It is nighttime at Lincoln’s Inn, and most of the lawyers’ offices are dark. In Cook’s Court, Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Perkins, Krook’s neighbors, gossip on a doorstep in the clammy air. At Krook’s shop, Mr. Weevle goes up and down the stairs anxiously and hovers by the door as though waiting for something. Mr. Snagsby, who also has a strange, anxious feeling that night, walks the Court and passes Mr. Weevle as he goes. They exchange a few words and both comment on the unpleasant smell of frying meat that lies heavy in the air and that they suppose comes from the nearby pub.
Dickens often shows the perspective of many characters simultaneously and demonstrates how their paths cross and overlap. This technique suggests that society is interconnected, and that people frequently collide with others in interesting and unexpected ways.
Mr. Weevle says that the dense air gives him “the horrors,” and Mr. Snagsby says that this is not surprising given the room he lives in and what happened there. Mr. Snagsby remarks that Nemo was one of his writers, and now Mr. Weevle is too; he says it has a feeling of “fate.” This makes Mr. Weevle extremely uncomfortable, and he unhappily bids Mr. Snagsby goodnight.
Mr. Weevle seems to regret taking Nemo’s room and is haunted by the idea of the man who died there. Victorian society was very keen on ghost stories and Dickens makes frequent references to ghosts and hauntings throughout the novel, although they are often ambiguous and not meant to be taken literally.
Mr. Weevle remains in the street and awaits his companion, who had promised to meet him. At last Mr. Guppy arrives, and Mr. Weevle protests that Mr. Guppy is late. He leads Mr. Guppy up to his room and complains that he cannot stand the place, with its morbid history and Krook lurking in the shop below. Mr. Guppy wants to know why Mr. Weevle was speaking to Mr. Snagsby, but Mr. Weevle complains that Mr. Guppy is too mysterious.
Mr. Weevle has let his imagination run away with him and cannot forget the recent death which occurred in his room. Krook is a sinister presence who also seems to haunt the building. Mr. Guppy is dramatic and likes attention, so he does not fully divulge his plans. This causes Mr. Weevle’s imagination to go to work and he imagines all kinds of horrors.
Mr. Guppy looks at the portrait of Lady Dedlock on Mr. Weevle’s wall. Mr. Weevle thinks it is strange that Krook chose midnight as the time to give him the letters as, by this time, Krook will be very drunk. Mr. Guppy asks Mr. Weevle what Krook has been doing and if he can read yet. Mr. Weevle says Krook cannot read, but Mr. Guppy wonders how he recognized “the name Hawdon.” Mr. Weevle says that Krook copied the word and asked him what it said. Mr. Guppy asks if the handwriting is a woman’s or a man’s, and Mr. Weevle thinks that it is a woman’s.
Krook has Captain Hawdon’s letters and, because Mr. Weevle has ingratiated himself with the old man, has agreed to sell them to him. It is unclear how much Krook knows throughout the novel, and this contributes to his role as a sinister character.
Mr. Weevle is to go downstairs at midnight. As the men wait, they notice that the air is full of ash, and they wonder if there is a fire somewhere. Mr. Guppy asks Mr. Weevle how he found out about the letters and Mr. Weevle tells him that it was after Krook asked him to spell out “Hawdon” for him. Mr. Weevle’s plan is to bring Krook up to his room and read the letters to him. Mr. Guppy whispers that they must make some fake letters for Mr. Weevle to read from.
Mr. Weevle has clearly been in Krook’s confidence and convinced the old man to let him see the letters. He has then passed this information on to Mr. Guppy. However, Mr. Guppy wishes to keep the letters for himself so wants fake letters in order to trick Krook.
Mr. Guppy says that, if Krook detects the false letters, they will call his bluff because the letters are neither theirs nor his. Mr. Weevle says that, although this seems honest, they are being very secretive and mysterious about it. Their whispers make the room feel haunted. While they talk, more soot creeps into the room and Mr. Guppy throws open the window. Mr. Guppy tells Mr. Weevle that he has not told Bart about their plan because he does not trust his grandfather; Mr. Weevle agrees this is wise.
Krook does not legally own the letters and has no real claim on them. The clerks are clever and shifty because they are used to working for lawyers, who constantly perform legal tricks. The Smallweeds are also greedy and mercenary, like Mr. Guppy, and he knows that they would only look out for themselves and betray him if it served them to do so.
Mr. Weevle muses on Krook’s strange habit of spelling out words. He will never learn to read, he thinks, but he clearly believes that he has found some valuable documents. Mr. Guppy notices that the grime in the air has got on his coat and tries to wipe it off. The clock strikes 12 a.m. and the men prepare to go downstairs, with Mr. Guppy pushing Mr. Weevle ahead of him.
It is likely that Krook, who is illiterate, does not know the value of many of the documents in his shop. However, because he is a greedy old man, he realizes that his possession of them gives him power and thus jealously prevents anyone else from learning the secrets that the documents harbor.
Mr. Weevle goes down the stairs but, suddenly, charges back up. He cries that Krook is not there but that the air is thick with grease and smells like something charred. Mr. Guppy creeps down into the room and finds the cat hissing in the corner and Krook’s coat upon his chair. Mr. Weevle says that he saw Krook sitting in the chair and holding the letters. He saw him remove the ribbon that bound the papers and, now, finds the ribbon on the floor.
The men suspect that something is terribly wrong—Krook seems to have vanished into thin air with the letters and the only trace of them is the ribbon on the floor.
They hold up the lantern and see a pile of ashes on the floor. Horrified by this discovery, Mr. Guppy and Mr. Weevle rush out of the house and call for help. Krook has died from spontaneous combustion, a fiery death fit for the “Lord Chancellor.”
Spontaneous combustion refers to the idea that people can spontaneously burst into flames. It is often associated with heavy drinking and, in Bleak House, it is associated with fiery emotions, such as greed and passion. It was a familiar topic in the Victorian period and, although scientifically it was believed to be a myth, it featured in sensational fiction.