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Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Part 17 out of 21

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condition.

"Well, well!" he cried, shaking it off. "Everything has an end.
We shall see! So you will take me as I am, and make the best of
me?"

"Aye! Indeed I will." They shook hands upon it laughingly, but in
deep earnestness. I can answer for one of them with my heart of
hearts.

"You come as a godsend," said Richard, "for I have seen nobody here
yet but Vholes. Woodcourt, there is one subject I should like to
mention, for once and for all, in the beginning of our treaty. You
can hardly make the best of me if I don't. You know, I dare say,
that I have an attachment to my cousin Ada?"

Mr. Woodcourt replied that I had hinted as much to him. "Now
pray," returned Richard, "don't think me a heap of selfishness.
Don't suppose that I am splitting my head and half breaking my
heart over this miserable Chancery suit for my own rights and
interests alone. Ada's are bound up with mine; they can't be
separated; Vholes works for both of us. Do think of that!"

He was so very solicitous on this head that Mr. Woodcourt gave him
the strongest assurances that he did him no injustice.

"You see," said Richard, with something pathetic in his manner of
lingering on the point, though it was off-hand and unstudied, "to
an upright fellow like you, bringing a friendly face like yours
here, I cannot bear the thought of appearing selfish and mean. I
want to see Ada righted, Woodcourt, as well as myself; I want to do
my utmost to right her, as well as myself; I venture what I can
scrape together to extricate her, as well as myself. Do, I beseech
you, think of that!"

Afterwards, when Mr. Woodcourt came to reflect on what had passed,
he was so very much impressed by the strength of Richard's anxiety
on this point that in telling me generally of his first visit to
Symond's Inn he particularly dwelt upon it. It revived a fear I
had had before that my dear girl's little property would be
absorbed by Mr. Vholes and that Richard's justification to himself
would be sincerely this. It was just as I began to take care of
Caddy that the interview took place, and I now return to the time
when Caddy had recovered and the shade was still between me and my
darling.

I proposed to Ada that morning that we should go and see Richard.
It a little surprised me to find that she hesitated and was not so
radiantly willing as I had expected.

"My dear," said I, "you have not had any difference with Richard
since I have been so much away?"

"No, Esther."

"Not heard of him, perhaps?" said I.

"Yes, I have heard of him," said Ada.

Such tears in her eyes, and such love in her face. I could not
make my darling out. Should I go to Richard's by myself? I said.
No, Ada thought I had better not go by myself. Would she go with
me? Yes, Ada thought she had better go with me. Should we go now?
Yes, let us go now. Well, I could not understand my darling, with
the tears in her eyes and the love in her face!

We were soon equipped and went out. It was a sombre day, and drops
of chill rain fell at intervals. It was one of those colourless
days when everything looks heavy and harsh. The houses frowned at
us, the dust rose at us, the smoke swooped at us, nothing made any
compromise about itself or wore a softened aspect. I fancied my
beautiful girl quite out of place in the rugged streets, and I
thought there were more funerals passing along the dismal pavements
than I had ever seen before.

We had first to find out Symond's Inn. We were going to inquire in
a shop when Ada said she thought it was near Chancery Lane. "We
are not likely to be far out, my love, if we go in that direction,"
said I. So to Chancery Lane we went, and there, sure enough, we
saw it written up. Symond's Inn.

We had next to find out the number. "Or Mr. Vholes's office will
do," I recollected, "for Mr. Vholes's office is next door." Upon
which Ada said, perhaps that was Mr. Vholes's office in the corner
there. And it really was.

Then came the question, which of the two next doors? I was going
for the one, and my darling was going for the other; and my darling
was right again. So up we went to the second story, when we came
to Richard's name in great white letters on a hearse-like panel.

I should have knocked, but Ada said perhaps we had better turn the
handle and go in. Thus we came to Richard, poring over a table
covered with dusty bundles of papers which seemed to me like dusty
mirrors reflecting his own mind. Wherever I looked I saw the
ominous words that ran in it repeated. Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

He received us very affectionately, and we sat down. "If you had
come a little earlier," he said, "you would have found Woodcourt
here. There never was such a good fellow as Woodcourt is. He
finds time to look in between-whiles, when anybody else with half
his work to do would be thinking about not being able to come. And
he is so cheery, so fresh, so sensible, so earnest, so--everything
that I am not, that the place brightens whenever he comes, and
darkens whenever he goes again."

"God bless him," I thought, "for his truth to me!"

"He is not so sanguine, Ada," continued Richard, casting his
dejected look over the bundles of papers, "as Vholes and I are
usually, but he is only an outsider and is not in the mysteries.
We have gone into them, and he has not. He can't be expected to
know much of such a labyrinth."

As his look wandered over the papers again and he passed his two
hands over his head, I noticed how sunken and how large his eyes
appeared, how dry his lips were, and how his finger-nails were all
bitten away.

"Is this a healthy place to live in, Richard, do you think?" said I.

"Why, my dear Minerva," answered Richard with his old gay laugh,
"it is neither a rural nor a cheerful place; and when the sun
shines here, you may lay a pretty heavy wager that it is shining
brightly in an open spot. But it's well enough for the time. It's
near the offices and near Vholes."

"Perhaps," I hinted, "a change from both--"

"Might do me good?" said Richard, forcing a laugh as he finished
the sentence. "I shouldn't wonder! But it can only come in one
way now--in one of two ways, I should rather say. Either the suit
must be ended, Esther, or the suitor. But it shall be the suit, my
dear girl, the suit, my dear girl!"

These latter words were addressed to Ada, who was sitting nearest
to him. Her face being turned away from me and towards him, I
could not see it.

"We are doing very well," pursued Richard. "Vholes will tell you
so. We are really spinning along. Ask Vholes. We are giving them
no rest. Vholes knows all their windings and turnings, and we are
upon them everywhere. We have astonished them already. We shall
rouse up that nest of sleepers, mark my words!"

His hopefulness had long been more painful to me than his
despondency; it was so unlike hopefulness, had something so fierce
in its determination to be it, was so hungry and eager, and yet so
conscious of being forced and unsustainable that it had long
touched me to the heart. But the commentary upon it now indelibly
written in his handsome face made it far more distressing than it
used to be. I say indelibly, for I felt persuaded that if the
fatal cause could have been for ever terminated, according to his
brightest visions, in that same hour, the traces of the premature
anxiety, self-reproach, and disappointment it had occasioned him
would have remained upon his features to the hour of his death.

"The sight of our dear little woman," said Richard, Ada still
remaining silent and quiet, "is so natural to me, and her
compassionate face is so like the face of old days--"

Ah! No, no. I smiled and shook my head.

"--So exactly like the face of old days," said Richard in his
cordial voice, and taking my hand with the brotherly regard which
nothing ever changed, "that I can't make pretences with her. I
fluctuate a little; that's the truth. Sometimes I hope, my dear,
and sometimes I--don't quite despair, but nearly. I get," said
Richard, relinquishing my hand gently and walking across the room,
"so tired!"

He took a few turns up and down and sunk upon the sofa. "I get,"
he repeated gloomily, "so tired. It is such weary, weary work!"

He was leaning on his arm saying these words in a meditative voice
and looking at the ground when my darling rose, put off her bonnet,
kneeled down beside him with her golden hair falling like sunlight
on his head, clasped her two arms round his neck, and turned her
face to me. Oh, what a loving and devoted face I saw!

"Esther, dear," she said very quietly, "I am not going home again."

A light shone in upon me all at once.

"Never any more. I am going to stay with my dear husband. We have
been married above two months. Go home without me, my own Esther;
I shall never go home any more!" With those words my darling drew
his head down on her breast and held it there. And if ever in my
life I saw a love that nothing but death could change, I saw it
then before me.

"Speak to Esther, my dearest," said Richard, breaking the silence
presently. "Tell her how it was."

I met her before she could come to me and folded her in my arms.
We neither of us spoke, but with her cheek against my own I wanted
to hear nothing. "My pet," said I. "My love. My poor, poor
girl!" I pitied her so much. I was very fond of Richard, but the
impulse that I had upon me was to pity her so much.

"Esther, will you forgive me? Will my cousin John forgive me?"

"My dear," said I, "to doubt it for a moment is to do him a great
wrong. And as to me!" Why, as to me, what had I to forgive!

I dried my sobbing darling's eyes and sat beside her on the sofa,
and Richard sat on my other side; and while I was reminded of that
so different night when they had first taken me into their
confidence and had gone on in their own wild happy way, they told
me between them how it was.

"All I had was Richard's," Ada said; "and Richard would not take
it, Esther, and what could I do but be his wife when I loved him
dearly!"

"And you were so fully and so kindly occupied, excellent Dame
Durden," said Richard, "that how could we speak to you at such a
time! And besides, it was not a long-considered step. We went out
one morning and were married."

"And when it was done, Esther," said my darling, "I was always
thinking how to tell you and what to do for the best. And
sometimes I thought you ought to know it directly, and sometimes I
thought you ought not to know it and keep it from my cousin John;
and I could not tell what to do, and I fretted very much."

How selfish I must have been not to have thought of this before! I
don't know what I said now. I was so sorry, and yet I was so fond
of them and so glad that they were fond of me; I pitied them so
much, and yet I felt a kind of pride in their loving one another.
I never had experienced such painful and pleasurable emotion at one
time, and in my own heart I did not know which predominated. But I
was not there to darken their way; I did not do that.

When I was less foolish and more composed, my darling took her
wedding-ring from her bosom, and kissed it, and put it on. Then I
remembered last night and told Richard that ever since her marriage
she had worn it at night when there was no one to see. Then Ada
blushingly asked me how did I know that, my dear. Then I told Ada
how I had seen her hand concealed under her pillow and had little
thought why, my dear. Then they began telling me how it was all
over again, and I began to be sorry and glad again, and foolish
again, and to hide my plain old face as much as I could lest I
should put them out of heart.

Thus the time went on until it became necessary for me to think of
returning. When that time arrived it was the worst of all, for
then my darling completely broke down. She clung round my neck,
calling me by every dear name she could think of and saying what
should she do without me! Nor was Richard much better; and as for
me, I should have been the worst of the three if I had not severely
said to myself, "Now Esther, if you do, I'll never speak to you
again!"

"Why, I declare," said I, "I never saw such a wife. I don't think
she loves her husband at all. Here, Richard, take my child, for
goodness' sake." But I held her tight all the while, and could
have wept over her I don't know how long.

"I give this dear young couple notice," said I, "that I am only
going away to come back to-morrow and that I shall be always coming
backwards and forwards until Symond's Inn is tired of the sight of
me. So I shall not say good-bye, Richard. For what would be the
use of that, you know, when I am coming back so soon!"

I had given my darling to him now, and I meant to go; but I
lingered for one more look of the precious face which it seemed to
rive my heart to turn from.

So I said (in a merry, bustling manner) that unless they gave me
some encouragement to come back, I was not sure that I could take
that liberty, upon which my dear girl looked up, faintly smiling
through her tears, and I folded her lovely face between my hands,
and gave it one last kiss, and laughed, and ran away.

And when I got downstairs, oh, how I cried! It almost seemed to me
that I had lost my Ada for ever. I was so lonely and so blank
without her, and it was so desolate to be going home with no hope
of seeing her there, that I could get no comfort for a little while
as I walked up and down in a dim corner sobbing and crying.

I came to myself by and by, after a little scolding, and took a
coach home. The poor boy whom I had found at St. Albans had
reappeared a short time before and was lying at the point of death;
indeed, was then dead, though I did not know it. My guardian had
gone out to inquire about him and did not return to dinner. Being
quite alone, I cried a little again, though on the whole I don't
think I behaved so very, very ill.

It was only natural that I should not be quite accustomed to the
loss of my darling yet. Three or four hours were not a long time
after years. But my mind dwelt so much upon the uncongenial scene
in which I had left her, and I pictured it as such an overshadowed
stony-hearted one, and I so longed to be near her and taking some
sort of care of her, that I determined to go back in the evening
only to look up at her windows.

It was foolish, I dare say, but it did not then seem at all so to
me, and it does not seem quite so even now. I took Charley into my
confidence, and we went out at dusk. It was dark when we came to
the new strange home of my dear girl, and there was a light behind
the yellow blinds. We walked past cautiously three or four times,
looking up, and narrowly missed encountering Mr. Vholes, who came
out of his office while we were there and turned his head to look
up too before going home. The sight of his lank black figure and
the lonesome air of that nook in the dark were favourable to the
state of my mind. I thought of the youth and love and beauty of my
dear girl, shut up in such an ill-assorted refuge, almost as if it
were a cruel place.

It was very solitary and very dull, and I did not doubt that I
might safely steal upstairs. I left Charley below and went up with
a light foot, not distressed by any glare from the feeble oil
lanterns on the way. I listened for a few moments, and in the
musty rotting silence of the house believed that I could hear the
murmur of their young voices. I put my lips to the hearse-like
panel of the door as a kiss for my dear and came quietly down
again, thinking that one of these days I would confess to the
visit.

And it really did me good, for though nobody but Charley and I knew
anything about it, I somehow felt as if it had diminished the
separation between Ada and me and had brought us together again for
those moments. I went back, not quite accustomed yet to the
change, but all the better for that hovering about my darling.

My guardian had come home and was standing thoughtfully by the dark
window. When I went in, his face cleared and he came to his seat,
but he caught the light upon my face as I took mine.

"Little woman," said he, "You have been crying."

"Why, yes, guardian," said I, "I am afraid I have been, a little.
Ada has been in such distress, and is so very sorry, guardian."

I put my arm on the back of his chair, and I saw in his glance that
my words and my look at her empty place had prepared him.

"Is she married, my dear?"

I told him all about it and how her first entreaties had referred
to his forgiveness.

"She has no need of it," said he. "Heaven bless her and her
husband!" But just as my first impulse had been to pity her, so
was his. "Poor girl, poor girl! Poor Rick! Poor Ada!"

Neither of us spoke after that, until he said with a sigh, "Well,
well, my dear! Bleak House is thinning fast."

"But its mistress remains, guardian." Though I was timid about
saying it, I ventured because of the sorrowful tone in which he had
spoken. "She will do all she can to make it happy," said I.

"She will succeed, my love!"

The letter had made no difference between us except that the seat
by his side had come to be mine; it made none now. He turned his
old bright fatherly look upon me, laid his hand on my hand in his
old way, and said again, "She will succeed, my dear. Nevertheless,
Bleak House is thinning fast, O little woman!"

I was sorry presently that this was all we said about that. I was
rather disappointed. I feared I might not quite have been all I
had meant to be since the letter and the answer.

CHAPTER LII

Obstinacy

But one other day had intervened when, early in the morning as we
were going to breakfast, Mr. Woodcourt came in haste with the
astounding news that a terrible murder had been committed for which
Mr. George had been apprehended and was in custody. When he told
us that a large reward was offered by Sir Leicester Dedlock for the
murderer's apprehension, I did not in my first consternation
understand why; but a few more words explained to me that the
murdered person was Sir Leicester's lawyer, and immediately my
mother's dread of him rushed into my remembrance.

This unforeseen and violent removal of one whom she had long
watched and distrusted and who had long watched and distrusted her,
one for whom she could have had few intervals of kindness, always
dreading in him a dangerous and secret enemy, appeared so awful
that my first thoughts were of her. How appalling to hear of such
a death and be able to feel no pity! How dreadful to remember,
perhaps, that she had sometimes even wished the old man away who
was so swiftly hurried out of life!

Such crowding reflections, increasing the distress and fear I
always felt when the name was mentioned, made me so agitated that I
could scarcely hold my place at the table. I was quite unable to
follow the conversation until I had had a little time to recover.
But when I came to myself and saw how shocked my guardian was and
found that they were earnestly speaking of the suspected man and
recalling every favourable impression we had formed of him out of
the good we had known of him, my interest and my fears were so
strongly aroused in his behalf that I was quite set up again.

"Guardian, you don't think it possible that he is justly accused?"

"My dear, I CAN'T think so. This man whom we have seen so open-
hearted and compassionate, who with the might of a giant has the
gentleness of a child, who looks as brave a fellow as ever lived
and is so simple and quiet with it, this man justly accused of such
a crime? I can't believe it. It's not that I don't or I won't. I
can't!"

"And I can't," said Mr. Woodcourt. "Still, whatever we believe or
know of him, we had better not forget that some appearances are
against him. He bore an animosity towards the deceased gentleman.
He has openly mentioned it in many places. He is said to have
expressed himself violently towards him, and he certainly did about
him, to my knowledge. He admits that he was alone on the scene of
the murder within a few minutes of its commission. I sincerely
believe him to be as innocent of any participation in it as I am,
but these are all reasons for suspicion falling upon him."

"True," said my guardian. And he added, turning to me, "It would
be doing him a very bad service, my dear, to shut our eyes to the
truth in any of these respects."

I felt, of course, that we must admit, not only to ourselves but to
others, the full force of the circumstances against him. Yet I
knew withal (I could not help saying) that their weight would not
induce us to desert him in his need.

"Heaven forbid!" returned my guardian. "We will stand by him, as
he himself stood by the two poor creatures who are gone." He meant
Mr. Gridley and the boy, to both of whom Mr. George had given
shelter.

Mr. Woodcourt then told us that the trooper's man had been with him
before day, after wandering about the streets all night like a
distracted creature. That one of the trooper's first anxieties was
that we should not suppose him guilty. That he had charged his
messenger to represent his perfect innocence with every solemn
assurance be could send us. That Mr. Woodcourt had only quieted
the man by undertaking to come to our house very early in the
morning with these representations. He added that he was now upon
his way to see the prisoner himself.

My guardian said directly he would go too. Now, besides that I
liked the retired soldier very much and that he liked me, I had
that secret interest in what had happened which was only known to
my guardian. I felt as if it came close and near to me. It seemed
to become personally important to myself that the truth should be
discovered and that no innocent people should be suspected, for
suspicion, once run wild, might run wilder.

In a word, I felt as if it were my duty and obligation to go with
them. My guardian did not seek to dissuade me, and I went.

It was a large prison with many courts and passages so like one
another and so uniformly paved that I seemed to gain a new
comprehension, as I passed along, of the fondness that solitary
prisoners, shut up among the same staring walls from year to year,
have had--as I have read--for a weed or a stray blade of grass. In
an arched room by himself, like a cellar upstairs, with walls so
glaringly white that they made the massive iron window-bars and
iron-bound door even more profoundly black than they were, we found
the trooper standing in a corner. He had been sitting on a bench
there and had risen when he heard the locks and bolts turn.

When he saw us, he came forward a step with his usual heavy tread,
and there stopped and made a slight bow. But as I still advanced,
putting out my hand to him, he understood us in a moment.

"This is a load off my mind, I do assure you, miss and gentlemen,"
said he, saluting us with great heartiness and drawing a long
breath. "And now I don't so much care how it ends."

He scarcely seemed to be the prisoner. What with his coolness and
his soldierly bearing, he looked far more like the prison guard.

"This is even a rougher place than my gallery to receive a lady
in," said Mr. George, "but I know Miss Summerson will make the best
of it." As he handed me to the bench on which he had been sitting,
I sat down, which seemed to give him great satisfaction.

"I thank you, miss," said he.

"Now, George," observed my guardian, "as we require no new
assurances on your part, so I believe we need give you none on
ours."

"Not at all, sir. I thank you with all my heart. If I was not
innocent of this crime, I couldn't look at you and keep my secret
to myself under the condescension of the present visit. I feel the
present visit very much. I am not one of the eloquent sort, but I
feel it, Miss Summerson and gentlemen, deeply."

He laid his hand for a moment on his broad chest and bent his head
to us. Although he squared himself again directly, he expressed a
great amount of natural emotion by these simple means.

"First," said my guardian, "can we do anything for your personal
comfort, George?"

"For which, sir?" he inquired, clearing his throat.

"For your personal comfort. Is there anything you want that would
lessen the hardship of this confinement?"

"Well, sir," replied George, after a little cogitation, "I am
equally obliged to you, but tobacco being against the rules, I
can't say that there is."

"You will think of many little things perhaps, by and by.
Whenever you do, George, let us know."

"Thank you, sir. Howsoever," observed Mr. George with one of his
sunburnt smiles, "a man who has been knocking about the world in a
vagabond kind of a way as long as I have gets on well enough in a
place like the present, so far as that goes."

"Next, as to your case," observed my guardian.

"Exactly so, sir," returned Mr. George, folding his arms upon his
breast with perfect self-possession and a little curiosity.

"How does it stand now?"

"Why, sir, it is under remand at present. Bucket gives me to
understand that he will probably apply for a series of remands from
time to time until the case is more complete. How it is to be made
more complete I don't myself see, but I dare say Bucket will manage
it somehow."

"Why, heaven save us, man," exclaimed my guardian, surprised into
his old oddity and vehemence, "you talk of yourself as if you were
somebody else!"

"No offence, sir," said Mr. George. "I am very sensible of your
kindness. But I don't see how an innocent man is to make up his
mind to this kind of thing without knocking his head against the
walls unless he takes it in that point of view.

"That is true enough to a certain extent," returned my guardian,
softened. "But my good fellow, even an innocent man must take
ordinary precautions to defend himself."

"Certainly, sir. And I have done so. I have stated to the
magistrates, 'Gentlemen, I am as innocent of this charge as
yourselves; what has been stated against me in the way of facts is
perfectly true; I know no more about it.' I intend to continue
stating that, sir. What more can I do? It's the truth."

"But the mere truth won't do," rejoined my guardian.

"Won't it indeed, sir? Rather a bad look-out for me!" Mr. George
good-humouredly observed.

"You must have a lawyer," pursued my guardian. "We must engage a
good one for you."

"I ask your pardon, sir," said Mr. George with a step backward. "I
am equally obliged. But I must decidedly beg to be excused from
anything of that sort."

"You won't have a lawyer?"

"No, sir." Mr. George shook his head in the most emphatic manner.
"I thank you all the same, sir, but--no lawyer!"

"Why not?"

"I don't take kindly to the breed," said Mr. George. "Gridley
didn't. And--if you'll excuse my saying so much--I should hardly
have thought you did yourself, sir."

"That's equity," my guardian explained, a little at a loss; "that's
equity, George."

"Is it, indeed, sir?" returned the trooper in his off-hand manner.
"I am not acquainted with those shades of names myself, but in a
general way I object to the breed."

Unfolding his arms and changing his position, he stood with one
massive hand upon the table and the other on his hip, as complete a
picture of a man who was not to be moved from a fixed purpose as
ever I saw. It was in vain that we all three talked to him and
endeavoured to persuade him; he listened with that gentleness which
went so well with his bluff bearing, but was evidently no more
shaken by our representations that his place of confinement was.

"Pray think, once more, Mr. George," said I. "Have you no wish in
reference to your case?"

"I certainly could wish it to be tried, miss," he returned, "by
court-martial; but that is out of the question, as I am well aware.
If you will be so good as to favour me with your attention for a
couple of minutes, miss, not more, I'll endeavour to explain myself
as clearly as I can."

He looked at us all three in turn, shook his head a little as if he
were adjusting it in the stock and collar of a tight uniform, and
after a moment's reflection went on.

"You see, miss, I have been handcuffed and taken into custody and
brought here. I am a marked and disgraced man, and here I am. My
shooting gallery is rummaged, high and low, by Bucket; such
property as I have--'tis small--is turned this way and that till it
don't know itself; and (as aforesaid) here I am! I don't
particular complain of that. Though I am in these present quarters
through no immediately preceding fault of mine, I can very well
understand that if I hadn't gone into the vagabond way in my youth,
this wouldn't have happened. It HAS happened. Then comes the
question how to meet it"

He rubbed his swarthy forehead for a moment with a good-humoured
look and said apologetically, "I am such a short-winded talker that
I must think a bit." Having thought a bit, he looked up again and
resumed.

"How to meet it. Now, the unfortunate deceased was himself a
lawyer and had a pretty tight hold of me. I don't wish to rake up
his ashes, but he had, what I should call if he was living, a devil
of a tight hold of me. I don't like his trade the better for that.
If I had kept clear of his trade, I should have kept outside this
place. But that's not what I mean. Now, suppose I had killed him.
Suppose I really had discharged into his body any one of those
pistols recently fired off that Bucket has found at my place, and
dear me, might have found there any day since it has been my place.
What should I have done as soon as I was hard and fast here? Got a
lawyer."

He stopped on hearing some one at the locks and bolts and did not
resume until the door had been opened and was shut again. For what
purpose opened, I will mention presently.

"I should have got a lawyer, and he would have said (as I have
often read in the newspapers), 'My client says nothing, my client
reserves his defence': my client this, that, and t'other. Well,
'tis not the custom of that breed to go straight, according to my
opinion, or to think that other men do. Say I am innocent and I
get a lawyer. He would be as likely to believe me guilty as not;
perhaps more. What would he do, whether or not? Act as if I was--
shut my mouth up, tell me not to commit myself, keep circumstances
back, chop the evidence small, quibble, and get me off perhaps!
But, Miss Summerson, do I care for getting off in that way; or
would I rather be hanged in my own way--if you'll excuse my
mentioning anything so disagreeable to a lady?"

He had warmed into his subject now, and was under no further
necessity to wait a bit.

"I would rather be hanged in my own way. And I mean to be! I
don't intend to say," looking round upon us with his powerful arms
akimbo and his dark eyebrows raised, "that I am more partial to
being hanged than another man. What I say is, I must come off
clear and full or not at all. Therefore, when I hear stated
against me what is true, I say it's true; and when they tell me,
'whatever you say will be used,' I tell them I don't mind that; I
mean it to be used. If they can't make me innocent out of the
whole truth, they are not likely to do it out of anything less, or
anything else. And if they are, it's worth nothing to me."

Taking a pace or two over the stone floor, he came back to the
table and finished what he had to say.

"I thank you, miss and gentlemen both, many times for your
attention, and many times more for your interest. That's the plain
state of the matter as it points itself out to a mere trooper with
a blunt broadsword kind of a mind. I have never done well in life
beyond my duty as a soldier, and if the worst comes after all, I
shall reap pretty much as I have sown. When I got over the first
crash of being seized as a murderer--it don't take a rover who has
knocked about so much as myself so very long to recover from a
crash--I worked my way round to what you find me now. As such I
shall remain. No relations will be disgraced by me or made unhappy
for me, and--and that's all I've got to say."

The door had been opened to admit another soldier-looking man of
less prepossessing appearance at first sight and a weather-tanned,
bright-eyed wholesome woman with a basket, who, from her entrance,
had been exceedingly attentive to all Mr. George had said. Mr.
George had received them with a familiar nod and a friendly look,
but without any more particular greeting in the midst of his
address. He now shook them cordially by the hand and said, "Miss
Summerson and gentlemen, this is an old comrade of mine, Matthew
Bagnet. And this is his wife, Mrs. Bagnet."

Mr. Bagnet made us a stiff military bow, and Mrs. Bagnet dropped us
a curtsy.

"Real good friends of mine, they are," sald Mr. George. "It was at
their house I was taken."

"With a second-hand wiolinceller," Mr. Bagnet put in, twitching his
head angrily. "Of a good tone. For a friend. That money was no
object to."

"Mat," said Mr. George, "you have heard pretty well all I have been
saying to this lady and these two gentlemen. I know it meets your
approval?"

Mr. Bagnet, after considering, referred the point to his wife.
"Old girl," said he. "Tell him. Whether or not. It meets my
approval."

"Why, George," exclaimed Mrs. Bagnet, who had been unpacking her
basket, in which there was a piece of cold pickled pork, a little
tea and sugar, and a brown loaf, "you ought to know it don't. You
ought to know it's enough to drive a person wild to hear you. You
won't be got off this way, and you won't be got off that way--what
do you mean by such picking and choosing? It's stuff and nonsense,
George."

"Don't be severe upon me in my misfortunes, Mrs. Bagnet," said the
trooper lightly.

"Oh! Bother your misfortunes," cried Mrs. Bagnet, "if they don't
make you more reasonable than that comes to. I never was so
ashamed in my life to hear a man talk folly as I have been to hear
you talk this day to the present company. Lawyers? Why, what but
too many cooks should hinder you from having a dozen lawyers if the
gentleman recommended them to you"

"This is a very sensible woman," said my guardian. "I hope you
will persuade him, Mrs. Bagnet."

"Persuade him, sir?" she returned. "Lord bless you, no. You don't
know George. Now, there!" Mrs. Bagnet left her basket to point
him out with both her bare brown hands. "There he stands! As
self-willed and as determined a man, in the wrong way, as ever put
a human creature under heaven out of patience! You could as soon
take up and shoulder an eight and forty pounder by your own
strength as turn that man when he has got a thing into his head and
fixed it there. Why, don't I know him!" cried Mrs. Bagnet. "Don't
I know you, George! You don't mean to set up for a new character
with ME after all these years, I hope?"

Her friendly indignation had an exemplary effect upon her husband,
who shook his head at the trooper several times as a silent
recommendation to him to yield. Between whiles, Mrs. Bagnet looked
at me; and I understood from the play of her eyes that she wished
me to do something, though I did not comprehend what.

"But I have given up talking to you, old fellow, years and years,"
said Mrs. Bagnet as she blew a little dust off the pickled pork,
looking at me again; "and when ladies and gentlemen know you as
well as I do, they'll give up talking to you too. If you are not
too headstrong to accept of a bit of dinner, here it is."

"I accept it with many thanks," returned the trooper.

"Do you though, indeed?" said Mrs. Bagnet, continuing to grumble on
good-humouredly. "I'm sure I'm surprised at that. I wonder you
don't starve in your own way also. It would only be like you.
Perhaps you'll set your mind upon THAT next." Here she again
looked at me, and I now perceived from her glances at the door and
at me, by turns, that she wished us to retire and to await her
following us outside the prison. Communicating this by similar
means to my guardian and Mr. Woodcourt, I rose.

"We hope you will think better of it, Mr. George," said I, "and we
shall come to see you again, trusting to find you more reasonable."

"More grateful, Miss Summerson, you can't find me," he returned.

"But more persuadable we can, I hope," said I. "And let me entreat
you to consider that the clearing up of this mystery and the
discovery of the real perpetrator of this deed may be of the last
importance to others besides yourself."

He heard me respectfully but without much heeding these words,
which I spoke a little turned from him, already on my way to the
door; he was observing (this they afterwards told me) my height and
figure, which seemed to catch his attention all at once.

"'Tis curious," said he. "And yet I thought so at the time!"

My guardian asked him what he meant.

"Why, sir," he answered, "when my ill fortune took me to the dead
man's staircase on the night of his murder, I saw a shape so like
Miss Summerson's go by me in the dark that I had half a mind to
speak to it."

For an instant I felt such a shudder as I never felt before or
since and hope I shall never feel again.

"It came downstairs as I went up," said the trooper, "and crossed
the moonlighted window with a loose black mantle on; I noticed a
deep fringe to it. However, it has nothing to do with the present
subject, excepting that Miss Summerson looked so like it at the
moment that it came into my head."

I cannot separate and define the feelings that arose in me after
this; it is enough that the vague duty and obligation I had felt
upon me from the first of following the investigation was, without
my distinctly daring to ask myself any question, increased, and
that I was indignantly sure of there being no possibility of a
reason for my being afraid.

We three went out of the prison and walked up and down at some short
distance from the gate, which was in a retired place. We had not
waited long when Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet came out too and quickly
joined us.

There was a tear in each of Mrs. Bagnet's eyes, and her face was
flushed and hurried. "I didn't let George see what I thought about
it, you know, miss," was her first remark when she came up, "but
he's in a bad way, poor old fellow!"

"Not with care and prudence and good help," said my guardian.

"A gentleman like you ought to know best, sir," returned Mrs.
Bagnet, hurriedly drying her eyes on the hem of her grey cloak,
"but I am uneasy for him. He has been so careless and said so much
that he never meant. The gentlemen of the juries might not
understand him as Lignum and me do. And then such a number of
circumstances have happened bad for him, and such a number of
people will be brought forward to speak against him, and Bucket is
so deep."

"With a second-hand wiolinceller. And said he played the fife.
When a boy," Mr. Bagnet added with great solemnity.

"Now, I tell you, miss," said Mrs. Bagnet; "and when I say miss, I
mean all! Just come into the corner of the wall and I'll tell
you!"

Mrs. Bagnet hurried us into a more secluded place and was at first
too breathless to proceed, occasioning Mr. Bagnet to say, "Old
girl! Tell 'em!"

"Why, then, miss," the old girl proceeded, untying the strings of
her bonnet for more air, "you could as soon move Dover Castle as
move George on this point unless you had got a new power to move
him with. And I have got it!"

"You are a jewel of a woman," said my guardian. "Go on!"

"Now, I tell you, miss," she proceeded, clapping her hands in her
hurry and agitation a dozen times in every sentence, "that what he
says concerning no relations is all bosh. They don't know of him,
but he does know of them. He has said more to me at odd times than
to anybody else, and it warn't for nothing that he once spoke to my
Woolwich about whitening and wrinkling mothers' heads. For fifty
pounds he had seen his mother that day. She's alive and must be
brought here straight!"

Instantly Mrs. Bagnet put some pins into her mouth and began
pinning up her skirts all round a little higher than the level of
her grey cloak, which she accomplished with surpassing dispatch and
dexterity.

"Lignum," said Mrs. Bagnet, "you take care of the children, old
man, and give me the umbrella! I'm away to Lincolnshire to bring
that old lady here."

"But, bless the woman," cried my guardian with his hand in his
pocket, "how is she going? What money has she got?"

Mrs. Bagnet made another application to her skirts and brought
forth a leathern purse in which she hastily counted over a few
shillings and which she then shut up with perfect satisfaction.

"Never you mind for me, miss. I'm a soldier's wife and accustomed
to travel my own way. Lignum, old boy," kissing him, "one for
yourself, three for the children. Now I'm away into Lincolnshire
after George's mother!"

And she actually set off while we three stood looking at one
another lost in amazement. She actually trudged away in her grey
cloak at a sturdy pace, and turned the corner, and was gone.

"Mr. Bagnet," said my guardian. "Do you mean to let her go in that
way?"

"Can't help it," he returned. "Made her way home once from another
quarter of the world. With the same grey cloak. And same
umbrella. Whatever the old girl says, do. Do it! Whenever the
old girl says, I'LL do it. She does it."

"Then she is as honest and genuine as she looks," rejoined my
guardian, "and it is impossible to say more for her."

"She's Colour-Sergeant of the Nonpareil battalion," said Mr.
Bagnet, looking at us over his shoulder as he went his way also.
"And there's not such another. But I never own to it before her.
Discipline must be maintained."

CHAPTER LIII

The Track

Mr. Bucket and his fat forefinger are much in consultation together
under existing circumstances. When Mr. Bucket has a matter of this
pressing interest under his consideration, the fat forefinger seems
to rise, to the dignity of a familiar demon. He puts it to his
ears, and it whispers information; he puts it to his lips, and it
enjoins him to secrecy; he rubs it over his nose, and it sharpens
his scent; he shakes it before a guilty man, and it charms him to
his destruction. The Augurs of the Detective Temple invariably
predict that when Mr. Bucket and that finger are in much
conference, a terrible avenger will be heard of before long.

Otherwise mildly studious in his observation of human nature, on
the whole a benignant philosopher not disposed to be severe upon
the follies of mankind, Mr. Bucket pervades a vast number of houses
and strolls about an infinity of streets, to outward appearance
rather languishing for want of an object. He is in the friendliest
condition towards his species and will drink with most of them. He
is free with his money, affable in his manners, innocent in his
conversation--but through the placid stream of his life there
glides an under-current of forefinger.

Time and place cannot bind Mr. Bucket. Like man in the abstract,
he is here to-day and gone to-morrow--but, very unlike man indeed,
he is here again the next day. This evening he will be casually
looking into the iron extinguishers at the door of Sir Leicester
Dedlock's house in town; and to-morrow morning he will be walking
on the leads at Chesney Wold, where erst the old man walked whose
ghost is propitiated with a hundred guineas. Drawers, desks,
pockets, all things belonging to him, Mr. Bucket examines. A few
hours afterwards, he and the Roman will be alone together comparing
forefingers.

It is likely that these occupations are irreconcilable with home
enjoyment, but it is certain that Mr. Bucket at present does not go
home. Though in general he highly appreciates the society of Mrs.
Bucket--a lady of a natural detective genius, which if it had been
improved by professional exercise, might have done great things,
but which has paused at the level of a clever amateur--he holds
himself aloof from that dear solace. Mrs. Bucket is dependent on
their lodger (fortunately an amiable lady in whom she takes an
interest) for companionship and conversation.

A great crowd assembles in Lincoln's Inn Fields on the day of the
funeral. Sir Leicester Dedlock attends the ceremony in person;
strictly speaking, there are only three other human followers, that
is to say, Lord Doodle, William Buffy, and the debilitated cousin
(thrown in as a make-weight), but the amount of inconsolable
carriages is immense. The peerage contributes more four-wheeled
affliction than has ever been seen in that neighbourhood. Such is
the assemblage of armorial bearings on coach panels that the
Herald's College might be supposed to have lost its father and
mother at a blow. The Duke of Foodle sends a splendid pile of dust
and ashes, with silver wheel-boxes, patent axles, all the last
improvements, and three bereaved worms, six feet high, holding on
behind, in a bunch of woe. All the state coachmen in London seem
plunged into mourning; and if that dead old man of the rusty garb
be not beyond a taste in horseflesh (which appears impossible), it
must be highly gratified this day.

Quiet among the undertakers and the equipages and the calves of so
many legs all steeped in grief, Mr. Bucket sits concealed in one of
the inconsolable carriages and at his ease surveys the crowd
through the lattice blinds. He has a keen eye for a crowd--as for
what not?--and looking here and there, now from this side of the
carriage, now from the other, now up at the house windows, now
along the people's heads, nothing escapes him.

"And there you are, my partner, eh?" says Mr. Bucket to himself,
apostrophizing Mrs. Bucket, stationed, by his favour, on the steps
of the deceased's house. "And so you are. And so you are! And
very well indeed you are looking, Mrs. Bucket!"

The procession has not started yet, but is waiting for the cause of
its assemblage to be brought out. Mr. Bucket, in the foremost
emblazoned carriage, uses his two fat forefingers to hold the
lattice a hair's breadth open while he looks.

And it says a great deal for his attachment, as a husband, that he
is still occupied with Mrs. B. "There you are, my partner, eh?" he
murmuringly repeats. "And our lodger with you. I'm taking notice
of you, Mrs. Bucket; I hope you're all right in your health, my
dear!"

Not another word does Mr. Bucket say, but sits with most attentive
eyes until the sacked depository of noble secrets is brought down--
Where are all those secrets now? Does he keep them yet? Did they
fly with him on that sudden journey?--and until the procession
moves, and Mr. Bucket's view is changed. After which he composes
himself for an easy ride and takes note of the fittings of the
carriage in case he should ever find such knowledge useful.

Contrast enough between Mr. Tulkinghorn shut up in his dark
carriage and Mr. Bucket shut up in HIS. Between the immeasurable
track of space beyond the little wound that has thrown the one into
the fixed sleep which jolts so heavily over the stones of the
streets, and the narrow track of blood which keeps the other in the
watchful state expressed in every hair of his head! But it is all
one to both; neither is troubled about that.

Mr. Bucket sits out the procession in his own easy manner and
glides from the carriage when the opportunity he has settled with
himself arrives. He makes for Sir Leicester Dedlock's, which is at
present a sort of home to him, where he comes and goes as he likes
at all hours, where he is always welcome and made much of, where
he knows the whole establishment, and walks in an atmosphere of
mysterious greatness.

No knocking or ringing for Mr. Bucket. He has caused himself to be
provided with a key and can pass in at his pleasure. As he is
crossing the hall, Mercury informs him, "Here's another letter for
you, Mr. Bucket, come by post," and gives it him.

"Another one, eh?" says Mr. Bucket.

If Mercury should chance to be possessed by any lingering curiosity
as to Mr. Bucket's letters, that wary person is not the man to
gratify it. Mr. Bucket looks at him as if his face were a vista of
some miles in length and he were leisurely contemplating the same.

"Do you happen to carry a box?" says Mr. Bucket.

Unfortunately Mercury is no snuff-taker.

"Could you fetch me a pinch from anywheres?" says Mr. Bucket.
"Thankee. It don't matter what it is; I'm not particular as to the
kind. Thankee!"

Having leisurely helped himself from a canister borrowed from
somebody downstairs for the purpose, and having made a considerable
show of tasting it, first with one side of his nose and then with
the other, Mr. Bucket, with much deliberation, pronounces it of the
right sort and goes on, letter in hand.

Now although Mr. Bucket walks upstairs to the little library within
the larger one with the face of a man who receives some scores of
letters every day, it happens that much correspondence is not
incidental to his life. He is no great scribe, rather handling his
pen like the pocket-staff he carries about with him always
convenient to his grasp, and discourages correspondence with
himself in others as being too artless and direct a way of doing
delicate business. Further, he often sees damaging letters
produced in evidence and has occasion to reflect that it was a
green thing to write them. For these reasons he has very little to
do with letters, either as sender or receiver. And yet he has
received a round half-dozen within the last twenty-four hours.

"And this," says Mr. Bucket, spreading it out on the table, "is in
the same hand, and consists of the same two words."

What two words?

He turns the key in the door, ungirdles his black pocket-book (book
of fate to many), lays another letter by it, and reads, boldly
written in each, "Lady Dedlock."

"Yes, yes," says Mr. Bucket. "But I could have made the money
without this anonymous information."

Having put the letters in his book of fate and girdled it up again,
he unlocks the door just in time to admit his dinner, which is
brought upon a goodly tray with a decanter of sherry. Mr. Bucket
frequently observes, in friendly circles where there is no
restraint, that he likes a toothful of your fine old brown East
Inder sherry better than anything you can offer him. Consequently
he fills and empties his glass with a smack of his lips and is
proceeding with his refreshment when an idea enters his mind.

Mr. Bucket softly opens the door of communication between that room
and the next and looks in. The library is deserted, and the fire
is sinking low. Mr. Bucket's eye, after taking a pigeon-flight
round the room, alights upon a table where letters are usually put
as they arrive. Several letters for Sir Leicester are upon it.
Mr. Bucket draws near and examines the directions. "No," he says,
"there's none in that hand. It's only me as is written to. I can
break it to Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, to-morrow."

With that he returns to finish his dinner with a good appetite, and
after a light nap, is summoned into the drawing-room. Sir
Leicester has received him there these several evenings past to
know whether he has anything to report. The debilitated cousin
(much exhausted by the funeral) and Volumnia are in attendance.

Mr. Bucket makes three distinctly different bows to these three
people. A bow of homage to Sir Leicester, a bow of gallantry to
Volumnia, and a bow of recognition to the debilitated Cousin, to
whom it airily says, "You are a swell about town, and you know me,
and I know you." Having distributed these little specimens of his
tact, Mr. Bucket rubs his hands.

"Have you anything new to communicate, officer?" inquires Sir
Leicester. "Do you wish to hold any conversation with me in
private?"

"Why--not to-night, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet."

"Because my time," pursues Sir Leicester, "is wholly at your
disposal with a view to the vindication of the outraged majesty of
the law."

Mr. Bucket coughs and glances at Volumnia, rouged and necklaced, as
though he would respectfully observe, "I do assure you, you're a
pretty creetur. I've seen hundreds worse looking at your time of
life, I have indeed."

The fair Volumnia, not quite unconscious perhaps of the humanizing
influence of her charms, pauses in the writing of cocked-hat notes
and meditatively adjusts the pearl necklace. Mr. Bucket prices
that decoration in his mind and thinks it as likely as not that
Volumnia is writing poetry.

"If I have not," pursues Sir Leicester, "in the most emphatic
manner, adjured you, officer, to exercise your utmost skill in this
atrocious case, I particularly desire to take the present
opportunity of rectifying any omission I may have made. Let no
expense be a consideration. I am prepared to defray all charges.
You can incur none in pursuit of the object you have undertaken
that I shall hesitate for a moment to bear."

Mr. Bucket made Sir Leicester's bow again as a response to this
liberality.

"My mind," Sir Leicester adds with a generous warmth, "has not, as
may be easily supposed, recovered its tone since the late
diabolical occurrence. It is not likely ever to recover its tone.
But it is full of indignation to-night after undergoing the ordeal
of consigning to the tomb the remains of a faithful, a zealous, a
devoted adherent."

Sir Leicester's voice trembles and his grey hair stirs upon his
head. Tears are in his eyes; the best part of his nature is
aroused.

"I declare," he says, "I solemnly declare that until this crime is
discovered and, in the course of justice, punished, I almost feel
as if there were a stain upon my name. A gentleman who has devoted
a large portion of his life to me, a gentleman who has devoted the
last day of his life to me, a gentleman who has constantly sat at
my table and slept under my roof, goes from my house to his own,
and is struck down within an hour of his leaving my house. I
cannot say but that he may have been followed from my house,
watched at my house, even first marked because of his association
with my house--which may have suggested his possessing greater
wealth and being altogether of greater importance than his own
retiring demeanour would have indicated. If I cannot with my means
and influence and my position bring all the perpetrators of such a
crime to light, I fail in the assertion of my respect for that
gentleman's memory and of my fidelity towards one who was ever
faithful to me."

While he makes this protestation with great emotion and
earnestness, looking round the room as if he were addressing an
assembly, Mr. Bucket glances at him with an observant gravity in
which there might be, but for the audacity of the thought, a touch
of compassion.

"The ceremony of to-day," continues Sir Leicester, "strikingly
illustrative of the respect in which my deceased friend"--he lays a
stress upon the word, for death levels all distinctions--"was held
by the flower of the land, has, I say, aggravated the shock I have
received from this most horrible and audacious crime. If it were
my brother who had committed it, I would not spare him."

Mr. Bucket looks very grave. Volumnia remarks of the deceased that
he was the trustiest and dearest person!

"You must feel it as a deprivation to you, miss," replies Mr. Bucket
soothingly, "no doubt. He was calculated to BE a deprivation, I'm
sure he was."

Volumnia gives Mr. Bucket to understand, in reply, that her
sensitive mind is fully made up never to get the better of it as
long as she lives, that her nerves are unstrung for ever, and that
she has not the least expectation of ever smiling again. Meanwhile
she folds up a cocked hat for that redoubtable old general at Bath,
descriptive of her melancholy condition.

"It gives a start to a delicate female," says Mr. Bucket
sympathetically, "but it'll wear off."

Volumnia wishes of all things to know what is doing? Whether they
are going to convict, or whatever it is, that dreadful soldier?
Whether he had any accomplices, or whatever the thing is called in
the law? And a great deal more to the like artless purpose.

"Why you see, miss," returns Mr. Bucket, bringing the finger into
persuasive action--and such is his natural gallantry that he had
almost said "my dear"--"it ain't easy to answer those questions at
the present moment. Not at the present moment. I've kept myself
on this case, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," whom Mr. Bucket
takes into the conversation in right of his importance, "morning,
noon, and night. But for a glass or two of sherry, I don't think I
could have had my mind so much upon the stretch as it has been. I
COULD answer your questions, miss, but duty forbids it. Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, will very soon be made acquainted with
all that has been traced. And I hope that he may find it"--Mr.
Bucket again looks grave--"to his satisfaction."

The debilitated cousin only hopes some fler'll be executed--zample.
Thinks more interest's wanted--get man hanged presentime--than get
man place ten thousand a year. Hasn't a doubt--zample--far better
hang wrong fler than no fler.

"YOU know life, you know, sir," says Mr. Bucket with a
complimentary twinkle of his eye and crook of his finger, "and you
can confirm what I've mentioned to this lady. YOU don't want to be
told that from information I have received I have gone to work.
You're up to what a lady can't be expected to be up to. Lord!
Especially in your elevated station of society, miss," says Mr.
Bucket, quite reddening at another narrow escape from "my dear."

"The officer, Volumnia," observes Sir Leicester, "is faithful to
his duty, and perfectly right."

Mr. Bucket murmurs, "Glad to have the honour of your approbation,
Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet."

"In fact, Volumnia," proceeds Sir Leicester, "it is not holding up
a good model for imitation to ask the officer any such questions
as you have put to him. He is the best judge of his own
responsibility; he acts upon his responsibility. And it does not
become us, who assist in making the laws, to impede or interfere
with those who carry them into execution. Or," says Sir Leicester
somewhat sternly, for Volumnia was going to cut in before he had
rounded his sentence, "or who vindicate their outraged majesty."

Volumnia with all humility explains that she had not merely the
plea of curiosity to urge (in common with the giddy youth of her
sex in general) but that she is perfectly dying with regret and
interest for the darling man whose loss they all deplore.

"Very well, Volumnia," returns Sir Leicester. "Then you cannot be
too discreet."

Mr. Bucket takes the opportunity of a pause to be heard again.

"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, I have no objections to telling
this lady, with your leave and among ourselves, that I look upon
the case as pretty well complete. It is a beautiful case--a
beautiful case--and what little is wanting to complete it, I expect
to be able to supply in a few hours."

"I am very glad indeed to hear it," says Sir Leicester. "Highly
creditable to you."

"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," returns Mr. Bucket very
seriously, "I hope it may at one and the same time do me credit and
prove satisfactory to all. When I depict it as a beautiful case,
you see, miss," Mr. Bucket goes on, glancing gravely at Sir
Leicester, "I mean from my point of view. As considered from other
points of view, such cases will always involve more or less
unpleasantness. Very strange things comes to our knowledge in
families, miss; bless your heart, what you would think to be
phenomenons, quite."

Volumnia, with her innocent little scream, supposes so.

"Aye, and even in gen-teel families, in high families, in great
families," says Mr. Bucket, again gravely eyeing Sir Leicester
aside. "I have had the honour of being employed in high families
before, and you have no idea--come, I'll go so far as to say not
even YOU have any idea, sir," this to the debilitated cousin, "what
games goes on!"

The cousin, who has been casting sofa-pillows on his head, in a
prostration of boredom yawns, "Vayli," being the used-up for "very
likely."

Sir Leicester, deeming it time to dismiss the officer, here
majestically interposes with the words, "Very good. Thank you!"
and also with a wave of his hand, implying not only that there is
an end of the discourse, but that if high families fall into low
habits they must take the consequences. "You will not forget,
officer," he adds with condescension, "that I am at your disposal
when you please."

Mr. Bucket (still grave) inquires if to-morrow morning, now, would
suit, in case he should be as for'ard as he expects to be. Sir
Leicester replies, "All times are alike to me." Mr. Bucket makes
his three bows and is withdrawing when a forgotten point occurs to
him.

"Might I ask, by the by," he says in a low voice, cautiously
returning, "who posted the reward-bill on the staircase."

"I ordered it to be put up there," replies Sir Leicester.

"Would it be considered a liberty, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet,
if I was to ask you why?"

"Not at all. I chose it as a conspicuous part of the house. I
think it cannot be too prominently kept before the whole
establishment. I wish my people to be impressed with the enormity
of the crime, the determination to punish it, and the hopelessness
of escape. At the same time, officer, if you in your better
knowledge of the subject see any objection--"

Mr. Bucket sees none now; the bill having been put up, had better
not be taken down. Repeating his three bows he withdraws, closing
the door on Volumnia's little scream, which is a preliminary to her
remarking that that charmingly horrible person is a perfect Blue
Chamber.

In his fondness for society and his adaptability to all grades, Mr.
Bucket is presently standing before the hall-fire--bright and warm
on the early winter night--admiring Mercury.

"Why, you're six foot two, I suppose?" says Mr. Bucket.

"Three," says Mercury.

"Are you so much? But then, you see, you're broad in proportion
and don't look it. You're not one of the weak-legged ones, you
ain't. Was you ever modelled now?" Mr. Bucket asks, conveying the
expression of an artist into the turn of his eye and head.

Mercury never was modelled.

"Then you ought to be, you know," says Mr. Bucket; "and a friend of
mine that you'll hear of one day as a Royal Academy sculptor would
stand something handsome to make a drawing of your proportions for
the marble. My Lady's out, ain't she?"

"Out to dinner."

"Goes out pretty well every day, don't she?"

"Yes."

"Not to be wondered at!" says Mr. Bucket. "Such a fine woman as
her, so handsome and so graceful and so elegant, is like a fresh
lemon on a dinner-table, ornamental wherever she goes. Was your
father in the same way of life as yourself?"

Answer in the negative.

"Mine was," says Mr. Bucket. "My father was first a page, then a
footman, then a butler, then a steward, then an inn-keeper. Lived
universally respected, and died lamented. Said with his last
breath that he considered service the most honourable part of his
career, and so it was. I've a brother in service, AND a brother-
in-law. My Lady a good temper?"

Mercury replies, "As good as you can expect."

"Ah!" says Mr. Bucket. "A little spoilt? A little capricious?
Lord! What can you anticipate when they're so handsome as that?
And we like 'em all the better for it, don't we?"

Mercury, with his hands in the pockets of his bright peach-blossom
small-clothes, stretches his symmetrical silk legs with the air of
a man of gallantry and can't deny it. Come the roll of wheels and
a violent ringing at the bell. "Talk of the angels," says Mr.
Bucket. "Here she is!"

The doors are thrown open, and she passes through the hall. Still
very pale, she is dressed in slight mourning and wears two
beautiful bracelets. Either their beauty or the beauty of her arms
is particularly attractive to Mr. Bucket. He looks at them with an
eager eye and rattles something in his pocket--halfpence perhaps.

Noticing him at his distance, she turns an inquiring look on the
other Mercury who has brought her home.

"Mr. Bucket, my Lady."

Mr. Bucket makes a leg and comes forward, passing his familiar
demon over the region of his mouth.

"Are you waiting to see Sir Leicester?"

"No, my Lady, I've seen him!"

"Have you anything to say to me?"

"Not just at present, my Lady."

"Have you made any new discoveries?"

"A few, my Lady."

This is merely in passing. She scarcely makes a stop, and sweeps
upstairs alone. Mr. Bucket, moving towards the staircase-foot,
watches her as she goes up the steps the old man came down to his
grave, past murderous groups of statuary repeated with their
shadowy weapons on the wall, past the printed bill, which she looks
at going by, out of view.

"She's a lovely woman, too, she really is," says Mr. Bucket, coming
back to Mercury. "Don't look quite healthy though."

Is not quite healthy, Mercury informs him. Suffers much from
headaches.

Really? That's a pity! Walking, Mr. Bucket would recommend for
that. Well, she tries walking, Mercury rejoins. Walks sometimes
for two hours when she has them bad. By night, too.

"Are you sure you're quite so much as six foot three?" asks Mr.
Bucket. "Begging your pardon for interrupting you a moment?"

Not a doubt about it.

"You're so well put together that I shouldn't have thought it. But
the household troops, though considered fine men, are built so
straggling. Walks by night, does she? When it's moonlight,
though?"

Oh, yes. When it's moonlight! Of course. Oh, of course!
Conversational and acquiescent on both sides.

"I suppose you ain't in the habit of walking yourself?" says Mr.
Bucket. "Not much time for it, I should say?"

Besides which, Mercury don't like it. Prefers carriage exercise.

"To be sure," says Mr. Bucket. "That makes a difference. Now I
think of it," says Mr. Bucket, warming his hands and looking
pleasantly at the blaze, "she went out walking the very night of
this business."

"To be sure she did! I let her into the garden over the way."

"And left her there. Certainly you did. I saw you doing it."

"I didn't see YOU," says Mercury.

"I was rather in a hurry," returns Mr. Bucket, "for I was going to
visit a aunt of mine that lives at Chelsea--next door but two to
the old original Bun House--ninety year old the old lady is, a
single woman, and got a little property. Yes, I chanced to be
passing at the time. Let's see. What time might it be? It wasn't
ten."

"Half-past nine."

"You're right. So it was. And if I don't deceive myself, my Lady
was muffled in a loose black mantle, with a deep fringe to it?"

"Of course she was."

Of course she was. Mr. Bucket must return to a little work he has
to get on with upstairs, but he must shake hands with Mercury in
acknowledgment of his agreeable conversation, and will he--this is
all he asks--will he, when he has a leisure half-hour, think of
bestowing it on that Royal Academy sculptor, for the advantage of
both parties?

CHAPTER LIV

Springing a Mine

Refreshed by sleep, Mr. Bucket rises betimes in the morning and
prepares for a field-day. Smartened up by the aid of a clean shirt
and a wet hairbrush, with which instrument, on occasions of
ceremony, he lubricates such thin locks as remain to him after his
life of severe study, Mr. Bucket lays in a breakfast of two mutton
chops as a foundation to work upon, together with tea, eggs, toast,
and marmalade on a corresponding scale. Having much enjoyed these
strengthening matters and having held subtle conference with his
familiar demon, he confidently instructs Mercury "just to mention
quietly to Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, that whenever he's ready
for me, I'm ready for him." A gracious message being returned that
Sir Leicester will expedite his dressing and join Mr. Bucket in the
library within ten minutes, Mr. Bucket repairs to that apartment
and stands before the fire with his finger on his chin, looking at
the blazing coals.

Thoughtful Mr. Bucket is, as a man may be with weighty work to do,
but composed, sure, confident. From the expression of his face he
might be a famous whist-player for a large stake--say a hundred
guineas certain--with the game in his hand, but with a high
reputation involved in his playing his hand out to the last card in
a masterly way. Not in the least anxious or disturbed is Mr.
Bucket when Sir Leicester appears, but he eyes the baronet aside as
he comes slowly to his easy-chair with that observant gravity of
yesterday in which there might have been yesterday, but for the
audacity of the idea, a touch of compassion.

"I am sorry to have kept you waiting, officer, but I am rather
later than my usual hour this morning. I am not well. The
agitation and the indignation from which I have recently suffered
have been too much for me. I am subject to--gout"--Sir Leicester
was going to say indisposition and would have said it to anybody
else, but Mr. Bucket palpably knows all about it--"and recent
circumstances have brought it on."

As he takes his seat with some difficulty and with an air of pain,
Mr. Bucket draws a little nearer, standing with one of his large
hands on the library-table.

"I am not aware, officer," Sir Leicester observes; raising his eyes
to his face, "whether you wish us to be alone, but that is entirely
as you please. If you do, well and good. If not, Miss Dedlock
would be interested--"

"Why, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," returns Mr. Bucket with his
head persuasively on one side and his forefinger pendant at one ear
like an earring, "we can't be too private just at present. You
will presently see that we can't be too private. A lady, under the
circumstances, and especially in Miss Dedlock's elevated station of
society, can't but be agreeable to me, but speaking without a view
to myself, I will take the liberty of assuring you that I know we
can't be too private."

"That is enough."

"So much so, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," Mr. Bucket resumes,
"that I was on the point of asking your permission to turn the key
in the door."

"By all means." Mr. Bucket skilfully and softly takes that
precaution, stooping on his knee for a moment from mere force of
habit so to adjust the key in the lock as that no one shall peep in
from the outerside.

"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, I mentioned yesterday evening that
I wanted but a very little to complete this case. I have now
completed it and collected proof against the person who did this
crime."

"Against the soldier?"

"No, Sir Leicester Dedlock; not the soldier."

Sir Leicester looks astounded and inquires, "Is the man in
custody?"

Mr. Bucket tells him, after a pause, "It was a woman."

Sir Leicester leans back in his chair, and breathlessly ejaculates,
"Good heaven!"

"Now, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," Mr. Bucket begins, standing
over him with one hand spread out on the library-table and the
forefinger of the other in impressive use, "it's my duty to prepare
you for a train of circumstances that may, and I go so far as to
say that will, give you a shock. But Sir Leicester Dedlock,
Baronet, you are a gentleman, and I know what a gentleman is and
what a gentleman is capable of. A gentleman can bear a shock when
it must come, boldly and steadily. A gentleman can make up his
mind to stand up against almost any blow. Why, take yourself, Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet. If there's a blow to be inflicted on
you, you naturally think of your family. You ask yourself, how
would all them ancestors of yours, away to Julius Caesar--not to go
beyond him at present--have borne that blow; you remember scores of
them that would have borne it well; and you bear it well on their
accounts, and to maintain the family credit. That's the way you
argue, and that's the way you act, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet."

Sir Leicester, leaning back in his chair and grasping the elbows,
sits looking at him with a stony face.

"Now, Sir Leicester Dedlock," proceeds Mr. Bucket, "thus preparing
you, let me beg of you not to trouble your mind for a moment as to
anything having come to MY knowledge. I know so much about so many
characters, high and low, that a piece of information more or less
don't signify a straw. I don't suppose there's a move on the board
that would surprise ME, and as to this or that move having taken
place, why my knowing it is no odds at all, any possible move
whatever (provided it's in a wrong direction) being a probable move
according to my experience. Therefore, what I say to you, Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, is, don't you go and let yourself be
put out of the way because of my knowing anything of your family
affairs."

"I thank you for your preparation," returns Sir Leicester after a
silence, without moving hand, foot, or feature, "which I hope is
not necessary; though I give it credit for being well intended. Be
so good as to go on. Also"--Sir Leicester seems to shrink in the
shadow of his figure--"also, to take a seat, if you have no
objection."

None at all. Mr. Bucket brings a chair and diminishes his shadow.
"Now, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, with this short preface I
come to the point. Lady Dedlock--"

Sir Leicester raises himself in his seat and stares at him
fiercely. Mr. Bucket brings the finger into play as an emollient.

"Lady Dedlock, you see she's universally admired. That's what her
ladyship is; she's universally admired," says Mr. Bucket.

"I would greatly prefer, officer," Sir Leicester returns stiffly,
"my Lady's name being entirely omitted from this discussion."

"So would I, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, but--it's impossible."

"Impossible?"

Mr. Bucket shakes his relentless head.

"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, it's altogether impossible. What
I have got to say is about her ladyship. She is the pivot it all
turns on."

"Officer," retorts Sir Leicester with a fiery eye and a quivering
lip, "you know your duty. Do your duty, but be careful not to
overstep it. I would not suffer it. I would not endure it.
You bring my Lady's name into this communication upon your
responsibility--upon your responsibility. My Lady's name is
not a name for common persons to trifle with!"

"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, I say what I must say, and no
more."

"I hope it may prove so. Very well. Go on. Go on, sir!"
Glancing at the angry eyes which now avoid him and at the angry
figure trembling from head to foot, yet striving to be still, Mr.
Bucket feels his way with his forefinger and in a low voice
proceeds.

"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, it becomes my duty to tell you
that the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn long entertained mistrusts and
suspicions of Lady Dedlock."

"If he had dared to breathe them to me, sir--which he never did--I
would have killed him myself!" exclaims Sir Leicester, striking his
hand upon the table. But in the very heat and fury of the act he
stops, fixed by the knowing eyes of Mr. Bucket, whose forefinger is
slowly going and who, with mingled confidence and patience, shakes
his head.

"Sir Leicester Dedlock, the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn was deep and
close, and what he fully had in his mind in the very beginning I
can't quite take upon myself to say. But I know from his lips that
he long ago suspected Lady Dedlock of having discovered, through
the sight of some handwriting--in this very house, and when you
yourself, Sir Leicester Dedlock, were present--the existence, in
great poverty, of a certain person who had been her lover before
you courted her and who ought to have been her husband." Mr.
Bucket stops and deliberately repeats, "Ought to have been her
husband, not a doubt about it. I know from his lips that when that
person soon afterwards died, he suspected Lady Dedlock of visiting
his wretched lodging and his wretched grave, alone and in secret.
I know from my own inquiries and through my eyes and ears that Lady
Dedlock did make such visit in the dress of her own maid, for the
deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn employed me to reckon up her ladyship--if
you'll excuse my making use of the term we commonly employ--and I
reckoned her up, so far, completely. I confronted the maid in the
chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields with a witness who had been Lady
Dedlock's guide, and there couldn't be the shadow of a doubt that
she had worn the young woman's dress, unknown to her. Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, I did endeavour to pave the way a
little towards these unpleasant disclosures yesterday by saying
that very strange things happened even in high families sometimes.
All this, and more, has happened in your own family, and to and
through your own Lady. It's my belief that the deceased Mr.
Tulkinghorn followed up these inquiries to the hour of his death
and that he and Lady Dedlock even had bad blood between them upon
the matter that very night. Now, only you put that to Lady
Dedlock, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, and ask her ladyship
whether, even after he had left here, she didn't go down to his
chambers with the intention of saying something further to him,
dressed in a loose black mantle with a deep fringe to it."

Sir Leicester sits like a statue, gazing at the cruel finger that
is probing the life-blood of his heart.

"You put that to her ladyship, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, from
me, Inspector Bucket of the Detective. And if her ladyship makes
any difficulty about admitting of it, you tell her that it's no
use, that Inspector Bucket knows it and knows that she passed the
soldier as you called him (though he's not in the army now) and
knows that she knows she passed him on the staircase. Now, Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, why do I relate all this?"

Sir Leicester, who has covered his face with his hands, uttering a
single groan, requests him to pause for a moment. By and by he
takes his hands away, and so preserves his dignity and outward
calmness, though there is no more colour in his face than in his
white hair, that Mr. Bucket is a little awed by him. Something
frozen and fixed is upon his manner, over and above its usual shell
of haughtiness, and Mr. Bucket soon detects an unusual slowness in
his speech, with now and then a curious trouble in beginning, which
occasions him to utter inarticulate sounds. With such sounds he
now breaks silence, soon, however, controlling himself to say that
he does not comprehend why a gentleman so faithful and zealous as
the late Mr. Tulkinghorn should have communicated to him nothing of
this painful, this distressing, this unlooked-for, this
overwhelming, this incredible intelligence.

"Again, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," returns Mr. Bucket, "put
it to her ladyship to clear that up. Put it to her ladyship, if
you think it right, from Inspector Bucket of the Detective. You'll
find, or I'm much mistaken, that the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn had
the intention of communicating the whole to you as soon as he
considered it ripe, and further, that he had given her ladyship so
to understand. Why, he might have been going to reveal it the very
morning when I examined the body! You don't know what I'm going to
say and do five minutes from this present time, Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet; and supposing I was to be picked off now, you
might wonder why I hadn't done it, don't you see?"

True. Sir Leicester, avoiding, with some trouble those obtrusive
sounds, says, "True." At this juncture a considerable noise of
voices is heard in the hall. Mr. Bucket, after listening, goes to
the library-door, softly unlocks and opens it, and listens again.
Then he draws in his head and whispers hurriedly but composedly,
"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, this unfortunate family affair has
taken air, as I expected it might, the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn
being cut down so sudden. The chance to hush it is to let in these
people now in a wrangle with your footmen. Would you mind sitting
quiet--on the family account--while I reckon 'em up? And would you
just throw in a nod when I seem to ask you for it?"

Sir Leicester indistinctly answers, "Officer. The best you can,
the best you can!" and Mr. Bucket, with a nod and a sagacious crook
of the forefinger, slips down into the hall, where the voices
quickly die away. He is not long in returning; a few paces ahead
of Mercury and a brother deity also powdered and in peach-blossomed
smalls, who bear between them a chair in which is an incapable old
man. Another man and two women come behind. Directing the
pitching of the chair in an affable and easy manner, Mr. Bucket
dismisses the Mercuries and locks the door again. Sir Leicester
looks on at this invasion of the sacred precincts with an icy
stare.

"Now, perhaps you may know me, ladies and gentlemen," says Mr.
Bucket in a confidential voice. "I am Inspector Bucket of the
Detective, I am; and this," producing the tip of his convenient
little staff from his breast-pocket, "is my authority. Now, you
wanted to see Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet. Well! You do see
him, and mind you, it ain't every one as is admitted to that
honour. Your name, old gentleman, is Smallweed; that's what your
name is; I know it well."

"Well, and you never heard any harm of it!" cries Mr. Smallweed in
a shrill loud voice.

"You don't happen to know why they killed the pig, do you?" retorts
Mr. Bucket with a steadfast look, but without loss of temper.

"No!"

"Why, they killed him," says Mr. Bucket, "on account of his having
so much cheek. Don't YOU get into the same position, because it
isn't worthy of you. You ain't in the habit of conversing with a
deaf person, are you?"

"Yes," snarls Mr. Smallweed, "my wife's deaf."

"That accounts for your pitching your voice so high. But as she
ain't here; just pitch it an octave or two lower, will you, and
I'll not only be obliged to you, but it'll do you more credit,"
says Mr. Bucket. "This other gentleman is in the preaching line, I
think?"

"Name of Chadband," Mr. Smallweed puts in, speaking henceforth in a
much lower key.

"Once had a friend and brother serjeant of the same name," says Mr.
Bucket, offering his hand, "and consequently feel a liking for it.
Mrs. Chadband, no doubt?"

"And Mrs. Snagsby," Mr. Smallweed introduces.

"Husband a law-stationer and a friend of my own," says Mr. Bucket.
"Love him like a brother! Now, what's up?"

"Do you mean what business have we come upon?" Mr. Smallweed asks,
a little dashed by the suddenness of this turn.

"Ah! You know what I mean. Let us hear what it's all about in
presence of Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet. Come."

Mr. Smallweed, beckoning Mr. Chadband, takes a moment's counsel
with him in a whisper. Mr. Chadband, expressing a considerable
amount of oil from the pores of his forehead and the palms of his
hands, says aloud, "Yes. You first!" and retires to his former
place.

"I was the client and friend of Mr. Tulkinghorn," pipes Grandfather
Smallweed then; "I did business with him. I was useful to him, and
he was useful to me. Krook, dead and gone, was my brother-in-law.
He was own brother to a brimstone magpie--leastways Mrs. Smallweed.
I come into Krook's property. I examined all his papers and all
his effects. They was all dug out under my eyes. There was a
bundle of letters belonging to a dead and gone lodger as was hid
away at the back of a shelf in the side of Lady Jane's bed--his
cat's bed. He hid all manner of things away, everywheres. Mr.
Tulkinghorn wanted 'em and got 'em, but I looked 'em over first.
I'm a man of business, and I took a squint at 'em. They was
letters from the lodger's sweetheart, and she signed Honoria. Dear
me, that's not a common name, Honoria, is it? There's no lady in
this house that signs Honoria is there? Oh, no, I don't think so!
Oh, no, I don't think so! And not in the same hand, perhaps? Oh,
no, I don't think so!"

Here Mr. Smallweed, seized with a fit of coughing in the midst of
his triumph, breaks off to ejaculate, "Oh, dear me! Oh, Lord! I'm
shaken all to pieces!"

"Now, when you're ready," says Mr. Bucket after awaiting his
recovery, "to come to anything that concerns Sir Leicester Dedlock,
Baronet, here the gentleman sits, you know."

"Haven't I come to it, Mr. Bucket?" cries Grandfather Smallweed.
"Isn't the gentleman concerned yet? Not with Captain Hawdon, and
his ever affectionate Honoria, and their child into the bargain?
Come, then, I want to know where those letters are. That concerns
me, if it don't concern Sir Leicester Dedlock. I will know where
they are. I won't have 'em disappear so quietly. I handed 'em
over to my friend and solicitor, Mr. Tulkinghorn, not to anybody
else."

"Why, he paid you for them, you know, and handsome too," says Mr.
Bucket.

"I don't care for that. I want to know who's got 'em. And I tell
you what we want--what we all here want, Mr. Bucket. We want more
painstaking and search-making into this murder. We know where the
interest and the motive was, and you have not done enough. If
George the vagabond dragoon had any hand in it, he was only an
accomplice, and was set on. You know what I mean as well as any
man."

"Now I tell you what," says Mr. Bucket, instantaneously altering
his manner, coming close to him, and communicating an extraordinary
fascination to the forefinger, "I am damned if I am a-going to have
my case spoilt, or interfered with, or anticipated by so much as
half a second of time by any human being in creation. YOU want
more painstaking and search-making! YOU do? Do you see this hand,
and do you think that I don't know the right time to stretch it out
and put it on the arm that fired that shot?"

Such is the dread power of the man, and so terribly evident it is
that he makes no idle boast, that Mr. Smallweed begins to
apologize. Mr. Bucket, dismissing his sudden anger, checks him.

"The advice I give you is, don't you trouble your head about the
murder. That's my affair. You keep half an eye on the newspapers,
and I shouldn't wonder if you was to read something about it before
long, if you look sharp. I know my business, and that's all I've
got to say to you on that subject. Now about those letters. You
want to know who's got 'em. I don't mind telling you. I have got
'em. Is that the packet?"

Mr. Smallweed looks, with greedy eyes, at the little bundle Mr.
Bucket produces from a mysterious part of his coat, and identifies
it as the same.

"What have you got to say next?" asks Mr. Bucket. "Now, don't open
your mouth too wide, because you don't look handsome when you do
it."

"I want five hundred pound."

"No, you don't; you mean fifty," says Mr. Bucket humorously.

It appears, however, that Mr. Smallweed means five hundred.

"That is, I am deputed by Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, to
consider (without admitting or promising anything) this bit of
business," says Mr. Bucket--Sir Leicester mechanically bows his
head--"and you ask me to consider a proposal of five hundred
pounds. Why, it's an unreasonable proposal! Two fifty would be
bad enough, but better than that. Hadn't you better say two
fifty?"

Mr. Smallweed is quite clear that he had better not.

"Then," says Mr. Bucket, "let's hear Mr. Chadband. Lord! Many a
time I've heard my old fellow-serjeant of that name; and a moderate
man he was in all respects, as ever I come across!"

Thus invited, Mr. Chadband steps forth, and after a little sleek
smiling and a little oil-grinding with the palms of his hands,
delivers himself as follows, "My friends, we are now--Rachael, my
wife, and I--in the mansions of the rich and great. Why are we now
in the mansions of the rich and great, my friends? Is it because
we are invited? Because we are bidden to feast with them, because
we are bidden to rejoice with them, because we are bidden to play
the lute with them, because we are bidden to dance with them? No.
Then why are we here, my friends? Air we in possession of a sinful
secret, and do we require corn, and wine, and oil, or what is much
the same thing, money, for the keeping thereof? Probably so, my
friends."

"You're a man of business, you are," returns Mr. Bucket, very
attentive, "and consequently you're going on to mention what the
nature of your secret is. You are right. You couldn't do better."

"Let us then, my brother, in a spirit of love," says Mr. Chadband
with a cunning eye, "proceed unto it. Rachael, my wife, advance!"

Mrs. Chadband, more than ready, so advances as to jostle her
husband into the background and confronts Mr. Bucket with a hard,
frowning smile.

"Since you want to know what we know," says she, "I'll tell you. I
helped to bring up Miss Hawdon, her ladyship's daughter. I was in
the service of her ladyship's sister, who was very sensitive to the
disgrace her ladyship brought upon her, and gave out, even to her
ladyship, that the child was dead--she WAS very nearly so--when she
was born. But she's alive, and I know her." With these words, and
a laugh, and laying a bitter stress on the word "ladyship," Mrs.
Chadband folds her arms and looks implacably at Mr. Bucket.

"I suppose now," returns that officer, "YOU will he expecting a
twenty-pound note or a present of about that figure?"

Mrs. Chadband merely laughs and contemptuously tells him he can
"offer" twenty pence.

"My friend the law-stationer's good lady, over there," says Mr.
Bucket, luring Mrs. Snagsby forward with the finger. "What may
YOUR game be, ma'am?"

Mrs. Snagsby is at first prevented, by tears and lamentations, from
stating the nature of her game, but by degrees it confusedly comes
to light that she is a woman overwhelmed with injuries and wrongs,
whom Mr. Snagsby has habitually deceived, abandoned, and sought to
keep in darkness, and whose chief comfort, under her afflictions,
has been the sympathy of the late Mr. Tulkinghorn, who showed so
much commiseration for her on one occasion of his calling in Cook's
Court in the absence of her perjured husband that she has of late
habitually carried to him all her woes. Everybody it appears, the
present company excepted, has plotted against Mrs. Snagsby's peace.
There is Mr. Guppy, clerk to Kenge and Carboy, who was at first as
open as the sun at noon, but who suddenly shut up as close as
midnight, under the influence--no doubt--of Mr. Snagsby's suborning
and tampering. There is Mr. Weevle, friend of Mr. Guppy, who lived
mysteriously up a court, owing to the like coherent causes. There
was Krook, deceased; there was Nimrod, deceased; and there was Jo,
deceased; and they were "all in it." In what, Mrs. Snagsby does
not with particularity express, but she knows that Jo was Mr.
Snagsby's son, "as well as if a trumpet had spoken it," and she
followed Mr. Snagsby when he went on his last visit to the boy, and
if he was not his son why did he go? The one occupation of her
life has been, for some time back, to follow Mr. Snagsby to and
fro, and up and down, and to piece suspicious circumstances
together--and every circumstance that has happened has been most
suspicious; and in this way she has pursued her object of detecting
and confounding her false husband, night and day. Thus did it come
to pass that she brought the Chadbands and Mr. Tulkinghorn
together, and conferred with Mr. Tulkinghorn on the change in Mr.
Guppy, and helped to turn up the circumstances in which the present
company are interested, casually, by the wayside, being still and
ever on the great high road that is to terminate in Mr. Snagsby's
full exposure and a matrimonial separation. All this, Mrs.
Snagsby, as an injured woman, and the friend of Mrs. Chadband, and
the follower of Mr. Chadband, and the mourner of the late Mr.
Tulkinghorn, is here to certify under the seal of confidence, with
every possible confusion and involvement possible and impossible,
having no pecuniary motive whatever, no scheme or project but the
one mentioned, and bringing here, and taking everywhere, her own
dense atmosphere of dust, arising from the ceaseless working of her
mill of jealousy.

While this exordium is in hand--and it takes some time--Mr. Bucket,
who has seen through the transparency of Mrs. Snagsby's vinegar at
a glance, confers with his familiar demon and bestows his shrewd
attention on the Chadbands and Mr. Smallweed. Sir Leicester
Dedlock remains immovable, with the same icy surface upon him,
except that he once or twice looks towards Mr. Bucket, as relying
on that officer alone of all mankind.

"Very good," says Mr. Bucket. "Now I understand you, you know, and
being deputed by Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, to look into this
little matter," again Sir Leicester mechanically bows in
confirmation of the statement, "can give it my fair and full
attention. Now I won't allude to conspiring to extort money or
anything of that sort, because we are men and women of the world
here, and our object is to make things pleasant. But I tell you
what I DO wonder at; I am surprised that you should think of making
a noise below in the hall. It was so opposed to your interests.
That's what I look at."

"We wanted to get in," pleads Mr. Smallweed.

"Why, of course you wanted to get in," Mr. Bucket asserts with
cheerfulness; "but for a old gentleman at your time of life--what I
call truly venerable, mind you!--with his wits sharpened, as I have
no doubt they are, by the loss of the use of his limbs, which
occasions all his animation to mount up into his head, not to
consider that if he don't keep such a business as the present as
close as possible it can't be worth a mag to him, is so curious!
You see your temper got the better of you; that's where you lost
ground," says Mr. Bucket in an argumentative and friendly way.

"I only said I wouldn't go without one of the servants came up to
Sir Leicester Dedlock," returns Mr. Smallweed.

"That's it! That's where your temper got the better of you. Now,
you keep it under another time and you'll make money by it. Shall
I ring for them to carry you down?"

"When are we to hear more of this?" Mrs. Chadband sternly demands.

"Bless your heart for a true woman! Always curious, your
delightful sex is!" replies Mr. Bucket with gallantry. "I shall
have the pleasure of giving you a call to-morrow or next day--not
forgetting Mr. Smallweed and his proposal of two fifty."

"Five hundred!" exclaims Mr. Smallweed.

"All right! Nominally five hundred." Mr. Bucket has his hand on
the bell-rope. "SHALL I wish you good day for the present on the
part of myself and the gentleman of the house?" he asks in an
insinuating tone.

Nobody having the hardihood to object to his doing so, he does it,

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