Hunted down Charles Dickens - chapter 1
Most people have a chance to see exciting events in their lives. I am the Chief Manager of an insurance office. I too, have seen exciting things in my thirty years of work.
My office had one wall that was covered in glass. I could see everybody who came into the insurance company. I liked to study the faces of new customers before I spoke to them.
I decided what kind of people they were before they said a word to me. I learned to trust my first impression of people.
The story I want to tell is about a man who came into the company one day. I watched him through the glass in my office. He seemed about forty years old and he was very well dressed. He seemed very polite and he appeared to be quite a gentleman. He was talking to one of the clerks. Despite his appearance, I disliked this man as soon as I saw him.
Suddenly the man noticed that I was looking at him. He smiled at me through the glass. Then he took some papers from the clerk and left.
A few minutes later I called the clerk into my office.
‘Who was that man?’ I asked him.
‘That was Mr Julius Slinkton, sir,’ the clerk told me. ‘He’s from the Middle Temple.’
‘What did he want?’ I enquired.
‘He wanted one of our insurance forms,’ the clerk replied. ‘He said that a friend of yours recommended this company.’
‘He knew my name then, did he?’
‘Oh, yes, Mr Sampson,’ the clerk confirmed. ‘He knew your name.’
About two weeks later I went to have dinner with a friend of mine. One of the other guests was Mr Julius Slinkton. He was standing near the fire. He noticed me and he asked our host to introduce him to me. Our host quickly brought him over. The three of us began to talk.
‘I thought you knew Mr Sampson already,’ our host said.
‘No,’ Mr Slinkton told him. ‘I followed your advice. I went into the insurance office, but I didn’t speak to Mr Sampson. I didn’t want to disturb him.’
‘Did you come to the office to take out an insurance policy?’ I asked Mr Slinkton politely. ‘Was it a life insurance policy?’
‘It’s not a policy for me,’ Mr Slinkton said. ‘It’s for a friend of mine. He asked me to get the information for him. I don’t know whether he will lake out the policy. People often change their minds, don’t you think, Mr Sampson?’
‘Yes,’ I replied.
We began to talk about other things.
‘Your profession has suffered a great loss,’ Mr Slinkton said suddenly.
I did not know what he was talking about.
‘A loss?’ I asked in surprise. ‘What kind of loss, sir – a financial one?’
Mr Slinkton laughed.
‘I don’t mean a financial loss,’ he explained. ‘I was referring to Mr Meltham-‘
Now I understood what he was talking about.
‘Ah. yes, Mr Meltham,’ I agreed. ‘That was indeed a sad loss. He was the most brilliant man I have ever known in the insurance profession. But did you know Mr Meltham?’ I asked.
‘I knew his reputation,’ Mr Slinkton told me. ‘What a sad story it is! A young man like that suddenly gives up his business and retires from the world.’
I have said that I disliked Mr Slinkton when I first saw him in the insurance office. I still disliked him. I did not think he was really sad about Mr Meltham at all. I decided to ask Mr Slinkton some questions. I wanted to find out more about this man.
‘Have you heard why Mr Meltham left his business?’ I asked.
‘I have only heard stories about it,’ he said. ‘Apparently
Mr Meltham was unhappy in love.’
‘That’s not the truth,’ I told him. ‘The truth is that the lady died.’
‘She died, did she?’ Mr Slink-ton repeated. ‘That’s terrible – poor Mr Meltham. How very sad for him!’
I still felt that Mr Slinkton was not sincere. There was something false about his expression of sadness.
Then he said to me, ‘You are surprised that Mr Meltham’s story affects me so strongly. I can see that, Mr Sampson, but I, too, have suffered a terrible loss recently. I have two nieces, you see. One of them, a girl of twenty-three, died recently. The other niece is also not well. The world is a very sad place!’ Now I thought I understood Mr Slinkton. He was a sensitive man who had suffered. I was angry with myself for disliking him. I watched him for the rest of the evening and he seemed to be a good man. He talked politely to everybody and everybody seemed to like him. I decided that my first impression of Mr Slinkton was wrong.
I spoke to our host about Mr Slinkton. He told me that he had not known him for very long. He told me that Mr Slinkton had taken his two nieces to Italy for their health. It was there that one of them had died. He had returned to England afterwards with his other niece. Now I felt that I understood Mr Slinkton. I was deeply ashamed of my previous distrust of him.
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