The Uttermost Farthing by R. Austin Freeman
V. By-Products of Industry
The next entry in the amazing "Museum Archives" exhibited my poor friend Humphrey Challoner in circumstances that were to me perfectly incredible. When I recall that learned, cultivated man as I knew him, I find it impossible to picture him living amidst the indescribably squalid surroundings of the London Ghetto, the tenant of a sordid little shop in an East End by-street. Yet this appears actually to have been his condition at one time--but let me quote the entry in his own words, which need no comments of mine to heighten their strangeness.
"Events connected with the acquirement of Numbers 7, 8 and 9 in the Anthropological Series:
"We are the creatures of circumstance. Blind chance, which guided that unknown wretch to my house in the dead of the night and which led my dear wife to her death at his murderous hands, also impelled that other villain (Number 6, Anthropological Series) to pursue me to the lonely chalk-pit, where he would have done me to death had I not fortunately anticipated his intentions. So, too, it was by a mere chance that I presently found myself the proprietor of a shop in a Whitechapel back-street.
"Let me trace the connections of events.
"The first link in the chain was a visit that I had paid in my younger days to Moscow and Warsaw, where I had stayed long enough to acquire a useful knowledge of Russian and Yiddish. The second link was the failure of my plan to lure the murderer of my wife--and, incidentally, other criminals--to my house. The trap had been scented not only by the criminals but also by the police, of whom one had visited my museum with very evident suspicion as to the nature of my specimens.
"After the visit of the detective, I was rather at a loose end. That unknown wretch was still at large. He had to be found and I had to find him since the police could not. But how? That detective had completely upset my plans and, for a time, I could think of no other. Then came the dirty rascal who had tried to murder me in the chalk-pit; and from his mongrel jargon, half cockney, half foreign, I had gathered a vague hint. If I could not entice the criminal population into my domain, how would it be to reconnoiter theirs? The alien area of London was well known to me, for it had always seemed interesting since my visit to Warsaw, and, judging from the police reports, it appeared to be a veritable happy hunting-ground for the connoisseur in criminals.
"Hence it was that my unrest led me almost daily to perambulate that strange region east of Aldgate where uncouth foreign names stare out from the shop signs and almost every public or private notice is in the Hebrew character. Dressed in my shabbiest clothes, I trudged, hour after hour and day after day, through the gray and joyless streets and alleys, looking earnestly into the beady eyes and broad faces of the East-European wayfarers and wondering whether any of them was the man I sought.
"One evening, as I was returning homeward through the district that lies at the rear of Middlesex Street, my attention was arrested by a large card tacked on the door of a closed shop. A dingy barber's pole gave a clue to the nature of the industry formerly carried on, and the card--which was written upon in fair and even scholarly Hebrew characters--supplied particulars. I had stopped to read the inscription, faintly amused at the incongruity between the recondite Oriental lettering and the matter-of-fact references to 'eligible premises' and 'fixtures and goodwill,' when the door opened and two men came out. One was a typical English Jew, smart, chubby and prosperous; the other was evidently a foreigner.
"Both men stood aside to enable me to continue my reading, and, as I was about to turn away, the smarter of the two addressed me.
"'Good chanth here, misther. Nithe little bithness going for nothing. No charge for goodwill or fixtures. Ready-made bithneth and nothing to pay but rent.'
"'Ja!' the other man broke in, 'dat shop is a leedle goldmine; und you buys 'im for noding.'
"It was an absurd situation. I was beginning smilingly to shake my head when the Jew resumed eagerly:
"I tell you, misther, itth a chanth in a million. A firth clath bithneth and not a brown to pay for the goodwill. Come in and have a look round,' he added persuasively.
"I suppose I am curious by nature. At any rate, I am sure it was nothing but idle curiosity to see what the interior of a Whitechapel house was like that led me to follow the two men into the dark and musty-smelling shop. But hardly had my eyes lighted on the frowsy fixtures and appurtenances of the trade when there flashed into my mind a really luminous idea.
"'Why did the last man leave?' I asked.
"The Jew caught the lapel of my coat and exclaimed impressively:
"'The lath man wath a fool. Got himself mixthed up with the crookth. Thet up a roulette table in the thellar and let 'em come and gamble away their thwag. Thtoopid thing to do, though, mind you, he did a rare good line while it lathted. Got the sthuff for nothing, you thee.' His tone at this point was regretfully sympathetic.
"'What happened in the end?' I asked.
"'The copperth dropped on him. Thomebody gave him away.'
"'Some of the ladies, perhaps,' I suggested.
"'Ach! Zo!' the other man burst in fiercely, 'Of gourse it vas der vimmen! It is always der vimmen. Dese dam vimmen, dey makes all der drabble!' He thumped the table with his fist, and then, catching the Hebrew's eye, suddenly subsided into silence.
"From the shop we proceeded to the little parlor behind, from which a door gave access, by a flight of most dangerous stone steps, to the large cellar. This was lighted by a grating from the back yard, with which it also communicated by a flight of steps and a door. We next examined the yard itself, a small paved enclosure with a gate opening on an alley, and occupied at the moment by an empty beer-barrel, a builder's hand-cart and a dead cat.
"'Like to thee the upstairth roomth?' inquired the Hebrew gentleman, whose name I understood to be Nathan. I nodded abstractedly and followed him up the stairs, gathering a general impression of all-pervading dirt. The upper rooms were of no interest to me after what I had seen downstairs.
"'Well,' said Mr. Nathan when we were once more back in the shop, 'what do you think of it?'
"I did not answer his question literally. If I had, I should have startled him. For I thought the place absolutely ideal for my purpose. Just consider its potentialities! I was searching for a criminal whom I could identify by his hair. Here was a barber's shop in the heart of a criminal neighborhood and admittedly the late haunt of criminals. Those criminals were certain to come back. I could examine their hair at my leisure; and--there was the cellar. It was, I repeat, absolutely ideal.
"'I think the place will suit me,' I said.
"Mr. Nathan beamed on me. 'Of courth,' he said, 'referentheth will be nethethary, or rent in advanthe.'
"'A year's rent in advance will do, I suppose?' said I; and Mr. Nathan nearly jumped clear off the floor. A few minutes later I departed, the accepted tenant (under the pseudonym of Simon Vosper) of Samuel Nathan, with the understanding that I should deliver my advance rent in bank-notes and that he should have the top-dressing of dirt removed from the house and the name of Vosper painted over the shop.
"My preparations for the new activities on which I was to enter were quickly made. In my Bloomsbury house I installed as caretaker a retired sergeant-major of incomparable taciturnity. I locked up the museum wing and kept the keys. I took a few lessons in haircutting from a West-End barber. I paid my advance rent, sent in a set of bedroom furniture to my new premises in Saul Street, Whitechapel, abandoned the habit of shaving for some ten days, and then took possession of the shop.
"At first the customers were few and far between. A stray coster or carman came in from time to time, but mostly the shop was silent and desolate. But this did not distress me. I had various preparations to make and a plan of campaign to settle. There were the cellar stairs, for instance; a steep flight of stone steps, unguarded by baluster or handrail. They were very dangerous. But when I had fitted a sort of giant stride by suspending a stout rope from the ceiling, I was able to swing myself down the whole flight in perfect safety. Other preparations consisted in the placing, of an iron safe in the parlor (with a small mirror above it) and the purchase of a tin of stiff cart-grease and a few large barrels. These latter I bought from a cooper in the form of staves and hoops, and built them up in the cellar in my rather extensive spare time.
"Meanwhile trade gradually increased. The harmless coster and laborer began to be varied by customers rather more in my line; in fact, I had not quite completed my arrangements when I got the first windfall.
"It was a Wednesday evening. I had nearly finished shaving a large, military-looking laborer when the door opened very quietly and a seedy, middle-aged man entered and sat down. His movements were silent--almost stealthy; and, when he had seated himself, he picked up a newspaper from behind which I saw him steal furtive and suspicious glances at the patient in the operating chair. The latter, being scraped clean, rose to depart, and the newcomer underwent a total eclipse behind the newspaper.
"'Oo's 'e?' he demanded, when the laborer was safely outside.
"'I don't know him,' I replied, 'but I should say, by his hands, a laborer.'
"'Looked rather like a copper,' said my customer. He took his place in the vacated chair with a laconic ''Air cut,' and then became conversational.
"'So you've took on Polensky's job?'
"I nodded at the mirror that faced us (Polensky was my predecessor) and he continued, 'Polensky's doing time, ain't he?'
"I believed he was and said so, and my friend then asked:
"'Young Pongo ever come in here now?'
"Naturally I had never heard of young Pongo, but I felt that I must not appear too ignorant. It were better to invent a little.
"'Pongo,' I ruminated; 'Pongo. Is that the fellow who was with Joe Bartels in that job at--er--you know?'
"'No, I don't,' said my friend. 'And 'oo's Joe Bartels?'
"'Oh, I thought you knew him; but if you don't I'd better say no more. You see, I don't know who you are.'
"'Don't yer. Then I'll tell yer. I'm Spotty Bamber, of Spitalfields, that's 'oo I am. So now you know.'
"I made a mental note of the name (the first part of which had apparently been suggested by Mr. Bamber's complexion) and my attention must have wandered somewhat, for my patient suddenly shouted: "Ere! I say! I didn't come 'ere to be scalped. I come to 'ave my 'air cut.'
"I apologized and led the conversation back to Polensky.
"'Ah,' said Bamber, ''e was a downy un, 'e was. Bit too downy. Opened his mouth too wide. Wanted it all for nix. That was why he got peached on--' Here Spotty turned his head with a jerk--'What are you looking at me through that thing for? My 'ed ain't as small as all that.'
"'That thing' was a Coddington lens, through which I examined the hair of every customer with a view to identification. But I did not tell Mr. Bamber this. My explanation was recondite and rather obscure, but it seemed to satisfy him.
"'Well,' he said, 'you're a rum cove. Talk like a blooming toff too, you do.' I made a careful mental note of that fact and determined to study the local dialect. Meanwhile I explained, 'I wasn't always a hairdresser, you know.'
"'So I should suppose,' answered Spotty, twisting his neck to get a look at his poll in the glass. 'What you'd call a bloomin' ammerchewer.' He stood up, shook himself and tendered a half-crown in payment, which I examined carefully before giving change. Then I brought out of my pocket a handful of assorted coins, including two sovereigns, a quantity of silver and some coppers. I do not ordinarily carry my money mixed up in this slovenly fashion, but had adopted the habit, since I came to the shop, for a definite reason; and was now justified by the avaricious glare that lighted up in Spotty's eye at the sight of the coins in my hand.
"I picked out his change deliberately and handed it to him, when he took it and stood for a few seconds, evidently thinking hard. Suddenly he thrust his hand into his pocket and said, 'I suppose, mister, you haven't got such a thing as a fi-pun-note what you can give me in exchange for five jimmies?' He held out five sovereigns, which I took from him and inspected critically.
"'Oh, they're all right,' said Spotty, as I weighed them in my hand. And so they were.
"'I think I can let you have a note if you will wait a moment,' I said; and, as I turned to enter the parlor, Spotty sat down ostentatiously in the chair.
"I drew the door to after me, but did not latch it. A small jet of gas was burning in the parlor and by its light I unlocked the safe, pulled out a drawer, took from it a bundle of banknotes and looked them over; all very deliberately and with my eye on the mirror that hung above the safe. That mirror reflected the door. It also reflected me, but as the light was on my back my face was in the shadow. Hardly had I opened the safe when, slowly and silently, the door opened a couple of inches and an eye appeared in the space. I picked a note out of the bundle, returned the remainder to the drawer, closed the safe and slowly walked to the door. When I re-entered the shop, Spotty was seated in the chair as I had left him, with the immovable air of an Egyptian statue.
"I have no doubt that Spotty Bamber chuckled with joy when he got outside. I should like to think so, to feel that our pleasure was mutual. For as to me, my feelings can only be appreciated by some patient angler who, after a long and fruitless sitting, has seen his
"'quill or cork down sink With eager bite of perch or bleak or dace.'
"Spotty was on the hook. He would come again, and not alone--at least, I trusted not alone. For my brief inspection of his hair had convinced me that he was not the unknown man whom I sought; and, though he would make an acceptable addition to the group of specimens in the long wall-case, I was more interested in the companion whom I felt confident he would bring with him. The elation of spirit produced by the prospect of this second visit was such that I forthwith closed the shop and spent the rest of the evening exercising with the concussor and practicing flying leaps down the cellar steps with the aid of the giant-stride.
"I slept little that night. As a special precaution against failure, I had left the back gate unbolted and refrained from locking the outside cellar door; with the sole result that I was roused up at one in the morning by a meddlesome constable and rebuked sourly for my carelessness. Otherwise, not a soul came to enliven my solitude. The second night passed in the same dull fashion, leaving me restless and disappointed; and when the third slipped by without the sign of a visitor, I became really uneasy.
"The fourth day was Saturday, and the late evening--the end of the Sabbath--turned my shop into a veritable Land of Goshen. The conversation, mostly in Yiddish--of which I professed total ignorance--kept me pretty well amused until closing time arrived. Then, as the shop emptied, my hopes and fears began to revive together.
"I was about to begin shutting up the premises when the door opened softly and a man slipped into the shop. My heart leaped exultingly. The man was Spotty Bamber.
"And he was not alone. By no means. Two more men stole in in the same stealthy fashion, and, having first glanced at one another and then peered suspiciously round the shop, they all looked at me. For my part, I regarded them with deep interest, especially as to their hair. 'Habitual Criminal' was written large on all of them. As anthropological material they were quite excellent.
"Mr. Bamber opened the proceedings with one eye on me and the other on the door.
"'Look, 'ere, mister, we've come about a little matter of business. You know Polensky used to do a bit of trade?'
"'Yes,' I said; 'and now he's doing a bit of time.'
"'I know,' replied Spotty, 'but you must take the fat with the lean. It ain't all soup. And you know that Polensky was a bloomin' fool.'
"'It comes to this 'ere,' said one of the other men, stepping up close to me. 'Do you know a jerry when you sees one--a red 'un, mind you?'
"As I had not the faintest idea what the man meant, I temporized.
"'I haven't seen one yet, you know.'
"The fellow looked furtively at the door and then, diving into an inner pocket, pulled out a handsome gold watch with a massive chain attached, exhibited it for a moment and then dropped it back.
"'That's the little article,' said he, 'and before you makes a bid, you can look it over and try if the stuff's genu-wine. But not out here, you know. We does our deal inside where you can't get ogled by a cooper through the winder.'
"I saw the plan at a glance, and, in the main, approved, though three at once was a bigger handful than I should have desired. They would require careful treatment.
"'I will just go and see that it's all clear,' I said; and with this I retired to the parlor, quietly bolting the door behind me.
"Once inside, I made my simple preparations rapidly. Placing the concussor in a tall cylindrical basket close to the cellar door, I opened the latter and hitched the rope in a position where I could grasp it easily. Then I took from the cupboard the tin of cart-grease, and, with a large knife, spread a thick layer of the grease on the upper four steps of the cellar stairs. While thus engaged, I turned over my plans quickly but with considerable misgivings. The odds were greater than I ought to have taken. For, as to the intentions of these men, I could have no reasonable doubt. Bamber was known to me and he would not run the risk of my giving information. The amiable intention of these gentry was to 'do me in,' as they would have expressed it, and the vital question for me was, How did they mean to do it? Firearms they would probably avoid on account of the noise, but if they all came at me at once with knives my chance would be infinitesimal.
"It comes back to me now rather oddly that I weighed these probabilities quite impersonally, as though I were a mere spectator. And such was virtually the case. The fact is that, although I had long since abandoned the idea of suicide, I remained alive as a matter of principle and not by personal desire. My objection to being killed was merely the abstract objection to the killing of any worthy member of society by these human vermin. But if any such person must needs be killed, I was quite indifferent as to whether the subject of the action were myself or some other. I had no personal interest in the matter. Hence, when I unbolted the door and beckoned the three men into the room, though doubtful of the issue, I had no feeling of nervousness.
"The advantage that my impassiveness gave me over those three rascals was very evident when they slouched in, for they were all trembling and twitching with nervous excitement. And no wonder. To a man who values his life above everything on earth, it is a serious matter to walk into the very shadow of the gallows. As soon as they were inside, one of them, who looked like a Polish Jew, bolted the door; and then they gathered round me like a pack of hyenas.
"I backed unostentatiously into the corner by the cellar door, talking volubly to the three men by turn as I went; and the Jew edged along the wall to get behind me. I realized that he was the one whom I had to watch, and I watched him; not looking at him, but keeping him on the periphery of my field of vision. For, as is well known, the peripheral area of the retina, although insensitive to impressions of form, is highly sensitive to impressions of movement.
"My remarks on the danger to respectable persons of meddling with stolen property gave Mr. Bamber his cue.
"'Stolen property,' he roared. ''Oo said anything about stolen property? What d'yer mean, yer bloomin' scalp-scraper!' and he advanced threateningly with his chin stuck forward and a most formidable scowl.
"In the next few moments I reaped the reward of my strenuous practice at the gymnasium of the art of Jiu-jitsu and the French style of boxing. Bamber's advance was the signal. I had seen the Jew's hand steal under his coat skirt. He now made a quick movement--and so did I. Whisking round, in an instant I had his wrist in that kind of grip that dislocates the elbow-joint, and, as I turned, I planted my foot heavily on Spotty Bamber's chest. The swift movement took them all by surprise. The Jew screamed and dropped his knife, staggering heavily against the cellar door, which swung back on its well-oiled hinges. Bamber flew backwards like a football, and, as he cannoned against the third man, the two crashed together to the floor. I thrust the Jew through the open doorway, released his wrist; and then followed a slithering sound from the cellar steps, ending in a soft thump.
"The position was marvelously changed in those few moments. The Jew, I took it, was eliminated, and the odds thus brought down to a reasonable figure. As to the other two, though they scrambled to their feet quickly enough, they kept their distance, Bamber in particular having some little difficulty with his breath. I picked up the concussor and faced them. If I had been quick, I could have dispatched them both without difficulty. But I did not. Once more I was aware of that singular state of consciousness to which I have elsewhere alluded as possessing me in the presence of violent criminals; a vivid pleasure in the mere act of physical contest, perfectly incomprehensible to me in my normal state of mind. This strange joy now sent the blood surging through my brain until my ears hummed; and yet I kept my judgment, calmly attentive and even wary.
"Thus, when the third ruffian rushed at me with a large sheath-knife, I knocked his hand aside quite neatly with the concussor and drove him out of range with a heavy blow of my left fist. But at this moment I observed Bamber frantically lugging something from his hip-pocket; something that was certainly not a knife. It was time for a change of tactics. Before the third rascal could close with me again, I darted at the open doorway, grasped the rope, and in an instant had swung myself clear of the steps down into the darkness of the cellar.
"In swinging I had turned half round, and, as I alighted, I saw my aggressor, knife in hand, come through the doorway in pursuit. He had more courage than Spotty but less discretion. In the haste of his pursuit, he actually sprang over the sill on to the slippery top step, and the next moment was bumping down the stairs like an overturned sack of potatoes. As he picked himself up, half-stunned, from the prostrate Jew, on whom he had fallen, I regretfully felled him with the concussor. It was a dull finish to the affair, but there was Bamber's revolver to be reckoned with.
"To do Mr. Bamber justice, he was not rash. In fact, he was so unobtrusive that I began to fear that he had made off, and, it being obviously unsafe to go up and ascertain, I proceeded to make a few encouraging demonstrations.
"'Oh!' I shouted, 'Let me go! Let go my hands or I'll call for the police!'
"This appeal had the desired effect. The dimly lighted doorway framed the figure of Spotty Bamber, with revolver poised, peering cautiously into the darkness.
"I renewed my protests, and, retiring to the darkest corner, shuffled noisily about the brick floor.
"''Ave yer got 'im, Alf?' inquired the discreet Bamber, leaning forward and stepping over the sill. I continued to dance heavily in my corner and to utter breathless snorts and exclamations such as, 'Let go, I tell you!' 'Aha! would you?' and so forth. Bamber took another step forward, craned his neck and called out, 'Shove 'im over this way, Alf, so as I can--'
"He did not finish the sentence. Watching him, I saw his feet suddenly fly from under him, the revolver clattered on the cellar floor, and Spotty, himself, having slipped half-way down the steps, fell over the edge on to the hard brick pavement.
"As he picked himself up, breathing heavily, I dropped the concussor into the big pocket of my apron and pounced on him. He uttered a yell of terror and began to struggle like a maniac to free himself from my grip, while I edged him away from the dangerous vicinity of the revolver. At first he was disposed to show a good deal of fight, and, as we gyrated round the cellar, tugging, thrusting, wrenching and kicking, I found the strenuous muscular exercise strangely exhilarating. Evidently there is something to be said for the 'simple life,' as lived in those primitive communities where every man is his own policeman.
"But this physically stimulating bout came to a sudden end. Our mazy revolutions brought us presently near the foot of the steps, and here Spotty tripped over the prostrate form of the third man. He staggered back a few paces and uttered a husky shriek, and then we came down together on top of the Jew. That finished him. The contact with those two motionless shapes shattered his nerves utterly and reduced him to sheer panic. He ceased to fight and only whimpered for mercy.
"It was very unpleasant. As long as the fight was hot and strenuous, the revived instincts of long-forgotten primitive ancestors kept my blood racing. But, with the first cry for mercy, all my exhilaration died out and the degenerate emotions of civilized man began to make themselves felt. If I hesitated I was lost. At every pitiful bleat I felt myself weakening. There was only one thing to do, and I did it--with the concussor.
"Verbal description is a slow affair compared with action. The whole set of events that I have narrated occupied but a few minutes. When I unbolted the parlor door and found a somnolent navvy waiting to be shaved, I realized with astonishment how brief the interlude had been.
"'Hope I haven't kept you waiting,' I said, anxious to learn if he had heard anything unusual.
"'No,' he replied, 'I've only just come in. Didn't expect to find you open.'
"He seated himself in the chair and I lathered him profusely, with luxurious pleasure in handling the clean soapsuds. The folly of my late visitors in leaving the shop door unfastened, surprised me, and illustrated afresh the poverty of the criminal intelligence. They had assumed that it would be all over in a moment and had taken no precautions against the improbable. And such is the 'habitual' with whom the costly machinery of the law is unable to cope! Verily, there must be a good many fools besides the dishonest ones!
"I shut up the shop when my customer departed, indulged in a good wash and a substantial supper. For there was much to be done before I could go to bed. I had providently laid in six casks of a suitable size, of which two were put together and the remainder in the form of loose staves and hoops. One of these would have to be made up at once, since it was necessary that the specimens should be packed before rigor mortis set in and rendered them unmanageable. Accordingly, I fell to work after supper with the mallet and the broad chisel-like tool with which the hoops are driven on, and did not pause until the bundle of staves was converted into a cask, complete save for the top hoop and head.
"I proceeded systematically. Into one cask I poured a quart of water and wetted the interior thoroughly, to make the wood swell and secure tight joints. Then into it I introduced the Jew, in a sitting posture, and was gratified to find that the specimen occupied the space comfortably. But here a slight difficulty presented itself. The center of gravity of a cask filled with homogeneous matter coincides with the geometrical center. But in a cask containing a deceased Jew, the center of gravity would be markedly ex-centric. Such a cask would not roll evenly; and irregular rolling might lead to investigation. However, the remedy was quite simple. My predecessor had been accustomed to cover the floor of the shop with sawdust, and the peculiar habits of my customers had led me to continue the practice. An immense bin of the material occupied a corner of the cellar and furnished the means of imparting a factitious homogeneity to the contents of the cask. I shoveled in a quantity around the specimen, headed up the cask, and finished filling it through the bung-hole. When I had driven in the bung, I gave the cask a trial roll on the cellar floor and found that it moved without noticeable irregularity.
"It was past midnight before I had finished my labors and had the three casks ready for removal. After another good wash, I went to bed, and, thanks to the invigorating physical exercise, had an excellent night.
"The following day being Sunday, there was a regrettable delay, since it would have been unwise to challenge attention by trundling the casks through the streets when all the world was resting. However, I called at my Bloomsbury house and instructed the sergeant-major that some packages might be delivered on the following day. 'And,' I added, 'I shall probably be working in the laboratory tomorrow, so if you hear me moving about you will know that it is all right.'
"The sergeant-major touched his cap--he always wore a cap indoors--without speaking. He was the most taciturn and incurious man that I have ever met.
"When I had taken a look round the laboratory and made a few preparations, I departed, going out by the museum entrance. It was as well to get the sergeant-major used to these casual, unannounced appearances and disappearances. I walked slowly back to Whitechapel, turning over my plans for the removal of the casks. At first I had thought of taking them to Pickford's receiving office. But there was danger in this, though it was a remote danger. If one of the casks should be accidentally dropped it would certainly burst, and then--I had no particular objection to being killed, but I had a very great objection to being sent to Broadmoor. So I decided to effect the removal myself with the aid of the builder's truck that I had allowed the owner to keep in my yard. But this plan involved the adoption of some sort of disguise; a very slight one would be sufficient, as it was merely to prevent recognition by casual strangers.
"Now, among the stock of my predecessor, Polensky, I had found a collection of powder colors, grease paints, toupee-paste, spirit-gum and other materials which threw a curious light on his activities. On my return to the shop I made a few experiments with these materials and was astonished to find on what trivial peculiarities facial expression depends. For instance, I discovered that a strip of court-plaster, carried tightly up the middle of the forehead--where it would be hidden by a hat--altered the angle of the eyebrows and completely changed the expression, and that a thin scumble of purple, rubbed on the nose, totally altered the character of the face. This was deeply interesting; and, as it finally disposed of one difficulty, it left me free to consider the rest of my plans, which I continued to do until every possible emergency was anticipated and provided for.
"Early on Monday morning I went out and purchased four lengths of stout quartering--two long and two short--a coil of rope, a two-block tackle of the kind known to mariners as a 'handy Billy' and a pair of cask-grips. With the quartering and some lengths of rope I made two cask-slides, a long one for the cellar and a short one for the hand-cart. Placing the long slide in position, I greased it with cart-grease, hooked the tackle above the upper end, attached the grips and very soon had the three casks hoisted up into the passage that opened into the back yard. With the aid of the short slide and the tackle, I ran them up into the cart, lashed them firmly in position with the stout rope, threw in the slide and tackle and was ready to start. Running into the shop, I fixed the necessary strip of court-plaster on my forehead, tinted my nose, and, having pocketed the stick of paint and a piece of plaster, put on my shabbiest overcoat and a neck-cloth, trod on my hat and jammed it on my head so that it should cover the strip of plaster. Then I went out and, trundling the cart into the alley, locked the back gate and set forth on my journey.
"Navigating the crowded streets with the heavy cart clattering behind me, I made my way westward, avoiding the main thoroughfares with their bewildering traffic, until I found myself in Theobald's Row at the end of Red Lion Street. Here I began to look about for a likely deputy; and presently my eye lighted on a sturdy-looking man who leaned somewhat dejectedly against a post and sucked at an empty pipe. He was evidently not a regular 'corner-boy.' I judged him to be a laborer out of work, and deciding that he would serve my purpose I addressed him.
"'Want a job, mate?'
"He roused at once. 'You've 'it it, mate. I do. What sort of job?'
"'Pull this truck round to 6A Plimsbury Street and deliver the tubs.'
"'Ow much 'll you give me?' was the inevitable inquiry.
"'Old chap'll give you half-a-crown, if you ask him.'
"'And 'ow much am I to keep?'
"'Oh, we won't quarrel about that. I've got to see about another job or I'd take 'em myself. You deliver the tubs--and be careful of 'em. They're full of valuable chemicals--and meet me here at ten o'clock and I'll give you another job. Will that do you?'
"My friend pocketed his pipe and spat on his hands. 'Gi' me the bloomin' truck,' said he; and when I had surrendered the pole to him, he set off at a pace that made me thankful for the stout rope lashings of the casks.
"I let him draw ahead and then followed at a discreet distance, keeping him in sight until he was within a few hundred yards of my house. Then I darted down a side turning, took a short cut across a square, and, arriving at the museum entrance, let myself in with my Yale key.
"To remove my hat, overcoat and coat, to tear off the plaster and wash my nose, was but the work of a minute. I had placed in readiness my laboratory apron, a velvet skull-cap and a pair of spectacles, and scarcely had I assumed these and settled my eyebrows into a studious frown, when the bell rang. A glance into a little mirror that hung on the wall satisfied me as to the radical change in my appearance and I went out confidently and opened the street door. My deputy was standing on the door-step and touched his cap nervously as he met my portentous frown.
"'These here barrils for you, sir?' he asked.
"'Quite right,' I replied in deep, pompous tones; 'I will help you to bring them in.'
"We brought the cart up on the pavement with the pole across the threshold, and I fixed the slide in position while my assistant cast off the lashings. In a couple of minutes we had run the casks down the slide and I had the satisfaction of seeing them safely deposited in the hall. The dangers and difficulties of the passage were at an end.
"I handed my proxy the half-crown which he sheepishly demanded, with an extra shilling 'for a glass of beer,' and saw him go on his way rejoicing. Then I went back to the laboratory, stuck on a fresh strip of plaster, rubbed on a tint of grease-paint and resumed my disreputable garments. When I came forth into the street, the hand-cart had already disappeared, leaving me to pursue my way unobserved to the rendezvous, where I presently met my friend, and, having rejoiced him with a further shilling, resumed possession of the cart.
"On my arrival at my Whitechapel premises, I affixed a notice to the window informing the nobility and gentry that I was 'absent on business.' Then I clothed myself decently, emptied the contents of the safe into a hand-bag, in which I also put the cooper's chisel, locked up the premises and hurried off to Aldgate Station. My first objective was the establishment of Mr. Hammerstein, the dealer in osteology, from whom I purchased three articulated human skeletons, and obtained the invaluable receipted invoices; and having thus taken every precaution that prudence and human foresight could suggest, I repaired to my Bloomsbury house, let myself in at the museum door, rolled the casks through into the laboratory and proceeded to unpack the specimens.
"The initial processes occupied me far into the night, while as to the finishing operations, they kept me busy for over a month; during which time I shaved and cut hair throughout the day up to nine o'clock at night, reserving the laboratory work for a relaxation after the prosaic labors of the day.
"Looked at broadly, the episode was highly satisfactory and successful--excepting in one vital respect. None of the three specimens had ringed hair. The completed preparations were, after all, but the by-products of my industry. The wretch whom I sought was still at large and unidentified. My collection still lacked its crowning ornament."