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Covering a Multitude of Sins
It was interesting when I dressed before daylight to peep out of
window, where my candles were reflected in the black panes like two
beacons, and finding all beyond still enshrouded in the
indistinctness of last night, to watch how it turned out when the
day came on. As the prospect gradually revealed itself and
disclosed the scene over which the wind had wandered in the dark,
like my memory over my life, I had a pleasure in discovering the
unknown objects that had been around me in my sleep. At first they
were faintly discernible in the mist, and above them the later
stars still glimmered. That pale interval over, the picture began
to enlarge and fill up so fast that at every new peep I could have
found enough to look at for an hour. Imperceptibly my candles
became the only incongruous part of the morning, the dark places in
my room all melted away, and the day shone bright upon a cheerful
landscape, prominent in which the old Abbey Church, with its
massive tower, threw a softer train of shadow on the view than
seemed compatible with its rugged character. But so from rough
outsides (I hope I have learnt), serene and gentle influences often
Every part of the house was in such order, and every one was so
attentive to me, that I had no trouble with my two bunches of keys,
though what with trying to remember the contents of each little
store-room drawer and cupboard; and what with making notes on a
slate about jams, and pickles, and preserves, and bottles, and
glass, and china, and a great many other things; and what with
being generally a methodical, old-maidish sort of foolish little
person, I was so busy that I could not believe it was breakfast-
time when I heard the bell ring. Away I ran, however, and made
tea, as I had already been installed into the responsibility of the
tea-pot; and then, as they were all rather late and nobody was down
yet, I thought I would take a peep at the garden and get some
knowledge of that too. I found it quite a delightful place--in
front, the pretty avenue and drive by which we had approached (and
where, by the by, we had cut up the gravel so terribly with our
wheels that I asked the gardener to roll it); at the back, the
flower-garden, with my darling at her window up there, throwing it
open to smile out at me, as if she would have kissed me from that
distance. Beyond the flower-garden was a kitchen-garden, and then
a paddock, and then a snug little rick-yard, and then a dear little
farm-yard. As to the house itself, with its three peaks in the
roof; its various-shaped windows, some so large, some so small, and
all so pretty; its trellis-work, against the southfront for roses
and honey-suckle, and its homely, comfortable, welcoming look--it
was, as Ada said when she came out to meet me with her arm through
that of its master, worthy of her cousin John, a bold thing to say,
though he only pinched her dear cheek for it.
Mr. Skimpole was as agreeable at breakfast as he had been
overnight. There was honey on the table, and it led him into a
discourse about bees. He had no objection to honey, he said (and I
should think he had not, for he seemed to like it), but he
protested against the overweening assumptions of bees. He didn't
at all see why the busy bee should be proposed as a model to him;
he supposed the bee liked to make honey, or he wouldn't do it--
nobody asked him. It was not necessary for the bee to make such a
merit of his tastes. If every confectioner went buzzing about the
world banging against everything that came in his way and
egotistically calling upon everybody to take notice that he was
going to his work and must not be interrupted, the world would be
quite an unsupportable place. Then, after all, it was a ridiculous
position to be smoked out of your fortune with brimstone as soon as
you had made it. You would have a very mean opinion of a
Manchester man if he spun cotton for no other purpose. He must say
he thought a drone the embodiment of a pleasanter and wiser idea.
The drone said unaffectedly, "You will excuse me; I really cannot
attend to the shop! I find myself in a world in which there is so
much to see and so short a time to see it in that I must take the
liberty of looking about me and begging to be provided for by
somebody who doesn't want to look about him." This appeared to Mr.
Skimpole to be the drone philosophy, and he thought it a very good
philosophy, always supposing the drone to be willing to be on good
terms with the bee, which, so far as he knew, the easy fellow
always was, if the consequential creature would only let him, and
not be so conceited about his honey!
He pursued this fancy with the lightest foot over a variety of
ground and made us all merry, though again he seemed to have as
serious a meaning in what he said as he was capable of having. I
left them still listening to him when I withdrew to attend to my
new duties. They had occupied me for some time, and I was passing
through the passages on my return with my basket of keys on my arm
when Mr. Jarndyce called me into a small room next his bed-chamber,
which I found to be in part a little library of books and papers
and in part quite a little museum of his boots and shoes and hat-
"Sit down, my dear," said Mr. Jarndyce. "This, you must know, is
the growlery. When I am out of humour, I come and growl here."
"You must be here very seldom, sir," said I.
"Oh, you don't know me!" he returned. "When I am deceived or
disappointed in--the wind, and it's easterly, I take refuge here.
The growlery is the best-used room in the house. You are not aware
of half my humours yet. My dear, how you are trembling!"
I could not help it; I tried very hard, but being alone with that
benevolent presence, and meeting his kind eyes, and feeling so
happy and so honoured there, and my heart so full--
I kissed his hand. I don't know what I said, or even that I spoke.
He was disconcerted and walked to the window; I almost believed
with an intention of jumping out, until he turned and I was
reassured by seeing in his eyes what he had gone there to hide. He
gently patted me on the head, and I sat down.
"There! There!" he said. "That's over. Pooh! Don't be foolish."
"It shall not happen again, sir," I returned, "but at first it is
"Nonsense!" he said. "It's easy, easy. Why not? I hear of a good
little orphan girl without a protector, and I take it into my head
to be that protector. She grows up, and more than justifies my
good opinion, and I remain her guardian and her friend. What is
there in all this? So, so! Now, we have cleared off old scores,
and I have before me thy pleasant, trusting, trusty face again."
I said to myself, "Esther, my dear, you surprise me! This really
is not what I expected of you!" And it had such a good effect that
I folded my hands upon my basket and quite recovered myself. Mr.
Jarndyce, expressing his approval in his face, began to talk to me
as confidentially as if I had been in the habit of conversing with
him every morning for I don't know how long. I almost felt as if I
"Of course, Esther," he said, "you don't understand this Chancery
And of course I shook my head.
"I don't know who does," he returned. "The lawyers have twisted it
into such a state of bedevilment that the original merits of the
case have long disappeared from the face of the earth. It's about
a will and the trusts under a will--or it was once. It's about
nothing but costs now. We are always appearing, and disappearing,
and swearing, and interrogating, and filing, and cross-filing, and
arguing, and sealing, and motioning, and referring, and reporting,
and revolving about the Lord Chancellor and all his satellites, and
equitably waltzing ourselves off to dusty death, about costs.
That's the great question. All the rest, by some extraordinary
means, has melted away."
"But it was, sir," said I, to bring him back, for he began to rub
his head, "about a will?"
"Why, yes, it was about a will when it was about anything," he
returned. "A certain Jarndyce, in an evil hour, made a great
fortune, and made a great will. In the question how the trusts
under that will are to be administered, the fortune left by the
will is squandered away; the legatees under the will are reduced to
such a miserable condition that they would be sufficiently punished
if they had committed an enormous crime in having money left them,
and the will itself is made a dead letter. All through the
deplorable cause, everything that everybody in it, except one man,
knows already is referred to that only one man who don't know it to
find out--all through the deplorable cause, everybody must have
copies, over and over again, of everything that has accumulated
about it in the way of cartloads of papers (or must pay for them
without having them, which is the usual course, for nobody wants
them) and must go down the middle and up again through such an
infernal country-dance of costs and fees and nonsense and
corruption as was never dreamed of in the wildest visions of a
witch's Sabbath. Equity sends questions to law, law sends
questions back to equity; law finds it can't do this, equity finds
it can't do that; neither can so much as say it can't do anything,
without this solicitor instructing and this counsel appearing for
A, and that solicitor instructing and that counsel appearing for B;
and so on through the whole alphabet, like the history of the apple
pie. And thus, through years and years, and lives and lives,
everything goes on, constantly beginning over and over again, and
nothing ever ends. And we can't get out of the suit on any terms,
for we are made parties to it, and MUST BE parties to it, whether
we like it or not. But it won't do to think of it! When my great
uncle, poor Tom Jarndyce, began to think of it, it was the
beginning of the end!"
"The Mr. Jarndyce, sir, whose story I have heard?"
He nodded gravely. "I was his heir, and this was his house,
Esther. When I came here, it was bleak indeed. He had left the
signs of his misery upon it."
"How changed it must be now!" I said.
"It had been called, before his time, the Peaks. He gave it its
present name and lived here shut up, day and night poring over the
wicked heaps of papers in the suit and hoping against hope to
disentangle it from its mystification and bring it to a close. In
the meantime, the place became dilapidated, the wind whistled
through the cracked walls, the rain fell through the broken roof,
the weeds choked the passage to the rotting door. When I brought
what remained of him home here, the brains seemed to me to have
been blown out of the house too, it was so shattered and ruined."
He walked a little to and fro after saying this to himself with a
shudder, and then looked at me, and brightened, and came and sat
down again with his hands in his pockets.
"I told you this was the growlery, my dear. Where was I?"
I reminded him, at the hopeful change he had made in Bleak House.
"Bleak House; true. There is, in that city of London there, some
property of ours which is much at this day what Bleak House was
then; I say property of ours, meaning of the suit's, but I ought to
call it the property of costs, for costs is the only power on earth
that will ever get anything out of it now or will ever know it for
anything but an eyesore and a heartsore. It is a street of
perishing blind houses, with their eyes stoned out, without a pane
of glass, without so much as a window-frame, with the bare blank
shutters tumbling from their hinges and falling asunder, the iron
rails peeling away in flakes of rust, the chimneys sinking in, the
stone steps to every door (and every door might be death's door)
turning stagnant green, the very crutches on which the ruins are
propped decaying. Although Bleak House was not in Chancery, its
master was, and it was stamped with the same seal. These are the
Great Seal's impressions, my dear, all over England--the children
"How changed it is!" I said again.
"Why, so it is," he answered much more cheerfully; "and it is
wisdom in you to keep me to the bright side of the picture." (The
idea of my wisdom!) "These are things I never talk about or even
think about, excepting in the growlery here. If you consider it
right to mention them to Rick and Ada," looking seriously at me,
"you can. I leave it to your discretion, Esther."
"I hope, sir--" said I.
"I think you had better call me guardian, my dear."
I felt that I was choking again--I taxed myself with it, "Esther,
now, you know you are!"--when he feigned to say this slightly, as
if it were a whim instead of a thoughtful tenderness. But I gave
the housekeeping keys the least shake in the world as a reminder to
myself, and folding my hands in a still more determined manner on
the basket, looked at him quietly.
"I hope, guardian," said I, "that you may not trust too much to my
discretion. I hope you may not mistake me. I am afraid it will be
a disappointment to you to know that I am not clever, but it really
is the truth, and you would soon find it out if I had not the
honesty to confess it."
He did not seem at all disappointed; quite the contrary. He told
me, with a smile all over his face, that he knew me very well
indeed and that I was quite clever enough for him.
"I hope I may turn out so," said I, "but I am much afraid of it,
"You are clever enough to be the good little woman of our lives
here, my dear," he returned playfully; "the little old woman of the
child's (I don't mean Skimpole's) rhyme:
'Little old woman, and whither so high?'
'To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky.'
You will sweep them so neatly out of OUR sky in the course of your
housekeeping, Esther, that one of these days we shall have to
abandon the growlery and nail up the door."
This was the beginning of my being called Old Woman, and Little Old
Woman, and Cobweb, and Mrs. Shipton, and Mother Hubbard, and Dame
Durden, and so many names of that sort that my own name soon became
quite lost among them.
"However," said Mr. Jarndyce, "to return to our gossip. Here's
Rick, a fine young fellow full of promise. What's to be done with
Oh, my goodness, the idea of asking my advice on such a point!
"Here he is, Esther," said Mr. Jarndyce, comfortably putting his
hands into his pockets and stretching out his legs. "He must have
a profession; he must make some choice for himself. There will be
a world more wiglomeration about it, I suppose, but it must be
"More what, guardian?" said I.
"More wiglomeration," said he. "It's the only name I know for the
thing. He is a ward in Chancery, my dear. Kenge and Carboy will
have something to say about it; Master Somebody--a sort of
ridiculous sexton, digging graves for the merits of causes in a
back room at the end of Quality Court, Chancery Lane--will have
something to say about it; counsel will have something to say about
it; the Chancellor will have something to say about it; the
satellites will have something to say about it; they will all have
to be handsomely feed, all round, about it; the whole thing will be
vastly ceremonious, wordy, unsatisfactory, and expensive, and I
call it, in general, wiglomeration. How mankind ever came to be
afflicted with wiglomeration, or for whose sins these young people
ever fell into a pit of it, I don't know; so it is."
He began to rub his head again and to hint that he felt the wind.
But it was a delightful instance of his kindness towards me that
whether he rubbed his head, or walked about, or did both, his face
was sure to recover its benignant expression as it looked at mine;
and he was sure to turn comfortable again and put his hands in his
pockets and stretch out his legs.
"Perhaps it would be best, first of all," said I, "to ask Mr.
Richard what he inclines to himself."
"Exactly so," he returned. "That's what I mean! You know, just
accustom yourself to talk it over, with your tact and in your quiet
way, with him and Ada, and see what you all make of it. We are
sure to come at the heart of the matter by your means, little
I really was frightened at the thought of the importance I was
attaining and the number of things that were being confided to me.
I had not meant this at all; I had meant that he should speak to
Richard. But of course I said nothing in reply except that I would
do my best, though I feared (I realty felt it necessary to repeat
this) that he thought me much more sagacious than I was. At which
my guardian only laughed the pleasantest laugh I ever heard.
"Come!" he said, rising and pushing back his chair. "I think we
may have done with the growlery for one day! Only a concluding
word. Esther, my dear, do you wish to ask me anything?"
He looked so attentively at me that I looked attentively at him and
felt sure I understood him.
"About myself, sir?" said I.
"Guardian," said I, venturing to put my hand, which was suddenly
colder than I could have wished, in his, "nothing! I am quite sure
that if there were anything I ought to know or had any need to
know, I should not have to ask you to tell it to me. If my whole
reliance and confidence were not placed in you, I must have a hard
heart indeed. I have nothing to ask you, nothing in the world."
He drew my hand through his arm and we went away to look for Ada.
From that hour I felt quite easy with him, quite unreserved, quite
content to know no more, quite happy.
We lived, at first, rather a busy life at Bleak House, for we had
to become acquainted with many residents in and out of the
neighbourhood who knew Mr. Jarndyce. It seemed to Ada and me that
everybody knew him who wanted to do anything with anybody else's
money. It amazed us when we began to sort his letters and to
answer some of them for him in the growlery of a morning to find
how the great object of the lives of nearly all his correspondents
appeared to be to form themselves into committees for getting in
and laying out money. The ladies were as desperate as the
gentlemen; indeed, I think they were even more so. They threw
themselves into committees in the most impassioned manner and
collected subscriptions with a vehemence quite extraordinary. It
appeared to us that some of them must pass their whole lives in
dealing out subscription-cards to the whole post-office directory--
shilling cards, half-crown cards, half-sovereign cards, penny
cards. They wanted everything. They wanted wearing apparel, they
wanted linen rags, they wanted money, they wanted coals, they
wanted soup, they wanted interest, they wanted autographs, they
wanted flannel, they wanted whatever Mr. Jarndyce had--or had not.
Their objects were as various as their demands. They were going to
raise new buildings, they were going to pay off debts on old
buildings, they were going to establish in a picturesque building
(engraving of proposed west elevation attached) the Sisterhood of
Mediaeval Marys, they were going to give a testimonial to Mrs.
Jellyby, they were going to have their secretary's portrait painted
and presented to his mother-in-law, whose deep devotion to him was
well known, they were going to get up everything, I really believe,
from five hundred thousand tracts to an annuity and from a marble
monument to a silver tea-pot. They took a multitude of titles.
They were the Women of England, the Daughters of Britain, the
Sisters of all the cardinal virtues separately, the Females of
America, the Ladies of a hundred denominations. They appeared to
be always excited about canvassing and electing. They seemed to
our poor wits, and according to their own accounts, to be
constantly polling people by tens of thousands, yet never bringing
their candidates in for anything. It made our heads ache to think,
on the whole, what feverish lives they must lead.
Among the ladies who were most distinguished for this rapacious
benevolence (if I may use the expression) was a Mrs. Pardiggle, who
seemed, as I judged from the number of her letters to Mr. Jarndyce,
to be almost as powerful a correspondent as Mrs. Jellyby herself.
We observed that the wind always changed when Mrs. Pardiggle became
the subject of conversation and that it invariably interrupted Mr.
Jarndyce and prevented his going any farther, when he had remarked
that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the people
who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the
people who did a great deal and made no noise at all. We were
therefore curious to see Mrs. Pardiggle, suspecting her to be a
type of the former class, and were glad when she called one day
with her five young sons.
She was a formidable style of lady with spectacles, a prominent
nose, and a loud voice, who had the effect of wanting a great deal
of room. And she really did, for she knocked down little chairs
with her skirts that were quite a great way off. As only Ada and I
were at home, we received her timidly, for she seemed to come in
like cold weather and to make the little Pardiggles blue as they
"These, young ladies," said Mrs. Pardiggle with great volubility
after the first salutations, "are my five boys. You may have seen
their names in a printed subscription list (perhaps more than one)
in the possession of our esteemed friend Mr. Jarndyce. Egbert, my
eldest (twelve), is the boy who sent out his pocket-money, to the
amount of five and threepence, to the Tockahoopo Indians. Oswald,
my second (ten and a half), is the child who contributed two and
nine-pence to the Great National Smithers Testimonial. Francis, my
third (nine), one and sixpence halfpenny; Felix, my fourth (seven),
eightpence to the Superannuated Widows; Alfred, my youngest (five),
has voluntarily enrolled himself in the Infant Bonds of Joy, and is
pledged never, through life, to use tobacco in any form."
We had never seen such dissatisfied children. It was not merely
that they were weazened and shrivelled--though they were certainly
that to--but they looked absolutely ferocious with discontent. At
the mention of the Tockahoopo Indians, I could really have supposed
Eghert to be one of the most baleful members of that tribe, he gave
me such a savage frown. The face of each child, as the amount of
his contribution was mentioned, darkened in a peculiarly vindictive
manner, but his was by far the worst. I must except, however, the
little recruit into the Infant Bonds of Joy, who was stolidly and
"You have been visiting, I understand," said Mrs. Pardiggle, "at
We said yes, we had passed one night there.
"Mrs. Jellyby," pursued the lady, always speaking in the same
demonstrative, loud, hard tone, so that her voice impressed my
fancy as if it had a sort of spectacles on too--and I may take the
opportunity of remarking that her spectacles were made the less
engaging by her eyes being what Ada called "choking eyes," meaning
very prominent--"Mrs. Jellyby is a benefactor to society and
deserves a helping hand. My boys have contributed to the African
project--Egbert, one and six, being the entire allowance of nine
weeks; Oswald, one and a penny halfpenny, being the same; the rest,
according to their little means. Nevertheless, I do not go with
Mrs. Jellyby in all things. I do not go with Mrs. Jellyby in her
treatment of her young family. It has been noticed. It has been
observed that her young family are excluded from participation in
the objects to which she is devoted. She may be right, she may be
wrong; but, right or wrong, this is not my course with MY young
family. I take them everywhere."
I was afterwards convinced (and so was Ada) that from the ill-
conditioned eldest child, these words extorted a sharp yell. He
turned it off into a yawn, but it began as a yell.
"They attend matins with me (very prettily done) at half-past six
o'clock in the morning all the year round, including of course the
depth of winter," said Mrs. Pardiggle rapidly, "and they are with
me during the revolving duties of the day. I am a School lady, I
am a Visiting lady, I am a Reading lady, I am a Distributing lady;
I am on the local Linen Box Committee and many general committees;
and my canvassing alone is very extensive--perhaps no one's more
so. But they are my companions everywhere; and by these means they
acquire that knowledge of the poor, and that capacity of doing
charitable business in general--in short, that taste for the sort
of thing--which will render them in after life a service to their
neighbours and a satisfaction to themselves. My young family are
not frivolous; they expend the entire amount of their allowance in
subscriptions, under my direction; and they have attended as many
public meetings and listened to as many lectures, orations, and
discussions as generally fall to the lot of few grown people.
Alfred (five), who, as I mentioned, has of his own election joined
the Infant Bonds of Joy, was one of the very few children who
manifested consciousness on that occasion after a fervid address of
two hours from the chairman of the evening."
Alfred glowered at us as if he never could, or would, forgive the
injury of that night.
"You may have observed, Miss Summerson," said Mrs. Pardiggle, "in
some of the lists to which I have referred, in the possession of
our esteemed friend Mr. Jarndyce, that the names of my young family
are concluded with the name of O. A. Pardiggle, F.R.S., one pound.
That is their father. We usually observe the same routine. I put
down my mite first; then my young family enrol their contributions,
according to their ages and their little means; and then Mr.
Pardiggle brings up the rear. Mr. Pardiggle is happy to throw in
his limited donation, under my direction; and thus things are made
not only pleasant to ourselves, but, we trust, improving to
Suppose Mr. Pardiggle were to dine with Mr. Jellyby, and suppose
Mr. Jellyby were to relieve his mind after dinner to Mr. Pardiggle,
would Mr. Pardiggle, in return, make any confidential communication
to Mr. Jellyby? I was quite confused to find myself thinking this,
but it came into my head.
"You are very pleasantly situated here!" said Mrs. Pardiggle.
We were glad to change the subject, and going to the window,
pointed out the beauties of the prospect, on which the spectacles
appeared to me to rest with curious indifference.
"You know Mr. Gusher?" said our visitor.
We were obliged to say that we had not the pleasure of Mr. Gusher's
"The loss is yours, I assure you," said Mrs. Pardiggle with her
commanding deportment. "He is a very fervid, impassioned speaker-
full of fire! Stationed in a waggon on this lawn, now, which, from
the shape of the land, is naturally adapted to a public meeting, he
would improve almost any occasion you could mention for hours and
hours! By this time, young ladies," said Mrs. Pardiggle, moving
back to her chair and overturning, as if by invisible agency, a
little round table at a considerable distance with my work-basket
on it, "by this time you have found me out, I dare say?"
This was really such a confusing question that Ada looked at me in
perfect dismay. As to the guilty nature of my own consciousness
after what I had been thinking, it must have been expressed in the
colour of my cheeks.
"Found out, I mean," said Mrs. Pardiggle, "the prominent point in
my character. I am aware that it is so prominent as to be
discoverable immediately. I lay myself open to detection, I know.
Well! I freely admit, I am a woman of business. I love hard work;
I enjoy hard work. The excitement does me good. I am so
accustomed and inured to hard work that I don't know what fatigue
We murmured that it was very astonishing and very gratifying, or
something to that effect. I don't think we knew what it was
either, but this is what our politeness expressed.
"I do not understand what it is to be tired; you cannot tire me if
you try!" said Mrs. Pardiggle. "The quantity of exertion (which is
no exertion to me), the amount of business (which I regard as
nothing), that I go through sometimes astonishes myself. I have
seen my young family, and Mr. Pardiggle, quite worn out with
witnessing it, when I may truly say I have been as fresh as a
If that dark-visaged eldest boy could look more malicious than he
had already looked, this was the time when he did it. I observed
that he doubled his right fist and delivered a secret blow into the
crown of his cap, which was under his left arm.
"This gives me a great advantage when I am making my rounds," said
Mrs. Pardiggle. "If I find a person unwilling to hear what I have
to say, I tell that person directly, 'I am incapable of fatigue, my
good friend, I am never tired, and I mean to go on until I have
done.' It answers admirably! Miss Summerson, I hope I shall have
your assistance in my visiting rounds immediately, and Miss Clare's
At first I tried to excuse myself for the present on the general
ground of having occupations to attend to which I must not neglect.
But as this was an ineffectual protest, I then said, more
particularly, that I was not sure of my qualifications. That I was
inexperienced in the art of adapting my mind to minds very
differently situated, and addressing them from suitable points of
view. That I had not that delicate knowledge of the heart which
must be essential to such a work. That I had much to learn,
myself, before I could teach others, and that I could not confide
in my good intentions alone. For these reasons I thought it best
to be as useful as I could, and to render what kind services I
could to those immediately about me, and to try to let that circle
of duty gradually and naturally expand itself. All this I said
with anything but confidence, because Mrs. Pardiggle was much older
than I, and had great experience, and was so very military in her
"You are wrong, Miss Summerson," said she, "but perhaps you are not
equal to hard work or the excitement of it, and that makes a vast
difference. If you would like to see how I go through my work, I
am now about--with my young family--to visit a brickmaker in the
neighbourhood (a very bad character) and shall be glad to take you
with me. Miss Clare also, if she will do me the favour."
Ada and I interchanged looks, and as we were going out in any case,
accepted the offer. When we hastily returned from putting on our
bonnets, we found the young family languishing in a corner and Mrs.
Pardiggle sweeping about the room, knocking down nearly all the
light objects it contained. Mrs. Pardiggle took possession of Ada,
and I followed with the family.
Ada told me afterwards that Mrs. Pardiggle talked in the same loud
tone (that, indeed, I overheard) all the way to the brickmaker's
about an exciting contest which she had for two or three years
waged against another lady relative to the bringing in of their
rival candidates for a pension somewhere. There had been a
quantity of printing, and promising, and proxying, and polling, and
it appeared to have imparted great liveliness to all concerned,
except the pensioners--who were not elected yet.
I am very fond of being confided in by children and am happy in
being usually favoured in that respect, but on this occasion it
gave me great uneasiness. As soon as we were out of doors, Egbert,
with the manner of a little footpad, demanded a shilling of me on
the ground that his pocket-money was "boned" from him. On my
pointing out the great impropriety of the word, especially in
connexion with his parent (for he added sulkily "By her!"), he
pinched me and said, "Oh, then! Now! Who are you! YOU wouldn't
like it, I think? What does she make a sham for, and pretend to
give me money, and take it away again? Why do you call it my
allowance, and never let me spend it?" These exasperating
questions so inflamed his mind and the minds of Oswald and Francis
that they all pinched me at once, and in a dreadfully expert way--
screwing up such little pieces of my arms that I could hardly
forbear crying out. Felix, at the same time, stamped upon my toes.
And the Bond of Joy, who on account of always having the whole of
his little income anticipated stood in fact pledged to abstain from
cakes as well as tobacco, so swelled with grief and rage when we
passed a pastry-cook's shop that he terrified me by becoming
purple. I never underwent so much, both in body and mind, in the
course of a walk with young people as from these unnaturally
constrained children when they paid me the compliment of being
I was glad when we came to the brickmaker's house, though it was
one of a cluster of wretched hovels in a brick-field, with pigsties
close to the broken windows and miserable little gardens before the
doors growing nothing but stagnant pools. Here and there an old
tub was put to catch the droppings of rain-water from a roof, or
they were banked up with mud into a little pond like a large dirt-
pie. At the doors and windows some men and women lounged or
prowled about, and took little notice of us except to laugh to one
another or to say something as we passed about gentlefolks minding
their own business and not troubling their heads and muddying their
shoes with coming to look after other people's.
Mrs. Pardiggle, leading the way with a great show of moral
determination and talking with much volubility about the untidy
habits of the people (though I doubted if the best of us could have
been tidy in such a place), conducted us into a cottage at the
farthest corner, the ground-floor room of which we nearly filled.
Besides ourselves, there were in this damp, offensive room a woman
with a black eye, nursing a poor little gasping baby by the fire; a
man, all stained with clay and mud and looking very dissipated,
lying at full length on the ground, smoking a pipe; a powerful
young man fastening a collar on a dog; and a bold girl doing some
kind of washing in very dirty water. They all looked up at us as
we came in, and the woman seemed to turn her face towards the fire
as if to hide her bruised eye; nobody gave us any welcome.
"Well, my friends," said Mrs. Pardiggle, but her voice had not a
friendly sound, I thought; it was much too businesslike and
systematic. "How do you do, all of you? I am here again. I told
you, you couldn't tire me, you know. I am fond of hard work, and
am true to my word."
"There an't," growled the man on the floor, whose head rested on
his hand as he stared at us, "any more on you to come in, is
"No, my friend," said Mrs. Pardiggle, seating herself on one stool
and knocking down another. "We are all here."
"Because I thought there warn't enough of you, perhaps?" said the
man, with his pipe between his lips as he looked round upon us.
The young man and the girl both laughed. Two friends of the young
man, whom we had attracted to the doorway and who stood there with
their hands in their pockets, echoed the laugh noisily.
"You can't tire me, good people," said Mrs. Pardiggle to these
latter. "I enjoy hard work, and the harder you make mine, the
better I like it."
"Then make it easy for her!" growled the man upon the floor. "I
wants it done, and over. I wants a end of these liberties took
with my place. I wants an end of being drawed like a badger. Now
you're a-going to poll-pry and question according to custom--I know
what you're a-going to be up to. Well! You haven't got no
occasion to be up to it. I'll save you the trouble. Is my
daughter a-washin? Yes, she IS a-washin. Look at the water.
Smell it! That's wot we drinks. How do you like it, and what do
you think of gin instead! An't my place dirty? Yes, it is dirty--
it's nat'rally dirty, and it's nat'rally onwholesome; and we've had
five dirty and onwholesome children, as is all dead infants, and so
much the better for them, and for us besides. Have I read the
little book wot you left? No, I an't read the little book wot you
left. There an't nobody here as knows how to read it; and if there
wos, it wouldn't be suitable to me. It's a book fit for a babby,
and I'm not a babby. If you was to leave me a doll, I shouldn't
nuss it. How have I been conducting of myself? Why, I've been
drunk for three days; and I'da been drunk four if I'da had the
money. Don't I never mean for to go to church? No, I don't never
mean for to go to church. I shouldn't be expected there, if I did;
the beadle's too gen-teel for me. And how did my wife get that
black eye? Why, I give it her; and if she says I didn't, she's a
He had pulled his pipe out of his mouth to say all this, and he now
turned over on his other side and smoked again. Mrs. Pardiggle,
who had been regarding him through her spectacles with a forcible
composure, calculated, I could not help thinking, to increase his
antagonism, pulled out a good book as if it were a constable's
staff and took the whole family into custody. I mean into
religious custody, of course; but she really did it as if she were
an inexorable moral policeman carrying them all off to a station-
Ada and I were very uncomfortable. We both felt intrusive and out
of place, and we both thought that Mrs. Pardiggle would have got on
infinitely better if she had not had such a mechanical way of
taking possession of people. The children sulked and stared; the
family took no notice of us whatever, except when the young man
made the dog bark, which he usually did when Mrs. Pardiggle was
most emphatic. We both felt painfully sensible that between us and
these people there was an iron barrier which could not be removed
by our new friend. By whom or how it could be removed, we did not
know, but we knew that. Even what she read and said seemed to us
to be ill-chosen for such auditors, if it had been imparted ever so
modestly and with ever so much tact. As to the little book to
which the man on the floor had referred, we acqulred a knowledge of
it afterwards, and Mr. Jarndyce said he doubted if Robinson Crusoe
could have read it, though he had had no other on his desolate
We were much relieved, under these circumstances, when Mrs.
Pardiggle left off.
The man on the floor, then turning his bead round again, said
morosely, "Well! You've done, have you?"
"For to-day, I have, my friend. But I am never fatigued. I shall
come to you again in your regular order," returned Mrs. Pardiggle
with demonstrative cheerfulness.
"So long as you goes now," said he, folding his arms and shutting
his eyes with an oath, "you may do wot you like!"
Mrs. Pardiggle accordingly rose and made a little vortex in the
confined room from which the pipe itself very narrowly escaped.
Taking one of her young family in each hand, and telling the others
to follow closely, and expressing her hope that the brickmaker and
all his house would be improved when she saw them next, she then
proceeded to another cottage. I hope it is not unkind in me to say
that she certainly did make, in this as in everything else, a show
that was not conciliatory of doing charity by wholesale and of
dealing in it to a large extent.
She supposed that we were following her, but as soon as the space
was left clear, we approached the woman sitting by the fire to ask
if the baby were ill.
She only looked at it as it lay on her lap. We had observed before
that when she looked at it she covered her discoloured eye with her
hand, as though she wished to separate any association with noise
and violence and ill treatment from the poor little child.
Ada, whose gentle heart was moved by its appearance, bent down to
touch its little face. As she did so, I saw what happened and drew
her back. The child died.
"Oh, Esther!" cried Ada, sinking on her knees beside it. "Look
here! Oh, Esther, my love, the little thing! The suffering,
quiet, pretty little thing! I am so sorry for it. I am so sorry
for the mother. I never saw a sight so pitiful as this before!
Oh, baby, baby!"
Such compassion, such gentleness, as that with which she bent down
weeping and put her hand upon the mother's might have softened any
mother's heart that ever beat. The woman at first gazed at her in
astonishment and then burst into tears.
Presently I took the light burden from her lap, did what I could to
make the baby's rest the prettier and gentler, laid it on a shelf,
and covered it with my own handkerchief. We tried to comfort the
mother, and we whispered to her what Our Saviour said of children.
She answered nothing, but sat weeping--weeping very much.
When I turned, I found that the young man had taken out the dog and
was standing at the door looking in upon us with dry eyes, but
quiet. The girl was quiet too and sat in a corner looking on the
ground. The man had risen. He still smoked his pipe with an air
of defiance, but he was silent.
An ugly woman, very poorly clothed, hurried in while I was glancing
at them, and coming straight up to the mother, said, "Jenny!
Jenny!" The mother rose on being so addressed and fell upon the
She also had upon her face and arms the marks of ill usage. She
had no kind of grace about her, but the grace of sympathy; but when
she condoled with the woman, and her own tears fell, she wanted no
beauty. I say condoled, but her only words were "Jenny! Jenny!"
All the rest was in the tone in which she said them.
I thought it very touching to see these two women, coarse and
shabby and beaten, so united; to see what they could be to one
another; to see how they felt for one another, how the heart of
each to each was softened by the hard trials of their lives. I
think the best side of such people is almost hidden from us. What
the poor are to the poor is little known, excepting to themselves
We felt it better to withdraw and leave them uninterrupted. We
stole out quietly and without notice from any one except the man.
He was leaning against the wall near the door, and finding that
there was scarcely room for us to pass, went out before us. He
seemed to want to hide that he did this on our account, but we
perceived that be did, and thanked him. He made no answer.
Ada was so full of grief all the way home, and Richard, whom we
found at home, was so distressed to see her in tears (though he
said to me, when she was not present, how beautiful it was too!),
that we arranged to return at night with some little comforts and
repeat our visit at the brick-maker's house. We said as little as
we could to Mr. Jarndyce, but the wind changed directly.
Richard accompanied us at night to the scene of our morning
expedition. On our way there, we had to pass a noisy drinking-
house, where a number of men were flocking about the door. Among
them, and prominent in some dispute, was the father of the little
child. At a short distance, we passed the young man and the dog,
in congenial company. The sister was standing laughing and talking
with some other young women at the corner of the row of cottages,
but she seemed ashamed and turned away as we went by.
We left our escort within sight of the brickmaker's dwelling and
proceeded by ourselves. When we came to the door, we found the
woman who had brought such consolation with her standing there
looking anxiously out.
"It's you, young ladies, is it?" she said in a whisper. "I'm a-
watching for my master. My heart's in my mouth. If he was to
catch me away from home, he'd pretty near murder me."
"Do you mean your husband?" said I.
"Yes, miss, my master. Jennys asleep, quite worn out. She's
scarcely had the child off her lap, poor thing, these seven days
and nights, except when I've been able to take it for a minute or
As she gave way for us, she went softly in and put what we had
brought near the miserable bed on which the mother slept. No
effort had been made to clean the room--it seemed in its nature
almost hopeless of being clean; but the small waxen form from which
so much solemnity diffused itself had been composed afresh, and
washed, and neatly dressed in some fragments of white linen; and on
my handkerchief, which still covered the poor baby, a little bunch
of sweet herbs had been laid by the same rough, scarred hands, so
lightly, so tenderly!
"May heaven reward you!" we said to her. "You are a good woman."
"Me, young ladies?" she returned with surprise. "Hush! Jenny,
The mother had moaned in her sleep and moved. The sound of the
familiar voice seemed to calm her again. She was quiet once more.
How little I thought, when I raised my handkerchief to look upon
the tiny sleeper underneath and seemed to see a halo shine around
the child through Ada's drooping hair as her pity bent her head--
how little I thought in whose unquiet bosom that handkerchief would
come to lie after covering the motionless and peaceful breast! I
only thought that perhaps the Angel of the child might not be all
unconscious of the woman who replaced it with so compassionate a
hand; not all unconscious of her presently, when we had taken
leave, and left her at the door, by turns looking, and listening in
terror for herself, and saying in her old soothing manner, "Jenny,