Ada had already told me that she called every Monday at five o'clock, with one little extra white bow in her bonnet, which never appeared there at any other time, and with her largest reticule of documents on her arm.
"My dear!" she began. "So delighted! How do you do! So glad to see you. And you are going to visit our interesting Jarndyce wards? TO be sure! Our beauty is at home, my dear, and will be charmed to see you."
"Then Richard is not come in yet?" said I. "I am glad of that, for I was afraid of being a little late."
"No, he is not come in," returned Miss Flite. "He has had a long day in court. I left him there with Vholes. You don't like Vholes, I hope? DON'T like Vholes. Dan-gerous man!"
"I am afraid you see Richard oftener than ever now," said I.
"My dearest," returned Miss Flite, "daily and hourly. You know what I told you of the attraction on the Chancellor's table? My dear, next to myself he is the most constant suitor in court. He begins quite to amuse our little party. Ve-ry friendly little party, are we not?"
It was miserable to hear this from her poor mad lips, though it was no surprise.
"In short, my valued friend," pursued Miss Flite, advancing her lips to my ear with an air of equal patronage and mystery, "I must tell you a secret. I have made him my executor. Nominated, constituted, and appointed him. In my will. Ye-es."
"Indeed?" said I.
"Ye-es," repeated Miss Flite in her most genteel accents, "my executor, administrator, and assign. (Our Chancery phrases, my love.) I have reflected that if I should wear out, he will be able to watch that judgment. Being so very regular in his attendance."
It made me sigh to think of him.
"I did at one time mean," said Miss Flite, echoing the sigh, "to nominate, constitute, and appoint poor Gridley. Also very regular, my charming girl. I assure you, most exemplary! But he wore out, poor man, so I have appointed his successor. Don't mention it. This is in confidence."
She carefully opened her reticule a little way and showed me a folded piece of paper inside as the appointment of which she spoke.
"Another secret, my dear. I have added to my collection of birds."
"Really, Miss Flite?" said I, knowing how it pleased her to have her confidence received with an appearance of interest.
She nodded several times, and her face became overcast and gloomy. "Two more. I call them the Wards in Jarndyce. They are caged up with all the others. With Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach!"
The poor soul kissed me with the most troubled look I had ever seen in her and went her way. Her manner of running over the names of her birds, as if she were afraid of hearing them even from her own lips, quite chilled me.
This was not a cheering preparation for my visit, and I could have dispensed with the company of Mr. Vholes, when Richard (who arrived within a minute or two after me) brought him to share our dinner. Although it was a very plain one, Ada and Richard were for some minutes both out of the room together helping to get ready what we were to eat and drink. Mr. Vholes took that opportunity of holding a little conversation in a low voice with me. He came to the window where I was sitting and began upon Symond's Inn.
"A dull place, Miss Summerson, for a life that is not an official one," said Mr. Vholes, smearing the glass with his black glove to make it clearer for me.
"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.