Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 44

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The Letter and the Answer

My guardian called me into his room next morning, and then I told him what had been left untold on the previous night.  There was nothing to be done, he said, but to keep the secret and to avoid another such encounter as that of yesterday.  He understood my feeling and entirely shared it.  He charged himself even with restraining Mr. Skimpole from improving his opportunity.  One person whom he need not name to me, it was not now possible for him to advise or help.  He wished it were, but no such thing could be.  If her mistrust of the lawyer whom she had mentioned were well-founded, which he scarcely doubted, he dreaded discovery.  He knew something of him, both by sight and by reputation, and it was certain that he was a dangerous man.  Whatever happened, he repeatedly impressed upon me with anxious affection and kindness, I was as innocent of as himself and as unable to influence.

"Nor do I understand," said he, "that any doubts tend towards you, my dear.  Much suspicion may exist without that connexion."

"With the lawyer," I returned.  "But two other persons have come into my mind since I have been anxious.  Then I told him all about Mr. Guppy, who I feared might have had his vague surmises when I little understood his meaning, but in whose silence after our last interview I expressed perfect confidence.

"Well," said my guardian.  "Then we may dismiss him for the present.  Who is the other?"

I called to his recollection the French maid and the eager offer of herself she had made to me.

"Ha!" he returned thoughtfully.  "That is a more alarming person than the clerk.  But after all, my dear, it was but seeking for a new service.  She had seen you and Ada a little while before, and it was natural that you should come into her head.  She merely proposed herself for your maid, you know.  She did nothing more."

"Her manner was strange," said I.

"Yes, and her manner was strange when she took her shoes off and showed that cool relish for a walk that might have ended in her death-bed," said my guardian.  "It would be useless self-distress and torment to reckon up such chances and possibilities.  There are very few harmless circumstances that would not seem full of perilous meaning, so considered.  Be hopeful, little woman.  You can be nothing better than yourself; be that, through this knowledge, as you were before you had it.  It is the best you can do for everybody's sake.  I, sharing the secret with you—"

"And lightening it, guardian, so much," said I.

"—will be attentive to what passes in that family, so far as I can observe it from my distance.  And if the time should come when I can stretch out a hand to render the least service to one whom it is better not to name even here, I will not fail to do it for her dear daughter's sake."

I thanked him with my whole heart.  What could I ever do but thank him!  I was going out at the door when he asked me to stay a moment.  Quickly turning round, I saw that same expression on his face again; and all at once, I don't know how, it flashed upon me as a new and far-off possibility that I understood it.

"My dear Esther," said my guardian, "I have long had something in my thoughts that I have wished to say to you."


"I have had some difficulty in approaching it, and I still have.  I should wish it to be so deliberately said, and so deliberately considered.  Would you object to my writing it?"

"Dear guardian, how could I object to your writing anything for ME to read?"

"Then see, my love," said he with his cheery smile, "am I at this moment quite as plain and easy—do I seem as open, as honest and old-fashioned—as I am at any time?"

I answered in all earnestness, "Quite."  With the strictest truth, for his momentary hesitation was gone (it had not lasted a minute), and his fine, sensible, cordial, sterling manner was restored.