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Charles Dickens > Bleak House > Chapter LI

Bleak House

Chapter LI


When Mr. Woodcourt arrived in London, he went, that very same day,
to Mr. Vholes's in Symond's Inn. For he never once, from the
moment when I entreated him to be a friend to Richard, neglected or
forgot his promise. He had told me that he accepted the charge as
a sacred trust, and he was ever true to it in that spirit.

He found Mr. Vholes in his office and informed Mr. Vholes of his
agreement with Richard that he should call there to learn his

"Just so, sir," said Mr. Vholes. "Mr. C.'s address is not a
hundred miles from here, sir, Mr. C.'s address is not a hundred
miles from here. Would you take a seat, sir?"

Mr. Woodcourt thanked Mr. Vholes, but he had no business with him
beyond what he had mentioned.

"Just so, sir. I believe, sir," said Mr. Vholes, still quietly
insisting on the seat by not giving the address, "that you have
influence with Mr. C. Indeed I am aware that you have."

"I was not aware of it myself," returned Mr. Woodcourt; "but I
suppose you know best."

"Sir," rejoined Mr. Vholes, self-contained as usual, voice and all,
"it is a part of my professional duty to know best. It is a part
of my professional duty to study and to understand a gentleman who
confides his interests to me. In my professional duty I shall not
be wanting, sir, if I know it. I may, with the best intentions, be
wanting in it without knowing it; but not if I know it, sir."

Mr. Woodcourt again mentioned the address.

"Give me leave, sir," said Mr. Vholes. "Bear with me for a moment.
Sir, Mr. C. is playing for a considerable stake, and cannot play
without--need I say what?"

"Money, I presume?"

"Sir," said Mr. Vholes, "to be honest with you (honesty being my
golden rule, whether I gain by it or lose, and I find that I
generally lose), money is the word. Now, sir, upon the chances of
Mr. C.'s game I express to you no opinion, NO opinion. It might be
highly impolitic in Mr. C., after playing so long and so high, to
leave off; it might be the reverse; I say nothing. No, sir," said
Mr. Vholes, bringing his hand flat down upon his desk in a positive
manner, "nothing."

"You seem to forget," returned Mr, Woodcourt, "that I ask you to
say nothing and have no interest in anything you say."

"Pardon me, sir!" retorted Mr. Vholes. "You do yourself an
injustice. No, sir! Pardon me! You shall not--shall not in my
office, if I know it--do yourself an injustice. You are interested
in anything, and in everything, that relates to your friend. I
know human nature much better, sir, than to admit for an instant
that a gentleman of your appearance is not interested in whatever
concerns his friend."

"Well," replied Mr. Woodcourt, "that may be. I am particularly
interested in his address."

"The number, sir," said Mr. Vholes parenthetically, "I believe I
have already mentioned. If Mr. C. is to continue to play for this
considerable stake, sir, he must have funds. Understand me! There
are funds in hand at present. I ask for nothing; there are funds
in hand. But for the onward play, more funds must be provided,
unless Mr. C. is to throw away what he has already ventured, which
is wholly and solely a point for his consideration. This, sir, I
take the opportunity of stating openly to you as the friend of Mr.
C. Without funds I shall always be happy to appear and act for Mr.
C. to the extent of all such costs as are safe to be allowed out of
the estate, not beyond that. I could not go beyond that, sir,
without wronging some one. I must either wrong my three dear girls
or my venerable father, who is entirely dependent on me, in the
Vale of Taunton; or some one. Whereas, sir, my resolution is (call
it weakness or folly if you please) to wrong no one."

Mr. Woodcourt rather sternly rejoined that he was glad to hear it.

"I wish, sir," said Mr. Vholes, "to leave a good name behind me.
Therefore I take every opportunity of openly stating to a friend of
Mr. C. how Mr. C. is situated. As to myself, sir, the labourer is
worthy of his hire. If I undertake to put my shoulder to the
wheel, I do it, and I earn what I get. I am here for that purpose.
My name is painted on the door outside, with that object."

"And Mr. Carstone's address, Mr. Vholes?"

"Sir," returned Mr. Vholes, "as I believe I have already mentioned,
it is next door. On the second story you will find Mr. C.'s
apartments. Mr. C. desires to be near his professional adviser,
and I am far from objecting, for I court inquiry."

Upon this Mr. Woodcourt wished Mr. Vholes good day and went in
search of Richard, the change in whose appearance he began to
understand now but too well.

He found him in a dull room, fadedly furnished, much as I had found
him in his barrack-room but a little while before, except that he
was not writing but was sitting with a book before him, from which
his eyes and thoughts were far astray. As the door chanced to be
standing open, Mr. Woodcourt was in his presence for some moments
without being perceived, and he told me that he never could forget
the haggardness of his face and the dejection of his manner before
he was aroused from his dream.

"Woodcourt, my dear fellow," cried Richard, starting up with
extended hands, "you come upon my vision like a ghost."

"A friendly one," he replied, "and only waiting, as they say ghosts
do, to be addressed. How does the mortal world go?" They were
seated now, near together.

"Badly enough, and slowly enough," said Richard, "speaking at least
for my part of it."

"What part is that?"

"The Chancery part."

"I never heard," returned Mr. Woodcourt, shaking his head, "of its
going well yet."

"Nor I," said Richard moodily. "Who ever did?" He brightened
again in a moment and said with his natural openness, "Woodcourt, I
should be sorry to be misunderstood by you, even if I gained by it
in your estimation. You must know that I have done no good this
long time. I have not intended to do much harm, but I seem to have
been capable of nothing else. It may be that I should have done
better by keeping out of the net into which my destiny has worked
me, but I think not, though I dare say you will soon hear, if you
have not already heard, a very different opinion. To make short of
a long story, I am afraid I have wanted an object; but I have an
object now--or it has me--and it is too late to discuss it. Take
me as I am, and make the best of me."

"A bargain," said Mr. Woodcourt. "Do as much by me in return."

"Oh! You," returned Richard, "you can pursue your art for its own
sake, and can put your hand upon the plough and never turn, and can
strike a purpose out of anything. You and I are very different

He spoke regretfully and lapsed for a moment into his weary

"Well, well!" he cried, shaking it off. "Everything has an end.
We shall see! So you will take me as I am, and make the best of

"Aye! Indeed I will." They shook hands upon it laughingly, but in
deep earnestness. I can answer for one of them with my heart of

"You come as a godsend," said Richard, "for I have seen nobody here
yet but Vholes. Woodcourt, there is one subject I should like to
mention, for once and for all, in the beginning of our treaty. You
can hardly make the best of me if I don't. You know, I dare say,
that I have an attachment to my cousin Ada?"

Mr. Woodcourt replied that I had hinted as much to him. "Now
pray," returned Richard, "don't think me a heap of selfishness.
Don't suppose that I am splitting my head and half breaking my
heart over this miserable Chancery suit for my own rights and
interests alone. Ada's are bound up with mine; they can't be
separated; Vholes works for both of us. Do think of that!"

He was so very solicitous on this head that Mr. Woodcourt gave him
the strongest assurances that he did him no injustice.

"You see," said Richard, with something pathetic in his manner of
lingering on the point, though it was off-hand and unstudied, "to
an upright fellow like you, bringing a friendly face like yours
here, I cannot bear the thought of appearing selfish and mean. I
want to see Ada righted, Woodcourt, as well as myself; I want to do
my utmost to right her, as well as myself; I venture what I can
scrape together to extricate her, as well as myself. Do, I beseech
you, think of that!"

Afterwards, when Mr. Woodcourt came to reflect on what had passed,
he was so very much impressed by the strength of Richard's anxiety
on this point that in telling me generally of his first visit to
Symond's Inn he particularly dwelt upon it. It revived a fear I
had had before that my dear girl's little property would be
absorbed by Mr. Vholes and that Richard's justification to himself
would be sincerely this. It was just as I began to take care of
Caddy that the interview took place, and I now return to the time
when Caddy had recovered and the shade was still between me and my

I proposed to Ada that morning that we should go and see Richard.
It a little surprised me to find that she hesitated and was not so
radiantly willing as I had expected.

"My dear," said I, "you have not had any difference with Richard
since I have been so much away?"

"No, Esther."

"Not heard of him, perhaps?" said I.

"Yes, I have heard of him," said Ada.

Such tears in her eyes, and such love in her face. I could not
make my darling out. Should I go to Richard's by myself? I said.
No, Ada thought I had better not go by myself. Would she go with
me? Yes, Ada thought she had better go with me. Should we go now?
Yes, let us go now. Well, I could not understand my darling, with
the tears in her eyes and the love in her face!

We were soon equipped and went out. It was a sombre day, and drops
of chill rain fell at intervals. It was one of those colourless
days when everything looks heavy and harsh. The houses frowned at
us, the dust rose at us, the smoke swooped at us, nothing made any
compromise about itself or wore a softened aspect. I fancied my
beautiful girl quite out of place in the rugged streets, and I
thought there were more funerals passing along the dismal pavements
than I had ever seen before.

We had first to find out Symond's Inn. We were going to inquire in
a shop when Ada said she thought it was near Chancery Lane. "We
are not likely to be far out, my love, if we go in that direction,"
said I. So to Chancery Lane we went, and there, sure enough, we
saw it written up. Symond's Inn.

We had next to find out the number. "Or Mr. Vholes's office will
do," I recollected, "for Mr. Vholes's office is next door." Upon
which Ada said, perhaps that was Mr. Vholes's office in the corner
there. And it really was.

Then came the question, which of the two next doors? I was going
for the one, and my darling was going for the other; and my darling
was right again. So up we went to the second story, when we came
to Richard's name in great white letters on a hearse-like panel.

I should have knocked, but Ada said perhaps we had better turn the
handle and go in. Thus we came to Richard, poring over a table
covered with dusty bundles of papers which seemed to me like dusty
mirrors reflecting his own mind. Wherever I looked I saw the
ominous words that ran in it repeated. Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

He received us very affectionately, and we sat down. "If you had
come a little earlier," he said, "you would have found Woodcourt
here. There never was such a good fellow as Woodcourt is. He
finds time to look in between-whiles, when anybody else with half
his work to do would be thinking about not being able to come. And
he is so cheery, so fresh, so sensible, so earnest, so--everything
that I am not, that the place brightens whenever he comes, and
darkens whenever he goes again."

"God bless him," I thought, "for his truth to me!"

"He is not so sanguine, Ada," continued Richard, casting his
dejected look over the bundles of papers, "as Vholes and I are
usually, but he is only an outsider and is not in the mysteries.
We have gone into them, and he has not. He can't be expected to
know much of such a labyrinth."

As his look wandered over the papers again and he passed his two
hands over his head, I noticed how sunken and how large his eyes
appeared, how dry his lips were, and how his finger-nails were all
bitten away.

"Is this a healthy place to live in, Richard, do you think?" said I.

"Why, my dear Minerva," answered Richard with his old gay laugh,
"it is neither a rural nor a cheerful place; and when the sun
shines here, you may lay a pretty heavy wager that it is shining
brightly in an open spot. But it's well enough for the time. It's
near the offices and near Vholes."

"Perhaps," I hinted, "a change from both--"

"Might do me good?" said Richard, forcing a laugh as he finished
the sentence. "I shouldn't wonder! But it can only come in one
way now--in one of two ways, I should rather say. Either the suit
must be ended, Esther, or the suitor. But it shall be the suit, my
dear girl, the suit, my dear girl!"

These latter words were addressed to Ada, who was sitting nearest
to him. Her face being turned away from me and towards him, I
could not see it.

"We are doing very well," pursued Richard. "Vholes will tell you
so. We are really spinning along. Ask Vholes. We are giving them
no rest. Vholes knows all their windings and turnings, and we are
upon them everywhere. We have astonished them already. We shall
rouse up that nest of sleepers, mark my words!"

His hopefulness had long been more painful to me than his
despondency; it was so unlike hopefulness, had something so fierce
in its determination to be it, was so hungry and eager, and yet so
conscious of being forced and unsustainable that it had long
touched me to the heart. But the commentary upon it now indelibly
written in his handsome face made it far more distressing than it
used to be. I say indelibly, for I felt persuaded that if the
fatal cause could have been for ever terminated, according to his
brightest visions, in that same hour, the traces of the premature
anxiety, self-reproach, and disappointment it had occasioned him
would have remained upon his features to the hour of his death.

"The sight of our dear little woman," said Richard, Ada still
remaining silent and quiet, "is so natural to me, and her
compassionate face is so like the face of old days--"

Ah! No, no. I smiled and shook my head.

"--So exactly like the face of old days," said Richard in his
cordial voice, and taking my hand with the brotherly regard which
nothing ever changed, "that I can't make pretences with her. I
fluctuate a little; that's the truth. Sometimes I hope, my dear,
and sometimes I--don't quite despair, but nearly. I get," said
Richard, relinquishing my hand gently and walking across the room,
"so tired!"

He took a few turns up and down and sunk upon the sofa. "I get,"
he repeated gloomily, "so tired. It is such weary, weary work!"

He was leaning on his arm saying these words in a meditative voice
and looking at the ground when my darling rose, put off her bonnet,
kneeled down beside him with her golden hair falling like sunlight
on his head, clasped her two arms round his neck, and turned her
face to me. Oh, what a loving and devoted face I saw!

"Esther, dear," she said very quietly, "I am not going home again."

A light shone in upon me all at once.

"Never any more. I am going to stay with my dear husband. We have
been married above two months. Go home without me, my own Esther;
I shall never go home any more!" With those words my darling drew
his head down on her breast and held it there. And if ever in my
life I saw a love that nothing but death could change, I saw it
then before me.

"Speak to Esther, my dearest," said Richard, breaking the silence
presently. "Tell her how it was."

I met her before she could come to me and folded her in my arms.
We neither of us spoke, but with her cheek against my own I wanted
to hear nothing. "My pet," said I. "My love. My poor, poor
girl!" I pitied her so much. I was very fond of Richard, but the
impulse that I had upon me was to pity her so much.

"Esther, will you forgive me? Will my cousin John forgive me?"

"My dear," said I, "to doubt it for a moment is to do him a great
wrong. And as to me!" Why, as to me, what had I to forgive!

I dried my sobbing darling's eyes and sat beside her on the sofa,
and Richard sat on my other side; and while I was reminded of that
so different night when they had first taken me into their
confidence and had gone on in their own wild happy way, they told
me between them how it was.

"All I had was Richard's," Ada said; "and Richard would not take
it, Esther, and what could I do but be his wife when I loved him

"And you were so fully and so kindly occupied, excellent Dame
Durden," said Richard, "that how could we speak to you at such a
time! And besides, it was not a long-considered step. We went out
one morning and were married."

"And when it was done, Esther," said my darling, "I was always
thinking how to tell you and what to do for the best. And
sometimes I thought you ought to know it directly, and sometimes I
thought you ought not to know it and keep it from my cousin John;
and I could not tell what to do, and I fretted very much."

How selfish I must have been not to have thought of this before! I
don't know what I said now. I was so sorry, and yet I was so fond
of them and so glad that they were fond of me; I pitied them so
much, and yet I felt a kind of pride in their loving one another.
I never had experienced such painful and pleasurable emotion at one
time, and in my own heart I did not know which predominated. But I
was not there to darken their way; I did not do that.

When I was less foolish and more composed, my darling took her
wedding-ring from her bosom, and kissed it, and put it on. Then I
remembered last night and told Richard that ever since her marriage
she had worn it at night when there was no one to see. Then Ada
blushingly asked me how did I know that, my dear. Then I told Ada
how I had seen her hand concealed under her pillow and had little
thought why, my dear. Then they began telling me how it was all
over again, and I began to be sorry and glad again, and foolish
again, and to hide my plain old face as much as I could lest I
should put them out of heart.

Thus the time went on until it became necessary for me to think of
returning. When that time arrived it was the worst of all, for
then my darling completely broke down. She clung round my neck,
calling me by every dear name she could think of and saying what
should she do without me! Nor was Richard much better; and as for
me, I should have been the worst of the three if I had not severely
said to myself, "Now Esther, if you do, I'll never speak to you

"Why, I declare," said I, "I never saw such a wife. I don't think
she loves her husband at all. Here, Richard, take my child, for
goodness' sake." But I held her tight all the while, and could
have wept over her I don't know how long.

"I give this dear young couple notice," said I, "that I am only
going away to come back to-morrow and that I shall be always coming
backwards and forwards until Symond's Inn is tired of the sight of
me. So I shall not say good-bye, Richard. For what would be the
use of that, you know, when I am coming back so soon!"

I had given my darling to him now, and I meant to go; but I
lingered for one more look of the precious face which it seemed to
rive my heart to turn from.

So I said (in a merry, bustling manner) that unless they gave me
some encouragement to come back, I was not sure that I could take
that liberty, upon which my dear girl looked up, faintly smiling
through her tears, and I folded her lovely face between my hands,
and gave it one last kiss, and laughed, and ran away.

And when I got downstairs, oh, how I cried! It almost seemed to me
that I had lost my Ada for ever. I was so lonely and so blank
without her, and it was so desolate to be going home with no hope
of seeing her there, that I could get no comfort for a little while
as I walked up and down in a dim corner sobbing and crying.

I came to myself by and by, after a little scolding, and took a
coach home. The poor boy whom I had found at St. Albans had
reappeared a short time before and was lying at the point of death;
indeed, was then dead, though I did not know it. My guardian had
gone out to inquire about him and did not return to dinner. Being
quite alone, I cried a little again, though on the whole I don't
think I behaved so very, very ill.

It was only natural that I should not be quite accustomed to the
loss of my darling yet. Three or four hours were not a long time
after years. But my mind dwelt so much upon the uncongenial scene
in which I had left her, and I pictured it as such an overshadowed
stony-hearted one, and I so longed to be near her and taking some
sort of care of her, that I determined to go back in the evening
only to look up at her windows.

It was foolish, I dare say, but it did not then seem at all so to
me, and it does not seem quite so even now. I took Charley into my
confidence, and we went out at dusk. It was dark when we came to
the new strange home of my dear girl, and there was a light behind
the yellow blinds. We walked past cautiously three or four times,
looking up, and narrowly missed encountering Mr. Vholes, who came
out of his office while we were there and turned his head to look
up too before going home. The sight of his lank black figure and
the lonesome air of that nook in the dark were favourable to the
state of my mind. I thought of the youth and love and beauty of my
dear girl, shut up in such an ill-assorted refuge, almost as if it
were a cruel place.

It was very solitary and very dull, and I did not doubt that I
might safely steal upstairs. I left Charley below and went up with
a light foot, not distressed by any glare from the feeble oil
lanterns on the way. I listened for a few moments, and in the
musty rotting silence of the house believed that I could hear the
murmur of their young voices. I put my lips to the hearse-like
panel of the door as a kiss for my dear and came quietly down
again, thinking that one of these days I would confess to the

And it really did me good, for though nobody but Charley and I knew
anything about it, I somehow felt as if it had diminished the
separation between Ada and me and had brought us together again for
those moments. I went back, not quite accustomed yet to the
change, but all the better for that hovering about my darling.

My guardian had come home and was standing thoughtfully by the dark
window. When I went in, his face cleared and he came to his seat,
but he caught the light upon my face as I took mine.

"Little woman," said he, "You have been crying."

"Why, yes, guardian," said I, "I am afraid I have been, a little.
Ada has been in such distress, and is so very sorry, guardian."

I put my arm on the back of his chair, and I saw in his glance that
my words and my look at her empty place had prepared him.

"Is she married, my dear?"

I told him all about it and how her first entreaties had referred
to his forgiveness.

"She has no need of it," said he. "Heaven bless her and her
husband!" But just as my first impulse had been to pity her, so
was his. "Poor girl, poor girl! Poor Rick! Poor Ada!"

Neither of us spoke after that, until he said with a sigh, "Well,
well, my dear! Bleak House is thinning fast."

"But its mistress remains, guardian." Though I was timid about
saying it, I ventured because of the sorrowful tone in which he had
spoken. "She will do all she can to make it happy," said I.

"She will succeed, my love!"

The letter had made no difference between us except that the seat
by his side had come to be mine; it made none now. He turned his
old bright fatherly look upon me, laid his hand on my hand in his
old way, and said again, "She will succeed, my dear. Nevertheless,
Bleak House is thinning fast, O little woman!"

I was sorry presently that this was all we said about that. I was
rather disappointed. I feared I might not quite have been all I
had meant to be since the letter and the answer.

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