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Charles Dickens > Bleak House > Chapter XXXVI

Bleak House

Chapter XXXVI

Chesney Wold

Charley and I did not set off alone upon our expedition into
Lincolnshire. My guardian had made up his mind not to lose sight
of me until I was safe in Mr. Boythorn's house, so he accompanied
us, and we were two days upon the road. I found every breath of
air, and every scent, and every flower and leaf and blade of grass,
and every passing cloud, and everything in nature, more beautiful
and wonderful to me than I had ever found it yet. This was my
first gain from my illness. How little I had lost, when the wide
world was so full of delight for me.

My guardian intending to go back immediately, we appointed, on our
way down, a day when my dear girl should come. I wrote her a
letter, of which he took charge, and he left us within half an hour
of our arrival at our destination, on a delightful evening in the
early summer-time.

If a good fairy had built the house for me with a wave of her wand,
and I had been a princess and her favoured god-child, I could not
have been more considered in it. So many preparations were made
for me and such an endearing remembrance was shown of all my little
tastes and likings that I could have sat down, overcome, a dozen
times before I had revisited half the rooms. I did better than
that, however, by showing them all to Charley instead. Charley's
delight calmed mine; and after we had had a walk in the garden, and
Charley had exhausted her whole vocabulary of admiring expressions,
I was as tranquilly happy as I ought to have been. It was a great
comfort to be able to say to myself after tea, "Esther, my dear, I
think you are quite sensible enough to sit down now and write a
note of thanks to your host." He had left a note of welcome for
me, as sunny as his own face, and had confided his bird to my care,
which I knew to be his highest mark of confidence. Accordingly I
wrote a little note to him in London, telling him how all his
favourite plants and trees were looking, and how the most
astonishing of birds had chirped the honours of the house to me in
the most hospitable manner, and how, after singing on my shoulder,
to the inconceivable rapture of my little maid, he was then at
roost in the usual corner of his cage, but whether dreaming or no I
could not report. My note finished and sent off to the post, I
made myself very busy in unpacking and arranging; and I sent
Charley to bed in good time and told her I should want her no more
that night.

For I had not yet looked in the glass and had never asked to have
my own restored to me. I knew this to be a weakness which must be
overcome, but I had always said to myself that I would begin afresh
when I got to where I now was. Therefore I had wanted to be alone,
and therefore I said, now alone, in my own room, "Esther, if you
are to be happy, if you are to have any right to pray to be true-
hearted, you must keep your word, my dear." I was quite resolved
to keep it, but I sat down for a little while first to reflect upon
all my blessings. And then I said my prayers and thought a little

My hair had not been cut off, though it had been in danger more
than once. It was long and thick. I let it down, and shook it
out, and went up to the glass upon the dressing-table. There was a
little muslin curtain drawn across it. I drew it back and stood
for a moment looking through such a veil of my own hair that I
could see nothing else. Then I put my hair aside and looked at the
reflection in the mirror, encouraged by seeing how placidly it
looked at me. I was very much changed--oh, very, very much. At
first my face was so strange to me that I think I should have put
my hands before it and started back but for the encouragement I
have mentioned. Very soon it became more familiar, and then I knew
the extent of the alteration in it better than I had done at first.
It was not like what I had expected, but I had expected nothing
definite, and I dare say anything definite would have surprised me.

I had never been a beauty and had never thought myself one, but I
had been very different from this. It was all gone now. Heaven
was so good to me that I could let it go with a few not bitter
tears and could stand there arranging my hair for the night quite

One thing troubled me, and I considered it for a long time before I
went to sleep. I had kept Mr. Woodcourt's flowers. When they were
withered I had dried them and put them in a book that I was fond
of. Nobody knew this, not even Ada. I was doubtful whether I had
a right to preserve what he had sent to one so different--whether
it was generous towards him to do it. I wished to be generous to
him, even in the secret depths of my heart, which he would never
know, because I could have loved him--could have been devoted to
him. At last I came to the conclusion that I might keep them if I
treasured them only as a remembrance of what was irrevocably past
and gone, never to be looked back on any more, in any other light.
I hope this may not seem trivial. I was very much in earnest.

I took care to be up early in the morning and to be before the
glass when Charley came in on tiptoe.

"Dear, dear, miss!" cried Charley, starting. "Is that you?"

"Yes, Charley," said I, quietly putting up my hair. "And I am very
well indeed, and very happy."

I saw it was a weight off Charley's mind, but it was a greater
weight off mine. I knew the worst now and was composed to it. I
shall not conceal, as I go on, the weaknesses I could not quite
conquer, but they always passed from me soon and the happier frame
of mind stayed by me faithfully.

Wishing to be fully re-established in my strength and my good
spirits before Ada came, I now laid down a little series of plans
with Charley for being in the fresh air all day long. We were to
be out before breakfast, and were to dine early, and were to be out
again before and after dinner, and were to talk in the garden after
tea, and were to go to rest betimes, and were to climb every hill
and explore every road, lane, and field in the neighbourhood. As
to restoratives and strengthening delicacies, Mr. Boythorn's good
housekeeper was for ever trotting about with something to eat or
drink in her hand; I could not even be heard of as resting in the
park but she would come trotting after me with a basket, her
cheerful face shining with a lecture on the importance of frequent
nourishment. Then there was a pony expressly for my riding, a
chubby pony with a short neck and a mane all over his eyes who
could canter--when he would--so easily and quietly that he was a
treasure. In a very few days he would come to me in the paddock
when I called him, and eat out of my hand, and follow me about. We
arrived at such a capital understanding that when he was jogging
with me lazily, and rather obstinately, down some shady lane, if I
patted his neck and said, "Stubbs, I am surprised you don't canter
when you know how much I like it; and I think you might oblige me,
for you are only getting stupid and going to sleep," he would give
his head a comical shake or two and set off directly, while Charley
would stand still and laugh with such enjoyment that her laughter
was like music. I don't know who had given Stubbs his name, but it
seemed to belong to him as naturally as his rough coat. Once we
put him in a little chaise and drove him triumphantly through the
green lanes for five miles; but all at once, as we were extolling
him to the skies, he seemed to take it ill that he should have been
accompanied so far by the circle of tantalizing little gnats that
had been hovering round and round his ears the whole way without
appearing to advance an inch, and stopped to think about it. I
suppose he came to the decision that it was not to be borne, for he
steadily refused to move until I gave the reins to Charley and got
out and walked, when he followed me with a sturdy sort of good
humour, putting his head under my arm and rubbing his ear against
my sleeve. It was in vain for me to say, "Now, Stubbs, I feel
quite sure from what I know of you that you will go on if I ride a
little while," for the moment I left him, he stood stock still
again. Consequently I was obliged to lead the way, as before; and
in this order we returned home, to the great delight of the

Charley and I had reason to call it the most friendly of villages,
I am sure, for in a week's time the people were so glad to see us
go by, though ever so frequently in the course of a day, that there
were faces of greeting in every cottage. I had known many of the
grown people before and almost all the children, but now the very
steeple began to wear a familiar and affectionate look. Among my
new friends was an old old woman who lived in such a little
thatched and whitewashed dwelling that when the outside shutter was
turned up on its hinges, it shut up the whole house-front. This
old lady had a grandson who was a sailor, and I wrote a letter to
him for her and drew at the top of it the chimney-corner in which
she had brought him up and where his old stool yet occupied its old
place. This was considered by the whole village the most wonderful
achievement in the world, but when an answer came back all the way
from Plymouth, in which he mentioned that he was going to take the
picture all the way to America, and from America would write again,
I got all the credit that ought to have been given to the post-
office and was invested with the merit of the whole system.

Thus, what with being so much in the air, playing with so many
children, gossiping with so many people, sitting on invitation in
so many cottages, going on with Charley's education, and writing
long letters to Ada every day, I had scarcely any time to think
about that little loss of mine and was almost always cheerful. If
I did think of it at odd moments now and then, I had only to be
busy and forget it. I felt it more than I had hoped I should once
when a child said, "Mother, why is the lady not a pretty lady now
like she used to be?" But when I found the child was not less fond
of me, and drew its soft hand over my face with a kind of pitying
protection in its touch, that soon set me up again. There were
many little occurrences which suggested to me, with great
consolation, how natural it is to gentle hearts to be considerate
and delicate towards any inferiority. One of these particularly
touched me. I happened to stroll into the little church when a
marriage was just concluded, and the young couple had to sign the

The bridegroom, to whom the pen was handed first, made a rude cross
for his mark; the bride, who came next, did the same. Now, I had
known the bride when I was last there, not only as the prettiest
girl in the place, but as having quite distinguished herself in the
school, and I could not help looking at her with some surprise.
She came aside and whispered to me, while tears of honest love and
admiration stood in her bright eyes, "He's a dear good fellow,
miss; but he can't write yet--he's going to learn of me--and I
wouldn't shame him for the world!" Why, what had I to fear, I
thought, when there was this nobility in the soul of a labouring
man's daughter!

The air blew as freshly and revivingly upon me as it had ever
blown, and the healthy colour came into my new face as it had come
into my old one. Charley was wonderful to see, she was so radiant
and so rosy; and we both enjoyed the whole day and slept soundly
the whole night.

There was a favourite spot of mine in the park-woods of Chesney
Wold where a seat had been erected commanding a lovely view. The
wood had been cleared and opened to improve this point of sight,
and the bright sunny landscape beyond was so beautiful that I
rested there at least once every day. A picturesque part of the
Hall, called the Ghost's Walk, was seen to advantage from this
higher ground; and the startling name, and the old legend in the
Dedlock family which I had heard from Mr. Boythorn accounting for
it, mingled with the view and gave it something of a mysterious
interest in addition to its real charms. There was a bank here,
too, which was a famous one for violets; and as it was a daily
delight of Charley's to gather wild flowers, she took as much to
the spot as I did.

It would be idle to inquire now why I never went close to the house
or never went inside it. The family were not there, I had heard on
my arrival, and were not expected. I was far from being incurious
or uninterested about the building; on the contrary, I often sat in
this place wondering how the rooms ranged and whether any echo like
a footstep really did resound at times, as the story said, upon the
lonely Ghost's Walk. The indefinable feeling with which Lady
Dedlock had impressed me may have had some influence in keeping me
from the house even when she was absent. I am not sure. Her face
and figure were associated with it, naturally; but I cannot say
that they repelled me from it, though something did. For whatever
reason or no reason, I had never once gone near it, down to the day
at which my story now arrives.

I was resting at my favourite point after a long ramble, and
Charley was gathering violets at a little distance from me. I had
been looking at the Ghost's Walk lying in a deep shade of masonry
afar off and picturing to myself the female shape that was said to
haunt it when I became aware of a figure approaching through the
wood. The perspective was so long and so darkened by leaves, and
the shadows of the branches on the ground made it so much more
intricate to the eye, that at first I could not discern what figure
it was. By little and little it revealed itself to be a woman's--a
lady's--Lady Dedlock's. She was alone and coming to where I sat
with a much quicker step, I observed to my surprise, than was usual
with her.

I was fluttered by her being unexpectedly so near (she was almost
within speaking distance before I knew her) and would have risen to
continue my walk. But I could not. I was rendered motionless.
Not so much by her hurried gesture of entreaty, not so much by her
quick advance and outstretched hands, not so much by the great
change in her manner and the absence of her haughty self-restraint,
as by a something in her face that I had pined for and dreamed of
when I was a little child, something I had never seen in any face,
something I had never seen in hers before.

A dread and faintness fell upon me, and I called to Charley. Lady
Dedlock stopped upon the instant and changed back almost to what I
had known her.

"Miss Summerson, I am afraid I have startled you," she said, now
advancing slowly. "You can scarcely be strong yet. You have been
very ill, I know. I have been much concerned to hear it."

I could no more have removed my eyes from her pale face than I
could have stirred from the bench on which I sat. She gave me her
hand, and its deadly coldness, so at variance with the enforced
composure of her features, deepened the fascination that
overpowered me. I cannot say what was in my whirling thoughts.

"You are recovering again?" she asked kindly.

"I was quite well but a moment ago, Lady Dedlock."

"Is this your young attendant?"


"Will you send her on before and walk towards your house with me?"

"Charley," said I, "take your flowers home, and I will follow you

Charley, with her best curtsy, blushingly tied on her bonnet and
went her way. When she was gone, Lady Dedlock sat down on the seat
beside me.

I cannot tell in any words what the state of my mind was when I saw
in her hand my handkerchief with which I had covered the dead baby.

I looked at her, but I could not see her, I could not hear her, I
could not draw my breath. The beating of my heart was so violent
and wild that I felt as if my life were breaking from me. But when
she caught me to her breast, kissed me, wept over me,
compassionated me, and called me back to myself; when she fell down
on her knees and cried to me, "Oh, my child, my child, I am your
wicked and unhappy mother! Oh, try to forgive me!"--when I saw her
at my feet on the bare earth in her great agony of mind, I felt,
through all my tumult of emotion, a burst of gratitude to the
providence of God that I was so changed as that I never could
disgrace her by any trace of likeness, as that nobody could ever
now look at me and look at her and remotely think of any near tie
between us.

I raised my mother up, praying and beseeching her not to stoop
before me in such affliction and humiliation. I did so in broken,
incoherent words, for besides the trouble I was in, it frightened
me to see her at MY feet. I told her--or I tried to tell her--that
if it were for me, her child, under any circumstances to take upon
me to forgive her, I did it, and had done it, many, many years. I
told her that my heart overflowed with love for her, that it was
natural love which nothing in the past had changed or could change.
That it was not for me, then resting for the first time on my
mother's bosom, to take her to account for having given me life,
but that my duty was to bless her and receive her, though the whole
world turned from her, and that I only asked her leave to do it. I
held my mother in my embrace, and she held me in hers, and among
the still woods in the silence of the summer day there seemed to be
nothing but our two troubled minds that was not at peace.

"To bless and receive me," groaned my mother, "it is far too late.
I must travel my dark road alone, and it will lead me where it
will. From day to day, sometimes from hour to hour, I do not see
the way before my guilty feet. This is the earthly punishment I
have brought upon myself. I bear it, and I hide it."

Even in the thinking of her endurance, she drew her habitual air of
proud indifference about her like a veil, though she soon cast it
off again.

"I must keep this secret, if by any means it can be kept, not
wholly for myself. I have a husband, wretched and dishonouring
creature that I am!"

These words she uttered with a suppressed cry of despair, more
terrible in its sound than any shriek. Covering her face with her
hands, she shrank down in my embrace as if she were unwilling that
I should touch her; nor could I, by my utmost persuasions or by any
endearments I could use, prevail upon her to rise. She said, no,
no, no, she could only speak to me so; she must be proud and
disdainful everywhere else; she would be humbled and ashamed there,
in the only natural moments of her life.

My unhappy mother told me that in my illness she had been nearly
frantic. She had but then known that her child was living. She
could not have suspected me to be that child before. She had
followed me down here to speak to me but once in all her life. We
never could associate, never could communicate, never probably from
that time forth could interchange another word on earth. She put
into my hands a letter she had written for my reading only and said
when I had read it and destroyed it--but not so much for her sake,
since she asked nothing, as for her husband's and my own--I must
evermore consider her as dead. If I could believe that she loved
me, in this agony in which I saw her, with a mother's love, she
asked me to do that, for then I might think of her with a greater
pity, imagining what she suffered. She had put herself beyond all
hope and beyond all help. Whether she preserved her secret until
death or it came to be discovered and she brought dishonour and
disgrace upon the name she had taken, it was her solitary struggle
always; and no affection could come near her, and no human creature
could render her any aid.

"But is the secret safe so far?" I asked. "Is it safe now, dearest

"No," replied my mother. "It has been very near discovery. It was
saved by an accident. It may be lost by another accident--to-
morrow, any day."

"Do you dread a particular person?"

"Hush! Do not tremble and cry so much for me. I am not worthy of
these tears," said my mother, kissing my hands. "I dread one
person very much."

"An enemy?"

"Not a friend. One who is too passionless to be either. He is Sir
Leicester Dedlock's lawyer, mechanically faithful without
attachment, and very jealous of the profit, privilege, and
reputation of being master of the mysteries of great houses."

"Has he any suspicions?"


"Not of you?" I said alarmed.

"Yes! He is always vigilant and always near me. I may keep him at
a standstill, but I can never shake him off."

"Has he so little pity or compunction?"

"He has none, and no anger. He is indifferent to everything but
his calling. His calling is the acquisition of secrets and the
holding possession of such power as they give him, with no sharer
or opponent in it."

"Could you trust in him?"

"I shall never try. The dark road I have trodden for so many years
will end where it will. I follow it alone to the end, whatever the
end be. It may be near, it may be distant; while the road lasts,
nothing turns me."

"Dear mother, are you so resolved?"

"I AM resolved. I have long outbidden folly with folly, pride with
pride, scorn with scorn, insolence with insolence, and have
outlived many vanities with many more. I will outlive this danger,
and outdie it, if I can. It has closed around me almost as awfully
as if these woods of Chesney Wold had closed around the house, but
my course through it is the same. I have but one; I can have but

"Mr. Jarndyce--" I was beginning when my mother hurriedly
inquired, "Does HE suspect?"

"No," said I. "No, indeed! Be assured that he does not!" And I
told her what he had related to me as his knowledge of my story.
"But he is so good and sensible," said I, "that perhaps if he knew--"

My mother, who until this time had made no change in her position,
raised her hand up to my lips and stopped me.

"Confide fully in him," she said after a little while. "You have
my free consent--a small gift from such a mother to her injured
child!- -but do not tell me of it. Some pride is left in me even

I explained, as nearly as I could then, or can recall now--for my
agitation and distress throughout were so great that I scarcely
understood myself, though every word that was uttered in the
mother's voice, so unfamiliar and so melancholy to me, which in my
childhood I had never learned to love and recognize, had never been
sung to sleep with, had never heard a blessing from, had never had
a hope inspired by, made an enduring impression on my memory--I say
I explained, or tried to do it, how I had only hoped that Mr.
Jarndyce, who had been the best of fathers to me, might be able to
afford some counsel and support to her. But my mother answered no,
it was impossible; no one could help her. Through the desert that
lay before her, she must go alone.

"My child, my child!" she said. "For the last time! These kisses
for the last time! These arms upon my neck for the last time! We
shall meet no more. To hope to do what I seek to do, I must be
what I have been so long. Such is my reward and doom. If you hear
of Lady Dedlock, brilliant, prosperous, and flattered, think of
your wretched mother, conscience-stricken, underneath that mask!
Think that the reality is in her suffering, in her useless remorse,
in her murdering within her breast the only love and truth of which
it is capable! And then forgive her if you can, and cry to heaven
to forgive her, which it never can!"

We held one another for a little space yet, but she was so firm
that she took my hands away, and put them back against my breast,
and with a last kiss as she held them there, released them, and
went from me into the wood. I was alone, and calm and quiet below
me in the sun and shade lay the old house, with its terraces and
turrets, on which there had seemed to me to be such complete repose
when I first saw it, but which now looked like the obdurate and
unpitying watcher of my mother's misery.

Stunned as I was, as weak and helpless at first as I had ever been
in my sick chamber, the necessity of guarding against the danger of
discovery, or even of the remotest suspicion, did me service. I
took such precautions as I could to hide from Charley that I had
been crying, and I constrained myself to think of every sacred
obligation that there was upon me to be careful and collected. It
was not a little while before I could succeed or could even
restrain bursts of grief, but after an hour or so I was better and
felt that I might return. I went home very slowly and told
Charley, whom I found at the gate looking for me, that I had been
tempted to extend my walk after Lady Dedlock had left me and that I
was over-tired and would lie down. Safe in my own room, I read the
letter. I clearly derived from it--and that was much then--that I
had not been abandoned by my mother. Her elder and only sister,
the godmother of my childhood, discovering signs of life in me when
I had been laid aside as dead, had in her stern sense of duty, with
no desire or willingness that I should live, reared me in rigid
secrecy and had never again beheld my mother's face from within a
few hours of my birth. So strangely did I hold my place in this
world that until within a short time back I had never, to my own
mother's knowledge, breathed--had been buried--had never been
endowed with life--had never borne a name. When she had first seen
me in the church she had been startled and had thought of what
would have been like me if it had ever lived, and had lived on, but
that was all then.

What more the letter told me needs not to be repeated here. It has
its own times and places in my story.

My first care was to burn what my mother had written and to consume
even its ashes. I hope it may not appear very unnatural or bad in
me that I then became heavily sorrowful to think I had ever been
reared. That I felt as if I knew it would have been better and
happier for many people if indeed I had never breathed. That I had
a terror of myself as the danger and the possible disgrace of my
own mother and of a proud family name. That I was so confused and
shaken as to be possessed by a belief that it was right and had
been intended that I should die in my birth, and that it was wrong
and not intended that I should be then alive.

These are the real feelings that I had. I fell asleep worn out,
and when I awoke I cried afresh to think that I was back in the
world with my load of trouble for others. I was more than ever
frightened of myself, thinking anew of her against whom I was a
witness, of the owner of Chesney Wold, of the new and terrible
meaning of the old words now moaning in my ear like a surge upon
the shore, "Your mother, Esther, was your disgrace, and you are
hers. The time will come--and soon enough--when you will
understand this better, and will feel it too, as no one save a
woman can." With them, those other words returned, "Pray daily
that the sins of others be not visited upon your head." I could
not disentangle all that was about me, and I felt as if the blame
and the shame were all in me, and the visitation had come down.

The day waned into a gloomy evening, overcast and sad, and I still
contended with the same distress. I went out alone, and after
walking a little in the park, watching the dark shades falling on
the trees and the fitful flight of the bats, which sometimes almost
touched me, was attracted to the house for the first time. Perhaps
I might not have gone near it if I had been in a stronger frame of
mind. As it was, I took the path that led close by it.

I did not dare to linger or to look up, but I passed before the
terrace garden with its fragrant odours, and its broad walks, and
its well-kept beds and smooth turf; and I saw how beautiful and
grave it was, and how the old stone balustrades and parapets, and
wide flights of shallow steps, were seamed by time and weather; and
how the trained moss and ivy grew about them, and around the old
stone pedestal of the sun-dial; and I heard the fountain falling.
Then the way went by long lines of dark windows diversified by
turreted towers and porches of eccentric shapes, where old stone
lions and grotesque monsters bristled outside dens of shadow and
snarled at the evening gloom over the escutcheons they held in
their grip. Thence the path wound underneath a gateway, and
through a court-yard where the principal entrance was (I hurried
quickly on), and by the stables where none but deep voices seemed
to be, whether in the murmuring of the wind through the strong mass
of ivy holding to a high red wall, or in the low complaining of the
weathercock, or in the barking of the dogs, or in the slow striking
of a clock. So, encountering presently a sweet smell of limes,
whose rustling I could hear, I turned with the turning of the path
to the south front, and there above me were the balustrades of the
Ghost's Walk and one lighted window that might be my mother's.

The way was paved here, like the terrace overhead, and my footsteps
from being noiseless made an echoing sound upon the flags.
Stopping to look at nothing, but seeing all I did see as I went, I
was passing quickly on, and in a few moments should have passed the
lighted window, when my echoing footsteps brought it suddenly into
my mind that there was a dreadful truth in the legend of the
Ghost's Walk, that it was I who was to bring calamity upon the
stately house and that my warning feet were haunting it even then.
Seized with an augmented terror of myself which turned me cold, I
ran from myself and everything, retraced the way by which I had
come, and never paused until I had gained the lodge-gate, and the
park lay sullen and black behind me.

Not before I was alone in my own room for the night and had again
been dejected and unhappy there did I begin to know how wrong and
thankless this state was. But from my darling who was coming on
the morrow, I found a joyful letter, full of such loving
anticipation that I must have been of marble if it had not moved
me; from my guardian, too, I found another letter, asking me to
tell Dame Durden, if I should see that little woman anywhere, that
they had moped most pitiably without her, that the housekeeping was
going to rack and ruin, that nobody else could manage the keys, and
that everybody in and about the house declared it was not the same
house and was becoming rebellious for her return. Two such letters
together made me think how far beyond my deserts I was beloved and
how happy I ought to be. That made me think of all my past life;
and that brought me, as it ought to have done before, into a better

For I saw very well that I could not have been intended to die, or
I should never have lived; not to say should never have been
reserved for such a happy life. I saw very well how many things
had worked together for my welfare, and that if the sins of the
fathers were sometimes visited upon the children, the phrase did
not mean what I had in the morning feared it meant. I knew I was
as innocent of my birth as a queen of hers and that before my
Heavenly Father I should not be punished for birth nor a queen
rewarded for it. I had had experience, in the shock of that very
day, that I could, even thus soon, find comforting reconcilements
to the change that had fallen on me. I renewed my resolutions and
prayed to be strengthened in them, pouring out my heart for myself
and for my unhappy mother and feeling that the darkness of the
morning was passing away. It was not upon my sleep; and when the
next day's light awoke me, it was gone.

My dear girl was to arrive at five o'clock in the afternoon. How
to help myself through the intermediate time better than by taking
a long walk along the road by which she was to come, I did not
know; so Charley and I and Stubbs--Stubbs saddled, for we never
drove him after the one great occasion--made a long expedition
along that road and back. On our return, we held a great review of
the house and garden and saw that everything was in its prettiest
condition, and had the bird out ready as an important part of the

There were more than two full hours yet to elapse before she could
come, and in that interval, which seemed a long one, I must confess
I was nervously anxious about my altered looks. I loved my darling
so well that I was more concerned for their effect on her than on
any one. I was not in this slight distress because I at all
repined--I am quite certain I did not, that day--but, I thought,
would she be wholly prepared? When she first saw me, might she not
be a little shocked and disappointed? Might it not prove a little
worse than she expected? Might she not look for her old Esther and
not find her? Might she not have to grow used to me and to begin
all over again?

I knew the various expressions of my sweet girl's face so well, and
it was such an honest face in its loveliness, that I was sure
beforehand she could not hide that first look from me. And I
considered whether, if it should signify any one of these meanings,
which was so very likely, could I quite answer for myself?

Well, I thought I could. After last night, I thought I could. But
to wait and wait, and expect and expect, and think and think, was
such bad preparation that I resolved to go along the road again and
meet her.

So I said to Charley, '"Charley, I will go by myself and walk along
the road until she comes." Charley highly approving of anything
that pleased me, I went and left her at home.

But before I got to the second milestone, I had been in so many
palpitations from seeing dust in the distance (though I knew it was
not, and could not, be the coach yet) that I resolved to turn back
and go home again. And when I had turned, I was in such fear of
the coach coming up behind me (though I still knew that it neither
would, nor could, do any such thing) that I ran the greater part of
the way to avoid being overtaken.

Then, I considered, when I had got safe back again, this was a nice
thing to have done! Now I was hot and had made the worst of it
instead of the best.

At last, when I believed there was at least a quarter of an hour
more yet, Charley all at once cried out to me as I was trembling in
the garden, "Here she comes, miss! Here she is!"

I did not mean to do it, but I ran upstairs into my room and hid
myself behind the door. There I stood trembling, even when I heard
my darling calling as she came upstairs, "Esther, my dear, my love,
where are you? Little woman, dear Dame Durden!"

She ran in, and was running out again when she saw me. Ah, my
angel girl! The old dear look, all love, all fondness, all
affection. Nothing else in it--no, nothing, nothing!

Oh, how happy I was, down upon the floor, with my sweet beautiful
girl down upon the floor too, holding my scarred face to her lovely
cheek, bathing it with tears and kisses, rocking me to and fro like
a child, calling me by every tender name that she could think of,
and pressing me to her faithful heart.

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