Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 42

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In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Chambers

From the verdant undulations and the spreading oaks of the Dedlock property, Mr. Tulkinghorn transfers himself to the stale heat and dust of London.  His manner of coming and going between the two places is one of his impenetrabilities.  He walks into Chesney Wold as if it were next door to his chambers and returns to his chambers as if he had never been out of Lincoln's Inn Fields.  He neither changes his dress before the journey nor talks of it afterwards.  He melted out of his turret-room this morning, just as now, in the late twilight, he melts into his own square.

Like a dingy London bird among the birds at roost in these pleasant fields, where the sheep are all made into parchment, the goats into wigs, and the pasture into chaff, the lawyer, smoke-dried and faded, dwelling among mankind but not consorting with them, aged without experience of genial youth, and so long used to make his cramped nest in holes and corners of human nature that he has forgotten its broader and better range, comes sauntering home.  In the oven made by the hot pavements and hot buildings, he has baked himself dryer than usual; and he has in his thirsty mind his mellowed port-wine half a century old.

The lamplighter is skipping up and down his ladder on Mr. Tulkinghorn's side of the Fields when that high-priest of noble mysteries arrives at his own dull court-yard.  He ascends the door-steps and is gliding into the dusky hall when he encounters, on the top step, a bowing and propitiatory little man.

"Is that Snagsby?"

"Yes, sir.  I hope you are well, sir.  I was just giving you up, sir, and going home."

"Aye?  What is it?  What do you want with me?"

"Well, sir," says Mr. Snagsby, holding his hat at the side of his head in his deference towards his best customer, "I was wishful to say a word to you, sir."

"Can you say it here?"

"Perfectly, sir."

"Say it then."  The lawyer turns, leans his arms on the iron railing at the top of the steps, and looks at the lamplighter lighting the court-yard.

"It is relating," says Mr. Snagsby in a mysterious low voice, "it is relating—not to put too fine a point upon it—to the foreigner, sir!"

Mr. Tulkinghorn eyes him with some surprise.  "What foreigner?"

"The foreign female, sir.  French, if I don't mistake?  I am not acquainted with that language myself, but I should judge from her manners and appearance that she was French; anyways, certainly foreign.  Her that was upstairs, sir, when Mr. Bucket and me had the honour of waiting upon you with the sweeping-boy that night."

"Oh!  Yes, yes.  Mademoiselle Hortense."

"Indeed, sir?"  Mr. Snagsby coughs his cough of submission behind his hat.  "I am not acquainted myself with the names of foreigners in general, but I have no doubt it WOULD be that."  Mr. Snagsby appears to have set out in this reply with some desperate design of repeating the name, but on reflection coughs again to excuse himself.

"And what can you have to say, Snagsby," demands Mr. Tulkinghorn, "about her?"