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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBleak House - Chapter LIII - The Track
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Bleak House - Chapter LIII - The Track Post by :Chipt Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :December 2010 Read :904

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Bleak House - Chapter LIII - The Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately Mercury is no snuff-taker.

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

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

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

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

What two words?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why--not tonight, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volumnia, with her innocent little scream, supposes so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Three," says Mercury.

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

Mercury never was modelled.

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

"Out to dinner."

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

"Yes."

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

Answer in the negative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mr. Bucket, my Lady."

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

"Are you waiting to see Sir Leicester?"

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

"Have you anything to say to me?"

"Not just at present, my Lady."

"Have you made any new discoveries?"

"A few, my Lady."

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

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

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

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

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

Not a doubt about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Half-past nine."

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

"Of course she was."

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

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