Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 30

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Esther's Narrative

Richard had been gone away some time when a visitor came to pass a few days with us.  It was an elderly lady.  It was Mrs. Woodcourt, who, having come from Wales to stay with Mrs. Bayham Badger and having written to my guardian, "by her son Allan's desire," to report that she had heard from him and that he was well "and sent his kind remembrances to all of us," had been invited by my guardian to make a visit to Bleak House.  She stayed with us nearly three weeks.  She took very kindly to me and was extremely confidential, so much so that sometimes she almost made me uncomfortable.  I had no right, I knew very well, to be uncomfortable because she confided in me, and I felt it was unreasonable; still, with all I could do, I could not quite help it.

She was such a sharp little lady and used to sit with her hands folded in each other looking so very watchful while she talked to me that perhaps I found that rather irksome.  Or perhaps it was her being so upright and trim, though I don't think it was that, because I thought that quaintly pleasant.  Nor can it have been the general expression of her face, which was very sparkling and pretty for an old lady.  I don't know what it was.  Or at least if I do now, I thought I did not then.  Or at least—but it don't matter.

Of a night when I was going upstairs to bed, she would invite me into her room, where she sat before the fire in a great chair; and, dear me, she would tell me about Morgan ap-Kerrig until I was quite low-spirited!  Sometimes she recited a few verses from Crumlinwallinwer and the Mewlinnwillinwodd (if those are the right names, which I dare say they are not), and would become quite fiery with the sentiments they expressed.  Though I never knew what they were (being in Welsh), further than that they were highly eulogistic of the lineage of Morgan ap-Kerrig.

"So, Miss Summerson," she would say to me with stately triumph, "this, you see, is the fortune inherited by my son.  Wherever my son goes, he can claim kindred with Ap-Kerrig.  He may not have money, but he always has what is much better—family, my dear."

I had my doubts of their caring so very much for Morgan ap-Kerrig in India and China, but of course I never expressed them.  I used to say it was a great thing to be so highly connected.

"It IS, my dear, a great thing," Mrs. Woodcourt would reply.  "It has its disadvantages; my son's choice of a wife, for instance, is limited by it, but the matrimonial choice of the royal family is limited in much the same manner."

Then she would pat me on the arm and smooth my dress, as much as to assure me that she had a good opinion of me, the distance between us notwithstanding.

"Poor Mr. Woodcourt, my dear," she would say, and always with some emotion, for with her lofty pedigree she had a very affectionate heart, "was descended from a great Highland family, the MacCoorts of MacCoort.  He served his king and country as an officer in the Royal Highlanders, and he died on the field.  My son is one of the last representatives of two old families.  With the blessing of heaven he will set them up again and unite them with another old family."

It was in vain for me to try to change the subject, as I used to try, only for the sake of novelty or perhaps because—but I need not be so particular.  Mrs. Woodcourt never would let me change it.

"My dear," she said one night, "you have so much sense and you look at the world in a quiet manner so superior to your time of life that it is a comfort to me to talk to you about these family matters of mine.  You don't know much of my son, my dear; but you know enough of him, I dare say, to recollect him?"

"Yes, ma'am.  I recollect him."

"Yes, my dear.  Now, my dear, I think you are a judge of character, and I should like to have your opinion of him."

"Oh, Mrs. Woodcourt," said I, "that is so difficult!"