I had heard my Ada crying at the door, day and night; I had heard her calling to me that I was cruel and did not love her; I had heard her praying and imploring to be let in to nurse and comfort me and to leave my bedside no more; but I had only said, when I could speak, "Never, my sweet girl, never!" and I had over and over again reminded Charley that she was to keep my darling from the room whether I lived or died. Charley had been true to me in that time of need, and with her little hand and her great heart had kept the door fast.
But now, my sight strengthening and the glorious light coming every day more fully and brightly on me, I could read the letters that my dear wrote to me every morning and evening and could put them to my lips and lay my cheek upon them with no fear of hurting her. I could see my little maid, so tender and so careful, going about the two rooms setting everything in order and speaking cheerfully to Ada from the open window again. I could understand the stillness in the house and the thoughtfulness it expressed on the part of all those who had always been so good to me. I could weep in the exquisite felicity of my heart and be as happy in my weakness as ever I had been in my strength.
By and by my strength began to be restored. Instead of lying, with so strange a calmness, watching what was done for me, as if it were done for some one else whom I was quietly sorry for, I helped it a little, and so on to a little more and much more, until I became useful to myself, and interested, and attached to life again.
How well I remember the pleasant afternoon when I was raised in bed with pillows for the first time to enjoy a great tea-drinking with Charley! The little creature — sent into the world, surely, to minister to the weak and sick — was so happy, and so busy, and stopped so often in her preparations to lay her head upon my bosom, and fondle me, and cry with joyful tears she was so glad, she was so glad, that I was obliged to say, "Charley, if you go on in this way, I must lie down again, my darling, for I am weaker than I thought I was!" So Charley became as quiet as a mouse and took her bright face here and there across and across the two rooms, out of the shade into the divine sunshine, and out of the sunshine into the shade, while I watched her peacefully. When all her preparations were concluded and the pretty tea-table with its little delicacies to tempt me, and its white cloth, and its flowers, and everything so lovingly and beautifully arranged for me by Ada downstairs, was ready at the bedside, I felt sure I was steady enough to say something to Charley that was not new to my thoughts.
First I complimented Charley on the room, and indeed it was so fresh and airy, so spotless and neat, that I could scarce believe I had been lying there so long. This delighted Charley, and her face was brighter than before.
"Yet, Charley," said I, looking round, "I miss something, surely, that I am accustomed to?"
Poor little Charley looked round too and pretended to shake her head as if there were nothing absent.
"Are the pictures all as they used to be?" I asked her.
"Every one of them, miss," said Charley.
"And the furniture, Charley?"
"Except where I have moved it about to make more room, miss."
"And yet," said I, "I miss some familiar object. Ah, I know what it is, Charley! It's the looking-glass."
Charley got up from the table, making as if she had forgotten something, and went into the next room; and I heard her sob there.
I had thought of this very often. I was now certain of it. I could thank God that it was not a shock to me now. I called Charley back, and when she came — at first pretending to smile, but as she drew nearer to me, looking grieved — I took her in my arms and said, "It matters very little, Charley. I hope I can do without my old face very well."
I was presently so far advanced as to be able to sit up in a great chair and even giddily to walk into the adjoining room, leaning on Charley. The mirror was gone from its usual place in that room too, but what I had to bear was none the harder to bear for that.
My guardian had throughout been earnest to visit me, and there was now no good reason why I should deny myself that happiness. He came one morning, and when he first came in, could only hold me in his embrace and say, "My dear, dear girl!" I had long known — who could know better? — what a deep fountain of affection and generosity his heart was; and was it not worth my trivial suffering and change to fill such a place in it? "Oh, yes!" I thought. "He has seen me, and he loves me better than he did; he has seen me and is even fonder of me than he was before; and what have I to mourn for!"
He sat down by me on the sofa, supporting me with his arm. For a little while he sat with his hand over his face, but when he removed it, fell into his usual manner. There never can have been, there never can be, a pleasanter manner.
"My little woman," said he, "what a sad time this has been. Such an inflexible little woman, too, through all!"
"Only for the best, guardian," said I.
"For the best?" he repeated tenderly. "Of course, for the best. But here have Ada and I been perfectly forlorn and miserable; here has your friend Caddy been coming and going late and early; here has every one about the house been utterly lost and dejected; here has even poor Rick been writing — to ME too — in his anxiety for you!"
I had read of Caddy in Ada's letters, but not of Richard. I told him so.
"Why, no, my dear," he replied. "I have thought it better not to mention it to her."
"And you speak of his writing to YOU," said I, repeating his emphasis. "As if it were not natural for him to do so, guardian; as if he could write to a better friend!"
"He thinks he could, my love," returned my guardian, "and to many a better. The truth is, he wrote to me under a sort of protest while unable to write to you with any hope of an answer — wrote coldly, haughtily, distantly, resentfully. Well, dearest little woman, we must look forbearingly on it. He is not to blame. Jarndyce and Jarndyce has warped him out of himself and perverted me in his eyes. I have known it do as bad deeds, and worse, many a time. If two angels could be concerned in it, I believe it would change their nature."
"It has not changed yours, guardian."
"Oh, yes, it has, my dear," he said laughingly. "It has made the south wind easterly, I don't know how often. Rick mistrusts and suspects me — goes to lawyers, and is taught to mistrust and suspect me. Hears I have conflicting interests, claims clashing against his and what not. Whereas, heaven knows that if I could get out of the mountains of wiglomeration on which my unfortunate name has been so long bestowed (which I can't) or could level them by the extinction of my own original right (which I can't either, and no human power ever can, anyhow, I believe, to such a pass have we got), I would do it this hour. I would rather restore to poor Rick his proper nature than be endowed with all the money that dead suitors, broken, heart and soul, upon the wheel of Chancery, have left unclaimed with the Accountant-General — and that's money enough, my dear, to be cast into a pyramid, in memory of Chancery's transcendent wickedness."
"IS it possible, guardian," I asked, amazed, "that Richard can be suspicious of you?"
"Ah, my love, my love," he said, "it is in the subtle poison of such abuses to breed such diseases. His blood is infected, and objects lose their natural aspects in his sight. It is not HIS fault."
"But it is a terrible misfortune, guardian."