Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 43

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Esther's Narrative

It matters little now how much I thought of my living mother who had told me evermore to consider her dead.  I could not venture to approach her or to communicate with her in writing, for my sense of the peril in which her life was passed was only to be equalled by my fears of increasing it.  Knowing that my mere existence as a living creature was an unforeseen danger in her way, I could not always conquer that terror of myself which had seized me when I first knew the secret.  At no time did I dare to utter her name.  I felt as if I did not even dare to hear it.  If the conversation anywhere, when I was present, took that direction, as it sometimes naturally did, I tried not to hear: I mentally counted, repeated something that I knew, or went out of the room.  I am conscious now that I often did these things when there can have been no danger of her being spoken of, but I did them in the dread I had of hearing anything that might lead to her betrayal, and to her betrayal through me.

It matters little now how often I recalled the tones of my mother's voice, wondered whether I should ever hear it again as I so longed to do, and thought how strange and desolate it was that it should be so new to me.  It matters little that I watched for every public mention of my mother's name; that I passed and repassed the door of her house in town, loving it, but afraid to look at it; that I once sat in the theatre when my mother was there and saw me, and when we were so wide asunder before the great company of all degrees that any link or confidence between us seemed a dream.  It is all, all over.  My lot has been so blest that I can relate little of myself which is not a story of goodness and generosity in others.  I may well pass that little and go on.

When we were settled at home again, Ada and I had many conversations with my guardian of which Richard was the theme.  My dear girl was deeply grieved that he should do their kind cousin so much wrong, but she was so faithful to Richard that she could not bear to blame him even for that.  My guardian was assured of it, and never coupled his name with a word of reproof.  "Rick is mistaken, my dear," he would say to her.  "Well, well!  We have all been mistaken over and over again.  We must trust to you and time to set him right."

We knew afterwards what we suspected then, that he did not trust to time until he had often tried to open Richard's eyes.  That he had written to him, gone to him, talked with him, tried every gentle and persuasive art his kindness could devise.  Our poor devoted Richard was deaf and blind to all.  If he were wrong, he would make amends when the Chancery suit was over.  If he were groping in the dark, he could not do better than do his utmost to clear away those clouds in which so much was confused and obscured.  Suspicion and misunderstanding were the fault of the suit?  Then let him work the suit out and come through it to his right mind.  This was his unvarying reply.  Jarndyce and Jarndyce had obtained such possession of his whole nature that it was impossible to place any consideration before him which he did not, with a distorted kind of reason, make a new argument in favour of his doing what he did.  "So that it is even more mischievous," said my guardian once to me, "to remonstrate with the poor dear fellow than to leave him alone."

I took one of these opportunities of mentioning my doubts of Mr. Skimpole as a good adviser for Richard.

"Adviser!" returned my guardian, laughing, "My dear, who would advise with Skimpole?"

"Encourager would perhaps have been a better word," said I.

"Encourager!" returned my guardian again.  "Who could be encouraged by Skimpole?"

"Not Richard?" I asked.

"No," he replied.  "Such an unworldly, uncalculating, gossamer creature is a relief to him and an amusement.  But as to advising or encouraging or occupying a serious station towards anybody or anything, it is simply not to be thought of in such a child as Skimpole."

"Pray, cousin John," said Ada, who had just joined us and now looked over my shoulder, "what made him such a child?"