"There is not much to see here," said I.
"Nor to hear, miss," returned Mr. Vholes. "A little music does occasionally stray in, but we are not musical in the law and soon eject it. I hope Mr. Jarndyce is as well as his friends could wish him?"
I thanked Mr. Vholes and said he was quite well.
"I have not the pleasure to be admitted among the number of his friends myself," said Mr. Vholes, "and I am aware that the gentlemen of our profession are sometimes regarded in such quarters with an unfavourable eye. Our plain course, however, under good report and evil report, and all kinds of prejudice (we are the victims of prejudice), is to have everything openly carried on. How do you find Mr. C. looking, Miss Summerson?"
"He looks very ill. Dreadfully anxious."
"Just so," said Mr. Vholes.
He stood behind me with his long black figure reaching nearly to the ceiling of those low rooms, feeling the pimples on his face as if they were ornaments and speaking inwardly and evenly as though there were not a human passion or emotion in his nature.
"Mr. Woodcourt is in attendance upon Mr. C., I believe?" he resumed.
"Mr. Woodcourt is his disinterested friend," I answered.
"But I mean in professional attendance, medical attendance."
"That can do little for an unhappy mind," said I.
"Just so," said Mr. Vholes.
So slow, so eager, so bloodless and gaunt, I felt as if Richard were wasting away beneath the eyes of this adviser and there were something of the vampire in him.
"Miss Summerson," said Mr. Vholes, very slowly rubbing his gloved hands, as if, to his cold sense of touch, they were much the same in black kid or out of it, "this was an ill-advised marriage of Mr. C.'s."
I begged he would excuse me from discussing it. They had been engaged when they were both very young, I told him (a little indignantly) and when the prospect before them was much fairer and brighter. When Richard had not yielded himself to the unhappy influence which now darkened his life.
"Just so," assented Mr. Vholes again. "Still, with a view to everything being openly carried on, I will, with your permission, Miss Summerson, observe to you that I consider this a very ill- advised marriage indeed. I owe the opinion not only to Mr. C.'s connexions, against whom I should naturally wish to protect myself, but also to my own reputation — dear to myself as a professional man aiming to keep respectable; dear to my three girls at home, for whom I am striving to realize some little independence; dear, I will even say, to my aged father, whom it is my privilege to support."
"It would become a very different marriage, a much happier and better marriage, another marriage altogether, Mr. Vholes," said I, "if Richard were persuaded to turn his back on the fatal pursuit in which you are engaged with him."
Mr. Vholes, with a noiseless cough — or rather gasp — into one of his black gloves, inclined his head as if he did not wholly dispute even that.
"Miss Summerson," he said, "it may be so; and I freely admit that the young lady who has taken Mr. C.'s name upon herself in so ill- advised a manner — you will I am sure not quarrel with me for throwing out that remark again, as a duty I owe to Mr. C.'s connexions — is a highly genteel young lady. Business has prevented me from mixing much with general society in any but a professional character; still I trust I am competent to perceive that she is a highly genteel young lady. As to beauty, I am not a judge of that myself, and I never did give much attention to it from a boy, but I dare say the young lady is equally eligible in that point of view. She is considered so (I have heard) among the clerks in the Inn, and it is a point more in their way than in mine. In reference to Mr. C.'s pursuit of his interests — "
"Oh! His interests, Mr. Vholes!"
"Pardon me," returned Mr. Vholes, going on in exactly the same inward and dispassionate manner. "Mr. C. takes certain interests under certain wills disputed in the suit. It is a term we use. In reference to Mr. C,'s pursuit of his interests, I mentioned to you, Miss Summerson, the first time I had the pleasure of seeing you, in my desire that everything should he openly carried on — I used those words, for I happened afterwards to note them in my diary, which is producible at any time — I mentioned to you that Mr. C. had laid down the principle of watching his own interests, and that when a client of mine laid down a principle which was not of an immoral (that is to say, unlawful) nature, it devolved upon me to carry it out. I HAVE carried it out; I do carry it out. But I will not smooth things over to any connexion of Mr. C.'s on any account. As open as I was to Mr. Jarndyce, I am to you. I regard it in the light of a professional duty to be so, though it can be charged to no one. I openly say, unpalatable as it may be, that I consider Mr. C.'s affairs in a very bad way, that I consider Mr. C. himself in a very bad way, and that I regard this as an exceedingly ill- advised marriage. Am I here, sir? Yes, I thank you; I am here, Mr. C., and enjoying the pleasure of some agreeable conversation with Miss Summerson, for which I have to thank you very much, sir!"
He broke off thus in answer to Richard, who addressed him as he came into the room. By this time I too well understood Mr. Vholes's scrupulous way of saving himself and his respectability not to feel that our worst fears did but keep pace with his client's progress.
We sat down to dinner, and I had an opportunity of observing Richard, anxiously. I was not disturbed by Mr. Vholes (who took off his gloves to dine), though he sat opposite to me at the small table, for I doubt if, looking up at all, he once removed his eyes from his host's face. I found Richard thin and languid, slovenly in his dress, abstracted in his manner, forcing his spirits now and then, and at other intervals relapsing into a dull thoughtfulness. About his large bright eyes that used to be so merry there was a wanness and a restlessness that changed them altogether. I cannot use the expression that he looked old. There is a ruin of youth which is not like age, and into such a ruin Richard's youth and youthful beauty had all fallen away.
He ate little and seemed indifferent what it was, showed himself to be much more impatient than he used to be, and was quick even with Ada. I thought at first that his old light-hearted manner was all gone, but it shone out of him sometimes as I had occasionally known little momentary glimpses of my own old face to look out upon me from the glass. His laugh had not quite left him either, but it was like the echo of a joyful sound, and that is always sorrowful.
Yet he was as glad as ever, in his old affectionate way, to have me there, and we talked of the old times pleasantly. These did not appear to be interesting to Mr. Vholes, though he occasionally made a gasp which I believe was his smile. He rose shortly after dinner and said that with the permission of the ladies he would retire to his office.
"Always devoted to business, Vholes!" cried Richard.
"Yes, Mr. C.," he returned, "the interests of clients are never to be neglected, sir. They are paramount in the thoughts of a professional man like myself, who wishes to preserve a good name among his fellow-practitioners and society at large. My denying myself the pleasure of the present agreeable conversation may not be wholly irrespective of your own interests, Mr. C."
Richard expressed himself quite sure of that and lighted Mr. Vholes out. On his return he told us, more than once, that Vholes was a good fellow, a safe fellow, a man who did what he pretended to do, a very good fellow indeed! He was so defiant about it that it struck me he had begun to doubt Mr. Vholes.
Then he threw himself on the sofa, tired out; and Ada and I put things to rights, for they had no other servant than the woman who attended to the chambers. My dear girl had a cottage piano there and quietly sat down to sing some of Richard's favourites, the lamp being first removed into the next room, as he complained of its hurting his eyes.