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Quite at Home
The day had brightened very much, and still brightened as we went
westward. We went our way through the sunshine and the fresh air,
wondering more and more at the extent of the streets, the
brilliancy of the shops, the great traffic, and the crowds of
people whom the pleasanter weather seemed to have brought out like
many-coloured flowers. By and by we began to leave the wonderful
city and to proceed through suburbs which, of themselves, would
have made a pretty large town in my eyes; and at last we got into a
real country road again, with windmills, rick-yards, milestones,
farmers' waggons, scents of old hay, swinging signs, and horse
troughs: trees, fields, and hedge-rows. It was delightful to see
the green landscape before us and the immense metropolis behind;
and when a waggon with a train of beautiful horses, furnished with
red trappings and clear-sounding bells, came by us with its music,
I believe we could all three have sung to the bells, so cheerful
were the influences around.
"The whole road has been reminding me of my namesake Whittington,"
said Richard, "and that waggon is the finishing touch. Halloa!
What's the matter?"
We had stopped, and the waggon had stopped too. Its music changed
as the horses came to a stand, and subsided to a gentle tinkling,
except when a horse tossed his head or shook himself and sprinkled
off a little shower of bell-ringing.
"Our postilion is looking after the waggoner," said Richard, "and
the waggoner is coming back after us. Good day, friend!" The
waggoner was at our coach-door. "Why, here's an extraordinary
thing!" added Richard, looking closely at the man. "He has got
your name, Ada, in his hat!"
He had all our names in his hat. Tucked within the band were three
small notes--one addressed to Ada, one to Richard, one to me.
These the waggoner delivered to each of us respectively, reading
the name aloud first. In answer to Richard's inquiry from whom
they came, he briefly answered, "Master, sir, if you please"; and
putting on his hat again (which was like a soft bowl), cracked his
whip, re-awakened his music, and went melodiously away.
"Is that Mr. Jarndyce's waggon?" said Richard, calling to our post-
"Yes, sir," he replied. "Going to London."
We opened the notes. Each was a counterpart of the other and
contained these words in a solid, plain hand.
"I look forward, my dear, to our meeting easily and without
constraint on either side. I therefore have to propose that we
meet as old friends and take the past for granted. It will be a
relief to you possibly, and to me certainly, and so my love to you.
I had perhaps less reason to be surprised than either of my
companions, having never yet enjoyed an opportunity of thanking one
who had been my benefactor and sole earthly dependence through so
many years. I had not considered how I could thank him, my
gratitude lying too deep in my heart for that; but I now began to
consider how I could meet him without thanking him, and felt it
would be very difficult indeed.
The notes revived in Richard and Ada a general impression that they
both had, without quite knowing how they came by it, that their
cousin Jarndyce could never bear acknowledgments for any kindness
he performed and that sooner than receive any he would resort to
the most singular expedients and evasions or would even run away.
Ada dimly remembered to have heard her mother tell, when she was a
very little child, that he had once done her an act of uncommon
generosity and that on her going to his house to thank him, he
happened to see her through a window coming to the door, and
immediately escaped by the back gate, and was not heard of for
three months. This discourse led to a great deal more on the same
theme, and indeed it lasted us all day, and we talked of scarcely
anything else. If we did by any chance diverge into another
subject, we soon returned to this, and wondered what the house
would be like, and when we should get there, and whether we should
see Mr. Jarndyce as soon as we arrived or after a delay, and what
he would say to us, and what we should say to him. All of which we
wondered about, over and over again.
The roads were very heavy for the horses, but the pathway was
generally good, so we alighted and walked up all the hills, and
liked it so well that we prolonged our walk on the level ground
when we got to the top. At Barnet there were other horses waiting
for us, but as they had only just been fed, we had to wait for them
too, and got a long fresh walk over a common and an old battle-
field before the carriage came up. These delays so protracted the
journey that the short day was spent and the long night had closed
in before we came to St. Albans, near to which town Bleak House
was, we knew.
By that time we were so anxious and nervous that even Richard
confessed, as we rattled over the stones of the old street, to
feeling an irrational desire to drive back again. As to Ada and
me, whom he had wrapped up with great care, the night being sharp
and frosty, we trembled from head to foot. When we turned out of
the town, round a corner, and Richard told us that the post-boy,
who had for a long time sympathized with our heightened
expectation, was looking back and nodding, we both stood up in the
carriage (Richard holding Ada lest she should be jolted down) and
gazed round upon the open country and the starlight night for our
destination. There was a light sparkling on the top of a hill
before us, and the driver, pointing to it with his whip and crying,
"That's Bleak House!" put his horses into a canter and took us
forward at such a rate, uphill though it was, that the wheels sent
the road drift flying about our heads like spray from a water-mill.
Presently we lost the light, presently saw it, presently lost it,
presently saw it, and turned into an avenue of trees and cantered
up towards where it was beaming brightly. It was in a window of
what seemed to be an old-fashioned house with three peaks in the
roof in front and a circular sweep leading to the porch. A bell
was rung as we drew up, and amidst the sound of its deep voice in
the still air, and the distant barking of some dogs, and a gush of
light from the opened door, and the smoking and steaming of the
heated horses, and the quickened beating of our own hearts, we
alighted in no inconsiderable confusion.
"Ada, my love, Esther, my dear, you are welcome. I rejoice to see
you! Rick, if I had a hand to spare at present, I would give it
The gentleman who said these words in a clear, bright, hospitable
voice had one of his arms round Ada's waist and the other round
mine, and kissed us both in a fatherly way, and bore us across the
hall into a ruddy little room, all in a glow with a blazing fire.
Here he kissed us again, and opening his arms, made us sit down
side by side on a sofa ready drawn out near the hearth. I felt
that if we had been at all demonstrative, he would have run away in
"Now, Rick!" said he. "I have a hand at liberty. A word in
earnest is as good as a speech. I am heartily glad to see you.
You are at home. Warm yourself!"
Richard shook him by both hands with an intuitive mixture of
respect and frankness, and only saying (though with an earnestness
that rather alarmed me, I was so afraid of Mr. Jarndyce's suddenly
disappearing), "You are very kind, sir! We are very much obliged
to you!" laid aside his hat and coat and came up to the fire.
"And how did you like the ride? And how did you like Mrs. Jellyby,
my dear?" said Mr. Jarndyce to Ada.
While Ada was speaking to him in reply, I glanced (I need not say
with how much interest) at his face. It was a handsome, lively,
quick face, full of change and motion; and his hair was a silvered
iron-grey. I took him to be nearer sixty than fifty, but he was
upright, hearty, and robust. From the moment of his first speaking
to us his voice had connected itself with an association in my mind
that I could not define; but now, all at once, a something sudden
in his manner and a pleasant expression in his eyes recalled the
gentleman in the stagecoach six years ago on the memorable day of
my journey to Reading. I was certain it was he. I never was so
frightened in my life as when I made the discovery, for he caught
my glance, and appearing to read my thoughts, gave such a look at
the door that I thought we had lost him.
However, I am happy to say he remained where he was, and asked me
what I thought of Mrs. Jellyby.
"She exerts herself very much for Africa, sir," I said.
"Nobly!" returned Mr. Jarndyce. "But you answer like Ada." Whom I
had not heard. "You all think something else, I see."
"We rather thought," said I, glancing at Richard and Ada, who
entreated me with their eyes to speak, "that perhaps she was a
little unmindful of her home."
"Floored!" cried Mr. Jarndyce.
I was rather alarmed again.
"Well! I want to know your real thoughts, my dear. I may have
sent you there on purpose."
"We thought that, perhaps," said I, hesitating, "it is right to
begin with the obligations of home, sir; and that, perhaps, while
those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be
substituted for them."
"The little Jellybys," said Richard, coming to my relief, "are
really--I can't help expressing myself strongly, sir--in a devil of
"She means well," said Mr. Jarndyce hastily. "The wind's in the
"It was in the north, sir, as we came down," observed Richard.
"My dear Rick," said Mr. Jarndyce, poking the fire, "I'll take an
oath it's either in the east or going to be. I am always conscious
of an uncomfortable sensation now and then when the wind is blowing
in the east."
"Rheumatism, sir?" said Richard.
"I dare say it is, Rick. I believe it is. And so the little Jell
--I had my doubts about 'em--are in a--oh, Lord, yes, it's
easterly!" said Mr. Jarndyce.
He had taken two or three undecided turns up and down while
uttering these broken sentences, retaining the poker in one hand
and rubbing his hair with the other, with a good-natured vexation
at once so whimsical and so lovable that I am sure we were more
delighted with him than we could possibly have expressed in any
words. He gave an arm to Ada and an arm to me, and bidding Richard
bring a candle, was leading the way out when he suddenly turned us
all back again.
"Those little Jellybys. Couldn't you--didn't you--now, if it had
rained sugar-plums, or three-cornered raspberry tarts, or anything
of that sort!" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Oh, cousin--" Ada hastily began.
"Good, my pretty pet. I like cousin. Cousin John, perhaps, is
"Then, cousin John--" Ada laughingly began again.
"Ha, ha! Very good indeed!" said Mr. Jarndyce with great
enjoyment. "Sounds uncommonly natural. Yes, my dear?"
"It did better than that. It rained Esther."
"Aye?" said Mr. Jarndyce. "What did Esther do?"
"Why, cousin John," said Ada, clasping her hands upon his arm and
shaking her head at me across him--for I wanted her to be quiet--
"Esther was their friend directly. Esther nursed them, coaxed them
to sleep, washed and dressed them, told them stories, kept them
quiet, bought them keepsakes"--My dear girl! I had only gone out
with Peepy after he was found and given him a little, tiny horse!--
"and, cousin John, she softened poor Caroline, the eldest one, so
much and was so thoughtful for me and so amiable! No, no, I won't
be contradicted, Esther dear! You know, you know, it's true!"
The warm-hearted darling leaned across her cousin John and kissed
me, and then looking up in his face, boldly said, "At all events,
cousin John, I WILL thank you for the companion you have given me."
I felt as if she challenged him to run away. But he didn't.
"Where did you say the wind was, Rick?" asked Mr. Jarndyce.
"In the north as we came down, sir."
"You are right. There's no east in it. A mistake of mine. Come,
girls, come and see your home!"
It was one of those delightfully irregular houses where you go up
and down steps out of one room into another, and where you come
upon more rooms when you think you have seen all there are, and
where there is a bountiful provision of little halls and passages,
and where you find still older cottage-rooms in unexpected places
with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them. Mine,
which we entered first, was of this kind, with an up-and-down roof
that had more corners in it than I ever counted afterwards and a
chimney (there was a wood fire on the hearth) paved all around with
pure white tiles, in every one of which a bright miniature of the
fire was blazing. Out of this room, you went down two steps into a
charming little sitting-room looking down upon a flower-garden,
which room was henceforth to belong to Ada and me. Out of this you
went up three steps into Ada's bedroom, which had a fine broad
window commanding a beautiful view (we saw a great expanse of
darkness lying underneath the stars), to which there was a hollow
window-seat, in which, with a spring-lock, three dear Adas might
have been lost at once. Out of this room you passed into a little
gallery, with which the other best rooms (only two) communicated,
and so, by a little staircase of shallow steps with a number of
corner stairs in it, considering its length, down into the hall.
But if instead of going out at Ada's door you came back into my
room, and went out at the door by which you had entered it, and
turned up a few crooked steps that branched off in an unexpected
manner from the stairs, you lost yourself in passages, with mangles
in them, and three-cornered tables, and a native Hindu chair, which
was also a sofa, a box, and a bedstead, and looked in every form
something between a bamboo skeleton and a great bird-cage, and had
been brought from India nobody knew by whom or when. From these
you came on Richard's room, which was part library, part sitting-
room, part bedroom, and seemed indeed a comfortable compound of
many rooms. Out of that you went straight, with a little interval
of passage, to the plain room where Mr. Jarndyce slept, all the
year round, with his window open, his bedstead without any
furniture standing in the middle of the floor for more air, and his
cold bath gaping for him in a smaller room adjoining. Out of that
you came into another passage, where there were back-stairs and
where you could hear the horses being rubbed down outside the
stable and being told to "Hold up" and "Get over," as they slipped
about very much on the uneven stones. Or you might, if you came
out at another door (every room had at least two doors), go
straight down to the hall again by half-a-dozen steps and a low
archway, wondering how you got back there or had ever got out of
The furniture, old-fashioned rather than old, like the house, was
as pleasantly irregular. Ada's sleeping-room was all flowers--in
chintz and paper, in velvet, in needlework, in the brocade of two
stiff courtly chairs which stood, each attended by a little page of
a stool for greater state, on either side of the fire-place. Our
sitting-room was green and had framed and glazed upon the walls
numbers of surprising and surprised birds, staring out of pictures
at a real trout in a case, as brown and shining as if it had been
served with gravy; at the death of Captain Cook; and at the whole
process of preparing tea in China, as depicted by Chinese artists.
In my room there were oval engravings of the months--ladies
haymaking in short waists and large hats tied under the chin, for
June; smooth-legged noblemen pointing with cocked-hats to village
steeples, for October. Half-length portraits in crayons abounded
all through the house, but were so dispersed that I found the
brother of a youthful officer of mine in the china-closet and the
grey old age of my pretty young bride, with a flower in her bodice,
in the breakfast-room. As substitutes, I had four angels, of Queen
Anne's reign, taking a complacent gentleman to heaven, in festoons,
with some difficulty; and a composition in needlework representing
fruit, a kettle, and an alphabet. All the movables, from the
wardrobes to the chairs and tables, hangings, glasses, even to the
pincushions and scent-bottles on the dressing-tables, displayed the
same quaint variety. They agreed in nothing but their perfect
neatness, their display of the whitest linen, and their storing-up,
wheresoever the existence of a drawer, small or large, rendered it
possible, of quantities of rose-leaves and sweet lavender. Such,
with its illuminated windows, softened here and there by shadows of
curtains, shining out upon the starlight night; with its light, and
warmth, and comfort; with its hospitable jingle, at a distance, of
preparations for dinner; with the face of its generous master
brightening everything we saw; and just wind enough without to
sound a low accompaniment to everything we heard, were our first
impressions of Bleak House.
"I am glad you like it," said Mr. Jarndyce when he had brought us
round again to Ada's sitting-room. "It makes no pretensions, but
it is a comfortable little place, I hope, and will be more so with
such bright young looks in it. You have barely half an hour before
dinner. There's no one here but the finest creature upon earth--a
"More children, Esther!" said Ada.
"I don't mean literally a child," pursued Mr. Jarndyce; "not a
child in years. He is grown up--he is at least as old as I am--but
in simplicity, and freshness, and enthusiasm, and a fine guileless
inaptitude for all worldly affairs, he is a perfect child."
We felt that he must be very interesting.
"He knows Mrs. Jellyby," said Mr. Jarndyce. "He is a musical man,
an amateur, but might have been a professional. He is an artist
too, an amateur, but might have been a professional. He is a man
of attainments and of captivating manners. He has been unfortunate
in his affairs, and unfortunate in his pursuits, and unfortunate in
his family; but he don't care--he's a child!"
"Did you imply that he has children of his own, sir?" inquired
"Yes, Rick! Half-a-dozen. More! Nearer a dozen, I should think.
But he has never looked after them. How could he? He wanted
somebody to look after HIM. He is a child, you know!" said Mr.
"And have the children looked after themselves at all, sir?"
"Why, just as you may suppose," said Mr. Jarndyce, his countenance
suddenly falling. "It is said that the children of the very poor
are not brought up, but dragged up. Harold Skimpole's children
have tumbled up somehow or other. The wind's getting round again,
I am afraid. I feel it rather!"
Richard observed that the situation was exposed on a sharp night.
"It IS exposed," said Mr. Jarndyce. "No doubt that's the cause.
Bleak House has an exposed sound. But you are coming my way. Come
Our luggage having arrived and being all at hand, I was dressed in
a few minutes and engaged in putting my worldly goods away when a
maid (not the one in attendance upon Ada, but another, whom I had
not seen) brought a basket into my room with two bunches of keys in
it, all labelled.
"For you, miss, if you please," said she.
"For me?" said I.
"The housekeeping keys, miss."
I showed my surprise, for she added with some little surprise on
her own part, "I was told to bring them as soon as you was alone,
miss. Miss Summerson, if I don't deceive myself?"
"Yes," said I. "That is my name."
"The large bunch is the housekeeping, and the little bunch is the
cellars, miss. Any time you was pleased to appoint to-morrow
morning, I was to show you the presses and things they belong to."
I said I would be ready at half-past six, and after she was gone,
stood looking at the basket, quite lost in the magnitude of my
trust. Ada found me thus and had such a delightful confidence in
me when I showed her the keys and told her about them that it would
have been insensibility and ingratitude not to feel encouraged. I
knew, to be sure, that it was the dear girl's kindness, but I liked
to be so pleasantly cheated.
When we went downstairs, we were presented to Mr. Skimpole, who was
standing before the fire telling Richard how fond he used to be, in
his school-time, of football. He was a little bright creature with
a rather large head, but a delicate face and a sweet voice, and
there was a perfect charm in him. All he said was so free from
effort and spontaneous and was said with such a captivating gaiety
that it was fascinating to hear him talk. Being of a more slender
figure than Mr. Jarndyce and having a richer complexion, with
browner hair, he looked younger. Indeed, he had more the
appearance in all respects of a damaged young man than a well-
preserved elderly one. There was an easy negligence in his manner
and even in his dress (his hair carelessly disposed, and his
neckkerchief loose and flowing, as I have seen artists paint their
own portraits) which I could not separate from the idea of a
romantic youth who had undergone some unique process of
depreciation. It struck me as being not at all like the manner or
appearance of a man who had advanced in life by the usual road of
years, cares, and experiences.
I gathered from the conversation that Mr. Skimpole had been
educated for the medical profession and had once lived, in his
professional capacity, in the household of a German prince. He
told us, however, that as he had always been a mere child in point
of weights and measures and had never known anything about them
(except that they disgusted him), he had never been able to
prescribe with the requisite accuracy of detail. In fact, he said,
he had no head for detail. And he told us, with great humour, that
when he was wanted to bleed the prince or physic any of his people,
he was generally found lying on his back in bed, reading the
newspapers or making fancy-sketches in pencil, and couldn't come.
The prince, at last, objecting to this, "in which," said Mr.
Skimpole, in the frankest manner, "he was perfectly right," the
engagement terminated, and Mr. Skimpole having (as he added with
delightful gaiety) "nothing to live upon but love, fell in love,
and married, and surrounded himself with rosy cheeks." His good
friend Jarndyce and some other of his good friends then helped him,
in quicker or slower succession, to several openings in life, but
to no purpose, for he must confess to two of the oldest infirmities
in the world: one was that he had no idea of time, the other that
he had no idea of money. In consequence of which he never kept an
appointment, never could transact any business, and never knew the
value of anything! Well! So he had got on in life, and here he
was! He was very fond of reading the papers, very fond of making
fancy-sketches with a pencil, very fond of nature, very fond of
art. All he asked of society was to let him live. THAT wasn't
much. His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation,
music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets
of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more. He
was a mere child in the world, but he didn't cry for the moon. He
said to the world, "Go your several ways in peace! Wear red coats,
blue coats, lawn sleeves; put pens behind your ears, wear aprons;
go after glory, holiness, commerce, trade, any object you prefer;
only--let Harold Skimpole live!"
All this and a great deal more he told us, not only with the utmost
brilliancy and enjoyment, but with a certain vivacious candour--
speaking of himself as if he were not at all his own affair, as if
Skimpole were a third person, as if he knew that Skimpole had his
singularities but still had his claims too, which were the general
business of the community and must not be slighted. He was quite
enchanting. If I felt at all confused at that early time in
endeavouring to reconcile anything he said with anything I had
thought about the duties and accountabilities of life (which I am
far from sure of), I was confused by not exactly understanding why
he was free of them. That he WAS free of them, I scarcely doubted;
he was so very clear about it himself.
"I covet nothing," said Mr. Skimpole in the same light way.
"Possession is nothing to me. Here is my friend Jarndyce's
excellent house. I feel obliged to him for possessing it. I can
sketch it and alter it. I can set it to music. When I am here, I
have sufficient possession of it and have neither trouble, cost,
nor responsibility. My steward's name, in short, is Jarndyce, and
he can't cheat me. We have been mentioning Mrs. Jellyby. There is
a bright-eyed woman, of a strong will and immense power of business
detail, who throws herself into objects with surprising ardour! I
don't regret that I have not a strong will and an immense power of
business detail to throw myself into objects with surprising
ardour. I can admire her without envy. I can sympathize with the
objects. I can dream of them. I can lie down on the grass--in
fine weather--and float along an African river, embracing all the
natives I meet, as sensible of the deep silence and sketching the
dense overhanging tropical growth as accurately as if I were there.
I don't know that it's of any direct use my doing so, but it's all
I can do, and I do it thoroughly. Then, for heaven's sake, having
Harold Skimpole, a confiding child, petitioning you, the world, an
agglomeration of practical people of business habits, to let him
live and admire the human family, do it somehow or other, like good
souls, and suffer him to ride his rocking-horse!"
It was plain enough that Mr. Jarndyce had not been neglectful of
the adjuration. Mr. Skimpole's general position there would have
rendered it so without the addition of what he presently said.
"It's only you, the generous creatures, whom I envy," said Mr.
Skimpole, addressing us, his new friends, in an impersonal manner.
"I envy you your power of doing what you do. It is what I should
revel in myself. I don't feel any vulgar gratitude to you. I
almost feel as if YOU ought to be grateful to ME for giving you the
opportunity of enjoying the luxury of generosity. I know you like
it. For anything I can tell, I may have come into the world
expressly for the purpose of increasing your stock of happiness. I
may have been born to be a benefactor to you by sometimes giving
you an opportunity of assisting me in my little perplexities. Why
should I regret my incapacity for details and worldly affairs when
it leads to such pleasant consequences? I don't regret it
Of all his playful speeches (playful, yet always fully meaning what
they expressed) none seemed to be more to the taste of Mr. Jarndyce
than this. I had often new temptations, afterwards, to wonder
whether it was really singular, or only singular to me, that he,
who was probably the most grateful of mankind upon the least
occasion, should so desire to escape the gratitude of others.
We were all enchanted. I felt it a merited tribute to the engaging
qualities of Ada and Richard that Mr. Skimpole, seeing them for the
first time, should be so unreserved and should lay himself out to
be so exquisitely agreeable. They (and especially Richard) were
naturally pleased, for similar reasons, and considered it no common
privilege to be so freely confided in by such an attractive man.
The more we listened, the more gaily Mr. Skimpole talked. And what
with his fine hilarious manner and his engaging candour and his
genial way of lightly tossing his own weaknesses about, as if he
had said, "I am a child, you know! You are designing people
compared with me" (he really made me consider myself in that light)
"but I am gay and innocent; forget your worldly arts and play with
me!" the effect was absolutely dazzling.
He was so full of feeling too and had such a delicate sentiment for
what was beautiful or tender that he could have won a heart by that
alone. In the evening, when I was preparing to make tea and Ada
was touching the piano in the adjoining room and softly humming a
tune to her cousin Richard, which they had happened to mention, he
came and sat down on the sofa near me and so spoke of Ada that I
almost loved him.
"She is like the morning," he said. "With that golden hair, those
blue eyes, and that fresh bloom on her cheek, she is like the
summer morning. The birds here will mistake her for it. We will
not call such a lovely young creature as that, who is a joy to all
mankind, an orphan. She is the child of the universe."
Mr. Jarndyce, I found, was standing near us with his hands behind
him and an attentive smile upon his face.
"The universe," he observed, "makes rather an indifferent parent, I
"Oh! I don't know!" cried Mr. Skimpole buoyantly.
"I think I do know," said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Well!" cried Mr. Skimpole. "You know the world (which in your
sense is the universe), and I know nothing of it, so you shall have
your way. But if I had mine," glancing at the cousins, "there
should be no brambles of sordid realities in such a path as that.
It should be strewn with roses; it should lie through bowers, where
there was no spring, autumn, nor winter, but perpetual summer. Age
or change should never wither it. The base word money should never
be breathed near it!"
Mr. Jarndyce patted him on the head with a smile, as if he had been
really a child, and passing a step or two on, and stopping a
moment, glanced at the young cousins. His look was thoughtful, but
had a benignant expression in it which I often (how often!) saw
again, which has long been engraven on my heart. The room in which
they were, communicating with that in which he stood, was only
lighted by the fire. Ada sat at the piano; Richard stood beside
her, bending down. Upon the wall, their shadows blended together,
surrounded by strange forms, not without a ghostly motion caught
from the unsteady fire, though reflecting from motionless objects.
Ada touched the notes so softly and sang so low that the wind,
sighing away to the distant hills, was as audible as the music.
The mystery of the future and the little clue afforded to it by the
voice of the present seemed expressed in the whole picture.
But it is not to recall this fancy, well as I remember it, that I
recall the scene. First, I was not quite unconscious of the
contrast in respect of meaning and intention between the silent
look directed that way and the flow of words that had preceded it.
Secondly, though Mr. Jarndyce's glance as he withdrew it rested for
but a moment on me, I felt as if in that moment he confided to me--
and knew that he confided to me and that I received the confidence
--his hope that Ada and Richard might one day enter on a dearer
Mr. Skimpole could play on the piano and the violoncello, and he
was a composer--had composed half an opera once, but got tired of
it--and played what he composed with taste. After tea we had quite
a little concert, in which Richard--who was enthralled by Ada's
singing and told me that she seemed to know all the songs that ever
were written--and Mr. Jarndyce, and I were the audience. After a
little while I missed first Mr. Skimpole and afterwards Richard,
and while I was thinking how could Richard stay away so long and
lose so much, the maid who had given me the keys looked in at the
door, saying, "If you please, miss, could you spare a minute?"
When I was shut out with her in the hall, she said, holding up her
hands, "Oh, if you please, miss, Mr. Carstone says would you come
upstairs to Mr. Skimpole's room. He has been took, miss!"
"Took?" said I.
"Took, miss. Sudden," said the maid.
I was apprehensive that his illness might be of a dangerous kind,
but of course I begged her to be quiet and not disturb any one and
collected myself, as I followed her quickly upstairs, sufficiently
to consider what were the best remedies to be applied if it should
prove to be a fit. She threw open a door and I went into a
chamber, where, to my unspeakable surprise, instead of finding Mr.
Skimpole stretched upon the bed or prostrate on the floor, I found
him standing before the fire smiling at Richard, while Richard,
with a face of great embarrassment, looked at a person on the sofa,
in a white great-coat, with smooth hair upon his head and not much
of it, which he was wiping smoother and making less of with a
"Miss Summerson," said Richard hurriedly, "I am glad you are come.
You will be able to advise us. Our friend Mr. Skimpole--don't be
alarmed!--is arrested for debt."
"And really, my dear Miss Summerson," said Mr. Skimpole with his
agreeable candour, "I never was in a situation in which that
excellent sense and quiet habit of method and usefulness, which
anybody must observe in you who has the happiness of being a
quarter of an hour in your society, was more needed."
The person on the sofa, who appeared to have a cold in his head,
gave such a very loud snort that he startled me.
"Are you arrested for much, sir?" I inquired of Mr. Skimpole.
"My dear Miss Summerson," said he, shaking his head pleasantly, "I
don't know. Some pounds, odd shillings, and halfpence, I think,
"It's twenty-four pound, sixteen, and sevenpence ha'penny,"
observed the stranger. "That's wot it is."
"And it sounds--somehow it sounds," said Mr. Skimpole, "like a
The strange man said nothing but made another snort. It was such a
powerful one that it seemed quite to lift him out of his seat.
"Mr. Skimpole," said Richard to me, "has a delicacy in applying to
my cousin Jarndyce because he has lately--I think, sir, I
understood you that you had lately--"
"Oh, yes!" returned Mr. Skimpole, smiling. "Though I forgot how
much it was and when it was. Jarndyce would readily do it again,
but I have the epicure-like feeling that I would prefer a novelty
in help, that I would rather," and he looked at Richard and me,
"develop generosity in a new soil and in a new form of flower."
"What do you think will be best, Miss Summerson?" said Richard,
I ventured to inquire, generally, before replying, what would
happen if the money were not produced.
"Jail," said the strange man, coolly putting his handkerchief into
his hat, which was on the floor at his feet. "Or Coavinses."
"May I ask, sir, what is--"
"Coavinses?" said the strange man. "A 'ouse."
Richard and I looked at one another again. It was a most singular
thing that the arrest was our embarrassment and not Mr. Skimpole's.
He observed us with a genial interest, but there seemed, if I may
venture on such a contradiction, nothing selfish in it. He had
entirely washed his hands of the difficulty, and it had become
"I thought," he suggested, as if good-naturedly to help us out,
"that being parties in a Chancery suit concerning (as people say) a
large amount of property, Mr. Richard or his beautiful cousin, or
both, could sign something, or make over something, or give some
sort of undertaking, or pledge, or bond? I don't know what the
business name of it may be, but I suppose there is some instrument
within their power that would settle this?"
"Not a bit on it," said the strange man.
"Really?" returned Mr. Skimpole. "That seems odd, now, to one who
is no judge of these things!"
"Odd or even," said the stranger gruffly, "I tell you, not a bit on
"Keep your temper, my good fellow, keep your temper!" Mr. Skimpole
gently reasoned with him as he made a little drawing of his head on
the fly-leaf of a book. "Don't be ruffled by your occupation. We
can separate you from your office; we can separate the individual
from the pursuit. We are not so prejudiced as to suppose that in
private life you are otherwise than a very estimable man, with a
great deal of poetry in your nature, of which you may not be
The stranger only answered with another violent snort, whether in
acceptance of the poetry-tribute or in disdainful rejection of it,
he did not express to me.
"Now, my dear Miss Summerson, and my dear Mr. Richard," said Mr.
Skimpole gaily, innocently, and confidingly as he looked at his
drawing with his head on one side, "here you see me utterly
incapable of helping myself, and entirely in your hands! I only
ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not
deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies!"
"My dear Miss Summerson," said Richard in a whisper, "I have ten
pounds that I received from Mr. Kenge. I must try what that will
I possessed fifteen pounds, odd shillings, which I had saved from
my quarterly allowance during several years. I had always thought
that some accident might happen which would throw me suddenly,
without any relation or any property, on the world and had always
tried to keep some little money by me that I might not be quite
penniless. I told Richard of my having this little store and
having no present need of it, and I asked him delicately to inform
Mr. Skimpole, while I should be gone to fetch it, that we would
have the pleasure of paying his debt.
When I came back, Mr. Skimpole kissed my hand and seemed quite
touched. Not on his own account (I was again aware of that
perplexing and extraordinary contradiction), but on ours, as if
personal considerations were impossible with him and the
contemplation of our happiness alone affected him. Richard,
begging me, for the greater grace of the transaction, as he said,
to settle with Coavinses (as Mr. Skimpole now jocularly called
him), I counted out the money and received the necessary
acknowledgment. This, too, delighted Mr. Skimpole.
His compliments were so delicately administered that I blushed less
than I might have done and settled with the stranger in the white
coat without making any mistakes. He put the money in his pocket
and shortly said, "Well, then, I'll wish you a good evening, miss."
"My friend," said Mr. Skimpole, standing with his back to the fire
after giving up the sketch when it was half finished, "I should
like to ask you something, without offence."
I think the reply was, "Cut away, then!"
"Did you know this morning, now, that you were coming out on this
errand?" said Mr. Skimpole.
"Know'd it yes'day aft'noon at tea-time," said Coavinses.
"It didn't affect your appetite? Didn't make you at all uneasy?"
"Not a bit," said Coavinses. "I know'd if you wos missed to-day,
you wouldn't be missed to-morrow. A day makes no such odds."
"But when you came down here," proceeded Mr. Skimpole, "it was a
fine day. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, the lights
and shadows were passing across the fields, the birds were
"Nobody said they warn't, in MY hearing," returned Coavinses.
"No," observed Mr. Skimpole. "But what did you think upon the
"Wot do you mean?" growled Coavinses with an appearance of strong
resentment. "Think! I've got enough to do, and little enough to
get for it without thinking. Thinking!" (with profound contempt).
"Then you didn't think, at all events," proceeded Mr. Skimpole, "to
this effect: 'Harold Skimpole loves to see the sun shine, loves to
hear the wind blow, loves to watch the changing lights and shadows,
loves to hear the birds, those choristers in Nature's great
cathedral. And does it seem to me that I am about to deprive
Harold Skimpole of his share in such possessions, which are his
only birthright!' You thought nothing to that effect?"
"I--certainly--did--NOT," said Coavinses, whose doggedness in
utterly renouncing the idea was of that intense kind that he could
only give adequate expression to it by putting a long interval
between each word, and accompanying the last with a jerk that might
have dislocated his neck.
"Very odd and very curious, the mental process is, in you men of
business!" said Mr. Skimpole thoughtfully. "Thank you, my friend.
As our absence had been long enough already to seem strange
downstairs, I returned at once and found Ada sitting at work by the
fireside talking to her cousin John. Mr. Skimpole presently
appeared, and Richard shortly after him. I was sufficiently
engaged during the remainder of the evening in taking my first
lesson in backgammon from Mr. Jarndyce, who was very fond of the
game and from whom I wished of course to learn it as quickly as I
could in order that I might be of the very small use of being able
to play when he had no better adversary. But I thought,
occasionally, when Mr. Skimpole played some fragments of his own
compositions or when, both at the piano and the violoncello, and at
our table, he preserved with an absence of all effort his
delightful spirits and his easy flow of conversation, that Richard
and I seemed to retain the transferred impression of having been
arrested since dinner and that it was very curious altogether.
It was late before we separated, for when Ada was going at eleven
o'clock, Mr. Skimpole went to the piano and rattled hilariously
that the best of all ways to lengthen our days was to steal a few
hours from night, my dear! It was past twelve before he took his
candle and his radiant face out of the room, and I think he might
have kept us there, if he had seen fit, until daybreak. Ada and
Richard were lingering for a few moments by the fire, wondering
whether Mrs. Jellyby had yet finished her dictation for the day,
when Mr. Jarndyce, who had been out of the room, returned.
"Oh, dear me, what's this, what's this!" he said, rubbing his head
and walking about with his good-humoured vexation. "What's this
they tell me? Rick, my boy, Esther, my dear, what have you been
doing? Why did you do it? How could you do it? How much apiece
was it? The wind's round again. I feel it all over me!"
We neither of us quite knew what to answer.
"Come, Rick, come! I must settle this before I sleep. How much
are you out of pocket? You two made the money up, you know! Why
did you? How could you? Oh, Lord, yes, it's due east--must be!"
"Really, sir," said Richard, "I don't think it would be honourable
in me to tell you. Mr. Skimpole relied upon us--"
"Lord bless you, my dear boy! He relies upon everybody!" said Mr.
Jarndyce, giving his head a great rub and stopping short.
"Everybody! And he'll be in the same scrape again next week!" said
Mr. Jarndyce, walking again at a great pace, with a candle in his
hand that had gone out. "He's always in the same scrape. He was
born in the same scrape. I verily believe that the announcement in
the newspapers when his mother was confined was 'On Tuesday last,
at her residence in Botheration Buildings, Mrs. Skimpole of a son
Richard laughed heartily but added, "Still, sir, I don't want to
shake his confidence or to break his confidence, and if I submit to
your better knowledge again, that I ought to keep his secret, I
hope you will consider before you press me any more. Of course, if
you do press me, sir, I shall know I am wrong and will tell you."
"Well!" cried Mr. Jarndyce, stopping again, and making several
absent endeavours to put his candlestick in his pocket. "I--here!
Take it away, my dear. I don't know what I am about with it; it's
all the wind--invariably has that effect--I won't press you, Rick;
you may be right. But really--to get hold of you and Esther--and
to squeeze you like a couple of tender young Saint Michael's
oranges! It'll blow a gale in the course of the night!"
He was now alternately putting his hands into his pockets as if he
were going to keep them there a long time, and taking them out
again and vehemently rubbing them all over his head.
I ventured to take this opportunity of hinting that Mr. Skimpole,
being in all such matters quite a child--
"Eh, my dear?" said Mr. Jarndyce, catching at the word.
"Being quite a child, sir," said I, "and so different from other
"You are right!" said Mr. Jarndyce, brightening. "Your woman's wit
hits the mark. He is a child--an absolute child. I told you he
was a child, you know, when I first mentioned him."
Certainly! Certainly! we said.
"And he IS a child. Now, isn't he?" asked Mr. Jarndyce,
brightening more and more.
He was indeed, we said.
"When you come to think of it, it's the height of childishness in
you--I mean me--" said Mr. Jarndyce, "to regard him for a moment as
a man. You can't make HIM responsible. The idea of Harold
Skimpole with designs or plans, or knowledge of consequences! Ha,
It was so delicious to see the clouds about his bright face
clearing, and to see him so heartily pleased, and to know, as it
was impossible not to know, that the source of his pleasure was the
goodness which was tortured by condemning, or mistrusting, or
secretly accusing any one, that I saw the tears in Ada's eyes,
while she echoed his laugh, and felt them in my own.
"Why, what a cod's head and shoulders I am," said Mr. Jarndyce, "to
require reminding of it! The whole business shows the child from
beginning to end. Nobody but a child would have thought of
singling YOU two out for parties in the affair! Nobody but a child
would have thought of YOUR having the money! If it had been a
thousand pounds, it would have been just the same!" said Mr.
Jarndyce with his whole face in a glow.
We all confirmed it from our night's experience.
"To be sure, to be sure!" said Mr. Jarndyce. "However, Rick,
Esther, and you too, Ada, for I don't know that even your little
purse is safe from his inexperience--I must have a promise all
round that nothing of this sort shall ever be done any more. No
advances! Not even sixpences."
We all promised faithfully, Richard with a merry glance at me
touching his pocket as if to remind me that there was no danger of
"As to Skimpole," said Mr. Jarndyce, "a habitable doll's house with
good board and a few tin people to get into debt with and borrow
money of would set the boy up in life. He is in a child's sleep by
this time, I suppose; it's time I should take my craftier head to
my more worldly pillow. Good night, my dears. God bless you!"
He peeped in again, with a smiling face, before we had lighted our
candles, and said, "Oh! I have been looking at the weather-cock. I
find it was a false alarm about the wind. It's in the south!" And
went away singing to himself.
Ada and I agreed, as we talked together for a little while upstairs,
that this caprice about the wind was a fiction and that he used the
pretence to account for any disappointment he could not conceal,
rather than he would blame the real cause of it or disparage or
depreciate any one. We thought this very characteristic of his
eccentric gentleness and of the difference between him and those
petulant people who make the weather and the winds (particularly
that unlucky wind which he had chosen for such a different purpose)
the stalking-horses of their splenetic and gloomy humours.
Indeed, so much affection for him had been added in this one
evening to my gratitude that I hoped I already began to understand
him through that mingled feeling. Any seeming inconsistencies in
Mr. Skimpole or in Mrs. Jellyby I could not expect to be able to
reconcile, having so little experience or practical knowledge.
Neither did I try, for my thoughts were busy when I was alone, with
Ada and Richard and with the confidence I had seemed to receive
concerning them. My fancy, made a little wild by the wind perhaps,
would not consent to be all unselfish, either, though I would have
persuaded it to be so if I could. It wandered back to my
godmother's house and came along the intervening track, raising up
shadowy speculations which had sometimes trembled there in the dark
as to what knowledge Mr. Jarndyce had of my earliest history--even
as to the possibility of his being my father, though that idle
dream was quite gone now.
It was all gone now, I remembered, getting up from the fire. It was
not for me to muse over bygones, but to act with a cheerful spirit
and a grateful heart. So I said to myself, "Esther, Esther, Esther!
Duty, my dear!" and gave my little basket of housekeeping keys such
a shake that they sounded like little bells and rang me hopefully to