Dickens /Minor /Trial for Murder

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Trial for Murder – 1865 – a short story

Dickens originally published this under the title ‘To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt’ as a chapter in Dr. Marigold’s Prescriptions within an extra Christmas volume of the weekly literary magazine, All the Year Round..

It was later published in 1866 in a collection of ghost stories known as ‘Three Ghost Stories‘, along with ‘The Haunted House‘ and ‘The Signal-Man‘.
A certain murder was committed in England, which attracted great attention. No suspicion fell on the individual who was later tried for the crime.

The narrator reads of the crime in the paper in chambers in Piccadilly. He has a flash image of the bedroom in which the crime was discovered, but mercifully no view of the corpse. It chilled him and propelled him to the window to watch the reassuring traffic in Piccadilly.

He spotted two men walking thirty paces apart, the first man kept glancing over his shoulder, the second had his right hand menacingly raised. They both looked up at the narrator and he knew he would recognise them anywhere.

The narrator describes himself, his establishment is just his valet and wife. He works at a bank branch and confesses to be jaded and in need of change.

The story of the murder grew within the newspapers, but the banker was not engrossed by it. However he was aware that the suspected murderer had been committed to Newgate for trial. He knew also that it would be tried in the Central Criminal Court, but had been postponed for the moment. He had no idea when the trial might begin.

One evening while in his bedroom with his servant stood in front of the dressing-room door, he saw the door open and the second of the two men he had seen on Piccadilly beckoned to him and closed the door.

He opened the door but saw no-one inside, his servant was amazed by his actions. He turned to explain and the valet started and said ‘O Lord, yes, sir! A dead man beckoning!’ It was the second man, though he had seen him just once before.

Sleeping fitfully he awoke when his valet was having an altercation at the door. The valet had received a summons for the banker to serve upon a Jury at the forthcoming Sessions of the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. He had at first refused it, assuming juries to consist of low status members.

He was tempted not to attend, but thought it would break the monotony. He was not aware that it was the murder case that was to be heard. The judges, two, took their seats and the Murderer was put up to the Bar, He recognised him as the first of the two men he had seen on Piccadilly.

He was called as the sixth or eighth to the Jury panel. The accused became animated, clearly wanting him removed from the jury. He later learned that the prisoner had said ‘At all hazards, challenge that man!’, but it was not done because the prisoner gave no good reason for his objections.

The case went on for ten days, the narrator was selected as the Foreman of the Jury. On the second day he was surprised to see the jury was thirteen strong. He asked another juror to check his arithmetic and he too saw thirteen, but then adjusted this to twelve.

The Jury were accommodated at a London Tavern and all slept in the one room with Harker, an officer of the court placed as guard over them. On the second might the narrator went over and sat beside Harker, because he could not sleep.

Harker reacted and the narrator saw the second man. Harker commented that he thought there was a thirteenth juror, but it was just the moonlight. He watched as the figure went to the eleven sleeping jurors’ bedsides and then disappered as if taking stairs into the moonlight. Next morning all eleven of the jurors observed that they had dreamed of the murdered man. The narrator was now fully convinced that the visions he was getting were of the murdered man.

On the fifth day a miniature of the murdered man was admitted into evidence and passed for the Jury’s inspection. The second man grabbed it from the court official and handed it to the narrator saying ‘I was younger then, and my face was not then drained of blood.’

On the fifth night the case for the Prosecution was complete so the jurors had much to discuss. A vestryman and two flabby parochial parasites were present to guide the conversation. As groups developed he saw the second man beckon to him, he did this each time a conversation was going against him.

The Defence was presented. They suggested that the victim had cut his own throat. The second man appeared and revealed his throat, and tried to use each hand to emulate the wound, but could not. When a woman attested to the good nature of the accused, the second man appeared and pointed to the accused’s evil countenance.

At each appearance the individual did not see the man, but they were to some extent affected by his proximity, showing some trepidation or disturbance. When suicide was proposed by the defence counsel the second man was sawing away at his throat next to him, and he disticnctly faltered in his speech and trurned very pale. The character witness too was affected, seeming to look where the murdered man had pointed. While they could not see him, he was clearly affecting their mind.

When the Judge was summing up, the second man approached him and the Lordship’s face showed a peculiar shiver and he had to take some water to recover himself.

The narrator had seen the murdered man as clearly as anyone else in the court. But he noted the man never once looked at the accused.

The jury was convened at seven minutes before ten, and through a number of confusions introduced by the vestryman and his colleagues. took until ten minutes past twelve.

The narrator noticed the murdered man facing him from across the court, for the first time he held a grey veil. When the Foreman read out the verdict as ‘Guilty’, the murdered man placed the veil over himself, it collapsed and he was gone.

The prisoner was asked if he had anything to say, and mumbled ‘My Lord, I knew I was a doomed man, when the Foreman of my Jury came into the box. My Lord, I knew he would never let me off, because, before I was taken, he somehow got to my bedside in the night, woke me, and put a rope round my neck.’

Derrick, John, a valet
Harker, Mr, an officer of the court
Murdered man
Narrator, a banker

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