Bleak House

Page 43

When I came back, Mr. Skimpole kissed my hand and seemed quite touched. Not on his own account (I was again aware of that perplexing and extraordinary contradiction), but on ours, as if personal considerations were impossible with him and the contemplation of our happiness alone affected him. Richard, begging me, for the greater grace of the transaction, as he said, to settle with Coavinses (as Mr. Skimpole now jocularly called him), I counted out the money and received the necessary acknowledgment. This, too, delighted Mr. Skimpole.

His compliments were so delicately administered that I blushed less than I might have done and settled with the stranger in the white coat without making any mistakes. He put the money in his pocket and shortly said, "Well, then, I'll wish you a good evening, miss.

"My friend," said Mr. Skimpole, standing with his back to the fire after giving up the sketch when it was half finished, "I should like to ask you something, without offence."

I think the reply was, "Cut away, then!"

"Did you know this morning, now, that you were coming out on this errand?" said Mr. Skimpole.

"Know'd it yes'day aft'noon at tea-time," said Coavinses.

"It didn't affect your appetite? Didn't make you at all uneasy?"

"Not a bit," said Coavinses. "I know'd if you wos missed to-day, you wouldn't be missed to-morrow. A day makes no such odds."

"But when you came down here," proceeded Mr. Skimpole, "it was a fine day. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, the lights and shadows were passing across the fields, the birds were singing."

"Nobody said they warn't, in MY hearing," returned Coavinses.

"No," observed Mr. Skimpole. "But what did you think upon the road?"

"Wot do you mean?" growled Coavinses with an appearance of strong resentment. "Think! I've got enough to do, and little enough to get for it without thinking. Thinking!" (with profound contempt).

"Then you didn't think, at all events," proceeded Mr. Skimpole, "to this effect: 'Harold Skimpole loves to see the sun shine, loves to hear the wind blow, loves to watch the changing lights and shadows, loves to hear the birds, those choristers in Nature's great cathedral. And does it seem to me that I am about to deprive Harold Skimpole of his share in such possessions, which are his only birthright!' You thought nothing to that effect?"

"I--certainly--did--NOT," said Coavinses, whose doggedness in utterly renouncing the idea was of that intense kind that he could only give adequate expression to it by putting a long interval between each word, and accompanying the last with a jerk that might have dislocated his neck.

"Very odd and very curious, the mental process is, in you men of business!" said Mr. Skimpole thoughtfully. "Thank you, my friend. Good night."

As our absence had been long enough already to seem strange downstairs, I returned at once and found Ada sitting at work by the fireside talking to her cousin John. Mr. Skimpole presently appeared, and Richard shortly after him. I was sufficiently engaged during the remainder of the evening in taking my first lesson in backgammon from Mr. Jarndyce, who was very fond of the game and from whom I wished of course to learn it as quickly as I could in order that I might be of the very small use of being able to play when he had no better adversary. But I thought, occasionally, when Mr. Skimpole played some fragments of his own compositions or when, both at the piano and the violoncello, and at our table, he preserved with an absence of all effort his delightful spirits and his easy flow of conversation, that Richard and I seemed to retain the transferred impression of having been arrested since dinner and that it was very curious altogether.

It was late before we separated, for when Ada was going at eleven o'clock, Mr. Skimpole went to the piano and rattled hilariously that the best of all ways to lengthen our days was to steal a few hours from night, my dear! It was past twelve before he took his candle and his radiant face out of the room, and I think he might have kept us there, if he had seen fit, until daybreak.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
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