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Scanned and proofed by David Price
by Charles Dickens
Most of us see some romances in life. In my capacity as Chief
Manager of a Life Assurance Office, I think I have within the last
thirty years seen more romances than the generality of men, however
unpromising the opportunity may, at first sight, seem.
As I have retired, and live at my ease, I possess the means that I
used to want, of considering what I have seen, at leisure. My
experiences have a more remarkable aspect, so reviewed, than they
had when they were in progress. I have come home from the Play
now, and can recall the scenes of the Drama upon which the curtain
has fallen, free from the glare, bewilderment, and bustle of the
Let me recall one of these Romances of the real world.
There is nothing truer than physiognomy, taken in connection with
manner. The art of reading that book of which Eternal Wisdom
obliges every human creature to present his or her own page with
the individual character written on it, is a difficult one,
perhaps, and is little studied. It may require some natural
aptitude, and it must require (for everything does) some patience
and some pains. That these are not usually given to it, - that
numbers of people accept a few stock commonplace expressions of the
face as the whole list of characteristics, and neither seek nor
know the refinements that are truest, - that You, for instance,
give a great deal of time and attention to the reading of music,
Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Hebrew, if you please, and do not
qualify yourself to read the face of the master or mistress looking
over your shoulder teaching it to you, - I assume to be five
hundred times more probable than improbable. Perhaps a little
self-sufficiency may be at the bottom of this; facial expression
requires no study from you, you think; it comes by nature to you to
know enough about it, and you are not to be taken in.
I confess, for my part, that I HAVE been taken in, over and over
again. I have been taken in by acquaintances, and I have been
taken in (of course) by friends; far oftener by friends than by any
other class of persons. How came I to be so deceived? Had I quite
misread their faces?
No. Believe me, my first impression of those people, founded on
face and manner alone, was invariably true. My mistake was in
suffering them to come nearer to me and explain themselves away.
The partition which separated my own office from our general outer
office in the City was of thick plate-glass. I could see through
it what passed in the outer office, without hearing a word. I had
it put up in place of a wall that had been there for years, - ever
since the house was built. It is no matter whether I did or did
not make the change in order that I might derive my first
impression of strangers, who came to us on business, from their
faces alone, without being influenced by anything they said.
Enough to mention that I turned my glass partition to that account,
and that a Life Assurance Office is at all times exposed to be
practised upon by the most crafty and cruel of the human race.
It was through my glass partition that I first saw the gentleman
whose story I am going to tell.
He had come in without my observing it, and had put his hat and
umbrella on the broad counter, and was bending over it to take some
papers from one of the clerks. He was about forty or so, dark,
exceedingly well dressed in black, - being in mourning, - and the
hand he extended with a polite air, had a particularly well-fitting
black-kid glove upon it. His hair, which was elaborately brushed
and oiled, was parted straight up the middle; and he presented this
parting to the clerk, exactly (to my thinking) as if he had said,
in so many words: 'You must take me, if you please, my friend, just
as I show myself. Come straight up here, follow the gravel path,
keep off the grass, I allow no trespassing.'
I conceived a very great aversion to that man the moment I thus saw
He had asked for some of our printed forms, and the clerk was
giving them to him and explaining them. An obliged and agreeable
smile was on his face, and his eyes met those of the clerk with a
sprightly look. (I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked
about bad men not looking you in the face. Don't trust that
conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of
countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by
I saw, in the corner of his eyelash, that he became aware of my
looking at him. Immediately he turned the parting in his hair
toward the glass partition, as if he said to me with a sweet smile,
'Straight up here, if you please. Off the grass!'
In a few moments he had put on his hat and taken up his umbrella,
and was gone.
I beckoned the clerk into my room, and asked, 'Who was that?'
He had the gentleman's card in his hand. 'Mr. Julius Slinkton,
'A barrister, Mr. Adams?'
'I think not, sir.'
'I should have thought him a clergyman, but for his having no
Reverend here,' said I.
'Probably, from his appearance,' Mr. Adams replied, 'he is reading
I should mention that he wore a dainty white cravat, and dainty
'What did he want, Mr. Adams?'
'Merely a form of proposal, sir, and form of reference.'
'Recommended here? Did he say?'
'Yes, he said he was recommended here by a friend of yours. He
noticed you, but said that as he had not the pleasure of your
personal acquaintance he would not trouble you.'
'Did he know my name?'
'O yes, sir! He said, "There IS Mr. Sampson, I see!"'
'A well-spoken gentleman, apparently?'
'Remarkably so, sir.'
'Insinuating manners, apparently?'
'Very much so, indeed, sir.'
'Hah!' said I. 'I want nothing at present, Mr. Adams.'
Within a fortnight of that day I went to dine with a friend of
mine, a merchant, a man of taste, who buys pictures and books, and
the first man I saw among the company was Mr. Julius Slinkton.
There he was, standing before the fire, with good large eyes and an
open expression of face; but still (I thought) requiring everybody
to come at him by the prepared way he offered, and by no other.
I noticed him ask my friend to introduce him to Mr. Sampson, and my
friend did so. Mr. Slinkton was very happy to see me. Not too
happy; there was no over-doing of the matter; happy in a thoroughly
well-bred, perfectly unmeaning way.
'I thought you had met,' our host observed.
'No,' said Mr. Slinkton. 'I did look in at Mr. Sampson's office,
on your recommendation; but I really did not feel justified in