Skimpole, lightly appealing to us. "An amiable bull who is determined to make every colour scarlet!"
Sir Leicester Dedlock coughed as if he could not possibly hear another word in reference to such an individual and took his leave with great ceremony and politeness. I got to my own room with all possible speed and remained there until I had recovered my self- command. It had been very much disturbed, but I was thankful to find when I went downstairs again that they only rallied me for having been shy and mute before the great Lincolnshire baronet.
By that time I had made up my mind that the period was come when I must tell my guardian what I knew. The possibility of my being brought into contact with my mother, of my being taken to her house, even of Mr. Skimpole's, however distantly associated with me, receiving kindnesses and obligations from her husband, was so painful that I felt I could no longer guide myself without his assistance.
When we had retired for the night, and Ada and I had had our usual talk in our pretty room, I went out at my door again and sought my guardian among his books. I knew he always read at that hour, and as I drew near I saw the light shining out into the passage from his reading-lamp.
"May I come in, guardian?"
"Surely, little woman. What's the matter?"
"Nothing is the matter. I thought I would like to take this quiet time of saying a word to you about myself."
He put a chair for me, shut his book, and put it by, and turned his kind attentive face towards me. I could not help observing that it wore that curious expression I had observed in it once before--on that night when he had said that he was in no trouble which I could readily understand.
"What concerns you, my dear Esther," said he, "concerns us all. You cannot be more ready to speak than I am to hear."
"I know that, guardian. But I have such need of your advice and support. Oh! You don't know how much need I have to-night."
He looked unprepared for my being so earnest, and even a little alarmed.
"Or how anxious I have been to speak to you," said I, "ever since the visitor was here to-day."
"The visitor, my dear! Sir Leicester Dedlock?"
He folded his arms and sat looking at me with an air of the profoundest astonishment, awaiting what I should say next. I did not know how to prepare him.
"Why, Esther," said he, breaking into a smile, "our visitor and you are the two last persons on earth I should have thought of connecting together!"
"Oh, yes, guardian, I know it. And I too, but a little while ago."
The smile passed from his face, and he became graver than before. He crossed to the door to see that it was shut (but I had seen to that) and resumed his seat before me.
"Guardian," said I, "do you remensher, when we were overtaken by the thunder-storm, Lady Dedlock's speaking to you of her sister?"
"Of course. Of course I do."
"And reminding you that she and her sister had differed, had gone their several ways?"
"Why did they separate, guardian?"
His face quite altered as he looked at me. "My child, what questions are these! I never knew. No one but themselves ever did know, I believe. Who could tell what the secrets of those two handsome and proud women were! You have seen Lady Dedlock. If you had ever seen her sister, you would know her to have been as resolute and haughty as she."
"Oh, guardian, I have seen her many and many a time!"
He paused a little, biting his lip. "Then, Esther, when you spoke to me long ago of Boythorn, and when I told you that he was all but married once, and that the lady did not die, but died to him, and that that time had had its influence on his later life--did you know it all, and know who the lady was?"
"No, guardian," I returned, fearful of the light that dimly broke upon me. "Nor do I know yet."
"Lady Dedlock's sister."
"And why," I could scarcely ask him, "why, guardian, pray tell me why were THEY parted?"
"It was her act, and she kept its motives in her inflexible heart. He afterwards did conjecture (but it was mere conjecture) that some injury which her haughty spirit had received in her cause of quarrel with her sister had wounded her beyond all reason, but she wrote him that from the date of that letter she died to him--as in literal truth she did--and that the resolution was exacted from her by her knowledge of his proud temper and his strained sense of honour, which were both her nature too.