Story of the Door
Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was
never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in
discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and
yet somehow lovable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was
to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye;
something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but
which spoke not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner
face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life. He was
austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a
taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theater, had not
crossed the doors of one for twenty years. But he had an approved
tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at
the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in
any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. "I incline
to Cain's heresy," he used to say quaintly: "I let my brother go
to the devil in his own way." In this character, it was
frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and
the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men. And to
such as these, so long as they came about his chambers, he never
marked a shade of change in his demeanour.
No doubt the feat was easy to Mr. Utterson; for he was
undemonstrative at the best, and even his friendship seemed to be
founded in a similar catholicity of good-nature. It is the mark
of a modest man to accept his friendly circle ready-made from the
hands of opportunity; and that was the lawyer's way. His friends
were those of his own blood or those whom he had known the
longest; his affections, like ivy, were the growth of time, they
implied no aptness in the object. Hence, no doubt the bond that
united him to Mr. Richard Enfield, his distant kinsman, the
well-known man about town. It was a nut to crack for many, what
these two could see in each other, or what subject they could find
in common. It was reported by those who encountered them in their
Sunday walks, that they said nothing, looked singularly dull and
would hail with obvious relief the appearance of a friend. For
all that, the two men put the greatest store by these excursions,
counted them the chief jewel of each week, and not only set aside
occasions of pleasure, but even resisted the calls of business,
that they might enjoy them uninterrupted.
It chanced on one of these rambles that their way led them
down a by-street in a busy quarter of London. The street was
small and what is called quiet, but it drove a thriving trade on
the weekdays. The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed and
all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the
surplus of their grains in coquetry; so that the shop fronts stood
along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of
smiling saleswomen. Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more
florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage, the street
shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood, like a fire in a
forest; and with its freshly painted shutters, well-polished
brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety of note, instantly
caught and pleased the eye of the passenger.
Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east the
line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point a
certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the
street. It was two storeys high; showed no window, nothing but a
door on the lower storey and a blind forehead of discoloured wall
on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged
and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither
bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained. Tramps slouched
into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept
shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the
mouldings; and for close on a generation, no one had appeared to
drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages.
Mr. Enfield and the lawyer were on the other side of the
by-street; but when they came abreast of the entry, the former
lifted up his cane and pointed.
"Did you ever remark that door?" he asked; and when his
companion had replied in the affirmative. "It is connected in my
mind," added he, "with a very odd story."
"Indeed?" said Mr. Utterson, with a slight change of voice,
"and what was that?"
"Well, it was this way," returned Mr. Enfield: "I was coming
home from some place at the end of the world, about three o'clock
of a black winter morning, and my way lay through a part of town
where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps. Street
after street and all the folks asleep--street after street, all
lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church--
till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and
listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman. All at
once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along
eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or
ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street.
Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the
corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man
trampled calmly over the child's body and left her screaming on
the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see.
It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut. I gave
a few halloa, took to my heels, collared my gentleman, and brought
him back to where there was already quite a group about the
screaming child. He was perfectly cool and made no resistance,
but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me
like running. The people who had turned out were the girl's own
family; and pretty soon, the doctor, for whom she had been sent
put in his appearance. Well, the child was not much the worse,
more frightened, according to the Sawbones; and there you might
have supposed would be an end to it. But there was one curious
circumstance. I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first
sight. So had the child's family, which was only natural. But
the doctor's case was what struck me. He was the usual cut and
dry apothecary, of no particular age and colour, with a strong
Edinburgh accent and about as emotional as a bagpipe. Well, sir,
he was like the rest of us; every time he looked at my prisoner, I
saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with desire to kill him. I
knew what was in his mind, just as he knew what was in mine; and
killing being out of the question, we did the next best. We told
the man we could and would make such a scandal out of this as
should make his name stink from one end of London to the other.
If he had any friends or any credit, we undertook that he should
lose them. And all the time, as we were pitching it in red hot,
we were keeping the women off him as best we could for they were
as wild as harpies. I never saw a circle of such hateful faces;
and there was the man in the middle, with a kind of black sneering
coolness--frightened to, I could see that--but carrying it
off, sir, really like Satan. `If you choose to make capital out
of this accident,' said he, `I am naturally helpless. No
gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene,' says he. `Name your
figure.' Well, we screwed him up to a hundred pounds for the
child's family; he would have clearly liked to stick out; but
there was something about the lot of us that meant mischief, and
at last he struck. The next thing was to get the money; and where
do you think he carried us but to that place with the
door?--whipped out a key, went in, and presently came back with
the matter of ten pounds in gold and a cheque for the balance on
Coutts's, drawn payable to bearer and signed with a name that I
can't mention, though it's one of the points of my story, but it
was a name at least very well known and often printed. The figure
was stiff; but the signature was good for more than that if it was
only genuine. I took the liberty of pointing out to my gentleman
that the whole business looked apocryphal, and that a man does
not, in real life, walk into a cellar door at four in the morning
and come out with another man's cheque for close upon a hundred
pounds. But he was quite easy and sneering. `Set your mind at
rest,' says he, `I will stay with you till the banks open and cash
the cheque myself.' So we all set of, the doctor, and the child's
father, and our friend and myself, and passed the rest of the
night in my chambers; and next day, when we had breakfasted, went
in a body to the bank. I gave in the cheque myself, and said I
had every reason to believe it was a forgery. Not a bit of it.
The cheque was genuine."
"Tut-tut," said Mr. Utterson.
"I see you feel as I do," said Mr. Enfield. "Yes, it's a bad
story. For my man was a fellow that nobody could have to do with,
a really damnable man; and the person that drew the cheque is the
very pink of the proprieties, celebrated too, and (what makes it
worse) one of your fellows who do what they call good. Black mail
I suppose; an honest man paying through the nose for some of the
capers of his youth. Black Mail House is what I call the place
with the door, in consequence. Though even that, you know, is far
from explaining all," he added, and with the words fell into a
vein of musing.
From this he was recalled by Mr. Utterson asking rather
suddenly: "And you don't know if the drawer of the cheque lives
"A likely place, isn't it?" returned Mr. Enfield. "But I
happen to have noticed his address; he lives in some square or
"And you never asked about the--place with the door?" said
"No, sir: I had a delicacy," was the reply. "I feel very
strongly about putting questions; it partakes too much of the style
of the day of judgment. You start a question, and it's like
starting a stone. You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away
the stone goes, starting others; and presently some bland old bird
(the last you would have thought of) is knocked on the head in his
own back garden and the family have to change their name. No sir,
I make it a rule of mine: the more it looks like Queer Street, the
less I ask."
"A very good rule, too," said the lawyer.
"But I have studied the place for myself," continued Mr.
Enfield. "It seems scarcely a house. There is no other door, and
nobody goes in or out of that one but, once in a great while, the
gentleman of my adventure. There are three windows looking on the
court on the first floor; none below; the windows are always shut
but they're clean. And then there is a chimney which is generally
smoking; so somebody must live there. And yet it's not so sure;
for the buildings are so packed together about the court, that
it's hard to say where one ends and another begins."
The pair walked on again for a while in silence; and then
"Enfield," said Mr. Utterson, "that's a good rule of yours."
"Yes, I think it is," returned Enfield.
"But for all that," continued the lawyer, "there's one point I
want to ask: I want to ask the name of that man who walked over
"Well," said Mr. Enfield, "I can't see what harm it would do.
It was a man of the name of Hyde."
"Hm," said Mr. Utterson. "What sort of a man is he to see?"
"He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his
appearance; something displeasing, something down-right
detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce
know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong
feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point. He's
an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing
out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can't
describe him. And it's not want of memory; for I declare I can
see him this moment."
Mr. Utterson again walked some way in silence and obviously
under a weight of consideration. "You are sure he used a key?" he
inquired at last.
"My dear sir ..." began Enfield, surprised out of himself.
"Yes, I know," said Utterson; "I know it must seem strange.
The fact is, if I do not ask you the name of the other party, it
is because I know it already. You see, Richard, your tale has
gone home. If you have been inexact in any point you had better
"I think you might have warned me," returned the other with a
touch of sullenness. "But I have been pedantically exact, as you
call it. The fellow had a key; and what's more, he has it still.
I saw him use it not a week ago."
Mr. Utterson sighed deeply but said never a word; and the
young man presently resumed. "Here is another lesson to say
nothing," said he. "I am ashamed of my long tongue. Let us make
a bargain never to refer to this again."
"With all my heart," said the lawyer. I shake hands on that, Richard."