Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 11

[+] | [-] | reset
 

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?"

"Six weeks."

"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!"