Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Steven desJardins and Distributed Proofreaders
THE UTTERMOST FARTHING
A SAVANT'S VENDETTA
BY R. AUSTIN FREEMAN
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
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
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
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
"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."
"Because they are all Europeans; in fact, most of them look like
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"The end came," he repeated presently. "The perfect happiness of two
human beings was shattered in a moment. Let me describe the
"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
"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
"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,
"'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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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. 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
"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
"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 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"'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.'
"'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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
* * * * *
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.
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
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
"'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
"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
"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'
"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
"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
"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
"There was another silence and then, in a yet softer whisper, a voice
"'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
"'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
"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
"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
"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
"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