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Jarndyce and Jarndyce
If the secret I had to keep had been mine, I must have confided it
to Ada before we had been long together. But it was not mine, and
I did not feel that I had a right to tell it, even to my guardian,
unless some great emergency arose. It was a weight to bear alone;
still my present duty appeared to be plain, and blest in the
attachment of my dear, I did not want an impulse and encouragement
to do it. Though often when she was asleep and all was quiet, the
remembrance of my mother kept me waking and made the night
sorrowful, I did not yield to it at another time; and Ada found me
what I used to be--except, of course, in that particular of which I
have said enough and which I have no intention of mentioning any
more just now, if I can help it.
The difficulty that I felt in being quite composed that first
evening when Ada asked me, over our work, if the family were at the
house, and when I was obliged to answer yes, I believed so, for
Lady Dedlock had spoken to me in the woods the day before
yesterday, was great. Greater still when Ada asked me what she had
said, and when I replied that she had been kind and interested, and
when Ada, while admitting her beauty and elegance, remarked upon
her proud manner and her imperious chilling air. But Charley
helped me through, unconsciously, by telling us that Lady Dedlock
had only stayed at the house two nights on her way from London to
visit at some other great house in the next county and that she had
left early on the morning after we had seen her at our view, as we
called it. Charley verified the adage about little pitchers, I am
sure, for she heard of more sayings and doings in a day than would
have come to my ears in a month.
We were to stay a month at Mr. Boythorn's. My pet had scarcely
been there a bright week, as I recollect the time, when one evening
after we had finished helping the gardener in watering his flowers,
and just as the candles were lighted, Charley, appearing with a
very important air behind Ada's chair, beckoned me mysteriously out
of the room.
"Oh! If you please, miss," said Charley in a whisper, with her eyes
at their roundest and largest. "You're wanted at the Dedlock
"Why, Charley," said I, "who can possibly want me at the public-
"I don't know, miss," returned Charley, putting her head forward
and folding her hands tight upon the band of her little apron,
which she always did in the enjoyment of anything mysterious or
confidential, "but it's a gentleman, miss, and his compliments, and
will you please to come without saying anything about it."
"Whose compliments, Charley?"
"His'n, miss," returned Charley, whose grammatical education was
advancing, but not very rapidly.
"And how do you come to be the messenger, Charley?"
"I am not the messenger, if you please, miss," returned my little
maid. "It was W. Grubble, miss."
"And who is W. Grubble, Charley?"
"Mister Grubble, miss," returned Charley. "Don't you know, miss?
The Dedlock Arms, by W. Grubble," which Charley delivered as if she
were slowly spelling out the sign.
"Aye? The landlord, Charley?"
"Yes, miss. If you please, miss, his wife is a beautiful woman,
but she broke her ankle, and it never joined. And her brother's
the sawyer that was put in the cage, miss, and they expect he'll
drink himself to death entirely on beer," said Charley.
Not knowing what might be the matter, and being easily apprehensive
now, I thought it best to go to this place by myself. I bade
Charley be quick with my bonnet and veil and my shawl, and having
put them on, went away down the little hilly street, where I was as
much at home as in Mr. Boythorn's garden.
Mr. Grubble was standing in his shirt-sleeves at the door of his
very clean little tavern waiting for me. He lifted off his hat
with both hands when he saw me coming, and carrying it so, as if it
were an iron vessel (it looked as heavy), preceded me along the
sanded passage to his best parlour, a neat carpeted room with more
plants in it than were quite convenient, a coloured print of Queen
Caroline, several shells, a good many tea-trays, two stuffed and
dried fish in glass cases, and either a curious egg or a curious
pumpkin (but I don't know which, and I doubt if many people did)
hanging from his ceiling. I knew Mr. Grubble very well by sight,
from his often standing at his door. A pleasant-looking, stoutish,
middle-aged man who never seemed to consider himself cozily dressed
for his own fire-side without his hat and top-boots, but who never
wore a coat except at church.
He snuffed the candle, and backing away a little to see how it
looked, backed out of the room--unexpectedly to me, for I was going
to ask him by whom he had been sent. The door of the opposite
parlour being then opened, I heard some voices, familiar in my ears
I thought, which stopped. A quick light step approached the room
in which I was, and who should stand before me but Richard!
"My dear Esther!" he said. "My best friend!" And he really was so
warm-hearted and earnest that in the first surprise and pleasure of
his brotherly greeting I could scarcely find breath to tell him
that Ada was well.
"Answering my very thoughts--always the same dear girl!" said
Richard, leading me to a chair and seating himself beside me.
I put my veil up, but not quite.
"Always the same dear girl!" said Richard just as heartily as
I put up my veil altogether, and laying my hand on Richard's sleeve
and looking in his face, told him how much I thanked him for his
kind welcome and how greatly I rejoiced to see him, the more so
because of the determination I had made in my illness, which I now
conveyed to him.
"My love," said Richard, "there is no one with whom I have a
greater wish to talk than you, for I want you to understand me."
"And I want you, Richard," said I, shaking my head, "to understand
some one else."
"Since you refer so immediately to John Jarndyce," said Richard,
"--I suppose you mean him?"
"Of course I do."
"Then I may say at once that I am glad of it, because it is on that
subject that I am anxious to be understood. By you, mind--you, my
dear! I am not accountable to Mr. Jarndyce or Mr. Anybody."
I was pained to find him taking this tone, and he observed it.
"Well, well, my dear," said Richard, "we won't go into that now. I
want to appear quietly in your country-house here, with you under
my arm, and give my charming cousin a surprise. I suppose your
loyalty to John Jarndyce will allow that?"
"My dear Richard," I returned, "you know you would be heartily
welcome at his house--your home, if you will but consider it so;
and you are as heartily welcome here!"
"Spoken like the best of little women!" cried Richard gaily.
I asked him how he liked his profession.
"Oh, I like it well enough!" said Richard. "It's all right. It
does as well as anything else, for a time. I don't know that I
shall care about it when I come to be settled, but I can sell out
then and--however, never mind all that botheration at present."
So young and handsome, and in all respects so perfectly the
opposite of Miss Flite! And yet, in the clouded, eager, seeking
look that passed over him, so dreadfully like her!
"I am in town on leave just now," said Richard.
"Yes. I have run over to look after my--my Chancery interests
before the long vacation," said Richard, forcing a careless laugh.
"We are beginning to spin along with that old suit at last, I
No wonder that I shook my head!
"As you say, it's not a pleasant subject." Richard spoke with the
same shade crossing his face as before. "Let it go to the four
winds for to-night. Puff! Gone! Who do you suppose is with me?"
"Was it Mr. Skimpole's voice I heard?"
"That's the man! He does me more good than anybody. What a
fascinating child it is!"
I asked Richard if any one knew of their coming down together. He
answered, no, nobody. He had been to call upon the dear old
infant--so he called Mr. Skimpole--and the dear old infant had told
him where we were, and he had told the dear old infant he was bent
on coming to see us, and the dear old infant had directly wanted to
come too; and so he had brought him. "And he is worth--not to say
his sordid expenses--but thrice his weight in gold," said Richard.
"He is such a cheery fellow. No worldliness about him. Fresh and
I certainly did not see the proof of Mr. Skimpole's worldliness in
his having his expenses paid by Richard, but I made no remark about
that. Indeed, he came in and turned our conversation. He was
charmed to see me, said he had been shedding delicious tears of joy
and sympathy at intervals for six weeks on my account, had never
been so happy as in hearing of my progress, began to understand the
mixture of good and evil in the world now, felt that he appreciated
health the more when somebody else was ill, didn't know but what it
might be in the scheme of things that A should squint to make B
happier in looking straight or that C should carry a wooden leg to
make D better satisfied with his flesh and blood in a silk
"My dear Miss Summerson, here is our friend Richard," said Mr.
Skimpole, "full of the brightest visions of the future, which he
evokes out of the darkness of Chancery. Now that's delightful,
that's inspiriting, that's full of poetry! In old times the woods
and solitudes were made joyous to the shepherd by the imaginary
piping and dancing of Pan and the nymphs. This present shepherd,
our pastoral Richard, brightens the dull Inns of Court by making
Fortune and her train sport through them to the melodious notes of
a judgment from the bench. That's very pleasant, you know! Some
ill-conditioned growling fellow may say to me, 'What's the use of
these legal and equitable abuses? How do you defend them?' I
reply, 'My growling friend, I DON'T defend them, but they are very
agreeable to me. There is a shepherd--youth, a friend of mine, who
transmutes them into something highly fascinating to my simplicity.
I don't say it is for this that they exist--for I am a child among
you worldly grumblers, and not called upon to account to you or
myself for anything--but it may be so.'"
I began seriously to think that Richard could scarcely have found a
worse friend than this. It made me uneasy that at such a time when
he most required some right principle and purpose he should have
this captivating looseness and putting-off of everything, this airy
dispensing with all principle and purpose, at his elbow. I thought
I could understand how such a nature as my guardian's, experienced
in the world and forced to contemplate the miserable evasions and
contentions of the family misfortune, found an immense relief in
Mr. Skimpole's avowal of his weaknesses and display of guileless
candour; but I could not satisfy myself that it was as artless as
it seemed or that it did not serve Mr. Skimpole's idle turn quite
as well as any other part, and with less trouble.
They both walked back with me, and Mr. Skimpole leaving us at the
gate, I walked softly in with Richard and said, "Ada, my love, I
have brought a gentleman to visit you." It was not difficult to
read the blushing, startled face. She loved him dearly, and he
knew it, and I knew it. It was a very transparent business, that
meeting as cousins only.
I almost mistrusted myself as growing quite wicked in my
suspicions, but I was not so sure that Richard loved her dearly.
He admired her very much--any one must have done that--and I dare
say would have renewed their youthful engagement with great pride
and ardour but that he knew how she would respect her promise to my
guardian. Still I had a tormenting idea that the influence upon
him extended even here, that he was postponing his best truth and
earnestness in this as in all things until Jarndyce and Jarndyce
should be off his mind. Ah me! What Richard would have been
without that blight, I never shall know now!
He told Ada, in his most ingenuous way, that he had not come to
make any secret inroad on the terms she had accepted (rather too
implicitly and confidingly, he thought) from Mr. Jarndyce, that he
had come openly to see her and to see me and to justify himself for
the present terms on which he stood with Mr. Jarndyce. As the dear
old infant would be with us directly, he begged that I would make
an appointment for the morning, when he might set himself right
through the means of an unreserved conversation with me. I
proposed to walk with him in the park at seven o'clock, and this
was arranged. Mr. Skimpole soon afterwards appeared and made us
merry for an hour. He particularly requested to see little
Coavinses (meaning Charley) and told her, with a patriarchal air,
that he had given her late father all the business in his power and
that if one of her little brothers would make haste to get set up
in the same profession, he hoped he should still be able to put a
good deal of employment in his way.
"For I am constantly being taken in these nets," said Mr. Skimpole,
looking beamingly at us over a glass of wine-and-water, "and am
constantly being bailed out--like a boat. Or paid off--like a
ship's company. Somebody always does it for me. I can't do it,
you know, for I never have any money. But somebody does it. I get
out by somebody's means; I am not like the starling; I get out. If
you were to ask me who somebody is, upon my word I couldn't tell
you. Let us drink to somebody. God bless him!"
Richard was a little late in the morning, but I had not to wait for
him long, and we turned into the park. The air was bright and dewy
and the sky without a cloud. The birds sang delightfully; the
sparkles in the fern, the grass, and trees, were exquisite to see;
the richness of the woods seemed to have increased twenty-fold
since yesterday, as if, in the still night when they had looked so
massively hushed in sleep, Nature, through all the minute details
of every wonderful leaf, had been more wakeful than usual for the
glory of that day.
"This is a lovely place," said Richard, looking round. "None of
the jar and discord of law-suits here!"
But there was other trouble.
"I tell you what, my dear girl," said Richard, "when I get affairs
in general settled, I shall come down here, I think, and rest."
"Would it not be better to rest now?" I asked.
"Oh, as to resting NOW," said Richard, "or as to doing anything
very definite NOW, that's not easy. In short, it can't be done; I
can't do it at least."
"Why not?" said I.
"You know why not, Esther. If you were living in an unfinished
house, liable to have the roof put on or taken off--to be from top
to bottom pulled down or built up--to-morrow, next day, next week,
next month, next year--you would find it hard to rest or settle.
So do I. Now? There's no now for us suitors."
I could almost have believed in the attraction on which my poor
little wandering friend had expatiated when I saw again the
darkened look of last night. Terrible to think it had in it also a
shade of that unfortunate man who had died.
"My dear Richard," said I, "this is a bad beginning of our
"I knew you would tell me so, Dame Durden."
"And not I alone, dear Richard. It was not I who cautioned you
once never to found a hope or expectation on the family curse."
"There you come back to John Jarndyce!" said Richard impatiently.
"Well! We must approach him sooner or later, for he is the staple
of what I have to say, and it's as well at once. My dear Esther,
how can you be so blind? Don't you see that he is an interested
party and that it may be very well for him to wish me to know
nothing of the suit, and care nothing about it, but that it may not
be quite so well for me?"
"Oh, Richard," I remonstrated, "is it possible that you can ever
have seen him and heard him, that you can ever have lived under his
roof and known him, and can yet breathe, even to me in this
solitary place where there is no one to hear us, such unworthy
He reddened deeply, as if his natural generosity felt a pang of
reproach. He was silent for a little while before he replied in a
subdued voice, "Esther, I am sure you know that I am not a mean
fellow and that I have some sense of suspicion and distrust being
poor qualities in one of my years."
"I know it very well," said I. "I am not more sure of anything."
"That's a dear girl," retorted Richard, "and like you, because it
gives me comfort. I had need to get some scrap of comfort out of
all this business, for it's a bad one at the best, as I have no
occasion to tell you."
"I know perfectly," said I. "I know as well, Richard--what shall I
say? as well as you do--that such misconstructions are foreign to
your nature. And I know, as well as you know, what so changes it."
"Come, sister, come," said Richard a little more gaily, "you will
be fair with me at all events. If I have the misfortune to be
under that influence, so has he. If it has a little twisted me, it
may have a little twisted him too. I don't say that he is not an
honourable man, out of all this complication and uncertainty; I am
sure he is. But it taints everybody. You know it taints
everybody. You have heard him say so fifty times. Then why should
"Because," said I, "his is an uncommon character, and he has
resolutely kept himself outside the circle, Richard."
"Oh, because and because!" replied Richard in his vivacious way.
"I am not sure, my dear girl, but that it may be wise and specious
to preserve that outward indifference. It may cause other parties
interested to become lax about their interests; and people may die
off, and points may drag themselves out of memory, and many things
may smoothly happen that are convenient enough."
I was so touched with pity for Richard that I could not reproach
him any more, even by a look. I remembered my guardian's
gentleness towards his errors and with what perfect freedom from
resentment he had spoken of them.
"Esther," Richard resumed, "you are not to suppose that I have come
here to make underhanded charges against John Jarndyce. I have
only come to justify myself. What I say is, it was all very well
and we got on very well while I was a boy, utterly regardless of
this same suit; but as soon as I began to take an interest in it
and to look into it, then it was quite another thing. Then John
Jarndyce discovers that Ada and I must break off and that if I
don't amend that very objectionable course, I am not fit for her.
Now, Esther, I don't mean to amend that very objectionable course:
I will not hold John Jarndyce's favour on those unfair terms of
compromise, which he has no right to dictate. Whether it pleases
him or displeases him, I must maintain my rights and Ada's. I have
been thinking about it a good deal, and this is the conclusion I
have come to."
Poor dear Richard! He had indeed been thinking about it a good
deal. His face, his voice, his manner, all showed that too
"So I tell him honourably (you are to know I have written to him
about all this) that we are at issue and that we had better be at
issue openly than covertly. I thank him for his goodwill and his
protection, and he goes his road, and I go mine. The fact is, our
roads are not the same. Under one of the wills in dispute, I
should take much more than he. I don't mean to say that it is the
one to be established, but there it is, and it has its chance."
"I have not to learn from you, my dear Richard," said I, "of your
letter. I had heard of it already without an offended or angry
"Indeed?" replied Richard, softening. "I am glad I said he was an
honourable man, out of all this wretched affair. But I always say
that and have never doubted it. Now, my dear Esther, I know these
views of mine appear extremely harsh to you, and will to Ada when
you tell her what has passed between us. But if you had gone into
the case as I have, if you had only applied yourself to the papers
as I did when I was at Kenge's, if you only knew what an
accumulation of charges and counter-charges, and suspicions and
cross-suspicions, they involve, you would think me moderate in
"Perhaps so," said I. "But do you think that, among those many
papers, there is much truth and justice, Richard?"
"There is truth and justice somewhere in the case, Esther--"
"Or was once, long ago," said I.
"Is--is--must be somewhere," pursued Richard impetuously, "and must
be brought out. To allow Ada to be made a bribe and hush-money of
is not the way to bring it out. You say the suit is changing me;
John Jarndyce says it changes, has changed, and will change
everybody who has any share in it. Then the greater right I have
on my side when I resolve to do all I can to bring it to an end."
"All you can, Richard! Do you think that in these many years no
others have done all they could? Has the difficulty grown easier
because of so many failures?"
"It can't last for ever," returned Richard with a fierceness
kindling in him which again presented to me that last sad reminder.
"I am young and earnest, and energy and determination have done
wonders many a time. Others have only half thrown themselves into
it. I devote myself to it. I make it the object of my life."
"Oh, Richard, my dear, so much the worse, so much the worse!"
"No, no, no, don't you be afraid for me," he returned
affectionately. "You're a dear, good, wise, quiet, blessed girl;
but you have your prepossessions. So I come round to John
Jarndyce. I tell you, my good Esther, when he and I were on those
terms which he found so convenient, we were not on natural terms."
"Are division and animosity your natural terms, Richard?"
"No, I don't say that. I mean that all this business puts us on
unnatural terms, with which natural relations are incompatible.
See another reason for urging it on! I may find out when it's over
that I have been mistaken in John Jarndyce. My head may be clearer
when I am free of it, and I may then agree with what you say to-
day. Very well. Then I shall acknowledge it and make him
Everything postponed to that imaginary time! Everything held in
confusion and indecision until then!
"Now, my best of confidantes," said Richard, "I want my cousin Ada
to understand that I am not captious, fickle, and wilful about John
Jarndyce, but that I have this purpose and reason at my back. I
wish to represent myself to her through you, because she has a
great esteem and respect for her cousin John; and I know you will
soften the course I take, even though you disapprove of it; and--
and in short," said Richard, who had been hesitating through these
words, "I--I don't like to represent myself in this litigious,
contentious, doubting character to a confiding girl like Ada."
I told him that he was more like himself in those latter words than
in anything he had said yet.
"Why," acknowledged Richard, "that may be true enough, my love. I
rather feel it to be so. But I shall be able to give myself fair-
play by and by. I shall come all right again, then, don't you be
I asked him if this were all he wished me to tell Ada.
"Not quite," said Richard. "I am bound not to withhold from her
that John Jarndyce answered my letter in his usual manner,
addressing me as 'My dear Rick,' trying to argue me out of my
opinions, and telling me that they should make no difference in
him. (All very well of course, but not altering the case.) I also
want Ada to know that if I see her seldom just now, I am looking
after her interests as well as my own--we two being in the same
boat exactly--and that I hope she will not suppose from any flying
rumours she may hear that I am at all light-headed or imprudent; on
the contrary, I am always looking forward to the termination of the
suit, and always planning in that direction. Being of age now and
having taken the step I have taken, I consider myself free from any
accountability to John Jarndyce; but Ada being still a ward of the
court, I don't yet ask her to renew our engagement. When she is
free to act for herself, I shall be myself once more and we shall
both be in very different worldly circumstances, I believe. If you
tell her all this with the advantage of your considerate way, you
will do me a very great and a very kind service, my dear Esther;
and I shall knock Jarndyce and Jarndyce on the head with greater
vigour. Of course I ask for no secrecy at Bleak House."
"Richard," said I, "you place great confidence in me, but I fear
you will not take advice from me?"
"It's impossible that I can on this subject, my dear girl. On any
As if there were any other in his life! As if his whole career and
character were not being dyed one colour!
"But I may ask you a question, Richard?"
"I think so," said he, laughing. "I don't know who may not, if you
"You say, yourself, you are not leading a very settled life."
"How can I, my dear Esther, with nothing settled!"
"Are you in debt again?"
"Why, of course I am," said Richard, astonished at my simplicity.
"Is it of course?"
"My dear child, certainly. I can't throw myself into an object so
completely without expense. You forget, or perhaps you don't know,
that under either of the wills Ada and I take something. It's only
a question between the larger sum and the smaller. I shall be
within the mark any way. Bless your heart, my excellent girl,"
said Richard, quite amused with me, "I shall be all right! I shall
pull through, my dear!"
I felt so deeply sensible of the danger in which he stood that I
tried, in Ada's name, in my guardian's, in my own, by every fervent
means that I could think of, to warn him of it and to show him some
of his mistakes. He received everything I said with patience and
gentleness, but it all rebounded from him without taking the least
effect. I could not wonder at this after the reception his
preoccupied mind had given to my guardian's letter, but I
determined to try Ada's influence yet.
So when our walk brought us round to the village again, and I went
home to breakfast, I prepared Ada for the account I was going to
give her and told her exactly what reason we had to dread that
Richard was losing himself and scattering his whole life to the
winds. It made her very unhappy, of course, though she had a far,
far greater reliance on his correcting his errors than I could
have--which was so natural and loving in my dear!--and she
presently wrote him this little letter:
My dearest cousin,
Esther has told me all you said to her this morning. I write this
to repeat most earnestly for myself all that she said to you and to
let you know how sure I am that you will sooner or later find our
cousin John a pattern of truth, sincerity, and goodness, when you
will deeply, deeply grieve to have done him (without intending it)
so much wrong.
I do not quite know how to write what I wish to say next, but I
trust you will understand it as I mean it. I have some fears, my
dearest cousin, that it may be partly for my sake you are now
laying up so much unhappiness for yourself--and if for yourself,
for me. In case this should be so, or in case you should entertain
much thought of me in what you are doing, I most earnestly entreat
and beg you to desist. You can do nothing for my sake that will
make me half so happy as for ever turning your back upon the shadow
in which we both were born. Do not be angry with me for saying
this. Pray, pray, dear Richard, for my sake, and for your own, and
in a natural repugnance for that source of trouble which had its
share in making us both orphans when we were very young, pray,
pray, let it go for ever. We have reason to know by this time that
there is no good in it and no hope, that there is nothing to be got
from it but sorrow.
My dearest cousin, it is needless for me to say that you are quite
free and that it is very likely you may find some one whom you will
love much better than your first fancy. I am quite sure, if you
will let me say so, that the object of your choice would greatly
prefer to follow your fortunes far and wide, however moderate or
poor, and see you happy, doing your duty and pursuing your chosen
way, than to have the hope of being, or even to be, very rich with
you (if such a thing were possible) at the cost of dragging years
of procrastination and anxiety and of your indifference to other
aims. You may wonder at my saying this so confidently with so
little knowledge or experience, but I know it for a certainty from
my own heart.
Ever, my dearest cousin, your most affectionate
This note brought Richard to us very soon, but it made little
change in him if any. We would fairly try, he said, who was right
and who was wrong--he would show us--we should see! He was
animated and glowing, as if Ada's tenderness had gratified him; but
I could only hope, with a sigh, that the letter might have some
stronger effect upon his mind on re-perusal than it assuredly had
As they were to remain with us that day and had taken their places
to return by the coach next morning, I sought an opportunity of
speaking to Mr. Skimpole. Our out-of-door life easily threw one in
my way, and I delicately said that there was a responsibility in
"Responsibility, my dear Miss Summerson?" he repeated, catching at
the word with the pleasantest smile. "I am the last man in the
world for such a thing. I never was responsible in my life--I
"I am afraid everybody is obliged to be," said I timidly enough, he
being so much older and more clever than I.
"No, really?" said Mr. Skimpole, receiving this new light with a
most agreeable jocularity of surprise. "But every man's not
obliged to be solvent? I am not. I never was. See, my dear Miss
Summerson," he took a handful of loose silver and halfpence from
his pocket, "there's so much money. I have not an idea how much.
I have not the power of counting. Call it four and ninepence--call
it four pound nine. They tell me I owe more than that. I dare say
I do. I dare say I owe as much as good-natured people will let me
owe. If they don't stop, why should I? There you have Harold
Skimpole in little. If that's responsibility, I am responsible."
The perfect ease of manner with which he put the money up again and
looked at me with a smile on his refined face, as if he had been
mentioning a curious little fact about somebody else, almost made
me feel as if he really had nothing to do with it.
"Now, when you mention responsibility," he resumed, "I am disposed
to say that I never had the happiness of knowing any one whom I
should consider so refreshingly responsible as yourself. You
appear to me to be the very touchstone of responsibility. When I
see you, my dear Miss Summerson, intent upon the perfect working of
the whole little orderly system of which you are the centre, I feel
inclined to say to myself--in fact I do say to myself very often--
It was difficult, after this, to explain what I meant; but I
persisted so far as to say that we all hoped he would check and not
confirm Richard in the sanguine views he entertained just then.
"Most willingly," he retorted, "if I could. But, my dear Miss
Summerson, I have no art, no disguise. If he takes me by the hand
and leads me through Westminster Hall in an airy procession after
fortune, I must go. If he says, 'Skimpole, join the dance!' I
must join it. Common sense wouldn't, I know, but I have NO common
It was very unfortunate for Richard, I said.
"Do you think so!" returned Mr. Skimpole. "Don't say that, don't
say that. Let us suppose him keeping company with Common Sense--an
excellent man--a good deal wrinkled--dreadfully practical--change
for a ten-pound note in every pocket--ruled account-book in his
hand--say, upon the whole, resembling a tax-gatherer. Our dear
Richard, sanguine, ardent, overleaping obstacles, bursting with
poetry like a young bud, says to this highly respectable companion,
'I see a golden prospect before me; it's very bright, it's very
beautiful, it's very joyous; here I go, bounding over the landscape
to come at it!' The respectable companion instantly knocks him
down with the ruled account-book; tells him in a literal, prosaic
way that he sees no such thing; shows him it's nothing but fees,
fraud, horsehair wigs, and black gowns. Now you know that's a
painful change--sensible in the last degree, I have no doubt, but
disagreeable. I can't do it. I haven't got the ruled account-
book, I have none of the tax-gathering elements in my composition,
I am not at all respectable, and I don't want to be. Odd perhaps,
but so it is!"
It was idle to say more, so I proposed that we should join Ada and
Richard, who were a little in advance, and I gave up Mr. Skimpole
in despair. He had been over the Hall in the course of the morning
and whimsically described the family pictures as we walked. There
were such portentous shepherdesses among the Ladies Dedlock dead
and gone, he told us, that peaceful crooks became weapons of
assault in their hands. They tended their flocks severely in
buckram and powder and put their sticking-plaster patches on to
terrify commoners as the chiefs of some other tribes put on their
war-paint. There was a Sir Somebody Dedlock, with a battle, a
sprung-mine, volumes of smoke, flashes of lightning, a town on
fire, and a stormed fort, all in full action between his horse's
two hind legs, showing, he supposed, how little a Dedlock made of
such trifles. The whole race he represented as having evidently
been, in life, what he called "stuffed people"--a large collection,
glassy eyed, set up in the most approved manner on their various
twigs and perches, very correct, perfectly free from animation, and
always in glass cases.
I was not so easy now during any reference to the name but that I
felt it a relief when Richard, with an exclamation of surprise,
hurried away to meet a stranger whom he first descried coming
slowly towards us.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Skimpole. "Vholes!"
We asked if that were a friend of Richard's.
"Friend and legal adviser," said Mr. Skimpole. "Now, my dear Miss
Summerson, if you want common sense, responsibility, and
respectability, all united--if you want an exemplary man--Vholes is
We had not known, we said, that Richard was assisted by any
gentleman of that name.
"When he emerged from legal infancy," returned Mr. Skimpole, "he
parted from our conversational friend Kenge and took up, I believe,
with Vholes. Indeed, I know he did, because I introduced him to
"Had you known him long?" asked Ada.
"Vholes? My dear Miss Clare, I had had that kind of acquaintance
with him which I have had with several gentlemen of his profession.
He had done something or other in a very agreeable, civil manner--
taken proceedings, I think, is the expression--which ended in the
proceeding of his taking ME. Somebody was so good as to step in
and pay the money--something and fourpence was the amount; I forget
the pounds and shillings, but I know it ended with fourpence,
because it struck me at the time as being so odd that I could owe
anybody fourpence--and after that I brought them together. Vholes
asked me for the introduction, and I gave it. Now I come to think
of it," he looked inquiringly at us with his frankest smile as he
made the discovery, "Vholes bribed me, perhaps? He gave me
something and called it commission. Was it a five-pound note? Do
you know, I think it MUST have been a five-pound note!"
His further consideration of the point was prevented by Richard's
coming back to us in an excited state and hastily representing Mr.
Vholes--a sallow man with pinched lips that looked as if they were
cold, a red eruption here and there upon his face, tall and thin,
about fifty years of age, high-shouldered, and stooping. Dressed
in black, black-gloved, and buttoned to the chin, there was nothing
so remarkable in him as a lifeless manner and a slow, fixed way he
had of looking at Richard.
"I hope I don't disturb you, ladies," said Mr. Vholes, and now I
observed that he was further remarkable for an inward manner of
speaking. "I arranged with Mr. Carstone that he should always know
when his cause was in the Chancellor's paper, and being informed by
one of my clerks last night after post time that it stood, rather
unexpectedly, in the paper for to-morrow, I put myself into the
coach early this morning and came down to confer with him."
"Yes," said Richard, flushed, and looking triumphantly at Ada and
me, "we don't do these things in the old slow way now. We spin
along now! Mr. Vholes, we must hire something to get over to the
post town in, and catch the mail to-night, and go up by it!"
"Anything you please, sir," returned Mr. Vholes. "I am quite at
"Let me see," said Richard, looking at his watch. "If I run down
to the Dedlock, and get my portmanteau fastened up, and order a
gig, or a chaise, or whatever's to be got, we shall have an hour
then before starting. I'll come back to tea. Cousin Ada, will you
and Esther take care of Mr. Vholes when I am gone?"
He was away directly, in his heat and hurry, and was soon lost in
the dusk of evening. We who were left walked on towards the house.
"Is Mr. Carstone's presence necessary to-morrow, Sir?" said I.
"Can it do any good?"
"No, miss," Mr. Vholes replied. "I am not aware that it can."
Both Ada and I expressed our regret that he should go, then, only
to be disappointed.
"Mr. Carstone has laid down the principle of watching his own
interests," said Mr. Vholes, "and when a client lays down his own
principle, and it is not immoral, it devolves upon me to carry it
out. I wish in business to be exact and open. I am a widower with
three daughters--Emma, Jane, and Caroline--and my desire is so to
discharge the duties of life as to leave them a good name. This
appears to be a pleasant spot, miss."
The remark being made to me in consequence of my being next him as
we walked, I assented and enumerated its chief attractions.
"Indeed?" said Mr. Vholes. "I have the privilege of supporting an
aged father in the Vale of Taunton--his native place--and I admire
that country very much. I had no idea there was anything so
To keep up the conversation, I asked Mr. Vholes if he would like to
live altogether in the country.
"There, miss," said he, "you touch me on a tender string. My
health is not good (my digestion being much impaired), and if I had
only myself to consider, I should take refuge in rural habits,
especially as the cares of business have prevented me from ever
coming much into contact with general society, and particularly
with ladies' society, which I have most wished to mix in. But with
my three daughters, Emma, Jane, and Caroline--and my aged father--I
cannot afford to be selfish. It is true I have no longer to
maintain a dear grandmother who died in her hundred and second
year, but enough remains to render it indispensable that the mill
should be always going."
It required some attention to hear him on account of his inward
speaking and his lifeless manner.
"You will excuse my having mentioned my daughters," he said. "They
are my weak point. I wish to leave the poor girls some little
independence, as well as a good name."
We now arrived at Mr. Boythorn's house, where the tea-table, all
prepared, was awaiting us. Richard came in restless and hurried
shortly afterwards, and leaning over Mr. Vholes's chair, whispered
something in his ear. Mr. Vholes replied aloud--or as nearly aloud
I suppose as he had ever replied to anything--"You will drive me,
will you, sir? It is all the same to me, sir. Anything you
please. I am quite at your service."
We understood from what followed that Mr. Skimpole was to be left
until the morning to occupy the two places which had been already
paid for. As Ada and I were both in low spirits concerning Richard
and very sorry so to part with him, we made it as plain as we
politely could that we should leave Mr. Skimpole to the Dedlock
Arms and retire when the night-travellers were gone.
Richard's high spirits carrying everything before them, we all went
out together to the top of the hill above the village, where he had
ordered a gig to wait and where we found a man with a lantern
standing at the head of the gaunt pale horse that had been
harnessed to it.
I never shall forget those two seated side by side in the lantern's
light, Richard all flush and fire and laughter, with the reins in
his hand; Mr. Vholes quite still, black-gloved, and buttoned up,
looking at him as if he were looking at his prey and charming it.
I have before me the whole picture of the warm dark night, the
summer lightning, the dusty track of road closed in by hedgerows
and high trees, the gaunt pale horse with his ears pricked up, and
the driving away at speed to Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
My dear girl told me that night how Richard's being thereafter
prosperous or ruined, befriended or deserted, could only make this
difference to her, that the more he needed love from one unchanging
heart, the more love that unchanging heart would have to give him;
how he thought of her through his present errors, and she would
think of him at all times--never of herself if she could devote
herself to him, never of her own delights if she could minister to
And she kept her word?
I look along the road before me, where the distance already
shortens and the journey's end is growing visible; and true and
good above the dead sea of the Chancery suit and all the ashy fruit
it cast ashore, I think I see my darling.