Part 18 out of 21
"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
Nobody having the hardihood to object to his doing so, he does it,
and the party retire as they came up. Mr. Bucket follows them to
the door, and returning, says with an air of serious business, "Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, it's for you to consider whether or not
to buy this up. I should recommend, on the whole, it's being
bought up myself; and I think it may be bought pretty cheap. You
see, that little pickled cowcumber of a Mrs. Snagsby has been used
by all sides of the speculation and has done a deal more harm in
bringing odds and ends together than if she had meant it. Mr.
Tulkinghorn, deceased, he held all these horses in his hand and
could have drove 'em his own way, I haven't a doubt; but he was
fetched off the box head-foremost, and now they have got their legs
over the traces, and are all dragging and pulling their own ways.
So it is, and such is life. The cat's away, and the mice they
play; the frost breaks up, and the water runs. Now, with regard to
the party to be apprehended."
Sir Leicester seems to wake, though his eyes have been wide open,
and he looks intently at Mr. Bucket as Mr. Bucket refers to his
"The party to be apprehended is now in this house," proceeds Mr.
Bucket, putting up his watch with a steady hand and with rising
spirits, "and I'm about to take her into custody in your presence.
Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, don't you say a word nor yet stir.
There'll be no noise and no disturbance at all. I'll come back in
the course of the evening, if agreeable to you, and endeavour to
meet your wishes respecting this unfortunate family matter and the
nobbiest way of keeping it quiet. Now, Sir Leicester Dedlock,
Baronet, don't you be nervous on account of the apprehension at
present coming off. You shall see the whole case clear, from first
Mr. Bucket rings, goes to the door, briefly whispers Mercury, shuts
the door, and stands behind it with his arms folded. After a
suspense of a minute or two the door slowly opens and a Frenchwoman
enters. Mademoiselle Hortense.
The moment she is in the room Mr. Bucket claps the door to and puts
his back against it. The suddenness of the noise occasions her to
turn, and then for the first time she sees Sir Leicester Dedlock in
"I ask you pardon," she mutters hurriedly. "They tell me there was
no one here."
Her step towards the door brings her front to front with Mr.
Bucket. Suddenly a spasm shoots across her face and she turns
"This is my lodger, Sir Leicester Dedlock," says Mr. Bucket,
nodding at her. "This foreign young woman has been my lodger for
some weeks back."
"What do Sir Leicester care for that, you think, my angel?" returns
mademoiselle in a jocular strain.
"Why, my angel," returns Mr. Bucket, "we shall see."
Mademoiselle Hortense eyes him with a scowl upon her tight face,
which gradually changes into a smile of scorn, "You are very
mysterieuse. Are you drunk?"
"Tolerable sober, my angel," returns Mr. Bucket.
"I come from arriving at this so detestable house with your wife.
Your wife have left me since some minutes. They tell me downstairs
that your wife is here. I come here, and your wife is not here.
What is the intention of this fool's play, say then?" mademoiselle
demands, with her arms composedly crossed, but with something in
her dark cheek beating like a clock.
Mr. Bucket merely shakes the finger at her.
"Ah, my God, you are an unhappy idiot!" cries mademoiselle with a
toss of her head and a laugh. "Leave me to pass downstairs, great
pig." With a stamp of her foot and a menace.
"Now, mademoiselle," says Mr. Bucket in a cool determined way, "you
go and sit down upon that sofy."
"I will not sit down upon nothing," she replies with a shower of
"Now, mademoiselle," repeats Mr. Bucket, making no demonstration
except with the finger, "you sit down upon that sofy."
"Because I take you into custody on a charge of murder, and you
don't need to be told it. Now, I want to be polite to one of your
sex and a foreigner if I can. If I can't, I must be rough, and
there's rougher ones outside. What I am to be depends on you. So
I recommend you, as a friend, afore another half a blessed moment
has passed over your head, to go and sit down upon that sofy."
Mademoiselle complies, saying in a concentrated voice while that
something in her cheek beats fast and hard, "You are a devil."
"Now, you see," Mr. Bucket proceeds approvingly, "you're
comfortable and conducting yourself as I should expect a foreign
young woman of your sense to do. So I'll give you a piece of
advice, and it's this, don't you talk too much. You're not
expected to say anything here, and you can't keep too quiet a
tongue in your head. In short, the less you PARLAY, the better,
you know." Mr. Bucket is very complacent over this French
Mademoiselle, with that tigerish expansion of the mouth and her
black eyes darting fire upon him, sits upright on the sofa in a
rigid state, with her hands clenched--and her feet too, one might
suppose--muttering, "Oh, you Bucket, you are a devil!"
"Now, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," says Mr. Bucket, and from
this time forth the finger never rests, "this young woman, my
lodger, was her ladyship's maid at the time I have mentioned to
you; and this young woman, besides being extraordinary vehement and
passionate against her ladyship after being discharged--"
"Lie!" cries mademoiselle. "I discharge myself."
"Now, why don't you take my advice?" returns Mr. Bucket in an
impressive, almost in an imploring, tone. "I'm surprised at the
indiscreetness you commit. You'll say something that'll be used
against you, you know. You're sure to come to it. Never you mind
what I say till it's given in evidence. It is not addressed to
"Discharge, too," cries mademoiselle furiously, "by her ladyship!
Eh, my faith, a pretty ladyship! Why, I r-r-r-ruin my character hy
remaining with a ladyship so infame!"
"Upon my soul I wonder at you!" Mr. Bucket remonstrates. "I
thought the French were a polite nation, I did, really. Yet to
hear a female going on like that before Sir Leicester Dedlock,
"He is a poor abused!" cries mademoiselle. "I spit upon his house,
upon his name, upon his imbecility," all of which she makes the
carpet represent. "Oh, that he is a great man! Oh, yes, superb!
Oh, heaven! Bah!"
"Well, Sir Leicester Dedlock," proceeds Mr. Bucket, "this
intemperate foreigner also angrily took it into her head that she
had established a claim upon Mr. Tulkinghorn, deceased, by
attending on the occasion I told you of at his chambers, though she
was liberally paid for her time and trouble."
"Lie!" cries mademoiselle. "I ref-use his money all togezzer."
"If you WILL PARLAY, you know," says Mr. Bucket parenthetically,
"you must take the consequences. Now, whether she became my
lodger, Sir Leicester Dedlock, with any deliberate intention then
of doing this deed and blinding me, I give no opinion on; but she
lived in my house in that capacity at the time that she was
hovering about the chambers of the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn with a
view to a wrangle, and likewise persecuting and half frightening
the life out of an unfortunate stationer."
"Lie!" cries mademoiselle. "All lie!"
"The murder was commttted, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, and you
know under what circumstances. Now, I beg of you to follow me
close with your attention for a minute or two. I was sent for, and
the case was entrusted to me. I examined the place, and the body,
and the papers, and everything. From information I received (from
a clerk in the same house) I took George into custody as having
been seen hanging about there on the night, and at very nigh the
time of the murder, also as having been overheard in high words
with the deceased on former occasions--even threatening him, as the
witness made out. If you ask me, Sir Leicester Dedlock, whether
from the first I believed George to be the murderer, I tell you
candidly no, but he might be, notwithstanding, and there was enough
against him to make it my duty to take him and get him kept under
remand. Now, observe!"
As Mr. Bucket bends forward in some excitement--for him--and
inaugurates what he is going to say with one ghostly beat of his
forefinger in the air, Mademoiselle Hortense fixes her black eyes
upon him with a dark frown and sets her dry lips closely and firmly
"I went home, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, at night and found
this young woman having supper with my wife, Mrs. Bucket. She had
made a mighty show of being fond of Mrs. Bucket from her first
offering herself as our lodger, but that night she made more than
ever--in fact, overdid it. Likewise she overdid her respect, and
all that, for the lamented memory of the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn.
By the living Lord it flashed upon me, as I sat opposite to her at
the table and saw her with a knife in her hand, that she had done
Mademoiselle is hardly audible in straining through her teeth and
lips the words, "You are a devil."
"Now where," pursues Mr. Bucket, "had she been on the night of the
murder? She had been to the theayter. (She really was there, I
have since found, both before the deed and after it.) I knew I had
an artful customer to deal with and that proof would be very
difficult; and I laid a trap for her--such a trap as I never laid
yet, and such a venture as I never made yet. I worked it out in my
mind while I was talking to her at supper. When I went upstairs to
bed, our house being small and this young woman's ears sharp, I
stuffed the sheet into Mrs. Bucket's mouth that she shouldn't say a
word of surprise and told her all about it. My dear, don't you
give your mind to that again, or I shall link your feet together at
the ankles." Mr. Bucket, breaking off, has made a noiseless
descent upon mademoiselle and laid his heavy hand upon her
"What is the matter with you now?" she asks him.
"Don't you think any more," returns Mr. Bucket with admonitory
finger, "of throwing yourself out of window. That's what's the
matter with me. Come! Just take my arm. You needn't get up; I'll
sit down by you. Now take my arm, will you? I'm a married man,
you know; you're acquainted with my wife. Just take my arm."
Vaiuly endeavouring to moisten those dry lips, with a painful sound
she struggles with herself and complies.
"Now we're all right again. Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, this
case could never have been the case it is but for Mrs. Bucket, who
is a woman in fifty thousand--in a hundred and fifty thousand! To
throw this young woman off her guard, I have never set foot in our
house since, though I've communicated with Mrs. Bucket in the
baker's loaves and in the milk as often as required. My whispered
words to Mrs. Bucket when she had the sheet in her mouth were, 'My
dear, can you throw her off continually with natural accounts of my
suspicions against George, and this, and that, and t'other? Can
you do without rest and keep watch upon her night and day? Can you
undertake to say, "She shall do nothing without my knowledge, she
shall be my prisoner without suspecting it, she shall no more
escape from me than from death, and her life shall be my life, and
her soul my soul, till I have got her, if she did this murder?"'
Mrs. Bucket says to me, as well as she could speak on account of
the sheet, 'Bucket, I can!' And she has acted up to it glorious!"
"Lies!" mademoiselle interposes. "All lies, my friend!"
"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, how did my calculations come out
under these circumstances? When I calculated that this impetuous
young woman would overdo it in new directions, was I wrong or
right? I was right. What does she try to do? Don't let it give
you a turn? To throw the murder on her ladyship."
Sir Leicester rises from his chair and staggers down again.
"And she got encouragement in it from hearing that I was always
here, which was done a-purpose. Now, open that pocket-book of
mine, Sir Leicester Dedlock, if I may take the liberty of throwing
it towards you, and look at the letters sent to me, each with the
two words 'Lady Dedlock' in it. Open the one directed to yourself,
which I stopped this very morning, and read the three words 'Lady
Dedlock, Murderess' in it. These letters have been falling about
like a shower of lady-birds. What do you say now to Mrs. Bucket,
from her spy-place having seen them all 'written by this young
woman? What do you say to Mrs. Bucket having, within this half-
hour, secured the corresponding ink and paper, fellow half-sheets
and what not? What do you say to Mrs. Bucket having watched the
posting of 'em every one by this young woman, Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet?" Mr. Bucket asks, triumphant in his admiration
of his lady's genius.
Two things are especially observable as Mr. Bucket proceeds to a
conclusion. First, that he seems imperceptibly to establish a
dreadful right of property in mademoiselle. Secondly, that the
very atmosphere she breathes seems to narrow and contract about her
as if a close net or a pall were being drawn nearer and yet nearer
around her breathless figure.
"There is no doubt that her ladyship was on the spot at the
eventful period," says Mr. Bucket, "and my foreign friend here saw
her, I believe, from the upper part of the staircase. Her ladyship
and George and my foreign friend were all pretty close on one
another's heels. But that don't signify any more, so I'll not go
into it. I found the wadding of the pistol with which the deceased
Mr. Tulkinghorn was shot. It was a bit of the printed description
of your house at Chesney Wold. Not much in that, you'll say, Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet. No. But when my foreign friend here
is so thoroughly off her guard as to think it a safe time to tear
up the rest of that leaf, and when Mrs. Bucket puts the pieces
together and finds the wadding wanting, it begins to look like
"These are very long lies," mademoiselle interposes. "You prose
great deal. Is it that you have almost all finished, or are you
"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet," proceeds Mr. Bucket, who delights
in a full title and does violence to himself when he dispenses with
any fragment of it, "the last point in the case which I am now
going to mention shows the necessity of patience in our business,
and never doing a thing in a hurry. I watched this young woman
yesterday without her knowledge when she was looking at the
funeral, in company with my wife, who planned to take her there;
and I had so much to convict her, and I saw such an expression in
her face, and my mind so rose against her malice towards her
ladyship, and the time was altogether such a time for bringing down
what you may call retribution upon her, that if I had been a
younger hand with less experience, I should have taken her,
certain. Equally, last night, when her ladyship, as is so
universally admired I am sure, come home looking--why, Lord, a man
might almost say like Venus rising from the ocean--it was so
unpleasant and inconsistent to think of her being charged with a
murder of which she was innocent that I felt quite to want to put
an end to the job. What should I have lost? Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet, I should have lost the weapon. My prisoner here
proposed to Mrs. Bucket, after the departure of the funeral, that
they should go per bus a little ways into the country and take tea
at a very decent house of entertainment. Now, near that house of
entertainment there's a piece of water. At tea, my prisoner got up
to fetch her pocket handkercher from the bedroom where the bonnets
was; she was rather a long time gone and came back a little out of
wind. As soon as they came home this was reported to me by Mrs.
Bucket, along with her observations and suspicions. I had the
piece of water dragged by moonlight, in presence of a couple of our
men, and the pocket pistol was brought up before it had been there
half-a-dozen hours. Now, my dear, put your arm a little further
through mine, and hold it steady, and I shan't hurt you!"
In a trice Mr. Bucket snaps a handcuff on her wrist. "That's one,"
says Mr. Bucket. "Now the other, darling. Two, and all told!"
He rises; she rises too. "Where," she asks him, darkening her
large eyes until their drooping lids almost conceal them--and yet
they stare, "where is your false, your treacherous, and cursed
"She's gone forrard to the Police Office," returns Mr. Bucket.
"You'll see her there, my dear."
"I would like to kiss her!" exclaims Mademoiselle Hortense, panting
"You'd bite her, I suspect," says Mr. Bucket.
"I would!" making her eyes very large. "I would love to tear her
limb from limb."
"Bless you, darling," says Mr. Bucket with the greatest composure,
"I'm fully prepared to hear that. Your sex have such a surprising
animosity against one another when you do differ. You don't mind
me half so much, do you?"
"No. Though you are a devil still."
"Angel and devil by turns, eh?" cries Mr. Bucket. "But I am in my
regular employment, you must consider. Let me put your shawl tidy.
I've been lady's maid to a good many before now. Anything wanting
to the bonnet? There's a cab at the door."
Mademoiselle Hortense, casting an indignant eye at the glass,
shakes herself perfectly neat in one shake and looks, to do her
justice, uncommonly genteel.
"Listen then, my angel," says she after several sarcastic nods.
"You are very spiritual. But can you restore him back to life?"
Mr. Bucket answers, "Not exactly."
"That is droll. Listen yet one time. You are very spiritual. Can
you make a honourahle lady of her?"
"Don't be so malicious," says Mr. Bucket.
"Or a haughty gentleman of HIM?" cries mademoiselle, referring to
Sir Leicester with ineffable disdain. "Eh! Oh, then regard him!
The poor infant! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Come, come, why this is worse PARLAYING than the other," says Mr.
Bucket. "Come along!"
"You cannot do these things? Then you can do as you please with
me. It is but the death, it is all the same. Let us go, my angel.
Adieu, you old man, grey. I pity you, and I despise you!"
With these last words she snaps her teeth together as if her mouth
closed with a spring. It is impossible to describe how Mr. Bucket
gets her out, but he accomplishes that feat in a manner so peculiar
to himself, enfolding and pervading her like a cloud, and hovering
away with her as if he were a homely Jupiter and she the object of
Sir Leicester, left alone, remains in the same attitude, as though
he were still listening and his attention were still occupied. At
length he gazes round the empty room, and finding it deserted,
rises unsteadily to his feet, pushes back his chair, and walks a
few steps, supporting himself by the table. Then he stops, and
with more of those inarticulate sounds, lifts up his eyes and seems
to stare at something.
Heaven knows what he sees. The green, green woods of Chesney Wold,
the noble house, the pictures of his forefathers, strangers
defacing them, officers of police coarsely handling his most
precious heirlooms, thousands of fingers pointing at him, thousands
of faces sneering at him. But if such shadows flit before him to
his bewilderment, there is one other shadow which he can name with
something like distinctness even yet and to which alone he
addresses his tearing of his white hair and his extended arms.
It is she in association with whom, saving that she has been for
years a main fibre of the root of his dignity and pride, he has
never had a selfish thought. It is she whom he has loved, admired,
honoured, and set up for the world to respect. It is she who, at
the core of all the constrained formalities and conventionalities
of his life, has been a stock of living tenderness and love,
susceptible as nothing else is of being struck with the agony he
feels. He sees her, almost to the exclusion of himself, and cannot
bear to look upon her cast down from the high place she has graced
And even to the point of his sinking on the ground, oblivious of
his suffering, he can yet pronounce her name with something like
distinctness in the midst of those intrusive sounds, and in a tone
of mourning and compassion rather than reproach.
Inspector Bucket of the Detective has not yet struck his great
blow, as just now chronicled, but is yet refreshing himself with
sleep preparatory to his field-day, when through the night and
along the freezing wintry roads a chaise and pair comes out of
Lincolnshire, making its way towards London.
Railroads shall soon traverse all this country, and with a rattle
and a glare the engine and train shall shoot like a meteor over the
wide night-landscape, turning the moon paler; but as yet such
things are non-existent in these parts, though not wholly
unexpected. Preparations are afoot, measurements are made, ground
is staked out. Bridges are begun, and their not yet united piers
desolately look at one another over roads and streams like brick
and mortar couples with an obstacle to their union; fragments of
embankments are thrown up and left as precipices with torrents of
rusty carts and barrows tumbling over them; tripods of tall poles
appear on hilltops, where there are rumours of tunnels; everything
looks chaotic and abandoned in full hopelessness. Along the
freezing roads, and through the night, the post-chaise makes its
way without a railroad on its mind.
Mrs. Rouncewell, so many years housekeeper at Chesney Wold, sits
within the chaise; and by her side sits Mrs. Bagnet with her grey
cloak and umbrella. The old girl would prefer the bar in front, as
being exposed to the weather and a primitive sort of perch more in
accordance with her usual course of travelling, but Mrs. Rouncewell
is too thoughtful of her comfort to admit of her proposing it. The
old lady cannot make enough of the old girl. She sits, in her
stately manner, holding her hand, and regardless of its roughness,
puts it often to her lips. "You are a mother, my dear soul," says
she many times, "and you found out my George's mother!"
"Why, George," returns Mrs. Bagnet, "was always free with me,
ma'am, and when he said at our house to my Woolwich that of all the
things my Woolwich could have to think of when he grew to be a man,
the comfortablest would be that he had never brought a sorrowful
line into his mother's face or turned a hair of her head grey, then
I felt sure, from his way, that something fresh had brought his own
mother into his mind. I had often known him say to me, in past
times, that he had behaved bad to her."
"Never, my dear!" returns Mrs. Rouncewell, bursting into tears.
"My blessing on him, never! He was always fond of me, and loving
to me, was my George! But he had a bold spirit, and he ran a
little wild and went for a soldier. And I know he waited at first,
in letting us know about himself, till he should rise to be an
officer; and when he didn't rise, I know he considered himself
beneath us, and wouldn't be a disgrace to us. For he had a lion
heart, had my George, always from a baby!"
The old lady's hands stray about her as of yore, while she recalls,
all in a tremble, what a likely lad, what a fine lad, what a gay
good-humoured clever lad he was; how they all took to him down at
Chesney Wold; how Sir Leicester took to him when he was a young
gentleman; how the dogs took to him; how even the people who had
been angry with him forgave him the moment he was gone, poor boy.
And now to see him after all, and in a prison too! And the broad
stomacher heaves, and the quaint upright old-fashioned figure bends
under its load of affectionate distress.
Mrs. Bagnet, with the instinctive skill of a good warm heart,
leaves the old housekeeper to her emotions for a little while--not
without passing the back of her hand across her own motherly eyes--
and presently chirps up in her cheery manner, "So I says to George
when I goes to call him in to tea (he pretended to be smoking his
pipe outside), 'What ails you this afternoon, George, for gracious
sake? I have seen all sorts, and I have seen you pretty often in
season and out of season, abroad and at home, and I never see you
so melancholy penitent.' 'Why, Mrs. Bagnet,' says George, 'it's
because I AM melancholy and penitent both, this afternoon, that you
see me so.' 'What have you done, old fellow?' I says. 'Why, Mrs.
Bagnet,' says George, shaking his head, 'what I have done has been
done this many a long year, and is best not tried to be undone now.
If I ever get to heaven it won't be for being a good son to a
widowed mother; I say no more.' Now, ma'am, when George says to me
that it's best not tried to be undone now, I have my thoughts as I
have often had before, and I draw it out of George how he comes to
have such things on him that afternoon. Then George tells me that
he has seen by chance, at the lawyer's office, a fine old lady that
has brought his mother plain before him, and he runs on about that
old lady till he quite forgets himself and paints her picture to me
as she used to be, years upon years back. So I says to George when
he has done, who is this old lady he has seen? And George tells me
it's Mrs. Rouncewell, housekeeper for more than half a century to
the Dedlock family down at Chesney Wold in Lincolnshire. George
has frequently told me before that he's a Lincolnshire man, and I
says to my old Lignum that night, 'Lignum, that's his mother for
five and for-ty pound!'"
All this Mrs. Bagnet now relates for the twentieth time at least
within the last four hours. Trilling it out like a kind of bird,
with a pretty high note, that it may be audible to the old lady
above the hum of the wheels.
"Bless you, and thank you," says Mrs. Rouncewell. "Bless you, and
thank you, my worthy soul!"
"Dear heart!" cries Mrs. Bagnet in the most natural manner. "No
thanks to me, I am sure. Thanks to yourself, ma'am, for being so
ready to pay 'em! And mind once more, ma'am, what you had best do
on finding George to be your own son is to make him--for your sake
--have every sort of help to put himself in the right and clear
himself of a charge of which he is as innocent as you or me. It
won't do to have truth and justice on his side; he must have law
and lawyers," exclaims the old girl, apparently persuaded that the
latter form a separate establishment and have dissolved partnership
with truth and justice for ever and a day.
"He shall have," says Mrs. Rouncewell, "all the help that can be
got for him in the world, my dear. I will spend all I have, and
thankfully, to procure it. Sir Leicester will do his best, the
whole family will do their best. I--I know something, my dear; and
will make my own appeal, as his mother parted from him all these
years, and finding him in a jail at last."
The extreme disquietude of the old housekeeper's manner in saying
this, her broken words, and her wringing of her hands make a
powerful impression on Mrs. Bagnet and would astonish her but that
she refers them all to her sorrow for her son's condition. And yet
Mrs. Bagnet wonders too why Mrs. Rouncewell should murmur so
distractedly, "My Lady, my Lady, my Lady!" over and over again.
The frosty night wears away, and the dawn breaks, and the post-
chaise comes rolling on through the early mist like the ghost of a
chaise departed. It has plenty of spectral company in ghosts of
trees and hedges, slowly vanishing and giving place to the
realities of day. London reached, the travellers alight, the old
housekeeper in great tribulation and confusion, Mrs. Bagnet quite
fresh and collected--as she would be if her next point, with no new
equipage and outfit, were the Cape of Good Hope, the Island of
Ascension, Hong Kong, or any other military station.
But when they set out for the prison where the trooper is confined,
the old lady has managed to draw about her, with her lavender-
coloured dress, much of the staid calmness which is its usual
accompaniment. A wonderfully grave, precise, and handsome piece of
old china she looks, though her heart beats fast and her stomacher
is ruffled more than even the remembrance of this wayward son has
ruffled it these many years.
Approaching the cell, they find the door opening and a warder in
the act of coming out. The old girl promptly makes a sign of
entreaty to him to say nothing; assenting with a nod, he suffers
them to enter as he shuts the door.
So George, who is writing at his table, supposing himself to be
alone, does not raise his eyes, but remains absorbed. The old
housekeeper looks at him, and those wandering hands of hers are
quite enough for Mrs. Bagnet's confirmation, even if she could see
the mother and the son together, knowing what she knows, and doubt
Not a rustle of the housekeeper's dress, not a gesture, not a word
betrays her. She stands looking at him as he writes on, all
unconscious, and only her fluttering hands give utterance to her
emotions. But they are very eloquent, very, very eloquent. Mrs.
Bagnet understands them. They speak of gratitude, of joy, of
grief, of hope; of inextinguishable affection, cherished with no
return since this stalwart man was a stripling; of a better son
loved less, and this son loved so fondly and so proudly; and they
speak in such touching language that Mrs. Bagnet's eyes brim up
with tears and they run glistening down her sun-brown face.
"George Rouncewell! Oh, my dear child, turn and look at me!"
The trooper starts up, clasps his mother round the neck, and falls
down on his knees before her. Whether in a late repentance,
whether in the first association that comes back upon him, he puts
his hands together as a child does when it says its prayers, and
raising them towards her breast, bows down his head, and cries.
"My George, my dearest son! Always my favourite, and my favourite
still, where have you been these cruel years and years? Grown such
a man too, grown such a fine strong man. Grown so like what I knew
he must be, if it pleased God he was alive!"
She can ask, and he can answer, nothing connected for a time. All
that time the old girl, turned away, leans one arm against the
whitened wall, leans her honest forehead upon it, wipes her eyes
with her serviceable grey cloak, and quite enjoys herself like the
best of old girls as she is.
"Mother," says the trooper when they are more composed, "forgive me
first of all, for I know my need of it."
Forgive him! She does it with all her heart and soul. She always
has done it. She tells him how she has had it written in her will,
these many years, that he was her beloved son George. She has
never believed any ill of him, never. If she had died without this
happiness--and she is an old woman now and can't look to live very
long--she would have blessed him with her last breath, if she had
had her senses, as her beloved son George.
"Mother, I have been an undutiful trouble to you, and I have my
reward; but of late years I have had a kind of glimmering of a
purpose in me too. When I left home I didn't care much, mother--I
am afraid not a great deal--for leaving; and went away and 'listed,
harum-scarum, making believe to think that I cared for nobody, no
not I, and that nobody cared for me."
The trooper has dried his eyes and put away his handkerchief, but
there is an extraordinary contrast between his habitual manner of
expressing himself and carrying himself and the softened tone in
which he speaks, interrupted occasionally by a half-stifled sob.
"So I wrote a line home, mother, as you too well know, to say I had
'listed under another name, and I went abroad. Abroad, at one time
I thought I would write home next year, when I might be better off;
and when that year was out, I thought I would write home next year,
when I might be better off; and when that year was out again,
perhaps I didn't think much about it. So on, from year to year,
through a service of ten years, till I began to get older, and to
ask myself why should I ever write."
"I don't find any fault, child--but not to ease my mind, George?
Not a word to your loving mother, who was growing older too?"
This almost overturns the trooper afresh, but he sets himself up
with a great, rough, sounding clearance of his throat.
"Heaven forgive me, mother, but I thought there would be small
consolation then in hearing anything about me. There were you,
respected and esteemed. There was my brother, as I read in chance
North Country papers now and then, rising to be prosperous and
famous. There was I a dragoon, roving, unsettled, not self-made
like him, but self-unmade--all my earlier advantages thrown away,
all my little learning unlearnt, nothing picked up but what
unfitted me for most things that I could think of. What business
had I to make myself known? After letting all that time go by me,
what good could come of it? The worst was past with you, mother.
I knew by that time (being a man) how you had mourned for me, and
wept for me, and prayed for me; and the pain was over, or was
softened down, and I was better in your mind as it was."
The old lady sorrowfully shakes her head, and taking one of his
powerful hands, lays it lovingly upon her shoulder.
"No, I don't say that it was so, mother, but that I made it out to
be so. I said just now, what good could come of it? Well, my dear
mother, some good might have come of it to myself--and there was
the meanness of it. You would have sought me out; you would have
purchased my discharge; you would have taken me down to Chesney
Wold; you would have brought me and my brother and my brother's
family together; you would all have considered anxiously how to do
something for me and set me up as a respectable civilian. But how
could any of you feel sure of me when I couldn't so much as feel
sure of myself? How could you help regarding as an incumbrance and
a discredit to you an idle dragooning chap who was an incumbrance
and a discredit to himself, excepting under discipline? How could
I look my brother's children in the face and pretend to set them an
example--I, the vagabond boy who had run away from home and been
the grief and unhappiness of my mother's life? 'No, George.' Such
were my words, mother, when I passed this in review before me: 'You
have made your bed. Now, lie upon it.'"
Mrs. Rouncewell, drawing up her stately form, shakes her head at
the old girl with a swelling pride upon her, as much as to say, "I
told you so!" The old girl relieves her feelings and testifies her
interest in the conversation by giving the trooper a great poke
between the shoulders with her umbrella; this action she afterwards
repeats, at intervals, in a species of affectionate lunacy, never
failing, after the administration of each of these remonstrances,
to resort to the whitened wall and the grey cloak again.
"This was the way I brought myself to think, mother, that my best
amends was to lie upon that bed I had made, and die upon it. And I
should have done it (though I have been to see you more than once
down at Chesney Wold, when you little thought of me) but for my old
comrade's wife here, who I find has been too many for me. But I
thank her for it. I thank you for it, Mrs. Bagnet, with all my
heart and might."
To which Mrs. Bagnet responds with two pokes.
And now the old lady impresses upon her son George, her own dear
recovered boy, her joy and pride, the light of her eyes, the happy
close of her life, and every fond name she can think of, that he
must be governed by the best advice obtainable by money and
influence, that he must yield up his case to the greatest lawyers
that can be got, that he must act in this serious plight as he
shall be advised to act and must not be self-willed, however right,
but must promise to think only of his poor old mother's anxiety and
suffering until he is released, or he will break her heart.
"Mother, 'tis little enough to consent to," returns the trooper,
stopping her with a kiss; "tell me what I shall do, and I'll make a
late beginning and do it. Mrs. Bagnet, you'll take care of my
mother, I know?"
A very hard poke from the old girl's umbrella.
"If you'll bring her acquainted with Mr. Jarndyce and Miss
Summerson, she will find them of her way of thinking, and they will
give her the best advice and assistance."
"And, George," says the old lady, "we must send with all haste for
your brother. He is a sensible sound man as they tell me--out in
the world beyond Chesney Wold, my dear, though I don't know much of
it myself--and will be of great service."
"Mother," returns the trooper, "is it too soon to ask a favour?"
"Surely not, my dear."
"Then grant me this one great favour. Don't let my brother know."
"Not know what, my dear?"
"Not know of me. In fact, mother, I can't bear it; I can't make up
my mmd to it. He has proved himself so different from me and has
done so much to raise himself while I've been soldiering that I
haven't brass enough in my composition to see him in this place and
under this charge. How could a man like him be expected to have
any pleasure in such a discovery? It's impossible. No, keep my
secret from him, mother; do me a greater kindness than I deserve
and keep my secret from my brother, of all men."
"But not always, dear George?"
"Why, mother, perhaps not for good and all--though I may come to
ask that too--but keep it now, I do entreat you. If it's ever
broke to him that his rip of a brother has turned up, I could
wish," says the trooper, shaking his head very doubtfully, "to
break it myself and be governed as to advancing or retreating by
the way in which he seems to take it."
As he evidently has a rooted feeling on this point, and as the
depth of it is recognized in Mrs. Bagnet's face, his mother yields
her implicit assent to what he asks. For this he thanks her
"In all other respects, my dear mother, I'll be as tractable and
obedient as you can wish; on this one alone, I stand out. So now I
am ready even for the lawyers. I have been drawing up," he glances
at his writing on the table, "an exact account of what I knew of
the deceased and how I came to be involved in this unfortunate
affair. It's entered, plain and regular, like an orderly-book; not
a word in it but what's wanted for the facts. I did intend to read
it, straight on end, whensoever I was called upon to say anything
in my defence. I hope I may be let to do it still; but I have no
longer a will of my own in this case, and whatever is said or done,
I give my promise not to have any."
Matters being brought to this so far satisfactory pass, and time
being on the wane, Mrs. Bagnet proposes a departure. Again and
again the old lady hangs upon her son's neck, and again and again
the trooper holds her to his broad chest.
"Where are you going to take my mother, Mrs. Bagnet?"
"I am going to the town house, my dear, the family house. I have
some business there that must be looked to directly," Mrs.
"Will you see my mother safe there in a coach, Mrs. Bagnet? But of
course I know you will. Why should I ask it!"
Why indeed, Mrs. Bagnet expresses with the umbrella.
"Take her, my old friend, and take my gratitude along with you.
Kisses to Quebec and Malta, love to my godson, a hearty shake of
the hand to Lignum, and this for yourself, and I wish it was ten
thousand pound in gold, my dear!" So saying, the trooper puts his
lips to the old girl's tanned forehead, and the door shuts upon him
in his cell.
No entreaties on the part of the good old housekeeper will induce
Mrs. Bagnet to retain the coach for her own conveyance home.
Jumping out cheerfully at the door of the Dedlock mansion and
handing Mrs. Rouncewell up the steps, the old girl shakes hands and
trudges off, arriving soon afterwards in the bosom of the Bagnet
family and falling to washing the greens as if nothing had
My Lady is in that room in which she held her last conference with
the murdered man, and is sitting where she sat that night, and is
looking at the spot where he stood upon the hearth studying her so
leisurely, when a tap comes at the door. Who is it? Mrs.
Rouncewell. What has brought Mrs. Rouncewell to town so
"Trouble, my Lady. Sad trouble. Oh, my Lady, may I beg a word
What new occurrence is it that makes this tranquil old woman
tremble so? Far happier than her Lady, as her Lady has often
thought, why does she falter in this manner and look at her with
such strange mistrust?
"What is the matter? Sit down and take your breath."
"Oh, my Lady, my Lady. I have found my son--my youngest, who went
away for a soldier so long ago. And he is in prison."
"Oh, no, my Lady; I would have paid any debt, and joyful."
"For what is he in prison then?"
"Charged with a murder, my Lady, of which he is as innocent as--as
I am. Accused of the murder of Mr. Tulkinghorn."
What does she mean by this look and this imploring gesture? Why
does she come so close? What is the letter that she holds?
"Lady Dedlock, my dear Lady, my good Lady, my kind Lady! You must
have a heart to feel for me, you must have a heart to forgive me.
I was in this family before you were born. I am devoted to it.
But think of my dear son wrongfully accused."
"I do not accuse him."
"No, my Lady, no. But others do, and he is in prison and in
danger. Oh, Lady Dedlock, if you can say but a word to help to
clear him, say it!"
What delusion can this be? What power does she suppose is in the
person she petitions to avert this unjust suspicion, if it be
unjust? Her Lady's handsome eyes regard her with astonishment,
almost with fear.
"My Lady, I came away last night from Chesney Wold to find my son
in my old age, and the step upon the Ghost's Walk was so constant
and so solemn that I never heard the like in all these years.
Night after night, as it has fallen dark, the sound has echoed
through your rooms, but last night it was awfullest. And as it
fell dark last night, my Lady, I got this letter."
"What letter is it?"
"Hush! Hush!" The housekeeper looks round and answers in a
frightened whisper, "My Lady, I have not breathed a word of it, I
don't believe what's written in it, I know it can't be true, I am
sure and certain that it is not true. But my son is in danger, and
you must have a heart to pity me. If you know of anything that is
not known to others, if you have any suspicion, if you have any
clue at all, and any reason for keeping it in your own breast, oh,
my dear Lady, think of me, and conquer that reason, and let it be
known! This is the most I consider possible. I know you are not a
hard lady, but you go your own way always without help, and you are
not familiar with your friends; and all who admire you--and all do
--as a beautiful and elegant lady, know you to be one far away from
themselves who can't be approached close. My Lady, you may have
some proud or angry reasons for disdaining to utter something that
you know; if so, pray, oh, pray, think of a faithful servant whose
whole life has been passed in this family which she dearly loves,
and relent, and help to clear my son! My Lady, my good Lady," the
old housekeeper pleads with genuine simplicity, "I am so humble in
my place and you are by nature so high and distant that you may not
think what I feel for my child, but I feel so much that I have come
here to make so bold as to beg and pray you not to be scornful of
us if you can do us any right or justice at this fearful time!"
Lady Dedlock raises her without one word, until she takes the
letter from her hand.
"Am I to read this?"
"When I am gone, my Lady, if you please, and then remembering the
most that I consider possible."
"I know of nothing I can do. I know of nothing I reserve that can
affect your son. I have never accused him."
"My Lady, you may pity him the more under a false accusation after
reading the letter."
The old housekeeper leaves her with the letter in her hand. In
truth she is not a hard lady naturally, and the time has been when
the sight of the venerable figure suing to her with such strong
earnestness would have moved her to great compassion. But so long
accustomed to suppress emotion and keep down reality, so long
schooled for her own purposes in that destructive school which
shuts up the natural feelings of the heart like flies in amber and
spreads one uniform and dreary gloss over the good and bad, the
feeling and the unfeeling, the sensible and the senseless, she had
subdued even her wonder until now.
She opens the letter. Spread out upon the paper is a printed
account of the discovery of the body as it lay face downward on the
floor, shot through the heart; and underneath is written her own
name, with the word "murderess" attached.
It falls out of her hand. How long it may have lain upon the
ground she knows not, but it lies where it fell when a servant
stands before her announcing the young man of the name of Guppy.
The words have probably been repeated several times, for they are
ringing in her head before she begins to understand them.
"Let him come in!"
He comes in. Holding the letter in her hand, which she has taken
from the floor, she tries to collect her thoughts. In the eyes of
Mr. Guppy she is the same Lady Dedlock, holding the same prepared,
proud, chilling state.
"Your ladyship may not be at first disposed to excuse this visit
from one who has never been welcome to your ladyship"--which he
don't complain of, for he is bound to confess that there never has
been any particular reason on the face of things why he should be--
"but I hope when I mention my motives to your ladyship you will not
find fault with me," says Mr. Guppy.
"Thank your ladyship. I ought first to explain to your ladyship,"
Mr. Guppy sits on the edge of a chair and puts his hat on the
carpet at his feet, "that Miss Summerson, whose image, as I
formerly mentioned to your ladyship, was at one period of my life
imprinted on my 'eart until erased by circumstances over which I
had no control, communicated to me, after I had the pleasure of
waiting on your ladyship last, that she particularly wished me to
take no steps whatever in any manner at all relating to her. And
Miss Summerson's wishes being to me a law (except as connected with
circumstances over which I have no control), I consequently never
expected to have the distinguished honour of waiting on your
And yet he is here now, Lady Dedlock moodily reminds him.
"And yet I am here now," Mr. Guppy admits. "My object being to
communicate to your ladyship, under the seal of confidence, why I
He cannot do so, she tells him, too plainly or too briefly. "Nor
can I," Mr. Guppy returns with a sense of injury upon him, "too
particularly request your ladyship to take particular notice that
it's no personal affair of mine that brings me here. I have no
interested views of my own to serve in coming here. If it was not
for my promise to Miss Summerson and my keeping of it sacred--I, in
point of fact, shouldn't have darkened these doors again, but
should have seen 'em further first."
Mr. Guppy considers this a favourable moment for sticking up his
hair with both hands.
"Your ladyship will remember when I mention it that the last time I
was here I run against a party very eminent in our profession and
whose loss we all deplore. That party certainly did from that time
apply himself to cutting in against me in a way that I will call
sharp practice, and did make it, at every turn and point, extremely
difficult for me to be sure that I hadn't inadvertently led up to
something contrary to Miss Summerson's wishes. Self-praise is no
recommendation, but I may say for myself that I am not so bad a man
of business neither."
Lady Dedlock looks at him in stern inquiry. Mr. Guppy immediately
withdraws his eyes from her face and looks anywhere else.
"Indeed, it has been made so hard," he goes on, "to have any idea
what that party was up to in combination with others that until the
loss which we all deplore I was gravelled--an expression which your
ladyship, moving in the higher circles, will be so good as to
consider tantamount to knocked over. Small likewise--a name by
which I refer to another party, a friend of mine that your ladyship
is not acquainted with--got to be so close and double-faced that at
times it wasn't easy to keep one's hands off his 'ead. However,
what with the exertion of my humble abilities, and what with the
help of a mutual friend by the name of Mr. Tony Weevle (who is of a
high aristocratic turn and has your ladyship's portrait always
hanging up in his room), I have now reasons for an apprehension as
to which I come to put your ladyship upon your guard. First, will
your ladyship allow me to ask you whether you have had any strange
visitors this morning? I don't mean fashionable visitors, but such
visitors, for instance, as Miss Barbary's old servant, or as a
person without the use of his lower extremities, carried upstairs
similarly to a guy?"
"Then I assure your ladyship that such visitors have been here and
have been received here. Because I saw them at the door, and
waited at the corner of the square till they came out, and took
half an hour's turn afterwards to avoid them."
"What have I to do with that, or what have you? I do not
understand you. What do you mean?"
"Your ladyship, I come to put you on your guard. There may be no
occasion for it. Very well. Then I have only done my best to keep
my promise to Miss Summerson. I strongly suspect (from what Small
has dropped, and from what we have corkscrewed out of him) that
those letters I was to have brought to your ladyship were not
destroyed when I supposed they were. That if there was anything to
be blown upon, it IS blown upon. That the visitors I have alluded
to have been here this morning to make money of it. And that the
money is made, or making."
Mr. Guppy picks up his hat and rises.
"Your ladyship, you know best whether there's anything in what I
say or whether there's nothing. Something or nothing, I have acted
up to Miss Summerson's wishes in letting things alone and in
undoing what I had begun to do, as far as possible; that's
sufficient for me. In case I should be taking a liberty in putting
your ladyship on your guard when there's no necessity for it, you
will endeavour, I should hope, to outlive my presumption, and I
shall endeavour to outlive your disapprobation. I now take my
farewell of your ladyship, and assure you that there's no danger of
your ever being waited on by me again."
She scarcely acknowledges these parting words by any look, but when
he has been gone a little while, she rings her bell.
"Where is Sir Leicester?"
Mercury reports that he is at present shut up in the library alone.
"Has Sir Leicester had any visitors this morning?"
Several, on business. Mercury proceeds to a description of them,
which has been anticipated by Mr. Guppy. Enough; he may go.
So! All is broken down. Her name is in these many mouths, her
husband knows his wrongs, her shame will be published--may be
spreading while she thinks about it--and in addition to the
thunderbolt so long foreseen by her, so unforeseen by him, she is
denounced by an invisible accuser as the murderess of her enemy.
Her enemy he was, and she has often, often, often wished him dead.
Her enemy he is, even in his grave. This dreadful accusation comes
upon her like a new torment at his lifeless hand. And when she
recalls how she was secretly at his door that night, and how she
may be represented to have sent her favourite girl away so soon
before merely to release herself from observation, she shudders as
if the hangman's hands were at her neck.
She has thrown herself upon the floor and lies with her hair all
wildly scattered and her face buried in the cushions of a couch.
She rises up, hurries to and fro, flings herself down again, and
rocks and moans. The horror that is upon her is unutterable. If
she really were the murderess, it could hardly be, for the moment,
For as her murderous perspective, before the doing of the deed,
however subtle the precautions for its commission, would have been
closed up by a gigantic dilatation of the hateful figure,
preventing her from seeing any consequences beyond it; and as those
consequences would have rushed in, in an unimagined flood, the
moment the figure was laid low--which always happens when a murder
is done; so, now she sees that when he used to be on the watch
before her, and she used to think, "if some mortal stroke would but
fall on this old man and take him from my way!" it was but wishing
that all he held against her in his hand might be flung to the
winds and chance-sown in many places. So, too, with the wicked
relief she has felt in his death. What was his death but the key-
stone of a gloomy arch removed, and now the arch begins to fall in
a thousand fragments, each crushing and mangling piecemeal!
Thus, a terrible impression steals upon and overshadows her that
from this pursuer, living or dead--obdurate and imperturbable
before her in his well-remembered shape, or not more obdurate and
imperturbable in his coffin-bed--there is no escape but in death.
Hunted, she flies. The complication of her shame, her dread,
remorse, and misery, overwhelms her at its height; and even her
strength of self-reliance is overturned and whirled away like a
leaf before a mighty wind.
She hurriedly addresses these lines to her husband, seals, and
leaves them on her table:
If I am sought for, or accused of, his murder, believe that I am
wholly innocent. Believe no other good of me, for I am innocent of
nothing else that you have heard, or will hear, laid to my charge.
He prepared me, on that fatal night, for his disclosure of my guilt
to you. After he had left me, I went out on pretence of walking in
the garden where I sometimes walk, but really to follow him and
make one last petition that he would not protract the dreadful
suspense on which I have been racked by him, you do not know how
long, but would mercifully strike next morning.
I found his house dark and silent. I rang twice at his door, but
there was no reply, and I came home.
I have no home left. I will encumber you no more. May you, in
your just resentment, be able to forget the unworthy woman on whom
you have wasted a most generous devotion--who avoids you only with
a deeper shame than that with which she hurries from herself--and
who writes this last adieu.
She veils and dresses quickly, leaves all her jewels and her money,
listens, goes downstairs at a moment when the hall is empty, opens
and shuts the great door, flutters away in the shrill frosty wind.
Impassive, as behoves its high breeding, the Dedlock town house
stares at the other houses in the street of dismal grandeur and
gives no outward sign of anything going wrong within. Carriages
rattle, doors are battered at, the world exchanges calls; ancient
charmers with skeleton throats and peachy cheeks that have a rather
ghastly bloom upon them seen by daylight, when indeed these
fascinating creatures look like Death and the Lady fused together,
dazzle the eyes of men. Forth from the frigid mews come easily
swinging carriages guided by short-legged coachmen in flaxen wigs,
deep sunk into downy hammercloths, and up behind mount luscious
Mercuries bearing sticks of state and wearing cocked hats
broadwise, a spectacle for the angels.
The Dedlock town house changes not externally, and hours pass
before its exalted dullness is disturbed within. But Volumnia the
fair, being subject to the prevalent complaint of boredom and
finding that disorder attacking her spirits with some virulence,
ventures at length to repair to the library for change of scene.
Her gentle tapping at the door producing no response, she opens it
and peeps in; seeing no one there, takes possession.
The sprightly Dedlock is reputed, in that grass-grown city of the
ancients, Bath, to be stimulated by an urgent curiosity which
impels her on all convenient and inconvenient occasions to sidle
about with a golden glass at her eye, peering into objects of every
description. Certain it is that she avails herself of the present
opportunity of hovering over her kinsman's letters and papers like
a bird, taking a short peck at this document and a blink with her
head on one side at that document, and hopping about from table to
table with her glass at her eye in an inquisitive and restless
manner. In the course of these researches she stumbles over
something, and turning her glass in that direction, sees her
kinsman lying on the ground like a felled tree.
Volumnia's pet little scream acquires a considerable augmentation
of reality from this surprise, and the house is quickly in
commotion. Servants tear up and down stairs, bells are violently
rung, doctors are sent for, and Lady Dedlock is sought in all
directions, but not found. Nobody has seen or heard her since she
last rang her bell. Her letter to Sir Leicester is discovered on
her table, but it is doubtful yet whether he has not received
another missive from another world requiring to be personally
answered, and all the living languages, and all the dead, are as
one to him.
They lay him down upon his bed, and chafe, and rub, and fan, and
put ice to his head, and try every means of restoration. Howbeit,
the day has ebbed away, and it is night in his room before his
stertorous breathing lulls or his fixed eyes show any consciousness
of the candle that is occasionally passed before them. But when
this change begins, it goes on; and by and by he nods or moves his
eyes or even his hand in token that he hears and comprehends.
He fell down, this morning, a handsome stately gentleman, somewhat
infirm, but of a fine presence, and with a well-filled face. He
lies upon his bed, an aged man with sunken cheeks, the decrepit
shadow of himself. His voice was rich and mellow and he had so
long been thoroughly persuaded of the weight and import to mankind
of any word he said that his words really had come to sound as if
there were something in them. But now he can only whisper, and
what he whispers sounds like what it is--mere jumble and jargon.
His favourite and faithful housekeeper stands at his bedside. It
is the first act he notices, and he clearly derives pleasure from
it. After vainly trying to make himself understood in speech, he
makes signs for a pencil. So inexpressively that they cannot at
first understand him; it is his old housekeeper who makes out what
he wants and brings in a slate.
After pausing for some time, he slowly scrawls upon it in a hand
that is not his, "Chesney Wold?"
No, she tells him; he is in London. He was taken ill in the
library this morning. Right thankful she is that she happened to
come to London and is able to attend upon him.
"It is not an illness of any serious consequence, Sir Leicester.
You will be much better to-morrow, Sir Leicester. All the
gentlemen say so." This, with the tears coursing down her fair old
After making a survey of the room and looking with particular
attention all round the bed where the doctors stand, he writes, "My
"My Lady went out, Sir Leicester, before you were taken ill, and
don't know of your illness yet."
He points again, in great agitation, at the two words. They all
try to quiet him, but he points again with increased agitation. On
their looking at one another, not knowing what to say, he takes the
slate once more and writes "My Lady. For God's sake, where?" And
makes an imploring moan.
It is thought better that his old housekeeper should give him Lady
Dedlock's letter, the contents of which no one knows or can
surmise. She opens it for him and puts it out for his perusal.
Having read it twice by a great effort, he turns it down so that it
shall not be seen and lies moaning. He passes into a kind of
relapse or into a swoon, and it is an hour before he opens his
eyes, reclining on his faithful and attached old servant's arm.
The doctors know that he is best with her, and when not actively
engaged about him, stand aloof.
The slate comes into requisition again, but the word he wants to
write he cannot remember. His anxiety, his eagerness, and
affliction at this pass are pitiable to behold. It seems as if he
must go mad in the necessity he feels for haste and the inability
under which he labours of expressing to do what or to fetch whom.
He has written the letter B, and there stopped. Of a sudden, in
the height of his misery, he puts Mr. before it. The old
housekeeper suggests Bucket. Thank heaven! That's his meaning.
Mr. Bucket is found to be downstairs, by appointment. Shall he
There is no possibility of misconstruing Sir Leicester's burning
wish to see him or the desire he signifies to have the room cleared
of every one but the housekeeper. It is speedily done, and Mr.
Bucket appears. Of all men upon earth, Sir Leicester seems fallen
from his high estate to place his sole trust and reliance upon this
"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, I'm sorry to see you like this. I
hope you'll cheer up. I'm sure you will, on account of the family
Leicester puts her letter in his hands and looks intently in his
face while he reads it. A new intelligence comes into Mr. Bucket's
eye as he reads on; with one hook of his finger, while that eye is
still glancing over the words, he indicates, "Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet, I understand you."
Sir Leicester writes upon the slate. "Full forgiveness. Find--"
Mr. Bucket stops his hand.
"Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, I'll find her. But my search
after her must be begun out of hand. Not a minute must be lost."
With the quickness of thought, he follows Sir Leicester Dedlock's
look towards a little box upon a table.
"Bring it here, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet? Certainly. Open
it with one of these here keys? Certainly. The littlest key? TO
be sure. Take the notes out? So I will. Count 'em? That's soon
done. Twenty and thirty's fifty, and twenty's seventy, and fifty's
one twenty, and forty's one sixty. Take 'em for expenses? That
I'll do, and render an account of course. Don't spare money? No I
The velocity and certainty of Mr. Bucket's interpretation on all
these heads is little short of miraculous. Mrs. Rouncewell, who
holds the light, is giddy with the swiftness of his eyes and hands
as he starts up, furnished for his journey.
"You're George's mother, old lady; that's about what you are, I
believe?" says Mr. Bucket aside, with his hat already on and
buttoning his coat.
"Yes, sir, I am his distressed mother."
"So I thought, according to what he mentioned to me just now.
Well, then, I'll tell you something. You needn't be distressed no
more. Your son's all right. Now, don't you begin a-crying,
because what you've got to do is to take care of Sir Leicester
Dedlock, Baronet, and you won't do that by crying. As to your son,
he's all right, I tell you; and he sends his loving duty, and
hoping you're the same. He's discharged honourable; that's about
what HE is; with no more imputation on his character than there is
on yours, and yours is a tidy one, I'LL bet a pound. You may trust
me, for I took your son. He conducted himself in a game way, too,
on that occasion; and he's a fine-made man, and you're a fine-made
old lady, and you're a mother and son, the pair of you, as might be
showed for models in a caravan. Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet,
what you've trusted to me I'll go through with. Don't you be
afraid of my turing out of my way, right or left, or taking a
sleep, or a wash, or a shave till I have found what I go in search
of. Say everything as is kind and forgiving on your part? Sir
Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, I will. And I wish you better, and
these family affairs smoothed over--as, Lord, many other family
affairs equally has been, and equally wlll be, to the end of time."
With this peroration, Mr. Bucket, buttoned up, goes quietly out,
looking steadily before him as if he were already piercing the
night in quest of the fugitive.
His first step is to take himself to Lady Dedlock's rooms and look
all over them for any trifling indication that may help him. The
rooms are in darkness now; and to see Mr. Bucket with a wax-light
in his hand, holding it above his head and taking a sharp mental
inventory of the many delicate objects so curiously at variance
with himself, would be to see a sight--which nobody DOES see, as he
is particular to lock himself in.
"A spicy boudoir, this," says Mr. Bucket, who feels in a manner
furbished up in his French by the blow of the morning. "Must have
cost a sight of money. Rum articles to cut away from, these; she
must have been hard put to it!"
Opening and shutting table-drawers and looking into caskets and
jewel-cases, he sees the reflection of himself in various mirrors,
and moralizes thereon.
"One might suppose I was a-moving in the fashionable circles and
getting myself up for almac's," says Mr. Bucket. "I begin to think
I must be a swell in the Guards without knowing it."
Ever looking about, he has opened a dainty little chest in an inner
drawer. His great hand, turning over some gloves which it can
scarcely feel, they are so light and soft within it, comes upon a
"Hum! Let's have a look at YOU," says Mr. Bucket, putting down the
light. "What should YOU be kept by yourself for? What's YOUR
motive? Are you her ladyship's property, or somebody else's?
You've got a mark upon you somewheres or another, I suppose?"
He finds it as he speaks, "Esther Summerson."
"Oh!" says Mr. Bucket, pausing, with his finger at his ear. "Come,
I'll take YOU."
He completes his observations as quietly and carefully as he has
carried them on, leaves everything else precisely as he found it,
glides away after some five minutes in all, and passes into the
street. With a glance upward at the dimly lighted windows of Sir
Leicester's room, he sets off, full-swing, to the nearest coach-
stand, picks out the horse for his money, and directs to be driven
to the shooting gallery. Mr. Bucket does not claim to be a
scientific judge of horses, but he lays out a little money on the
principal events in that line, and generally sums up his knowledge
of the subject in the remark that when he sees a horse as can go,
he knows him.
His knowledge is not at fault in the present instance. Clattering
over the stones at a dangerous pace, yet thoughtfully bringing his
keen eyes to bear on every slinking creature whom he passes in the
midnight streets, and even on the lights in upper windows where
people are going or gone to bed, and on all the turnings that he
rattles by, and alike on the heavy sky, and on the earth where the
snow lies thin--for something may present itself to assist him,
anywhere--he dashes to his destination at such a speed that when he
stops the horse half smothers him in a cloud of steam.
"Unbear him half a moment to freshen him up, and I'll be back."
He runs up the long wooden entry and finds the trooper smoking his
"I thought I should, George, after what you have gone through, my
lad. I haven't a word to spare. Now, honour! All to save a
woman. Miss Summerson that was here when Gridley died--that was
the name, I know--all right--where does she live?"
The trooper has just come from there and gives him the address,
near Oxford Street.
"You won't repent it, George. Good night!"
He is off again, with an impression of having seen Phil sitting by
the frosty fire staring at him open-mouthed, and gallops away
again, and gets out in a cloud of steam again.
Mr. Jarndyce, the only person up in the house, is just going to
bed, rises from his book on hearing the rapid ringing at the bell,
and comes down to the door in his dressing-gown.
"Don't be alarmed, sir." In a moment his visitor is confidential
with him in the hall, has shut the door, and stands with his hand
upon the lock. "I've had the pleasure of seeing you before.
Inspector Bucket. Look at that handkerchief, sir, Miss Esther
Summerson's. Found it myself put away in a drawer of Lady
Dedlock's, quarter of an hour ago. Not a moment to lose. Matter
of life or death. You know Lady Dedlock?"
"There has been a discovery there to-day. Family affairs have come
out. Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, has had a fit--apoplexy or
paralysis--and couldn't be brought to, and precious time has been
lost. Lady Dedlock disappeared this afternoon and left a letter
for him that looks bad. Run your eye over it. Here it is!"
Mr. Jarndyce, having read it, asks him what he thinks.
"I don't know. It looks like suicide. Anyways, there's more and
more danger, every minute, of its drawing to that. I'd give a
hundred pound an hour to have got the start of the present time.
Now, Mr. Jarndyce, I am employed by Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet,
to follow her and find her, to save her and take her his
forgiveness. I have money and full power, but I want something
else. I want Miss Summerson."
Mr. Jarndyce in a troubled voice repeats, "Miss Summerson?"
"Now, Mr. Jarndyce"--Mr. Bucket has read his face with the greatest
attention all along--"I speak to you as a gentleman of a humane
heart, and under such pressing circumstances as don't often happen.
If ever delay was dangerous, it's dangerous now; and if ever you
couldn't afterwards forgive yourself for causing it, this is the
time. Eight or ten hours, worth, as I tell you, a hundred pound
apiece at least, have been lost since Lady Dedlock disappeared. I
am charged to find her. I am Inspector Bucket. Besides all the
rest that's heavy on her, she has upon her, as she believes,
suspicion of murder. If I follow her alone, she, being in
ignorance of what Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, has communicated
to me, may be driven to desperation. But if I follow her in
company with a young lady, answering to the description of a young
lady that she has a tenderness for--I ask no question, and I say no
more than that--she will give me credit for being friendly. Let me
come up with her and be able to have the hold upon her of putting
that young lady for'ard, and I'll save her and prevail with her if
she is alive. Let me come up with her alone--a hard matter--and
I'll do my best, but I don't answer for what the best may be. Time
flies; it's getting on for one o'clock. When one strikes, there's
another hour gone, and it's worth a thousand pound now instead of a
This is all true, and the pressing nature of the case cannot be
questioned. Mr. Jarndyce begs him to remain there while he speaks
to Miss Summerson. Mr. Bucket says he will, but acting on his
usual principle, does no such thing, following upstairs instead and
keeping his man in sight. So he remains, dodging and lurking about
in the gloom of the staircase while they confer. In a very little
time Mr. Jarndyce comes down and tells him that Miss Summerson will
join him directly and place herself under his protection to
accompany him where he pleases. Mr. Bucket, satisfied, expresses
high approval and awaits her coming at the door.
There he mounts a high tower in his mind and looks out far and
wide. Many solitary figures he perceives creeping through the
streets; many solitary figures out on heaths, and roads, and lying
under haystacks. But the figure that he seeks is not among them.
Other solitaries he perceives, in nooks of bridges, looking over;
and in shadowed places down by the river's level; and a dark, dark,
shapeless object drifting with the tide, more solitary than all,
clings with a drowning hold on his attention.
Where is she? Living or dead, where is she? If, as he folds the
handkerchief and carefully puts it up, it were able with an
enchanted power to bring before him the place where she found it
and the night-landscape near the cottage where it covered the
little child, would he descry her there? On the waste where the
brick-kilns are burning with a pale blue flare, where the straw-
roofs of the wretched huts in which the bricks are made are being
scattered by the wind, where the clay and water are hard frozen and
the mill in which the gaunt blind horse goes round all day looks
like an instrument of human torture--traversing this deserted,
blighted spot there is a lonely figure with the sad world to
itself, pelted by the snow and driven by the wind, and cast out, it
would seem, from all companionship. It is the figure of a woman,
too; but it is miserably dressed, and no such clothes ever came
through the hall and out at the great door of the Dedlock mansion.
I had gone to bed and fallen asleep when my guardian knocked at the
door of my room and begged me to get up directly. On my hurrying
to speak to him and learn what had happened, he told me, after a
word or two of preparation, that there had been a discovery at Sir
Leicester Dedlock's. That my mother had fled, that a person was
now at our door who was empowered to convey to her the fullest
assurances of affectionate protection and forgiveness if he could
possibly find her, and that I was sought for to accompany him in
the hope that my entreaties might prevail upon her if his failed.
Something to this general purpose I made out, but I was thrown into
such a tumult of alarm, and hurry and distress, that in spite of
every effort I could make to subdue my agitation, I did not seem,
to myself, fully to recover my right mind until hours had passed.
But I dressed and wrapped up expeditiously without waking Charley
or any one and went down to Mr. Bucket, who was the person
entrusted with the secret. In taking me to him my guardian told me
this, and also explained how it was that he had come to think of
me. Mr. Bucket, in a low voice, by the light of my guardian's
candle, read to me in the hall a letter that my mother had left
upon her table; and I suppose within ten minutes of my having been
aroused I was sitting beside him, rolling swiftly through the
His manner was very keen, and yet considerate when he explained to
me that a great deal might depend on my being able to answer,
without confusion, a few questions that he wished to ask me. These
were, chiefly, whether I had had much communication with my mother
(to whom he only referred as Lady Dedlock), when and where I had
spoken with her last, and how she had become possessed of my
handkerchief. When I had satisfied him on these points, he asked
me particularly to consider--taking time to think--whether within
my knowledge there was any one, no matter where, in whom she might
be at all likely to confide under circumstances of the last
necessity. I could think of no one but my guardian. But by and by
I mentioned Mr. Boythorn. He came into my mind as connected with
his old chivalrous manner of mentioning my mother's name and with
what my guardian had informed me of his engagement to her sister
and his unconscious connexion with her unhappy story.
My companion had stopped the driver while we held this
conversation, that we might the better hear each other. He now
told him to go on again and said to me, after considering within
himself for a few moments, that he had made up his mind how to
proceed. He was quite willing to tell me what his plan was, but I
did not feel clear enough to understand it.
We had not driven very far from our lodgings when we stopped in a
by-street at a public-looking place lighted up with gas. Mr.
Bucket took me in and sat me in an armchair by a bright fire. It
was now past one, as I saw by the clock against the wall. Two
police officers, looking in their perfectly neat uniform not at all
like people who were up all night, were quietly writing at a desk;
and the place seemed very quiet altogether, except for some beating
and calling out at distant doors underground, to which nobody paid
A third man in uniform, whom Mr. Bucket called and to whom he
whispered his instructions, went out; and then the two others
advised together while one wrote from Mr. Bucket's subdued
dictation. It was a description of my mother that they were busy
with, for Mr. Bucket brought it to me when it was done and read it
in a whisper. It was very accurate indeed.
The second officer, who had attended to it closely, then copied it
out and called in another man in uniform (there were several in an
outer room), who took it up and went away with it. All this was
done with the greatest dispatch and without the waste of a moment;
yet nobody was at all hurried. As soon as the paper was sent out
upon its travels, the two officers resumed their former quiet work
of writing with neatness and care. Mr. Bucket thoughtfully came
and warmed the soles of his boots, first one and then the other, at
"Are you well wrapped up, Miss Summerson?" he asked me as his eyes
met mine. "It's a desperate sharp night for a young lady to be out
I told him I cared for no weather and was warmly clothed.
"It may be a long job," he observed; "but so that it ends well,
never mind, miss."
"I pray to heaven it may end well!" said I.
He nodded comfortingly. "You see, whatever you do, don't you go
and fret yourself. You keep yourself cool and equal for anything
that may happen, and it'll be the better for you, the better for
me, the better for Lady Dedlock, and the better for Sir Leicester
He was really very kind and gentle, and as he stood before the fire
warming his boots and rubbing his face with his forefinger, I felt
a confidence in his sagacity which reassured me. It was not yet a
quarter to two when I heard horses' feet and wheels outside. "Now,
Miss Summerson," said he, "we are off, if you please!"
He gave me his arm, and the two officers courteously bowed me out,
and we found at the door a phaeton or barouche with a postilion and
post horses. Mr. Bucket handed me in and took his own seat on the
box. The man in uniform whom he had sent to fetch this equipage
then handed him up a dark lantern at his request, and when he had
given a few directions to the driver, we rattled away.
I was far from sure that I was not in a dream. We rattled with
great rapidity through such a labyrinth of streets that I soon lost
all idea where we were, except that we had crossed and re-crossed
the river, and still seemed to be traversing a low-lying,
waterside, dense neighbourhood of narrow thoroughfares chequered by
docks and basins, high piles of warehouses, swing-bridges, and
masts of ships. At length we stopped at the corner of a little
slimy turning, which the wind from the river, rushing up it, did
not purify; and I saw my companion, by the light of his lantern, in
conference with several men who looked like a mixture of police and
sailors. Against the mouldering wall by which they stood, there
was a bill, on which I could discern the words, "Found Drowned";
and this and an inscription about drags possessed me with the awful
suspicion shadowed forth in our visit to that place.
I had no need to remind myself that I was not there by the
indulgence of any feeling of mine to increase the difficulties of
the search, or to lessen its hopes, or enhance its delays. I
remained quiet, but what I suffered in that dreadful spot I never
can forget. And still it was like the horror of a dream. A man
yet dark and muddy, in long swollen sodden boots and a hat like
them, was called out of a boat and whispered with Mr. Bucket, who
went away with him down some slippery steps--as if to look at
something secret that he had to show. They came back, wiping their
hands upon their coats, after turning over something wet; but thank
God it was not what I feared!
After some further conference, Mr. Bucket (whom everybody seemed to
know and defer to) went in with the others at a door and left me in
the carriage, while the driver walked up and down by his horses to
warm himself. The tide was coming in, as I judged from the sound
it made, and I could hear it break at the end of the alley with a
little rush towards me. It never did so--and I thought it did so,
hundreds of times, in what can have been at the most a quarter of
an hour, and probably was less--but the thought shuddered through
me that it would cast my mother at the horses' feet.
Mr. Bucket came out again, exhorting the others to be vigilant,
darkened his lantern, and once more took his seat. "Don't you be
alarmed, Miss Summerson, on account of our coming down here," he
said, turning to me. "I only want to have everything in train and
to know that it is in train by looking after it myself. Get on, my
We appeared to retrace the way we had come. Not that I had taken
note of any particular objects in my perturbed state of mind, but
judging from the general character of the streets. We called at
another office or station for a minute and crossed the river again.
During the whole of this time, and during the whole search, my
companion, wrapped up on the box, never relaxed in his vigilance a
single moment; but when we crossed the bridge he seemed, if
possible, to be more on the alert than before. He stood up to look
over the parapet, he alighted and went back after a shadowy female
figure that flitted past us, and he gazed into the profound black
pit of water with a face that made my heart die within me. The
river had a fearful look, so overcast and secret, creeping away so
fast between the low flat lines of shore--so heavy with indistinct
and awful shapes, both of substance and shadow; so death-like and
mysterious. I have seen it many times since then, by sunlight and
by moonlight, but never free from the impressions of that journey.
In my memory the lights upon the bridge are always burning dim, the
cutting wind is eddying round the homeless woman whom we pass, the
monotonous wheels are whirling on, and the light of the carriage-
lamps reflected back looks palely in upon me--a face rising out of
the dreaded water.
Clattering and clattering through the empty streets, we came at
length from the pavement on to dark smooth roads and began to leave
the houses behind us. After a while I recognized the familiar way
to Saint Albans. At Barnet fresh horses were ready for us, and we
changed and went on. It was very cold indeed, and the open country
was white with snow, though none was falling then.
"An old acquaintance of yours, this road, Miss Summerson," said Mr.
"Yes," I returned. "Have you gathered any intelligence?"
"None that can be quite depended on as yet," he answered, "but it's
early times as yet."
He had gone into every late or early public-house where there was a
light (they were not a few at that time, the road being then much
frequented by drovers) and had got down to talk to the turnpike-
keepers. I had heard him ordering drink, and chinking money, and
making himself agreeable and merry everywhere; but whenever he took
his seat upon the box again, his face resumed its watchful steady
look, and he always said to the driver in the same business tone,
"Get on, my lad!"
With all these stoppages, it was between five and six o'clock and
we were yet a few miles short of Saint Albans when he came out of
one of these houses and handed me in a cup of tea.
"Drink it, Miss Summerson, it'll do you good. You're beginning to
get more yourself now, ain't you?"
I thanked him and said I hoped so.
"You was what you may call stunned at first," he returned; "and
Lord, no wonder! Don't speak loud, my dear. It's all right.
She's on ahead."
I don't know what joyful exclamation I made or was going to make,
but he put up his finger and I stopped myself.
"Passed through here on foot this evening about eight or nine. I
heard of her first at the archway toll, over at Highgate, but
couldn't make quite sure. Traced her all along, on and off.
Picked her up at one place, and dropped her at another; but she's
before us now, safe. Take hold of this cup and saucer, ostler.
Now, if you wasn't brought up to the butter trade, look out and see
if you can catch half a crown in your t'other hand. One, two,
three, and there you are! Now, my lad, try a gallop!"
We were soon in Saint Albans and alighted a little before day, when
I was just beginning to arrange and comprehend the occurrences of
the night and really to believe that they were not a dream.
Leaving the carriage at the posting-house and ordering fresh horses
to be ready, my companion gave me his arm, and we went towards
"As this is your regular abode, Miss Summerson, you see," he
observed, "I should like to know whether you've been asked for by
any stranger answering the description, or whether Mr. Jarndyce
has. I don't much expect it, but it might be."
As we ascended the hill, he looked about him with a sharp eye--the
day was now breaking--and reminded me that I had come down it one
night, as I had reason for remembering, with my little servant and
poor Jo, whom he called Toughey.
I wondered how he knew that.
"When you passed a man upon the road, just yonder, you know," said
Yes, I remembered that too, very well.
"That was me," said Mr. Bucket.
Seeing my surprise, he went on, "I drove down in a gig that
afternoon to look after that boy. You might have heard my wheels
when you came out to look after him yourself, for I was aware of
you and your little maid going up when I was walking the horse
down. Making an inquiry or two about him in the town, I soon heard
what company he was in and was coming among the brick-fields to
look for him when I observed you bringing him home here."
"Had he committed any crime?" I asked.
"None was charged against him," said Mr. Bucket, coolly lifting off
his hat, "but I suppose he wasn't over-particular. No. What I
wanted him for was in connexion with keeping this very matter of
Lady Dedlock quiet. He had been making his tongue more free than
welcome as to a small accidental service he had been paid for by
the deceased Mr. Tulkinghorn; and it wouldn't do, at any sort of
price, to have him playing those games. So having warned him out
of London, I made an afternoon of it to warn him to keep out of it
now he WAS away, and go farther from it, and maintain a bright
look-out that I didn't catch him coming back again."
"Poor creature!" said I.
"Poor enough," assented Mr. Bucket, "and trouble enough, and well
enough away from London, or anywhere else. I was regularly turned
on my back when I found him taken up by your establishment, I do
I asked him why. "Why, my dear?" said Mr. Bucket. "Naturally
there was no end to his tongue then. He might as well have been
born with a yard and a half of it, and a remnant over."
Although I remember this conversation now, my head was in confusion
at the time, and my power of attention hardly did more than enable
me to understand that he entered into these particulars to divert
me. With the same kind intention, manifestly, he often spoke to me
of indifferent things, while his face was busy with the one object
that we had in view. He still pursued this subject as we turned in
at the garden-gate.
"Ah!" said Mr. Bucket. "Here we are, and a nice retired place it
is. Puts a man in mind of the country house in the Woodpecker-
tapping, that was known by the smoke which so gracefully curled.
They're early with the kitchen fire, and that denotes good
servants. But what you've always got to be careful of with
servants is who comes to see 'em; you never know what they're up to
if you don't know that. And another thing, my dear. Whenever you
find a young man behind the kitchen-door, you give that young man
in charge on suspicion of being secreted in a dwelling-house with
an unlawful purpose."
We were now in front of the house; he looked attentively and
closely at the gravel for footprints before he raised his eyes to
"Do you generally put that elderly young gentleman in the same room
when he's on a visit here, Miss Summerson?" he inquired, glancing
at Mr. Skimpole's usual chamber.
"You know Mr. Skimpole!" said I.
"What do you call him again?" returned Mr. Bucket, bending down his
ear. "Skimpole, is it? I've often wondered what his name might
be. Skimpole. Not John, I should say, nor yet Jacob?"
"Harold," I told him.
"Harold. Yes. He's a queer bird is Harold," said Mr. Bucket,
eyeing me with great expression.
"He is a singular character," said I.
"No idea of money," observed Mr. Bucket. "He takes it, though!"
I involuntarily returned for answer that I perceived Mr. Bucket
"Why, now I'll tell you, Miss Summerson," he replied. "Your mind
will be all the better for not running on one point too
continually, and I'll tell you for a change. It was him as pointed
out to me where Toughey was. I made up my mind that night to come
to the door and ask for Toughey, if that was all; but willing to
try a move or so first, if any such was on the board, I just
pitched up a morsel of gravel at that window where I saw a shadow.
As soon as Harold opens it and I have had a look at him, thinks I,
you're the man for me. So I smoothed him down a bit about not
wanting to disturb the family after they was gone to bed and about
its being a thing to be regretted that charitable young ladies
should harbour vagrants; and then, when I pretty well understood
his ways, I said I should consider a fypunnote well bestowed if I
could relieve the premises of Toughey without causing any noise or
trouble. Then says he, lifting up his eyebrows in the gayest way,
'It's no use menfioning a fypunnote to me, my friend, because I'm a
mere child in such matters and have no idea of money.' Of course I
understood what his taking it so easy meant; and being now quite
sure he was the man for me, I wrapped the note round a little stone
and threw it up to him. Well! He laughs and beams, and looks as
innocent as you like, and says, 'But I don't know the value of
these things. What am I to DO with this?' 'Spend it, sir,' says
I. 'But I shall be taken in,' he says, 'they won't give me the
right change, I shall lose it, it's no use to me.' Lord, you never
saw such a face as he carried it with! Of course he told me where
to find Toughey, and I found him."
I regarded this as very treacherous on the part of Mr. Skimpole
towards my guardian and as passing the usual bounds of his childish
"Bounds, my dear?" returned Mr. Bucket. "Bounds? Now, Miss
Summerson, I'll give you a piece of advice that your husband will
find useful when you are happily married and have got a family
about you. Whenever a person says to you that they are as innocent
as can be in all concerning money, look well after your own money,
for they are dead certain to collar it if they can. Whenever a
person proclaims to you 'In worldly matters I'm a child,' you
consider that that person is only a-crying off from being held
accountable and that you have got that person's number, and it's
Number One. Now, I am not a poetical man myself, except in a vocal
way when it goes round a company, but I'm a practical one, and
that's my experience. So's this rule. Fast and loose in one
thing, fast and loose in everything. I never knew it fail. No
more will you. Nor no one. With which caution to the unwary, my
dear, I take the liberty of pulling this here bell, and so go back
to our business."
I believe it had not been for a moment out of his mind, any more
than it had been out of my mind, or out of his face. The whole
household were amazed to see me, without any notice, at that time
in the morning, and so accompanied; and their surprise was not
diminished by my inquiries. No one, however, had been there. It
could not be doubted that this was the truth.
"Then, Miss Summerson," said my companion, "we can't be too soon at
the cottage where those brickmakers are to be found. Most
inquiries there I leave to you, if you'll be so good as to make
'em. The naturalest way is the best way, and the naturalest way is
your own way."
We set off again immediately. On arriving at the cottage, we found
it shut up and apparently deserted, but one of the neighbours who
knew me and who came out when I was trying to make some one hear
informed me that the two women and their husbands now lived
together in another house, made of loose rough bricks, which stood
on the margin of the piece of ground where the kilns were and where
the long rows of bricks were drying. We lost no time in repairing
to this place, which was within a few hundred yards; and as the
door stood ajar, I pushed it open.
There were only three of them sitting at breakfast, the child lying
asleep on a bed in the corner. It was Jenny, the mother of the
dead child, who was absent. The other woman rose on seeing me; and
the men, though they were, as usual, sulky and silent, each gave me
a morose nod of recognition. A look passed between them when Mr.
Bucket followed me in, and I was surprised to see that the woman
evidently knew him.
I had asked leave to enter of course. Liz (the only name by which
I knew her) rose to give me her own chair, but I sat down on a
stool near the fire, and Mr. Bucket took a corner of the bedstead.
Now that I had to speak and was among people with whom I was not
familiar, I became conscious of being hurried and giddy. It was
very difficult to begin, and I could not help bursting into tears.
"Liz," said I, "I have come a long way in the night and through the
snow to inquire after a lady--"
"Who has been here, you know," Mr. Bucket struck in, addressing the
whole group with a composed propitiatory face; "that's the lady the
young lady means. The lady that was here last night, you know."
"And who told YOU as there was anybody here?" inquired Jenny's
husband, who had made a surly stop in his eating to listen and now
measured him with his eye.
"A person of the name of Michael Jackson, with a blue welveteen
waistcoat with a double row of mother of pearl buttons," Mr. Bucket
"He had as good mind his own business, whoever he is," growled the
"He's out of employment, I believe," said Mr. Bucket apologetically
for Michael Jackson, "and so gets talking."
The woman had not resumed her chair, but stood faltering with her
hand upon its broken back, looking at me. I thought she would have
spoken to me privately if she had dared. She was still in this
attitude of uncertainty when her husband, who was eating with a
lump of bread and fat in one hand and his clasp-knife in the other,
struck the handle of his knife violently on the table and told her
with an oath to mind HER own business at any rate and sit down.
"I should like to have seen Jenny very much," said I, "for I am
sure she would have told me all she could about this lady, whom I
am very anxious indeed--you cannot think how anxious--to overtake.
Will Jenny be here soon? Where is she?"
The woman had a great desire to answer, but the man, with another
oath, openly kicked at her foot with his heavy boot. He left it to
Jenny's husband to say what he chose, and after a dogged silence
the latter turned his shaggy head towards me.
"I'm not partial to gentlefolks coming into my place, as you've
heerd me say afore now, I think, miss. I let their places be, and
it's curious they can't let my place be. There'd be a pretty shine
made if I was to go a-wisitin THEM, I think. Howsoever, I don't so
much complain of you as of some others, and I'm agreeable to make
you a civil answer, though I give notice that I'm not a-going to be
drawed like a badger. Will Jenny be here soon? No she won't.
Where is she? She's gone up to Lunnun."
"Did she go last night?" I asked.
"Did she go last night? Ah! She went last night," he answered with
a sulky jerk of his head.
"But was she here when the lady came? And what did the lady say to
her? And where is the lady gone? I beg and pray you to be so kind
as to tell me," said I, "for I am in great distress to know."
"If my master would let me speak, and not say a word of harm--" the
woman timidly began.
"Your master," said her husband, muttering an imprecation with slow
emphasis, "will break your neck if you meddle with wot don't
After another silence, the husband of the absent woman, turning to
me again, answered me with his usual grumbling unwillingness.
"Wos Jenny here when the lady come? Yes, she wos here when the
lady come. Wot did the lady say to her? Well, I'll tell you wot
the lady said to her. She said, 'You remember me as come one time
to talk to you about the young lady as had been a-wisiting of you?
You remember me as give you somethink handsome for a handkercher
wot she had left?' Ah, she remembered. So we all did. Well,
then, wos that young lady up at the house now? No, she warn't up
at the house now. Well, then, lookee here. The lady was upon a
journey all alone, strange as we might think it, and could she rest
herself where you're a setten for a hour or so. Yes she could, and
so she did. Then she went--it might be at twenty minutes past
eleven, and it might be at twenty minutes past twelve; we ain't got
no watches here to know the time by, nor yet clocks. Where did she
go? I don't know where she go'd. She went one way, and Jenny went
another; one went right to Lunnun, and t'other went right from it.
That's all about it. Ask this man. He heerd it all, and see it
all. He knows."
The other man repeated, "That's all about it."
"Was the lady crying?" I inquired.
"Devil a bit," returned the first man. "Her shoes was the worse,
and her clothes was the worse, but she warn't--not as I see."
The woman sat with her arms crossed and her eyes upon the ground.
Her husband had turned his seat a little so as to face her and kept
his hammer-like hand upon the table as if it were in readiness to
execute his threat if she disobeyed him.
"I hope you will not object to my asking your wife," said I, "how
the lady looked."
"Come, then!" he gruffly cried to her. "You hear what she says.
Cut it short and tell her."
Back to Full Books