"So that Mrs. Badger has been married to three husbands — two of them highly distinguished men," said Mr. Badger, summing up the facts, "and each time upon the twenty-first of March at eleven in the forenoon!"
We all expressed our admiration.
"But for Mr. Badger's modesty," said Mr. Jarndyce, "I would take leave to correct him and say three distinguished men."
"Thank you, Mr. Jarndyce! What I always tell him!" observed Mrs. Badger.
"And, my dear," said Mr. Badger, "what do I always tell you? That without any affectation of disparaging such professional distinction as I may have attained (which our friend Mr. Carstone will have many opportunities of estimating), I am not so weak — no, really," said Mr. Badger to us generally, "so unreasonable — as to put my reputation on the same footing with such first-rate men as Captain Swosser and Professor Dingo. Perhaps you may be interested, Mr. Jarndyce," continued Mr. Bayham Badger, leading the way into the next drawing-room, "in this portrait of Captain Swosser. It was taken on his return home from the African station, where he had suffered from the fever of the country. Mrs. Badger considers it too yellow. But it's a very fine head. A very fine head!"
We all echoed, "A very fine head!"
"I feel when I look at it," said Mr. Badger, "'That's a man I should like to have seen!' It strikingly bespeaks the first-class man that Captain Swosser pre-eminently was. On the other side, Professor Dingo. I knew him well — attended him in his last illness — a speaking likeness! Over the piano, Mrs. Bayham Badger when Mrs. Swosser. Over the sofa, Mrs. Bayham Badger when Mrs. Dingo. Of Mrs. Bayham Badger IN ESSE, I possess the original and have no copy."
Dinner was now announced, and we went downstairs. It was a very genteel entertainment, very handsomely served. But the captain and the professor still ran in Mr. Badger's head, and as Ada and I had the honour of being under his particular care, we had the full benefit of them.
"Water, Miss Summerson? Allow me! Not in that tumbler, pray. Bring me the professor's goblet, James!"
Ada very much admired some artificial flowers under a glass.
"Astonishing how they keep!" said Mr. Badger. "They were presented to Mrs. Bayham Badger when she was in the Mediterranean."
He invited Mr. Jarndyce to take a glass of claret.
"Not that claret!" he said. "Excuse me! This is an occasion, and ON an occasion I produce some very special claret I happen to have. (James, Captain Swosser's wine!) Mr. Jarndyce, this is a wine that was imported by the captain, we will not say how many years ago. You will find it very curious. My dear, I shall he happy to take some of this wine with you. (Captain Swosser's claret to your mistress, James!) My love, your health!"
After dinner, when we ladies retired, we took Mrs. Badger's first and second husband with us. Mrs. Badger gave us in the drawing-room a biographical sketch of the life and services of Captain Swosser before his marriage and a more minute account of him dating from the time when he fell in love with her at a ball on board the Crippler, given to the officers of that ship when she lay in Plymouth Harbour.
"The dear old Crippler!" said Mrs. Badger, shaking her head. "She was a noble vessel. Trim, ship-shape, all a taunto, as Captain Swosser used to say. You must excuse me if I occasionally introduce a nautical expression; I was quite a sailor once. Captain Swosser loved that craft for my sake. When she was no longer in commission, he frequently said that if he were rich enough to buy her old hulk, he would have an inscription let into the timbers of the quarter- deck where we stood as partners in the dance to mark the spot where he fell — raked fore and aft (Captain Swosser used to say) by the fire from my tops. It was his naval way of mentioning my eyes."
Mrs. Badger shook her head, sighed, and looked in the glass.
"It was a great change from Captain Swosser to Professor Dingo," she resumed with a plaintive smile. "I felt it a good deal at first. Such an entire revolution in my mode of life! But custom, combined with science — particularly science — inured me to it. Being the professor's sole companion in his botanical excursions, I almost forgot that I had ever been afloat, and became quite learned. It is singular that the professor was the antipodes of Captain Swosser and that Mr. Badger is not in the least like either!"
We then passed into a narrative of the deaths of Captain Swosser and Professor Dingo, both of whom seem to have had very bad complaints. In the course of it, Mrs. Badger signified to us that she had never madly loved but once and that the object of that wild affection, never to be recalled in its fresh enthusiasm, was Captain Swosser. The professor was yet dying by inches in the most dismal manner, and Mrs. Badger was giving us imitations of his way of saying, with great difficulty, "Where is Laura? Let Laura give me my toast and water!" when the entrance of the gentlemen consigned him to the tomb.
Now, I observed that evening, as I had observed for some days past, that Ada and Richard were more than ever attached to each other's society, which was but natural, seeing that they were going to be separated so soon. I was therefore not very much surprised when we got home, and Ada and I retired upstairs, to find Ada more silent than usual, though I was not quite prepared for her coming into my arms and beginning to speak to me, with her face hidden.
"My darling Esther!" murmured Ada. "I have a great secret to tell you!"
A mighty secret, my pretty one, no doubt!
"What is it, Ada?"
"Oh, Esther, you would never guess!"
"Shall I try to guess?" said I.
"Oh, no! Don't! Pray don't!" cried Ada, very much startled by the idea of my doing so.
"Now, I wonder who it can be about?" said I, pretending to consider.
"It's about — " said Ada in a whisper. "It's about — my cousin Richard!"
"Well, my own!" said I, kissing her bright hair, which was all I could see. "And what about him?"
"Oh, Esther, you would never guess!"
It was so pretty to have her clinging to me in that way, hiding her face, and to know that she was not crying in sorrow but in a little glow of joy, and pride, and hope, that I would not help her just yet.
"He says — I know it's very foolish, we are both so young — but he says," with a burst of tears, "that he loves me dearly, Esther."
"Does he indeed?" said I. "I never heard of such a thing! Why, my pet of pets, I could have told you that weeks and weeks ago!"
To see Ada lift up her flushed face in joyful surprise, and hold me round the neck, and laugh, and cry, and blush, was so pleasant!
"Why, my darling," said I, "what a goose you must take me for! Your cousin Richard has been loving you as plainly as he could for I don't know how long!"
"And yet you never said a word about it!" cried Ada, kissing me.
"No, my love," said I. "I waited to be told."
"But now I have told you, you don't think it wrong of me, do you?" returned Ada. She might have coaxed me to say no if I had been the hardest-hearted duenna in the world. Not being that yet, I said no very freely.
"And now," said I, "I know the worst of it."
"Oh, that's not quite the worst of it, Esther dear!" cried Ada, holding me tighter and laying down her face again upon my breast.
"No?" said I. "Not even that?"