فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER twenty

Esther’s Story: A New World

We stayed in London after my mother’s death because I wanted to be close to Ada and Richard. I visited my dear friends daily in their little apartment near Chancery Lane. Their rooms were very poor, with little light and very little space, but Ada shone like a bright star in this hopeless corner of the city. She was a good wife and kept their home tidy and clean. She looked after Richard and was always careful to stay away from the subject of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

But when Richard was at home it was impossible to escape from the suit in Chancery. It was the only thing on his mind, and he was either at the court - usually with mad Miss Flite - or working on Jarndyce and Jarndyce at his table in the apartment. His health was ruined, and although he was always happy to see me, he could never stay cheerful for very long.

Mr Allan Woodcourt was also often at Ada and Richard’s house. He had kept his promise to me and was the best friend that Richard had in those days. He advised him as a doctor, but more than anything, he reminded him that there was life outside the court, with fresh air, laughter, music.

I was always pleased to see Mr Woodcourt, and I learned that he had been offered a position in a medical practice in the north of England, and that he would move there in about six months’ time. He would not make a fortune, but he would be of great use to many people.

One day when I had joined Ada and Richard for supper, Mr Woodcourt came in after we had eaten and invited Richard to go for a walk on one of the bridges and enjoy the airy night. I was happy to be left alone with Ada.

‘My dearest, Richard is always happiest when he is with Mr Woodcourt. We must thank you for that. And now, can you help me in another way?’

‘Ada, I would do anything for you!’ I cried.

‘I want to be a good wife. Can you teach me? When I married Richard, I thought that if we were together, he would give up Jarndyce and Jarndyce and try to make a good life for us - but he cannot give it up. I never talk about the case in Chancery, but I see Richard worrying about it day and night. I try to love him and help him in my small way.’

I held Ada’s hand and felt certain that she had something important that she urgently wanted to tell me.

‘But there is something that helps me to stay strong, Esther. Something that gives me hope. I am going to have a baby, and I hope that Richard will give up Jarndyce and Jarndyce and try to make his son or daughter proud of him. This hope keeps me strong, but there are times when I am full of fear.’

‘What causes that, dear Ada?’ I asked gently.

‘I fear that Richard will not live to see his child.’

The months passed and I was at Richard and Ada’s little apartment as often as possible. One evening Mr Allan Woodcourt offered to walk back to Mr Jarndyce’s house with me because it was very late. We talked about Richard and Ada and their difficult situation, and I thanked him again for all the help he gave them.

We were standing outside Mr Jarndyce’s house when I learned that Mr Woodcourt’s heart was full of true, generous, unshakeable love for me. Oh, too late to know it now, too late, too late.

‘Esther, when I came back from my foreign travels,’ Mr Woodcourt said, ‘I learned how ill you had been, but I found the same sweet, wonderful young woman, always kind, always free from selfish thoughts. I loved you more then than before, and I love you more each day.’

‘Mr Woodcourt, I do not deserve your love and I am not free to accept it,’ I said sadly. My heart was breaking, but I was certain that my life would be better knowing that he loved me. I would do my best to deserve his love.

‘Esther, I have wanted to say these words to you for a very long time, but I came home as poor as when I left. And now I learn that you are not free to accept my love. I won’t upset you again with my feelings, but I will keep you in my heart, and I hope that we will continue as friends.’

‘Mr Woodcourt, your words are the most valuable words ever spoken to me. While I live, I will never forget the happiness of being loved by you. But I must say one more thing before you go. There has been one person since my childhood who has given me everything. He is the most generous, most unselfish, most loving person in the world.’

‘I agree with your opinion,’ he replied. ‘You are speaking of Mr Jarndyce.’

‘Very few people understand how good his character is, but I see it every day, and I am happy to share a future with him. I hope you can be happy for me, and for him,’ I said, trying to be brave.

When Mr Woodcourt was gone, I stood at my dark window and looked out at the street. My strength of mind failed me and I cried. But my tears were not sad - they were happy. He had said that he loved me, and that I would always be in his heart. His words had changed my life.

Next morning I found my guardian in the Growlery and asked if I could have a private word. He looked very bright and happy, as usual.

‘Guardian, have I acted as you wished since I brought the answer to your letter?’ I asked.

‘You have been everything that I could desire, dear Esther.’

‘I am very glad to hear that,’ I replied. ‘Do you think we should talk about our future? I will be the lady of Bleak House when you wish.’

‘Esther, I was thinking about the same subject this morning. Shall we give Bleak House its lady next month?’ he said with a smile.

I agreed, and put my arms round his neck and kissed him.

We were interrupted by the arrival of Mr Bucket. He rushed into the room and shouted, ‘Mr Jarndyce, Miss Summerson, I have exciting news. Another will in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce has been found!’

‘But where was it found?’ asked Mr Jarndyce.

‘You remember Krook’s property? It went into the hands of the Smallweeds, and little by little they looked through Krook’s mountain of papers and the signature of Jarndyce caught old Smallweeds eye.

‘He was so excited that he showed me the paper. I explained that, as a legal document, it didn’t belong to Krook or to him, although I think he is expecting a reward. And here is the will itself. The paper is yellow and the edges are burned a little, but it is clearly a legal will.’

‘Mr Bucket,’ said my guardian, ‘I haven’t been interested in Jarndyce and Jarndyce for many years - my heart is sick of it - but we will speak to my lawyer and will ask him to advise the suitors.’

At the offices of Kenge and Carboy, Mr Kenge looked at the will and said, ‘My dear sir, I believe this will is more recent than the others, and it has the necessary signatures and stamps; it is perfectly legal. When I present this document to the court next month, I hope that you will see that we are a great country, and that our legal system is a great system, Mr Jarndyce.’

‘Sir,’ replied Mr Jarndyce, ‘do you ask me to believe that any good will come of Jarndyce and Jarndyce?’

‘Wait and see, Mr Jarndyce, wait and see.’

I prepared everything for my wedding quietly during the next weeks, because I was sure that my guardian would like it to be done this way. I also thought about Ada and the fact that she would be sorry to see my position at Bleak House change. My dear girl was always worried: she was expecting her baby soon, and Richard was in a very bad state. He had been excited about the new will and had studied it enthusiastically, but he was not strong enough to continue with any work for long. I secretly hoped that Richard and Ada would have good news about their suit before my marriage.

Because I was very busy, I was surprised when my guardian suggested a journey one morning. We were going to the north of England to see the place where Mr Allan Woodcourt would have his practice. Mr Jarndyce was in a very good mood and I began to wonder if he had done a great kindness to someone. After we had arrived at our hotel and had our dinner, he said, ‘My dear, I have wanted to thank Mr Woodcourt for everything that he has done since we have known him. For helping poor Jo, for all his service to my two young cousins, and for his value to us all. When it was decided that he would move to this town, I looked for a little house for him, and I have found one. I have had it repaired, arranged the garden, bought some furniture. Now I want your opinion of it before I give it to him.’

My eyes filled with tears. My guardian was so kind, so good, so generous. I could not say a single word.

‘Please don’t cry, dear girl. This has already given me great pleasure.’

‘This is wonderful, and my heart is full of thanks,’ I said.

The next morning we went arm in arm to examine the house more closely, and I judged that it was perfect with its pretty rooms, beautiful garden and trees - all in a lovely area of the city. ‘Guardian, it is wonderful!’

‘And now, little woman,’ said Mr Jarndyce, who looked very proud and happy, ‘now, last of all, for the name of this house. Can you guess it?’

We went to the front of the house and he showed me, written over the door, the words BLEAK HOUSE. Then he took my hand and said, ‘My dear, I want nothing more than your happiness. Now, listen to me and don’t speak. When I sent you my letter, I believed that you and I could be happy together, but when Mr Woodcourt came home, I saw something else and I soon doubted my plan. I am your guardian and your father again. I know that you can find perfect happiness with Mr Woodcourt, and that is what I want for you.

‘Don’t cry again. I have looked forward to this day for months and months. I must explain that I talked to Allan Woodcourt before he spoke to you about his love. Afterwards he told me what you had said, and I have no more to say. Your future husband stood beside your father when he was dead; he stood beside your mother at the gate where she died. He has watched over all of us for a long time. Today I give Bleak House to its little lady and to him; and with God as my witness, this is the brightest day in all my life!’

The time came for the newest will in Jarndyce and Jarndyce to be presented to the Court of Chancery, and although my guardian refused to go to the court, Allan and I wanted to support Richard. That morning we walked through the busy streets - so happily and strangely it seemed! - together. The area around the court was very crowded; we were fifteen minutes late and the day’s business had begun, but many of the lawyers were laughing and heading for the door.

We asked a gentleman near us if he knew what was happening. He told us that Jarndyce and Jarndyce had ended. ‘Ended for the day?’ Allan asked. ‘Ended forever!’ the man shouted.

We stood to one side and watched as great piles and bags of papers were carried out of the courtroom. And everyone was shouting and laughing. Then we saw Mr Kenge and asked him to explain.

‘The new will has not been looked at,’ Kenge reported. ‘After many years of study, knowledge, argument and intelligence, a decision has been reached: there will be no decision.’

‘Mr Kenge,’ said Allan, ‘do I understand that all the money and property has gone for legal costs?’

‘I believe so,’ said Mr Kenge quietly. ‘I am afraid that this is a sad day for English justice.’

‘Dear Esther,’ whispered Allan, ‘this will break Richard’s heart.’

‘If you are looking for Mr Carstone, you will find him in the courtroom. He was resting there when I left,’ said Mr Kenge.

Allan went to Richard. My guardian and I found them and Ada at the little apartment near the Court of Chancery a short time later.

‘How is he?’ was the first thing I said when Allan met us at the door. ‘I found him sitting like a stone in the courtroom. He wanted to speak to the judge but his mouth began to fill with blood. Then I brought him here. He is very weak,’ Allan told us. ‘He has asked for you several times.’

Richard was lying on the sofa with his eyes closed when I went in. He looked very handsome, although his face was very pale. Ada sat at his side, holding his hand.

‘My dear Esther,’ he said when I sat beside his bed, ‘give me a kiss.’ His voice was weak but he had his old, attractive smile. He was happy for Allan and me, and promised to be at our wedding if he could stand on his feet.

It was not good for him to talk too much, and in the silence I knew. I knew! He could not stay awake for long. He woke up when the door opened again and asked, ‘Who is there?’

‘Rick, it is me,’ said Mr Jarndyce, and he placed his hand on Richard’s.

‘Oh, sir, cousin,’ said Richard, ‘you are a good man!’ And he began to cry for the first time.

‘My dear Rick, the clouds have cleared away and today is bright. We can see clearly now. And how are you, my dear boy?’ asked Mr Jarndyce gently.

‘I am very weak, sir, but I shall be stronger. I have to begin again in the world. I have learned a hard lesson, sir, but I will do better now.’

‘Yes, yes, very well said!’ cried my guardian.

‘And I want to see the new Bleak House where Esther and Allan will live. Is that possible, sir? It will be like going to the old Bleak House again for the first time. Will you take Ada and me there, sir, and show it to us?’

‘I certainly will,’ replied Mr Jarndyce. ‘I would like that very much.’

‘Was it all a dream, sir? A troubled dream?’

‘Nothing more, Rick. Nothing more,’ Mr Jarndyce said.

‘But I will begin again and make a new start! I will show my beautiful Ada how much she means to me, and I will prepare myself to be a guide to our child. When shall we go to the new Bleak House?’ Richard asked hopefully.

‘We will go soon, dear husband, very soon,’ whispered Ada.

‘Dear Ada, will you forgive me for all of the wrong I have done? Will you forgive me before I begin our new world?’

A smile lit up his face as Ada bent to kiss him. She held him in her arms, and with one painful cry he began again. Not in this world, but in the world without troubles, without pain, without worry.

I have been the lady of Bleak House and the wife of Mr Allan Woodcourt for seven years now.

Richard and Ada’s son was born within weeks of his father’s death, and I, my husband and my guardian gave him his father’s name. My dear Ada was a wonderful mother to her little baby. Again happy and full of hope, she moved back to the old Bleak House, but she, her pretty son and my guardian are often at the new Bleak House, and all the children - young Richard and my two little daughters - love both houses and their dear guardian.

Mr Jarndyce is a well-loved father to all of us, and he is my husband’s best and dearest friend. I believe that he is happier than he has ever been, and Ada is not only happy, but certainly more beautiful and kinder than ever.

The bank would not say that we are rich, but we have everything we need. My husband is a great success in his profession, and we feel at home in this city and in our own Bleak House. Are we not rich?

On a recent evening, I was sitting outside looking at the moon when my husband came home.

‘My dear wife, what are you doing out here?’ asked Allan.

‘I have been thinking,’ I told him, ‘about my past. I don’t think that you could love me any better even if I had my old, prettier face.’

‘My dear wife, do you ever look in a mirror?’ Allan asked. ‘Don’t you know that you are prettier now than you have ever been?’

I did not know that, but I know that my dear children are very pretty, and that my friend Ada is beautiful, and that my husband is very handsome, and that my guardian has the brightest, kindest face in the world; and that they do not really need much beauty in me, even if I am…

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