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"He is not three weeks old yet, sir," says the woman.
"Is he your child?"
The other woman, who was bending over it when they came in, stoops down again and kisses it as it lies asleep.
"You seem as fond of it as if you were the mother yourself," says Mr. Bucket.
"I was the mother of one like it, master, and it died."
"Ah, Jenny, Jenny!" says the other woman to her. "Better so. Much better to think of dead than alive, Jenny! Much better!"
"Why, you an't such an unnatural woman, I hope," returns Bucket sternly, "as to wish your own child dead?"
"God knows you are right, master," she returns. "I am not. I'd stand between it and death with my own life if I could, as true as any pretty lady."
"Then don't talk in that wrong manner," says Mr. Bucket, mollified again. "Why do you do it?"
"It's brought into my head, master," returns the woman, her eyes filling with tears, "when I look down at the child lying so. If it was never to wake no more, you'd think me mad, I should take on so. I know that very well. I was with Jenny when she lost hers--warn't I, Jenny?--and I know how she grieved. But look around you at this place. Look at them," glancing at the sleepers on the ground. "Look at the boy you're waiting for, who's gone out to do me a good turn. Think of the children that your business lays with often and often, and that you see grow up!"
"Well, well," says Mr. Bucket, "you train him respectable, and he'll be a comfort to you, and look after you in your old age, you know."
"I mean to try hard," she answers, wiping her eyes. "But I have been a-thinking, being over-tired to-night and not well with the ague, of all the many things that'll come in his way. My master will be against it, and he'll be beat, and see me beat, and made to fear his home, and perhaps to stray wild. If I work for him ever so much, and ever so hard, there's no one to help me; and if he should be turned bad 'spite of all I could do, and the time should come when I should sit by him in his sleep, made hard and changed, an't it likely I should think of him as he lies in my lap now and wish he had died as Jenny's child died!"
"There, there!" says Jenny. "Liz, you're tired and ill. Let me take him."
In doing so, she displaces the mother's dress, but quickly readjusts it over the wounded and bruised bosom where the baby has been lying.
"It's my dead child," says Jenny, walking up and down as she nurses, "that makes me love this child so dear, and it's my dead child that makes her love it so dear too, as even to think of its being taken away from her now. While she thinks that, I think what fortune would I give to have my darling back. But we mean the same thing, if we knew how to say it, us two mothers does in our poor hearts!"
As Mr. Snagsby blows his nose and coughs his cough of sympathy, a step is heard without. Mr. Bucket throws his light into the doorway and says to Mr. Snagsby, "Now, what do you say to Toughy? Will he do?"
"That's Jo," says Mr. Snagsby.
Jo stands amazed in the disk of light, like a ragged figure in a magic-lantern, trembling to think that he has offended against the law in not having moved on far enough. Mr. Snagsby, however, giving him the consolatory assurance, "It's only a job you will be paid for, Jo," he recovers; and on being taken outside by Mr. Bucket for a little private confabulation, tells his tale satisfactorily, though out of breath.
"I have squared it with the lad," says Mr. Bucket, returning, "and it's all right. Now, Mr. Snagsby, we're ready for you."
First, Jo has to complete his errand of good nature by handing over the physic he has been to get, which he delivers with the laconic verbal direction that "it's to be all took d'rectly." Secondly, Mr. Snagsby has to lay upon the table half a crown, his usual panacea for an immense variety of afflictions. Thirdly, Mr. Bucket has to take Jo by the arm a little above the elbow and walk him on before him, without which observance neither the Tough Subject nor any other Subject could be professionally conducted to Lincoln's Inn Fields. These arrangements completed, they give the women good night and come out once more into black and foul Tom-all-Alone's.
By the noisome ways through which they descended into that pit, they gradually emerge from it, the crowd flitting, and whistling, and skulking about them until they come to the verge, where restoration of the bull's-eyes is made to Darby. Here the crowd, like a concourse of imprisoned demons, turns back, yelling, and is seen no more. Through the clearer and fresher streets, never so clear and fresh to Mr. Snagsby's mind as now, they walk and ride until they come to Mr. Tulkinghorn's gate.
As they ascend the dim stairs (Mr. Tulkinghorn's chambers being on the first floor), Mr. Bucket mentions that he has the key of the outer door in his pocket and that there is no need to ring. For a man so expert in most things of that kind, Bucket takes time to open the door and makes some noise too. It may be that he sounds a note of preparation.
Howbeit, they come at last into the hall, where a lamp is burning, and so into Mr. Tulkinghorn's usual room--the room where he drank his old wine to-night. He is not there, but his two old-fashioned candlesticks are, and the room is tolerably light.
Mr. Bucket, still having his professional hold of Jo and appearing to Mr. Snagsby to possess an unlimited number of eyes, makes a little way into this room, when Jo starts and stops.
"What's the matter?" says Bucket in a whisper.
"There she is!" cries Jo.
A female figure, closely veiled, stands in the middle of the room, where the light falls upon it. It is quite still and silent. The front of the figure is towards them, but it takes no notice of their entrance and remains like a statue.
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Bleak House -- by Charles Dickens