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feet. A flash of ice, a flash of fire, a bursting gush of blood, went
over him, and then he stood transfixed and thrilling. A step mounted
the stair slowly and steadily, and presently a hand was laid upon the
knob, and the lock clicked, and the door opened.

Fear held Markheim in a vice. What to expect he knew not, whether the
dead man walking, or the official ministers of human justice, or some
chance witness blindly stumbling in to consign him to the gallows. But
when a face was thrust into the aperture, glanced round the room,
looked at him, nodded and smiled as if in friendly recognition, and
then withdrew again, and the door closed behind it, his fear broke
loose from his control in a hoarse cry. At the sound of this the
visitant returned.

"Did you call me?" he asked pleasantly, and with that he entered the
room, and closed the door behind him.

Markheim stood and gazed at him with all his eyes. Perhaps there was a
film upon his sight, but the outlines of the newcomer seemed to change
and waver like those of the idols in the wavering candlelight of the
shop: and at times he thought he knew him; and at times he thought he
bore a likeness to himself; and always, like a lump of living terror,
there lay in his bosom the conviction that this thing was not of the
earth and not of God.

And yet the creature had a strange air of the commonplace, as he stood
looking on Markheim with a smile; and when he added: "You are looking
for the money, I believe?" it was in the tones of everyday politeness.

Markheim made no answer.

"I should warn you," resumed the other, "that the maid has left her
sweetheart earlier than usual and will soon be here. If Mr. Markheim
be found in this house, I need not describe to him the consequences."

"You know me?" cried the murderer.

The visitor smiled. "You have long been a favorite of mine," he said;
"and I have long observed and often sought to help you."

"What are you?" cried Markheim: "the devil?"

"What I may be," returned the other, "cannot affect the service I
propose to render you."

"It can," cried Markheim; "it does! Be helped by you? No, never; not
by you! You do not know me yet; thank God, you do not know me!"

"I know you," replied the visitant, with a sort of kind severity or
rather firmness. "I know you to the soul."

"Know me!" cried Markheim. "Who can do so? My life is but a
travesty[18] and slander on myself. I have lived to belie my nature.
All men do; all men are better than this disguise that grows about and
stifles them. You see each dragged away by life, like one whom bravos
have seized and muffled in a cloak. If they had their own control - if
you could see their faces, they would be altogether different, they
would shine out for heroes and saints! I am worse than most; myself is
more overlaid; my excuse is known to me and God. But, had I the time,
I could disclose myself."

"To me?" inquired the visitant.

"To you before all," returned the murderer. "I supposed you were
intelligent. I thought - since you exist - you would prove a reader of
the heart. And yet you would propose to judge me by my acts! Think of
it; my acts! I was born and I have lived in a land of giants; giants
have dragged me by the wrists since I was born out of my mother - the
giants of circumstance. And you would judge me by my acts! But can you
not look within? Can you not understand that evil is hateful to me?
Can you not see within me the clear writing of conscience, never
blurred by any wilful sophistry[19] although too often disregarded?
Can you not read me for a thing that surely must be common as
humanity - the unwilling sinner?"

"All this is very feelingly expressed," was the reply, "but it regards
me not. These points of consistency are beyond my province, and I care
not in the least by what compulsion you may have been dragged away, so
as you are but carried in the right direction. But time flies; the
servant delays, looking in the faces of the crowd and at the pictures
on the hoardings, but still she keeps moving nearer; and remember, it
is as if the gallows itself were striding toward you through the
Christmas streets! Shall I help you - I, who know all? Shall I tell you
where to find the money?"

"For what price?" asked Markheim.

"I offer you the service for a Christmas gift," returned the other.

Markheim could not refrain from smiling with a kind of bitter triumph,
"No," said he, "I will take nothing at your hands; if I were dying of
thirst, and it was your hand that put the pitcher to my lips, I should
find the courage to refuse. It may be credulous, but I will do nothing
to commit myself to evil."

"I have no objection to a death-bed repentance," observed the
visitant.

"Because you disbelieve their efficacy[20]!" Markheim cried.

"I do not say so," returned the other; "but I look on these things
from a different side, and when the life is done my interest falls.
The man has lived to serve me, to spread black looks under color of
religion, or to sow tares[21] in the wheat field, as you do, in a
course of weak compliance with desire. Now that he draws so near to
his deliverance, he can add but one act of service - to repent, to die
smiling, and thus to build up in confidence and hope the more timorous
of my surviving followers. I am not so hard a master. Try me. Accept
my help. Please yourself in life as you have done hitherto; please
yourself more amply, spread your elbows at the board; and when the
night begins to fall and the curtains to be drawn, I tell you, for
your greater comfort, that you will find it even easy to compound your
quarrel with your conscience, and to make a truckling peace with God.
I came but now from such a death-bed, and the room was full of sincere
mourners, listening to the man's last words; and when I looked into
that face, which had been set as a flint against mercy, I found it
smiling with hope."

"And do you, then, suppose me such a creature?" asked Markheim. "Do
you think I have no more generous aspirations than to sin, and sin,
and sin, and, at last, sneak into heaven? My heart rises at the
thought. Is this, then, your experience of mankind? or is it because
you find me with red hands that you presume such baseness? and is this
crime of murder indeed so impious as to dry up the very springs of
good?"

"Murder is to me no special category[22]," replied the other. "All
sins are murder, even all life is war. I behold your race, like
starving mariners on a raft, plucking crusts out of the hands of
famine and feeding on each other's lives. I follow sins beyond the
moment of their acting; I find in all that the last consequence is
death; and to my eyes, the pretty maid who thwarts her mother with
such taking graces on a question of a ball, drips no less visibly with
human gore than such a murderer as yourself. Do I say that I follow
sins? I follow virtues also; they differ not by the thickness of a
nail, they are both scythes for the reaping angel of Death. Evil, for
which I live, consists not in action but in character. The bad man is
dear to me; not the bad act, whose fruits, if we could follow them far
enough down the hurtling[23] cataract of the ages, might yet be found
more blessed than those of the rarest virtues. And it is not because
you have killed a dealer, but because you are Markheim, that I offered
to forward your escape."

"I will lay my heart open to you," answered Markheim. "This crime on
which you find me is my last. On my way to it I have learned many
lessons; itself is a lesson, a momentous lesson. Hitherto I have been
driven with revolt to what I would not; I was a bondslave to poverty,
driven and scourged. There are robust virtues that can stand in these
temptations; mine was not so: I had a thirst of pleasure. But to-day,
and out of this deed, I pluck both warning and riches - both the power
and a fresh resolve to be myself. I become in all things a free actor
in the world; I begin to see myself all changed, these hands the
agents of good, this heart at peace. Some thing comes over me out of
the past; something of what I have dreamed on Sabbath evenings to the
sound of the church organ, of what I forecast when I shed tears over
noble books, or talked, an innocent child, with my mother. There lies
my life; I have wandered a few years, but now I see once more my city
of destination."

"You are to use this money on the Stock Exchange, I think?" remarked
the visitor; "and there, if I mistake not, you have already lost some
thousands?"

"Ah," said Markheim, "but this time I have a sure thing."

"This time, again, you will lose," replied the visitor, quietly.

"Ah, but I keep back the half!" cried Markheim.

"That also you will lose," said the other.

The sweat started upon Markheim's brow. "Well, then, what matter?" he
exclaimed. "Say it be lost, say I am plunged again in poverty, shall
one part of me, and that the worse, continue until the end to override
the better? Evil and good ran strong in me, hailing me both ways. I do
not love the one thing, I love all. I can conceive great deeds,
renunciations, martyrdoms; and though I be fallen to such a crime as
murder, pity is no stranger to my thoughts. I pity the poor; who knows
their trials better than myself? I pity and help them; I prize love, I
love honest laughter; there is no good thing nor true thing on earth
but I love it from my heart. And are my vices only to direct my life,
and my virtues to lie without effect, like some passive lumber of the
mind? Not so; good, also, is a spring of acts."

But the visitant raised his finger. "For six-and-thirty years that you
have been in this world," said he, "through many changes of fortune
and varieties of humor, I have watched you steadily fall. Fifteen
years ago you would have started at a theft. Three years back you
would have blenched at the name of murder. Is there any crime, is
there any cruelty or meanness, from which you still recoil? - five
years from now I shall detect you in the fact! Downward, downward lies
your way; nor can anything but death avail to stop you."

"It is true," Markheim said huskily, "I have in some degree complied
with evil. But it is so with all: the very saints, in the mere
exercise of living, grow less dainty, and take on the tone of their
surroundings."

"I will propound to you one simple question," said the other; "and as
you answer, I shall read to you your moral horoscope. You have grown
in many things more lax; possibly you do right to be so; and at any
account, it is the same with all men. But granting that, are you in
any one particular, however trifling, more difficult to please with
your own conduct, or do you go in all things with a looser rein?"

"In any one?" repeated Markheim, with an anguish of consideration.
"No," he added, with despair, "in none! I have gone down in all."

"Then," said the visitor, "content yourself with what you are, for you
will never change; and the words of your part on this stage are
irrevocably written down."

Markheim stood for a long while silent, and indeed it was the visitor
who first broke the silence. "That being so," he said, "shall I show
you the money?"

"And grace?" cried Markheim.

"Have you not tried it?" returned the other. "Two or three years ago,
did I not see you on the platform of revival meetings, and was not
your voice the loudest in the hymn?"

"It is true," said Markheim; "and I see clearly what remains for me by
way of duty. I thank you for these lessons from my soul; my eyes are
opened, and I behold myself at last for what I am."

At this moment, the sharp note of the door-bell rang through the
house; and the visitant, as though this were some concerted signal for
which he had been waiting, changed at once in his demeanor.

"The maid!" he cried. "She has returned, as I forewarned you, and
there is now before you one more difficult passage. Her master, you
must say, is ill; you must let her in, with an assured but rather
serious countenance - no smiles, no overacting, and I promise you
success! Once the girl within, and the door closed, the same dexterity
that has already rid you of the dealer will relieve you of this last
danger in your path. Thenceforward you have the whole evening - the
whole night, if needful - to ransack the treasures of the house and to
make good your safety. This is help that comes to you with the mask of
danger. Up!" he cried: "up, friend; your life hangs trembling in the
scales: up, and act!"

Markheim steadily regarded his counsellor. "If I be condemned to evil
acts," he said, "there is still one door of freedom open - I can cease
from action. If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it down. Though I
be, as you say truly, at the beck of every small temptation, I can
yet, by one decisive gesture, place myself beyond the reach of all.
My love of good is damned to barrenness; it may, and let it be!
But I have still my hatred of evil; and from that, to your galling
disappointment, you shall see that I can draw both energy and
courage."

The features of the visitor began to undergo a wonderful and lovely
change: they brightened and softened with a tender triumph; and, even
as they brightened, faded and dislimned[24]. But Markheim did not
pause to watch or understand the transformation. He opened the door
and went downstairs very slowly, thinking to himself. His past went
soberly before him; he beheld it as it was, ugly and strenuous like
a dream, random as chance-medley - a scene of defeat. Life, as he
thus reviewed it, tempted him no longer; but on the farther side he
perceived a quiet haven for his bark. He paused in the passage, and
looked into the shop, where the candle still burned by the dead body.
It was strangely silent. Thoughts of the dealer swarmed into his mind,
as he stood gazing. And then the bell once more broke out into
impatient clamor.

He confronted the maid upon the threshold with something like a smile.

"You had better go for the police," said he: "I have killed your
master."





NOTES

[1] Written in 1884. This story is used by permission of and special
arrangement with the Charles Scribner's Sons Company, Publishers.

[2] 237:1 windfalls. Unexpected gains.

[3] 237:3 dividend. His knowledge a business asset that draws
interest.

[4] 241:22 skewer-like. Like a wooden pin now used to fasten meat.

[5] 242:11 leaguer. Place besieged with shadows.

[6] 242:27 Time was that when the brains were out. See Macbeth, Act
III, sc. 4, line 78.

[7] 243:16 iteration. Repetition.

[8] 246:25 railleries. Merry jesting or ridicule.

[9] 247:7 garishly. A blinding, gaudy effect.

[10] 247:7 Brownrigg. A notorious murderess living in England in the
middle of the eighteenth century. She was hanged and her skeleton is
still preserved.

[11] 247:8 Mannings. Marie Manning and her husband murdered a former
suitor. They were given, a death sentence.

[12] 247:9 Thurtell. A gambler who quarrelled with Weare and killed
him after he had professed peace. He designed his own gallows.

[13] 247:25 horologist. One who makes timepieces.

[14] 249:27 scission. A cleaving or a dividing.

[15] 250:25 Sheraton. Next to Chippendale the greatest furniture
designer and cabinet-maker.

[16] 250:25 marquetry. An inlay of some thin material in the surface
of a piece of furniture or other object.

[17] 251:23 Jacobean. Pertaining to the time of James I of England.

[18] 253:12 travesty. A grotesque imitation.

[19] 254:3 sophistry. Methods of the Greek sophists.

[20] 254:29 efficacy. Effective energy.

[21] 255:5 sow tares, etc. See Matthew XII, 24-30.

[22] 255:29 category. A class, condition, or predicament.

[23] 256:14 hurtling. Rushing headlong or confusedly.

[24] 280:10 dislimned. Erased or effaced.


COLLATERAL READINGS

_Treasure Island_, R.L. Stevenson.

_Kidnapped_, R.L. Stevenson.

_Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_, R.L. Stevenson.

_Prince Otto_, R.L. Stevenson.

_Across the Plains_, R.L. Stevenson.

_Travels with a Donkey_, R.L. Stevenson.

_An Inland Voyage_, R.L. Stevenson.

_Essays on Burns and Thoreau_, R.L. Stevenson.

_Virginibus Puerisque_, R.L. Stevenson.

_The Child's Garden of Verses_, R.L. Stevenson.

_The Masque of the Red Death_, Edgar Allan Poe.

_The Pit and the Pendulum_, Edgar Allan Poe.

_A Coward_, Guy de Maupassant.

_The Substitute_, François Coppée.

_The Revolt of Mother_, Mary Wilkins Freeman.

_Flute and Violin_, James Lane Alien.

_A Lear of the Steppes_, Ivan Turgeneff.

_Rappacini's Daughter_, Nathaniel Hawthorne.








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