London. Michaelmas term was far past over, and gone into tattered memory of the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. As implacable as November had been, so January huddled its ugly way to its inevitable drizzled close. The mud that had lapped as if the waters had but newly retired now reached into the proportions of a new end with no rainbow in sight to signal a release. Boys on street corners held pamphlets that promised to guide the wary traveler around pot holes in the muddy muck, while still other street turks, their faces covered in the lash of the street, called out regarding the tragic Christmas time mortalization of a youth in a pothole a mere six feet by eight in size. Although that the youth in question had been four score and three with a full bathtubs belt of gin to his wake could only be found out on page six.
But with the smoke from the chimney-pots and the soft black haze coating the trees such that even the moths shook free of their coats and changed to grey, one might be excused for thinking that the world was at a slow sludge end and, but the appearance of that late thought of, but not yet seen, Tyrant Rex of the paleolithic age would mark its end.
But in all of this, for all the mud and muck and mire, Jarndyce and Jarndyce had long ago come to a close and that was something. It had been at its end. Had consumed itself head and tail and come to nothing. Less than nothing, given that all that it had consumed.
But this story was done with Chancery. Chancery for all of that would not be done with this story, but that none will pay for the legal fees, so Chancery must wash its hands of this tale's sorry plight. Wash its hands and go down to a dinner of roast beef and a brief tot of some hot buttered rum at the inn of the Horse's Bloody Head, which would settle things quite nicely. Perhaps not for the horse, but that was another story entirely.
Out of Chancery
But enough of the mud and the muck and the mire. This story had finally found its way back to Yorkshire with its Bleak House in its unbleak spot and to snow, which had even been given permission to wear a fresh coat of some sort and was not at all grey or mucklike at all.
This Bleak House was determined to be festive with its three children. Two tidy daughters with jingling keys that they loved to play and swing upon their belts like little mothers themselves and their older brother, who they loved to dote upon, and who had now reached the age at which he no longer wished to be doted or invited for dolly dinners.
This Twelfth Night, the children put to their beds, the adults sat at the table with their figgy pudding in their festive cheer cups. Which it should be noted was not particularly figgy, nor was it pudding. Although, given their inclinations, not particularly alcoholic.
Ada looked at the paper on the wall and sighed even now that this Twelfth Night that there was no Richard, who would have felt such a compulsion to present all with five presents each, for each would have been purchased at such a devolution of the cost that to buy even one was a regular savings. Little Richard, her little Richard, now put to his bed, worn out on sugar and feverish dotes was inclined to count and horde his pennies, when his sisters did not find them. At her sigh, she received a brush of fingers from Esther and a brief nod from Woodcourt, for they missed Richard too.
While Guardian, for so he was now called, held his figgy pudding cup like a revolver of some accuracy and declaimed his hearty good cheer. As always at this time of year, he did not look at Esther, although at times his gaze rested upon her in the mirror. Esther did not not look in the mirror.
Woodcourt, the good doctor, the good husband, he did look in the mirror. He met Guardian's eyes, as so must now Mr. Jarndyce be called by his own request. All he must be called. Having denied any other name or even claim to affection. Woodcourt met Guardian's eyes in the old hazy mirror with the slight chip on one end from where little Honoria had been inclined to throw a tea cup of dismay at a doll's indiscretion. Woodcourt held up his own cup of cheer. Guardian held up his cup in answer and he smiled a rueful half smile and glanced away.
This was Twelfth Night these twelve years.
Esther sat in the center. Jingled her key ring and smiled to carry extra little treats that all might enjoy. Her eyes were always a little downcast, as if she still looked through a veil that obscured her gaze. She didn't see Guardian's gaze that was not on her. She did not see Woodcourt's gaze either.
This year though, Woodcourt moved from his accustomed seat, as if to stretch his legs. But in their stretching, his path carried him by Guardian's and into Guardian's hand, Mr. Jarndyce's hand really as he was no Guardian of Woodcourt's, he slipped a small package roughly wrapped in butcher paper and twine.
Later when the candles had been put out and the inky night had gone to its pot, Mr. Jarndyce, for he was no Guardian to himself opened the package. Within he found a small portrait. Not of Esther, for where would Woodcourt have gotten the money for such, but of the late Lady Dedlock in some moment of her youth when she'd been wont to smile and gaze with some softness into the distance. Mr. Jarndyce touched the paint as he could, would never, even, he did not let his thoughts go so far. But he touched the paint and thought to himself that perhaps this spring, he would go on a trip somewhere away where there was neither muck, nor mud, nor moors, nor mirrors either.
But he knew that he would not. But for a moment, he touched the paint and he cherished the thought like a silver tray. Then he blew out the light and fell fully into the oblivion that was forgetfulness. What Mr. Jarndyce dreamed, only he could say.