IN WHICH THE OLD MAN LAUNCHES FORTH INTO HIS
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FAVOURITE THEME, AND RELATES A STORY ABOUT A
Aha!' said the old man, a brief description of whose manner and
appearance concluded the last chapter, 'aha! who was talking about the inns?'
'I was, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick--'I was observing what
singular old places they are.'
'YOU!' said the old man contemptuously. 'What do YOU know
of the time when young men shut themselves up in those lonely
rooms, and read and read, hour after hour, and night after night,
till their reason wandered beneath their midnight studies; till
their mental powers were exhausted; till morning's light brought
no freshness or health to them; and they sank beneath the
unnatural devotion of their youthful energies to their dry old
books? Coming down to a later time, and a very different day,
what do YOU know of the gradual sinking beneath consumption,
or the quick wasting of fever--the grand results of "life"
and dissipation--which men have undergone in these same
rooms? How many vain pleaders for mercy, do you think,
have turned away heart-sick from the lawyer's office, to find
a resting-place in the Thames, or a refuge in the jail? They
are no ordinary houses, those. There is not a panel in the old
wainscotting, but what, if it were endowed with the powers of
speech and memory, could start from the wall, and tell its tale of
horror--the romance of life, Sir, the romance of life! Common-
place as they may seem now, I tell you they are strange old
places, and I would rather hear many a legend with a terrific-
sounding name, than the true history of one old set of chambers.'
There was something so odd in the old man's sudden energy,
and the subject which had called it forth, that Mr. Pickwick was
prepared with no observation in reply; and the old man checking
his impetuosity, and resuming the leer, which had disappeared
during his previous excitement, said--
'Look at them in another light--their most common-place and
least romantic. What fine places of slow torture they are! Think
of the needy man who has spent his all, beggared himself, and
pinched his friends, to enter the profession, which is destined
never to yield him a morsel of bread. The waiting--the hope--
the disappointment--the fear--the misery--the poverty--the
blight on his hopes, and end to his career--the suicide perhaps, or
the shabby, slipshod drunkard. Am I not right about them?'
And the old man rubbed his hands, and leered as if in delight at
having found another point of view in which to place his
Mr. Pickwick eyed the old man with great curiosity, and the
remainder of the company smiled, and looked on in silence.
'Talk of your German universities,' said the little old man.
'Pooh, pooh! there's romance enough at home without going
half a mile for it; only people never think of it.'
'I never thought of the romance of this particular subject
before, certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick, laughing.
'To be sure you didn't,' said the little old man; 'of course not.
As a friend of mine used to say to me, "What is there in chambers
in particular?" "Queer old places," said I. "Not at all," said he.
"Lonely," said I. "Not a bit of it," said he. He died one morning
of apoplexy, as he was going to open his outer door. Fell with his
head in his own letter-box, and there he lay for eighteen months.
Everybody thought he'd gone out of town.'
'And how was he found out at last?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'The benchers determined to have his door broken open, as he
hadn't paid any rent for two years. So they did. Forced the lock;
and a very dusty skeleton in a blue coat, black knee-shorts, and
silks, fell forward in the arms of the porter who opened the door.
Queer, that. Rather, perhaps; rather, eh?'The little old man put
his head more on one side, and rubbed his hands with unspeakable glee.
'I know another case,' said the little old man, when his chuckles
had in some degree subsided. 'It occurred in Clifford's Inn.
Tenant of a top set--bad character--shut himself up in his
bedroom closet, and took a dose of arsenic. The steward thought
he had run away: opened the door, and put a bill up. Another
man came, took the chambers, furnished them, and went to live
there. Somehow or other he couldn't sleep--always restless and
uncomfortable. "Odd," says he. "I'll make the other room my
bedchamber, and this my sitting-room." He made the change, and
slept very well at night, but suddenly found that, somehow, he
couldn't read in the evening: he got nervous and uncomfortable,
and used to be always snuffing his candles and staring about him.
"I can't make this out," said he, when he came home from the
play one night, and was drinking a glass of cold grog, with his
back to the wall, in order that he mightn't be able to fancy there
was any one behind him--"I can't make it out," said he; and
just then his eyes rested on the little closet that had been always
locked up, and a shudder ran through his whole frame from top
to toe. "I have felt this strange feeling before," said he, "I cannot
help thinking there's something wrong about that closet." He
made a strong effort, plucked up his courage, shivered the lock
with a blow or two of the poker, opened the door, and there, sure
enough, standing bolt upright in the corner, was the last tenant,
with a little bottle clasped firmly in his hand, and his face--well!'
As the little old man concluded, he looked round on the attentive
faces of his wondering auditory with a smile of grim delight.
'What strange things these are you tell us of, Sir,' said Mr.
Pickwick, minutely scanning the old man's countenance, by the
aid of his glasses.
'Strange!' said the little old man. 'Nonsense; you think them
strange, because you know nothing about it. They are funny, but
'Funny!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick involuntarily.
'Yes, funny, are they not?' replied the little old man, with a
diabolical leer; and then, without pausing for an answer, he
'I knew another man--let me see--forty years ago now--who
took an old, damp, rotten set of chambers, in one of the most
ancient inns, that had been shut up and empty for years and
years before. There were lots of old women's stories about the
place, and it certainly was very far from being a cheerful one;
but he was poor, and the rooms were cheap, and that would have
been quite a sufficient reason for him, if they had been ten times
worse than they really were. He was obliged to take some
mouldering fixtures that were on the place, and, among the rest,
was a great lumbering wooden press for papers, with large glass
doors, and a green curtain inside; a pretty useless thing for him,
for he had no papers to put in it; and as to his clothes, he carried
them about with him, and that wasn't very hard work, either.
Well, he had moved in all his furniture--it wasn't quite a truck-
full--and had sprinkled it about the room, so as to make the four
chairs look as much like a dozen as possible, and was sitting down
before the fire at night, drinking the first glass of two gallons of
whisky he had ordered on credit, wondering whether it would ever
be paid for, and if so, in how many years' time, when his eyes
encountered the glass doors of the wooden press. "Ah," says he,
"if I hadn't been obliged to take that ugly article at the old
broker's valuation, I might have got something comfortable for
the money. I'll tell you what it is, old fellow," he said, speaking
aloud to the press, having nothing else to speak to, "if it wouldn't
cost more to break up your old carcass, than it would ever be
worth afterward, I'd have a fire out of you in less than no time."
He had hardly spoken the words, when a sound resembling a
faint groan, appeared to issue from the interior of the case. It
startled him at first, but thinking, on a moment's reflection, that
it must be some young fellow in the next chamber, who had been
dining out, he put his feet on the fender, and raised the poker to
stir the fire. At that moment, the sound was repeated; and one of
the glass doors slowly opening, disclosed a pale and emaciated
figure in soiled and worn apparel, standing erect in the press. The
figure was tall and thin, and the countenance expressive of care
and anxiety; but there was something in the hue of the skin, and
gaunt and unearthly appearance of the whole form, which no
being of this world was ever seen to wear. "Who are you?" said
the new tenant, turning very pale; poising the poker in his hand,
however, and taking a very decent aim at the countenance of the
figure. "Who are you?" "Don't throw that poker at me," replied
the form; "if you hurled it with ever so sure an aim, it would
pass through me, without resistance, and expend its force on the
wood behind. I am a spirit." "And pray, what do you want
here?" faltered the tenant. "In this room," replied the apparition,
"my worldly ruin was worked, and I and my children beggared.
In this press, the papers in a long, long suit, which accumulated
for years, were deposited. In this room, when I had died of grief,
and long-deferred hope, two wily harpies divided the wealth for
which I had contested during a wretched existence, and of which,
at last, not one farthing was left for my unhappy descendants. I
terrified them from the spot, and since that day have prowled by
night--the only period at which I can revisit the earth--about the
scenes of my long-protracted misery. This apartment is mine:
leave it to me." "If you insist upon making your appearance
here," said the tenant, who had had time to collect his presence of
mind during this prosy statement of the ghost's, "I shall give up
possession with the greatest pleasure; but I should like to ask you
one question, if you will allow me." "Say on," said the apparition
sternly. "Well," said the tenant, "I don't apply the observation
personally to you, because it is equally applicable to most of the
ghosts I ever heard of; but it does appear to me somewhat
inconsistent, that when you have an opportunity of visiting the
fairest spots of earth--for I suppose space is nothing to you--
you should always return exactly to the very places where you
have been most miserable." "Egad, that's very true; I never
thought of that before," said the ghost. "You see, Sir," pursued
the tenant, "this is a very uncomfortable room. From the
appearance of that press, I should be disposed to say that it is not
wholly free from bugs; and I really think you might find much
more comfortable quarters: to say nothing of the climate of
London, which is extremely disagreeable." "You are very right,
Sir," said the ghost politely, "it never struck me till now; I'll try
change of air directly"--and, in fact, he began to vanish as he
spoke; his legs, indeed, had quite disappeared. "And if, Sir," said
the tenant, calling after him, "if you WOULD have the goodness to
suggest to the other ladies and gentlemen who are now engaged
in haunting old empty houses, that they might be much more
comfortable elsewhere, you will confer a very great benefit on
society." "I will," replied the ghost; "we must be dull fellows--
very dull fellows, indeed; I can't imagine how we can have been
so stupid." With these words, the spirit disappeared; and what is
rather remarkable,' added the old man, with a shrewd look round
the table, 'he never came back again.'
'That ain't bad, if it's true,' said the man in the Mosaic studs,
lighting a fresh cigar.
'IF!' exclaimed the old man, with a look of excessive contempt.
'I suppose,' he added, turning to Lowten, 'he'll say next, that my
story about the queer client we had, when I was in an attorney's
office, is not true either--I shouldn't wonder.'
'I shan't venture to say anything at all about it, seeing that I
never heard the story,' observed the owner of the Mosaic decorations.
'I wish you would repeat it, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah, do,' said Lowten, 'nobody has heard it but me, and I have
nearly forgotten it.'
The old man looked round the table, and leered more horribly
than ever, as if in triumph, at the attention which was depicted in
every face. Then rubbing his chin with his hand, and looking up
to the ceiling as if to recall the circumstances to his memory, he
began as follows:--
THE OLD MAN'S TALE ABOUT THE QUEER CLIENT
'It matters little,' said the old man, 'where, or how, I picked up
this brief history. If I were to relate it in the order in which it
reached me, I should commence in the middle, and when I had
arrived at the conclusion, go back for a beginning. It is enough
for me to say that some of its circumstances passed before my
own eyes; for the remainder I know them to have happened, and
there are some persons yet living, who will remember them but
'In the Borough High Street, near St. George's Church, and on
the same side of the way, stands, as most people know, the
smallest of our debtors' prisons, the Marshalsea. Although in
later times it has been a very different place from the sink of filth
and dirt it once was, even its improved condition holds out but
little temptation to the extravagant, or consolation to the
improvident. The condemned felon has as good a yard for air and
exercise in Newgate, as the insolvent debtor in the Marshalsea
Prison. [Better. But this is past, in a better age, and the prison
exists no longer.]
'It may be my fancy, or it may be that I cannot separate the
place from the old recollections associated with it, but this part of
London I cannot bear. The street is broad, the shops are spacious,
the noise of passing vehicles, the footsteps of a perpetual stream
of people--all the busy sounds of traffic, resound in it from morn
to midnight; but the streets around are mean and close; poverty
and debauchery lie festering in the crowded alleys; want and
misfortune are pent up in the narrow prison; an air of gloom and
dreariness seems, in my eyes at least, to hang about the scene,
and to impart to it a squalid and sickly hue.
'Many eyes, that have long since been closed in the grave, have
looked round upon that scene lightly enough, when entering the
gate of the old Marshalsea Prison for the first time; for despair
seldom comes with the first severe shock of misfortune. A man
has confidence in untried friends, he remembers the many offers
of service so freely made by his boon companions when he wanted
them not; he has hope--the hope of happy inexperience--and
however he may bend beneath the first shock, it springs up in his
bosom, and flourishes there for a brief space, until it droops
beneath the blight of disappointment and neglect. How soon
have those same eyes, deeply sunken in the head, glared from
faces wasted with famine, and sallow from confinement, in days
when it was no figure of speech to say that debtors rotted
in prison, with no hope of release, and no prospect of liberty!
The atrocity in its full extent no longer exists, but there is enough
of it left to give rise to occurrences that make the heart bleed.
'Twenty years ago, that pavement was worn with the footsteps
of a mother and child, who, day by day, so surely as the morning
came, presented themselves at the prison gate; often after a night
of restless misery and anxious thoughts, were they there, a full
hour too soon, and then the young mother turning meekly away,
would lead the child to the old bridge, and raising him in her
arms to show him the glistening water, tinted with the light of the
morning's sun, and stirring with all the bustling preparations for
business and pleasure that the river presented at that early hour,
endeavour to interest his thoughts in the objects before him. But
she would quickly set him down, and hiding her face in her shawl,
give vent to the tears that blinded her; for no expression of
interest or amusement lighted up his thin and sickly face. His
recollections were few enough, but they were all of one kind--all
connected with the poverty and misery of his parents. Hour after
hour had he sat on his mother's knee, and with childish sympathy
watched the tears that stole down her face, and then crept quietly
away into some dark corner, and sobbed himself to sleep. The
hard realities of the world, with many of its worst privations--
hunger and thirst, and cold and want--had all come home to
him, from the first dawnings of reason; and though the form of
childhood was there, its light heart, its merry laugh, and sparkling
eyes were wanting.
'The father and mother looked on upon this, and upon each
other, with thoughts of agony they dared not breathe in words.
The healthy, strong-made man, who could have borne almost any
fatigue of active exertion, was wasting beneath the close confinement
and unhealthy atmosphere of a crowded prison. The slight and delicate
woman was sinking beneath the combined effects of bodily and mental
illness. The child's young heart was breaking.
'Winter came, and with it weeks of cold and heavy rain. The
poor girl had removed to a wretched apartment close to the spot
of her husband's imprisonment; and though the change had been
rendered necessary by their increasing poverty, she was happier
now, for she was nearer him. For two months, she and her little
companion watched the opening of the gate as usual. One day
she failed to come, for the first time. Another morning arrived,
and she came alone. The child was dead.
'They little know, who coldly talk of the poor man's bereavements,
as a happy release from pain to the departed, and a
merciful relief from expense to the survivor--they little know, I
say, what the agony of those bereavements is. A silent look of
affection and regard when all other eyes are turned coldly away
--the consciousness that we possess the sympathy and affection
of one being when all others have deserted us--is a hold, a stay,
a comfort, in the deepest affliction, which no wealth could
purchase, or power bestow. The child had sat at his parents' feet
for hours together, with his little hands patiently folded in each
other, and his thin wan face raised towards them. They had seen
him pine away, from day to day; and though his brief existence
had been a joyless one, and he was now removed to that peace
and rest which, child as he was, he had never known in this
world, they were his parents, and his loss sank deep into their souls.
'It was plain to those who looked upon the mother's altered
face, that death must soon close the scene of her adversity and
trial. Her husband's fellow-prisoners shrank from obtruding on
his grief and misery, and left to himself alone, the small room he
had previously occupied in common with two companions. She
shared it with him; and lingering on without pain, but without
hope, her life ebbed slowly away.
'She had fainted one evening in her husband's arms, and he
had borne her to the open window, to revive her with the air,
when the light of the moon falling full upon her face, showed him
a change upon her features, which made him stagger beneath
her weight, like a helpless infant.
'"Set me down, George," she said faintly. He did so, and
seating himself beside her, covered his face with his hands, and
burst into tears.
'"It is very hard to leave you, George," she said; "but it is
God's will, and you must bear it for my sake. Oh! how I thank
Him for having taken our boy! He is happy, and in heaven now.
What would he have done here, without his mother!"
'"You shall not die, Mary, you shall not die;" said the
husband, starting up. He paced hurriedly to and fro, striking his
head with his clenched fists; then reseating himself beside her,
and supporting her in his arms, added more calmly, "Rouse
yourself, my dear girl. Pray, pray do. You will revive yet."
'"Never again, George; never again," said the dying woman.
"Let them lay me by my poor boy now, but promise me, that if
ever you leave this dreadful place, and should grow rich, you will
have us removed to some quiet country churchyard, a long, long
way off--very far from here--where we can rest in peace. Dear
George, promise me you will."
'"I do, I do," said the man, throwing himself passionately on
his knees before her. "Speak to me, Mary, another word; one
'He ceased to speak: for the arm that clasped his neck grew
stiff and heavy. A deep sigh escaped from the wasted form before
him; the lips moved, and a smile played upon the face; but the
lips were pallid, and the smile faded into a rigid and ghastly
stare. He was alone in the world.
'That night, in the silence and desolation of his miserable
room, the wretched man knelt down by the dead body of his
wife, and called on God to witness a terrible oath, that from that
hour, he devoted himself to revenge her death and that of his
child; that thenceforth to the last moment of his life, his whole
energies should be directed to this one object; that his revenge
should be protracted and terrible; that his hatred should be
undying and inextinguishable; and should hunt its object through
'The deepest despair, and passion scarcely human, had made
such fierce ravages on his face and form, in that one night, that
his companions in misfortune shrank affrighted from him as he
passed by. His eyes were bloodshot and heavy, his face a deadly
white, and his body bent as if with age. He had bitten his under
lip nearly through in the violence of his mental suffering, and the
blood which had flowed from the wound had trickled down his
chin, and stained his shirt and neckerchief. No tear, or sound of
complaint escaped him; but the unsettled look, and disordered
haste with which he paced up and down the yard, denoted the
fever which was burning within.
'It was necessary that his wife's body should be removed from
the prison, without delay. He received the communication with
perfect calmness, and acquiesced in its propriety. Nearly all the
inmates of the prison had assembled to witness its removal; they
fell back on either side when the widower appeared; he walked
hurriedly forward, and stationed himself, alone, in a little railed
area close to the lodge gate, from whence the crowd, with an
instinctive feeling of delicacy, had retired. The rude coffin was
borne slowly forward on men's shoulders. A dead silence pervaded
the throng, broken only by the audible lamentations of the
women, and the shuffling steps of the bearers on the stone pavement.
They reached the spot where the bereaved husband stood:
and stopped. He laid his hand upon the coffin, and mechanically
adjusting the pall with which it was covered, motioned them
onward. The turnkeys in the prison lobby took off their hats as it
passed through, and in another moment the heavy gate closed
behind it. He looked vacantly upon the crowd, and fell heavily to
'Although for many weeks after this, he was watched, night
and day, in the wildest ravings of fever, neither the consciousness
of his loss, nor the recollection of the vow he had made, ever left
him for a moment. Scenes changed before his eyes, place succeeded
place, and event followed event, in all the hurry of
delirium; but they were all connected in some way with the great
object of his mind. He was sailing over a boundless expanse of
sea, with a blood-red sky above, and the angry waters, lashed
into fury beneath, boiling and eddying up, on every side. There
was another vessel before them, toiling and labouring in the
howling storm; her canvas fluttering in ribbons from the mast,
and her deck thronged with figures who were lashed to the sides,
over which huge waves every instant burst, sweeping away some
devoted creatures into the foaming sea. Onward they bore,
amidst the roaring mass of water, with a speed and force which
nothing could resist; and striking the stem of the foremost
vessel, crushed her beneath their keel. From the huge whirlpool
which the sinking wreck occasioned, arose a shriek so loud and
shrill--the death-cry of a hundred drowning creatures, blended
into one fierce yell--that it rung far above the war-cry of the
elements, and echoed, and re-echoed till it seemed to pierce air,
sky, and ocean. But what was that--that old gray head that rose
above the water's surface, and with looks of agony, and screams
for aid, buffeted with the waves! One look, and he had sprung
from the vessel's side, and with vigorous strokes was swimming
towards it. He reached it; he was close upon it. They were HIS
features. The old man saw him coming, and vainly strove to
elude his grasp. But he clasped him tight, and dragged him beneath
the water. Down, down with him, fifty fathoms down; his
struggles grew fainter and fainter, until they wholly ceased. He
was dead; he had killed him, and had kept his oath.
'He was traversing the scorching sands of a mighty desert,
barefoot and alone. The sand choked and blinded him; its fine
thin grains entered the very pores of his skin, and irritated him
almost to madness. Gigantic masses of the same material, carried
forward by the wind, and shone through by the burning sun,
stalked in the distance like pillars of living fire. The bones of
men, who had perished in the dreary waste, lay scattered at his
feet; a fearful light fell on everything around; so far as the eye could
reach, nothing but objects of dread and horror presented themselves.
Vainly striving to utter a cry of terror, with his tongue
cleaving to his mouth, he rushed madly forward. Armed with
supernatural strength, he waded through the sand, until,
exhausted with fatigue and thirst, he fell senseless on the earth.
What fragrant coolness revived him; what gushing sound was
that? Water! It was indeed a well; and the clear fresh stream was
running at his feet. He drank deeply of it, and throwing his
aching limbs upon the bank, sank into a delicious trance. The
sound of approaching footsteps roused him. An old gray-headed
man tottered forward to slake his burning thirst. It was HE again!
Fe wound his arms round the old man's body, and held him back.
He struggled, and shrieked for water--for but one drop of water
to save his life! But he held the old man firmly, and watched his
agonies with greedy eyes; and when his lifeless head fell forward
on his bosom, he rolled the corpse from him with his feet.
'When the fever left him, and consciousness returned, he
awoke to find himself rich and free, to hear that the parent who
would have let him die in jail--WOULD! who HAD let those who
were far dearer to him than his own existence die of want, and
sickness of heart that medicine cannot cure--had been found
dead in his bed of down. He had had all the heart to leave his son
a beggar, but proud even of his health and strength, had put off
the act till it was too late, and now might gnash his teeth in the
other world, at the thought of the wealth his remissness had left
him. He awoke to this, and he awoke to more. To recollect the
purpose for which he lived, and to remember that his enemy was
his wife's own father--the man who had cast him into prison,
and who, when his daughter and her child sued at his feet for
mercy, had spurned them from his door. Oh, how he cursed the
weakness that prevented him from being up, and active, in his
scheme of vengeance!
'He caused himself to be carried from the scene of his loss and
misery, and conveyed to a quiet residence on the sea-coast; not
in the hope of recovering his peace of mind or happiness, for
both were fled for ever; but to restore his prostrate energies, and
meditate on his darling object. And here, some evil spirit cast in
his way the opportunity for his first, most horrible revenge.
'It was summer-time; and wrapped in his gloomy thoughts, he
would issue from his solitary lodgings early in the evening, and
wandering along a narrow path beneath the cliffs, to a wild and
lonely spot that had struck his fancy in his ramblings, seat himself
on some fallen fragment of the rock, and burying his face in his
hands, remain there for hours--sometimes until night had completely
closed in, and the long shadows of the frowning cliffs
above his head cast a thick, black darkness on every object near him.
'He was seated here, one calm evening, in his old position, now
and then raising his head to watch the flight of a sea-gull, or
carry his eye along the glorious crimson path, which, commencing
in the middle of the ocean, seemed to lead to its very verge where
the sun was setting, when the profound stillness of the spot was
broken by a loud cry for help; he listened, doubtful of his having
heard aright, when the cry was repeated with even greater
vehemence than before, and, starting to his feet, he hastened in
the direction whence it proceeded.
'The tale told itself at once: some scattered garments lay on
the beach; a human head was just visible above the waves at a
little distance from the shore; and an old man, wringing his
hands in agony, was running to and fro, shrieking for assistance.
The invalid, whose strength was now sufficiently restored, threw
off his coat, and rushed towards the sea, with the intention of
plunging in, and dragging the drowning man ashore.
'"Hasten here, Sir, in God's name; help, help, sir, for the love
of Heaven. He is my son, Sir, my only son!" said the old man
frantically, as he advanced to meet him. "My only son, Sir, and
he is dying before his father's eyes!"
'At the first word the old man uttered, the stranger checked
himself in his career, and, folding his arms, stood perfectly motionless.
'"Great God!" exclaimed the old man, recoiling, "Heyling!"
'The stranger smiled, and was silent.
'"Heyling!" said the old man wildly; "my boy, Heyling, my
dear boy, look, look!" Gasping for breath, the miserable father
pointed to the spot where the young man was struggling for life.
'"Hark!" said the old man. "He cries once more. He is alive
yet. Heyling, save him, save him!"
'The stranger smiled again, and remained immovable as a statue.
'"I have wronged you," shrieked the old man, falling on his
knees, and clasping his hands together. "Be revenged; take my all,
my life; cast me into the water at your feet, and, if human nature
can repress a struggle, I will die, without stirring hand or foot.
Do it, Heyling, do it, but save my boy; he is so young, Heyling,
so young to die!"
'"Listen," said the stranger, grasping the old man fiercely by
the wrist; "I will have life for life, and here is ONE. MY child died,
before his father's eyes, a far more agonising and painful death
than that young slanderer of his sister's worth is meeting while I
speak. You laughed--laughed in your daughter's face, where
death had already set his hand--at our sufferings, then. What
think you of them now! See there, see there!"
'As the stranger spoke, he pointed to the sea. A faint cry died
away upon its surface; the last powerful struggle of the dying
man agitated the rippling waves for a few seconds; and the spot
where he had gone down into his early grave, was undistinguishable
from the surrounding water.
'Three years had elapsed, when a gentleman alighted from a
private carriage at the door of a London attorney, then well
known as a man of no great nicety in his professional dealings,
and requested a private interview on business of importance.
Although evidently not past the prime of life, his face was pale,
haggard, and dejected; and it did not require the acute perception
of the man of business, to discern at a glance, that disease or
suffering had done more to work a change in his appearance,
than the mere hand of time could have accomplished in twice the
period of his whole life.
'"I wish you to undertake some legal business for me," said
'The attorney bowed obsequiously, and glanced at a large
packet which the gentleman carried in his hand. His visitor
observed the look, and proceeded.
'"It is no common business," said he; "nor have these papers
reached my hands without long trouble and great expense."
'The attorney cast a still more anxious look at the packet; and
his visitor, untying the string that bound it, disclosed a quantity
of promissory notes, with copies of deeds, and other documents.
'"Upon these papers," said the client, "the man whose name
they bear, has raised, as you will see, large sums of money, for
years past. There was a tacit understanding between him and the
men into whose hands they originally went--and from whom I
have by degrees purchased the whole, for treble and quadruple
their nominal value--that these loans should be from time to
time renewed, until a given period had elapsed. Such an
understanding is nowhere expressed. He has sustained many losses of
late; and these obligations accumulating upon him at once,
would crush him to the earth."
'"The whole amount is many thousands of pounds," said the
attorney, looking over the papers.
'"It is," said the client.
'"What are we to do?" inquired the man of business.
'"Do!" replied the client, with sudden vehemence. "Put every
engine of the law in force, every trick that ingenuity can devise
and rascality execute; fair means and foul; the open oppression
of the law, aided by all the craft of its most ingenious practitioners.
I would have him die a harassing and lingering death. Ruin
him, seize and sell his lands and goods, drive him from house and
home, and drag him forth a beggar in his old age, to die in a
'"But the costs, my dear Sir, the costs of all this," reasoned the
attorney, when he had recovered from his momentary surprise.
"If the defendant be a man of straw, who is to pay the costs, Sir?"
'"Name any sum," said the stranger, his hand trembling
so violently with excitement, that he could scarcely hold the
pen he seized as he spoke--"any sum, and it is yours. Don't be
afraid to name it, man. I shall not think it dear, if you gain
'The attorney named a large sum, at hazard, as the advance he
should require to secure himself against the possibility of loss;
but more with the view of ascertaining how far his client was
really disposed to go, than with any idea that he would comply
with the demand. The stranger wrote a cheque upon his banker,
for the whole amount, and left him.
'The draft was duly honoured, and the attorney, finding that
his strange client might be safely relied upon, commenced his
work in earnest. For more than two years afterwards, Mr.
Heyling would sit whole days together, in the office, poring over
the papers as they accumulated, and reading again and again, his
eyes gleaming with joy, the letters of remonstrance, the prayers
for a little delay, the representations of the certain ruin in which
the opposite party must be involved, which poured in, as suit after
suit, and process after process, was commenced. To all applications
for a brief indulgence, there was but one reply--the money
must be paid. Land, house, furniture, each in its turn, was taken
under some one of the numerous executions which were issued;
and the old man himself would have been immured in prison had
he not escaped the vigilance of the officers, and fled.
'The implacable animosity of Heyling, so far from being satiated
by the success of his persecution, increased a hundredfold with
the ruin he inflicted. On being informed of the old man's flight,
his fury was unbounded. He gnashed his teeth with rage, tore the
hair from his head, and assailed with horrid imprecations the
men who had been intrusted with the writ. He was only restored
to comparative calmness by repeated assurances of the certainty
of discovering the fugitive. Agents were sent in quest of him, in
all directions; every stratagem that could be invented was
resorted to, for the purpose of discovering his place of retreat;
but it was all in vain. Half a year had passed over, and he was
'At length late one night, Heyling, of whom nothing had been
seen for many weeks before, appeared at his attorney's private
residence, and sent up word that a gentleman wished to see him
instantly. Before the attorney, who had recognised his voice from
above stairs, could order the servant to admit him, he had rushed
up the staircase, and entered the drawing-room pale and breathless.
Having closed the door, to prevent being overheard, he sank
into a chair, and said, in a low voice--
'"Hush! I have found him at last."
'"No!" said the attorney. "Well done, my dear sir, well done."
'"He lies concealed in a wretched lodging in Camden Town,"
said Heyling. "Perhaps it is as well we DID lose sight of him, for he
has been living alone there, in the most abject misery, all the
time, and he is poor--very poor."
'"Very good," said the attorney. "You will have the caption
made to-morrow, of course?"
'"Yes," replied Heyling. "Stay! No! The next day. You are
surprised at my wishing to postpone it," he added, with a ghastly
smile; "but I had forgotten. The next day is an anniversary in his
life: let it be done then."
'"Very good," said the attorney. "Will you write down
instructions for the officer?"
'"No; let him meet me here, at eight in the evening, and I will
accompany him myself."
'They met on the appointed night, and, hiring a hackney-
coach, directed the driver to stop at that corner of the old
Pancras Road, at which stands the parish workhouse. By the
time they alighted there, it was quite dark; and, proceeding by
the dead wall in front of the Veterinary Hospital, they entered a
small by-street, which is, or was at that time, called Little College
Street, and which, whatever it may be now, was in those days a
desolate place enough, surrounded by little else than fields and ditches.
'Having drawn the travelling-cap he had on half over his face,
and muffled himself in his cloak, Heyling stopped before the
meanest-looking house in the street, and knocked gently at the
door. It was at once opened by a woman, who dropped a curtsey
of recognition, and Heyling, whispering the officer to remain
below, crept gently upstairs, and, opening the door of the front
room, entered at once.
'The object of his search and his unrelenting animosity, now a
decrepit old man, was seated at a bare deal table, on which stood
a miserable candle. He started on the entrance of the stranger,
and rose feebly to his feet.
'"What now, what now?" said the old man. "What fresh
misery is this? What do you want here?"
'"A word with YOU," replied Heyling. As he spoke, he seated
himself at the other end of the table, and, throwing off his cloak
and cap, disclosed his features.
'The old man seemed instantly deprived of speech. He fell
backward in his chair, and, clasping his hands together, gazed on
the apparition with a mingled look of abhorrence and fear.
'"This day six years," said Heyling, "I claimed the life you
owed me for my child's. Beside the lifeless form of your daughter,
old man, I swore to live a life of revenge. I have never swerved
from my purpose for a moment's space; but if I had, one thought
of her uncomplaining, suffering look, as she drooped away, or of
the starving face of our innocent child, would have nerved me to
my task. My first act of requital you well remember: this is my
'The old man shivered, and his hands dropped powerless by
'"I leave England to-morrow," said Heyling, after a moment's
pause. "To-night I consign you to the living death to which you
devoted her--a hopeless prison--"
'He raised his eyes to the old man's countenance, and paused.
He lifted the light to his face, set it gently down, and left the
'"You had better see to the old man," he said to the woman, as
he opened the door, and motioned the officer to follow him into
the street. "I think he is ill." The woman closed the door, ran
hastily upstairs, and found him lifeless.
'Beneath a plain gravestone, in one of the most peaceful and
secluded churchyards in Kent, where wild flowers mingle with
the grass, and the soft landscape around forms the fairest spot in
the garden of England, lie the bones of the young mother and her
gentle child. But the ashes of the father do not mingle with theirs;
nor, from that night forward, did the attorney ever gain the
remotest clue to the subsequent history of his queer client.'
As the old man concluded his tale, he advanced to a peg in one
corner, and taking down his hat and coat, put them on with
great deliberation; and, without saying another word, walked
slowly away. As the gentleman with the Mosaic studs had fallen
asleep, and the major part of the company were deeply occupied
in the humorous process of dropping melted tallow-grease into
his brandy-and-water, Mr. Pickwick departed unnoticed, and
having settled his own score, and that of Mr. Weller, issued forth,
in company with that gentleman, from beneath the portal of the
Magpie and Stump.