Our Dear Brother
A touch on the lawyer's wrinkled hand as he stands in the dark room, irresolute, makes him start and say, "What's that?"
"It's me," returns the old man of the house, whose breath is in his ear. "Can't you wake him?"
"What have you done with your candle?"
"It's gone out. Here it is."
Krook takes it, goes to the fire, stoops over the red embers, and tries to get a light. The dying ashes have no light to spare, and his endeavours are vain. Muttering, after an ineffectual call to his lodger, that he will go downstairs and bring a lighted candle from the shop, the old man departs. Mr. Tulkinghorn, for some new reason that he has, does not await his return in the room, but on the stairs outside.
The welcome light soon shines upon the wall, as Krook comes slowly up with his green-eyed cat following at his heels. "Does the man generally sleep like this?" inquired the lawyer in a low voice. "Hi! I don't know," says Krook, shaking his head and lifting his eyebrows. "I know next to nothing of his habits except that he keeps himself very close."
Thus whispering, they both go in together. As the light goes in, the great eyes in the shutters, darkening, seem to close. Not so the eyes upon the bed.
"God save us!" exclaims Mr. Tulkinghorn. "He is dead!" Krook drops the heavy hand he has taken up so suddenly that the arm swings over the bedside.
They look at one another for a moment.
"Send for some doctor! Call for Miss Flite up the stairs, sir. Here's poison by the bed! Call out for Flite, will you?" says Krook, with his lean hands spread out above the body like a vampire's wings.
Mr. Tulkinghorn hurries to the landing and calls, "Miss Flite! Flite! Make haste, here, whoever you are! Flite!" Krook follows him with his eyes, and while he is calling, finds opportunity to steal to the old portmanteau and steal back again.
"Run, Flite, run! The nearest doctor! Run!" So Mr. Krook addresses a crazy little woman who is his female lodger, who appears and vanishes in a breath, who soon returns accompanied by a testy medical man brought from his dinner, with a broad, snuffy upper lip and a broad Scotch tongue.
"Ey! Bless the hearts o' ye," says the medical man, looking up at them after a moment's examination. "He's just as dead as Phairy!"
Mr. Tulkinghorn (standing by the old portmanteau) inquires if he has been dead any time.
"Any time, sir?" says the medical gentleman. "It's probable he wull have been dead aboot three hours."
"About that time, I should say," observes a dark young man on the other side of the bed.
"Air you in the maydickle prayfession yourself, sir?" inquires the first.
The dark young man says yes.
"Then I'll just tak' my depairture," replies the other, "for I'm nae gude here!" With which remark he finishes his brief attendance and returns to finish his dinner.
The dark young surgeon passes the candle across and across the face and carefully examines the law-writer, who has established his pretensions to his name by becoming indeed No one.
"I knew this person by sight very well," says he. "He has purchased opium of me for the last year and a half. Was anybody present related to him?" glancing round upon the three bystanders.
"I was his landlord," grimly answers Krook, taking the candle from the surgeon's outstretched hand. "He told me once I was the nearest relation he had."
"He has died," says the surgeon, "of an over-dose of opium, there is no doubt. The room is strongly flavoured with it. There is enough here now," taking an old tea-pot from Mr. Krook, "to kill a dozen people."
"Do you think he did it on purpose?" asks Krook.
"Took the over-dose?"
"Yes!" Krook almost smacks his lips with the unction of a horrible interest.
"I can't say. I should think it unlikely, as he has been in the habit of taking so much. But nobody can tell. He was very poor, I suppose?"
"I suppose he was. His room — don't look rich," says Krook, who might have changed eyes with his cat, as he casts his sharp glance around. "But I have never been in it since he had it, and he was too close to name his circumstances to me."
"Did he owe you any rent?"
"He will never pay it!" says the young man, resuming his examination. "It is beyond a doubt that he is indeed as dead as Pharaoh; and to judge from his appearance and condition, I should think it a happy release. Yet he must have been a good figure when a youth, and I dare say, good-looking." He says this, not unfeelingly, while sitting on the bedstead's edge with his face towards that other face and his hand upon the region of the heart. "I recollect once thinking there was something in his manner, uncouth as it was, that denoted a fall in life. Was that so?" he continues, looking round.
Krook replies, "You might as well ask me to describe the ladies whose heads of hair I have got in sacks downstairs. Than that he was my lodger for a year and a half and lived — or didn't live — by law-writing, I know no more of him."
During this dialogue Mr. Tulkinghorn has stood aloof by the old portmanteau, with his hands behind him, equally removed, to all appearance, from all three kinds of interest exhibited near the bed — from the young surgeon's professional interest in death, noticeable as being quite apart from his remarks on the deceased as an individual; from the old man's unction; and the little crazy woman's awe. His imperturbable face has been as inexpressive as his rusty clothes. One could not even say he has been thinking all this while. He has shown neither patience nor impatience, nor attention nor abstraction. He has shown nothing but his shell. As easily might the tone of a delicate musical instrument be inferred from its case, as the tone of Mr. Tulkinghorn from his case.
He now interposes, addressing the young surgeon in his unmoved, professional way.
"I looked in here," he observes, "just before you, with the intention of giving this deceased man, whom I never saw alive, some employment at his trade of copying. I had heard of him from my stationer — Snagsby of Cook's Court. Since no one here knows anything about him, it might be as well to send for Snagsby. Ah!" to the little crazy woman, who has often seen him in court, and whom he has often seen, and who proposes, in frightened dumb-show, to go for the law-stationer. "Suppose you do!"
While she is gone, the surgeon abandons his hopeless investigation and covers its subject with the patchwork counterpane. Mr. Krook and he interchange a word or two. Mr. Tulkinghorn says nothing, but stands, ever, near the old portmanteau.
Mr. Snagsby arrives hastily in his grey coat and his black sleeves. "Dear me, dear me," he says; "and it has come to this, has it! Bless my soul!"
"Can you give the person of the house any information about this unfortunate creature, Snagsby?" inquires Mr. Tulkinghorn. "He was in arrears with his rent, it seems. And he must be buried, you know."
"Well, sir," says Mr. Snagsby, coughing his apologetic cough behind his hand, "I really don't know what advice I could offer, except sending for the beadle."