The weather had been all the week extremely sultry, but the storm broke so suddenly--upon us, at least, in that sheltered spot--that before we reached the outskirts of the wood the thunder and lightning were frequent and the rain came plunging through the leaves as if every drop were a great leaden bead. As it was not a time for standing among trees, we ran out of the wood, and up and down the moss-grown steps which crossed the plantation-fence like two broad-staved ladders placed back to back, and made for a keeper's lodge which was close at hand. We had often noticed the dark beauty of this lodge standing in a deep twilight of trees, and how the ivy clustered over it, and how there was a steep hollow near, where we had once seen the keeper's dog dive down into the fern as if it were water.
The lodge was so dark within, now the sky was overcast, that we only clearly saw the man who came to the door when we took shelter there and put two chairs for Ada and me. The lattice-windows were all thrown open, and we sat just within the doorway watching the storm. It was grand to see how the wind awoke, and bent the trees, and drove the rain before it like a cloud of smoke; and to hear the solemn thunder and to see the lightning; and while thinking with awe of the tremendous powers by which our little lives are encompassed, to consider how beneficent they are and how upon the smallest flower and leaf there was already a freshness poured from all this seeming rage which seemed to make creation new again.
"Is it not dangerous to sit in so exposed a place?"
"Oh, no, Esther dear!" said Ada quietly.
Ada said it to me, but I had not spoken.
The beating of my heart came back again. I had never heard the voice, as I had never seen the face, but it affected me in the same strange way. Again, in a moment, there arose before my mind innumerable pictures of myself.
Lady Dedlock had taken shelter in the lodge before our arrival there and had come out of the gloom within. She stood behind my chair with her hand upon it. I saw her with her hand close to my shoulder when I turned my head.
"I have frightened you?" she said.
No. It was not fright. Why should I be frightened!
"I believe," said Lady Dedlock to my guardian, "I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Jarndyce."
"Your remembrance does me more honour than I had supposed it would, Lady Dedlock," he returned.
"I recognized you in church on Sunday. I am sorry that any local disputes of Sir Leicester's--they are not of his seeking, however, I believe--should render it a matter of some absurd difficulty to show you any attention here."
"I am aware of the circumstances," returned my guardian with a smile, "and am sufficiently obliged."
She had given him her hand in an indifferent way that seemed habitual to her and spoke in a correspondingly indifferent manner, though in a very pleasant voice. She was as graceful as she was beautiful, perfectly self-possessed, and had the air, I thought, of being able to attract and interest any one if she had thought it worth her while. The keeper had brought her a chair on which she sat in the middle of the porch between us.
"Is the young gentleman disposed of whom you wrote to Sir Leicester about and whose wishes Sir Leicester was sorry not to have it in his power to advance in any way?" she said over her shoulder to my guardian.
"I hope so," said he.
She seemed to respect him and even to wish to conciliate him. There was something very winning in her haughty manner, and it became more familiar--I was going to say more easy, but that could hardly be--as she spoke to him over her shoulder.
"I presume this is your other ward, Miss Clare?"
He presented Ada, in form.
"You will lose the disinterested part of your Don Quixote character," said Lady Dedlock to Mr. Jarndyce over her shoulder again, "if you only redress the wrongs of beauty like this. But present me," and she turned full upon me, "to this young lady too!"
"Miss Summerson really is my ward," said Mr.