"Ah! Little Miss Flite!" he said. "She lives the same life yet?"
"Just the same."
I was so comfortable with myself now as not to mind the veil and to be able to put it aside.
"Her gratitude to you, Mr. Woodcourt, is delightful. She is a most affectionate creature, as I have reason to say."
"You — you have found her so?" he returned. "I — I am glad of that." He was so very sorry for me that he could scarcely speak.
"I assure you," said I, "that I was deeply touched by her sympathy and pleasure at the time I have referred to."
"I was grieved to hear that you had been very ill."
"I was very ill."
"But you have quite recovered?"
"I have quite recovered my health and my cheerfulness," said I. "You know how good my guardian is and what a happy life we lead, and I have everything to be thankful for and nothing in the world to desire."
I felt as if he had greater commiseration for me than I had ever had for myself. It inspired me with new fortitude and new calmness to find that it was I who was under the necessity of reassuring him. I spoke to him of his voyage out and home, and of his future plans, and of his probable return to India. He said that was very doubtful. He had not found himself more favoured by fortune there than here. He had gone out a poor ship's surgeon and had come home nothing better. While we were talking, and when I was glad to believe that I had alleviated (if I may use such a term) the shock he had had in seeing me, Richard came in. He had heard downstairs who was with me, and they met with cordial pleasure.
I saw that after their first greetings were over, and when they spoke of Richard's career, Mr. Woodcourt had a perception that all was not going well with him. He frequently glanced at his face as if there were something in it that gave him pain, and more than once he looked towards me as though he sought to ascertain whether I knew what the truth was. Yet Richard was in one of his sanguine states and in good spirits and was thoroughly pleased to see Mr. Woodcourt again, whom he had always liked.
Richard proposed that we all should go to London together; but Mr. Woodcourt, having to remain by his ship a little longer, could not join us. He dined with us, however, at an early hour, and became so much more like what he used to be that I was still more at peace to think I had been able to soften his regrets. Yet his mind was not relieved of Richard. When the coach was almost ready and Richard ran down to look after his luggage, he spoke to me about him.
I was not sure that I had a right to lay his whole story open, but I referred in a few words to his estrangement from Mr Jarndyce and to his being entangled in the ill-fated Chancery suit. Mr. Woodcourt listened with interest and expressed his regret.
"I saw you observe him rather closely," said I, "Do you think him so changed?"
"He is changed," he returned, shaking his head.
I felt the blood rush into my face for the first time, but it was only an instantaneous emotion. I turned my head aside, and it was gone.
"It is not," said Mr. Woodcourt, "his being so much younger or older, or thinner or fatter, or paler or ruddier, as there being upon his face such a singular expression. I never saw so remarkable a look in a young person. One cannot say that it is all anxiety or all weariness; yet it is both, and like ungrown despair."
"You do not think he is ill?" said I.
No. He looked robust in body.
"That he cannot be at peace in mind, we have too much reason to know," I proceeded. "Mr. Woodcourt, you are going to London?"
"To-morrow or the next day."
"There is nothing Richard wants so much as a friend. He always liked you. Pray see him when you get there. Pray help him sometimes with your companionship if you can. You do not know of what service it might be. You cannot think how Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce, and even I — how we should all thank you, Mr. Woodcourt!"
"Miss Summerson," he said, more moved than he had been from the first, "before heaven, I will be a true friend to him! I will accept him as a trust, and it shall be a sacred one!"
"God bless you!" said I, with my eyes filling fast; but I thought they might, when it was not for myself. "Ada loves him — we all love him, but Ada loves him as we cannot. I will tell her what you say. Thank you, and God bless you, in her name!"
Richard came back as we finished exchanging these hurried words and gave me his arm to take me to the coach.
"Woodcourt," he said, unconscious with what application, "pray let us meet in London!"
"Meet?" returned the other. "I have scarcely a friend there now but you. Where shall I find you?"
"Why, I must get a lodging of some sort," said Richard, pondering. "Say at Vholes's, Symond's Inn."
"Good! Without loss of time."
They shook hands heartily. When I was seated in the coach and Richard was yet standing in the street, Mr. Woodcourt laid his friendly hand on Richard's shoulder and looked at me. I understood him and waved mine in thanks.
And in his last look as we drove away, I saw that he was very sorry for me. I was glad to see it. I felt for my old self as the dead may feel if they ever revisit these scenes. I was glad to be tenderly remembered, to be gently pitied, not to be quite forgotten.