"Indeed?" said Mr. Vholes. "I have the privilege of supporting an aged father in the Vale of Taunton — his native place — and I admire that country very much. I had no idea there was anything so attractive here."
To keep up the conversation, I asked Mr. Vholes if he would like to live altogether in the country.
"There, miss," said he, "you touch me on a tender string. My health is not good (my digestion being much impaired), and if I had only myself to consider, I should take refuge in rural habits, especially as the cares of business have prevented me from ever coming much into contact with general society, and particularly with ladies' society, which I have most wished to mix in. But with my three daughters, Emma, Jane, and Caroline — and my aged father — I cannot afford to be selfish. It is true I have no longer to maintain a dear grandmother who died in her hundred and second year, but enough remains to render it indispensable that the mill should be always going."
It required some attention to hear him on account of his inward speaking and his lifeless manner.
"You will excuse my having mentioned my daughters," he said. "They are my weak point. I wish to leave the poor girls some little independence, as well as a good name."
We now arrived at Mr. Boythorn's house, where the tea-table, all prepared, was awaiting us. Richard came in restless and hurried shortly afterwards, and leaning over Mr. Vholes's chair, whispered something in his ear. Mr. Vholes replied aloud — or as nearly aloud I suppose as he had ever replied to anything — "You will drive me, will you, sir? It is all the same to me, sir. Anything you please. I am quite at your service."
We understood from what followed that Mr. Skimpole was to be left until the morning to occupy the two places which had been already paid for. As Ada and I were both in low spirits concerning Richard and very sorry so to part with him, we made it as plain as we politely could that we should leave Mr. Skimpole to the Dedlock Arms and retire when the night-travellers were gone.
Richard's high spirits carrying everything before them, we all went out together to the top of the hill above the village, where he had ordered a gig to wait and where we found a man with a lantern standing at the head of the gaunt pale horse that had been harnessed to it.
I never shall forget those two seated side by side in the lantern's light, Richard all flush and fire and laughter, with the reins in his hand; Mr. Vholes quite still, black-gloved, and buttoned up, looking at him as if he were looking at his prey and charming it. I have before me the whole picture of the warm dark night, the summer lightning, the dusty track of road closed in by hedgerows and high trees, the gaunt pale horse with his ears pricked up, and the driving away at speed to Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
My dear girl told me that night how Richard's being thereafter prosperous or ruined, befriended or deserted, could only make this difference to her, that the more he needed love from one unchanging heart, the more love that unchanging heart would have to give him; how he thought of her through his present errors, and she would think of him at all times — never of herself if she could devote herself to him, never of her own delights if she could minister to his.
And she kept her word?
I look along the road before me, where the distance already shortens and the journey's end is growing visible; and true and good above the dead sea of the Chancery suit and all the ashy fruit it cast ashore, I think I see my darling.