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  • STORY OF THE DOOR

  • Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile;

  • cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty,

  • dreary and yet somehow lovable.

  • At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed

  • from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke

  • not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts

  • of his life.

  • He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages;

  • and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years.

  • But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at

  • the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to

  • help rather than to reprove.

  • "I incline to Cain's heresy," he used to say quaintly: "I let my brother go to the devil

  • in his own way."

  • In this character, it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and

  • the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men.

  • And to such as these, so long as they came about his chambers, he never marked a shade

  • of change in his demeanour.

  • No doubt the feat was easy to Mr. Utterson; for he was undemonstrative at the best, and

  • even his friendship seemed to be founded in a similar catholicity of good-nature.

  • It is the mark of a modest man to accept his friendly circle ready-made from the hands

  • of opportunity; and that was the lawyer's way.

  • His friends were those of his own blood or those whom he had known the longest; his affections,

  • like ivy, were the growth of time, they implied no aptness in the object.

  • Hence, no doubt the bond that united him to Mr. Richard Enfield, his distant kinsman,

  • the well-known man about town.

  • It was a nut to crack for many, what these two could see in each other, or what subject

  • they could find in common.

  • It was reported by those who encountered them in their Sunday walks, that they said nothing,

  • looked singularly dull and would hail with obvious relief the appearance of a friend.

  • For all that, the two men put the greatest store by these excursions, counted them the

  • chief jewel of each week, and not only set aside occasions of pleasure, but even resisted

  • the calls of business, that they might enjoy them uninterrupted.

  • It chanced on one of these rambles that their way led them down a by-street in a busy quarter

  • of London.

  • The street was small and what is called quiet, but it drove a thriving trade on the weekdays.

  • The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed and all emulously hoping to do better still,

  • and laying out the surplus of their grains in coquetry; so that the shop fronts stood

  • along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen.

  • Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage,

  • the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood, like a fire in a forest; and

  • with its freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety

  • of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger.

  • Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east the line was broken by the entry

  • of a court; and just at that point a certain sinister block of building thrust forward

  • its gable on the street.

  • It was two storeys high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower storey and

  • a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks

  • of prolonged and sordid negligence.

  • The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained.

  • Tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept shop

  • upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings; and for close on a

  • generation, no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages.

  • Mr. Enfield and the lawyer were on the other side of the by-street; but when they came

  • abreast of the entry, the former lifted up his cane and pointed.

  • "Did you ever remark that door?" he asked; and when his companion had replied in the

  • affirmative.

  • "It is connected in my mind," added he, "with a very odd story."

  • "Indeed?" said Mr. Utterson, with a slight change of voice, "and what was that?"

  • "Well, it was this way," returned Mr. Enfield: "I was coming home from some place at the

  • end of the world, about three o'clock of a black winter morning, and my way lay through

  • a part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps.

  • Street after street and all the folks asleepóstreet after street, all lighted up as if for a procession

  • and all as empty as a churchótill at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens

  • and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman.

  • All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good

  • walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was

  • able down a cross street.

  • Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible

  • part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child's body and left her screaming

  • on the ground.

  • It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see.

  • It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.

  • I gave a few halloa, took to my heels, collared my gentleman, and brought him back to where

  • there was already quite a group about the screaming child.

  • He was perfectly cool and made no resistance, but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought

  • out the sweat on me like running.

  • The people who had turned out were the girl's own family; and pretty soon, the doctor, for

  • whom she had been sent put in his appearance.

  • Well, the child was not much the worse, more frightened, according to the Sawbones; and

  • there you might have supposed would be an end to it.

  • But there was one curious circumstance.

  • I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight.

  • So had the child's family, which was only natural.

  • But the doctor's case was what struck me.

  • He was the usual cut and dry apothecary, of no particular age and colour, with a strong

  • Edinburgh accent and about as emotional as a bagpipe.

  • Well, sir, he was like the rest of us; every time he looked at my prisoner, I saw that

  • Sawbones turn sick and white with desire to kill him.

  • I knew what was in his mind, just as he knew what was in mine; and killing being out of

  • the question, we did the next best.

  • We told the man we could and would make such a scandal out of this as should make his name

  • stink from one end of London to the other.

  • If he had any friends or any credit, we undertook that he should lose them.

  • And all the time, as we were pitching it in red hot, we were keeping the women off him

  • as best we could for they were as wild as harpies.

  • I never saw a circle of such hateful faces; and there was the man in the middle, with

  • a kind of black sneering coolnessófrightened too, I could see thatóbut carrying it off,

  • sir, really like Satan.

  • `If you choose to make capital out of this accident,' said he, `I am naturally helpless.

  • No gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene,' says he.

  • `Name your figure.'

  • Well, we screwed him up to a hundred pounds for the child's family; he would have clearly

  • liked to stick out; but there was something about the lot of us that meant mischief, and

  • at last he struck.

  • The next thing was to get the money; and where do you think he carried us but to that place

  • with the doorwhipped out a key, went in, and presently came back with the matter of

  • ten pounds in gold and a cheque for the balance on Coutts's, drawn payable to bearer and signed

  • with a name that I can't mention, though it's one of the points of my story, but it was

  • a name at least very well known and often printed.

  • The figure was stiff; but the signature was good for more than that if it was only genuine.

  • I took the liberty of pointing out to my gentleman that the whole business looked apocryphal,

  • and that a man does not, in real life, walk into a cellar door at four in the morning

  • and come out with another man's cheque for close upon a hundred pounds.

  • But he was quite easy and sneering.

  • `Set your mind at rest,' says he, `I will stay with you till the banks open and cash

  • the cheque myself.'

  • So we all set off, the doctor, and the child's father, and our friend and myself, and passed

  • the rest of the night in my chambers; and next day, when we had breakfasted, went in

  • a body to the bank.

  • I gave in the cheque myself, and said I had every reason to believe it was a forgery.

  • Not a bit of it.

  • The cheque was genuine."

  • "Tut-tut," said Mr. Utterson.

  • "I see you feel as I do," said Mr. Enfield.

  • "Yes, it's a bad story.

  • For my man was a fellow that nobody could have to do with, a really damnable man; and

  • the person that drew the cheque is the very pink of the proprieties, celebrated too, and

  • (what makes it worse) one of your fellows who do what they call good.

  • Black mail I suppose; an honest man paying through the nose for some of the capers of

  • his youth.

  • Black Mail House is what I call the place with the door, in consequence.

  • Though even that, you know, is far from explaining all," he added, and with the words fell into

  • a vein of musing.

  • From this he was recalled by Mr. Utterson asking rather suddenly: "And you don't know

  • if the drawer of the cheque lives there?"

  • "A likely place, isn't it?"

  • returned Mr. Enfield.

  • "But I happen to have noticed his address; he lives in some square or other."

  • "And you never asked about theóplace with the door?" said Mr. Utterson.

  • "No, sir: I had a delicacy," was the reply.

  • "I feel very strongly about putting questions; it partakes too much of the style of the day

  • of judgment.

  • You start a question, and it's like starting a stone.

  • You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away the stone goes, starting others; and

  • presently some bland old bird (the last you would have thought of) is knocked on the head

  • in his own back garden and the family have to change their name.

  • No sir, I make it a rule of mine: the more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask."

  • "A very good rule, too," said the lawyer.

  • "But I have studied the place for myself," continued Mr. Enfield.

  • "It seems scarcely a house.

  • There is no other door, and nobody goes in or out of that one but, once in a great while,

  • the gentleman of my adventure.

  • There are three windows looking on the court on the first floor; none below; the windows

  • are always shut but they're clean.

  • And then there is a chimney which is generally smoking; so somebody must live there.

  • And yet it's not so sure; for the buildings are so packed together about the court, that

  • it's hard to say where one ends and another begins."

  • The pair walked on again for a while in silence; and then "Enfield," said Mr. Utterson, "that's

  • a good rule of yours."