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Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, and is known for his classic literary novels Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist.

This is one of his short stories, full of suspense, The Trial For Murder.

The Trial for Murder
Charles Dickens

I have always noticed a prevalent want of courage, even among persons of superior intelligence and culture, as to imparting their own psychological experiences when those have been of a strange sort. Almost all men are afraid that what they could relate in such wise would find no parallel or response in a listener's internal life, and might be suspected or laughed at. A truthful traveller,
who should have seen some extraordinary creature in the likeness of
a sea-serpent, would have no fear of mentioning it; but the same
traveller, having had some singular presentiment, impulse, vagary of
thought, vision (so-called), dream, or other remarkable mental
impression, would hesitate considerably before he would own to it.
To this reticence I attribute much of the obscurity in which such
subjects are involved. We do not habitually communicate our
experiences of these subjective things as we do our experiences of
objective creation. The consequence is, that the general stock of
experience in this regard appears exceptional, and really is so, in
respect of being miserably imperfect.

In what I am going to relate, I have no intention of setting up,
opposing, or supporting, any theory whatever. I know the history of
the Bookseller of Berlin, I have studied the case of the wife of a
late Astronomer Royal as related by Sir David Brewster, and I have
followed the minutest details of a much more remarkable case of
Spectral Illusion occurring within my private circle of friends. It
may be necessary to state as to this last, that the sufferer (a
lady) was in no degree, however distant, related to me. A mistaken
assumption on that head might suggest an explanation of a part of my
own case,--but only a part,--which would be wholly without
foundation. It cannot be referred to my inheritance of any
developed peculiarity, nor had I ever before any at all similar
experience, nor have I ever had any at all similar experience since.

It does not signify how many years ago, or how few, a certain murder
was committed in England, which attracted great attention. We hear
more than enough of murderers as they rise in succession to their
atrocious eminence, and I would bury the memory of this particular
brute, if I could, as his body was buried, in Newgate Jail. I
purposely abstain from giving any direct clue to the criminal's

When the murder was first discovered, no suspicion fell--or I ought
rather to say, for I cannot be too precise in my facts, it was
nowhere publicly hinted that any suspicion fell--on the man who was
afterwards brought to trial. As no reference was at that time made
to him in the newspapers, it is obviously impossible that any
description of him can at that time have been given in the
newspapers. It is essential that this fact be remembered.

Unfolding at breakfast my morning paper, containing the account of
that first discovery, I found it to be deeply interesting, and I
read it with close attention. I read it twice, if not three times.
The discovery had been made in a bedroom, and, when I laid down the
paper, I was aware of a flash--rush--flow--I do not know what to
call it,--no word I can find is satisfactorily descriptive,--in
which I seemed to see that bedroom passing through my room, like a
picture impossibly painted on a running river. Though almost
instantaneous in its passing, it was perfectly clear; so clear that
I distinctly, and with a sense of relief, observed the absence of
the dead body from the bed.

It was in no romantic place that I had this curious sensation, but
in chambers in Piccadilly, very near to the corner of St. James's
Street. It was entirely new to me. I was in my easy-chair at the
moment, and the sensation was accompanied with a peculiar shiver
which started the chair from its position. (But it is to be noted
that the chair ran easily on castors.) I went to one of the windows
(there are two in the room, and the room is on the second floor) to
refresh my eyes with the moving objects down in Piccadilly. It was
a bright autumn morning, and the street was sparkling and cheerful.
The wind was high. As I looked out, it brought down from the Park a
quantity of fallen leaves, which a gust took, and whirled into a
spiral pillar. As the pillar fell and the leaves dispersed, I saw
two men on the opposite side of the way, going from West to East.
They were one behind the other. The foremost man often looked back
over his shoulder. The second man followed him, at a distance of
some thirty paces, with his right hand menacingly raised. First,
the singularity and steadiness of this threatening gesture in so
public a thoroughfare attracted my attention; and next, the more
remarkable circumstance that nobody heeded it. Both men threaded
their way among the other passengers with a smoothness hardly
consistent even with the action of walking on a pavement; and no
single creature, that I could see, gave them place, touched them, or
looked after them. In passing before my windows, they both stared
up at me. I saw their two faces very distinctly, and I knew that I
could recognise them anywhere. Not that I had consciously noticed
anything very remarkable in either face, except that the man who
went first had an unusually lowering appearance, and that the face
of the man who followed him was of the colour of impure wax.

I am a bachelor, and my valet and his wife constitute my whole
establishment. My occupation is in a certain Branch Bank, and I
wish that my duties as head of a Department were as light as they
are popularly supposed to be. They kept me in town that autumn,
when I stood in need of change. I was not ill, but I was not well.
My reader is to make the most that can be reasonably made of my
feeling jaded, having a depressing sense upon me of a monotonous
life, and being "slightly dyspeptic." I am assured by my renowned
doctor that my real state of health at that time justifies no
stronger description, and I quote his own from his written answer to
my request for it.

As the circumstances of the murder, gradually unravelling, took
stronger and stronger possession of the public mind, I kept them
away from mine by knowing as little about them as was possible in
the midst of the universal excitement. But I knew that a verdict of
Wilful Murder had been found against the suspected murderer, and
that he had been committed to Newgate for trial. I also knew that
his trial had been postponed over one Sessions of the Central
Criminal Court, on the ground of general prejudice and want of time
for the preparation of the defence. I may further have known, but I
believe I did not, when, or about when, the Sessions to which his
trial stood postponed would come on.

My sitting-room, bedroom, and dressing-room, are all on one floor.
With the last there is no communication but through the bedroom.
True, there is a door in it, once communicating with the staircase;
but a part of the fitting of my bath has been--and had then been for
some years--fixed across it. At the same period, and as a part of
the same arrangement,--the door had been nailed up and canvased

I was standing in my bedroom late one night, giving some directions
to my servant before he went to bed. My face was towards the only
available door of communication with the dressing-room, and it was
closed. My servant's back was towards that door. While I was
speaking to him, I saw it open, and a man look in, who very
earnestly and mysteriously beckoned to me. That man was the man who
had gone second of the two along Piccadilly, and whose face was of
the colour of impure wax.

The figure, having beckoned, drew back, and closed the door. With
no longer pause than was made by my crossing the bedroom, I opened
the dressing-room door, and looked in. I had a lighted candle
already in my hand. I felt no inward expectation of seeing the
figure in the dressing-room, and I did not see it there.

Conscious that my servant stood amazed, I turned round to him, and
said: "Derrick, could you believe that in my cool senses I fancied
I saw a--" As I there laid my hand upon his breast, with a sudden
start he trembled violently, and said, "O Lord, yes, sir! A dead
man beckoning!"

Now I do not believe that this John Derrick, my trusty and attached
servant for more than twenty years, had any impression whatever of
having seen any such figure, until I touched him. The change in him
was so startling, when I touched him, that I fully believe he
derived his impression in some occult manner from me at that

I bade John Derrick bring some brandy, and I gave him a dram, and
was glad to take one myself. Of what had preceded that night's
phenomenon, I told him not a single word. Reflecting on it, I was
absolutely certain that I had never seen that face before, except on
the one occasion in Piccadilly. Comparing its expression when
beckoning at the door with its expression when it had stared up at
me as I stood at my window, I came to the conclusion that on the
first occasion it had sought to fasten itself upon my memory, and
that on the second occasion it had made sure of being immediately

I was not very comfortable that night, though I felt a certainty,
difficult to explain, that the figure would not return. At daylight
I fell into a heavy sleep, from which I was awakened by John
Derrick's coming to my bedside with a paper in his hand.

This paper, it appeared, had been the subject of an altercation at
the door between its bearer and my servant. It was a summons to me
to serve upon a Jury at the forthcoming Sessions of the Central
Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. I had never before been summoned
on such a Jury, as John Derrick well knew. He believed--I am not
certain at this hour whether with reason or otherwise--that that
class of Jurors were customarily chosen on a lower qualification
than mine, and he had at first refused to accept the summons. The
man who served it had taken the matter very coolly. He had said
that my attendance or non-attendance was nothing to him; there the
summons was; and I should deal with it at my own peril, and not at

For a day or two I was undecided whether to respond to this call, or
take no notice of it. I was not conscious of the slightest
mysterious bias, influence, or attraction, one way or other. Of
that I am as strictly sure as of every other statement that I make
here. Ultimately I decided, as a break in the monotony of my life,
that I would go.

The appointed morning was a raw morning in the month of November.
There was a dense brown fog in Piccadilly, and it became positively
black and in the last degree oppressive East of Temple Bar. I found
the passages and staircases of the Court-House flaringly lighted
with gas, and the Court itself similarly illuminated. I THINK that,
until I was conducted by officers into the Old Court and saw its
crowded state, I did not know that the Murderer was to be tried that
day. I THINK that, until I was so helped into the Old Court with
considerable difficulty, I did not know into which of the two Courts
sitting my summons would take me. But this must not be received as
a positive assertion, for I am not completely satisfied in my mind
on either point.

I took my seat in the place appropriated to Jurors in waiting, and I
looked about the Court as well as I could through the cloud of fog
and breath that was heavy in it. I noticed the black vapour hanging
like a murky curtain outside the great windows, and I noticed the
stifled sound of wheels on the straw or tan that was littered in the
street; also, the hum of the people gathered there, which a shrill
whistle, or a louder song or hail than the rest, occasionally
pierced. Soon afterwards the Judges, two in number, entered, and
took their seats. The buzz in the Court was awfully hushed. The
direction was given to put the Murderer to the bar. He appeared
there. And in that same instant I recognised in him the first of
the two men who had gone down Piccadilly.

If my name had been called then, I doubt if I could have answered to
it audibly. But it was called about sixth or eighth in the panel,
and I was by that time able to say, "Here!" Now, observe. As I
stepped into the box, the prisoner, who had been looking on
attentively, but with no sign of concern, became violently agitated,
and beckoned to his attorney. The prisoner's wish to challenge me
was so manifest, that it occasioned a pause, during which the
attorney, with his hand upon the dock, whispered with his client,
and shook his head. I afterwards had it from that gentleman, that
the prisoner's first affrighted words to him were, "AT ALL HAZARDS,
CHALLENGE THAT MAN!" But that, as he would give no reason for it,
and admitted that he had not even known my name until he heard it
called and I appeared, it was not done.

Both on the ground already explained, that I wish to avoid reviving
the unwholesome memory of that Murderer, and also because a detailed
account of his long trial is by no means indispensable to my
narrative, I shall confine myself closely to such incidents in the
ten days and nights during which we, the Jury, were kept together,
as directly bear on my own curious personal experience. It is in
that, and not in the Murderer, that I seek to interest my reader.
It is to that, and not to a page of the Newgate Calendar, that I beg

Continue The Trial for Murder


Bonnie Mercure, your Fiction Guide at the dowse Fiction Hub, is a dark fantasy author.
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