فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Dishonest Business

After Krook’s mysterious death, the neighbours are surprised to see two very old people move into the Rag and Bottle Market. They are Mr Smallweed, the money-lender, and his wife, Mr Krook’s sister.

After Krook’s death and the disappearance of the packet of letters, Mr Guppy has lost hope of discovering more about Miss Esther Summerson’s background. With a sad heart, he returns to Lady Dedlock’s London house.

‘Lady Dedlock,’ begins Guppy politely, ‘I have come to report that I have not been able to get the letters which we spoke about. I believe they were destroyed in a strange fire when a man named Krook died.’

Tulkinghorn is at the door of the library as Guppy departs. What does he know about the business between My Lady and this young man?

Soon after the death of Mr Krook, old Mr Smallweed orders Mr George Rouncewell to pay the total amount of his debt immediately. George’s oldest and best friend, Mr Matthew Bagnet, signed the papers for the loan and will have to pay the debt if George cannot. The two men hurry to Smallweed’s home to find out what is happening, but Smallweed refuses to discuss the matter with them and sends them to his lawyer.

After making many excuses, Mr Tulkinghorn’s servant finally lets George into the lawyer’s office. Mr Bagnet waits anxiously outside.

‘Mr Rouncewell, you must pay your debts or accept your punishment. If you can’t pay, then your friend must pay. His signature is on the loan,’ says Tulkinghorn coldly.

‘Mr Tulkinghorn, neither of us has this sum of money. Smallweed has changed the conditions of the loan,’ says George angrily. ‘I will not ruin my friend and his family. You wanted a piece of paper from me the other day. I will give it to you to solve this problem.’

‘Mr Rouncewell,’ the lawyer begins coolly, ‘if you choose to leave your letter from Captain Hawdon with me, I can return the conditions of your loan to what they were, and I can free Mr Bagnet from any responsibility towards the loan in the future. Do you agree?’

The old soldier puts his hand in his pocket and produces a letter from Hawdon. ‘I must,’ he says angrily.

Mr Tulkinghorn shares with no one the information that he has about Captain Hawdon until one destructive evening at Chesney Wold.

The gentlemen discuss business and politics after dinner. Sir Leicester is worried that men from a lower social class are entering parliament.

‘But, Sir Leicester,’ Tulkinghorn informs him, ‘a number of these people send their children to good schools now. Many of them own factories or other sorts of businesses. These people are, in their way, very proud.’

‘Proud?’ Sir Leicester doubts that he has heard correctly.

‘Really, Sir Leicester. I am stating facts. I could tell you a true story that I heard recently, with Lady Dedlock’s permission,’ says Tulkinghorn.

‘Of course,’ Lady Dedlock replies politely.

‘The rich, beautiful wife of a man in a position similar to yours hired a young girl to be her maid. The lady was fond of the girl and acted with great kindness towards her. But the lady had a secret that she had kept to herself for many years. In fact, she had in early life planned to marry a young army captain. Unfortunately, he failed to make a success of his life. The lady never married him, but she gave birth to a child; the army captain was the father.’

Lady Dedlock sits near the window, staring at the stars and not moving.

‘The captain was dead, so the lady believed that her secret was safe, but after many years facts about her past began to come out. Her husband’s heart was broken, and his life was in pieces. But that is not the point I want to make. When the young girl’s father - the maid’s father - heard about the lady’s disgrace, he took his daughter out of the gentleman’s house. He didn’t want her to have any connection with a woman with that sort of history.’

Sir Leicester is tired and has not followed the story closely; soon he wishes his guest good night.

Mr Tulkinghorn goes to his usual bedroom with a slight smile on his face. He walks up and down his room, satisfied with the evening and with his plans, until he hears a quiet knock at his door.

Lady Dedlock looks very pale. Is it fear or anger? She does not speak at first, but finally says, ‘Why have you told my story?’

‘It was necessary to inform you that I knew it. I have known all the details for only a few days.’

‘Is it true that Rosa’s father knows my history? Is that true?’

‘No, it was a way to interest Sir Leicester in the facts,’ Tulkinghorn says.

‘I will leave Chesney Wold,’ Lady Dedlock begins. ‘I have expected this for a long time. I will take nothing from here - no money, no jewels, no clothes - and will put an end to my lies and my secrets.’

‘Lady Dedlock, you cannot leave Chesney Wold. You must not. My only thought in this unhappy situation is Sir Leicester. He is a very proud man. He would be more surprised by your fall from your high position as his wife than by the moon falling from the sky.’

‘Then isn’t it better for me to leave immediately,’ asks Lady Dedlock, ‘and to protect him from this disgrace?’

‘Your flight would advertise your history to the world. It would be impossible to save the family’s good name. Sir Leicester, his family history, his position in society and his good name cannot be separated. We must find a way to protect your husband,’ advises Tulkinghorn. ‘You must continue to live with your guilty secrets until I tell you differently.’

Mr Tulkinghorn does not stay long at Chesney Wold and is soon in his London rooms again. He is looking forward to a fine bottle of wine with his supper the next evening when there is a knock at his door.

‘Who’s this?’ he asks himself, and then finds Miss Hortense, the Frenchwoman, outside. ‘What do you want?’

‘I have been here very often and have not been allowed to come in,’ she complains. ‘Sir, you lied to me and used me for your purposes.’

‘Miss, you forget that I paid you for what I asked you to do.’

‘I do not want your money!’ Miss Hortense shouts, and violently throws two coins on the floor. ‘Keep your money! You knew that I hated My Lady and you used me to get information about her. Find me a good position! If you refuse to help me, I will come here again and again until you do.’

‘Miss Hortense, I advise you to pick up your money and leave. We have laws in this country which protect its citizens. If you continue to come here and annoy me, I will send for the police and they will put you in prison.’

‘I do not believe you!’ cries Miss Hortense.

‘Believe me, miss - it is what I will do. Think twice before you come here again. You lost your place with Lady Dedlock because you were difficult and jealous. Change your ways and stay away from me.’

Miss Hortense leaves Tulkinghorn’s house without answering or looking behind her.

The dark night rests heavily on one of the poorest and ugliest parts of London. Some of the houses are falling into the street, which is nothing more than a muddy path. Even the air, like the people here, seems unhealthy and sad.

Allan Woodcourt, sunburned from his recent trip, is walking through this unfortunate area of the city when someone shouts, ‘Stop him, stop him!’ Then he sees a woman chasing after a dirty boy in rags. The young doctor runs after the boy, thinking that he has robbed the woman, and finally catches him in a narrow road with no exit.

‘Jo, it is you,’ says Mr Woodcourt. ‘Do you remember me? I saw you after Mr Nemo’s death. What is happening? What is the problem?’

‘Why can’t everyone leave me alone?’ says Jo, brushing the tears from his face with a dirty hand. ‘I didn’t do nothing, but everyone moves me away time after time. I want to be with Mr Nemo. He was very good to me.’

Allan Woodcourt turns to the woman and asks, ‘Has he robbed you?’

‘No, sir. He was very kind and helpful to me. He came to us at St Albans when he was very ill. Then a young woman - a good friend to Jo and to me - pitied him and took him to her home. But he thanked her by running away in the middle of the night, and no one could find him until tonight when I saw him. And that kind young lady caught his fever and lost her beauty. Her face has changed, but she still has her sweet voice and her pretty shape and her kind temper. She is still good to everyone who meets her. Even to ungrateful boys like Jo!’

The boy is crying now. ‘Sir, I didn’t run away. Someone came and took me away, but I’m not allowed to say his name.’

‘But why did he want to take you away?’ asks the doctor.

‘I don’t know nothing. He put me in a hospital and told me to stay away from London when I came out, but where could I go? He’ll find me again - I know he will,’ cries Jo softly. ‘But I’m sorry about the pretty woman. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I hope she’s all right again.’

‘Now Jo,’ says Allan Woodcourt after hearing Jo’s story about his illness, about the mysterious woman in the veil and about the visit to Tulkinghorn’s office, ‘I am going to find you a better place to rest. Can you follow me?’

As the sun comes up, the doctor and the tired boy walk into a part of London where the air is purer and the streets are cleaner. Mr Woodcourt stops for food and medicine for the boy, and then decides to look for Miss Flite, who might know of a place where Jo can rest and hide.

After a friendly welcome, Miss Flite proudly says that she can solve this problem. ‘Mr George Rouncewell will help us! I often visit Mr Rouncewell. He knows your friend, Miss Esther Summerson, and takes a great interest in anyone connected to her. And his place is not far from here.’

Mr Rouncewell is kind and generous and very happy to help a friend of Miss Summerson’s or Miss Flite’s. The old lady hurries off to the Court of Chancery, and Jo is soon washed and put to bed. Then the two men have time for a little conversation.

‘Who is the boy afraid of?’ asks Mr Rouncewell.

‘He wanted to keep the name secret, but he finally told me that it is someone called Bucket,’ says Woodcourt.

‘I have had some business with Bucket, the detective,’ replies Rouncewell. ‘You don’t want to have him after you. He is a dangerous type. And I know the office near the Court of Chancery where Bucket took Jo earlier. It is Tulkinghorn’s place. I am sorry to say that I know both of these men, and have had nothing but trouble from them.’

‘What kind of man is this Tulkinghorn?’ asks Mr Woodcourt.

‘He is a man without any human feeling. He has caused me greater suffering than all other men put together. He enjoys having power over me - and over a lot of other people, I believe. But if we were in a war and I could attack him fairly, he would die, sir!’

Mr Allan Woodcourt reports everything that he has learned from Jo and from Mr George Rouncewell to Mr John Jarndyce, and very soon both Mr Jarndyce and Miss Esther Summerson visit poor Jo. Esther is wonderfully kind and explains to Jo that she understands why he left Bleak House and that she knows her illness was not his fault.

Jo’s health continues to grow worse, but in the warm, comfortable bed at the training school he is happier than he has ever been. Mr Rouncewell is cheerful with him every day, and he knows that Miss Summerson has forgiven him for bringing the fever into her house. With George Rouncewell and Mr Woodcourt at his bedside, Jo often talks about Mr Nemo.

‘It’s time to go to my resting place beside Mr Nemo,’ says Jo. He looks at the doctor. ‘I want to tell him that I’m as poor as him now and have come to lie beside him. Will you promise to put me there, beside him, sir?’

‘I will, Jo. I promise.’

‘The dark night is coming fast now, sir,’ says Jo. ‘Let me catch hold of your hand, please. I can’t see you now.’

‘Jo, can you say the words that I say? Say “Our Father, in heaven.’”

‘Our Father, in heaven - is the light coming, sir?’ asks Jo.

‘It is close now, Jo.’

‘Our Father…’

Dead. A poor boy who lived on this earth with no one and nothing. Will he now rest in peace and find the care and kindness that he missed every day of his short life?

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