The Secret Agent
Part 2 out of 6
Ossipon had a vision of these round black-rimmed spectacles
progressing along the streets on the top of an omnibus, their self-
confident glitter falling here and there on the walls of houses or
lowered upon the heads of the unconscious stream of people on the
pavements. The ghost of a sickly smile altered the set of
Ossipon's thick lips at the thought of the walls nodding, of people
running for life at the sight of those spectacles. If they had
only known! What a panic! He murmured interrogatively: "Been
sitting long here?"
"An hour or more," answered the other negligently, and took a pull
at the dark beer. All his movements - the way he grasped the mug,
the act of drinking, the way he set the heavy glass down and folded
his arms - had a firmness, an assured precision which made the big
and muscular Ossipon, leaning forward with staring eyes and
protruding lips, look the picture of eager indecision.
"An hour," he said. "Then it may be you haven't heard yet the news
I've heard just now - in the street. Have you?"
The little man shook his head negatively the least bit. But as he
gave no indication of curiosity Ossipon ventured to add that he had
heard it just outside the place. A newspaper boy had yelled the
thing under his very nose, and not being prepared for anything of
that sort, he was very much startled and upset. He had to come in
there with a dry mouth. "I never thought of finding you here," he
added, murmuring steadily, with his elbows planted on the table.
"I come here sometimes," said the other, preserving his provoking
coolness of demeanour.
"It's wonderful that you of all people should have heard nothing of
it," the big Ossipon continued. His eyelids snapped nervously upon
the shining eyes. "You of all people," he repeated tentatively.
This obvious restraint argued an incredible and inexplicable
timidity of the big fellow before the calm little man, who again
lifted the glass mug, drank, and put it down with brusque and
assured movements. And that was all.
Ossipon after waiting for something, word or sign, that did not
come, made an effort to assume a sort of indifference.
"Do you," he said, deadening his voice still more, "give your stuff
to anybody who's up to asking you for it?"
"My absolute rule is never to refuse anybody - as long as I have a
pinch by me," answered the little man with decision.
"That's a principle?" commented Ossipon.
"It's a principle."
"And you think it's sound?"
The large round spectacles, which gave a look of staring self-
confidence to the sallow face, confronted Ossipon like sleepless,
unwinking orbs flashing a cold fire.
"Perfectly. Always. Under every circumstance. What could stop
me? Why should I not? Why should I think twice about it?"
Ossipon gasped, as it were, discreetly.
"Do you mean to say you would hand it over to a `teck' if one came
to ask you for your wares?"
The other smiled faintly.
"Let them come and try it on, and you will see," he said. "They
know me, but I know also every one of them. They won't come near
me - not they."
His thin livid lips snapped together firmly. Ossipon began to
"But they could send someone - rig a plant on you. Don't you see?
Get the stuff from you in that way, and then arrest you with the
proof in their hands."
"Proof of what? Dealing in explosives without a licence perhaps."
This was meant for a contemptuous jeer, though the expression of
the thin, sickly face remained unchanged, and the utterance was
negligent. "I don't think there's one of them anxious to make that
arrest. I don't think they could get one of them to apply for a
warrant. I mean one of the best. Not one."
"Why?" Ossipon asked.
"Because they know very well I take care never to part with the
last handful of my wares. I've it always by me." He touched the
breast of his coat lightly. "In a thick glass flask," he added.
"So I have been told," said Ossipon, with a shade of wonder in his
voice. "But I didn't know if - "
"They know," interrupted the little man crisply, leaning against
the straight chair back, which rose higher than his fragile head.
"I shall never be arrested. The game isn't good enough for any
policeman of them all. To deal with a man like me you require
sheer, naked, inglorious heroism." Again his lips closed with a
self-confident snap. Ossipon repressed a movement of impatience.
"Or recklessness - or simply ignorance," he retorted. "They've
only to get somebody for the job who does not know you carry enough
stuff in your pocket to blow yourself and everything within sixty
yards of you to pieces."
"I never affirmed I could not be eliminated," rejoined the other.
"But that wouldn't be an arrest. Moreover, it's not so easy as it
"Bah!" Ossipon contradicted. "Don't be too sure of that. What's
to prevent half-a-dozen of them jumping upon you from behind in the
street? With your arms pinned to your sides you could do nothing -
"Yes; I could. I am seldom out in the streets after dark," said
the little man impassively, "and never very late. I walk always
with my right hand closed round the india-rubber ball which I have
in my trouser pocket. The pressing of this ball actuates a
detonator inside the flask I carry in my pocket. It's the
principle of the pneumatic instantaneous shutter for a camera lens.
The tube leads up - "
With a swift disclosing gesture he gave Ossipon a glimpse of an
india-rubber tube, resembling a slender brown worm, issuing from
the armhole of his waistcoat and plunging into the inner breast
pocket of his jacket. His clothes, of a nondescript brown mixture,
were threadbare and marked with stains, dusty in the folds, with
ragged button-holes. "The detonator is partly mechanical, partly
chemical," he explained, with casual condescension.
"It is instantaneous, of course?" murmured Ossipon, with a slight
"Far from it," confessed the other, with a reluctance which seemed
to twist his mouth dolorously. "A full twenty seconds must elapse
from the moment I press the ball till the explosion takes place."
"Phew!" whistled Ossipon, completely appalled. "Twenty seconds!
Horrors! You mean to say that you could face that? I should go
crazy - "
"Wouldn't matter if you did. Of course, it's the weak point of
this special system, which is only for my own use. The worst is
that the manner of exploding is always the weak point with us. I
am trying to invent a detonator that would adjust itself to all
conditions of action, and even to unexpected changes of conditions.
A variable and yet perfectly precise mechanism. A really
"Twenty seconds," muttered Ossipon again. "Ough! And then - "
With a slight turn of the head the glitter of the spectacles seemed
to gauge the size of the beer saloon in the basement of the
renowned Silenus Restaurant.
"Nobody in this room could hope to escape," was the verdict of that
survey. "Nor yet this couple going up the stairs now."
The piano at the foot of the staircase clanged through a mazurka
with brazen impetuosity, as though a vulgar and impudent ghost were
showing off. The keys sank and rose mysteriously. Then all became
still. For a moment Ossipon imagined the overlighted place changed
into a dreadful black hole belching horrible fumes choked with
ghastly rubbish of smashed brickwork and mutilated corpses. He had
such a distinct perception of ruin and death that he shuddered
again. The other observed, with an air of calm sufficiency:
"In the last instance it is character alone that makes for one's
safety. There are very few people in the world whose character is
as well established as mine."
"I wonder how you managed it," growled Ossipon.
"Force of personality," said the other, without raising his voice;
and coming from the mouth of that obviously miserable organism the
assertion caused the robust Ossipon to bite his lower lip. "Force
of personality," he repeated, with ostentatious calm. "I have the
means to make myself deadly, but that by itself, you understand, is
absolutely nothing in the way of protection. What is effective is
the belief those people have in my will to use the means. That's
their impression. It is absolute. Therefore I am deadly."
"There are individuals of character amongst that lot too," muttered
"Possibly. But it is a matter of degree obviously, since, for
instance, I am not impressed by them. Therefore they are inferior.
They cannot be otherwise. Their character is built upon
conventional morality. It leans on the social order. Mine stands
free from everything artificial. They are bound in all sorts of
conventions. They depend on life, which, in this connection, is a
historical fact surrounded by all sorts of restraints and
considerations, a complex organised fact open to attack at every
point; whereas I depend on death, which knows no restraint and
cannot be attacked. My superiority is evident."
"This is a transcendental way of putting it," said Ossipon,
watching the cold glitter of the round spectacles. "I've heard
Karl Yundt say much the same thing not very long ago."
"Karl Yundt," mumbled the other contemptuously, "the delegate of
the International Red Committee, has been a posturing shadow all
his life. There are three of you delegates, aren't there? I won't
define the other two, as you are one of them. But what you say
means nothing. You are the worthy delegates for revolutionary
propaganda, but the trouble is not only that you are as unable to
think independently as any respectable grocer or journalist of them
all, but that you have no character whatever."
Ossipon could not restrain a start of indignation.
"But what do you want from us?" he exclaimed in a deadened voice.
"What is it you are after yourself?"
"A perfect detonator," was the peremptory answer. "What are you
making that face for? You see, you can't even bear the mention of
"I am not making a face," growled the annoyed Ossipon bearishly.
"You revolutionises," the other continued, with leisurely self-
confidence, "are the slaves of the social convention, which is
afraid of you; slaves of it as much as the very police that stands
up in the defence of that convention. Clearly you are, since you
want to revolutionise it. It governs your thought, of course, and
your action too, and thus neither your thought nor your action can
ever be conclusive." He paused, tranquil, with that air of close,
endless silence, then almost immediately went on. "You are not a
bit better than the forces arrayed against you - than the police,
for instance. The other day I came suddenly upon Chief Inspector
Heat at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. He looked at me very
steadily. But I did not look at him. Why should I give him more
than a glance? He was thinking of many things - of his superiors,
of his reputation, of the law courts, of his salary, of newspapers
- of a hundred things. But I was thinking of my perfect detonator
only. He meant nothing to me. He was as insignificant as - I
can't call to mind anything insignificant enough to compare him
with - except Karl Yundt perhaps. Like to like. The terrorist and
the policeman both come from the same basket. Revolution, legality
- counter moves in the same game; forms of idleness at bottom
identical. He plays his little game - so do you propagandists.
But I don't play; I work fourteen hours a day, and go hungry
sometimes. My experiments cost money now and again, and then I
must do without food for a day or two. You're looking at my beer.
Yes. I have had two glasses already, and shall have another
presently. This is a little holiday, and I celebrate it alone.
Why not? I've the grit to work alone, quite alone, absolutely
alone. I've worked alone for years."
Ossipon's face had turned dusky red.
"At the perfect detonator - eh?" he sneered, very low.
"Yes," retorted the other. "It is a good definition. You couldn't
find anything half so precise to define the nature of your activity
with all your committees and delegations. It is I who am the true
"We won't discuss that point," said Ossipon, with an air of rising
above personal considerations. "I am afraid I'll have to spoil
your holiday for you, though. There's a man blown up in Greenwich
Park this morning."
"How do you know?"
"They have been yelling the news in the streets since two o'clock.
I bought the paper, and just ran in here. Then I saw you sitting
at this table. I've got it in my pocket now."
He pulled the newspaper out. It was a good-sized rosy sheet, as if
flushed by the warmth of its own convictions, which were
optimistic. He scanned the pages rapidly.
"Ah! Here it is. Bomb in Greenwich Park. There isn't much so
far. Half-past eleven. Foggy morning. Effects of explosion felt
as far as Romney Road and Park Place. Enormous hole in the ground
under a tree filled with smashed roots and broken branches. All
round fragments of a man's body blown to pieces. That's all. The
rest's mere newspaper gup. No doubt a wicked attempt to blow up
the Observatory, they say. H'm. That's hardly credible."
He looked at the paper for a while longer in silence, then passed
it to the other, who after gazing abstractedly at the print laid it
down without comment.
It was Ossipon who spoke first - still resentful.
"The fragments of only ONE man, you note. Ergo: blew HIMSELF up.
That spoils your day off for you - don't it? Were you expecting
that sort of move? I hadn't the slightest idea - not the ghost of
a notion of anything of the sort being planned to come off here -
in this country. Under the present circumstances it's nothing
short of criminal."
The little man lifted his thin black eyebrows with dispassionate
"Criminal! What is that? What is crime? What can be the meaning
of such an assertion?"
"How am I to express myself? One must use the current words," said
Ossipon impatiently. "The meaning of this assertion is that this
business may affect our position very adversely in this country.
Isn't that crime enough for you? I am convinced you have been
giving away some of your stuff lately."
Ossipon stared hard. The other, without flinching, lowered and
raised his head slowly.
"You have!" burst out the editor of the F. P. leaflets in an
intense whisper. "No! And are you really handing it over at large
like this, for the asking, to the first fool that comes along?"
"Just so! The condemned social order has not been built up on
paper and ink, and I don't fancy that a combination of paper and
ink will ever put an end to it, whatever you may think. Yes, I
would give the stuff with both hands to every man, woman, or fool
that likes to come along. I know what you are thinking about. But
I am not taking my cue from the Red Committee. I would see you all
hounded out of here, or arrested - or beheaded for that matter -
without turning a hair. What happens to us as individuals is not
of the least consequence."
He spoke carelessly, without heat, almost without feeling, and
Ossipon, secretly much affected, tried to copy this detachment.
"If the police here knew their business they would shoot you full
of holes with revolvers, or else try to sand-bag you from behind in
The little man seemed already to have considered that point of view
in his dispassionate self-confident manner.
"Yes," he assented with the utmost readiness. "But for that they
would have to face their own institutions. Do you see? That
requires uncommon grit. Grit of a special kind."
"I fancy that's exactly what would happen to you if you were to set
up your laboratory in the States. They don't stand on ceremony
with their institutions there."
"I am not likely to go and see. Otherwise your remark is just,"
admitted the other. "They have more character over there, and
their character is essentially anarchistic. Fertile ground for us,
the States - very good ground. The great Republic has the root of
the destructive matter in her. The collective temperament is
lawless. Excellent. They may shoot us down, but - "
"You are too transcendental for me," growled Ossipon, with moody
"Logical," protested the other. "There are several kinds of logic.
This is the enlightened kind. America is all right. It is this
country that is dangerous, with her idealistic conception of
legality. The social spirit of this people is wrapped up in
scrupulous prejudices, and that is fatal to our work. You talk of
England being our only refuge! So much the worse. Capua! What do
we want with refuges? Here you talk, print, plot, and do nothing.
I daresay it's very convenient for such Karl Yundts."
He shrugged his shoulders slightly, then added with the same
leisurely assurance: "To break up the superstition and worship of
legality should be our aim. Nothing would please me more than to
see Inspector Heat and his likes take to shooting us down in broad
daylight with the approval of the public. Half our battle would be
won then; the disintegration of the old morality would have set in
in its very temple. That is what you ought to aim at. But you
revolutionises will never understand that. You plan the future,
you lose yourselves in reveries of economical systems derived from
what is; whereas what's wanted is a clean sweep and a clear start
for a new conception of life. That sort of future will take care
of itself if you will only make room for it. Therefore I would
shovel my stuff in heaps at the corners of the streets if I had
enough for that; and as I haven't, I do my best by perfecting a
really dependable detonator."
Ossipon, who had been mentally swimming in deep waters, seized upon
the last word as if it were a saving plank.
"Yes. Your detonators. I shouldn't wonder if it weren't one of
your detonators that made a clean sweep of the man in the park."
A shade of vexation darkened the determined sallow face confronting
"My difficulty consists precisely in experimenting practically with
the various kinds. They must be tried after all. Besides - "
"Who could that fellow be? I assure you that we in London had no
knowledge - Couldn't you describe the person you gave the stuff
The other turned his spectacles upon Ossipon like a pair of
"Describe him," he repeated slowly. "I don't think there can be
the slightest objection now. I will describe him to you in one
word - Verloc."
Ossipon, whom curiosity had lifted a few inches off his seat,
dropped back, as if hit in the face.
The self-possessed little man nodded slightly once.
"Yes. He's the person. You can't say that in this case I was
giving my stuff to the first fool that came along. He was a
prominent member of the group as far as I understand."
"Yes," said Ossipon. "Prominent. No, not exactly. He was the
centre for general intelligence, and usually received comrades
coming over here. More useful than important. Man of no ideas.
Years ago he used to speak at meetings - in France, I believe. Not
very well, though. He was trusted by such men as Latorre, Moser
and all that old lot. The only talent he showed really was his
ability to elude the attentions of the police somehow. Here, for
instance, he did not seem to be looked after very closely. He was
regularly married, you know. I suppose it's with her money that he
started that shop. Seemed to make it pay, too."
Ossipon paused abruptly, muttered to himself "I wonder what that
woman will do now?" and fell into thought.
The other waited with ostentatious indifference. His parentage was
obscure, and he was generally known only by his nickname of
Professor. His title to that designation consisted in his having
been once assistant demonstrator in chemistry at some technical
institute. He quarrelled with the authorities upon a question of
unfair treatment. Afterwards he obtained a post in the laboratory
of a manufactory of dyes. There too he had been treated with
revolting injustice. His struggles, his privations, his hard work
to raise himself in the social scale, had filled him with such an
exalted conviction of his merits that it was extremely difficult
for the world to treat him with justice - the standard of that
notion depending so much upon the patience of the individual. The
Professor had genius, but lacked the great social virtue of
"Intellectually a nonentity," Ossipon pronounced aloud, abandoning
suddenly the inward contemplation of Mrs Verloc's bereaved person
and business. "Quite an ordinary personality. You are wrong in
not keeping more in touch with the comrades, Professor," he added
in a reproving tone. "Did he say anything to you - give you some
idea of his intentions? I hadn't seen him for a month. It seems
impossible that he should be gone."
"He told me it was going to be a demonstration against a building,"
said the Professor. "I had to know that much to prepare the
missile. I pointed out to him that I had hardly a sufficient
quantity for a completely destructive result, but he pressed me
very earnestly to do my best. As he wanted something that could be
carried openly in the hand, I proposed to make use of an old one-
gallon copal varnish can I happened to have by me. He was pleased
at the idea. It gave me some trouble, because I had to cut out the
bottom first and solder it on again afterwards. When prepared for
use, the can enclosed a wide-mouthed, well-corked jar of thick
glass packed around with some wet clay and containing sixteen
ounces of X2 green powder. The detonator was connected with the
screw top of the can. It was ingenious - a combination of time and
shock. I explained the system to him. It was a thin tube of tin
enclosing a - "
Ossipon's attention had wandered.
"What do you think has happened?" he interrupted.
"Can't tell. Screwed the top on tight, which would make the
connection, and then forgot the time. It was set for twenty
minutes. On the other hand, the time contact being made, a sharp
shock would bring about the explosion at once. He either ran the
time too close, or simply let the thing fall. The contact was made
all right - that's clear to me at any rate. The system's worked
perfectly. And yet you would think that a common fool in a hurry
would be much more likely to forget to make the contact altogether.
I was worrying myself about that sort of failure mostly. But there
are more kinds of fools than one can guard against. You can't
expect a detonator to be absolutely fool-proof."
He beckoned to a waiter. Ossipon sat rigid, with the abstracted
gaze of mental travail. After the man had gone away with the money
he roused himself, with an air of profound dissatisfaction.
"It's extremely unpleasant for me," he mused. "Karl has been in
bed with bronchitis for a week. There's an even chance that he
will never get up again. Michaelis's luxuriating in the country
somewhere. A fashionable publisher has offered him five hundred
pounds for a book. It will be a ghastly failure. He has lost the
habit of consecutive thinking in prison, you know."
The Professor on his feet, now buttoning his coat, looked about him
with perfect indifference.
"What are you going to do?" asked Ossipon wearily. He dreaded the
blame of the Central Red Committee, a body which had no permanent
place of abode, and of whose membership he was not exactly
informed. If this affair eventuated in the stoppage of the modest
subsidy allotted to the publication of the F. P. pamphlets, then
indeed he would have to regret Verloc's inexplicable folly.
"Solidarity with the extremest form of action is one thing, and
silly recklessness is another," he said, with a sort of moody
brutality. "I don't know what came to Verloc. There's some
mystery there. However, he's gone. You may take it as you like,
but under the circumstances the only policy for the militant
revolutionary group is to disclaim all connection with this damned
freak of yours. How to make the disclaimer convincing enough is
what bothers me."
The little man on his feet, buttoned up and ready to go, was no
taller than the seated Ossipon. He levelled his spectacles at the
latter's face point-blank.
"You might ask the police for a testimonial of good conduct. They
know where every one of you slept last night. Perhaps if you asked
them they would consent to publish some sort of official
"No doubt they are aware well enough that we had nothing to do with
this," mumbled Ossipon bitterly. "What they will say is another
thing." He remained thoughtful, disregarding the short, owlish,
shabby figure standing by his side. "I must lay hands on Michaelis
at once, and get him to speak from his heart at one of our
gatherings. The public has a sort of sentimental regard for that
fellow. His name is known. And I am in touch with a few reporters
on the big dailies. What he would say would be utter bosh, but he
has a turn of talk that makes it go down all the same."
"Like treacle," interjected the Professor, rather low, keeping an
The perplexed Ossipon went on communing with himself half audibly,
after the manner of a man reflecting in perfect solitude.
"Confounded ass! To leave such an imbecile business on my hands.
And I don't even know if - "
He sat with compressed lips. The idea of going for news straight
to the shop lacked charm. His notion was that Verloc's shop might
have been turned already into a police trap. They will be bound to
make some arrests, he thought, with something resembling virtuous
indignation, for the even tenor of his revolutionary life was
menaced by no fault of his. And yet unless he went there he ran
the risk of remaining in ignorance of what perhaps it would be very
material for him to know. Then he reflected that, if the man in
the park had been so very much blown to pieces as the evening
papers said, he could not have been identified. And if so, the
police could have no special reason for watching Verloc's shop more
closely than any other place known to be frequented by marked
anarchists - no more reason, in fact, than for watching the doors
of the Silenus. There would be a lot of watching all round, no
matter where he went. Still -
"I wonder what I had better do now?" he muttered, taking counsel
A rasping voice at his elbow said, with sedate scorn:
"Fasten yourself upon the woman for all she's worth."
After uttering these words the Professor walked away from the
table. Ossipon, whom that piece of insight had taken unawares,
gave one ineffectual start, and remained still, with a helpless
gaze, as though nailed fast to the seat of his chair. The lonely
piano, without as much as a music stool to help it, struck a few
chords courageously, and beginning a selection of national airs,
played him out at last to the tune of "Blue Bells of Scotland."
The painfully detached notes grew faint behind his back while he
went slowly upstairs, across the hall, and into the street.
In front of the great doorway a dismal row of newspaper sellers
standing clear of the pavement dealt out their wares from the
gutter. It was a raw, gloomy day of the early spring; and the
grimy sky, the mud of the streets, the rags of the dirty men,
harmonised excellently with the eruption of the damp, rubbishy
sheets of paper soiled with printers' ink. The posters, maculated
with filth, garnished like tapestry the sweep of the curbstone.
The trade in afternoon papers was brisk, yet, in comparison with
the swift, constant march of foot traffic, the effect was of
indifference, of a disregarded distribution. Ossipon looked
hurriedly both ways before stepping out into the cross-currents,
but the Professor was already out of sight.
The Professor had turned into a street to the left, and walked
along, with his head carried rigidly erect, in a crowd whose every
individual almost overtopped his stunted stature. It was vain to
pretend to himself that he was not disappointed. But that was mere
feeling; the stoicism of his thought could not be disturbed by this
or any other failure. Next time, or the time after next, a telling
stroke would be delivered-something really startling - a blow fit
to open the first crack in the imposing front of the great edifice
of legal conceptions sheltering the atrocious injustice of society.
Of humble origin, and with an appearance really so mean as to stand
in the way of his considerable natural abilities, his imagination
had been fired early by the tales of men rising from the depths of
poverty to positions of authority and affluence. The extreme,
almost ascetic purity of his thought, combined with an astounding
ignorance of worldly conditions, had set before him a goal of power
and prestige to be attained without the medium of arts, graces,
tact, wealth - by sheer weight of merit alone. On that view he
considered himself entitled to undisputed success. His father, a
delicate dark enthusiast with a sloping forehead, had been an
itinerant and rousing preacher of some obscure but rigid Christian
sect - a man supremely confident in the privileges of his
righteousness. In the son, individualist by temperament, once the
science of colleges had replaced thoroughly the faith of
conventicles, this moral attitude translated itself into a frenzied
puritanism of ambition. He nursed it as something secularly holy.
To see it thwarted opened his eyes to the true nature of the world,
whose morality was artificial, corrupt, and blasphemous. The way
of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal
impulses disguised into creeds. The Professor's indignation found
in itself a final cause that absolved him from the sin of turning
to destruction as the agent of his ambition. To destroy public
faith in legality was the imperfect formula of his pedantic
fanaticism; but the subconscious conviction that the framework of
an established social order cannot be effectually shattered except
by some form of collective or individual violence was precise and
correct. He was a moral agent - that was settled in his mind. By
exercising his agency with ruthless defiance he procured for
himself the appearances of power and personal prestige. That was
undeniable to his vengeful bitterness. It pacified its unrest; and
in their own way the most ardent of revolutionaries are perhaps
doing no more but seeking for peace in common with the rest of
mankind - the peace of soothed vanity, of satisfied appetites, or
perhaps of appeased conscience.
Lost in the crowd, miserable and undersized, he meditated
confidently on his power, keeping his hand in the left pocket of
his trousers, grasping lightly the india-rubber ball, the supreme
guarantee of his sinister freedom; but after a while he became
disagreeably affected by the sight of the roadway thronged with
vehicles and of the pavement crowded with men and women. He was in
a long, straight street, peopled by a mere fraction of an immense
multitude; but all round him, on and on, even to the limits of the
horizon hidden by the enormous piles of bricks, he felt the mass of
mankind mighty in its numbers. They swarmed numerous like locusts,
industrious like ants, thoughtless like a natural force, pushing on
blind and orderly and absorbed, impervious to sentiment, to logic,
to terror too perhaps.
That was the form of doubt he feared most. Impervious to fear!
Often while walking abroad, when he happened also to come out of
himself, he had such moments of dreadful and sane mistrust of
mankind. What if nothing could move them? Such moments come to
all men whose ambition aims at a direct grasp upon humanity - to
artists, politicians, thinkers, reformers, or saints. A despicable
emotional state this, against which solitude fortifies a superior
character; and with severe exultation the Professor thought of the
refuge of his room, with its padlocked cupboard, lost in a
wilderness of poor houses, the hermitage of the perfect anarchist.
In order to reach sooner the point where he could take his omnibus,
he turned brusquely out of the populous street into a narrow and
dusky alley paved with flagstones. On one side the low brick
houses had in their dusty windows the sightless, moribund look of
incurable decay - empty shells awaiting demolition. From the other
side life had not departed wholly as yet. Facing the only gas-lamp
yawned the cavern of a second-hand furniture dealer, where, deep in
the gloom of a sort of narrow avenue winding through a bizarre
forest of wardrobes, with an undergrowth tangle of table legs, a
tall pier-glass glimmered like a pool of water in a wood. An
unhappy, homeless couch, accompanied by two unrelated chairs, stood
in the open. The only human being making use of the alley besides
the Professor, coming stalwart and erect from the opposite
direction, checked his swinging pace suddenly.
"Hallo!" he said, and stood a little on one side watchfully.
The Professor had already stopped, with a ready half turn which
brought his shoulders very near the other wall. His right hand
fell lightly on the back of the outcast couch, the left remained
purposefully plunged deep in the trousers pocket, and the roundness
of the heavy rimmed spectacles imparted an owlish character to his
moody, unperturbed face.
It was like a meeting in a side corridor of a mansion full of life.
The stalwart man was buttoned up in a dark overcoat, and carried an
umbrella. His hat, tilted back, uncovered a good deal of forehead,
which appeared very white in the dusk. In the dark patches of the
orbits the eyeballs glimmered piercingly. Long, drooping
moustaches, the colour of ripe corn, framed with their points the
square block of his shaved chin.
"I am not looking for you," he said curtly.
The Professor did not stir an inch. The blended noises of the
enormous town sank down to an inarticulate low murmur. Chief
Inspector Heat of the Special Crimes Department changed his tone.
"Not in a hurry to get home?" he asked, with mocking simplicity.
The unwholesome-looking little moral agent of destruction exulted
silently in the possession of personal prestige, keeping in check
this man armed with the defensive mandate of a menaced society.
More fortunate than Caligula, who wished that the Roman Senate had
only one head for the better satisfaction of his cruel lust, he
beheld in that one man all the forces he had set at defiance: the
force of law, property, oppression, and injustice. He beheld all
his enemies, and fearlessly confronted them all in a supreme
satisfaction of his vanity. They stood perplexed before him as if
before a dreadful portent. He gloated inwardly over the chance of
this meeting affirming his superiority over all the multitude of
It was in reality a chance meeting. Chief Inspector Heat had had a
disagreeably busy day since his department received the first
telegram from Greenwich a little before eleven in the morning.
First of all, the fact of the outrage being attempted less than a
week after he had assured a high official that no outbreak of
anarchist activity was to be apprehended was sufficiently annoying.
If he ever thought himself safe in making a statement, it was then.
He had made that statement with infinite satisfaction to himself,
because it was clear that the high official desired greatly to hear
that very thing. He had affirmed that nothing of the sort could
even be thought of without the department being aware of it within
twenty-four hours; and he had spoken thus in his consciousness of
being the great expert of his department. He had gone even so far
as to utter words which true wisdom would have kept back. But
Chief Inspector Heat was not very wise - at least not truly so.
True wisdom, which is not certain of anything in this world of
contradictions, would have prevented him from attaining his present
position. It would have alarmed his superiors, and done away with
his chances of promotion. His promotion had been very rapid.
"There isn't one of them, sir, that we couldn't lay our hands on at
any time of night and day. We know what each of them is doing hour
by hour," he had declared. And the high official had deigned to
smile. This was so obviously the right thing to say for an officer
of Chief Inspector Heat's reputation that it was perfectly
delightful. The high official believed the declaration, which
chimed in with his idea of the fitness of things. His wisdom was
of an official kind, or else he might have reflected upon a matter
not of theory but of experience that in the close-woven stuff of
relations between conspirator and police there occur unexpected
solutions of continuity, sudden holes in space and time. A given
anarchist may be watched inch by inch and minute by minute, but a
moment always comes when somehow all sight and touch of him are
lost for a few hours, during which something (generally an
explosion) more or less deplorable does happen. But the high
official, carried away by his sense of the fitness of things, had
smiled, and now the recollection of that smile was very annoying to
Chief Inspector Heat, principal expert in anarchist procedure.
This was not the only circumstance whose recollection depressed the
usual serenity of the eminent specialist. There was another dating
back only to that very morning. The thought that when called
urgently to his Assistant Commissioner's private room he had been
unable to conceal his astonishment was distinctly vexing. His
instinct of a successful man had taught him long ago that, as a
general rule, a reputation is built on manner as much as on
achievement. And he felt that his manner when confronted with the
telegram had not been impressive. He had opened his eyes widely,
and had exclaimed "Impossible!" exposing himself thereby to the
unanswerable retort of a finger-tip laid forcibly on the telegram
which the Assistant Commissioner, after reading it aloud, had flung
on the desk. To be crushed, as it were, under the tip of a
forefinger was an unpleasant experience. Very damaging, too!
Furthermore, Chief Inspector Heat was conscious of not having
mended matters by allowing himself to express a conviction.
"One thing I can tell you at once: none of our lot had anything to
do with this."
He was strong in his integrity of a good detective, but he saw now
that an impenetrably attentive reserve towards this incident would
have served his reputation better. On the other hand, he admitted
to himself that it was difficult to preserve one's reputation if
rank outsiders were going to take a hand in the business.
Outsiders are the bane of the police as of other professions. The
tone of the Assistant Commissioner's remarks had been sour enough
to set one's teeth on edge.
And since breakfast Chief Inspector Heat had not managed to get
anything to eat.
Starting immediately to begin his investigation on the spot, he had
swallowed a good deal of raw, unwholesome fog in the park. Then he
had walked over to the hospital; and when the investigation in
Greenwich was concluded at last he had lost his inclination for
food. Not accustomed, as the doctors are, to examine closely the
mangled remains of human beings, he had been shocked by the sight
disclosed to his view when a waterproof sheet had been lifted off a
table in a certain apartment of the hospital.
Another waterproof sheet was spread over that table in the manner
of a table-cloth, with the corners turned up over a sort of mound -
a heap of rags, scorched and bloodstained, half concealing what
might have been an accumulation of raw material for a cannibal
feast. It required considerable firmness of mind not to recoil
before that sight. Chief Inspector Heat, an efficient officer of
his department, stood his ground, but for a whole minute he did not
advance. A local constable in uniform cast a sidelong glance, and
said, with stolid simplicity:
"He's all there. Every bit of him. It was a job."
He had been the first man on the spot after the explosion. He
mentioned the fact again. He had seen something like a heavy flash
of lightning in the fog. At that time he was standing at the door
of the King William Street Lodge talking to the keeper. The
concussion made him tingle all over. He ran between the trees
towards the Observatory. "As fast as my legs would carry me," he
Chief Inspector Heat, bending forward over the table in a gingerly
and horrified manner, let him run on. The hospital porter and
another man turned down the corners of the cloth, and stepped
aside. The Chief Inspector's eyes searched the gruesome detail of
that heap of mixed things, which seemed to have been collected in
shambles and rag shops.
"You used a shovel," he remarked, observing a sprinkling of small
gravel, tiny brown bits of bark, and particles of splintered wood
as fine as needles.
"Had to in one place," said the stolid constable. "I sent a keeper
to fetch a spade. When he heard me scraping the ground with it he
leaned his forehead against a tree, and was as sick as a dog."
The Chief Inspector, stooping guardedly over the table, fought down
the unpleasant sensation in his throat. The shattering violence of
destruction which had made of that body a heap of nameless
fragments affected his feelings with a sense of ruthless cruelty,
though his reason told him the effect must have been as swift as a
flash of lightning. The man, whoever he was, had died
instantaneously; and yet it seemed impossible to believe that a
human body could have reached that state of disintegration without
passing through the pangs of inconceivable agony. No physiologist,
and still less of a metaphysician, Chief Inspector Heat rose by the
force of sympathy, which is a form of fear, above the vulgar
conception of time. Instantaneous! He remembered all he had ever
read in popular publications of long and terrifying dreams dreamed
in the instant of waking; of the whole past life lived with
frightful intensity by a drowning man as his doomed head bobs up,
streaming, for the last time. The inexplicable mysteries of
conscious existence beset Chief Inspector Heat till he evolved a
horrible notion that ages of atrocious pain and mental torture
could be contained between two successive winks of an eye. And
meantime the Chief Inspector went on, peering at the table with a
calm face and the slightly anxious attention of an indigent
customer bending over what may be called the by-products of a
butcher's shop with a view to an inexpensive Sunday dinner. All
the time his trained faculties of an excellent investigator, who
scorns no chance of information, followed the self-satisfied,
disjointed loquacity of the constable.
"A fair-haired fellow," the last observed in a placid tone, and
paused. "The old woman who spoke to the sergeant noticed a fair-
haired fellow coming out of Maze Hill Station." He paused. "And
he was a fair-haired fellow. She noticed two men coming out of the
station after the uptrain had gone on," he continued slowly. "She
couldn't tell if they were together. She took no particular notice
of the big one, but the other was a fair, slight chap, carrying a
tin varnish can in one hand." The constable ceased.
"Know the woman?" muttered the Chief Inspector, with his eyes fixed
on the table, and a vague notion in his mind of an inquest to be
held presently upon a person likely to remain for ever unknown.
"Yes. She's housekeeper to a retired publican, and attends the
chapel in Park Place sometimes," the constable uttered weightily,
and paused, with another oblique glance at the table.
Then suddenly: "Well, here he is - all of him I could see. Fair.
Slight - slight enough. Look at that foot there. I picked up the
legs first, one after another. He was that scattered you didn't
know where to begin."
The constable paused; the least flicker of an innocent self-
laudatory smile invested his round face with an infantile
"Stumbled," he announced positively. "I stumbled once myself, and
pitched on my head too, while running up. Them roots do stick out
all about the place. Stumbled against the root of a tree and fell,
and that thing he was carrying must have gone off right under his
chest, I expect."
The echo of the words "Person unknown" repeating itself in his
inner consciousness bothered the Chief Inspector considerably. He
would have liked to trace this affair back to its mysterious origin
for his own information. He was professionally curious. Before
the public he would have liked to vindicate the efficiency of his
department by establishing the identity of that man. He was a
loyal servant. That, however, appeared impossible. The first term
of the problem was unreadable - lacked all suggestion but that of
Overcoming his physical repugnance, Chief Inspector Heat stretched
out his hand without conviction for the salving of his conscience,
and took up the least soiled of the rags. It was a narrow strip of
velvet with a larger triangular piece of dark blue cloth hanging
from it. He held it up to his eyes; and the police constable
"Velvet collar. Funny the old woman should have noticed the velvet
collar. Dark blue overcoat with a velvet collar, she has told us.
He was the chap she saw, and no mistake. And here he is all
complete, velvet collar and all. I don't think I missed a single
piece as big as a postage stamp."
At this point the trained faculties of the Chief Inspector ceased
to hear the voice of the constable. He moved to one of the windows
for better light. His face, averted from the room, expressed a
startled intense interest while he examined closely the triangular
piece of broad-cloth. By a sudden jerk he detached it, and ONLY
after stuffing it into his pocket turned round to the room, and
flung the velvet collar back on the table -
"Cover up," he directed the attendants curtly, without another
look, and, saluted by the constable, carried off his spoil hastily.
A convenient train whirled him up to town, alone and pondering
deeply, in a third-class compartment. That singed piece of cloth
was incredibly valuable, and he could not defend himself from
astonishment at the casual manner it had come into his possession.
It was as if Fate had thrust that clue into his hands. And after
the manner of the average man, whose ambition is to command events,
he began to mistrust such a gratuitous and accidental success -
just because it seemed forced upon him. The practical value of
success depends not a little on the way you look at it. But Fate
looks at nothing. It has no discretion. He no longer considered
it eminently desirable all round to establish publicly the identity
of the man who had blown himself up that morning with such horrible
completeness. But he was not certain of the view his department
would take. A department is to those it employs a complex
personality with ideas and even fads of its own. It depends on the
loyal devotion of its servants, and the devoted loyalty of trusted
servants is associated with a certain amount of affectionate
contempt, which keeps it sweet, as it were. By a benevolent
provision of Nature no man is a hero to his valet, or else the
heroes would have to brush their own clothes. Likewise no
department appears perfectly wise to the intimacy of its workers.
A department does not know so much as some of its servants. Being
a dispassionate organism, it can never be perfectly informed. It
would not be good for its efficiency to know too much. Chief
Inspector Heat got out of the train in a state of thoughtfulness
entirely untainted with disloyalty, but not quite free of that
jealous mistrust which so often springs on the ground of perfect
devotion, whether to women or to institutions.
It was in this mental disposition, physically very empty, but still
nauseated by what he had seen, that he had come upon the Professor.
Under these conditions which make for irascibility in a sound,
normal man, this meeting was specially unwelcome to Chief Inspector
Heat. He had not been thinking of the Professor; he had not been
thinking of any individual anarchist at all. The complexion of
that case had somehow forced upon him the general idea of the
absurdity of things human, which in the abstract is sufficiently
annoying to an unphilosophical temperament, and in concrete
instances becomes exasperating beyond endurance. At the beginning
of his career Chief Inspector Heat had been concerned with the more
energetic forms of thieving. He had gained his spurs in that
sphere, and naturally enough had kept for it, after his promotion
to another department, a feeling not very far removed from
affection. Thieving was not a sheer absurdity. It was a form of
human industry, perverse indeed, but still an industry exercised in
an industrious world; it was work undertaken for the same reason as
the work in potteries, in coal mines, in fields, in tool-grinding
shops. It was labour, whose practical difference from the other
forms of labour consisted in the nature of its risk, which did not
lie in ankylosis, or lead poisoning, or fire-damp, or gritty dust,
but in what may be briefly defined in its own special phraseology
as "Seven years hard." Chief Inspector Heat was, of course, not
insensible to the gravity of moral differences. But neither were
the thieves he had been looking after. They submitted to the
severe sanctions of a morality familiar to Chief Inspector Heat
with a certain resignation.
They were his fellow-citizens gone wrong because of imperfect
education, Chief Inspector Heat believed; but allowing for that
difference, he could understand the mind of a burglar, because, as
a matter of fact, the mind and the instincts of a burglar are of
the same kind as the mind and the instincts of a police officer.
Both recognise the same conventions, and have a working knowledge
of each other's methods and of the routine of their respective
trades. They understand each other, which is advantageous to both,
and establishes a sort of amenity in their relations. Products of
the same machine, one classed as useful and the other as noxious,
they take the machine for granted in different ways, but with a
seriousness essentially the same. The mind of Chief Inspector Heat
was inaccessible to ideas of revolt. But his thieves were not
rebels. His bodily vigour, his cool inflexible manner, his courage
and his fairness, had secured for him much respect and some
adulation in the sphere of his early successes. He had felt
himself revered and admired. And Chief Inspector Heat, arrested
within six paces of the anarchist nick-named the Professor, gave a
thought of regret to the world of thieves - sane, without morbid
ideals, working by routine, respectful of constituted authorities,
free from all taint of hate and despair.
After paying this tribute to what is normal in the constitution of
society (for the idea of thieving appeared to his instinct as
normal as the idea of property), Chief Inspector Heat felt very
angry with himself for having stopped, for having spoken, for
having taken that way at all on the ground of it being a short cut
from the station to the headquarters. And he spoke again in his
big authoritative voice, which, being moderated, had a threatening
"You are not wanted, I tell you," he repeated.
The anarchist did not stir. An inward laugh of derision uncovered
not only his teeth but his gums as well, shook him all over,
without the slightest sound. Chief Inspector Heat was led to add,
against his better judgment:
"Not yet. When I want you I will know where to find you."
Those were perfectly proper words, within the tradition and
suitable to his character of a police officer addressing one of his
special flock. But the reception they got departed from tradition
and propriety. It was outrageous. The stunted, weakly figure
before him spoke at last.
"I've no doubt the papers would give you an obituary notice then.
You know best what that would be worth to you. I should think you
can imagine easily the sort of stuff that would be printed. But
you may be exposed to the unpleasantness of being buried together
with me, though I suppose your friends would make an effort to sort
us out as much as possible."
With all his healthy contempt for the spirit dictating such
speeches, the atrocious allusiveness of the words had its effect on
Chief Inspector Heat. He had too much insight, and too much exact
information as well, to dismiss them as rot. The dusk of this
narrow lane took on a sinister tint from the dark, frail little
figure, its back to the wall, and speaking with a weak, self-
confident voice. To the vigorous, tenacious vitality of the Chief
Inspector, the physical wretchedness of that being, so obviously
not fit to live, was ominous; for it seemed to him that if he had
the misfortune to be such a miserable object he would not have
cared how soon he died. Life had such a strong hold upon him that
a fresh wave of nausea broke out in slight perspiration upon his
brow. The murmur of town life, the subdued rumble of wheels in the
two invisible streets to the right and left, came through the curve
of the sordid lane to his ears with a precious familiarity and an
appealing sweetness. He was human. But Chief Inspector Heat was
also a man, and he could not let such words pass.
"All this is good to frighten children with," he said. "I'll have
It was very well said, without scorn, with an almost austere
"Doubtless," was the answer; "but there's no time like the present,
believe me. For a man of real convictions this is a fine
opportunity of self-sacrifice. You may not find another so
favourable, so humane. There isn't even a cat near us, and these
condemned old houses would make a good heap of bricks where you
stand. You'll never get me at so little cost to life and property,
which you are paid to protect."
"You don't know who you're speaking to," said Chief Inspector Heat
firmly. "If I were to lay my hands on you now I would be no better
"Ah! The game!'
"You may be sure our side will win in the end. It may yet be
necessary to make people believe that some of you ought to be shot
at sight like mad dogs. Then that will be the game. But I'll be
damned if I know what yours is. I don't believe you know
yourselves. You'll never get anything by it."
"Meantime it's you who get something from it - so far. And you get
it easily, too. I won't speak of your salary, but haven't you made
your name simply by not understanding what we are after?"
"What are you after, then?" asked Chief Inspector Heat, with
scornful haste, like a man in a hurry who perceives he is wasting
The perfect anarchist answered by a smile which did not part his
thin colourless lips; and the celebrated Chief Inspector felt a
sense of superiority which induced him to raise a warning finger.
"Give it up - whatever it is," he said in an admonishing tone, but
not so kindly as if he were condescending to give good advice to a
cracksman of repute. "Give it up. You'll find we are too many for
The fixed smile on the Professor's lips wavered, as if the mocking
spirit within had lost its assurance. Chief Inspector Heat went
"Don't you believe me eh? Well, you've only got to look about you.
We are. And anyway, you're not doing it well. You're always
making a mess of it. Why, if the thieves didn't know their work
better they would starve."
The hint of an invincible multitude behind that man's back roused a
sombre indignation in the breast of the Professor. He smiled no
longer his enigmatic and mocking smile. The resisting power of
numbers, the unattackable stolidity of a great multitude, was the
haunting fear of his sinister loneliness. His lips trembled for
some time before he managed to say in a strangled voice:
"I am doing my work better than you're doing yours."
"That'll do now," interrupted Chief Inspector Heat hurriedly; and
the Professor laughed right out this time. While still laughing he
moved on; but he did not laugh long. It was a sad-faced, miserable
little man who emerged from the narrow passage into the bustle of
the broad thoroughfare. He walked with the nerveless gait of a
tramp going on, still going on, indifferent to rain or sun in a
sinister detachment from the aspects of sky and earth. Chief
Inspector Heat, on the other hand, after watching him for a while,
stepped out with the purposeful briskness of a man disregarding
indeed the inclemencies of the weather, but conscious of having an
authorised mission on this earth and the moral support of his kind.
All the inhabitants of the immense town, the population of the
whole country, and even the teeming millions struggling upon the
planet, were with him - down to the very thieves and mendicants.
Yes, the thieves themselves were sure to be with him in his present
work. The consciousness of universal support in his general
activity heartened him to grapple with the particular problem.
The problem immediately before the Chief Inspector was that of
managing the Assistant Commissioner of his department, his
immediate superior. This is the perennial problem of trusty and
loyal servants; anarchism gave it its particular complexion, but
nothing more. Truth to say, Chief Inspector Heat thought but
little of anarchism. He did not attach undue importance to it, and
could never bring himself to consider it seriously. It had more
the character of disorderly conduct; disorderly without the human
excuse of drunkenness, which at any rate implies good feeling and
an amiable leaning towards festivity. As criminals, anarchists
were distinctly no class - no class at all. And recalling the
Professor, Chief Inspector Heat, without checking his swinging
pace, muttered through his teeth:
Catching thieves was another matter altogether. It had that
quality of seriousness belonging to every form of open sport where
the best man wins under perfectly comprehensible rules. There were
no rules for dealing with anarchists. And that was distasteful to
the Chief Inspector. It was all foolishness, but that foolishness
excited the public mind, affected persons in high places, and
touched upon international relations. A hard, merciless contempt
settled rigidly on the Chief Inspector's face as he walked on. His
mind ran over all the anarchists of his flock. Not one of them had
half the spunk of this or that burglar he had known. Not half -
At headquarters the Chief Inspector was admitted at once to the
Assistant Commissioner's private room. He found him, pen in hand,
bent over a great table bestrewn with papers, as if worshipping an
enormous double inkstand of bronze and crystal. Speaking tubes
resembling snakes were tied by the heads to the back of the
Assistant Commissioner's wooden arm-chair, and their gaping mouths
seemed ready to bite his elbows. And in this attitude he raised
only his eyes, whose lids were darker than his face and very much
creased. The reports had come in: every anarchist had been exactly
After saying this he lowered his eyes, signed rapidly two single
sheets of paper, and only then laid down his pen, and sat well
back, directing an inquiring gaze at his renowned subordinate. The
Chief Inspector stood it well, deferential but inscrutable.
"I daresay you were right," said the Assistant Commissioner, "in
telling me at first that the London anarchists had nothing to do
with this. I quite appreciate the excellent watch kept on them by
your men. On the other hand, this, for the public, does not amount
to more than a confession of ignorance."
The Assistant Commissioner's delivery was leisurely, as it were
cautious. His thought seemed to rest poised on a word before
passing to another, as though words had been the stepping-stones
for his intellect picking its way across the waters of error.
"Unless you have brought something useful from Greenwich," he
The Chief Inspector began at once the account of his investigation
in a clear matter-of-fact manner. His superior turning his chair a
little, and crossing his thin legs, leaned sideways on his elbow,
with one hand shading his eyes. His listening attitude had a sort
of angular and sorrowful grace. Gleams as of highly burnished
silver played on the sides of his ebony black head when he inclined
it slowly at the end.
Chief Inspector Heat waited with the appearance of turning over in
his mind all he had just said, but, as a matter of fact,
considering the advisability of saying something more. The
Assistant Commissioner cut his hesitation short.
"You believe there were two men?" he asked, without uncovering his
The Chief Inspector thought it more than probable. In his opinion,
the two men had parted from each other within a hundred yards from
the Observatory walls. He explained also how the other man could
have got out of the park speedily without being observed. The fog,
though not very dense, was in his favour. He seemed to have
escorted the other to the spot, and then to have left him there to
do the job single-handed. Taking the time those two were seen
coming out of Maze Hill Station by the old woman, and the time when
the explosion was heard, the Chief Inspector thought that the other
man might have been actually at the Greenwich Park Station, ready
to catch the next train up, at the moment his comrade was
destroying himself so thoroughly.
"Very thoroughly - eh?" murmured the Assistant Commissioner from
under the shadow of his hand.
The Chief Inspector in a few vigorous words described the aspect of
the remains. "The coroner's jury will have a treat," he added
The Assistant Commissioner uncovered his eyes.
"We shall have nothing to tell them," he remarked languidly.
He looked up, and for a time watched the markedly non-committal
attitude of his Chief Inspector. His nature was one that is not
easily accessible to illusions. He knew that a department is at
the mercy of its subordinate officers, who have their own
conceptions of loyalty. His career had begun in a tropical colony.
He had liked his work there. It was police work. He had been very
successful in tracking and breaking up certain nefarious secret
societies amongst the natives. Then he took his long leave, and
got married rather impulsively. It was a good match from a worldly
point of view, but his wife formed an unfavourable opinion of the
colonial climate on hearsay evidence. On the other hand, she had
influential connections. It was an excellent match. But he did
not like the work he had to do now. He felt himself dependent on
too many subordinates and too many masters. The near presence of
that strange emotional phenomenon called public opinion weighed
upon his spirits, and alarmed him by its irrational nature. No
doubt that from ignorance he exaggerated to himself its power for
good and evil - especially for evil; and the rough east winds of
the English spring (which agreed with his wife) augmented his
general mistrust of men's motives and of the efficiency of their
organisation. The futility of office work especially appalled him
on those days so trying to his sensitive liver.
He got up, unfolding himself to his full height, and with a
heaviness of step remarkable in so slender a man, moved across the
room to the window. The panes streamed with rain, and the short
street he looked down into lay wet and empty, as if swept clear
suddenly by a great flood. It was a very trying day, choked in raw
fog to begin with, and now drowned in cold rain. The flickering,
blurred flames of gas-lamps seemed to be dissolving in a watery
atmosphere. And the lofty pretensions of a mankind oppressed by
the miserable indignities of the weather appeared as a colossal and
hopeless vanity deserving of scorn, wonder, and compassion.
"Horrible, horrible!" thought the Assistant Commissioner to
himself, with his face near the window-pane. "We have been having
this sort of thing now for ten days; no, a fortnight - a
fortnight." He ceased to think completely for a time. That utter
stillness of his brain lasted about three seconds. Then he said
perfunctorily: "You have set inquiries on foot for tracing that
other man up and down the line?"
He had no doubt that everything needful had been done. Chief
Inspector Heat knew, of course, thoroughly the business of man-
hunting. And these were the routine steps, too, that would be
taken as a matter of course by the merest beginner. A few
inquiries amongst the ticket collectors and the porters of the two
small railway stations would give additional details as to the
appearance of the two men; the inspection of the collected tickets
would show at once where they came from that morning. It was
elementary, and could not have been neglected. Accordingly the
Chief Inspector answered that all this had been done directly the
old woman had come forward with her deposition. And he mentioned
the name of a station. "That's where they came from, sir," he went
on. "The porter who took the tickets at Maze Hill remembers two
chaps answering to the description passing the barrier. They
seemed to him two respectable working men of a superior sort - sign
painters or house decorators. The big man got out of a third-class
compartment backward, with a bright tin can in his hand. On the
platform he gave it to carry to the fair young fellow who followed
him. All this agrees exactly with what the old woman told the
police sergeant in Greenwich."
The Assistant Commissioner, still with his face turned to the
window, expressed his doubt as to these two men having had anything
to do with the outrage. All this theory rested upon the utterances
of an old charwoman who had been nearly knocked down by a man in a
hurry. Not a very substantial authority indeed, unless on the
ground of sudden inspiration, which was hardly tenable.
"Frankly now, could she have been really inspired?" he queried,
with grave irony, keeping his back to the room, as if entranced by
the contemplation of the town's colossal forms half lost in the
night. He did not even look round when he heard the mutter of the
word "Providential" from the principal subordinate of his
department, whose name, printed sometimes in the papers, was
familiar to the great public as that of one of its zealous and
hard-working protectors. Chief Inspector Heat raised his voice a
"Strips and bits of bright tin were quite visible to me," he said.
"That's a pretty good corroboration."
"And these men came from that little country station," the
Assistant Commissioner mused aloud, wondering. He was told that
such was the name on two tickets out of three given up out of that
train at Maze Hill. The third person who got out was a hawker from
Gravesend well known to the porters. The Chief Inspector imparted
that information in a tone of finality with some ill humour, as
loyal servants will do in the consciousness of their fidelity and
with the sense of the value of their loyal exertions. And still
the Assistant Commissioner did not turn away from the darkness
outside, as vast as a sea.
"Two foreign anarchists coming from that place," he said,
apparently to the window-pane. "It's rather unaccountable."'
"Yes, sir. But it would be still more unaccountable if that
Michaelis weren't staying in a cottage in the neighbourhood."
At the sound of that name, falling unexpectedly into this annoying
affair, the Assistant Commissioner dismissed brusquely the vague
remembrance of his daily whist party at his club. It was the most
comforting habit of his life, in a mainly successful display of his
skill without the assistance of any subordinate. He entered his
club to play from five to seven, before going home to dinner,
forgetting for those two hours whatever was distasteful in his
life, as though the game were a beneficent drug for allaying the
pangs of moral discontent. His partners were the gloomily humorous
editor of a celebrated magazine; a silent, elderly barrister with
malicious little eyes; and a highly martial, simple-minded old
Colonel with nervous brown hands. They were his club acquaintances
merely. He never met them elsewhere except at the card-table. But
they all seemed to approach the game in the spirit of co-sufferers,
as if it were indeed a drug against the secret ills of existence;
and every day as the sun declined over the countless roofs of the
town, a mellow, pleasurable impatience, resembling the impulse of a
sure and profound friendship, lightened his professional labours.
And now this pleasurable sensation went out of him with something
resembling a physical shock, and was replaced by a special kind of
interest in his work of social protection - an improper sort of
interest, which may be defined best as a sudden and alert mistrust
of the weapon in his hand.
The lady patroness of Michaelis, the ticket-of-leave apostle of
humanitarian hopes, was one of the most influential and
distinguished connections of the Assistant Commissioner's wife,
whom she called Annie, and treated still rather as a not very wise
and utterly inexperienced young girl. But she had consented to
accept him on a friendly footing, which was by no means the case
with all of his wife's influential connections. Married young and
splendidly at some remote epoch of the past, she had had for a time
a close view of great affairs and even of some great men. She
herself was a great lady. Old now in the number of her years, she
had that sort of exceptional temperament which defies time with
scornful disregard, as if it were a rather vulgar convention
submitted to by the mass of inferior mankind. Many other
conventions easier to set aside, alas! failed to obtain her
recognition, also on temperamental grounds - either because they
bored her, or else because they stood in the way of her scorns and
sympathies. Admiration was a sentiment unknown to her (it was one
of the secret griefs of her most noble husband against her) -
first, as always more or less tainted with mediocrity, and next as
being in a way an admission of inferiority. And both were frankly
inconceivable to her nature. To be fearlessly outspoken in her
opinions came easily to her, since she judged solely from the
standpoint of her social position. She was equally untrammelled in
her actions; and as her tactfulness proceeded from genuine
humanity, her bodily vigour remained remarkable and her superiority
was serene and cordial, three generations had admired her
infinitely, and the last she was likely to see had pronounced her a
wonderful woman. Meantime intelligent, with a sort of lofty
simplicity, and curious at heart, but not like many women merely of
social gossip, she amused her age by attracting within her ken
through the power of her great, almost historical, social prestige
everything that rose above the dead level of mankind, lawfully or
unlawfully, by position, wit, audacity, fortune or misfortune.
Royal Highnesses, artists, men of science, young statesmen, and
charlatans of all ages and conditions, who, unsubstantial and
light, bobbing up like corks, show best the direction of the
surface currents, had been welcomed in that house, listened to,
penetrated, understood, appraised, for her own edification. In her
own words, she liked to watch what the world was coming to. And as
she had a practical mind her judgment of men and things, though
based on special prejudices, was seldom totally wrong, and almost
never wrong-headed. Her drawing-room was probably the only place
in the wide world where an Assistant Commissioner of Police could
meet a convict liberated on a ticket-of-leave on other than
professional and official ground. Who had brought Michaelis there
one afternoon the Assistant Commissioner did not remember very
well. He had a notion it must have been a certain Member of
Parliament of illustrious parentage and unconventional sympathies,
which were the standing joke of the comic papers. The notabilities
and even the simple notorieties of the day brought each other
freely to that temple of an old woman's not ignoble curiosity. You
never could guess whom you were likely to come upon being received
in semi-privacy within the faded blue silk and gilt frame screen,
making a cosy nook for a couch and a few arm-chairs in the great
drawing-room, with its hum of voices and the groups of people
seated or standing in the light of six tall windows.
Michaelis had been the object of a revulsion of popular sentiment,
the same sentiment which years ago had applauded the ferocity of
the life sentence passed upon him for complicity in a rather mad
attempt to rescue some prisoners from a police van. The plan of
the conspirators had been to shoot down the horses and overpower
the escort. Unfortunately, one of the police constables got shot
too. He left a wife and three small children, and the death of
that man aroused through the length and breadth of a realm for
whose defence, welfare, and glory men die every day as matter of
duty, an outburst of furious indignation, of a raging implacable
pity for the victim. Three ring-leaders got hanged. Michaelis,
young and slim, locksmith by trade, and great frequenter of evening
schools, did not even know that anybody had been killed, his part
with a few others being to force open the door at the back of the
special conveyance. When arrested he had a bunch of skeleton keys
in one pocket a heavy chisel in another, and a short crowbar in his
hand: neither more nor less than a burglar. But no burglar would
have received such a heavy sentence. The death of the constable
had made him miserable at heart, but the failure of the plot also.
He did not conceal either of these sentiments from his empanelled
countrymen, and that sort of compunction appeared shockingly
imperfect to the crammed court. The judge on passing sentence
commented feelingly upon the depravity and callousness of the young
That made the groundless fame of his condemnation; the fame of his
release was made for him on no better grounds by people who wished
to exploit the sentimental aspect of his imprisonment either for
purposes of their own or for no intelligible purpose. He let them
do so in the innocence of his heart and the simplicity of his mind.
Nothing that happened to him individually had any importance. He
was like those saintly men whose personality is lost in the
contemplation of their faith. His ideas were not in the nature of
convictions. They were inaccessible to reasoning. They formed in
all their contradictions and obscurities an invincible and
humanitarian creed, which he confessed rather than preached, with
an obstinate gentleness, a smile of pacific assurance on his lips,
and his candid blue eyes cast down because the sight of faces
troubled his inspiration developed in solitude. In that
characteristic attitude, pathetic in his grotesque and incurable
obesity which he had to drag like a galley slave's bullet to the
end of his days, the Assistant Commissioner of Police beheld the
ticket-of-leave apostle filling a privileged arm-chair within the
screen. He sat there by the head of the old lady's couch, mild-
voiced and quiet, with no more self-consciousness than a very small
child, and with something of a child's charm - the appealing charm
of trustfulness. Confident of the future, whose secret ways had
been revealed to him within the four walls of a well-known
penitentiary, he had no reason to look with suspicion upon anybody.
If he could not give the great and curious lady a very definite
idea as to what the world was coming to, he had managed without
effort to impress her by his unembittered faith, by the sterling
quality of his optimism.
A certain simplicity of thought is common to serene souls at both
ends of the social scale. The great lady was simple in her own
way. His views and beliefs had nothing in them to shock or startle
her, since she judged them from the standpoint of her lofty
position. Indeed, her sympathies were easily accessible to a man
of that sort. She was not an exploiting capitalist herself; she
was, as it were, above the play of economic conditions. And she
had a great capacity of pity for the more obvious forms of common
human miseries, precisely because she was such a complete stranger
to them that she had to translate her conception into terms of
mental suffering before she could grasp the notion of their
cruelty. The Assistant Commissioner remembered very well the
conversation between these two. He had listened in silence. It
was something as exciting in a way, and even touching in its
foredoomed futility, as the efforts at moral intercourse between
the inhabitants of remote planets. But this grotesque incarnation
of humanitarian passion appealed somehow, to one's imagination. At
last Michaelis rose, and taking the great lady's extended hand,
shook it, retained it for a moment in his great cushioned palm with
unembarrassed friendliness, and turned upon the semi-private nook
of the drawing-room his back, vast and square, and as if distended
under the short tweed jacket. Glancing about in serene
benevolence, he waddled along to the distant door between the knots
of other visitors. The murmur of conversations paused on his
passage. He smiled innocently at a tall, brilliant girl, whose
eyes met his accidentally, and went out unconscious of the glances
following him across the room. Michaelis' first appearance in the
world was a success - a success of esteem unmarred by a single
murmur of derision. The interrupted conversations were resumed in
their proper tone, grave or light. Only a well-set-up, long-
limbed, active-looking man of forty talking with two ladies near a
window remarked aloud, with an unexpected depth of feeling:
"Eighteen stone, I should say, and not five foot six. Poor fellow!
It's terrible - terrible."
The lady of the house, gazing absently at the Assistant
Commissioner, left alone with her on the private side of the
screen, seemed to be rearranging her mental impressions behind her
thoughtful immobility of a handsome old face. Men with grey
moustaches and full, healthy, vaguely smiling countenances
approached, circling round the screen; two mature women with a
matronly air of gracious resolution; a clean-shaved individual with
sunken cheeks, and dangling a gold-mounted eyeglass on a broad
black ribbon with an old-world, dandified effect. A silence
deferential, but full of reserves, reigned for a moment, and then
the great lady exclaimed, not with resentment, but with a sort of
"And that officially is supposed to be a revolutionist! What
nonsense." She looked hard at the Assistant Commissioner, who
"Not a dangerous one perhaps."
"Not dangerous - I should think not indeed. He is a mere believer.
It's the temperament of a saint," declared the great lady in a firm
tone. "And they kept him shut up for twenty years. One shudders
at the stupidity of it. And now they have let him out everybody
belonging to him is gone away somewhere or dead. His parents are
dead; the girl he was to marry has died while he was in prison; he
has lost the skill necessary for his manual occupation. He told me
all this himself with the sweetest patience; but then, he said, he
had had plenty of time to think out things for himself. A pretty
compensation! If that's the stuff revolutionists are made of some
of us may well go on their knees to them," she continued in a
slightly bantering voice, while the banal society smiles hardened
on the worldly faces turned towards her with conventional
deference. "The poor creature is obviously no longer in a position
to take care of himself. Somebody will have to look after him a
"He should be recommended to follow a treatment of some sort," the
soldierly voice of the active-looking man was heard advising
earnestly from a distance. He was in the pink of condition for his
age, and even the texture of his long frock coat had a character of
elastic soundness, as if it were a living tissue. "The man is
virtually a cripple," he added with unmistakable feeling.
Other voices, as if glad of the opening, murmured hasty compassion.
"Quite startling," "Monstrous," "Most painful to see." The lank
man, with the eyeglass on a broad ribbon, pronounced mincingly the
word "Grotesque," whose justness was appreciated by those standing
near him. They smiled at each other.
The Assistant Commissioner had expressed no opinion either then or
later, his position making it impossible for him to ventilate any
independent view of a ticket-of-leave convict. But, in truth, he
shared the view of his wife's friend and patron that Michaelis was
a humanitarian sentimentalist, a little mad, but upon the whole
incapable of hurting a fly intentionally. So when that name
cropped up suddenly in this vexing bomb affair he realised all the
danger of it for the ticket-of-leave apostle, and his mind reverted
at once to the old lady's well-established infatuation. Her
arbitrary kindness would not brook patiently any interference with
Michaelis' freedom. It was a deep, calm, convinced infatuation.
She had not only felt him to be inoffensive, but she had said so,
which last by a confusion of her absolutist mind became a sort of
incontrovertible demonstration. It was as if the monstrosity of
the man, with his candid infant's eyes and a fat angelic smile, had
fascinated her. She had come to believe almost his theory of the
future, since it was not repugnant to her prejudices. She disliked
the new element of plutocracy in the social compound, and
industrialism as a method of human development appeared to her
singularly repulsive in its mechanical and unfeeling character.
The humanitarian hopes of the mild Michaelis tended not towards
utter destruction, but merely towards the complete economic ruin of
the system. And she did not really see where was the moral harm of
it. It would do away with all the multitude of the "parvenus,"
whom she disliked and mistrusted, not because they had arrived
anywhere (she denied that), but because of their profound
unintelligence of the world, which was the primary cause of the
crudity of their perceptions and the aridity of their hearts. With
the annihilation of all capital they would vanish too; but
universal ruin (providing it was universal, as it was revealed to
Michaelis) would leave the social values untouched. The
disappearance of the last piece of money could not affect people of
position. She could not conceive how it could affect her position,
for instance. She had developed these discoveries to the Assistant
Commissioner with all the serene fearlessness of an old woman who
had escaped the blight of indifference. He had made for himself
the rule to receive everything of that sort in a silence which he
took care from policy and inclination not to make offensive. He
had an affection for the aged disciple of Michaelis, a complex
sentiment depending a little on her prestige, on her personality,
but most of all on the instinct of flattered gratitude. He felt
himself really liked in her house. She was kindness personified.
And she was practically wise too, after the manner of experienced
women. She made his married life much easier than it would have
been without her generously full recognition of his rights as
Annie's husband. Her influence upon his wife, a woman devoured by
all sorts of small selfishnesses, small envies, small jealousies,
was excellent. Unfortunately, both her kindness and her wisdom
were of unreasonable complexion, distinctly feminine, and difficult
to deal with. She remained a perfect woman all along her full tale
of years, and not as some of them do become - a sort of slippery,
pestilential old man in petticoats. And it was as of a woman that
he thought of her - the specially choice incarnation of the
feminine, wherein is recruited the tender, ingenuous, and fierce
bodyguard for all sorts of men who talk under the influence of an
emotion, true or fraudulent; for preachers, seers, prophets, or
Appreciating the distinguished and good friend of his wife, and
himself, in that way, the Assistant Commissioner became alarmed at
the convict Michaelis' possible fate. Once arrested on suspicion
of being in some way, however remote, a party to this outrage, the
man could hardly escape being sent back to finish his sentence at
least. And that would kill him; he would never come out alive.
The Assistant Commissioner made a reflection extremely unbecoming
his official position without being really creditable to his
"If the fellow is laid hold of again," he thought, "she will never
The frankness of such a secretly outspoken thought could not go
without some derisive self-criticism. No man engaged in a work he
does not like can preserve many saving illusions about himself.
The distaste, the absence of glamour, extend from the occupation to
the personality. It is only when our appointed activities seem by
a lucky accident to obey the particular earnestness of our
temperament that we can taste the comfort of complete self-
deception. The Assistant Commissioner did not like his work at
home. The police work he had been engaged on in a distant part of
the globe had the saving character of an irregular sort of warfare
or at least the risk and excitement of open-air sport. His real
abilities, which were mainly of an administrative order, were
combined with an adventurous disposition. Chained to a desk in the
thick of four millions of men, he considered himself the victim of
an ironic fate - the same, no doubt, which had brought about his
marriage with a woman exceptionally sensitive in the matter of
colonial climate, besides other limitations testifying to the
delicacy of her nature - and her tastes. Though he judged his
alarm sardonically he did not dismiss the improper thought from his
mind. The instinct of self-preservation was strong within him. On
the contrary, he repeated it mentally with profane emphasis and a
fuller precision: "Damn it! If that infernal Heat has his way the
fellow'll die in prison smothered in his fat, and she'll never
His black, narrow figure, with the white band of the collar under
the silvery gleams on the close-cropped hair at the back of the
head, remained motionless. The silence had lasted such a long time
that Chief Inspector Heat ventured to clear his throat. This noise
produced its effect. The zealous and intelligent officer was asked
by his superior, whose back remained turned to him immovably:
"You connect Michaelis with this affair?"
Chief Inspector Heat was very positive, but cautious.
"Well, sir," he said, "we have enough to go upon. A man like that
has no business to be at large, anyhow."
"You will want some conclusive evidence," came the observation in a
Chief Inspector Heat raised his eyebrows at the black, narrow back,
which remained obstinately presented to his intelligence and his
"There will be no difficulty in getting up sufficient evidence
against HIM," he said, with virtuous complacency. "You may trust
me for that, sir," he added, quite unnecessarily, out of the
fulness of his heart; for it seemed to him an excellent thing to
have that man in hand to be thrown down to the public should it
think fit to roar with any special indignation in this case. It
was impossible to say yet whether it would roar or not. That in
the last instance depended, of course, on the newspaper press. But
in any case, Chief Inspector Heat, purveyor of prisons by trade,
and a man of legal instincts, did logically believe that
incarceration was the proper fate for every declared enemy of the
law. In the strength of that conviction he committed a fault of
tact. He allowed himself a little conceited laugh, and repeated:
"Trust me for that, sir."
This was too much for the forced calmness under which the Assistant
Commissioner had for upwards of eighteen months concealed his
irritation with the system and the subordinates of his office. A
square peg forced into a round hole, he had felt like a daily
outrage that long established smooth roundness into which a man of
less sharply angular shape would have fitted himself, with
voluptuous acquiescence, after a shrug or two. What he resented
most was just the necessity of taking so much on trust. At the
little laugh of Chief Inspector Heat's he spun swiftly on his
heels, as if whirled away from the window-pane by an electric
shock. He caught on the latter's face not only the complacency
proper to the occasion lurking under the moustache, but the
vestiges of experimental watchfulness in the round eyes, which had
been, no doubt, fastened on his back, and now met his glance for a
second before the intent character of their stare had the time to
change to a merely startled appearance.
The Assistant Commissioner of Police had really some qualifications
for his post. Suddenly his suspicion was awakened. It is but fair
to say that his suspicions of the police methods (unless the police
happened to be a semi-military body organised by himself) was not
difficult to arouse. If it ever slumbered from sheer weariness, it
was but lightly; and his appreciation of Chief Inspector Heat's
zeal and ability, moderate in itself, excluded all notion of moral
confidence. "He's up to something," he exclaimed mentally, and at
once became angry. Crossing over to his desk with headlong
strides, he sat down violently. "Here I am stuck in a litter of
paper," he reflected, with unreasonable resentment, "supposed to
hold all the threads in my hands, and yet I can but hold what is
put in my hand, and nothing else. And they can fasten the other
ends of the threads where they please."
He raised his head, and turned towards his subordinate a long,
meagre face with the accentuated features of an energetic Don
"Now what is it you've got up your sleeve?"
The other stared. He stared without winking in a perfect
immobility of his round eyes, as he was used to stare at the
various members of the criminal class when, after being duly
cautioned, they made their statements in the tones of injured
innocence, or false simplicity, or sullen resignation. But behind
that professional and stony fixity there was some surprise too, for
in such a tone, combining nicely the note of contempt and
impatience, Chief Inspector Heat, the right-hand man of the
department, was not used to be addressed. He began in a
procrastinating manner, like a man taken unawares by a new and
"What I've got against that man Michaelis you mean, sir?"
The Assistant Commissioner watched the bullet head; the points of
that Norse rover's moustache, falling below the line of the heavy
jaw; the whole full and pale physiognomy, whose determined
character was marred by too much flesh; at the cunning wrinkles
radiating from the outer corners of the eyes - and in that
purposeful contemplation of the valuable and trusted officer he
drew a conviction so sudden that it moved him like an inspiration.
"I have reason to think that when you came into this room," he said
in measured tones, "it was not Michaelis who was in your mind; not
principally - perhaps not at all."
"You have reason to think, sir?" muttered Chief Inspector Heat,
with every appearance of astonishment, which up to a certain point
was genuine enough. He had discovered in this affair a delicate
and perplexing side, forcing upon the discoverer a certain amount
of insincerity - that sort of insincerity which, under the names of
skill, prudence, discretion, turns up at one point or another in
most human affairs. He felt at the moment like a tight-rope artist
might feel if suddenly, in the middle of the performance, the
manager of the Music Hall were to rush out of the proper managerial
seclusion and begin to shake the rope. Indignation, the sense of
moral insecurity engendered by such a treacherous proceeding joined
to the immediate apprehension of a broken neck, would, in the
colloquial phrase, put him in a state. And there would be also
some scandalised concern for his art too, since a man must identify
himself with something more tangible than his own personality, and
establish his pride somewhere, either in his social position, or in
the quality of the work he is obliged to do, or simply in the
superiority of the idleness he may be fortunate enough to enjoy.
"Yes," said the Assistant Commissioner; "I have. I do not mean to
say that you have not thought of Michaelis at all. But you are
giving the fact you've mentioned a prominence which strikes me as
not quite candid, Inspector Heat. If that is really the track of
discovery, why haven't you followed it up at once, either
personally or by sending one of your men to that village?"
"Do you think, sir, I have failed in my duty there?" the Chief
Inspector asked, in a tone which he sought to make simply
reflective. Forced unexpectedly to concentrate his faculties upon
the task of preserving his balance, he had seized upon that point,
and exposed himself to a rebuke; for, the Assistant Commissioner
frowning slightly, observed that this was a very improper remark to
"But since you've made it," he continued coldly, "I'll tell you
that this is not my meaning."
He paused, with a straight glance of his sunken eyes which was a
full equivalent of the unspoken termination "and you know it." The
head of the so-called Special Crimes Department debarred by his
position from going out of doors personally in quest of secrets
locked up in guilty breasts, had a propensity to exercise his
considerable gifts for the detection of incriminating truth upon
his own subordinates. That peculiar instinct could hardly be
called a weakness. It was natural. He was a born detective. It
had unconsciously governed his choice of a career, and if it ever
failed him in life it was perhaps in the one exceptional
circumstance of his marriage - which was also natural. It fed,
since it could not roam abroad, upon the human material which was
brought to it in its official seclusion. We can never cease to be
His elbow on the desk, his thin legs crossed, and nursing his cheek
in the palm of his meagre hand, the Assistant Commissioner in
charge of the Special Crimes branch was getting hold of the case
with growing interest. His Chief Inspector, if not an absolutely
worthy foeman of his penetration, was at any rate the most worthy
of all within his reach. A mistrust of established reputations was
strictly in character with the Assistant Commissioner's ability as
detector. His memory evoked a certain old fat and wealthy native
chief in the distant colony whom it was a tradition for the
successive Colonial Governors to trust and make much of as a firm
friend and supporter of the order and legality established by white
men; whereas, when examined sceptically, he was found out to be
principally his own good friend, and nobody else's. Not precisely
a traitor, but still a man of many dangerous reservations in his
fidelity, caused by a due regard for his own advantage, comfort,
and safety. A fellow of some innocence in his naive duplicity, but
none the less dangerous. He took some finding out. He was
physically a big man, too, and (allowing for the difference of
colour, of course) Chief Inspector Heat's appearance recalled him
to the memory of his superior. It was not the eyes nor yet the
lips exactly. It was bizarre. But does not Alfred Wallace relate
in his famous book on the Malay Archipelago how, amongst the Aru
Islanders, he discovered in an old and naked savage with a sooty
skin a peculiar resemblance to a dear friend at home?
For the first time since he took up his appointment the Assistant
Commissioner felt as if he were going to do some real work for his
salary. And that was a pleasurable sensation. "I'll turn him
inside out like an old glove," thought the Assistant Commissioner,
with his eyes resting pensively upon Chief Inspector Heat.
"No, that was not my thought," he began again. "There is no doubt
about you knowing your business - no doubt at all; and that's
precisely why I - " He stopped short, and changing his tone: "What
could you bring up against Michaelis of a definite nature? I mean
apart from the fact that the two men under suspicion - you're
certain there were two of them - came last from a railway station
within three miles of the village where Michaelis is living now."
"This by itself is enough for us to go upon, sir, with that sort of
man," said the Chief Inspector, with returning composure. The
slight approving movement of the Assistant Commissioner's head went
far to pacify the resentful astonishment of the renowned officer.
For Chief Inspector Heat was a kind man, an excellent husband, a
devoted father; and the public and departmental confidence he
enjoyed acting favourably upon an amiable nature, disposed him to
feel friendly towards the successive Assistant Commissioners he had
seen pass through that very room. There had been three in his
time. The first one, a soldierly, abrupt, red-faced person, with
white eyebrows and an explosive temper, could be managed with a
silken thread. He left on reaching the age limit. The second, a
perfect gentleman, knowing his own and everybody else's place to a
nicety, on resigning to take up a higher appointment out of England
got decorated for (really) Inspector Heat's services. To work with
him had been a pride and a pleasure. The third, a bit of a dark
horse from the first, was at the end of eighteen months something
of a dark horse still to the department. Upon the whole Chief
Inspector Heat believed him to be in the main harmless - odd-
looking, but harmless. He was speaking now, and the Chief
Inspector listened with outward deference (which means nothing,
being a matter of duty) and inwardly with benevolent toleration.
"Michaelis reported himself before leaving London for the country?"
"Yes, sir. He did."
"And what may he be doing there?" continued the Assistant
Commissioner, who was perfectly informed on that point. Fitted
with painful tightness into an old wooden arm-chair, before a worm-
eaten oak table in an upstairs room of a four-roomed cottage with a
roof of moss-grown tiles, Michaelis was writing night and day in a
shaky, slanting hand that "Autobiography of a Prisoner" which was
to be like a book of Revelation in the history of mankind. The
conditions of confined space, seclusion, and solitude in a small
four-roomed cottage were favourable to his inspiration. It was
like being in prison, except that one was never disturbed for the
odious purpose of taking exercise according to the tyrannical
regulations of his old home in the penitentiary. He could not tell
whether the sun still shone on the earth or not. The perspiration
of the literary labour dropped from his brow. A delightful
enthusiasm urged him on. It was the liberation of his inner life,
the letting out of his soul into the wide world. And the zeal of
his guileless vanity (first awakened by the offer of five hundred
pounds from a publisher) seemed something predestined and holy.
"It would be, of course, most desirable to be informed exactly,"
insisted the Assistant Commissioner uncandidly.
Chief Inspector Heat, conscious of renewed irritation at this
display of scrupulousness, said that the county police had been
notified from the first of Michaelis' arrival, and that a full
report could be obtained in a few hours. A wire to the
Thus he spoke, rather slowly, while his mind seemed already to be
weighing the consequences. A slight knitting of the brow was the
outward sign of this. But he was interrupted by a question.
"You've sent that wire already?"
"No, sir," he answered, as if surprised.
The Assistant Commissioner uncrossed his legs suddenly. The
briskness of that movement contrasted with the casual way in which
he threw out a suggestion.
"Would you think that Michaelis had anything to do with the
preparation of that bomb, for instance?"
The Chief Inspector assumed a reflective manner.
"I wouldn't say so. There's no necessity to say anything at
present. He associates with men who are classed as dangerous. He
was made a delegate of the Red Committee less than a year after his
release on licence. A sort of compliment, I suppose."
And the Chief Inspector laughed a little angrily, a little
scornfully. With a man of that sort scrupulousness was a misplaced
and even an illegal sentiment. The celebrity bestowed upon
Michaelis on his release two years ago by some emotional
journalists in want of special copy had rankled ever since in his
breast. It was perfectly legal to arrest that man on the barest
suspicion. It was legal and expedient on the face of it. His two
former chiefs would have seen the point at once; whereas this one,
without saying either yes or no, sat there, as if lost in a dream.
Moreover, besides being legal and expedient, the arrest of
Michaelis solved a little personal difficulty which worried Chief
Inspector Heat somewhat. This difficulty had its bearing upon his
reputation, upon his comfort, and even upon the efficient
performance of his duties. For, if Michaelis no doubt knew
something about this outrage, the Chief Inspector was fairly
certain that he did not know too much. This was just as well. He
knew much less - the Chief Inspector was positive - than certain
other individuals he had in his mind, but whose arrest seemed to
him inexpedient, besides being a more complicated matter, on
account of the rules of the game. The rules of the game did not
protect so much Michaelis, who was an ex-convict. It would be
stupid not to take advantage of legal facilities, and the
journalists who had written him up with emotional gush would be
ready to write him down with emotional indignation.
This prospect, viewed with confidence, had the attraction of a
personal triumph for Chief Inspector Heat. And deep down in his
blameless bosom of an average married citizen, almost unconscious
but potent nevertheless, the dislike of being compelled by events
to meddle with the desperate ferocity of the Professor had its say.
This dislike had been strengthened by the chance meeting in the
lane. The encounter did not leave behind with Chief Inspector Heat
that satisfactory sense of superiority the members of the police
force get from the unofficial but intimate side of their
intercourse with the criminal classes, by which the vanity of power
is soothed, and the vulgar love of domination over our fellow-
creatures is flattered as worthily as it deserves.
The perfect anarchist was not recognised as a fellow-creature by
Chief Inspector Heat. He was impossible - a mad dog to be left
alone. Not that the Chief Inspector was afraid of him; on the
contrary, he meant to have him some day. But not yet; he meant to
get hold of him in his own time, properly and effectively according
to the rules of the game. The present was not the right time for
attempting that feat, not the right time for many reasons, personal
and of public service. This being the strong feeling of Inspector
Heat, it appeared to him just and proper that this affair should be
shunted off its obscure and inconvenient track, leading goodness
knows where, into a quiet (and lawful) siding called Michaelis.
And he repeated, as if reconsidering the suggestion
"The bomb. No, I would not say that exactly. We may never find
that out. But it's clear that he is connected with this in some
way, which we can find out without much trouble."
His countenance had that look of grave, overbearing indifference
once well known and much dreaded by the better sort of thieves.
Chief Inspector Heat, though what is called a man, was not a
smiling animal. But his inward state was that of satisfaction at
the passively receptive attitude of the Assistant Commissioner, who
"And you really think that the investigation should be made in that
"I do, sir."
"I am, sir. That's the true line for us to take."
The Assistant Commissioner withdrew the support of his hand from
his reclining head with a suddenness that, considering his languid
attitude, seemed to menace his whole person with collapse. But, on
the contrary, he sat up, extremely alert, behind the great writing-
table on which his hand had fallen with the sound of a sharp blow.
"What I want to know is what put it out of your head till now."
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