Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

. (page 61 of 103)
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God's sake, collect your strength and collect
your firmness ! If you were here alone, and
hemmed in by the rising tide on the flow to fifty
feet above your head, you could not be in
greater danger than the danger you are now to
be saved from."

The figure on the sand was spun out, and
straggled off" into a crooked little jerk that ended
at the cliff" very near us.

" As I am, before Heaven and the Judge of
all mankind, your friend, and your dead sister's
friend, I solemnly entreat you, Miss Niner, with-
out one moment's loss of time, to come to this
gentleman with me ! "

If the little carriage had been less near to us,
I doubt if I could have got her away ; but it
was so near that we were there before she had
recovered the hurry of being urged from the
rock. I did not remain there with her two
minutes. Certainly within five, I had the inex-
pressible satisfaction of seeing her — from the
point we had sat on, and to which I had re-
turned — half supported and half carried up
some rude steps notched in the cliff", by the
figure of an active man. "With that figure beside
her I knew she was safe anywhere.

I sat alone on the rock, awaiting Mr. Slink-
ton's return. The twilight was deepening and
the shadows were heavy, when he came round
the point, with his hat hanging at his button-
hole, smoothing his wet hair with one of his
hands, and picking out the old path with the
other and a pocket-comb.

" My niece not here, Mr. Sampson ? " he said,
looking about.

" Miss Niner seemed to feel a chill in the air
after the sun was down, and has gone home."

He looked surprised, as though she were not
accustomed to do anything without him ; even
to originate so slight a proceeding.

" I persuaded Miss Niner," I explained.

" Ah ! " said he. " She is easily persuaded —
for her good. Thank you, Mr. Sampson ; she
is better within doors. The bathing-place was
farther than I thought, to say the truth."

" Miss Niner is very delicate," I observed.

He shook his head and drew a deep sigh.
" Very, very, very. You may recollect my say-
ing so. The time that has since intervened has
not strengthened her. The gloomy shadow
that fell upon her sister so early in life seems, in
my anxious eyes, to gather over her, ever darker,
ever darker. Dear Margaret, dear Margaret!
But we must hope."

The hand-carriage was spinning away before
us at a most indecorous pace for an invalid
vehicle, and was making most irregular curves
upon the sand. Mr. Slinkton, noticing it after
he had put his handkerchief to his eyes, said :

" If I may judge from appearances, your friend
will be upset, Mr. Sampson."

" It looks probable, certainly," said I.

" The servant must be drunk."

" The servants of old gentlemen will get
drunk sometimes," said I.

" The major draws very light, Mr. Sampson."

"The major does draw light," said I.

By this time the carriage, much to my relief,
was lost in the darkness. We walked on for a.
little, side by side over the sand, in silence.
After a short while he said, in a voice still
affected by the emotion that his niece's state of
health had awakened in him :

" Do you stay here long, Mr. Sampson .? "

" "Why, no. I am going away to-night."

"So soon? But business always holds you
in request. Men like Mr. Sampson are too im-
portant to others to be spared to their own need
of relaxation and enjoyment."

" I don't know about that," said I. " How-
ever, I am going back."

" To London ? "

" To London."



" I shall be there, too, soon after you."

I knew that as well as he did. But I did not
tell him so. Any more than I told him what
defensive weapon my right hand rested on in
my pocket, as I walked by his side. Any more
than I told him why I did not walk on the sea
side of him with the night closing in.

We left the beach, and our ways diverged.
We exchanged good night, and had parted in-
deed, when he said, returning :

" Mr. Sampson, )nay I ask ? Poor Aleltham,
whom we spoke of, — dead yet ? "

" Not when I last heard of him ; but too
broken a man to live long, and hopelessly lost
to his old caUing."

"Dear, dear, dear!" said he with great feel-
ing. " Sad, sad, sad ! The world is a grave ! "
And so went his way.

It was not his fault if the world were not a
grave ; but I did not call that observation after
him, any more than I had mentioned those
other things just now enumerated. He went
his way, and I went mine with all expedition.
This happened, as I have said, either at the end
of September or beginning of October. The
next time I saw him, and the last time, was late
in November.


I HAD a very particular engagement to breakfast
in the Temple. It was a bitter north-easterly
morning, and the sleet and slush lay inches deep
in the streets. I could get no conveyance, and
was soon wet to the knees ; but I should have
been true to that appointment, though I had to
wade to it up to my neck in the same impedi-

The appointment took me to some chambers
in the Temple. They were at the top of a
lonely corner house overlooking the river. The
name, Mr. Alfred Beckwith, was painted on
the outer door. On the door opposite, on the
same landing, the name Mr. Julius Slinkton.
The doors of both sets of chambers stood open,
so that anything said aloud in one set could be
heard in the other.

I had never been in those chambers before.
They were dismal, close, unwholesome, and
oppressive : the furniture, originally good, and
not yet old, was faded and dirty ; the rooms
were in great disorder ; there v/as a strong pre-
vailing smell of opium, brandy, and tobacco ;
the grate and fire-irons were splashed all over
with unsightly blotches of rust ; and on a sofa
by the fire, in the room where breakfast had
been prepared, lay the host, Mr. Beckwith, a
man with all the appearances of the worst kind

of drunkard, very far advanced upon his shame-
ful way to death.

" Slinkton is not come yet," said this creature,
staggering up when I went in ; " I'll call him. —
Halloa ! Julius Caisar ! Come and drink ! " As
he hoarsely roared this out, he beat the poker
and tongs together in a mad way, as if that were
his usual manner of summoning his associate.

The voice of Mr. Slinkton was heard through
the clatter from the opposite side of the stair-
case, and he came in. He had not expected
the pleasure of meeting me. I have seen several
artful men brought to a stand, but I never saw a
man so aghast as he was when his eyes rested
on mine.

"Julius Caesar," cried Beckwith, staggering
between us, " Mist' Sampson ! Mist' Sampson,
Julius Caesar ! Julius, Mist' Sampson, is the
friend of my soul. Julius keeps me plied with
liquor, morning, noon, and night. Julius is a
real benefactor. Julius threw the tea and cofl'ee
out of window when I used to have any. Julius
empties all the water jugs of their contents, and
fills 'em with spirits. Julius winds me up and
keeps me going. — Boil the brandy, Julius ! "

There was a rusty and furred saucepan in the
ashes, — the ashes looked like the accumulation
of weeks, — and Beckwith, rolling and staggering
between us as if he were going to plunge head-
long into the fire, got the saucepan out, and
tried to force it into Slinkton's hand.

" Boil the brandy, Julius Cresar ! Come !
Do your usual oftice. Boil the brandy ! "

He became so fierce in his gesticulations with
the saucepan, that I expected to see him lay
open Slinkton's head with it. I therefore put
out my hand to check him. He reeled back to
the sofa, and sat there panting, shaking, and
red-eyed, in his rags of dressing-gown, looking
at us both. I noticed then that there was
nothing to drink on the table but brandy, and
nothing to eat but salted herrings, and a hor,
sickly, highly-peppered stew.

" At all events, Mr. Sampson," said Slinkton,
offering me the smooth gravel path for the last
time, " I thank you for interfering between me
and this unfortunate man's violence. However
you came here, Mr. Sampson, or with whatever
motive you came here, at least I thank you for

"Boil the brandy," muttered Beckwith.

Without gratifying his desire to know how I
came there, I said quietly, " How is your niece,
Mr. Slinkton ? "

He looked hard at me, and I looked hard at

" I am sorry to say, Mr. Sampson, that my



niece has proved treacherous and ungrateful to
her best friend. She left me without a word of
notice or explanation. She was misled, no
doubt, by some designing rascal. Perhaps you
may have heard of it ? "

" I did hear that she was misled by a de-
signing rascal. In fact, I have proof of it."
" Are you sure of that ? " said he.
" Quite."

"Boil the brandy," muttered Beckwith.
" Company to breakfast, Julius C?esar. Do
your usual office, — provide the usual breakfast,
dinner, tea, and supper. Boil the brandy!"

The eyes of Slinkton looked from him to me,
and he said, after a moment's consideration :

" Mr. Sampson, you are a man of the world,
and so am I. I will be plain with you."

" Oh no, you won't ! " said I, shaking my

" I tell you, sir, I will be plain with you."
" And I tell you you will not," said I. " I
know all about you. Yoii plain with any one .-*
Nonsense, nonsense ! "

" I plainly tell you, Mr. Sampson," he went
on, with a manner almost composed, '' that I
understand your object. You want to save
your funds, and escape from your liabilities ;
these are old tricks of trade with you Office
gentlemen. But you will not do it, sir ; you
will not succeed. You have not an easy ad-
versary to play against, when you play against
me. We shall have to inquire, in due time,
when and how Mr. Beckwith fell into his pre-
sent habits. With that remark, sir, I put this
poor creature, and his incoherent wanderings of
speech, aside, and wish you a good morning
and a better case next time."

While he was saying this, Beckwith had filled
a half-pint glass with brandy. At this moment,
he threw the brandy at his face, and threw the
glass after it. Slinkton put his hands up, half
blinded with the spirit, and cut with the glass
across the forehead. At the sound of the
breakage, a fourth person came into the room,
closed the door, and stood at it. He was a
very quiet, but very keen-looking man, with iron-
grey hair, and slightly lame.

Slinkton pulled out his handkerchief, as-
suaged the pain in his smarting eyes, and dabbled
the blood on his forehead. He was a long
time about it, and I saw that in the doing of it
a tremendous change came over him, occasioned
by the change in Beckwith, — who ceased to
pant and tremble, sat upright, and never took
his eyes off him. I never in my life saw a face
in which abhorrence and determination were so
forcibly painted as in Beckwith's then.

" Look at me, you villain," said Beckwith,
" and see me as I really am ! I took these
rooms to make them a trap for you. I came
into them as a drunkard, to bait the trap for you.
You fell into the trap, and you will never leave
it alive. On the morning when you last went
to Mr. Sampson's office, 1 had seen him first.
Your plot has been known to both of us all
along, and you have been counter-plotted all
along. What ! Having been cajoled into put-
ting that prize of two thousand pounds in your
power, I was to be done to death with brandy,
and, brandy not proving quick enough, with
something quicker? Have I never seen you,
when you thought my senses gone, pouring from
your little bottle into my glass ? Why, you
Murderer and Forger, alone here with you in
the dead of night, as I have so often been, I
have had my hand upon the trigger of a pistol,
twenty times, to blow your brains out ! "

This sudden starting up of the thing that he
had supposed to be his imbecile victim into a
determined man, with a settled resolution to
hunt him down and be the death of him, merci-
lessly expressed from head to foot, was, in the
first shock, too much for him. Without any
figure of speech, he staggered under it. But
there is no greater mistake than to suppose that
a man who is a calculating criminal is, in any
phase of his guilt, otherwise than true to himself,
and perfectly consistent with his whole charac-
ter. Such a man commits murder, and murder
is the natural culmination of his course ; such a
man has to out-face murder, and will do it with
hardihood and effrontery. It is a sort of fashion
to express surprise that any notorious criminal,
having such crime upon his conscience, can so
brave it out. Do you think that if he had it on
his conscience at all, or had a conscience to
have it upon, he would ever have committed
the crime "^

Perfectly consistent with himself, as I believe
all such monsters to be, this Slinkton recovered
himself, and showed a defiance that was suffi-
ciently cold and quiet. He was white, he was
haggard, he was changed ; but only as a sharper
who had played for a great stake, and had been
outwitted and had lost the game.

" Listen to me, you villain," said Beckwith,
"and let every word you hear me say be a stab
in your wicked heart. When I took these
rooms, to throw myself in your way and lead
you on to the scheme that I knew my appear-
ance and supposed character and habits would
suggest to such a devil, how did I know that ?
Because you were no stranger to me. I knew
you well. And I knew you to be the cruel



wretch who, for so much money, had killed one
innocent girl while she trusted him implicitly,
and who was by inches killing another."

Slinkton took out a snuff-box, took a pinch of
snuff, and laughed.

" But see here," said Bcckwith, never looking
away, never raising his voice, never relaxing his
face, never unclenching his hand. " See what a
dull wolf you have been, after all ! Tlie infatu-
ated drunkard who never drank a fiftieth part of
the liquor you plied him with, but poured it
away, here, there, everywhere— almost before
your eyes ; who bouglit over tlie fellow you set
to watch him and to ply him, by outbidding you
in his bribe, before he had been at his work
three days — with whom you have observed no
caution, yet who was so bent on ridding the
earth of you as a wild beast, that he would
have defeated you if you had been ever so pru-
dent — that drunkard whom you have, many a
time, left on the floor of this room, and who has
even let you go out of it, alive and undeceived,
when you have turned him over with your foot
— has, almost as often, on the same night, within
an hour, within a few minutes, watched you
awake, had his hand at your pillow when you
were asleep, turned over your papers, taken
samples from your bottles and packets of
powder, changed their contents, rifled every
secret of your life ! "

He had had another pinch of snuff in his
hand, but had gradually let it drop from be-
tween his fingers to the floor ; where he now
smoothed it out with his foot, looking down at
it the while.

" That drunkard," said Beckwith, " who had
free access to your room.s at all times, that he
might drink the strong drinks that you left in
his way, and be the sooner ended, holding no
more terms with you than he would hold with a
tiger, has had his master key for all your locks,
his tests for all your poisons, his clue to your
cipher-writing. He can tell you, as well as you
can tell him, how long it took to complete that
deed, what doses there were, what intervals,
what signs of gradual decay upon mind and
body ; what distempered fancies were produced,
what observable changes, what physical pain.
He can tell you, as well as you can tell him,
that all this was recorded day by day, as a lesson
of experience for future service. He can tell
you, better than you can tell him, where that
journal is at this moment."

Slinkton stopped the action of his foot, and
looked at Beckwith.

" No," said the latter, as if answering a ques-
tion from him. " Not in the drawer of the

writing-desk that opens with a spring ; it is
not there, and it never will be there again."

"Then you are a thief! " said Slinkton.

Without any change whatever in the inflexible
purpose, which it was quite terrific even to me
to contemplate, and from the power of which I
had always felt convinced it was impossible for
this wretch to escape, Beckwith returned :

" And I am your niece's shadow, too."

With an imprecation Slinkton put his hand to
his head, tore out some hair, and flung it to the
ground. It was the end of the smooth walk ;
he destroyed it in the action, and it will soon
be seen that his use for it was past.

Beckwith went on : " Whenever you left here,
I left here. Although I understood that you
found it necessary to pause in the completion of
that purpose, to avert suspicion, still I watched
you close, with the poor confiding girl. When
I had the diary, and could read it word by word,
— it was only about the night before your last
visit to Scarborough, — you remember the night ?
you slept with a small flat vial tied to your
wrist, — I sent to Mr. Sampson, who was kept
out of view. This is Mr. Sampson's trusty ser-
vant standing by the door. We three saved
your niece among us."

Slinkton looked at us all, took an uncertain
step or two from the place where he had stood,
returned to it, and glanced about him in a very
curious way, — as one of the meaner reptiles
might, looking for a hole to hide in. I noticed,
at the same time, that a singular change took
place in the figure of the man, — as if it col-
lapsed within his clothes, and they consequently
became ill-shapen and ill-fitting.

" You shall know," said Beckwith, " for I hope
the knowledge will be bitter and terrible to you,
why you have been pursued by one man, and
why, when the whole interest that Mr. Sampson
represents would have expended any money in
hunting you down, you have been tracked to
death at a single individual's charge. I hear you
have had the name of Meltham on your lips
sometimes ? "

I saw, in addition to those other changes,
a sudden stoppage come upon his breath-

" When you sent the sweet girl whom you
murdered (you know with what artfully made-
out surroundings and probabilities you sent her)
to Meltham's ofiice, before taking her abroad to
originate the transaction that doomed her to the
grave, it fell to Meltham's lot to see her and to
speak with her. It did not fall to his lot to
save her, though I know he would freely give
his own life to have done it. He admired her ;



— I would say he loved her deeply, if I thought
it possible that you coukl understand the word.
When she was sacrificed, he was thoroughly as-
sured of your guilt. Having lost her, he had
but one object left in life, and that was to
avenge her and ilestroy you."

I saw the villain's nostrils rise and fall
convulsively ; but I saw no moving at his

"That man Meltham,'' Beckwith steadily
pursued, '' was as absolutely certain that you
could never elude him in this world, if he
devoted himself to your destruction with his
utmost fidelity and earnestness, and if he
divided the sacred duty with no other duty in
life, as he was certain that in achieving it he
would be a poor instrument in the hands of
Providence, and would do well before Heaven
in striking you out from among living men. I
am that man, and I thank (jod that I have
done my work ! "

If Slinkton had been running for his life from
swift-footed savages, a dozen miles, he could
not have shown more emphatic signs of being
oppressed at heart and labouring for breath
than he showed now, when he looked at the
pursuer who had so relentlessly hunted him

'' You never saw me under my right name
before ; you see me under my right name now.
You shall see me once again in the body, when
you are tried for your life. You shall see me
once again in the spirit, when the cord is
round your neck, and the crowd are crying
against you ! "

When Meltham had spoken these last words,
the miscreant suddenly turned away his face,
aHd seemed to strike his mouth with his open

hand. At the same instant, the room was filled
with a new and powerful odour, and, almost at
the same instant, he broke into a crooked run,
leaj), start, — I have no name for the spasm, —
and fell, with a dull weight that shook the heavy
old doors and windows in their frames.

That was the fitting end of him.

When we saw that he was dead, we drew
away from the room, and Meltham, giving me
his hand, said, with a weary air :

" I have no more work on earth, my friend.
But I shall see her again elsewhere."

It was in vain that I tried to rally him. He
might have saved her, he said ; he had not
saved her, and he reproached himself; lie had
lost her, and he was broken-hearted.

" The purpose that sustained me is over,
Sampson, and there is nothing now to hold me
to life, I am not fit for life ; I am weak and
spiritless ; I have no hope and no object ; my
day is done."

In truth, I could hardly have believed that
the broken man who then spoke to me was the
man who had so strongly and so difterently im-
pressed me when his purpose was before him.
I used such entreaties with him as I could ; but
he still said, and always said, in a patient, unde-
monstrative way, — nothing could avail him, — he
was broken-hearted.

He died early in the next spring. He was
buried by the side of the poor young lady for
whom he had cherished those tender and un-
happy regrets ; and he left all he had to her
sister. She lived to be a happy wife and
mother ; she married my sister's son, who suc-
ceeded poor Meltham ; she is living now, and
her children ride about the garden on my walk-
ing-stick when I go to see her.






T^HIS beginning-part is not made out of any-

"^ body's head, you know. It's real. You

must believe this beginning-part more than what

comes after, else you won't understand how

• Aged eight.

what comes after came to be A\Titten. You
must believe it all ; but you must believe this
most, please. I am the editor of it. Bob Red-
forth (he's my cousin, and shaking the table
on purpose) wanted to be the editor of it ; but
I said he shouldn't, because he couldn't. He
has no idea of being an editor.

Nettie Ashford is my bride. We were married
in the right-hand closet in the corner of the



dancing school, where first we met, with a ring
(a green one) from Wilkingwater's toy-shop. /
owed for it out of my pocket money. When
the rapturous ceremony was over, we all four
went up the lane, and let oft" a cannon (brought
loaded in Bob Redforth's waistcoat pocket) to
announce our nuptials. It flew right up when
it went off, and turned over. Next day, Lieut. -
Col. Robin Redforth was united, with similar
ceremonies, to Alice Rainbird. This time the
cannon burst with a most terrific explosion, and
made a puppy bark.

My peerless bride was, at the period of which
we now treat, in captivity at Miss Grimmer's.
Drowvey and Grimmer is the partnership, and
opinion is divided which is the greatest beast.
The lovely bride of the colonel was also immured
in the dungeons of the same establishment. A
vow was entered into, between the colonel and
myself, that we would cut them out on the
following Wednesday when walking two and

Under the desperate circumstances of the
case, the active brain of the colonel, combining
with his lawless pursuit (he is a pirate), suggested
an attack with fireworks. This, however, from
motives of humanity, was abandoned as too

Lightly armed with a paper knife buttoned up
under his jacket, and waving the dreaded black
flag at the end of a cane, the colonel took com-
mand of me at two p.m. on the eventful and
appointed day. He had drawn out the plan of
attack on a piece of paper, which was rolled up
round a hoop-stick. He showed it to me. My
position and my full-length portrait (but my real
ears don't stick out horizontal) was behind a
corner lamp-post, with written orders to remain
there till I should see Miss Drowvey fall. The
Drowvey who was to fall was the one in spec-
tacles, not the one with the large lavender bon-
net. At that signal I was to rush forth, seize
my bride, and fight my way to the lane. There
a junction would be effected between myself and
the colonel ; and putting our brides behind us,
between ourselves and the paHngs, we were to
conquer or die.

The enemy appeared — approached. Waving
his black flag, the colonel attacked. Confusion

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 61 of 103)