Mr. Grubble was standing in his shirt-sleeves at the door of his very clean little tavern waiting for me. He lifted off his hat with both hands when he saw me coming, and carrying it so, as if it were an iron vessel (it looked as heavy), preceded me along the sanded passage to his best parlour, a neat carpeted room with more plants in it than were quite convenient, a coloured print of Queen Caroline, several shells, a good many tea-trays, two stuffed and dried fish in glass cases, and either a curious egg or a curious pumpkin (but I don't know which, and I doubt if many people did) hanging from his ceiling. I knew Mr. Grubble very well by sight, from his often standing at his door. A pleasant-looking, stoutish, middle-aged man who never seemed to consider himself cozily dressed for his own fire-side without his hat and top-boots, but who never wore a coat except at church.
He snuffed the candle, and backing away a little to see how it looked, backed out of the room — unexpectedly to me, for I was going to ask him by whom he had been sent. The door of the opposite parlour being then opened, I heard some voices, familiar in my ears I thought, which stopped. A quick light step approached the room in which I was, and who should stand before me but Richard!
"My dear Esther!" he said. "My best friend!" And he really was so warm-hearted and earnest that in the first surprise and pleasure of his brotherly greeting I could scarcely find breath to tell him that Ada was well.
"Answering my very thoughts — always the same dear girl!" said Richard, leading me to a chair and seating himself beside me.
I put my veil up, but not quite.
"Always the same dear girl!" said Richard just as heartily as before.
I put up my veil altogether, and laying my hand on Richard's sleeve and looking in his face, told him how much I thanked him for his kind welcome and how greatly I rejoiced to see him, the more so because of the determination I had made in my illness, which I now conveyed to him.
"My love," said Richard, "there is no one with whom I have a greater wish to talk than you, for I want you to understand me."
"And I want you, Richard," said I, shaking my head, "to understand some one else."
"Since you refer so immediately to John Jarndyce," said Richard, " — I suppose you mean him?"
"Of course I do."
"Then I may say at once that I am glad of it, because it is on that subject that I am anxious to be understood. By you, mind — you, my dear! I am not accountable to Mr. Jarndyce or Mr. Anybody."
I was pained to find him taking this tone, and he observed it.
"Well, well, my dear," said Richard, "we won't go into that now. I want to appear quietly in your country-house here, with you under my arm, and give my charming cousin a surprise. I suppose your loyalty to John Jarndyce will allow that?"
"My dear Richard," I returned, "you know you would be heartily welcome at his house — your home, if you will but consider it so; and you are as heartily welcome here!"
"Spoken like the best of little women!" cried Richard gaily.
I asked him how he liked his profession.
"Oh, I like it well enough!" said Richard. "It's all right. It does as well as anything else, for a time. I don't know that I shall care about it when I come to be settled, but I can sell out then and — however, never mind all that botheration at present."
So young and handsome, and in all respects so perfectly the opposite of Miss Flite! And yet, in the clouded, eager, seeking look that passed over him, so dreadfully like her!
"I am in town on leave just now," said Richard.
"Yes. I have run over to look after my — my Chancery interests before the long vacation," said Richard, forcing a careless laugh. "We are beginning to spin along with that old suit at last, I promise you."
No wonder that I shook my head!
"As you say, it's not a pleasant subject." Richard spoke with the same shade crossing his face as before. "Let it go to the four winds for to-night. Puff! Gone! Who do you suppose is with me?"
"Was it Mr. Skimpole's voice I heard?"
"That's the man! He does me more good than anybody. What a fascinating child it is!"
I asked Richard if any one knew of their coming down together. He answered, no, nobody. He had been to call upon the dear old infant — so he called Mr. Skimpole — and the dear old infant had told him where we were, and he had told the dear old infant he was bent on coming to see us, and the dear old infant had directly wanted to come too; and so he had brought him. "And he is worth — not to say his sordid expenses — but thrice his weight in gold," said Richard. "He is such a cheery fellow. No worldliness about him. Fresh and green-hearted!"
I certainly did not see the proof of Mr. Skimpole's worldliness in his having his expenses paid by Richard, but I made no remark about that. Indeed, he came in and turned our conversation. He was charmed to see me, said he had been shedding delicious tears of joy and sympathy at intervals for six weeks on my account, had never been so happy as in hearing of my progress, began to understand the mixture of good and evil in the world now, felt that he appreciated health the more when somebody else was ill, didn't know but what it might be in the scheme of things that A should squint to make B happier in looking straight or that C should carry a wooden leg to make D better satisfied with his flesh and blood in a silk stocking.
"My dear Miss Summerson, here is our friend Richard," said Mr. Skimpole, "full of the brightest visions of the future, which he evokes out of the darkness of Chancery. Now that's delightful, that's inspiriting, that's full of poetry! In old times the woods and solitudes were made joyous to the shepherd by the imaginary piping and dancing of Pan and the nymphs. This present shepherd, our pastoral Richard, brightens the dull Inns of Court by making Fortune and her train sport through them to the melodious notes of a judgment from the bench. That's very pleasant, you know! Some ill-conditioned growling fellow may say to me, 'What's the use of these legal and equitable abuses? How do you defend them?' I reply, 'My growling friend, I DON'T defend them, but they are very agreeable to me. There is a shepherd — youth, a friend of mine, who transmutes them into something highly fascinating to my simplicity. I don't say it is for this that they exist — for I am a child among you worldly grumblers, and not called upon to account to you or myself for anything — but it may be so.'"
I began seriously to think that Richard could scarcely have found a worse friend than this. It made me uneasy that at such a time when he most required some right principle and purpose he should have this captivating looseness and putting-off of everything, this airy dispensing with all principle and purpose, at his elbow. I thought I could understand how such a nature as my guardian's, experienced in the world and forced to contemplate the miserable evasions and contentions of the family misfortune, found an immense relief in Mr. Skimpole's avowal of his weaknesses and display of guileless candour; but I could not satisfy myself that it was as artless as it seemed or that it did not serve Mr. Skimpole's idle turn quite as well as any other part, and with less trouble.
They both walked back with me, and Mr. Skimpole leaving us at the gate, I walked softly in with Richard and said, "Ada, my love, I have brought a gentleman to visit you." It was not difficult to read the blushing, startled face. She loved him dearly, and he knew it, and I knew it. It was a very transparent business, that meeting as cousins only.
I almost mistrusted myself as growing quite wicked in my suspicions, but I was not so sure that Richard loved her dearly. He admired her very much — any one must have done that — and I dare say would have renewed their youthful engagement with great pride and ardour but that he knew how she would respect her promise to my guardian. Still I had a tormenting idea that the influence upon him extended even here, that he was postponing his best truth and earnestness in this as in all things until Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be off his mind. Ah me! What Richard would have been without that blight, I never shall know now!
He told Ada, in his most ingenuous way, that he had not come to make any secret inroad on the terms she had accepted (rather too implicitly and confidingly, he thought) from Mr. Jarndyce, that he had come openly to see her and to see me and to justify himself for the present terms on which he stood with Mr. Jarndyce. As the dear old infant would be with us directly, he begged that I would make an appointment for the morning, when he might set himself right through the means of an unreserved conversation with me. I proposed to walk with him in the park at seven o'clock, and this was arranged. Mr. Skimpole soon afterwards appeared and made us merry for an hour. He particularly requested to see little Coavinses (meaning Charley) and told her, with a patriarchal air, that he had given her late father all the business in his power and that if one of her little brothers would make haste to get set up in the same profession, he hoped he should still be able to put a good deal of employment in his way.
"For I am constantly being taken in these nets," said Mr. Skimpole, looking beamingly at us over a glass of wine-and-water, "and am constantly being bailed out — like a boat. Or paid off — like a ship's company. Somebody always does it for me. I can't do it, you know, for I never have any money. But somebody does it. I get out by somebody's means; I am not like the starling; I get out. If you were to ask me who somebody is, upon my word I couldn't tell you. Let us drink to somebody. God bless him!"
Richard was a little late in the morning, but I had not to wait for him long, and we turned into the park. The air was bright and dewy and the sky without a cloud. The birds sang delightfully; the sparkles in the fern, the grass, and trees, were exquisite to see; the richness of the woods seemed to have increased twenty-fold since yesterday, as if, in the still night when they had looked so massively hushed in sleep, Nature, through all the minute details of every wonderful leaf, had been more wakeful than usual for the glory of that day.
"This is a lovely place," said Richard, looking round. "None of the jar and discord of law-suits here!"
But there was other trouble.
"I tell you what, my dear girl," said Richard, "when I get affairs in general settled, I shall come down here, I think, and rest."
"Would it not be better to rest now?" I asked.
"Oh, as to resting NOW," said Richard, "or as to doing anything very definite NOW, that's not easy. In short, it can't be done; I can't do it at least."
"Why not?" said I.
"You know why not, Esther. If you were living in an unfinished house, liable to have the roof put on or taken off — to be from top to bottom pulled down or built up — to-morrow, next day, next week, next month, next year — you would find it hard to rest or settle. So do I. Now? There's no now for us suitors."
I could almost have believed in the attraction on which my poor little wandering friend had expatiated when I saw again the darkened look of last night. Terrible to think it had in it also a shade of that unfortunate man who had died.
"My dear Richard," said I, "this is a bad beginning of our conversation."