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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBleak House - Chapter XV - Bell Yard
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Bleak House - Chapter XV - Bell Yard Post by :successcoach Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :December 2010 Read :1937

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Bleak House - Chapter XV - Bell Yard

While we were in London Mr. Jarndyce was constantly beset by the
crowd of excitable ladies and gentlemen whose proceedings had so
much astonished us. Mr. Quale, who presented himself soon after
our arrival, was in all such excitements. He seemed to project
those two shining knobs of temples of his into everything that went
on and to brush his hair farther and farther back, until the very
roots were almost ready to fly out of his head in inappeasable
philanthropy. All objects were alike to him, but he was always
particularly ready for anything in the way of a testimonial to any
one. His great power seemed to be his power of indiscriminate
admiration. He would sit for any length of time, with the utmost
enjoyment, bathing his temples in the light of any order of
luminary. Having first seen him perfectly swallowed up in
admiration of Mrs. Jellyby, I had supposed her to be the absorbing
object of his devotion. I soon discovered my mistake and found him
to be train-bearer and organ-blower to a whole procession of
people.

Mrs. Pardiggle came one day for a subscription to something, and
with her, Mr. Quale. Whatever Mrs. Pardiggle said, Mr. Quale
repeated to us; and just as he had drawn Mrs. Jellyby out, he drew
Mrs. Pardiggle out. Mrs. Pardiggle wrote a letter of introduction
to my guardian in behalf of her eloquent friend Mr. Gusher. With
Mr. Gusher appeared Mr. Quale again. Mr. Gusher, being a flabby
gentleman with a moist surface and eyes so much too small for his
moon of a face that they seemed to have been originally made for
somebody else, was not at first sight prepossessing; yet he was
scarcely seated before Mr. Quale asked Ada and me, not inaudibly,
whether he was not a great creature--which he certainly was,
flabbily speaking, though Mr. Quale meant in intellectual beauty--
and whether we were not struck by his massive configuration of
brow. In short, we heard of a great many missions of various sorts
among this set of people, but nothing respecting them was half so
clear to us as that it was Mr. Quale's mission to be in ecstasies
with everybody else's mission and that it was the most popular
mission of all.

Mr. Jarndyce had fallen into this company in the tenderness of his
heart and his earnest desire to do all the good in his power; but
that he felt it to be too often an unsatisfactory company, where
benevolence took spasmodic forms, where charity was assumed as a
regular uniform by loud professors and speculators in cheap
notoriety, vehement in profession, restless and vain in action,
servile in the last degree of meanness to the great, adulatory of
one another, and intolerable to those who were anxious quietly to
help the weak from failing rather than with a great deal of bluster
and self-laudation to raise them up a little way when they were
down, he plainly told us. When a testimonial was originated to Mr.
Quale by Mr. Gusher (who had already got one, originated by Mr.
Quale), and when Mr. Gusher spoke for an hour and a half on the
subject to a meeting, including two charity schools of small boys
and girls, who were specially reminded of the widow's mite, and
requested to come forward with halfpence and be acceptable
sacrifices, I think the wind was in the east for three whole weeks.

I mention this because I am coming to Mr. Skimpole again. It
seemed to me that his off-hand professions of childishness and
carelessness were a great relief to my guardian, by contrast with
such things, and were the more readily believed in since to find
one perfectly undesigning and candid man among many opposites could
not fail to give him pleasure. I should be sorry to imply that Mr.
Skimpole divined this and was politic; I really never understood
him well enough to know. What he was to my guardian, he certainly
was to the rest of the world.

He had not been very well; and thus, though he lived in London, we
had seen nothing of him until now. He appeared one morning in his
usual agreeable way and as full of pleasant spirits as ever.

Well, he said, here he was! He had been bilious, but rich men were
often bilious, and therefore he had been persuading himself that he
was a man of property. So he was, in a certain point of view--in
his expansive intentions. He had been enriching his medical
attendant in the most lavish manner. He had always doubled, and
sometimes quadrupled, his fees. He had said to the doctor, "Now,
my dear doctor, it is quite a delusion on your part to suppose that
you attend me for nothing. I am overwhelming you with money--in my
expansive intentions--if you only knew it!" And really (he said)
he meant it to that degree that he thought it much the same as
doing it. If he had had those bits of metal or thin paper to which
mankind attached so much importance to put in the doctor's hand, he
would have put them in the doctor's hand. Not having them, he
substituted the will for the deed. Very well! If he really meant
it--if his will were genuine and real, which it was--it appeared to
him that it was the same as coin, and cancelled the obligation.

"It may be, partly, because I know nothing of the value of money,"
said Mr. Skimpole, "but I often feel this. It seems so reasonable!
My butcher says to me he wants that little bill. It's a part of
the pleasant unconscious poetry of the man's nature that he always
calls it a 'little' bill--to make the payment appear easy to both
of us. I reply to the butcher, 'My good friend, if you knew it,
you are paid. You haven't had the trouble of coming to ask for the
little bill. You are paid. I mean it.'"

"But, suppose," said my guardian, laughing, "he had meant the meat
in the bill, instead of providing it?"

"My dear Jarndyce," he returned, "you surprise me. You take the
butcher's position. A butcher I once dealt with occupied that very
ground. Says he, 'Sir, why did you eat spring lamb at eighteen
pence a pound?' 'Why did I eat spring lamb at eighteen-pence a
pound, my honest friend?' said I, naturally amazed by the question.
'I like spring lamb!' This was so far convincing. 'Well, sir,'
says he, 'I wish I had meant the lamb as you mean the money!' 'My
good fellow,' said I, 'pray let us reason like intellectual beings.
How could that be? It was impossible. You HAD got the lamb, and I
have NOT got the money. You couldn't really mean the lamb without
sending it in, whereas I can, and do, really mean the money without
paying it!' He had not a word. There was an end of the subject."

"Did he take no legal proceedings?" inquired my guardian.

"Yes, he took legal proceedings," said Mr. Skimpole. "But in that
he was influenced by passion, not by reason. Passion reminds me of
Boythorn. He writes me that you and the ladies have promised him a
short visit at his bachelor-house in Lincolnshire."

"He is a great favourite with my girls," said Mr. Jarndyce, "and I
have promised for them."

"Nature forgot to shade him off, I think," observed Mr. Skimpole to
Ada and me. "A little too boisterous--like the sea. A little too
vehement--like a bull who has made up his mind to consider every
colour scarlet. But I grant a sledge-hammering sort of merit in
him!"

I should have been surprised if those two could have thought very
highly of one another, Mr. Boythorn attaching so much importance to
many things and Mr. Skimpole caring so little for anything.
Besides which, I had noticed Mr. Boythorn more than once on the
point of breaking out into some strong opinion when Mr. Skimpole
was referred to. Of course I merely joined Ada in saying that we
had been greatly pleased with him.

"He has invited me," said Mr. Skimpole; "and if a child may trust
himself in such hands--which the present child is encouraged to do,
with the united tenderness of two angels to guard him--I shall go.
He proposes to frank me down and back again. I suppose it will
cost money? Shillings perhaps? Or pounds? Or something of that
sort? By the by, Coavinses. You remember our friend Coavinses,
Miss Summerson?"

He asked me as the subject arose in his mind, in his graceful,
light-hearted manner and without the least embarrassment.

"Oh, yes!" said I.

"Coavinses has been arrested by the Great Bailiff," said Mr.
Skimpole. "He will never do violence to the sunshine any more."

It quite shocked me to hear it, for I had already recalled with
anything but a serious association the image of the man sitting on
the sofa that night wiping his head.

"His successor informed me of it yesterday," said Mr. Skimpole.
"His successor is in my house now--in possession, I think he calls
it. He came yesterday, on my blue-eyed daughter's birthday. I put
it to him, 'This is unreasonable and inconvenient. If you had a
blue-eyed daughter you wouldn't like ME to come, uninvited, on HER
birthday?' But he stayed."

Mr. Skimpole laughed at the pleasant absurdity and lightly touched
the piano by which he was seated.

"And he told me," he said, playing little chords where I shall put
full stops, "The Coavinses had left. Three children. No mother.
And that Coavinses' profession. Being unpopular. The rising
Coavinses. Were at a considerable disadvantage."

Mr. Jarndyce got up, rubbing his head, and began to walk about.
Mr. Skimpole played the melody of one of Ada's favourite songs.
Ada and I both looked at Mr. Jarndyce, thinking that we knew what
was passing in his mind.

After walking and stopping, and several times leaving off rubbing
his head, and beginning again, my guardian put his hand upon the
keys and stopped Mr. Skimpole's playing. "I don't like this,
Skimpole," he said thoughtfully.

Mr. Skimpole, who had quite forgotten the subject, looked up
surprised.

"The man was necessary," pursued my guardian, walking backward and
forward in the very short space between the piano and the end of
the room and rubbing his hair up from the back of his head as if a
high east wind had blown it into that form. "If we make such men
necessary by our faults and follies, or by our want of worldly
knowledge, or by our misfortunes, we must not revenge ourselves
upon them. There was no harm in his trade. He maintained his
children. One would like to know more about this."

"Oh! Coavinses?" cried Mr. Skimpole, at length perceiving what he
meant. "Nothing easier. A walk to Coavinses' headquarters, and
you can know what you will."

Mr. Jarndyce nodded to us, who were only waiting for the signal.
"Come! We will walk that way, my dears. Why not that way as soon
as another!" We were quickly ready and went out. Mr. Skimpole
went with us and quite enjoyed the expedition. It was so new and
so refreshing, he said, for him to want Coavinses instead of
Coavinses wanting him!

He took us, first, to Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane, where there
was a house with barred windows, which he called Coavinses' Castle.
On our going into the entry and ringing a bell, a very hideous boy
came out of a sort of office and looked at us over a spiked wicket.

"Who did you want?" said the boy, fitting two of the spikes into
his chin.

"There was a follower, or an officer, or something, here," said Mr.
Jarndyce, "who is dead."

"Yes?" said the boy. "Well?"

"I want to know his name, if you please?"

"Name of Neckett," said the boy.

"And his address?"

"Bell Yard," said the boy. "Chandler's shop, left hand side, name
of Blinder."

"Was he--I don't know how to shape the question--" murmured my
guardian, "industrious?"

"Was Neckett?" said the boy. "Yes, wery much so. He was never
tired of watching. He'd set upon a post at a street corner eight
or ten hours at a stretch if he undertook to do it."

"He might have done worse," I heard my guardian soliloquize. "He
might have undertaken to do it and not done it. Thank you. That's
all I want."

We left the boy, with his head on one side and his arms on the
gate, fondling and sucking the spikes, and went back to Lincoln's
Inn, where Mr. Skimpole, who had not cared to remain nearer
Coavinses, awaited us. Then we all went to Bell Yard, a narrow
alley at a very short distance. We soon found the chandler's shop.
In it was a good-natured-looking old woman with a dropsy, or an
asthma, or perhaps both.

"Neckett's children?" said she in reply to my inquiry. "Yes,
Surely, miss. Three pair, if you please. Door right opposite the
stairs." And she handed me the key across the counter.

I glanced at the key and glanced at her, but she took it for
granted that I knew what to do with it. As it could only be
intended for the children's door, I came out without askmg any more
questions and led the way up the dark stairs. We went as quietly
as we could, but four of us made some noise on the aged boards, and
when we came to the second story we found we had disturbed a man
who was standing there looking out of his room.

"Is it Gridley that's wanted?" he said, fixing his eyes on me with
an angry stare.

"No, sir," said I; "I am going higher up."

He looked at Ada, and at Mr. Jarndyce, and at Mr. Skimpole, fixing
the same angry stare on each in succession as they passed and
followed me. Mr. Jarndyce gave him good day. "Good day!" he said
abruptly and fiercely. He was a tall, sallow man with a careworn
head on which but little hair remained, a deeply lined face, and
prominent eyes. He had a combative look and a chafing, irritable
manner which, associated with his figure--still large and powerful,
though evidently in its decline--rather alarmed me. He had a pen
in his hand, and in the glimpse I caught of his room in passing, I
saw that it was covered with a litter of papers.

Leaving him standing there, we went up to the top room. I tapped
at the door, and a little shrill voice inside said, "We are locked
in. Mrs. Blinder's got the key!"

I applied the key on hearing this and opened the door. In a poor
room with a sloping ceiling and containing very little furniture
was a mite of a boy, some five or six years old, nursing and
hushing a heavy child of eighteen months. There was no fire,
though the weather was cold; both children were wrapped in some
poor shawls and tippets as a substitute. Their clothing was not so
warm, however, but that their noses looked red and pinched and
their small figures shrunken as the boy walked up and down nursing
and hushing the child with its head on his shoulder.

"Who has locked you up here alone?" we naturally asked.

"Charley," said the boy, standing still to gaze at us.

"Is Charley your brother?"

"No. She's my sister, Charlotte. Father called her Charley."

"Are there any more of you besides Charley?"

"Me," said the boy, "and Emma," patting the limp bonnet of the
child he was nursing. "And Charley."

"Where is Charley now?"

"Out a-washing," said the boy, beginning to walk up and down again
and taking the nankeen bonnet much too near the bedstead by trying
to gaze at us at the same time.

We were looking at one another and at these two children when there
came into the room a very little girl, childish in figure but
shrewd and older-looking in the face--pretty-faced too--wearing a
womanly sort of bonnet much too large for her and drying her bare
arms on a womanly sort of apron. Her fingers were white and
wrinkled with washing, and the soap-suds were yet smoking which she
wiped off her arms. But for this, she might have been a child
playing at washing and imitating a poor working-woman with a quick
observation of the truth.

She had come running from some place in the neighbourhood and had
made all the haste she could. Consequently, though she was very
light, she was out of breath and could not speak at first, as she
stood panting, and wiping her arms, and looking quietly at us.

"Oh, here's Charley!" said the boy.

The child he was nursing stretched forth its arms and cried out to
be taken by Charley. The little girl took it, in a womanly sort of
manner belonging to the apron and the bonnet, and stood looking at
us over the burden that clung to her most affectionately.

"Is it possible," whispered my guardian as we put a chair for the
little creature and got her to sit down with her load, the boy
keeping close to her, holding to her apron, "that this child works
for the rest? Look at this! For God's sake, look at this!"

It was a thing to look at. The three children close together, and
two of them relying solely on the third, and the third so young and
yet with an air of age and steadiness that sat so strangely on the
childish figure.

"Charley, Charley!" said my guardian. "How old are you?"

"Over thirteen, sir," replied the child.

"Oh! What a great age," said my guardian. "What a great age,
Charley!"

I cannot describe the tenderness with which he spoke to her, half
playfully yet all the more compassionately and mournfully.

"And do you live alone here with these babies, Charley?" said my
guardian.

"Yes, sir," returned the child, looking up into his face with
perfect confidence, "since father died."

"And how do you live, Charley? Oh! Charley," said my guardian,
turning his face away for a moment, "how do you live?"

"Since father died, sir, I've gone out to work. I'm out washing
to-day."

"God help you, Charley!" said my guardian. "You're not tall enough
to reach the tub!"

"In pattens I am, sir," she said quickly. "I've got a high pair as
belonged to mother."

"And when did mother die? Poor mother!"

"Mother died just after Emma was born," said the child, glancing at
the face upon her bosom. "Then father said I was to be as good a
mother to her as I could. And so I tried. And so I worked at home
and did cleaning and nursing and washing for a long time before I
began to go out. And that's how I know how; don't you see, sir?"

"And do you often go out?"

"As often as I can," said Charley, opening her eyes and smiling,
"because of earning sixpences and shillings!"

"And do you always lock the babies up when you go out?"

'To keep 'em safe, sir, don't you see?" said Charley. "Mrs.
Blinder comes up now and then, and Mr. Gridley comes up sometimes,
and perhaps I can run in sometimes, and they can play you know, and
Tom an't afraid of being locked up, are you, Tom?"

'"No-o!" said Tom stoutly.

"When it comes on dark, the lamps are lighted down in the court,
and they show up here quite bright--almost quite bright. Don't
they, Tom?"

"Yes, Charley," said Tom, "almost quite bright."

"Then he's as good as gold," said the little creature--Oh, in such
a motherly, womanly way! "And when Emma's tired, he puts her to
bed. And when he's tired he goes to bed himself. And when I come
home and light the candle and has a bit of supper, he sits up again
and has it with me. Don't you, Tom?"

"Oh, yes, Charley!" said Tom. "That I do!" And either in this
glimpse of the great pleasure of his life or in gratitude and love
for Charley, who was all in all to him, he laid his face among the
scanty folds of her frock and passed from laughing into crying.

It was the first time since our entry that a tear had been shed
among these children. The little orphan girl had spoken of their
father and their mother as if all that sorrow were subdued by the
necessity of taking courage, and by her childish importance in
being able to work, and by her bustling busy way. But now, when
Tom cried, although she sat quite tranquil, looking quietly at us,
and did not by any movement disturb a hair of the head of either of
her little charges, I saw two silent tears fall down her face.

I stood at the window with Ada, pretending to look at the
housetops, and the blackened stack of chimneys, and the poor
plants, and the birds in little cages belonging to the neighbours,
when I found that Mrs. Blinder, from the shop below, had come in
(perhaps it had taken her all this time to get upstairs) and was
talking to my guardian.

"It's not much to forgive 'em the rent, sir," she said; "who could
take it from them!"

'"Well, well!" said my guardian to us two. "It is enough that the
time will come when this good woman will find that it WAS much, and
that forasmuch as she did it unto the least of these--This child,"
he added after a few moments, "could she possibly continue this?"

"Really, sir, I think she might," said Mrs. Blinder, getting her
heavy breath by painful degrees. "She's as handy as it's possible
to be. Bless you, sir, the way she tended them two children after
the mother died was the talk of the yard! And it was a wonder to
see her with him after he was took ill, it really was! 'Mrs.
Blinder,' he said to me the very last he spoke--he was lying there
--'Mrs. Blinder, whatever my calling may have been, I see a angel
sitting in this room last night along with my child, and I trust
her to Our Father!'"

"He had no other calling?" said my guardian.

"No, sir," returned Mrs. Blinder, "he was nothing but a follerers.
When he first came to lodge here, I didn't know what he was, and I
confess that when I found out I gave him notice. It wasn't liked
in the yard. It wasn't approved by the other lodgers. It is NOT a
genteel calling," said Mrs. Blinder, "and most people do object to
it. Mr. Gridley objected to it very strong, and he is a good
lodger, though his temper has been hard tried."

"So you gave him notice?" said my guardian.

"So I gave him notice," said Mrs. Blinder. "But really when the
time came, and I knew no other ill of him, I was in doubts. He was
punctual and diligent; he did what he had to do, sir," said Mrs.
Blinder, unconsciously fixing Mr. Skimpole with her eye, "and it's
something in this world even to do that."

"So you kept him after all?"

"Why, I said that if he could arrange with Mr. Gridley, I could
arrange it with the other lodgers and should not so much mind its
being liked or disliked in the yard. Mr. Gridley gave his consent
gruff--but gave it. He was always gruff with him, but he has been
kind to the children since. A person is never known till a person
is proved."

"Have many people been kind to the children?" asked Mr. Jarndyce.

"Upon the whole, not so bad, sir," said Mrs. Blinder; "but
certainly not so many as would have been if their father's calling
had been different. Mr. Coavins gave a guinea, and the follerers
made up a little purse. Some neighbours in the yard that had
always joked and tapped their shoulders when he went by came
forward with a little subscription, and--in general--not so bad.
Similarly with Charlotte. Some people won't employ her because she
was a follerer's child; some people that do employ her cast it at
her; some make a merit of having her to work for them, with that
and all her draw-backs upon her, and perhaps pay her less and put
upon her more. But she's patienter than others would be, and is
clever too, and always willing, up to the full mark of her strength
and over. So I should say, in general, not so bad, sir, but might
be better."

Mrs. Blinder sat down to give herself a more favourable opportunity
of recovering her breath, exhausted anew by so much talking before
it was fully restored. Mr. Jarndyce was turning to speak to us
when his attention was attracted by the abrupt entrance into the
room of the Mr. Gridley who had been mentioned and whom we had seen
on our way up.

"I don't know what you may be doing here, ladies and gentlemen," he
said, as if he resented our presence, "but you'll excuse my coming
in. I don't come in to stare about me. Well, Charley! Well, Tom!
Well, little one! How is it with us all to-day?"

He bent over the group in a caressing way and clearly was regarded
as a friend by the children, though his face retained its stern
character and his manner to us was as rude as it could be. My
guardian noticed it and respected it.

"No one, surely, would come here to stare about him," he said
mildly.

"May be so, sir, may be so," returned the other, taking Tom upon
his knee and waving him off impatiently. "I don't want to argue
with ladies and gentlemen. I have had enough of arguing to last
one man his life."

"You have sufficient reason, I dare say," said Mr. Jarndyce, "for
being chafed and irritated--"

"There again!" exclaimed the man, becoming violently angry. "I am
of a quarrelsome temper. I am irascible. I am not polite!"

"Not very, I think."

"Sir," said Gridley, putting down the child and going up to him as
if he meant to strike him, "do you know anything of Courts of
Equity?"

"Perhaps I do, to my sorrow."

"To your sorrow?" said the man, pausing in his wrath. "if so, I
beg your pardon. I am not polite, I know. I beg your pardon!
Sir," with renewed violence, "I have been dragged for five and
twenty years over burning iron, and I have lost the habit of
treading upon velvet. Go into the Court of Chancery yonder and ask
what is one of the standing jokes that brighten up their business
sometimes, and they will tell you that the best joke they have is
the man from Shropshire. I," he said, beating one hand on the
other passionately, "am the man from Shropshire."

"I believe I and my family have also had the honour of furnishing
some entertainment in the same grave place," said my guardian
composedly. "You may have heard my name--Jarndyce."

"Mr. Jarndyce," said Gridley with a rough sort of salutation, "you
bear your wrongs more quietly than I can bear mine. More than
that, I tell you--and I tell this gentleman, and these young
ladies, if they are friends of yours--that if I took my wrongs in
any other way, I should be driven mad! It is only by resenting
them, and by revenging them in my mind, and by angrily demanding
the justice I never get, that I am able to keep my wits together.
It is only that!" he said, speaking in a homely, rustic way and
with great vehemence. "You may tell me that I over-excite myself.
I answer that it's in my nature to do it, under wrong, and I must
do it. There's nothing between doing it, and sinking into the
smiling state of the poor little mad woman that haunts the court.
If I was once to sit down under it, I should become imbecile."

The passion and heat in which he was, and the manner in which his
face worked, and the violent gestures with which he accompanied
what he said, were most painful to see.

"Mr. Jarndyce," he said, "consider my case. As true as there is a
heaven above us, this is my case. I am one of two brothers. My
father (a farmer) made a will and left his farm and stock and so
forth to my mother for her life. After my mother's death, all was
to come to me except a legacy of three hundred pounds that I was
then to pay my brother. My mother died. My brother some time
afterwards claimed his legacy. I and some of my relations said
that he had had a part of it already in board and lodging and some
other things. Now mind! That was the question, and nothing else.
No one disputed the will; no one disputed anything but whether part
of that three hundred pounds had been already paid or not. To
settle that question, my brother filing a bill, I was obliged to go
into this accursed Chancery; I was forced there because the law
forced me and would let me go nowhere else. Seventeen people were
made defendants to that simple suit! It first came on after two
years. It was then stopped for another two years while the master
(may his head rot off!) inquired whether I was my father's son,
about which there was no dispute at all with any mortal creature.
He then found out that there were not defendants enough--remember,
there were only seventeen as yet!--but that we must have another
who had been left out and must begin all over again. The costs at
that time--before the thing was begun!--were three times the
legacy. My brother would have given up the legacy, and joyful, to
escape more costs. My whole estate, left to me in that will of my
father's, has gone in costs. The suit, still undecided, has fallen
into rack, and ruin, and despair, with everything else--and here I
stand, this day! Now, Mr. Jarndyce, in your suit there are
thousands and thousands involved, where in mine there are hundreds.
Is mine less hard to bear or is it harder to bear, when my whole
living was in it and has been thus shamefully sucked away?"

Mr. Jarndyce said that he condoled with him with all his heart and
that he set up no monopoly himself in being unjustly treated by
this monstrous system.

"There again!" said Mr. Gridley with no diminution of his rage.
"The system! I am told on all hands, it's the system. I mustn't
look to individuals. It's the system. I mustn't go into court and
say, 'My Lord, I beg to know this from you--is this right or wrong?
Have you the face to tell me I have received justice and therefore
am dismissed?' My Lord knows nothing of it. He sits there to
administer the system. I mustn't go to Mr. Tulkinghorn, the
solicitor in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and say to him when he makes me
furious by being so cool and satisfied--as they all do, for I know
they gain by it while I lose, don't I?--I mustn't say to him, 'I
will have something out of some one for my ruin, by fair means or
foul!' HE is not responsible. It's the system. But, if I do no
violence to any of them, here--I may! I don't know what may happen
if I am carried beyond myself at last! I will accuse the
individual workers of that system against me, face to face, before
the great eternal bar!"

His passion was fearful. I could not have believed in such rage
without seeing it.

"I have done!" he said, sitting down and wiping his face. "Mr.
Jarndyce, I have done! I am violent, I know. I ought to know it.
I have been in prison for contempt of court. I have been in prison
for threatening the solicitor. I have been in this trouble, and
that trouble, and shall be again. I am the man from Shropshire,
and I sometimes go beyond amusing them, though they have found it
amusing, too, to see me committed into custody and brought up in
custody and all that. It would be better for me, they tell me, if
I restrained myself. I tell them that if I did restrain myself I
should become imbecile. I was a good-enough-tempered man once, I
believe. People in my part of the country say they remember me so,
but now I must have this vent under my sense of injury or nothing
could hold my wits together. It would be far better for you, Mr.
Gridley,' the Lord Chancellor told me last week, 'not to waste your
time here, and to stay, usefully employed, down in Shropshire.'
'My Lord, my Lord, I know it would,' said I to him, 'and it would
have been far better for me never to have heard the name of your
high office, but unhappily for me, I can't undo the past, and the
past drives me here!' Besides," he added, breaking fiercely out,
"I'll shame them. To the last, I'll show myself in that court to
its shame. If I knew when I was going to die, and could be carried
there, and had a voice to speak with, I would die there, saying,
'You have brought me here and sent me from here many and many a
time. Now send me out feet foremost!'"

His countenance had, perhaps for years, become so set in its
contentious expression that it did not soften, even now when he was
quiet.

"I came to take these babies down to my room for an hour," he said,
going to them again, "and let them play about. I didn't mean to
say all this, but it don't much signify. You're not afraid of me,
Tom, are you?"

"No!" said Tom. "You ain't angry with ME."

"You are right, my child. You're going back, Charley? Aye? Come
then, little one!" He took the youngest child on his arm, where
she was willing enough to be carried. "I shouldn't wonder if we
found a ginger-bread soldier downstairs. Let's go and look for
him!"

He made his former rough salutation, which was not deficient in a
certain respect, to Mr. Jarndyce, and bowing slightly to us, went
downstairs to his room.

Upon that, Mr. Skimpole began to talk, for the first time since our
arrival, in his usual gay strain. He said, Well, it was really
very pleasant to see how things lazily adapted themselves to
purposes. Here was this Mr. Gridley, a man of a robust will and
surprising energy--intellectually speaking, a sort of inharmonious
blacksmith--and he could easily imagine that there Gridley was,
years ago, wandering about in life for something to expend his
superfluous combativeness upon--a sort of Young Love among the
thorns--when the Court of Chancery came in his way and accommodated
him with the exact thing he wanted. There they were, matched, ever
afterwards! Otherwise he might have been a great general, blowing
up all sorts of towns, or he might have been a great politician,
dealing in all sorts of parliamentary rhetoric; but as it was, he
and the Court of Chancery had fallen upon each other in the
pleasantest way, and nobody was much the worse, and Gridley was, so
to speak, from that hour provided for. Then look at Coavinses!
How delightfully poor Coavinses (father of these charming children)
illustrated the same principle! He, Mr. Skimpole, himself, had
sometimes repined at the existence of Coavinses. He had found
Coavinses in his way. He could had dispensed with Coavinses.
There had been times when, if he had been a sultan, and his grand
vizier had said one morning, "What does the Commander of the
Faithful require at the hands of his slave?" he might have even
gone so far as to reply, "The head of Coavinses!" But what turned
out to be the case? That, all that time, he had been giving
employment to a most deserving man, that he had been a benefactor
to Coavinses, that he had actually been enabling Coavinses to bring
up these charming children in this agreeable way, developing these
social virtues! Insomuch that his heart had just now swelled and
the tears had come into his eyes when he had looked round the room
and thought, "I was the great patron of Coavinses, and his little
comforts were MY work!"

There was something so captivating in his light way of touching
these fantastic strings, and he was such a mirthful child by the
side of the graver childhood we had seen, that he made my guardian
smile even as he turned towards us from a little private talk with
Mrs. Blinder. We kissed Charley, and took her downstairs with us,
and stopped outside the house to see her run away to her work. I
don't know where she was going, but we saw her run, such a little,
little creature in her womanly bonnet and apron, through a covered
way at the bottom of the court and melt into the city's strife and
sound like a dewdrop in an ocean.

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