Bleak House By Charles Dickens Chapter 34 - A Turn of the Screw

He vociferates this so loudly that Mr. Bagnet, laying his hands on the shoulders of his comrade before the latter can recover from his amazement, gets him on the outside of the street door, which is instantly slammed by the triumphant Judy. Utterly confounded, Mr. George awhile stands looking at the knocker. Mr. Bagnet, in a perfect abyss of gravity, walks up and down before the little parlour window like a sentry and looks in every time he passes, apparently revolving something in his mind.

"Come, Mat," says Mr. George when he has recovered himself, "we must try the lawyer. Now, what do you think of this rascal?"

Mr. Bagnet, stopping to take a farewell look into the parlour, replies with one shake of his head directed at the interior, "If my old girl had been here — I'd have told him!" Having so discharged himself of the subject of his cogitations, he falls into step and marches off with the trooper, shoulder to shoulder.

When they present themselves in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mr. Tulkinghorn is engaged and not to be seen. He is not at all willing to see them, for when they have waited a full hour, and the clerk, on his bell being rung, takes the opportunity of mentioning as much, he brings forth no more encouraging message than that Mr. Tulkinghorn has nothing to say to them and they had better not wait. They do wait, however, with the perseverance of military tactics, and at last the bell rings again and the client in possession comes out of Mr. Tulkinghorn's room.

The client is a handsome old lady, no other than Mrs. Rouncewell, housekeeper at Chesney Wold. She comes out of the sanctuary with a fair old-fashioned curtsy and softly shuts the door. She is treated with some distinction there, for the clerk steps out of his pew to show her through the outer office and to let her out. The old lady is thanking him for his attention when she observes the comrades in waiting.

"I beg your pardon, sir, but I think those gentlemen are military?"

The clerk referring the question to them with his eye, and Mr. George not turning round from the almanac over the fire-place. Mr. Bagnet takes upon himself to reply, "Yes, ma'am. Formerly."

"I thought so. I was sure of it. My heart warms, gentlemen, at the sight of you. It always does at the sight of such. God bless you, gentlemen! You'll excuse an old woman, but I had a son once who went for a soldier. A fine handsome youth he was, and good in his bold way, though some people did disparage him to his poor mother. I ask your pardon for troubling you, sir. God bless you, gentlemen!"

"Same to you, ma'am!" returns Mr. Bagnet with right good will.

There is something very touching in the earnestness of the old lady's voice and in the tremble that goes through her quaint old figure. But Mr. George is so occupied with the almanac over the fire-place (calculating the coming months by it perhaps) that he does not look round until she has gone away and the door is closed upon her.

"George," Mr. Bagnet gruffly whispers when he does turn from the almanac at last. "Don't be cast down! 'Why, soldiers, why — should we be melancholy, boys?' Cheer up, my hearty!"

The clerk having now again gone in to say that they are still there and Mr. Tulkinghorn being heard to return with some irascibility, "Let 'em come in then!" they pass into the great room with the painted ceiling and find him standing before the fire.

"Now, you men, what do you want? Sergeant, I told you the last time I saw you that I don't desire your company here."

Sergeant replies — dashed within the last few minutes as to his usual manner of speech, and even as to his usual carriage — that he has received this letter, has been to Mr. Smallweed about it, and has been referred there.

"I have nothing to say to you," rejoins Mr. Tulkinghorn. "If you get into debt, you must pay your debts or take the consequences. You have no occasion to come here to learn that, I suppose?"

Sergeant is sorry to say that he is not prepared with the money.

"Very well! Then the other man — this man, if this is he — must pay it for you."

Sergeant is sorry to add that the other man is not prepared with the money either.

"Very well! Then you must pay it between you or you must both be sued for it and both suffer. You have had the money and must refund it. You are not to pocket other people's pounds, shillings, and pence and escape scot-free."

The lawyer sits down in his easy-chair and stirs the fire. Mr. George hopes he will have the goodness to —

"I tell you, sergeant, I have nothing to say to you. I don't like your associates and don't want you here. This matter is not at all in my course of practice and is not in my office. Mr. Smallweed is good enough to offer these affairs to me, but they are not in my way. You must go to Melchisedech's in Clifford's Inn."

"I must make an apology to you, sir," says Mr. George, "for pressing myself upon you with so little encouragement — which is almost as unpleasant to me as it can be to you — but would you let me say a private word to you?"

Mr. Tulkinghorn rises with his hands in his pockets and walks into one of the window recesses. "Now! I have no time to waste." In the midst of his perfect assumption of indifference, he directs a sharp look at the trooper, taking care to stand with his own back to the light and to have the other with his face towards it.

"Well, sir," says Mr. George, "this man with me is the other party implicated in this unfortunate affair — nominally, only nominally — and my sole object is to prevent his getting into trouble on my account. He is a most respectable man with a wife and family, formerly in the Royal Artillery — "

"My friend, I don't care a pinch of snuff for the whole Royal Artillery establishment — officers, men, tumbrils, waggons, horses, guns, and ammunition."

"'Tis likely, sir. But I care a good deal for Bagnet and his wife and family being injured on my account. And if I could bring them through this matter, I should have no help for it but to give up without any other consideration what you wanted of me the other day."

"Have you got it here?"

"I have got it here, sir."

"Sergeant," the lawyer proceeds in his dry passionless manner, far more hopeless in the dealing with than any amount of vehemence, "make up your mind while I speak to you, for this is final. After I have finished speaking I have closed the subject, and I won't re- open it. Understand that. You can leave here, for a few days, what you say you have brought here if you choose; you can take it away at once if you choose. In case you choose to leave it here, I can do this for you — I can replace this matter on its old footing, and I can go so far besides as to give you a written undertaking that this man Bagnet shall never be troubled in any way until you have been proceeded against to the utmost, that your means shall be exhausted before the creditor looks to his. This is in fact all but freeing him. Have you decided?"

The trooper puts his hand into his breast and answers with a long breath, "I must do it, sir."

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