Charles Dickens


'It would be more--more creditable to the family,' observed Slyme, with trembling lips. 'I wish you hadn't told me half so much. Less would have served your purpose. You might have kept it to yourself.'

'A hundred pound for only five minutes in the next room! Speak!' cried Jonas, desperately.

He took the purse. Jonas, with a wild unsteady step, retreated to the door in the glass partition.

'Stop!' cried Slyme, catching at his skirts. 'I don't know about this. Yet it must end so at last. Are you guilty?'

'Yes!' said Jonas.

'Are the proofs as they were told just now?'

'Yes!' said Jonas.

'Will you--will you engage to say a--a Prayer, now, or something of that sort?' faltered Slyme.

Jonas broke from him without replying, and closed the door between them.

Slyme listened at the keyhole. After that, he crept away on tiptoe, as far off as he could; and looked awfully towards the place. He was roused by the arrival of the coach, and their letting down the steps.

'He's getting a few things together,' he said, leaning out of window, and speaking to the two men below, who stood in the full light of a street-lamp. 'Keep your eye upon the back, one of you, for form's sake.'

One of the men withdrew into the court. The other, seating himself self on the steps of the coach, remained in conversation with Slyme at the window who perhaps had risen to be his superior, in virtue of his old propensity (one so much lauded by the murdered man) of being always round the corner. A useful habit in his present calling.

'Where is he?' asked the man.

Slyme looked into the room for an instant and gave his head a jerk as much as to say, 'Close at hand. I see him.'

'He's booked,' observed the man.

'Through,' said Slyme.

They looked at each other, and up and down the street. The man on the coach-steps took his hat off, and put it on again, and whistled a little.

'I say! He's taking his time!' he remonstrated.

'I allowed him five minutes,' said Slyme. 'Time's more than up, though. I'll bring him down.'

He withdrew from the window accordingly, and walked on tiptoe to the door in the partition. He listened. There was not a sound within. He set the candles near it, that they might shine through the glass.

It was not easy, he found, to make up his mind to the opening of the door. But he flung it wide open suddenly, and with a noise; then retreated. After peeping in and listening again, he entered.

He started back as his eyes met those of Jonas, standing in an angle of the wall, and staring at him. His neckerchief was off; his face was ashy pale.

'You're too soon,' said Jonas, with an abject whimper. 'I've not had time. I have not been able to do it. I--five minutes more--two minutes more!--only one!'

Slyme gave him no reply, but thrusting the purse upon him and forcing it back into his pocket, called up his men.

He whined, and cried, and cursed, and entreated them, and struggled, and submitted, in the same breath, and had no power to stand. They got him away and into the coach, where they put him on a seat; but he soon fell moaning down among the straw at the bottom, and lay there.

The two men were with him. Slyme being on the box with the driver; and they let him lie. Happening to pass a fruiterer's on their way; the door of which was open, though the shop was by this time shut; one of them remarked how faint the peaches smelled.

The other assented at the moment, but presently stooped down in quick alarm, and looked at the prisoner.

'Stop the coach! He has poisoned himself! The smell comes from this bottle in his hand!'

The hand had shut upon it tight. With that rigidity of grasp with which no living man, in the full strength and energy of life, can clutch a prize he has won.

They dragged him out into the dark street; but jury, judge, and hangman, could have done no more, and could do nothing now. Dead, dead, dead.



Old Martin's cherished projects, so long hidden in his own breast, so frequently in danger of abrupt disclosure through the bursting forth of the indignation he had hoarded up during his residence with Mr Pecksniff, were retarded, but not beyond a few hours, by the occurrences just now related.