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Chapter 5

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
impediments.

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 was a strong prevailing 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 shameful way to death.

'Slinkton is not come yet,' said this creature, staggering up when
I went in; 'I'll call him. - Halloa! Julius Caesar! 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 staircase, 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 coffee 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 headlong into
the fire, got the saucepan out, and tried to force it into
Slinkton's hand.

'Boil the brandy, Julius Caesar! Come! Do your usual office.
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 hot, 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 that.'

'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 him.

'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 designing 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 Caesar. 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.'

'O no, you won't,' said I, shaking my head.

'I tell you, sir, I will be plain with you.'

'And I tell you you will not,' said I. 'I know all about you. YOU
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 adversary to play against,
when you play against me. We shall have to inquire, in due time,
when and how Mr. Beckwith fell into his present 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-gray hair, and slightly lame.

Slinkton pulled out his handkerchief, assuaged 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, I 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 putting 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, mercilessly 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 character. Such a
man commits murder, and murder is the natural culmination of his
course; such a man has to outface 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 sufficiently 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 appearance 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 Beckwith, 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! The infatuated
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 bought over the 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 prudent -
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 between 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 rooms
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 test 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 question 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 servant
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 collapsed
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 breathing.

'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 office, 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 could understand the word. When she
was sacrificed, he was thoroughly assured of your guilt. Having
lost her, he had but one object left in life, and that was to
avenge her and destroy you.'

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

'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 God 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 down.

'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, and 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, leap, 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; he 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 differently
impressed 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, undemonstrative 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 unhappy
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 succeeded
poor Meltham; she is living now, and her children ride about the
garden on my walking-stick when I go to see her.

Charles Dickens

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