Bleak House

Page 44

Ada and Richard were lingering for a few moments by the fire, wondering whether Mrs. Jellyby had yet finished her dictation for the day, when Mr. Jarndyce, who had been out of the room, returned.

"Oh, dear me, what's this, what's this!" he said, rubbing his head and walking about with his good-humoured vexation. "What's this they tell me? Rick, my boy, Esther, my dear, what have you been doing? Why did you do it? How could you do it? How much apiece was it? The wind's round again. I feel it all over me!"

We neither of us quite knew what to answer.

"Come, Rick, come! I must settle this before I sleep. How much are you out of pocket? You two made the money up, you know! Why did you? How could you? Oh, Lord, yes, it's due east--must be!"

"Really, sir," said Richard, "I don't think it would be honourable in me to tell you. Mr. Skimpole relied upon us--"

"Lord bless you, my dear boy! He relies upon everybody!" said Mr. Jarndyce, giving his head a great rub and stopping short.

"Indeed, sir?"

"Everybody! And he'll be in the same scrape again next week!" said Mr. Jarndyce, walking again at a great pace, with a candle in his hand that had gone out. "He's always in the same scrape. He was born in the same scrape. I verily believe that the announcement in the newspapers when his mother was confined was 'On Tuesday last, at her residence in Botheration Buildings, Mrs. Skimpole of a son in difficulties.'"

Richard laughed heartily but added, "Still, sir, I don't want to shake his confidence or to break his confidence, and if I submit to your better knowledge again, that I ought to keep his secret, I hope you will consider before you press me any more. Of course, if you do press me, sir, I shall know I am wrong and will tell you."

"Well!" cried Mr. Jarndyce, stopping again, and making several absent endeavours to put his candlestick in his pocket. "I--here! Take it away, my dear. I don't know what I am about with it; it's all the wind--invariably has that effect--I won't press you, Rick; you may be right. But really--to get hold of you and Esther--and to squeeze you like a couple of tender young Saint Michael's oranges! It'll blow a gale in the course of the night!"

He was now alternately putting his hands into his pockets as if he were going to keep them there a long time, and taking them out again and vehemently rubbing them all over his head.

I ventured to take this opportunity of hinting that Mr. Skimpole, being in all such matters quite a child--

"Eh, my dear?" said Mr. Jarndyce, catching at the word.

"Being quite a child, sir," said I, "and so different from other people--"

"You are right!" said Mr. Jarndyce, brightening. "Your woman's wit hits the mark. He is a child--an absolute child. I told you he was a child, you know, when I first mentioned him."

Certainly! Certainly! we said.

"And he IS a child. Now, isn't he?" asked Mr. Jarndyce, brightening more and more.

He was indeed, we said.

"When you come to think of it, it's the height of childishness in you--I mean me--" said Mr. Jarndyce, "to regard him for a moment as a man. You can't make HIM responsible. The idea of Harold Skimpole with designs or plans, or knowledge of consequences! Ha, ha, ha!"

It was so delicious to see the clouds about his bright face clearing, and to see him so heartily pleased, and to know, as it was impossible not to know, that the source of his pleasure was the goodness which was tortured by condemning, or mistrusting, or secretly accusing any one, that I saw the tears in Ada's eyes, while she echoed his laugh, and felt them in my own.

"Why, what a cod's head and shoulders I am," said Mr. Jarndyce, "to require reminding of it! The whole business shows the child from beginning to end. Nobody but a child would have thought of singling YOU two out for parties in the affair! Nobody but a child would have thought of YOUR having the money! If it had been a thousand pounds, it would have been just the same!" said Mr. Jarndyce with his whole face in a glow.

Charles Dickens
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