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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
'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.
'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
'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.'