It is Mrs. Bagnet’s birthday and Mr. Bagnet and the children go through their yearly ritual of doing all the chores for the day and preparing dinner, while their mother sits with her feet up. This process makes Mrs. Bagnet rather anxious, however, and she winces slightly—while pretending to enjoy herself—as she watches every domestic task done wrong and the dinner almost ruined. They sit down to eat, and Mr. Bagnet says that George will no doubt call in. The Bagnets have been worried about the trooper recently as he has seemed out of sorts.
Mrs. Bagnet does not enjoy her rest but plays along and pretends that she does because she understands that her family mean well and want her to enjoy herself.
After dinner, the children wash the dishes and George arrives. He is very pale and tells them that Jo has died. George gives Mrs. Bagnet her present and he and Mr. Bagnet light their pipes and drink a toast to her. A man peers across the threshold and George is surprised when he recognizes Mr. Bucket.
George has grown attached to Jo in the short time he was with him, and this demonstrates that George is a loving and compassionate man.
Mr. Bucket is invited in and explains that he is looking for a musical instrument for a friend and happened to see one in the Bagnets’ shop. Mr. Bucket sits down to join the party and plays happily with Malta and Quebec. He compliments Mrs. Bagnet on her house and garden and asks her if the garden has another gate onto the street. Mrs. Bagnet says no, and Mr. Bucket says it is the best garden he has ever seen.
Mr.. Bucket is a shrewd private investigator always has an ulterior motive, so readers can reasonably assume that his story about wanting to buy an instrument is just a ruse. However, rather than create a scene and upset the family, Mr. Bucket smoothly blends in and wins their trust. It seems that he asks about the garden to find out if there is another escape route from the house.
Mrs. Bagnet says that George has been feeling low, and Mr. Bucket commiserates with him. Mrs. Bagnet introduces Woolwich, and the boy plays a ballad for Mr. Bucket on his pipe. They spend a pleasant evening together and, when George makes to leave, Mr. Bucket gets up too. Mr. Bucket tells Mr. Bagnet that he will return tomorrow for the instrument, which the men have discussed.
Mr. Bucket is very good with people and easily convinces them to drop their guard. This is very useful for his investigations because people often give him information freely.
Mr. Bucket follows George into the street and, as soon as they are some distance from the house, tells George that he is under arrest. There has been a murder, Mr. Bucket says, and he thinks George knows something about it. Mr. Bucket tells George that it is Mr. Tulkinghorn who has been killed and George cannot believe that he is a suspect. Mr. Bucket asks George where he was at 10 p.m. the night before, and George is horrified to realize that he was at Mr. Tulkinghorn’s and that he did, indeed, have a dispute with the man.
George is very shocked by Mr. Bucket’s sudden change, as George is a straightforward fellow and does not suspect people of lies. George must have visited Mr. Tulkinghorn (to give him Captain’s Hawdon’s handwriting sample) just before Mr. Tulkinghorn left to visit Lady Dedlock. Although George did not fight with the lawyer, Mr. Tulkinghorn was reluctant to let him in and was obviously afraid of George.
Mr. Bucket explains that Sir Leicester Dedlock has put up a large reward for the imprisonment of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s murderer. Realizing that he is officially accused, George draws himself up with dignity and allows Mr. Bucket to handcuff him. He asks Mr. Bucket to pull his hat down over his face so that he will not be seen in the street in handcuffs and Mr. Bucket obliges.
Sir Leicester has obviously not heard Lady Dedlock’s secret or about Mr. Tulkinghorn’s blackmail attempts. George is too dignified to resist arrest and, therefore, follows orders and allows Mr. Bucket to bring him in. He is very ashamed to be seen in this condition though and wishes to hide his face.