Bleak House - Charles Dickens

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CHAPTER ONE

Life in the Court of Chancery
LONDON. A cold, grey November day with thick fog and mud everywhere. Smoke from the dark chimneys produces a soft black rain and the sun hides somewhere in the fog. Dogs, horses, men and women — everything and everyone is lost in the fog.
The bleak afternoon is bleakest, and the thick fog is thickest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near the Court of Chancery. This is often described as the most dangerous, the most destructive, the most awful place in heaven or on earth. Wise men say, 'Whatever harm is done to you, do not think of coming here!'
But isn't this a court of justice? Yes, but justice is rarely found here and never quickly. The Lord High Chancellor sits above the noisy crowd and stares out of the window, seeing only fog. The lawyers arrive with their endless arguments. A crowd of suitors comes every day, waiting for a judgement in their cases, which continue for another day, another month, another year. The lawyers grow rich; the suitors die and leave their troubles for their children and grandchildren. Be warned: Chancery destroys lives!
On this typically dull, bleak afternoon, the Court is listening to the most recent arguments in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the most famous case in Chancery. There is more than one will, but which is the legal one? Who is the true heir to the Jarndyce fortune? The court has not been able to decide, and the lawyers continue to find more and more points to argue about. The fortune grows smaller as the costs continue to climb. The last Lord Chancellor said there would be a decision in Jarndyce and Jarndyce when potatoes rained from the sky — an opinion that amused everyone.
The present Chancellor is bored; he looks out into the fog and speaks to one of the regular lawyers. 'Have you finished your argument, Mr Tangle?'
'No, my lord. There are several more points that need to be made and several more of my brother lawyers who will speak.'
Hearing Tangle's words, eighteen more lawyers stand and wave their papers in the direction of the Lord High Chancellor.
'We will continue in two weeks,' the Chancellor commands sleepily, before leaving the courtroom without a backward look. As usual, nothing has happened in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, but behind the scenes, in the great man's private office, something is going to happen that is connected to this case.
***
Mr Tulkinghorn, a lawyer who is known across the land, leaves Chancery and goes straight to the London house of Sir Leicester Dedlock, one of his many rich and important clients. The lawyer wears old-fashioned knee-length trousers, a long coat and a tall hat — all in a dull, dusty black.
The clothes are like the man himself. He is very formal and not at all friendly, although he is often a guest in stylish London apartments and great country houses. He listens and learns, safely locking information away for future use. He speaks only when there is a professional reason for doing so. His secretive methods work well, and by them he has grown very rich and powerful. His clients would be surprised by the amount of knowledge he has of their lives and by the power he holds over them.
Mr Tulkinghorn is the type of man that Sir Leicester has a good opinion of. He is completely British: honest, rich and traditional. And no one knows more about Britishness than Sir Leicester. He is proud of the fact that his family is as old as the hills; the world might continue without hills, but would break down completely without Dedlocks. Mr Tulkinghorn understands Sir Leicester perfectly, and their professional relationship could not be better.
At the age of sixty-six Sir Leicester is at least twenty years older than his very beautiful, very fashionable wife, Lady Honoria Dedlock, but he is energetic in body and mind. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on conditions around the country and knowing which politicians to believe, Sir Leicester, more than anything else, loves his home and his wife. In fact, unlike many men of his class, he married for love, and his love for his wife has never decreased, although she did not bring money or position to her marriage, and she and her husband have no children.
My Lady finds most people and places painfully boring as she moves between the Dedlock country house and London or Paris, searching for something to make her days brighter. She is often sad, but she never speaks of her feelings. She is a good wife, and the public agrees with her husband's very high opinion of her character.
Tulkinghorn is among the many people who greatly admire Lady Dedlock, but he wisely keeps a polite distance between himself and the great lady. On this occasion, though, as on many others, he has a professional reason to speak to her about Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Lady Dedlock has some interest in the case and could receive a small piece of property if it is decided soon.
'My Lady's argument has been heard by the Chancellor again, has it, Mr Tulkinghorn?' asks Sir Leicester as he shakes his lawyer's hand.
'Yes, although as usual nothing important has been done. But because you are leaving soon for Paris, I have brought the most recent papers connected to the case,' says Mr Tulkinghorn, placing some legal documents on a table near Lady Dedlock.
My Lady moves away from the hot fire and looks down at the papers. One sheet catches her attention, and she takes a second look.
'Who copied that piece?' she asks, not stopping to think.
Mr Tulkinghorn, surprised by Lady Dedlock's sudden interest, replies, 'Someone from Mr Snagsby's shop. Why do you ask?'
'No reason. It is so boring, isn't it?' She has turned away from the table, not wanting to appear interested in the document. But then she suddenly turns pale and says, 'I'm afraid I'm not well. The heat… don't speak to me… I must go to my room.'
***
Back in London, the great judge greets three young people who are waiting in his private rooms. The first is a nineteen-year-old man with a handsome, friendly face. The second is his cousin, although they are not close relatives and only met an hour ago. She is an innocent, beautiful girl of seventeen with rich golden hair and soft blue eyes. The third young person is also a stranger to the other two and is not a relative. She is twenty years old and noticeable for her look of kindness and intelligence.
Mr Kenge, a lawyer acting for Mr John Jarndyce of Hertfordshire, introduces the three young people to the Lord High Chancellor. They are Mr Richard Carstone, Miss Ada Clare — both suitors in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce — and Miss Esther Summerson.
'What business have they for me?' asks the great judge.
'Mr John Jarndyce, the third living suitor in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, is a cousin of the first two orphans, Mr Carstone and Miss Clare. He intends to take care of them and requests that they come to live with him at Bleak House, near the town of St Albans.'
'Is Mr Jarndyce married?' asks the judge.
'He is not, my lord,' says Mr Kenge, 'but Mr Jarndyce has financially supported Miss Summerson, another orphan but not a member of the family, for the last six years. She will share Miss Ada's and Mr Richard's life at Bleak House now that she has completed her studies at Greenleaf School.'
'Very well! Mr John Jarndyce of Bleak House has chosen, it seems, a very good friend for Miss Ada Clare,' the Chancellor begins, looking at Esther. 'And the other arrangements at Bleak House appear to be suitable for these three orphans. Mr Kenge, I leave them in your care.'
Although they only met a few hours earlier in the offices of Kenge and Carboy, Richard, Ada and Esther leave the Court of Chancery like three happy children on a big adventure. Mr Jarndyce's plans for them are still a little mysterious, but they liked each other immediately and now feel very hopeful about starting their new life at Bleak House together.
'Oh! The young wards in Jarndyce! Very happy, I am sure, to meet you! It is a good sign when hope and beauty come together in this place,' says an old woman as she steps in front of the little group.
This is Miss Flite. Perhaps she was a suitor in a case in Chancery a long time ago, perhaps not, but now she goes to the court every day and follows the arguments in Jarndyce and Jarndyce very closely.
'Mad!' whispers Richard.
'Right, young man,' replies Miss Flite, who has heard his words. 'I was a young ward myself and not mad at that time. I had hope and, I believe, beauty, but they did not save me. Please accept my good wishes for a judgement in your case.'
'We will leave that to the court, Miss Flite,' Mr Kenge answers politely. 'But now my assistant, Mr Guppy, will take them to Mrs Jellyby's for the night.'
'Who is Mrs Jellyby?' Richard asks, as the three orphans follow Mr Guppy through the narrow streets.
'She is well known for the work she does for poor people, especially in Borrioboola-Gha. I believe that Mr Jarndyce, who is interested in helping the poor and needy, has a high opinion of her good work.' Then, walking beside Miss Summerson, Mr Guppy continues, 'Quite a foggy day, isn't it, miss?' He seems to be taking a special interest in the young lady.
'The fog is certainly very thick!' Esther replies.
'But it has no harmful effect on you, miss,' Mr Guppy continues politely. 'In fact, it seems to do you good, miss, if I can judge by your appearance.'
CHAPTER two
Esther's Story: A Home at Last
It is very difficult to write my part of this story, because I know I am not clever. I grew up in a cold, lonely house, looked after by Miss Barbary, my godmother. Although she was clearly a good, religious woman who did her duty towards me, she was not able to show me any love or warmth.
My godmother sent me to school but kept me separate from the other girls; in fact, I never went out for any social occasions. My birthday was never celebrated and was only spoken about one terrible time. We were sitting silently near the fire, when suddenly my godmother said, 'Little Esther, your birthday is the saddest day of the year.'
I began to cry and said, 'Oh, dear godmother, tell me, please, did my mother die on my birthday? Please tell me about her.'
My godmother looked at me coldly and finally said, 'Your mother is your disgrace, and you were hers. Your life will always have a shadow over it. You must work hard, obey me and stay in the background.'
That night I felt more alone than ever, but I promised myself I would be strong and try to do some good to someone. Perhaps one day, if I were kind and cheerful, I could win some love for myself.
Our lives continued in this sad, quiet way for another two years until I was almost fourteen. One evening, when I was reading to my godmother, a terrible noise came from her throat and she fell to the floor. She never opened her eyes again.
After my godmother's body was in the ground, Mr Kenge, a lawyer from Kenge and Carboy in London, appeared at the house.
'Miss Summerson,' he began, 'your late aunt left you nothing, but...'
'My aunt, sir!'
'Yes, Miss Barbary was your aunt, and she received an offer of help two years ago from Mr John Jarndyce. Your aunt refused the kind, unselfish offer, but Mr Jarndyce is now offering it again. You will go to a school for young ladies. Your only responsibility to Mr Jarndyce is to work hard and prepare yourself for future employment.'
After six wonderful, happy years at Greenleaf School, I received a letter telling me that Mr Jarndyce had a job for me. The pupils and teachers said goodbye with many kisses, many sad tears and many good wishes.
I felt quite nervous in London when I was taken to the offices of Kenge and Carboy. But there I met two people who became my best friends: Ada Clare and Richard Carstone. We were three orphans on our way to a new life at Bleak House, Mr John Jarndyce's home.
After meeting with the Lord High Chancellor, we were taken by Mr Guppy, the young lawyer from the office of Kenge and Carboy, to Mrs Jellyby's house. There we followed Mr Guppy up a dark flight of stairs, falling over children and rubbish as we went, finally finding Mrs Jellyby. Like her children, the lady herself was not only untidy but also quite dirty.
'Oh, it's the guests!' cried Mrs Jellyby when she looked up at last. 'You must excuse me — my work for our poor sisters and brothers in Borrioboola-Gha is so important.'
After a disorderly meal of fish, meat and potatoes that were not quite cooked, Mrs Jellyby continued her work for Africa, forgetting about us and her children. When it was nearly midnight, Ada and I went upstairs.
'I am surprised that Mr Jarndyce sent us here!' said Ada.
'It must be very good of Mrs Jellyby to work so hard for the poor people in Borrioboola-Gha,' I agreed, 'but look at the children and this dirty, disorganised house!'
'I think you could change this house into a home in no time,' Ada said. She was the sweetest, gentlest girl I had ever met, and I already loved her dearly.
In the morning, during a walk, we three orphans met the old lady from the day before.
'Good morning! Very happy to see you, I am sure!' cried Miss Flite. 'May I invite you to my little apartment? A visit from the wards of Jarndyce would give me great pleasure.'
Miss Flite led us to a strange shop with this sign above the door: KROOK: RAG AND BOTTLE MARKET. A second sign said that Mr Krook would buy anything: bones, cooking pots, old iron, waste paper, men's and ladies' clothes, bottles, books, human hair. There were piles of papers inside which reminded me of my letters from Kenge and Carboy, written in what is called 'law-hand'. Then I saw another notice on the wall in this same style of writing: a gentleman named Nemo wanted employment in copying legal documents. He could be contacted at Mr Krook's shop.
'Mr Krook,' Miss Flite said to the shop owner. 'Here is a surprise for you. My young friends are suitors in Jarndyce and Jarndyce.'
'Well, well,' the strange old man said, 'I wish you better luck than old Tom Jarndyce. He spent many hours in this shop, but he came to an awful end.'
'That's enough, Krook,' said Miss Flite. 'Do not frighten them.'
Later, as we left her apartment above the shop, Miss Flite pointed to the door of Mr Nemo's room. 'Krook's other tenant,' she whispered.
'Ah, cousin, I think this Chancery is a hard place,' said Richard when we were outside in the street.
'Yes,' agreed Ada. 'Why can't the court come to a judgement in our case?'
'It is a mystery, I agree. But whatever happens, Ada, Chancery will work none of its awful power on us. We have been brought together, thanks to our good cousin Jarndyce, and the Court can't separate us now!'
'Never, I hope, cousin Richard!' said Ada gently.
I could see that Richard shared my high opinion of Ada. She was a beautiful young girl and her character matched her beauty.
Soon we began the next stage of our journey to Bleak House. The three of us were quite nervous and excited by the time we reached St Albans and saw the lights of an old-fashioned house at the end of a long driveway. The front door opened and Mr John Jarndyce appeared, standing in a stream of light.
'Ada, my love, Esther, my dear, welcome to your home! I am very happy to see you! Rick, let me shake your hand. Please come in!'
In the sitting-room, I had an opportunity to examine our guardian as he asked us about our journey. He had a handsome, energetic face which was always changing, and his hair was silvery grey. I guessed that he was about sixty years old, but he was still strong and full of energy.
Later, as I was putting my clothes away, I heard a soft knock on my door.
'For you, miss,' said a young servant as she handed me a basket of keys.
I gave my basket of housekeeping keys a shake and said to myself, 'Esther, you have new friends, a new house and new duties. It is time to forget about your past difficulties. You are going to be happy here.'
***
After breakfast on my first morning at Bleak House, Mr Jarndyce called me into a small room which seemed to be part library and part office.
'Sit down, my dear,' said Mr Jarndyce. 'This, you need to know, is a special place. I call it the Growlery because it is where I come to growl and complain, and I spend quite a lot of time in here.
'You know, Esther, you have earned my high opinion by your hard work and good character, and I hope to continue as your guardian and friend. Now, what do you think about this Chancery business?'
'I have heard that it is about a will, but I am afraid I don't understand why it has been in the court for so long, or how it will come to an end,' I told him.
'The lawyers have taken so many different directions that the will is only about costs now. Most of the Jarndyce fortune has disappeared. My cousins and I are caught in this mess because we were named as suitors, and we cannot escape from it until the court reaches a decision.
'Old Tom Jarndyce changed the name of this house from The Peaks to Bleak House because our case made him feel so bleak about the future. Fortunately, the house was not in Chancery; other Jarndyce properties were, and they will be sold to pay the costs, but we have Bleak House, and I hope it will be a comfortable and cheerful home for you and Ada and Rick.'
'It seems to be a very friendly place, sir...' I said.
'I think you had better call me Guardian, my dear,' said Mr Jarndyce.
This kindness touched my heart, and I had to give my keys a little shake to control my emotions.
'I hope, Guardian, that I can help to make the house a happy place.'
'Esther, with your cheerful attitude, we shall have to forget that the Growlery exists. But we must return to business. Rick must have a profession. What can be done for him?'
'Perhaps we should ask Mr Richard about his own preference,' I suggested. I couldn't believe that my guardian was asking for my advice!
'Exactly. Little woman, I am sure you will know how to discuss the subject with him. And now, my dear, I think we are finished with the Growlery for today! But do you wish to ask me anything while we are here?'
'About myself, sir? And my background?' I asked.
'Yes. I want your heart and mind to be at rest.'
'Guardian, I am confident that you would tell me if there was anything that I needed to know.' From that moment I decided to stop wondering about my past.
In addition, I forgot my girlish dream that Mr Jarndyce was, perhaps, my father.
***
I soon learned how generous Mr Jarndyce was in many more ways — to people like Mrs Jellyby, who asked for money for their work, and also to his friends and neighbours. One morning he asked Ada and me to visit some poor brick-makers and their families to see if we could help them.
We went to the brick-field and found the house that Mr Jarndyce was worried about, knocked and were let into a cold, dark room. Beside the small fire, there was a woman with a black eye holding a sick-looking baby; a man lay on the floor, smoking a pipe and appearing to our eyes to be drunk.
'Have you come to have tea and cakes?' asked the man. 'Or have you come to tell us that our house is dirty and that we've got no work and no money?'
Ada and I felt that it was rude to interrupt these people's lives. But the man on the floor turned his back to us and seemed to fall asleep, so we went quietly to the woman beside the fire and asked if the baby was ill.
She only looked at the poor little one as it lay in her arms. Ada gently bent down and touched the little face. As she did so, I understood what had happened and gently pulled her back. The child had died.
I took the baby, placed it gently on a shelf and covered it with my own handkerchief. We tried to calm the mother, but her tears did not stop as she stared at her child — the sixth baby, she told us, that she had lost.
***
One morning as I sat at my desk checking the housekeeping bills, a servant came to tell me that Mr Guppy had arrived and wished to speak to me.
He entered and said, 'Miss, may I have a minute's conversation with you? A private conversation between you and me?'
'I will not discuss your business with anyone, if that is your request.'
'Thank you, miss.' Mr Guppy then dropped to his knees. 'At present I earn two pounds a week at Kenge and Carboy. I have an apartment in one of the healthiest parts of London. Miss Summerson! I admire you. I love you. Would you be kind enough to become my wife?'
I was shocked. 'Mr Guppy, please stand up. I thank you for your honest feelings, but I cannot become your wife,' I answered. 'I do not love you.'
'Cruel miss,' said Mr Guppy, 'from the day I met you, I have carried your sweet face in my heart. If you change your mind, and I hope you will, please contact me at Kenge and Carboy.'
When I was alone, I began to laugh, and then surprised myself by starting to cry. I felt confused and shaken by Mr Guppy's visit. In some way it had reminded me of my past, a time when no one had had any feelings for me.
CHAPTER THREE
Documents and Death
The handsome, wonderfully tidy Mrs Rouncewell is the housekeeper at Chesney Wold, Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock's house in Lincolnshire. As she says, her job is the house and the family, both of which she has looked after very responsibly for more than fifty years.
Most of the rooms at Chesney Wold are shut, because Sir Leicester and Lady Honoria Dedlock are now in Paris. But Mrs Rouncewell has a visitor with her in the kitchen: her grandson, Watt. He is the son of Mrs Rouncewell's elder son, a successful engineer and businessman. Her younger son, George, on the other hand, was a little wild when he was young. He became a soldier and never returned to Chesney Wold. George was a clever, happy boy who was popular with everyone, and was his mother's favourite child. Mrs Rouncewell's grandson did well at school and now has a place in his father's business. Soon he will start his own family. In fact, that may be what he is thinking about now.
'Grandmother,' he says shyly, 'what did you call that girl who was helping you when I arrived? She is very pretty, isn't she?'
'That was Rosa. She is from the village and a very good worker and a clever girl. But listen, do you hear the sound of wheels?'
Rosa returns to report that two young men are in the hall and have requested to see the house. 'They asked me to give you this card.'
Watt reads the card for his grandmother: 'Mr Guppy, lawyer, colleague of Mr Tulkinghorn, London.'
When she hears the name of Sir Leicester's lawyer, Mrs Rouncewell agrees that Rosa can show the house to the men, and Watt happily follows.
Mr Guppy and his friend, Mr Tony Jobling, are soon bored. Is there no end to the beautiful rooms, long hallways, and paintings of long-dead Dedlocks? But when they enter the formal sitting-room, an oil painting over the fireplace wakes Mr Guppy up. He stares at it with uncommon interest.
'Well, well!' the young lawyer says. 'Who is that?'
'The picture,' says Rosa, 'is of the present Lady Dedlock. It is a perfect copy of the lady, and the best work of the painter.'
'You know,' says Mr Guppy to his friend as they leave Chesney Wold, 'I have never seen Lady Dedlock, but I feel certain that I know her!'
***
Back in London we see Mr Tulkinghorn leaving his old-fashioned rooms, which serve as his home as well as his office. He goes straight to Snagsby's Office Materials, Law-Writing and Copying shop in Cook's Court.
'Mr Tulkinghorn! This is a rare surprise!' cries Mr Snagsby.
'Jarndyce and Jarndyce,' says Mr Tulkinghorn, wasting no time on a greeting and placing a document on Snagsby's desk. 'You copied this for me recently. It is in a law-hand that I admire. Who copied it?'
Mr Snagsby checks his order book and says, 'That went to Nemo, a law-writer who lives above Krook's rag and bottle shop. Very near here.'
'Nemo!' says Mr Tulkinghorn. 'A name that means «no one» in Latin! Can you show me Krook's shop as I leave?'
'Of course, sir, please follow me,' says Mr Snagsby very politely as he opens the shop door. 'The advantage of Mr Nemo is that he will work through the night if the job is urgent. Here we are — Krook's shop.'
'Thank you, Snagsby, you can leave me now.'
Old Krook comes forward with a lamp as the lawyer enters.
'Excuse me,' says the lawyer. 'Is Mr Nemo in?'
'I don't know. Second floor, sir. Take the lamp, and be careful,' advises Krook. 'Mr Nemo is a strange man with dark moods.'
Tulkinghorn knocks on the door of the law-writer's room, receives no answer, opens the door and walks in. He finds a room which is nearly black with smoke and dirt. Beside the chimney there are two old chairs, an old suitcase, and a broken desk with a few sheets of paper and a bottle of ink on it. No carpet on the floor and no curtains at the window.
On the low bed the lawyer can see a man lying half covered under a pile of rags. His face looks yellow and his hair and beard have not been cut for a long time. The air in the room smells strange — and then the lawyer recognises the bitterness of opium.
Krook appears at the lawyer's elbow. 'Can't you wake him?'
'No. Does the man generally sleep like this?' whispers Mr Tulkinghorn. He touches the man. 'God save us! He is dead.'
Krook looks at Tulkinghorn and shouts, 'Send for a doctor! Call up the stairs for Miss Flite, sir. Here's poison beside the bed. Quick!'
Mr Tulkinghorn goes into the hall, shouts and sends Miss Flite out for a doctor. This gives Krook, a man who never misses an opportunity, just enough time to examine Nemo's old suitcase, and then return to the dead man's side, before the lawyer is in the room again.
Soon a young doctor rushes up the stairs and after one look says, 'He has been dead for about three hours. I recognise him — he has bought opium from me for the last year and a half. There is enough of it in his old teapot to kill ten people or more.' He thinks for a minute or two. 'He probably took too much accidentally, but perhaps it was a happy escape from a hard life. You can see that he used to have a handsome face and a good figure. Maybe too much had gone wrong for him.'
Tulkinghorn watches Krook open the old suitcase, but very little is found: some old clothes, a few old newspapers, an empty envelope that smells of opium — nothing more. The cupboard and drawers are empty.
***
The next day, a judge calls witnesses to decide how Mr Nemo, aged forty-five, died. Snagsby, Krook, Miss Flite and Tulkinghorn answer questions about the man and his death. Finally a very pale, thin boy in rags is pushed forward by Krook's neighbours.
'Now, young man, what is your name?' asks the judge.
'Jo,' the boy answers. 'Just Jo.'
After hearing that Jo cannot read or write, has no family or friends and exists by earning a few pennies for sweeping the streets, the judge decides that he is not acceptable as a witness and sends him away.
The judge addresses the crowd: 'Accidental death. This case is closed.'
As he leaves, we see Mr Tulkinghorn in the corner of the room interviewing young Jo.
'How did you meet Mr Nemo?' the lawyer asks.
'He saw me one terrible cold winter night. I was trying to get warm in a doorway. When I told him I had no one and nothing, he gave me the price of supper and a night's rent. After that, when he saw me, if he had any money in his pocket, he always gave me something, but some nights he said, «I'm as poor as you today, Jo.» He was very good to me, he was!'
Perhaps Jo is not the only person on earth who would be sorry to learn of Mr Nemo's death. In brighter days, there was a fire in him that burned for one woman — and she also held him in her heart. But where is she when his body is placed in the burial ground with the poorest of London's dead?
That night, after everyone is in their beds, a small figure returns to Nemo's final resting place. He sweeps the steps outside the locked gates and then looks in. Before he leaves, Jo whispers: 'He was very good to me, he was!'
***
The rain has finally stopped in Lincolnshire, but even the sun and Mrs Rouncewell's warm greeting do not brighten Lady Dedlock's mood as she and her husband return to Chesney Wold.
Lady Dedlock is surprised to see a new servant and asks Mrs Rouncewell about the girl.
'Rosa is a young student of mine, My Lady. She is nineteen years old.'
Lady Dedlock lightly touches Rosa's shoulder with two fingers. 'Be a sensible girl. You will need more than beauty in this life.'
'Yes, My Lady,' answers Rosa. Her shyness makes her even prettier.
Hortense, a Frenchwoman who has been My Lady's maid for five years, has a different opinion of Rosa and her beauty. She makes a nasty joke to the other servants about the attention that Lady Dedlock gives the young girl. They understand that Hortense is horribly jealous; in fact, they know that she can be dangerous, and they keep out of her way.
After dinner on the Dedlocks' first evening at home, a visitor quietly appears in the sitting-room. He wears his usual calm, serious look.
'Tulkinghorn! Any news from town?' asks Sir Leicester.
The lawyer brings Sir Leicester up to date about several pieces of business, and then he turns to Lady Dedlock.
'My Lady, do you remember a piece of law-writing that interested you before your trip to Paris?'
'It sounds slightly familiar.' My Lady is not willing to communicate any interest in the matter to Tulkinghorn.
'I found the writer of that document,' reports Tulkinghorn, while watching Lady Dedlock closely. 'I found him in a poor, dirty room, dead from taking too much opium, probably by accident.'
'Tell me about him!' says Lady Dedlock. 'What kind of man was he?'
'Very difficult to say,' replies the lawyer, shaking his head. 'He lived in terrible conditions, but the young doctor believed that he had had a better life in the past — that he was probably a gentleman. He used the name of Nemo, which, I am sure you know, means «no one» in Latin.'
'Certainly an interesting story — at least for a minute or two,' says Lady Dedlock as she stares calmly at the lawyer.
Lady Dedlock wants to know how much information the lawyer has about Nemo. He wants to know why she is interested in the dead man. Neither asks. For very different reasons they both keep their secrets locked safely in their own hearts.
***
Lady Dedlock seems anxious and cannot stay in one place — this morning she was at Chesney Wold; tomorrow she may be abroad. Even her husband cannot understand her reasons for moving from place to place so often.
In the evening of this day, a woman passes unnoticed under the windows of Mr Tulkinghorn's house in London. If you look closely, you will see that she is dressed as a servant — clearly one of the more important ones from a good house — but she looks and moves like a lady. She is wearing a long dark coat and a veil over her face; she never turns her head to the left or right until she comes to the crossroads where poor Jo is sweeping the mud from the streets. She goes near him and whispers, 'Follow me.'
When they are in a quiet corner the lady behind the veil asks, 'Are you the boy I have read about in the newspapers?'
'I don't know,' says Jo. 'I don't know nothing about nothing.'
'Are you the boy who answered a judge's questions about Mr Nemo?'
'Yes, that's me!'
'Speak in a whisper! Now, tell me, was Mr Nemo very ill and poor when he was alive? Did he look as bad as you?' asks the woman, feeling sick at the thought because Jo looks more like a hungry animal than a boy.
'Oh, not as bad as me,' says Jo. 'Did you know him, My Lady?'
'I am not a lady. I am a servant. Can you show me where Mr Nemo lived and worked, where he died, where they took his body?'
'I know all of that,' whispers Jo.
'Go in front of me and show me these terrible places. Stop at each, but do not speak and do not look at me. Follow my orders, and I will pay you well.'
Jo listens carefully and then leads the woman to Snagsby's shop, then to Krook's Rag and Bottle Market and finally to Nemo's final resting place.
'He was put there,' says Jo, pointing through the bars. 'In the corner, over there among those piles of bones and close to that kitchen window!'
The woman rests against the wall and stays quiet for some minutes. Then she takes off her glove and finds a coin in her purse. Jo notices her small white hand and beautiful rings. She drops a coin into the boy's hand without touching it, and before he looks up she has disappeared.
CHAPTER four
Esther's Story: A Face and a Voice
The discussions about Richard's future profession continued, but unfortunately every suggestion seemed equally attractive to him. One day he decided to go to sea, and the next he was thinking about becoming a lawyer.
'I am worried about Rick's character,' Mr Jarndyce said to me one day in the Growlery. 'He delays making decisions because he is always expecting a result in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The case is affecting his judgement.'
'I am sure I don't want to go into the Church,' Richard said that afternoon, 'but anything else would suit me.'
'Medicine -' suggested our guardian finally.
'Yes!' shouted Richard enthusiastically. 'I am sure I would like to be a doctor!'
I doubt if he had ever had this thought before, but at that moment Richard was certain that his path was now clear — he would become a doctor.
With Mr Jarndyce's help, Richard agreed to become a student of Mr Bayham Badger, a well-known doctor with a good practice in London.
Before Richard left for London, Ada surprised me one evening after a dinner party with a few guests, including one or two doctors, by rushing into my bedroom and whispering, 'My dear Esther! I have a great secret to tell you! My cousin Richard says — I know it is foolish, we are both so young — but he says… that he loves me with all his heart.'
'Does he really?' said I. 'Dear Ada, I realised that weeks ago!'
'You are so clever! And I love him, too! With my whole heart!' She looked so pretty and so happy that my eyes filled with tears.
The next day, Mr Jarndyce talked to Ada and Richard about their news. 'My dear cousins, you and Esther have made my house bright and happy. From early days, I began to think that you two cousins might decide to go through life together — but it must be a plan for the future.'
'We are in no hurry, sir,' replied Richard.
'That is sensible because you are very young,' continued Mr Jarndyce. 'Things may change, and you may decide that you are happy as cousins and nothing more. If that is your decision, please don't be afraid to talk to me. Your love is strong, but for a successful future you must be serious about your medical studies, Rick, and prepare yourself to be a good husband. And that is enough advice for today! I am very happy for you both!'
'Sir,' replied Richard again. 'We will always want your advice, and we will always be grateful to you for everything you have given us.'
'Dear cousin John,' said Ada sweetly, 'I give you all the love and duty I could have for a parent.'
I have forgotten to say that one of the guests at our small dinner party the night before was a young doctor, rather shy. Ada asked me later if I thought he was sensible and pleasant, and I said yes.
***
When the day came for Richard to leave Bleak House, I was especially pleased that he asked me to look after Ada, his future wife. 'And if our suit in Chancery makes us rich — which it may, you know...'
A shadow crossed Ada's lovely, usually hopeful face.
'My dearest Ada,' continued Richard, 'why not? The longer the case goes on, the closer we come to a decision. Isn't that certain?'
'You know best, Richard. But I'm afraid that if we hope for a decision in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, we will be poor and very unhappy.'
Ada, Mr Jarndyce and I travelled to London with Richard, leaving him at the home of Mr Badger. While we were there, we went to Miss Flite's room and found her with her doctor. After greeting us, the young medical gentleman said, 'Miss Flite is much better and may appear in court tomorrow. She has been greatly missed there, I understand.'
'And a visit from the wards in Jarndyce and Jarndyce of Bleak House — this is a rare pleasure under my simple roof,' said the old lady.
'Have you been very ill?' asked Mr Jarndyce kindly.
'Very unwell! Not pain, you know trouble. We have had death here — Mr Nemo, the law-writer — and it frightened me. But Mr Woodcourt — you know my doctor, I believe — he is so kind. Krook!?' said Miss Flite suddenly. 'Why are you listening at my door?'
The old man pushed into the room. 'Your servant, Mr Jarndyce,' he began. 'I knew old Tom Jarndyce well, but I have never seen you in Court.'
'I have no wish to go there,' said Mr Jarndyce.
'Maybe you are right, because there will never be a judgement in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, will there?'
At last we escaped from Krook, and in the street Mr Jarndyce asked Mr Woodcourt if the old man was mad.
'No, not yet,' the doctor answered, 'but he drinks a large quantity of alcohol every day, and he has strange ideas.'
I have forgotten to say that Mr Woodcourt was the same young doctor who had joined us at Bleak House for dinner. And did I say that Mr Jarndyce invited him to dinner again after our visit to Miss Flite's?
***
I was worried about Richard's attitude to his medical studies, but kept my thoughts to myself because Ada was always so enthusiastic about everything connected with her cousin. Unfortunately, I learned that Mr Badger shared my worries when I had a private conversation with him one afternoon at Mr Jarndyce's London apartment.
'Mr Carstone is very well and very good company at the dinner table. If I am honest, though, I wonder if he has chosen his profession wisely. In fact, I believe he is bored by it. Young men like your friend Mr Allan Woodcourt learned to work very hard and to live on very little money during their medical training. I don't think Mr Carstone has the same deep interest in the profession,' Mr Badger explained.
Ada and I had an opportunity to speak to Richard the next evening. After some light conversation, I asked, 'And how is your training going, Richard?'
'Good enough!' he said. 'It will do as well as anything else until our suit is decided. Oh, I forgot, I shouldn't talk about our case in Chancery. If I am honest, medicine doesn't really suit me. But let's forget about it for now.'
'Richard, I am afraid we cannot forget about it,' I said very seriously.
'Dear, dear Esther, you are right. I become quite angry with myself because I love my cousin so much and want her to be proud of me. You know that, don't you, Ada? But I find it so difficult to study every day for long hours. Maybe I went into medicine too quickly, without enough thought,' Richard said quite cheerfully. 'And, do you know, I have actually been thinking that perhaps the law is the profession for me!'
'The law!' repeated Ada, turning pale.
'If I went into Kenge's office,' said Richard,' I could keep an eye on our suit — I am sorry to talk about it again, but I could study it and look after our interests, and I would work very hard because it would help us, Ada.'
Mr Jarndyce was patient with Richard, and after several long meetings, he agreed to help him get a position at Kenge and Carboy to study law.
One evening, after everything had been arranged and Richard had begun his new studies, Ada spoke quietly to our guardian. 'Cousin John,' she began, 'I hope that your opinion of Richard has not been affected by his change from medicine to law. I don't want you to think badly of him.'
'No, my love,' said Mr Jarndyce. 'I would only think badly of him if his actions ever made you unhappy. Time is on his side, and he can make a success of the law. I promise that my high opinion of Rick has not changed.'
But I must tell you that I noticed that my guardian's look was less hopeful and more troubled as he watched Ada leave the room. This look worried me and I could not sleep that night. At about three o'clock in the morning I was still awake and went quietly downstairs to find my work basket. I was surprised to see a light in the Growlery and knocked gently at the door.
'Esther! What is this? Is there some trouble?' Mr Jarndyce asked.
'No, Guardian. I couldn't sleep, but why are you here? You have no trouble, I hope, to keep you awake?'
'No, little woman, but I hope you will stay and talk to me. I have decided that it is my duty to tell you the few facts that I know about your history.
'Nine years ago I received a very sad letter from your aunt, describing your situation: an orphan girl of twelve whose mother was her disgrace. She told me that she had kept the details of your background a secret and added that when she died, you would be left without friends, family or even a name. She had given you a false name so you would not be connected to her family in any way. Your situation affected me, and now I must say how happy I am every hour of every day that you have come to Bleak House.'
'Dear Guardian, you have become a father to me! I am happier than you!'
At the word 'father', Mr Jarndyce looked shocked and troubled, but the look quickly disappeared and he smiled at me.
'Accept a fatherly good-night, my dear,' he said. 'These are late hours for working and thinking. You do that for all of us all day long, little woman.'
We had a visitor next day — Mr Allan Woodcourt, who by then had been to see us several times. He was going to China and to India to work as a doctor on board a ship. He was going to be away a long, long time. He was not rich, and much of his work was with poor people in London. This trip, I believe, was a way for him to make some money so he could start his own medical practice when he returned.
Before he left our house, Mr Woodcourt said to my guardian, 'Sir, I want to thank you for many happy hours in your home. I will take the memory of them with me and will remember each of you when I am far away.'
Later that day, a servant came into my workroom with a small, pretty bunch of flowers. 'They were left at the door for you, miss, by someone who was hurrying away to join a ship.'
***
After several months in London, Ada and I went to Lincolnshire with Mr Jarndyce to visit one of his oldest and best friends, Mr Lawrence Boythorn. This big, friendly man met us at the village near his house, and after greeting us warmly, he led our carriage and horses to his property.
'I must apologise,' he said before we began, 'but this trip will be about two kilometres longer than it should be. Our straightest road lies through Sir Leicester Dedlock's park, but we have a disagreement about the piece of land between our two properties and so we keep away from each other.'
On Sunday we all walked to the little church in the park for the morning service. Mr Boythorn pointed out a number of people who were servants at Chesney Wold, including the old housekeeper, Mrs Rouncewell, a very pretty young maid named Rosa, and a handsome but cross-looking Frenchwoman called Miss Hortense.
As the bells rang, Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock entered the church and everyone stood up. I looked at Lady Dedlock. Her eyes met mine and her handsome proud face seemed to come alive for just a moment. My heart was beating quickly. Why did this beautiful face remind me of my godmother? Her fashionable appearance and her proud attitude were completely new to me, but a picture of myself — sad, lonely little Esther — came into my mind. I was shaken by these emotions and these memories, but I calmed myself and looked towards Lady Dedlock again. She was not looking at me and my heart slowed down.
During our visit, Mr Jarndyce, Ada and I enjoyed many long walks in the countryside near Mr Boythorn's house and found several favourite spots. One Saturday, we were sitting under a tree on a lovely hill when we heard thunder in the distance. We were not prepared for rain and hurried down the hill towards a small hut at the edge of the park. A man there welcomed us and put two chairs near his door for Ada and me.
'Isn't it better inside the hut?'
'Oh no, Esther dear!' said Ada quietly. 'We are fine here.'
Ada replied to me, but I had not spoken. My heart began to race again. I had never heard the voice, as I had never seen the face until that day in church, but it affected me in the same strange way. Again, pictures of my sad past came into my mind.
'I have frightened you?' Lady Dedlock asked. She had also escaped from the storm by coming to this small building and now stood behind my chair. 'I believe,' she continued, 'that I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr John Jarndyce. I saw you in church, but because of Sir Leicester's disagreement with your friend, Mr Boythorn, I was not able to speak to you.'
My guardian took Lady Dedlock's hand and greeted her warmly. Then he introduced Ada and me to his old friend.
'These young ladies are very fortunate to have you as their guardian. A long time has passed since we were in the habit of meeting, Mr Jarndyce, but I think you knew my sister better than you knew me?' said Lady Dedlock.
'Yes, we often met many years ago.'
After the storm passed, a carriage arrived at the hut with Lady Dedlock's two maids: Rosa and Hortense.
'Why are there two of you?' asked Lady Dedlock. 'I only asked for Rosa.'
'I am your maid, madam,' explained Hortense proudly. 'Rosa is only my assistant.'
'Rosa,' replied Lady Dedlock calmly, 'give me my coat and get in the carriage with me. Mr Jarndyce, it has been wonderful to see you, but I am afraid we will not be able to become friends again.'
Hortense silently watched the carriage drive towards Chesney Wold. Then, without a word, she took her shoes off, left them on the ground and walked angrily in the same direction through the wet grass.
'Is that young woman mad?' asked my guardian, watching the maid.
'Oh no, sir,' answered the man in the hut, 'she has a good brain, but she is jealous; she won't be happy to have anyone put above her.'
***
Back at home in Bleak House, we saw Richard on most Saturdays and Sundays. He was still as kind and loving as ever, but my thoughts about him were not comfortable. His conversations were always about Jarndyce and Jarndyce. He saw Miss Flite at the Court of Chancery daily, and I worried that he was becoming more like her, with nothing on his mind except the destructive case. I looked for an opportunity to talk to him alone.
'Well, Richard,' I began, 'are you working hard and with a clear purpose?'
'No, I can't really say that. Not while we are waiting for a judgement in Jarndyce and Jarndyce.'
'But do you think there will ever be a decision in that case?'
'I have no doubt about it,' answered Richard. 'Esther, I know you are worried about me. I didn't work hard enough with Mr Badger, or at Kenge and Carboy, and I know it was wrong of me to get into debt, and...'
'Richard, are you in debt?'
'Yes, I am a little, my dear, and I hope you don't hate me for that. But I know our case will be decided soon, and then everything will be all right. I will marry Ada, and we will have a happy life together.'
I watched as the tears fell from Richard's eyes. He was tired and worried.
'Richard, have you finished at Kenge and Carboy?' I asked. 'You said you didn't work hard there.'
'I think I have had enough of the law, but I know what profession I want to go into. I am certain about this one: the army — and it won't be for life. When the suit is decided, I won't need a job, but the army will suit me for now.'
In the next weeks, my guardian had many long conversations with Richard about his future, and finally agreed to help him enter the army as an officer. Soon Richard received his orders, but before he left us again, Mr Jarndyce had a very serious meeting with him.
After the two cousins had finished talking, our guardian asked Ada and me to join them.
'We have had a friendly difference of opinion, and I must explain it to you because you are the subject, Ada. My dear, Rick has no money, and he must prove that he can make a success of himself in the army. He must stop thinking that he will be rich one day because of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. That suit has brought only disaster to everyone who has placed their hopes in it.'
Richard bit his lip and held his breath.
'Ada, my dear,' said Mr Jarndyce after he had calmed down, 'my advice to you and Rick is to be cousins again and nothing more. Give yourselves time, and everything may work out as you hope.'
'Cousin Richard,' said Ada sadly, 'we should listen to our guardian. My love for you will never die, but for now, you are my cousin and nothing more. I hope with all my heart that you find success in the army.'
From that day, Richard's feelings towards Mr Jarndyce changed. He was never able to forgive him. I was sad that he left London without returning to the old relationship he had had with his cousin and guardian.
CHAPTER five
Dead or Alive?
During the four summer months, the Court of Chancery is open for only a few hours every day, and the important people — judges, lawyers, even suitors — have gone to more interesting places across the face of the earth, from the south coast of England to the mountains of Nepal.
Because the city is so empty, Mr Snagsby is surprised when his dinner is interrupted by a loud knock on the door. He hurries down to the shop and finds a policeman, Mr Guppy and young Jo at his door.
'This boy,' the policeman begins, 'says you know him. He refuses to move away from the street, although I have told him to go many times.'
'I've been moving away ever since I was born,' cries the boy, drying his dirty tears on his arm. 'I don't have no place to move away to!
'I know the boy, and he is no trouble to anyone,' says Mr Snagsby kindly.
'Good evening, Mr Snagsby.' Mr Guppy finally speaks. 'I heard Jo say your name when I was passing, so I thought I would lead the policeman here.'
'But he must move five kilometres away from here,' says the policeman. 'And he has too much money in his pockets for a boy in rags. He says he was given it by a lady, but he can't expect me to believe that story.'
'I don't expect nothing, sir, and I don't know nothing,' cries Jo.
'Officer,' begins Mr Snagsby, 'Jo will move away. He is a good boy.'
After the policeman has left, Mr Snagsby and Mr Guppy question Jo about the fine lady and his gold coin. Mr Guppy is becoming a little like the great Mr Tulkinghorn and keeps the details of Jo's story safely in his head, ready for future use.
***
Mr Guppy and the new law student, Mr Richard Carstone, are the only workers in the offices of Kenge and Carboy during this hot, lazy summer. Richard, who has not yet left the law to join the army, spends his days studying the Jarndyce and Jarndyce papers.
Guppy is bored, so he is very pleased when his old friend Tony Jobling appears at the office. Jobling used to work in another legal office in London, but had to leave for rather mysterious reasons. He wants to be in the city again, and has come to ask for help from his good friend.
'Jobling! Wonderful to see you, old man! Let's go to lunch. I shall pay!'
After a good meal and several glasses of beer, Jobling says, 'I can't believe how poor I find myself today.'
'Well, Tony, you were taking chances with other people's money.'
'Guppy, I will not deny it, but I got caught, and now I have no job and not a penny to my name.'
'You could copy legal documents for Snagsby until you find a better job. Wait! There is more to my plan. Krook, at the Rag and Bottle Market, has a room for rent at an affordable price. You could get friendly with him.'
'Why would I want to do that?' asks Jobling.
'He is old and usually drunk and almost always alone, so we might discover his secrets one day. Some people say he is enormously rich. Who knows what you might find out?'
After the two friends drink to the plan, Guppy quietly adds, 'Krook's last tenant died there. You don't mind that, do you?'
'Well, I think that wasn't very polite, but let's go and talk to old Krook and see the room,' suggests Jobling.
The two young men find Krook still sleeping at one o'clock in the afternoon, and have a hard time waking him up.
'How do you do, Mr Krook,' shouts Guppy. 'I hope you are well!'
'Hi! Guppy!' Krook finally answers. Then he looks at his empty alcohol bottle and says, 'Has somebody finished my drink?'
'Not us,' says Guppy. 'But I shall get you another bottle from next door.'
Guppy returns almost immediately with a full bottle of alcohol which Krook accepts very happily. 'You are a true gentleman, Guppy.'
Guppy takes advantage of this friendly mood and soon Jobling has rented Mr Nemo's old room. The young men hurry to Mr Snagsby's house and are successful there, too.
***
Not long after poor Jo's visit to Mr Snagsby's shop, Mr Tulkinghorn invites Snagsby to dinner. The lawyer wants to discover more details about the boy's meeting with the lady who was asking about Nemo. Tulkinghorn's second guest is Mr Bucket, a private detective.
'Mr Bucket has heard about this business and has some questions for the boy,' explains Mr Tulkinghorn. 'Help him find Jo and bring him here.'
Snagsby seems upset at this suggestion, but Mr Bucket understands what he is thinking. 'The boy will be paid for his trouble, and I promise he will be all right. We have a few questions about Mr Nemo. Perhaps he owned a little property or had some money hidden away. We want to find out if this female is looking for something that does not belong to her.'
'Oh, I see,' says Snagsby although he is not sure that he does.
Mr Bucket and Snagsby finally find Jo delivering some medicine to a poor woman. He has moved away from his usual places and found a place to sleep near the brick-makers. Of course he does not understand what is happening, but follows Mr Snagsby, who has always been kind to him.
In Tulkinghorn's office the lights have been turned down and there is a woman in a long dark coat with a veil over her face standing in the centre of the room when Jo and the two men enter.
'There she is!' cries Jo. 'The fine lady that gave me the money. I know that veil and coat, and she's the right size.'
'Jo,' says Bucket, 'are you certain that she is the lady? Look at her hands.'
'Oh. Those aren't her hands — they were whiter and smaller, and her rings were very beautiful.'
'Listen to her voice, Jo,' says Bucket. And then the lady speaks.
'No, it can't be her. That's not her voice and those aren't her hands, but the veil and the coat are hers. I'm sure about that.'
When Jo has gone, the woman lifts her veil.
'Thank you, Miss Hortense,' says Mr Tulkinghorn.
'Sir, kindly remember that I am now not employed by Lady Dedlock,' the Frenchwoman begins. 'I hope you may be able to help me.'
'I will do whatever I can. I wish you good night,' says Mr Tulkinghorn very formally. 'And to you, Snagsby.'
'Without doubt,' says Bucket, 'the other woman was dressed in the Frenchwoman's clothes on the night she asked Jo to be her guide.'
***
Mr Tulkinghorn continues his own detective work. Before talking to Jo, he knew that Lady Dedlock wanted to discover more about Mr Nemo. His search has uncovered the possibility that Nemo's real name was Captain Hawdon.
Tulkinghorn has Nemo's signature from Snagsby, but he needs to match it with an example of Captain Hawdon's writing.
Mr Bucket has learned that Hawdon was in the army with Mr George Rouncewell, the owner of a London training school for men who want to learn the skills of real soldiers. He has also discovered that Mr Rouncewell has borrowed money from Mr Smallweed, a clever and terribly greedy old moneylender who sometimes does little jobs for Tulkinghorn. Bucket tells Smallweed to bring Mr Rouncewell to Tulkinghorn's office for an interview.
'Mr Rouncewell,' says Tulkinghorn, not pausing to greet the old soldier politely, 'I understand that you served in the army with Captain Hawdon, and that you were good friends. Perhaps you have a note or a letter in Captain Hawdon's handwriting. I wish to compare his writing with an example of writing that I have. Perhaps this is something you could lend me?'
'I have no experience of business, and when I hear you talk, I feel that I can't breathe. I am not the equal of you gentlemen, but if you will allow me to ask, why do you need to see something in the captain's handwriting?'
'I cannot tell you. But I will say that this bit of business will not harm Captain Hawdon,' says Tulkinghorn.
'Of course not. He is dead,' says George Rouncewell.
'Is he?' asks the lawyer as he returns to his desk.
'Yes, he went over the side of a ship, and may he rest in peace,' says George. 'You won't explain yourself, so I will not be part of this business.'
'Good day, Mr Rouncewell. Don't forget to make your payments to Mr Smallweed on time. You don't want to have any trouble with the police.'
On hearing these rude words, George Rouncewell hurries out of Tulkinghorn's office. 'What an awful man! A murderous, dangerous, nasty sort of man!' he says to himself as he rushes angrily out of the building.
Unfortunately, Tulkinghorn's servant hears these words as he passes Rouncewell on the stairs.
***
It is autumn and Sir Leicester and his wife are at their house in town. One evening, Lady Dedlock's quiet reading is interrupted by a servant: 'The young man, My Lady, of the name of Guppy,' he says.
'Mr Guppy, you are, of course, the person who has written me so many letters?' asks Lady Dedlock without greeting Guppy.
'Yes, madam, several, but today my business is too important, and too private, to put in writing. Have you, madam, ever heard of or seen a young lady of the name Miss Esther Summerson?'
'I saw a young lady of that name not long ago,' answers Lady Dedlock.
'I have visited Chesney Wold, and when I saw your picture above the fireplace, I noticed that you and Miss Summerson are very similar.'
Lady Dedlock gives Guppy one of her coldest looks and says, 'Why do you think your opinion of my picture is of any interest to me?'
'Madam, if I could solve the mystery of Miss Summerson's birth, she might begin to admire me and might then agree to marry me. From papers at Kenge and Carboy,' continues Guppy politely, 'I learned that Miss Barbary, Miss Summerson's aunt, looked after her when she was a child. Does Miss Barbary have a connection to your family?'
Lady Dedlock's face has gone very pale. 'I know the name.'
'Miss Barbary told Mr Kenge that the girl's last name was really Hawdon.'
Lady Dedlock is shocked and has to force herself to stay calm.
'Madam, there is one final point. Some time ago, a law-writer was found dead at the house of a person named Krook, near Chancery Lane. I have discovered recently that the dead man's real name was Hawdon.'
'And is that my business?'
'Later, a lady hired a poor sweeping boy to show her the final resting place of Hawdon, or Nemo, as he was known. The boy knows the lady's voice and can describe her hands and her rings. The police believe that Nemo left nothing behind in his room when he died. But he did. He left a packet of old letters, and tomorrow night I will have those letters in my hand. I have explained my purpose, and if you agree, I will bring these letters here tomorrow night and look at them for the first time with you.'
Lady Dedlock is not certain that she can believe this young man, but she answers, again calmly, 'You may bring the letters if you choose.'
When My Lady is alone, she falls to her knees and a horrible cry shakes her whole body. 'Oh, my child, my child! Not dead in the first hours of her life! My cruel sister lied to me and stole my child from me!'
***
Tony Jobling has become friends with Krook, often bringing him a bottle of his favourite alcohol. Krook has agreed to show Tony the packet of letters that he took from Mr Nemo's suitcase on the night the law-writer died. Guppy hopes that the information in these letters will help him to win Esther Summerson's love. He arrives at Jobling's room just after ten o'clock.
'There is something strange in the air tonight,' says Tony Jobling.
'You are right. Is there a chimney on fire? Something smells horrible. There are little pieces of black stuff on your table and on our clothes. I can't brush them off. It seems like some kind of fat,' complains Guppy.
'Let's open the window and breathe some air,' suggests Jobling.
Finally, at midnight, Jobling goes downstairs, but he returns in seconds.
'Have you got the letters?' shouts Guppy.
'No,' says Jobling. 'Krook's not there. I opened his door and there was a terrible burning smell, and I could see the^ame black stuff and yellow oil that we saw up here on the walls and table, but no old man.'
The two young men hurry down the stairs to find Krook.
'Look!' says Jobling. 'There is his hat on the back of his chair. And there on the floor is the red string that was around the letters.'
The only other thing they find is a small, burnt, oily mark on the floor with something that looks like pieces of white bones resting on it. Suddenly they realise that this is what is left of Krook — and they run into the street, more frightened than they have ever been in their lives.
Mr Krook has been burned to death by a fire that started inside his own body. It is a very rare way to die, but scientifically, it is not impossible.
CHAPTER SIX
Esther's Story: A Mother's Love
My guardian continued to be a model of kindness and generosity. He regularly — and secretly — sent a small amount of money to Miss Flite after he had met her. And I was surprised when a thirteen-year-old orphan knocked at my door one day and introduced herself by saying, 'I am Charley, miss — your maid. I'm a gift to you, with Mr Jarndyce's love.'
We had met Charley and her younger brother and sister in L
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