For a great many months, my mind has been piecing together what has become a rather elaborate Bleak House fic, and in my spare time I have been researching and considering a great many things, attempting to bring it to life. Over half a year later, I have got what would be the first installment of what would be my continuing story typed out, and I can barely believe it.
Unlike the other little oneshot I posted here some time ago, this particular story is based entirely from the way the 2005 BBC Miniseries played out, and does not read in the style of the novel. Many ideas have been playing through my head, but I assure that nothing thus far has been written in vain, and I do so hope you will enjoy it!
That being said, if you have any interest in the below story at all, please do not hesitate to comment, as that is my only way of knowing if I should continue with this very lengthy story or not. I suppose I should mention that this is not Alternate Universe in the least, and is intended as a sort of sequel to answer some of those questions that you may be asking about certain characters even after the series has ended. To anyone who reads and comments, I thank you most profusely! I hope you can find this satisfactory, as that is the entire reason I have written it. Hopefully things won't be too confusing for you, though time may be able to straighten some things out for you!
My Greatest Thanks,
Within Terminus Pointe, the great brick house stuffed at the end of Bond Street, a new beginning was unfolding for its mistress. The woman was utterly unaware of such happenings, however, as she ruminated through the cherry wood box of mementoes that sat temporarily upon her escritoire.
My Dear Miss Bottomley,
Though we are so close to pursuing our separate paths, I write this message to dutifully acknowledge our comradeship and our imperishable spiritual bond. As your journey into India is only just beginning, and as my lifetime exceeds yours by a vicennium (and my devotion to this purposeful service by nearly as much), I feel it rather appropriate to share with you the most valuable knowledge I have yet obtained: trust deeply in God. Do not forget that the course of our lives shall not follow the path that we desire, but rather, the path that He has chosen for us. Reflection upon this very idea has squelched my malcontentedness for traveling on to China rather than returning to India. It long ago made sense of my decision to abandon my life in England with all of its wealth and social comforts. I do admit that oftentimes I yearn to come back to the position in life I once held, that I once loved so dearly and in some capacity still do, but it is not meant to be.
With our situations being so alike, I am certain that at times you, too, will doubt yourself in regards to your decision to abandon salience to fulfill your mission. Your forbearance is admirable. Your resolve - though quite silent - is rare. Equipped with such useful gifts, I have no remorse in encouraging you to heed my advice. Advance upon your journey. When you find yourself lost in doubt, do not ask your peers for guidance. I know well how tirelessly they attempt to obliterate your merit. I myself have lost most trust in my colleagues for the very same reason. Look only, then, to God. He will be your steadfast guide.
Yours in Faith,
Miss Bottomley concentrated upon the creased parchment, which after fourteen years of age had grown flavescent. Refocusing her attention to her surroundings, the woman realized how distanced she had become from any way of life she had once known. Past the veil of chintz curtains, beyond the glass pane before her London bustled by, propelled along by intrigue and promise. Horses and pedestrians swarmed the street while a great murkiness hung overhead to catch a glimpse of the fashionable happenings. Bareilly, Agra, Dehli - none of these places had ever provided such a turbulent view. But as Concordia Bottomley's heart juxtaposed the faraway land with the one held close by her eyes, the woman painfully realized how similar they were. She had heeded the old confidant's advice, and her Guardian had returned the missionary to her homeland. It was beyond Miss Bottomley's sight to see what good would come of her return, if in fact the future lay claim to any at all. But the dear woman pushed those thoughts aside as she replaced the letter and chose a much more recent one to peruse.
The mindfulness you have expended to my family will always remain inestimable to me. Even my son Allan, though he has long returned from his voyages, still remarks of your incredible kindness in passing along his messages and any news you could to me when you occupied the same locale and communicating became difficult for him.
I have received word that, after so many years abroad, you are come back to London. In reciprocity of your kindness, and feeling it would be an excellent way to reintroduce you to civilization, it is with the greatest of pleasure that we extend an invitation to you to celebrate the wedding between Mr. Allan Woodcourt and Miss Esther Summerson on Saturday, April the ninth at Bleak House, Hertfordshire.
The cadaverous note was swiftly returned to the box, too, Miss Bottomley having absorbed from it all the information that she possibly could. Her heart brightened with the renewed felicity brought by another viewing of the message. Having met Mr. Woodcourt very seldomly, and never having been acquainted with his mother in person, the invitation was very much appreciated. To Miss Bottomley, however, the fact that the Woodcourts did not share her view of the life she had lived bled straight through the paper, making what was hoped to be a very enjoyable day seem ominous. She rose, pushing aside the great barrier of lace and silk in her armoire to place the wooden chest upon its twin.
In truth, Miss Bottomley's engagement was far greater than an effort to indoctrinate a people or merit sainthood. With very few ever understanding this, the careworn woman obtained solace by keeping the realism of her situation prominent in her own bosom. The strings of the heart can bear incredible weight, though it is not often realized that, under enough time and strain, even the firmest sinews must snap.
The wind pulled gently across the scenic grounds, despite being unable to carry away the verdancy of the far-reaching lawn. Even the magnanimous sunlight exhibited a rare faithfulness. In the midst of it all friends old and new reveled in each other's company - togetherness proving the most sumptuous of all tantalizing delicacies proffered for this most celebrated occasion. The sweet notes of the musicians enticed all to dance, and though this picture was complete in every way - though his Esther was safe in the arms of the man she loved and his Ada's face bore a smile that had not been seen much as of late - John Jarndyce's heart beat hollow, much out of tune with the piece being played.
And suddenly the music stopped, leaving the rhythm of his heart to perform a solo. But of course, no one else could hear it.
With an even greater swiftness, his dear friend Boythorn was upon him. Intoxicated by the abundant mirth around him, the burly gentleman made a simpering Jarndyce realize how great his own tolerance toward bliss had grown over these very trying months.
"I propose we switch partners, my good man," Boythorn declared, whisking away Ada and her beloved son. In her stead, he left another small, blonde woman. Though her lips were unbent, Mr. Jarndyce could tell she was smiling due to the exuberant gleam that radiated from her dark eyes. The next song began, and he recovered from his wonderment to offer a bow of equal caliber to her curtsy.
"Another waltz!" She announced. "Please forgive me for being so stodgy a partner. It has been many years since I have attended an event this festive."
His smile attained a degree of trueness. The woman's odd detachment proved refreshing. "No, no. It is comforting to find another person who is somehow maladroit despite the charming atmosphere. Though of course, I hope you are not feeling too oppressed by your surroundings?" He turned his statement into a question, slanting his heavy brows as the pair turned about.
"No, thank you," came her reply. "I find this estate invigorating and the celebration itself most laudable. Surely the host went through great pains to see this all to fruition."
Mr. Jarndyce was taken aback by his partner's words. Stopping momentarily as the dance dictated, he looked into her eyes. "I did," he assured her.
Her golden skin flushed crimson for not realizing who she was speaking with. Mr. Jarndyce's chagrin was momentarily passed to her, a burden he was most appreciative to her for accepting.
"At least - like light proceeds darkness - pleasure will proceed pain," she retrieved herself gingerly, her grin moving onto her lips.
He chuckled. "Is the light not at times eclipsed?" Had anyone other than the unfamiliar young lady been listening to him, Mr. Jarndyce did not suppose he would have posed the question at all.
In London, the orange luminescence descending upon the city signaled to one Mr. Clamb that business was to be completed for the day. Lost in a sea of scrolls and envelopes, the stalwart clerk had paid little heed to the mahogany clock that loomed amidst the bookshelves and desks of the congested office. Just as Mr. Clamb decided finally to lock the door and draw the shades, however, the odious disfigurement of Mr. Smallweed exploded over the threshold, guided by his usual averse retinue. The entourage scurried away after Judy distributed ample coins from her bag, blocking their ears as if the wizened old man was himself a Siren.
"Mr. Clamb," the surly fiend drawled from behind his yellow teeth. "'ow's the new job panning out for yeh?" He erupted into cackling at this, and Judy offered up a most devilish grin, too.
The clerk, however, remained tranquil, and quit organizing the fixtures that had been interrupted to address the visitor. "My master is not in at present, Mr. Smallweed, and I'm afraid I was just in the process of closing up for the evening." The little woman frowned at the message, but her grandfather continued to glower.
"Yer master! Hah! Yer master the ladies' man engaged elsewhere! Shake me up, Judy!" Judy begrudgingly obeyed, hastening afterward to straighten her capote and cloak, the brilliant purple color of which professed them both to be new.
"No, my friend," Mr. Smallweed continued, "it's you I've come 'ere about, and this won't take long, a'tol. You see, our little collaboration proved profitable enough, I think, and we seem to make a pretty good pair, wouldn't you say?"
"You forget, Mr. Smallweed, that I am now employed and in no further need of your calling."
"Like I want you!" The moneylender erupted. His granddaughter stiffened up, too, to enhance the sentiment. "Yer of no use to me, now! But you will be, you see? You see! You've gotten quite an education working for Tulkinghorn all these years, Clamb, and I daresay you've got more knowledge than you've so far admitted to. You're more shrewd than you let on, an' I like that. I understand how you operate, but your revered Mr. Guppy doesn't, I don't think. What he pays you ain't 'ardly enough to feed a cat, is it? You just remember where you made real money, Mr. Clamb, and when Mr. Guppy's law firm caves in, or when I come looking for a little help in getting rid of a few fiends, perhaps you won't be so unreasonable, eh?"
For a long moment the clerk remained silent. With eyes cast downward, he appeared to examine his littered desk, sweat beading onto his brow. "I'll keep your request in mind, Mr. Smallweed."
The old man snickered, as if malice had made him young again. "A pleasure doing business with you, sir." With that, the retinue was summoned once again, and the office was left vacant before Mr. Clamb could reconsider.
"Now then, my dear," Mr. Jarndyce addressed, ushering his dance partner to the place where Ada rested with bundle still in tow. "There is a guest with us here that I don't believe you've met." He broke his glance from Ada and motioning cordially with his hands continued, "Miss Carstone, I give you Miss Bottomley and Miss Bottomley, Miss Carstone."
In the midst of this spirited introduction, the babe on Miss Carstone's lap hurled a distinct metal object onto the ground, which Miss Bottomley surmised at once to be a very queer rattle. Bending to pick it up for the young mother, she gently deposited it back with the cheery baby before assuring, "Very pleased to meet you," as her eyes met the other woman's, who then offered her salutation in kind.
Mr. Jarndyce, who had been smiling down on the pair of flaxen ladies, broke his silence. "Very well, now that you are acquainted, I beg you to excuse me for a few moments. What a wretched host I would be if I did not ensure that all was in proper order!" Without further ado, he flitted away. The two women smiled after him.
"Is Mr. Jarndyce your father?" Miss Bottomley inquired.
"Not by blood, no. He is my cousin, actually, but he has treated the bride and I as his most cherished daughters. We love him dearly for it." Miss Carstone beamed to herself before suddenly being roused by thought. "Miss Bottomley . . .are you by chance of the Bottomleys of Lancashire?"
"Why, yes," she replied.
"I lived in the north as a young girl. Your estate spurred on my greatest fantasies as a child, I found it so fairytale-like." The older woman observed the younger as she slipped into recollection, gently rocking her baby back and forth.
Miss Bottomley glanced at her folded hands in her lap, a touch ashamed. "It was beautiful, to be sure. I fear I caused quite an uproar when I sold it, demolishing family tradition and what have you." She could tell from the respectful lady's eyes that Miss Carstone would find elaboration most helpful, though she did not ask for it outright. "You see, by that time my immediate family had predeceased me, and as I was planning to voyage to India for an indefinite amount of time, it would be nearly impossible to care for the place as was required. I only very lately returned, and that was so many years ago."
"What was your business in India? If you don't mind my asking." The young lady by now had developed a genuine interest, having found a connection to her past life that she had not expected, a most welcome retreat from dark memories.
"Not at all. I quit England to pursue work as a 'lady doctor.' The women of India can never be seen by men, and at the time of my departure there were very few available to them and their children."
"I trust it is Mr. Woodcourt who saw to your coming then," Miss Carstone deduced. Miss Bottomley smiled.
"Ironically enough, yes, at the beneficent suggestion of his mother I do think. Completely by chance, Mr. Woodcourt found himself with his order in my region for a time after his shipwreck. With medicine in common, we struck up a conversation once, at which point he seemed very anxious to contact home. As such feats are at times more trying for military men, I offered to be his medium of correspondence whenever he needed. I daresay the amount of information I sent along to Mrs. Woodcourt became tiresome."
Miss Carstone seemed held by the story. "And that is the story of the woman who lived in the house I so admired as a child, and of how she came to sit right next to me - more sympathetic than I ever imagined her. A small world, is it not?"
The older woman straightened her skirts. "Indeed it is, full of very admirable houses to be sure. Bleak House is rather charming itself."
Miss Carstone simpered, before distantly continuing. "Yes, very. I am certainly blessed to be here with Mr. Jarndyce. The trouble we have caused him seems at times inexcusable."
"Well, hopefully I won't be," rang a distinct voice. The ladies turned and were met with a face that was just as singular, bordered by a great mass of ebony curls. "Mr. Bucket, miss," he continued to Miss Bottomley, bowing his head. "As I 'aven't had the privilege yet, I was wondering if perhaps you'd like to dance."
Taken aback, Miss Bottomley shot a quick glance to Miss Clare, who dropped her chin in consent. "I'd be honored," the former affirmed. Mr. Bucket grinned, taking her hand.
"I'll bringer back forthwith, Miss C," the gentleman declared.
In a moment, Mr. Bucket had caught the woman's name, and he and Miss Bottomley had pleasantly begun to spin about. They advanced for the most part in silence, and it did not take long for the detective to ascertain that this quietness was one of the golden haired woman's most obvious mannerisms.. Discreetly, he collected much more information about her, as only the man with the surname of Bucket could do - or find the desire to do.
He began with Miss Bottomley's eyes, in all their amber warmth. Quite inviting, they were, with seemingly as many facets as gems. There was an awful lot of kindness in them, there was. Yes, indeed - though beneath that, there was a good deal of contemplation, almost as if the woman was distilling a complicated secret. Not far down was the nose, a straight, generous septum joined with proportionate nostrils. Two small crimson lips completed the face, though Mr. Bucket imagined that had they lain limp with a frown, they would not appear as refined. What about the head as a whole? Quite round, decorated with that fair hair - so light that perhaps the sun had bleached it past its natural hue. If that were the case, it would make sense as to why her skin was noticeably darker than anyone else's in the company. The neck? Complimentary, but by no means resembling Adonis'. The woman formed a very pretty picture, nonetheless, but what was her age? The face kept her secret well, indeed.
He spun the woman around. Ah! The hand was much more telling. Very used to contact, it was, and a crescent moon-shaped scar rested between the mature thumb and index finger. Certainly Miss Bottomley was not so young as thirty, though perhaps she had not reached forty quite yet.
Her nature, what of that? The face led Mr. Bucket to believe that she was congenial, though that part of the body is most easily masked. She was very graceful, he realized that. Her feet made improbable turns that his could never hope to replicate. But her features were not clouded with concentration, her neck lacked the rigidness of a woman putting on airs. She was not trying. Bless her heart! The tension in her back, her shoulders - it almost hinted at dread of attracting attention. Her enjoyment shined through much stronger, though. How lovely, how rare.
Satisfied with his profiling, Inspector Bucket sighed inwardly. This Miss Bottomley was a dear sweet girl, much more prominently so on the interior. After so many years in his profession, he knew one when he saw one. But it panged at his heart, too, for it was always the good, virtuous ones who found themselves ensnared in the unsightliness of others. That he had learned early on as well, and it made these extended years in service more tiresome than he ever did let on. But this one seemed intelligent, perhaps she would escape. Inspector Bucket truly could not say - but for this dance at least, he could ensure her safety.