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Markheim

'YES,' said the dealer, 'our windfalls are of various kinds. Some
customers are ignorant, and then I touch a dividend on my superior
knowledge. Some are dishonest,' and here he held up the candle, so
that the light fell strongly on his visitor, 'and in that case,' he
continued, 'I profit by my virtue.'

Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, and his
eyes had not yet grown familiar with the mingled shine and darkness
in the shop. At these pointed words, and before the near presence
of the flame, he blinked painfully and looked aside.

The dealer chuckled. 'You come to me on Christmas Day,' he
resumed, 'when you know that I am alone in my house, put up my
shutters, and make a point of refusing business. Well, you will
have to pay for that; you will have to pay for my loss of time,
when I should be balancing my books; you will have to pay, besides,
for a kind of manner that I remark in you to-day very strongly. I
am the essence of discretion, and ask no awkward questions; but
when a customer cannot look me in the eye, he has to pay for it.'
The dealer once more chuckled; and then, changing to his usual
business voice, though still with a note of irony, 'You can give,
as usual, a clear account of how you came into the possession of
the object?' he continued. 'Still your uncle's cabinet? A
remarkable collector, sir!'

And the little pale, round-shouldered dealer stood almost on tip-
toe, looking over the top of his gold spectacles, and nodding his
head with every mark of disbelief. Markheim returned his gaze with
one of infinite pity, and a touch of horror.

'This time,' said he, 'you are in error. I have not come to sell,
but to buy. I have no curios to dispose of; my uncle's cabinet is
bare to the wainscot; even were it still intact, I have done well
on the Stock Exchange, and should more likely add to it than
otherwise, and my errand to-day is simplicity itself. I seek a
Christmas present for a lady,' he continued, waxing more fluent as
he struck into the speech he had prepared; 'and certainly I owe you
every excuse for thus disturbing you upon so small a matter. But
the thing was neglected yesterday; I must produce my little
compliment at dinner; and, as you very well know, a rich marriage
is not a thing to be neglected.'

There followed a pause, during which the dealer seemed to weigh
this statement incredulously. The ticking of many clocks among the
curious lumber of the shop, and the faint rushing of the cabs in a
near thoroughfare, filled up the interval of silence.

'Well, sir,' said the dealer, 'be it so. You are an old customer
after all; and if, as you say, you have the chance of a good
marriage, far be it from me to be an obstacle. Here is a nice
thing for a lady now,' he went on, 'this hand glass - fifteenth
century, warranted; comes from a good collection, too; but I
reserve the name, in the interests of my customer, who was just
like yourself, my dear sir, the nephew and sole heir of a
remarkable collector.'

The dealer, while he thus ran on in his dry and biting voice, had
stooped to take the object from its place; and, as he had done so,
a shock had passed through Markheim, a start both of hand and foot,
a sudden leap of many tumultuous passions to the face. It passed
as swiftly as it came, and left no trace beyond a certain trembling
of the hand that now received the glass.

'A glass,' he said hoarsely, and then paused, and repeated it more
clearly. 'A glass? For Christmas? Surely not?'

'And why not?' cried the dealer. 'Why not a glass?'

Markheim was looking upon him with an indefinable expression. 'You
ask me why not?' he said. 'Why, look here - look in it - look at
yourself! Do you like to see it? No! nor I - nor any man.'

The little man had jumped back when Markheim had so suddenly
confronted him with the mirror; but now, perceiving there was
nothing worse on hand, he chuckled. 'Your future lady, sir, must
be pretty hard favoured,' said he.

'I ask you,' said Markheim, 'for a Christmas present, and you give
me this - this damned reminder of years, and sins and follies -
this hand-conscience! Did you mean it? Had you a thought in your
mind? Tell me. It will be better for you if you do. Come, tell
me about yourself. I hazard a guess now, that you are in secret a
very charitable man?'

The dealer looked closely at his companion. It was very odd,
Markheim did not appear to be laughing; there was something in his
face like an eager sparkle of hope, but nothing of mirth.

'What are you driving at?' the dealer asked.

'Not charitable?' returned the other, gloomily. Not charitable;
not pious; not scrupulous; unloving, unbeloved; a hand to get
money, a safe to keep it. Is that all? Dear God, man, is that
all?'

'I will tell you what it is,' began the dealer, with some
sharpness, and then broke off again into a chuckle. 'But I see
this is a love match of yours, and you have been drinking the
lady's health.'

'Ah!' cried Markheim, with a strange curiosity. 'Ah, have you been
in love? Tell me about that.'

'I,' cried the dealer. 'I in love! I never had the time, nor have
I the time to-day for all this nonsense. Will you take the glass?'

'Where is the hurry?' returned Markheim. 'It is very pleasant to
stand here talking; and life is so short and insecure that I would
not hurry away from any pleasure - no, not even from so mild a one
as this. We should rather cling, cling to what little we can get,
like a man at a cliff's edge. Every second is a cliff, if you
think upon it - a cliff a mile high - high enough, if we fall, to
dash us out of every feature of humanity. Hence it is best to talk
pleasantly. Let us talk of each other: why should we wear this
mask? Let us be confidential. Who knows, we might become
friends?'

'I have just one word to say to you,' said the dealer. 'Either
make your purchase, or walk out of my shop!'

'True true,' said Markheim. 'Enough, fooling. To business. Show
me something else.'

The dealer stooped once more, this time to replace the glass upon
the shelf, his thin blond hair falling over his eyes as he did so.
Markheim moved a little nearer, with one hand in the pocket of his
greatcoat; he drew himself up and filled his lungs; at the same
time many different emotions were depicted together on his face -
terror, horror, and resolve, fascination and a physical repulsion;
and through a haggard lift of his upper lip, his teeth looked out.

'This, perhaps, may suit,' observed the dealer: and then, as he
began to re-arise, Markheim bounded from behind upon his victim.
The long, skewerlike dagger flashed and fell. The dealer struggled
like a hen, striking his temple on the shelf, and then tumbled on
the floor in a heap.

Time had some score of small voices in that shop, some stately and
slow as was becoming to their great age; others garrulous and
hurried. All these told out the seconds in an intricate, chorus of
tickings. Then the passage of a lad's feet, heavily running on the
pavement, broke in upon these smaller voices and startled Markheim
into the consciousness of his surroundings. He looked about him
awfully. The candle stood on the counter, its flame solemnly
wagging in a draught; and by that inconsiderable movement, the
whole room was filled with noiseless bustle and kept heaving like a
sea: the tall shadows nodding, the gross blots of darkness swelling
and dwindling as with respiration, the faces of the portraits and
the china gods changing and wavering like images in water. The
inner door stood ajar, and peered into that leaguer of shadows with
a long slit of daylight like a pointing finger.

From these fear-stricken rovings, Markheim's eyes returned to the
body of his victim, where it lay both humped and sprawling,
incredibly small and strangely meaner than in life. In these poor,
miserly clothes, in that ungainly attitude, the dealer lay like so
much sawdust. Markheim had feared to see it, and, lo! it was
nothing. And yet, as he gazed, this bundle of old clothes and pool
of blood began to find eloquent voices. There it must lie; there
was none to work the cunning hinges or direct the miracle of
locomotion - there it must lie till it was found. Found! ay, and
then? Then would this dead flesh lift up a cry that would ring
over England, and fill the world with the echoes of pursuit. Ay,
dead or not, this was still the enemy. 'Time was that when the
brains were out,' he thought; and the first word struck into his
mind. Time, now that the deed was accomplished - time, which had
closed for the victim, had become instant and momentous for the
slayer.

The thought was yet in his mind, when, first one and then another,
with every variety of pace and voice - one deep as the bell from a
cathedral turret, another ringing on its treble notes the prelude
of a waltz-the clocks began to strike the hour of three in the
afternoon.

The sudden outbreak of so many tongues in that dumb chamber
staggered him. He began to bestir himself, going to and fro with
the candle, beleaguered by moving shadows, and startled to the soul
by chance reflections. In many rich mirrors, some of home design,
some from Venice or Amsterdam, he saw his face repeated and
repeated, as it were an army of spies; his own eyes met and
detected him; and the sound of his own steps, lightly as they fell,
vexed the surrounding quiet. And still, as he continued to fill
his pockets, his mind accused him with a sickening iteration, of
the thousand faults of his design. He should have chosen a more
quiet hour; he should have prepared an alibi; he should not have
used a knife; he should have been more cautious, and only bound and
gagged the dealer, and not killed him; he should have been more
bold, and killed the servant also; he should have done all things
otherwise: poignant regrets, weary, incessant toiling of the mind
to change what was unchangeable, to plan what was now useless, to
be the architect of the irrevocable past. Meanwhile, and behind
all this activity, brute terrors, like the scurrying of rats in a
deserted attic, filled the more remote chambers of his brain with
riot; the hand of the constable would fall heavy on his shoulder,
and his nerves would jerk like a hooked fish; or he beheld, in
galloping defile, the dock, the prison, the gallows, and the black
coffin.

Terror of the people in the street sat down before his mind like a
besieging army. It was impossible, he thought, but that some
rumour of the struggle must have reached their ears and set on edge
their curiosity; and now, in all the neighbouring houses, he
divined them sitting motionless and with uplifted ear - solitary
people, condemned to spend Christmas dwelling alone on memories of
the past, and now startingly recalled from that tender exercise;
happy family parties struck into silence round the table, the
mother still with raised finger: every degree and age and humour,
but all, by their own hearths, prying and hearkening and weaving
the rope that was to hang him. Sometimes it seemed to him he could
not move too softly; the clink of the tall Bohemian goblets rang
out loudly like a bell; and alarmed by the bigness of the ticking,
he was tempted to stop the clocks. And then, again, with a swift
transition of his terrors, the very silence of the place appeared a
source of peril, and a thing to strike and freeze the passer-by;
and he would step more boldly, and bustle aloud among the contents
of the shop, and imitate, with elaborate bravado, the movements of
a busy man at ease in his own house.

But he was now so pulled about by different alarms that, while one
portion of his mind was still alert and cunning, another trembled
on the brink of lunacy. One hallucination in particular took a
strong hold on his credulity. The neighbour hearkening with white
face beside his window, the passer-by arrested by a horrible
surmise on the pavement - these could at worst suspect, they could
not know; through the brick walls and shuttered windows only sounds
could penetrate. But here, within the house, was he alone? He
knew he was; he had watched the servant set forth sweet-hearting,
in her poor best, 'out for the day' written in every ribbon and
smile. Yes, he was alone, of course; and yet, in the bulk of empty
house above him, he could surely hear a stir of delicate footing -
he was surely conscious, inexplicably conscious of some presence.
Ay, surely; to every room and corner of the house his imagination
followed it; and now it was a faceless thing, and yet had eyes to
see with; and again it was a shadow of himself; and yet again
behold the image of the dead dealer, reinspired with cunning and
hatred.

At times, with a strong effort, he would glance at the open door
which still seemed to repel his eyes. The house was tall, the
skylight small and dirty, the day blind with fog; and the light
that filtered down to the ground story was exceedingly faint, and
showed dimly on the threshold of the shop. And yet, in that strip
of doubtful brightness, did there not hang wavering a shadow?

Suddenly, from the street outside, a very jovial gentleman began to
beat with a staff on the shop-door, accompanying his blows with
shouts and railleries in which the dealer was continually called
upon by name. Markheim, smitten into ice, glanced at the dead man.
But no! he lay quite still; he was fled away far beyond earshot of
these blows and shoutings; he was sunk beneath seas of silence; and
his name, which would once have caught his notice above the howling
of a storm, had become an empty sound. And presently the jovial
gentleman desisted from his knocking, and departed.

Here was a broad hint to hurry what remained to be done, to get
forth from this accusing neighbourhood, to plunge into a bath of
London multitudes, and to reach, on the other side of day, that
haven of safety and apparent innocence - his bed. One visitor had
come: at any moment another might follow and be more obstinate. To
have done the deed, and yet not to reap the profit, would be too
abhorrent a failure. The money, that was now Markheim's concern;
and as a means to that, the keys.

He glanced over his shoulder at the open door, where the shadow was
still lingering and shivering; and with no conscious repugnance of
the mind, yet with a tremor of the belly, he drew near the body of
his victim. The human character had quite departed. Like a suit
half-stuffed with bran, the limbs lay scattered, the trunk doubled,
on the floor; and yet the thing repelled him. Although so dingy
and inconsiderable to the eye, he feared it might have more
significance to the touch. He took the body by the shoulders, and
turned it on its back. It was strangely light and supple, and the
limbs, as if they had been broken, fell into the oddest postures.
The face was robbed of all expression; but it was as pale as wax,
and shockingly smeared with blood about one temple. That was, for
Markheim, the one displeasing circumstance. It carried him back,
upon the instant, to a certain fair-day in a fishers' village: a
gray day, a piping wind, a crowd upon the street, the blare of
brasses, the booming of drums, the nasal voice of a ballad singer;
and a boy going to and fro, buried over head in the crowd and
divided between interest and fear, until, coming out upon the chief
place of concourse, he beheld a booth and a great screen with
pictures, dismally designed, garishly coloured: Brown-rigg with her
apprentice; the Mannings with their murdered guest; Weare in the
death-grip of Thurtell; and a score besides of famous crimes. The
thing was as clear as an illusion; he was once again that little
boy; he was looking once again, and with the same sense of physical
revolt, at these vile pictures; he was still stunned by the
thumping of the drums. A bar of that day's music returned upon his
memory; and at that, for the first time, a qualm came over him, a
breath of nausea, a sudden weakness of the joints, which he must
instantly resist and conquer.

He judged it more prudent to confront than to flee from these
considerations; looking the more hardily in the dead face, bending
his mind to realise the nature and greatness of his crime. So
little a while ago that face had moved with every change of
sentiment, that pale mouth had spoken, that body had been all on
fire with governable energies; and now, and by his act, that piece
of life had been arrested, as the horologist, with interjected
finger, arrests the beating of the clock. So he reasoned in vain;
he could rise to no more remorseful consciousness; the same heart
which had shuddered before the painted effigies of crime, looked on
its reality unmoved. At best, he felt a gleam of pity for one who
had been endowed in vain with all those faculties that can make the
world a garden of enchantment, one who had never lived and who was
now dead. But of penitence, no, not a tremor.

With that, shaking himself clear of these considerations, he found
the keys and advanced towards the open door of the shop. Outside,
it had begun to rain smartly; and the sound of the shower upon the
roof had banished silence. Like some dripping cavern, the chambers
of the house were haunted by an incessant echoing, which filled the
ear and mingled with the ticking of the clocks. And, as Markheim
approached the door, he seemed to hear, in answer to his own
cautious tread, the steps of another foot withdrawing up the stair.
The shadow still palpitated loosely on the threshold. He threw a
ton's weight of resolve upon his muscles, and drew back the door.

The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare floor and
stairs; on the bright suit of armour posted, halbert in hand, upon
the landing; and on the dark wood-carvings, and framed pictures
that hung against the yellow panels of the wainscot. So loud was
the beating of the rain through all the house that, in Markheim's
ears, it began to be distinguished into many different sounds.
Footsteps and sighs, the tread of regiments marching in the
distance, the chink of money in the counting, and the creaking of
doors held stealthily ajar, appeared to mingle with the patter of
the drops upon the cupola and the gushing of the water in the
pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him to the verge
of madness. On every side he was haunted and begirt by presences.
He heard them moving in the upper chambers; from the shop, he heard
the dead man getting to his legs; and as he began with a great
effort to mount the stairs, feet fled quietly before him and
followed stealthily behind. If he were but deaf, he thought, how
tranquilly he would possess his soul! And then again, and
hearkening with ever fresh attention, he blessed himself for that
unresting sense which held the outposts and stood a trusty sentinel
upon his life. His head turned continually on his neck; his eyes,
which seemed starting from their orbits, scouted on every side, and
on every side were half-rewarded as with the tail of something
nameless vanishing. The four-and-twenty steps to the first floor
were four-and-twenty agonies.

On that first storey, the doors stood ajar, three of them like
three ambushes, shaking his nerves like the throats of cannon. He
could never again, he felt, be sufficiently immured and fortified
from men's observing eyes, he longed to be home, girt in by walls,
buried among bedclothes, and invisible to all but God. And at that
thought he wondered a little, recollecting tales of other murderers
and the fear they were said to entertain of heavenly avengers. It
was not so, at least, with him. He feared the laws of nature,
lest, in their callous and immutable procedure, they should
preserve some damning evidence of his crime. He feared tenfold
more, with a slavish, superstitions terror, some scission in the
continuity of man's experience, some wilful illegality of nature.
He played a game of skill, depending on the rules, calculating
consequence from cause; and what if nature, as the defeated tyrant
overthrew the chess-board, should break the mould of their
succession? The like had befallen Napoleon (so writers said) when
the winter changed the time of its appearance. The like might
befall Markheim: the solid walls might become transparent and
reveal his doings like those of bees in a glass hive; the stout
planks might yield under his foot like quicksands and detain him in
their clutch; ay, and there were soberer accidents that might
destroy him: if, for instance, the house should fall and imprison
him beside the body of his victim; or the house next door should
fly on fire, and the firemen invade him from all sides. These
things he feared; and, in a sense, these things might be called the
hands of God reached forth against sin. But about God himself he
was at ease; his act was doubtless exceptional, but so were his
excuses, which God knew; it was there, and not among men, that he
felt sure of justice.

When he had got safe into the drawing-room, and shut the door
behind him, he was aware of a respite from alarms. The room was
quite dismantled, uncarpeted besides, and strewn with packing cases
and incongruous furniture; several great pier-glasses, in which he
beheld himself at various angles, like an actor on a stage; many
pictures, framed and unframed, standing, with their faces to the
wall; a fine Sheraton sideboard, a cabinet of marquetry, and a
great old bed, with tapestry hangings. The windows opened to the
floor; but by great good fortune the lower part of the shutters had
been closed, and this concealed him from the neighbours. Here,
then, Markheim drew in a packing case before the cabinet, and began
to search among the keys. It was a long business, for there were
many; and it was irksome, besides; for, after all, there might be
nothing in the cabinet, and time was on the wing. But the
closeness of the occupation sobered him. With the tail of his eye
he saw the door - even glanced at it from time to time directly,
like a besieged commander pleased to verify the good estate of his
defences. But in truth he was at peace. The rain falling in the
street sounded natural and pleasant. Presently, on the other side,
the notes of a piano were wakened to the music of a hymn, and the
voices of many children took up the air and words. How stately,
how comfortable was the melody! How fresh the youthful voices!
Markheim gave ear to it smilingly, as he sorted out the keys; and
his mind was thronged with answerable ideas and images; church-
going children and the pealing of the high organ; children afield,
bathers by the brookside, ramblers on the brambly common, kite-
flyers in the windy and cloud-navigated sky; and then, at another
cadence of the hymn, back again to church, and the somnolence of
summer Sundays, and the high genteel voice of the parson (which he
smiled a little to recall) and the painted Jacobean tombs, and the
dim lettering of the Ten Commandments in the chancel.

And as he sat thus, at once busy and absent, he was startled to his
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 new comer seemed
to change and waver like those of the idols in the wavering candle-
light 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 favourite 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 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, 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 was striding towards 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!' 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 colour
of religion, or to sow tares 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
deathbed, 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 the 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,' replied the other. 'All
sins are murder, even as 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
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 offer 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 bond-
slave 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. Something 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 run strong in me, haling 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 be, 'through many changes of
fortune and varieties of humour, 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 demeanour.

'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. 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 further 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 clamour.

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.'

Robert Louis Stevenson

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