Richard had been gone away some time when a visitor came to pass a few days with us. It was an elderly lady. It was Mrs. Woodcourt, who, having come from Wales to stay with Mrs. Bayham Badger and having written to my guardian, "by her son Allan's desire," to report that she had heard from him and that he was well "and sent his kind remembrances to all of us," had been invited by my guardian to make a visit to Bleak House. She stayed with us nearly three weeks. She took very kindly to me and was extremely confidential, so much so that sometimes she almost made me uncomfortable. I had no right, I knew very well, to be uncomfortable because she confided in me, and I felt it was unreasonable; still, with all I could do, I could not quite help it.
She was such a sharp little lady and used to sit with her hands folded in each other looking so very watchful while she talked to me that perhaps I found that rather irksome. Or perhaps it was her being so upright and trim, though I don't think it was that, because I thought that quaintly pleasant. Nor can it have been the general expression of her face, which was very sparkling and pretty for an old lady. I don't know what it was. Or at least if I do now, I thought I did not then. Or at least — but it don't matter.
Of a night when I was going upstairs to bed, she would invite me into her room, where she sat before the fire in a great chair; and, dear me, she would tell me about Morgan ap-Kerrig until I was quite low- spirited! Sometimes she recited a few verses from Crumlinwallinwer and the Mewlinnwillinwodd (if those are the right names, which I dare say they are not), and would become quite fiery with the sentiments they expressed. Though I never knew what they were (being in Welsh), further than that they were highly eulogistic of the lineage of Morgan ap-Kerrig.
"So, Miss Summerson," she would say to me with stately triumph, "this, you see, is the fortune inherited by my son. Wherever my son goes, he can claim kindred with Ap-Kerrig. He may not have money, but he always has what is much better — family, my dear."
I had my doubts of their caring so very much for Morgan ap-Kerrig in India and China, but of course I never expressed them. I used to say it was a great thing to be so highly connected.
"It IS, my dear, a great thing," Mrs. Woodcourt would reply. "It has its disadvantages; my son's choice of a wife, for instance, is limited by it, but the matrimonial choice of the royal family is limited in much the same manner."
Then she would pat me on the arm and smooth my dress, as much as to assure me that she had a good opinion of me, the distance between us notwithstanding.
"Poor Mr. Woodcourt, my dear," she would say, and always with some emotion, for with her lofty pedigree she had a very affectionate heart, "was descended from a great Highland family, the MacCoorts of MacCoort. He served his king and country as an officer in the Royal Highlanders, and he died on the field. My son is one of the last representatives of two old families. With the blessing of heaven he will set them up again and unite them with another old family."
It was in vain for me to try to change the subject, as I used to try, only for the sake of novelty or perhaps because — but I need not be so particular. Mrs. Woodcourt never would let me change it.
"My dear," she said one night, "you have so much sense and you look at the world in a quiet manner so superior to your time of life that it is a comfort to me to talk to you about these family matters of mine. You don't know much of my son, my dear; but you know enough of him, I dare say, to recollect him?"
"Yes, ma'am. I recollect him."
"Yes, my dear. Now, my dear, I think you are a judge of character, and I should like to have your opinion of him."
"Oh, Mrs. Woodcourt," said I, "that is so difficult!"
"Why is it so difficult, my dear?" she returned. "I don't see it myself."
"To give an opinion — "
"On so slight an acquaintance, my dear. THAT'S true."
I didn't mean that, because Mr. Woodcourt had been at our house a good deal altogether and had become quite intimate with my guardian. I said so, and added that he seemed to be very clever in his profession — we thought — and that his kindness and gentleness to Miss Flite were above all praise.
"You do him justice!" said Mrs. Woodcourt, pressing my hand. "You define him exactly. Allan is a dear fellow, and in his profession faultless. I say it, though I am his mother. Still, I must confess he is not without faults, love."
"None of us are," said I.
"Ah! But his really are faults that he might correct, and ought to correct," returned the sharp old lady, sharply shaking her head. "I am so much attached to you that I may confide in you, my dear, as a third party wholly disinterested, that he is fickleness itself."
I said I should have thought it hardly possible that he could have been otherwise than constant to his profession and zealous in the pursuit of it, judging from the reputation he had earned.
"You are right again, my dear," the old lady retorted, "but I don't refer to his profession, look you."
"Oh!" said I.
"No," said she. "I refer, my dear, to his social conduct. He is always paying trivial attentions to young ladies, and always has been, ever since he was eighteen. Now, my dear, he has never really cared for any one of them and has never meant in doing this to do any harm or to express anything but politeness and good nature. Still, it's not right, you know; is it?"
"No," said I, as she seemed to wait for me.
"And it might lead to mistaken notions, you see, my dear."
I supposed it might.
"Therefore, I have told him many times that he really should be more careful, both in justice to himself and in justice to others. And he has always said, 'Mother, I will be; but you know me better than anybody else does, and you know I mean no harm — in short, mean nothing.' All of which is very true, my dear, but is no justification. However, as he is now gone so far away and for an indefinite time, and as he will have good opportunities and introductions, we may consider this past and gone. And you, my dear," said the old lady, who was now all nods and smiles, "regarding your dear self, my love?"
"Me, Mrs. Woodcourt?"
"Not to be always selfish, talking of my son, who has gone to seek his fortune and to find a wife — when do you mean to seek YOUR fortune and to find a husband, Miss Summerson? Hey, look you! Now you blush!"
I don't think I did blush — at all events, it was not important if I did — and I said my present fortune perfectly contented me and I had no wish to change it.
"Shall I tell you what I always think of you and the fortune yet to come for you, my love?" said Mrs. Woodcourt.