Infomotions, Inc.The Uttermost Farthing A Savant's Vendetta / Freeman, R. Austin (Richard Austin), 1862-1943



Author: Freeman, R. Austin (Richard Austin), 1862-1943
Title: The Uttermost Farthing A Savant's Vendetta
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): challoner; museum; police
Contributor(s): Wallcousins, E. [Illustrator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 55,810 words (really short) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 60 (average)
Identifier: etext12028
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Title: The Uttermost Farthing
       A Savant's Vendetta

Author: R. Austin Freeman

Release Date: April 14, 2004 [EBook #12028]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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THE UTTERMOST FARTHING

A SAVANT'S VENDETTA

BY R. AUSTIN FREEMAN




CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. The Motive Force

II. "Number One"

III. The Housemaid's Followers

IV. The Gifts of Chance

V. By-products of Industry

VI. The Trail of the Serpent

VII. The Uttermost Farthing




THE UTTERMOST FARTHING




I

THE MOTIVE FORCE


It is not without some misgivings that I at length make public the
strange history communicated to me by my lamented friend Humphrey
Challoner. The outlook of the narrator is so evidently abnormal, his
ethical standards are so remote from those ordinarily current, that the
chronicle of his life and actions may not only fail to secure the
sympathy of the reader but may even excite a certain amount of moral
repulsion. But by those who knew him, his generosity to the poor, and
especially to those who struggled against undeserved misfortune, will be
an ample set-off to his severity and even ferocity towards the enemies
of society.

Humphrey Challoner was a great savant spoiled by untimely wealth. When I
knew him he had lapsed into a mere dilettante; at least, so I thought
at the time, though subsequent revelations showed him in a rather
different light. He had some reputation as a criminal anthropologist and
had formerly been well known as a comparative anatomist, but when I made
his acquaintance he seemed to be occupied chiefly in making endless
additions to the specimens in his private museum. This collection I
could never quite understand. It consisted chiefly of human and other
mammalian skeletons, all of which presented certain small deviations
from the normal; but its object I could never make out--until after his
death; and then, indeed, the revelation was a truly astounding one.

I first made Challoner's acquaintance in my professional capacity. He
consulted me about some trifling ailment and we took rather a liking to
each other. He was a learned man and his learning overlapped my own
specialty, so that we had a good deal in common. And his personality
interested me deeply. He gave me the impression of a man naturally
buoyant, genial, witty, whose life had been blighted by some great
sorrow. Ordinarily sad and grave in manner, he exhibited flashes of a
grim, fantastic humor that came as a delightful surprise and showed what
he had been, and might still have been, but for that tragedy at which he
sometimes hinted. Gentle, sympathetic, generous, his universal
kindliness had yet one curious exception: his attitude towards habitual
offenders against the law was one of almost ferocious vindictiveness.

At the time that I went away for my autumn holiday his health was not
quite satisfactory. He made no complaint, indeed he expressed himself as
feeling perfectly well; but a certain, indefinable change in his
appearance had made me a little uneasy. I said nothing to him on the
subject, merely asking him to keep me informed as to his condition
during my absence, but it was not without anxiety that I took leave of
him.

The habits of London society enable a consultant to take a fairly
liberal holiday. I was absent about six weeks, and when I returned and
called on Challoner, his appearance shocked me. There was no doubt now
as to the gravity of his condition. His head appeared almost to have
doubled in size. His face was bloated, his features were thickened, his
eyelids puffy and his eyes protruding. He stood, breathing hard from the
exertion of crossing the room and held out an obviously swollen hand.

"Well, Wharton," said he, with a strange, shapeless smile, "how do you
find me? Don't you think I'm getting a fine fellow? Growing like a
pumpkin, by Jove! I've changed the size of my collars three times in a
month and the new ones are too tight already." He laughed--as he had
spoken--in a thick, muffled voice and I made shift to produce some sort
of smile in response to his hideous facial contortion.

"You don't seem to like the novelty, my child," he continued gaily and
with another horrible grin. "Don't like this softening of the classic
outlines, hey? Well, I'll admit it isn't pretty, but, bless us! what
does that matter at my time of life?"

I looked at him in consternation as he stood, breathing quickly, with
that uncanny smile on his enormous face. It was highly unprofessional
of me, no doubt, but there was little use in attempting to conceal my
opinion of his case. Something inside his chest was pressing on the
great veins of the neck and arms. That something was either an aneurysm
or a solid tumor. A brief examination, to which he submitted with
cheerful unconcern, showed that it was a solid growth, and I told him
so. He knew some pathology and was, of course, an excellent anatomist,
so there was no avoiding a detailed explanation.

"Now, for my part," said he, buttoning up his waistcoat, "I'd sooner
have had an aneurysm. There's a finality about an aneurysm. It gives you
fair notice so that you may settle your affairs, and then, pop! bang!
and the affair's over. How long will this thing take?"

I began to hum and haw nervously, but he interrupted: "It doesn't matter
to me, you know, I'm only asking from curiosity; and I don't expect you
to give a date. But is it a matter of days or weeks? I can see it isn't
one of months."

"I should think, Challoner," I said huskily, "it may be four or five
weeks--at the outside."

"Ha!" he said brightly, "that will suit me nicely. I've finished my job
and rounded up my affairs generally, so that I am ready whenever it
happens. But light your pipe and come and have a look at the museum."

Now, as I knew (or believed I knew) by heart every specimen in the
collection, this suggestion struck me as exceedingly odd; but reflecting
that his brain might well have suffered some disturbance from the
general engorgement, I followed him without remark. Slowly we passed
down the corridor that led to the "museum wing," walked through the
ill-smelling laboratories (for Challoner prepared the bones of the lower
animals himself, though, for obvious reasons, he acquired the human
skeletons from dealers) and entered the long room where the main
collection was kept.

Here we halted, and while Challoner recovered his breath, I looked round
on the familiar scene. The inevitable whale's skeleton--a small sperm
whale--hung from the ceiling, on massive iron supports. The side of the
room nearest the door was occupied by a long glass case filled with
skeletons of animals, all diseased, deformed or abnormal. On the
floor-space under the whale stood the skeletons of a camel and an
aurochs. The camel was affected with rickets and the aurochs had
multiple exostoses or bony tumors. At one end of the room was a large
case of skulls, all deformed or asymmetrical; at the other stood a long
table and a chest of shallow drawers; while the remaining long side of
the room was filled from end to end by a glass case about eight feet
high containing a number of human skeletons, each neatly articulated and
standing on its own pedestal.

Now, this long case had always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Its
contents differed from the other specimens in two respects. First,
whereas all the other skeletons and the skulls bore full descriptive
labels, these human skeletons were distinguished merely by a number and
a date on the pedestal; and, second, whereas all the other specimens
illustrated some disease or deformity, these were, apparently, quite
normal or showed only some trifling abnormality. They were beautifully
prepared and bleached to ivory whiteness, but otherwise they were of no
interest, and I could never understand Challoner's object in
accumulating such a number of duplicate specimens.

"You think you know this collection inside out," said Challoner, as if
reading my thoughts.

"I know it pretty well, I think," was my reply.

"You don't know it at all," he rejoined.

"Oh, come!" I said. "I could write a catalogue of it from memory."

Challoner laughed. "My dear fellow," said he, "you have never seen the
real gems of the collection. I am going to show them to you now."

He passed his arm through mine and we walked slowly up the long room;
and as we went, he glanced in at the skeletons in the great case with a
faint and very horrible smile on his bloated face. At the extreme end I
stopped him and pointed to the last skeleton in the case.

"I want you to explain to me, Challoner, why you have distinguished
this one by a different pedestal from the others."

As I spoke, I ran my eye along the row of gaunt shapes that filled the
great case. Each skeleton stood on a pedestal of ebonized wood on which
was a number and a date painted in white, excepting the end one, the
pedestal of which was coated with scarlet enamel and the number and date
on it in gold lettering.

"That specimen," said Challoner, thoughtfully, "is the last of the
flock. It made the collection complete. So I marked it with a
distinctive pedestal. You will understand all about it when you take
over. Now come and look at my gems."

He walked behind the chest of drawers and stood facing the wall which
was covered with mahogany paneling. Each panel was about four feet wide
by five high, was bordered by a row of carved rosettes and was separated
from the adjoining panels by pilasters.

"Now, watch me, Wharton," said he. "You see these two rosettes near the
bottom of the panel. You press your thumbs on them, so; and you give a
half turn. That turns a catch. Then you do this." He grasped the
pilaster on each side of the panel, gave a gentle pull, and panel and
pilasters came away bodily, exposing a moderate-sized cupboard. I
hastily relieved him of the panel, and, when he had recovered his
breath, he began to expound the contents of this curious hiding-place.

"That row of books you will take possession of and examine when my lease
falls in. You are my executor and this collection will be yours to keep
or give away or destroy, as you think fit. The books consist of a
finger-print album, a portrait album, a catalogue and a history of the
collection. You will find them all quite interesting. Now I will show
you the gems if you will lift those boxes down on to the table."

I did as he asked; lifting down the pile of shallow boxes and placing
them, at his direction, side by side on the table. When they were
arranged to his satisfaction, he took off the lids with somewhat of a
flourish, and I uttered an exclamation of amazement.

The boxes were filled with dolls' heads; at least, such I took them to
be. But such dolls! I had never seen anything like them before. So
horribly realistic and yet so unnatural! I can only describe the
impression they produced by that much-misused word "weird." They were
uncanny in the extreme, suggesting to the beholder the severed heads of
a company of fantastic, grotesque-looking dwarfs. Let me try to describe
them in detail.

Each head was about the size of a small monkey's, that is, about four
inches long. It appeared to be made of some fine leather or vellum,
remarkably like human skin in texture. The hair in all of them was
disproportionately long and very thick, so that it looked somewhat like
a paint-brush. But it was undoubtedly human hair. The eyebrows too were
unnaturally thick and long and so were the mustache and beard, when
present; being composed, as I could plainly see, of genuine mustache and
beard hairs of full length and very closely set. Some were made to
represent clean-shaven men, and some even showed two or three days'
growth of stubble; which stubble was disproportionately long and most
unnaturally dense. The eyes of all were closed and the eyelashes formed
a thick, projecting brush. But despite the abnormal treatment of the
hairy parts, these little heads had the most astonishingly realistic
appearance and were, as I have said, excessively weird and rather
dreadful in aspect. And, in spite of the closed eyes and set features,
each had an expression and character of its own; each, in fact, seemed
to be a faithful and spirited portrait of a definite individual. They
were upwards of twenty in number, all male and all represented persons
of the European type. Each reposed in a little velvet-lined compartment
and each was distinguished by a label bearing a number and a date.

I looked up at Challoner and found him regarding me with an inscrutable
and hideous smile.

"These are very extraordinary productions, Challoner," said I. "What are
they? And what are they made of?"

"Made of, my dear fellow?" said he. "Why, the same as you and I are made
of, to be sure."

"Do you mean to say," I exclaimed, "that these little heads are made of
human skin?"

"Undoubtedly. Human skin and human hair. What else did you think?"

I looked at him with a puzzled frown and finally said that I did not
understand what he meant.


"Have you never heard of the Mundurucu Indians?" he asked.

I shook my head. "What about them?" I asked.

"You will find an account of them in Bates' "Naturalist on the Amazon,"
and there is a reference to them in Gould and Pyle's "Anomalies.""

There was a pause, during which I gazed, not without awe, at the open
boxes. Finally I looked at Challoner and asked, "Well?"

"Well, these are examples of the Mundurucu work."

I looked again at the boxes and I must confess that, as my eye traveled
along the rows of impassive faces and noted the perfect though
diminutive features, the tiny ears, the bristling hair, the frowning
eyebrows--so discordant with the placid expression and peacefully
closed eyes--a chill of horror crept over me. The whole thing was so
unreal, so unnatural, so suggestive of some diabolical wizardry. I
looked up sharply at my host.

"Where did you get these things, Challoner?" I asked.

His bloated face exhibited again that strange, inscrutable smile.

"You will find a full account of them in the archives of the museum.
Every specimen is fully described there and the history of its
acquirement and origin given in detail. They are interesting little
objects, aren't they?"

"Very," I replied abstractedly; for I was speculating at the moment on
the disagreement between the appearance of the heads and their implied
origin. Finally I pointed out the discrepancy.

"But these heads were never prepared by those Indians you speak of."

"Why not?"

"Because they are all Europeans; in fact, most of them look like
Englishmen."

"Well? And what about it?" Challoner seemed quietly amused at my
perplexity, but at this moment my eye noted a further detail which--I
cannot exactly say why--seemed to send a fresh shiver down my spine.

"Look here, Challoner," I said. "Why is this head distinguished from the
others? They are all in compartments lined with black velvet and have
black labels with white numbers and dates; this one has a compartment
lined with red velvet and a red label with a gold number and date, just
as in the case of that end skeleton." I glanced across at the case and
then it came to me in a flash that the numbers and the dates were
identical on both.

Challoner saw that I had observed this and replied: "It is perfectly
simple, my dear fellow. That skeleton and this head were acquired on the
same day, and with their acquirement my collection was complete. They
were the final specimens and I have added nothing since I got them. But
in the case of the head there was a further reason for a distinctive
setting: it is the gem of the whole collection. Just look at the hair.
Take my lens and examine it."

He handed me his lens and I picked the head out of its scarlet nest--it
was as light as a cork--and brought it close to my eye. And then, even
without the lens, I could see what Challoner meant. The hair presented
an excessively rare abnormality; it was what is known as "ringed hair;"
that is to say, each hair was marked by alternate light and dark rings.

"You say this is really human hair?" I asked.

"Undoubtedly. And a very fine example of ringed hair; the only one, I
may say, that I have ever seen."

"I have never seen a specimen before," said I, laying the little head
down in its compartment, "nor," I added, "have I ever seen or heard of
anything like these uncanny objects. Won't you tell me where you got
them?"

"Not now," said Challoner. "You will learn all about them from the
'Archives,' and very interesting you will find them. And now we'll put
them away." He placed the lids on the boxes, and, when I had stowed
them away in the cupboard, he made me replace the panel and take a
special note of the position of the fastenings for future use.

"Can you stay and have some dinner with me?" he asked, adding, "I am
quite presentable at table, still, though I don't swallow very
comfortably."

"Yes," I answered, "I will stay with pleasure; I am not officially back
at work yet. Hanley is still in charge of my practice."

Accordingly we dined together, though, as far as he was concerned, the
dinner was rather an empty ceremony. But he was quite cheerful; in fact,
he seemed in quite high spirits, and in the intervals of struggling with
his food contrived to talk a little in his quaint, rather grotesquely
humorous fashion.

While the meal was in progress, however, our conversation was merely
desultory and not very profuse; but when the cloth was removed and the
wine set on the table he showed a disposition for more connected talk.

"I suppose I can have a cigar, Wharton? Won't shorten my life
seriously, h'm?"

If it would have killed him on the spot, I should have raised no
objection. I replied by pushing the box towards him, and, when he had
selected a cigar and cut off its end with a meditative air, he looked up
at me and said:

"I am inclined to be reminiscent tonight, Wharton; to treat you to a
little autobiography, h'm?"

"By all means. You will satisfy your own inclinations and my curiosity
at the same time."

"You're a deuced polite fellow, Wharton. But I'm not going to bore you.
You'll be really interested in what I'm going to tell you; and
especially will you be interested when you come to go through the museum
by the light of the little history that you are going to hear. For you
must know that my life for the last twenty years has been bound up with
my collection. The one is, as it were, a commentary on and an
illustration of the other. Did you know that I had ever been married?"

"No," I answered in some surprise; for Challoner had always seemed to
me the very type of the solitary, self-contained bachelor.

"I have never mentioned it," said he. "The subject would have been a
painful one. It is not now. The malice of sorrow and misfortune loses
its power as I near the end of my pilgrimage. Soon I shall step across
the border and be out of its jurisdiction forever."

He paused, lit his cigar, took a few labored draughts of the fragrant
smoke, and resumed: "I did not marry until I was turned forty. I had no
desire to. I was a solitary man, full of my scientific interests and not
at all susceptible to the influence of women. But at last I met my late
wife and found her different from all other women whom I had seen. She
was a beautiful girl, some twenty years younger than I, highly
intelligent, cultivated and possessed of considerable property. Of
course I was no match for her. I was nothing to look at, was double her
age, was only moderately well off and had no special standing either
socially or in the world of science. But she married me and, as I may
say, she married me handsomely; by which I mean that she always treated
our marriage as a great stroke of good fortune for her, as if the
advantages were all on her side instead of on mine. As a result, we were
absolutely devoted to each other. Our life was all that married life
could be and that it so seldom is. We were inseparable. In our work, in
our play, in every interest and occupation, we were in perfect harmony.
We grudged the briefest moment of separation and avoided all society
because we were so perfectly happy with each other. She was a wife in a
million; and it was only after I had married her that I realized what a
delightful thing it was to be alive. My former existence, looked back on
from that time, seemed but a blank expanse through which I had stagnated
as a chrysalis lingers on, half alive, through the dreary months of
winter.

"We lived thus in unbroken concord, with mutual love that grew from day
to day, until two years of perfect happiness had passed.

"And then the end came."

Here Challoner paused, and a look of unutterable sadness settled on his
poor, misshapen face. I watched him with an uncomfortable premonition of
something disagreeable in the sequel of his narrative as, with his
trembling, puffy hand, he re-lighted the cigar that had gone out in the
interval.

"The end came," he repeated presently. "The perfect happiness of two
human beings was shattered in a moment. Let me describe the
circumstances.

"I am usually a light sleeper, like most men of an active mind, but on
this occasion I must have slept more heavily than usual. I awoke,
however, with somewhat of a start and the feeling that something had
happened. I immediately missed my wife and sat up in bed to listen.
Faint creakings and sounds of movement were audible from below and I was
about to get up and investigate when a door slammed, a bell rang loudly
and then the report of a pistol or gun echoed through the house.

"I sprang out of bed and rushed down the stairs. As I reached the hall,
someone ran past me in the darkness. There was a blinding flash close
to my face and a deafening explosion; and when I recovered my sight, the
form of a man appeared for an instant dimly silhouetted in the opening
of the street door. The door closed with a bang, leaving the house
wrapped in silence and gloom.

"My first impulse was to pursue the man, but it immediately gave way to
alarm for my wife. I groped my way into the dining-room and was creeping
towards the place where the matches were kept when my bare foot touched
something soft and bulky. I stooped to examine it and my outspread hand
came in contact with a face.

"I sprang up with a gasp of terror and searched frantically for the
matches. In a few moments I had found them and tremblingly struck a
light; and the first glimmer of the flame turned my deadly fear into yet
more deadly realization. My wife lay on the hearth-rug, her upturned
face as white as marble, her half-open eyes already glazing. A great,
brown scorch marked the breast of her night-dress and at its center was
a small stain of blood.

"She was stone dead. I saw that at a glance. The bullet must have passed
right through her heart and she must have died in an instant. That, too,
I saw. And though I called her by her name and whispered words of
tenderness into her ears; though I felt her pulseless wrists and chafed
her hands--so waxen now and chill--I knew that she was gone.

"I was still kneeling beside her, crazed, demented by grief and horror;
still stroking her poor white hand, telling her that she was my dear
one, my little Kate, and begging her, foolishly, to come back to me, to
be my little friend and playmate as of old; still, I say, babbling in
the insanity of grief, when I heard a soft step descending the stairs.
It came nearer. The door opened and someone stole into the room on
tip-toe. It was the housemaid, Harratt. She stood stock still when she
saw us and stared and uttered strange whimpering cries like a frightened
dog. And then, suddenly, she turned and stole away silently as she had
come, and I heard her running softly upstairs. Presently she came down
again, but this time she passed the dining-room and went out of the
street door. I vaguely supposed she had gone for assistance, but the
matter did not concern me. My wife was dead. Nothing mattered now.

"Harratt did not return, however, and I soon forgot her. The death of my
dear one grew more real. I began to appreciate it as an actual fact. And
with this realization, the question of my own death arose. I took it for
granted from the first. The burden of solitary existence was not to be
entertained for a moment. The only question was how, and I debated this
in leisurely fashion, sitting on the floor with Kate's hand in mine. I
had a pistol upstairs and, of course, there were keen-edged scalpels in
the laboratory. But, strange as it may appear, the bias of an anatomical
training even then opposed the idea of gross mechanical injuries.
However, there were plenty of poisons available, and to this method I
inclined as more decent and dignified.

"Having settled on the method, I was disposed to put it into practice
at once; but then another consideration arose. My wife would have to be
buried. By some hands she must be laid in her last resting-place, and
those hands could be none other than my own. So I must stay behind for a
little while.

"The hours passed on unreckoned until pencils of cold blue daylight
began to stream in through the chinks of the shutters and contend with
the warm gaslight within. Then another footstep was heard on the stairs
and the cook, Wilson, came into the room. She, like the housemaid,
stopped dead when she saw my wife's corpse, and stood for an instant
staring wildly with her mouth wide open. But only for an instant. The
next she was flying out of the front door, rousing the street with her
screams.

"The advent of the cook roused me. I knew that the police would arrive
soon and I instinctively looked about me to see how this unspeakable
thing had happened. I had already noticed that one of my wife's
hands--the one that I had not been holding--was clenched, and I now
observed that it grasped a little tuft of hair. I drew out a portion of
the tuft and looked at it. It was coarse hair, about three inches long
and a dull gray in color. I laid it on the clean note-paper in the
drawer of the bureau bookcase to examine later, and then glanced around
the room. The origin of the tragedy was obvious. The household plate had
been taken out of the plate chest in the pantry and laid out on the end
of the dining table. There the things stood, their polished surfaces
sullied by the greasy finger-marks of the wretch who had murdered my
wife. At those tell-tale marks I looked with new and growing interest.
Finger-prints, in those days, had not yet been recognized by the public
or the police as effective means of identification. But they were well
known to scientific men and I had given the subject some attention
myself. And the sight of those signs-manual of iniquity had an immediate
effect on me; they converted the unknown perpetrator of this horror from
a mere abstraction of disaster into a real, living person. With a sudden
flush of hate and loathing, I realized that this wretch was even now
walking the streets or lurking in his accursed den; and I realized, too,
that these marks were, perhaps, the only links that connected him with
the foul deed that he had done.

"I looked over the plate quickly and selected a salver and a large,
globular teapot, on both of which the prints were very distinct. These I
placed in a drawer of the bureau, and, turning the key, dropped it into
the pocket of my pajamas. And at that moment the bell rang violently.

"I went to the door and admitted a police constable and the cook. The
latter looked at me with evident fear and horror and the constable said,
somewhat sternly:

"'This young woman tells me there's something wrong here, sir.'

"I led him into the dining-room--the cook remained at the door, peering
in with an ashen face--and showed him my wife's corpse. He took off his
helmet and asked rather gruffly how it happened. I gave him a brief
account of the catastrophe, on which he made no comment except to remark
that the inspector would be here presently.

"The inspector actually arrived within a couple of minutes, accompanied
by a sergeant, and the two officers questioned me closely. I repeated my
statement and saw at once that they did not believe me; that they
suspected me of having committed the murder myself. I noted the fact
with dull surprise but without annoyance. It didn't seem to matter to me
what they thought.

"They called the cook in and questioned her, but, of course, she knew
nothing. Then they sent her to find the housemaid. But the housemaid had
disappeared and her outdoor clothes and a large hand-bag had disappeared
too; which put a new complexion on the matter. Then the officers
examined the plate and looked at the finger-marks on it. The constable
discovered the tuft of hair in my poor wife's hand, and the inspector
having noted its color and looked rather hard at my hair, put it for
safety in a blue envelope, which he pocketed; and I suspect it never saw
the light again.

"About this time the police surgeon arrived, but there was nothing for
him to do but note the state of the body as bearing on the time at
which death took place. The police took possession of some of the plate
with a dim idea of comparing the finger-prints with the fingers of the
murderer if they should catch him.

"But they never did catch him. Not a vestige of a clue to his identity
was ever forthcoming. The housemaid was searched for but never found.
The coroner's jury returned a verdict of 'wilful murder' against some
person unknown. And that was the end of the matter. I accompanied my
dearest to the place where she was laid to rest, where soon I shall join
her. And I came back alone to the empty house.

"It is unnecessary for me to say that I did not kill myself. In the
interval I had seen things in a new light. It was evident to me from the
first that the police would never capture that villain. And yet he had
to be captured. He had incurred a debt, and that debt had to be paid.
Therefore I remained behind to collect it.

"That was twenty years ago, Wharton; twenty long, gray, solitary years.
Many a time have I longed to go to her, but the debt remained unpaid. I
have tried to make the time pass by getting my little collection
together and studying the very instructive specimens in it; and it has
lightened the burden. But all the time I have been working to collect
that debt and earn my release."

He paused awhile, and I ventured to ask: "And is the debt paid?"

"At last it is paid."

"The man was caught, then, in the end?"

"Yes. He was caught."

"And I hope," I exclaimed fervently, "that the scoundrel met with his
deserts; I mean, that he was duly executed."

"Yes," Challoner answered quietly, "he was executed."

"How did the police discover him, after all?" I asked.

"You will find," said Challoner, "a full account of the affair in the
last volume of the 'Museum Archives';" then, noting the astonishment on
my face at this amazing statement, he added: "You see, Wharton, the
'Museum Archives' are, in a sense, a personal diary; my life has been
wrapped up in the museum and I have associated all the actions of my
life with the collection. I think you will understand when you read it.
And now let us dismiss these recollections of a ruined life. I have told
you my story; I wanted you to hear it from my own lips, and you have
heard it. Now let us take a glass of wine and talk of something else."

I looked at my watch and, finding it much later than I had supposed,
rose to take my leave.

"I oughtn't to have kept you up like this," I said. "You ought to have
been in bed an hour ago."

Challoner laughed his queer muffled laugh. "Bed!" exclaimed he. "I don't
go to bed nowadays. Haven't been able to lie down for the last
fortnight."

Of course he hadn't. I might have known that. "Well," I said, "at any
rate, let me make you comfortable for the night before I go. How do you
generally manage?"

"I rig up a head-rest on the edge of the table, pull up the armchair,
wrap myself in a rug and sleep leaning forward. I'll show you. Just get
down Owen's 'Comparative Anatomy' and stack the volumes close to the
edge of the table. Then set up Parker's 'Monograph on the
Shoulder-girdle' in a slanting position against them. Fine book, that of
Parker's. I enjoyed it immensely when it first came out and it makes a
splendid head-rest. I'll go and get into my pajamas while you are
arranging the things."

He went off to his adjacent bedroom and I piled up the ponderous volumes
on the table and drew up the armchair. When he returned, I wrapped him
in a couple of thick rugs and settled him in his chair. He laid his arms
on the massive monograph, rested his forehead on them and murmured
cheerfully that he should now be quite comfortable until the morning. I
wished him "good-night" and walked slowly to the door, and as I held it
open I stopped to look back at him. He raised his head and gave me a
farewell smile; a queer, ugly smile, but full of courage and a noble
patience. And so I left him.

Thereafter I called to see him every day and settled him to rest every
night. His disease made more rapid progress even than I had expected;
but he was always bright and cheerful, never made any complaint and
never again referred to his troubled past.

One afternoon I called a little later than usual, and when the housemaid
opened the door I asked her how he was.

"He isn't any better, sir," she answered. "He's getting most awful fat,
sir; about the head I mean."

"Where is he now?" I asked.

"He's in the dining-room, sir; I think he's gone to sleep."

I entered the room quietly and found him resting by the table. He was
wrapped up in his rugs and his head rested on his beloved monograph. I
walked up to him and spoke his name softly, but he did not rouse. I
leaned over him and listened, but no sound or movement of breathing was
perceptible. The housemaid was right. He had gone to sleep; or, in his
own phrase, he had passed out of the domain of sorrow.




II

"NUMBER ONE"


It was more than a week after the funeral of my poor friend Humphrey
Challoner that I paid my first regular visit of inspection to his house.
I had been the only intimate friend of this lonely, self-contained man
and he had made me not only his sole executor but his principal legatee.
With the exception of a sum of money to endow an Institute of Criminal
Anthropology, he had made me the heir to his entire estate, including
his museum. The latter bequest was unencumbered by any conditions. I
could keep the collection intact, I could sell it as it stood or I could
break it up and distribute the specimens as I chose; but I knew that
Challoner's unexpressed wish was that it should be kept together,
ultimately to form the nucleus of a collection attached to the
Institute.

It was a gray autumn afternoon when I let myself in. A caretaker was in
charge of the house, which was otherwise unoccupied, and the museum,
which was in a separate wing, seemed strangely silent and remote. As the
Yale latch of the massive door clicked behind me, I seemed to be, and in
fact was, cut off from all the world. A mysterious, sepulchral stillness
pervaded the place, and when I entered the long room I found myself
unconsciously treading lightly so as not to disturb the silence; even as
one might on entering some Egyptian tomb-chamber hidden in the heart of
a pyramid.

I halted in the center of the long room and looked about me, and I don't
mind confessing that I felt distinctly creepy. It was not the skeleton
of the whale that hung overhead, with its ample but ungenial smile; it
was not the bandy-legged skeleton of the rachitic camel, nor that of the
aurochs, nor those of the apes and jackals and porcupines in the smaller
glass case; nor the skulls that grinned from the case at the end of the
room. It was the long row of human skeletons, each erect and watchful on
its little pedestal, that occupied the great wall-case: a silent,
motionless company of fleshless sentinels, standing in easy postures
with unchanging, mirthless grins and seeming to wait for something. That
was what disturbed me.

I am not an impressionable man; and, as a medical practitioner, it is
needless to say that mere bones have no terrors for me. The skeleton
from which I worked as a student was kept in my bedroom, and I minded it
no more than I minded the plates in "Gray's Anatomy." I could have slept
comfortably in the Hunterian Museum--other circumstances being
favorable; and even the gigantic skeleton of Corporal O'Brian--which
graces that collection--with that of his companion, the quaint little
dwarf, thrown in, would not have disturbed my rest in the smallest
degree. But this was different. I had the feeling, as I had had before,
that there was something queer about this museum of Challoner's.

I walked slowly along the great wall-case, looking in at the specimens;
and in the dull light, each seemed to look out at me as I passed with a
questioning expression in his shadowy eye-sockets, as if he would ask,
"Do you know who I was?" It made me quite uncomfortable.

There were twenty-five of them in all. Each stood on a small black
pedestal on which was painted in white a number and a date; excepting
one at the end, which had a scarlet pedestal and gold lettering. Number
1 bore the date 20th September, 1889, and Number 25 (the one with the
red pedestal) was dated 13th May, 1909. I looked at this last one
curiously; a massive figure with traces of great muscularity, a broad,
Mongoloid head with large cheekbones and square eye-sockets. A
formidable fellow he must have been; and even now, the broad, square
face grinned out savagely from the case.

I turned away with something of a shudder. I had not come here to get
"the creeps." I had come for Challoner's journal, or the "Museum
Archives" as he called it. The volumes were in the secret cupboard at
the end of the room and I had to take out the movable panel to get at
them. This presented no difficulty. I found the rosettes that moved the
catches and had the panel out in a twinkling. The cupboard was five feet
high by four broad and had a well in the bottom covered by a lid, which
I lifted and, to my amazement, found the cavity filled with revolvers,
automatic pistols, life-preservers, knuckle-dusters and other weapons,
each having a little label--bearing a number and a date--tied neatly on
it. I shut the lid down rather hastily; there was something rather
sinister in that collection of lethal appliances.

The volumes, seven in number, were on the top shelf, uniformly bound in
Russia leather and labeled, respectively, "Photographs,"
"Finger-prints," "Catalogue," and four volumes of "Museum Archives." I
was about to reach down the catalogue when my eye fell on the pile of
shallow boxes on the next shelf. I knew what they contained and recalled
uncomfortably the strange impression that their contents had made on me;
and yet a sort of fascination led me to take down the top one--labelled
"Series B 5"--and raise the lid. But if those dreadful dolls' heads had
struck me as uncanny when poor Challoner showed them to me, they now
seemed positively appalling. Small as they were--and they were not as
large as a woman's fist--they looked so life-like--or rather, so
death-like--that they suggested nothing so much as actual human heads
seen through the wrong end of a telescope. There were five in this box,
each in a separate compartment lined with black velvet and distinguished
by a black label with white lettering; excepting the central one, which
rested on scarlet velvet and had a red label inscribed in gold "13th
May, 1909."

I gazed at this tiny head in its scarlet setting with shuddering
fascination. It had a hideous little face; a broad, brutal face of the
Tartar type; and the mop of gray-brown hair, so unhuman in color, and
the bristling mustache that stood up like a cat's whiskers, gave it an
aspect half animal, half devilish. I clapped the lid on the box, thrust
it back on the shelf, and, plucking down the first volume of the
"Archives," hurried out of the museum.

That night, when I had rounded up the day's work with a good dinner, I
retired to my study, and, drawing an armchair up to the fire, opened
the volume. It was a strange document. At first I was unable to perceive
the relevancy of the matter to the title, for it seemed to be a journal
of Challoner's private life; but later I began to see the connection, to
realize, as Challoner had said, that the collection was nothing more
than a visible commentary on and illustration of his daily activities.

The volume opened with an account of the murder of his wife and the
circumstances leading up to it, written with a dry circumstantiality
that was to me infinitely pathetic. It was the forced impassiveness of a
strong man whose heart is breaking. There were no comments, no
exclamations; merely a formal recital of facts, exhaustive, literal and
precise. I need not quote it, as it only repeated the story he had told
me, but I will commence my extract at the point where he broke off. The
style, as will be seen, is that of a continuous narrative, apparently
compiled from a diary; and, as it proceeds, marking the lapse of time,
the original dryness of manner gives place to one more animated, more
in keeping with the temperament of the writer.

"When I had buried my dear wife, I waited with some impatience to see
what the police would do. I had no great expectations. The English
police system is more adjusted to offences against property than to
those against the person. Nothing had been stolen, so nothing could be
traced; and the clues were certainly very slight. It soon became evident
to me that the authorities had given the case up. They gave me no hope
that the murderer would ever be identified; and, in fact, it was pretty
obvious that they had written the case off as hopeless and ceased to
interest themselves in it.

"Of course I could not accept this view. My wife had been murdered. The
murder was without extenuation. It had been committed lightly to cover a
paltry theft. Now, for murder, no restitution is possible. But there is
an appropriate forfeit to be paid; and if the authorities failed to
exact it, then the duty of its exaction devolved upon me. Moreover, a
person who thus lightly commits murder as an incident in his calling is
unfit to live in a community of human beings. It was clearly my duty as
a good citizen to see that this dangerous person was eliminated.

"This was well enough in theory, but its realization in practice
presented considerable difficulties. The police had (presumably)
searched for this person and failed to find him. How was I, untrained in
methods of detection, to succeed where the experts had been baffled? I
considered my resources. They consisted of a silver teapot and a salver
which had been handled by the murderer and which, together, yielded a
complete set of finger-prints, and the wisp of hair that I had taken
from the hand of my murdered wife. It is true that the police also had
finger-marked plate and the remainder of the hair and had been unable to
achieve anything by their means; but the value of finger-impressions for
the purposes of identification is not yet appreciated outside scientific
circles.[1] I fetched the teapot and salver from the drawer in which I
had secured them and examined them afresh. The teapot had been held in
both hands and bore a full set of prints; and these were supplemented
by the salver. For greater security I photographed the whole set of the
finger-impressions and made platinotype prints which I filed for future
reference. Then I turned my attention to the hair. I had already noticed
that it was of a dull gray color, but now, when I came to look at it
more closely, I found the color so peculiar that I took it to the window
and examined it with a lens.

[Footnote 1: The narrative seems to have been written in 1890.--L.W.]

"The result was a most startling discovery. It was ringed hair. The gray
appearance was due, not to the usual mingling of white and dark hairs,
but to the fact that each separate hair was marked by alternate rings of
black and white. Now, variegated hairs are common enough in the lower
animals which have a pattern on the fur. The tabby cat furnishes a
familiar example. But in man the condition is infinitely rare; whence it
was obvious that, with these hairs and the finger-prints, I had the
means of infallible identification. But identification involves
possession of the person to be identified. There was the difficulty. How
was it to be overcome?

"Criminals are vermin. They have the typical characters of vermin;
unproductive activity combined with disproportionate destructiveness.
Just as a rat will gnaw his way through a Holbein panel, or shred up the
Vatican Codex to make a nest, so the professional criminal will melt
down priceless medieval plate to sell in lumps for a few shillings. The
analogy is perfect.

"Now, how do we deal with vermin--with the rat, for instance?

"Do we go down his burrow and reason with him? Do we strive to elevate
his moral outlook? Not at all. We induce him to come out. And when he
has come out, we see to it that he doesn't go back. In short, we set a
trap. And if the rat that we catch is not the one that we wanted, we set
it again.

"Precisely. That was the method.

"My housemaid had absconded at the time of the murder; she was evidently
an accomplice of the murderer. My cook had left on the same day, having
conceived a not unnatural horror of the house. Since then I had made
shift with a charwoman. But I should want a housemaid and a cook, and
if I acted judiciously in the matter of references, I might get the sort
of persons who would help my plans. For there are female rats as well as
male.

"But there were certain preliminary measures to be taken. My physical
condition had to be attended to. As a young man I was a first-class
athlete, and even now I was strong and exceedingly active. But I must
get into training and brush up my wrestling and boxing. Then I must fit
up some burglar alarms, lay in a few little necessaries and provide
myself with a suitable appliance for dealing with the 'catch.'

"This latter I proceeded with at once. To the end of a rod of rhinoceros
horn about two feet long I affixed a knob of lead weighing two pounds. I
covered the knob with a thickish layer of plaited horsehair, and over
this fastened a covering of stout leather; and when I had fitted it with
a wrist-strap it looked a really serviceable tool. Its purpose is
obvious. It was an improved form of that very crude appliance, the
sand-bag, which footpads use to produce concussion of the brain without
fracturing the skull. I may describe it as a concussor.

"The preliminary measures were proceeding steadily. I had put in a
fortnight's attendance at a gymnasium under the supervision of Professor
Schneipp, the Bavarian Hercules; I had practiced the most approved
'knock-outs' known to my instructor, the famous pugilist, Melchizedeck
Cohen (popularly known as 'Slimy' Cohen); I had given up an hour a day
to studying the management of the concussor with the aid of a
punching-ball; the alarms were ready for fixing, and I even had the
address of an undoubtedly disreputable housemaid, when a most unexpected
thing happened. I got a premature bite. A fellow actually walked into
the trap without troubling me to set it.

"It befell thus. I had gone to bed rather early and fallen asleep at
once, but about one o'clock I awoke with that unmistakable completeness
that heralds a sleepless night. I lit my candle-lamp and looked round for
the book that I had been reading in the evening, and then I remembered
that I had left it in the museum. Now that book had interested me
deeply. It contained the only lucid description that I had met with of
the Mundurucu Indians and their curious method of preserving the severed
heads of their enemies; a method by which the head--after removal of the
bones--was shrunk until it was no larger than a man's fist.

"I got up, and, taking my lamp and keys, made my way to the museum wing
of the house, which opened out of the dining-room. I found the book,
but, instead of returning immediately, lingered in the museum, looking
about the great room and at the unfinished collection and gloomily
recalling its associations. The museum was a gift from my wife. She had
built it and the big laboratory soon after we were married and many a
delightful hour we had spent in it together, arranging the new specimens
in the cases. I did not allow her to work in the evil-smelling
laboratory, but she had a collection of her own, of land and fresh-water
shells (which were cleaner to handle than the bones); and I was pulling
out some of the drawers in her cabinet, and, as I looked over the
shells, thinking of the happy days when we rambled by the riverside or
over furzy commons in search of them, when I became aware of faint
sounds of movement from the direction of the dining-room.

"I stepped lightly down the corridor that led to the dining-room and
listened. The door of communication was shut, but through it I could
distinctly hear someone moving about and could occasionally detect the
chink of metal. I ran back to the museum--my felt-soled bedroom slippers
made no sound--and, taking the 'concussor' from the drawer in which I
had concealed it, thrust it through the waist-band of my pajamas. Then I
crept back to the door.

"The sounds had now ceased. I inferred that the burglar--for he could be
none other--had gone to the pantry, where the plate-chest was kept. On
this I turned the Yale latch and softly opened the door. It is my habit
to keep all locks and hinges thoroughly oiled, and consequently the door
opened without a sound. There was no one in the dining-room; but one
burner of the gas was alight and various articles of silver plate were
laid on the table, just as they had been when my wife was murdered. I
drew the museum door to--I could not shut it because of the noise the
spring latch would have made--and slipped behind a Japanese screen that
stood near the dining-room door. I had just taken my place when a
stealthy footstep approached along the hall. It entered the room and
then there was a faint clink of metal. I peeped cautiously round the
screen and looked on the back of a man who was standing by the table on
which he was noiselessly depositing a number of spoons and forks and a
candlestick. Although his back was towards me, a mirror on the opposite
wall gave me a good view of his face; a wooden, expressionless face,
such as I have since learned to associate with the English habitual
criminal; the penal servitude face, in fact.

"He was a careful operator. He turned over each piece thoroughly,
weighing it in his hand and giving especial attention to the hall-mark.
And, as I watched him, the thought came into my mind that, perchance,
this was the very wretch who had murdered my wife, come back for the
spoil that he had then had to abandon. It was quite possible, even
likely, and at the thought I felt my cheeks flush and a strange, fierce
pleasure, such as I had never felt before, swept into my consciousness.
I could have laughed aloud, but I did not. Also, I could have knocked
him down with perfect ease as he stood, but I did not. Why did I not?
Was it a vague, sporting sense of fairness? Or was it a catlike instinct
impelling me to play with my quarry? I cannot say. Only I know that the
idea of dealing him a blow from behind did not attract me.

"Presently he shuffled away (in list slippers) to fetch a fresh cargo.
Then some ferociously playful impulse led me to steal out of my
hiding-place and gather up a number of spoons and forks, a salt-cellar,
a candlestick and an entree-dish and retire again behind the screen.
Then my friend returned with a fresh consignment; and as he was
anxiously looking over the fresh pieces, I crept silently out at the
other end of the screen, out of the open doorway and down the hall to
the pantry. Here a lighted candle showed the plate-chest open and half
empty, with a few pieces of plate on a side table. Quickly but silently
I replaced in the chest the spoons and other pieces that I had
collected, and then stole back to my place behind the screen and resumed
my observations.

"My guest was quite absorbed in his task. He had a habit--common, I
believe, among 'old lags'--of talking to himself; and very poor stuff
his conversation was, though it was better than his arithmetic, as I
gathered from his attempts to compute the weight of the booty. Anon, he
retired for another consignment, and once more I came out and gathered
up a little selection from his stock; and when he returned laden with
spoil, I went off, as before, and put the articles back in the
plate-chest.

"These manoeuvres were repeated a quite incredible number of times. The
man must have been an abject blockhead, as I believe most professional
criminals are. His lack of observation was astounding. It is true that
he began to be surprised and rather bewildered. He even noted that
'there seemed a bloomin' lot of 'em;' and the quality of his
arithmetical feats and his verbal enrichments became, alike,
increasingly lurid. I believe he would have gone on until daylight if I
had not tried him too often with a Queen Anne teapot. It was that
teapot, with its conspicuous urn design, that finally disillusioned him.
I had just returned from putting it back in the chest for the third time
when he missed it; and he announced the discovery with a profusion of
perfectly unnecessary and highly inappropriate adjectives.

"'Naa, then!' he exclaimed truculently, 'where's that blimy teapot gone
to? Hay? I put that there teapot down inside that there hontry-dish--and
where's the bloomin' hontry? Bust me if that ain't gone to!'

"He stood by the table scratching his bristly head and looking the
picture of ludicrous bewilderment. I watched him and meanwhile debated
whether or not I should take the opportunity to knock him down. That was
undoubtedly the proper course. But I could not bring myself to do it. A
spirit of wild mischief possessed me; a strange, unnatural buoyancy and
fierce playfulness that impelled me to play insane, fantastic tricks.
It was a singular phenomenon. I seemed suddenly to have made the
acquaintance of a hitherto unknown moiety of a dual personality.

"The burglar stood awhile, muttering idiotically, and then shuffled off
to the pantry. I followed him out into the dark hall and, taking my
stand behind a curtain, awaited his return. He came back presently, and,
by the glimmer of light from the open door, I could see that he had the
teapot and the 'hontry.' Now some previous tenant had fitted the
dining-room door with two external bolts; I cannot imagine why; but the
present circumstances suggested a use for them. As soon as the burglar
was inside, I crept forward and quietly shut the door, shooting the top
bolt.

"That roused my friend. He rushed at the door and shook it like a
madman; he cursed with incredible fluency and addressed me in terms
which it would be inadequate to describe as rude. Then I silently shot
the bottom bolt and noisily drew back the top one. He thought I had
unbolted the door, and when he found that I had not, his language
became indescribable.

"There was a second door to the dining-room also opening into the hall
at the farther end. My captive seemed suddenly to remember this, for he
made a rush for it. But so did I; and, the hall being unobstructed by
furniture, I got there first and shot the top bolt. He wrenched
frantically at the handle and addressed me with strange and unseemly
epithets. I repeated the manoeuvre of pretending to unbolt the door, and
smiled as I heard him literally dancing with frenzy inside. It seemed
highly amusing at the time, though now, viewed retrospectively, it looks
merely silly.

"Quite suddenly his efforts ceased and I heard him shuffle away. I
returned to the other door, but he made no fresh attempt on it. I
listened, and hearing no sound, bethought me of the open door of the
museum. Probably he had gone there to look for a way out. This would
never do. The plate I cared not a fig for, but the museum specimens were
a different matter; and he might damage them from sheer malice.

"I unbolted the door, entered and shut it again, locking it on the
inside and dropping the key into my pocket. I had just done so when he
appeared at the museum door, eyeing me warily and unobtrusively slipping
a knuckle-duster on his left hand. I had noted that he was not
left-handed and drew my own conclusions as to what he meant to do with
his right. We stood for some seconds facing each other and then he began
to edge towards the door. I drew aside to let him pass and he ran to the
door and turned the handle. When he found the door locked he was
furious. He advanced threateningly with his left hand clenched, but then
drew back. Apparently, my smiling exterior, coupled with my previous
conduct, daunted him. I think he took me for a lunatic; in fact, he
hinted as much in coarse, ill-chosen terms. But his vocabulary was very
limited, though quaint.

"We exchanged a few remarks and I could see that he did not like the
tone of mine. The fact is that the sight of the knuckle-duster had
changed my mood. I no longer felt playful. He had recalled me to my
original purpose. He expressed a wish to leave the house and to know
'what my game was.' I replied that he was my game and that I believed
that I had bagged him, whereupon he rushed at me and aimed a vicious
blow at my head with his armed left fist, which, if it had come home,
would have stretched me senseless. But it did not. I guarded it easily
and countered him so that he staggered back gasping.

"That made him furious. He came at me like a wild beast, with his mouth
open and his armed fist flourished aloft as if he would annihilate me. I
tried to deal with him by the methods of Mr. Slimy Cohen, but it was
useless. He was no boxer and he had a knuckle-duster. Consequently we
grabbed one another like a pair of monkeys and sought to inflict
unorthodox injuries. He struggled and writhed and growled and kicked and
even tried to bite; while I kept, as far as I could, control of his
wrists and waited my opportunity. It was a most undignified affair. We
staggered to and fro, clawing at one another; we gyrated round the room
in a wild, unseemly waltz; we knocked over the chairs, we bumped
against the table, we banged each other's heads against the walls; and
all the time, as my adversary growled and showed his teeth like a savage
dog, I was sensible of a strange feeling of physical enjoyment such as
one might experience in some strenuous game. I seemed to have acquired a
new and unfamiliar personality.

"But the knuckle-duster was a complication; for it was his right hand
that I had to watch; and yet I could not afford to free for an instant
his left, armed as it was with that shabbiest of weapons. Hence I hung
on to his wrists while he struggled to wrench them free, and we pulled
one another backwards and forwards and round and round in the most
absurd and amateurish manner, each trying to trip the other up and
failing at every attempt. At last, in the course of our gyrations, we
bumped through the open door into the passage leading to the museum; and
here we came down together with a crash that shook the house.

"As ill luck would have it, I was underneath; but, in spite of the shock
of the fall, I still managed to keep hold of his wrists, though I had
some trouble to prevent him from biting my hands and face. So our
position was substantially unchanged, and we were still wriggling
chaotically when a hasty step was heard descending the stairs. The
burglar paused for an instant to listen and then, with a sudden effort,
wrenched away his right hand, which flew to his hip-pocket and came out
grasping a small revolver. Instantly I struck up with my left and caught
him a smart blow under the chin, which dislodged him; and as he rolled
over there was a flash and a report, accompanied by the shattering of
glass and followed immediately by the slamming of the street door. I let
go his left hand, and, rising to my knees, grabbed the revolver with my
own left, while, with my right, I whisked out the concussor and aimed a
vigorous blow at the top of his head. The padded weight came down
without a sound--excepting the click of his teeth--and the effect was
instantaneous. I rose, breathing quickly and eminently satisfied with
the efficiency of my implement until I noticed that the unconscious man
was bleeding slightly from the ear; which told me that I had struck too
hard and fractured the base of the skull.

"However, my immediate purpose was to ascertain whether this was or was
not the man whom I wanted. In the passage it was too dark to see either
his finger-tips or the minute texture of his hair; but my candle-lamp,
with its parabolic reflector, would give ample light. I ran through into
the museum, where it was still burning, and, catching it up, ran back
with it; but I had barely reached the prostrate figure when I heard
someone noisily opening the street door with a latch-key. The charwoman
had returned, no doubt, with the police.

"I am rather obscure as to what I meant to do. I think I had no
definitely-formed intentions but acted more or less automatically,
impelled by the desire to identify the burglar. What I did was to close
the museum door very quietly, with the aid of the key, unlock the
dining-room door and open it.

"A police sergeant, a constable and a plain-clothes officer entered and
the charwoman lurked in the dark background.

"'Have they got away?' the sergeant demanded.

"'There was only one,' I said.

"At this the officers bustled away and I heard them descending to the
basement. The charwoman came in and looked gloatingly at my battered
countenance, which bore memorials of every projecting corner of the
room.

"'It's a pity you come down, sir,' said she. 'You might have been
murdered same as what your poor lady was. It's better to let them sort
of people alone. That's what I say. Let 'em alone and they'll go home,
as the sayin' is.'

"There was considerable truth in these observations, especially the
last. I acknowledged it vaguely, while the woman cast fascinated glances
round the disordered room. Then two of the officers returned and took up
the enquiry to an accompaniment of distant police whistles from the back
of the house.

"'I needn't ask if you saw the man,' said the plain-clothes officer,
with a faint grin.

"'No, you're right,' said the sergeant. 'He set upon you properly, sir.
Seems to have been a lively party.' He glanced round the room and added:
'Fired a pistol, too, your housekeeper tells me.'

"I nodded at the shattered mirror but made no comment, and the officer,
remarking that I 'seemed a bit shaken up,' proceeded with his
investigations. I watched the two men listlessly. I was not much
interested in them. I was thinking of the man on the other side of the
museum door and wondering if he had ringed hair.

"Presently the plain-clothes officer made a discovery. 'Hallo,' said he,
'here's a carpet bag.' He drew it out from under the table and hoisted
it up under the gaslight to examine it; and then he burst into a loud
and cheerful laugh.

"'What's up?' said the sergeant.

"'Why, it's Jimmy Archer's bag.'

"'No!'

"'Fact. He showed it to me himself. It was given to him by the
'Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society' to carry his tools in. Ha! Ha! O
Lord!'

"The sergeant examined the bag with an appreciative grin, which
broadened as his colleague lifted out a brace, a pad of bits, a folding
jimmy and a few other trifles. I made a mental note of the burglar's
name, and then my interest languished again. The two officers looked
over the room together, tried the museum door and noted that it had not
been tampered with; turned over the plate and admonished me on the folly
of leaving it so accessible; and finally departed with the promise to
bring a detective-inspector in the morning, and meanwhile to leave a
constable to guard the house.

"I would gladly have dispensed with that constable, especially as he
settled himself in the dining-room and seemed disposed to converse,
which I was not. His presence shut me off from the museum. I could not
open the door, for the burglar was lying just inside. It was extremely
annoying. I wanted to make sure that the man was really dead, and,
especially, I wanted to examine his hair and to compare his
finger-prints with the set that I had in the museum. However, it could
not be helped. Eventually I took my candle-lamp from the sideboard and
went up to bed, leaving the constable seated in the easy-chair with a
box of cigars, a decanter of whiskey and a siphon of Apollinaris at his
elbow.

"I remained awake a long time cogitating on the situation. Was the man
whom I had captured the right man? Had I accomplished my task, and was I
now at liberty to 'determine,' as the lawyers say, the lease of my
ruined life? That was a question which the morning light would answer;
and meanwhile one thing was clear: I had fairly committed myself to the
disposal of the dead burglar. I could not produce the body now; I should
have to get rid of it as best I could.

"Of course, the problem presented no difficulty. There was a fire-clay
furnace in the laboratory in which I had been accustomed to consume the
bulky refuse of my preparations. A hundredweight or so of anthracite
would turn the body into undistinguishable ash; and yet--well, it seemed
a wasteful thing to do. I have always been rather opposed to cremation,
to the wanton destruction of valuable anatomical material. And now I was
actually proposing, myself, to practice that which I had so strongly
deprecated. I reflected. Here was a specimen delivered at my very door,
nay, into the very precincts of my laboratory. Why should I destroy it?
Could I not turn it to some useful account in the advancement of
science?

"I turned this question over at length. Here was a specimen. But a
specimen of what? I am no mere curio-monger, no collector of frivolous
and unmeaning trifles. A specimen must illustrate some truth. Now what
truth did this specimen illustrate? The question, thus stated, brought
forth its own answer in a flash.

"Criminal anthropology is practically an unillustrated science. A few
paltry photographs, a few mouldering skulls of forgotten delinquents
(such as that of Charlotte Corday), form the entire material on which
criminal anthropologists base their unsatisfactory generalizations. But
here was a really authentic specimen with a traceable life-history. It
ought not to be lost to science. And it should not be.

"Presently my thoughts took a new turn. I had been deeply interested in
the account that I had read of the ingenious method by which the
Mundurucus used to preserve the heads of their slain enemies. The book
was unfortunately still in the museum, but I had read the account
through, and now recalled it. The Mundurucu warrior, when he had killed
an enemy, cut off his head with a broad bamboo knife and proceeded to
preserve it thus: First he soaked it for a time in some non-oxidizable
vegetable oil; then he extracted the bone and the bulk of the muscles
somewhat as a bird-stuffer extracts the body from the skin. He then
filled up the cavity with hot pebbles and hung the preparation up to
dry.

"By repeating the latter process many times, a gradual and symmetrical
shrinkage was produced until the head had dwindled to the size of a
man's fist or even smaller, leaving the features, however, practically
unaltered. Finally he decorated the little head with bright-colored
feathers--the Mundurucus were very clever at feather work--and fastened
the lips together with a string, by which the head was suspended from
the eaves of his hut or from the beams of the council house.

"It was highly ingenious. The question was whether heads so preserved
would be of any use for the study of facial characters. I had intended
to get a dead monkey from Jamrach's and experiment in the process. But
now it seemed that the monkey would be unnecessary if only the
preparation could be produced without injuring the skull; and I had no
doubt that, with due care and skill, it could.

"At daybreak I went down to the dining-room. The policeman was dozing in
his chair; there was a good deal of cigar-ash about, and the
whiskey-decanter was less full than it had been, though not unreasonably
so. I roused up the officer and dismissed him with a final cigar and
what he called an 'eye-opener'--about two fluid-ounces. When he had gone
I let myself into the museum lobby. The burglar was quite dead and
beginning to stiffen. That was satisfactory; but was he the right man? I
snipped off a little tuft of hair and carried it to the laboratory where
the microscope stood on the bench under its bell-glass. I laid one or
two hairs on a slide with a drop of glycerine and placed the slide on
the stage of the microscope. Now was the critical moment. I applied my
eye to the instrument and brought the objective into focus.

"Alas! The hairs were uniformly colored with brown pigment! He was the
wrong man.

"It was very disappointing. I really need not have killed him, though
under the circumstances there was nothing to regret on that score. He
would not have died in vain. Alive he was merely a nuisance and a danger
to the community, whereas in the form of museum preparations he might be
of considerable public utility.

"Under the main bench in the laboratory was a long cupboard containing a
large zinc-lined box or tank in which I had been accustomed to keep the
specimens which were in process of preparation. I brought the burglar
into the laboratory and deposited him in the tank, shutting the
air-tight lid and securing it with a padlock. For further security I
locked the cupboard, and, when I had washed the floor of the lobby and
dried it with methylated spirit, all traces of the previous night's
activities were obliterated. If the police wanted to look over the
museum and laboratory, they were now quite at liberty to do so.

"I have mentioned that, during the actual capture of this burglar, I
seemed to develop an entirely alien personality. But the change was only
temporary, and I had now fully recovered my normal temperament, which is
that of a careful, methodical and eminently cautious man. Hence, as I
took my breakfast and planned out my procedure, an important fact made
itself evident. I should presently have in my museum a human skeleton
which I should have acquired in a manner not recognized by social
conventions or even by law. Now, if I could place myself in a position
to account for that skeleton in a simple and ordinary way, it might, in
the future, save inconvenient explanations.

"I decided to take the necessary measures without delay, and
accordingly, after a rather tedious interview with the
detective-inspector (whom I showed over the entire house, including the
museum and laboratory), I took a cab to Great St. Andrew Street, Seven
Dials, where resided a well-known dealer in osteology. I did not, of
course, inform him that I had come to buy an understudy for a deceased
burglar. I merely asked for an articulated skeleton, to stand and not to
hang (hanging involves an unsightly suspension ring attached to the
skull). I looked over his stock with a steel measuring-tape in my hand,
for a skeleton of about the right size--sixty-three inches--but I did
not mention that size was a special object. I told him that I wished for
one that would illustrate racial characters, at which he smiled--as well
he might, knowing that his skeletons were mostly built up of assorted
bones of unknown origin.

"I selected a suitable skeleton, paid for it, (five pounds) and took
care to have a properly drawn invoice, describing the goods and duly
dated and receipted. I did not take my purchase away with me; but it
arrived the same day, in a funeral box, which the detective-inspector,
who happened to be in the house at the time, kindly assisted me to
unpack.

"My next proceeding was to take a set of photographs of the deceased,
including three views of the face, a separate photograph of each ear,
and two aspects of the hands. I also took a complete set of
finger-prints. Then I was ready to commence operations in earnest."

The rest of Challoner's narrative relating to Number One is of a highly
technical character and not very well suited to the taste of lay
readers. The final result will be understood by the following quotation
from the museum catalogue:

"Specimens Illustrating Criminal Anthropology.

"Series A. Osteology.

"1. Skeleton of burglar, aged 37. [symbol: male]. Height 63 inches.
(James Archer.)

"This specimen was of English parentage, was a professional burglar, a
confirmed recidivist, and--since he habitually carried firearms--a
potential homicide. His general intelligence appears to have been of a
low order, his manual skill very imperfect (he was a gas-fitter by trade
but never regularly employed). He was nearly illiterate and
occasionally but not chronically alcoholic.

"Cranial capacity 1594 cc. Cephalic index 76.8.

"For finger-prints see Album D 1, p. 1. For facial characters see Album
E 1, pp. 1, 2 and 3, and Series B (dry, reduced preparations). Number
1."

       *       *       *       *       *

I closed the two volumes--the Catalogue and the Archives--and meditated
on the amazing story that they told in their unemotional, matter-of-fact
style. Was poor Challoner mad? Had he an insane obsession on the subject
of crime and criminals? Or was he, perchance, abnormally sane, if I may
use the expression? That his outlook was not as other men's was obvious.
Was it a rational outlook or that of a lunatic?

I cannot answer the question. Perhaps a further study of his Archives
may throw some fresh light on it.




III

THE HOUSEMAID'S FOLLOWERS


The contrast in effect between suspicion and certainty is very curious
to observe. When I had walked through the private museum of my poor
friend Challoner and had looked at the large collection of human
skeletons that it contained, a suspicion that there was something queer
about those skeletons had made me quite uncomfortable. Now, after
reading his first narrative, I knew all about them. They were the relics
of criminals whom he had taken red-handed and preserved for the
instruction of posterity. Thus were my utmost suspicions verified, and
yet, strange as it may seem, with the advent of certainty, my horror of
them vanished. Even the hideous little doll-like heads induced but a
passing shudder. Vague, half superstitious awe gave place to scientific
interest.

I took an early opportunity of renewing my acquaintance with the
astonishing and gruesome "Museum Archives." The second narrative was
headed "Anthropological Series, 2, 3 and 4." It exhibited the same
singular outlook as the first, showing that to Challoner the criminal
had not appeared to be a human being at all, but merely a sub-human form,
anatomically similar to man.

"The acquisition of Specimen Number One," it began, "gave me
considerable occupation, both bodily and mental. As I labored from day
to day rendering the osseous framework of the late James Archer fit for
exhibition in a museum case, I reflected on the future to which recent
events had committed me. I had been, as it were, swept away on the tide
of circumstance. The death of this person had occurred by an
inadvertence, and accident had thrown on me the onus of disposing of the
remains. I had solved that difficulty by converting the deceased into a
museum specimen. So far, well, but what of the future?

"My wife had been murdered by a criminal. The remainder of my
life--short, I hoped--was to be spent in seeking that criminal. But the
trap that I set to catch him would probably catch other criminals first;
and since the available method of identification could not be applied to
newly-acquired specimens while in the living state, it followed that
each would have to be reduced to the condition in which identification
would be possible. And if, on inspection, the specimen acquired proved
to be not the one sought, I should have to add it to the collection and
rebait the trap. That was evidently the only possible plan.

"But before embarking on it I had to consider its ethical bearings. Of
the legal position there was no question. It was quite illegal. But that
signified nothing. There are recent human skeletons in the Natural
History Museum; every art school in the country has one and so have many
board schools. What is the legal position of the owners of those human
remains? It will not bear investigation. As to the Hunterian Museum, it
is a mere resurrectionist's legacy. That the skeleton of O'Brian was
obtained by flagrant body-snatching is a well-known historical fact, but
one at which the law, very properly, winks. Obviously the legal
position was not worth considering.

"But the ethical position? To me it looked quite satisfactory, though
clearly at variance with accepted standards. For the attitude of society
towards the criminal appears to be that of a community of stark
lunatics. In effect, society addresses the professional criminal
somewhat thus:

"'You wish to practice crime as a profession, to gain a livelihood by
appropriating--by violence or otherwise--the earnings of honest and
industrious men. Very well, you may do so on certain conditions. If you
are skilful and cautious you will not be molested. You may occasion
danger, annoyance and great loss to honest men with very little danger
to yourself unless you are clumsy and incautious; in which case you may
be captured. If you are, we shall take possession of your person and
detain you for so many months or years. During that time you will
inhabit quarters better than you are accustomed to; your sleeping-room
will be kept comfortably warm in all weathers; you will be provided with
clothing better than you usually wear; you will have a sufficiency of
excellent food; expensive officials will be paid to take charge of you;
selected medical men will be retained to attend to your health; a
chaplain (of your own persuasion) will minister to your spiritual needs
and a librarian will supply you with books. And all this will be paid
for by the industrious men whom you live by robbing. In short, from the
moment that you adopt crime as a profession, we shall pay all your
expenses, whether you are in prison or at large.' Such is the attitude
of society; and I repeat it is that of a community of madmen.

"How much better and more essentially moral is my plan! I invite the
criminal to walk into my parlor. He walks in, a public nuisance and a
public danger; and he emerges in the form of a museum preparation of
permanent educational value.

"Thus I reflected and mapped out my course of action as I worked at what
I may call the foundation specimen of my collection. The latter kept me
busy for many days, but I was very pleased with the result when it was
finished. The bones were of a good color and texture, the fracture of
the skull, when carefully joined with fish-glue, was quite invisible,
and, as to the little dried preparation of the head, it was entirely
beyond my expectations. Comparing it with the photographs taken after
death, I was delighted to find that the facial characters and even the
expression were almost perfectly retained.

"It was a red-letter day when I put Number One in the great glass case
and took out the skeleton that I had bought from the dealer to occupy
its place until it was ready. The substitute was no longer needed and I
accordingly dismantled it and destroyed it piecemeal in the furnace,
crushing the calcined bones into unrecognizable fragments.

"Meanwhile I had been pushing on my preparations for further captures. A
large, mahogany-faced safe was fixed in the dining-room to contain the
silver; a burglar alarm was fitted under the floor in front of the safe
and connected with a trembler-drum that was kept (with the concussor and
a few other appliances) locked in a hanging cupboard at my bed-head,
ready to be switched on and placed under my pillow at night. I secretly
purchased a quantity of paste jewelry--bracelets, tiaras, pendants and
such like glittering trash--and when everything was ready I engaged two
new servants of decidedly queer antecedents. I was at first a little
doubtful about the cook, but the housemaid was a certainty from the
outset. Her character from her late reverend and philanthropic employer,
urging me as a Christian man (which I was not) to 'give her another
chance,' made that perfectly clear.

"I gave her another chance, though not quite of the kind that the
reverend gentleman meant. Two days after her arrival I directed her to
clean the plate and handed her the key of the safe, of which I have
reason to believe that she took a squeeze with a piece of dough. The
sham diamonds were locked in a separate division of the safe, but I
introduced them to her by taking them out in her presence, spreading
them on the table and ostentatiously cleaning their rolled-gold settings
with a soft brush. They certainly made a gorgeous and glittering show.
I could not have distinguished them from real diamonds; and as for Susan
Slodger--that was the housemaid's name--her eyes fairly bulged with
avarice.

"It was less than a week after this that the next incident occurred. I
was lying in bed, dozing fitfully but never losing consciousness. I
slept badly at that time, for memories which I avoided by day would come
crowding on me in the darkness. I would think of my lost happiness, of
my poor, murdered wife and of the wretch who had so lightly crushed out
her sweet life as one would kill an inconvenient insect; and the
thoughts filled me alternately with unutterable sadness that banished
sleep or with profound anger that urged me to seek justice and
retribution.

"The long-case clock on the stair had just struck two when the
trembler-drum beneath my pillow suddenly broke into a prolonged roll.
Someone was standing in front of the safe in the dining-room. I rose
quietly, switched off the drum, replaced it in the hanging cupboard,
and, taking from the same receptacle the concussor and a small leather
bag filled with shot and attached to a long coil of fishing-line, softly
descended the stairs. On the mid-way landing I laid down the shot-bag
and paid out the coil of line as I descended the next flight. In the
hall I paused for a few seconds to listen. Both the doors of the
dining-room were shut, but I could hear faint sounds within. I
approached the door further from the street and carefully grasped the
knob. The locks and hinges I knew were thoroughly oiled, for I had
attended to them daily in common with all the other doors in the lower
part of the house. I turned the knob slowly and made gentle pressure on
the door, which presently began to open without a sound. As it opened I
became aware of a low muttering, and caught distinctly the
half-whispered words, 'Better try the pick first, Fred.'

"So there was more than one at any rate.

"When the door was wide enough open to admit my head, I looked in. One
burner of the gas was alight but turned very low, though it gave enough
light for me to see three men standing before the safe. Three were
rather more than I had bargained for. Number One, by himself, had given
me a good deal of occupation, both during and after the capture. Three
might prove a little beyond my powers. And yet, if I could only manage
them, they would make a handsome addition to my collection. I watched
them and turned over the ways and means of dealing with them. Evidently
the essence of the strategy required was to separate them and deal with
them in detail. But how was it to be done?

I watched the three men with their heads close together looking into the
safe. The door stood wide open and a key in the lock explained the
procedure so far. One of the men held an electric bulls-eye lamp, the
light of which was focussed on the keyhole of the jewel-compartment,
into which another had just introduced a skeleton key.

At this moment, the third man turned his head. By the dim light I could
see that he was looking, with a distinctly startled expression, in my
direction; in fact, I seemed to meet his eye; but, knowing that I was in
complete darkness in the shadow of the door, I remained motionless.

"'Fred,' he whispered hoarsely, 'the door's open.'

"The other two men looked round sharply, and one of them--presumably
Fred--retorted gruffly, 'Then go and shut it. And don't make no bloomin'
row.'

"The man addressed felt in his pocket and advanced stealthily across the
room. His feet were encased in list slippers and his tread was perfectly
noiseless. As he approached I backed away, and grasping the newel-post
of the staircase gave it a sharp pull, whereat the whole of the
balusters creaked loudly. Then I slipped behind the curtain that partly
divided the hall, poised the concussor as a golf-player poises his club,
and gathered in the slack of the fishing-line.

"The burglar's head appeared dimly in silhouette against the faint light
from within. He listened for a moment and then peered out into the dark
hall. The opportunity seemed excellent if I could only lure him a little
farther out. In any case, he must not be allowed to retire and shut the
door.

"I gave a steady pull at the fishing-line. The shot-bag slid over the
carpet on the landing above with a sound remarkably like that of a
stealthy footstep.

"The burglar looked up sharply and raised his hand; and against the
dimly-lighted wall of the dining-room I saw the silhouette of a pointed
revolver. The practice of carrying firearms seems to be growing amongst
the criminal classes, perhaps by reason of the increasing number of
American criminals who visit this country. At any rate, the matter
should be dealt with by appropriate legislation.

"The burglar then stood looking out with his revolver pointed up the
stairs. I was about to give another tweak at the fishing-line when an
unmistakable creak came from the upper stairs. I think this somewhat
reassured my friend, for I heard him mutter that 'he supposed it was
them dam girls.' He stepped cautiously outside the door, and, fumbling
in his pocket, produced a little electric bulls-eye, the light of which
he threw up the stairs.

"The opportunity was perfect. Against the circle of light produced by
his lamp his head stood out black and distinct, its back towards me,
one outstanding ear serving to explain what I may call the constructive
details of the flat, dark shape.

"With my left hand I silently held aside the curtain and took a careful
aim. Remembering the mishap with Number One, I selected the right
parietal eminence, an oblique impact on which would be less likely to
injure the base of the skull than a vertical blow. But I put my whole
strength into the stroke, and when the padded weight descended on the
spot selected, the burglar doubled up as if struck by lightning.

"The impact of the concussor was silent enough, but the man fell with a
resounding crash, and the revolver and lamp flew from his hands and
rattled noisily along the floor of the hall. The instant I had struck
the blow I ran lightly up the hall and softly turned the knob of the
farther door. Fortunately the two men in the room were too much alarmed
to rush out into the hall, or, with the aid of their lamp, they would
have seen me. But they were extremely cautious. I thrust my head in at
the door and from the dark end of the room I could see them peering out
of the other door and listening intently. After a short interval they
tip-toed out into the hall and I lost sight of them.

"Close to the farther door was a large, four-fold Japanese screen. It
had sheltered me in my last adventure and I thought it might do so
again, as the prostrate burglar was lying a couple of yards past the
opening of the door and his two friends were probably examining him.
Accordingly I stepped softly along the room and took up a position
behind the screen in a recess of the folds. My movements had evidently
been unobserved and my new position enabled me to peep out into the
hall--at some risk of being seen--and to hear all that passed.

"For the moment there was nothing to hear but a faint rustling from the
two men and an occasional creak from the upper stairs. But presently I
caught a hoarse whisper.

"'Dam funny. He seems to be dead.'

"'Yus; he do look like it,' the other agreed and then added
optimistically, 'but p'raps he's only took queer.'

"'Dam!' was the impatient rejoinder. 'I tell yer he's dead--dead as a
pork chop.'

"There was another silence and then, in a yet softer whisper, a voice
asked:

"'D'yer think somebody's been and done 'im in, Fred?'

"'Don't see no marks,' answered Fred; 'besides there ain't no one here.
Hallo! what's that?'

"'That' was a loud creak on the upper stairs near the first-floor
landing, doubtless emanating from Miss Slodger or the cook. I have no
doubt that these sounds of stealthy movement were highly disturbing to
the burglars, especially in the present circumstances. And so it
appeared, for the answer came in an obviously frightened whisper:
'There's someone on the stairs, Fred. Let's hook it. This job ain't no
class.'

"'What!' was the indignant reply. ''Ook it and leave all that stuff. Not
me! Nor you neither. There's more'n what one of us can carry. And you
put away that barker or else you'll be lettin' it off and bringin' in
the coppers. D'ye 'ear?'

"'Ain't going to be done in the dark same as what Joe's been,' the
other whispered sulkily. 'If anyone comes down 'ere, I pots 'im.'

"At this moment there was another very audible creak from above, and
then followed rapidly a succession of events which I subsequently
disentangled, but which, at the time, were involved in utter confusion.
What actually happened was that Fred had begun boldly to ascend the
stairs, in some way missing the fishing-line, and being closely followed
by his more nervous comrade. The latter, less fortunate, caught his foot
in the line, stumbled, tightened the line and brought the shot-bag
hopping down the stairs. What I heard was the sound of the stumble,
followed by the quick thud, thud, of the descending shot-bag, exactly
resembling the footfalls of a heavy man running down the stairs
barefoot. Then came two revolver shots in quick succession, a shower of
plaster, a hoarse cry, a heavy fall, and, from above, a loud scuffling
followed by the slamming of a door and the noisy turning of a key; a
brief interval of silence and then a quavering whisper.

"'I ain't 'it yer, Fred, 'ave I?'

"To this question there was no answer but a gurgling groan. I stepped
out from my hiding-place, passed through the open doorway and stole
softly along the hall, guided by the sound of the survivor extricating
himself from his fallen comrade. A few paces from him I halted with the
concussor poised ready to strike and listened to his fumbling and
scuffling. Suddenly a bright light burst forth. He had found Fred's
electric lantern, which was, oddly enough, uninjured by the fall (it had
a metal filament, as I subsequently ascertained).

"The circle of light from the bulls-eye, quivering with the tremor of
the hand which held the lantern, embraced the figure of the injured
burglar, huddled in a heap at the foot of the stairs and still twitching
at intervals. It could not have been a pleasant sight to his companion.
The greenish-white face with its staring eyes and blood-stained lips
stood out in the bright light from its background of black darkness with
the vivid intensity of some ghastly wax-work.

"The surviving burglar stood petrified, stooping over his comrade, with
the lantern in one shaking hand and the revolver still grasped in the
other; and as he stood, he poured out, in a curious, whimpering
undertone, an unending torrent of incoherent blasphemies, as appears to
be the habit of that type of man when frightened. I stepped silently
behind him and looked over his shoulder at the expiring criminal,
speculating on what he would do next. At the moment he was paralyzed and
imbecile with terror, and I had a strong inclination to dispatch him
then and there; but the same odd impulse that I had noticed on the last
occasion constrained me to dally with him. Again I was possessed by a
strange, savage playfulness like that which impels a cat or leopard to
toy daintily and tenderly with its prey for a while before the final
scrunch.

"We remained thus motionless for more than half a minute in a silence
broken only by his blasphemous mutterings. Then, quite suddenly, he
stood up and began to flash his lantern on the stairs and about the hall
until at length its light fell full on my face which was within a foot
of his own. And at that apparition he uttered a most singular cry, like
that of a young goat, and started back. Another moment and he would have
raised his pistol arm, but I had foreseen this and was beforehand with
him. Even as his hand rose, the concussor struck the outer side of his
arm, between the shoulder and the elbow, on the exact spot where the
musculo-spiral nerve turns round the bone. The effect was most
interesting. The sudden nerve stimulus produced an equally sudden
contraction of the extensors. The forearm straightened with a jerk, the
fingers shot out straight and the released revolver flew clattering
along the hall floor.

"Anatomy has its uses even in a midnight scuffle.

"The suddenness of my appearance and the promptness of my action
paralyzed him completely. He stared at me in abject terror and gibbered
inarticulately. Only for a few moments, however. Then he turned and
darted towards the street door.

"But I did not mean to let him escape. In a twinkling I was after him
and had him by the collar. He uttered a savage snarl and dropped the
lamp on the mat to free his hands; and, as the spring switch was
released, the light went out, leaving us in total darkness. Now that he
was at bay, he struggled furiously, and I could hear him snorting and
cursing as he wriggled in my grasp. I had to drop the concussor that I
might hold him with both hands, and it was well that I did, for he
suddenly got one hand free and struck. It was a vicious blow and had it
not been partly stopped by my elbow the adventure would have ended very
differently, for I felt the point of a knife sweep across my chest,
ripping open my pajama jacket and making a quite unpleasant little
flesh-wound. On this I gripped him round the chest, pinioning both his
arms as well as I could and trying to get possession of the knife, while
he made frantic struggles to aim another blow.

"So, for awhile we remained locked in a deadly embrace, swaying to and
fro, and each straining for the momentary advantage that would have
brought the affair to a finish. The end came unexpectedly.

"One of us tripped on the edge of the mat and we both came down with a
crash, he underneath and face downwards. As we fell, he uttered a sharp
cry and began to struggle in a curious, convulsive fashion; but after a
time he grew quieter and at last lay quite still and silent.

"At first I took this for a ruse to put me off my guard, and held on
more firmly than ever; but presently a characteristic limpness of his
limbs suggested a new idea. Gradually and cautiously I relaxed my hold,
and, as he still did not move, I felt about on the mat for the lamp; and
when I had found it and pushed over the switch I threw its light on him.

"He was perfectly motionless and did not appear to be breathing. I
turned him over and then saw that it was as I had suspected. He had held
the knife ready for a second blow when I had pinioned him. He was still
grasping it so when we fell, and the point had entered his own chest
near the middle line, between the fourth and fifth ribs, and had been
driven in up to the very haft by the force of the fall. He must have
died almost instantaneously.

"I stood up and listened. The place was as silent as the grave; a
remarkably apt comparison, by the way. The pistol shots had apparently
not been heard by the police, so there was no fear of interruption from
that quarter; and as for the maids they were very carefully keeping out
of harm's way.

"Still, there was a good deal to do, and not so very much time to do it
in. It was now getting on for three o'clock and the sun would be up by
four. Daylight would bring the maids down and everything must be clear
before they made their appearance.

"I wasted no time. One by one, I conveyed the bodies to the laboratory
and deposited them in the tank, the accommodation of which was barely
equal to the occasion. The sudden death of the first man had rather
puzzled me, but when I lifted him the explanation was obvious enough.
The heavy blow, catching the head obliquely, had dislocated the neck. So
the concussor was not such a very harmless implement after all.

"The slight traces left in transporting the material to the laboratory,
I obliterated with great care, excepting the last man's knife, which I
left on the mat. Then I changed my pajamas, putting the blood-stained
suit to soak in the laboratory, strapped up my wound, put on a
dressing-gown, opened the street door and shut it rather noisily and
ascended with a candle to the upper floor.

"The housemaid's bedroom door was open and the room empty. I tapped at
the cook's door and elicited a faint scream.

"'Who's that?' a shaky voice demanded.

"'It is I,' was my answer--a stupid answer, by the way, but, of course,
they knew my voice. The door opened and the two women appeared, fully
dressed but rather disheveled and both very pale.

"'Is anything the matter, sir?' the housemaid asked.

"'Yes,' I replied. 'I think there has been a burglary. I woke in the
night and thought I heard a pistol-shot, but, putting it down to a
dream, I went to sleep again. Did either of you hear anything?'

"'I thought I heard a pistol go off, sir,' said the cook, 'and so did
Susan. That's why she came in here.'

"'Ah!' said I, 'then it was not a dream. Then just now I distinctly
heard the street door shut, so I went down and found the gas alight in
the dining-room and the safe open.'

"'Lor', sir!' exclaimed Susan, 'I hope nothing's been took.' (She spoke
exceedingly badly for a good-class housemaid.)

"'That,' said I, 'is what I wish you to find out. Perhaps you will come
down and take a look round. There is no one about now.'

"On this they came down with alacrity, each provided with a candle, all
agog, no doubt, to see what success their friends had had. The first
trace of the intruders was a large blood-stain at the foot of the
stairs, at which Susan shied like a horse. There was another stain near
the street door, and there was the burglar's knife on the mat, which the
cook picked up and then dropped with a faint scream. I examined it and
discovered the letters 'G.B.' cut on the handle.

"'It looks,' I remarked, 'as if the burglars had quarreled. However,
that is none of our business. Let us see what has happened to the safe.'

"We went into the dining-room and the two women looked eagerly at the
open safe; but though they both repeated the hope that 'nothing had been
took,' they could hardly conceal their disappointment when they saw that
the contents were intact. I examined the roughly-made false key without
comment but with a significant glance at them which I think they
understood; and I overhauled a couple of large carpet bags, neither of
which contained anything but the outfit of appliances for the raid.

"'I suppose I ought to communicate with the police,' said I (without the
slightest intention of doing anything of the kind).

"'I don't see what good that would do, sir,' said Susan. 'The men is
gone and nothing hasn't been took. The police would only come in and
turn the place upside down and take up your time for nothing.'

"Thus Susan Slodger, with a vivid consciousness of the false key, made
exactly the suggestion that I desired. Of course it would never do to
have the police in the house again so soon. I affected to be deeply
impressed by her sagacity and in the end decided to 'let sleeping dogs
lie.' Only Susan did not realize how exceedingly soundly they slept.

"It was necessary for me to visit the osteological dealer in the course
of the morning to obtain three suitable skeletons as understudies
according to my plan. This was quite indispensable. The dealer's receipt
and invoice for three human skeletons was my passport of safety. But I
regretted the necessity. For it was certain that as soon as I was out of
the house one of these hussies would run off to make inquiries about her
friends; and when it was found that the burglars were missing, there
might be trouble. You can never calculate the actions of women. I did
not suppose that either of them was capable of breaking into the
laboratory. But still, one or both of them might. And if they did, the
fat would be in the fire with a vengeance.

"However, it had to be done, and accordingly I set forth after
breakfast with a spring tape and a note of the measurements in my
pocket. Fortunately the dealer had just received a large consignment of
skeletons from Germany (Heaven alone knows whence these German exporters
obtain their supply), so I had an ample number to select from; and as
they ran rather small--I suspect they were mostly Frenchmen--I had no
difficulty in matching my specimens, which, as is usual with criminals,
were all below the average stature.

"On my return I found that the housemaid was out, 'doing some shopping,'
the cook explained. But she returned shortly, and as soon as I saw her I
knew that she had been making 'kind inquiries.' Her manner was most
peculiar, and so was the cook's for that matter. They were both
profoundly depressed and anxious; they both regarded me with evident
dislike and still more evident fear. They mumped about the house, silent
and restless; they showed an inconvenient desire to keep me in sight and
yet they hurried out of the rooms at my approach.

"The housemaid was very much disturbed. When waiting at table, she eyed
me incessantly and if I moved suddenly she jumped. Once she dropped a
soup tureen merely because I looked at her rather attentively; she was
continually missing my wine-glass and pouring the claret on to the
table-cloth; and when I tested the edge of a poultry-carver, which had
become somewhat blunt, she hurried from the room and I saw her watching
me through the crack of the door.

"The arrival of the 'understudy' skeletons from the dealers a couple of
days later gave her a terrible shock. I was in the dining-room when they
arrived and through the open door heard what passed; and certainly the
incident was not without a humorous side.

"The carrier came to the front door and to Susan, who answered his ring,
he addressed himself with the familiarity of his class.

"'Here's three cases for your master. Funny uns, they are, too. He don't
happen to be in the resurrection line, I suppose?'

"'I don't know what you mean,' Susan replied, sourly.

"'You will when you see the cases,' the man retorted. 'Three of 'em,
there are. Big uns. Where will you have 'em?'

Susan came to me for instructions and I directed that they should be
taken through to the museum, the door of which I unlocked for the
purpose.

"The appearance of the cases was undeniably funereal, not in shape only
but also in color; for the dealer, with an ill-timed sense of fitness,
had had them painted black. And the effect was heightened by the conduct
of the two grinning carriers, who bore each case on their shoulders,
coffin-wise, and proceeded to the museum at a slow, funereal walk; and
when I was out of sight, though not out of earshot, I heard the leading
carrier, who seemed to be somewhat of a humorist, softly whistling the
'Dead March in Saul.'

"Meanwhile, Susan Slodger stood in the hall with a face as white as a
tallow candle. She stared with fearful fascination at the long, black
cases and uttered no sound even when the facetious carrier questioned
her as to the destination of 'our dear departed brother.' She was
absolutely thunderstruck.

"When the carriers had gone I directed her to come to the museum and
help me to unpack the cases, which she flatly refused to do unless
supported by the cook. To this, of course, I had no objection, and when
she went off to the kitchen to fetch her colleague, I took up a position
just inside the laboratory door and awaited developments. The cases had
hinged lids secured with a simple hook, so that when the binding cords
were cut there would be no difficulty in ascertaining the nature of the
contents.

"The two women came briskly through the lobby, the cook babbling
cheerfully and the housemaid silent; but at the museum door they both
stopped short and the former ejaculated, 'Gawd! what's this?'

"Here I stepped out and explained, 'These are some cases of specimens
for the museum. I want you to unfasten the cords. That is all. I will
take out the things myself.' With this I went back to the laboratory;
but in less than half a minute I heard a series of shrieks, and the two
women raced through the lobby and disappeared below stairs.

"After this the position grew worse than ever. Though obviously
terrified of me, these two women dogged me incessantly. It was most
inconvenient, for the excess of material kept me exceedingly busy; and
to make things worse, I had received from Jamrach's (without an
order--but I had to keep the thing) a dead hyena which had been affected
with _osteitis deformans_. It was a fine specimen and was useful as
serving to explain my great preoccupation; but it added to my labors and
made me impatient of interruptions.

"The museum wing had an entrance of its own in a side street for the
delivery of material (such as the hyena), and this gave me some relief;
for I could go out of the front door and slip in by the side entrance.
But Susan soon discovered this and thereafter was continually banging at
the lobby door to see if I was in. I don't know what she thought. She
was an ignorant woman and stupid, but I think she vaguely associated my
labors in the laboratory with her absent friends.

"This perpetual spying on my actions became at last intolerable and I
was on the point of sending the two hussies about their business when an
accident put an end to the state of affairs. I had gone out of the front
door and let myself in by the side entrance, but, by some amazing
inadvertence, had left the lobby door unfastened; and I had barely got
on my apron to begin work when I heard someone enter the lobby. Then
came a gentle tapping at the door of the laboratory. I took no notice,
but waited to see what would happen. The tapping was repeated louder and
yet louder, and still I made no move. Then, after an interval, I heard a
wire inserted in the lock.

"I determined to make an end of this. Quietly concealing the material on
which I was working, I took down from a hook a large butterfly-net (my
poor wife had been interested in Lepidoptera). Very softly I tiptoed to
the door and suddenly flung it open. There stood Susan Slodger with a
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
head.

"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
conduct.

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
British criminal's.

This, however, is only an _obiter dictum_ from which many will no doubt
dissent.




IV

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
histories too.

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
mill.

"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.

"'Guv'nor.'

"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,
guv'nor.'

"'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
Five.

"'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
out unobserved.'

"'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
private nature.'

"'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
house still."

"'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
rascal.

"'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
invaluable.

"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
the threat.

"Imagine, therefore, my astonishment when I realized that not only had
the complaint been made, but the law had actually been set--at least
tentatively--in motion.

"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
leanings.

"'Show Mr. Ramchild up here,' I said, and the housemaid departed, to
return anon accompanied by a tall, massive man of a somewhat military
aspect.

"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
Cambridge.'

"'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
answered.

"'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
Street.'

"'Good gracious!' he exclaimed excitedly; 'do you really mean to say
that--'

"'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
disappointment.

"'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
subject. L5.3.4.'

"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
crestfallen.

"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
police.

"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
station?'

"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
undisguised pursuit.

"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'
pockets.'

"'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
go peaceable.'

"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
alive.

"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
Toledo sword-blade.

"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
museum.

"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
laboratory.

"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
research.

"(See Catalogue, Numbers 6A and 6B.)"




V

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
Anthropological Series:

"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
back-street.

"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
sought.

"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
but rent.'

"'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
luminous idea.

"'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
spare time.

"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
laborer.'

"'Looked rather like a copper,' said my customer. He took his place in
the vacated chair with a laconic ''Air cut,' and then became
conversational.

"'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
hand.

"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
the chair.

"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
the door.

"'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
careful treatment.

"'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
wary.

"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
encouraging demonstrations.

"'Oh!' I shouted, 'Let me go! Let go my hands or I'll call for the
police!'

"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
can--'

"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
concussor.

"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
open.'

"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
head.

"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
irregularity.

"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
casks.

"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
frown.

"'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."




VI

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
above.

"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
conversed affably.

"'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
bloomin' foreigners.'

"'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
door?'

"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
door.

"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
proceedings.

"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
empty shop.

"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
against them!

"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
the problem.

"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
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
bloodshed.

"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
poison.

"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
room.

"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
enemy.

"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
for?'

"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
air.

"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
November.

"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
sergeant.

"'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
disappearances.

"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
sergeant.

"'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
somewhat.

"'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
subordinate.

"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
chant:

  "'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,
shouted:

"'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
remained.

"''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
Street.

"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
unscathed!

"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."




VII

THE UTTERMOST FARTHING


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
pertinacity.

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
appearance.

"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
departure.

"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
unpaid.

"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
rewarded.

"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
so?'

"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
continued:

"'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
call.'

"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
tried?'

"'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
basket.

"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
Place.

"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
them!'

"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
ruffian.

"'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
Piragoff.

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

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

"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
them.'

"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
Plotcovitch!'

"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."


THE END







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