"Yes," said the dealer, "our windfalls are of various kinds. Some
customers are ignorant, and then I touch a dividend on my superior
knowledge. Some are dishonest," and here he held up the candle, so
that the light fell strongly on his visitor, "and in that case," he
continued, "I profit by my virtue."
Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, and his eyes
had not yet grown familiar with the mingled shine and darkness in the
shop. At these pointed words, and before the near presence of the
flame, he blinked painfully and looked aside.
The dealer chuckled. "You come to me on Christmas Day," he resumed,
"when you know that I am alone in my house, put up my shutters, and
make a point of refusing business. Well, you will have to pay for
that; you will have to pay for my loss of time, when I should be
balancing my books; you will have to pay, besides, for a kind of
manner that I remark in you to-day very strongly. I am the essence of
discretion, and ask no awkward questions; but when a customer cannot
look me in the eye, he has to pay for it." The dealer once more
chuckled; and then, changing to his usual business voice, though still
with a note of irony, "You can give, as usual, a clear account of how
you came into the possession of the object?" he continued. "Still your
uncle's cabinet? A remarkable collector, sir!"
And the little pale, round-shouldered dealer stood almost on tip-toe,
looking over the top of his gold spectacles, and nodding his head with
every mark of disbelief. Markheim returned his gaze with one of
infinite pity, and a touch of horror.
"This time," said he, "you are in error. I have not come to sell, but
to buy. I have no curios to dispose of; my uncle's cabinet is bare to
the wainscot; even were it still intact, I have done well on the Stock
Exchange, and should more likely add to it than otherwise, and my
errand to-day is simplicity itself. I seek a Christmas present for a
lady," he continued, waxing more fluent as he struck into the speech
he had prepared; "and certainly I owe you every excuse for thus
disturbing you upon so small a matter. But the thing was neglected
yesterday; I must produce my little compliment at dinner; and, as you
very well know, a rich marriage is not a thing to be neglected."
There followed a pause, during which the dealer seemed to weigh this
statement incredulously. The ticking of many clocks among the curious
lumber of the shop, and the faint rushing of the cabs in a near
thoroughfare, filled up the interval of silence.
"Well, sir," said the dealer, "be it so. You are an old customer after
all; and if, as you say, you have the chance of a good marriage, far
be it from me to be an obstacle. Here is a nice thing for a lady now,"
he went on, "this hand-glassfifteenth century, warranted; comes from
a good collection, too; but I reserve the name, in the interests of my
customer, who was just like yourself, my dear sir, the nephew and sole
heir of a remarkable collector."
The dealer, while he thus ran on in his dry and biting voice, had
stooped to take the object from its place; and, as he had done so, a
shock had passed through Markheim, a start both of hand and foot, a
sudden leap of many tumultuous passions to the face. It passed as
swiftly as it came, and left no trace beyond a certain trembling of
the hand that now received the glass.
"A glass," he said hoarsely, and then paused, and repeated it more
clearly. "A glass? For Christmas? Surely not?"
"And why not?" cried the dealer. "Why not a glass?"
Markheim was looking upon him with an indefinable expression. "You ask
me why not?" he said. "Why, look herelook in itlook at yourself!
Do you like to see it? No! nor Inor any man."
The little man had jumped back when Markheim had so suddenly
confronted him with the mirror; but now, perceiving there was nothing
worse on hand, he chuckled. "Your future lady, sir, must be pretty
hard favoured," said he.
"I ask you," said Markheim, "for a Christmas present, and you give me
thisthis damned reminder of years, and sins and folliesthis hand-
conscience! Did you mean it? Had you a thought in your mind? Tell me.
It will be better for you if you do. Come, tell me about yourself. I
hazard a guess now, that you are in secret a very charitable man."
The dealer looked closely at his companion. It was very odd, Markheim
did not appear to be laughing; there was something in his face like an
eager sparkle of hope, but nothing of mirth.
"What are you driving at?" the dealer asked.
"Not charitable?" returned the other, gloomily. "Not charitable; not
pious; not scrupulous; unloving, unbeloved; a hand to get money, a
safe to keep it. Is that all? Dear God, man, is that all?"
"I will tell you what it is," began the dealer, with some sharpness,
and then broke off again into a chuckle. "But I see this is a love
match of yours, and you have been drinking the lady's health."
"Ah!" cried Markheim, with a strange curiosity. "Ah, have you been in
love? Tell me about that."
"I," cried the dealer. "I in love! I never had the time, nor have I
the time to-day for all this nonsense. Will you take the glass?"
"Where is the hurry?" returned Markheim. "It is very pleasant to stand
here talking; and life is so short and insecure that I would not hurry
away from any pleasureno, not even from so mild a one as this. We
should rather cling, cling to what little we can get, like a man at a
cliff's edge. Every second is a cliff, if you think upon ita cliff a
mile highhigh enough, if we fall, to dash us out of every feature of
humanity. Hence it is best to talk pleasantly. Let us talk of each
other; why should we wear this mask? Let us be confidential. Who
knows? we might become friends."
"I have just one word to say to you," said the dealer. "Either make
your purchase, or walk out of my shop."
"True, true," said Markheim. "Enough fooling. To business. Show me
The dealer stooped once more, this time to replace the glass upon the
shelf, his thin blond hair falling over his eyes as he did so.
Markheim moved a little nearer, with one hand in the pocket of his
greatcoat; he drew himself up and filled his lungs; at the same time
many different emotions were depicted together on his faceterror,
horror, and resolve, fascination and a physical repulsion; and through
a haggard lift of his upper lip, his teeth looked out.
"This, perhaps, may suit," observed the dealer. And then, as he began
to rearise, Markheim bounded from behind upon his victim. The long,
skewer-like dagger flashed and fell. The dealer struggled like a hen,
striking his temple on the shelf, and then tumbled on the floor in a
Time had some score of small voices in that shopsome stately and
slow as was becoming to their great age; others garrulous and hurried.
All these told out the seconds in an intricate chorus of tickings.
Then the passage of a lad's feet, heavily running on the pavement,
broke in upon these smaller voices and startled Markheim into the
consciousness of his surroundings. He looked about him awfully. The
candle stood on the counter, its flame solemnly wagging in a draught;
and by that inconsiderable movement the whole room was filled with
noiseless bustle and kept heaving like a sea: the tall shadows
nodding, the gross blots of darkness swelling and dwindling as with
respiration, the faces of the portraits and the china gods changing
and wavering like images in water. The inner door stood ajar, and
peered into that leaguer of shadows with a long slit of daylight like
a pointing finger.
From these fear-stricken rovings, Markheim's eyes returned to the body
of his victim, where it lay, both humped and sprawling, incredibly
small and strangely meaner than in life. In these poor, miserly
clothes, in that ungainly attitude, the dealer lay like so much
sawdust. Markheim had feared to see it, and, lo! it was nothing. And
yet, as he gazed, this bundle of old clothes and pool of blood began
to find eloquent voices. There it must lie; there was none to work the
cunning hinges or direct the miracle of locomotion; there it must lie
till it was found. Found! ay, and then? Then would this dead flesh
lift up a cry that would ring over England, and fill the world with
the echoes of pursuit. Ay, dead or not, this was still the enemy.
"Time was that when the brains were out," he thought; and the first
word struck into his mind. Time, now that the deed was accomplished
time, which had closed for the victim, had become instant and
momentous for the slayer.
The thought was yet in his mind, when, first one and then another,
with every variety of pace and voiceone deep as the bell from a
cathedral turret, another ringing on its treble notes the prelude of a
waltz,the clocks began to strike the hour of three in the afternoon.
The sudden outbreak of so many tongues in that dumb chamber staggered
him. He began to bestir himself, going to and fro with the candle,
beleaguered by moving shadows, and startled to the soul by chance
reflections. In many rich mirrors, some of home design, some from
Venice or Amsterdam, he saw his face repeated and repeated, as it were
an army of spies; his own eyes met and detected him; and the sound of
his own steps, lightly as they fell, vexed the surrounding quiet. And
still, as he continued to fill his pockets, his mind accused him with
a sickening iteration, of the thousand faults of his design. He should
have chosen a more quiet hour; he should have prepared an alibi; he
should not have used a knife; he should have been more cautious, and
only bound and gagged the dealer, and not killed him; he should have
been more bold, and killed the servant also; he should have done all
things otherwise. Poignant regrets, weary, incessant toiling of the
mind to change what was unchangeable, to plan what was now useless, to
be the architect of the irrevocable past. Meanwhile, and behind all
this activity, brute terrors, like the scurrying of rats in a deserted
attic, filled the more remote chambers of his brain with riot; the
hand of the constable would fall heavy on his shoulder, and his nerves
would jerk like a hooked fish; or he beheld, in galloping defile, the
dock, the prison, the gallows, and the black coffin.
Terror of the people in the street sat down before his mind like a
besieging army. It was impossible, he thought, but that some rumour of
the struggle must have reached their ears and set on edge their
curiosity; and now, in all the neighbouring houses, he divined them
sitting motionless and with uplifted earsolitary people, condemned
to spend Christmas dwelling alone on memories of the past, and now
startingly recalled from that tender exercise; happy family parties
struck into silence round the table, the mother still with raised
fingerevery degree and age and humour, but all, by their own
hearths, prying and hearkening and weaving the rope that was to hang
him. Sometimes it seemed to him he could not move too softly; the
clink of the tall Bohemian goblets rang out loudly like a bell; and
alarmed by the bigness of the ticking, he was tempted to stop the
clocks. And then, again, with a swift transition of his terrors, the
very silence of the place appeared a source of peril, and a thing to
strike and freeze the passer-by; and he would step more boldly, and
bustle aloud among the contents of the shop, and imitate, with
elaborate bravado, the movements of a busy man at ease in his own
But he was now so pulled about by different alarms that, while one
portion of his mind was still alert and cunning, another trembled on
the brink of lunacy. One hallucination in particular took a strong
hold on his credulity. The neighbour hearkening with white face beside
his window, the passer-by arrested by a horrible surmise on the
pavementthese could at worst suspect, they could not know; through
the brick walls and shuttered windows only sounds could penetrate. But
here, within the house, was he alone? He knew he was; he had watched
the servant set forth sweet-hearting, in her poor best, "out for the
day" written in every ribbon and smile. Yes, he was alone, of course;
and yet, in the bulk of empty house above him, he could surely hear a
stir of delicate footing; he was surely conscious, inexplicably
conscious of some presence. Ay, surely; to every room and corner of
the house his imagination followed it; and now it was a faceless
thing, and yet had eyes to see with; and again it was a shadow of
himself; and yet again behold the image of the dead dealer, reinspired
with cunning and hatred.
At times, with a strong effort, he would glance at the open door which
still seemed to repel his eyes. The house was tall, the skylight small
and dirty, the day blind with fog; and the light that filtered down to
the ground story was exceedingly faint, and showed dimly on the
threshold of the shop. And yet, in that strip of doubtful brightness,
did there not hang wavering a shadow?
Suddenly, from the street outside, a very jovial gentleman began to
beat with a staff on the shop door, accompanying his blows with shouts
and railleries in which the dealer was continually called upon by
name. Markheim, smitten into ice, glanced at the dead man. But no! he
lay quite still; he was fled away far beyond earshot of these blows
and shoutings; he was sunk beneath seas of silence; and his name,
which would once have caught his notice above the howling of a storm,
had become an empty sound. And presently the jovial gentleman desisted
from his knocking and departed.
Here was a broad hint to hurry what remained to be done, to get forth
from this accusing neighbourhood, to plunge into a bath of London
multitudes, and to reach, on the other side of day, that haven of
safety and apparent innocencehis bed. One visitor had come; at any
moment another might follow and be more obstinate. To have done the
deed, and yet not to reap the profit, would be too abhorrent a
failure. The moneythat was now Markheim's concern; and as a means to
that, the keys.
He glanced over his shoulder at the open door, where the shadow was
still lingering and shivering; and with no conscious repugnance of the
mind, yet with a tremor of the belly, he drew near the body of his
victim. The human character had quite departed. Like a suit half-
stuffed with bran, the limbs lay scattered, the trunk doubled, on the
floor; and yet the thing repelled him. Although so dingy and
inconsiderable to the eye, he feared it might have more significance
to the touch. He took the body by the shoulders, and turned it on its
back. It was strangely light and supple, and the limbs, as if they had
been broken, fell into the oddest postures. The face was robbed of all
expression; but it was as pale as wax, and shockingly smeared with
blood about one temple. That was, for Markheim, the one displeasing
circumstance. It carried him back, upon the instant, to a certain
fair-day in a fishers' village: a gray day, a piping wind, a crowd
upon the street, the blare of brasses, the booming of drums, the nasal
voice of a ballad singer; and a boy going to and fro, buried overhead
in the crowd and divided between interest and fear, until, coming out
upon the chief place of concourse, he beheld a booth and a great
screen with pictures, dismally designed, garishly colouredBrownrigg
with her apprentice, the Mannings with their murdered guest, Weare in
the death-grip of Thurtell, and a score besides of famous crimes. The
thing was as clear as an illusion He was once again that little boy;
he was looking once again, and with the same sense of physical revolt,
at these vile pictures; he was still stunned by the thumping of the
drums. A bar of that day's music returned upon his memory; and at
that, for the first time, a qualm came over him, a breath of nausea, a
sudden weakness of the joints, which he must instantly resist and
He judged it more prudent to confront than to flee from these
considerations, looking the more hardily in the dead face, bending his
mind to realise the nature and greatness of his crime. So little a
while ago that face had moved with every change of sentiment, that
pale mouth had spoken, that body had been all on fire with governable
energies; and now, and by his act, that piece of life had been
arrested, as the horologist, with interjected finger, arrests the
beating of the clock. So he reasoned in vain; he could rise to no more
remorseful consciousness; the same heart which had shuddered before
the painted effigies of crime, looked on its reality unmoved. At best,
he felt a gleam of pity for one who had been endowed in vain with all
those faculties that can make the world a garden of enchantment, one
who had never lived and who was now dead. But of penitence, no, not a
With that, shaking himself clear of these considerations, he found the
keys and advanced toward the open door of the shop. Outside, it had
begun to rain smartly, and the sound of the shower upon the roof had
banished silence. Like some dripping cavern, the chambers of the house
were haunted by an incessant echoing, which filled the ear and mingled
with the ticking of the clocks. And, as Markheim approached the door,
he seemed to hear, in answer to his own cautious tread, the steps of
another foot withdrawing up the stair. The shadow still palpitated
loosely on the threshold. He threw a ton's weight of resolve upon his
muscles, and drew back the door.
The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare floor and
stairs; on the bright suit of armour posted, halbert in hand, upon the
landing; and on the dark wood-carvings, and framed pictures that hung
against the yellow panels of the wainscot. So loud was the beating of
the rain through all the house that, in Markheim's ears, it began to
be distinguished into many different sounds. Footsteps and sighs, the
tread of regiments marching in the distance, the chink of money in the
counting, and the creaking of doors held stealthily ajar, appeared to
mingle with the patter of the drops upon the cupola and the gushing of
the water in the pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him
to the verge of madness. On every side he was haunted and begirt by
presences. He heard them moving in the upper chambers; from the shop,
he heard the dead man getting to his legs; and as he began with a
great effort to mount the stairs, feet fled quietly before him and
followed stealthily behind. If he were but deaf, he thought, how
tranquilly he would possess his soul! And then again, and hearkening
with ever fresh attention, he blessed himself for that unresting sense
which held the outposts and stood a trusty sentinel upon his life. His
head turned continually on his neck; his eyes, which seemed starting
from their orbits, scouted on every side, and on every side were half
rewarded as with the tail of something nameless vanishing. The four
and twenty steps to the first floor were four and twenty agonies.
On that first story, the doors stood ajarthree of them, like three
ambushes, shaking his nerves like the throats of cannon. He could
never again, he felt, be sufficiently immured and fortified from men's
observing eyes; he longed to be home, girt in by walls, buried among
bedclothes, and invisible to all but God. And at that thought he
wondered a little, recollecting tales of other murderers and the fear
they were said to entertain of heavenly avengers. It was not so, at
least, with him. He feared the laws of nature, lest, in their callous
and immutable procedure, they should preserve some damning evidence of
his crime. He feared tenfold more, with a slavish, superstitious
terror, some scission in the continuity of man's experience, some
wilful illegality of nature. He played a game of skill, depending on
the rules, calculating consequence from cause; and what if nature, as
the defeated tyrant overthrew the chess-board, should break the mould
of their succession? The like had befallen Napoleon (so writers said)
when the winter changed the time of its appearance. The like might
befall Markheim: the solid walls might become transparent and reveal
his doings like those of bees in a glass hive; the stout planks might
yield under his foot like quicksands and detain him in their clutch.
Ay, and there were soberer accidents that might destroy him; if, for
instance, the house should fall and imprison him beside the body of
his victim, or the house next door should fly on fire, and the firemen
invade him from all sides. These things he feared; and, in a sense,
these things might be called the hands of God reached forth against
sin. But about God himself he was at ease; his act was doubtless
exceptional, but so were his excuses, which God knew; it was there,
and not among men, that he felt sure of justice.
When he had got safe into the drawing-room, and shut the door behind
him, he was aware of a respite from alarms. The room was quite
dismantled, uncarpeted besides, and strewn with packing-cases and
incongruous furniture; several great pier-glasses, in which he beheld
himself at various angles, like an actor on a stage; many pictures,
framed and unframed, standing, with their faces to the wall; a fine
Sheraton sideboard, a cabinet of marquetry, and a great old bed, with
tapestry hangings. The windows opened to the floor; but by great good
fortune the lower part of the shutters had been closed, and this
concealed him from the neighbours. Here, then, Markheim drew in a
packing-case before the cabinet, and began to search among the keys.
It was a long business, for there were many; and it was irksome,
besides; for, after all, there might be nothing in the cabinet, and
time was on the wing. But the closeness of the occupation sobered him.
With the tail of his eye he saw the dooreven glanced at it from time
to time directly, like a besieged commander pleased to verify the good
estate of his defences. But in truth he was at peace. The rain falling
in the street sounded natural and pleasant. Presently, on the other
side, the notes of a piano were wakened to the music of a hymn, and
the voices of many children took up the air and words. How stately,
how comfortable was the melody! How fresh the youthful voices!
Markheim gave ear to it smilingly, as he sorted out the keys; and his
mind was thronged with answerable ideas and images: church-going
children, and the pealing of the high organ; children afield, bathers
by the brookside, ramblers on the brambly common, kite-flyers in the
windy and cloud-navigated sky; and then, at another cadence of the
hymn, back again to church, and the somnolence of summer Sundays, and
the high genteel voice of the parson (which he smiled a little to
recall) and the painted Jacobean tombs, and the dim lettering of the
Ten Commandments in the chancel.
And as he sat thus, at once busy and absent, he was startled to his
feet. A flash of ice, a flash of fire, a bursting gush of blood, went
over him, and then he stood transfixed and thrilling. A step mounted
the stair slowly and steadily, and presently a hand was laid upon the
knob, and the lock clicked, and the door opened.
Fear held Markheim in a vice. What to expect he knew notwhether the
dead man walking, or the official ministers of human justice, or some
chance witness blindly stumbling in to consign him to the gallows. But
when a face was thrust into the aperture, glanced round the room,
looked at him, nodded and smiled as if in friendly recognition, and
then withdrew again, and the door closed behind it, his fear broke
loose from his control in a hoarse cry. At the sound of this the
"Did you call me?" he asked, pleasantly, and with that he entered the
room and closed the door behind him.
Markheim stood and gazed at him with all his eyes. Perhaps there was a
film upon his sight, but the outlines of the new comer seemed to
change and waver like those of the idols in the wavering candle-light
of the shop; and at times he thought he knew him; and at times he
thought he bore a likeness to himself; and always, like a lump of
living terror, there lay in his bosom the conviction that this thing
was not of the earth and not of God.
And yet the creature had a strange air of the commonplace, as he stood
looking on Markheim with a smile; and when he added, "You are looking
for the money, I believe?" it was in the tones of everyday politeness.
Markheim made no answer.
"I should warn you," resumed the other, "that the maid has left her
sweetheart earlier than usual and will soon be here. If Mr. Markheim
be found in this house, I need not describe to him the consequences."
"You know me?" cried the murderer.
The visitor smiled. "You have long been a favourite of mine," he said;
"and I have long observed and often sought to help you."
"What are you?" cried Markheim; "the devil?"
"What I may be," returned the other, "cannot affect the service I
propose to render you."
"It can," cried Markheim; "it does! Be helped by you? No, never; not
by you! You do not know me yet; thank God, you do not know me!"
"I know you," replied the visitant, with a sort of kind severity or
rather firmness. "I know you to the soul."
"Know me!" cried Markheim. "Who can do so? My life is but a travesty
and slander on myself. I have lived to belie my nature. All men do;
all men are better than this disguise that grows about and stifles
them. You see each dragged away by life, like one whom bravos have
seized and muffled in a cloak. If they had their own controlif you
could see their faces, they would be altogether different, they would
shine out for heroes and saints! I am worse than most; myself is more
overlaid; my excuse is known to me and God. But, had I the time, I
could disclose myself."
"To me?" inquired the visitant.
"To you before all," returned the murderer. "I supposed you were
intelligent. I thoughtsince you existyou would prove a reader of
the heart. And yet you would propose to judge me by my acts! Think of
itmy acts! I was born and I have lived in a land of giants; giants
have dragged me by the wrists since I was born out of my motherthe
giants of circumstance. And you would judge me by my acts! But can you
not look within? Can you not understand that evil is hateful to me?
Can you not see within me the clear writing of conscience, never
blurred by any wilful sophistry, although too often disregarded? Can
you not read me for a thing that surely must be common as humanity
the unwilling sinner?"
"All this is very feelingly expressed," was the reply, "but it regards
me not. These points of consistency are beyond my province, and I care
not in the least by what compulsion you may have been dragged away, so
as you are but carried in the right direction. But time flies; the
servant delays, looking in the faces of the crowd and at the pictures
on the hoardings, but still she keeps moving nearer; and remember, it
is as if the gallows itself was striding towards you through the
Christmas streets! Shall I help youI, who know all? Shall I tell you
where to find the money?"
"For what price?" asked Markheim.
"I offer you the service for a Christmas gift," returned the other.
Markheim could not refrain from smiling with a kind of bitter triumph.
"No," said he, "I will take nothing at your hands; if I were dying of
thirst, and it was your hand that put the pitcher to my lips, I should
find the courage to refuse. It may be credulous, but I will do nothing
to commit myself to evil."
"I have no objection to a death-bed repentance," observed the
"Because you disbelieve their efficacy!" Markheim cried.
"I do not say so," returned the other; "but I look on these things
from a different side, and when the life is done my interest falls.
The man has lived to serve me, to spread black looks under colour of
religion, or to sow tares in the wheat-field, as you do, in a course
of weak compliance with desire. Now that he draws so near to his
deliverance, he can add but one act of service: to repent, to die
smiling, and thus to build up in confidence and hope the more timorous
of my surviving followers. I am not so hard a master. Try me; accept
my help. Please yourself in life as you have done hitherto; please
yourself more amply, spread your elbows at the board; and when the
night begins to fall and the curtains to be drawn, I tell you, for
your greater comfort, that you will find it even easy to compound your
quarrel with your conscience, and to make a truckling peace with God.
I came but now from such a death-bed, and the room was full of sincere
mourners, listening to the man's last words; and when I looked into
that face, which had been set as a flint against mercy, I found it
smiling with hope."
"And do you, then, suppose me such a creature?" asked Markheim. "Do
you think I have no more generous aspirations than to sin and sin and
sin and at last sneak into heaven? My heart rises at the thought. Is
this, then, your experience of mankind? or is it because you find me
with red hands that you presume such baseness? And is this crime of
murder indeed so impious as to dry up the very springs of good?"
"Murder is to me no special category," replied the other. "All sins
are murder, even as all life is war. I behold your race, like starving
mariners on a raft, plucking crusts out of the hands of famine and
feeding on each other's lives. I follow sins beyond the moment of
their acting; I find in all that the last consequence is death, and to
my eyes, the pretty maid who thwarts her mother with such taking
graces on a question of a ball, drips no less visibly with human gore
than such a murderer as yourself. Do I say that I follow sins? I
follow virtues also. They differ not by the thickness of a nail; they
are both scythes for the reaping angel of Death. Evil, for which I
live, consists not in action but in character. The bad man is dear to
me, not the bad act, whose fruits, if we could follow them far enough
down the hurtling cataract of the ages, might yet be found more
blessed than those of the rarest virtues. And it is not because you
have killed a dealer, but because you are Markheim, that I offer to
forward your escape."
"I will lay my heart open to you," answered Markheim. "This crime on
which you find me is my last. On my way to it I have learned many
lessons; itself is a lessona momentous lesson. Hitherto I have been
driven with revolt to what I would not; I was a bond-slave to poverty,
driven and scourged. There are robust virtues that can stand in these
temptations; mine was not so; I had a thirst of pleasure. But to-day,
and out of this deed, I pluck both warning and richesboth the power
and a fresh resolve to be myself. I become in all things a free actor
in the world; I begin to see myself all changed, these hands the
agents of good, this heart at peace. Something comes over me out of
the pastsomething of what I have dreamed on Sabbath evenings to the
sound of the church organ, of what I forecast when I shed tears over
noble books, or talked, an innocent child, with my mother. There lies
my life; I have wandered a few years, but now I see once more my city
"You are to use this money on the Stock Exchange, I think?" remarked
the visitor; "and there, if I mistake not, you have already lost some
"Ah," said Markheim, "but this time I have a sure thing."
"This time, again, you will lose," replied the visitor quietly.
"Ah, but I keep back the half!" cried Markheim.
"That also you will lose," said the other.
The sweat started upon Markheim's brow. "Well then, what matter?" he
exclaimed. "Say it be lost, say I am plunged again in poverty, shall
one part of me, and that the worse, continue until the end to override
the better? Evil and good run strong in me, hailing me both ways. I do
not love the one thing; I love all. I can conceive great deeds,
renunciations, martyrdoms; and though I be fallen to such a crime as
murder, pity is no stranger to my thoughts. I pity the poor; who knows
their trials better than myself? I pity and help them. I prize love; I
love honest laughter; there is no good thing nor true thing on earth
but I love it from my heart. And are my vices only to direct my life,
and my virtues to lie without effect, like some passive lumber of the
mind? Not so; good, also, is a spring of acts."
But the visitant raised his finger. "For six and thirty years that you
have been in this world," said he, "through many changes of fortune
and varieties of humour, I have watched you steadily fall. Fifteen
years ago you would have started at a theft. Three years back you
would have blenched at the name of murder. Is there any crime, is
there any cruelty or meanness, from which you still recoil? Five years
from now I shall detect you in the fact! Downward, downward, lies your
way; nor can anything but death avail to stop you."
"It is true," Markheim said huskily, "I have in some degree complied
with evil. But it is so with all; the very saints, in the mere
exercise of living, grow less dainty, and take on the tone of their
"I will propound to you one simple question," said the other; "and as
you answer I shall read to you your moral horoscope. You have grown in
many things more lax; possibly you do right to be so; and at any
account, it is the same with all men. But granting that, are you in
any one particular, however trifling, more difficult to please with
your own conduct, or do you go in all things with a looser rein?"
"In any one?" repeated Markheim, with an anguish of consideration.
"No," he added, with despair; "in none! I have gone down in all."
"Then," said the visitor, "content yourself with what you are, for you
will never change; and the words of your part on this stage are
irrevocably written down."
Markheim stood for a long while silent, and, indeed, it was the
visitor who first broke the silence. "That being so," he said, "shall
I show you the money?"
"And grace?" cried Markheim.
"Have you not tried it?" returned the other. "Two or three years ago
did I not see you on the platform of revival meetings, and was not
your voice the loudest in the hymn?"
"It is true," said Markheim; "and I see clearly what remains for me by
way of duty. I thank you for these lessons from my soul; my eyes are
opened, and I behold myself at last for what I am."
At this moment, the sharp note of the door-bell rang through the
house; and the visitant, as though this were some concerted signal for
which he had been waiting, changed at once in his demeanour.
"The maid!" he cried. "She has returned, as I forewarned you, and
there is now before you one more difficult passage. Her master, you
must say, is ill; you must let her in, with an assured but rather
serious countenance; no smiles, no overacting, and I promise you
success! Once the girl within, and the door closed, the same dexterity
that has already rid you of the dealer will relieve you of this last
danger in your path. Thenceforward you have the whole eveningthe
whole night, if needfulto ransack the treasures of the house and to
make good your safety. This is help that comes to you with the mask of
danger. Up!" he cried; "up, friend. Your life hangs trembling in the
scales; up, and act!"
Markheim steadily regarded his counsellor. "If I be condemned to evil
acts," he said, "there is still one door of freedom open: I can cease
from action. If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it down. Though I
be, as you say truly, at the beck of every small temptation, I can
yet, by one decisive gesture, place myself beyond the reach of all. My
love of good is damned to barrenness; it may, and let it be! But I
have still my hatred of evil; and from that, to your galling
disappointment, you shall see that I can draw both energy and
The features of the visitor began to undergo a wonderful and lovely
change: they brightened and softened with a tender triumph, and, even
as they brightened, faded and dislimned. But Markheim did not pause to
watch or understand the transformation. He opened the door and went
downstairs very slowly, thinking to himself. His past went soberly
before him; he beheld it as it was, ugly and strenuous like a dream,
random as chance medleya scene of defeat. Life, as he thus reviewed
it, tempted him no longer; but on the further side he perceived a
quiet haven for his bark. He paused in the passage, and looked into
the shop, where the candle still burned by the dead body. It was
strangely silent. Thoughts of the dealer swarmed into his mind, as he
stood gazing. And then the bell once more broke out into impatient
He confronted the maid upon the threshold with something like a smile.
"You had better go for the police," said he; "I have killed your