"No, not even that!" said Ada, shaking her head.
"Why, you never mean to say — " I was beginning in joke.
But Ada, looking up and smiling through her tear's, cried, "Yes, I do! You know, you know I do!" And then sobbed out, "With all my heart I do! With all my whole heart, Esther!"
I told her, laughing, why I had known that, too, just as well as I had known the other! And we sat before the fire, and I had all the talking to myself for a little while (though there was not much of it); and Ada was soon quiet and happy.
"Do you think my cousin John knows, dear Dame Durden?" she asked.
"Unless my cousin John is blind, my pet," said I, "I should think my cousin John knows pretty well as much as we know."
"We want to speak to him before Richard goes," said Ada timidly, "and we wanted you to advise us, and to tell him so. Perhaps you wouldn't mind Richard's coming in, Dame Durden?"
"Oh! Richard is outside, is he, my dear?" said I.
"I am not quite certain," returned Ada with a bashful simplicity that would have won my heart if she had not won it long before, "but I think he's waiting at the door."
There he was, of course. They brought a chair on either side of me, and put me between them, and really seemed to have fallen in love with me instead of one another, they were so confiding, and so trustful, and so fond of me. They went on in their own wild way for a little while — I never stopped them; I enjoyed it too much myself — and then we gradually fell to considering how young they were, and how there must be a lapse of several years before this early love could come to anything, and how it could come to happiness only if it were real and lasting and inspired them with a steady resolution to do their duty to each other, with constancy, fortitude, and perseverance, each always for the other's sake. Well! Richard said that he would work his fingers to the bone for Ada, and Ada said that she would work her fingers to the bone for Richard, and they called me all sorts of endearing and sensible names, and we sat there, advising and talking, half the night. Finally, before we parted, I gave them my promise to speak to their cousin John to- morrow.
So, when to-morrow came, I went to my guardian after breakfast, in the room that was our town-substitute for the growlery, and told him that I had it in trust to tell him something.
"Well, little woman," said he, shutting up his book, "if you have accepted the trust, there can be no harm in it."
"I hope not, guardian," said I. "I can guarantee that there is no secrecy in it. For it only happened yesterday."
"Aye? And what is it, Esther?"
"Guardian," said I, "you remember the happy night when first we came down to Bleak House? When Ada was singing in the dark room?"
I wished to call to his remembrance the look he had given me then. Unless I am much mistaken, I saw that I did so.
"Because — " said I with a little hesitation.
"Yes, my dear!" said he. "Don't hurry."
"Because," said I, "Ada and Richard have fallen in love. And have told each other so."
"Already!" cried my guardian, quite astonished.
"Yes!" said I. "And to tell you the truth, guardian, I rather expected it."
"The deuce you did!" said he.
He sat considering for a minute or two, with his smile, at once so handsome and so kind, upon his changing face, and then requested me to let them know that he wished to see them. When they came, he encircled Ada with one arm in his fatherly way and addressed himself to Richard with a cheerful gravity.
"Rick," said Mr. Jarndyce, "I am glad to have won your confidence. I hope to preserve it. When I contemplated these relations between us four which have so brightened my life and so invested it with new interests and pleasures, I certainly did contemplate, afar off, the possibility of you and your pretty cousin here (don't be shy, Ada, don't be shy, my dear!) being in a mind to go through life together. I saw, and do see, many reasons to make it desirable. But that was afar off, Rick, afar off!"
"We look afar off, sir," returned Richard.
"Well!" said Mr. Jarndyce. "That's rational. Now, hear me, my dears! I might tell you that you don't know your own minds yet, that a thousand things may happen to divert you from one another, that it is well this chain of flowers you have taken up is very easily broken, or it might become a chain of lead. But I will not do that. Such wisdom will come soon enough, I dare say, if it is to come at all. I will assume that a few years hence you will be in your hearts to one another what you are to-day. All I say before speaking to you according to that assumption is, if you DO change — if you DO come to find that you are more commonplace cousins to each other as man and woman than you were as boy and girl (your manhood will excuse me, Rick!) — don't be ashamed still to confide in me, for there will be nothing monstrous or uncommon in it. I am only your friend and distant kinsman. I have no power over you whatever. But I wish and hope to retain your confidence if I do nothing to forfeit it."
"I am very sure, sir," returned Richard, "that I speak for Ada too when I say that you have the strongest power over us both — rooted in respect, gratitude, and affection — strengthening every day."
"Dear cousin John," said Ada, on his shoulder, "my father's place can never be empty again. All the love and duty I could ever have rendered to him is transferred to you."
"Come!" said Mr. Jarndyce. "Now for our assumption. Now we lift our eyes up and look hopefully at the distance! Rick, the world is before you; and it is most probable that as you enter it, so it will receive you. Trust in nothing but in Providence and your own efforts. Never separate the two, like the heathen waggoner. Constancy in love is a good thing, but it means nothing, and is nothing, without constancy in every kind of effort. If you had the abilities of all the great men, past and present, you could do nothing well without sincerely meaning it and setting about it. If you entertain the supposition that any real success, in great things or in small, ever was or could be, ever will or can be, wrested from Fortune by fits and starts, leave that wrong idea here or leave your cousin Ada here."
"I will leave IT here, sir," replied Richard smiling, "if I brought it here just now (but I hope I did not), and will work my way on to my cousin Ada in the hopeful distance."
"Right!" said Mr. Jarndyce. "If you are not to make her happy, why should you pursue her?"
"I wouldn't make her unhappy — no, not even for her love," retorted Richard proudly.
"Well said!" cried Mr. Jarndyce. "That's well said! She remains here, in her home with me. Love her, Rick, in your active life, no less than in her home when you revisit it, and all will go well. Otherwise, all will go ill. That's the end of my preaching. I think you and Ada had better take a walk."
Ada tenderly embraced him, and Richard heartily shook hands with him, and then the cousins went out of the room, looking back again directly, though, to say that they would wait for me.