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Chapter 22 Shows How One Thing Leads to Another, and so on.

  • It is a mere truism to state that many a chain of grave and far-reachin_vents is set in motion by some insignificant trifle. The touching of _rigger by a child explodes a gun which extinguishes a valuable life, an_erhaps throws a whole neighbourhood into difficulties. The lighting of _atch may cause a conflagration which shall “bring down” an extensive firm, some of whose dependants, in the retail trade, will go down along with it, an_ause widespreading distress, if not ruin, among a whole army of greengrocers, buttermen, and other small fry.
  • The howling of a bad baby was the comparatively insignificant event which se_oing a certain number of wheels, whose teeth worked into the cogs whic_evolved in connection with our tale.
  • The howling referred to awoke a certain contractor near Pimlico with a start, and caused him to rise off what is popularly known as the “wrong side.” Bein_n angry man, the contractor called the baby bad names, and would have whippe_t had it been his own. Going to his office before breakfast with the effect_f the howl strong upon him, he met a humble labourer there with a surly “Well, what do you want?”
  • The labourer wanted work. The contractor had no work to give him. The laboure_leaded that his wife and children were starving. The contractor didn’t care _inch of snuff for his wife or children, and bade him be off. The laboure_rged that the times were very hard, and he would be thankful for any sort o_ob, no matter how small. He endeavoured to work on the contractor’s feeling_y referring to the premature death, by starvation, of his pet parrot, whic_ad been for years in the family, and a marvellous speaker, having been taugh_y his mate Bill. The said Bill was also out of work, and waiting for hi_utside. He too would be thankful for a job—anything would do, and they woul_e willing to work for next to nothing. The contractor still professed utte_ndifference to the labourer’s woes, but the incident of the parrot ha_vidently touched a cord which could not be affected by human suffering. Afte_ few minutes’ consideration he said there _was_ a small job—a pump at th_orner of a certain street not far off had to be taken down, to make way fo_ontemplated alterations. It was not necessary to take it down just then, bu_s the labourers were so hard up for a job they were at liberty to undertak_hat one.
  • Thus two wheels were set in motion, and the result was that the old pump a_he corner of Purr Street was uprooted and laid low by these labourers, one o_hom looked into the lower end of the pump and said “Hallo!”
  • His companion Bill echoed the “Hallo!” and added “What’s up?”
  • “W’y, if there ain’t somethink queer inside of the old pump,” said th_abourer, going down on both knees in order to look more earnestly into it. “_o b’lieve it’s letters. Some double-extra stoopids ’ave bin an’ posted ’em i_he pump.”
  • He pulled out handfuls of letters as he spoke, some of which, from thei_ppearance, must have lain there for years, while others were quite fresh!
  • A passing letter-carrier took charge of these letters, and conveyed them t_he Post-Office, where the machinery of the department was set in motion o_hem. They were examined, faced, sorted, and distributed. Among them was th_etter which George Aspel had committed to the care of Tottie Bones at th_ime of his first arrival in London, and thus it came to pass that th_nergies of Sir James Clubley, Baronet, were roused into action.
  • “Dear me! how strange!” said Sir James to himself, on reading the letter.
  • “This unaccountable silence is explained at last. Poor fellow, I have judge_im hastily. Come! I’ll go find him out.”
  • But this resolve was more easily made than carried into effect. At the hote_rom which the letter had been dated nothing was known of the missing yout_xcept that he had departed long long ago, leaving as his future address th_ame of a bird-stuffer, which name had unfortunately been mislaid—not lost. O_o—only mislaid! On further inquiry, however, there was a certain undersized, plain-looking, and rather despised chamber-maid who retained a lively an_rateful recollection of Mr Aspel, in consequence of his having given her a_nexpectedly large tip at parting, coupled with a few slight but kindly mad_nquiries as to her welfare, which seemed to imply that he regarded her as _uman being. She remembered distinctly his telling her one evening that if an_ne should call for him in his absence he was to be found at the residence o_ lady in Cat Street, Pimlico, but for the life of her she couldn’t remembe_he number, though she thought it must have been number nine, for sh_emembered having connected it in her mind with the well-known lives of a cat.
  • “Cat Street! Strange name—very!” said Sir James. “Are you sure it was Ca_treet?”
  • “Well, I ain’t quite sure, sir,” replied the little plain one, with a_nquiring frown at the chandelier, “but I know it ’ad somethink to do wit_ats. P’r’aps it was Mew Street; but I’m _quite_ sure it was Pimlico.”
  • “And the lady’s name?”
  • “Well, sir, I ain’t sure of that neither. It was somethink queer, I know, bu_hen there’s a-many queer names in London—ain’t, there, sir?”
  • Sir James admitted that there were, and advised her to reflect on a few o_hem.
  • The little plain one did reflect—with the aid of the chandelier—and came t_he sudden conviction that the lady’s name had to do with flowers. “No_oses—no, nor yet violets,” she said, with an air of intense menta_pplication, for the maiden’s memory was largely dependent on association o_deas; “it might ’ave been marigolds, though it don’t seem likely. Stay, wa_t water—?—Oh! it was lilies! Yes, I ’ave it now: Miss Lilies-somethink.”
  • “Think again, now,” said the Baronet, “everything depends on the ‘something,’ for Miss Lilies is not so extravagantly queer as you seem to think her nam_as.”
  • “That’s true, sir,” said the perplexed maid, with a last appealing gaze at th_handelier, and beginning with the first letter of the alphabet—Miss Lilies A— Lilies B— Lilies C—, etcetera, until she came to K. “That’s it now. I ’ave i_almost_. It ’ad to do with lots of lilies, I’m quite sure—quantities, it must ’ave been.”
  • On Sir James suggesting that quantities did not begin with a K the littl_lain one’s feelings were slightly hurt, and she declined to go any furthe_nto the question. Sir James was therefore obliged to rest content with wha_e had learned, and continued his search in Pimlico. There he spent severa_ours in playing, with small shopkeepers and policemen, a game somewha_nalogous to that which is usually commenced with the words “Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?” The result was that eventually he reached Number _urr Street, and found himself in the presence of Miss Lillycrop.
  • That lady, however, damped his rising hopes by saying that she did not kno_here George Aspel was to be found, and that he had suddenly disappeared—t_er intense regret—from the bird-warehouse in which he had held a situation.
  • It belonged to the brothers Blurt, whose address she gave to her visitor.
  • Little Tottie Bones, who had heard the conversation through the open parlou_oor, could have told where Aspel was to be found, but the promise made to he_ather sealed her lips; besides, particular inquiries after any one were s_uggestive to her of policemen, and being “took,” that she had a double motiv_o silence.
  • Mr Enoch Blurt could throw no light on the subject, but he could, and did, ad_o Sir James’s increasing knowledge of the youth’s reported dissipation, an_ympathised with him strongly in his desire to find out Aspel’s whereabouts.
  • Moreover, he directed him to the General Post-Office, where a youth name_aylands, a letter-sorter—who had formerly been a telegraph message-boy,—an_n intimate friend of Aspel, was to be found, and might be able to give som_nformation about him, though he (Mr Blurt) feared not.
  • Phil Maylands could only say that he had never ceased to make inquiries afte_is friend, but hitherto without success, and that he meant to continue hi_nquiries until he should find him.
  • Sir James Clubley therefore returned in a state of dejection to th_ympathetic Miss Lillycrop, who gave him a note of introduction to _etective—the grave man in grey,—a particular friend and ally of her own, wit_hom she had scraped acquaintance during one of her many pilgrimages of lov_nd mercy among the poor.
  • To the man in grey Sir James committed his case, and left him to work it out.
  • Now, the way of a detective is a mysterious way. Far be it from us to presum_o point it out, or elucidate or expound it in any degree. We can only give _ague, incomplete, it may be even incorrect, view of what the man in grey di_nd achieved, nevertheless we are bound to record what we know as to thi_fficer’s proceedings, inasmuch as they have to do with the thread of ou_arrative.
  • It may be that other motives, besides those connected with George Aspel, induced the man in grey to visit the General Post-Office, but we do no_ertainly know. It is quite possible that a whole host of subsidiary an_ncidental cases on hand might have induced him to take up the Post-Offic_ike a huge stone, wherewith to knock down innumerable birds at one and th_ame throw; we cannot tell. The brain of a detective must be essentiall_ifferent from the brains of ordinary men. His powers of perception—we migh_dd, of conception, reception, deception, and particularly of interception—ar_arvellous. They are altogether too high for us. How then can we be expecte_o explain why it was that, on arriving at the Post-Office, the man in grey, instead of asking eagerly for George Aspel at the Inquiry Office, or th_eturned Letter Office, or the _poste restante_ , as any sane man would hav_one, began to put careless and apparently unmeaning questions about littl_ogs, and to manifest a desire to be shown the chief points of interest in th_asement of St. Martin’s-le-Grand?
  • In the gratifying of his desires the man in grey experienced no difficulty.
  • The staff of the Post-Office is unvaryingly polite and obliging to the public.
  • An order was procured, and he soon found himself with a guide traversing th_ysterious regions underneath the splendid new building where the great wor_f postal telegraphy is carried on.
  • While his conductor led him through the labyrinthine passages in which _tranger would infallibly have lost his way, he explained the various object_f interest—especially pointing out the racks where thousands on thousands o_ld telegrams are kept, for a short time, for reference in case of dispute, and then destroyed. He found the man in grey so intelligent and sympatheti_hat he quite took a fancy to him.
  • “Do you happen to remember,” asked the detective, in a quiet way, during _ause in his companion’s remarks, “anything about a mad dog taking refuge i_his basement some time ago—a small poodle I think it was—which disappeared i_ome mysterious way?”
  • The conductor had heard a rumour of such an event, but had been ill and of_uty at the time, and could give him no details.
  • “This,” said he, opening a door, “is the Battery Room, where the electricit_s generated for the instruments above.—Allow me to introduce you to th_attery Inspector.”
  • The man in grey bowed to the Inspector, who was a tall, powerful man, quit_it, apparently, to take charge of a battery of horse artillery if need were.
  • “A singular place,” remarked the detective, looking sharply round the larg_oom, whose dimensions were partially concealed, however, by the rows o_helving which completely filled it from floor to ceiling.
  • “Somewhat curious,” assented the Inspector; “you see our batteries require _ood deal of shelving. All put together, there is in this room about thre_iles of shelving, completely filled, as you see, with about 22,000 cells o_ars. The electricity is generated in these jars. They contain carbon and zin_lates in a solution of bichromate of potash and sulphuric acid and water. W_ill them up once every two weeks, and renew the plates occasionally. There i_ deal of sulphate of copper used up here, sir, in creating electricity—abou_ix tons in the year. Pure copper accumulates on the plates in the operation, but the zinc wears away.”
  • The detective expressed real astonishment and interest in all this, and muc_ore that the Inspector told him.
  • “Poisonous stuff in your jars, I should fancy?” he inquired.
  • “Rather,” replied the Inspector.
  • “Does your door ever stand open?” asked the detective.
  • “Sometimes,” said the other, with a look of slight surprise.
  • “You never received a visit down here from a mad dog, did you?” asked the ma_n grey.
  • “Never!”
  • “I only ask the question,” continued the other, in a careless tone, “because _nce read in the newspapers of a poodle being chased into the Post-Office an_ever heard of again. It occurred to me that poison might account for it.—_urious-looking thing here; what is it?”
  • He had come to a part of the Battery Room where there was a large frame o_ase of dark wood, the surface of which was covered with innumerable bras_nobs or buttons, which were coupled together by wires.
  • “That is our Battery Test-Box,” explained the Inspector. “There are fou_housand wires connected with it—two thousand going to the instruments up- stairs, and two thousand connected with the battery-jars. When I complete th_ircuit by connecting any couple of these buttons, the influence of th_urrent is at once perceived.”
  • He took a piece of charcoal, as he spoke, and brought it into contact with tw_f the knobs. The result was to convert the coal instantly into an intens_lectric light of dazzling beauty. The point of an ordinary lead penci_pplied in the same way became equally brilliant.
  • “That must be a powerful battery,” remarked the detective.
  • The Inspector smilingly took two handles from a neighbouring shelf and hel_hem out to his visitor.
  • “Lay hold of these,” he said, “and you will feel its powers.”
  • The detective did as directed, and received a shock which caused him to flin_own the handles with great promptitude and violence. He was too self- possessed a man, however, to seem put out.
  • “Strong!” he said, with a short laugh; “remarkably strong and effective.”
  • “Yes,” assented the Inspector, “it _is_ pretty powerful, and it requires to b_o, for it does heavy work and travels a considerable distance. The greate_he distance, you know, the greater the power required to do the work an_ransmit the messages. This is the battery that fires two signal-guns ever_ay at one o’clock—one at Newcastle, the other at South Shields, and supplie_reenwich time to all our principal stations over a radius of three hundre_iles.—I sent the contents of one hundred and twenty jars through you jus_ow!”
  • “That’s curious and interesting; I may even say it is suggestive,” returne_he detective, in a meditative tone. “Double that number of jars, now, applie_o the locks of street doors at night and the fastenings of windows would giv_ powerful surprise to burglars.”
  • “Ah, no doubt, and also to belated friends,” said the Inspector, “not t_ention the effect on servant-maids in the morning when people forgot t_isconnect the wires.”
  • The man in grey admitted the truth of the observation, and, thanking th_attery Inspector for his kind attentions, bade him a cordial adieu.
  • Continuing his investigation of the basement, he came to the three huge fifty- horse-power engines, whose duty it is to suck the air from the pneumati_elegraph tubes in the great hall above. Here the detective became quite a_ngineer, asked with much interest and intelligence about governors, pistons, escape-valves, actions, etcetera, and wound up with a proposition.
  • “Suppose, now,” he said, “that a little dog were to come suddenly into thi_oom and dash about in a miscellaneous sort of way, could it by any mean_anage to become entangled in your machinery and get so demolished as neve_ore to be seen or heard of?”
  • The engineer looked at his questioner with a somewhat amused expression. “No, sir, I don’t think it could. No doubt it might kill itself with much facilit_n various ways, for fifty horsepower, properly applied, would do for a_lephant, much more a dog. But I don’t believe that power to be sufficient t_roduce annihilation. There would have been remains of some sort.”
  • From the engine-room our detective proceeded to the boiler-room and th_arious kitchens, and thence to the basement of the old building on th_pposite side of the street, where he found a similarly perplexing labyrinth.
  • He was taken in hand here by Mr Bright, who chanced to be on duty, and led hi_irst to the Stamp Department. There was much to draw him off his “canine” mania here. First he was introduced to the chief of the department, who gav_im much interesting information about stamps in general.
  • Then he was conducted to another room, and shown the tables at which men wer_usy counting sheets of postage-stamps and putting them up in envelopes fo_ll parts of the United Kingdom. The officer in charge told him that th_eight of stamps sent out from that room averaged a little over three ton_aily, and that the average value of the weekly issue was 150,000 pounds. The_e was led into a fireproof safe—a solid stone apartment—which was piled fro_loor to ceiling with sheets of postage-stamps of different values. Those fo_etters ranged from one halfpenny to one pound, but those used for telegram_an up to as much as five pounds sterling for a single stamp. Taking down fro_ shelf a packet of these high-priced stamps, which was about the size of _hick octavo book, the official stated that it was worth 35,000 pounds.
  • “Yes, sir,” he added, “this strong box of ours holds a deal of money. You ar_t this moment in the presence of nearly two millions sterling!”
  • “A tidy little sum to retire upon. Would build two thousand Board Schools at _housand pounds each,” said the detective, who was an adept at figures,—as a_verything else.
  • Feeling that it would be ridiculous to inquire about mad dogs in the presenc_f two millions sterling, the man in grey suffered himself to be led throug_ong passages and vaulted chambers, some of which latter were kitchens, wher_he men on duty had splendid fires, oceans of hot water, benches and tables, and liberty to cook the food either brought by themselves for the day o_rocured from a caterer on the premises—for Post-Office officials when on dut_ay not leave the premises for any purpose whatever, _except_ duty, and mus_ign books specifying to the minute when, where, and why, they come and go. I_his basement also, as in the other, were long rows of numbered cupboards o_arge pigeon-holes with lockable doors, one of which was appropriated to eac_an for the safe depositing of his victuals and other private property.
  • Here, too, were whitewashed lavatories conveniently and plentifull_istributed, with every appliance for cleanliness and comfort, including _arge supply of fresh and good water. Of this, 49,000 gallons a day i_upplied by an artesian well, and 39,000 gallons a day by the New Rive_ompany, in the new building. In the old building the 27,000 gallons consume_aily is supplied by the New River Company. It is, however, due to the 590_uman beings who labour in both buildings to state that at least 55,000 o_hese gallons are swallowed by steam-engines on the premises.
  • To all these things Mr Bright directed attention with professional zeal, an_he man in grey observed with much interest all that he saw and heard, unti_e came to the letter-carriers’ kitchen, where several of the men were cookin_ood at the fire, while others were eating or chatting at the tables.
  • Happening to mention the dog here, he found that Mr Bright was partiall_cquainted with the incident.
  • “It was down these stairs it ran,” he said, “and was knocked on the head i_his very room by the policeman. No one knows where he took the body to, bu_e went out at that door, in the direction, it is supposed, of the boiler- house.”
  • The detective had at last got hold of a clew. He was what is styled, in _ell-known game, “getting warm.”
  • “Let us visit the boiler-house,” he said.
  • Again, for the nonce, he became an engineer. Like Paul, he was all things t_ll men. He was very affable to the genial stoker, who was quite communicativ_bout the boilers. After a time the detective referred to the dog, and th_eculiar glance of the stoker at once showed him that his object was gained.
  • “A policeman brought it?” he asked quietly.
  • “Yes, a policeman brought it,” said the stoker suspiciously.
  • The man in grey soon, however, removed his suspicions and induced him t_ecome confidential. When he had obtained all the information that the stoke_ould give—in addition to poor Floppart’s collar, which had no name on it, bu_as stamped with three stars on its inside—the detective ceased to make an_urther inquiries after mad dogs, and, with a disengaged mind, accompanied M_right through the remainder of the basement, where he commented on the wis_rrangement of having the mail-bags made by convicts, and on the free library, which he pronounced a magnificent institution, and which contained about 200_olumes, that were said by the courteous librarian to be largely used by th_fficials, as well as the various newspapers and magazines, furnishe_ratuitously by their proprietors. He was also shown the “lifts,” which raise_eople—to say nothing of mails, etcetera—from the bottom to the top of th_uilding, or _vice versa_ ; the small steam-engine which worked the same, an_he engineer of which—an old servant—was particularly impressive on th_eculiar “governor” by which his engine was regulated; the array of lette_tampers, which were kept by their special guardian in immaculate order an_eadiness; the fire-hose, which was also ready for instant service, and th_iremen, who were in constant attendance with a telegraphic instrument a_heir special disposal, connecting them with other parts of the building. Al_his, and a great deal more which we have not space to mention, the man i_rey saw, admired, and commented on, as well as on the general evidence o_rder, method, regularity, neatness, and system which pervaded the whol_lace.
  • “You manage things well here,” he said to his conductor at parting.
  • “We do,” responded Mr Bright, with an approving nod; “and we had need to, fo_he daily despatch of Her Majesty’s mails to all parts of the world is n_hild’s play. Our motto is—or ought to be—‘Security, Celerity, Punctuality, and Regularity.’ We couldn’t carry that out, sir, without good management .—Good-bye.”
  • “Good-bye, and thank you,” said the detective, leaving St. Martin’s-le-Gran_ith his busy brain ruminating on a variety of subjects in a manner that n_ne but a detective could by any possibility understand.