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I was abashed at having made so great a mistake, and was glad to
change the subject. Fortunately it was not difficult to do, for
Steerforth could always pass from one subject to another with a
carelessness and lightness that were his own.

Lunch succeeded to our sight-seeing, and the short winter day wore
away so fast, that it was dusk when the stage-coach stopped with us
at an old brick house at Highgate on the summit of the hill. An
elderly lady, though not very far advanced in years, with a proud
carriage and a handsome face, was in the doorway as we alighted;
and greeting Steerforth as 'My dearest James,' folded him in her
arms. To this lady he presented me as his mother, and she gave me
a stately welcome.

It was a genteel old-fashioned house, very quiet and orderly. From
the windows of my room I saw all London lying in the distance like
a great vapour, with here and there some lights twinkling through
it. I had only time, in dressing, to glance at the solid
furniture, the framed pieces of work (done, I supposed, by
Steerforth's mother when she was a girl), and some pictures in
crayons of ladies with powdered hair and bodices, coming and going
on the walls, as the newly-kindled fire crackled and sputtered,
when I was called to dinner.

There was a second lady in the dining-room, of a slight short
figure, dark, and not agreeable to look at, but with some
appearance of good looks too, who attracted my attention: perhaps
because I had not expected to see her; perhaps because I found
myself sitting opposite to her; perhaps because of something really
remarkable in her. She had black hair and eager black eyes, and
was thin, and had a scar upon her lip. It was an old scar - I
should rather call it seam, for it was not discoloured, and had
healed years ago - which had once cut through her mouth, downward
towards the chin, but was now barely visible across the table,
except above and on her upper lip, the shape of which it had
altered. I concluded in my own mind that she was about thirty
years of age, and that she wished to be married. She was a little
dilapidated - like a house - with having been so long to let; yet
had, as I have said, an appearance of good looks. Her thinness
seemed to be the effect of some wasting fire within her, which
found a vent in her gaunt eyes.

She was introduced as Miss Dartle, and both Steerforth and his
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