"It's very plain, sir. Since our people have moved this boy on, and he's not to be found on his old lay, if Mr. Snagsby don't object to go down with me to Tom-all-Alone's and point him out, we can have him here in less than a couple of hours' time. I can do it without Mr. Snagsby, of course, but this is the shortest way."
"Mr. Bucket is a detective officer, Snagsby," says the lawyer in explanation.
"Is he indeed, sir?" says Mr. Snagsby with a strong tendency in his clump of hair to stand on end.
"And if you have no real objection to accompany Mr. Bucket to the place in question," pursues the lawyer, "I shall feel obliged to you if you will do so."
In a moment's hesitation on the part of Mr. Snagsby, Bucket dips down to the bottom of his mind.
"Don't you be afraid of hurting the boy," he says. "You won't do that. It's all right as far as the boy's concerned. We shall only bring him here to ask him a question or so I want to put to him, and he'll be paid for his trouble and sent away again. It'll be a good job for him. I promise you, as a man, that you shall see the boy sent away all right. Don't you be afraid of hurting him; you an't going to do that."
"Very well, Mr. Tulkinghorn!" cries Mr. Snagsby cheerfully. And reassured, "Since that's the case — "
"Yes! And lookee here, Mr. Snagsby," resumes Bucket, taking him aside by the arm, tapping him familiarly on the breast, and speaking in a confidential tone. "You're a man of the world, you know, and a man of business, and a man of sense. That's what YOU are."
"I am sure I am much obliged to you for your good opinion," returns the stationer with his cough of modesty, "but — "
"That's what YOU are, you know," says Bucket. "Now, it an't necessary to say to a man like you, engaged in your business, which is a business of trust and requires a person to be wide awake and have his senses about him and his head screwed on tight (I had an uncle in your business once) — it an't necessary to say to a man like you that it's the best and wisest way to keep little matters like this quiet. Don't you see? Quiet!"
"Certainly, certainly," returns the other.
"I don't mind telling YOU," says Bucket with an engaging appearance of frankness, "that as far as I can understand it, there seems to be a doubt whether this dead person wasn't entitled to a little property, and whether this female hasn't been up to some games respecting that property, don't you see?"
"Oh!" says Mr. Snagsby, but not appearing to see quite distinctly.
"Now, what YOU want," pursues Bucket, again tapping Mr. Snagsby on the breast in a comfortable and soothing manner, "is that every person should have their rights according to justice. That's what YOU want."
"To be sure," returns Mr. Snagsby with a nod.
"On account of which, and at the same time to oblige a — do you call it, in your business, customer or client? I forget how my uncle used to call it."
"Why, I generally say customer myself," replies Mr. Snagsby.
"You're right!" returns Mr. Bucket, shaking hands with him quite affectionately. " — On account of which, and at the same time to oblige a real good customer, you mean to go down with me, in confidence, to Tom-all-Alone's and to keep the whole thing quiet ever afterwards and never mention it to any one. That's about your intentions, if I understand you?"
"You are right, sir. You are right," says Mr. Snagsby.
"Then here's your hat," returns his new friend, quite as intimate with it as if he had made it; "and if you're ready, I am."
They leave Mr. Tulkinghorn, without a ruffle on the surface of his unfathomable depths, drinking his old wine, and go down into the streets.
"You don't happen to know a very good sort of person of the name of Gridley, do you?" says Bucket in friendly converse as they descend the stairs.
"No," says Mr. Snagsby, considering, "I don't know anybody of that name. Why?"
"Nothing particular," says Bucket; "only having allowed his temper to get a little the better of him and having been threatening some respectable people, he is keeping out of the way of a warrant I have got against him — which it's a pity that a man of sense should do."
As they walk along, Mr. Snagsby observes, as a novelty, that however quick their pace may be, his companion still seems in some undefinable manner to lurk and lounge; also, that whenever he is going to turn to the right or left, he pretends to have a fixed purpose in his mind of going straight ahead, and wheels off, sharply, at the very last moment. Now and then, when they pass a police-constable on his beat, Mr. Snagsby notices that both the constable and his guide fall into a deep abstraction as they come towards each other, and appear entirely to overlook each other, and to gaze into space. In a few instances, Mr. Bucket, coming behind some under-sized young man with a shining hat on, and his sleek hair twisted into one flat curl on each side of his head, almost without glancing at him touches him with his stick, upon which the young man, looking round, instantly evaporates. For the most part Mr. Bucket notices things in general, with a face as unchanging as the great mourning ring on his little finger or the brooch, composed of not much diamond and a good deal of setting, which he wears in his shirt.
When they come at last to Tom-all-Alone's, Mr. Bucket stops for a moment at the corner and takes a lighted bull's-eye from the constable on duty there, who then accompanies him with his own particular bull's-eye at his waist. Between his two conductors, Mr. Snagsby passes along the middle of a villainous street, undrained, unventilated, deep in black mud and corrupt water — though the roads are dry elsewhere — and reeking with such smells and sights that he, who has lived in London all his life, can scarce believe his senses. Branching from this street and its heaps of ruins are other streets and courts so infamous that Mr. Snagsby sickens in body and mind and feels as if he were going every moment deeper down into the infernal gulf.
"Draw off a bit here, Mr. Snagsby," says Bucket as a kind of shabby palanquin is borne towards them, surrounded by a noisy crowd. "Here's the fever coming up the street!"
As the unseen wretch goes by, the crowd, leaving that object of attraction, hovers round the three visitors like a dream of horrible faces and fades away up alleys and into ruins and behind walls, and with occasional cries and shrill whistles of warning, thenceforth flits about them until they leave the place.
"Are those the fever-houses, Darby?" Mr. Bucket coolly asks as he turns his bull's-eye on a line of stinking ruins.
Darby replies that "all them are," and further that in all, for months and months, the people "have been down by dozens" and have been carried out dead and dying "like sheep with the rot." Bucket observing to Mr. Snagsby as they go on again that he looks a little poorly, Mr. Snagsby answers that he feels as if he couldn't breathe the dreadful air.