Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 46)

'When the fever left him, and consciousness returned, heawoke to find himself rich and free, to hear that the parent whowould have let him die in jail--WOULD! who HAD let those whowere far dearer to him than his own existence die of want, andsickness of heart that medicine cannot cure--had been founddead in his bed of down. He had had all the heart to leave his sona beggar, but proud even of his health and strength, had put offthe act till it was too late, and now might gnash his teeth in theother world, at the thought of the wealth his remissness had lefthim. He awoke to this, and he awoke to more. To recollect thepurpose for which he lived, and to remember that his enemy washis wife's own father--the man who had cast him into prison,and who, when his daughter and her child sued at his feet formercy, had spurned them from his door. Oh, how he cursed theweakness that prevented him from being up, and active, in hisscheme of vengeance!'He caused himself to be carried from the scene of his loss andmisery, and conveyed to a quiet residence on the sea-coast; notin the hope of recovering his peace of mind or happiness, forboth were fled for ever; but to restore his prostrate energies, andmeditate on his darling object. And here, some evil spirit cast inhis way the opportunity for his first, most horrible revenge.

'It was summer-time; and wrapped in his gloomy thoughts, hewould issue from his solitary lodgings early in the evening, andwandering along a narrow path beneath the cliffs, to a wild andlonely spot that had struck his fancy in his ramblings, seat himselfon some fallen fragment of the rock, and burying his face in hishands, remain there for hours--sometimes until night had completelyclosed in, and the long shadows of the frowning cliffsabove his head cast a thick, black darkness on every object near him.

'He was seated here, one calm evening, in his old position, nowand then raising his head to watch the flight of a sea-gull, orcarry his eye along the glorious crimson path, which, commencingin the middle of the ocean, seemed to lead to its very verge wherethe sun was setting, when the profound stillness of the spot wasbroken by a loud cry for help; he listened, doubtful of his havingheard aright, when the cry was repeated with even greatervehemence than before, and, starting to his feet, he hastened inthe direction whence it proceeded.

'The tale told itself at once: some scattered garments lay onthe beach; a human head was just visible above the waves at alittle distance from the shore; and an old man, wringing hishands in agony, was running to and fro, shrieking for assistance.The invalid, whose strength was now sufficiently restored, threwoff his coat, and rushed towards the sea, with the intention ofplunging in, and dragging the drowning man ashore.

'"Hasten here, Sir, in God's name; help, help, sir, for the loveof Heaven. He is my son, Sir, my only son!" said the old manfrantically, as he advanced to meet him. "My only son, Sir, andhe is dying before his father's eyes!"

'At the first word the old man uttered, the stranger checkedhimself 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, mydear boy, look, look!" Gasping for breath, the miserable fatherpointed to the spot where the young man was struggling for life.

'"Hark!" said the old man. "He cries once more. He is aliveyet. 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 hisknees, and clasping his hands together. "Be revenged; take my all,my life; cast me into the water at your feet, and, if human naturecan 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 bythe 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 deaththan that young slanderer of his sister's worth is meeting while Ispeak. You laughed--laughed in your daughter's face, wheredeath had already set his hand--at our sufferings, then. Whatthink you of them now! See there, see there!"

'As the stranger spoke, he pointed to the sea. A faint cry diedaway upon its surface; the last powerful struggle of the dyingman agitated the rippling waves for a few seconds; and the spotwhere he had gone down into his early grave, was undistinguishablefrom the surrounding water.

'Three years had elapsed, when a gentleman alighted from aprivate carriage at the door of a London attorney, then wellknown 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 perceptionof the man of business, to discern at a glance, that disease orsuffering had done more to work a change in his appearance,than the mere hand of time could have accomplished in twice theperiod of his whole life.

'"I wish you to undertake some legal business for me," saidthe stranger.

'The attorney bowed obsequiously, and glanced at a largepacket which the gentleman carried in his hand. His visitorobserved the look, and proceeded.

'"It is no common business," said he; "nor have these papersreached my hands without long trouble and great expense."

'The attorney cast a still more anxious look at the packet; andhis visitor, untying the string that bound it, disclosed a quantityof promissory notes, with copies of deeds, and other documents.

'"Upon these papers," said the client, "the man whose namethey bear, has raised, as you will see, large sums of money, foryears past. There was a tacit understanding between him and themen into whose hands they originally went--and from whom Ihave by degrees purchased the whole, for treble and quadrupletheir nominal value--that these loans should be from time totime renewed, until a given period had elapsed. Such anunderstanding is nowhere expressed. He has sustained many losses oflate; and these obligations accumulating upon him at once,would crush him to the earth."

'"The whole amount is many thousands of pounds," said theattorney, 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 everyengine of the law in force, every trick that ingenuity can deviseand rascality execute; fair means and foul; the open oppressionof the law, aided by all the craft of its most ingenious practitioners.I would have him die a harassing and lingering death. Ruinhim, seize and sell his lands and goods, drive him from house andhome, and drag him forth a beggar in his old age, to die in acommon jail."

'"But the costs, my dear Sir, the costs of all this," reasoned theattorney, 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 tremblingso violently with excitement, that he could scarcely hold thepen he seized as he spoke--"any sum, and it is yours. Don't beafraid to name it, man. I shall not think it dear, if you gainmy object."

'The attorney named a large sum, at hazard, as the advance heshould require to secure himself against the possibility of loss;but more with the view of ascertaining how far his client wasreally disposed to go, than with any idea that he would complywith 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 thathis strange client might be safely relied upon, commenced hiswork in earnest. For more than two years afterwards, Mr.Heyling would sit whole days together, in the office, poring overthe papers as they accumulated, and reading again and again, hiseyes gleaming with joy, the letters of remonstrance, the prayersfor a little delay, the representations of the certain ruin in whichthe opposite party must be involved, which poured in, as suit aftersuit, and process after process, was commenced. To all applicationsfor a brief indulgence, there was but one reply--the moneymust be paid. Land, house, furniture, each in its turn, was takenunder some one of the numerous executions which were issued;and the old man himself would have been immured in prison hadhe not escaped the vigilance of the officers, and fled.

'The implacable animosity of Heyling, so far from being satiatedby the success of his persecution, increased a hundredfold withthe ruin he inflicted. On being informed of the old man's flight,his fury was unbounded. He gnashed his teeth with rage, tore thehair from his head, and assailed with horrid imprecations themen who had been intrusted with the writ. He was only restoredto comparative calmness by repeated assurances of the certaintyof discovering the fugitive. Agents were sent in quest of him, inall directions; every stratagem that could be invented wasresorted to, for the purpose of discovering his place of retreat;but it was all in vain. Half a year had passed over, and he wasstill undiscovered.

'At length late one night, Heyling, of whom nothing had beenseen for many weeks before, appeared at his attorney's privateresidence, and sent up word that a gentleman wished to see himinstantly. Before the attorney, who had recognised his voice fromabove stairs, could order the servant to admit him, he had rushedup the staircase, and entered the drawing-room pale and breathless.Having closed the door, to prevent being overheard, he sankinto 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 hehas been living alone there, in the most abject misery, all thetime, and he is poor--very poor."

'"Very good," said the attorney. "You will have the captionmade to-morrow, of course?"

'"Yes," replied Heyling. "Stay! No! The next day. You aresurprised at my wishing to postpone it," he added, with a ghastlysmile; "but I had forgotten. The next day is an anniversary in hislife: let it be done then."

'"Very good," said the attorney. "Will you write downinstructions for the officer?"

'"No; let him meet me here, at eight in the evening, and I willaccompany him myself."

'They met on the appointed night, and, hiring a hackney-coach, directed the driver to stop at that corner of the oldPancras Road, at which stands the parish workhouse. By thetime they alighted there, it was quite dark; and, proceeding bythe dead wall in front of the Veterinary Hospital, they entered asmall by-street, which is, or was at that time, called Little CollegeStreet, and which, whatever it may be now, was in those days adesolate 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 themeanest-looking house in the street, and knocked gently at thedoor. It was at once opened by a woman, who dropped a curtseyof recognition, and Heyling, whispering the officer to remainbelow, crept gently upstairs, and, opening the door of the frontroom, entered at once.

'The object of his search and his unrelenting animosity, now adecrepit old man, was seated at a bare deal table, on which stooda 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 freshmisery is this? What do you want here?"

'"A word with YOU," replied Heyling. As he spoke, he seatedhimself at the other end of the table, and, throwing off his cloakand cap, disclosed his features.

'The old man seemed instantly deprived of speech. He fellbackward in his chair, and, clasping his hands together, gazed onthe apparition with a mingled look of abhorrence and fear.

'"This day six years," said Heyling, "I claimed the life youowed 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 swervedfrom my purpose for a moment's space; but if I had, one thoughtof her uncomplaining, suffering look, as she drooped away, or ofthe starving face of our innocent child, would have nerved me tomy task. My first act of requital you well remember: this is mylast."

'The old man shivered, and his hands dropped powerless byhis side.

'"I leave England to-morrow," said Heyling, after a moment'spause. "To-night I consign you to the living death to which youdevoted 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 theapartment.

'"You had better see to the old man," he said to the woman, ashe opened the door, and motioned the officer to follow him intothe street. "I think he is ill." The woman closed the door, ranhastily upstairs, and found him lifeless.

'Beneath a plain gravestone, in one of the most peaceful andsecluded churchyards in Kent, where wild flowers mingle withthe grass, and the soft landscape around forms the fairest spot inthe garden of England, lie the bones of the young mother and hergentle child. But the ashes of the father do not mingle with theirs;nor, from that night forward, did the attorney ever gain theremotest clue to the subsequent history of his queer client.'As the old man concluded his tale, he advanced to a peg in onecorner, and taking down his hat and coat, put them on withgreat deliberation; and, without saying another word, walkedslowly away. As the gentleman with the Mosaic studs had fallenasleep, and the major part of the company were deeply occupiedin the humorous process of dropping melted tallow-grease intohis brandy-and-water, Mr. Pickwick departed unnoticed, andhaving settled his own score, and that of Mr. Weller, issued forth,in company with that gentleman, from beneath the portal of theMagpie and Stump.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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