Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1852-1853) - Chapter 48 -
The place in Lincolnshire has shut its many eyes again,
and the house in town is awake. In Lincolnshire the Dedlocks of the past doze in
their picture-frames, and the low wind murmurs through the long drawing-room as
if they were breathing pretty regularly. In town the Dedlocks of the present
rattle in their fire-eyed carriages through the darkness of the night, and the
Dedlock Mercuries, with ashes (or hair-powder) on their heads, symptomatic of
their great humility, loll away the drowsy mornings in the little windows of the
hall. The fashionable world--tremendous orb, nearly five miles round--is in full
swing, and the solar system works respectfully at its appointed distances.
Where the throng is thickest, where the lights are
brightest, where all the senses are ministered to with the greatest delicacy and
refinement, Lady Dedlock is. From the shining heights she has scaled and taken,
she is never absent. Though the belief she of old reposed in herself as one able
to reserve whatsoever she would under her mantle of pride is beaten down, though
she has no assurance that what she is to those around her she will remain
another day, it is not in her nature when envious eyes are looking on to yield
or to droop. They say of her that she has lately grown more handsome and more
haughty. The debilitated cousin says of her that she's beauty nough--tsetup
shopofwomen--but rather larming kind--remindingmanfact--inconvenient woman--who
Mr. Tulkinghorn says nothing, looks nothing. Now, as
heretofore, he is to be found in doorways of rooms, with his limp white cravat
loosely twisted into its old-fashioned tie, receiving patronage from the peerage
and making no sign. Of all men he is still the last who might be supposed to
have any influence upon my Lady. Of all woman she is still the last who might be
supposed to have any dread of him.
One thing has been much on her mind since their late
interview in his turret-room at Chesney Wold. She is now decided, and prepared
to throw it off.
It is morning in the great world, afternoon according to
the little sun. The Mercuries, exhausted by looking out of window, are reposing
in the hall and hang their heavy heads, the gorgeous creatures, like overblown
sunflowers. Like them, too, they seem to run to a deal of seed in their tags and
trimmings. Sir Leicester, in the library, has fallen asleep for the good of the
country over the report of a Parliamentary committee. My Lady sits in the room
in which she gave audience to the young man of the name of Guppy. Rosa is with
her and has been writing for her and reading to her. Rosa is now at work upon
embroidery or some such pretty thing, and as she bends her head over it, my Lady
watches her in silence. Not for the first time to-day.
The pretty village face looks brightly up. Then, seeing
how serious my Lady is, looks puzzled and surprised.
"See to the door. Is it shut?"
Yes. She goes to it and returns, and looks yet more
"I am about to place confidence in you, child, for
I know I may trust your attachment, if not your judgment. In what I am going to
do, I will not disguise myself to you at least. But I confide in you. Say
nothing to any one of what passes between us."
The timid little beauty promises in all earnestness to
"Do you know," Lady Dedlock asks her, signing
to her to bring her chair nearer, "do you know, Rosa, that I am different
to you from what I am to any one?"
"Yes, my Lady. Much kinder. But then I often think
I know you as you really are."
"You often think you know me as I really am? Poor
child, poor child!"
She says it with a kind of scorn--though not of
Rosa--and sits brooding, looking dreamily at her.
"Do you think, Rosa, you are any relief or comfort
to me? Do you suppose your being young and natural, and fond of me and grateful
to me, makes it any pleasure to me to have you near me?"
"I don't know, my Lady; I can scarcely hope so. But
with all my heart, I wish it was so."
"It is so, little one."
The pretty face is checked in its flush of pleasure by
the dark expression on the handsome face before it. It looks timidly for an
"And if I were to say to-day, 'Go! Leave me!' I
should say what would give me great pain and disquiet, child, and what would
leave me very solitary."
"My Lady! Have I offended you?"
"In nothing. Come here."
Rosa bends down on the footstool at my Lady's feet. My
Lady, with that motherly touch of the famous ironmaster night, lays her hand
upon her dark hair and gently keeps it there.
"I told you, Rosa, that I wished you to be happy
and that I would make you so if I could make anybody happy on this earth. I
cannot. There are reasons now known to me, reasons in which you have no part,
rendering it far better for you that you should not remain here. You must not
remain here. I have determined that you shall not. I have written to the father
of your lover, and he will be here to-day. All this I have done for your
The weeping girl covers her hand with kisses and says
what shall she do, what shall she do, when they are separated! Her mistress
kisses her on the cheek and makes no other answer.
"Now, be happy, child, under better circumstances.
Be beloved and happy!"
"Ah, my Lady, I have sometimes thought--forgive my
being so free-- that YOU are not happy."
"Will you be more so when you have sent me away?
Pray, pray, think again. Let me stay a little while!"
"I have said, my child, that what I do, I do for
your sake, not my own. It is done. What I am towards you, Rosa, is what I am
now-- not what I shall be a little while hence. Remember this, and keep my
confidence. Do so much for my sake, and thus all ends between us!"
She detaches herself from her simple-hearted companion
and leaves the room. Late in the afternoon, when she next appears upon the
staircase, she is in her haughtiest and coldest state. As indifferent as if all
passion, feeling, and interest had been worn out in the earlier ages of the
world and had perished from its surface with its other departed monsters.
Mercury has announced Mr. Rouncewell, which is the cause
of her appearance. Mr. Rouncewell is not in the library, but she repairs to the
library. Sir Leicester is there, and she wishes to speak to him first.
"Sir Leicester, I am desirous--but you are
Oh, dear no! Not at all. Only Mr. Tulkinghorn.
Always at hand. Haunting every place. No relief or
security from him for a moment.
"I beg your pardon, Lady Dedlock. Will you allow me
With a look that plainly says, "You know you have
the power to remain if you will," she tells him it is not necessary and
moves towards a chair. Mr. Tulkinghorn brings it a little forward for her with
his clumsy bow and retires into a window opposite. Interposed between her and
the fading light of day in the now quiet street, his shadow falls upon her, and
he darkens all before her. Even so does he darken her life.
It is a dull street under the best conditions, where the
two long rows of houses stare at each other with that severity that half-a-
dozen of its greatest mansions seem to have been slowly stared into stone rather
than originally built in that material. It is a street of such dismal grandeur,
so determined not to condescend to liveliness, that the doors and windows hold a
gloomy state of their own in black paint and dust, and the echoing mews behind
have a dry and massive appearance, as if they were reserved to stable the stone
chargers of noble statues. Complicated garnish of iron-work entwines itself over
the flights of steps in this awful street, and from these petrified bowers,
extinguishers for obsolete flambeaux gasp at the upstart gas. Here and there a
weak little iron hoop, through which bold boys aspire to throw their friends'
caps (its only present use), retains its place among the rusty foliage, sacred
to the memory of departed oil. Nay, even oil itself, yet lingering at long
intervals in a little absurd glass pot, with a knob in the bottom like an
oyster, blinks and sulks at newer lights every night, like its high and dry
master in the House of Lords.
Therefore there is not much that Lady Dedlock, seated in
her chair, could wish to see through the window in which Mr. Tulkinghorn stands.
And yet--and yet--she sends a look in that direction as if it were her heart's
desire to have that figure moved out of the way.
Sir Leicester begs his Lady's pardon. She was about to
"Only that Mr. Rouncewell is here (he has called by
my appointment) and that we had better make an end of the question of that girl.
I am tired to death of the matter."
"What can I do--to--assist?" demands Sir
Leicester in some considerable doubt.
"Let us see him here and have done with it. Will
you tell them to send him up?"
"Mr. Tulkinghorn, be so good as to ring. Thank you.
Request," says Sir Leicester to Mercury, not immediately remembering the
business term, "request the iron gentleman to walk this way."
Mercury departs in search of the iron gentleman, finds,
and produces him. Sir Leicester receives that ferruginous person graciously.
"I hope you are well, Mr. Rouncewell. Be seated.
(My solicitor, Mr. Tulkinghorn.) My Lady was desirous, Mr. Rouncewell," Sir
Leicester skilfully transfers him with a solemn wave of his hand, "was
desirous to speak with you. Hem!"
"I shall be very happy," returns the iron
gentleman, "to give my best attention to anything Lady Dedlock does me the
honour to say."
As he turns towards her, he finds that the impression
she makes upon him is less agreeable than on the former occasion. A distant
supercilious air makes a cold atmosphere about her, and there is nothing in her
bearing, as there was before, to encourage openness.
"Pray, sir," says Lady Dedlock listlessly,
"may I be allowed to inquire whether anything has passed between you and
your son respecting your son's fancy?"
It is almost too troublesome to her languid eyes to
bestow a look upon him as she asks this question.
"If my memory serves me, Lady Dedlock, I said, when
I had the pleasure of seeing you before, that I should seriously advise my son
to conquer that--fancy." The ironmaster repeats her expression with a
"And did you?"
"Oh! Of course I did."
Sir Leicester gives a nod, approving and confirmatory.
Very proper. The iron gentleman, having said that he would do it, was bound to
do it. No difference in this respect between the base metals and the precious.
"And pray has he done so?"
"Really, Lady Dedlock, I cannot make you a definite
reply. I fear not. Probably not yet. In our condition of life, we sometimes
couple an intention with our--our fancies which renders them not altogether easy
to throw off. I think it is rather our way to be in earnest."
Sir Leicester has a misgiving that there may be a hidden
Wat Tylerish meaning in this expression, and fumes a little. Mr. Rouncewell is
perfectly good-humoured and polite, but within such limits, evidently adapts his
tone to his reception.
"Because," proceeds my Lady, "I have been
thinking of the subject, which is tiresome to me."
"I am very sorry, I am sure."
"And also of what Sir Leicester said upon it, in
which I quite concur"--Sir Leicester flattered--"and if you cannot
give us the assurance that this fancy is at an end, I have come to the
conclusion that the girl had better leave me."
"I can give no such assurance, Lady Dedlock.
Nothing of the kind."
"Then she had better go."
"Excuse me, my Lady," Sir Leicester
considerately interposes, "but perhaps this may be doing an injury to the
young woman which she has not merited. Here is a young woman," says Sir
Leicester, magnificently laying out the matter with his right hand like a
service of plate, "whose good fortune it is to have attracted the notice
and favour of an eminent lady and to live, under the protection of that eminent
lady, surrounded by the various advantages which such a position confers, and
which are unquestionably very great--I believe unquestionably very great,
sir--for a young woman in that station of life. The question then arises, should
that young woman be deprived of these many advantages and that good fortune
simply because she has"--Sir Leicester, with an apologetic but dignified
inclination of his head towards the ironmaster, winds up his sentence--"has
attracted the notice of Mr Rouncewell's son? Now, has she deserved this
punishment? Is this just towards her? Is this our previous understanding?"
"I beg your pardon," interposes Mr.
Rouncewell's son's father. "Sir Leicester, will you allow me? I think I may
shorten the subject. Pray dismiss that from your consideration. If you remember
anything so unimportant--which is not to be expected--you would recollect that
my first thought in the affair was directly opposed to her remaining here."
Dismiss the Dedlock patronage from consideration? Oh!
Sir Leicester is bound to believe a pair of ears that have been handed down to
him through such a family, or he really might have mistrusted their report of
the iron gentleman's observations.
"It is not necessary," observes my Lady in her
coldest manner before he can do anything but breathe amazedly, "to enter
into these matters on either side. The girl is a very good girl; I have nothing
whatever to say against her, but she is so far insensible to her many advantages
and her good fortune that she is in love--or supposes she is, poor little
fool--and unable to appreciate them."
Sir Leicester begs to observe that wholly alters the
case. He might have been sure that my Lady had the best grounds and reasons in
support of her view. He entirely agrees with my Lady. The young woman had better
"As Sir Leicester observed, Mr. Rouncewell, on the
last occasion when we were fatigued by this business," Lady Dedlock
languidly proceeds, "we cannot make conditions with you. Without
conditions, and under present circumstances, the girl is quite misplaced here
and had better go. I have told her so. Would you wish to have her sent back to
the village, or would you like to take her with you, or what would you
"Lady Dedlock, if I may speak plainly--"
"By all means."
"--I should prefer the course which will the
soonest relieve you of the incumbrance and remove her from her present
"And to speak as plainly," she returns with
the same studied carelessness, "so should I. Do I understand that you will
take her with you?"
The iron gentleman makes an iron bow.
"Sir Leicester, will you ring?" Mr.
Tulkinghorn steps forward from his window and pulls the bell. "I had
forgotten you. Thank you." He makes his usual bow and goes quietly back
again. Mercury, swift-responsive, appears, receives instructions whom to
produce, skims away, produces the aforesaid, and departs.
Rosa has been crying and is yet in distress. On her
coming in, the ironmaster leaves his chair, takes her arm in his, and remains
with her near the door ready to depart.
"You are taken charge of, you see," says my
Lady in her weary manner, "and are going away well protected. I have
mentioned that you are a very good girl, and you have nothing to cry for."
"She seems after all," observes Mr.
Tulkinghorn, loitering a little forward with his hands behind him, "as if
she were crying at going away."
"Why, she is not well-bred, you see," returns
Mr. Rouncewell with some quickness in his manner, as if he were glad to have the
lawyer to retort upon, "and she is an inexperienced little thing and knows
no better. If she had remained here, sir, she would have improved, no
"No doubt," is Mr. Tulkinghorn's composed
Rosa sobs out that she is very sorry to leave my Lady,
and that she was happy at Chesney Wold, and has been happy with my Lady, and
that she thanks my Lady over and over again. "Out, you silly little
puss!" says the ironmaster, checking her in a low voice, though not
angrily. "Have a spirit, if you're fond of Watt!" My Lady merely waves
her off with indifference, saying, "There, there, child! You are a good
girl. Go away!" Sir Leicester has magnificently disengaged himself from the
subject and retired into the sanctuary of his blue coat. Mr. Tulkinghorn, an
indistinct form against the dark street now dotted with lamps, looms in my
Lady's view, bigger and blacker than before.
"Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock," says Mr.
Rouncewell after a pause of a few moments, "I beg to take my leave, with an
apology for having again troubled you, though not of my own act, on this
tiresome subject. I can very well understand, I assure you, how tiresome so
small a matter must have become to Lady Dedlock. If I am doubtful of my dealing
with it, it is only because I did not at first quietly exert my influence to
take my young friend here away without troubling you at all. But it appeared to
me--I dare say magnifying the importance of the thing--that it was respectful to
explain to you how the matter stood and candid to consult your wishes and
convenience. I hope you will excuse my want of acquaintance with the polite
Sir Leicester considers himself evoked out of the
sanctuary by these remarks. "Mr. Rouncewell," he returns, "do not
menfion it. Justifications are unnecessary, I hope, on either side."
"I am glad to hear it, Sir Leicester; and if I may,
by way of a last word, revert to what I said before of my mother's long
connexion with the family and the worth it bespeaks on both sides, I would point
out this little instance here on my arm who shows herself so affectionate and
faithful in parting and in whom my mother, I dare say, has done something to
awaken such feelings-- though of course Lady Dedlock, by her heartfelt interest
and her genial condescension, has done much more.
If he mean this ironically, it may be truer than he
thinks. He points it, however, by no deviation from his straightforward manner
of speech, though in saying it he turns towards that part of the dim room where
my Lady sits. Sir Leicester stands to return his parting salutation, Mr.
Tulkinghorn again rings, Mercury takes another flight, and Mr. Rouncewell and
Rosa leave the house.
Then lights are brought in, discovering Mr. Tulkinghorn
still standing in his window with his hands behind him and my Lady still sitting
with his figure before her, closing up her view of the night as well as of the
day. She is very pale. Mr. Tulkinghorn, observing it as she rises to retire,
thinks, "Well she may be! The power of this woman is astonishing. She has
been acting a part the whole time." But he can act a part too--his one
unchanging character--and as he holds the door open for this woman, fifty pairs
of eyes, each fifty times sharper than Sir Leicester's pair, should find no flaw
Lady Dedlock dines alone in her own room to-day. Sir
Leicester is whipped in to the rescue of the Doodle Party and the discomfiture
of the Coodle Faction. Lady Dedlock asks on sitting down to dinner, still deadly
pale (and quite an illustration of the debilitated cousin's text), whether he is
gone out? Yes. Whether Mr. Tulkinghorn is gone yet? No. Presently she asks
again, is he gone YET? No. What is he doing? Mercury thinks he is writing
letters in the library. Would my Lady wish to see him? Anything but that.
But he wishes to see my Lady. Within a few more minutes
he is reported as sending his respects, and could my Lady please to receive him
for a word or two after her dinner? My Lady will receive him now. He comes now,
apologizing for intruding, even by her permission, while she is at table. When
they are alone, my Lady waves her hand to dispense with such mockeries.
"What do you want, sir?"
"Why, Lady Dedlock," says the lawyer, taking a
chair at a little distance from her and slowly rubbing his rusty legs up and
down, up and down, up and down, "I am rather surprised by the course you
"Yes, decidedly. I was not prepared for it. I
consider it a departure from our agreement and your promise. It puts us in a new
position, Lady Dedlock. I feel myself under the necessity of saying that I don't
approve of it."
He stops in his rubbing and looks at her, with his hands
on his knees. Imperturbable and unchangeable as he is, there is still an
indefinable freedom in his manner which is new and which does not escape this
"I do not quite understand you."
"Oh, yes you do, I think. I think you do. Come,
come, Lady Dedlock, we must not fence and parry now. You know you like this
"And you know--and I know--that you have not sent
her away for the reasons you have assigned, but for the purpose of separating
her as much as possible from--excuse my mentioning it as a matter of
business--any reproach and exposure that impend over yourself."
"Well, Lady Dedlock," returns the lawyer,
crossing his legs and nursing the uppermost knee. "I object to that. I
consider that a dangerous proceeding. I know it to be unnecessary and calculated
to awaken speculation, doubt, rumour, I don't know what, in the house. Besides,
it is a violation of our agreement. You were to be exactly what you were before.
Whereas, it must be evident to yourself, as it is to me, that you have been this
evening very different from what you were before. Why, bless my soul, Lady
Dedlock, transparenfly so!"
"If, sir," she begins, "in my knowledge
of my secret--" But he interrupts her.
"Now, Lady Dedlock, this is a matter of business,
and in a matter of business the ground cannot be kept too clear. It is no longer
your secret. Excuse me. That is just the mistake. It is my secret, in trust for
Sir Leicester and the family. If it were your secret, Lady Dedlock, we should
not be here holding this conversation."
"That is very true. If in my knowledge of THE
secret I do what I can to spare an innocent girl (especially, remembering your
own reference to her when you told my story to the assembled guests at Chesney
Wold) from the taint of my impending shame, I act upon a resolution I have
taken. Nothing in the world, and no one in the world, could shake it or could
move me." This she says with great deliberation and distinctness and with
no more outward passion than himself. As for him, he methodically discusses his
matter of business as if she were any insensible instrument used in business.
"Really? Then you see, Lady Dedlock," he
returns, "you are not to be trusted. You have put the case in a perfecfly
plain way, and according to the literal fact; and that being the case, you are
not to be trusted."
"Perhaps you may remember that I expressed some
anxiety on this same point when we spoke at night at Chesney Wold?"
"Yes," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, coolly getting up
and standing on the hearth. "Yes. I recollect, Lady Dedlock, that you
certainly referred to the girl, but that was before we came to our arrangement,
and both the letter and the spirit of our arrangement altogether precluded any
action on your part founded upon my discovery. There can be no doubt about that.
As to sparing the girl, of what importance or value is she? Spare! Lady Dedlock,
here is a family name compromised. One might have supposed that the course was
straight on--over everything, neither to the right nor to the left, regardless
of all considerations in the way, sparing nothing, treading everything under
She has been looking at the table. She lifts up her eyes
and looks at him. There is a stern expression on her face and a part of her
lower lip is compressed under her teeth. "This woman understands me,"
Mr. Tulkinghorn thinks as she lets her glance fall again. "SHE cannot be
spared. Why should she spare others?"
For a little while they are silent. Lady Dedlock has
eaten no dinner, but has twice or thrice poured out water with a steady hand and
drunk it. She rises from table, takes a lounging-chair, and reclines in it,
shading her face. There is nothing in her manner to express weakness or excite
compassion. It is thoughtful, gloomy, concentrated. "This woman,"
thinks Mr. Tulkinghorn, standing on the hearth, again a dark object closing up
her view, "is a study."
He studies her at his leisure, not speaking for a time.
She too studies something at her leisure. She is not the first to speak,
appearing indeed so unlikely to be so, though he stood there until midnight,
that even he is driven upon breaking silence.
"Lady Dedlock, the most disagreeable part of this
business interview remains, but it is business. Our agreement is broken. A lady
of your sense and strength of character will be prepared for my now declaring it
void and taking my own course."
"I am quite prepared."
Mr. Tulkinghorn inclines his head. "That is all I
have to trouble you with, Lady Dedlock."
She stops him as he is moving out of the room by asking,
"This is the notice I was to receive? I wish not to misapprehend you."
"Not exactly the notice you were to receive, Lady
Dedlock, because the contemplated notice supposed the agreement to have been
observed. But virtually the same, virtually the same. The difference is merely
in a lawyer's mind."
"You intend to give me no other notice?"
"You are right. No."
"Do you contemplate undeceiving Sir Leicester
"A home question!" says Mr. Tulkinghorn with a
slight smile and cautiously shaking his head at the shaded face. "No, not
"All things considered, I had better decline
answering that question, Lady Dedlock. If I were to say I don't know when,
exactly, you would not believe me, and it would answer no purpose. It may be
to-morrow. I would rather say no more. You are prepared, and I hold out no
expectations which circumstances might fail to justify. I wish you good
She removes her hand, turns her pale face towards him as
he walks silently to the door, and stops him once again as he is about to open
"Do you intend to remain in the house any time? I
heard you were writing in the library. Are you going to return there?"
"Only for my hat. I am going home."
She bows her eyes rather than her head, the movement is
so slight and curious, and he withdraws. Clear of the room he looks at his watch
but is inclined to doubt it by a minute or thereabouts. There is a splendid
clock upon the staircase, famous, as splendid clocks not often are, for its
accuracy. "And what do YOU say," Mr. Tulkinghorn inquires, referring
to it. "What do you say?"
If it said now, "Don't go home!" What a famous
clock, hereafter, if it said to-night of all the nights that it has counted off,
to this old man of all the young and old men who have ever stood before it,
"Don't go home!" With its sharp clear bell it strikes three quarters
after seven and ticks on again. "Why, you are worse than I thought
you," says Mr. Tulkinghorn, muttering reproof to his watch. "Two
minutes wrong? At this rate you won't last my time." What a watch to return
good for evil if it ticked in answer, "Don't go home!"
He passes out into the streets and walks on, with his
hands behind him, under the shadow of the lofty houses, many of whose mysteries,
difficulties, mortgages, delicate affairs of all kinds, are treasured up within
his old black satin waistcoat. He is in the confidence of the very bricks and
mortar. The high chimney-stacks telegraph family secrets to him. Yet there is
not a voice in a mile of them to whisper, "Don't go home!"
Through the stir and motion of the commoner streets;
through the roar and jar of many vehicles, many feet, many voices; with the
blazing shop-lights lighting him on, the west wind blowing him on, and the crowd
pressing him on, he is pitilessly urged upon his way, and nothing meets him
murmuring, "Don't go home!" Arrived at last in his dull room to light
his candles, and look round and up, and see the Roman pointing from the ceiling,
there is no new significance in the Roman's hand to-night or in the flutter of
the attendant groups to give him the late warning, "Don't come here!"
It is a moonlight night, but the moon, being past the
full, is only now rising over the great wilderness of London. The stars are
shining as they shone above the turret-leads at Chesney Wold. This woman, as he
has of late been so accustomed to call her, looks out upon them. Her soul is
turbulent within her; she is sick at heart and restless. The large rooms are too
cramped and close. She cannot endure their restraint and will walk alone in a
Too capricious and imperious in all she does to be the
cause of much surprise in those about her as to anything she does, this woman,
loosely muffled, goes out into the moonlight. Mercury attends with the key.
Having opened the garden-gate, he delivers the key into his Lady's hands at her
request and is bidden to go back. She will walk there some time to ease her
aching head. She may be an hour, she may be more. She needs no further escort.
The gate shuts upon its spring with a clash, and he leaves her passing on into
the dark shade of some trees.
A fine night, and a bright large moon, and multitudes of
stars. Mr. Tulkinghorn, in repairing to his cellar and in opening and shutting
those resounding doors, has to cross a little prison-like yard. He looks up
casually, thinking what a fine night, what a bright large moon, what multitudes
of stars! A quiet night, too.
A very quiet night. When the moon shines very
brilliantly, a solitude and stillness seem to proceed from her that influence
even crowded places full of life. Not only is it a still night on dusty high
roads and on hill-summits, whence a wide expanse of country may be seen in
repose, quieter and quieter as it spreads away into a fringe of trees against
the sky with the grey ghost of a bloom upon them; not only is it a still night
in gardens and in woods, and on the river where the water-meadows are fresh and
green, and the stream sparkles on among pleasant islands, murmuring weirs, and
whispering rushes; not only does the stillness attend it as it flows where
houses cluster thick, where many bridges are reflected in it, where wharves and
shipping make it black and awful, where it winds from these disfigurements
through marshes whose grim beacons stand like skeletons washed ashore, where it
expands through the bolder region of rising grounds, rich in cornfield wind-mill
and steeple, and where it mingles with the ever-heaving sea; not only is it a
still night on the deep, and on the shore where the watcher stands to see the
ship with her spread wings cross the path of light that appears to be presented
to only him; but even on this stranger's wilderness of London there is some
rest. Its steeples and towers and its one great dome grow more ethereal; its
smoky house-tops lose their grossness in the pale effulgence; the noises that
arise from the streets are fewer and are softened, and the footsteps on the
pavements pass more tranquilly away. In these fields of Mr. Tulkinghorn's
inhabiting, where the shepherds play on Chancery pipes that have no stop, and
keep their sheep in the fold by hook and by crook until they have shorn them
exceeding close, every noise is merged, this moonlight night, into a distant
ringing hum, as if the city were a vast glass, vibrating.
What's that? Who fired a gun or pistol? Where was it?
The few foot-passengers start, stop, and stare about
them. Some windows and doors are opened, and people come out to look. It was a
loud report and echoed and rattled heavily. It shook one house, or so a man says
who was passing. It has aroused all the dogs in the neighbourhood, who bark
vehemently. Terrified cats scamper across the road. While the dogs are yet
barking and howling--there is one dog howling like a demon--the church-clocks,
as if they were startled too, begin to strike. The hum from the streets,
likewise, seems to swell into a shout. But it is soon over. Before the last
clock begins to strike ten, there is a lull. When it has ceased, the fine night,
the bright large moon, and multitudes of stars, are left at peace again.
Has Mr. Tulkinghorn been disturbed? His windows are dark
and quiet, and his door is shut. It must be something unusual indeed to bring
him out of his shell. Nothing is heard of him, nothing is seen of him. What
power of cannon might it take to shake that rusty old man out of his immovable
For many years the persistent Roman has been pointing,
with no particular meaning, from that ceiling. It is not likely that he has any
new meaning in him to-night. Once pointing, always pointing--like any Roman, or
even Briton, with a single idea. There he is, no doubt, in his impossible
attitude, pointing, unavailingly, all night long. Moonlight, darkness, dawn,
sunrise, day. There he is still, eagerly pointing, and no one minds him.
But a little after the coming of the day come people to
clean the rooms. And either the Roman has some new meaning in him, not expressed
before, or the foremost of them goes wild, for looking up at his outstretched
hand and looking down at what is below it, that person shrieks and flies. The
others, looking in as the first one looked, shriek and fly too, and there is an
alarm in the street.
What does it mean? No light is admitted into the
darkened chamber, and people unaccustomed to it enter, and treading softly but
heavily, carry a weight into the bedroom and lay it down. There is whispering
and wondering all day, strict search of every corner, careful tracing of steps,
and careful noting of the disposition of every article of furniture. All eyes
look up at the Roman, and all voices murmur, "If he could only tell what he
He is pointing at a table with a bottle (nearly full of
wine) and a glass upon it and two candles that were blown out suddenly soon
after being lighted. He is pointing at an empty chair and at a stain upon the
ground before it that might be almost covered with a hand. These objects lie
directly within his range. An excited imagination might suppose that there was
something in them so terrific as to drive the rest of the composition, not only
the attendant big-legged boys, but the clouds and flowers and pillars too--in
short, the very body and soul of Allegory, and all the brains it has--stark mad.
It happens surely that every one who comes into the darkened room and looks at
these things looks up at the Roman and that he is invested in all eyes with
mystery and awe, as if he were a paralysed dumb witness.
So it shall happen surely, through many years to come,
that ghostly stories shall be told of the stain upon the floor, so easy to be
covered, so hard to be got out, and that the Roman, pointing from the ceiling
shall point, so long as dust and damp and spiders spare him, with far greater
significance than he ever had in Mr. Tulkinghorn's time, and with a deadly
meaning. For Mr. Tulkinghorn's time is over for evermore, and the Roman pointed
at the murderous hand uplifted against his life, and pointed helplessly at him,
from night to morning, lying face downward on the floor, shot through the heart.