"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 won't."
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 turning 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 will 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 white handkerchief.
"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 pipe.
"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?"