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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 5
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    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.
    Chapter 5
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