Part 2 out of 5
"Have you spoken to him about it?"
"To him? What him?"
"To your future partner, about the proposal?"
"No, no. Oh, no. That is--I have spoken to nobody but you."
"And you are determined not to speak to Mr. Rogers before you write?"
"Certainly not. It's none of Roger's business."
"Oh, very well," said Miss Gale shortly, bending over her writing-pad.
It was evident that her opinion of Denham's wisdom was steadily
lowering. Suddenly, she looked up.
"How much shall I say the annual profits are? Or do you want that
"I--I don't think I would mention that. You see, I don't wish this
arrangement to be carried out on a monetary basis--not altogether."
"On what basis then?"
"Well--I can hardly say. On a personal basis, perhaps. I rather hope
that the person--that my partner--would, you know, like to be
associated with me."
"On a friendly basis, do you mean?" asked Miss Gale, mercilessly.
"Certainly. Friendly, of course--and perhaps more than that."
Miss Gale looked up at him with a certain hopelessness of expression.
"Why not write a note inviting your future partner to call upon you
here, or anywhere else that would be convenient, and then discuss the
Denham looked frightened.
"I thought of that, but it wouldn't do. No; it wouldn't do. I would
much rather settle everything by correspondence."
"I am afraid I shall not be able to compose a letter that will suit
you. There seem to be so many difficulties. It is very unusual."
"That is true, and that is why I knew no one but you could help me,
Miss Gale. If it pleases you, it will please me."
Miss Gale shook her head, but, after a few moments, she said, "How will
"Wait a moment," cried Mr. Denham; "that seems rather a formal opening,
doesn't it? How would it read if you put it 'Dear friend'?"
"If you wish it so." She crossed out the "sir" and substituted the word
suggested. Then, she read the letter:
"Dear Friend,--I have for some time past been desirous of taking a
partner, and would be glad if you would consider the question and
consent to join me in this business. The business is, and has been for
several years, very prosperous, and, as I shall require no capital from
you, I think you will find my offer a very advantageous one. I will--"
"I--I don't think I would put it quite that way." said Denham, with
some hesitation. "It reads as if I were offering everything, and that
my partner--well, you see what I mean."
"It's the truth," said Miss Gale, defiantly.
"Better put it on the friendly basis, as you suggested a moment ago."
"I didn't suggest anything, Mr. Denham. Perhaps it would be better if
you would dictate the letter exactly as you want it. I knew I could not
write one that would please you."
"It does please me, but I'm thinking of my future partner. You are
doing first-rate--better than I could do. But just put it on the
A moment later she read:
"... join me in this business. I make you this offer entirely from a
friendly, and not from a financial, standpoint, hoping that you like me
well enough to be associated with me."
"Anything else, Mr. Denham?"
"No. I think that covers the whole ground. It will look rather short,
type-written, won't it? Perhaps you might add something to show that I
shall be exceedingly disappointed if my offer is not accepted."
"No fear," said Miss Gale. "I'll add that though. 'Yours truly,' or
'Yours very truly'?"
"You might end it 'Your friend.'"
The rapid click of the typewriter was heard for a few moments in the
next room, and then Miss Gale came out with the completed letter in her
"Shall I have the boy copy it?" she asked.
"Oh, bless you, no!" answered Mr. Denham, with evident trepidation.
The young woman said to herself, "He doesn't want Mr. Rogers to know,
and no wonder. It is a most unbusiness-like proposal."
Then she said aloud, "Shall you want me again to-day?"
"No, Miss Gale; and thank you very much."
Next morning, Miss Gale came into Mr. Denham's office with a smile on
"You made a funny mistake last night, Mr. Denham," she said, as she
took off her wraps.
"Did I?" he asked, in alarm.
"Yes. You sent that letter to my address. I got it this morning. I
opened it, for I thought it was for me, and that perhaps you did not
need me to-day. But I saw at once that you put it in the wrong
envelope. Did you want me to-day?"
It was on his tongue to say, "I want you every day," but he merely held
out his hand for the letter, and looked at it as if he could not
account for its having gone astray.
The next day Miss Gale came late, and she looked frightened. It was
evident that Denham was losing his mind. She put the letter down before
him and said:
"You addressed that to me the second time, Mr. Denham."
There was a look of haggard anxiety about Denham that gave color to her
suspicions. He felt that it was now or never.
"Then why don't you answer it, Miss Gale?" he said gruffly.
She backed away from him.
"Answer it?" she repeated faintly.
"Certainly. If I got a letter twice, I would answer it."
"What do you mean?" she cried, with her hand on the door-knob.
"Exactly what the letter says. I want you for my partner. I want to
marry you, and d--n financial considerations--"
"Oh!" cried Miss Gale, in a long-drawn, quivering sigh. She was
doubtless shocked at the word he had used, and fled to her typewriting
room, closing the door behind her.
Richard Denham paced up and down the floor for a few moments, then
rapped lightly at her door, but there was no response. He put on his
hat and went out into the street. After a long and aimless walk, he
found himself again at his place of business. When he went in, Rogers
said to him:
"Miss Gale has left, sir."
"Yes, and she has given notice. Says she is not coming back, sir."
He went into his own room and found a letter marked "personal" on his
desk. He tore it open, and read in neatly type-written characters:
"I have resigned my place as typewriter girl, having been offered a
better situation. I am offered a partnership in the house of Richard
Denham. I have decided to accept the position, not so much on account
of its financial attractions, as because I shall be glad, on a friendly
basis, to be associated with the gentleman I have named. Why did you
put me to all that worry writing that idiotic letter, when a few words
would have saved ever so much bother? You evidently _need_ a
partner. My mother will be pleased to meet you any time you call. You
have the address,--Your friend,
"Rogers!" shouted Denham, joyfully.
"Yes, sir," answered that estimable man, putting his head into the
"Advertise for another typewriter girl, Rogers."
"Yes, sir," said Rogers.
THE DOOM OF LONDON.
I.--THE SELF-CONCEIT OF THE 20TH CENTURY.
I trust I am thankful my life has been spared until I have seen that
most brilliant epoch of the world's history--the middle of the 20th
century. It would be useless for any man to disparage the vast
achievements of the past fifty years, and if I venture to call
attention to the fact, now apparently forgotten, that the people of the
19th century succeeded in accomplishing many notable things, it must
not be imagined that I intend thereby to discount in any measure the
marvellous inventions of the present age. Men have always been somewhat
prone to look with a certain condescension upon those who lived fifty
or a hundred years before them. This seems to me the especial weakness
of the present age; a feeling of national self-conceit, which, when it
exists, should at least be kept as much in the background as possible.
It will astonish many to know that such also was a failing of the
people of the 19th century. They imagined themselves living in an age
of progress, and while I am not foolish enough to attempt to prove that
they did anything really worth recording, yet it must be admitted by
any unprejudiced man of research that their inventions were at least
stepping-stones to those of to-day. Although the telephone and
telegraph, and all other electrical appliances, are now to be found
only in our national museums, or in the private collections of those
few men who take any interest in the doings of the last century,
nevertheless, the study of the now obsolete science of electricity led
up to the recent discovery of vibratory ether which does the work of
the world so satisfactorily. The people of the 19th century were not
fools, and although I am well aware that this statement will be
received with scorn where it attracts any attention whatever, yet who
can say that the progress of the next half-century may not be as great
as that of the one now ended, and that the people of the next century
may not look upon us with the same contempt which we feel toward those
who lived fifty years ago?
Being an old man, I am, perhaps, a laggard who dwells in the past
rather than the present; still, it seems to me that such an article as
that which appeared recently in _Blackwood_ from the talented pen
of Prof. Mowberry, of Oxford University, is utterly unjustifiable.
Under the title of "Did the People of London Deserve their Fate?" he
endeavors to show that the simultaneous blotting out of millions of
human beings was a beneficial event, the good results of which we still
enjoy. According to him, Londoners were so dull-witted and stupid, so
incapable of improvement, so sodden in the vice of mere money-
gathering, that nothing but their total extinction would have sufficed,
and that, instead of being an appalling catastrophe, the doom of London
was an unmixed blessing. In spite of the unanimous approval with which
this article has been received by the press, I still maintain that such
writing is uncalled for, and that there is something to be said for the
London of the 19th century.
II.--WHY LONDON, WARNED, WAS UNPREPARED.
The indignation I felt in first reading the article alluded to still
remains with me, and it has caused me to write these words, giving some
account of what I must still regard, in spite of the sneers of the
present age, as the most terrible disaster that ever overtook a portion
of the human race. I shall not endeavor to place before those who read,
any record of the achievements pertaining to the time in question. But
I would like to say a few words about the alleged stupidity of the
people of London in making no preparations for a disaster regarding
which they had continual and ever-recurring warning. They have been
compared with the inhabitants of Pompeii making merry at the foot of a
volcano. In the first place, fogs were so common in London, especially
in winter, that no particular attention was paid to them. They were
merely looked upon as inconvenient annoyances, interrupting traffic and
prejudicial to health, but I doubt if anyone thought it possible for a
fog to become one vast smothering mattress pressed down upon a whole
metropolis, extinguishing life as if the city suffered from hopeless
hydrophobia. I have read that victims bitten by mad dogs were formerly
put out of their sufferings in that way, although I doubt much if such
things were ever actually done, notwithstanding the charges of savage
barbarity now made against the people of the 19th century.
Probably, the inhabitants of Pompeii were so accustomed to the
eruptions of Vesuvius that they gave no thought to the possibility of
their city being destroyed by a storm of ashes and an overflow of lava.
Rain frequently descended upon London, and if a rainfall continued long
enough it would certainly have flooded the metropolis, but no
precautions were taken against a flood from the clouds. Why, then,
should the people have been expected to prepare for a catastrophe from
fog, such as there had never been any experience of in the world's
history? The people of London were far from being the sluggish dolts
present-day writers would have us believe.
III.--THE COINCIDENCE THAT CAME AT LAST.
As fog has now been abolished both on sea and land, and as few of the
present generation have even seen one, it may not be out of place to
give a few lines on the subject of fogs in general, and the London fogs
in particular, which through local peculiarities differed from all
others. A fog was simply watery vapor rising from the marshy surface of
the land or from the sea, or condensed into a cloud from the saturated
atmosphere. In my day, fogs were a great danger at sea, for people then
travelled by means of steamships that sailed upon the surface of the
London at the end of the 19th century consumed vast quantities of a
soft bituminous coal for the purpose of heating rooms and of preparing
food. In the morning and during the day, clouds of black smoke were
poured forth from thousands of chimneys. When a mass of white vapor
arose in the night these clouds of smoke fell upon the fog, pressing it
down, filtering slowly through it, and adding to its density. The sun
would have absorbed the fog but for the layer of smoke that lay thick
above the vapor and prevented the rays reaching it. Once this condition
of things prevailed, nothing could clear London but a breeze of wind
from any direction. London frequently had a seven days' fog, and
sometimes a seven days' calm, but these two conditions never coincided
until the last year of the last century. The coincidence, as everyone
knows, meant death--death so wholesale that no war the earth has ever
seen left such slaughter behind it. To understand the situation, one
has only to imagine the fog as taking the place of the ashes at
Pompeii, and the coal-smoke as being the lava that covered it. The
result to the inhabitants in both cases was exactly the same.
IV.--THE AMERICAN WHO WANTED TO SELL.
I was at the time confidential clerk to the house of Fulton, Brixton &
Co., a firm in Cannon Street, dealing largely in chemicals and chemical
apparatus. Fulton I never knew; he died long before my time. Sir John
Brixton was my chief, knighted, I believe, for services to his party,
or because he was an official in the City during some royal progress
through it; I have forgotten which. My small room was next to his large
one, and my chief duty was to see that no one had an interview with Sir
John unless he was an important man or had important business. Sir John
was a difficult man to see, and a difficult man to deal with when he
was seen. He had little respect for most men's feelings, and none at
all for mine. If I allowed a man to enter his room who should have been
dealt with by one of the minor members of the company, Sir John made no
effort to conceal his opinion of me. One day, in the autumn of the last
year of the century, an American was shown into my room. Nothing would
do but he must have an interview with Sir John Brixton. I told him that
it was impossible, as Sir John was extremely busy, but that if he
explained his business to me I would lay it before Sir John at the
first favorable opportunity. The American demurred at this, but finally
accepted the inevitable. He was the inventor, he said, of a machine
that would revolutionize life in London, and he wanted Fulton, Brixton
& Co. to become agents for it. The machine, which he had in a small
handbag with him, was of white metal, and it was so constructed that by
turning an index it gave out greater or less volumes of oxygen gas. The
gas, I understood, was stored in the interior in liquid form under
great pressure, and would last, if I remember rightly, for six months
without recharging. There was also a rubber tube with a mouthpiece
attached to it, and the American said that if a man took a few whiffs a
day, he would experience beneficial results. Now, I knew there was not
the slightest use in showing the machine to Sir John, because we dealt
in old-established British apparatus, and never in any of the new-
fangled Yankee contraptions. Besides, Sir John had a prejudice against
Americans, and I felt sure this man would exasperate him, as he was a
most cadaverous specimen of the race, with high nasal tones, and a most
deplorable pronunciation, much given to phrases savoring of slang; and
he exhibited also a certain nervous familiarity of demeanor towards
people to whom he was all but a complete stranger. It was impossible
for me to allow such a man to enter the presence of Sir John Brixton,
and when he returned some days later I explained to him, I hope with
courtesy, that the head of the house regretted very much his inability
to consider his proposal regarding the machine. The ardor of the
American seemed in no way dampened by this rebuff. He said I could not
have explained the possibilities of the apparatus properly to Sir John;
he characterized it as a great invention, and said it meant a fortune
to whoever obtained the agency for it. He hinted that other noted
London houses were anxious to secure it, but for some reason not stated
he preferred to deal with us. He left some printed pamphlets referring
to the invention, and said he would call again.
V.--THE AMERICAN SEES SIR JOHN.
Many a time I have since thought of that persistent American, and
wondered whether he left London before the disaster, or was one of the
unidentified thousands who were buried in unmarked graves. Little did
Sir John think when he expelled him with some asperity from his
presence, that he was turning away an offer of life, and that the
heated words he used were, in reality, a sentence of death upon
himself. For my own part, I regret that I lost my temper, and told the
American his business methods did not commend themselves to me. Perhaps
he did not feel the sting of this; indeed, I feel certain he did not,
for, unknowingly, he saved my life. Be that as it may, he showed no
resentment, but immediately asked me out to drink with him, an offer I
was compelled to refuse. But I am getting ahead of my story. Indeed,
being unaccustomed to writing, it is difficult for me to set down
events in their proper sequence. The American called upon me several
times after I told him our house could not deal with him. He got into
the habit of dropping in upon me unannounced, which I did not at all
like, but I gave no instructions regarding his intrusions, because I
had no idea of the extremes to which he was evidently prepared to go.
One day, as he sat near my desk reading a paper, I was temporarily
called from the room. When I returned I thought he had gone, taking his
machine with him, but a moment later I was shocked to hear his high
nasal tones in Sir John's room alternating with the deep notes of my
chief's voice, which apparently exercised no such dread upon the
American as upon those who were more accustomed to them. I at once
entered the room, and was about to explain to Sir John that the
American was there through no connivance of mine, when my chief asked
me to be silent, and, turning to his visitor, gruffly requested him to
proceed with his interesting narration. The inventor needed no second
invitation, but went on with his glib talk, while Sir John's frown grew
deeper, and his face became redder under his fringe of white hair. When
the American had finished, Sir John roughly bade him begone, and take
his accursed machine with him. He said it was an insult for a person
with one foot in the grave to bring a so-called health invention to a
robust man who never had a day's illness, I do not know why he listened
so long to the American, when he had made up his mind from the first
not to deal with him, unless it was to punish me for inadvertently
allowing the stranger to enter. The interview distressed me
exceedingly, as I stood there helpless, knowing Sir John was becoming
more and more angry with every word the foreigner uttered, but, at
last, I succeeded in drawing the inventor and his work into my own room
and closing the door. I sincerely hoped I would never see the American
again, and my wish was gratified. He insisted on setting his machine
going, and placing it on a shelf in my room. He asked me to slip it
into Sir John's room come foggy day and note the effect. The man said
he would call again, but he never did.
VI.--HOW THE SMOKE HELD DOWN THE FOG.
It was on a Friday that the fog came down upon us. The weather was very
fine up to the middle of November that autumn. The fog did not seem to
have anything unusual about it. I have seen many worse fogs than that
appeared to be. As day followed day, however, the atmosphere became
denser and darker, caused, I suppose, by the increasing volume of coal-
smoke poured out upon it. The peculiarity about those seven days was
the intense stillness of the air. We were, although we did not know it,
under an air-proof canopy, and were slowly but surely exhausting the
life-giving oxygen around us, and replacing it by poisonous carbonic
acid gas. Scientific men have since showed that a simple mathematical
calculation might have told us exactly when the last atom of oxygen
would have been consumed; but it is easy to be wise after the event.
The body of the greatest mathematician in England was found in the
Strand. He came that morning from Cambridge. During the fog there was
always a marked increase in the death rate, and on this occasion the
increase was no greater than usual until the sixth day. The newspapers
on the morning of the seventh were full of startling statistics, but at
the time of going to press the full significant of the alarming figures
was not realized. The editorials of the morning papers on the seventh
day contained no warning of the calamity that was so speedily to follow
their appearance. I lived then at Ealing, a Western suburb of London,
and came every morning to Cannon Street by a certain train. I had up to
the sixth day experienced no inconvenience from the fog, and this was
largely due, I am convinced, to the unnoticed operations of the
On the fifth and sixth days Sir John did not come to the City, but he
was in his office on the seventh. The door between his room and mine
was closed. Shortly after ten o'clock I heard a cry in his room,
followed by a heavy fall. I opened the door, and saw Sir John lying
face downwards on the floor. Hastening towards him, I felt for the
first time the deadly effect of the deoxygenized atmosphere, and before
I reached him I fell first on one knee and then headlong. I realized
that my senses were leaving me, and instinctively crawled back to my
own room, where the oppression was at once lifted, and I stood again
upon my feet, gasping. I closed the door of Sir John's room, thinking
it filled with poisonous fumes, as, indeed, it was. I called loudly for
help, but there was no answer. On opening the door to the main office I
met again what I thought was the noxious vapor. Speedily as I closed
the door, I was impressed by the intense silence of the usually busy
office, and saw that some of the clerks were motionless on the floor,
and others sat with their heads on their desks as if asleep. Even at
this awful moment I did not realize that what I saw was common to all
London, and not, as I imagined, a local disaster, caused by the
breaking of some carboys in our cellar. (It was filled with chemicals
of every kind, of whose properties I was ignorant, dealing as I did
with the accountant, and not the scientific side of our business.) I
opened the only window in my room, and again shouted for help. The
street was silent and dark in the ominously still fog, and what now
froze me with horror was meeting the same deadly, stifling atmosphere
that was in the rooms. In falling I brought down the window, and shut
out the poisonous air. Again I revived, and slowly the true state of
things began to dawn upon me.
I was in an oasis of oxygen. I at once surmised that the machine on my
shelf was responsible for the existence of this oasis in a vast desert
of deadly gas. I took down the American's machine, fearful in moving it
that I might stop its working. Taking the mouthpiece between my lips I
again entered Sir John's room, this time without feeling any ill
effects. My poor master was long beyond human help. There was evidently
no one alive in the building except myself. Out in the street all was
silent and dark. The gas was extinguished, but here and there in shops
the incandescent lights were still weirdly burning, depending, as they
did, on accumulators, and not on direct engine power. I turned
automatically towards Cannon Street Station, knowing my way to it even
if blindfolded, stumbling over bodies prone on the pavement, and in
crossing the street I ran against a motionless 'bus, spectral in the
fog, with dead horses lying in front, and their reins dangling from the
nerveless hand of a dead driver. The ghostlike passengers, equally
silent, sat bolt upright, or hung over the edge boards in attitudes
VII.--THE TRAIN WITH ITS TRAIL OF THE DEAD.
If a man's reasoning faculties were alert at such a time (I confess
mine were dormant), he would have known there could be no trains at
Cannon Street Station, for if there was not enough oxygen in the air to
keep a man alive, or a gas-jet alight, there would certainly not be
enough to enable an engine fire to burn, even if the engineer retained
sufficient energy to attend to his task. At times instinct is better
than reason, and it proved so in this case. The railway from Ealing in
those days came under the City in a deep tunnel. It would appear that
in this underground passage the carbonic acid gas would first find a
resting-place on account of its weight; but such was not the fact. I
imagine that a current through the tunnel brought from the outlying
districts a supply of comparatively pure air that, for some minutes
after the general disaster, maintained human life. Be this as it may,
the long platforms of Cannon Street Underground Station presented a
fearful spectacle. A train stood at the down platform. The electric
lights burned fitfully. This platform was crowded with men, who fought
each other like demons, apparently for no reason, because the train was
already packed as full as it could hold. Hundreds were dead under foot,
and every now and then a blast of foul air came along the tunnel,
whereupon hundreds more would relax their grips, and succumb. Over
their bodies the survivors fought, with continually thinning ranks. It
seemed to me that most of those in the standing train were dead.
Sometimes a desperate body of fighters climbed over those lying in
heaps and, throwing open a carriage door, hauled out passengers already
in, and took their places, gasping. Those in the train offered no
resistance, and lay motionless where they were flung, or rolled
helplessly under the wheels of the train. I made my way along the wall
as well as I could to the engine, wondering why the train did not go.
The engineer lay on the floor of his cab, and the fires were out.
Custom is a curious thing. The struggling mob, fighting wildly for
places in the carriages, were so accustomed to trains arriving and
departing that it apparently occurred to none of them that the engineer
was human and subject to the same atmospheric conditions as themselves.
I placed the mouthpiece between his purple lips, and, holding my own
breath like a submerged man, succeeded in reviving him. He said that if
I gave him the machine he would take out the train as far as the steam
already in the boiler would carry it. I refused to do this, but stepped
on the engine with him, saying it would keep life in both of us until
we got out into better air. In a surly manner he agreed to this and
started the train, but he did not play fair. Each time he refused to
give up the machine until I was in a fainting condition with holding in
my breath, and, finally, he felled me to the floor of the cab. I
imagine that the machine rolled off the train as I fell and that he
jumped after it. The remarkable thing is that neither of us needed the
machine, for I remember that just after we started I noticed through
the open iron door that the engine fire suddenly became aglow again,
although at the time I was in too great a state of bewilderment and
horror to understand what it meant. A western gale had sprung up--an
hour too late. Even before we left Cannon Street those who still
survived were comparatively safe, for one hundred and sixty-seven
persons were rescued from that fearful heap of dead on the platforms,
although many died within a day or two after, and others never
recovered their reason. When I regained my senses after the blow dealt
by the engineer, I found myself alone, and the train speeding across
the Thames near Kew. I tried to stop the engine, but did not succeed.
However, in experimenting, I managed to turn on the air brake, which in
some degree checked the train, and lessened the impact when the crash
came at Richmond terminus. I sprang off on the platform before the
engine reached the terminal buffers, and saw passing me like a
nightmare the ghastly trainload of the dead. Most of the doors were
swinging open, and every compartment was jammed full, although, as I
afterwards learned, at each curve of the permanent way, or extra lurch
of the train, bodies had fallen out all along the line. The smash at
Richmond made no difference to the passengers. Besides myself, only two
persons were taken alive from the train, and one of these, his clothes
torn from his back in the struggle was sent to an asylum, where he was
never able to tell who he was; neither, as far as I know, did anyone
ever claim him.
THE PREDICAMENT OF DE PLONVILLE.
This story differs from others in having an assortment of morals. Most
stories have one moral; here are several. The moral usually appears at
the end--in this case a few are mentioned at the beginning, so that
they may be looked out for as the reading progresses. First: it is well
for a man--especially a young man--to attend to his own business.
Second in planning a person's life for some little distance ahead, it
will be a mistake if an allowance of ten per cent, at least, is not
made for that unknown quantity--woman. Third: it is beneficial to
remember that one man rarely knows everything. Other morals will
doubtless present themselves, and at the end the cynically-inclined
person may reflect upon the adage about the frying-pan and the fire.
Young M. de Plonville of Paris enjoyed a most enviable position. He had
all the money he needed, which is quite a different thing from saying
he had all the money he wanted. He was well educated, and spoke three
languages, that is, he spoke his own well and the other two badly, but
as a man always prides himself on what he is least able to do, De
Plonville fancied himself a linguist. His courage in speaking English
to Englishmen and German to Germans showed that he was, at least, a
brave man. There was a great deal of good and even of talent in De
Plonville. This statement is made at the beginning, because everyone
who knows De Plonville will at once unhesitatingly contradict it. His
acquaintances thought him one of the most objectionable young men in
Paris, and naval officers, when his name was mentioned, usually gave
themselves over to strong and unjustifiable language. This was all on
account of De Plonville's position, which, although enviable had its
His rank in the navy was such that it entitled him to no consideration
whatever, but, unfortunately for his own popularity, De Plonville had a
method of giving force to his suggestions. His father was a very big
man in the French Government. He was so big a man that he could send a
censure to the commander of a squadron in the navy, and the commander
dare not talk back. It takes a very big man indeed to do this, and that
was the elder De Plonville's size. But then it was well known that the
elder De Plonville was an easy-going man who loved comfort, and did not
care to trouble himself too much about the navy in his charge, and so
when there was trouble, young De Plonville. got the credit of it;
consequently, the love of the officers did not flow out to him.
Often young De Plonville's idiotic impetuosity gave color to these
suspicions. For instance, there is the well-known Toulon incident. In a
heated controversy young De Plonville had claimed that the firing of
the French ironclads was something execrable, and that the whole fleet
could not hold their own at the cannon with any ten of the British
navy. Some time after, the naval officers learned that the Government
at Paris was very much displeased with the inaccurate gun practice of
the fleet, and the hope was expressed that the commander would see his
way to improving it. Of course, the officers could do nothing but gnash
their teeth, try to shoot better, and hope for a time to come when the
Government then in power would be out, and they could find some
tangible pretence for hanging young De Plonville from the yard-arm.
All this has only a remote bearing upon this story, but we now come to
a matter on which the story sinks or swims. De Plonville had a secret--
not such a secret as is common in Parisian life, but one entirely
creditable to him. It related to an invention intended to increase the
efficiency of the French army. The army being a branch of the defences
of his country with which De Plonville had nothing whatever to do, his
attention naturally turned towards it. He spoke of this invention,
once, to a friend, a lieutenant in the army. He expected to get some
practical suggestions. He never mentioned it again to anyone.
"It is based on the principle of the umbrella," he said to his friend;
"in fact, it was the umbrella that suggested it to me. If it could be
made very light so as not to add seriously to the impedimenta at
present carried by the soldier, it seems to me it would be exceedingly
useful. Instead of being circular as an umbrella is, it must be oblong
with sharp ends. It would have to be arranged so as to be opened and
closed quickly, with the cloth thin, but impervious to water. When the
army reached a river each soldier could open this, place it in the
water, enter it with some care, and then paddle himself across with the
butt-end of his gun, or even with a light paddle, if the carrying of it
added but little to the weight, thus saving the building of temporary
bridges. It seems to me such an invention ought to be of vast use in a
forced march. Then at night it might be used as a sort of tent, or in a
heavy rain it would form a temporary shelter. What do you think of the
idea?" His friend had listened with half-closed eyes. He blew a whiff
of cigarette smoke from his nostrils and answered:
"It is wonderful, De Plonville," he said drawlingly. "Its possibilities
are vast--more so than even you appear to think. It would be very
useful in our Alpine corps as well."
"I am glad you think so. But why there?"
"Well, you see, if the army reached a high peak looking into a deep
valley, only to be reached over an inaccessible precipice, all the army
would have to do would be to spread out your superb invention and use
it as a parachute. The sight of the army of France gradually floating
down into the valley would be so terrifying to the nations of Europe,
that I imagine no enemy would wait for a gun to be fired. De Plonville,
your invention will immortalize you, and immortalize the French army."
Young De Plonville waited to hear no more, but turned on his heel and
This conversation caused young De Plonville to make two resolutions;
first, to mention his scheme to no one; second, to persevere and
perfect his invention, thus causing confusion to the scoffer. There
were several sub-resolutions dependent on these two. He would not enter
a club, he would abjure society, he would not speak to a woman--he
would, in short, be a hermit until his invention stood revealed before
an astonished world.
All of which goes to show that young De Plonville was not the
conceited, meddlesome fop his acquaintances thought him. But in the
large and small resolutions he did not deduct the ten per cent, for the
Where? That was the question. De Plonville walked up and down his room,
and thought it out. A large map of France was spread on the table.
Paris and the environs thereof were manifestly impossible. He needed a
place of seclusion. He needed a stretch of water. Where then should be
the spot to which coming generations would point and say, "Here, at
this place, was perfected De Plonville's celebrated parachute-tent-
No, not parachute. Hang the parachute! That was the scoffing
lieutenant's word. De Plonville paused for a moment to revile his folly
in making a confidant of any army man.
There was a sufficiency of water around the French coast, but it was
too cold at that season of the year to experiment in the north and
east. There was left the Mediterranean. He thought rapidly of the
different delightful spots along the Riviera--Cannes, St. Raphael,
Nice, Monte Carlo,--but all of these were too public and too much
thronged with visitors. The name of the place came to him suddenly,
and, as he stopped his march to and fro, De Plonville wondered why it
had not suggested itself to him at the very first. Hyeres! It seemed to
have been planned in the Middle Ages for the perfecting of just such an
invention. It was situated two or three miles back from the sea, the
climate was perfect, there was no marine parade, the sea coast was
lonely, and the bay sheltered by the islands. It was an ideal spot.
De Plonville easily secured leave of absence. Sons of fathers high up
in the service of a grateful country seldom have any difficulty about a
little thing like that. He purchased a ticket for that leisurely train
which the French with their delicious sense of humor call the "Rapide,"
and in due time found himself with his various belongings standing on
the station platform at Hyeres.
Few of us are as brave as we think ourselves. De Plonville flinched
when the supreme moment came, and perhaps that is why the Gods punished
him. He had resolved to go to one of the country inns at Carqueyranne
on the coast, but this was in a heroic mood when the lieutenant had
laughed at his project. Now in a cooler moment he thought of the
cuisine of Carqueyranne and shuddered. There are sacrifices which no
man should be called upon to endure, so the naval officer hesitated,
and at last directed the porter to put his luggage on the top of the
Costebelle Hotel "bus." There would be society at the hotel it is true,
but he could avoid it, while if he went to the rural tavern he could
not avoid the cooking. Thus he smothered his conscience. Lunch at
Costebelle seemed to justify his choice of an abiding-place. The
surroundings of the hotel were dangerously charming to a man whose
natural inclination was towards indolent enjoyment. It was a place to
"Loaf and invite your soul," as Walt Whitman phrases it. Plonville, who
was there incognito, for he had temporarily dropped the "De," strolled
towards the sea in the afternoon, with the air of one who has nothing
on his mind. No one to see him would have suspected he was the future
Edison of France. When he reached the coast at the ruins of the ancient
Roman naval station called Pomponiana, he smote his thigh with joy. He
had forgotten that at this spot there had been erected a number of
little wooden houses, each larger than a bathing-machine and smaller
than a cottage, which were used in summer by the good people of Hyeres,
and in winter were silently vacant. The largest of these would be
exactly the place for him, and he knew he would have no difficulty in
renting it for a month or two. Here, he could bring down his half-
finished invention; here, work at it all day unmolested; and here test
its sailing qualities with no onlookers.
He walked up the road, and hailed the ancient bus which jogs along
between Toulon and Hyeres by way of the coast; mounted beside the
driver, and speedily got information about the owner of the cottages at
As he expected, he had no difficulty in arranging with the proprietor
for the largest of the little cottages, but he thought he detected a
slight depression on the right eyelid as that person handed him the
key. Had the owner suspected his purpose? he asked himself anxiously,
as he drove back from the town to Costebelle. Impossible. He felt,
however, that he could not be too secret about his intentions. He had
heard of inventors being forestalled just at the very moment of
He bade the driver wait, and placed that part of his luggage in the cab
which consisted of his half-finished invention and the materials for
completing it. Then he drove to the coast, and after placing the
packages on the ground, paid and dismissed the man. When the cab was
out of sight, he carried the things to the cottage and locked them in.
His walk up the hill to the hotel rendered the excellent dinner
provided doubly attractive.
Next morning he was early at work, and speedily began to realize how
many necessary articles he had forgotten at Paris. He hoped he would be
able to get them at Hyeres, but his remembrance of the limited
resources of the town made him somewhat doubtful. The small windows on
each side gave him scarcely enough light, but he did not open the door,
fearing the curiosity of a chance passer-by. One cannot be too careful
in maturing a great invention.
Plonville had been at work for possibly an hour and a half, when he
heard someone singing, and that very sweetly. She sang with the joyous
freedom of one who suspected no listener. The song came nearer and
nearer. Plonville standing amazed, dropped his implements, and stole to
the somewhat obscure little window. He saw a vision of fresh loveliness
dressed in a costume he never before beheld on a vision. She came down
the bank with a light, springy step to the next cottage, took a key
that hung at her belt, and threw open the door. The song was hushed,
but not silenced, for a moment, and then there came from out the
cottage door the half of a boat that made Plonville gasp. Like the
costume, he had never before seen such a boat. It was exactly the shape
in which he had designed his invention, and was of some extra light
material, for the sylph-like girl in the extraordinary dress pushed it
forth without even ceasing her song. Next moment, she came out herself
and stood there while she adjusted her red head-gear. She drew the boat
down to the water, picked out of it a light, silver-mounted paddle,
stepped deftly aboard, and settled down to her place with the airy
grace of a thistle-down. There was no seat in the boat, Plonville noted
with astonishment. The sea was very smooth, and a few strokes of the
paddle sent girl and craft out of sight along the coast. Plonville drew
a deep breath of bewilderment. It was his first sight of a Thames
boating costume and a canoe.
This, then, was why the man winked when he gave him the key. Plonville
was in a quandary. Should he reveal himself when she returned? It did
not seem to be quite the thing to allow the girl to believe she had the
coast to herself when in fact she hadn't. But then there was his
invention to think of. He had sworn allegiance to that. He sat down and
pondered. English, evidently. He had no idea English girls were so
pretty, and then that costume! It was _very_ taking. The rich,
creamy folds of the white flannel, so simple, yet so complete, lingered
in his memory. Still, what was he there for? His invention certainly.
The sneer of the lieutenant stung his memory. That Miss Whatever-her-
name-might-be had rented the next box was nothing to him; of course
not. He waved her aside and turned to his work. He had lost enough of
time as it was; he would lose no more.
Although armed with this heroic resolution, his task somehow did not
seem so interesting as before, and he found himself listening now and
then for the siren's song. He dramatized imaginary situations, which is
always bad for practical work. He saw the frail craft shattered or
overturned, and beheld himself bravely buffeting the waves rescuing the
fair girl in white. Then he remembered with a sigh that he was not a
good swimmer. Possibly she was more at home in the waves than he was.
Those English seemed on such terms of comradeship with the sea.
At last, intuition rather than hearing told him she had returned. He
walked on tip-toe to the dingy window. She was pulling the light canoe
up from the water. He checked his impulse to offer assistance. When the
girl sprang lightly up the bank, Plonville sighed and concluded he had
done enough work for the day. As he reached the road, he noticed that
the white figure in the distance did not take the way to the hotel, but
towards one of the neighboring Chateaux.
In the afternoon, Plonville worked long at his invention, and made
progress. He walked back to his hotel with the feeling of self-
satisfaction which indolent men have on those rare occasions when they
are industrious. He had been uninterrupted, and his resolutions were
again heroic. What had been done one afternoon might be done all
afternoons. He would think no more of the vision he had seen and he
would work only after lunch, thus avoiding the necessity of revealing
himself, or of being a concealed watcher of her actions. Of course she
came always in the morning, for the English are a methodical people,
and Plonville was so learned in their ways that he knew what they did
one day they were sure to do the next. An extraordinary nation,
Plonville said to himself with a shrug of his shoulders, but then of
course, we cannot all be French.
It is rather a pity that temptation should step in just when a man has
made up his mind not to deviate from a certain straight line of
conduct. There was to be a ball that night at the big hotel. Plonville
had refused to have anything to do with it. He had renounced the
frivolities of life. He was there for rest, quiet, and study. He was
adamant. That evening the invitation was again extended to him, the
truth being that there was a scarcity of young men, as is usually the
case at such functions. Plonville was about to re-state his objections
to frivolity when through the open door he caught a glimpse of two of
the arriving guests ascending the stair. The girl had on a long opera
cloak with some fluffy white material round the neck and down the
front. A filmy lace arrangement rested lightly on her fair hair. It was
the lady of the canoe--glorified. Plonville wavered and was lost. He
rushed to his room and donned his war paint. Say what you like, evening
dress improves the appearance of a man. Besides this, he had resumed
the De once more, and his back was naturally straighter. De Plonville
They were speedily introduced, of course. De Plonville took care of
that, and the manager of the ball was very grateful to him for coming,
and for looking so nice. There was actually an air of distinction about
De Plonville. She was the Hon. Margaret Stansby, he learned. Besides
being unfair, it would be impossible to give their conversation. It
would read like a section from Ollendorf's French-English exercises. De
Plonville, as has been said, was very proud of his English, and,
unfortunately, the Hon. Margaret had a sense of humor. He complimented
her by saying that she talked French even better than he talked
English, which, while doubtless true, was not the most tactful thing De
Plonville might have said. It was difficult to listen to such a
statement given in his English, and refrain from laughing. Margaret,
however, scored a great victory and did not laugh. The evening passed
pleasantly, she thought; delightfully, De Plonville thought.
It was hard after this to come down to the prosaic work of completing a
cloth canoe-tent, but, to De Plonville's credit, he persevered. He met
the young lady on several occasions, but never by the coast. The better
they became acquainted the more he wished to have the privilege of
rescuing her from some deadly danger; but the opportunity did not come.
It seldom does, except in books, as he bitterly remarked to himself.
The sea was exasperatingly calm, and Miss Margaret was mistress of her
craft, as so many charming women are. He thought of buying a telescope
and watching her, for she had told him that one of her own delights was
looking at the evolutions of the ironclads through a telescope on the
terrace in front of the Chateau.
At last, in spite of his distractions, De Plonville added the finishing
touches to his notable invention, and all that remained was to put it
to a practical test. He chose a day when that portion of the French
navy which frequents the Rade d'Hyeres was not in sight, for he did not
wish to come within the field of the telescope at the Chateau terrace.
He felt that he would not look his best as he paddled his new-fangled
boat. Besides, it might sink with him.
There was not a sail in sight as he put forth. Even the fishing boats
of Carqueyranne were in shelter. The sea was very calm, and the sun
shone brightly. He had some little difficulty in getting seated, but he
was elated to find that his invention answered all expectations. As he
went further out he noticed a great buoy floating a long distance away.
His evil genius suggested that it would be a good thing to paddle out
to the buoy and back. Many men can drink champagne and show no sign,
but few can drink success and remain sober. The eccentric airs assumed
by noted authors prove the truth of this. De Plonville was drunk, and
never suspected it. The tide, what little there is of it in the
Mediterranean, helped him, and even the gentle breeze blew from the
shore. He had some doubts as to the wisdom of his course before he
reached the gigantic red buoy, but when he turned around and saw the
appalling distance to the coast, he shuddered.
The great buoy was of iron, apparently boiler plate, and there were
rings fastened to its side. It was pear-shaped with the point in the
water, fastened to a chain that evidently led to an anchor. He wondered
what it was for. As he looked up it was moved by some unseen current,
and rolled over as if bent on the destruction of his craft. Forgetting
himself, he sprang up to ward it off, and instantly one foot went
through the thin waterproof that formed the bottom and sides of his
boat. He found himself struggling in the water almost before he
realized what had happened. Kicking his foot free from the entanglement
that threatened to drag him under, he saw his invention slowly settle
down through the clear, green water. He grasped one of the rings of the
buoy, and hung there for a moment to catch his breath and consider his
position. He rapidly came to the conclusion that it was not a pleasant
one, but further than that he found it difficult to go. Attempting to
swim ashore would be simply one form of suicide. The thing to do was
evidently to get on top of the buoy, but he realized that if he tried
to pull himself up by the rings it would simply roll him under. He was
surprised to find, however, that such was not the case. He had under-
estimated both its size and its weight.
He sat down on top of it and breathed heavily after his exertions,
gazing for a few moments at the vast expanse of shimmering blue water.
It was pretty, but discouraging. Not even a fishing-boat was in sight,
and he was in a position where every prospect pleases, and only man is
in a vile situation. The big iron island had an uncomfortable habit
every now and then of lounging partly over to one side or the other, so
that De Plonville had to scramble this way or that to keep from falling
off. He vaguely surmised that his motions on these occasions lacked
dignity. The hot sun began to dry the clothes on his back, and he felt
his hair become crisp with salt. He recollected that swimming should be
easy here, for he was on the saltest portion of the saltest open sea in
the world. Then his gaze wandered over the flat lands about Les Salins
where acres of ground were covered artificially with Mediterranean
water so that the sun may evaporate it, and leave the coarse salt used
by the fishermen of the coast. He did not yet feel hungry, but he
thought with regret of the good dinner which would be spread at the
hotel that evening, when, perhaps, he would not be there.
He turned himself around and scanned the distant Islands of Gold, but
there was as little prospect of help from that quarter as from the
mainland. Becoming more accustomed to the swayings of the big globe, he
stood up. What a fool he had been to come so far, and he used French
words between his teeth that sounded terse and emphatic. Still there
was little use thinking of that. Here he was, and here he would stay,
as a President of his country had once remarked. The irksomeness and
restraint of his position began to wear on his nerves, and he cried
aloud for something--anything--to happen rather than what he was
From between the Islands, there slowly appeared a great modern French
ship of war, small in the distance. Hope lighted up the face of De
Plonville. She must pass near enough to enable his signalling to be
seen by the lookout. Heavens! how leisurely she moved! Then a second
war vessel followed the first into view, and finally a third. The three
came slowly along in stately procession. De Plonville removed his coat
and waved it up and down to attract attention. So intent was he upon
this that he nearly lost his footing, and, realizing that the men-of-
war were still too far away, he desisted. He sat down as his excitement
abated, and watched their quiet approach. Once it seemed to him they
had stopped, and he leaned forward, shading his eyes with his hand, and
watched them eagerly. They were just moving--that was all.
Suddenly, from the black side of the foremost battle-ship, there rolled
upward a cloud of white smoke, obscuring the funnels and the rigging,
thinning out into the blue sky over the top-masts. After what seemed a
long interval the low, dull roar of a cannon reached him, followed by
the echo from the high hills of the island, and later by the fainter
re-echo from the mountains on the mainland. This depressed De
Plonville, for, if the ships were out for practice, the obscuring smoke
around them would make the seeing of his signalling very improbable;
and then that portion of the fleet might return the way it came,
leaving him in his predicament. From the second ironclad arose a
similar cloud, and this time far to his left there spurted up from the
sea a jet of water, waving in the air like a plume for a moment, then
dropping back in a shower on the ruffled surface.
The buoy was a target!
As De Plonville realized its use, he felt that uncomfortable creeping
of the scalp which we call, the hair standing on end. The third cannon
sent up its cloud, and De Plonville's eyes extended at what they saw.
Coming directly towards him was a cannon ball, skipping over the water
like a thrown pebble. His experience in the navy--at Paris--had never
taught him that such a thing was possible. He slid down flat on the
buoy, till his chin rested on the iron, and awaited the shock. A
hundred yards from him the ball dipped into the water and disappeared.
He found that he had ineffectually tried to drive his nails into the
boiler plate, until his fingers' ends were sore. He stood up and waved
his arms, but the first vessel fired again, and the ball came shrieking
over him so low that he intuitively ducked his head. Like a pang of
physical pain, the thought darted through his brain that he had
instigated a censure on the bad firing of these very boats. Doubtless
they saw a man on the buoy, but as no man had any business there, the
knocking of him off by a cannon ball would be good proof of accuracy of
aim. The investigation which followed would be a feather in the cap of
the officer in charge, whatever the verdict. De Plonville, with
something like a sigh, more than suspected that his untimely death
would not cast irretrievable gloom over the fleet.
Well, a man has to die but once, and there is little use in making a
fuss over the inevitable. He would meet his fate calmly and as a
Frenchman should, with his face to the guns. There was a tinge of
regret that there would be no one to witness his heroism. It is always
pleasant on such occasions to have a war correspondent, or at least a
reporter, present. It is best to be as comfortable as possible under
any circumstances, so De Plonville sat down on the spheroid and let his
feet dangle toward the water. The great buoy for some reason floated
around until it presented its side to the ships. None of the balls came
so near as those first fired--perhaps because of the accumulated smoke.
New features of the situation continued to present themselves to De
Plonville as he sat there. The firing had been going on for some time
before he reflected that if a shot punctured the buoy it would fill and
sink. Perhaps their orders were to fire until the buoy disappeared.
There was little comfort in this suggestion.
Firing had ceased for some minutes before he noticed the fact. A bank
of thinning smoke rested on the water between the buoy and the ships.
He saw the ironclads move ponderously around and steam through this
bank turning broadside on again in one, two, three, order. He watched
the evolution with his chin resting on his hands, not realizing that
the moment for signalling had come. When the idea penetrated his
somewhat dazed mind, he sprang to his feet, but his opportunity had
gone. The smoke of the first gun rose in the air, there was a clang of
iron on iron, and De Plonville found himself whirling in space: then
sinking in the sea. Coming breathless to the surface, he saw the buoy
revolving slowly, and a deep dinge in its side seemed to slide over its
top and disappear into the water, showing where the shot had struck.
The second boat did not fire, and he knew that they were examining the
buoy with their glasses. He swam around to the other side, intending to
catch a ring and have it haul him up where he could be seen. Before he
reached the place the buoy was at rest again, and as he laboriously
climbed on top more dead than alive, the second ship opened fire. He
lay down at full length exhausted, and hoped if they were going to hit
they would hit quick. Life was not worth having on these conditions. He
felt the hot sun on his back, and listened dreamily to the cannon. Hope
was gone, and he wondered at himself for feeling a remote rather than
an active interest in his fate. He thought of himself as somebody else,
and felt a vague impersonal pity. He criticised the random firing, and
suspected the hit was merely a fluke. When his back was dry he rolled
lazily over and lay gazing up at the cloudless sky. For greater comfort
he placed his hands beneath his head. The sky faded, and a moment's
"This won't do," he cried, shaking himself. "If I fall asleep I shall
He sat up again, his joints stiff with his immersion, and watched the
distant ironclads. He saw with languid interest a ball strike the
water, take a new flight, and plunge into the sea far to the right. He
thought that the vagaries of cannon-balls at sea would make an
"Are you injured?" cried a clear voice behind him.
"_Mon Dieu!_" shouted the young man in a genuine fright, as he
sprang to his feet.
"Oh, I beg pardon," as if a rescuer need apologize, "I thought you were
M. De Plonville."
"I _am_ De Plonville."
"Your hair is grey," she said in an awed whisper; then added, "and no
"Mademoiselle," replied the stricken young man, placing his hand on his
heart, "it is needless to deny--I do not deny--that I was frightened--
but--I did not think--not so much as that, I regret. It is so--so--
theatrical--I am deeply sorrowful."
"Please say no more, but come quickly. Can you come down? Step exactly
in the middle of the canoe. Be careful--it is easily upset--and sit
down at once. That was very nicely done."
"Mademoiselle, allow me at least to row the boat."
"It is paddling, and you do not understand it. I do. Please do not
speak until we are out of range. I am horribly frightened."
"You are very, very brave."
Miss Stansby wielded the double-bladed paddle in a way a Red Indian
might have envied. Once she uttered a little feminine shriek as a
cannon ball plunged into the water behind them; but as they got further
away from the buoy those on the iron-clads appeared to notice that a
boat was within range, and the firing ceased.
Miss Stansby looked fixedly at the solemn young man sitting before her;
then placed her paddle across the canoe, bent over it, and laughed. De
Plonville saw the reaction had come. He said sympathetically:--
"Ah, Mademoiselle, do not, I beg. All danger is over, I think."
"I am not frightened, don't think it," she cried, flashing a look of
defiance at him, and forgetting her admission of fear a moment before.
"My father was an Admiral. I am laughing at my mistake. It is salt."
"What is?" asked her astonished passenger.
"In your hair."
He ran his fingers through his hair, and the salt rattled down to the
bottom of the canoe. There was something of relief in _his_ laugh.
* * * * *
De Plonville always believes the officers on board the gunboats
recognized him. When it was known in Paris that he was to be married to
the daughter of an English Admiral, whom rumor said he had bravely
saved from imminent peril, the army lieutenant remarked that she could
never have heard him speak her language--which, as we know, is not
A NEW EXPLOSIVE.
The French Minister of War sat in his very comfortable chair in his own
private yet official room, and pondered over a letter he had received.
Being Minister of War, he was naturally the most mild, the most humane,
and least quarrelsome man in the Cabinet. A Minister of War receives
many letters that, as a matter of course, he throws into his waste
basket, but this particular communication had somehow managed to rivet
his attention. When a man becomes Minister of War he learns for the
first time that apparently the great majority of mankind are engaged in
the manufacture or invention of rifles, gunpowders, and devices of all
kinds for the destruction of the rest of the world.
That morning, the Minister of War had received a letter which announced
to him that the writer of it had invented an explosive so terrible that
all known destructive agencies paled before it. As a Frenchman, he made
the first offer of his discovery to the French Government. It would
cost the Minister nothing, he said, to make a test which would
corroborate his amazing claims for the substance, and the moment that
test was made, any intelligent man would recognize the fact that the
country which possessed the secret of this destructive compound would
at once occupy an unassailable position in a contentious world.
The writer offered personally to convince the Minister of the truth of
his assertions, provided they could go to some remote spot where the
results of the explosion would do no damage, and where they would be
safe from espionage. The writer went on very frankly to say that if the
Minister consulted with the agents of the police, they would at once
see in this invitation a trap for the probable assassination of the
Minister. But the inventor claimed that the Minister's own good sense
should show him that his death was desired by none. He was but newly
appointed, and had not yet had time to make enemies. France was at
peace with all the world, and this happened before the time of the
Anarchist demonstrations in Paris. It was but right, the letter went
on, that the Minister should have some guarantee as to the _bona
fides_ of the inventor. He therefore gave his name and address, and
said if the Minister made inquiries from the police, he would find
nothing stood in their books against him. He was a student, whose
attention, for years, had been given to the subject of explosives. To
further show that he was entirely unselfish in this matter, he added
that he had no desire to enrich himself by his discovery. He had a
private income quite sufficient for his needs, and he intended to give,
and not to sell, his secret to France. The only proviso he made was
that his name should be linked with this terrible compound, which he
maintained would secure universal peace to the world, for, after its
qualities were known, no nation would dare to fight with another. The
sole ambition of the inventor, said the letter in conclusion, was to
place his name high in the list of celebrated French scientists. If,
however, the Minister refused to treat with him he would go to other
Governments until his invention was taken up, but the Government which
secured it would at once occupy the leading position among nations. He
entreated the Minister, therefore, for the sake of his country, to make
at least one test of the compound.
It was, as I have said, before the time of the Paris explosions, and
ministers were not so suspicious then as they are now. The Minister
made inquiries regarding the scientist, who lived in a little suburb of
Paris, and found that there was nothing against him on the books of the
police. Inquiry showed that all he had said about his own private
fortune was true. The Minister therefore wrote to the inventor, and
named an hour at which he would receive him in his private office.
The hour and the man arrived together. The Minister had had some slight
doubts regarding his sanity, but the letter had been so
straightforwardly written, and the appearance of the man himself was so
kindly and benevolent and intelligent that the doubts of the official
"I beg you to be seated," said the Minister. "We are entirely alone,
and nothing you say will be heard by any one but myself."
"I thank you, Monsieur le Ministre," replied the inventor, "for this
mark of confidence; for I am afraid the claims I made in the letter
were so extraordinary that you might well have hesitated about granting
me an interview."
The Minister smiled. "I understand," he said, "the enthusiasm of an
inventor for his latest triumph, and I was enabled thus to take, as it
were, some discount from your statements, although I doubt not that you
have discovered something that may be of benefit to the War
The inventor hesitated, looking seriously at the great official before
"From what you say," he began at last, "I am rather afraid that my
letter misled you, for, fearing it would not be credited I was obliged
to make my claims so mild that I erred in under-estimating rather than
in over-stating them. I have the explosive here in my pocket."
"Ah!" cried the Minister, a shade of pallor coming over his
countenance, as he pushed back his chair. "I thought I stated in my
note that you were not to bring it."
"Forgive me for not obeying. It is perfectly harmless while in this
state. This is one of the peculiarities--a beneficent peculiarity if I
may so term it--of this terrible agent. It may be handled with perfect
safety, and yet its effects are as inevitable as death," saying which,
he took out of his pocket and held up to the light a bottle filled with
a clear colorless liquid like water.
"You could pour that on the fire," he said, "with no other effect than
to put out the blaze. You might place it under a steam hammer and crush
the bottle to powder, yet no explosion would follow. It is as harmless
as water in its present condition."
"How, then," said the Minister, "do you deal with it?"
Again the man hesitated.
"I am almost afraid to tell you," he said; "and if I could not
demonstrate to your entire satisfaction that what I say is true, it
would be folly for me to say what I am about to say. If I were to take
this bottle and cut a notch in the cork, and walk with it neck
downwards along the Boulevard des Italiens, allowing this fluid to fall
drop by drop on the pavement, I could walk in that way in safety
through every street in Paris. If it rained that day nothing would
happen. If it rained the next or for a week nothing would happen, but
the moment the sun came out and dried the moisture, the light step of a
cat on any pavement over which I had passed would instantly shatter to
ruins the whole of Paris."
"Impossible!" cried the Minister, an expression of horror coming into
"I knew you would say that. Therefore I ask you to come with me to the
country, where I can prove the truth of what I allege. While I carry
this bottle around with me in this apparently careless fashion, it is
corked, as you see with the utmost security. Not a drop of the fluid
must be left on the outside of the cork or of the bottle. I have wiped
the bottle and cork most thoroughly, and burned the cloth which I used
in doing so. Fire will not cause this compound, even when dry, to
explode, but the slightest touch will set it off. I have to be
extremely careful in its manufacture, so that not a single drop is left
unaccounted for in any place where it might evaporate."
The Minister, with his finger-tips together and his eyes on the
ceiling, mused for a few moments on the amazing statement he had heard.
"If what you say is true," he began at last, "don't you think it would
be more humane to destroy all traces of the experiments by which you
discovered this substance, and to divulge the secret to no one? The
devastation such a thing would cause, if it fell into unscrupulous
hands, is too appalling even to contemplate."
"I have thought of that," said the inventor; "but some one else--the
time may be far off or it may be near--is bound to make the discovery.
My whole ambition, as I told you in my letter, is to have my name
coupled with this discovery. I wish it to be known as the Lambelle
Explosive. The secret would be safe with the French Government."
"I am not so sure of that," returned the Minister. "Some unscrupulous
man may become Minister of War, and may use his knowledge to put
himself in the position of Dictator. An unscrupulous man in the
possession of such a secret would be invincible."
"What you say," replied the inventor, "is undoubtedly true; yet I am
determined that the name of Lambelle shall go down in history coupled
with the most destructive agent the world has ever known, or will know.
If the Government of France will build for me a large stone structure
as secure as a fortress, I will keep my secret, but will fill that
building with bottles like this, and then--"
"I do not see," said the Minister, "that that would lessen the danger,
if the unscrupulous man I speak of once became possessed of the keys;
and, besides, the mere fact that such a secret existed would put other
inventors upon the track, and some one else less benevolent than
yourself would undoubtedly make the discovery. You admitted a moment
ago that the chances were a future investigator would succeed in
getting the right ingredients together, even without the knowledge that
such an explosive existed. See what an incentive it would be to
inventors all over the world, if it were known that France had in its
possession such a fearful explosive! No Government has ever yet been
successful in keeping the secret of either a gun or a gunpowder."
"There is, of course," said Lambelle, "much in what you say; but,
equally of course, all that you say might have been said to the
inventor of gunpowder, for gunpowder in its day was as wonderful as
this is now."
Suddenly the Minister laughed aloud.
"I am talking seriously with you on this subject," he exclaimed, "as if
I really believed in it. Of course, I may say I do nothing of the kind.
I think you must have hypnotized me with those calm eyes of yours into
crediting your statements for even a few moments."
"All that I say," said the inventor quietly, "can be corroborated to-
morrow. Make an appointment with me in the country, and if it chances
to be a calm and sunny day you will no longer doubt the evidence of
your own eyes."
"Where do you wish the experiment to be made?" asked the Minister.
"It must be in some wild and desolate region, on a hill-top for
preference. There should be either trees or old buildings there that we
can destroy, otherwise the full effects can hardly be estimated."
"I have a place in the country," said the Minister, "which is wild and
desolate and unprofitable enough. There are some useless stone
buildings, not on a hill-top, but by the edge of a quarry which has
been unworked for many years. There is no habitation for several miles
around. Would such a spot be suitable?"
"Perfectly so. When would it be convenient for you to go?"
"I will leave with you to-night," said the Minister, "and we can spend
the day to-morrow experimenting."
"Very well," answered Lambelle, rising when the Minister had told him
the hour and the railway station at which they should meet.
That evening, when the Minister drove to the railway station in time
for his train, he found Lambelle waiting for him, holding, by a leash,
two sorry-looking dogs.
"Do you travel with such animals as these?" asked the Minister.
"The poor brutes," said Lambelle, with regret in his voice, "are
necessary for our experiments. They will be in atoms by this time to-
The dogs were put into the railway-van, and the inventor brought his
portmanteau with him into the private carriage reserved for the use of
The place, as the Minister of War had said, was desolate enough. The
stone buildings near the edge of the deserted quarry were stout and
strong, although partly in ruins.
"I have here with me in my portmanteau," said Lambelle, "some hundreds
of metres of electric wire. I will attach one of the dogs by this clip,
which we can release from a distance by pressing an electric button.
The moment the dog escapes he will undoubtedly explode the compound."
The insulated wire was run along the ground to a distant elevation. The
dog was attached by the electric clip, and chained to a doorpost of one
of the buildings. Lambelle then carefully uncorked his bottle, holding
it at arm's length from his person. The Minister looked on with strange
interest as Lambelle allowed the fluid to drip in a semicircular line
around the chained dog. The inventor carefully re-corked the bottle,
wiped it thoroughly with a cloth he had with him, and threw the cloth
into one of the deserted houses.
They waited near, until the spots caused by the fluid on the stone
pavement in front of the house had disappeared.
"By the time we reach the hill," said Lambelle, "it will be quite dry
in this hot sun."
As they departed towards the elevation, the forlorn dog howled
mournfully, as if in premonition of his fate.
"I think, to make sure," said the inventor, when they reached the
electrical apparatus, "that we might wait for half an hour."
The Minister lit a cigarette, and smoked silently, a strange battle
going on in his mind. He found himself believing in the extraordinary
claims made by the inventor, and his thought dwelt on the awful
possibilities of such an explosive.
"Will you press the electric lever?" asked Lambelle quietly. "Remember
that you are inaugurating a new era."
The Minister pressed down the key, and then, putting his field-glass to
his eye, he saw that the dog was released, but the animal sat there
scratching its ear with its paw. Then, realizing that it was loose, it
sniffed for a moment at the chain. Finally, it threw up its head and
barked, although the distance was too great for them to hear any sound.
The dog started in the direction the two men had gone, but, before it
had taken three steps, the Minister was appalled to see the buildings
suddenly crumble into dust, and a few moments later the thunder of the
rocks falling into the deserted quarry came toward them. The whole
ledge had been flung forwards into the chasm. There was no smoke, but a
haze of dust hovered over the spot.
"My God!" cried the Minister. "That is awful!"
"Yes," said Lambelle quietly; "I put more of the substance on the
flagging than I need to have done. A few drops would have answered
quite as well, but I wanted to make sure. You were very sceptical, you
The Minister looked at him. "I beg of you, M. Lambelle, never to
divulge this secret to the Government of France, or to any other power.
Take the risk of it being discovered in the future. I implore you to
reconsider your original intention. If you desire money, I will see
that you get what you want from the secret funds."
Lambelle shrugged his shoulders.
"I have no desire for money," he said; "but what you have seen will
show you that I shall be the most famous scientist of the century. The
name of Lambelle will be known till the end of the world."
"But, my God, man!" said the Minister, "the end of the world is here
the moment your secret is in the possession of another. With you or me
it would be safe: but who can tell the minds of those who may follow
us? You are putting the power of the Almighty into the hands of a man."
Lambelle flushed with pride as the pale-faced Minister said this.
"You speak the truth!" he cried, "it is the power of Omnipotence."
"Then," implored the Minister, "reconsider your decision."
"I have labored too long," said Lambelle, "to forego my triumph now.
You are convinced at last, I see. Now then, tell me: will you, as
Minister of France, secure for your country this greatest of all
"Yes," answered the Minister; "no other power must be allowed to obtain
the secret. Have you ever written down the names of the ingredients?"
"Never," answered Lambelle.
"Is it not possible for any one to have suspected what your experiments
were? If a man got into your laboratory--a scientific man--could he
not, from what he saw there, obtain the secret?"
"It would be impossible," said Lambelle. "I have been too anxious to
keep the credit for myself, to leave any traces that might give a hint
of what I was doing."
"You were wise in that," said the Minister, drawing a deep breath. "Now
let us go and look at the ruins."
As they neared the spot the official's astonishment at the
extraordinary destruction became greater and greater. The rock had been
rent as if by an earthquake, to the distance of hundreds of yards.
"You say," said the Minister, "that the liquid is perfectly safe until
evaporation takes place."
"Perfectly," answered Lambelle. "Of course one has to be careful, as I
told you, in the use of it. You must not get a drop on your clothes, or
leave it anywhere on the outside of the bottle to evaporate."
"Let me see the stuff."
Lambelle handed him the bottle.
"Have you any more of this in your laboratory?"
"Not a drop."
"If you wished to destroy this, how would you do it?"
"I should empty the bottle into the Seine. It would flow down to the
sea, and no harm would be done."
"See if you can find any traces of the dog," said the Minister. "I will
clamber down into the quarry, and look there."
"You will find nothing," said Lambelle confidently.
There was but one path by which the bottom of the quarry could be
reached. The Minister descended by this until he was out of sight of
the man above; then he quickly uncorked the bottle, and allowed the
fluid to drip along the narrowest part of the path which faced the
burning sun. He corked the bottle, wiped it carefully with his
handkerchief, which he rolled into a ball, and threw into the quarry.
Coming up to the surface again, he said to the mild and benevolent
scientist: "I cannot find a trace of the dog."
"Nor can I," said Lambelle. "Of course when you can hardly find a sign
of the building it is not to be expected that there should be any
remnants of the dog."
"Suppose we get back to the hill now and have lunch," said the
"Do you wish to try another experiment?"
"I would like to try one more after we have had something to eat. What
would be the effect if you poured the whole bottleful into the quarry
and set it off?"
"Oh, impossible!" cried Lambelle. "It would rend this whole part of the
country to pieces. In fact, I am not sure that the shock would not be
felt as far as Paris. With a very few drops I can shatter the whole
"Well, we'll try that after lunch. We have another dog left."
When an hour had passed, Lambelle was anxious to try his quarry
"By-and-by," he said, "the sun will not be shining in the quarry, and
then it will be too late."
"We can easily wait until to-morrow, unless you are in a hurry."
"I am in no hurry," rejoined the inventor.
"I thought perhaps you might be, with so much to do."
"No," replied the official. "Nothing I shall do during my
administration will be more important than this."
"I am glad to hear you say so," answered Lambelle; "and if you will
give me the bottle again I will now place a few drops in the sunny part
of the quarry."
The Minister handed him the bottle, apparently with some reluctance.
"I still think," he said, "that it would be much better to allow this
secret to die. No one knows it at present but yourself. With you, as I
have said, it will be safe, or with me; but think of the awful
possibilities of a disclosure."
"Every great invention has its risks," said Lambelle firmly. "Nothing
would induce me to forego the fruits of my life-work. It is too much to
ask of any man."
"Very well," said the Minister. "Then let us be sure of our facts. I
want to see the effects of the explosive on the quarry."
"You shall," said Lambelle, as he departed.
"I will wait for you here," said the Minister, "and smoke a cigarette."
When the inventor approached the quarry, leading the dog behind him,
the Minister's hand trembled so that he was hardly able to hold the
field-glass to his eye. Lambelle disappeared down the path. The next
instant the ground trembled even where the Minister sat, and a haze of
dust arose above the ruined quarry.
Some moments after the pallid Minister looked over the work of
destruction, but no trace of humanity was there except himself.
"I could not do otherwise," he murmured, "It was too great a risk to
THE GREAT PEGRAM MYSTERY.
(_With apologies to Dr. Conan Doyle, and our mutual and lamented
friend the late Sherlock Holmes_.)
I dropped in on my friend, Sherlaw Kombs, to hear what he had to say
about the Pegram mystery, as it had come to be called in the
newspapers. I found him playing the violin with a look of sweet peace
and serenity on his face, which I never noticed on the countenances of
those within hearing distance. I knew this expression of seraphic calm
indicated that Kombs had been deeply annoyed about something. Such,
indeed, proved to be the case, for one of the morning papers had
contained an article, eulogizing the alertness and general competence
of Scotland Yard. So great was Sherlaw Kombs's contempt for Scotland
Yard that he never would visit Scotland during his vacations, nor would
he ever admit that a Scotchman was fit for anything but export.
He generously put away his violin, for he had a sincere liking for me,
and greeted me with his usual kindness.
"I have come," I began, plunging at once into the matter on my mind,
"to hear what you think of the great Pegram mystery."
"I haven't heard of it," he said quietly, just as if all London were
not talking of that very thing. Kombs was curiously ignorant on some
subjects, and abnormally learned on others. I found, for instance, that
political discussion with him was impossible, because he did not know
who Salisbury and Gladstone were. This made his friendship a great
"The Pegram mystery has baffled even Gregory, of Scotland Yard."
"I can well believe it," said my friend, calmly. "Perpetual motion, or
squaring the circle, would baffle Gregory. He's an infant, is Gregory."
This was one of the things I always liked about Kombs. There was no
professional jealousy in him, such as characterizes so many other men.
He filled his pipe, threw himself into his deep-seated arm-chair,
placed his feet on the mantel, and clasped his hands behind his head.
"Tell me about it," he said simply.
"Old Barrie Kipson," I began, "was a stockbroker in the City. He lived
in Pegram, and it was his custom to--"
"COME IN!" shouted Kombs, without changing his position, but with a
suddenness that startled me. I had heard no knock.
"Excuse me," said my friend, laughing, "my invitation to enter was a
trifle premature. I was really so interested in your recital that I
spoke before I thought, which a detective should never do. The fact is,
a man will be here in a moment who will tell me all about this crime,
and so you will be spared further effort in that line."
"Ah, you have an appointment. In that case I will not intrude," I said,
"Sit down; I have no appointment. I did not know until I spoke that he
I gazed at him in amazement. Accustomed as I was to his extraordinary
talents, the man was a perpetual surprise to me. He continued to smoke
quietly, but evidently enjoyed my consternation.
"I see you are surprised. It is really too simple to talk about, but,
from my position opposite the mirror, I can see the reflection of
objects in the street. A man stopped, looked at one of my cards, and
then glanced across the street. I recognized my card, because, as you
know, they are all in scarlet. If, as you say, London is talking of
this mystery, it naturally follows that _he_ will talk of it, and
the chances are he wished to consult me about it. Anyone can see that,
besides there is always--_Come_ in!"
There was a rap at the door this time.
A stranger entered. Sherlaw Kombs did not change his lounging attitude.
"I wish to see Mr. Sherlaw Kombs, the detective," said the stranger,
coming within the range of the smoker's vision.
"This is Mr. Kombs," I remarked at last, as my friend smoked quietly,
and seemed half-asleep.
"Allow me to introduce myself," continued the stranger, fumbling for a
"There is no need. You are a journalist," said Kombs.
"Ah," said the stranger, somewhat taken aback, "you know me, then."
"Never saw or heard of you in my life before."
"Then how in the world--"
"Nothing simpler. You write for an evening paper. You have written an
article slating the book of a friend. He will feel badly about it, and
you will condole with him. He will never know who stabbed him unless I
"The devil!" cried the journalist, sinking into a chair and mopping his
brow, while his face became livid.
"Yes," drawled Kombs, "it is a devil of a shame that such things are
done. But what would you? as we say in France."
When the journalist had recovered his second wind he pulled himself
together somewhat. "Would you object to telling me how you know these
particulars about a man you say you have never seen?"
"I rarely talk about these things," said Kombs with great composure.
"But as the cultivation of the habit of observation may help you in
your profession, and thus in a remote degree benefit me by making your
paper less deadly dull, I will tell you. Your first and second fingers
are smeared with ink, which shows that you write a great deal. This
smeared class embraces two sub-classes, clerks or accountants, and
journalists. Clerks have to be neat in their work. The ink-smear is
slight in their case. Your fingers are badly and carelessly smeared;
therefore, you are a journalist. You have an evening paper in your
pocket. Anyone might have any evening paper, but yours is a Special
Edition, which will not be on the streets for half-an-hour yet. You
must have obtained it before you left the office, and to do this you
must be on the staff. A book notice is marked with a blue pencil. A
journalist always despises every article in his own paper not written
by himself; therefore, you wrote the article you have marked, and
doubtless are about to send it to the author of the book referred to.
Your paper makes a specialty of abusing all books not written by some
member of its own staff. That the author is a friend of yours, I merely
surmised. It is all a trivial example of ordinary observation."
"Really, Mr. Kombs, you are the most wonderful man on earth. You are
the equal of Gregory, by Jove, you are."
A frown marred the brow of my friend as he placed his pipe on the
sideboard and drew his self-cocking six-shooter.
"Do you mean to insult me, sir?"
"I do not--I--I assure you. You are fit to take charge of Scotland Yard
to-morrow--. I am in earnest, indeed I am, sir."
"Then Heaven help you," cried Kombs, slowly raising his right arm.
I sprang between them.
"Don't shoot!" I cried. "You will spoil the carpet. Besides, Sherlaw,
don't you see the man means well. He actually thinks it is a
"Perhaps you are right," remarked the detective, flinging his revolver
carelessly beside his pipe, much to the relief of the third party.
Then, turning to the journalist, he said, with his customary bland
"You wanted to see me, I think you said. What can I do for you, Mr.
The journalist started.
"How do you know my name?" he gasped.
Kombs waved his hand impatiently.
"Look inside your hat if you doubt your own name?"
I then noticed for the first time that the name was plainly to be seen
inside the top-hat Scribbings held upside down in his hands.
"You have heard, of course, of the Pegram mystery--".
"Tush," cried the detective; "do not, I beg of you, call it a mystery.
There is no such thing. Life would become more tolerable if there ever
_was_ a mystery. Nothing is original. Everything has been done
before. What about the Pegram affair?"
"The Pegram--ah--case has baffled everyone. The _Evening Blade_
wishes you to investigate, so that it may publish the result. It will
pay you well. Will you accept the commission?"
"Possibly. Tell me about the case."
"I thought everybody knew the particulars. Mr. Barrie Kipson lived at
Pegram. He carried a first-class season ticket between the terminus and
that station. It was his custom to leave for Pegram on the 5.30 train
each evening. Some weeks ago, Mr. Kipson was brought down by the
influenza. On his first visit to the City after his recovery, he drew
something like L300 in notes, and left the office at his usual hour to
catch the 5.30. He was never seen again alive, as far as the public
have been able to learn. He was found at Brewster in a first-class
compartment on the Scotch Express, which does not stop between London
and Brewster. There was a bullet in his head, and his money was gone,
pointing plainly to murder and robbery."
"And where is the mystery, may I ask?"
"There are several unexplainable things about the case. First, how came
he on the Scotch Express, which leaves at six, and does not stop at
Pegram? Second, the ticket examiners at the terminus would have turned
him out if he showed his season ticket; and all the tickets sold for
the Scotch Express on the 21st are accounted for. Third, how could the
murderer have escaped? Fourth, the passengers in the two compartments
on each side of the one where the body was found heard no scuffle and
no shot fired."
"Are you sure the Scotch Express on the 21st did not stop between
London and Brewster?"
"Now that you mention the fact, it did. It was stopped by signal just
outside of Pegram. There was a few moments' pause, when the line was
reported clear, and it went on again. This frequently happens, as there
is a branch line beyond Pegram."
Mr. Sherlaw Kombs pondered for a few moments, smoking his pipe
"I presume you wish the solution in time for to-morrow's paper?"
"Bless my soul, no. The editor thought if you evolved a theory in a
month you would do well."
"My dear sir, I do not deal with theories, but with facts. If you can
make it convenient to call here to-morrow at 8 a.m. I will give you the
full particulars early enough for the first edition. There is no sense
in taking up much time over so simple an affair as the Pegram case.
Good afternoon, sir."
Mr. Scribbings was too much astonished to return the greeting. He left
in a speechless condition, and I saw him go up the street with his hat
still in his hand.
Sherlaw Kombs relapsed into his old lounging attitude, with his hands
clasped behind his head. The smoke came from his lips in quick puffs at
first, then at longer intervals. I saw he was coming to a conclusion,
so I said nothing.
Finally he spoke in his most dreamy manner. "I do not wish to seem to
be rushing things at all, Whatson, but I am going out to-night on the
Scotch Express. Would you care to accompany me?"
"Bless me!" I cried, glancing at the clock, "you haven't time, it is
after five now."
"Ample time, Whatson--ample," he murmured, without changing his
position. "I give myself a minute and a half to change slippers and
dressing gown for boots and coat, three seconds for hat, twenty-five
seconds to the street, forty-two seconds waiting for a hansom, and then
seven at the terminus before the express starts. I shall be glad of
I was only too happy to have the privilege of going with him. It was
most interesting to watch the workings of so inscrutable a mind. As we
drove under the lofty iron roof of the terminus I noticed a look of
annoyance pass over his face.
"We are fifteen seconds ahead of our time," he remarked, looking at the
big clock. "I dislike having a miscalculation of that sort occur."
The great Scotch Express stood ready for its long journey. The
detective tapped one of the guards on the shoulder.
"You have heard of the so-called Pegram mystery, I presume?"
"Certainly, sir. It happened on this very train, sir."
"Really? Is the same carriage still on the train?"
"Well, yes, sir, it is," replied the guard, lowering his voice, "but of
course, sir, we have to keep very quiet about it. People wouldn't
travel in it, else, sir."
"Doubtless. Do you happen to know if anybody occupies the compartment
in which the body was found?"
"A lady and gentleman, sir; I put 'em in myself, sir."
"Would you further oblige me," said the detective, deftly slipping
half-a-sovereign into the hand of the guard, "by going to the window
and informing them in an offhand casual sort of way that the tragedy
took place in that compartment?"
We followed the guard, and the moment he had imparted his news there
was a suppressed scream in the carriage. Instantly a lady came out,
followed by a florid-faced gentleman, who scowled at the guard. We
entered the now empty compartment, and Kombs said: "We would like to be
alone here until we reach Brewster."
"I'll see to that, sir," answered the guard, locking the door.
When the official moved away, I asked my friend what he expected to
find in the carriage that would cast any light on the case.
"Nothing," was his brief reply.
"Then why do you come?"
"Merely to corroborate the conclusions I have already arrived at."
"And may I ask what those conclusions are?"
"Certainly," replied the detective, with a touch of lassitude in his
voice. "I beg to call your attention, first, to the fact that this
train stands between two platforms, and can be entered from either
side. Any man familiar with the station for years would be aware of
that fact. This shows how Mr. Kipson entered the train just before it
"But the door on this side is locked," I objected, trying it.
"Of course. But every season ticket-holder carries a key. This accounts
for the guard not seeing him, and for the absence of a ticket. Now let
me give you some information about the influenza. The patient's
temperature rises several degrees above normal, and he has a fever.
When the malady has run its course, the temperature falls to three-
quarters of a degree below normal. These, facts are unknown to you, I
imagine, because you are a doctor."
I admitted such was the case.
"Well, the consequence of this fall in temperature is that the
convalescent's mind turns toward thoughts of suicide. Then is the time
he should be watched by his friends. Then was the time Mr. Barrie
Kipson's friends did _not_ watch him. You remember the 21st, of
course. No? It was a most depressing day. Fog all around and mud under
foot. Very good. He resolves on suicide. He wishes to be unidentified,
if possible but forgets his season ticket. My experience is that a man
about to commit a crime always forgets something."
"But how do you account for the disappearance of the money?"
"The money has nothing to do with the matter. If he was a deep man, and
knew the stupidness of Scotland Yard, he probably sent the notes to an
enemy. If not, they may have been given to a friend. Nothing is more
calculated to prepare the mind for self-destruction than the prospect
of a night ride on the Scotch Express, and the view from the windows of
the train as it passes through the northern part of London is
particularly conducive to thoughts of annihilation."
"What became of the weapon?"
"That is just the point on which I wish to satisfy myself. Excuse me
for a moment."
"Mr. Sherlaw Kombs drew down the window on the right hand side, and
examined the top of the casing minutely with a magnifying glass.
Presently he heaved a sigh of relief, and drew up the sash.
"Just as I expected," he remarked, speaking more to himself than to me.
"There is a slight dent on the top of the window-frame. It is of such a
nature as to be made only by the trigger of a pistol falling from the
nerveless hand of a suicide. He intended to throw the weapon far out of
the window, but had not the strength. It might have fallen into the
carriage. As a matter of fact, it bounced away from the line and lies
among the grass about ten feet six inches from the outside rail. The
only question that now remains is where the deed was committed, and the
exact present position of the pistol reckoned in miles from London, but
that, fortunately, is too simple to even need explanation."
"Great heavens, Sherlaw!" I cried. "How can you call that simple? It
seems to me impossible to compute."
We were now flying over Northern London, and the great detective leaned
back with every sign of _ennui_, closing his eyes. At last he
"It is really too elementary, Whatson, but I am always willing to
oblige a friend. I shall be relieved, however, when you are able to
work out the A B C of detection for yourself, although I shall never
object to helping you with the words of more than three syllables.
Having made up his mind to commit suicide, Kipson naturally intended to
do it before he reached Brewster, because tickets are again examined at
that point. When the train began to stop at the signal near Pegram, he
came to the false conclusion that it was stopping at Brewster. The fact
that the shot was not heard is accounted for by the screech of the air-
brake, added to the noise of the train. Probably the whistle was also
sounding at the same moment. The train being a fast express would stop
as near the signal as possible. The air-brake will stop a train in
twice its own length. Call it three times in this case. Very well. At
three times the length of this train from the signalpost towards
London, deducting half the length of the train, as this carriage is in
the middle, you will find the pistol."
"Wonderful!" I exclaimed.
"Commonplace," he murmured.
At this moment the whistle sounded shrilly, and we felt the grind of
"The Pegram signal again," cried Kombs, with something almost like
enthusiasm. "This is indeed luck. We will get out here, Whatson, and
test the matter."
As the train stopped, we got out on the right-hand side of the line.
The engine stood panting impatiently under the red light, which changed
to green as I looked at it. As the train moved on with increasing
speed, the detective counted the carriages, and noted down the number.
It was now dark, with the thin crescent of the moon hanging in the
western sky throwing a weird half-light on the shining metals. The rear
lamps of the train disappeared around a curve, and the signal stood at
baleful red again. The black magic of the lonesome night in that
strange place impressed me, but the detective was a most practical man.
He placed his back against the signal-post, and paced up the line with
even strides, counting his steps. I walked along the permanent way
beside him silently. At last he stopped, and took a tapeline from his
pocket. He ran it out until the ten feet six inches were unrolled,
scanning the figures in the wan light of the new moon. Giving me the
end, he placed his knuckles on the metals, motioning me to proceed down
the embankment. I stretched out the line, and then sank my hand in the
damp grass to mark the spot.