the man, the warm heart of the man, the
passion of the man, the fresh blood of the man, Rick--and Ada, and
little Cobweb too, for you are all interested in a visitor--that I
speak of," he pursued. "His language is as sounding as his voice.
He is always in extremes, perpetually in the superlative degree.
In his condemnation he is all ferocity. You might suppose him to
be an ogre from what he says, and I believe he has the reputation
of one with some people. There! I tell you no more of him
beforehand. You must not be surprised to see him take me under his
protection, for he has never forgotten that I was a low boy at
school and that our friendship began in his knocking two of my head
tyrant's teeth out (he says six) before breakfast. Boythorn and
his man," to me, "will be here this afternoon, my dear."
I took care that the necessary preparations were made for Mr.
Boythorn's reception, and we looked forward to his arrival with
some curiosity. The afternoon wore away, however, and he did not
appear. The dinner-hour arrived, and still he did not appear. The
dinner was put back an hour, and we were sitting round the fire
with no light but the blaze when the hall-door suddenly burst open
and the hall resounded with these words, uttered with the greatest
vehemence and in a stentorian tone: "We have been misdirected,
Jarndyce, by a most abandoned ruffian, who told us to take the
turning to the right instead of to the left. He is the most
intolerable scoundrel on the face of the earth. His father must
have been a most consummate villain, ever to have such a son. I
would have had that fellow shot without the least remorse!"
"Did he do it on purpose?" Mr. Jarndyce inquired.
"I have not the slightest doubt that the scoundrel has passed his
whole existence in misdirecting travellers!" returned the other.
"By my soul, I thought him the worst-looking dog I had ever beheld
when he was telling me to take the turning to the right. And yet I
stood before that fellow face to face and didn't knock his brains
"Teeth, you mean?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Mr. Lawrence Boythorn, really making the
whole house vibrate. "What, you have not forgotten it yet! Ha,
ha, ha! And that was another most consummate vagabond! By my
soul, the countenance of that fellow when he was a boy was the
blackest image of perfidy, cowardice, and cruelty ever set up as a
scarecrow in a field of scoundrels. If I were to meet that most
unparalleled despot in the streets to-morrow, I would fell him like
a rotten tree!"
"I have no doubt of it," said Mr. Jarndyce. "Now, will you come
"By my soul, Jarndyce," returned his guest, who seemed to refer to
his watch, "if you had been married, I would have turned back at
the garden-gate and gone away to the remotest summits of the
Himalaya Mountains sooner than I would have presented myself at
this unseasonable hour."
"Not quite so far, I hope?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"By my life and honour, yes!" cried the visitor. "I wouldn't be
guilty of the audacious insolence of keeping a lady of the house
waiting all this time for any earthly consideration. I would
infinitely rather destroy myself--infinitely rather!"
Talking thus, they went upstairs, and presently we heard him in his
bedroom thundering "Ha, ha, ha!" and again "Ha, ha, ha!" until the
flattest echo in the neighbourhood seemed to catch the contagion
and to laugh as enjoyingly as he did or as we did when we heard him
We all conceived a prepossession in his favour, for there was a
sterling quality in this laugh, and in his vigorous, healthy voice,
and in the roundness and fullness with which he uttered every word
he spoke, and in the very fury of his superlatives, which seemed to
go off like blank cannons and hurt nothing. But we were hardly
prepared to have it so confirmed by his appearance when Mr.
Jarndyce presented him. He was not only a very handsome old
gentleman--upright and stalwart as he had been described to us--
with a massive grey head, a fine composure of face when silent, a
figure that might have become corpulent but for his being so
continually in earnest that he gave it no rest, and a chin that
might have subsided into a double chin but for the vehement
emphasis in which it was constantly required to assist; but he was
such a true gentleman in his manner, so chivalrously polite, his
face was lighted by a smile of so much sweetness and tenderness,
and it seemed so plain that he had nothing to hide, but showed
himself exactly as he was--incapable, as Richard said, of anything
on a limited scale, and firing away with those blank great guns
because he carried no small arms whatever--that really I could not
help looking at him with equal pleasure as he sat at dinner,
whether he smilingly conversed with Ada and me, or was led by Mr.
Jarndyce into some great volley of superlatives, or threw up his
head like a bloodhound and gave out that tremendous "Ha, ha, ha!"
"You have brought your bird with you, I suppose?" said Mr.
"By heaven, he is the most astonishing bird in Europe!" replied the
other. "He IS the most wonderful creature! I wouldn't take ten
thousand guineas for that bird. I have left an annuity for his
sole support in case he should outlive me. He is, in sense and
attachment, a phenomenon. And his father before him was one of the
most astonishing birds that ever lived!"
The subject of this laudation was a very little canary, who was so
tame that he was brought down by Mr. Boythorn's man, on his
forefinger, and after taking a gentle flight round the room,
alighted on his master's head. To hear Mr. Boythorn presently
expressing the most implacable and passionate sentiments, with this
fragile mite of a creature quietly perched on his forehead, was to
have a good illustration of his character, I thought.
"By my soul, Jarndyce," he said, very gently holding up a bit of
bread to the canary to peck at, "if I were in your place I would
seize every master in Chancery by the throat to-morrow morning and
shake him until his money rolled out of his pockets and his bones
rattled in his skin. I would have a settlement out of somebody, by
fair means or by foul. If you would empower me to do it, I would
do it for you with the greatest satisfaction!" (All this time the
very small canary was eating out of his hand.)
"I thank you, Lawrence, but the suit is hardly at such a point at
present," returned Mr. Jarndyce, laughing, "that it would be
greatly advanced even by the legal process of shaking the bench and
the whole bar."
"There never was such an infernal cauldron as that Chancery on the
face of the earth!" said Mr. Boythorn. "Nothing but a mine below
it on a busy day in term time, with all its records, rules, and
precedents collected in it and every functionary belonging to it
also, high and low, upward and downward, from its son the
Accountant-General to its father the Devil, and the whole blown to
atoms with ten thousand hundredweight of gunpowder, would reform it
in the least!"
It was impossible not to laugh at the energetic gravity with which
he recommended this strong measure of reform. When we laughed, he
threw up his head and shook his broad chest, and again the whole
country seemed to echo to his "Ha, ha, ha!" It had not the least
effect in disturbing the bird, whose sense of security was complete
and who hopped about the table with its quick head now on this side
and now on that, turning its bright sudden eye on its master as if
he were no more than another bird.
"But how do you and your neighbour get on about the disputed right
of way?" said Mr. Jarndyce. "You are not free from the toils of
the law yourself!"
"The fellow has brought actions against ME for trespass, and I have
brought actions against HIM for trespass," returned Mr. Boythorn.
"By heaven, he is the proudest fellow breathing. It is morally
impossible that his name can be Sir Leicester. It must be Sir
"Complimentary to our distant relation!" said my guardian
laughingly to Ada and Richard.
"I would beg Miss Clare's pardon and Mr. Carstone's pardon,"
resumed our visitor, "if I were not reassured by seeing in the fair
face of the lady and the smile of the gentleman that it is quite
unnecessary and that they keep their distant relation at a
"Or he keeps us," suggested Richard.
"By my soul," exclaimed Mr. Boythorn, suddenly firing another
volley, "that fellow is, and his father was, and his grandfather
was, the most stiff-necked, arrogant imbecile, pig-headed numskull,
ever, by some inexplicable mistake of Nature, born in any station
of life but a walking-stick's! The whole of that family are the
most solemnly conceited and consummate blockheads! But it's no
matter; he should not shut up my path if he were fifty baronets
melted into one and living in a hundred Chesney Wolds, one within
another, like the ivory balls in a Chinese carving. The fellow, by
his agent, or secretary, or somebody, writes to me 'Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet, presents his compliments to Mr. Lawrence
Boythorn, and has to call his attention to the fact that the green
pathway by the old parsonage-house, now the property of Mr.
Lawrence Boythorn, is Sir Leicester's right of way, being in fact a
portion of the park of chesney Wold, and that Sir Leicester finds
it convenient to close up the same.' I write to the fellow, 'Mr.
Lawrence Boythorn presents his compliments to Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet, and has to call HIS attention to the fact that he
totally denies the whole of Sir Leicester Dedlock's positions on
every possible subject and has to add, in reference to closing up
the pathway, that he will be glad to see the man who may undertake
to do it.' The fellow sends a most abandoned villain with one eye
to construct a gateway. I play upon that execrable scoundrel with
a fire-engine until the breath is nearly driven out of his body.
The fellow erects a gate in the night. I chop it down and burn it
in the morning. He sends his myrmidons to come over the fence and
pass and repass. I catch them in humane man traps, fire split peas
at their legs, play upon them with the engine--resolve to free
mankind from the insupportable burden of the existence of those
lurking ruffians. He brings actions for trespass; I bring actions
for trespass. He brings actions for assault and battery; I defend
them and continue to assault and batter. Ha, ha, ha!"
To hear him say all this with unimaginable energy, one might have
thought him the angriest of mankind. To see him at the very same
time, looking at the bird now perched upon his thumb and softly
smoothing its feathers with his forefinger, one might have thought
him the gentlest. To hear him laugh and see the broad good nature
of his face then, one might have supposed that he had not a care in
the world, or a dispute, or a dislike, but that his whole existence
was a summer joke.
"No, no," he said, "no closing up of my paths by any Dedlock!
Though I willingly confess," here he softened in a moment, "that
Lady Dedlock is the most accomplished lady in the world, to whom I
would do any homage that a plain gentleman, and no baronet with a
head seven hundred years thick, may. A man who joined his regiment
at twenty and within a week challenged the most imperious and
presumptuous coxcomb of a commanding officer that ever drew the
breath of life through a tight waist--and got broke for it--is not
the man to be walked over by all the Sir Lucifers, dead or alive,
locked or unlocked. Ha, ha, ha!"
"Nor the man to allow his junior to be walked over either?" said my
"Most assuredly not!" said Mr. Boythorn, clapping him on the
shoulder with an air of protection that had something serious in
it, though he laughed. "He will stand by the low boy, always.
Jarndyce, you may rely upon him! But speaking of this trespass--
with apologies to Miss Clare and Miss Summerson for the length at
which I have pursued so dry a subject--is there nothing for me from
your men Kenge and Carboy?"
"I think not, Esther?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Much obliged!" said Mr. Boythorn. "Had no need to ask, after even
my slight experience of Miss Summerson's forethought for every one
about her." (They all encouraged me; they were determined to do
it.) "I inquired because, coming from Lincolnshire, I of course
have not yet been in town, and I thought some letters might have
been sent down here. I dare say they will report progress to-
I saw him so often in the course of the evening, which passed very
pleasantly, contemplate Richard and Ada with an interest and a
satisfaction that made his fine face remarkably agreeable as he sat
at a little distance from the piano listening to the music--and he
had small occasion to tell us that he was passionately fond of
music, for his face showed it--that I asked my guardian as we sat
at the backgammon board whether Mr. Boythorn had ever been married.
"No," said he. "No."
"But he meant to be!" said I.
"How did you find out that?" he returned with a smile. "Why,
guardian," I explained, not without reddening a little at hazarding
what was in my thoughts, "there is something so tender in his
manner, after all, and he is so very courtly and gentle to us, and
Mr. Jarndyce directed his eyes to where he was sitting as I have
just described him.
I said no more.
"You are right, little woman," he answered. "He was all but
married once. Long ago. And once."
"Did the lady die?"
"No--but she died to him. That time has had its influence on all
his later life. Would you suppose him to have a head and a heart
full of romance yet?"
"I think, guardian, I might have supposed so. But it is easy to
say that when you have told me so."
"He has never since been what he might have been," said Mr.
Jarndyce, "and now you see him in his age with no one near him but
his servant and his little yellow friend. It's your throw, my
I felt, from my guardian's manner, that beyond this point I could
not pursue the subject without changing the wind. I therefore
forbore to ask any further questions. I was interested, but not
curious. I thought a little while about this old love story in the
night, when I was awakened by Mr. Boythorn's lusty snoring; and I
tried to do that very difficult thing, imagine old people young
again and invested with the graces of youth. But I fell asleep
before I had succeeded, and dreamed of the days when I lived in my
godmother's house. I am not sufficiently acquainted with such
subjects to know whether it is at all remarkable that I almost
always dreamed of that period of my life.
With the morning there came a letter from Messrs. Kenge and Carboy
to Mr. Boythorn informing him that one of their clerks would wait
upon him at noon. As it was the day of the week on which I paid the
bills, and added up my books, and made all the household affairs as
compact as possible, I remained at home while Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and
Richard took advantage of a very fine day to make a little
excursion, Mr. Boythorn was to wait for Kenge and Carboy's clerk and
then was to go on foot to meet them on their return.
Well! I was full of business, examining tradesmen's books, adding
up columns, paying money, filing receipts, and I dare say making a
great bustle about it when Mr. Guppy was announced and shown in. I
had had some idea that the clerk who was to be sent down might be
the young gentleman who had met me at the coach-office, and I was
glad to see him, because he was associated with my present
I scarcely knew him again, he was so uncommonly smart. He had an
entirely new suit of glossy clothes on, a shining hat, lilac-kid
gloves, a neckerchief of a variety of colours, a large hot-house
flower in his button-hole, and a thick gold ring on his little
finger. Besides which, he quite scented the dining-room with
bear's-grease and other perfumery. He looked at me with an
attention that quite confused me when I begged him to take a seat
until the servant should return; and as he sat there crossing and
uncrossing his legs in a corner, and I asked him if he had had a
pleasant ride, and hoped that Mr. Kenge was well, I never looked at
him, but I found him looking at me in the same scrutinizing and
When the request was brought to him that he would go upstairs to
Mr. Boythorn's room, I mentioned that he would find lunch prepared
for him when he came down, of which Mr. Jarndyce hoped he would
partake. He said with some embarrassment, holding the handle of the
door, "Shall I have the honour of finding you here, miss?" I
replied yes, I should be there; and he went out with a bow and
I thought him only awkward and shy, for he was evidently much
embarrassed; and I fancied that the best thing I could do would be
to wait until I saw that he had everything he wanted and then to
leave him to himself. The lunch was soon brought, but it remained
for some time on the table. The interview with Mr. Boythorn was a
long one, and a stormy one too, I should think, for although his
room was at some distance I heard his loud voice rising every now
and then like a high wind, and evidently blowing perfect broadsides
At last Mr. Guppy came back, looking something the worse for the
conference. "My eye, miss," he said in a low voice, "he's a
"Pray take some refreshment, sir," said I.
Mr. Guppy sat down at the table and began nervously sharpening the
carving-knife on the carving-fork, still looking at me (as I felt
quite sure without looking at him) in the same unusual manner. The
sharpening lasted so long that at last I felt a kind of obligation
on me to raise my eyes in order that I might break the spell under
which he seemed to labour, of not being able to leave off.
He immediately looked at the dish and began to carve.
"What will you take yourself, miss? You'll take a morsel of
"No, thank you," said I.
"Shan't I give you a piece of anything at all, miss?" said Mr.
Guppy, hurriedly drinking off a glass of wine.
"Nothing, thank you," said I. "I have only waited to see that you
have everything you want. Is there anything I can order for you?"
"No, I am much obliged to you, miss, I'm sure. I've everything that
I can require to make me comfortable--at least I--not comfortable--
I'm never that." He drank off two more glasses of wine, one after
I thought I had better go.
"I beg your pardon, miss!" said Mr. Guppy, rising when he saw me
rise. "But would you allow me the favour of a minute's private
Not knowing what to say, I sat down again.
"What follows is without prejudice, miss?" said Mr. Guppy, anxiously
bringing a chair towards my table.
"I don't understand what you mean," said I, wondering.
"It's one of our law terms, miss. You won't make any use of it to
my detriment at Kenge and Carboy's or elsewhere. If our
conversation shouldn't lead to anything, I am to be as I was and am
not to be prejudiced in my situation or worldly prospects. In
short, it's in total confidence."
"I am at a loss, sir," said I, "to imagine what you can have to
communicate in total confidence to me, whom you have never seen but
once; but I should be very sorry to do you any injury."
"Thank you, miss. I'm sure of it--that's quite sufficient." All
this time Mr. Guppy was either planing his forehead with his
handkerchief or tightly rubbing the palm of his left hand with the
palm of his right. "If you would excuse my taking another glass of
wine, miss, I think it might assist me in getting on without a
continual choke that cannot fail to be mutually unpleasant."
He did so, and came back again. I took the opportunity of moving
well behind my table.
"You wouldn't allow me to offer you one, would you miss?" said Mr.
Guppy, apparently refreshed.
"Not any," said I.
"Not half a glass?" said Mr. Guppy. "Quarter? No! Then, to
proceed. My present salary, Miss Summerson, at Kenge and Carboy's,
is two pound a week. When I first had the happiness of looking upon
you, it was one fifteen, and had stood at that figure for a
lengthened period. A rise of five has since taken place, and a
further rise of five is guaranteed at the expiration of a term not
exceeding twelve months from the present date. My mother has a
little property, which takes the form of a small life annuity, upon
which she lives in an independent though unassuming manner in the
Old Street Road. She is eminently calculated for a mother-in-law.
She never interferes, is all for peace, and her disposition easy.
She has her failings--as who has not?--but I never knew her do it
when company was present, at which time you may freely trust her
with wines, spirits, or malt liquors. My own abode is lodgings at
Penton Place, Pentonville. It is lowly, but airy, open at the back,
and considered one of the 'ealthiest outlets. Miss Summerson! In
the mildest language, I adore you. Would you be so kind as to allow
me (as I may say) to file a declaration--to make an offer!"
Mr. Guppy went down on his knees. I was well behind my table and
not much frightened. I said, "Get up from that ridiculous position
immediately, sir, or you will oblige me to break my implied promise
and ring the bell!"
"Hear me out, miss!" said Mr. Guppy, folding his hands.
"I cannot consent to hear another word, sir," I returned, "Unless
you get up from the carpet directly and go and sit down at the table
as you ought to do if you have any sense at all."
He looked piteously, but slowly rose and did so.
"Yet what a mockery it is, miss," he said with his hand upon his
heart and shaking his head at me in a melancholy manner over the
tray, "to be stationed behind food at such a moment. The soul
recoils from food at such a moment, miss."
"I beg you to conclude," said I; "you have asked me to hear you out,
and I beg you to conclude."
"I will, miss," said Mr. Guppy. "As I love and honour, so likewise
I obey. Would that I could make thee the subject of that vow before
"That is quite impossible," said I, "and entirely out of the
"I am aware," said Mr. Guppy, leaning forward over the tray and
regarding me, as I again strangely felt, though my eyes were not
directed to him, with his late intent look, "I am aware that in a
worldly point of view, according to all appearances, my offer is a
poor one. But, Miss Summerson! Angel! No, don't ring--I have been
brought up in a sharp school and am accustomed to a variety of
general practice. Though a young man, I have ferreted out evidence,
got up cases, and seen lots of life. Blest with your hand, what
means might I not find of advancing your interests and pushing your
fortunes! What might I not get to know, nearly concerning you? I
know nothing now, certainly; but what MIGHT I not if I had your
confidence, and you set me on?"
I told him that he addressed my interest or what he supposed to be
my interest quite as unsuccessfully as he addressed my inclination,
and he would now understand that I requested him, if he pleased, to
go away immediately.
"Cruel miss," said Mr. Guppy, "hear but another word! I think you
must have seen that I was struck with those charms on the day when I
waited at the Whytorseller. I think you must have remarked that I
could not forbear a tribute to those charms when I put up the steps
of the 'ackney-coach. It was a feeble tribute to thee, but it was
well meant. Thy image has ever since been fixed in my breast. I
have walked up and down of an evening opposite Jellyby's house only
to look upon the bricks that once contained thee. This out of to-
day, quite an unnecessary out so far as the attendance, which was
its pretended object, went, was planned by me alone for thee alone.
If I speak of interest, it is only to recommend myself and my
respectful wretchedness. Love was before it, and is before it."
"I should be pained, Mr. Guppy," said I, rising and putting my hand
upon the bell-rope, "to do you or any one who was sincere the
injustice of slighting any honest feeling, however disagreeably
expressed. If you have really meant to give me a proof of your good
opinion, though ill-timed and misplaced, I feel that I ought to
thank you. I have very little reason to be proud, and I am not
proud. I hope," I think I added, without very well knowing what I
said, "that you will now go away as if you had never been so
exceedingly foolish and attend to Messrs. Kenge and Carboy's
"Half a minute, miss!" cried Mr. Guppy, checking me as I was about
to ring. "This has been without prejudice?"
"I will never mention it," said I, "unless you should give me future
occasion to do so."
"A quarter of a minute, miss! In case you should think better at
any time, however distant--THAT'S no consequence, for my feelings
can never alter--of anything I have said, particularly what might I
not do, Mr. William Guppy, eighty-seven, Penton Place, or if
removed, or dead (of blighted hopes or anything of that sort), care
of Mrs. Guppy, three hundred and two, Old Street Road, will be
I rang the bell, the servant came, and Mr. Guppy, laying his written
card upon the table and making a dejected bow, departed. Raising my
eyes as he went out, I once more saw him looking at me after he had
passed the door.
I sat there for another hour or more, finishing my books and
payments and getting through plenty of business. Then I arranged my
desk, and put everything away, and was so composed and cheerful that
I thought I had quite dismissed this unexpected incident. But, when
I went upstairs to my own room, I surprised myself by beginning to
laugh about it and then surprised myself still more by beginning to
cry about it. In short, I was in a flutter for a little while and
felt as if an old chord had been more coarsely touched than it ever
had been since the days of the dear old doll, long buried in the
On the eastern borders of Chancery Lane, that is to say, more
particularly in Cook's Court, Cursitor Street, Mr. Snagsby, law-
stationer, pursues his lawful calling. In the shade of Cook's
Court, at most times a shady place, Mr. Snagsby has dealt in all
sorts of blank forms of legal process; in skins and rolls of
parchment; in paper--foolscap, brief, draft, brown, white, whitey-
brown, and blotting; in stamps; in office-quills, pens, ink, India-
rubber, pounce, pins, pencils, sealing-wax, and wafers; in red tape
and green ferret; in pocket-books, almanacs, diaries, and law lists;
in string boxes, rulers, inkstands--glass and leaden--pen-knives,
scissors, bodkins, and other small office-cutlery; in short, in
articles too numerous to mention, ever since he was out of his time
and went into partnership with Peffer. On that occasion, Cook's
Court was in a manner revolutionized by the new inscription in fresh
paint, PEFFER AND SNAGSBY, displacing the time-honoured and not
easily to be deciphered legend PEFFER only. For smoke, which is the
London ivy, had so wreathed itself round Peffer's name and clung to
his dwelling-place that the affectionate parasite quite overpowered
the parent tree.
Peffer is never seen in Cook's Court now. He is not expected there,
for he has been recumbent this quarter of a century in the
churchyard of St. Andrews, Holborn, with the waggons and hackney-
coaches roaring past him all the day and half the night like one
great dragon. If he ever steal forth when the dragon is at rest to
air himself again in Cook's Court until admonished to return by the
crowing of the sanguine cock in the cellar at the little dairy in
Cursitor Street, whose ideas of daylight it would be curious to
ascertain, since he knows from his personal observation next to
nothing about it--if Peffer ever do revisit the pale glimpses of
Cook's Court, which no law-stationer in the trade can positively
deny, he comes invisibly, and no one is the worse or wiser.
In his lifetime, and likewise in the period of Snagsby's "time" of
seven long years, there dwelt with Peffer in the same law-
stationering premises a niece--a short, shrewd niece, something too
violently compressed about the waist, and with a sharp nose like a
sharp autumn evening, inclining to be frosty towards the end. The
Cook's Courtiers had a rumour flying among them that the mother of
this niece did, in her daughter's childhood, moved by too jealous a
solicitude that her figure should approach perfection, lace her up
every morning with her maternal foot against the bed-post for a
stronger hold and purchase; and further, that she exhibited
internally pints of vinegar and lemon-juice, which acids, they held,
had mounted to the nose and temper of the patient. With whichsoever
of the many tongues of Rumour this frothy report originated, it
either never reached or never influenced the ears of young Snagsby,
who, having wooed and won its fair subject on his arrival at man's
estate, entered into two partnerships at once. So now, in Cook's
Court, Cursitor Street, Mr. Snagsby and the niece are one; and the
niece still cherishes her figure, which, however tastes may differ,
is unquestionably so far precious that there is mighty little of it.
Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby are not only one bone and one flesh, but, to
the neighbours' thinking, one voice too. That voice, appearing to
proceed from Mrs. Snagsby alone, is heard in Cook's Court very
often. Mr. Snagsby, otherwise than as he finds expression through
these dulcet tones, is rarely heard. He is a mild, bald, timid man
with a shining head and a scrubby clump of black hair sticking out
at the back. He tends to meekness and obesity. As he stands at his
door in Cook's Court in his grey shop-coat and black calico sleeves,
looking up at the clouds, or stands behind a desk in his dark shop
with a heavy flat ruler, snipping and slicing at sheepskin in
company with his two 'prentices, he is emphatically a retiring and
unassuming man. From beneath his feet, at such times, as from a
shrill ghost unquiet in its grave, there frequently arise
complainings and lamentations in the voice already mentioned; and
haply, on some occasions when these reach a sharper pitch than
usual, Mr. Snagsby mentions to the 'prentices, "I think my little
woman is a-giving it to Guster!"
This proper name, so used by Mr. Snagsby, has before now sharpened
the wit of the Cook's Courtiers to remark that it ought to be the
name of Mrs. Snagsby, seeing that she might with great force and
expression be termed a Guster, in compliment to her stormy
character. It is, however, the possession, and the only possession
except fifty shillings per annum and a very small box indifferently
filled with clothing, of a lean young woman from a workhouse (by
some supposed to have been christened Augusta) who, although she was
farmed or contracted for during her growing time by an amiable
benefactor of his species resident at Tooting, and cannot fail to
have been developed under the most favourable circumstances, "has
fits," which the parish can't account for.
Guster, really aged three or four and twenty, but looking a round
ten years older, goes cheap with this unaccountable drawback of
fits, and is so apprehensive of being returned on the hands of her
patron saint that except when she is found with her head in the
pail, or the sink, or the copper, or the dinner, or anything else
that happens to be near her at the time of her seizure, she is
always at work. She is a satisfaction to the parents and guardians
of the 'prentices, who feel that there is little danger of her
inspiring tender emotions in the breast of youth; she is a
satisfaction to Mrs. Snagsby, who can always find fault with her;
she is a satisfaction to Mr. Snagsby, who thinks it a charity to
keep her. The law-stationer's establishment is, in Guster's eyes, a
temple of plenty and splendour. She believes the little drawing-
room upstairs, always kept, as one may say, with its hair in papers
and its pinafore on, to be the most elegant apartment in
Christendom. The view it commands of Cook's Court at one end (not
to mention a squint into Cursitor Street) and of Coavinses' the
sheriff's officer's backyard at the other she regards as a prospect
of unequalled beauty. The portraits it displays in oil--and plenty
of it too--of Mr. Snagsby looking at Mrs. Snagsby and of Mrs.
Snagsby looking at Mr. Snagsby are in her eyes as achievements of
Raphael or Titian. Guster has some recompenses for her many
Mr. Snagsby refers everything not in the practical mysteries of the
business to Mrs. Snagsby. She manages the money, reproaches the
tax-gatherers, appoints the times and places of devotion on Sundays,
licenses Mr. Snagsby's entertainments, and acknowledges no
responsibility as to what she thinks fit to provide for dinner,
insomuch that she is the high standard of comparison among the
neighbouring wives a long way down Chancery Lane on both sides, and
even out in Holborn, who in any domestic passages of arms habitually
call upon their husbands to look at the difference between their
(the wives') position and Mrs. Snagsby's, and their (the husbands')
behaviour and Mr. Snagsby's. Rumour, always flying bat-like about
Cook's Court and skimming in and out at everybody's windows, does
say that Mrs. Snagsby is jealous and inquisitive and that Mr.
Snagsby is sometimes worried out of house and home, and that if he
had the spirit of a mouse he wouldn't stand it. It is even observed
that the wives who quote him to their self-willed husbands as a
shining example in reality look down upon him and that nobody does
so with greater superciliousness than one particular lady whose lord
is more than suspected of laying his umbrella on her as an
instrument of correction. But these vague whisperings may arise
from Mr. Snagsby's being in his way rather a meditative and poetical
man, loving to walk in Staple Inn in the summer-time and to observe
how countrified the sparrows and the leaves are, also to lounge
about the Rolls Yard of a Sunday afternoon and to remark (if in good
spirits) that there were old times once and that you'd find a stone
coffin or two now under that chapel, he'll be bound, if you was to
dig for it. He solaces his imagination, too, by thinking of the
many Chancellors and Vices, and Masters of the Rolls who are
deceased; and he gets such a flavour of the country out of telling
the two 'prentices how he HAS heard say that a brook "as clear as
crystial" once ran right down the middle of Holborn, when Turnstile
really was a turnstile, leading slap away into the meadows--gets
such a flavour of the country out of this that he never wants to go
The day is closing in and the gas is lighted, but is not yet fully
effective, for it is not quite dark. Mr. Snagsby standing at his
shop-door looking up at the clouds sees a crow who is out late skim
westward over the slice of sky belonging to Cook's Court. The crow
flies straight across Chancery Lane and Lincoln's Inn Garden into
Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Here, in a large house, formerly a house of state, lives Mr.
Tulkinghorn. It is let off in sets of chambers now, and in those
shrunken fragments of its greatness, lawyers lie like maggots in
nuts. But its roomy staircases, passages, and antechambers still
remain; and even its painted ceilings, where Allegory, in Roman
helmet and celestial linen, sprawls among balustrades and pillars,
flowers, clouds, and big-legged boys, and makes the head ache--as
would seem to be Allegory's object always, more or less. Here,
among his many boxes labelled with transcendent names, lives Mr.
Tulkinghorn, when not speechlessly at home in country-houses where
the great ones of the earth are bored to death. Here he is to-day,
quiet at his table. An oyster of the old school whom nobody can
Like as he is to look at, so is his apartment in the dusk of the
present afternoon. Rusty, out of date, withdrawing from attention,
able to afford it. Heavy, broad-backed, old-fashioned, mahogany-
and-horsehair chairs, not easily lifted; obsolete tables with
spindle-legs and dusty baize covers; presentation prints of the
holders of great titles in the last generation or the last but one,
environ him. A thick and dingy Turkey-carpet muffles the floor
where he sits, attended by two candles in old-fashioned silver
candlesticks that give a very insufficient light to his large room.
The titles on the backs of his books have retired into the binding;
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