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Hunted Down (3)

2006-09-07 20:55

    III. On the very next day but one I was sitting behind my glass partition, as before, when he came into the outer office, as before. The moment I saw him again without hearing him, I hated him worse than ever.

    It was only for a moment that I had this opportunity; for he waved his tight-fitting black glove the instant I looked at him, and came straight in.

    'Mr. Sampson, good-day! I presume, you see, upon your kind permission to intrude upon you. I don't keep my word in being justified by business, for my business here - if I may so abuse the word - is of the slightest nature.'

    I asked, was it anything I could assist him in?

    'I thank you, no. I merely called to inquire outside whether my dilatory friend had been so false to himself as to be practical and sensible. But, of course, he has done nothing. I gave him your papers with my own hand, and he was hot upon the intention, but of course he has done nothing. Apart from the general human disinclination to do anything that ought to be done, I dare say there is a specially about assuring one's life. You find it like will-making. People are so superstitious, and take it for granted they will die soon afterwards.'

    'Up here, if you please; straight up here, Mr. Sampson. Neither to the right nor to the left.' I almost fancied I could hear him breathe the words as he sat smiling at me, with that intolerable parting exactly opposite the bridge of my nose.

    'There is such a feeling sometimes, no doubt,' I replied; 'but I don't think it obtains to any great extent.'

    'Well,' said he, with a shrug and a smile, 'I wish some good angel would influence my friend in the right direction. I rashly promised his mother and sister in Norfolk to see it done, and he promised them that he would do it. But I suppose he never will.'

    He spoke for a minute or two on indifferent topics, and went away.

    I had scarcely unlocked the drawers of my writing-table next morning,

    when he reappeared. I noticed that he came straight to the door in the

    glass partition, and did not pause a single moment outside.

    'Can you spare me two minutes, my dear Mr. Sampson?'

    'By all means.'

    'Much obliged,' laying his hat and umbrella on the table; 'I came early,

    not to interrupt you. The fact is, I am taken by surprise in reference to

    this proposal my friend has made.'

    'Has he made one?' said I.

    'Ye-es,' he answered, deliberately looking at me; and then a bright idea

    seemed to strike him - 'or he only tells me he has. Perhaps that may be a new way of evading the matter. By Jupiter, I never thought of that!'

    Mr. Adams was opening the morning's letters in the outer office. 'What

    is the name, Mr. Slinkton?' I asked.

    'Beckwith.'

    I looked out at the door and requested Mr. Adams, if there were a

    proposal in that name, to bring it in. He had already laid it out of his hand on the counter. It was easily selected from the rest, and he gave it me. Alfred Beckwith. Proposal to effect a policy with us for two thousand pounds. Dated yesterday.

    'From the Middle Temple, I see, Mr. Slinkton.'

    'Yes. He lives on the same staircase with me; his door is opposite.

    never thought he would make me his reference though.'

    'It seems natural enough that he should.'

    'Quite so, Mr. Sampson; but I never thought of it. Let me see.' He

    took the printed paper from his pocket. 'How am I to answer all these

    questions?'

    'According to the truth, of course,' said I.

    'O, of course!' he answered, looking up from the paper with a smile; 'I meant they were so many. But you do right to be particular. It stands to reason that you must be particular. Will you allow me to use your pen and ink?'

    'Certainly.'

    'And your desk?'

    'Certainly.'

    He had been hovering about between his hat and his umbrella for a place to write on. He now sat down in my chair, at my blotting- paper and inkstand, with the long walk up his head in accurate perspective before me, as I stood with my back to the fire.

    Before answering each question he ran over it aloud, and discussed it. How long had he known Mr. Alfred Beckwith? That he had to calculate by years upon his fingers. What were his habits? No difficulty about them; temperate in the last degree, and took a little too much exercise, if anything. All the answers were satisfactory. When he had written them all, he looked them over, and finally signed them in a very pretty hand. He supposed he had now done with the business. I told him he was not likely to be troubled any farther. Should he leave the papers there? If he pleased. Much obliged. Good-morning.

    I had had one other visitor before him; not at the office, but at my own house. That visitor had come to my bedside when it was not yet daylight, and had been seen by no one else but by my faithful confidential servant.

    A second reference paper (for we required always two) was sent down into Norfolk, and was duly received back by post. This, likewise, was satisfactorily answered in every respect. Our forms were all complied with; we accepted the proposal, and the premium for one year was paid.

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