Part 2 out of 3
hair-pin in her hand, absolutely paralyzed with terror. In a moment,
before she had time to recover, I had slipped the butterfly-net over her
"That revived her. With a piercing yell she turned and fled, and with
such precipitancy that she pulled the net off the handle. I saw her
flying down the lobby with the net over her head, looking like an
oriental bride; I heard the street door bang, and I found the butter-fly
net on the doormat. But Susan Slodger I never set eyes on again.
"The cook left me the same day, taking Susan's box with her. It was a
great relief. I now had the house to myself and could work without
interruption or the discomfort of being spied upon. As to the products
of my labors, they are fully set forth in the catalogue; and of this
adventure I can only say to the visitor to my museum in the words of the
well-known inscription, '_Si monumentum requiris, Circumspice?_'"
Such was Challoner's account of his acquisition of the specimens
numbered 2, 3 and 4. The descriptions of the preparations were, as he
had said, set out in dry and precise detail in the catalogue, and some
of the particulars were really quite interesting, as, for instance, the
fact that "the skull of Number 4 combines an extreme degree of
dolichocephaly (67.5) with a cranial capacity of no more than 1523 cubic
centimeters." It was certainly what one might have expected from his
But to the general reader the question which will suggest itself is,
What was the state of Challoner's mind? Was he mad? Was he wicked? Or
had he merely an unconventional point of view? It is to the latter
opinion that I incline after long consideration. He clearly rejected the
criminal as a fellow-creature and regarded himself as a public
benefactor in eliminating him. And perhaps he was right.
As to the apparently insane pleasure that he took in the actual
captures, I can only say that sane men take a pleasure in the slaughter
of harmless animals--such as the giraffe--for which they have no need;
and other sane men actually go abroad and kill--by barbarous
methods--foreign men of estimable character with whom they have no
quarrel. This sport they call war and seem to enjoy it. But killing is
killing; and a foreign peasant's life is surely worth more than a
This, however, is only an _obiter dictum_ from which many will no doubt
THE GIFTS OF CHANCE
The testamentary arrangements of eccentric people must, from time to
time, have put their legatees in possession of some very queer property.
I call to mind an old gentleman who bequeathed to a distant relative the
products of a lifetime of indiscrimate collecting; which products
included an obsolete field gun, a stuffed camel, a collection of bottled
tapeworms, a fire engine, a church pulpit and the internal fittings of a
public-house bar. And other instances could be quoted. But surely no
legatee ever found himself in possession of a queerer legacy than that
which my poor friend Challoner had bequeathed to me when he made over to
me the mortal remains of some two dozen deceased criminals.
The bequest would have been an odd one under any circumstances, but what
made it much more so was the strange intimacy that became established
between me and the deceased. To the ordinary observer a skeleton in a
museum case or in an art school conveys no vivid sense of humanity. That
this bony shape was once an actual person, a Me, that walked abroad and
wore clothes, that loved and hated, sorrowed and rejoiced, that had
friends and lovers, parents and perhaps children; that was, in short, a
living man or woman, occurs to him but vaguely. The thing is an
osteological specimen; a mere anatomical abstraction.
Now these skeletons of Challoner's were quite different. Walking down
the long room and looking into the great wall-case, I was confronted
with actual individuals. Number One was Jimmy Archer, who had tried to
steal the "blimy teapot." Number Three was the burglar Fred; I could
tell him by the notch on his fifth rib that his comrade's bullet had
made. Number Two was the man who had fired that shot, and Number Four
was Joe, who was "done in in the dark." I knew them all. The weird
"Museum Archives" had told me all about them; and as to the rest of that
grisly company, strangers to me as yet, the neatly written,
Russia-bound volume that Challoner had left would give me their
It was some days before I was able to resume my reading of the uncanny
little book, but an unoccupied evening at length gave me the
opportunity. As ten o'clock struck, I put on my slippers, adjusted the
light, drew an armchair up to my study fire and opened the volume at the
place marked by the envelope that I had inserted at the end of the last
reading. The page was headed "Circumstances attending the acquirement of
Numbers Five and Six," and the account ran as follows:
"The most carefully conceived plans, when put into practice, are apt to
discover unforeseen defects. My elaborate plan for the capture of
burglars was no exception to the rule. The idea of employing palpably
dishonest servants to act as decoy ducks to lure the burglars on to the
premises was an excellent one and had fully answered my expectations.
But it had a defect which I had overlooked. The burglars themselves,
when reduced to a condition suitable for exhibition in a show-case,
were entirely innocuous. There was no danger of their making any
indiscreet statements. But with the servants--female servants, too--it
was quite otherwise. From the shelter of my roof they had gone forth to
sow distrust and suspicion in quarters where perfect confidence and
trustfulness should prevail. It was a most unfortunate oversight. Now,
when it was too late, I saw clearly that they ought never to have left
me. I ought to have added them to the collection, too.
"The evil results of the mistake soon became apparent. I had replaced
the late cook and housemaid by two women of quite unimpeachable
dishonesty, of whom I had, naturally, great hopes. But nothing happened.
I let them handle the plate freely, I gave them the key of the safe from
time to time, I brushed the sham diamond pendants and bracelets under
their very noses, and still there was no result. It is true that the
silver spoons dwindled in number and that a stray candlestick or
salt-cellar would now and again 'report absent'; that the tradesmen's
bills were preposterous and that the tea consumed in a week would have
impaired the digestion of a Lodge of Good Templars. But that was all. No
aspirant for museum honors made his appearance. The concussor became
dusty with disuse; the safe in the dining-room remained neglected and
untouched, and as for the burglar alarm, I had to stand on it myself at
stated intervals to keep it in working order.
"I had already resolved to get rid of those two women when they saved me
the trouble. I directed them to accompany me to the laboratory to clean
out the furnace, whereat they both turned pale and flatly refused; and I
saw them half an hour later secretly handing their boxes up the area
steps to a man with a barrow. Obviously someone had told them something
of my methods.
"The cook and housemaid who succeeded them were jail-birds pure and
simple. They were dirty, dishonest, lazy and occasionally drunk. But for
their actual function they were quite useless. They drank my whiskey,
they devoured and distributed my provisions, they stole my portable
property, and once, when I had incautiously left the door unfastened, I
caught them browsing round the museum; but they brought no grist to my
"It is true that during their reign I had one visitor, a scurvy little
wry-faced knave who sneaked in through the scullery window; but I think
he had no connection with them or he would have entered by some more
convenient route and have used a false key instead of a jimmy to open
the safe. He was a wretched little creature and his capture quite
uninteresting; for, when he had bitten me twice, he crumpled up like a
rag doll and I carried him to the tank as if he had been a monkey.
"Yet I ought not to disparage him unduly, for he was the one specimen in
my collection, up to that time, who presented the orthodox 'stigmata of
degeneration.' His hair was bushy, his face strikingly asymmetrical, and
his ears were like a pair of Lombroso's selected examples; outstanding,
with enormous Darwinian tubercles and almost devoid of lobules.
"Still, whatever his points of interest, he was but a stray catch.
Chance had brought him as it might bring others of the same kind in the
course of years. But this would not answer my purpose. Numbers were what
I wanted and what I had arranged for; and it was with deep
disappointment that I recognized that my plan had failed. The supply of
anthropological material had come to an end. In a word, the criminal
class had 'smoked' me.
"This was not mere surmise on my part. I had direct and very quaint
evidence of it soon after I had completed the preparation of Number
Five. I was returning home one evening and was approaching the vicinity
of my house when I became aware of a small man of seedy aspect who
appeared to be following me. I slackened my pace somewhat to let him
overtake or pass me, and when nearly opposite my side door (the museum
entrance) he edged alongside and addressed me in a hoarse whisper.
"I halted and looked at him attentively; a proceeding that caused him
evident discomfort. 'Did you speak to me?' I asked.
"He edged up closer, but still did not meet my eye, and, looking first
over one shoulder and then over the other, replied, 'Yus, I did,
"'What do you want?' I demanded.
"He edged up yet closer and said in a hoarse undertone, 'I want to know
what you've been and done with my cousin Bill.'
"'Your cousin Bill,' I repeated. 'Do I know him?'
"'I dunno whether you know 'im,' was the reply, 'but I see 'im go into
your house and I never see 'im come out agin, and I want to know what
you've been and done with 'im.'
"Now here was an interesting circumstance. I had already noted something
familiar in the man's face. His question explained it. Cousin Bill was
clearly Number Five in the Anthropological Series. In fact, the
resemblance was quite remarkable. The present example, like the late
Bill, was an undergrown creature, and had the same curiously-twisted
nose, the same asymmetrical face and similar ears--large, flat ears that
stood out from his head like the handles of an amphora, that had
strongly marked Darwinian tubercles, unformed helices and undeveloped
lobules. Lombroso would have loved him. He would have made a delightful
photograph for purposes of illustration, and--it suddenly occurred to
me--he would make a most interesting companion preparation to Number
"'Your Cousin Bill,' I said, with this new idea in my mind. 'Was he the
son of your mother's sister?' (A few details as to heredity add
materially to the value and instructiveness of a specimen.)
"'And supposin' he was. What about it? I want to know what you've been
and done with 'im.'
"'What makes you think I have done anything with him?' I asked.
"'Why, I see 'im go into your 'ouse and I never see 'im come out.'
"'But, my good man,' I protested, 'that is exceedingly bad logic. If you
saw him go in, there is a fair presumption that he went in--'
"'I see 'im with my own eyes,' my friend interrupted, as though there
were other alternative means of vision.
"'But,' I continued, 'the fact that you did not see him come out
establishes no presumption that he did not come out. He may have come
"'No, he didn't. He never come out. I see 'im go in--'
"'So you have mentioned. May I ask what his business was?'
"'His business,' my acquaintance replied with some hesitation, 'was of a
"'I see. Did he go in by the front door?'
"'No, 'e didn't. 'E went in by the scullery window.'
"'In the evening, no doubt?'
"'Two hay hem,' was the reply.
"'Ah!' said I. 'He went in by the scullery window at two A.M. on private
business. Quite so! Well, you see, the common sense of the position is
that if he went into the house and never came out, he must be in the
"'That's just what I think,' my friend agreed.
"'Very well. Then in that case perhaps you would like to step in and
look round to see if you can find him.' I took out my latch-key and
motioned invitingly towards the museum door.
"'No yer don't,' exclaimed the man, backing away hastily down the
street. 'Yer don't git me in there, so I tell yer straight.'
"'What do you want me to do, then?'
"'I want to know,' he reiterated, 'what you've been and done with my
cousin Bill. I see 'im go into--'
"'I know,' I interrupted impatiently. 'You said that before.'
"'And look 'ere, guv'nor,' he added. 'Where did you git all them
skillintons from?' Evidently somebody had been talking to this little
"'I can't go into questions of that kind, you know,' I replied.
"'No, I don't suppose yer can,' he retorted; 'but I'll tell yer what I
think you've been and done with Bill. You got 'im in there and you done
'im in. That's what I think. And I tell yer it ain't the cheese. When a
cove goes into an 'ouse for to do an 'armless crack he stands for to be
lagged if so be as he 'appens to git copped. But 'e don't stand for to
be done in. 'Tain't playin' the game, and I ain't a-goin' to 'ave it.'
"'Then what do you propose to do?' I asked with some curiosity.
"'I perpose,' the little wastrel replied haughtily, 'for to 'ave the
loar on yer. I'm a-goin' to put the coppers on to this 'ere job.'
"With this he turned somewhat hastily and shambled away up the street at
the quick shuffle characteristic of his class. I let myself in at the
side door and proceeded to the museum to examine Number Five with
renewed interest. The resemblance was remarkable. It was plainly
traceable even in the skull and in the proportions of the skeleton
generally, while in the small, dry preparation of the head the likeness
was ridiculous. It was most regrettable that he should have refused my
invitation to come in. As a companion preparation, illustrating the
physical resemblances in degenerate families, he would have been
"His conversation and his ludicrous threat of legal proceedings gave me
much matter for reflection. To him burglary presented itself as a
legitimate sporting pursuit governed by certain rules. The players were
respectively the burglar and the householder, of whom the latter staked
his property and the former a certain period of personal liberty; and
the rules of the game were equally binding on both. It was a conception
worthy of comic opera; and yet, incredible as it may seem, it is the
very view of crime that is today accepted and acted upon by society.
"The threat uttered by my diminutive acquaintance had the sound of broad
farce, and so, I may confess, I regarded it. The idea of a burglar
proceeding against a householder for hindering him in the execution of
his private business might have emanated from the whimsical brain of the
late W.S. Gilbert. The quaint topsy-turveydom of it caused me many a
chuckle of amusement when I recalled the interview during the next few
days; but, of course, I never dreamed of any actual attempt to carry out
"Imagine, therefore, my astonishment when I realized that not only had
the complaint been made, but the law had actually been set--at least
"The stunning discovery descended on me with the force of a concussor
three days after the interview with Number Five's cousin. I was sitting
in my study reading Chevers' 'Crime against the Person' when the
housemaid entered with a visiting card. 'A gentleman wished to see me to
discuss certain scientific matters with me.'
"I looked at the card. It bore the name of 'Mr. James Ramchild,' a name
quite unknown to me. It was very odd. A scientific colleague would
surely have written for an appointment and stated the object of his
visit. I looked at the card again. It was printed from script type
instead of the usual engraved plate and it bore an address in Kennington
Park Road. These were weighty facts and a trifle suspicious. I seemed to
scent a traveler from beyond the Atlantic; a traveler of commercial
"'Show Mr. Ramchild up here,' I said, and the housemaid departed, to
return anon accompanied by a tall, massive man of a somewhat military
"I could have laughed aloud, but I did not. It would not have been
politic and it would certainly not have been polite. But I chuckled
inwardly as I offered my visitor a chair. '_Experientia docet!_' I had
seen quite a number of plain-clothes police officers in the last few
months and the present specimen would have been typical even without his
boots. I prepared to enjoy myself.
"'I have taken the liberty of calling on you, Mr. Challoner,' my visitor
began, 'to make a few enquiries concerning--er--skeletons.'
"'I nodded gravely and smothered a giggle. He was a simple soul, this
Ramchild. 'Concerning skeletons!' What an expression for a man of
science to use! An artless creature indeed! A veritable Ramchild of
nature, so to speak.
"'I understand,' he continued, 'that you have a famous collection
of--er--skeletons.' I nodded again. Of course I had not anything of the
kind. Mine was only a little private collection. But it was of no
consequence. 'So,' he concluded, 'I have called to ask if you would be
so kind as to let me see them.'
"'From whom did you hear of my collection?' I asked.
"'It was mentioned to me by my friend Mr.--er--Mr. Winterbottom, of
"'Ah,' said I, 'I remember Winterbottom very well. How is he?'
"'He's very well, thank you,' replied the detective, looking mightily
surprised; and not without reason, seeing that he had undoubtedly
invented the name Winterbottom on the spur of the moment.
"'Is there any branch of the subject that you are especially interested
in?' I asked, purposely avoiding giving him a lead.
"'No,' he replied. 'No, not particularly. The fact is that I thought of
starting a collection myself if it wouldn't be too expensive. But you
have a regular museum, haven't you?'
"'Yes. Come and have a look at it.'
"He rose with alacrity and I led him through the dining-room to the
museum wing, and I noticed that, if he did not know much about
osteology, he was uncommonly observant of the details of
house-construction. He looked very hard at the safe, the mahogany
casing of which failed to disguise its nature from the professional eye,
and noted the massive door that gave entrance to the museum wing and the
Yale lock that secured it. In the museum his eye riveted itself on the
five human skeletons in the great wall-case, but I perversely led him to
the case containing my curious collection of abnormal and deformed
skeletons of the lower animals.
"'There,' I said complacently, 'that is my little hoard. Is there any
specimen that you would like to take out and examine?'
"He gazed vaguely into the case and murmured that 'they were all very
interesting,' and again I caught his eye wandering to the great case
opposite. I was in the act of reaching out a porcupine with an ankylosed
knee-joint, when he plucked up courage to say frankly, 'The fact is, I
am principally interested in human skeletons.'
"I replaced the porcupine and walked across to the great wall-case. 'I
am sorry I have not more to show you,' I said apologetically. 'This is
only the beginning of a collection, you see; but still, the specimens
are of considerable interest. Don't you find them so?'
"Apparently he did, for he scrutinized the dates on the dwarf-pedestals
with the deepest attention and finally remarked, 'I see you have written
a date on each of these. What does that signify?'
"'The dates are those on which I acquired the respective specimens,' I
"'Oh, indeed.' He reflected, with a profoundly speculative eye on Number
Five. I judged that he was trying to recall a date furnished by Number
Five's cousin and that he would have liked to consult his note-book.
"'The particulars,' I said, 'are too lengthy to put on the labels, but
they are set out in detail in the catalogue.'
"'Can I see the catalogue?' he asked eagerly.
"'Certainly.' I produced a small manuscript volume--not the catalogue
which is attached to the 'Archives,' but a dummy that I had prepared for
such a contingency as had arisen--and handed it to him. He opened it
with avidity, and, turning at once to Number Five, began, with manifest
disappointment, to read the description aloud.
"'5. Male skeleton of Teutonic type exhibiting well-marked characters of
degeneration. The skull is asymmetrical, subdolichocephalic.' (He
pronounced this word subdolichocolophalic' and paused abruptly, turning
rather red. It _is_ an awkward word.) 'Yes,' he said, closing the
catalogue, 'very interesting, very remarkable. Exceedingly so. I should
very much like to possess a skeleton like that.'
"'You are much better off with the one you have got,' I remarked.
"'Oh, I don't mean that,' he rejoined hastily. 'I mean that I should
like to acquire a specimen like this Number Five for my proposed
collection. Now how could I get one?'
"'Well,' I said reflectively, 'there are several ways.' I paused and he
gazed at me expectantly. 'You could, for instance,' I continued slowly,
'provide yourself with a lasso and take a walk down Whitechapel High
"'Good gracious!' he exclaimed excitedly; 'do you really mean to say
"'Certainly,' I interrupted. 'You would find an abundance of material.
For my own part, not being gifted with your exceptionally fine physique,
I have to adopt the more prosaic and expensive plan of buying my
specimens from the dealers.'
"'Quite so, quite so,' he agreed. He was deeply disappointed and
inclined to be huffy. 'Of course you were joking about the lasso. But
would you mind giving me the address of the dealer from whom you
obtained this specimen?' And once more he pointed to Cousin Bill.
"He thought he had cornered me; and so he would have done if I had been
less cautious. I congratulated myself on the wisdom and foresight that
had led me to provide myself with those dummy skeletons. For now I held
him in the hollow of my hand.
"'That specimen?' I said, scanning the date on the pedestal; 'I fancy I
got it from Hammerstein. You know his place in the Seven Dials, no
doubt. A very useful man. I get most of my human osteology from him.' I
fetched my receipt file and turned over the papers in leisurely fashion
while he gnawed his lips with impatience. At last I found the receipted
invoice and he read it aloud with a ludicrous expression of
"'Complete set superfine human osteology strongly articulated with best
brass wire and screw-bolts, with springs to mandible and stout iron
supporting rod. All bones guaranteed to be derived from the same
"The invoice was headed, Oscar Hammerstein, Dealer in Osteology, Great
St. Andrew Street, London, W.C.,' and was dated 4th February, 1891.
"The detective entered the name and address in a black-bound note-book
of official aspect, compared the date with that on Cousin Bill's
pedestal and prepared to depart.
"'There is one thing I must point out to you,' I said, anticipating an
early visit on my friend's part to Mr. Hammerstein; 'the skeletons as
you get them from the dealers are not always up to museum style in point
of finish. They are often of a bad color and may be stained with grease.
If they are, you will have to disarticulate them, clean them with
benzol and, if necessary, remacerate and bleach; but whatever you do,' I
concluded solemnly, 'be careful with the chlorinated soda or you will
spoil the appearance of the bones and make them brittle. Good bye!' I
shook his hand effusively and he took his departure very glum and
"As long as he had been with me, something of the old buoyant spirit of
playfulness--that was my ordinary mood until my great trouble
befell--had been revived by the absurdity of the situation. But his
departure left me rather depressed, for his visit marked the final
collapse of my scheme. Even if the criminal classes had been willing to
continue the supply of anthropological material, my methods could not
have been carried out under the watchful and disapproving eyes of the
"What then was to be done? This was the question that I asked myself
again and again. As to abandoning my activities, of course, such an idea
never occurred to me. I remained alive for a definite purpose: to search
for the man who had murdered my wife and to exact from him payment of
his debt. Of this purpose, the collection had been, at first, a mere
by-product; and though it was gradually taking such hold of me as to
become a purpose in itself, it was but a minor purpose. The discovery of
that unknown wretch was the Mecca of my earthly pilgrimage, from which
no difficulties or obstacles should divert me.
"The hint that ultimately guided me into new fields of research came to
me by the merest chance. A few days after the visit of the detective I
received a letter from one of my few remaining friends, a Dr. Grayson,
who had formerly practiced in London as a physician, but who, owing to
age and infirmity, had retired to his native place, the village of
Shome, near Rochester. Grayson asked me to spend a day with him, that we
might talk over some matters in which we were both interested; and,
being now rather at a loose end, I accepted the invitation, but declined
to sleep away from home and my collection.
"It is significant of my state of mind at this time that, before
starting, I considered what weapon I should take with me. Formerly I
should no more have thought of arming myself for a simple railway
journey than of putting on a coat of mail; but now a train suggested a
train robber--a Lefroy, with a very unsubmissive Mr. Gold--and the long
tunnel near Strood was but the setting of a railway tragedy. My ultimate
choice of weapon, too, is interesting. The familiar revolver I rejected
utterly. There must be no noise. My quarrel with the criminal was a
personal one in which no outsiders must be allowed to meddle. I should
have preferred the concussor, which I now handled with skill, but it was
hardly a portable tool, and my choice ultimately fell on a very fine
swordstick, supplemented by a knuckle-duster which had been bequeathed
to me by one of my clients after trial on my own countenance.
And after all, nothing happened. I got into an empty first-class
compartment and when, just as the train was starting, a burly fellow
dashed in and slammed the door, I eyed him suspiciously and waited for
developments. But there were none. The fellow sat huddled in a corner,
watching me and keeping an eye on the handle of the alarm over his
head; but he made no sign. When we emerged from the long tunnel he was
as white as a ghost and he hopped out on to Strood platform almost
before the train had begun to slow down.
"I reached my bag down from the rack and got out after him, smiling at
my own folly. The criminal was becoming an obsession of which I must
beware if I would not end my days in an asylum; a fact which was further
impressed on me when I saw my late fellow-passenger, who had just caught
sight of me, 'legging it' down the station approach like a professional
pedestrian and looking back nervously over his shoulder. Resolving
firmly to put the subject out of my mind, I walked slowly into the town
and betook myself to the London Road; and though, as I passed the
Falstaff Inn and crossed Gad's Hill, fleeting reminiscences of Prince
Henry and the men in buckram came unsought, with later suggestions of a
stagecoach struggling up the hill in the dark and masked figures
creeping down the banks into the sunken road, I kept to my good
resolution. The bag was a little cumbersome--it contained a large
parcel of bulbs from Covent Garden that Grayson had asked me to
bring--and yet it was pleasant to break off from the high road and stray
by well-remembered tracks and footpaths across the fields. It was all
familiar ground; for in years gone by, when Grayson was in practice, we
would come down together for weekends to his little demesne, and often I
would stay on alone for a week or so and ramble about the country by
myself. So I knew every inch of the country side and was so much
interested in renewing my acquaintance with it that I was twenty minutes
late for lunch.
"I had a most agreeable day with Grayson (who was working at the
historical aspects of disease), and would have stayed later than I did.
But at about half-past eight--we had dined at seven--Grayson began to be
restless and fidgetty and at last said apologetically:
"'Don't think me inhospitable, Challoner, but if you aren't going to
stay the night you had better be going. And don't go by Gad's Hill.
Take the road down to Higham and catch the train there.'
"'Why, what is the matter with Gad's Hill?' I asked.
"'Nothing much by daylight, but a great deal at night. It has always
been an unsafe spot and is especially just now. There has been quite an
epidemic of highway robberies lately. They began when the hoppers were
here last autumn, but some of those East-end ruffians seem to have
settled in the neighborhood. I have seen some very queer-looking
characters even in this village; aliens, apparently, of the kind that
you see about Stepney and Whitechapel.
"'Now, you get down to Higham, like a good fellow, before the country
settles down for the night.'
"Needless to say, the prowling alien had no terrors for me, but as
Grayson was really uneasy, I made no demur and took my leave almost
immediately. But I did not make directly for Higham. The moon was up and
the village looked very inviting. Tree and chimney-stack, thatched roof
and gable-end cut pleasant shapes of black against the clear sky, and
patches of silvery light fell athwart the road on wooden palings and
weather-boarded fronts. I strolled along the little street, carrying the
now light and empty bag and exchanging greetings with scattered
villagers, until I came to the lane that turns down towards the London
Road. Here, by a triangular patch of green, I halted and mechanically
looked at my watch, holding it up in the moonlight. I was about to
replace it when a voice asked:
"'What's the right time, mister?'
"I looked up sharply. The man who had spoken was sitting on the bank
under the hedge and in such deep shadow that I had not noticed him. Nor
could I see much of him now, though I observed that he seemed to be
taking some kind of refreshment; but the voice was not a Kentish voice,
nor even an English one; it seemed to engraft an unfamiliar, guttural
accent on the dialect of East London.
"I told the man the time and asked him if the road--pointing to the
ridgway--would take me to Higham. Of course I knew it would not and I
have no very distinct idea why I asked. But he answered promptly
enough, 'Yus. Straight down the road. Was you wantin' to get to the
"I replied that I was, and he added, 'You go straight down the road a
mile and a half and you'll see the station right in front of you.'
"Now, here was a palpable misdirection. Obviously intentional, too, for
the circumstantiality excluded the idea of a mistake. He was
deliberately sending me--an ostensible stranger--along a solitary
side-road that led into the heart of the country. With what object? I
had very little doubt, and that doubt should soon be set at rest.
"I thanked him for his information and set out along the road at an easy
pace; but when I had gone a little way, I lengthened my stride so as to
increase my speed without altering the rhythm of my footfalls. As I
went, I speculated on the intentions of my friend and noted with
interest and a little surprise that I was quite without fear of him. I
suspected him of being a footpad, one of the gang of which Grayson had
spoken, and I had set forth along this unfrequented road in a spirit of
mere curiosity to see if it were really so.
"Presently I came to a gate at the entrance of a cart-track and here I
halted to listen. From the road behind me came the sound of footsteps;
quick steps but not sharp and crisp; rather of a shuffling, stealthy
quality. I climbed quietly over the gate and took up a position behind
the trunk of an elm that grew in the hedgerow. The footsteps came on
apace. Soon round a bend of the moon-lighted road a figure appeared
moving forward rapidly and keeping in what shadow there was. I watched
it through the thick hedge as it approached and resolved itself into a
seedy-looking man carrying a thick knobbed stick.
"Opposite the gate the man halted and, as I could see by his shadow,
looked across the silvery fields that stretched away down to the valley
and listened, but only for a few moments. Then he started forward again
at something between a quick walk and a slow trot.
"As soon as he had gone I came out and began to walk down the
cart-track. My figure must have stood out conspicuously on the bare
field and must have been plainly visible from the ridge-way. I did not
hurry. Pursuing my way quietly down the gentle slope, I went on for some
three hundred yards until the ground fell away more steeply; and here,
before descending, I looked over my shoulder.
"A man was getting over the gate.
"I walked on more quickly now until I topped a second rise and then I
again looked back. The figure of the man stood out on the brow of the
hill, black against the moonlit sky. And now he was hurrying forward in
"I quickened my pace and looked about me. The night was calm and lovely,
the fields bathed in silvery light and the wooded uplands shrouded in a
soft, gray shadow, from the heart of which a single lighted window
gleamed forth, a spot of rosy warmth. The bark of a watch-dog came
softened by distance from some solitary farmstead, and far away below,
the hoot of a steamer, creeping up the river to the twinkling anchorage.
"Presently I came to a spot where the rough road divided. One well-worn
track led down towards the footpath that ultimately enters the London
Road; a fainter track led, as I knew, to an old chalk-pit where, in
mysterious caverns, the farm carts rested through the winter months.
Here I halted for a moment as if in doubt. The man was now less than a
hundred yards behind me and walking as fast as he could. I turned round
and looked at him, he appeared once more to hesitate, and then started
at a run along the track to the chalk-pit.
"There was no disguise about the man's intentions. As I started off, he
broke into a run and followed, but he did not hail me to stop. I suppose
he knew whither the path led. But if his purpose was definite, so was
mine. And again I noted with faint surprise that I had no feeling of
nervousness. My contact with the criminal class had left me with nothing
but a sentiment of hostile contempt. That a criminal might kill me never
presented itself as a practical possibility. I was only concerned in
inducing him to give me a fair pretext for killing him. So I ran on,
wondering if my pursuer had ringed hair; if it were possible that, in
this remote place and by this chance meeting, I might find the object of
my quest; and conscious of that fierce, playful delight that always came
over me when I was hunting the enemies of my race. For, of course, I was
now hunting the fellow behind me, although the poor devil supposed he
was hunting me.
"When the track approached the chalk-pit, it descended rather suddenly. I
ran down between two clumps of bushes, into the weed-grown area at the
bottom, past the row of caverns wherein the wagons were even now lurking
unseen, and on until the track ended among a range of mole-hills in a
sort of bay encompassed by the time-stained cliff. Here I wheeled about,
putting down my bag, and faced my pursuer.
"'Stand off!' I said sharply. 'What are you following me for?'
"The man stopped and then approached more slowly. 'Look 'ere, mister,'
said he, 'I don't want to hurt yer. You needn't be afeared of me.'
"'Well,' said I, 'What do you want?'
"'I'll tell yer,' he said confidentially. 'I'm a pore man, I am; I
ain't got no watch, I ain't got no money and I can't get no work. Now
you're a rich man. You've got a very 'andsome watch--I see it--and lots
more at 'ome, I dessay. Well, you makes me a present o' that watch,
that's what you do; and any small change that you've got about yer. You
do that and I'll let yer go peaceable.'
"'And supposing I don't?'
"'Then some o' them farm blokes 'ill find a dead man in a chalk-pit. And
it ain't no good for you to holler. There ain't no one within a mile of
this place. So you pass over that watch and turn out yer bloomin'
"'Do I understand--' I began; but he interrupted me savagely:
"'Oh, shut yer face and hand over! D'yer hear?' He advanced
threateningly, grasping his bludgeon by the smaller end, but when he had
approached within a couple of paces I made a sudden lunge with my stick,
introducing its ferrule to his abdomen about the region of the solar
plexus. He sprang back with an astonished yelp--which sounded like
'Ow--er!'--and stood gasping and rubbing his abdomen. As he recovered,
he broke out into absurd and disgusting speech and began cautiously to
circle round me, balancing his club in readiness for a smashing blow.
"'You wait till I done with yer,' said he, watching for a chance. 'I'll
make yer pay for that. I'm a-goin' to do yer in, I am. You'll look ugly
when I've finished--Ow--er!' The concluding exclamation was occasioned
by the ferrule of my stick impinging on the fleshy part of his chest,
and as he uttered it he sprang back out of range.
"After this he kept a greater distance, but continued to circle round
and pour out an unceasing torrent of foul words. But he had not the
faintest idea how to use a stick, whereas my practice with the foils at
the gymnasium had made me quite skilful. From time to time he raised his
bludgeon and ran in at me, but a sharp prod under the upraised arm
always sent him leaping back out of reach with the inevitable 'Ow--er!'
"His lack of skill deprived the encounter of much of its interest. I
think he felt this himself, for I saw him looking about furtively as if
in search of something. Then he espied a large and knobbly flint and
would have picked it up; but as he was stooping I plied the point of my
stick so vigorously that he staggered back with yelps of pain.
"And now it was suddenly borne in upon me that he had had enough. I
realized it just in time to plant myself on the track between him and
the entrance to the chalk-pit. He was still as savage and murderous as
ever, but his nerve was gone. He shrank away from me and as I followed
closely he tried again and again to dodge past towards the opening.
"'Look 'ere, mister,' he said at length, 'you chuck it and I'll let yer
"Let me go! I laughed scornfully, but stood my ground. And yet it was
unpleasant. One cannot go on hammering a beaten man and it is difficult
to refuse a surrender. On the other hand, it was out of the question to
let this fellow go. He had come here prepared to murder me for a paltry
watch and a handful of loose change. Common justice and my duty to my
fellow men demanded his elimination. Besides, if I let him escape into
the open, what would happen? The fields were sprinkled with big flints.
It was practically certain that I should never leave the neighborhood
"Even as I stood hesitating, he furnished an illustrative commentary on
my thoughts. Springing back from me, he suddenly stooped and caught up a
great flint nodule; and though I ducked quickly as he flung it and so
avoided its full force, I caught such a buffet as it glanced off the
side of my head as convinced me that a settlement must be speedily
arrived at. Rushing in on him, I bore him backwards until he was penned
up in the entrance of one of the caverns against the shafts of a wagon.
Then suddenly he changed his tactics. Realizing at last that a
clumsily-wielded bludgeon is powerless against a stick expertly handled
rapier-wise, he dropped his club, and the next moment the moonbeams
flashed from the broad blade of a knife. This was quite a different
affair. He now stood on guard with the knife poised and his left hand
outspread ready to snatch at my stick. It was a much more effective
plan; only he did not know that inside my stout malacca reposed a keen
"I slipped my thumb on the press-button of the sword-stick and watched
him. From time to time he made a dash at me with his knife, and when I
prodded him back, he snatched at the stick. Again and again he nearly
caught it, but I was just a little too quick for him, and he fell back,
gasping and cursing, on the wagon-shafts. And then the end came with
inevitable suddenness. He rushed out on me with upraised knife. I
stopped him with a vigorous poke in the chest; but before I could whisk
away the stick he had clutched it with a howl of joy. I gave a final
drive, pressed the button and sprang back, leaving the scabbard-end in
his hand. Before he had realized what had happened, he darted out,
brandishing the knife, and came fairly on the point of the sword-blade.
At the same moment I must have lunged, though I was not aware of it,
for when he staggered back the handle was against his breast.
"It was over, and I had hardly realized that the final stage had begun.
In an instant, as it seemed, that yelping, murderous wretch had subsided
into a huddled, inert heap. It was a quick and merciful dispatch. By the
time I had cleaned the blade and replaced it in its scabbard, the last
twitchings had ceased. As I stood and looked down at him, I felt
something of the chill of an anticlimax. It had all gone off so easily.
"Now that it was finished, my thoughts went back to the final purpose of
my quest. Was this man, by any chance, the wretch whom I was seeking? It
did not seem likely, and yet the possibility must be considered. The
first question was as to his hair. Stooping down, with my pocket
scissors I cut off a good-sized lock and secured it in an envelope for
future examination. Then, taking out my pocket-book, I pressed his
fingers on some of the blank leaves. The natural surface of his hands
offered a passable substitute for ink and the finger-prints could be
further developed at home.
"Then arose a more difficult question. I naturally wished to add him to
my collection; but the thing seemed impossible. I certainly could not
take him away with me. But if I left him exposed, he would undoubtedly
be found and buried and thus an excellent specimen would be lost to
science. There was only one thing to be done. The middle of the
chalk-pit was occupied by a large area covered with nettles and other
large weeds. Probably no human being trod on that space from one year's
end to another, for the stinging-nettles, four or five feet high, were
enough to keep off stray children. Even now the spring vegetation was
coming up apace. If I placed the body inconspicuously in the middle of
the weedy area it would soon be overgrown and hidden. Then the natural
agencies would do the rougher part of my work. Necrophagous insects and
other vermin would come to the aid of air, moisture and bacteria, and I
could return in the autumn and gather up the bones all ready for the
"This rather makeshift plan I proceeded to execute. Transporting the
material to the middle of the weed-grown space, I covered it lightly
with twigs and various articles of loose rubbish. It was now quite
invisible, and I was turning away to go when suddenly I bethought me of
the dry preparation of the head that ought to accompany the skeleton.
Without that, the specimen would be incomplete; and an incomplete
specimen would spoil the series. I reflected awhile. It seemed a pity to
spoil the completeness of the series for the sake of a little trouble. I
had a good-sized bag with me and a quantity of stout brown paper in it
in which the bulbs had been wrapped. Why not?
"In the end, I decided that the series should not be spoilt. I need not
describe the obvious details of the simple procedure. When I came up out
of the chalk-pit a quarter of an hour later, my bag contained the
material for the required preparation of a mummified head.
"I soon struck the familiar footpath and set forth at a brisk pace to
catch the late train from Gravesend. It was a long walk and a pleasant
one, though the bag was uncomfortably heavy. I thought, with grim
amusement, of Grayson's gang of footpads. It would be a quaint
situation if I encountered some of them and was robbed of my bag. The
possibilities that the idea opened out were highly diverting and kept me
entertained until I at last reached Gravesend Station and was bundled by
the guard into a first-class compartment just as the train was starting.
I should have preferred an empty compartment, but there was no choice;
and as three of the corners were occupied, I took possession of the
fourth. The rack over my seat was occupied by a bag about the size of my
own, apparently the property of a clergyman who sat in the opposite
corner, so I had to place my bag in the rack over _his_ head.
"I watched him during the journey as he sat opposite me reading the
_Church Times_ and wondered how he would feel if he knew what was in the
bag above him. Probably he would have been quite disturbed; for many of
these clerics entertain the quaintest of old-world ideas. And he was
mighty near to knowing, too; for when the train had stopped at Hither
Green and was just about to move off, he suddenly sprang up,
exclaiming, 'God bless my soul!' and snatching my bag from the rack,
darted out on the platform. I immediately grabbed his bag from my rack
and rushed out after him as the train started, hailing him to stop. 'Hi!
My good sir! You've taken my bag.'
"'Not at all,' he replied indignantly. 'You're quite mistaken.' And
then, as I held out his own bag, he looked from one to the other, and,
to my horror, pressed the clasp of my bag and pulled it wide open.
"On what small chances do great events turn! But for the brown paper in
my bag, there would have been a catastrophe. As it was, when his eye
lighted on that rough, globular paper parcel he handed me my bag with an
apologetic smirk and received his own in exchange. But after that, I
kept my property in my hand until I was safe within the precincts of my
"The usual disappointment awaited me when I came to examine the hair and
finger-prints. He was not the man whom I sought. But he made an
acceptable addition to the Series of Criminal Anthropology in my
museum, for I duly collected the bones from the great nettle-bed in the
chalk-pit early in the following September, and set them, properly
bleached and riveted together, in the large wall-case. But this specimen
had a further, though indirect, value. From him I gathered a useful hint
by which I was subsequently guided into a new and fruitful field of
"(See Catalogue, Numbers 6A and 6B.)"
BY-PRODUCTS OF INDUSTRY
The next entry in the amazing "Museum Archives" exhibited my poor friend
Humphrey Challoner in circumstances that were to me perfectly
incredible. When I recall that learned, cultivated man as I knew him, I
find it impossible to picture him living amidst the indescribably
squalid surroundings of the London Ghetto, the tenant of a sordid little
shop in an East End by-street. Yet this appears actually to have been
his condition at one time--but let me quote the entry in his own words,
which need no comments of mine to heighten their strangeness.
"Events connected with the acquirement of Numbers 7, 8 and 9 in the
"We are the creatures of circumstance. Blind chance, which guided that
unknown wretch to my house in the dead of the night and which led my
dear wife to her death at his murderous hands, also impelled that other
villain (Number 6, Anthropological Series) to pursue me to the lonely
chalk-pit, where he would have done me to death had I not fortunately
anticipated his intentions. So, too, it was by a mere chance that I
presently found myself the proprietor of a shop in a Whitechapel
"Let me trace the connections of events.
"The first link in the chain was a visit that I had paid in my younger
days to Moscow and Warsaw, where I had stayed long enough to acquire a
useful knowledge of Russian and Yiddish. The second link was the failure
of my plan to lure the murderer of my wife--and, incidentally, other
criminals--to my house. The trap had been scented not only by the
criminals but also by the police, of whom one had visited my museum with
very evident suspicion as to the nature of my specimens.
"After the visit of the detective, I was rather at a loose end. That
unknown wretch was still at large. He had to be found and I had to find
him since the police could not. But how? That detective had completely
upset my plans and, for a time, I could think of no other. Then came the
dirty rascal who had tried to murder me in the chalk-pit; and from his
mongrel jargon, half cockney, half foreign, I had gathered a vague hint.
If I could not entice the criminal population into my domain, how would
it be to reconnoiter theirs? The alien area of London was well known to
me, for it had always seemed interesting since my visit to Warsaw, and,
judging from the police reports, it appeared to be a veritable happy
hunting-ground for the connoisseur in criminals.
"Hence it was that my unrest led me almost daily to perambulate that
strange region east of Aldgate where uncouth foreign names stare out
from the shop signs and almost every public or private notice is in the
Hebrew character. Dressed in my shabbiest clothes, I trudged, hour after
hour and day after day, through the gray and joyless streets and alleys,
looking earnestly into the beady eyes and broad faces of the
East-European wayfarers and wondering whether any of them was the man I
"One evening, as I was returning homeward through the district that
lies at the rear of Middlesex Street, my attention was arrested by a
large card tacked on the door of a closed shop. A dingy barber's pole
gave a clue to the nature of the industry formerly carried on, and the
card--which was written upon in fair and even scholarly Hebrew
characters--supplied particulars. I had stopped to read the inscription,
faintly amused at the incongruity between the recondite Oriental
lettering and the matter-of-fact references to 'eligible premises' and
'fixtures and goodwill,' when the door opened and two men came out. One
was a typical English Jew, smart, chubby and prosperous; the other was
evidently a foreigner.
"Both men stood aside to enable me to continue my reading, and, as I was
about to turn away, the smarter of the two addressed me.
"'Good chanth here, misther. Nithe little bithness going for nothing. No
charge for goodwill or fixtures. Ready-made bithneth and nothing to pay
"'Ja!' the other man broke in, 'dat shop is a leedle goldmine; und you
buys 'im for noding.'
"It was an absurd situation. I was beginning smilingly to shake my head
when the Jew resumed eagerly:
"I tell you, misther, itth a chanth in a million. A firth clath bithneth
and not a brown to pay for the goodwill. Come in and have a look round,'
he added persuasively.
"I suppose I am curious by nature. At any rate, I am sure it was nothing
but idle curiosity to see what the interior of a Whitechapel house was
like that led me to follow the two men into the dark and musty-smelling
shop. But hardly had my eyes lighted on the frowsy fixtures and
appurtenances of the trade when there flashed into my mind a really
"'Why did the last man leave?' I asked.
"The Jew caught the lapel of my coat and exclaimed impressively:
"'The lath man wath a fool. Got himself mixthed up with the crookth.
Thet up a roulette table in the thellar and let 'em come and gamble away
their thwag. Thtoopid thing to do, though, mind you, he did a rare good
line while it lathted. Got the sthuff for nothing, you thee.' His tone
at this point was regretfully sympathetic.
"'What happened in the end?' I asked.
"'The copperth dropped on him. Thomebody gave him away.'
"'Some of the ladies, perhaps,' I suggested.
"'Ach! Zo!' the other man burst in fiercely, 'Of gourse it vas der
vimmen! It is always der vimmen. Dese dam vimmen, dey makes all der
drabble!' He thumped the table with his fist, and then, catching the
Hebrew's eye, suddenly subsided into silence.
"From the shop we proceeded to the little parlor behind, from which a
door gave access, by a flight of most dangerous stone steps, to the
large cellar. This was lighted by a grating from the back yard, with
which it also communicated by a flight of steps and a door. We next
examined the yard itself, a small paved enclosure with a gate opening on
an alley, and occupied at the moment by an empty beer-barrel, a
builder's hand-cart and a dead cat.
"'Like to thee the upstairth roomth?' inquired the Hebrew gentleman,
whose name I understood to be Nathan. I nodded abstractedly and
followed him up the stairs, gathering a general impression of
all-pervading dirt. The upper rooms were of no interest to me after what
I had seen downstairs.
"'Well,' said Mr. Nathan when we were once more back in the shop, 'what
do you think of it?'
"I did not answer his question literally. If I had, I should have
startled him. For I thought the place absolutely ideal for my purpose.
Just consider its potentialities! I was searching for a criminal whom I
could identify by his hair. Here was a barber's shop in the heart of a
criminal neighborhood and admittedly the late haunt of criminals. Those
criminals were certain to come back. I could examine their hair at my
leisure; and--there was the cellar. It was, I repeat, absolutely ideal.
"'I think the place will suit me,' I said.
"Mr. Nathan beamed on me. 'Of courth,' he said, 'referentheth will be
nethethary, or rent in advanthe.'
"'A year's rent in advance will do, I suppose?' said I; and Mr. Nathan
nearly jumped clear off the floor. A few minutes later I departed, the
accepted tenant (under the pseudonym of Simon Vosper) of Samuel Nathan,
with the understanding that I should deliver my advance rent in
bank-notes and that he should have the top-dressing of dirt removed from
the house and the name of Vosper painted over the shop.
"My preparations for the new activities on which I was to enter were
quickly made. In my Bloomsbury house I installed as caretaker a retired
sergeant-major of incomparable taciturnity. I locked up the museum wing
and kept the keys. I took a few lessons in haircutting from a West-End
barber. I paid my advance rent, sent in a set of bedroom furniture to my
new premises in Saul Street, Whitechapel, abandoned the habit of shaving
for some ten days, and then took possession of the shop.
"At first the customers were few and far between. A stray coster or
carman came in from time to time, but mostly the shop was silent and
desolate. But this did not distress me. I had various preparations to
make and a plan of campaign to settle. There were the cellar stairs,
for instance; a steep flight of stone steps, unguarded by baluster or
handrail. They were very dangerous. But when I had fitted a sort of
giant stride by suspending a stout rope from the ceiling, I was able to
swing myself down the whole flight in perfect safety. Other preparations
consisted in the placing, of an iron safe in the parlor (with a small
mirror above it) and the purchase of a tin of stiff cart-grease and a
few large barrels. These latter I bought from a cooper in the form of
staves and hoops, and built them up in the cellar in my rather extensive
"Meanwhile trade gradually increased. The harmless coster and laborer
began to be varied by customers rather more in my line; in fact, I had
not quite completed my arrangements when I got the first windfall.
"It was a Wednesday evening. I had nearly finished shaving a large,
military-looking laborer when the door opened very quietly and a seedy,
middle-aged man entered and sat down. His movements were silent--almost
stealthy; and, when he had seated himself, he picked up a newspaper
from behind which I saw him steal furtive and suspicious glances at the
patient in the operating chair. The latter, being scraped clean, rose to
depart, and the newcomer underwent a total eclipse behind the newspaper.
"'Oo's 'e?' he demanded, when the laborer was safely outside.
"'I don't know him,' I replied, 'but I should say, by his hands, a
"'Looked rather like a copper,' said my customer. He took his place in
the vacated chair with a laconic ''Air cut,' and then became
"'So you've took on Polensky's job?'
"I nodded at the mirror that faced us (Polensky was my predecessor) and
he continued, 'Polensky's doing time, ain't he?'
"I believed he was and said so, and my friend then asked:
"'Young Pongo ever come in here now?'
"Naturally I had never heard of young Pongo, but I felt that I must not
appear too ignorant. It were better to invent a little.
"'Pongo,' I ruminated; 'Pongo. Is that the fellow who was with Joe
Bartels in that job at--er--you know?'
"'No, I don't,' said my friend. 'And 'oo's Joe Bartels?'
"'Oh, I thought you knew him; but if you don't I'd better say no more.
You see, I don't know who you are.'
"'Don't yer. Then I'll tell yer. I'm Spotty Bamber, of Spitalfields,
that's 'oo I am. So now you know.'
"I made a mental note of the name (the first part of which had
apparently been suggested by Mr. Bamber's complexion) and my attention
must have wandered somewhat, for my patient suddenly shouted: "Ere! I
say! I didn't come 'ere to be scalped. I come to 'ave my 'air cut.'
"I apologized and led the conversation back to Polensky.
"'Ah,' said Bamber, ''e was a downy un, 'e was. Bit too downy. Opened his
mouth too wide. Wanted it all for nix. That was why he got peached on--'
Here Spotty turned his head with a jerk--'What are you looking at me
through that thing for? My 'ed ain't as small as all that.'
"'That thing' was a Coddington lens, through which I examined the hair
of every customer with a view to identification. But I did not tell Mr.
Bamber this. My explanation was recondite and rather obscure, but it
seemed to satisfy him.
"'Well,' he said, 'you're a rum cove. Talk like a blooming toff too, you
do.' I made a careful mental note of that fact and determined to study
the local dialect. Meanwhile I explained, 'I wasn't always a
hairdresser, you know.'
"'So I should suppose,' answered Spotty, twisting his neck to get a look
at his poll in the glass. 'What you'd call a bloomin' ammerchewer.' He
stood up, shook himself and tendered a half-crown in payment, which I
examined carefully before giving change. Then I brought out of my pocket
a handful of assorted coins, including two sovereigns, a quantity of
silver and some coppers. I do not ordinarily carry my money mixed up in
this slovenly fashion, but had adopted the habit, since I came to the
shop, for a definite reason; and was now justified by the avaricious
glare that lighted up in Spotty's eye at the sight of the coins in my
"I picked out his change deliberately and handed it to him, when he took
it and stood for a few seconds, evidently thinking hard. Suddenly he
thrust his hand into his pocket and said, 'I suppose, mister, you
haven't got such a thing as a fi-pun-note what you can give me in
exchange for five jimmies?' He held out five sovereigns, which I took
from him and inspected critically.
"'Oh, they're all right,' said Spotty, as I weighed them in my hand. And
so they were.
"'I think I can let you have a note if you will wait a moment,' I said;
and, as I turned to enter the parlor, Spotty sat down ostentatiously in
"I drew the door to after me, but did not latch it. A small jet of gas
was burning in the parlor and by its light I unlocked the safe, pulled
out a drawer, took from it a bundle of banknotes and looked them over;
all very deliberately and with my eye on the mirror that hung above the
safe. That mirror reflected the door. It also reflected me, but as the
light was on my back my face was in the shadow. Hardly had I opened the
safe when, slowly and silently, the door opened a couple of inches and
an eye appeared in the space. I picked a note out of the bundle,
returned the remainder to the drawer, closed the safe and slowly walked
to the door. When I re-entered the shop, Spotty was seated in the chair
as I had left him, with the immovable air of an Egyptian statue.
"I have no doubt that Spotty Bamber chuckled with joy when he got
outside. I should like to think so, to feel that our pleasure was
mutual. For as to me, my feelings can only be appreciated by some
patient angler who, after a long and fruitless sitting, has seen his
"'quill or cork down sink
With eager bite of perch or bleak or dace.'
"Spotty was on the hook. He would come again, and not alone--at least, I
trusted not alone. For my brief inspection of his hair had convinced me
that he was not the unknown man whom I sought; and, though he would
make an acceptable addition to the group of specimens in the long
wall-case, I was more interested in the companion whom I felt confident
he would bring with him. The elation of spirit produced by the prospect
of this second visit was such that I forthwith closed the shop and spent
the rest of the evening exercising with the concussor and practicing
flying leaps down the cellar steps with the aid of the giant-stride.
"I slept little that night. As a special precaution against failure, I
had left the back gate unbolted and refrained from locking the outside
cellar door; with the sole result that I was roused up at one in the
morning by a meddlesome constable and rebuked sourly for my
carelessness. Otherwise, not a soul came to enliven my solitude. The
second night passed in the same dull fashion, leaving me restless and
disappointed; and when the third slipped by without the sign of a
visitor, I became really uneasy.
"The fourth day was Saturday, and the late evening--the end of the
Sabbath--turned my shop into a veritable Land of Goshen. The
conversation, mostly in Yiddish--of which I professed total
ignorance--kept me pretty well amused until closing time arrived. Then,
as the shop emptied, my hopes and fears began to revive together.
"I was about to begin shutting up the premises when the door opened
softly and a man slipped into the shop. My heart leaped exultingly. The
man was Spotty Bamber.
"And he was not alone. By no means. Two more men stole in in the same
stealthy fashion, and, having first glanced at one another and then
peered suspiciously round the shop, they all looked at me. For my part,
I regarded them with deep interest, especially as to their hair.
'Habitual Criminal' was written large on all of them. As anthropological
material they were quite excellent.
"Mr. Bamber opened the proceedings with one eye on me and the other on
"'Look, 'ere, mister, we've come about a little matter of business. You
know Polensky used to do a bit of trade?'
"'Yes,' I said; 'and now he's doing a bit of time.'
"'I know,' replied Spotty, 'but you must take the fat with the lean. It
ain't all soup. And _you_ know that Polensky was a bloomin' fool.'
"'It comes to this 'ere,' said one of the other men, stepping up close
to me. 'Do you know a jerry when you sees one--a red 'un, mind you?'
"As I had not the faintest idea what the man meant, I temporized.
"'I haven't seen one yet, you know.'
"The fellow looked furtively at the door and then, diving into an inner
pocket, pulled out a handsome gold watch with a massive chain attached,
exhibited it for a moment and then dropped it back.
"'That's the little article,' said he, 'and before you makes a bid, you
can look it over and try if the stuff's genu-wine. But not out here, you
know. We does our deal inside where you can't get ogled by a cooper
through the winder.'
"I saw the plan at a glance, and, in the main, approved, though three at
once was a bigger handful than I should have desired. They would require
"'I will just go and see that it's all clear,' I said; and with this I
retired to the parlor, quietly bolting the door behind me.
"Once inside, I made my simple preparations rapidly. Placing the
concussor in a tall cylindrical basket close to the cellar door, I
opened the latter and hitched the rope in a position where I could grasp
it easily. Then I took from the cupboard the tin of cart-grease, and,
with a large knife, spread a thick layer of the grease on the upper four
steps of the cellar stairs. While thus engaged, I turned over my plans
quickly but with considerable misgivings. The odds were greater than I
ought to have taken. For, as to the intentions of these men, I could
have no reasonable doubt. Bamber was known to me and he would not run
the risk of my giving information. The amiable intention of these gentry
was to 'do me in,' as they would have expressed it, and the vital
question for me was, How did they mean to do it? Firearms they would
probably avoid on account of the noise, but if they all came at me at
once with knives my chance would be infinitesimal.
"It comes back to me now rather oddly that I weighed these
probabilities quite impersonally, as though I were a mere spectator. And
such was virtually the case. The fact is that, although I had long since
abandoned the idea of suicide, I remained alive as a matter of principle
and not by personal desire. My objection to being killed was merely the
abstract objection to the killing of any worthy member of society by
these human vermin. But if any such person must needs be killed, I was
quite indifferent as to whether the subject of the action were myself or
some other. I had no personal interest in the matter. Hence, when I
unbolted the door and beckoned the three men into the room, though
doubtful of the issue, I had no feeling of nervousness.
"The advantage that my impassiveness gave me over those three rascals
was very evident when they slouched in, for they were all trembling and
twitching with nervous excitement. And no wonder. To a man who values
his life above everything on earth, it is a serious matter to walk into
the very shadow of the gallows. As soon as they were inside, one of
them, who looked like a Polish Jew, bolted the door; and then they
gathered round me like a pack of hyenas.
"I backed unostentatiously into the corner by the cellar door, talking
volubly to the three men by turn as I went; and the Jew edged along the
wall to get behind me. I realized that he was the one whom I had to
watch, and I watched him; not looking at him, but keeping him on the
periphery of my field of vision. For, as is well known, the peripheral
area of the retina, although insensitive to impressions of form, is
highly sensitive to impressions of movement.
"My remarks on the danger to respectable persons of meddling with stolen
property gave Mr. Bamber his cue.
"'Stolen property,' he roared. ''Oo said anything about stolen property?
What d'yer mean, yer bloomin' scalp-scraper!' and he advanced
threateningly with his chin stuck forward and a most formidable scowl.
"In the next few moments I reaped the reward of my strenuous practice at
the gymnasium of the art of Jiu-jitsu and the French style of boxing.
Bamber's advance was the signal. I had seen the Jew's hand steal under
his coat skirt. He now made a quick movement--and so did I. Whisking
round, in an instant I had his wrist in that kind of grip that
dislocates the elbow-joint, and, as I turned, I planted my foot heavily
on Spotty Bamber's chest. The swift movement took them all by surprise.
The Jew screamed and dropped his knife, staggering heavily against the
cellar door, which swung back on its well-oiled hinges. Bamber flew
backwards like a football, and, as he cannoned against the third man,
the two crashed together to the floor. I thrust the Jew through the open
doorway, released his wrist; and then followed a slithering sound from
the cellar steps, ending in a soft thump.
"The position was marvelously changed in those few moments. The Jew, I
took it, was eliminated, and the odds thus brought down to a reasonable
figure. As to the other two, though they scrambled to their feet quickly
enough, they kept their distance, Bamber in particular having some
little difficulty with his breath. I picked up the concussor and faced
them. If I had been quick, I could have dispatched them both without
difficulty. But I did not. Once more I was aware of that singular state
of consciousness to which I have elsewhere alluded as possessing me in
the presence of violent criminals; a vivid pleasure in the mere act of
physical contest, perfectly incomprehensible to me in my normal state of
mind. This strange joy now sent the blood surging through my brain until
my ears hummed; and yet I kept my judgment, calmly attentive and even
"Thus, when the third ruffian rushed at me with a large sheath-knife, I
knocked his hand aside quite neatly with the concussor and drove him out
of range with a heavy blow of my left fist. But at this moment I
observed Bamber frantically lugging something from his hip-pocket;
something that was certainly not a knife. It was time for a change of
tactics. Before the third rascal could close with me again, I darted at
the open doorway, grasped the rope, and in an instant had swung myself
clear of the steps down into the darkness of the cellar.
"In swinging I had turned half round, and, as I alighted, I saw my
aggressor, knife in hand, come through the doorway in pursuit. He had
more courage than Spotty but less discretion. In the haste of his
pursuit, he actually sprang over the sill on to the slippery top step,
and the next moment was bumping down the stairs like an overturned sack
of potatoes. As he picked himself up, half-stunned, from the prostrate
Jew, on whom he had fallen, I regretfully felled him with the concussor.
It was a dull finish to the affair, but there was Bamber's revolver to
be reckoned with.
"To do Mr. Bamber justice, he was not rash. In fact, he was so
unobtrusive that I began to fear that he had made off, and, it being
obviously unsafe to go up and ascertain, I proceeded to make a few
"'Oh!' I shouted, 'Let me go! Let go my hands or I'll call for the
"This appeal had the desired effect. The dimly lighted doorway framed
the figure of Spotty Bamber, with revolver poised, peering cautiously
into the darkness.
"I renewed my protests, and, retiring to the darkest corner, shuffled
noisily about the brick floor.
"''Ave yer got 'im, Alf?' inquired the discreet Bamber, leaning forward
and stepping over the sill. I continued to dance heavily in my corner
and to utter breathless snorts and exclamations such as, 'Let go, I tell
you!' 'Aha! would you?' and so forth. Bamber took another step forward,
craned his neck and called out, 'Shove 'im over this way, Alf, so as I
"He did not finish the sentence. Watching him, I saw his feet suddenly
fly from under him, the revolver clattered on the cellar floor, and
Spotty, himself, having slipped half-way down the steps, fell over the
edge on to the hard brick pavement.
"As he picked himself up, breathing heavily, I dropped the concussor
into the big pocket of my apron and pounced on him. He uttered a yell of
terror and began to struggle like a maniac to free himself from my grip,
while I edged him away from the dangerous vicinity of the revolver. At
first he was disposed to show a good deal of fight, and, as we gyrated
round the cellar, tugging, thrusting, wrenching and kicking, I found the
strenuous muscular exercise strangely exhilarating. Evidently there is
something to be said for the 'simple life,' as lived in those primitive
communities where every man is his own policeman.
"But this physically stimulating bout came to a sudden end. Our mazy
revolutions brought us presently near the foot of the steps, and here
Spotty tripped over the prostrate form of the third man. He staggered
back a few paces and uttered a husky shriek, and then we came down
together on top of the Jew. That finished him. The contact with those
two motionless shapes shattered his nerves utterly and reduced him to
sheer panic. He ceased to fight and only whimpered for mercy.
"It was very unpleasant. As long as the fight was hot and strenuous, the
revived instincts of long-forgotten primitive ancestors kept my blood
racing. But, with the first cry for mercy, all my exhilaration died out
and the degenerate emotions of civilized man began to make themselves
felt. If I hesitated I was lost. At every pitiful bleat I felt myself
weakening. There was only one thing to do, and I did it--with the
"Verbal description is a slow affair compared with action. The whole set
of events that I have narrated occupied but a few minutes. When I
unbolted the parlor door and found a somnolent navvy waiting to be
shaved, I realized with astonishment how brief the interlude had been.
"'Hope I haven't kept you waiting,' I said, anxious to learn if he had
heard anything unusual.
"'No,' he replied, 'I've only just come in. Didn't expect to find you
"He seated himself in the chair and I lathered him profusely, with
luxurious pleasure in handling the clean soapsuds. The folly of my late
visitors in leaving the shop door unfastened, surprised me, and
illustrated afresh the poverty of the criminal intelligence. They had
assumed that it would be all over in a moment and had taken no
precautions against the improbable. And such is the 'habitual' with whom
the costly machinery of the law is unable to cope! Verily, there must
be a good many fools besides the dishonest ones!
"I shut up the shop when my customer departed, indulged in a good wash
and a substantial supper. For there was much to be done before I could
go to bed. I had providently laid in six casks of a suitable size, of
which two were put together and the remainder in the form of loose
staves and hoops. One of these would have to be made up at once, since
it was necessary that the specimens should be packed before _rigor
mortis_ set in and rendered them unmanageable. Accordingly, I fell to
work after supper with the mallet and the broad chisel-like tool with
which the hoops are driven on, and did not pause until the bundle of
staves was converted into a cask, complete save for the top hoop and
"I proceeded systematically. Into one cask I poured a quart of water and
wetted the interior thoroughly, to make the wood swell and secure tight
joints. Then into it I introduced the Jew, in a sitting posture, and was
gratified to find that the specimen occupied the space comfortably. But
here a slight difficulty presented itself. The center of gravity of a
cask filled with homogeneous matter coincides with the geometrical
center. But in a cask containing a deceased Jew, the center of gravity
would be markedly ex-centric. Such a cask would not roll evenly; and
irregular rolling might lead to investigation. However, the remedy was
quite simple. My predecessor had been accustomed to cover the floor of
the shop with sawdust, and the peculiar habits of my customers had led
me to continue the practice. An immense bin of the material occupied a
corner of the cellar and furnished the means of imparting a factitious
homogeneity to the contents of the cask. I shoveled in a quantity around
the specimen, headed up the cask, and finished filling it through the
bung-hole. When I had driven in the bung, I gave the cask a trial roll
on the cellar floor and found that it moved without noticeable
"It was past midnight before I had finished my labors and had the three
casks ready for removal. After another good wash, I went to bed, and,
thanks to the invigorating physical exercise, had an excellent night.
"The following day being Sunday, there was a regrettable delay, since it
would have been unwise to challenge attention by trundling the casks
through the streets when all the world was resting. However, I called at
my Bloomsbury house and instructed the sergeant-major that some packages
might be delivered on the following day. 'And,' I added, 'I shall
probably be working in the laboratory tomorrow, so if you hear me moving
about you will know that it is all right.'
"The sergeant-major touched his cap--he always wore a cap
indoors--without speaking. He was the most taciturn and incurious man
that I have ever met.
"When I had taken a look round the laboratory and made a few
preparations, I departed, going out by the museum entrance. It was as
well to get the sergeant-major used to these casual, unannounced
appearances and disappearances. I walked slowly back to Whitechapel,
turning over my plans for the removal of the casks. At first I had
thought of taking them to Pickford's receiving office. But there was
danger in this, though it was a remote danger. If one of the casks
should be accidentally dropped it would certainly burst, and then--I had
no particular objection to being killed, but I had a very great
objection to being sent to Broadmoor. So I decided to effect the removal
myself with the aid of the builder's truck that I had allowed the owner
to keep in my yard. But this plan involved the adoption of some sort of
disguise; a very slight one would be sufficient, as it was merely to
prevent recognition by casual strangers.
"Now, among the stock of my predecessor, Polensky, I had found a
collection of powder colors, grease paints, toupee-paste, spirit-gum and
other materials which threw a curious light on his activities. On my
return to the shop I made a few experiments with these materials and was
astonished to find on what trivial peculiarities facial expression
depends. For instance, I discovered that a strip of court-plaster,
carried tightly up the middle of the forehead--where it would be hidden
by a hat--altered the angle of the eyebrows and completely changed the
expression, and that a thin scumble of purple, rubbed on the nose,
totally altered the character of the face. This was deeply interesting;
and, as it finally disposed of one difficulty, it left me free to
consider the rest of my plans, which I continued to do until every
possible emergency was anticipated and provided for.
"Early on Monday morning I went out and purchased four lengths of stout
quartering--two long and two short--a coil of rope, a two-block tackle
of the kind known to mariners as a 'handy Billy' and a pair of
cask-grips. With the quartering and some lengths of rope I made two
cask-slides, a long one for the cellar and a short one for the
hand-cart. Placing the long slide in position, I greased it with
cart-grease, hooked the tackle above the upper end, attached the grips
and very soon had the three casks hoisted up into the passage that
opened into the back yard. With the aid of the short slide and the
tackle, I ran them up into the cart, lashed them firmly in position
with the stout rope, threw in the slide and tackle and was ready to
start. Running into the shop, I fixed the necessary strip of
court-plaster on my forehead, tinted my nose, and, having pocketed the
stick of paint and a piece of plaster, put on my shabbiest overcoat and
a neck-cloth, trod on my hat and jammed it on my head so that it should
cover the strip of plaster. Then I went out and, trundling the cart into
the alley, locked the back gate and set forth on my journey.
"Navigating the crowded streets with the heavy cart clattering behind
me, I made my way westward, avoiding the main thoroughfares with their
bewildering traffic, until I found myself in Theobald's Row at the end
of Red Lion Street. Here I began to look about for a likely deputy; and
presently my eye lighted on a sturdy-looking man who leaned somewhat
dejectedly against a post and sucked at an empty pipe. He was evidently
not a regular 'corner-boy.' I judged him to be a laborer out of work,
and deciding that he would serve my purpose I addressed him.
"'Want a job, mate?'
"He roused at once. 'You've 'it it, mate. I do. What sort of job?'
"'Pull this truck round to 6A Plimsbury Street and deliver the tubs.'
"'Ow much 'll you give me?' was the inevitable inquiry.
"'Old chap'll give you half-a-crown, if you ask him.'
"'And 'ow much am I to keep?'
"'Oh, we won't quarrel about that. I've got to see about another job or
I'd take 'em myself. You deliver the tubs--and be careful of 'em.
They're full of valuable chemicals--and meet me here at ten o'clock and
I'll give you another job. Will that do you?'
"My friend pocketed his pipe and spat on his hands. 'Gi' me the bloomin'
truck,' said he; and when I had surrendered the pole to him, he set off
at a pace that made me thankful for the stout rope lashings of the
"I let him draw ahead and then followed at a discreet distance, keeping
him in sight until he was within a few hundred yards of my house. Then I
darted down a side turning, took a short cut across a square, and,
arriving at the museum entrance, let myself in with my Yale key.
"To remove my hat, overcoat and coat, to tear off the plaster and wash
my nose, was but the work of a minute. I had placed in readiness my
laboratory apron, a velvet skull-cap and a pair of spectacles, and
scarcely had I assumed these and settled my eyebrows into a studious
frown, when the bell rang. A glance into a little mirror that hung on
the wall satisfied me as to the radical change in my appearance and I
went out confidently and opened the street door. My deputy was standing
on the door-step and touched his cap nervously as he met my portentous
"'These here barrils for you, sir?' he asked.
"'Quite right,' I replied in deep, pompous tones; 'I will help you to
bring them in.'
"We brought the cart up on the pavement with the pole across the
threshold, and I fixed the slide in position while my assistant cast off
the lashings. In a couple of minutes we had run the casks down the slide
and I had the satisfaction of seeing them safely deposited in the hall.
The dangers and difficulties of the passage were at an end.
"I handed my proxy the half-crown which he sheepishly demanded, with an
extra shilling 'for a glass of beer,' and saw him go on his way
rejoicing. Then I went back to the laboratory, stuck on a fresh strip of
plaster, rubbed on a tint of grease-paint and resumed my disreputable
garments. When I came forth into the street, the hand-cart had already
disappeared, leaving me to pursue my way unobserved to the rendezvous,
where I presently met my friend, and, having rejoiced him with a further
shilling, resumed possession of the cart.
"On my arrival at my Whitechapel premises, I affixed a notice to the
window informing the nobility and gentry that I was 'absent on
business.' Then I clothed myself decently, emptied the contents of the
safe into a hand-bag, in which I also put the cooper's chisel, locked up
the premises and hurried off to Aldgate Station. My first objective was
the establishment of Mr. Hammerstein, the dealer in osteology, from whom
I purchased three articulated human skeletons, and obtained the
invaluable receipted invoices; and having thus taken every precaution
that prudence and human foresight could suggest, I repaired to my
Bloomsbury house, let myself in at the museum door, rolled the casks
through into the laboratory and proceeded to unpack the specimens.
"The initial processes occupied me far into the night, while as to the
finishing operations, they kept me busy for over a month; during which
time I shaved and cut hair throughout the day up to nine o'clock at
night, reserving the laboratory work for a relaxation after the prosaic
labors of the day.
"Looked at broadly, the episode was highly satisfactory and
successful--excepting in one vital respect. None of the three specimens
had ringed hair. The completed preparations were, after all, but the
by-products of my industry. The wretch whom I sought was still at large
and unidentified. My collection still lacked its crowning ornament."
THE TRAIL OF THE SERPENT
Hitherto, in my transcriptions from Humphrey Challoner's "Museum
Archives" I have taken the entries in their order, omitting only such
technical details as might seem unsuitable for the lay reader. Now,
however, I pass over a number of entries. The capture of Numbers 7, 8
and 9 exhibits the methods to which Challoner, in the main, adhered
during his long residence in East London; and, though there were
occasional variations, the accounts of the captures present a general
similarity which might render their recital tedious. The last entry but
one, on the other hand, is among the most curious and interesting. Apart
from the stirring incidents that it records, the new light that it
throws on a hitherto unsolved mystery makes it worth extracting entire,
which I now proceed to do, with the necessary omissions alluded to
"Circumstances connected with the acquirement of Numbers 23 and 24 in
the Anthropological Series.
"The sand of my life ran out with varying speed--as it seemed to me--in
the little barber's shop in Saul Street, Whitechapel. Now would my
pulses beat and the current of my blood run swift. Those were the times
when I had visitors; and presently a new skeleton or two would make
their appearance in the long wall-case. But there were long intervals of
sordid labor and dull inaction when I would cut hair--and examine it
through my lens--day after day and wonder whether, in electing to live,
rather than pass voluntarily into eternal repose, I had, after all,
chosen the better part. For in all those years no customer with ringed
hair ever came to my shop. The long pursuit seemed to bring me no nearer
to that unknown wretch, the slayer of my beloved wife. Still was he
hidden from me amidst the unclean multitude that seethed around; or
perchance some sordid grave had already offered him an everlasting
sanctuary, leaving me wearily to pursue a phantom enemy.
"But I am digressing. This is not a record of my emotions, but a
history of the contents of my museum. Let me proceed to specimens 23 and
24 and the very remarkable circumstances under which I had the good
fortune to acquire them. First, however, I must describe an incident
which, although it occurred some time before, never developed its
importance until this occasion arose.
"One drowsy afternoon there came to my shop a smallish, shabby-looking
man, quiet and civil in manner and peculiarly wooden as to his
countenance; in short, a typical 'old lag.' I recognized the type at a
glance; the 'penal servitude face' had become a familiar phenomenon. He
spread himself out to be shaved and to have the severely official style
of his coiffure replaced by a less distinctive mode; and as I worked he
"'Saw old Polensky a week or two ago.'
"'Did you indeed?' said I.
"'Yus. Portland. Got into 'ot water, too, 'e did. Tried to fetch the
farm and didn't pull it orf.' ('The farm,' I may explain, is the prison
infirmary.) 'Got dropped on for malingering. That's the way with these
"'He didn't impose on the doctor, then?'
"'Lor', no! Doctor'd seen that sort o' bloke before. Polensky said he'd
got a pain in 'is stummik, so the doctor says it must be becos 'is diet
was too rich, and knocks orf arf 'is grub. I tell yer, Polensky was
sorry 'e'd spoke.'
"Here, my client showing a disposition to smile, I removed the razor to
allow him to do so. Presently he resumed, discursively:
"'I knoo this 'ouse years ago, before Polensky's time, when old Durdler
had it. Durdler used to do the smashin' lay up on the second floor and
me and two or three nippers used to work for 'im--plantin' the snide,
yer know. 'E was a rare leery un, was Durdler. It was 'im what made that
slidin' door in the wall in the second floor front.'
"I pricked up my ears at this. 'A sliding door? In this house?'
"'Gawblimy!' exclaimed my client. 'Meantersay you don't know about that
"I assured him most positively that I had never heard of it.
"'Well, well,' he muttered. 'Sich a useful thing, too. Durdler used to
keep 'is molds and stuff up there, and then, when there was a scare of
the cops, he used to pop the thing through into the next 'ouse--Mrs.
Jacob 'ad the room next door--and the coppers used to come and sniff
round, but of course there wasn't nothin' to see. Regler suck in for
them. And it was useful if you was follered. You could mizzle in through
the shop, run upstairs, pop through the door, downstairs next door and
out through the back yard. I've done it myself. 'Oo's got the second
floor front now?'
"'I have,' said I. 'I keep the whole of the house.'
"'My eye!' exclaimed my friend, whose name I learned to be Towler, 'you
are a bloomin' toff. Like me to show you that door?'
"I said that I should like it very much, and accordingly, when the
trimming operations were concluded and I had secured a wisp of Mr.
Towler's hair for subsequent examination, we ascended to the second
floor front and he demonstrated the hidden door.
"'It's in this 'ere cupboard, under that row of pegs. That peg
underneath at the side is the 'andle. You catches 'old of it, so, and
you gives a pull to the right.' He suited the action to the words, and,
with a loud groan, the middle third of the back of the cupboard slid
bodily to the right, leaving an opening about three feet square, beyond
which was a solid-looking panel with a small knob at the left-hand side.
"'That,' whispered Towler, 'is the back of a cupboard in the next 'ouse.
If you was to pull that 'andle to the right, it would slide along same
as this one. Only I expect there's somebody in the room there.'
"I rewarded Mr. Towler with half a sovereign, which he evidently thought
liberal, and he departed gleefully. Shortly afterwards I learned that he
had 'got a stretch' in connection with a 'job' at Camberwell; and he
vanished from my ken. But I did not forget the sliding doors. No special
use for them suggested itself, but their potentialities were so obvious
that I resolved to keep a sharp eye on the second floor front next
"I had not long to wait. Presently the whole floor was advertised by a
card on the street door as being to let and I seized the opportunity of
a quiet Sunday to reconnoiter and put the arrangements in going order. I
slid back the panel on my own side and then, dragging at the handle,
pushed back the second panel. Both moved noisily and would require
careful treatment. I passed through the square opening into the vacant
room and looked round, but there was little to see, though a good deal
to smell, for the windows were hermetically sealed and a closed stove
fitted into the fireplace precluded any possibility of ventilation. The
aroma of the late tenants still lingered in the air.
"I returned through the opening and began my labors. First, with a hard
brush I cleaned out both sets of grooves, top and bottom. Then, into
each groove I painted a thick coating of tallow and black lead, mixed
into a paste and heated. By moving the panels backwards and forwards a
great number of times I distributed the lubricant and brought the black
lead to such a polish that the doors slid with the greatest ease and
without a sound. I was so pleased with the result that I was tempted to
engage the room next door, but as this might have aroused
suspicion--seeing that I had a whole house already--I refrained; and
shortly afterwards the floor was taken by a family of Polish Jews, who
apparently supplemented their income by letting part of it furnished.
"I now pass over an intervening period and come to the circumstances of
one of my most interesting and stirring experiences. It was about this
time that some misbegotten mechanician invented the automatic magazine
pistol, and thereby rendered possible a new and execrable type of
criminal. It was not long before the appropriate criminal arrived. The
scene of the first appearance was the suburb of Tottenham, where two
Russian Poles attempted, and failed in, an idiotic street robbery. The
attempt was made in broad daylight in the open street, and the two
wretches, having failed, ran away, shooting at every human being they
met. In the end they were both killed--one by his own hand--but not
until they had murdered a gallant constable and a poor little child and
injured in all, twenty-two persons.
"I read the newspaper account with deep interest and the conviction that
this was only a beginning. Those two frenzied degenerates belonged to a
common enough type; the type of the Slav criminal who has not sense
enough to take precautions nor courage enough to abide the fortune of
war. The automatic pistol, I felt sure, would bring him into view; and I
was not mistaken.
"One night, returning from a tour of inspection, I met a small excited
crowd accompanying a procession of three police ambulances. I joined the
throng and presently turned into a small blind thoroughfare in which had
gathered a small and nervous-looking crowd and a few flurried policemen.
Several of the windows were shattered and on the ground were three
prostrate figures. One was dead, the others were badly wounded, and all
three were members of the police force.
"I watched the ambulances depart with their melancholy burdens and then
turned for information to a bystander. He had not much to give, but the
substance of his account--confirmed later by the newspapers--was this:
The police had located a gang of suspected burglars and three officers
had come to the house to make arrests. They had knocked at the door,
which, after some delay, was opened. Some person within had immediately
shot one of the officers dead and the entire gang of four or five had
rushed out, fired point blank at the other two officers, and then raced
up the street shooting right and left like madmen. Several people had
been wounded and, grievous to relate, the whole gang of miscreants had
made their escape into the surrounding slums.
"I was profoundly interested and even excited for several reasons. In
the first place, here at last was the real Lombroso criminal, the
sub-human mattoid, devoid of intelligence, devoid of the faintest
glimmering of moral sense, fit for nothing but the lethal chamber;
compared with whom the British 'habitual' was a civilized gentleman.
Without a specimen or two of this type, my collection was incomplete.
Then there was the evident applicability of my methods to this class of
offender; methods of quiet extermination without fuss, public disorder
or risk to the precious lives of the police. But beyond these there was
another reason for my interest. The murder of my wife had been a
purposeless, unnecessary crime, committed by some wretch to whom human
life was a thing of no consideration. There was an analogy in the
circumstances that seemed to connect that murder with this type of
miscreant. It was even possible that one of these very villains might be
the one whom I had so patiently sought through the long and weary years.
"The thought fired me with a new enthusiasm. Forthwith I started to
pursue the possible course of the fugitives, threading countless
by-streets and alleys, peering into squalid courts and sending many a
doubtful-looking loiterer shuffling hastily round the nearest corner. Of
course it was fruitless. I had no clue and did not even know the men. I
was merely walking off my own excitement.
"Nevertheless, every night as soon as I had closed my shop, I set forth
on a voyage of exploration, impelled by sheer restlessness; and during
the day I listened eagerly to the talk of my customers in Yiddish--a
language of which I was supposed to be entirely ignorant. But I learned
nothing. Either the fugitives were unknown, or the natural secretiveness
of an alien people forbade any reference to them, even among themselves;
and meanwhile, as I have said, I tramped the streets nightly into the
small hours of the morning.
"Returning from one of these expeditions a little earlier than usual, I
found a small party of policemen and a sprinkling of idlers gathered
opposite the house next door. There was no need to ask what was doing.
The suppressed excitement of the officers and the service revolvers in
their belts told the story. There was going to be another slaughter; and
I was probably too late for any but a spectator's part.
"The street door was open and the house was being quietly emptied of its
human occupants. They came out one by one, shivering and complaining,
with little bundles of their possessions hastily snatched up, and
collected in a miserable group on the pavement. I opened my shop door
and invited them to come in and rest while their messengers went to look
for a harbor of refuge; but I stayed outside to see the upshot of the
"When the last of the tenants had come out, a sergeant emerged and
quietly closed the street door with a latch-key. The rest of the
policemen took up sheltered positions in doorways after warning the
idlers to disperse and the sergeant turned to me.
"'Now, Mr. Vosper, you'd better keep your nose indoors if you don't want
it shot off. There's going to be trouble presently.' He pushed me gently
into the shop and shut the door after me.
"I found the evicted tenants chattering excitedly and very unhappy. But
they were not rebellious. They were mostly Jews, and Jews are a patient,
submissive people. I boiled some water in my little copper and made some
coffee, which they drank gratefully--out of shaving mugs; my outfit of
crockery being otherwise rather limited. And meanwhile they talked
volubly and I listened.
"'I vunder,' said a stout, elderly Jewess, 'how der bolice know dose
shentlemens gom to lotch mit me. Zumpotty must haf toldt dem.'
"'Yus,' agreed an evicted tenant of doubtful occupation, 'some bloomin'
nark has giv 'em away. Good job too. Tain't playin' the game for to go
pottin' at the coppers like that there. Coppers 'as got their job to do
same as what we 'ave. You know that, Mrs. Kosminsky.'
"'Ja, dat is droo,' said the Jewess; 'but dey might let me bring my
dings mit me. Do-morrow is Ky-fox-tay. Now I lose my money.'
"'How is that, Mrs. Kosminsky?' I asked.
"'Pecause I shall sell dem not, de dings vot I buy for Ky-fox-tay; de
fireworks, de gragers, de masgs and oder dings vor de chiltrens.
Dvendy-vaive shillings vort I buy. Dey are in my room on ze zecond
floor. I ask de bolice to let me vetch dem, hot dey say no; I shall
disturb de chentlemens in de front room. Zo I lose my money pecause I
sell dem not.' Here the unfortunate woman burst into tears and I was so
much affected by her distress that I instantly offered to buy the whole
consignment for two pounds, whereat she wept more copiously than ever,
but collected the purchase-money with great promptitude and stowed it
away in a very internal pocket, displaying in the process as many layers
of clothing as an old-fashioned pen-wiper.
"'Ach! Mizder Fosper, you are zo coot to all de boor beebles, dough you
are only a boor man yourzelf. Bot it is de boor vot is de vriendts of de
boor;' and in her gratitude she would have kissed my hands if I had not
prudently stuck them in my trousers pockets.
"A messenger now arrived to say that a refuge had been secured for the
night, and my guests departed with many thanks and benedictions. The
street, as I looked out, was now quite deserted save for one or two
prowling policemen, who, apparently bored with their hiding-places, had
come forth to patrol in the open. I did not stay to watch them, for
Mrs. Kosminsky's remarks had started a train of thought which required
to be carried out quickly. Accordingly I went in and fell to pacing the
"The police, I assumed, were waiting for daylight to rush the house. It
was a mad plan and yet I was convinced that they had no other. And when
they should enter, in the face of a stream of bullets from those
terrible automatic pistols, what a carnage there would be! It was
frightful to think of. Why does the law permit those cowards' tools to
be made and sold? A pistol is the one weapon that has no legitimate use.
An axe, a knife--even a rifle, has some lawful function. But a pistol is
an appliance for killing human beings. It has no other purpose whatever.
A man who is found with house-breaking tools in his possession is
assumed to be a house-breaker. Surely a man who carries a pistol
convicts himself of the intention to kill somebody.
"But perhaps the police had some reasonable plan. It was possible, but
it was very unlikely. The British policeman is a grand fellow, brave as
a lion and ready to march cheerfully into the mouth of hell if duty
calls. But he knows no tactics. His very courage is almost a
disadvantage, leading him to disdain reasonable caution. I felt that our
guardians were again going to sacrifice themselves to these vermin. It
was terrible. It was a wicked waste of precious lives. Could nothing be
done to prevent it?
"According to Mrs. Kosminsky, the 'chentlemens' were in the second floor
front--the room with the sliding panel. Then I could, at least, keep a
watch on them. I walked slowly upstairs gnashing my teeth with
irritation. The sacrifice was so unnecessary. I could think, offhand, of
half a dozen ways of annihilating these wretches without risking a
single hair of any decent person's head. And here were the police, with
all the resources of science at their disposal and practically unlimited
time in which to work, actually contemplating a fight with all the odds
"I stole into the second floor front and, by the light of a match, found
the cupboard. The inside panel--as I will call the one on my side--slid
back without a sound. There was now only the second panel between me
and the next room, and I could plainly hear the murmur of voices and
sounds of movement. But I could not distinguish what was being said; and
as this was of some importance, I determined to try the other panel.
Grasping the handle, I gave a firm but gradual pull, and felt the panel
slide back quite silently for a couple of inches. Instantly the voices
became perfectly distinct and a whiff of foul, stuffy air came through,
with a faint glimmer of light; by which I knew that the cupboard on
their side was at least partly open.
"'I tell you, Piragoff,' a voice said in Russian, 'you are nervous about
nothing. The police are looking for us, but they know none of us by
sight. We can go about quite safely.'
"'I am not so sure,' replied another voice--presumably Piragoff's. 'The
babbling fool who let us the house may talk more; and who knows but some
of our own people may betray us. That woman Kosminsky looked very
queerly at us, I thought.'
"'Bah!' exclaimed the other. 'Come and lie down, Piragoff. Tomorrow we
will leave this place and separate. We shall go away for a time and they
will forget us. Put some more coke in the stove and let us go to sleep.'
"How incalculable are the groupings of factors that evolve the causation
of events! Those last words of the invisible ruffian seemed quite
trivial and inconsequent; and yet they framed his death warrant. I did
not myself realize it fully at the moment. As I closed the slide and
stepped back, I was conscious only that a useful train of thought had
been started. 'Put some more coke in the stove and let us go to sleep.'
Yes; there was a clear connection between the idea of 'stove' and that
of 'sleep,' a sleep of infinite duration. Therein lay the solution of
"I walked slowly down the stairs tracing the connection between the
ideas of 'stove' and 'sleep.' The nauseous air that had filtered through
from that room spoke eloquently of sealed windows and stopped crevices.
It was a frosty night and the murderers were chilly. A back-draught in
the stovepipe would fill the room with poisonous gases and probably
suffocate these wretches slowly and quietly. But how was it to be
brought about? For a moment I thought of climbing to the roof and
stopping the chimney from above. But the plan was a bad one. The police
might see me and make some regrettable mistake with a revolver. Besides
it would probably fail. The stoppage of the draught would extinguish the
fire and the pungent coke-fumes would warn the villains of their danger.
Still closely pursuing the train of thought, I stepped into my bedroom
and lit the gas; I turned to glance round the room; and, behold! the
problem was solved.
"In the fireplace stood a little brass stove of Russian make; a tiny
affair, too small to burn anything but charcoal; but, as charcoal was
easily obtainable in East London, I had bought it and fixed it myself.
It was perfectly safe in a well-ventilated room, though otherwise very
dangerous; for the fumes of charcoal, consisting of nearly pure carbon
dioxide, being practically inodorous, give no warning.
"My course was now quite clear. The stove was fitted with
asbestos-covered handles; a box of charcoal stood by the hearth, and in
the corner was an extra length of stovepipe for which I had had no use.
But I had a use for it now.
"I lit the charcoal in the stove, and, while it was burning up, carried
the stovepipe and the box of fuel upstairs. Then I returned for the
stove, inside which the charcoal was now beginning to glow brightly. I
fixed on the extra length of pipe and, with my hand, felt the stream of
hot air--or rather hot carbon dioxide gas--pouring out of its mouth. I
tried the pipe against the opening and found that it would rest
comfortably on the lower edge; and then, very slowly and cautiously, I
drew back the sliding panel about six inches. The ruffians were still
wrangling on the same subject, for I heard one exclaim:
"'Don't be a fool, Piragoff. You'll only attract attention if you go
nosing about downstairs.'
"'I don't care,' was the answer; 'I feel uneasy. I must go down and see