The chronicles of Martin Hewitt/The Case of the Lost Foreigner
THE CASE OF THE LOST FOREIGNER.
I have already said in more than one place that Hewitt's personal relations with the members of the London police force were of a cordial character. In the course of his work it has frequently been Hewitt's hap to learn of matters on which the police were glad of information, and that information was always passed on at once; and so long as no infringement of regulations or damage to public service were involved, Hewitt could always rely on a return in kind.
It was with a message of a useful sort that Hewitt one day dropped into Vine Street police-station and asked for a particular inspector, who was not in. Hewitt sat and wrote a note, and by way of making conversation said to the inspector on duty, "Anything very startling this way to-day?"
"Nothing very startling, perhaps, as yet," the inspector replied. "But one of our chaps picked up rather an odd customer a little while ago. Lunatic of some sort, I should think—in fact, I've sent for the doctor to see him. He's a foreigner—a Frenchman, I believe. He seemed horribly weak and faint; but the oddest thing occurred when one of the men, thinking he might be hungry, brought in some bread. He went into fits of terror at the sight of it, and wouldn't be pacified till they took it away again."
"That was strange."
"Odd, wasn't it? And he was hungry too. They brought him some more a little while after, and he didn't funk it a bit,—pitched into it, in fact, like anything, and ate it all with some cold beef. It's the way with some lunatics—never the same five minutes together. He keeps crying like a baby, and saying things we can't understand. As it happens, there's nobody in just now who speaks French."
"I speak French," Hewitt replied. "Shall I try him?"
"Certainly, if you will. He's in the men's room below. They've been making him as comfortable as possible by the fire until the doctor comes. He's a long time. I expect he's got a case on."
Hewitt found his way to the large mess-room, where three or four policemen in their shirt-sleeves were curiously regarding a young man of very disordered appearance who sat on a chair by the fire. He was pale, and exhibited marks of bruises on his face, while over one eye was a scarcely healed cut. His figure was small and slight, his coat was torn, and he sat with a certain indefinite air of shivering suffering. He started and looked round apprehensively as Hewitt entered. Hewitt bowed smilingly, wished him good-day, speaking in French, and asked him if he spoke the language.
The man looked up with a dull expression, and after an effort or two, as of one who stutters, burst out with, "Je le nie!"
"That's strange," Hewitt observed to the men. "I ask him if he speaks French, and he says he denies it—speaking in French."
"He's been saying that very often, sir," one of the men answered, "as well as other things we can't make anything of."
Hewitt placed his hand kindly on the man's shoulder and asked his name. The reply was for a little while an inarticulate gurgle, presently merging into a meaningless medley of words and syllables—"Qu'est ce qu'—il n'a—Leystar Squarr—sacré nom—not spik it—quel chemin—sank you ver' mosh—je le nie! je le nie!" He paused, stared, and then, as though realizing his helplessness, he burst into tears.
"He's been a-cryin' two or three times," said the man who had spoken before. "He was a-cryin' when we found him."
Several more attempts Hewitt made to communicate with the man, but though he seemed to comprehend what was meant, he replied with nothing but meaningless gibber, and finally gave up the attempt, and, leaning against the side of the fireplace, buried his head in the bend of his arm.
Then the doctor arrived and made his examination. While it was in progress Hewitt took aside the policeman who had been speaking before and questioned him further. He had himself found the Frenchman in a dull back street by Golden Square, where the man was standing helpless and trembling, apparently quite bewildered and very weak. He had brought him in, without having been able to learn anything about him. One or two shopkeepers in the street where he was found were asked, but knew nothing of him—indeed, had never seen him before.
"But the curiousest thing," the policeman proceeded, "was in this 'ere room, when I brought him a loaf to give him a bit of a snack, seein' he looked so weak an' 'ungry. You'd 'a thought we was a-goin' to poison 'im. He fair screamed at the very sight o' the bread, an' he scrouged hisself up in that corner an' put his hands in front of his face. I couldn't make out what was up at first—didn't tumble to it's bein' the bread he was frightened of, seein' as he looked like a man as 'ud be frightened at anything else afore that. But the nearer I came with it the more he yelled, so I took it away an' left it outside, an' then he calmed down. An' s'elp me, when I cut some bits off that there very loaf an' brought 'em in, with a bit o' beef, he just went for 'em like one o'clock. He wasn't frightened o' no bread then, you bet. Rum thing, how the fancies takes 'em when they're a bit touched, ain't it? All one way one minute, all the other the next."
"Yes, it is. By the way, have you another uncut loaf in the place?"
"Yes, sir. Half a dozen if you like."
"One will be enough. I am going over to speak to the doctor. Wait awhile until he seems very quiet and fairly comfortable; then bring a loaf in quietly and put it on the table, not far from his elbow. Don't attract his attention to what you are doing."
The doctor stood looking thoughtfully down on the Frenchman, who, for his part, stared gloomily, but tranquilly, at the fireplace. Hewitt stepped quietly over to the doctor and, without disturbing the man by the fire, said interrogatively, "Aphasia?"
The doctor tightened his lips, frowned, and nodded significantly. "Motor," he murmured, just loudly enough for Hewitt to hear; "and there's a general nervous break-down as well, I should say. By the way, perhaps there's no agraphia. Have you tried him with pen and paper?"
Pen and paper were brought and set before the man. He was told, slowly and distinctly, that he was among friends, whose only object was to restore him to his proper health. Would he write his name and address, and any other information he might care to give about himself, on the paper before him?
The Frenchman took the pen and stared at the paper; then slowly, and with much hesitation, he traced these marks:—
The man paused after the last of these futile characters, and his pen stabbed into the paper with a blot, as he dazedly regarded his work. Then with a groan he dropped it, and his face sank again into the bend of his arm.
The doctor took the paper and handed it to Hewitt. "Complete agraphia, you see," he said. "He can't write a word. He begins to write 'Monsieur' from sheer habit in beginning letters thus; but the word tails off into a scrawl. Then his attempts become mere scribble, with just a trace of some familiar word here and there—but quite meaningless all."
Although he had never before chanced to come across a case of aphasia (happily a rare disease), Hewitt was acquainted with its general nature. He knew that it might arise either from some physical injury to the brain, or from a break-down consequent on some terrible nervous strain. He knew that in the case of motor aphasia the sufferer, though fully conscious of all that goes on about him, and though quite understanding what is said to him is entirely powerless to put his own thoughts into spoken words—has lost, in fact, the connection between words and their spoken symbols. Also that in most bad cases agraphia—the loss of ability to write words with any reference to their meaning—is commonly an accompaniment.
"You will have him taken to the infirmary, I suppose?" Hewitt asked.
"Yes," the doctor replied. "I shall go and see about it at once."
The man looked up again as they spoke. The policeman had, in accordance with Hewitt's request, placed a loaf of bread on the table near him, and now as he looked up he caught sight of it. He started visibly and paled, but gave no such signs of abject terror as the policeman had previously observed. He appeared nervous and uneasy, however, and presently reached stealthily toward the loaf. Hewitt continued to talk to the doctor, while closely watching the Frenchman's behaviour from the corner of his eye.
The loaf was what is called a "plain cottage," of solid and regular shape. The man reached it and immediately turned it bottom up on the table. Then he sank back in his chair with a more contented expression, though his gaze was still directed toward the loaf. The policeman grinned silently at this curious manœuvre.
The doctor left, and Hewitt accompanied him to the door of the room. "He will not be moved just yet, I take it?" Hewitt asked as they parted.
"It may take an hour or two," the doctor replied. "Are you anxious to keep him here?"
"Not for long; but I think there's a curious inside to the case, and I may perhaps learn something of it by a little watching. But I can't spare very long."
At a sign from Hewitt the loaf was removed. Then Hewitt pulled the small table closer to the Frenchman and pushed the pen and sheets of paper toward him. The manœuvre had its result. The man looked up and down the room vacantly once or twice and then began to turn the papers over. From that he went to dipping the pen in the inkpot, and presently he was scribbling at random on the loose sheets. Hewitt affected to leave him entirely alone, and seemed to be absorbed in a contemplation of a photograph of a police-division brass band that hung on the wall, but he saw every scratch the man made.
At first there was nothing but meaningless scrawls and attempted words. Then rough sketches appeared, of a man's head, a chair or what not. On the mantelpiece stood a small clock—apparently a sort of humble presentation piece, the body of the clock being set in a horse-shoe frame, with crossed whips behind it. After a time the Frenchman's eyes fell on this, and he began a crude sketch of it. That he relinquished, and went on with other random sketches and scribblings on the same piece of paper, sketching and scribbling over the sketches in a half-mechanical sort of way, as of one who trifles with a pen during a brown study. Beginning at the top left-hand corner of the paper, he travelled all round it till he arrived at the left-hand bottom corner. Then dashing his pen hastily across his last sketch he dropped it, and with a great shudder turned away again and hid his face by the fireplace.
Hewitt turned at once and seized the papers on the table. He stuffed them all into his coat-pocket, with the exception of the last which the man had been engaged on, and this, a facsimile of which is subjoined, he studied earnestly for several minutes.
Hewitt wished the men good-day, and made his way to the inspector.
"Well," the inspector said, "not much to be got out of him, is there? The doctor will be sending for him presently."
"I fancy," said Hewitt, "that this may turn out a very important case. Possibly—quite possibly—I may not have guessed correctly, and so I won't tell you anything of it till I know a little more. But what I want now is a messenger. Can I send somebody at once in a cab to my friend Brett at his chambers?"
"Certainly. I'll find somebody. Want to write a note?"
Hewitt wrote and despatched a note, which reached me in less than ten minutes. Then he asked the inspector, "Have you searched the Frenchman?"
"Oh, yes. We went all over him, when we found he couldn't explain himself, to see if we could trace his friends or his address. He didn't seem to mind. But there wasn't a single thing in his pocket—not a single thing, barring a rag of a pocket-handkerchief with no marking on it."
"You noticed that somebody had stolen his watch, I suppose?"
"Well, he hadn't got one."
"But he had one of those little vertical button-holes in his waistcoat, used to fasten a watchguard to, and it was much worn and frayed, so that he must be in the habit of carrying a watch; and it is gone."
"Yes, and everything else too, eh? Looks like robbery. He's had a knock or two in the face—notice that?"
"I saw the bruises and the cut, of course; and his collar has been broken away, with the back button; somebody has taken him by the collar or throat. Was he wearing a hat when he was found?"
"That would imply that he had only just left a house. What street was he found in?"
"Henry Street—a little off Golden Square. Low street, you know."
"Did the constable notice a door open near by?"
The inspector shook his head. "Half the doors in the street are open," he said, "pretty nearly all day."
"Ah, then there's nothing in that. I don't think he lives there, by the bye. I fancy he comes from more in the Seven Dials or Drury Lane direction. Did you notice anything about the man that gave you a clue to his occupation—or at any rate to his habits?"
"Can't say I did."
"Well, just take a look at the back of his coat before he goes away—just over the loins. Good-day."
As I have said, Hewitt's messenger was quick. I happened to be in—having lately returned from a latish lunch—when he arrived with this note:—
"My dear B.,—I meant to have lunched with you to-day, but have been kept. I expect you are idle this afternoon, and I have a case that will interest you—perhaps be useful to you from a journalistic point of view. If you care to see anything of it, cab away at once to Fitzroy Square, south side, where I'll meet you. I will wait no later than 3.30. Yours, M. H."
I had scarce a quarter of an hour, so I seized my hat and left my chambers at once. As it happened, my cab and Hewitt's burst into Fitzroy Square from opposite sides almost at the same moment, so that we lost no time.
"Come," said Hewitt, taking my arm and marching me off, "we are going to look for some stabling. Try to feel as though you'd just set up a brougham and had come out to look for a place to put it in. I fear we may have to delude some person with that belief presently."
"Why—what do you want stables for? And why make me your excuse?"
"As to what I want the stables for—really I'm not altogether sure myself. As to making you an excuse—well, even the humblest excuse is better than none. But come, here are some stables. Not good enough, though, even if any of them were empty. Come on."
We had stopped for an instant at the entrance to a small alley of rather dirty stables, and Hewitt, paying apparently but small attention to the stables themselves, had looked sharply about him with his gaze in the air.
"I know this part of London pretty well," Hewitt observed, "and I can only remember one other range of stabling near by; we must try that. As a matter of fact, I'm coming here on little more than conjecture, though I shall be surprised if there isn't something in it. Do you know anything of aphasia?"
"I have heard of it, of course, though I can't say I remember ever knowing a case."
"I've seen one to-day—very curious case. The man's a Frenchman, discovered helpless in the street by a policeman. The only thing he can say that has any meaning in it at all is 'je le nie,' and that he says mechanically, without in the least knowing what he is saying. And he can't write. But he got sketching and scrawling various things on some paper, and his scrawls—together with another thing or two—have given me an idea. We're following it up now. When we are less busy, and in a quiet place, I'll show you the sketches and explain things generally; there's no time now, and I may want your help for a bit, in which case ignorance may prevent you spoiling things, you clumsy ruffian. Hullo! here we are, I think!"
We had stopped at the end of another stable-yard, rather dirtier than the first. The stables were sound but inelegant sheds, and one or two appeared to be devoted to other purposes, having low chimneys, on one of which an old basket was rakishly set by way of cowl. Beside the entrance a worn-out old board was nailed, with the legend, "Stabling to Let," in letters formerly white on a ground formerly black.
"Come," said Hewitt, "we'll explore."
We picked our way over the greasy cobble-stones and looked about us. On the left was the wall enclosing certain back-yards, and on the right the stables. Two doors in the middle of these were open, and a butcher's young man, who with his shiny bullet head would have been known for a butcher's young man anywhere, was wiping over the new-washed wheel of a smart butcher's cart.
"Good-day," Hewitt said pleasantly to the young man. "I notice there's some stabling to let here. Now, where should I inquire about it?"
"Jones, Whitfield Street," the young man answered, giving the wheel a final spin. "But there's only one little place to let now, I think, and it ain't very grand."
"Oh, which is that?"
"Next but one to the street there. A chap 'ad it for wood-choppin', but 'e chucked it. There ain't room for more'n a donkey an' a barrow."
"Ah, that's a pity. We're not particular, but want something big enough, and we don't mind paying a fair price. Perhaps we might make an arrangement with somebody here who has a stable?"
The young man shook his head.
"I shouldn't think so," he said doubtfully; "they're mostly shop-people as wants all the room theirselves. My guv'nor couldn't do nothink, I know. These 'ere two stables ain't scarcely enough for all 'e wants as it is. Then there's Barkett the greengrocer 'ere next door. That ain't no good. Then, next to that, there's the little place as is to let, and at the end there's Griffith's at the butter-shop."
"And those the other way?"
"Well, this 'ere first one's Curtis's, Euston Road—that's a butter-shop, too, an' 'e 'as the next after that. The last one, up at the end—I dunno quite whose that is. It ain't been long took, but I b'lieve it's some foreign baker's. I ain't ever see anythink come out of it, though; but there's a 'orse there, I know—I seen the feed took in."
Hewitt turned thoughtfully away.
"Thanks," he said. "I suppose we can't manage it, then. Good-day."
We walked to the street as the butcher's young man wheeled in his cart and flung away his pail of water.
"Will you just hang about here, Brett," he asked, "while I hurry round to the nearest iron-monger's? I shan't be gone long. We're going to work a little burglary. Take note if anybody comes to that stable at the farther end."
He hurried away and I waited. In a few moments the butcher's young man shut his doors and went whistling down the street, and in a few moments more Hewitt appeared.
"Come," he said, "there's nobody about now; we'll lose no time. I've bought a pair of pliers and a few nails."
We re-entered the yard at the door of the last stable. Hewitt stooped and examined the padlock. Taking a nail in his pliers he bent it carefully against the brick wall. Then using the nail as a key, still held by the pliers, and working the padlock gently in his left hand, in an astonishingly few seconds he had released the hasp and taken off the padlock. "I'm not altogether a bad burglar," he remarked. "Not so bad, really."
The padlock fastened a bar which, when removed, allowed the door to be opened. Opening it, Hewitt immediately seized a candle stuck in a bottle which stood on a shelf, pulled me in, and closed the door behind us.
"We'll do this by candle-light," he said, as he struck a match. "If the door were left open it would be seen from the street. Keep your ears open in case anybody comes down the yard."
The part of the shed that we stood in was used as a coach-house, and was occupied by a rather shabby tradesman's cart, the shafts of which rested on the ground. From the stall adjoining came the sound of the shuffling and trampling of an impatient horse.
We turned to the cart. On the name-board at the side were painted in worn letters the words, "Schuyler, Baker." The address, which had been below, was painted out.
Hewitt took out the pins and let down the tail board. Within the cart was a new bed-mattress which covered the whole surface at the bottom. I felt it, pressed it from the top, and saw that it was an ordinary spring mattress—perhaps rather unusually soft in the springs. It seemed a curious thing to keep in a baker's cart.
Hewitt, who had set the candle on a convenient shelf, plunged his arm into the farthermost recesses of the cart and brought forth a very long French loaf, and then another. Diving again he produced certain loaves of the sort known as the "plain cottage "—two sets of four each, each set baked together in a row. "Feel this bread," said Hewitt, and I felt it. It was stale—almost as hard as wood.
Hewitt produced a large pocket-knife, and with what seemed to me to be superfluous care and elaboration, cut into the top of one of the cottage loaves. Then he inserted his fingers in the gap he had made and firmly but slowly tore the hard bread into two pieces. He pulled away the crumb from within till there was nothing left but a rather thick outer shell.
"No," he said, rather to himself than to me, "there's nothing in that." He lifted one of the very long French loaves and measured it against the interior of the cart. It had before been propped diagonally, and now it was noticeable that it was just a shade longer than the inside of the cart was wide. Jammed in, in fact, it held firmly. Hewitt produced his knife again, and divided this long loaf in the centre; there was nothing but bread in that. The horse in the stall fidgeted more than ever.
"That horse hasn't been fed lately, I fancy," Hewitt said. "We'll give the poor chap a bit of this hay in the corner."
"But," I said, "what about this bread? What did you expect to find in it? I can't see what you're driving at."
"I'll tell you," Hewitt replied, "I'm driving after something I expect to find, and close at hand here, too. How are your nerves to-day—pretty steady? The thing may try them."
Before I could reply there was a sound of footsteps in the yard outside, approaching. Hewitt lifted his finger instantly for silence and whispered hurriedly, "There's only one. If he comes here, we grab him."
The steps came nearer and stopped outside the door. There was a pause, and then a slight drawing in of breath, as of a person suddenly surprised. At that moment the door was slightly shifted ajar and an eye peeped in.
"Catch him!" said Hewitt aloud, as we sprang to the door. "He mustn't get away!"
I had been nearer the doorway, and was first through it. The stranger ran down the yard at his best, but my legs were the longer, and half-way to the street I caught him by the shoulder and swung him round. Like lightning he whipped out a knife, and I flung in my left instantly on the chance of flooring him. It barely checked him, however, and the knife swung short of my chest by no more than two inches; but Hewitt had him by the wrist and tripped him forward on his face. He struggled like a wild beast, and Hewitt had to stand on his forearm and force up his wrist till the bones were near breaking before he dropped his knife. But throughout the struggle the man never shouted, called for help, nor, indeed, made the slightest sound, and we on our part were equally silent. It was quickly over, of course, for he was on his face, and we were two. We dragged our prisoner into the stable and closed the door behind us. So far as we had seen, nobody had witnessed the capture from the street, though, of course, we had been too busy to be certain.
"There's a set of harness hanging over at the back," said Hewitt; "I think we'll tie him up with the traces and reins—nothing like leather. We don't need a gag; I know he won't shout."
While I got the straps Hewitt held the prisoner by a peculiar neck-and-wrist grip that forbade him to move except at the peril of a snapped arm. He had probably never been a person of pleasant aspect, being short, strongly and squatly built, large and ugly of feature, and wild and dirty of hair and beard. And now, his face flushed with struggling and smeared with mud from the stable-yard, his nose bleeding and his forehead exhibiting a growing bump, he looked particularly repellent. We strapped his elbows together behind, and as he sullenly ignored a demand for the contents of his pockets Hewitt unceremoniously turned them out. Helpless as he was, the man struggled to prevent this, though, of course, ineffectually. There were papers, tobacco, a bunch of keys, and various odds and ends. Hewitt was glancing hastily at the papers when, suddenly dropping them, he caught the prisoner by the shoulder and pulled him away from a partly-consumed hay-truss which stood in a corner, and toward which he had quietly sidled.
"Keep him still," said Hewitt; "we haven't examined this place yet." And he commenced to pull away the hay from the corner.
Presently a large piece of sackcloth was revealed, and this being lifted left visible below it another batch of loaves of the same sort as we had seen in the cart. There were a dozen of them in one square batch, and the only thing about them that differed them from those in the cart was their position, for the batch lay bottom side up.
"That's enough, I think," Hewitt said. "Don't touch them, for Heaven's sake!" He picked up the papers he had dropped. "That has saved us a little search," he continued. "See here, Brett; I was in the act of telling you my suspicions when this little affair interrupted me. If you care to look at one or two of these letters you'll see what I should have told you. It's Anarchism and bombs, of course. I'm about as certain as I can be that there's a reversible dynamite bomb inside each of those innocent loaves, though I assure you I don't mean meddling with them now. But see here. Will you go and bring in a four-wheeler? Bring it right down the yard. There's more to do, and we mustn't attract attention."
I hurried away and found the cab. The meaning of the loaves, the cart, and the spring-mattress was now plain. There was an Anarchist plot to carry out a number of explosions probably simultaneously, in different parts of the city. I had, of course, heard much of the terrible "reversing" bombs—those bombs which, containing a tube of acid plugged by wadding, required no fuse, and only needed to be inverted to be set going to explode in a few minutes. The loaves containing these bombs would form an effectual "blind," and they were to be distributed, probably in broad daylight, in the most natural manner possible, in a baker's cart. A man would be waiting near the scene of each contemplated explosion. He would be given a loaf taken from the inverted batch. He would take it—perhaps wrapped in paper, but still inverted, and apparently the most innocent object possible—to the spot selected, deposit it, right side up—which would reverse the inner tube and set up the action—in some quiet corner, behind a door or what not, and make his own escape, while the explosion tore down walls and—if the experiment were lucky—scattered the flesh and bones of unsuspecting people.
The infernal loaves were made and kept reversed, to begin with, in order to stand more firmly, and—if observed—more naturally, when turned over to explode. Even if a child picked up the loaf and carried it off, that child at least would be blown to atoms, which at any rate would have been something for the conspirators to congratulate themselves upon. The spring-mattress, of course, was to ease the jolting to the bombs, and obviate any random jerking loose of the acid, which might have had the deplorable result of sacrificing the valuable life of the conspirator who drove the cart. The other loaves, too, with no explosive contents, had their use. The two long ones, which fitted across the inside of the cart, would be jammed across so as to hold the bombs in the centre, and the others would be used to pack the batch on the other sides and prevent any dangerous slipping about. The thing seemed pretty plain, except that as yet I had no idea of how Hewitt learned anything of the business.
I brought the four-wheeler up to the door of the stable and we thrust the man into it, and Hewitt locked the stable door with its proper key. Then we drove off to Tottenham Court Road police-station, and, by Hewitt's order, straight into the yard.
In less than ten minutes from our departure from the stable our prisoner was finally secured, and Hewitt was deep in consultation with police officials. Messengers were sent and telegrams despatched, and presently Hewitt came to me with information.
"The name of the helpless Frenchman the police found this morning," he said, "appears to be Gérard—at least I am almost certain of it. Among the papers found on the prisoner—whose full name doesn't appear, but who seems to be spoken of as Luigi (he is Italian)—among the papers, I say, is a sort of notice convening a meeting for this evening to decide as to the 'final punishment' to be awarded the 'traitor Gérard, now in charge of comrade Pingard.'
"The place of meeting is not mentioned, but it seems more than probable that it will be at the Bakunin Club, not five minutes' walk from this place. The police have all these places under quiet observation, of course, and that is the club at which apparently important Anarchist meetings have been held lately. It is the only club that has never been raided as yet, and, it would seem, the only one they would feel at all safe in using for anything important.
"Moreover, Luigi just now simply declined to open his mouth when asked where the meeting was to be, and said nothing when the names of several other places were suggested, but suddenly found his tongue at the mention of the Bakunin Club, and denied vehemently that the meeting was to be there—it was the only thing he uttered. So that it seems pretty safe to assume that it is to be there. Now, of course, the matter's very serious. Men have been despatched to take charge of the stable very quietly, and the club is to be taken possession of at once—also very quietly. It must be done without a moment's delay, and as there is a chance that the only detective officers within reach at the moment may be known by sight, I have undertaken to get in first. Perhaps you'll come? We may have to take the door with a rush."
Of course I meant to miss nothing if I could help it, and said so.
"Very well," replied Hewitt, "we'll get ourselves up a bit." He began taking off his collar and tie. "It is getting dusk," he proceeded, "and we shan't want old clothes to make ourselves look sufficiently shabby. We're both wearing bowler hats, which is lucky. Make a dent in yours—if you can do so without permanently damaging it."
We got rid of our collars and made chokers of our ties. We turned our coat-collars up at one side only, and then, with dented hats worn raffishly, and our hands in our pockets, we looked disreputable enough for all practical purposes in twilight. A cordon of plain-clothes police had already been forming round the club, we were told, and so we sallied forth. We turned into Windmill Street, crossed Whitfield Street, and in a turning or two we came to the Bakunin Club. I could see no sign of anything like a ring of policemen, and said so. Hewitt chuckled. "Of course not," he said; "they don't go about a job of this sort with drums beating and flags flying. But they are all there, and some are watching us. There is the house. I'll negotiate."
The house was one of the very shabby passé sort that abound in that quarter. The very narrow area was railed over, and almost choked with rubbish. Visible above it were three floors, the lowest indicated by the door and one window, and the other two by two windows each—mean and dirty all. A faint light appeared in the top floor, and another from somewhere behind the refuse-heaped area. Everywhere else was in darkness. Hewitt looked intently into the area, but it was impossible to discern anything behind the sole grimy patch of window that was visible. Then we stepped lightly up the three or four steps to the door and rang the bell.
We could hear slippered feet mounting a stair and approaching. A latch was shifted, a door opened six inches, an indistinct face appeared, and a female voice asked, "Qui est là?"
"Deux camarades," Hewitt grunted testily. "Ouvrez vite."
I had noticed that the door was kept from opening further by a short chain. This chain the woman unhooked from the door, but still kept the latter merely ajar, as though intending to assure herself still further. But Hewitt immediately pushed the door back, planted his foot against it, and entered, asking carelessly as he did so, "Où se trouve Luigi?"
I followed on his heels, and in the dark could just distinguish that Hewitt pushed the woman instantly against the wall and clapped his hand to her mouth. At the same moment a file of quiet men were suddenly visible ascending the steps at my heels. They were the police.
The door was closed behind us almost noiselessly, and a match was struck. Two men stood at the bottom of the stairs, and the others searched the house. Only two men were found—both in a top room. They were secured and brought down.
The woman was now ungagged, and she used her tongue at a great rate. One of the men was a small, meek-looking slip of a fellow, and he appeared to be the woman's husband. "Eh, messieurs le police," she exclaimed vehemently, "it ees not of 'im, mon pauvre Pierre, zat you sall rrun in. 'Im and me—we are not of the clob—we work only—we housekeep."
Hewitt whispered to an officer, and the two men were taken below. Then Hewitt spoke to the woman, whose protests had not ceased. "You say you are not of the club," he said, "but what is there to prove that? If you are but housekeepers, as you say, you have nothing to fear. But you can only prove it by giving the police information. For instance, now, about Gérard. What have they done with him?"
"Jean Pingard—'im you 'ave take downstairs—'e 'ave lose 'im. Jean Pingard get last night all a-boosa—all dronk like zis"—she rolled her head and shoulders to express intoxication—"and he sleep too much to-day, when Émile go out, and Gérard, he go too, and nobody know. I will tell you anysing. We are not of the clob—we housekeep, me and Pierre."
"But what did they do to Gérard before he went away?"
The woman was ready and anxious to tell anything. Gérard had been selected to do something—what it was exactly she did not know, but there was a horse and cart, and he was to drive it. Where the horse and cart was also she did not know, but Gérard had driven a cart before in his work for a baker, and he was to drive one in connection with some scheme among the members of the club. But le pauvre Gérard at the last minute disliked to drive the cart; he had fear. He did not say he had fear, but he prepared a letter—a letter that was not signed. The letter was to be sent to the police, and it told them the whereabouts of the horse and cart, so that the police might seize these things, and then there would be nothing for Gérard, who had fear, to do in the way of driving. No, he did not betray the names of the comrades, but he told the place of the horse and the cart.
Nevertheless, the letter was never sent. There was suspicion, and the letter was found in a pocket and read. Then there was a meeting, and Gérard was confronted with his letter. He could say nothing but "Je le nie!"—found no explanation but that. There was much noise, and she had observed from a staircase, from which one might see through a ventilating hole, Gérard had much fear—very much fear. His face was white, and it moved; he prayed for mercy, and they talked of killing him. It was discussed how he should be killed, and the poor Gérard was more terrified. He was made to take off his collar, and a razor was drawn across his throat, though without cutting him, till he fainted.
Then water was flung over him, and he was struck in the face till he revived. He again repeated, "Je le nie! je le nie!" and nothing more. Then one struck him with a bottle, and another with a stick; the point of a knife was put against his throat and held there, but this time he did not faint, but cried softly, as a man who is drunk, "Je le nie! je le nie!" So they tied a handkerchief about his neck, and twisted it till his face grew purple and black, and his eyes were round and terrible, and then they struck his face, and he fainted again. But they took away the handkerchief, having fear that they could not easily get rid of the body if he were killed, for there was no preparation. So they decided to meet again and discuss when there would be preparation. Wherefore they took him away to the rooms of Jean Pingard—of Jean and Émile Pingard—in Henry Street, Golden Square. But Émile Pingard had gone out, and Jean was drunk and slept, and they lost him. Jean Pingard was he downstairs—the taller of the two; the other was but le pauvre Pierre, who, with herself, was not of the club. They worked only; they were the keepers of the house. There was nothing for which they should be arrested, and she would give the police any information they might ask.
"As I thought, you see," Hewitt said to me, "the man's nerves have broken down under the terror and the strain, and aphasia is the result. I think I told you that the only articulate thing he could say was 'Je le nie!' and now we know how those words were impressed on him till he now pronounces them mechanically, with no idea of their meaning. Come, we can do no more here now. But wait a moment."
There were footsteps outside. The light was removed, and a policeman went to the door and opened it as soon as the bell rang. Three men stepped in one after another, and the door was immediately shut behind them—they were prisoners.
We left quietly, and although we, of course, expected it, it was not till the next morning that we learned absolutely that the largest arrest of Anarchists ever made in this country was made at the Bakunin Club that night. Each man as he came was admitted—and collared.
We made our way to Luzatti's, and it was over our dinner that Hewitt put me in full possession of the earlier facts of this case, which I have set down as impersonal narrative in their proper place at the beginning.
"But," I said, "what of that aimless scribble you spoke of that Gérard made in the police station? Can I see it?"
Hewitt turned to where his coat hung behind him and took a handful of papers from his pocket.
"Most of these," he said, "mean nothing at all. That is what he wrote at first," and he handed me the first of the two papers which were presented in facsimile in the earlier part of this narrative.
"You see," he said, "he has begun mechanically from long use to write 'monsieur'—the usual beginning of a letter. But he scarcely makes three letters before tailing off into sheer scribble. He tries again and again, and although once there is something very like 'que,' and once something like a word preceded by a negative 'n,' the whole thing is meaningless.
"This" (he handed me the other paper which has been printed in facsimile) "does mean something, though Gérard never intended it. Can you spot the meaning? Really, I think it's pretty plain—especially now that you know as much as I about the day's adventures. The thing at the top left-hand corner, I may tell you, Gérard intended for a sketch of a clock on the mantelpiece in the police-station."
I stared hard at the paper, but could make nothing whatever of it. "I only see the horse-shoe clock," I said, "and a sort of second, unsuccessful attempt to draw it again. Then there is a horse-shoe dotted, but scribbled over, and then a sort of kite or balloon on a string, a Highlander, and—well, I don't understand it, I confess. Tell me."
"I'll explain what I learned from that," Hewitt said, "and also what led me to look for it. From what the inspector told me, I judged the man to be in a very curious state, and I took a fancy to see him. Most I was curious to know why he should have a terror of bread at one moment and eat it ravenously at another. When I saw him I felt pretty sure that he was not mad, in the common sense of the term. As far as I could judge it seemed to be a case of aphasia.
"Then when the doctor came I had a chat (as I have already told you) with the policeman who found the man. He told me about the incident of the bread with rather more detail than I had had from the inspector. Thus it was plain that the man was terrified at the bread only when it was in the form of a loaf, and ate it eagerly when it was cut into pieces. That was one thing to bear in mind. He was not afraid of bread, but only of a loaf.
"Very well. I asked the policeman to find another uncut loaf, and to put it near the man when his attention was diverted. Meantime the doctor reported that my suspicion as to aphasia was right. The man grew more comfortable, and was assured that he was among friends and had nothing to fear, so that when at length he found the loaf near his elbow he was not so violently terrified, only very uneasy. I watched him and saw him turn it bottom up—a very curious thing to do; he immediately became less uneasy—the turning over of the loaf seemed to have set his mind at rest in some way. This was more curious still. I thought for some little while before accepting the bomb theory as the most probable.
"The doctor left, and I determined to give the man another chance with pen and paper. I felt pretty certain that if he were allowed to scribble and sketch as he pleased, sooner or later he would do something that would give me some sort of a hint. I left him entirely alone and let him do as he pleased, but I watched.
"After all the futile scribble which you have seen, he began to sketch, first a man's head, then a chair—just what he might happen to see in the room. Presently he took to the piece of paper you have before you. He observed that clock and began to sketch it, then went on to other things, such as you see, scribbling idly over most of them when finished. When he had made the last of the sketches he made a hasty scrawl of his pen over it and broke down. It had brought his terror to his mind again somehow.
"I seized the paper and examined it closely. Now just see. Ignore the clock, which was merely a sketch of a thing before him, and look at the three things following. What are they? A horse-shoe, a captive balloon, and a Highlander. Now, can't you think of something those three things in that order suggest?"
I could think of nothing whatever, and I confessed as much.
"Think, now. Tottenham Court Road!"
I started. "Of course," I said. "That never struck me. There's the Horse-shoe Hotel, with the sign outside, there's the large toy and fancy shop half-way up, where they have a captive balloon moored to the roof as an advertisement, and there's the tobacco and snuff shop on the left, toward the other end, where they have a life-size wooden Highlander at the door—an uncommon thing, indeed, nowadays."
"You are right. The curious conjunction struck me at once. There they are, all three, and just in the order in which one meets them going up from Oxford Street. Also, as if to confirm the conjecture, note the dotted horse-shoe. Don't you remember that at night the Horse-shoe Hotel sign is illuminated by two rows of gas lights?
"Now here was my clue at last. Plainly, this man, in his mechanical sketching, was following a regular train of thought, and unconsciously illustrating it as he went along. Many people in perfect health and mental soundness do the same thing if a pen and a piece of waste paper be near. The man's train of thought led him, in memory, up Tottenham Court Road, and further, to where some disagreeable recollection upset him. It was my business to trace this train of thought. Do you remember the feat of Dupin in Poe's story, 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue'—how he walks by his friend's side in silence for some distance, and then suddenly breaks out with a divination of his thoughts, having silently traced them from a fruiterer with a basket, through paving-stones, Epicurus, Dr. Nichols, the constellation Orion, and a Latin poem, to a cobbler lately turned actor?
"Well, it was some such task as this (but infinitely simpler, as a matter of fact) that was set me. This man begins by drawing the horse-shoe clock. Having done with that, and with the horse-shoe still in his mind, he starts to draw a horse-shoe simply. It is a failure, and he scribbles it out. His mind at once turns to the Horse-shoe Hotel, which he knows from frequently passing it, and its sign of gas-jets. He sketches that, making dots for the gas lights. Once started in Tottenham Court Road, his mind naturally follows his usual route along it. He remembers the advertising captive balloon half-way up, and down that goes on his paper. In imagination he crosses the road, and keeps on till he comes to the very noticeable Highlander outside the tobacconist's. That is sketched. Thus it is plain that a familiar route with him was from New Oxford Street up Tottenham Court Road.
"At the police-station I ventured to guess from this that he lived somewhere near Seven Dials. Perhaps before long we shall know if this was right. But to return to the sketches. After the Highlander there is something at first not very distinct. A little examination, however, shows it to be intended for a chimney-pot partly covered with a basket. Now an old basket, stuck sideways on a chimney by way of cowl, is not an uncommon thing in parts of the country, but it is very unusual in London. Probably, then, it would be in some by-street or alley. Next and last, there is a horse's head, and it was at this that the man's trouble returned to him.
"Now, when one goes to a place and finds a horse there, that place is not uncommonly a stable; and, as a matter of fact, the basket-cowl would be much more likely to be found in use in a range of back stabling than anywhere else. Suppose, then, that after taking the direction indicated in the sketches—the direction of Fitzroy Square, in fact—one were to find a range of stabling with a basket-cowl visible about it? I know my London pretty well, as you are aware, and I could remember but two likely stable-yards in that particular part—the two we looked at, in the second of which you may possibly have noticed just such a basket-cowl as I have been speaking of.
"Well, what we did you know, and that we found confirmation of my conjecture about the loaves you also know. It was the recollection of the horse and cart, and what they were to transport, and what the end of it all had been, that upset Gérard as he drew the horse's head. You will notice that the sketches have not been done in separate rows, left to right—they have simply followed one another all round the paper, which means preoccupation and unconsciousness on the part of the man who made them."
"But," I asked, "supposing those loaves to contain bombs, how were the bombs put there? Baking the bread round them would have been risky, wouldn't it?"
"Certainly. What they did was to cut the loaves, each row, down the centre. Then most of the crumb was scooped out, the explosive inserted, and the sides joined up and glued. I thought you had spotted the joins, though they certainly were neat."
"No, I didn't examine closely. Luigi, of course, had been told off for a daily visit to feed the horse, and that is how we caught him."
"One supposes so. They hadn't rearranged their plans as to going on with the outrages after Gérard's defection. By the way, I noticed that he was accustomed to driving when I first saw him. There was an unmistakable mark on his coat, just at the small of the back, that drivers get who lean against a rail in a cart."
The loaves were examined by official experts, and, as everybody now knows, were found to contain, as Hewitt had supposed, large charges of dynamite. What became of some half-dozen of the men captured is also well known: their sentences were exemplary.