Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 10

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"Male or female, sir?" says Mr. Krook.

"Male.  The person who does copying."

Mr. Krook has eyed his man narrowly.  Knows him by sight.  Has an indistinct impression of his aristocratic repute.

"Did you wish to see him, sir?"


"It's what I seldom do myself," says Mr. Krook with a grin.  "Shall I call him down?  But it's a weak chance if he'd come, sir!"

"I'll go up to him, then," says Mr. Tulkinghorn.

"Second floor, sir.  Take the candle.  Up there!"  Mr. Krook, with his cat beside him, stands at the bottom of the staircase, looking after Mr. Tulkinghorn.  "Hi-hi!" he says when Mr. Tulkinghorn has nearly disappeared.  The lawyer looks down over the hand-rail.  The cat expands her wicked mouth and snarls at him.

"Order, Lady Jane!  Behave yourself to visitors, my lady!  You know what they say of my lodger?" whispers Krook, going up a step or two.

"What do they say of him?"

"They say he has sold himself to the enemy, but you and I know better—he don't buy.  I'll tell you what, though; my lodger is so black-humoured and gloomy that I believe he'd as soon make that bargain as any other.  Don't put him out, sir.  That's my advice!"

Mr. Tulkinghorn with a nod goes on his way.  He comes to the dark door on the second floor.  He knocks, receives no answer, opens it, and accidentally extinguishes his candle in doing so.

The air of the room is almost bad enough to have extinguished it if he had not.  It is a small room, nearly black with soot, and grease, and dirt.  In the rusty skeleton of a grate, pinched at the middle as if poverty had gripped it, a red coke fire burns low.  In the corner by the chimney stand a deal table and a broken desk, a wilderness marked with a rain of ink.  In another corner a ragged old portmanteau on one of the two chairs serves for cabinet or wardrobe; no larger one is needed, for it collapses like the cheeks of a starved man.  The floor is bare, except that one old mat, trodden to shreds of rope-yarn, lies perishing upon the hearth.  No curtain veils the darkness of the night, but the discoloured shutters are drawn together, and through the two gaunt holes pierced in them, famine might be staring in—the banshee of the man upon the bed.

For, on a low bed opposite the fire, a confusion of dirty patchwork, lean-ribbed ticking, and coarse sacking, the lawyer, hesitating just within the doorway, sees a man.  He lies there, dressed in shirt and trousers, with bare feet.  He has a yellow look in the spectral darkness of a candle that has guttered down until the whole length of its wick (still burning) has doubled over and left a tower of winding-sheet above it.  His hair is ragged, mingling with his whiskers and his beard—the latter, ragged too, and grown, like the scum and mist around him, in neglect.  Foul and filthy as the room is, foul and filthy as the air is, it is not easy to perceive what fumes those are which most oppress the senses in it; but through the general sickliness and faintness, and the odour of stale tobacco, there comes into the lawyer's mouth the bitter, vapid taste of opium.

"Hallo, my friend!" he cries, and strikes his iron candlestick against the door.

He thinks he has awakened his friend.  He lies a little turned away, but his eyes are surely open.

"Hallo, my friend!" he cries again.  "Hallo!  Hallo!"

As he rattles on the door, the candle which has drooped so long goes out and leaves him in the dark, with the gaunt eyes in the shutters staring down upon the bed.