Summary of Chapter XLIX: Dutiful Friendship
It is Mrs. Bagnet’s birthday party, and her family cook dinner for her. Mr. George (“Buffy”) shows up to drink a birthday toast as he always does, but Mrs. Bagnet sees there is something wrong. George admits he is sad because Jo had just died the day before. It reminds him of Gridley’s death, and of Tulkinghorn who was responsible, “a flinty old rascal” (p. 509).
Just then Inspector Bucket shows up at the party, saying he is interested in buying a musical instrument. He charms the Bagnets, plays with the children, drinks a toast, but George remains sour. Bucket asks if there is any way out of the yard. Mrs. Bagnet says no. After an evening of fun, in which the Bagnets invite the Inspector for next year’s party, Bucket walks out with Mr. George and away from the Bagnets, he arrests George for murdering Tulkinghorn. George is surprised but goes quietly and peacefully.
Commentary on Chapter XLIX
Bucket is a comic character who represents the law and pursues his victims, but with sympathy and compassion. Here, he refuses to ruin Mrs. Bagnet’s birthday party and actually joins in, the life of the party. He arrests Mr. George as a likely suspect because he has been seen around Tulkinghorn’s place, arguing with him, and open about his hatred of the man. Bucket asks him for his alibi, and George admits he was at Tulkinghorn’s about the time of the murder. He does not object or defend himself.
Dickens uses the plot strategy of all murder mysteries. He sets up several characters with motives for the murder, but doesn’t show who did it. Almost always, the wrong person is arrested first. Mr. George is direct with his feelings, but does not act like a murderer, yet he is docile when arrested. The reader is equally surprised at his arrest, because we believe it was Lady Dedlock. Now it seems there could have been more than one person waiting for Tulkinghorn to come home.