Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 48

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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 to-night?"

"A home question!" says Mr. Tulkinghorn with a slight smile and cautiously shaking his head at the shaded face.  "No, not to-night."


"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 evening."

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 it.

"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!"