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.
“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.