She lay there with one arm creeping round a bar of the iron gate and seeming to embrace it. She lay there, who had so lately spoken to my mother. She lay there, a distressed, unsheltered, senseless creature. She who had brought my mother's letter, who could give me the only clue to where my mother was; she, who was to guide us to rescue and save her whom we had sought so far, who had come to this condition by some means connected with my mother that I could not follow, and might be passing beyond our reach and help at that moment; she lay there, and they stopped me! I saw but did not comprehend the solemn and compassionate look in Mr. Woodcourt's face. I saw but did not comprehend his touching the other on the breast to keep him back. I saw him stand uncovered in the bitter air, with a reverence for something. But my understanding for all this was gone.
I even heard it said between them, "Shall she go?"
"She had better go. Her hands should be the first to touch her. They have a higher right than ours."
I passed on to the gate and stooped down. I lifted the heavy head, put the long dank hair aside, and turned the face. And it was my mother, cold and dead.
I proceed to other passages of my narrative. From the goodness of all about me I derived such consolation as I can never think of unmoved. I have already said so much of myself, and so much still remains, that I will not dwell upon my sorrow. I had an illness, but it was not a long one; and I would avoid even this mention of it if I could quite keep down the recollection of their sympathy.
I proceed to other passages of my narrative.
During the time of my illness, we were still in London, where Mrs. Woodcourt had come, on my guardian's invitation, to stay with us. When my guardian thought me well and cheerful enough to talk with him in our old way--though I could have done that sooner if he would have believed me--I resumed my work and my chair beside his. He had appointed the time himself, and we were alone.
"Dame Trot," said he, receiving me with a kiss, "welcome to the growlery again, my dear. I have a scheme to develop, little woman. I propose to remain here, perhaps for six months, perhaps for a longer time--as it may be. Quite to settle here for a while, in short."
"And in the meanwhile leave Bleak House?" said I.
"Aye, my dear? Bleak House," he returned, "must learn to take care of itself."
I thought his tone sounded sorrowful, but looking at him, I saw his kind face lighted up by its pleasantest smile.
"Bleak House," he repeated--and his tone did NOT sound sorrowful, I found--"must learn to take care of itself. It is a long way from Ada, my dear, and Ada stands much in need of you."
"It's like you, guardian," said I, "to have been taking that into consideration for a happy surprise to both of us."
"Not so disinterested either, my dear, if you mean to extol me for that virtue, since if you were generally on the road, you could be seldom with me. And besides, I wish to hear as much and as often of Ada as I can in this condition of estrangement from poor Rick. Not of her alone, but of him too, poor fellow."
"Have you seen Mr. Woodcourt, this morning, guardian?"
"I see Mr. Woodcourt every morning, Dame Durden."
"Does he still say the same of Richard?"
"Just the same. He knows of no direct bodily illness that he has; on the contrary, he believes that he has none. Yet he is not easy about him; who CAN be?"
My dear girl had been to see us lately every day, some times twice in a day. But we had foreseen, all along, that this would only last until I was quite myself. We knew full well that her fervent heart was as full of affection and gratitude towards her cousin John as it had ever been, and we acquitted Richard of laying any injunctions upon her to stay away; but we knew on the other hand that she felt it a part of her duty to him to be sparing of her visits at our house. My guardian's delicacy had soon perceived this and had tried to convey to her that he thought she was right.