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Charles Dickens > Bleak House > Chapter XLIII

Bleak House

Chapter XLIII

Esther's Narrative

It matters little now how much I thought of my living mother who
had told me evermore to consider her dead. I could not venture to
approach her or to communicate with her in writing, for my sense of
the peril in which her life was passed was only to be equalled by
my fears of increasing it. Knowing that my mere existence as a
living creature was an unforeseen danger in her way, I could not
always conquer that terror of myself which had seized me when I
first knew the secret. At no time did I dare to utter her name. I
felt as if I did not even dare to hear it. If the conversation
anywhere, when I was present, took that direction, as it sometimes
naturally did, I tried not to hear: I mentally counted, repeated
something that I knew, or went out of the room. I am conscious now
that I often did these things when there can have been no danger of
her being spoken of, but I did them in the dread I had of hearing
anything that might lead to her betrayal, and to her betrayal
through me.

It matters little now how often I recalled the tones of my mother's
voice, wondered whether I should ever hear it again as I so longed
to do, and thought how strange and desolate it was that it should
be so new to me. It matters little that I watched for every public
mention of my mother's name; that I passed and repassed the door of
her house in town, loving it, but afraid to look at it; that I once
sat in the theatre when my mother was there and saw me, and when we
were so wide asunder before the great company of all degrees that
any link or confidence between us seemed a dream. It is all, all
over. My lot has been so blest that I can relate little of myself
which is not a story of goodness and generosity in others. I may
well pass that little and go on.

When we were settled at home again, Ada and I had many
conversations with my guardian of which Richard was the theme. My
dear girl was deeply grieved that he should do their kind cousin so
much wrong, but she was so faithful to Richard that she could not
bear to blame him even for that. My guardian was assured of it,
and never coupled his name with a word of reproof. "Rick is
mistaken, my dear," he would say to her. "Well, well! We have all
been mistaken over and over again. We must trust to you and time
to set him right."

We knew afterwards what we suspected then, that he did not trust to
time until he had often tried to open Richard's eyes. That he had
written to him, gone to him, talked with him, tried every gentle
and persuasive art his kindness could devise. Our poor devoted
Richard was deaf and blind to all. If he were wrong, he would make
amends when the Chancery suit was over. If he were groping in the
dark, he could not do better than do his utmost to clear away those
clouds in which so much was confused and obscured. Suspicion and
misunderstanding were the fault of the suit? Then let him work the
suit out and come through it to his right mind. This was his
unvarying reply. Jarndyce and Jarndyce had obtained such
possession of his whole nature that it was impossible to place any
consideration before him which he did not, with a distorted kind of
reason, make a new argument in favour of his doing what he did.
"So that it is even more mischievous," said my guardian once to me,
"to remonstrate with the poor dear fellow than to leave him alone."

I took one of these opportunities of mentioning my doubts of Mr.
Skimpole as a good adviser for Richard.

"Adviser!" returned my guardian, laughing, "My dear, who would
advise with Skimpole?"

"Encourager would perhaps have been a better word," said I.

"Encourager!" returned my guardian again. "Who could be encouraged
by Skimpole?"

"Not Richard?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "Such an unworldly, uncalculating, gossamer
creature is a relief to him and an amusement. But as to advising
or encouraging or occupying a serious station towards anybody or
anything, it is simply not to be thought of in such a child as

"Pray, cousin John," said Ada, who had just joined us and now
looked over my shoulder, "what made him such a child?"

"What made him such a child?" inquired my guardian, rubbing his
head, a little at a loss.

"Yes, cousin John."

"Why," he slowly replied, roughening his head more and more, "he is
all sentiment, and--and susceptibility, and--and sensibility, and--
and imagination. And these qualities are not regulated in him,
somehow. I suppose the people who admired him for them in his
youth attached too much importance to them and too little to any
training that would have balanced and adjusted them, and so he
became what he is. Hey?" said my guardian, stopping short and
looking at us hopefully. "What do you think, you two?"

Ada, glancing at me, said she thought it was a pity he should be an
expense to Richard.

"So it is, so it is," returned my guardian hurriedly. "That must
not be. We must arrange that. I must prevent it. That will never

And I said I thought it was to be regretted that he had ever
introduced Richard to Mr. Vholes for a present of five pounds.

"Did he?" said my guardian with a passing shade of vexation on his
face. "But there you have the man. There you have the man! There
is nothing mercenary in that with him. He has no idea of the value
of money. He introduces Rick, and then he is good friends with Mr.
Vholes and borrows five pounds of him. He means nothing by it and
thinks nothing of it. He told you himself, I'll be bound, my

"Oh, yes!" said I.

"Exactly!" cried my guardian, quite triumphant. "There you have
the man! If he had meant any harm by it or was conscious of any
harm in it, he wouldn't tell it. He tells it as he does it in mere
simplicity. But you shall see him in his own home, and then you'll
understand him better. We must pay a visit to Harold Skimpole and
caution him on these points. Lord bless you, my dears, an infant,
an infant!"

In pursuance of this plan, we went into London on an early day and
presented ourselves at Mr. Skimpole's door.

He lived in a place called the Polygon, in Somers Town, where there
were at that time a number of poor Spanish refugees walking about
in cloaks, smoking little paper cigars. Whether he was a better
tenant than one might have supposed, in consequence of his friend
Somebody always paying his rent at last, or whether his inaptitude
for business rendered it particularly difficult to turn him out, I
don't know; but he had occupied the same house some years. It was
in a state of dilapidation quite equal to our expectation. Two or
three of the area railings were gone, the water-butt was broken,
the knocker was loose, the bell-handle had been pulled off a long
time to judge from the rusty state of the wire, and dirty
footprints on the steps were the only signs of its being inhabited.

A slatternly full-blown girl who seemed to be bursting out at the
rents in her gown and the cracks in her shoes like an over-ripe
berry answered our knock by opening the door a very little way and
stopping up the gap with her figure. As she knew Mr. Jarndyce
(indeed Ada and I both thought that she evidently associated him
with the receipt of her wages), she immediately relented and
allowed us to pass in. The lock of the door being in a disabled
condition, she then applied herself to securing it with the chain,
which was not in good action either, and said would we go upstairs?

We went upstairs to the first floor, still seeing no other
furniture than the dirty footprints. Mr. Jarndyce without further
ceremony entered a room there, and we followed. It was dingy
enough and not at all clean, but furnished with an odd kind of
shabby luxury, with a large footstool, a sofa, and plenty of
cushions, an easy-chair, and plenty of pillows, a piano, books,
drawing materials, music, newspapers, and a few sketches and
pictures. A broken pane of glass in one of the dirty windows was
papered and wafered over, but there was a little plate of hothouse
nectarines on the table, and there was another of grapes, and
another of sponge-cakes, and there was a bottle of light wine. Mr.
Skimpole himself reclined upon the sofa in a dressing-gown,
drinking some fragrant coffee from an old china cup--it was then
about mid-day--and looking at a collection of wallflowers in the

He was not in the least disconcerted by our appearance, but rose
and received us in his usual airy manner.

"Here I am, you see!" he said when we were seated, not without some
little difficulty, the greater part of the chairs being broken.
"Here I am! This is my frugal breakfast. Some men want legs of
beef and mutton for breakfast; I don't. Give me my peach, my cup
of coffee, and my claret; I am content. I don't want them for
themselves, but they remind me of the sun. There's nothing solar
about legs of beef and mutton. Mere animal satisfaction!"

"This is our friend's consulting-room (or would be, if he ever
prescribed), his sanctum, his studio," said my guardian to us.

"Yes," said Mr. Skimpole, turning his bright face about, "this is
the bird's cage. This is where the bird lives and sings. They
pluck his feathers now and then and clip his wings, but he sings,
he sings!"

He handed us the grapes, repeating in his radiant way, "He sings!
Not an ambitious note, but still he sings."

"These are very fine," said my guardian. "A present?"

"No," he answered. "No! Some amiable gardener sells them. His man
wanted to know, when he brought them last evening, whether he
should wait for the money. 'Really, my friend,' I said, 'I think
not--if your time is of any value to you.' I suppose it was, for
he went away."

My guardian looked at us with a smile, as though he asked us, "Is
it possible to be worldly with this baby?"

"This is a day," said Mr. Skimpole, gaily taking a little claret in
a tumbler, "that will ever be remembered here. We shall call it
Saint Clare and Saint Summerson day. You must see my daughters. I
have a blue-eyed daughter who is my Beauty daughter, I have a
Sentiment daughter, and I have a Comedy daughter. You must see
them all. They'll be enchanted."

He was going to summon them when my guardian interposed and asked
him to pause a moment, as he wished to say a word to him first.
"My dear Jarndyce," he cheerfully replied, going back to his sofa,
"as many moments as you please. Time is no object here. We never
know what o'clock it is, and we never care. Not the way to get on
in life, you'll tell me? Certainly. But we DON'T get on in life.
We don't pretend to do it."

My guardian looked at us again, plainly saying, "You hear him?"

"Now, Harold," he began, "the word I have to say relates to Rick."

"The dearest friend I have!" returned Mr. Skimpole cordially. "I
suppose he ought not to be my dearest friend, as he is not on terms
with you. But he is, I can't help it; he is full of youthful
poetry, and I love him. If you don't like it, I can't help it. I
love him."

The engaging frankness with which he made this declaration really
had a disinterested appearance and captivated my guardian, if not,
for the moment, Ada too.

"You are welcome to love him as much as you like," returned Mr.
Jarndyce, "but we must save his pocket, Harold."

"Oh!" said Mr. Skimpole. "His pocket? Now you are coming to what
I don't understand." Taking a little more claret and dipping one
of the cakes in it, he shook his head and smiled at Ada and me with
an ingenuous foreboding that he never could be made to understand.

"If you go with him here or there," said my guardian plainly, "you
must not let him pay for both."

"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole, his genial face
irradiated by the comicality of this idea, "what am I to do? If he
takes me anywhere, I must go. And how can I pay? I never have any
money. If I had any money, I don't know anything about it.
Suppose I say to a man, how much? Suppose the man says to me seven
and sixpence? I know nothing about seven and sixpence. It is
impossible for me to pursue the subject with any consideration for
the man. I don't go about asking busy people what seven and
sixpence is in Moorish--which I don't understand. Why should I go
about asking them what seven and sixpence is in Money--which I
don't understand?"

"Well," said my guardian, by no means displeased with this artless
reply, "if you come to any kind of journeying with Rick, you must
borrow the money of me (never breathing the least allusion to that
circumstance), and leave the calculation to him."

"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole, "I will do anything to
give you pleasure, but it seems an idle form--a superstition.
Besides, I give you my word, Miss Clare and my dear Miss Summerson,
I thought Mr. Carstone was immensely rich. I thought he had only
to make over something, or to sign a bond, or a draft, or a cheque,
or a bill, or to put something on a file somewhere, to bring down a
shower of money."

"Indeed it is not so, sir," said Ada. "He is poor."

"No, really?" returned Mr. Skimpole with his bright smile. "You
surprise me.

"And not being the richer for trusting in a rotten reed," said my
guardian, laying his hand emphatically on the sleeve of Mr.
Skimpole's dressing-gown, "be you very careful not to encourage him
in that reliance, Harold."

"My dear good friend," returned Mr. Skimpole, "and my dear Miss
Siunmerson, and my dear Miss Clare, how can I do that? It's
business, and I don't know business. It is he who encourages me.
He emerges from great feats of business, presents the brightest
prospects before me as their result, and calls upon me to admire
them. I do admire them--as bright prospects. But I know no more
about them, and I tell him so."

The helpless kind of candour with which he presented this before
us, the light-hearted manner in which he was amused by his
innocence, the fantastic way in which he took himself under his own
protection and argued about that curious person, combined with the
delightful ease of everything he said exactly to make out my
guardian's case. The more I saw of him, the more unlikely it
seemed to me, when he was present, that he could design, conceal,
or influence anything; and yet the less likely that appeared when
he was not present, and the less agreeable it was to think of his
having anything to do with any one for whom I cared.

Hearing that his examination (as he called it) was now over, Mr.
Skimpole left the room with a radiant face to fetch his daughters
(his sons had run away at various times), leaving my guardian quite
delighted by the manner in which he had vindicated his childish
character. He soon came back, bringing with him the three young
ladies and Mrs. Skimpole, who had once been a beauty but was now a
delicate high-nosed invalid suffering under a complication of

"This," said Mr. Skimpole, "is my Beauty daughter, Arethusa--plays
and sings odds and ends like her father. This is my Sentiment
daughter, Laura--plays a little but don't sing. This is my Comedy
daughter, Kitty--sings a little but don't play. We all draw a
little and compose a little, and none of us have any idea of time
or money."

Mrs. Skimpole sighed, I thought, as if she would have been glad to
strike out this item in the family attainments. I also thought
that she rather impressed her sigh upon my guardian and that she
took every opportunity of throwing in another.

"It is pleasant," said Mr. Skimpole, turning his sprightly eyes
from one to the other of us, "and it is whimsically interesting to
trace peculiarities in families. In this family we are all
children, and I am the youngest."

The daughters, who appeared to be very fond of him, were amused by
this droll fact, particularly the Comedy daughter.

"My dears, it is true," said Mr. Skimpole, "is it not? So it is,
and so it must be, because like the dogs in the hymn, 'it is our
nature to.' Now, here is Miss Summerson with a fine administrative
capacity and a knowledge of details perfectly surprising. It will
sound very strange in Miss Summerson's ears, I dare say, that we
know nothing about chops in this house. But we don't, not the
least. We can't cook anything whatever. A needle and thread we
don't know how to use. We admire the people who possess the
practical wisdom we want, but we don't quarrel with them. Then why
should they quarrel with us? Live and let live, we say to them.
Live upon your practical wisdom, and let us live upon you!"

He laughed, but as usual seemed quite candid and really to mean
what he said.

"We have sympathy, my roses," said Mr. Skimpole, "sympathy for
everything. Have we not?"

"Oh, yes, papa!" cried the three daughters.

"In fact, that is our family department," said Mr. Skimpole, "in
this hurly-burly of life. We are capable of looking on and of
being interested, and we DO look on, and we ARE interested. What
more can we do? Here is my Beauty daughter, married these three
years. Now I dare say her marrying another child, and having two
more, was all wrong in point of political economy, but it was very
agreeable. We had our little festivities on those occasions and
exchanged social ideas. She brought her young husband home one
day, and they and their young fledglings have their nest upstairs.
I dare say at some time or other Sentiment and Comedy will bring
THEIR husbands home and have THEIR nests upstairs too. So we get
on, we don't know how, but somehow."

She looked very young indeed to be the mother of two children, and
I could not help pitying both her and them. It was evident that
the three daughters had grown up as they could and had had just as
little haphazard instruction as qualified them to be their father's
playthings in his idlest hours. His pictorial tastes were
consulted, I observed, in their respective styles of wearing their
hair, the Beauty daughter being in the classic manner, the
Sentiment daughter luxuriant and flowing, and the Comedy daughter
in the arch style, with a good deal of sprightly forehead, and
vivacious little curls dotted about the corners of her eyes. They
were dressed to correspond, though in a most untidy and negligent

Ada and I conversed with these young ladies and found them
wonderfully like their father. In the meanwhile Mr. Jarndyce (who
had been rubbing his head to a great extent, and hinted at a change
in the wind) talked with Mrs. Skimpole in a corner, where we could
not help hearing the chink of money. Mr. Skimpole had previously
volunteered to go home with us and had withdrawn to dress himself
for the purpose.

"My roses," he said when he came back, "take care of mama. She is
poorly to-day. By going home with Mr. Jarndyce for a day or two, I
shall hear the larks sing and preserve my amiability. It has been
tried, you know, and would be tried again if I remained at home."

"That bad man!" said the Comedy daughter.

"At the very time when he knew papa was lying ill by his
wallflowers, looking at the blue sky," Laura complained.

"And when the smell of hay was in the air!" said Arethusa.

"It showed a want of poetry in the man," Mr. Skimpole assented, but
with perfect good humour. "It was coarse. There was an absence of
the finer touches of humanity in it! My daughters have taken great
offence," he explained to us, "at an honest man--"

"Not honest, papa. Impossible!" they all three protested.

"At a rough kind of fellow--a sort of human hedgehog rolled up,"
said Mr. Skimpole, "who is a baker in this neighbourhood and from
whom we borrowed a couple of armchairs. We wanted a couple of arm-
chairs, and we hadn't got them, and therefore of course we looked
to a man who HAD got them, to lend them. Well! This morose person
lent them, and we wore them out. When they were worn out, he
wanted them back. He had them back. He was contented, you will
say. Not at all. He objected to their being worn. I reasoned
with him, and pointed out his mistake. I said, 'Can you, at your
time of life, be so headstrong, my friend, as to persist that an
arm-chair is a thing to put upon a shelf and look at? That it is
an object to contemplate, to survey from a distance, to consider
from a point of sight? Don't you KNOW that these arm-chairs were
borrowed to be sat upon?' He was unreasonable and unpersuadable
and used intemperate language. Being as patient as I am at this
minute, I addressed another appeal to him. I said, 'Now, my good
man, however our business capacities may vary, we are all children
of one great mother, Nature. On this blooming summer morning here
you see me' (I was on the sofa) 'with flowers before me, fruit upon
the table, the cloudless sky above me, the air full of fragrance,
contemplating Nature. I entreat you, by our common brotherhood,
not to interpose between me and a subject so sublime, the absurd
figure of an angry baker!' But he did," said Mr. Skimpole, raising
his laughing eyes in playful astonishinent; "he did interpose that
ridiculous figure, and he does, and he will again. And therefore I
am very glad to get out of his way and to go home with my friend

It seemed to escape his consideration that Mrs. Skimpole and the
daughters remained behind to encounter the baker, but this was so
old a story to all of them that it had become a matter of course.
He took leave of his family with a tenderness as airy and graceful
as any other aspect in which he showed himself and rode away with
us in perfect harmony of mind. We had an opportunity of seeing
through some open doors, as we went downstairs, that his own
apartment was a palace to the rest of the house.

I could have no anticipation, and I had none, that something very
startling to me at the moment, and ever memorable to me in what
ensued from it, was to happen before this day was out. Our guest
was in such spirits on the way home that I could do nothing but
listen to him and wonder at him; nor was I alone in this, for Ada
yielded to the same fascination. As to my guardian, the wind,
which had threatened to become fixed in the east when we left
Somers Town, veered completely round before we were a couple of
miles from it.

Whether of questionable childishness or not in any other matters,
Mr. Skimpole had a child's enjoyment of change and bright weather.
In no way wearied by his sallies on the road, he was in the
drawing-room before any of us; and I heard him at the piano while I
was yet looking after my housekeeping, singing refrains of
barcaroles and drinking songs, Italian and German, by the score.

We were all assembled shortly before dinner, and he was still at
the piano idly picking out in his luxurious way little strains of
music, and talking between whiles of finishing some sketches of the
ruined old Verulam wall to-morrow, which he had begun a year or two
ago and had got tired of, when a card was brought in and my
guardian read aloud in a surprised voice, "Sir Leicester Dedlock!"

The visitor was in the room while it was yet turning round with me
and before I had the power to stir. If I had had it, I should have
hurried away. I had not even the presence of mind, in my
giddiness, to retire to Ada in the window, or to see the window, or
to know where it was. I heard my name and found that my guardian
was presenting me before I could move to a chair.

"Pray be seated, Sir Leicester."

"Mr. Jarndyce," said Sir Leicester in reply as he bowed and seated
himself, "I do myself the honour of calling here--"

"You do ME the honour, Sir Leicester."

"Thank you--of calling here on my road from Lincolnshire to express
my regret that any cause of complaint, however strong, that I may
have against a gentleman who--who is known to you and has been your
host, and to whom therefore I will make no farther reference,
should have prevented you, still more ladies under your escort and
charge, from seeing whatever little there may be to gratify a
polite and refined taste at my house, Chesney Wold."

"You are exceedingly obliging, Sir Leicester, and on behalf of
those ladies (who are present) and for myself, I thank you very

"It is possible, Mr. Jarndyce, that the gentleman to whom, for the
reasons I have mentioned, I refrain from making further allusion--
it is possible, Mr. Jarndyce, that that gentleman may have done me
the honour so far to misapprehend my character as to induce you to
believe that you would not have been received by my local
establishment in Lincolnshire with that urbanity, that courtesy,
which its members are instructed to show to all ladies and
gentlemen who present themselves at that house. I merely beg to
observe, sir, that the fact is the reverse."

My guardian delicately dismissed this remark without making any
verbal answer.

"It has given me pain, Mr. Jarndyce," Sir Leicester weightily
proceeded. "I assure you, sir, it has given--me--pain--to learn
from the housekeeper at Chesney Wold that a gentleman who was in
your company in that part of the county, and who would appear to
possess a cultivated taste for the fine arts, was likewise deterred
by some such cause from examining the family pictures with that
leisure, that attention, that care, which he might have desired to
bestow upon them and which some of them might possibly have
repaid." Here he produced a card and read, with much gravity and a
little trouble, through his eye-glass, "Mr. Hirrold--Herald--
Harold--Skampling--Skumpling--I beg your pardon--Skimpole."

"This is Mr. Harold Skimpole," said my guardian, evidently

"Oh!" exclaimed Sir Leicester, "I am happy to meet Mr. Skimpole and
to have the opportunity of tendering my personal regrets. I hope,
sir, that when you again find yourself in my part of the county,
you will be under no similar sense of restraint."

"You are very obliging, Sir Leicester Dedlock. So encouraged, I
shall certainly give myself the pleasure and advantage of another
visit to your beautiful house. The owners of such places as
Chesney Wold," said Mr. Skimpole with his usual happy and easy air,
"are public benefactors. They are good enough to maintain a number
of delightful objects for the admiration and pleasure of us poor
men; and not to reap all the admiration and pleasure that they
yield is to be ungrateful to our benefactors."

Sir Leicester seemed to approve of this sentiment highly. "An
artist, sir?"

"No," returned Mr. Skimpole. "A perfectly idle man. A mere

Sir Leicester seemed to approve of this even more. He hoped he
might have the good fortune to be at Chesney Wold when Mr. Skimpole
next came down into Lincolnshire. Mr. Skimpole professed himself
much flattered and honoured.

"Mr. Skimpole mentioned," pursued Sir Leicester, addressing himself
again to my guardian, "mentioned to the house-keeper, who, as he
may have observed, is an old and attached retainer of the family--"

("That is, when I walked through the house the other day, on the
occasion of my going down to visit Miss Summerson and Miss Clare,"
Mr. Skimpole airily explained to us.)

"--That the friend with whom he had formerly been staying there was
Mr. Jarndyce." Sir Leicester bowed to the bearer of that name.
"And hence I became aware of the circumstance for which I have
professed my regret. That this should have occurred to any
gentleman, Mr. Jarndyce, but especially a gentleman formerly known
to Lady Dedlock, and indeed claiming some distant connexion with
her, and for whom (as I learn from my Lady herself) she entertains
a high respect, does, I assure you, give--me--pain."

"Pray say no more about it, Sir Leicester," returned my guardian.
"I am very sensible, as I am sure we all are, of your
consideration. Indeed the mistake was mine, and I ought to
apologize for it."

I had not once looked up. I had not seen the visitor and had not
even appeared to myself to hear the conversation. It surprises me
to find that I can recall it, for it seemed to make no impression
on me as it passed. I heard them speaking, but my mind was so
confused and my instinctive avoidance of this gentleman made his
presence so distressing to me that I thought I understood nothing,
through the rushing in my head and the beating of my heart.

"I mentioned the subject to Lady Dedlock," said Sir Leicester,
rising, "and my Lady informed me that she had had the pleasure of
exchanging a few words with Mr. Jarndyce and his wards on the
occasion of an accidental meeting during their sojourn in the
vicinity. Permit me, Mr. Jarndyce, to repeat to yourself, and to
these ladies, the assurance I have already tendered to Mr.
Skimpole. Circumstances undoubtedly prevent my saying that it
would afford me any gratification to hear that Mr. Boythorn had
favoured my house with his presence, but those circumstances are
confined to that gentleman himself and do not extend beyond him."

"You know my old opinion of him," said Mr. Skimpole, lightly
appealing to us. "An amiable bull who is detenined to make every
colour scarlet!"

Sir Leicester Dedlock coughed as if he could not possibly hear
another word in reference to such an individual and took his leave
with great ceremony and politeness. I got to my own room with all
possible speed and remained there until I had recovered my self-
command. It had been very much disturbed, but I was thankful to
find when I went downstairs again that they only rallied me for
having been shy and mute before the great Lincolnshire baronet.

By that time I had made up my mind that the period was come when I
must tell my guardian what I knew. The possibility of my being
brought into contact with my mother, of my being taken to her
house, even of Mr. Skimpole's, however distantly associated with
me, receiving kindnesses and obligations from her husband, was so
painful that I felt I could no longer guide myself without his

When we had retired for the night, and Ada and I had had our usual
talk in our pretty room, I went out at my door again and sought my
guardian among his books. I knew he always read at that hour, and
as I drew near I saw the light shining out into the passage from
his reading-lamp.

"May I come in, guardian?"

"Surely, little woman. What's the matter?"

"Nothing is the matter. I thought I would like to take this quiet
time of saying a word to you about myself."

He put a chair for me, shut his book, and put it by, and turned his
kind attentive face towards me. I could not help observing that it
wore that curious expression I had observed in it once before--on
that night when he had said that he was in no trouble which I could
readily understand.

"What concerns you, my dear Esther," said he, "concerns us all.
You cannot be more ready to speak than I am to hear."

"I know that, guardian. But I have such need of your advice and
support. Oh! You don't know how much need I have to-night."

He looked unprepared for my being so earnest, and even a little

"Or how anxious I have been to speak to you," said I, "ever since
the visitor was here to-day."

"The visitor, my dear! Sir Leicester Dedlock?"


He folded his arms and sat looking at me with an air of the
profoundest astonishment, awaiting what I should say next. I did
not know how to prepare him.

"Why, Esther," said he, breaking into a smile, "our visitor and you
are the two last persons on earth I should have thought of
connecting together!"

"Oh, yes, guardian, I know it. And I too, but a little while ago."

The smile passed from his face, and he became graver than before.
He crossed to the door to see that it was shut (but I had seen to
that) and resumed his seat before me.

"Guardian," said I, "do you remensher, when we were overtaken by
the thunder-storm, Lady Dedlock's speaking to you of her sister?"

"Of course. Of course I do."

"And reminding you that she and her sister had differed, had gone
their several ways?"

"Of course."

"Why did they separate, guardian?"

His face quite altered as he looked at me. "My child, what
questions are these! I never knew. No one but themselves ever did
know, I believe. Who could tell what the secrets of those two
handsome and proud women were! You have seen Lady Dedlock. If you
had ever seen her sister, you would know her to have been as
resolute and haughty as she."

"Oh, guardian, I have seen her many and many a time!"

"Seen her?"

He paused a little, biting his lip. "Then, Esther, when you spoke
to me long ago of Boythorn, and when I told you that he was all but
married once, and that the lady did not die, but died to him, and
that that time had had its influence on his later life--did you
know it all, and know who the lady was?"

"No, guardian," I returned, fearful of the light that dimly broke
upon me. "Nor do I know yet."

"Lady Dedlock's sister."

"And why," I could scarcely ask him, "why, guardian, pray tell me
why were THEY parted?"

"It was her act, and she kept its motives in her inflexible heart.
He afterwards did conjecture (but it was mere conjecture) that some
injury which her haughty spirit had received in her cause of
quarrel with her sister had wounded her beyond all reason, but she
wrote him that from the date of that letter she died to him--as in
literal truth she did--and that the resolution was exacted from her
by her knowledge of his proud temper and his strained sense of
honour, which were both her nature too. In consideration for those
master points in him, and even in consideration for them in
herself, she made the sacrifice, she said, and would live in it and
die in it. She did both, I fear; certainly he never saw her, never
heard of her from that hour. Nor did any one."

"Oh, guardian, what have I done!" I cried, giving way to my grief;
"what sorrow have I innocently caused!"

"You caused, Esther?"

"Yes, guardian. Innocently, but most surely. That secluded sister
is my first remembrance."

"No, no!" he cried, starting.

"Yes, guardian, yes! And HER sister is my mother!"

I would have told him all my mother's letter, but he would not hear
it then. He spoke so tenderly and wisely to me, and he put so
plainly before me all I had myself imperfectly thought and hoped in
my better state of mind, that, penetrated as I had been with
fervent gratitude towards him through so many years, I believed I
had never loved him so dearly, never thanked him in my heart so
fully, as I did that night. And when he had taken me to my room
and kissed me at the door, and when at last I lay down to sleep, my
thought was how could I ever be busy enough, how could I ever be
good enough, how in my little way could I ever hope to be forgetful
enough of myself, devoted enough to him, and useful enough to
others, to show him how I blessed and honoured him.

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