Hunted down Charles Dickens - chapter 2
Two days later I was sitting in my office as usual. I saw Mr Slinkton come into the outer office. As soon as I saw him I disliked him again. Mr Slinkton waved cheerfully at me and came into my office.
‘I have come back,’ he said, ‘because I want to find out what my friend has done with the insurance forms. I want to know whether he has sent them back to the company. His family are worried about him, you see. They want him to buy a good insurance policy.’
‘Perhaps I can help,’ I said. ‘What is your friend’s name, Mr Slinkton?’ I asked him.
‘Beckwith,’ he told me. a man called Beckwith had started an insurance policy with the company. The clerk searched through his files for a moment and then he brought me some papers.
‘Yes, Mr Sampson,’ he said. ‘We received these forms from Mr Beckwith. He wants a policy for two thousand pounds and he has asked Mr Slinkton to write a reference for him.
‘Me!’ cried Mr Slinkton in surprise. He thought for a moment. ‘But of course I can do that for him,’
Mr Slinkton sat down in my office and wrote the reference for Mr Beckwith. He left the forms in my office, said goodbye politely and then left.
Mr Slinkton was not my only visitor that day. Very early that morning someone else had come to see me at my house. The visit was a very private one.
No one knew anything about it at all.
Mr Beckwith’s insurance policy began in March. I did not see Mr Slinkton again for six or seven months. I went to Scarborough in September and I saw Mr Slinkton walking on the beach there. It was early evening and he greeted me warmly.
Mr Slinkton was with a young lady. He introduced me to her, explaining that she was his niece. Her name was Miss Niner.
I looked at her carefully. I was sorry to see that Miss Niner did not look very well at all. As we walked along the sand, Mr Slinkton pointed to some tracks in the sand. He laughed.
‘Your shadow has been here again,’ he joked to Miss Niner.
‘Shadow? What shadow?’ I asked.
‘My uncle is joking, Mr Sampson,’ she explained. ‘There is an elderly gentleman here in Scarborough. He travels around in a hand-carriage. I see him so often that my uncle calls him my shadow.’
As she was speaking we saw the old man’s hand-carriage come into sight. There was a frail old man inside. As the carriage was passing us, he waved his arm at me. He called to me by name. I went to see what he wanted. I was away from Mr Slinkton and Miss Niner for about five minutes.
‘My niece is very curious,’ Mr Slinkton told me when I rejoined them. ‘She wants to know who her shadow is.’
‘His name’s Major Banks,’ I told him. ‘He’s a very rich man, but a very sick one. He’s just been telling me what pleasure you both give him. He says it’s obvious that you are very fond of one another.’
‘It’s true we are very close,’ Mr Slinkton said very seriously. ‘We are alone, you know – since Margaret died.’ Miss Niner looked sad at her uncle’s words. The memory of her sister was clearly still very painful to her. Suddenly she sat down near a rock on the beach. She was pale.
Mr Slinkton walked away from us. He, too, seemed very upset by his memories.
Miss Niner began to tell me about her uncle. She said he was a very good, kind man. She told me that she knew she was going to die soon. She was worried about what would happen to her uncle when she died. I saw the hand-carriage coining back towards us along the sand as she was talking. Suddenly I interrupted her.
‘Miss Niner.’ I said urgently, ‘I have something to tell you. You are in great danger! You must come with me and talk to that man in the hand-carriage. Your life depends on it!’
Miss Niner was very shocked by my words. I walked with her to the hand-carriage before she had time to object.
I did not stay there with her for more than two minutes. Within five minutes I saw her walking up the beach with a grey-haired man. He had a slight limp. I knew that she was safe with that man.
I went back to the rock and sat down. Mr Slinkton came back soon afterwards. He was surprised that his niece had gone. We talked for a few minutes. He told me that Miss Niner was very ill and he looked sad while he told me. I replied politely to everything he said, but I was holding a weapon in my pocket as we walked along together.
‘Mr Sampson, may I ask you something?’ he suddenly enquired. ‘What is the news of that poor man Meltham? Is he dead yet?’
‘No,’ I told him, ‘he’s not dead yet. But he won’t live long, I’m afraid.’
‘What a sad place the world is!’ Mr Slinkton sighed quietly.
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