Christmas Stories, second half of volume 16, The Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 127. [Click on image to enlarge it.]by Harry Furniss. 1910. Vignetted, 9 x 14 cm. Dickens's
"You terrify me, sir, by these questions!"
"To save you, young lady, to save you! For God's sake, collect your strength and collect your firmness! If you were here alone, and hemmed in by the rising tide on the flow to fifty feet above your head, you could not be in greater danger than the danger you are now to be saved from."
"As I am, before Heaven and the Judge of all mankind, your friend, and your dead sister's friend, I solemnly entreat you, Miss Niner, without one moment's loss of time, to come to this gentleman with me!"
If the little carriage had been less near to us, I doubt if I could have got her away; but it was so near that we were there before she had recovered the hurry of being urged from the rock. I did not remain there with her two minutes. Certainly within five, I had the inexpressible satisfaction of seeing her—from the point we had sat on, and to which I had returned—half supported and half carried up some rude steps notched in the cliff, by the figure of an active man. With that figure beside her, I knew she was safe anywhere. ["Part Four," p. 139.]
In "Hunted Down", the short story which Dickens so successfully marketed in the United States, the first-person narrator is also an active agent in the plot as he attempts to save the heiress, Miss Niner, from her predatory uncle, the poisoner Julius Slinkton. As the story first appeared in instalments outside the context of Dickens's "Extra Christmas Numbers" in two unconnected periodicals and well outside the Christmas season — The New York Ledger (20 and 27 August, and 3 September 1859) and All the Year Round (4 and 11 April 1860), it has little in common with the Christmas Stories from Dickens's own periodicals with which it shares space in Volume 16 of the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910). Furthermore, not previously illustrated, the text offered Harry Furniss no models of illustration against which to react. Certainly, the beach at Scarborough is visually more interesting as a setting than the glass-partitioned London insurance office, where the action opens, and Sampson's trying to warn Miss Niner of her imminent danger is one of the key moments in the plot.
The first-person narrator, the manager of a London assurance office, is reflecting on the time some decades earlier when he was a youthful urban professional. Mr. Sampson explains that he was then an insurance agent who held a policy on one Alfred Beckwith, the next victim of the Wainewright-style poisoner, the arch-hypocrite Julius Slinkton. However, "Alfred Beckwith" is a mere pseudonym; he is in fact an actuary in disguise, a young man named Meltham, who (having had considerable experience with life insurance as an employee of the Inestimable Company) intends to trap the murderer of his late beloved, Slinkton's (unnamed) other niece, just twenty-three years old. The "wheel" or invalid who shadows Miss Niner on the beach is none other than Meltham, who, having assumed the guise of a dipsomaniac Beckwith, has moved into rooms in the Middle Temple, London, near Slinkton's own, in order to presented himself as another victim ready-made for the designing Slinkton.
At the head of the story as a sort of frontispiece, Furniss realizes the scene on The beach at the seaside of resort of Scarborough, North Yorkshire in which the youthful protagonist attempts to alert the naive heiress about the dangers of trusting her duplicitous uncle. Thus, the illustrator introduces ahead of the text the story's chief characters, including the invalid in his wheeled carriage (centre left) and The plot insofar as it touches upon the safety of the young woman and the narrator's attempting to rescue her. The beachfront setting is somewhat generalized, giving the reader no sense of the tourist spot and spa destination which included bathing machines on the sands, one of the first great "purpose-built" hotels of the first part of the nineteenth century (1845), and a rail line connecting the site with the area's chief city, York. Dickens investigated Scarborough's history through its churchyards in 1851, publishing an article about them in Household Words that same year.
Although one has little sense of place and none of the time of year (early fall) in Furniss's initial illustration, the reader apprehends the handsome, well-dressed youth's solicitousness and the diffidence of Margaret Niner, dressed in conventional mourning, as she demurely looks down when Sampson reveals her uncle's true character and designs upon her life.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
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Last modified 25 October 2013