فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Esther’s Story: A Home at Last

It is very difficult to write my part of this story, because I know I am not clever. I grew up in a cold, lonely house, looked after by Miss Barbary, my godmother. Although she was clearly a good, religious woman who did her duty towards me, she was not able to show me any love or warmth.

My godmother sent me to school but kept me separate from the other girls; in fact, I never went out for any social occasions. My birthday was never celebrated and was only spoken about one terrible time. We were sitting silently near the fire, when suddenly my godmother said, ‘Little Esther, your birthday is the saddest day of the year.’

I began to cry and said, ‘Oh, dear godmother, tell me, please, did my mother die on my birthday? Please tell me about her.’

My godmother looked at me coldly and finally said, ‘Your mother is your disgrace, and you were hers. Your life will always have a shadow over it. You must work hard, obey me and stay in the background.’

That night I felt more alone than ever, but I promised myself I would be strong and try to do some good to someone. Perhaps one day, if I were kind and cheerful, I could win some love for myself.

Our lives continued in this sad, quiet way for another two years until I was almost fourteen. One evening, when I was reading to my godmother, a terrible noise came from her throat and she fell to the floor. She never opened her eyes again.

After my godmother’s body was in the ground, Mr Kenge, a lawyer from Kenge and Carboy in London, appeared at the house.

‘Miss Summerson,’ he began, ‘your late aunt left you nothing, but…’

‘My aunt, sir!’

‘Yes, Miss Barbary was your aunt, and she received an offer of help two years ago from Mr John Jarndyce. Your aunt refused the kind, unselfish offer, but Mr Jarndyce is now offering it again. You will go to a school for young ladies. Your only responsibility to Mr Jarndyce is to work hard and prepare yourself for future employment.’

After six wonderful, happy years at Greenleaf School, I received a letter telling me that Mr Jarndyce had a job for me. The pupils and teachers said goodbye with many kisses, many sad tears and many good wishes.

I felt quite nervous in London when I was taken to the offices of Kenge and Carboy. But there I met two people who became my best friends: Ada Clare and Richard Carstone. We were three orphans on our way to a new life at Bleak House, Mr John Jarndyce’s home.

After meeting with the Lord High Chancellor, we were taken by Mr Guppy, the young lawyer from the office of Kenge and Carboy, to Mrs Jellyby’s house. There we followed Mr Guppy up a dark flight of stairs, falling over children and rubbish as we went, finally finding Mrs Jellyby. Like her children, the lady herself was not only untidy but also quite dirty.

‘Oh, it’s the guests!’ cried Mrs Jellyby when she looked up at last. ‘You must excuse me - my work for our poor sisters and brothers in Borrioboola-Gha is so important.’

After a disorderly meal of fish, meat and potatoes that were not quite cooked, Mrs Jellyby continued her work for Africa, forgetting about us and her children. When it was nearly midnight, Ada and I went upstairs.

‘I am surprised that Mr Jarndyce sent us here!’ said Ada.

‘It must be very good of Mrs Jellyby to work so hard for the poor people in Borrioboola-Gha,’ I agreed, ‘but look at the children and this dirty, disorganised house!’

‘I think you could change this house into a home in no time,’ Ada said. She was the sweetest, gentlest girl I had ever met, and I already loved her dearly.

In the morning, during a walk, we three orphans met the old lady from the day before.

‘Good morning! Very happy to see you, I am sure!’ cried Miss Flite. ‘May I invite you to my little apartment? A visit from the wards of Jarndyce would give me great pleasure.’

Miss Flite led us to a strange shop with this sign above the door: KROOK: RAG AND BOTTLE MARKET. A second sign said that Mr Krook would buy anything: bones, cooking pots, old iron, waste paper, men’s and ladies’ clothes, bottles, books, human hair. There were piles of papers inside which reminded me of my letters from Kenge and Carboy, written in what is called ‘law-hand’. Then I saw another notice on the wall in this same style of writing: a gentleman named Nemo wanted employment in copying legal documents. He could be contacted at Mr Krook’s shop.

‘Mr Krook,’ Miss Flite said to the shop owner. ‘Here is a surprise for you. My young friends are suitors in Jarndyce and Jarndyce.’

‘Well, well,’ the strange old man said, ‘I wish you better luck than old Tom Jarndyce. He spent many hours in this shop, but he came to an awful end.’

‘That’s enough, Krook,’ said Miss Flite. ‘Do not frighten them.’

Later, as we left her apartment above the shop, Miss Flite pointed to the door of Mr Nemo’s room. ‘Krook’s other tenant,’ she whispered.

‘Ah, cousin, I think this Chancery is a hard place,’ said Richard when we were outside in the street.

‘Yes,’ agreed Ada. ‘Why can’t the court come to a judgement in our case?’

‘It is a mystery, I agree. But whatever happens, Ada, Chancery will work none of its awful power on us. We have been brought together, thanks to our good cousin Jarndyce, and the Court can’t separate us now!’

‘Never, I hope, cousin Richard!’ said Ada gently.

I could see that Richard shared my high opinion of Ada. She was a beautiful young girl and her character matched her beauty.

Soon we began the next stage of our journey to Bleak House. The three of us were quite nervous and excited by the time we reached St Albans and saw the lights of an old-fashioned house at the end of a long driveway. The front door opened and Mr John Jarndyce appeared, standing in a stream of light.

‘Ada, my love, Esther, my dear, welcome to your home! I am very happy to see you! Rick, let me shake your hand. Please come in!’

In the sitting-room, I had an opportunity to examine our guardian as he asked us about our journey. He had a handsome, energetic face which was always changing, and his hair was silvery grey. I guessed that he was about sixty years old, but he was still strong and full of energy.

Later, as I was putting my clothes away, I heard a soft knock on my door.

‘For you, miss,’ said a young servant as she handed me a basket of keys.

I gave my basket of housekeeping keys a shake and said to myself, ‘Esther, you have new friends, a new house and new duties. It is time to forget about your past difficulties. You are going to be happy here.’

After breakfast on my first morning at Bleak House, Mr Jarndyce called me into a small room which seemed to be part library and part office.

‘Sit down, my dear,’ said Mr Jarndyce. ‘This, you need to know, is a special place. I call it the Growlery because it is where I come to growl and complain, and I spend quite a lot of time in here.

‘You know, Esther, you have earned my high opinion by your hard work and good character, and I hope to continue as your guardian and friend. Now, what do you think about this Chancery business?’

‘I have heard that it is about a will, but I am afraid I don’t understand why it has been in the court for so long, or how it will come to an end,’ I told him.

‘The lawyers have taken so many different directions that the will is only about costs now. Most of the Jarndyce fortune has disappeared. My cousins and I are caught in this mess because we were named as suitors, and we cannot escape from it until the court reaches a decision.

‘Old Tom Jarndyce changed the name of this house from The Peaks to Bleak House because our case made him feel so bleak about the future. Fortunately, the house was not in Chancery; other Jarndyce properties were, and they will be sold to pay the costs, but we have Bleak House, and I hope it will be a comfortable and cheerful home for you and Ada and Rick.’

‘It seems to be a very friendly place, sir…’ I said.

‘I think you had better call me Guardian, my dear,’ said Mr Jarndyce.

This kindness touched my heart, and I had to give my keys a little shake to control my emotions.

‘I hope, Guardian, that I can help to make the house a happy place.’

‘Esther, with your cheerful attitude, we shall have to forget that the Growlery exists. But we must return to business. Rick must have a profession. What can be done for him?’

‘Perhaps we should ask Mr Richard about his own preference,’ I suggested. I couldn’t believe that my guardian was asking for my advice!

‘Exactly. Little woman, I am sure you will know how to discuss the subject with him. And now, my dear, I think we are finished with the Growlery for today! But do you wish to ask me anything while we are here?’

‘About myself, sir? And my background?’ I asked.

‘Yes. I want your heart and mind to be at rest.’

‘Guardian, I am confident that you would tell me if there was anything that I needed to know.’ From that moment I decided to stop wondering about my past.

In addition, I forgot my girlish dream that Mr Jarndyce was, perhaps, my father.

I soon learned how generous Mr Jarndyce was in many more ways - to people like Mrs Jellyby, who asked for money for their work, and also to his friends and neighbours. One morning he asked Ada and me to visit some poor brick-makers and their families to see if we could help them.

We went to the brick-field and found the house that Mr Jarndyce was worried about, knocked and were let into a cold, dark room. Beside the small fire, there was a woman with a black eye holding a sick-looking baby; a man lay on the floor, smoking a pipe and appearing to our eyes to be drunk.

‘Have you come to have tea and cakes?’ asked the man. ‘Or have you come to tell us that our house is dirty and that we’ve got no work and no money?’

Ada and I felt that it was rude to interrupt these people’s lives. But the man on the floor turned his back to us and seemed to fall asleep, so we went quietly to the woman beside the fire and asked if the baby was ill.

She only looked at the poor little one as it lay in her arms. Ada gently bent down and touched the little face. As she did so, I understood what had happened and gently pulled her back. The child had died.

I took the baby, placed it gently on a shelf and covered it with my own handkerchief. We tried to calm the mother, but her tears did not stop as she stared at her child - the sixth baby, she told us, that she had lost.

One morning as I sat at my desk checking the housekeeping bills, a servant came to tell me that Mr Guppy had arrived and wished to speak to me.

He entered and said, ‘Miss, may I have a minute’s conversation with you? A private conversation between you and me?’

‘I will not discuss your business with anyone, if that is your request.’

‘Thank you, miss.’ Mr Guppy then dropped to his knees. ‘At present I earn two pounds a week at Kenge and Carboy. I have an apartment in one of the healthiest parts of London. Miss Summerson! I admire you. I love you. Would you be kind enough to become my wife?’

I was shocked. ‘Mr Guppy, please stand up. I thank you for your honest feelings, but I cannot become your wife,’ I answered. ‘I do not love you.’

‘Cruel miss,’ said Mr Guppy, ‘from the day I met you, I have carried your sweet face in my heart. If you change your mind, and I hope you will, please contact me at Kenge and Carboy.’

When I was alone, I began to laugh, and then surprised myself by starting to cry. I felt confused and shaken by Mr Guppy’s visit. In some way it had reminded me of my past, a time when no one had had any feelings for me.

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