"Nobly!" returned Mr. Jarndyce. "But you answer like Ada." Whom I had not heard. "You all think something else, I see."
"We rather thought," said I, glancing at Richard and Ada, who entreated me with their eyes to speak, "that perhaps she was a little unmindful of her home."
"Floored!" cried Mr. Jarndyce.
I was rather alarmed again.
"Well! I want to know your real thoughts, my dear. I may have sent you there on purpose."
"We thought that, perhaps," said I, hesitating, "it is right to begin with the obligations of home, sir; and that, perhaps, while those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be substituted for them."
"The little Jellybys," said Richard, coming to my relief, "are really — I can't help expressing myself strongly, sir — in a devil of a state."
"She means well," said Mr. Jarndyce hastily. "The wind's in the east."
"It was in the north, sir, as we came down," observed Richard.
"My dear Rick," said Mr. Jarndyce, poking the fire, "I'll take an oath it's either in the east or going to be. I am always conscious of an uncomfortable sensation now and then when the wind is blowing in the east."
"Rheumatism, sir?" said Richard.
"I dare say it is, Rick. I believe it is. And so the little Jell — I had my doubts about 'em — are in a — oh, Lord, yes, it's easterly!" said Mr. Jarndyce.
He had taken two or three undecided turns up and down while uttering these broken sentences, retaining the poker in one hand and rubbing his hair with the other, with a good-natured vexation at once so whimsical and so lovable that I am sure we were more delighted with him than we could possibly have expressed in any words. He gave an arm to Ada and an arm to me, and bidding Richard bring a candle, was leading the way out when he suddenly turned us all back again.
"Those little Jellybys. Couldn't you — didn't you — now, if it had rained sugar-plums, or three-cornered raspberry tarts, or anything of that sort!" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Oh, cousin — " Ada hastily began.
"Good, my pretty pet. I like cousin. Cousin John, perhaps, is better."
"Then, cousin John — " Ada laughingly began again.
"Ha, ha! Very good indeed!" said Mr. Jarndyce with great enjoyment. "Sounds uncommonly natural. Yes, my dear?"
"It did better than that. It rained Esther."
"Aye?" said Mr. Jarndyce. "What did Esther do?"
"Why, cousin John," said Ada, clasping her hands upon his arm and shaking her head at me across him — for I wanted her to be quiet — "Esther was their friend directly. Esther nursed them, coaxed them to sleep, washed and dressed them, told them stories, kept them quiet, bought them keepsakes" — My dear girl! I had only gone out with Peepy after he was found and given him a little, tiny horse! — "and, cousin John, she softened poor Caroline, the eldest one, so much and was so thoughtful for me and so amiable! No, no, I won't be contradicted, Esther dear! You know, you know, it's true!"
The warm-hearted darling leaned across her cousin John and kissed me, and then looking up in his face, boldly said, "At all events, cousin John, I WILL thank you for the companion you have given me." I felt as if she challenged him to run away. But he didn't.
"Where did you say the wind was, Rick?" asked Mr. Jarndyce.
"In the north as we came down, sir."
"You are right. There's no east in it. A mistake of mine. Come, girls, come and see your home!"
It was one of those delightfully irregular houses where you go up and down steps out of one room into another, and where you come upon more rooms when you think you have seen all there are, and where there is a bountiful provision of little halls and passages, and where you find still older cottage-rooms in unexpected places with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them. Mine, which we entered first, was of this kind, with an up-and-down roof that had more corners in it than I ever counted afterwards and a chimney (there was a wood fire on the hearth) paved all around with pure white tiles, in every one of which a bright miniature of the fire was blazing. Out of this room, you went down two steps into a charming little sitting-room looking down upon a flower-garden, which room was henceforth to belong to Ada and me. Out of this you went up three steps into Ada's bedroom, which had a fine broad window commanding a beautiful view (we saw a great expanse of darkness lying underneath the stars), to which there was a hollow window-seat, in which, with a spring-lock, three dear Adas might have been lost at once. Out of this room you passed into a little gallery, with which the other best rooms (only two) communicated, and so, by a little staircase of shallow steps with a number of corner stairs in it, considering its length, down into the hall. But if instead of going out at Ada's door you came back into my room, and went out at the door by which you had entered it, and turned up a few crooked steps that branched off in an unexpected manner from the stairs, you lost yourself in passages, with mangles in them, and three-cornered tables, and a native Hindu chair, which was also a sofa, a box, and a bedstead, and looked in every form something between a bamboo skeleton and a great bird-cage, and had been brought from India nobody knew by whom or when. From these you came on Richard's room, which was part library, part sitting- room, part bedroom, and seemed indeed a comfortable compound of many rooms. Out of that you went straight, with a little interval of passage, to the plain room where Mr. Jarndyce slept, all the year round, with his window open, his bedstead without any furniture standing in the middle of the floor for more air, and his cold bath gaping for him in a smaller room adjoining. Out of that you came into another passage, where there were back-stairs and where you could hear the horses being rubbed down outside the stable and being told to "Hold up" and "Get over," as they slipped about very much on the uneven stones. Or you might, if you came out at another door (every room had at least two doors), go straight down to the hall again by half-a-dozen steps and a low archway, wondering how you got back there or had ever got out of it.
The furniture, old-fashioned rather than old, like the house, was as pleasantly irregular. Ada's sleeping-room was all flowers — in chintz and paper, in velvet, in needlework, in the brocade of two stiff courtly chairs which stood, each attended by a little page of a stool for greater state, on either side of the fire-place. Our sitting-room was green and had framed and glazed upon the walls numbers of surprising and surprised birds, staring out of pictures at a real trout in a case, as brown and shining as if it had been served with gravy; at the death of Captain Cook; and at the whole process of preparing tea in China, as depicted by Chinese artists. In my room there were oval engravings of the months — ladies haymaking in short waists and large hats tied under the chin, for June; smooth-legged noblemen pointing with cocked-hats to village steeples, for October. Half-length portraits in crayons abounded all through the house, but were so dispersed that I found the brother of a youthful officer of mine in the china-closet and the grey old age of my pretty young bride, with a flower in her bodice, in the breakfast-room. As substitutes, I had four angels, of Queen Anne's reign, taking a complacent gentleman to heaven, in festoons, with some difficulty; and a composition in needlework representing fruit, a kettle, and an alphabet. All the movables, from the wardrobes to the chairs and tables, hangings, glasses, even to the pincushions and scent-bottles on the dressing-tables, displayed the same quaint variety. They agreed in nothing but their perfect neatness, their display of the whitest linen, and their storing-up, wheresoever the existence of a drawer, small or large, rendered it possible, of quantities of rose-leaves and sweet lavender. Such, with its illuminated windows, softened here and there by shadows of curtains, shining out upon the starlight night; with its light, and warmth, and comfort; with its hospitable jingle, at a distance, of preparations for dinner; with the face of its generous master brightening everything we saw; and just wind enough without to sound a low accompaniment to everything we heard, were our first impressions of Bleak House.
"I am glad you like it," said Mr. Jarndyce when he had brought us round again to Ada's sitting-room. "It makes no pretensions, but it is a comfortable little place, I hope, and will be more so with such bright young looks in it. You have barely half an hour before dinner. There's no one here but the finest creature upon earth — a child."