Such, with its illuminated windows, softened here and there by shadows of curtains, shining out upon the starlight night; with its light, and warmth, and comfort; with its hospitable jingle, at a distance, of preparations for dinner; with the face of its generous master brightening everything we saw; and just wind enough without to sound a low accompaniment to everything we heard, were our first impressions of Bleak House.
"I am glad you like it," said Mr. Jarndyce when he had brought us round again to Ada's sitting-room. "It makes no pretensions, but it is a comfortable little place, I hope, and will be more so with such bright young looks in it. You have barely half an hour before dinner. There's no one here but the finest creature upon earth--a child."
"More children, Esther!" said Ada.
"I don't mean literally a child," pursued Mr. Jarndyce; "not a child in years. He is grown up--he is at least as old as I am--but in simplicity, and freshness, and enthusiasm, and a fine guileless inaptitude for all worldly affairs, he is a perfect child."
We felt that he must be very interesting.
"He knows Mrs. Jellyby," said Mr. Jarndyce. "He is a musical man, an amateur, but might have been a professional. He is an artist too, an amateur, but might have been a professional. He is a man of attainments and of captivating manners. He has been unfortunate in his affairs, and unfortunate in his pursuits, and unfortunate in his family; but he don't care--he's a child!"
"Did you imply that he has children of his own, sir?" inquired Richard.
"Yes, Rick! Half-a-dozen. More! Nearer a dozen, I should think. But he has never looked after them. How could he? He wanted somebody to look after HIM. He is a child, you know!" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"And have the children looked after themselves at all, sir?" inquired Richard.
"Why, just as you may suppose," said Mr. Jarndyce, his countenance suddenly falling. "It is said that the children of the very poor are not brought up, but dragged up. Harold Skimpole's children have tumbled up somehow or other. The wind's getting round again, I am afraid. I feel it rather!"
Richard observed that the situation was exposed on a sharp night.
"It IS exposed," said Mr. Jarndyce. "No doubt that's the cause. Bleak House has an exposed sound. But you are coming my way. Come along!"
Our luggage having arrived and being all at hand, I was dressed in a few minutes and engaged in putting my worldly goods away when a maid (not the one in attendance upon Ada, but another, whom I had not seen) brought a basket into my room with two bunches of keys in it, all labelled.
"For you, miss, if you please," said she.
"For me?" said I.
"The housekeeping keys, miss."
I showed my surprise, for she added with some little surprise on her own part, "I was told to bring them as soon as you was alone, miss. Miss Summerson, if I don't deceive myself?"
"Yes," said I. "That is my name."
"The large bunch is the housekeeping, and the little bunch is the cellars, miss. Any time you was pleased to appoint to-morrow morning, I was to show you the presses and things they belong to."
I said I would be ready at half-past six, and after she was gone, stood looking at the basket, quite lost in the magnitude of my trust. Ada found me thus and had such a delightful confidence in me when I showed her the keys and told her about them that it would have been insensibility and ingratitude not to feel encouraged. I knew, to be sure, that it was the dear girl's kindness, but I liked to be so pleasantly cheated.
When we went downstairs, we were presented to Mr. Skimpole, who was standing before the fire telling Richard how fond he used to be, in his school-time, of football. He was a little bright creature with a rather large head, but a delicate face and a sweet voice, and there was a perfect charm in him. All he said was so free from effort and spontaneous and was said with such a captivating gaiety that it was fascinating to hear him talk.