Charles Dickens.

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E-text prepared by Donald Lainson, Toronto, Canada,
and revised by Thomas Berger and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.



BLEAK HOUSE

by

CHARLES DICKENS





CONTENTS

Preface
I. In Chancery
II. In Fashion
III. A Progress
IV. Telescopic Philanthropy
V. A Morning Adventure
VI. Quite at Home
VII. The Ghost's Walk
VIII. Covering a Multitude of Sins
IX. Signs and Tokens
X. The Law-Writer
XI. Our Dear Brother
XII. On the Watch
XIII. Esther's Narrative
XIV. Deportment
XV. Bell Yard
XVI. Tom-all-Alone's
XVII. Esther's Narrative
XVIII. Lady Dedlock
XIX. Moving On
XX. A New Lodger
XXI. The Smallweed Family
XXII. Mr. Bucket
XXIII. Esther's Narrative
XXIV. An Appeal Case
XXV. Mrs. Snagsby Sees It All
XXVI. Sharpshooters
XXVII. More Old Soldiers Than One
XXVIII. The Ironmaster
XXIX. The Young Man
XXX. Esther's Narrative
XXXI. Nurse and Patient
XXXII. The Appointed Time
XXXIII. Interlopers
XXXIV. A Turn of the Screw
XXXV. Esther's Narrative
XXXVI. Chesney Wold
XXXVII. Jarndyce and Jarndyce
XXXVIII. A Struggle
XXXIX. Attorney and Client
XL. National and Domestic
XLI. In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Room
XLII. In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Chambers
XLIII. Esther's Narrative
XLIV. The Letter and the Answer
XLV. In Trust
XLVI. Stop Him!
XLVII. Jo's Will
XLVIII. Closing In
XLIX. Dutiful Friendship
L. Esther's Narrative
LI. Enlightened
LII. Obstinacy
LIII. The Track
LIV. Springing a Mine
LV. Flight
LVI. Pursuit
LVII. Esther's Narrative
LVIII. A Wintry Day and Night
LIX. Esther's Narrative
LX. Perspective
LXI. A Discovery
LXII. Another Discovery
LXIII. Steel and Iron
LXIV. Esther's Narrative
LXV. Beginning the World
LXVI. Down in Lincolnshire
LXVII. The Close of Esther's Narrative




PREFACE


A Chancery judge once had the kindness to inform me, as one of a
company of some hundred and fifty men and women not labouring under
any suspicions of lunacy, that the Court of Chancery, though the
shining subject of much popular prejudice (at which point I thought
the judge's eye had a cast in my direction), was almost immaculate.
There had been, he admitted, a trivial blemish or so in its rate of
progress, but this was exaggerated and had been entirely owing to the
"parsimony of the public," which guilty public, it appeared, had been
until lately bent in the most determined manner on by no means
enlarging the number of Chancery judges appointed - I believe by
Richard the Second, but any other king will do as well.

This seemed to me too profound a joke to be inserted in the body of
this book or I should have restored it to Conversation Kenge or to
Mr. Vholes, with one or other of whom I think it must have
originated. In such mouths I might have coupled it with an apt
quotation from one of Shakespeare's sonnets:

"My nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed!"

But as it is wholesome that the parsimonious public should know what
has been doing, and still is doing, in this connexion, I mention here
that everything set forth in these pages concerning the Court of
Chancery is substantially true, and within the truth. The case of
Gridley is in no essential altered from one of actual occurrence,
made public by a disinterested person who was professionally
acquainted with the whole of the monstrous wrong from beginning to
end. At the present moment (August, 1853) there is a suit before the
court which was commenced nearly twenty years ago, in which from
thirty to forty counsel have been known to appear at one time, in
which costs have been incurred to the amount of seventy thousand
pounds, which is A FRIENDLY SUIT, and which is (I am assured) no
nearer to its termination now than when it was begun. There is
another well-known suit in Chancery, not yet decided, which was
commenced before the close of the last century and in which more than
double the amount of seventy thousand pounds has been swallowed up in
costs. If I wanted other authorities for Jarndyce and Jarndyce, I
could rain them on these pages, to the shame of - a parsimonious
public.

There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark. The
possibility of what is called spontaneous combustion has been denied
since the death of Mr. Krook; and my good friend Mr. Lewes (quite
mistaken, as he soon found, in supposing the thing to have been
abandoned by all authorities) published some ingenious letters to me
at the time when that event was chronicled, arguing that spontaneous
combustion could not possibly be. I have no need to observe that I do
not wilfully or negligently mislead my readers and that before I
wrote that description I took pains to investigate the subject. There
are about thirty cases on record, of which the most famous, that of
the Countess Cornelia de Baudi Cesenate, was minutely investigated
and described by Giuseppe Bianchini, a prebendary of Verona,
otherwise distinguished in letters, who published an account of it at
Verona in 1731, which he afterwards republished at Rome. The
appearances, beyond all rational doubt, observed in that case are the
appearances observed in Mr. Krook's case. The next most famous
instance happened at Rheims six years earlier, and the historian in
that case is Le Cat, one of the most renowned surgeons produced by
France. The subject was a woman, whose husband was ignorantly
convicted of having murdered her; but on solemn appeal to a higher
court, he was acquitted because it was shown upon the evidence that
she had died the death of which this name of spontaneous combustion
is given. I do not think it necessary to add to these notable facts,
and that general reference to the authorities which will be found at
page 30, vol. ii.,* the recorded opinions and experiences of
distinguished medical professors, French, English, and Scotch, in
more modern days, contenting myself with observing that I shall not
abandon the facts until there shall have been a considerable
spontaneous combustion of the testimony on which human occurrences
are usually received.**

In Bleak House I have purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of
familiar things.


1853


*Transcriber's note. This referred to a specific page in
the printed book. In this Project Gutenberg edition the
pertinent information is in Chapter XXX, paragraph 90.

** Another case, very clearly described by a dentist,
occurred at the town of Columbus, in the United States
of America, quite recently. The subject was a German who
kept a liquor-shop and was an inveterate drunkard.




CHAPTER I

In Chancery


London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting
in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in
the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of
the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus,
forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn
Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black
drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown
snowflakes - gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of
the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better;
splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one
another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing
their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other
foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke
(if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust
of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and
accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and
meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers
of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.
Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping
into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and
hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales
of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient
Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog
in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper,
down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of
his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the
bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog
all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the
misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as
the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman
and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their
time - as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling
look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the
muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction,
appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old
corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn
Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in
his High Court of Chancery.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire
too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which
this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds
this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be
sitting here - as here he is - with a foggy glory round his head,
softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a
large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an
interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the
lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog. On such an
afternoon some score of members of the High Court of Chancery bar
ought to be - as here they are - mistily engaged in one of the ten
thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up on
slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running
their goat-hair and horsehair warded heads against walls of words and
making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players might. On
such an afternoon the various solicitors in the cause, some two or
three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, who made a
fortune by it, ought to be - as are they not? - ranged in a line, in a
long matted well (but you might look in vain for truth at the bottom
of it) between the registrar's red table and the silk gowns, with
bills, cross-bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions, affidavits,
issues, references to masters, masters' reports, mountains of costly
nonsense, piled before them. Well may the court be dim, with wasting
candles here and there; well may the fog hang heavy in it, as if it
would never get out; well may the stained-glass windows lose their
colour and admit no light of day into the place; well may the
uninitiated from the streets, who peep in through the glass panes in
the door, be deterred from entrance by its owlish aspect and by the
drawl, languidly echoing to the roof from the padded dais where the
Lord High Chancellor looks into the lantern that has no light in it
and where the attendant wigs are all stuck in a fog-bank! This is the
Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted
lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every
madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined
suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and
begging through the round of every man's acquaintance, which gives to
monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so
exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain
and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its
practitioners who would not give - who does not often give - the
warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come
here!"

Who happen to be in the Lord Chancellor's court this murky afternoon
besides the Lord Chancellor, the counsel in the cause, two or three
counsel who are never in any cause, and the well of solicitors before
mentioned? There is the registrar below the judge, in wig and gown;
and there are two or three maces, or petty-bags, or privy purses, or
whatever they may be, in legal court suits. These are all yawning,
for no crumb of amusement ever falls from Jarndyce and Jarndyce (the
cause in hand), which was squeezed dry years upon years ago. The
short-hand writers, the reporters of the court, and the reporters of
the newspapers invariably decamp with the rest of the regulars when
Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes on. Their places are a blank. Standing on
a seat at the side of the hall, the better to peer into the curtained
sanctuary, is a little mad old woman in a squeezed bonnet who is
always in court, from its sitting to its rising, and always expecting
some incomprehensible judgment to be given in her favour. Some say
she really is, or was, a party to a suit, but no one knows for
certain because no one cares. She carries some small litter in a
reticule which she calls her documents, principally consisting of
paper matches and dry lavender. A sallow prisoner has come up, in
custody, for the half-dozenth time to make a personal application "to
purge himself of his contempt," which, being a solitary surviving
executor who has fallen into a state of conglomeration about accounts
of which it is not pretended that he had ever any knowledge, he is
not at all likely ever to do. In the meantime his prospects in life
are ended. Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears from
Shropshire and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor at
the close of the day's business and who can by no means be made to
understand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existence
after making it desolate for a quarter of a century, plants himself
in a good place and keeps an eye on the judge, ready to call out "My
Lord!" in a voice of sonorous complaint on the instant of his rising.
A few lawyers' clerks and others who know this suitor by sight linger
on the chance of his furnishing some fun and enlivening the dismal
weather a little.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in
course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it
means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been
observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five
minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the
premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause;
innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people
have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found
themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how
or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the
suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new
rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown
up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the
other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and
grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone
out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere
bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth
perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a
coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags
its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good
that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it is a joke
in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had a reference out
of it. Every Chancellor was "in it," for somebody or other, when he
was counsel at the bar. Good things have been said about it by
blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers in select port-wine committee
after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been in the habit of
fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last Lord Chancellor handled it
neatly, when, correcting Mr. Blowers, the eminent silk gown who said
that such a thing might happen when the sky rained potatoes, he
observed, "or when we get through Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mr.
Blowers" - a pleasantry that particularly tickled the maces, bags, and
purses.

How many people out of the suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretched
forth its unwholesome hand to spoil and corrupt would be a very wide
question. From the master upon whose impaling files reams of dusty
warrants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce have grimly writhed into many
shapes, down to the copying-clerk in the Six Clerks' Office who has
copied his tens of thousands of Chancery folio-pages under that
eternal heading, no man's nature has been made better by it. In
trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under
false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never
come to good. The very solicitors' boys who have kept the wretched
suitors at bay, by protesting time out of mind that Mr. Chizzle,
Mizzle, or otherwise was particularly engaged and had appointments
until dinner, may have got an extra moral twist and shuffle into
themselves out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The receiver in the cause
has acquired a goodly sum of money by it but has acquired too a
distrust of his own mother and a contempt for his own kind. Chizzle,
Mizzle, and otherwise have lapsed into a habit of vaguely promising
themselves that they will look into that outstanding little matter
and see what can be done for Drizzle - who was not well used - when
Jarndyce and Jarndyce shall be got out of the office. Shirking and
sharking in all their many varieties have been sown broadcast by the
ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history
from the outermost circle of such evil have been insensibly tempted
into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad
course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong it was in some
off-hand manner never meant to go right.

Thus, in the midst of the mud and at the heart of the fog, sits the
Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

"Mr. Tangle," says the Lord High Chancellor, latterly something
restless under the eloquence of that learned gentleman.

"Mlud," says Mr. Tangle. Mr. Tangle knows more of Jarndyce and
Jarndyce than anybody. He is famous for it - supposed never to have
read anything else since he left school.

"Have you nearly concluded your argument?"

"Mlud, no - variety of points - feel it my duty tsubmit - ludship," is
the reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.

"Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?" says
the Chancellor with a slight smile.

Eighteen of Mr. Tangle's learned friends, each armed with a little
summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a
pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places
of obscurity.

"We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight," says the
Chancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs, a
mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really will come
to a settlement one of these days.

The Chancellor rises; the bar rises; the prisoner is brought forward
in a hurry; the man from Shropshire cries, "My lord!" Maces, bags,
and purses indignantly proclaim silence and frown at the man from
Shropshire.

"In reference," proceeds the Chancellor, still on Jarndyce and
Jarndyce, "to the young girl - "

"Begludship's pardon - boy," says Mr. Tangle prematurely. "In
reference," proceeds the Chancellor with extra distinctness, "to the
young girl and boy, the two young people" - Mr. Tangle crushed - "whom
I directed to be in attendance to-day and who are now in my private
room, I will see them and satisfy myself as to the expediency of
making the order for their residing with their uncle."

Mr. Tangle on his legs again. "Begludship's pardon - dead."

"With their" - Chancellor looking through his double eye-glass at the
papers on his desk - "grandfather."

"Begludship's pardon - victim of rash action - brains."

Suddenly a very little counsel with a terrific bass voice arises,
fully inflated, in the back settlements of the fog, and says, "Will
your lordship allow me? I appear for him. He is a cousin, several
times removed. I am not at the moment prepared to inform the court in
what exact remove he is a cousin, but he IS a cousin."

Leaving this address (delivered like a sepulchral message) ringing in
the rafters of the roof, the very little counsel drops, and the fog
knows him no more. Everybody looks for him. Nobody can see him.

"I will speak with both the young people," says the Chancellor anew,
"and satisfy myself on the subject of their residing with their
cousin. I will mention the matter to-morrow morning when I take my
seat."

The Chancellor is about to bow to the bar when the prisoner is
presented. Nothing can possibly come of the prisoner's conglomeration
but his being sent back to prison, which is soon done. The man from
Shropshire ventures another remonstrative "My lord!" but the
Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterously vanished. Everybody
else quickly vanishes too. A battery of blue bags is loaded with
heavy charges of papers and carried off by clerks; the little mad old
woman marches off with her documents; the empty court is locked up.
If all the injustice it has committed and all the misery it has
caused could only be locked up with it, and the whole burnt away in a
great funeral pyre - why so much the better for other parties than the
parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce!




CHAPTER II

In Fashion


It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion that we want on this same
miry afternoon. It is not so unlike the Court of Chancery but that we
may pass from the one scene to the other, as the crow flies. Both the
world of fashion and the Court of Chancery are things of precedent
and usage: oversleeping Rip Van Winkles who have played at strange
games through a deal of thundery weather; sleeping beauties whom the
knight will wake one day, when all the stopped spits in the kitchen
shall begin to turn prodigiously!

It is not a large world. Relatively even to this world of ours, which
has its limits too (as your Highness shall find when you have made
the tour of it and are come to the brink of the void beyond), it is a
very little speck. There is much good in it; there are many good and
true people in it; it has its appointed place. But the evil of it is
that it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweller's cotton and fine
wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot
see them as they circle round the sun. It is a deadened world, and
its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air.

My Lady Dedlock has returned to her house in town for a few days
previous to her departure for Paris, where her ladyship intends to
stay some weeks, after which her movements are uncertain. The
fashionable intelligence says so for the comfort of the Parisians,
and it knows all fashionable things. To know things otherwise were to
be unfashionable. My Lady Dedlock has been down at what she calls, in
familiar conversation, her "place" in Lincolnshire. The waters are
out in Lincolnshire. An arch of the bridge in the park has been
sapped and sopped away. The adjacent low-lying ground for half a mile
in breadth is a stagnant river with melancholy trees for islands in
it and a surface punctured all over, all day long, with falling rain.
My Lady Dedlock's place has been extremely dreary. The weather for
many a day and night has been so wet that the trees seem wet through,
and the soft loppings and prunings of the woodman's axe can make no
crash or crackle as they fall. The deer, looking soaked, leave
quagmires where they pass. The shot of a rifle loses its sharpness in
the moist air, and its smoke moves in a tardy little cloud towards
the green rise, coppice-topped, that makes a background for the
falling rain. The view from my Lady Dedlock's own windows is
alternately a lead-coloured view and a view in Indian ink. The vases
on the stone terrace in the foreground catch the rain all day; and



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