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The Trial For Murder

Scary Books: Three Ghost Stories
: 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 e
traordinary 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


I was chosen Foreman of the Jury. On the second morning of the

trial, after evidence had been taken for two hours (I heard the

church clocks strike), happening to cast my eyes over my brother

jurymen, I found an inexplicable difficulty in counting them. I

counted them several times, yet always with the same difficulty. In

short, I made them one too many.

I touched the brother jurymen whose place was next me, and I

whispered to him, "Oblige me by counting us." He looked surprised

by the request, but turned his head and counted. "Why," says he,

suddenly, "we are Thirt-; but no, it's not possible. No. We are


According to my counting that day, we were always right in detail,

but in the gross we were always one too many. There was no

appearance--no figure--to account for it; but I had now an inward

foreshadowing of the figure that was surely coming.

The Jury were housed at the London Tavern. We all slept in one

large room on separate tables, and we were constantly in the charge

and under the eye of the officer sworn to hold us in safe-keeping.

I see no reason for suppressing the real name of that officer. He

was intelligent, highly polite, and obliging, and (I was glad to

hear) much respected in the City. He had an agreeable presence,

good eyes, enviable black whiskers, and a fine sonorous voice. His

name was Mr. Harker.

When we turned into our twelve beds at night, Mr. Harker's bed was

drawn across the door. On the night of the second day, not being

disposed to lie down, and seeing Mr. Harker sitting on his bed, I

went and sat beside him, and offered him a pinch of snuff. As Mr.

Harker's hand touched mine in taking it from my box, a peculiar

shiver crossed him, and he said, "Who is this?"

Following Mr. Harker's eyes, and looking along the room, I saw again

the figure I expected,--the second of the two men who had gone down

Piccadilly. I rose, and advanced a few steps; then stopped, and

looked round at Mr. Harker. He was quite unconcerned, laughed, and

said in a pleasant way, "I thought for a moment we had a thirteenth

juryman, without a bed. But I see it is the moonlight."

Making no revelation to Mr. Harker, but inviting him to take a walk

with me to the end of the room, I watched what the figure did. It

stood for a few moments by the bedside of each of my eleven brother

jurymen, close to the pillow. It always went to the right-hand side

of the bed, and always passed out crossing the foot of the next bed.

It seemed, from the action of the head, merely to look down

pensively at each recumbent figure. It took no notice of me, or of

my bed, which was that nearest to Mr. Harker's. It seemed to go out

where the moonlight came in, through a high window, as by an aerial

flight of stairs.

Next morning at breakfast, it appeared that everybody present had

dreamed of the murdered man last night, except myself and Mr.


I now felt as convinced that the second man who had gone down

Piccadilly was the murdered man (so to speak), as if it had been

borne into my comprehension by his immediate testimony. But even

this took place, and in a manner for which I was not at all


On the fifth day of the trial, when the case for the prosecution was

drawing to a close, a miniature of the murdered man, missing from

his bedroom upon the discovery of the deed, and afterwards found in

a hiding-place where the Murderer had been seen digging, was put in

evidence. Having been identified by the witness under examination,

it was handed up to the Bench, and thence handed down to be

inspected by the Jury. As an officer in a black gown was making his

way with it across to me, the figure of the second man who had gone

down Piccadilly impetuously started from the crowd, caught the

miniature from the officer, and gave it to me with his own hands, at

the same time saying, in a low and hollow tone,--before I saw the

miniature, which was in a locket,--"I WAS YOUNGER THEN, AND MY FACE

WAS NOT THEN DRAINED OF BLOOD." It also came between me and the

brother juryman to whom I would have given the miniature, and

between him and the brother juryman to whom he would have given it,

and so passed it on through the whole of our number, and back into

my possession. Not one of them, however, detected this.

At table, and generally when we were shut up together in Mr.

Harker's custody, we had from the first naturally discussed the

day's proceedings a good deal. On that fifth day, the case for the

prosecution being closed, and we having that side of the question in

a completed shape before us, our discussion was more animated and

serious. Among our number was a vestryman,--the densest idiot I

have ever seen at large,--who met the plainest evidence with the

most preposterous objections, and who was sided with by two flabby

parochial parasites; all the three impanelled from a district so

delivered over to Fever that they ought to have been upon their own

trial for five hundred Murders. When these mischievous blockheads

were at their loudest, which was towards midnight, while some of us

were already preparing for bed, I again saw the murdered man. He

stood grimly behind them, beckoning to me. On my going towards

them, and striking into the conversation, he immediately retired.

This was the beginning of a separate series of appearances, confined

to that long room in which we were confined. Whenever a knot of my

brother jurymen laid their heads together, I saw the head of the

murdered man among theirs. Whenever their comparison of notes was

going against him, he would solemnly and irresistibly beckon to me.

It will be borne in mind that down to the production of the

miniature, on the fifth day of the trial, I had never seen the

Appearance in Court. Three changes occurred now that we entered on

the case for the defence. Two of them I will mention together,

first. The figure was now in Court continually, and it never there

addressed itself to me, but always to the person who was speaking at

the time. For instance: the throat of the murdered man had been

cut straight across. In the opening speech for the defence, it was

suggested that the deceased might have cut his own throat. At that

very moment, the figure, with its throat in the dreadful condition

referred to (this it had concealed before), stood at the speaker's

elbow, motioning across and across its windpipe, now with the right

hand, now with the left, vigorously suggesting to the speaker

himself the impossibility of such a wound having been self-inflicted

by either hand. For another instance: a witness to character, a

woman, deposed to the prisoner's being the most amiable of mankind.

The figure at that instant stood on the floor before her, looking

her full in the face, and pointing out the prisoner's evil

countenance with an extended arm and an outstretched finger.

The third change now to be added impressed me strongly as the most

marked and striking of all. I do not theorise upon it; I accurately

state it, and there leave it. Although the Appearance was not

itself perceived by those whom it addressed, its coming close to

such persons was invariably attended by some trepidation or

disturbance on their part. It seemed to me as if it were prevented,

by laws to which I was not amenable, from fully revealing itself to

others, and yet as if it could invisibly, dumbly, and darkly

overshadow their minds. When the leading counsel for the defence

suggested that hypothesis of suicide, and the figure stood at the

learned gentleman's elbow, frightfully sawing at its severed throat,

it is undeniable that the counsel faltered in his speech, lost for a

few seconds the thread of his ingenious discourse, wiped his

forehead with his handkerchief, and turned extremely pale. When the

witness to character was confronted by the Appearance, her eyes most

certainly did follow the direction of its pointed finger, and rest

in great hesitation and trouble upon the prisoner's face. Two

additional illustrations will suffice. On the eighth day of the

trial, after the pause which was every day made early in the

afternoon for a few minutes' rest and refreshment, I came back into

Court with the rest of the Jury some little time before the return

of the Judges. Standing up in the box and looking about me, I

thought the figure was not there, until, chancing to raise my eyes

to the gallery, I saw it bending forward, and leaning over a very

decent woman, as if to assure itself whether the Judges had resumed

their seats or not. Immediately afterwards that woman screamed,

fainted, and was carried out. So with the venerable, sagacious, and

patient Judge who conducted the trial. When the case was over, and

he settled himself and his papers to sum up, the murdered man,

entering by the Judges' door, advanced to his Lordship's desk, and

looked eagerly over his shoulder at the pages of his notes which he

was turning. A change came over his Lordship's face; his hand

stopped; the peculiar shiver, that I knew so well, passed over him;

he faltered, "Excuse me, gentlemen, for a few moments. I am

somewhat oppressed by the vitiated air;" and did not recover until

he had drunk a glass of water.

Through all the monotony of six of those interminable ten days,--the

same Judges and others on the bench, the same Murderer in the dock,

the same lawyers at the table, the same tones of question and answer

rising to the roof of the court, the same scratching of the Judge's

pen, the same ushers going in and out, the same lights kindled at

the same hour when there had been any natural light of day, the same

foggy curtain outside the great windows when it was foggy, the same

rain pattering and dripping when it was rainy, the same footmarks of

turnkeys and prisoner day after day on the same sawdust, the same

keys locking and unlocking the same heavy doors,--through all the

wearisome monotony which made me feel as if I had been Foreman of

the Jury for a vast cried of time, and Piccadilly had flourished

coevally with Babylon, the murdered man never lost one trace of his

distinctness in my eyes, nor was he at any moment less distinct than

anybody else. I must not omit, as a matter of fact, that I never

once saw the Appearance which I call by the name of the murdered man

look at the Murderer. Again and again I wondered, "Why does he

not?" But he never did.

Nor did he look at me, after the production of the miniature, until

the last closing minutes of the trial arrived. We retired to

consider, at seven minutes before ten at night. The idiotic

vestryman and his two parochial parasites gave us so much trouble

that we twice returned into Court to beg to have certain extracts

from the Judge's notes re-read. Nine of us had not the smallest

doubt about those passages, neither, I believe, had any one in the

Court; the dunder-headed triumvirate, having no idea but

obstruction, disputed them for that very reason. At length we

prevailed, and finally the Jury returned into Court at ten minutes

past twelve.

The murdered man at that time stood directly opposite the Jury-box,

on the other side of the Court. As I took my place, his eyes rested

on me with great attention; he seemed satisfied, and slowly shook a

great gray veil, which he carried on his arm for the first time,

over his head and whole form. As I gave in our verdict, "Guilty,"

the veil collapsed, all was gone, and his place was empty.

The Murderer, being asked by the Judge, according to usage, whether

he had anything to say before sentence of Death should be passed

upon him, indistinctly muttered something which was described in the

leading newspapers of the following day as "a few rambling,

incoherent, and half-audible words, in which he was understood to

complain that he had not had a fair trial, because the Foreman of

the Jury was prepossessed against him." The remarkable declaration

that he really made was this: "MY LORD, I KNEW I WAS A DOOMED MAN,