The Little Old Lady
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
4 1/8 x 4 1/8 inches on a page of 8 7/16 x 5 inches
Facing p. 23, the close of the third chapter of Dickens's Bleak House [for text illustrated, see below]
Scanned image and text by George P. Landow.
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[Esther, Ada, and Richard have just left the chambers of the Lord Chancellor, where he has decided that the two wards in Chancery will live at Bleak House with Mr. Jarndyce when Miss Flite strikes up a conversation with them. One should note that "the children in the wood" to which the first sentence refers are most likely the Babes in the Wood of ballad fame who come to a bad end — an anticipation of Jarndyce's remark that the universe makes a rather indifferent parent.]
We looked at one another, half laughing at our being like the children in the wood, when a curious little old woman in a squeezed bonnet and carrying a reticule came curtsying and smiling up to us with an air of great ceremony.
"Oh!" said she. "The wards in Jarndyce! Ve-ry happy, I am sure, to have the honour! It is a good omen for youth, and hope, and beauty when they find themselves in this place, and don't know what's to come of it."
"Mad!" whispered Richard, not thinking she could hear him.
"Right! Mad, young gentleman," she returned so quickly that he was quite abashed. "I was a ward myself. I was not mad at that time," curtsying low and smiling between every little sentence. "I had youth and hope. I believe, beauty. It matters very little now. Neither of the three served or saved me. I have the honour to attend court regularly. With my documents. I expect a judgment. Shortly. On the Day of Judgment. I have discovered that the sixth seal mentioned in the Revelations is the Great Seal. It has been open a long time! Pray accept my blessing."
As Ada was a little frightened, I said, to humour the poor old lady, that we were much obliged to her.
"Ye-es!" she said mincingly. "I imagine so. And here is Conversation Kenge. With HIS documents! How does your honourable worship do?"
"Quite well, quite well! Now don't be troublesome, that's a good soul!" said Mr. Kenge, leading the way back.
"By no means," said the poor old lady, keeping up with Ada and me. "Anything but troublesome. I shall confer estates on both — which is not being troublesome, I trust? I expect a judgment. Shortly. On the Day of Judgment. This is a good omen for you. Accept my blessing!"
She stopped at the bottom of the steep, broad flight of stairs; but we looked back as we went up, and she was still there, saying, still with a curtsy and a smile between every little sentence, "Youth. And hope. And beauty. And Chancery. And Conversation Kenge! Ha! Pray accept my blessing!" [Project Gutenberg etext (see bibliography below)]
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. London: Bradbury & Evans. Bouverie Street, 1853.
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. Project Gutenberg etext prepared by Donald Lainson, Toronto, Canada (firstname.lastname@example.org), with revision and corrections by Thomas Berger and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D. Seen 9 November 2007.
Last modified 12 November 2007