Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 59

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Esther's Narrative

It was three o'clock in the morning when the houses outside London did at last begin to exclude the country and to close us in with streets.  We had made our way along roads in a far worse condition than when we had traversed them by daylight, both the fall and the thaw having lasted ever since; but the energy of my companion never slackened.  It had only been, as I thought, of less assistance than the horses in getting us on, and it had often aided them.  They had stopped exhausted half-way up hills, they had been driven through streams of turbulent water, they had slipped down and become entangled with the harness; but he and his little lantern had been always ready, and when the mishap was set right, I had never heard any variation in his cool, "Get on, my lads!"

The steadiness and confidence with which he had directed our journey back I could not account for.  Never wavering, he never even stopped to make an inquiry until we were within a few miles of London.  A very few words, here and there, were then enough for him; and thus we came, at between three and four o'clock in the morning, into Islington.

I will not dwell on the suspense and anxiety with which I reflected all this time that we were leaving my mother farther and farther behind every minute.  I think I had some strong hope that he must be right and could not fail to have a satisfactory object in following this woman, but I tormented myself with questioning it and discussing it during the whole journey.  What was to ensue when we found her and what could compensate us for this loss of time were questions also that I could not possibly dismiss; my mind was quite tortured by long dwelling on such reflections when we stopped.

We stopped in a high-street where there was a coach-stand.  My companion paid our two drivers, who were as completely covered with splashes as if they had been dragged along the roads like the carriage itself, and giving them some brief direction where to take it, lifted me out of it and into a hackney-coach he had chosen from the rest.

"Why, my dear!" he said as he did this.  "How wet you are!"

I had not been conscious of it.  But the melted snow had found its way into the carriage, and I had got out two or three times when a fallen horse was plunging and had to be got up, and the wet had penetrated my dress.  I assured him it was no matter, but the driver, who knew him, would not be dissuaded by me from running down the street to his stable, whence he brought an armful of clean dry straw.  They shook it out and strewed it well about me, and I found it warm and comfortable.

"Now, my dear," said Mr. Bucket, with his head in at the window after I was shut up.  "We're a-going to mark this person down.  It may take a little time, but you don't mind that.  You're pretty sure that I've got a motive.  Ain't you?"

I little thought what it was, little thought in how short a time I should understand it better, but I assured him that I had confidence in him.

"So you may have, my dear," he returned.  "And I tell you what!  If you only repose half as much confidence in me as I repose in you after what I've experienced of you, that'll do.  Lord!  You're no trouble at all.  I never see a young woman in any station of society—and I've seen many elevated ones too—conduct herself like you have conducted yourself since you was called out of your bed.  You're a pattern, you know, that's what you are," said Mr. Bucket warmly; "you're a pattern."

I told him I was very glad, as indeed I was, to have been no hindrance to him, and that I hoped I should be none now.

"My dear," he returned, "when a young lady is as mild as she's game, and as game as she's mild, that's all I ask, and more than I expect.  She then becomes a queen, and that's about what you are yourself."