Many critics agree that Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) was a pioneer in developing the modern short story in English literature and Markheim is among his most celebrated. The tale is generally interpreted as an allegory or fable, a narrative of virtue and vice containing a moral.

‘Yes,’ said the dealer, ‘our windfalls are of various kinds. Some customers are ignorant, and then I touch a dividend on my superior knowledge. Some are dishonest,’ and here he held up the candle, so that the light fell strongly on his visitor, ‘and in that case,’ he continued, ‘I profit by my virtue.’

Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, and his eyes had not yet grown familiar with the mingled shine and darkness in the shop. At these pointed words, and before the near presence of the flame, he blinked painfully and looked aside.

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