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The Uttermost Farthing by R. Austin Freeman

Part 3 out of 3

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that all is quiet before I go to sleep.' Here the sound of the opening
and shutting of the door put an end to the discussion, save for a
torrent of curses and maledictions from the two remaining men. But in a
few moments the door opened noisily and Piragoff shouted:

"'Come out! Come out! The house is empty! We are betrayed.'

"A howl of dismay was the answer. The two wretches burst into a
grotesque mixture of weeping and cursing, and I heard them literally
dancing about the room in the ecstasy of their terror.

"'Come out!' repeated Piragoff. 'We will kill them all! We will shoot
those pigs, every one of them! Some of us shall get away. Come!'

"'It is of no use, Piragoff,' whimpered one of his comrades. 'They are
in the house. It is an ambush.'

"'Yes,' cried the third man, 'it is as Boris says. The house is dark and
they are hiding in it. Bolt the door and let them come up to us; and we
will kill them--kill!--kill!--_kill_!' he ended with an unearthly shriek
and a burst of hysterical sobs.

"'I shall go,' said Piragoff. 'There is a chance.'

"'There is none,' shrieked the other. 'Come back, madman!'

"The door slammed, the key turned in the lock and a heavy bolt was shot.
I quietly closed the slide and ran down to the open window of the first
floor front room.

"The street appeared to be empty save for two constables who stood at a
corner conversing in low tones. A profound silence reigned--an unusual
silence, as it seemed!--through which the subdued murmur of the
constables' voices was faintly audible. I looked out anxiously, debating
whether I ought not to warn the unconscious sentinels even at the risk
of defeating my plans. Suddenly two sharp reports in quick succession
rang out from below; both constables fell, and a figure darted out of
the doorway and raced madly up the street.

"One of the fallen constables lay motionless; the other grasped his hip
with one hand and with the other fired his revolver repeatedly at the
retreating murderer, but apparently missed him every time. In a few
seconds a sergeant and another constable came flying round the corner;
police whistles began to sound their warning in all directions; and the
previous silence gave place to a very Babel of noise. But Piragoff had
shot up a side turning before the sergeant arrived, and the persistent
clamor of the whistles told me that he had, for the moment, at least,
escaped. I turned away. Piragoff was out of my hands, and what I had
seen only made it more imperative that I should prevent further

"As, once more, I softly opened the slide, the voices of the miserable
wretches within came to me in a strange and unpleasant mixture of
curses, blasphemies and hysterical sobs. They cursed Piragoff, they
cursed the police, they invoked death and destruction on every man,
woman and child in this nation of pigs; and between the curses they wept
and lamented. I had shut the damper of the stove before going down, but
the charcoal was still alight, though dull. I now arranged the stove in
position, resting the long pipe on the bottom edge of the opening so
that its end projected a few inches into the room; moving quite
silently and assisted by the hubbub from without and the noise produced
by the two craven villains. When it was fixed, I opened the damper, and
presently, holding my hand opposite the mouth of the pipe, felt a strong
current of hot gas pouring out. That gas would cool rapidly on meeting
the cold air, and then would fall by its own weight and collect about
the floor.

"My apparatus was now in full going order and there was nothing for it
but to wait. The noise in the street had subsided, but the two ruffians
showed no signs of settling down. They were now engaged in barricading
the door so that it could be forced open only a few inches, thus
exposing the attackers to a deadly fire. I was much obliged to them.
Their movements would help to diffuse the gas and prevent it from
settling too densely on the floor. Also, their exertions would make them
breathe more deeply and so come more rapidly under the influence of the

"The time crept on; the police made no sign; the murderers rested from
their labors, sometimes talking excitedly, sometimes silent for minutes
at a time, and at intervals yawning like overstrung women. And all the
time the invisible stream of heavy, deadly gas was pouring out of the
stovepipe and trickling unseen along the floor. Even now it must be
eddying about the murderers' feet and slowly diffusing upwards. If only
the police would remain quiescent for an hour or two more, the danger
would be over.

"The long hours of the winter's night dragged out their weary length.
Yet not weary to me. For, as I kept my vigil by the pipe and fed the
stove silently at intervals, I was on the very tip-toe of expectation.
Every moment I dreaded to hear the disastrous crash on the door that
should herald a fresh slaughter; and, as the minutes passed and all
remained still, hope rose higher and higher. Sometimes I caught a
glimpse of my quarry through the chink of their cupboard door; for I had
opened the slide fully a foot, finding that the clothes that hung from
the pegs would screen me, even if the darkness on my side had not done
so already. So I saw one of them sit down on a low chair and crouch,
shuddering, over the coke stove, while the other restlessly paced the

"And still the stream of deadly gas trickled unceasingly from the pipe.

"Presently the former rose and yawned heavily. 'Bah!' he growled, 'I am
tired. I shall lie down. If I fall asleep, Boris, do you watch, and wake
me if you hear them coming.'

"By craning my neck through the opening I could just continue to get a
glimpse of him as he threw himself on a mattress that was spread on the
floor. The other man continued for a while to pace the room; then he sat
down on the chair and spread his hands out over the stove, muttering to
himself. I watched him as well as I could through the chink of the
cupboard doors by the dim light of the stinking paraffin lamp; a greasy,
unwholesome-looking wretch, sallow, pallid and unshorn; and thought how
striking he would look in the form of a reduced, dry preparation.

"But that was impossible. I was now working only for the police.
Regrettable as it was, I should have to surrender these two specimens
to the coroner and the gravedigger. A deplorable waste of material, but
unavoidable--even if one of them should prove to be my long-sought

"At this thought I started; and at that moment the man on the mattress
gave a strange, snorting cry. The ruffian, Boris, looked round, rose,
went over to the mattress and stirred the other with his foot. 'Louis!
Louis!' he cried angrily, 'what the devil are you making that noise

"The other man scrambled up with a cry of terror, pistol in hand. 'Ah!
it is you, Boris! I was dreaming. I thought they had come.' He sat down
again on the mattress and yawned. 'Bah! I am sleepy. I must lie down
again. Watch a little longer, Boris.'

"'Why should I watch?' demanded Boris. 'They will make enough noise
opening that door. I shall lie down a little, too.'

"He flung himself down beside his comrade, but in a minute or two
started up, taking deep breaths. 'My God!' he exclaimed. 'I can't
breathe lying down. I feel as if I should choke. And you, too, Louis;
you are snorting like a pig. Get up, man.'

"He shook the prostrate man roughly, but eliciting only a few drowsy
curses, resumed his restless pacing of the room. But not for long. Yawn
after yawn told me that the gas was already in his blood; and the loud
snoring of the other man indicated plainly the state of the air in the
lower part of the room. Presently Boris halted in his walk and sat down
by the stove, muttering as before. Soon he began to nod; then he nearly
fell forward on the stove. Finally he rose heavily, staggered across to
the mattress and once more flung himself down.

"I breathed more freely, notwithstanding that the gas, having partially
diffused upwards to the level of the opening, now began to filter
through to my side. I waited a minute or two listening to the breathing
of the two murderers as it grew moment by moment more stertorous and
irregular, and then, having filled up the stove, went down to the first
floor and sat awhile by the open window to breathe the relatively fresh

"All was now quiet in the street. No doubt the guard had been
strengthened, but I did not look out. It was as well not to be seen at
that hour in the morning. As I sat by the window, I thought about the
two men in that deadly room. It was a thousand pities that they should
be lost to science. Yet there was no help for it. Even if I had decided
to acquire them I could not have done so, for, by the very worst of
luck, I had used up my last barrel and had neglected to lay in a fresh
stock. Besides, of course, the police knew they were there.

"I rested for half an hour or so and then went upstairs to see how
matters were progressing. No light now came through the opening in the
wall, for the paraffin lamp had either burned out or been extinguished
by the accumulating gas. I listened attentively. The harsh, metallic
ticking of a cheap American clock was plainly, even intrusively,
audible; otherwise no sound came from that chamber of death.

"I drew the sliding panel right back, held aside the dangling garments,
and, climbing through into the cupboard, pushed open the doors. A faint
glimmer of light from the street made dimly visible the mattress on the
floor and two indistinct dark shapes stretched on it. I stepped quickly
across the room, breathing as little as possible of the unspeakably foul
air, and struck a wax match. It burned dimly and smokily, but showed me
the two murderers, lying in easy postures, their faces livid and ghastly
in hue but peaceful enough in expression. When I lowered the match, its
flame dwindled and turned blue, and at eighteen inches from the floor it
went out as if dipped in water. At that height the heavy gas must have
been nearly pure. The room was a veritable Grotto del Cane.

"I stooped quickly, holding my breath, and felt the wrists of the two
men. They were chilly to the touch and no vestige of pulse was
perceptible. I shook them both vigorously, but failed to elicit any
responsive movement. They were quite limp and inert and I had no doubt
that they were dead. My work was done. The policemen were now safe,
whatever follies they might commit; and it only remained for me to
remove the traces of the fairy godmother who had labored through the
night to save them from their own exuberant courage.

"Passing back through the opening, I drew away the now unnecessary pipe,
closed the two panels, and carried the little stove down to my bedroom.
I looked at the unruffled bed--mute but eloquent witness to the night's
activity--and deciding as a measure of prudence to give it the
appearance of having been slept in, took off my boots and crept in
between the sheets. But I was not in the least degree drowsy. Quite the
contrary. I was all agog to see the end of the comedy in which I had,
all unknown, taken the leading part; so that after tossing about for a
few minutes I sprang out of bed, resumed my boots and poured out a basin
full of water to refresh myself by a wash.

"And now once more observe the strangely indirect lines of causation.
The towels on the horse were damp and none too clean. I flung them into
the dirty-linen basket and dragged open the drawer in which the clean
ones were kept. It was the bottom drawer of a cheap pine chest that I
had bought in Whitechapel High Street. That chest of drawers was of
unusual size; it was four feet wide by nearly five feet high, and the
two bottom drawers were each fully eighteen inches deep, and were far
larger than was necessary for my modest stock of household linen.

"I pulled out the bottom drawer, then, and as its great cavity yawned
before me, it offered a not unnatural suggestion. The length of an
average man's head and trunk is under thirty-six inches. Allowing a few
inches more for his feet and ankles, a cavity forty-eight inches long is
amply sufficient for his accommodation. Flinging out the towels and
sheets that lay in the drawer, I got in and lay down with my knees drawn
up. Of course there was room and to spare.

"It was an interesting fact but not very applicable to present
circumstances. Still, it set me thinking. I went into the front room and
glanced out of the open window. A faint lightening of the murky sky
heralded the approach of dawn, and from afar came the murmur of
commencing traffic out in High Street. I was about to turn away when my
ear caught a new and unusual sound rising above that distant murmur; the
measured tread of feet mingling with the clatter of horses' hoofs and a
heavy, metallic rumbling. I looked out cautiously in the direction
whence the sounds came and was positively stupefied with amazement. At
the end of the street I saw, by the light of the lamps, a company of
soldiers appearing round the corner and taking up a position across the
road. I watched breathlessly. Soon, at a sign from the officer, the men
spread mats on the muddy ground and lay down on them, and then appeared
a train of horses, dragging a field-piece or quick-firing gun, which was
halted behind the infantry and unlimbered. A minute later the black
shapes of a number of soldiers appeared on the sky-line as they crept
along the parapets of the opposite houses where, save for their heads
and the barrels of their rifles, they presently disappeared.

"It seemed that I had misjudged the police in the matter of caution. It
almost seemed that my labors had been useless; for surely these
portentous preparations indicated some masterpiece of strategy. What an
anticlimax it would be when the defenders of the fort were found to be
dead! But what a still greater anticlimax if they were not there at all!

"At this moment a police sergeant strolled down the middle of the road
and, observing me, motioned to me with his hand to get inside out of
harm's way. I obeyed with grim amusement, thinking of that absurd
anticlimax; and somehow this idea began to connect itself with those two
bottom drawers. But the casks were the difficulty. The cooper from whom
I had obtained them sometimes kept me waiting nearly a week before
supplying them--for I was only a small customer; and that would never do
even at this time of year. Besides, the police would make a rigid
search; not that that would have mattered if I could have made proper
arrangements for the concealment and removal of the specimens. But
unfortunately I could not. The specimens would have to go; to be borne
out ingloriously in the face of the besieging force, limp and passive,
like a couple of those very helpless guys that are wont to be produced
by what Mrs. Kosminsky would call 'der chiltrens.' There would be a
certain grim appropriateness in the incident. For this was the fifth of

"The generation of new ideas is chiefly a matter of association. The
ideas 'guys,' 'Mrs. Kosminsky' and 'the fifth of November' unconsciously
formed themselves into a group from which in an instant there was
evolved a new and startling train of thought. At first it seemed wild
enough; but when the two bottom drawers joined in the synthetic process,
a complete and consistent scheme began to appear. A flush of pleasurable
excitement swept over me, and as I raced upstairs fresh details added
themselves and fresh difficulties were propounded and disposed of. I
slid open the panels, stepped through and, holding my breath, strode
across the poisoned room with only one quick glance at the two still
forms on the mattress. Removing the barricading chair, I unlocked and
unbolted the door and passed out, closing it after me.

"Mrs. Kosminsky's room was at the back; a dreadful nest of dirt and
squalor, piled almost to the ceiling with unclassifiable rubbish. The
air was so stifling that I was tempted to raise the heavily-curtained
window a couple of inches; and thereby got a useful idea when, by
peeping over the curtain, I saw the flat leads of a projecting lower
story. The merchandise piled on all sides, and even under the bed,
included very secondhand wearing apparel, sheets, blankets, crockery and
toys. Among them were the fireworks, the masks and other appliances for
commemorating the never-to-be-forgotten 'Gunpowder treason,' and a
couple of large balls of a dark-colored cord sometimes used by costers
for securing their loads. That gave me an idea, too, as did the
frowsily-smart female garments. I appropriated four of the largest masks
and a quantity of oakum for wigs; some colored-paper streamers and
hat-frills; two huge and disreputable dresses--Mrs. Kosminsky's own, I
suspected--the skirts of which I crammed with straw from a hamper; two
large-sized and ragged suits of clothes, a woman's straw hat, four pairs
of men's gloves and the biggest top-hat that I could find. These I put
apart in a heap with one of the balls of cord. From the other ball I
cut off some eight fathoms of cord, and, poking it out through the
opening of the window, let it drop on the leads beneath. Then I conveyed
my spoil in one or two journeys across the murderers' room, passed it
through the opening, and closed the panel after me.

"Prudence suggested that I should dispose of these things first, and
accordingly I stowed two masks, two pairs of gloves, one suit of clothes
and one dress in the large chest of drawers. The rest I carried down to
the back yard, where already was a quantity of lumber belonging to a
neighboring green grocer. Returning upstairs, I called in at the bedroom
to transfer the scanty contents of the two large drawers into the upper
ones and then proceeded once more to the second floor front. Time was
passing and the glimmer of the gray dawn was beginning to struggle in
faintly through the dirty windows.

"As I drew back the slide I became aware of a sound which, soft as it
was, rang the knell of my newly-formed hopes. I had closed the door of
the murderers' room and locked it, but had not shot the bolt. Now I
could distinctly hear someone fumbling gently at the keyhole, apparently
with a picklock. It was most infuriating. At the very last moment, when
success was within my grasp, I was to be foiled and all my neatly-laid
plans defeated. And to make it a thousand times worse, I had not even
taken the precaution to examine the dead miscreants' hair!

"With an angry and foolish exclamation, I reached through the opening
and drew the cupboard doors to, leaving only a small chink. Then I shut
myself in my own cupboard, to exclude the dim light, and closing the
panel to within an inch, waited on events with my hand on the knob,
ready to shut it at a moment's notice. The great strategic move was
about to begin and I was curious to see what it would be.

"The bolt of the lock shot back; the door creaked softly. There was a
pause, and then a voice whispered:

"'Why, they seem to be asleep! Keep them covered, Smith, and shoot if
they move.'

"Soft footsteps advanced across the room. Someone gave a choking cough
and then a brassy voice fairly shouted, 'Why, man, they're dead! My
Lord! What a let-off!'

"An unsteady laugh told of the effort it had cost the worthy officer to
take this frightful risk.

"'Yes,' said another voice, 'they're dead enough. They've cheated us
after all. Not that I complain of that. But, my eye, sir; what a sell!
Think of all those Tommies and that machine gun. Ha! ha! Oh! Lord! I
suppose the beggars poisoned themselves when they saw the game was up.'
He laughed again and the laugh ended in a fit of coughing.

"'Not they, Sergeant,' said the other. 'It was that coke stove that gave
them their ticket. Can't you smell it? And, by Jove, it will give us our
ticket if we don't clear out. We'll just run down and report and send
for a couple of stretchers.'

"'Hadn't I better wait here, sir, while you're gone?' asked the

"'Lord, no, man. What for? We shall want three stretchers if you do.
Come along. Pooh! Leave the door open.'

"I listened incredulously to their retreating footsteps. It seemed
hardly possible that they should be so devoid of caution. And yet, why
not? The men were dead. And dead men are not addicted to sudden

"But this case was going to be an exception. I had given the specimens
up for lost when I heard the police enter; but now--

"I opened the slide, sprang through the opening, and strode over to the
mattress. One after the other, I picked up the prostrate ruffians,
carried them across and bundled them through the aperture. Then I came
through myself, shut the cupboard doors, closed both panels carefully,
shut up my own cupboard and carried the specimens down to my bedroom.
With their knees drawn up, they packed quite easily in the large
drawers. I shut them in, locked the drawers, pocketed the key, washed my
hands and went down to the parlor, where I rapidly laid the breakfast
table. At any moment now, the police might come to inspect, and
whenever they came, they would find me ready.

"I did not waste time on breakfast. That could wait. Meanwhile I fell to
work with the materials in the yard. In addition to the hand-cart, there
was now a coster's barrow, the property of a greengrocer, to whom also
belonged a quantity of lumber, including some bundles of stakes and
several hampers filled with straw. With these materials, and those that
I had borrowed from Mrs. Kosminsky, I began rapidly to build up a pair
of life-sized guys--one male and one female. I put them together very
roughly and sat them side by side in the barrow, leaning against the
wall; and to each I attached a large ticket on which I had scrawled the
name of the person it represented; one being the highly unpopular
minister, Mr. Todd-Leeks, and the other the notorious Mrs. Gamway.

"They were very sketchily built and would have dropped to pieces at a
touch. But that was of no consequence. The time factor was the important
one; and I had worked at such speed that I had huddled them into a
pretty plausible completeness when the inevitable peal at the house bell
disturbed my labors. I darted into the parlor, crammed a piece of bread
into my mouth and rushed out to the shop door, chewing frantically. As I
opened the door, an agitated police inspector burst in, followed by a

"'Good morning, gentlemen,' I said suavely. 'Hair-cutting or shaving?'

"I shall not record the inspector's reply. I was really shocked. I had
no idea that responsible officials used such language. In effect, they
wished to look over the premises. Of course I gave instant permission,
and followed them in their tour of inspection on the pretext of showing
them over the house.

"The inspector was in a very bad temper and the sergeant was obviously
depressed. They conversed in low tones as they stumped up the stairs and
I heard the sergeant say something about 'an awful suck in.'

"'Oh, don't talk of it,' snapped the inspector. 'It's enough to make a
cat sick. But what beats me is how those devils could have stuck the
air of that room. It would have settled my hash in five minutes.'

"'Yes,' agreed the sergeant; 'and how they could have let themselves
down from that window without being spotted. I wouldn't have believed it
if I hadn't seen the cord. The constables must have been asleep.'

"'Yes,' grunted the inspector; 'thickheaded louts. Let's have a look out
here.' He strode into the second floor back and threw up the window.
'Now you see,' he continued, 'what I mean. This house has no connection
with the next one. That projecting wing cuts it off. This back yard
opens into Bell's Alley; the yard next door opens into Kosher Court.
That's the way they went. They couldn't have got to this house excepting
by the roof, and we've seen that they went down, not up.' He stuck his
head out of the window and looked down sourly at the guys.

"'Those things yours?' he asked gruffly, pointing at the effigies.

"'No,' I answered. 'I think one of Piper's men is getting them ready to
take round.'

"The inspector grunted and moved away. He walked into the front room,
looked in the cupboard, glanced round and went downstairs. On the first
floor, he made a perfunctory inspection of the rooms, glancing in at my
bedroom, and then went down to the ground floor. From thence the two
officers descended to the cellar, which they examined more thoroughly,
even prodding the sawdust in the bin, and so up to the back yard. Here,
at the sight of the guys, the sergeant's woeful countenance brightened

"'Ha!' he exclaimed; 'Mrs. Gamway! I saw a good deal of her when I was
in the Westminster division. I've often thought I'd like to--and, by
Jimini! I will!' He squared up fiercely at the helpless-looking effigy
of the lady, and, with a vicious, round-arm punch, sent its unstable
head flying across the yard.

"The blow and its effect seemed to rouse his destructive instincts, for
he returned to the attack with such ferocity that in a few seconds he
had reduced, not only the factitious Mrs. Gamway, but the Right
Honorable Todd-Leeks also, to a heap of ruin.

"'Stop that foolery, Smith,' snarled the inspector; 'you'll give the
poor devil the trouble of building them up all over again. Come along.'
He unlocked the gate and stood for a moment looking back at me.

"'I suppose you've heard nothing in the night?' he said.

"'Not a sound,' I answered, adding, 'I shan't open the shop until the
evening, and I shall probably go out for the day. Would you like to have
the key?'

"The inspector shook his head. 'No, I don't want the key. I've seen all
I want to see. Good morning,' and he stumped out, followed by his

"I drew a deep breath as I re-locked the gate. I was glad he had refused
the key, though I had thought it prudent to make the offer. Now I was at
liberty to complete my arrangements at leisure.

"My first proceeding, after locking up the shop, was to rig up, with the
green grocer's stakes and Mrs. Kosminsky's cord, a firm pair of
standards to support the guys. Then I took a hearty breakfast, after
which I repaired to my bedroom with a hamper of straw, a bundle of
small stakes and a quantity of odd rags. The process of converting the
specimens into quite convincing guys was not difficult. Tying up the
heads in large pieces of rag, I fastened the big masks to the fronts of
the globular bundles and covered in the remainder with masses of oakum
to form appropriate wigs. Each figure was then clothed in the bulky
garments borrowed from Mrs. Kosminsky's stock and well stuffed with
straw, portions of which I allowed to protrude at all the apertures. A
suitable stiffness was imparted to the limbs by pieces of stick poked up
inside the clothing, and smaller sticks gave the correct, starfish-like
spread to the gloved hands. When they were finished, the illusion was
perfect. As the two effigies sat on the floor with their backs against
the wall, stiff, staring, bloated and grotesquely horrible, not a soul
would have suspected them.

"I carried the male guy down to the yard, sat him on the barrow and put
on his hat; and taking with me the remains of the ruined guys, which I
decided to put away in the drawers, I returned for the second effigy. I
lashed the two figures very securely to the standards, fixed on their
hats firmly, and attached their name-cards. Then I went into the shop to
attend to my own appearance.

"I had brought back from my Bloomsbury house the shabby overcoat and
battered hat that I had worn on the last few expeditions. These I now
assumed; and having fixed on my cheek a large cross of
sticking-plaster--which pulled down my eyebrow and pulled up the corner
of my mouth--begrimed my face, reddened my nose, and carefully tinted in
a not too emphatic black eye, I was sufficiently transmogrified to
deceive even my intimate friends. Now I was ready to start; and now was
the critical moment.

"I went out into the yard, unlocked the gate, trundled the barrow out
into the alley, and locked the gate behind me. At the moment there was
not a soul in sight, but from the street close by came the unmistakable
murmur of a large crowd. I must confess that I felt a little nervous.
The next few minutes would decide my fate.

"I grasped the handles of the barrow and started forward resolutely. As
I rounded the curve of the alley, a densely-packed throng appeared
ahead. Faces turned towards me and broke into grins; the murmur rose
into a dull roar, and, as the people drew aside to make way for me, I
plunged into the heart of the throng and raised my voice in a husky

"'Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot.'

"Through the interstices of the crowd I could see the soldiers still
drawn up by the curb and even the machine gun was yet in position.
Suddenly the inspector and the sergeant appeared bustling through the
crowd. The former caught sight of me and, waving his hand angrily,

"'Take that thing away from here! Move him out of the crowd, Moloney;'
and a gigantic constable pounced on me with a broad grin, snatched the
barrow-handles out of my hands, and started off at a trot that made the
effigies rock in the most alarming manner.

"'Holler, bhoys!' shouted the grinning constable; and the 'bhoys'
complied with raucous enthusiasm.

"At the outskirts of the crowd Constable Moloney resigned in my favor,
and it was at this moment that I noticed a manifest plain-clothes
officer observing my exhibits with undue attention. But here fortune
favored me; for at the same instant I saw a man attempt to pick a pocket
under the officer's very nose. The pickpocket caught my eye and moved
off quickly. I pulled up, and, pointing at the thief, bawled out, 'Stop
that man! Stop him!' The pickpocket flung himself into the crowd and
made off. The startled loafers drew hastily away from him. Men shouted,
women screamed, and the plain-clothes officer started in pursuit; and in
the whirling confusion that followed, I trundled away briskly into
Middlesex Street and headed for Spitalfields.

"My progress through the squalid streets was quite triumphal. A large
juvenile crowd attended me, with appropriate vocal music, and adults
cheered from the pavements, though no one embarrassed me with gifts.
But, for all my outward gaiety, I was secretly anxious. It was barely
ten o'clock and many hours of the dreary November day had yet to run
before it would be safe for me to approach my destination. The prospect
of tramping the streets for some ten or twelve hours with this very
conspicuous appendage was far from agreeable, to say nothing of the
increasing risk of detection, and I looked forward to it with gloomy
forebodings. If a suspicion arose, I could be traced with the greatest
ease, and in any case I should be spent with fatigue before evening.
Reflecting on these difficulties, I had decided to seek some retired
spot where I could dismount the effigies, cover them with the tarpaulin
that was rolled up in the barrow and take a rest, when once more
circumstances befriended me.

"All through the night and morning the ordinary winter haze had hung
over the town; but now, by reason of a change of wind, the haze began
rapidly to thicken into a definite fog. I set down the barrow and
watched with thankfulness the mass of opaque yellow vapor filling the
street and blotting out the sky. As it thickened and the darkness
closed in, the children strayed away and only one solitary loafer

"''Ard luck for you, mate, this 'ere fog,' he remarked, 'arter you've
took all that trouble, too.' (He little knew how much.) 'But it's no go.
You'd better git 'ome whilst you can find yer way. This is goin' to be a
black 'un.'

"I thanked him for his sympathy and moved on into the darkening vapor.
Close to Spital Square I found a quiet corner where I quickly dismounted
the guys, covered them with the tarpaulin and, urged by a new anxiety
from the rapidly-growing density of the fog, groped my way into Norton
Folgate. Here I moved forward as quickly as I dared, turned up Great
Eastern Street and at length, to my great relief, came out into Old

"It was none too soon. As I entered the well-known thoroughfare, the fog
closed down into impenetrable obscurity. The world of visible objects
was extinguished and replaced by a chaos of confused sounds. Even the
end of my barrow faded away into spectral uncertainty, and the curb
against which I kept my left wheel grinding looked thin and remote.

"Opportune as the fog was, it was not without its dangers; of which the
most immediate was that I might lose my way. I set down the barrow, and,
detaching the little compass that I always carry on my watch-guard, laid
it on the tarpaulin. My course, as I knew, lay about west-southwest, and
with the compass before me, I could not go far wrong. Indeed, its
guidance was invaluable; without it I could never have found my way
through those miles of intricate streets. When a stationary wagon or
other obstruction sent me out into the road, it enabled me to pick up
the curb again unerringly. It mapped out the corners of intersecting
streets, it piloted me over the wide crossings of the City Road and
Aldersgate Street, and kept me happily confident of my direction as I
groped my way like a fogbound ship on an invisible sea.

"I went as quickly as was safe, but very warily, for a collision might
have been fatal. Listening intently, with my eye on the compass and my
wheel at the curb, I pushed on through the yellow void until a shadowy
post at a street corner revealed itself by its parish initials as that
at the intersection of Red Lion Street and Theobald's Row.

"I was nearly home. Another ten minutes' careful navigation brought me
to a corner which I believed to be the one opposite my own house. I
turned back a dozen paces, put down the barrow and crossed the
pavement--with the compass in my hand, lest I should not be able to find
the barrow again. I came against the jamb of a street door, I groped
across to the door itself, I found the keyhole of the familiar Yale
pattern, I inserted my key and turned it; and the door of the museum
entrance opened. I had brought my ship into port.

"I listened intently. Someone was creeping down the street, hugging the
railings. I closed the door to let him pass, and heard the groping hands
sweep over the door as he crawled by. Then I went out, steered across to
the barrow, picked up one of the specimens and carried it into the hall,
where I laid it on the floor, returning immediately for the other. When
both the specimens were safely deposited, I came out, softly closing
the door after me with the key, and once more took up the
barrow-handles. Slowly I trundled the invaluable little vehicle up the
street, never losing touch of the curb, flinging the stakes and cordage
into the road as I went, until I had brought it to the corner of a
street about a quarter of a mile from my house; and there I abandoned
it, making my way back as fast as I could to the museum.

"My first proceeding on my return was to carry my treasures to the
laboratory, light the gas and examine their hair. I had really some
hopes that one of them might be the man I sought. But, alas! It was the
old story. They both had coarse black hair of the mongoloid type. My
enemy was still to seek.

"Having cleaned away my 'make-up,' I spent the rest of the day pushing
forward the preliminary processes so that these might be completed
before 'decay's effacing fingers' should obliterate the details of the
integumentary structures. In the evening I returned to Whitechapel and
opened the shop, proposing to purchase the dummy skeletons on the
following day and to devote the succeeding nights and early mornings to
the preparation of the specimens.

"The barrow turned up next day in the possession of an undeniable tramp
who was trying to sell it for ten shillings and who was accused of
having stolen it but was discharged for want of evidence. I compensated
the green grocer for the trouble occasioned by my carelessness in
leaving the back gate open; and thus the incident came to an end. With
one important exception, for there was a very startling sequel.

"On the day after the expedition, I had the curiosity to open the panels
and go through into the room that the murderers had occupied, which had
now been locked up by the police. Looking round the room, my eye lighted
on a shabby cloth cap lying on the still undisturbed mattress just below
the pillow. I picked it up and looked it over curiously, for by its size
I could see that it did not belong to either of the men whom I had
secured. I took it over to the curtained window and carefully inspected
its lining; and suddenly I perceived, clinging to the coarse cloth, a
single short hair, which, even to the naked eye, had a distinctly
unusual appearance. With a trembling hand, I drew out my lens to examine
it more closely; and, as it came into the magnified field, my heart
seemed to stand still. For, even at that low magnification, its
character was unmistakable--it looked like a tiny string of pale gray
beads. Grasping it in my fingers, I dashed through the opening, slammed
the panels to, and rushed down to the parlor where I kept a small
microscope. My agitation was so intense that I could hardly focus the
instrument, but at last the object on the slide came into view: a broad,
variegated stripe, with its dark medulla and the little rings of air
bubbles at regular intervals. It was a typical ringed hair! And what was
the inference?

"The hair was almost certainly Piragoff's. Piragoff was a burglar, a
ruthless murderer, and he had ringed hair. The man whom I sought was a
burglar, a ruthless murderer, and had ringed hair. Then Piragoff was my
man. It was bad logic, but the probabilities were overwhelming. And I
had had the villain in the hollow of my hand and he had gone forth

"I ground my teeth with impotent rage. It was maddening. All the old
passion and yearning for retribution surged up in my breast once more.
My interest in the new specimens almost died out. I wanted Piragoff; and
it was only the new-born hope that I should yet lay my hand on him that
carried me through that time of bitter disappointment."



Intense was the curiosity with which I turned to the last entry in
Humphrey Challoner's "Museum Archives." Not that I had any doubt as to
the issue of the adventure that it recorded. I had seen the specimen
numbered "twenty-five" in the shallow box, and its identity had long
since been evident. But this fact mitigated my curiosity not at all. The
"Archives" had furnished a continuous narrative--surely one of the
strangest ever committed to writing--and now I was to read the climax of
that romantically terrible story; to witness the final achievement of
that object that my poor friend had pursued with such unswerving

I extract the entry entire with the exception of one or two passages
near the end, the reasons for the omission of which will be obvious to
the reader.

"Circumstances attending the acquirement of the specimen numbered
'twenty-five' in the Anthropological Series (A. Osteology. B. Reduced
dry preparations).

"The months that followed the events connected with the acquirement of
the specimens 23 and 24 brought me nothing but aching suspense and hope
deferred. The pursuit of the common criminal I had abandoned since I had
got scent of my real quarry. The concussor lay idle in its basket; the
cellar steps were greased no more. I had but a passive role to play
until the hour should strike to usher in the final scene--if that should
ever be. Though the term of my long exile in East London was drawing
nigh, its approach was unseen by me. I could but wait; and what is
harder than waiting?

"I had made cautious inquiries among the alien population. But no one
knew Piragoff--or, at least, admitted any knowledge of him; and as to
the police, when they had made a few arrests and then released the
prisoners, they appeared to let the matter drop. The newspapers were, of
course, more active. One of them described circumstantially how 'the
three anarchists who escaped from the house in Saul Street' had been
seen together in an East End restaurant; and several others followed
from day to day the supposed whereabouts of a mysterious person known as
'Paul the Plumber,' whom the police declared to be a picturesque myth.
But for me there was one salient fact: of those three ruffians one was
still at large, and no one seemed to have any knowledge of him.

"It was some four months later that I again caught up the scent. A
certain Friday evening early in February found me listlessly tidying up
the shop; for the Jewish Sabbath had begun and customers were few. But
about eight o'clock a man strode in jauntily, hung up his hat and seated
himself in the operating chair; and at that moment a second man entered
and sat down to wait. I glanced at this latter, and in an instant my
gorge rose at him. I cannot tell why. To the scientific mind, intuitions
are abhorrent. They are mostly wrong and wholly unreasonable. But as I
looked at that man a wave of instinctive dislike and suspicion swept
over me. He was, indeed, an ill-looking fellow enough. A broad,
lozenge-shaped Tartar face, with great cheekbones and massive jaws; a
low forehead surmounted by a dense brush of up-standing grayish-brown
hair; beetling brows and eyes deep-set, fierce and furtive; combined to
make a sufficiently unprepossessing countenance. Nor was his manner more
pleasing. He scowled forbiddingly at me, he scrutinized the other
customer, craning sideways to survey him in the mirror, he looked about
the shop and he stared inquisitively at the parlor door. Every movement
was expressive of watchful, uneasy suspicion.

"I tried to avoid looking at him lest my face should betray me, and, to
divert my thoughts, concentrated my attention on the other customer. The
latter unconsciously gave me every assistance in doing so. Though by no
means a young man, he was the vainest and most dandified client I had
ever had under my hands. He stopped me repeatedly to give exhaustive
directions as to the effect that he desired me to produce. He examined
himself in the glass and consulted me anxiously as to the exact
disposition of an artificially curled forelock. I cursed him inwardly,
for I wanted him to be gone and leave me alone with the other man, but
for that very reason and that I might conceal my impatience, I did his
bidding and treated him with elaborate care. But now and again my glance
would stray to the other man; and as I caught his fierce, suspicious
eye--like the eye of a hunted animal--I would look away quickly lest he
should read what was in my mind.

"At length I had finished my dandy client. I had brushed his hair to a
nicety and had even curled his forelock with heated tongs. With a sigh
of relief I took off the cloth and waited for him to rise. But he rose
not. Stroking his cheek critically he decided that he wanted shaving,
and, cursing him in my heart, I had to comply.

"I had acquired some reputation as a barber and, I think, deserved it. I
could put a perfect edge on a razor and I wielded the instrument with a
sensitive hand and habitual care. My client appreciated my skill and
complimented me patronizingly in very fair English, though with a slight
Russian accent, delaying me intolerably to express his approval. When I
had shaved him he asked for pink powder to be applied to his chin; and
when I had powdered him he directed me to shape his mustache with Pate
Hongrois, a process which he superintended with anxious care.

"At last the fellow was actually finished. He got up from the chair and
surveyed himself in the large wall-mirror. He turned his head from side
to side and tried to see the back of it. He smiled into the mirror,
raised his eyebrows, frowned and, in fact, tried a variety of
expressions and effects, including a slight and graceful bow. Then he
approached the glass to examine a spot on his cheek; leaned against it
with outspread hands to inspect his teeth, and finally put out his
tongue to examine that too. I almost expected that he would ask me to
brush it. However, he did not. Adjusting his necktie delicately, he
handed me my fee with a patronizing smile and remarked, 'You are a good
barber: you have taste and you take trouble. I give you a penny for
yourself and I shall come to you again.'

"As the door closed behind him I turned to the other customer. He rose,
walked over to the operating chair and sat down sullenly, keeping an eye
on me all the time; and something in his face expressive of suspicion,
uneasiness and even fear seemed to hint at something unusual in my own

"It was likely enough. Hard as I had struggled to smother the tumult of
emotions that seethed within me, some disturbance must have reached the
surface, some light in the eye, some tension of the mouth to tell of the
fierce excitement, the raging anxiety, that possessed me. I was afraid
to look at him for fear of frightening him away.

"Was he the man? Was this the murderer, Piragoff, the slayer of my wife?
The question rang in my ears as, with a far from steady hand, I slowly
lathered his face. Instinct told me that he was. But, even in my
excitement, reason rejected a mere unanalyzable belief. For what is an
intuition? Brutally stated, it is simply a conclusion reached without
premises. I had always disbelieved in instinct and intuition and I
disbelieved still. But what had made me connect this man with Piragoff?
He was clearly a Russian. He looked like a villain. He had the manner of
a Nihilist or violent criminal of some kind. But all this was nothing.
It formed no rational basis for the conviction that possessed me.

"There was his hair; a coarse, wiry mop of a queer grayish-brown. It
might well, from its color, be ringed hair; and if it was I should have
little doubt of the man's identity. But was it? I was getting on in
years and could not see near objects clearly without my spectacles; and
I had laid down my spectacles somewhere in the parlor.

"As I lathered his face, I leaned over him to look at his hair more
closely, but he shrank away in fierce alarm, and after all my eyesight
was not good enough. Once I tried to get out my lens; but he challenged
me furiously as to my object, and I put it away again. I dared not
provoke him to violence, for if he had struck me I should have killed
him on the spot. And he might be the wrong man.

"The operation of shaving him was beset with temptations from moment to
moment. Forgotten anatomical details revived in my memory. I found
myself tracing through the coarse skin those underlying structures that
were so near to hand. Now I was at the angle of the jaw, and as the
ringing blade swept over the skin I traced the edge of the strap-like
muscle and mentally marked the spot where it crossed the great carotid
artery. I could even detect the pulsation of the vessel. How near it was
to the surface! A little dip of the razor's beak at that spot--

"But still I had no clear evidence that he was the right man. A mere
impression--a feeling of physical repulsion unsupported by any tangible
fact--was not enough to act on. One moment a savage impatience for
retribution urged me to take the chance; to fell him with a blow and
fling him down into the cellar. The next, my reason stepped in and bade
me hold my hand and wait for proof. And all the time he watched me like
a cat, and kept his hands thrust into the hip pockets of his coat.

"Again and again these mental oscillations occurred. Now I was simply
and savagely homicidal, and now I was rational--almost judicial. Now the
vital necessity was to prevent his escape; and yet, again, I shrank from
the dreadful risk of killing an innocent man.

"What the issue might have been I cannot say. But suddenly the door
opened, a burly carter entered and sat down, and the opportunity was
gone. The Russian waited for no lengthy inspection in the glass like his
predecessor. As soon as he was finished he sprang from the chair,
slapped down his coppers in payment and darted out of the shop, only too
glad to take himself off in safety. There must have been something very
sinister in my appearance.

"The carter seated himself in the chair and I fell to work on him
mechanically. But my thoughts were with the man who was gone. What a
fiasco it had been! After waiting all these years, I had met a man whom
I suspected to be the very wretch I sought; I had actually been alone
with him--and I had let him go!

"The futility of it! Before my eyes the grinning tenants of the great
wall-case rose in reproach; the little, impassive faces in those shallow
boxes seemed to look at me and ask why they had been killed. I had let
the man go; and he would certainly never come to my shop again. True, I
should know him again; but what better chance should I ever have of
identifying him? And then again came the unanswerable question: Was he
really the man, after all?

"So my thoughts fluttered to and fro. Constant, only, was a feeling of
profound dejection; a sense of unutterable, irretrievable failure. The
carter--a regular customer--rose and looked askance at me as he rubbed
his face with the towel. He remarked that I 'seemed to be feeling a bit
dull tonight,' paid his fee, and, with a civil 'good evening,' took his

"When he had gone I stood by the chair wrapped in a gloomy reverie. Had
I failed finally? Was my long quest at an end with my object unachieved?
It almost seemed so.

"I raised my eyes and they fell on my reflection in the large mirror;
and suddenly it was borne in on me that I was an old man. The passing
years of labor and mental unrest had left deep traces. My hair, which
was black when I first came to the east, was now snow-white and the face
beneath it was worn and wrinkled and aged. The sands of my life were
running out apace. Soon the last grains would trickle out of the glass;
and then would come the end--the futile end, with the task still
unaccomplished. And for this I had dragged out these twenty weary years,
ever longing for repose and the eternal reunion! How much better to have
spent those years in the peace of the tomb by the dear companion of my
sunny hours!

"I stepped up to the glass to look more closely at my face, to mark the
crow's-feet and intersecting wrinkles in the shrunken skin. Yes, it was
an old, old face; a weary face, too, that spoke of sorrow and anxious
thought and strenuous, unsatisfying effort. And presently it would be a
dead face, calm and peaceful enough then; and the wretch who had
wrought all the havoc would still stalk abroad with his heavy debt

"Something on the surface of the mirror interposed between my eye and
the reflection, slightly blurring the image. I focussed on it with some
difficulty and then saw that it was a group of finger-marks; the prints
made by the greasy fingers of my dandy customer when he had leaned on
the glass to inspect his teeth. As they grew distinct to my vision, I
was aware of a curious sense of familiarity; at first merely
subconscious and not strongly attracting my attention. But this state
lasted only for a few brief moments. Then the vague feeling burst into
full recognition. I snatched out my lens and brought it to bear on those
astounding impressions. My heart thumped furiously. A feeling of awe, of
triumph, of fierce joy and fiercer rage surged through me, and mingled
with profound self-contempt.

"There could be no mistake. I had looked at those finger-prints too
often. Every ridge-mark, every loop and whorl of the varying patterns
was engraved on my memory. For twenty years I had carried the slightly
enlarged photographs in my pocket-book, and hardly a day had passed
without my taking them out to con them afresh. I had them in my pocket
now to justify rather than aid my memory.

"I held the open book before the glass and compared the photographs with
the clearly-printed impressions. There were seven finger-prints on the
mirror; four on the right hand and three on the left, and all were
identical with the corresponding prints in the photographs. No doubt was
possible. But if it had been--

"I darted across to the chair. The floor was still littered with the
cuttings from that villain's head. In my idiotic preoccupation with the
other man I had let that wretch depart without a glance at his hair. I
grabbed up a tuft from the floor and gazed at it. Even to the unaided
eye it had an unusual quality when looked at closely; a soft, shimmering
appearance like that of some delicate textile. But I gave it only a
single glance. Then rushing through to the parlor, I spread a few hairs
on a glass slip and placed it on the stage of the microscope.

"A single glance clenched the matter. As I put my eye to the
instrument, there, straying across the circular field, were the broad
gray stripes, each with its dark line of medulla obscured at intervals
by rings of tiny bubbles. The demonstration was conclusive. This was the
very man. Humanly speaking, no error or fallacy was possible.

"I stood up and laughed grimly. So much for instinct! For what fools
call intuition and wise men recognize for mere slipshod reasoning! I
could understand my precious intuition now; could analyze it into its
trumpery constituents. It was the old story. Unconsciously I had built
up the image of a particular kind of man, and when such a man appeared I
had recognized him at a glance. The villainous Tartar face: I had looked
for it. The fierce, furtive, hunted manner; the restless suspicion; the
mop of grayish-brown hair. I had expected them all, and there they were.
My man would have those peculiarities, and here was a man who had them.
He, therefore, was the man I sought.

"'O! good old "undistributed middle term!" How many intuitions have
been born of you?'

"My triumph was short-lived. A moment's reflection sobered me. True, I
had found my murderer; but I had lost him again. That bird of ill omen
was still a bird in the bush; in the tangled bush of criminal London. He
had said that he would come to me again, and I hoped that he would. But
who could say? Other eyes than mine were probably looking for him.

"I suppose I am by nature an optimist; otherwise I should not have
continued the pursuit all these years. Hence, having mastered the
passing disappointment, I settled myself patiently to wait in the hope
of my victim's ultimate reappearance. Not entirely passively, however,
for, after the shop was shut, I went abroad nightly to frequent the
foreign restaurants and other less reputable places of the East End in
the hopes of meeting him and jogging his memory. The active employment
kept my mind occupied and made the time of waiting seem less long; but
it had no further result. I never met the man; and, as the weeks passed
without bringing him to my net, I had the uncomfortable feeling that
his hair must have grown and been trimmed by someone else; unless,
indeed, he had fallen into the clutches of the law.

"Meanwhile I quietly made my preparations--which involved one or two
visits to a ship chandler's--and laid down a scheme of action. It would
be a delicate business. The villain was some fifteen years younger than
I; a sturdy ruffian and desperate, as I had seen. My own strength and
activity had been failing for some time now. Obviously I could not meet
him on equal terms. Moreover, I must not allow him to injure me. That
was a point of honor. This was to be no trial by wager of battle. It was
to be an execution. Any retaliation by him would destroy the formal,
punitive character which was the essence of the transaction.

"The weeks sped by. They lengthened into months. And still my visitor
made no appearance. My anxiety grew. There were times when I looked at
my white hair and doubted; when I almost despaired. But those times
passed and my spirits revived. On the whole, I was hopeful and waited
patiently; and in the end my hopes were justified and my patience

"It was a fair evening early in June--Wednesday evening, I
recollect--when at last he came. Fortunately the shop was empty, and
again, oddly enough, it was some Jewish holiday.

"I welcomed him effusively. No fierce glare came from my eyes now. I was
delighted to see him and he was flattered at the profound impression his
former visit had made on me. I began very deliberately, for I could
hardly hold the scissors and was afraid that he would notice the tremor;
which, in fact, he did.

"'Why does your hand shake so much, Mr. Vosper?' he asked in his
excellent English. 'You have not been curling your little finger, hein?'

"I reassured him on this point, but used a little extra care until the
tremor should subside; which it did as soon as I got over my first
excitement. Meanwhile I let him talk--he was a boastful, egotistical
oaf, as might have been expected--and I flattered and admired him until
he fairly purred with self-satisfaction. It was very necessary to get
him into a good humor.

"My terror from moment to moment was that some other customer should
come in, though a holiday evening was usually a blank in a business
sense until the Christian shops shut. Still, it was a serious danger
which impelled me to open my attack with as little delay as possible. I
had several alternative plans and I commenced with the one that I
thought most promising. Taking advantage of a little pause in the
conversation, I said in a confidential tone:

"'I wonder if you can give me a little advice. I want to find somebody
who will buy some valuable property without asking too many questions
and who won't talk about the deal afterwards. A safe person, you know.
Can you recommend me such a person?'

"He turned in the chair to look at me. All his self-complacent smiles
were gone in an instant. The face that looked into mine was the face of
as sinister a villain as I have ever clapped eyes on.

"'The person you mean,' he said fiercely, 'is a fence--a receiver. Why
do you ask me if I know a fence? Who are you? Are you a spy for the
police? Hein? What should I know about receivers? Answer me that!'

"He glared at me with such furious suspicion that I instinctively opened
my scissors and looked at the neighborhood of his carotid. But I took
his question quite pleasantly.

"'That's what they all say,' I remarked with a foolish smile.

"'Who do?' he demanded.

"'Everybody that I ask. They all say, "What should I know about fences?"
It's very inconvenient for me.'

"'Why is it inconvenient to you?' he asked less savagely and with
evidently awakening curiosity.

"I gave an embarrassed cough. 'Well, you see,' I said, 'it's this way.
Supposing I have some property--valuable property, but of a kind that is
of no use to me. Naturally I want to sell it. But I don't want it talked
about. I am a poor man. If I am known to be selling things of value,
people may make uncharitable remarks and busy-bodies may ask
inconvenient questions. You see my position?' Piragoff looked at me
fixedly, eagerly. A new light was in his eye now.

"'What have you got?' he demanded.

"I coughed again. 'Aha!' I said with a smile. 'It is you who are asking
questions now.'

"'But you ask me to advise you. How can I if I don't know what you have
got to sell? Perhaps I might buy the stuff myself. Hein?'

"'I think not,' said I, 'unless you can write a check for four figures.
But perhaps you can?'

"'Yes, perhaps I can, or perhaps I can get the money. Tell me what the
stuff is.'

"I clipped away at the top of my speed--and I could cut hair very
quickly if I tried. No fear of his slipping away now. I had him fast.

"'It's a complicated affair,' I said hesitatingly, 'and I don't want to
say much about it if you're not in the line. I thought you might be able
to put me on to a safe man in the regular trade.'

"Piragoff moved impatiently, then glanced at the parlor door.

"'Anyone in that room?' he asked.

"'No,' I answered, 'I live here all alone.'

"'No servant! No one to look after you?' he asked the question with
ill-concealed eagerness.

"'No. I look after myself. It's cheaper; and I want so little.'

"The last statement I made in accordance with a curious fact that I have
observed, which is that the really infallible method of impressing a
stranger with your wealth is to dilate on your poverty. The statement
had its usual effect. Piragoff fidgeted slightly, glanced at the shop
door and said

"'Finish my hair quickly and let us go in there and talk about this.'

"I chuckled inwardly at his eagerness. Even his personal appearance had
become a secondary consideration. I bustled through the rest of the
operation, whisked off the cloth and opened the parlor door. He rose,
glanced at his reflection in the glass, looked quickly at the shop door
and followed me into the little room, shutting and bolting the door
after him.

"I watched him closely. I am no believer in the rubbish called
telepathy, but, by observing a person's face and actions, it is not
difficult to trace the direction of his thoughts. Piragoff gazed round
the room with the frank curiosity of the barbarian, and the look of
pleased surprise that he bestowed on the safe and the way in which his
glance traveled from that object to my person were easy enough to
interpret. Here was an iron safe, presumably containing valuables, and
here was an elderly man with the key of that safe in his pocket. The
corollary was obvious.

"'Is that another room?' he asked, pointing to the cellar door.

"I threw it open and let him look into the dark cavity. 'That,' I said,
'is the cellar. It has a door opening into the back yard, which has a
gate that opens into Bell's Alley. It might be useful. Don't you think

"He did think so; very emphatically, to judge by his expression. Very
useful indeed when you have knocked down an old man and rifled his
safe, to have a quiet exit at the back.

"'Now tell me about this stuff,' said he. 'Have you got it here?'

"'The fact is,' I said confidentially, 'I haven't got it at all--yet'
(his face fell perceptibly at this), 'but,' I added, 'I can get it when
I like; when I have arranged about disposing of it.'

"'But you've got a safe to keep it in,' he protested.

"'Yes, but I don't want to have it here. Besides, that safe won't hold
it all, if I take over the whole lot.'

"Piragoff's eyes fairly bulged with greed and excitement.

"'What sort of stuff is it? Silver?'

"'There _is_ some silver,' I said, superciliously; 'a good deal, in
fact. But that's hardly worth while. You see this stuff is a collection.
It belongs, at present, to one of those fools who collect jewelry and
church plate; monstrances, jeweled chalices and things of that kind.'

"Piragoff licked his lips. 'Aha!' said he, 'I am that sort of fool
myself.' He laughed uneasily, being evidently sorry he had spoken, and

"'And you can get all this when you want it, hein? But where is it now?'

"I smiled slyly. 'It is in a sort of private museum; but where that
museum is I am not going to say, or perhaps I may find it empty when I

"Piragoff looked at me earnestly. He had evidently written me down an
abject fool--and no wonder--and was considering how to manage me.

"'But this place--this museum--it must be a strong place. How are you
going to get in? Will you ring the bell?'

"'I shall let myself in with a latch-key,' I said jauntily.

"'Have you got the latch-key?'

"'Yes, and I have tried it. I had it from a friend who lives there.'

"Piragoff laughed outright. 'And she gave you the latch-key, hein?
Ha-ha! but you are a wicked old man. And it is strange too.' He glanced
from me to his reflection in the little mirror over the safe; and his
expression said as plainly as words, 'Now, if she had given it to _me_,
one could understand it.'

"'But,' he continued, 'when you are inside? The stuff will be locked up.
You are skilful, perhaps? You can open a safe, for instance? You have

"'No, I've never actually tried, but it's easy enough. I've often opened
packing cases. And I don't think there is an iron safe. They are wooden
cabinets. It will be quite easy.'

"'Bah! Packing cases!' exclaimed Piragoff. He grasped my coat sleeve
excitedly. 'I tell you, my friend, it is not easy. It is very difficult.
I tell you this. I, who know. I am not in the line myself, but I have a
friend who does these things and he has shown me. I have some
skill--though I practice only for sport, you understand. It is very
difficult. You shall let yourself in, you shall find the stuff locked
up, you shall try to open the cabinet and you shall only make a great
noise. Then you shall come away empty, like a fool, and the police shall
set a watch on the house. The chance is gone and you have nothing.'

"I scratched my head like the fool that he thought me. 'That would be
rather awkward,' I admitted.

"'Awkward!' he exclaimed. 'It would be wicked! The chance of a lifetime
gone! Now, if you take with you a friend who has skill--hein?'

"'Ah!' I said craftily, 'but this is _my_ little nest egg. If I take a
friend I shall have to share.'

"'But there is enough for two. If your safe will not hold it, there is
more than you can carry. Besides, your friend shall not be greedy. If he
takes a third--or say a quarter? How much is the stuff worth?'

"'The collection is said to be worth a hundred thousand pounds.'

"'A hundred thousand!' gasped Piragoff. He was almost foaming at the
mouth. 'A hundred thousand! That would be twenty five for me--for your
friend--and seventy-five for you. It is impossible for one man. You
could not carry it. My friend,' again he grasped my sleeve persuasively,
'I will come with you. I am very skilful. I am strong. I am brave. You
shall be safe with me. I will be your comrade and you shall give a
quarter--or even less if you like.'

"He could afford to make easy terms--under the circumstances.

"I reflected awhile and at length said, 'Perhaps you are right. Some of
the things are large and gold is heavy--we should leave the silver. It
would take two to carry it all. Yes, you shall come with me and bring
the necessary tools. When shall we do it? Any night will do for me.'

"He reflected, with an air of slight embarrassment, and then asked:

"'Do you open your shop on Sunday?'

"The question took a load off my mind. I had been speculating on what
plan of action he would adopt. Now I knew. And his plan would suit me to
a nicety.

"'No,' I said, 'I never open on Sunday.'

"'Then,' said he, 'we will do the job on Saturday night or Sunday
morning. That will give us a quiet day to break up the stuff.'

"'Yes. That will be a good arrangement. Will you come here on Saturday
night and start with me?'

"'No, no!' he replied. 'That would never do. We must not be seen
together. Give me a rendezvous. We will meet near the place.'

"Quite so! It would never do for us to be seen together in Whitechapel
where we were both known. The fact might be mentioned at the inquest. It
would be most inconvenient for Piragoff.

"'And, look you,' he continued; 'wear a top-hat and good clothes; if you
have an evening suit, put it on. And bring a new Gladstone bag with some
clothes in it. Where will you meet me?'

"I mentioned Upper Bedford Place and suggested half-past twelve, to
which he agreed; and, after sending me out to see that the coast was
clear, he took his leave, twisting his waxed mustache as he went out.

"I was, on the whole, very well pleased with the arrangement.
Particularly pleased was I with Piragoff's transparent plan for
disposing of me. For, now that it really came to action, I found myself
shying somewhat at the office of executioner; though I meant to do my
duty all the same. But the fact that this man was already arranging
coolly to murder me made my task less unpalatable. The British sporting
instinct is incurable.

"Piragoff's scheme was perfectly simple. We should go together to the
house, we should bring away the spoil--I carrying half--convey it to my
premises in Saul Street early on Sunday morning. Then we should break up
the 'stuff,' and when our labors were concluded, and I was of no further
use, he would knock me on the head. The quiet back gate would enable him
to carry away the booty in instalments to his lodgings. Then he would
lock the gate and vanish. In a few days the police would break into my
house and find my body; and Mr. Piragoff, in his hotel at, say
Amsterdam, would read an account of the inquest. It was delightfully
simple and effective, but it failed to take into account the player on
the opposite side of the board.

"The interval between Wednesday and Saturday was a time of anxious
thought and considerable excitement. I went out every night, and had
the pleasure of discovering that I was honored by the attendance--at a
little distance--of Mr. Piragoff. One evening only I eluded him, and
watched him drive off furiously in a hansom in pursuit of another hansom
which was supposed to contain me. On that night I visited the museum.
Not that I had anything special to do. My very complete and even
elaborate arrangements had been made some time before and I now had only
to look them over and see that they were in going order; to test, for
instance, the brass handle that was connected with the electric main,
and see that the well-oiled blocks of a couple of purchase tackles ran
smoothly and silently. Everything was in working trim, even to the
concussor, stowed out of sight, but within easy reach, in its narrow

"Saturday night arrived in due course. I shut up the shop at nine, put
on evening clothes, took the newly-purchased Gladstone and hailed a
hansom. I drove, in the first place, to the Criterion Restaurant and
dined delicately but substantially, carefully avoiding indigestible
dishes. From the restaurant I drove to the museum, where I loitered,
making a final inspection of my arrangements, until twenty-five minutes
past twelve. Then I came forth and walked quietly to Upper Bedford

"As I turned the corner and looked down the wide thoroughfare the long
stretch of pavement contained but a single figure; a dim, dark blot on
the gray of the summer night. It moved towards me, and, resolving itself
into a definite shape, showed me Piragoff in evening dress, enveloped in
a voluminous overcoat and carrying a small hand-bag.

"'You are punctual, Vosper,' he said graciously. 'Shall we make our
visit now? Is the house quiet yet? These are not, you see.' He nodded at
the boarding-houses that we were passing, several of which still showed
lights in the windows.

"'Our house has settled down,' I answered. 'The collector is an early
bird. I have just been past it to see that all the lights were out.'

"We walked quickly across the square towards the neighborhood of my
house. Piragoff was very affable. He conversed cheerfully as we went
and gave a pleasant 'Good night' to a policeman, who touched his helmet
civilly in response. When I halted at the door of the museum, he looked
about him with a slight frown.

"'I seem to know this place,' he murmured. 'Yes, I have been here
before; many years ago. Yes, yes; I remember.'

"He laughed softly as if recalling an amusing incident. I set my teeth,
inserted the key and pushed the door open.

"'Enter,' I said. He stepped into the hall. I followed and softly closed
the door, slipping up the catch as the lock clicked. It was a small
precaution, but enough to hinder a hasty retreat.

"I piloted him through to the museum and switched on a single electric
lamp which filled the great room with a ghostly twilight. Piragoff
looked about him inquisitively and his eye fell on the long wall-case
with the dimly-seen, pallid shapes of the company within it. His face
blanched suddenly and he stared with wide-open eyes.

"'God!' he exclaimed, 'what are those things?'

"'Those skeletons?' said I. 'They are part of the collection. The
fellow who owns this place hoards all sorts of trash. Come round and
have a look at them.'

"'But skeletons!' he whispered. 'Skeletons of men! Ah, I do not like

"Nevertheless he followed me round the room, peering in nervously at the
case of skulls as we passed. I walked him slowly past the whole length
of the wall-case and he stared in at the twenty-four motionless, white
figures, shuddering audibly. I must admit that their appearance was very
striking in that feeble light; their poses were so easy and natural and
their faces, modeled by broad shadows, so singularly expressive. I was
very pleased with the effect.

"'But they are horrible!' gasped Piragoff. 'They seem to be alive. They
seem to beckon to one--to say, "Come in here: come in and stay with us."
Ah! they are dreadful! Let us go away from them.'

"He stole on tiptoe to the other side of the room and stood positively
shaking; shaking at the sight of a mere collection of dry bones. It was
amazing. I have often been puzzled by the odd, superstitious fear with
which ignorant people view these interesting and beautiful structures.
But surely this was an extreme case. Here was a callous wretch who would
murder without a scruple a young and lovely woman and laugh at the
recollection of the atrocity. And he was actually terrified at the sight
of a few irregularly-shaped fragments of phosphate of lime and gelatine.
I repeat, it was amazing.

"Piragoff recovered only to develop the ferocity of a frightened

"'Where is the stuff, fool?' he demanded. 'Show it to me quickly or I
will cut your throat. Quick! Let us get it and go.'

"I watched him warily. These neurotic Slav criminals, when they get into
a state of panic, are like frightened cats; very dangerous to be near.
And the more frightened, the more dangerous. I must keep an eye on

"'I can open one of the cabinets,' I said.

"'Then open it, pig! Open it quickly! I want to get away from this

"He grinned at me like an angry monkey, and I led him to the secret
cupboard. As I very deliberately turned the hidden catches and prepared
to take out the panel, I considered whether it was not time to set the
apparatus going. For I had prepared a little surprise for Piragoff and I
was now rather doubtful how he would take it. Besides, I was not
enjoying the proceedings as much as I had expected to. Piragoff's lack
of nerve was disconcerting.

"However, I took out the panel and stood by to watch the result.
Piragoff peered into the cupboard and uttered a growl of disappointment.

"'There is nothing there but books and those boxes. Lift the boxes down,
pig, and let us see what is in them.'

"I lifted the boxes from the shelf.

"'They are very light,' I said. 'And here are two pistols on top of

"These pistols were the surprise that I had prepared in a spirit of
mischief. I had taken them from the pockets of the last two specimens
and kept them for the sake of the devices that those two imbeciles had
scratched on the butts.

"'Pistols!' exclaimed Piragoff. 'Let me look at them.' He snatched the
weapons from the top of the box and took them over to the lamp.
Immediately I heard a gasp of astonishment.

"'God! But this is a strange thing! Here is Louis Plotcovitch's pistol!
And this other belonged to Boris Slobodinsky! They have been here too!'

"He stared at me open-mouthed, holding the pistols--which I had
carefully unloaded--one in each trembling hand. What little nerve he had
had was going fast.

"I laid the boxes on a small table and switched on the lamp that hung
close over it. High up above the table was one of the cross-beams of the
roof. From the beam there hung down two purchase-tackles. The tail-rope
of each tackle ended in a noose that was hitched on a hook on the wall,
and the falls of the two tackles were hitched lightly over two other
hooks. But none of these appliances was visible. The shaded lamp threw
its bright light on the table only.

"Piragoff came across the room and laid down the pistols.

"'Open those boxes,' he said gruffly, 'and let us see what is in them.'

"I took off the lid of one; and Piragoff started back with a gasp, but
came back, snuffing at the box like a frightened animal.

"'What the devil are these things?' he demanded in a hoarse whisper.

"'They look like dolls' heads,' I answered.

"'They look like dead men's heads,' he whispered, shudderingly, 'only
they are too small. They are dreadful. This collector man is a devil. I
should like to kill him.' He glared with horrid fascination at the
little dry preparations--there were eight in this box, each in its own
little black velvet compartment with its number and date on the label. I
opened the second box--also containing eight--and he stared into that
with the same shuddering fascination.

"'What do you suppose these dates mean?' he whispered.

"'I suppose,' I replied, 'those are the dates on which he acquired them.
Here is another box.' This, the last one, was intended to hold nine
heads, but it contained only eight--at present. There was an empty
compartment of red velvet in the middle, on either side of which were
the heads of the last two specimens, twenty-three and twenty-four.

"I took off the lid and stood back to see what would happen.

"Piragoff stared into the box without speaking for two or three seconds.
Suddenly he uttered a shriek. 'It is Boris! Boris and Louis

"His figure stiffened. He stood rigid with his hands on his thighs,
leaning over the box, his hair bristling, his white face running with
sweat, his jaw dropped; the very personification of horror. And of a
sudden he began to tremble violently.

"I looked at him with disgust and an instantaneous revulsion of feeling.
What! Should I call in the aid of all those elaborate appliances to
dispatch a poor trembling devil like this? I would have none of them.
The concussor was good enough for him. Nay, it was too good.

"I reached out behind me and lifted one of the nooses from its hook. Its
own weight had nearly closed the loop, for the steel eyelet spliced
into the end ran very easily and smoothly on the well-greased rope. I
opened the loop wide, and leaning towards Piragoff from behind, quietly
dropped it over his shoulders, pulling it tight as it fell to the level
of his elbows. He sprang up, but at that instant I kicked away one of
his feet and pushed him to the unsupported side, when he fell sprawling
face downwards. I gave another tug at the rope, and, as he struggled to
get to his feet, I snatched the fall of the tackle from its hook and ran
away with it, hauling as I went. Looking back, I saw Piragoff slowly
rise to the pull of the tackle until he was upright with his feet just
touching the floor. Then I belayed the fall securely to one of a pair of
cleats, and approached him.

"Hitherto, sheer amazement had kept him silent, but as I drew near him
he gave a yell of terror. This would not do. Taking the gag from the
place where I had hidden it in readiness, I came behind him and slipped
it over his mouth where I secured it, cautiously evading his attempts to
clutch at me. It was a poor gag--having no tongue-piece--but it
answered its purpose, for it reduced his shouts to mere muffled
bellowings, inaudible outside.

"Now that the poor wretch was pinioned and gagged and helpless, my
feelings urged me to get the business over quickly. But certain
formalities had to be observed. It was an execution. I stepped in front
of the prisoner and addressed him.

"'Listen to me, Piragoff.' At the sound of his name he stopped bellowing
and stared at me, and I continued, 'Twenty years ago a burglar came to
this house. He was in the dining-room at two o'clock in the morning
preparing to steal the plate. A lady came into the room and disturbed
him. He tried to prevent her from ringing the bell. But she rang it; and
he shot her dead. I need not tell you, Piragoff, who that burglar was.
But I will tell you who I am. I am the husband of that lady. I have been
looking for you for twenty years, and now I have caught you; and you
have got to pay the penalty of that murder.'

"As I ceased speaking he broke out into fresh bellowings. He wagged his
head from side to side and the tears coursed down his ghastly face. It
was horrible. Trembling, myself, from head to foot, I took the second
noose from its hook, passed it over his head and quickly adjusted it.
Then I snatched the second fall and walked away with it, gathering in
the slack. As the rope tightened in my hand the bellowings suddenly
ceased. I never looked back. I continued to haul until I felt the
tackle-blocks come together. I belayed the rope to the second cleat and
set a half-hitch on the turns. Then I walked out of the museum and shut
the door.

"It had been very different from what I had anticipated. As I sat by the
laboratory table with my head buried in my hands, I shook as if I had an
ague; my skin was bathed in a cold sweat and I felt that it would have
been a relief to weep. I was astonished at myself. Twenty-four of these
vermin had I exterminated with a light heart, because the blow was dealt
in the heat of conflict; and now, because this wretch had been helpless
and unresisting, I was nearly broken with the effort of dispatching him.

"I sat in the dark laboratory slowly recovering and thinking of the
long years that had slipped away since the hand of this miscreant had
robbed me of my darling. Gradually I grew more calm. But fully an hour
passed before I could summon resolution to go back into the museum and
satisfy myself that the long-outstanding debt had indeed been paid at
last to the uttermost farthing.

"On Monday morning I withdrew from my bank a hundred pounds in notes,
which I handed to my landlord's widow--Mr. Nathan had died some years
previously--with a note surrendering the shop and house in Saul Street.
I emptied the safe and brought away such things as I cared to keep,
leaving the rest for Mrs. Nathan. Then I shaved off my ragged beard and
white mustache, set my Bloomsbury house in order, pensioned off the
sergeant-major (who was now growing an old man) and engaged a set of
respectable servants. When the last specimen was finished and put in its
place in the museum, my work was done. I had now only to wait quietly
for the end. And for that I am now waiting, I hope not impatiently.

"Something tells me that I have not long to wait. Certain new and
strange sensations, which I have discussed with my friend Dr. Wharton,
seem to herald a change. Wharton makes light of them, but I think and
hope he is mistaken. And in that hope I rest content; believing that
soon I shall hear the curfew chime steal out of the evening mist to tell
me that the day is over and that my little spark may be put out."


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