Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 61

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A Discovery

The days when I frequented that miserable corner which my dear girl brightened can never fade in my remembrance.  I never see it, and I never wish to see it now; I have been there only once since, but in my memory there is a mournful glory shining on the place which will shine for ever.

Not a day passed without my going there, of course.  At first I found Mr. Skimpole there, on two or three occasions, idly playing the piano and talking in his usual vivacious strain.  Now, besides my very much mistrusting the probability of his being there without making Richard poorer, I felt as if there were something in his careless gaiety too inconsistent with what I knew of the depths of Ada's life.  I clearly perceived, too, that Ada shared my feelings.  I therefore resolved, after much thinking of it, to make a private visit to Mr. Skimpole and try delicately to explain myself.  My dear girl was the great consideration that made me bold.

I set off one morning, accompanied by Charley, for Somers Town.  As I approached the house, I was strongly inclined to turn back, for I felt what a desperate attempt it was to make an impression on Mr. Skimpole and how extremely likely it was that he would signally defeat me.  However, I thought that being there, I would go through with it.  I knocked with a trembling hand at Mr. Skimpole's door—literally with a hand, for the knocker was gone—and after a long parley gained admission from an Irishwoman, who was in the area when I knocked, breaking up the lid of a water-butt with a poker to light the fire with.

Mr. Skimpole, lying on the sofa in his room, playing the flute a little, was enchanted to see me.  Now, who should receive me, he asked.  Who would I prefer for mistress of the ceremonies?  Would I have his Comedy daughter, his Beauty daughter, or his Sentiment daughter?  Or would I have all the daughters at once in a perfect nosegay?

I replied, half defeated already, that I wished to speak to himself only if he would give me leave.

"My dear Miss Summerson, most joyfully!  Of course," he said, bringing his chair nearer mine and breaking into his fascinating smile, "of course it's not business.  Then it's pleasure!"

I said it certainly was not business that I came upon, but it was not quite a pleasant matter.

"Then, my dear Miss Summerson," said he with the frankest gaiety, "don't allude to it.  Why should you allude to anything that is NOT a pleasant matter?  I never do.  And you are a much pleasanter creature, in every point of view, than I.  You are perfectly pleasant; I am imperfectly pleasant; then, if I never allude to an unpleasant matter, how much less should you!  So that's disposed of, and we will talk of something else."

Although I was embarrassed, I took courage to intimate that I still wished to pursue the subject.

"I should think it a mistake," said Mr. Skimpole with his airy laugh, "if I thought Miss Summerson capable of making one.  But I don't!"

"Mr. Skimpole," said I, raising my eyes to his, "I have so often heard you say that you are unacquainted with the common affairs of life—"

"Meaning our three banking-house friends, L, S, and who's the junior partner?  D?" said Mr. Skimpole, brightly.  "Not an idea of them!"

"—That perhaps," I went on, "you will excuse my boldness on that account.  I think you ought most seriously to know that Richard is poorer than he was."

"Dear me!" said Mr. Skimpole.  "So am I, they tell me."

"And in very embarrassed circumstances."

"Parallel case, exactly!" said Mr. Skimpole with a delighted countenance.