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person is only a-crying off from being held accountable, and:
that you have got that person's number, and it's Number One.
Now I am not a poetical man myself, except in a vocal way
when it goes round a company, but I'm a practical one, and
that's my experience. So's this rule. Fast and loose in one
thing. Fast and loose in everything. I never knew it fail.
No more will you. Nor no one. With which caution to the
unwary, my dear, I take the liberty of pulling this here bell,
and so go back to our business."

I believe it had not been for a moment out of his mind^
any more than it had been out of my mind, or out of his face.
The whole household were amazed to see me, without any
notice, at that time in the morning, and so accompanied ;
and their surprise was not diminished by my inquiries. No
one, however, had been there. It could not be doubted that
this was the truth.

" Then, Miss Summerson," said my companion, "we can't
be too soon at the cottage where those brickmakers are to be
found. Most inquiries there I leave to you, if you'll be so
good as to make 'em. The naturalest way is the best way.,
and the naturalest way is your own way."

We set off again immediately. On arriving at the cottage,,
we found it shut up, and apparently deserted ; but one of the
neighbors who knew me, and who came out when I was trying
to make some one hear, informed me that the two women and
their husbands now lived together in another house, made of
loose rough bricks, which stood on the margin of the piece of
ground where the kilns were, and where the long rows of
bricks were drying. We lost no time in repairing to this
place, which was within a few hundred yards ; and as the door
stood ajar, I pushed it open.

There were only three of them sitting at breakfast ; the
child lying asleep on a bed in the corner. It was Jenny, the
mother of the dead child, who was absent. The other woman
rose on seeing me ; and the men, though they were, as usual,
sulky and silent, each gave me a morose nod of recognition.
A look passed between them when Mr. Bucket followed me
in, and I was surprised to see that the woman evidently knew
him.

I had asked leave to enter of course. Liz (the only name
by which I knew her) rose to give me her own chair, but I sat
down on a stool near the fire, and Mr. Bucket took a corner



ES THER'S JVA RRA TIVE. 763

of the bedstead. Now that I had to speak and was among
people with whom I was not familiar, I became conscious of
being hurried and giddy. It was very difficult to begin, and
I could not help bursting into tears.

" Liz," said I, " I have come a long way in the night and
through the snow, to inquire after a lady "

11 Who has been here, you know," Mr. Bucket struck in,
addressing the whole group, with a composed propitiatory
face ; " that's the lady the young lady means. The lady that
was here last night you know."

" And who told you as there was anybody here ? " inquired
Jenny's husband, who made a surly stop in his eating, to
listen, and now measured him with his eye.

" A person of the name of Michael Jackson, with a blue
welveteen waistcoat with a double row of mother of pearl but-
tons," Mr. Bucket immediately answered.

" He had as good mind his own business, whoever he is,"
growled the man.

'• He's out of employment, I believe," said Mr. Bucket,
apologetically for Michael Jackson, " and so gets talking."

The woman had not resumed her chair, but stood faltering
with her hand upon its broken back, looking at me. I thought
she would have spoken to me privately, if she had dared. She
was still in this attitude of uncertainty, when her husband,
■who was eating with a lump of bread and fat in one hand,
and his clasp-knife in the other, struck the handle of his knife
violently on the table, and told her with an oath to mind her
own business at any rate, and sit down.

" I should like to have seen Jenny very much," said I,
" for I am sure she would have told me all she could about
this lady, whom I am very anxious indeed — you cannot think
how anxious — to overtake. Will Jenny be here soon ? Where
is she ? "

The woman had a great desire to answer, but the man,
with another oath, openly kicked at her foot with his heavy
boot. He left it to Jenny's husband to say what he chose,
and after a dogged silence the latter turned his shaggy head
towards me.

" I'm not partial to gentlefolks coming into my place, as
you've heerd me say afore now, I think, miss. I let their
places be, and it's curious they can't let my place be. There'd
be a pretty shine made if I was to go a-wisitin them, I think.
Howsoever, I don't so much complain of you as of soma



764 BLEAK HOUSE.

others ; and Tin agreeable to make you a civil answer, thougk
I gave notice that I'm not a-going to be drawed like a badger.
Will Jenny be here soon ? No she won't. Where is she ?
She's gone up to Lunnun."

" Did she go last night ? " I asked.

"Did she -go last night? Ah! she went last night," he
answered, with a sulky jerk of his head.

" But was she here when the lady came ? And what did
the lady say to her ? And where is the lady gone ? I beg
and pray you to be so kind as to tell me," said I, "for I am
in great distress to know."

" If my master would let me speak, and not say a word of
hann — " the woman timidly began.

" Your master," said her husband, muttering an impreca-
tion with slow emphasis, "will break your neck, if you meddle
with wot don't concern you."

After another silence, the husband of the absent woman,
turning to me again, answered me with his usual grumbling
unwillingness.

" Wos Jenny here when the lady come ? Yes, she wos
here when the lady come. Wot did the lady say to her ?
Well, I'll tell you wot the lady said to her. She said 'You
remember me as come one time to talk to you about the
young lady as had been a-wisiting of you ? You remember
me as give you somethink handsome for a handkercher wot
she had left ? ' Ah, she remembered. So we all did. Well,
then, wos that young lady up at the house now ? Xo, she
warn't up at the house now. Well, then, lookee here. The
lady was upon a journey all alone, strange as we might think
it, and could she rest herself where you're a setten, for a hour
or so. Yes she could, and so she did. Then she went — it
might be at twenty minutes past eleven, and it might be at
twenty minutes past twelve ; we ain't got no watches here to
know the time by, nor yet clocks. Where did she go ? I don't
know where she go'd. She went one way, and Jenny went
another : one went right to Lunnun, and t'other went right
from it. That's all about it. Ask this man. He heerd it
all, and see it all. He knows."

The other man repeated, " That's all about it."

" Was the lady crying ? " I inquired.

" Devil a bit," returned the first man. " Her shoes was
the worse, and her clothes was the worse, but she warn't — not
as I see."



ESTHER'S NARRATIVE. 765

The woman sat with her arms crossed, and her eyes upon
the ground. Her husband had turned his seat a little, so as to
face her ; and kept his hammer-like hand upon the table, as if
it were in readiness to execute his threat if she disobeyed him.

" I hope you will not object to my asking your wife," said
I, " how the lady looked ? "

" Come, then ! " he gruffly cried to her. " You hear what
she says. Cut it short, and tell her."

" Bad," replied the woman. " Pale and exhausted. Very
bad."

" Did she speak much ? "

" Not much, but her voice was hoarse."

She answered, looking all the while at her husband foi
leave.

" Was she faint ? " said I. " Did she eat or drink here ? "

" Go on ! " said the husband, in answer to her look. "Tell
her and cut it short."

" She had a little water, miss, and Jenny fetched her some
bread and tea. But she hardly touched it."

" And when she went from here " — I was proceeding, when
Jenny's husband impatiently took me up.

" When she went from here, she went right away Nor'ard
by the high road. Ask on the road if you doubt me, and see
if it warn't so. Now, there's the end. That's all about it."

I glanced at my companion ; and finding that he had
already risen and was ready to depart, thanked them for what
they had told me, and took my leave. The woman looked
full at Mr. Bucket as he went out, and he looked full at her.

"Now, Miss Summerson," he said to me, as we walked
quickly away. " They've got her ladyship's watch among 'em.
That's a positive fact."

" You saw it ? " I exclaimed.

"Just as good as saw it," he returned. " Else why should
he talk about his ' twenty minutes past,' and about his having
.10 watch to tell the time by ? Twenty minutes ? He don't,
usually cut his time so fine as that. If he comes to half-
hours, it's as much as he does. Now, you see, either her lady-
ship gave him that watch, or he took it. I think she gave it
him. Now, what should she give it him for ? What should
she give it him for ? "

He repeated this question to himself several times, as we
hurried on ; appearing to balance between a variety of an-
swers that arose in his mind.



7 6 6 BLEAK HO USE.

" If time could be spared," said Mr. Bucket — " which is
the only thing that can't be spared in this case — I might get
it out of that woman ; but it's too doubtful a chance to trust
to, under present circumstances. They are up to keeping a
close eye upon her, and any fool knows that a poor creetur
like her, beaten and kicked and scarred and bruised from
head to foot, will stand by the husband that ill uses her,
through thick and thin. There's something kept back. It's
a pity but what we had seen the other woman."

I regretted it exceedingly • for she was very grateful, and
I felt sure would have resisted no entreaty of mine.

" It's possible, Miss Summerson," said Mr. Bucket, ponder-
ing on it, " that her Ladyship sent her up to London with
some word for you, and it's possible that her husband got the
watch to let her go. It don't come out altogether so plain as
to please me, but it's on the cards. Now, I don't take kindly
to laying out the money of Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet,
on these Roughs, and I don't see my way to the usefulness
of it at present. No ! So far, our road, Miss Summerson, is
for'ard — straight ahead — and keeping everything quiet ! "

We called at home once more, that I might send a hasty
note to my guardian, and then we hurried back to where
we had left the carriage. The horses were brought out as
soon as we were seen coming, and we were on the road again
in a few minutes.

It had set in snowing at daybreak, and it now snowed
hard. The air was so thick with the darkness of the day, and
the density of the fall, that we could see but a very little way
in any direction. Although it was extremely cold, the snow
was but partially frozen, and it churned — with a sound as if
it were a beach of small shells — under the hoofs of the horses,,
into mire and water. They sometimes slipped and floundered
for a mile together, and we were obliged to come to a stand-
still to rest them. One horse fell three times in this first
stage, and trembled so, and was so shaken, that the driver
had to dismount from his saddle and lead him at last.

I could eat nothing, and could not sleep : and I grew so
nervous under those delays, and the slow pace at which we
travelled, that I had an unreasonable desire upon me to get
out and walk. Yielding to my companion's better sense, how-
ever, I remained where I was. All this time, kept fresh by a
certain enjoyment of the work in which he was engaged, he
was up and down at every house we came to ; addressing peo-
ple whom he had never beheld before, as old acquaintances {



ES THER'S NARRA TIVE. 767

mnning in to warm himself at every fire he saw ; talking and
drinking and shaking hands at every bar and tap ; friendly
with every wagoner, wheelwright, blacksmith, and toll-taker;
yet never seeming to lose time, and always mounting to the
box again with his watchful, steady face, and his business like
" Get on, my lad ! "

When we were changing horses the next time, he came
from the stable-yard, with the wet snow encrusted upon him,
and dropping off him — plashing and crashing through it to his
wet knees, as he had been doing frequently since we left
Saint Albans — and spoke to me at the carriage side.

" Keep up your spirits. It's certainly true that she came
on here, Miss Summerson. There's not a doubt of the dress
by this time, and the dress has been seen here."

" Still on foot ? " said I.

" Still on foot. I think the gentleman you mentioned
must be the point she's aiming at ; and yet I don't like his
Jiving down in her own part of the country, neither."

"I know so little," said I. "There maybe some one
else nearer here, of whom I never heard."

" That's true. But whatever you do, don't you fall a-cry-
ing, my dear ; and don't you worry yourself no more than you
can help. Get on, my lad ! "

The sleet fell all that day unceasingly, a thick mist came
on early, and it never rose or lightened for a moment. Such
roads I had never seen. I sometimes feared we had missed
the way and got into the ploughed grounds, or the marshes.
If I ever thought of the time I had been out, it presented it-
self as an indefinite period of great duration ; and I seemed,
in a strange way, never to have been free from the anxiety
under which I then labored.

As we advanced, I began to feel misgivings that my com-
panion lost confidence. He was the same as before with all
the roadside people, but he looked graver when he sat by
himself on the box. I saw his finger uneasily going across
and across his mouth, during the whole of one long weary
stage. I overheard that he began to ask the drivers of coaches
and other vehicles coming towards us, what passengers they
had seen in other coaches and vehicles that were in advance.
Their replies did not encourage him. He always gave me a
re-assuring beck of his finger, and lift of his eyelid, as he got
upon Jhe box again ; but he seemed perplexed now, when hs
said, " Get on, my lad ! "



j6S BLEAK HO USE.

At last, when we were changing, he told me that he had
lost the track of the dress so long that he began to be sur-
prised. It was nothing, he said, to lose such a track for one
while, and to take it up for another while, and so on j but it
had disappeared here in an unaccountable manner, and we
had not come upon it since. This corroborated the appre-
hensions I had formed, when he began to look at direction-
posts, and to leave the carriage at cross roads for a quarter of
an hour at a time while he explored them. But, I was not to
be down-hearted, he told me ; for it was as likely as not that
the next stage might set us right again.

The next stage, however, ended, as that one ended ; we
had no new clue. There was a spacious inn here, solitary,
but a comfortable substantial building, and as we drove in
under a large gateway before I knew it, where a landlady and
her pretty daughters came to the carriage-door, entreating me
to alight and refresh myself while the horses were making
ready, I thought it would be uncharitable to refuse. They
took me up stairs to a warm room, and left me there.

It was at the corner of the house, I remember, looking
two ways. On one side, to a stable-yard open to a by-road,
where the ostlers were unharnessing the splashed and tired
horses from the muddy carriage ; and beyond that, to the by-
road itself, across which the sign was heavily swinging : on
the other side, to a wood of dark pine-trees. Their branches
were encumbered with snow, and it silently dropped off in
wet heaps while I stood at the window. Night was setting
in, and its bleakness was enhanced by the contrast of the
pictured fire glowing and gleaming in the window-pane. As
I looked among the stems of the trees, and followed the dis-
colored marks in the snow where the thaw was sinking into
; v and undermining it, I thought of the motherly face brightly
set off by daughters that had just now welcomed me, and of
my mother lying down in such a wood to die.

I was frightened when I found them all about me, but I
remembered that before I fainted I tried very hard not to do
it ; and that was some little comfort. They cushioned me
up, on a large sofa by the fire ; and then the comely landlady
told me that I must travel no further to-night, but must go to
bed. But this put me into such a tremble lest they should
detain me there, that she soon recalled her words, and com-
promised for a rest of half-an-hour.

A good endearing creature she was. She, and her three



ESTHER'S NARRATIVE.



769.



fair girls all so busy about me. I was to take hot soup and
broiled fowl, while Mr. Bucket dried himself and dined else-
where ; but I could not do it when a snug round table was
presently spread by the fireside, though I was very unwilling
to disappoint them. However, I could take some toast and
some hot negus ; and as I really enjoyed that refreshment,
it made some recompense.

Punctual to the time, at the half-hour's end the carriage
came rumbling under the gateway, and they took me down,
warmed, refreshed, comforted by kindness, and safe (I as-
sured them) not to faint any more. After I had got in and
had taken a grateful leave of them all, the youngest daughter
— a blooming girl of nineteen, who was to be the first married,
they had told me — got upon the carriage step, reached in, and
kissed me. I have never seen her, from that hour, but I think
of her to this hour as my friend.

The transparent windows with the fire and light, looking-
so bright and warm from the cold darkness out of doors,
were soon gone, and again we were crushing and churning
the loose snow. We went on with toil enough ; but the
dismal roads were not much worse than they had been, and
the stage was only nine miles. My companion smoking on
the box — I had thought at the last inn of begging him to da
so, when I saw him standing at a great fire in a comfortable
cloud of tobacco — was as vigilant as ever ; and as quickly
down and up again, when we came to any human creature.
He had lighted his little dark lantern, which seemed to be a
favorite with him, for we had lamps to the carriage ; and
every now and then he turned it upon me, to see that I was
doing well. There was a folding-window to the carriage-
head, but I never closed it, for it seemed like shutting out
hope.

We came to the end of the stage, and still the lost trace
was not recovered. I looked at him anxiously when we
stopped to change ; but I knew by his yet graver face, as he.
stood watching the ostlers, that he had heard nothing. Al-
most in an instant afterwards, as I leaned back in my seat, he
looked in, with his lighted lantern in his hand, an excited
and quite different man.

" What is it ? " said I, starting. " Is she here ? "

" No, no. Don't deceive yourself, my dear. Nobody's-
here. But I've got it !"

The crystallized snow was in his eyelashes, in his hair,.



£ 7 o BLEAK HOUSE.

3ying in ridges on his dress. He had to shake it from hia
.face, and get his breath before he spoke to me.

" Now, Miss Summerson," said he, beating his finger on
the apron, " don't you be disappointed at what I'm a-going to
do. You know me. I'm Inspector Bucket, and you can
trust me. We've come a long way ; never mind. Four horses
out there for the next stage up ! Quick ! "

There was a commotion in the yard, and a man cam
running out of the stables to know "if he meant up o;
down ? "

" Up, I tell you ! Up ! Ain't it English ? Up ! "

" Up ? " said I, astonished. " To London ! Are we going
back ? "

"Miss Summerson," he answered, "back. Straight back
as a die. You know me. Don't be afraid. I'll follow the
•other, by G — ."

" The other ? " I repeated. " Who ? ".

" You called her Jenny, didn't you ? I'll follow her.
Bring those two pair out here, for a crown a man. Wake up,
some of you ! "

"You will not desert this lady we are in search of; you
will not abandon her on such a night, and in such a state of
mind as I know her to be in ! " said I, in an agony, and
grasping his hand.

" You are right, my dear, I won't. But I'll follow the
other. Look alive here with them horses. Send a man for'ard
in the saddle to the next stage, and let him send another
for'ard again, and order four on, up, right through. My dar-
ling, don't you be afraid ! "

These orders, and the way in which he ran about the
yard, urging them, caused a general excitement that was
scarcely less bewildering to me than the sudden change. But
in the height of the confusion, a mounted man galloped away
to order the relays, and our horses were put to with great
speed.

" My dear," said Mr. Bucket, jumping to his seat, and
looking in again — "you'll excuse me if I'm too familiar —
don't you fret and worry yourself no more than you can help.
I say nothing else at present ; but you know me, my dear ;
now don't you ? "

I endeavored to say that I knew he was far more capable
than I of deciding what we ought to do ; but was he sure that
this was right? Could I not go forward by myself in searcii



A WINTRY DA Y AND NIGHT.



77*



of 1 grasped his hand again in my distress, and whispered

it to him — of my own mother.

" My dear, he answered, " I know, I know, and would I
put you wrong, do you think ? Inspector Bucket. Now you
know me, don't you ? "

What could I say but yes !

" Then you keep up as good a heart as you can, and you
rely upon me for standing by you, no less than by Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet. Now, are you right there ? "

" All right, sir ! "

" Off she goes, then. And get on, my lads ! "

We were again upon the melancholy road by which he had
come ; tearing up the miry sleet and thawing snow, as if they 7
were torn up by a waterwheel.



CHAPTER LVIII.

A WINTRY DAY AND NIGHT.



Still impassive, as behooves its breeding, the Dedlock
town house carries itself as usual towards the street of dismal
grandeur. There are powdered heads from time to time in the
little windows of the hall, looking out at the untaxed powder
falling all day from the sky ; and in the same conservatory,
there is peach blossom turning itself exotically to the great
hall fire from the nipping weather out of doors. It is given
out that my Lady has gone down into Lincolnshire, but is.
expected to return presently.

Rumor, busy overmuch, however, will not go down into
Lincolnshire. It persists in flitting and chattering about
town. It knows that that poor unfortunate man, Sir Lei-
cester, has been sadly used. It hears, my dear child, all
sorts of shocking things. It makes the world of five miles
round, quite merry. Not to know that there is something
wrong at the Dedlocks' is to augur yourself unknown. One
of the peachy-cheeked charmers with the skeleton throats, is
already apprised of all the principal circumstances that will
come out before the Lords, on Sir Leicester's application for
a bill of divorce.



772 BLEAK HOUSE.

At Blaze and Sparkle's the jewellers, and at Sheen and
Gloss's the mercers, it is and will be for several hours the
topic of the age, the feature of the century. The patronness
of these establishments, albeit so loftily inscrutable, being as
nicely weighed and measured there as any other article of the
stock-in-trade, are perfectly understood in this new fashion by
the rawest hand behind the counter. "Our people, Mr.
Jones," says Blaze and Sparkle, to the hand in question on
-engaging him, " our people, sir, are sheep — mere sheep.
Where two or three marked ones go, all the rest follow. Keep
those two or three in your eye, Mr. Jones, and you have the
flock." So, likewise, Sheen and Gloss to their Jones, in refer-
ence to knowing where to have the fashionable people, and
how to bring what they (Sheen and Gloss) choose, into fashion.
On similar unerring principles, Mr. Sladdery the librarian, and
indeed the great fanner of gorgeous sheep, admits this very
•clay, " Why, yes sir, there certainly are reports concerning
Lady Dedlock, very current indeed among my high connec-
tion, sir. You see my high connection must talk about some-
thing, sir ; and it's only to get a subject into vogue, with one
or two ladies I could name, to make it go down with the whole.
Just what I should have done with those ladies, sir, in the case
of any novelty you had left to me to bring in, they have done
of themselves in this case through knowing Lady Dedlock,
and being perhaps a little innocently jealous of her too, sir.
You'll find, sir, that this topic will be very popular among my
high connection. If it had been a speculation, sir, it would
have brought money. And when I say so, you may trust to



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