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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBleak House - Chapter IX - Signs and Tokens
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Bleak House - Chapter IX - Signs and Tokens Post by :Honor_Hart Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :December 2010 Read :3047

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Bleak House - Chapter IX - Signs and Tokens

I don't know how it is I seem to be always writing about myself. I
mean all the time to write about other people, and I try to think
about myself as little as possible, and I am sure, when I find
myself coming into the story again, I am really vexed and say,
"Dear, dear, you tiresome little creature, I wish you wouldn't!"
but it is all of no use. I hope any one who may read what I write
will understand that if these pages contain a great deal about me,
I can only suppose it must be because I have really something to do
with them and can't be kept out.

My darling and I read together, and worked, and practised, and
found so much employment for our time that the winter days flew by
us like bright-winged birds. Generally in the afternoons, and
always in the evenings, Richard gave us his company. Although he
was one of the most restless creatures in the world, he certainly
was very fond of our society.

He was very, very, very fond of Ada. I mean it, and I had better
say it at once. I had never seen any young people falling in love
before, but I found them out quite soon. I could not say so, of
course, or show that I knew anything about it. On the contrary, I
was so demure and used to seem so unconscious that sometimes I
considered within myself while I was sitting at work whether I was
not growing quite deceitful.

But there was no help for it. All I had to do was to be quiet, and
I was as quiet as a mouse. They were as quiet as mice too, so far
as any words were concerned, but the innocent manner in which they
relied more and more upon me as they took more and more to one
another was so charming that I had great difficulty in not showing
how it interested me.

"Our dear little old woman is such a capital old woman," Richard
would say, coming up to meet me in the garden early, with his
pleasant laugh and perhaps the least tinge of a blush, "that I
can't get on without her. Before I begin my harum-scarum day--
grinding away at those books and instruments and then galloping up
hill and down dale, all the country round, like a highwayman--it
does me so much good to come and have a steady walk with our
comfortable friend, that here I am again!"

"You know, Dame Durden, dear," Ada would say at night, with her
head upon my shoulder and the firelight shining in her thoughtful
eyes, "I don't want to talk when we come upstairs here. Only to
sit a little while thinking, with your dear face for company, and
to hear the wind and remember the poor sailors at sea--"

Ah! Perhaps Richard was going to be a sailor. We had talked it
over very often now, and there was some talk of gratifying the
inclination of his childhood for the sea. Mr. Jarndyce had written
to a relation of the family, a great Sir Leicester Dedlock, for his
interest in Richard's favour, generally; and Sir Leicester had
replied in a gracious manner that he would be happy to advance the
prospects of the young gentleman if it should ever prove to be
within his power, which was not at all probable, and that my Lady
sent her compliments to the young gentleman (to whom she perfectly
remembered that she was allied by remote consanguinity) and trusted
that he would ever do his duty in any honourable profession to
which he might devote himself.

"So I apprehend it's pretty clear," said Richard to me, "that I
shall have to work my own way. Never mind! Plenty of people have
had to do that before now, and have done it. I only wish I had the
command of a clipping privateer to begin with and could carry off
the Chancellor and keep him on short allowance until he gave
judgment in our cause. He'd find himself growing thin, if he
didn't look sharp!"

With a buoyancy and hopefulness and a gaiety that hardly ever
flagged, Richard had a carelessness in his character that quite
perplexed me, principally because he mistook it, in such a very odd
way, for prudence. It entered into all his calculations about
money in a singular manner which I don't think I can better explain
than by reverting for a moment to our loan to Mr. Skimpole.

Mr. Jarndyce had ascertained the amount, either from Mr. Skimpole
himself or from Coavinses, and had placed the money in my hands
with instructions to me to retain my own part of it and hand the
rest to Richard. The number of little acts of thoughtless
expenditure which Richard justified by the recovery of his ten
pounds, and the number of times he talked to me as if he had saved
or realized that amount, would form a sum in simple addition.

"My prudent Mother Hubbard, why not?" he said to me when he wanted,
without the least consideration, to bestow five pounds on the
brickmaker. "I made ten pounds, clear, out of Coavinses'
business."

"How was that?" said I.

"Why, I got rid of ten pounds which I was quite content to get rid
of and never expected to see any more. You don't deny that?"

"No," said I.

"Very well! Then I came into possession of ten pounds--"

"The same ten pounds," I hinted.

"That has nothing to do with it!" returned Richard. "I have got
ten pounds more than I expected to have, and consequently I can
afford to spend it without being particular."

In exactly the same way, when he was persuaded out of the sacrifice
of these five pounds by being convinced that it would do no good,
he carried that sum to his credit and drew upon it.

"Let me see!" he would say. "I saved five pounds out of the
brickmaker's affair, so if I have a good rattle to London and back
in a post-chaise and put that down at four pounds, I shall have
saved one. And it's a very good thing to save one, let me tell
you: a penny saved is a penny got!"

I believe Richard's was as frank and generous a nature as there
possibly can be. He was ardent and brave, and in the midst of all
his wild restlessness, was so gentle that I knew him like a brother
in a few weeks. His gentleness was natural to him and would have
shown itself abundantly even without Ada's influence; but with it,
he became one of the most winning of companions, always so ready to
be interested and always so happy, sanguine, and light-hearted. I
am sure that I, sitting with them, and walking with them, and
talking with them, and noticing from day to day how they went on,
falling deeper and deeper in love, and saying nothing about it, and
each shyly thinking that this love was the greatest of secrets,
perhaps not yet suspected even by the other--I am sure that I was
scarcely less enchanted than they were and scarcely less pleased
with the pretty dream.

We were going on in this way, when one morning at breakfast Mr.
Jarndyce received a letter, and looking at the superscription,
said, "From Boythorn? Aye, aye!" and opened and read it with
evident pleasure, announcing to us in a parenthesis when he was
about half-way through, that Boythorn was "coming down" on a visit.
Now who was Boythorn, we all thought. And I dare say we all
thought too--I am sure I did, for one--would Boythorn at all
interfere with what was going forward?

"I went to school with this fellow, Lawrence Boythorn," said Mr.
Jarndyce, tapping the letter as he laid it on the table, "more than
five and forty years ago. He was then the most impetuous boy in
the world, and he is now the most impetuous man. He was then the
loudest boy in the world, and he is now the loudest man. He was
then the heartiest and sturdiest boy in the world, and he is now
the heartiest and sturdiest man. He is a tremendous fellow."

"In stature, sir?" asked Richard.

"Pretty well, Rick, in that respect," said Mr. Jarndyce; "being
some ten years older than I and a couple of inches taller, with his
head thrown back like an old soldier, his stalwart chest squared,
his hands like a clean blacksmith's, and his lungs! There's no
simile for his lungs. Talking, laughing, or snoring, they make the
beams of the house shake."

As Mr. Jarndyce sat enjoying the image of his friend Boythorn, we
observed the favourable omen that there was not the least
indication of any change in the wind.

"But it's the inside of the man, the warm heart of the man, the
passion of the man, the fresh blood of the man, Rick--and Ada, and
little Cobweb too, for you are all interested in a visitor--that I
speak of," he pursued. "His language is as sounding as his voice.
He is always in extremes, perpetually in the superlative degree.
In his condemnation he is all ferocity. You might suppose him to
be an ogre from what he says, and I believe he has the reputation
of one with some people. There! I tell you no more of him
beforehand. You must not be surprised to see him take me under his
protection, for he has never forgotten that I was a low boy at
school and that our friendship began in his knocking two of my head
tyrant's teeth out (he says six) before breakfast. Boythorn and
his man," to me, "will be here this afternoon, my dear."

I took care that the necessary preparations were made for Mr.
Boythorn's reception, and we looked forward to his arrival with
some curiosity. The afternoon wore away, however, and he did not
appear. The dinner-hour arrived, and still he did not appear. The
dinner was put back an hour, and we were sitting round the fire
with no light but the blaze when the hall-door suddenly burst open
and the hall resounded with these words, uttered with the greatest
vehemence and in a stentorian tone: "We have been misdirected,
Jarndyce, by a most abandoned ruffian, who told us to take the
turning to the right instead of to the left. He is the most
intolerable scoundrel on the face of the earth. His father must
have been a most consummate villain, ever to have such a son. I
would have had that fellow shot without the least remorse!"

"Did he do it on purpose?" Mr. Jarndyce inquired.

"I have not the slightest doubt that the scoundrel has passed his
whole existence in misdirecting travellers!" returned the other.
"By my soul, I thought him the worst-looking dog I had ever beheld
when he was telling me to take the turning to the right. And yet I
stood before that fellow face to face and didn't knock his brains
out!"

"Teeth, you mean?" said Mr. Jarndyce.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Mr. Lawrence Boythorn, really making the
whole house vibrate. "What, you have not forgotten it yet! Ha,
ha, ha! And that was another most consummate vagabond! By my
soul, the countenance of that fellow when he was a boy was the
blackest image of perfidy, cowardice, and cruelty ever set up as a
scarecrow in a field of scoundrels. If I were to meet that most
unparalleled despot in the streets to-morrow, I would fell him like
a rotten tree!"

"I have no doubt of it," said Mr. Jarndyce. "Now, will you come
upstairs?"

"By my soul, Jarndyce," returned his guest, who seemed to refer to
his watch, "if you had been married, I would have turned back at
the garden-gate and gone away to the remotest summits of the
Himalaya Mountains sooner than I would have presented myself at
this unseasonable hour."

"Not quite so far, I hope?" said Mr. Jarndyce.

"By my life and honour, yes!" cried the visitor. "I wouldn't be
guilty of the audacious insolence of keeping a lady of the house
waiting all this time for any earthly consideration. I would
infinitely rather destroy myself--infinitely rather!"

Talking thus, they went upstairs, and presently we heard him in his
bedroom thundering "Ha, ha, ha!" and again "Ha, ha, ha!" until the
flattest echo in the neighbourhood seemed to catch the contagion
and to laugh as enjoyingly as he did or as we did when we heard him
laugh.

We all conceived a prepossession in his favour, for there was a
sterling quality in this laugh, and in his vigorous, healthy voice,
and in the roundness and fullness with which he uttered every word
he spoke, and in the very fury of his superlatives, which seemed to
go off like blank cannons and hurt nothing. But we were hardly
prepared to have it so confirmed by his appearance when Mr.
Jarndyce presented him. He was not only a very handsome old
gentleman--upright and stalwart as he had been described to us--
with a massive grey head, a fine composure of face when silent, a
figure that might have become corpulent but for his being so
continually in earnest that he gave it no rest, and a chin that
might have subsided into a double chin but for the vehement
emphasis in which it was constantly required to assist; but he was
such a true gentleman in his manner, so chivalrously polite, his
face was lighted by a smile of so much sweetness and tenderness,
and it seemed so plain that he had nothing to hide, but showed
himself exactly as he was--incapable, as Richard said, of anything
on a limited scale, and firing away with those blank great guns
because he carried no small arms whatever--that really I could not
help looking at him with equal pleasure as he sat at dinner,
whether he smilingly conversed with Ada and me, or was led by Mr.
Jarndyce into some great volley of superlatives, or threw up his
head like a bloodhound and gave out that tremendous "Ha, ha, ha!"

"You have brought your bird with you, I suppose?" said Mr.
Jarndyce.

"By heaven, he is the most astonishing bird in Europe!" replied the
other. "He IS the most wonderful creature! I wouldn't take ten
thousand guineas for that bird. I have left an annuity for his
sole support in case he should outlive me. He is, in sense and
attachment, a phenomenon. And his father before him was one of the
most astonishing birds that ever lived!"

The subject of this laudation was a very little canary, who was so
tame that he was brought down by Mr. Boythorn's man, on his
forefinger, and after taking a gentle flight round the room,
alighted on his master's head. To hear Mr. Boythorn presently
expressing the most implacable and passionate sentiments, with this
fragile mite of a creature quietly perched on his forehead, was to
have a good illustration of his character, I thought.

"By my soul, Jarndyce," he said, very gently holding up a bit of
bread to the canary to peck at, "if I were in your place I would
seize every master in Chancery by the throat tomorrow morning and
shake him until his money rolled out of his pockets and his bones
rattled in his skin. I would have a settlement out of somebody, by
fair means or by foul. If you would empower me to do it, I would
do it for you with the greatest satisfaction!" (All this time the
very small canary was eating out of his hand.)

"I thank you, Lawrence, but the suit is hardly at such a point at
present," returned Mr. Jarndyce, laughing, "that it would be
greatly advanced even by the legal process of shaking the bench and
the whole bar."

"There never was such an infernal cauldron as that Chancery on the
face of the earth!" said Mr. Boythorn. "Nothing but a mine below
it on a busy day in term time, with all its records, rules, and
precedents collected in it and every functionary belonging to it
also, high and low, upward and downward, from its son the
Accountant-General to its father the Devil, and the whole blown to
atoms with ten thousand hundredweight of gunpowder, would reform it
in the least!"

It was impossible not to laugh at the energetic gravity with which
he recommended this strong measure of reform. When we laughed, he
threw up his head and shook his broad chest, and again the whole
country seemed to echo to his "Ha, ha, ha!" It had not the least
effect in disturbing the bird, whose sense of security was complete
and who hopped about the table with its quick head now on this side
and now on that, turning its bright sudden eye on its master as if
he were no more than another bird.

"But how do you and your neighbour get on about the disputed right
of way?" said Mr. Jarndyce. "You are not free from the toils of
the law yourself!"

"The fellow has brought actions against ME for trespass, and I have
brought actions against HIM for trespass," returned Mr. Boythorn.
"By heaven, he is the proudest fellow breathing. It is morally
impossible that his name can be Sir Leicester. It must be Sir
Lucifer."

"Complimentary to our distant relation!" said my guardian
laughingly to Ada and Richard.

"I would beg Miss Clare's pardon and Mr. Carstone's pardon,"
resumed our visitor, "if I were not reassured by seeing in the fair
face of the lady and the smile of the gentleman that it is quite
unnecessary and that they keep their distant relation at a
comfortable distance."

"Or he keeps us," suggested Richard.

"By my soul," exclaimed Mr. Boythorn, suddenly firing another
volley, "that fellow is, and his father was, and his grandfather
was, the most stiff-necked, arrogant imbecile, pig-headed numskull,
ever, by some inexplicable mistake of Nature, born in any station
of life but a walking-stick's! The whole of that family are the
most solemnly conceited and consummate blockheads! But it's no
matter; he should not shut up my path if he were fifty baronets
melted into one and living in a hundred Chesney Wolds, one within
another, like the ivory balls in a Chinese carving. The fellow, by
his agent, or secretary, or somebody, writes to me 'Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet, presents his compliments to Mr. Lawrence
Boythorn, and has to call his attention to the fact that the green
pathway by the old parsonage-house, now the property of Mr.
Lawrence Boythorn, is Sir Leicester's right of way, being in fact a
portion of the park of chesney Wold, and that Sir Leicester finds
it convenient to close up the same.' I write to the fellow, 'Mr.
Lawrence Boythorn presents his compliments to Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet, and has to call HIS attention to the fact that he
totally denies the whole of Sir Leicester Dedlock's positions on
every possible subject and has to add, in reference to closing up
the pathway, that he will be glad to see the man who may undertake
to do it.' The fellow sends a most abandoned villain with one eye
to construct a gateway. I play upon that execrable scoundrel with
a fire-engine until the breath is nearly driven out of his body.
The fellow erects a gate in the night. I chop it down and burn it
in the morning. He sends his myrmidons to come over the fence and
pass and repass. I catch them in humane man traps, fire split peas
at their legs, play upon them with the engine--resolve to free
mankind from the insupportable burden of the existence of those
lurking ruffians. He brings actions for trespass; I bring actions
for trespass. He brings actions for assault and battery; I defend
them and continue to assault and batter. Ha, ha, ha!"

To hear him say all this with unimaginable energy, one might have
thought him the angriest of mankind. To see him at the very same
time, looking at the bird now perched upon his thumb and softly
smoothing its feathers with his forefinger, one might have thought
him the gentlest. To hear him laugh and see the broad good nature
of his face then, one might have supposed that he had not a care in
the world, or a dispute, or a dislike, but that his whole existence
was a summer joke.

"No, no," he said, "no closing up of my paths by any Dedlock!
Though I willingly confess," here he softened in a moment, "that
Lady Dedlock is the most accomplished lady in the world, to whom I
would do any homage that a plain gentleman, and no baronet with a
head seven hundred years thick, may. A man who joined his regiment
at twenty and within a week challenged the most imperious and
presumptuous coxcomb of a commanding officer that ever drew the
breath of life through a tight waist--and got broke for it--is not
the man to be walked over by all the Sir Lucifers, dead or alive,
locked or unlocked. Ha, ha, ha!"

"Nor the man to allow his junior to be walked over either?" said my
guardian.

"Most assuredly not!" said Mr. Boythorn, clapping him on the
shoulder with an air of protection that had something serious in
it, though he laughed. "He will stand by the low boy, always.
Jarndyce, you may rely upon him! But speaking of this trespass--
with apologies to Miss Clare and Miss Summerson for the length at
which I have pursued so dry a subject--is there nothing for me from
your men Kenge and Carboy?"

"I think not, Esther?" said Mr. Jarndyce.

"Nothing, guardian."

"Much obliged!" said Mr. Boythorn. "Had no need to ask, after even
my slight experience of Miss Summerson's forethought for every one
about her." (They all encouraged me; they were determined to do
it.) "I inquired because, coming from Lincolnshire, I of course
have not yet been in town, and I thought some letters might have
been sent down here. I dare say they will report progress to-
morrow morning."

I saw him so often in the course of the evening, which passed very
pleasantly, contemplate Richard and Ada with an interest and a
satisfaction that made his fine face remarkably agreeable as he sat
at a little distance from the piano listening to the music--and he
had small occasion to tell us that he was passionately fond of
music, for his face showed it--that I asked my guardian as we sat
at the backgammon board whether Mr. Boythorn had ever been married.

"No," said he. "No."

"But he meant to be!" said I.

"How did you find out that?" he returned with a smile. "Why,
guardian," I explained, not without reddening a little at hazarding
what was in my thoughts, "there is something so tender in his
manner, after all, and he is so very courtly and gentle to us, and
--"

Mr. Jarndyce directed his eyes to where he was sitting as I have
just described him.

I said no more.

"You are right, little woman," he answered. "He was all but
married once. Long ago. And once."

"Did the lady die?"

"No--but she died to him. That time has had its influence on all
his later life. Would you suppose him to have a head and a heart
full of romance yet?"

"I think, guardian, I might have supposed so. But it is easy to
say that when you have told me so."

"He has never since been what he might have been," said Mr.
Jarndyce, "and now you see him in his age with no one near him but
his servant and his little yellow friend. It's your throw, my
dear!"

I felt, from my guardian's manner, that beyond this point I could
not pursue the subject without changing the wind. I therefore
forbore to ask any further questions. I was interested, but not
curious. I thought a little while about this old love story in the
night, when I was awakened by Mr. Boythorn's lusty snoring; and I
tried to do that very difficult thing, imagine old people young
again and invested with the graces of youth. But I fell asleep
before I had succeeded, and dreamed of the days when I lived in my
godmother's house. I am not sufficiently acquainted with such
subjects to know whether it is at all remarkable that I almost
always dreamed of that period of my life.

With the morning there came a letter from Messrs. Kenge and Carboy
to Mr. Boythorn informing him that one of their clerks would wait
upon him at noon. As it was the day of the week on which I paid the
bills, and added up my books, and made all the household affairs as
compact as possible, I remained at home while Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and
Richard took advantage of a very fine day to make a little
excursion, Mr. Boythorn was to wait for Kenge and Carboy's clerk and
then was to go on foot to meet them on their return.

Well! I was full of business, examining tradesmen's books, adding
up columns, paying money, filing receipts, and I dare say making a
great bustle about it when Mr. Guppy was announced and shown in. I
had had some idea that the clerk who was to be sent down might be
the young gentleman who had met me at the coach-office, and I was
glad to see him, because he was associated with my present
happiness.

I scarcely knew him again, he was so uncommonly smart. He had an
entirely new suit of glossy clothes on, a shining hat, lilac-kid
gloves, a neckerchief of a variety of colours, a large hot-house
flower in his button-hole, and a thick gold ring on his little
finger. Besides which, he quite scented the dining-room with
bear's-grease and other perfumery. He looked at me with an
attention that quite confused me when I begged him to take a seat
until the servant should return; and as he sat there crossing and
uncrossing his legs in a corner, and I asked him if he had had a
pleasant ride, and hoped that Mr. Kenge was well, I never looked at
him, but I found him looking at me in the same scrutinizing and
curious way.

When the request was brought to him that he would go up-stairs to
Mr. Boythorn's room, I mentioned that he would find lunch prepared
for him when he came down, of which Mr. Jarndyce hoped he would
partake. He said with some embarrassment, holding the handle of the
door, '"Shall I have the honour of finding you here, miss?" I
replied yes, I should be there; and he went out with a bow and
another look.

I thought him only awkward and shy, for he was evidently much
embarrassed; and I fancied that the best thing I could do would be
to wait until I saw that he had everything he wanted and then to
leave him to himself. The lunch was soon brought, but it remained
for some time on the table. The interview with Mr. Boythorn was a
long one, and a stormy one too, I should think, for although his
room was at some distance I heard his loud voice rising every now
and then like a high wind, and evidently blowing perfect broadsides
of denunciation.

At last Mr. Guppy came back, looking something the worse for the
conference. "My eye, miss," he said in a low voice, "he's a
Tartar!"

"Pray take some refreshment, sir," said I.

Mr. Guppy sat down at the table and began nervously sharpening the
carving-knife on the carving-fork, still looking at me (as I felt
quite sure without looking at him) in the same unusual manner. The
sharpening lasted so long that at last I felt a kind of obligation
on me to raise my eyes in order that I might break the spell under
which he seemed to labour, of not being able to leave off.

He immediately looked at the dish and began to carve.

"What will you take yourself, miss? You'll take a morsel of
something?"

"No, thank you," said I.

"Shan't I give you a piece of anything at all, miss?" said Mr.
Guppy, hurriedly drinking off a glass of wine.

"Nothing, thank you," said I. "I have only waited to see that you
have everything you want. Is there anything I can order for you?"

"No, I am much obliged to you, miss, I'm sure. I've everything that
I can require to make me comfortable--at least I--not comfortable--
I'm never that." He drank off two more glasses of wine, one after
another.

I thought I had better go.

"I beg your pardon, miss!" said Mr. Guppy, rising when he saw me
rise. "But would you allow me the favour of a minute's private
conversation?"

Not knowing what to say, I sat down again.

"What follows is without prejudice, miss?" said Mr. Guppy, anxiously
bringing a chair towards my table.

"I don't understand what you mean," said I, wondering.

"It's one of our law terms, miss. You won't make any use of it to
my detriment at Kenge and Carboy's or elsewhere. If our
conversation shouldn't lead to anything, I am to be as I was and am
not to be prejudiced in my situation or worldly prospects. In
short, it's in total confidence."

"I am at a loss, sir," said I, "to imagine what you can have to
communicate in total confidence to me, whom you have never seen but
once; but I should be very sorry to do you any injury."

"Thank you, miss. I'm sure of it--that's quite sufficient." All
this time Mr. Guppy was either planing his forehead with his
handkerchief or tightly rubbing the palm of his left hand with the
palm of his right. "If you would excuse my taking another glass of
wine, miss, I think it might assist me in getting on without a
continual choke that cannot fail to be mutually unpleasant."

He did so, and came back again. I took the opportunity of moving
well behind my table.

"You wouldn't allow me to offer you one, would you miss?" said Mr.
Guppy, apparently refreshed.

"Not any," said I.

"Not half a glass?" said Mr. Guppy. "Quarter? No! Then, to
proceed. My present salary, Miss Summerson, at Kenge and Carboy's,
is two pound a week. When I first had the happiness of looking upon
you, it was one fifteen, and had stood at that figure for a
lengthened period. A rise of five has since taken place, and a
further rise of five is guaranteed at the expiration of a term not
exceeding twelve months from the present date. My mother has a
little property, which takes the form of a small life annuity, upon
which she lives in an independent though unassuming manner in the
Old Street Road. She is eminently calculated for a mother-in-law.
She never interferes, is all for peace, and her disposition easy.
She has her failings--as who has not?--but I never knew her do it
when company was present, at which time you may freely trust her
with wines, spirits, or malt liquors. My own abode is lodgings at
Penton Place, Pentonville. It is lowly, but airy, open at the back,
and considered one of the 'ealthiest outlets. Miss Summerson! In
the mildest language, I adore you. Would you be so kind as to allow
me (as I may say) to file a declaration--to make an offer!"

Mr. Guppy went down on his knees. I was well behind my table and
not much frightened. I said, "Get up from that ridiculous position
lmmediately, sir, or you will oblige me to break my implied promise
and ring the bell!"

"Hear me out, miss!" said Mr. Guppy, folding his hands.

"I cannot consent to hear another word, sir," I returned, "Unless
you get up from the carpet directly and go and sit down at the table
as you ought to do if you have any sense at all."

He looked piteously, but slowly rose and did so.

"Yet what a mockery it is, miss," he said with his hand upon his
heart and shaking his head at me in a melancholy manner over the
tray, "to be stationed behind food at such a moment. The soul
recoils from food at such a moment, miss."

"I beg you to conclude," said I; "you have asked me to hear you out,
and I beg you to conclude."

"I will, miss," said Mr. Guppy. "As I love and honour, so likewise
I obey. Would that I could make thee the subject of that vow before
the shrine!"

"That is quite impossible," said I, "and entirely out of the
question."

"I am aware," said Mr. Guppy, leaning forward over the tray and
regarding me, as I again strangely felt, though my eyes were not
directed to him, with his late intent look, "I am aware that in a
worldly point of view, according to all appearances, my offer is a
poor one. But, Miss Summerson! Angel! No, don't ring--I have been
brought up in a sharp school and am accustomed to a variety of
general practice. Though a young man, I have ferreted out evidence,
got up cases, and seen lots of life. Blest with your hand, what
means might I not find of advancing your interests and pushing your
fortunes! What might I not get to know, nearly concerning you? I
know nothing now, certainly; but what MIGHT I not if I had your
confidence, and you set me on?"

I told him that he addressed my interest or what he supposed to be
my interest quite as unsuccessfully as he addressed my inclination,
and he would now understand that I requested him, if he pleased, to
go away immediately.

"Cruel miss," said Mr. Guppy, "hear but another word! I think you
must have seen that I was struck with those charms on the day when I
waited at the Whytorseller. I think you must have remarked that I
could not forbear a tribute to those charms when I put up the steps
of the 'ackney-coach. It was a feeble tribute to thee, but it was
well meant. Thy image has ever since been fixed in my breast. I
have walked up and down of an evening opposite Jellyby's house only
to look upon the bricks that once contained thee. This out of to-
day, quite an unnecessary out so far as the attendance, which was
its pretended object, went, was planned by me alone for thee alone.
If I speak of interest, it is only to recommend myself and my
respectful wretchedness. Love was before it, and is before it."

"I should be pained, Mr. Guppy," said I, rising and putting my hand
upon the bell-rope, "to do you or any one who was sincere the
injustice of slighting any honest feeling, however disagreeably
expressed. If you have really meant to give me a proof of your good
opinion, though ill-timed and misplaced, I feel that I ought to
thank you. I have very little reason to be proud, and I am not
proud. I hope," I think I added, without very well knowing what I
said, "that you will now go away as if you had never been so
exceedingly foolish and attend to Messrs. Kenge and Carboy's
business."

"Half a minute, miss!" cried Mr. Guppy, checking me as I was about
to ring. "This has been without prejudice?"

"I will never mention it," said I, "unless you should give me future
occasion to do so."

"A quarter of a minute, miss! In case you should think better at
any time, however distant--THAT'S no consequence, for my feelings
can never alter--of anything I have said, particularly what might I
not do, Mr. William Guppy, eighty-seven, Penton Place, or if
removed, or dead (of blighted hopes or anything of that sort), care
of Mrs. Guppy, three hundred and two, Old Street Road, will be
sufficient."

I rang the bell, the servant came, and Mr. Guppy, laying his written
card upon the table and making a dejected bow, departed. Raising my
eyes as he went out, I once more saw him looking at me after he had
passed the door.

I sat there for another hour or more, finishing my books and
payments and getting through plenty of business. Then I arranged my
desk, and put everything away, and was so composed and cheerful that
I thought I had quite dismissed this unexpected incident. But, when
I went upstairs to my own room, I surprised myself by beginning to
laugh about it and then surprised myself still more by beginning to
cry about it. In short, I was in a flutter for a little while and
felt as if an old chord had been more coarsely touched than it ever
had been since the days of the dear old doll, long buried in the
garden.

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