Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 17

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Esther's Narrative

Richard very often came to see us while we remained in London (though he soon failed in his letter-writing), and with his quick abilities, his good spirits, his good temper, his gaiety and freshness, was always delightful.  But though I liked him more and more the better I knew him, I still felt more and more how much it was to be regretted that he had been educated in no habits of application and concentration.  The system which had addressed him in exactly the same manner as it had addressed hundreds of other boys, all varying in character and capacity, had enabled him to dash through his tasks, always with fair credit and often with distinction, but in a fitful, dazzling way that had confirmed his reliance on those very qualities in himself which it had been most desirable to direct and train.  They were good qualities, without which no high place can be meritoriously won, but like fire and water, though excellent servants, they were very bad masters.  If they had been under Richard's direction, they would have been his friends; but Richard being under their direction, they became his enemies.

I write down these opinions not because I believe that this or any other thing was so because I thought so, but only because I did think so and I want to be quite candid about all I thought and did.  These were my thoughts about Richard.  I thought I often observed besides how right my guardian was in what he had said, and that the uncertainties and delays of the Chancery suit had imparted to his nature something of the careless spirit of a gamester who felt that he was part of a great gaming system.

Mr. and Mrs. Bayham Badger coming one afternoon when my guardian was not at home, in the course of conversation I naturally inquired after Richard.

"Why, Mr. Carstone," said Mrs. Badger, "is very well and is, I assure you, a great acquisition to our society.  Captain Swosser used to say of me that I was always better than land a-head and a breeze a-starn to the midshipmen's mess when the purser's junk had become as tough as the fore-topsel weather earings.  It was his naval way of mentioning generally that I was an acquisition to any society.  I may render the same tribute, I am sure, to Mr. Carstone.  But I—you won't think me premature if I mention it?"

I said no, as Mrs. Badger's insinuating tone seemed to require such an answer.

"Nor Miss Clare?" said Mrs. Bayham Badger sweetly.

Ada said no, too, and looked uneasy.

"Why, you see, my dears," said Mrs. Badger, "—you'll excuse me calling you my dears?"

We entreated Mrs. Badger not to mention it.

"Because you really are, if I may take the liberty of saying so," pursued Mrs. Badger, "so perfectly charming.  You see, my dears, that although I am still young—or Mr. Bayham Badger pays me the compliment of saying so—"

"No," Mr. Badger called out like some one contradicting at a public meeting.  "Not at all!"

"Very well," smiled Mrs. Badger, "we will say still young."

"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Badger.

"My dears, though still young, I have had many opportunities of observing young men.  There were many such on board the dear old Crippler, I assure you.  After that, when I was with Captain Swosser in the Mediterranean, I embraced every opportunity of knowing and befriending the midshipmen under Captain Swosser's command.  YOU never heard them called the young gentlemen, my dears, and probably would not understand allusions to their pipe-claying their weekly accounts, but it is otherwise with me, for blue water has been a second home to me, and I have been quite a sailor.  Again, with Professor Dingo."