"Most extraordinary!" said Miss Flite, smiling brightly. "You never heard of such a thing, my dear! Every Saturday, Conversation Kenge or Guppy (clerk to Conversation K.) places in my hand a paper of shillings. Shillings. I assure you! Always the same number in the paper. Always one for every day in the week. Now you know, really! So well-timed, is it not? Ye-es! From whence do these papers come, you say? That is the great question. Naturally. Shall I tell you what I think? I think," said Miss Flite, drawing herself back with a very shrewd look and shaking her right forefinger in a most significant manner, "that the Lord Chancellor, aware of the length of time during which the Great Seal has been open (for it has been open a long time!), forwards them. Until the judgment I expect is given. Now that's very creditable, you know. To confess in that way that he IS a little slow for human life. So delicate! Attending court the other day — I attend it regularly, with my documents — I taxed him with it, and he almost confessed. That is, I smiled at him from my bench, and HE smiled at me from his bench. But it's great good fortune, is it not? And Fitz- Jarndyce lays the money out for me to great advantage. Oh, I assure you to the greatest advantage!"
I congratulated her (as she addressed herself to me) upon this fortunate addition to her income and wished her a long continuance of it. I did not speculate upon the source from which it came or wonder whose humanity was so considerate. My guardian stood before me, contemplating the birds, and I had no need to look beyond him.
"And what do you call these little fellows, ma'am?" said he in his pleasant voice. "Have they any names?"
"I can answer for Miss Flite that they have," said I, "for she promised to tell us what they were. Ada remembers?"
Ada remembered very well.
"Did I?" said Miss Flite. "Who's that at my door? What are you listening at my door for, Krook?"
The old man of the house, pushing it open before him, appeared there with his fur cap in his hand and his cat at his heels.
"I warn't listening, Miss Flite," he said, "I was going to give a rap with my knuckles, only you're so quick!"
"Make your cat go down. Drive her away!" the old lady angrily exclaimed.
"Bah, bah! There ain't no danger, gentlefolks," said Mr. Krook, looking slowly and sharply from one to another until he had looked at all of us; "she'd never offer at the birds when I was here unless I told her to it."
"You will excuse my landlord," said the old lady with a dignified air. "M, quite M! What do you want, Krook, when I have company?"
"Hi!" said the old man. "You know I am the Chancellor."
"Well?" returned Miss Elite. "What of that?"
"For the Chancellor," said the old man with a chuckle, "not to be acquainted with a Jarndyce is queer, ain't it, Miss Flite? Mightn't I take the liberty? Your servant, sir. I know Jarndyce and Jarndyce a'most as well as you do, sir. I knowed old Squire Tom, sir. I never to my knowledge see you afore though, not even in court. Yet, I go there a mortal sight of times in the course of the year, taking one day with another."
"I never go there," said Mr. Jarndyce (which he never did on any consideration). "I would sooner go — somewhere else."
"Would you though?" returned Krook, grinning. "You're bearing hard upon my noble and learned brother in your meaning, sir, though perhaps it is but nat'ral in a Jarndyce. The burnt child, sir! What, you're looking at my lodger's birds, Mr. Jarndyce?" The old man had come by little and little into the room until he now touched my guardian with his elbow and looked close up into his face with his spectacled eyes. "It's one of her strange ways that she'll never tell the names of these birds if she can help it, though she named 'em all." This was in a whisper. "Shall I run 'em over, Flite?" he asked aloud, winking at us and pointing at her as she turned away, affecting to sweep the grate.
"If you like," she answered hurriedly.
The old man, looking up at the cages after another look at us, went through the list.
"Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach. That's the whole collection," said the old man, "all cooped up together, by my noble and learned brother."
"This is a bitter wind!" muttered my guardian.
"When my noble and learned brother gives his judgment, they're to be let go free," said Krook, winking at us again. "And then," he added, whispering and grinning, "if that ever was to happen — which it won't — the birds that have never been caged would kill 'em."
"If ever the wind was in the east," said my guardian, pretending to look out of the window for a weathercock, "I think it's there to- day!"
We found it very difficult to get away from the house. It was not Miss Flite who detained us; she was as reasonable a little creature in consulting the convenience of others as there possibly could be. It was Mr. Krook. He seemed unable to detach himself from Mr. Jarndyce. If he had been linked to him, he could hardly have attended him more closely. He proposed to show us his Court of Chancery and all the strange medley it contained; during the whole of our inspection (prolonged by himself) he kept close to Mr. Jarndyce and sometimes detained him under one pretence or other until we had passed on, as if he were tormented by an inclination to enter upon some secret subject which he could not make up his mind to approach. I cannot imagine a countenance and manner more singularly expressive of caution and indecision, and a perpetual impulse to do something he could not resolve to venture on, than Mr. Krook's was that day. His watchfulness of my guardian was incessant. He rarely removed his eyes from his face. If he went on beside him, he observed him with the slyness of an old white fox. If he went before, he looked back. When we stood still, he got opposite to him, and drawing his hand across and across his open mouth with a curious expression of a sense of power, and turning up his eyes, and lowering his grey eyebrows until they appeared to be shut, seemed to scan every lineament of his face.
At last, having been (always attended by the cat) all over the house and having seen the whole stock of miscellaneous lumber, which was certainly curious, we came into the back part of the shop. Here on the head of an empty barrel stood on end were an ink-bottle, some old stumps of pens, and some dirty playbills; and against the wall were pasted several large printed alphabets in several plain hands.
"What are you doing here?" asked my guardian.
"Trying to learn myself to read and write," said Krook.
"And how do you get on?"
"Slow. Bad," returned the old man impatiently. "It's hard at my time of life."
"It would be easier to be taught by some one," said my guardian.
"Aye, but they might teach me wrong!" returned the old man with a wonderfully suspicious flash of his eye. "I don't know what I may have lost by not being learned afore. I wouldn't like to lose anything by being learned wrong now."
"Wrong?" said my guardian with his good-humoured smile. "Who do you suppose would teach you wrong?"
"I don't know, Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House!" replied the old man, turning up his spectacles on his forehead and rubbing his hands. "I don't suppose as anybody would, but I'd rather trust my own self than another!"
These answers and his manner were strange enough to cause my guardian to inquire of Mr. Woodcourt, as we all walked across Lincoln's Inn together, whether Mr. Krook were really, as his lodger represented him, deranged. The young surgeon replied, no, he had seen no reason to think so. He was exceedingly distrustful, as ignorance usually was, and he was always more or less under the influence of raw gin, of which he drank great quantities and of which he and his back-shop, as we might have observed, smelt strongly; but he did not think him mad as yet.
On our way home, I so conciliated Peepy's affections by buying him a windmill and two flour-sacks that he would suffer nobody else to take off his hat and gloves and would sit nowhere at dinner but at my side. Caddy sat upon the other side of me, next to Ada, to whom we imparted the whole history of the engagement as soon as we got back. We made much of Caddy, and Peepy too; and Caddy brightened exceedingly; and my guardian was as merry as we were; and we were all very happy indeed until Caddy went home at night in a hackney- coach, with Peepy fast asleep, but holding tight to the windmill.
I have forgotten to mention — at least I have not mentioned — that Mr. Woodcourt was the same dark young surgeon whom we had met at Mr. Badger's. Or that Mr. Jarndyce invited him to dinner that day. Or that he came. Or that when they were all gone and I said to Ada, "Now, my darling, let us have a little talk about Richard!" Ada laughed and said —
But I don't think it matters what my darling said. She was always merry.