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Title:      "Seven, Seven, Seven--City" A Tale of the Telephone
Author:     Julius Chambers
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Title:      "Seven, Seven, Seven--City" A Tale of the Telephone
Author:     Julius Chambers

I went to my telephone exactly at eleven o'clock on the night of December
30th last winter to call up the editor of my paper. My  house was on the
west side of Regent's Park and the wire ran to the City telephone

Apparently my line was switched into connection with the Fleet Street
exchange. But delay followed. I was familiar with the peculiar hum caused
by the induction on the wires, but that night the sounds were of an
unusual character. The operator at the City office had given me an unused

As I awaited the answering signal to indicate that the desired connection
had been made, I heard two people talking in loud whispers, to me
unintelligible. Then I heard a door, swinging on a squeaky hinge, hastily
closed with a muffled sound--a cupboard door. Then silence. One of the
people had entered the cupboard and closed the door. Then a knock,
Immediately followed a crash at the other end of the wire. I heard the
breaking in of a door.

"John!" exclaimed a woman.

"Ah! my lady, I have caught you at last," were the words of the intruder
as he strode into the apartment, slamming the broken door against the
wall behind. There was a metallic tone in that voice that made me chilly
when he added "Where is the scoundrel?"

"I don't understand;" were the affrighted words of the woman.

"Well, I do. He's in that cupboard."

I heard the door squeak again, and the man in the cupboard step out. "At
your service, sir," said a strange voice, low and with a shiver in it.

"I knew it, woman," fairly screamed the head of the family.

"Don't be a brute," said the calm, low voice. " I am here, settle with

"You dog!" hissed the first speaker, as he sprang for the offender,
overturning a table covered with bric-a-brac, and a mortal combat began.

In a momentary lull, while I could distinguish the breathing of the two
infuriated combatants, I heard the rustle of a woman's dress as she swept
across the floor, the opening and closing of a door. The unfaithful
creature had abandoned her lover. Not a sob nor an entreaty for mercy.

I was as sure of the facts and understood the situation as if I had been
in that apartment.

The contest was resumed, and crash after crash of broken furniture
attested its savage character.

Who were these men? And where? Unquestionably, in a house where a
telephone had been left open, or an interruption had occurred during its
use. Had the receiver been hung up, communication with that room of
mystery would have been severed. The wire leading thereto was "crossed"
with the one given me to use.

The struggle was to the death. I could hear the breathing of the
contestants as they lay on the floor, but neither man asked quarter. The
door re-opened and to a woman's sobs were added appeals for forgiveness.
One of the two men had overpowered the other! Which was the victor?

A pistol shot, sharp and crisp! Then, the stillness of death. It was
death! The hush could be felt over the unknown length of the wire
connecting me with the murder chamber. I was ear-witness to the crime.

Whispers broke the silence; a window was raised. Now, shall I hear the
cry of "Murder!"? No. Somebody looked into the street--presumably to
ascertain if the pistol-shot had been heard by passing pedestrians. That
indicated the home to be in a populous neighbourhood, although the opened
window did not admit sounds of passing vehicles. Then the window was
slowly closed.

Next, I heard a match struck. Merciful Heavens! This deadly conflict had
taken place in the dark!

The lover had been killed; but would that lighted match reveal to the
husband the face of a stranger, or of a well-known friend? What would be
done with the body--?

"Are you through?" asked the telephone clerk at the City exchange.

"No, mark that wire with which I am connected. It doesn't go to Fleet
Street, but I must know where it runs. Mark it, as you value a five-pound
note. I'll be at your office as soon as I can get there."

"All right!" was the prompt reply.

The clerk at the City exchange tied a ribbon round the plug that carried
the end of the wire leading me into the unknown house. I related the
entire incident and appealed to his curiosity and avarice. As I had
divined, he, inadvertently, had switched me upon an abandoned line--it
had been put up for a special occasion and "cut out" thereafter. It was a
lost wire, and did not lead to the Fleet Street exchange or anywhere

After making tests, the clerk reported that communication with "the house
of the crime" no longer existed, but, as an explanation, he pointed to a
thermometer outside the window.

"Make a memorandum of the temperature," said he.

"What's the use?"

"You understand how you got into that house on the lost wire?"


"At a certain degree of cold, that house-line contracted sufficiently to
'cut in' on the dead wire and thus connect us, for a brief space, with
the chamber of the murder--wherever it may be."

"We must be careful to have this correct," said I, now comprehending the
operator's meaning. "What does the instrument register?"

"Exactly zero."

* * * * * *

The body of a young physician of social prominence, Henry Clay Stanage
(brother of Dr. Oscar Stanage, so prominently identified with the Jasper
case), was found at the side of a path in Hyde Park next morning. He had
died from a pistol shot in the right temple, and near the corpse was a
weapon with one chamber discharged. Evidence in support of the theory of
suicide was so strong that a verdict to that effect by the Coroner's jury
disposed of the case in the public mind. I saw the body and found finger
marks on the throat and a rent in the back of the dress-coat.

The young gallant had died at the hand of "my murderer." Stanage bore the
reputation of a "gay boy." All attempts to establish the whereabouts of
the physician on the previous night came to naught.

The ease with which the body might have been placed in a carriage and
driven to the spot where it was found became apparent on the most casual

The only clue I possessed was the abandoned wire. I engaged a
telephone-man to find the house of the crime, hoping thereby to bring the
murderer to justice, and, incidentally, to secure a piece of sensational
and exclusive news for my journal.
The lineman was zealous and over-confident, but at the end of two weeks
he had lost the wire near the " Elephant and Castle."
He believed the house we sought to be in Brixton. He sneered at all
suggestions from the telephone-operator.

"An ear-trumpet chap can't tell me how to work," said he contemptuously.
"I didn't learn my trade that way."

Another wire expert was hired, and I told him the story. Perhaps I had
not been sufficiently frank with the first man. The new telegraphist
adopted the suggestion of the exchange-operator, and said: "An accidental
crossing of the wires, caused by contraction, admitted you to that room,
and enabled you to hear the murder done. We have only to wait, Mr. North,
until the thermometer registers zero, then ring up that dead wire from
the City exchange and ask, ' What number is that?' You will have landed
your game."

That seemed simple. But the winter was unusually mild.

Although I retained the man in my pay for a month, there wasn't a moment
in which the thermometer touched zero. We kept ceaseless vigil, one
relieving the other at the City telephone office during enforced absence
for sleep and meals. I took a room in a boarding house near the exchange,
that I might be within easy call. Nothing must thwart me.

One night the weather moderated, and I deemed it safe to go to Kensington
to pay a call I had owed for a long time. While I was away, the
temperature fell so rapidly that it was within one degree of the desired
point. The clerk at the exchange hurried a messenger to the address I had
left with him.

In the warm house of my friend, the condition of the weather had been
forgotten, but in the street the night was bitterly cold. Possibly the
hour had come! At the first chemist's, I saw a thermometer outside the

Jupiter! The mercury stood exactly at zero!

A cab carried me to the City telephone exchange in half an hour. I
stepped inside and, connecting the dead wire rang.

No answer.

Glancing through the window-glass at a thermometer outside, I saw that
the weather had slightly moderated; the reading thereon was two degrees
above zero. There it hovered for an hour. Then the mercury slowly
descended into the bulb. Now, it stood at one and a half degrees! Ten
minutes later me record was less than a degree above!

I rang vigorously, but did not hear any sound at the other end.

In my anxiety, I forgot the thermometer. When I looked again, the mercury
had moved up half a degree.

Another wait succeeded, and I had almost decided to give up the vigil for
the night, when the bell connected with the dead wire rang. Snatching up
the receiver, I asked, my voice almost tremulous: " Well? What number do
you want?"

"Who are you?" was the rejoinder.

"This is the exchange. What number do you want?"

"You're Kensington," was the cautious query, after a moment's hesitation.

"Yes, what is your number?" I asked, in hopes of obtaining from an
unguarded answer the information I had been so anxiously seeking.

"Ah! you want to know what number this is?"

I recognised the voice!
I was talking to the murderer---" my murderer," as I had often mentally
designated him, to distinguish him from everybody else's murderer.

And wasn't he mine? Only one other living person knew him beside me--the
woman who had witnessed the killing, and had remained silent as the price
of forgiveness!

"What is your number?" I asked again.

"Find out! " was the reply.

Then I heard the 'phone hung up. It seemed to me that I had not learned
anything new. I was deeply chagrined for the moment; but, taking stock of
my knowledge, I had acquired much valuable information.

First.--I had confirmed the theory that the house I sought had been
reached by a wire that hung in close proximity to the abandoned line.

Second.--The short house-wire hung over, not under, the long wire,
because the contraction in the copper-wires of which the house
connections were made was slight.

Third.--The man and the house I sought were in Kensington, not Brixton,
as the first expert had concluded.

Fourth.--"My murderer" was usually at home at night.

Fifth.--His telephonic connection was made through the Kensington

Sixth.--The man I believed guilty was on his guard and was suspicious of
my inquiries. He would probably be wary of the telephone in future. On
the other hand, he would not dare to have it removed at this time.

The " dead " wire was the only clue. My next step was to go to the office
of the Telephone Company, and secure an appointment as a receiver in the
Kensington exchange.

I was inconspicuous, and I donned the remarkable headgear the receivers
wear. The wear and worry of the work nearly crazed me the first day. The
steel band that encircled my temples completely disorganised my brain. A
month passed, and I was no nearer the solution. Despair was overcoming
me, when a new suggestion of the greatest importance was made to me.

"Has Moxley tested the wires, as usual?" asked one of the operators
during the day.

"Not this week," replied the Exchange Superintendent.

All customers are frequently called up by an expert to ascertain that the
wires are in good order. If I could become Moxley's assistant, I
reflected, I might be able to hear "my murderer's " voice again.

I secured the place, and made my appearance at the Kensington telephone
exchange as Moxley's "helper,"--not a position calculated to turn the
head of any man. I was delighted, and believed success assured. My duties
were to carry the galvanometer and rheostat; but, by dividing my supposed
wages with Moxley, he consented that I should test the wires. I was a
bachelor, he assumed, and I could live on little money; besides, he liked
to encourage enthusiasm in young men. Moxley guaranteed to make me expert
in three years.

"George Reilly is the best lineman in England," said he, "and Reilly
began with me as 'helper.'"

Only one operator was in the office when we arrived, because the
telephone is not in much demand before ten o'clock. I tested the private
lines, of which there were several hundreds.

I sought in vain for "the voice." Sixty-three customers failed to answer
when called. I marked these " torpid" wires, hoping that the one I wanted
was among them.

Having completed the tests of the private wires, I began making
connections with the pay-stations throughout the district.
A curious thing occurred.

I rang up a station on Camden Hill; I heard the receiver taken off the
hook, but no reply came in answer to my summons. I called again and yet
again. No reply.

Warm as was the day, I felt a chill down my spinal marrow. I heard a door
unlocked, and, an instant later, the squeaking of a hinge. The wire led
into a cupboard.

Again I asked for a response. Finally, the 'phone at the other end,
wherever that might be, was replaced on the hook, and--silence.

I left the building, called a cab and drove to the address of the number
I had rung up. It proved to be a chemist's shop near Holland Park.
Showing my credentials, I demanded to know why the inspection call had
not been answered. The chemist was civil, and explained that he had
observed, the previous summer, that hot days the communication with the
exchange was interrupted at times. He stoutly maintained that the bell
had not sounded. I tried it and called up the Kensington exchange without
difficulty. The druggist was in nowise nonplussed. He merely pointed
towards the street and said, as he turned to wait on a customer:--"You
forget that it is raining. The weather is cooler."

True, there had been a heavy shower while I was in the cab, but so intent
was I in pursuit of my only object in life that I had hardly observed it.
I understood the chemist's meaning. In the case of the first wire I had
attempted to run down, the bit of metal I sought doubtless passed over
the abandoned line; by the same reasoning, the wire that had again led me
into this modern Francesca's chamber by another route was strung under
the one that entered this chemist's shop. Zero weather contracted the
metal in one case ; summer heat lengthened the line in the other. Contact
was made at two different places.

The co-efficient to this last problem was unknown to me. The druggist had
not noticed the thermometer just prior to the shower, because he took the
temperature only at nine, twelve and three o'clock. I remembered the
telephone standard at the top of the London Life Assurance Company's
building, where Sergeant Dunn had machinery that automatically recorded
every change in the weather on an unimpeachable tally-sheet.

That officer received me courteously. I asked the exact thermometrical
reading just before the heavy rainfall. Consulting the cleverly-devised
instruments, he replied:

"Exactly 90 degrees Fahrenheit."

The degree of summer contact with the lost wire had been established ;
but that was all.

I must go on. Had I located the section of the city in which the criminal
lived? I feared not. This wasn't a crime of the slums; but the use of a
telephone did not necessarily indicate respectability. Why not start at
the chemist's and run down the wire from that point?

The end of a rainbow never seems far away.

I sent for Moxley and told him what I wanted to ascertain. He looked
knowing; said the task would be easy, and he'd take "a day off" to do it.
Although he gave a month to the task, he did not find the house, the man
or the woman! But he was full of explanations, and showed how, wholly by
accident and not by design, the people at the other end of the wire were
absolutely safe if they did not make a "break" themselves.

The days drifted along into September. The warm weather was gone, and I
could not hope that ninety degrees of heat would recur. It was equally
impossible to restrain my curiosity until mid-winter. I engaged a room in
a boarding-house adjoining the Kensington telephone station. The cables
came along thereto underground and were carried up the side of the house
in a covered box to the roof; there the strands were separated and strung
upon a rack, from which they were conducted to the operating-room below.
The discovery that all the wires brought into that station were
underground complicated matters seriously. The line I wanted was strung
aloft at some point of  its length, but where did it leave the subway and
how could I recognise it when found?

I now did what I ought to have done long before--secured the services of
George Reilly, the most expert " trouble-man " in the country. When the
whole subject was laid before him he pronounced unequivocally in favour
of starting at the City office to run down that wire. A long chase was
more likely of success than a short one.

Reilly went to work with zest. With his experienced eye, he had no
difficulty in following the abandoned wire along Holborn, thence down New
Oxford Street, where, without apparent reason, it switched off to the
roofs, which it followed to Victoria, where it returned to the
underground. By the end of the third day Reilly was in full cry through
Lambeth, into Kennington, down as far as Pearl Street. At Brixton Station
it made a long jump from the top of a tall building, over the railway
bridge to another building. Reilly believed he was close upon a solution
of the mystery. Out of Brixton Road, atop a telephone pole, emerged a
bright copper wire; it crossed closely above the line he was following.
His practised eye told Reilly that the two wires were liable to have
contact by the contraction of the long wire. The stretch previously
mentioned was more than a thousand feet in length, and, at zero
temperature, contraction would be fully two-thirds of an inch. Nothing
could have been easier than to tie the two wires together and to ring up
the house of the crime. But Reilly thought that course unwise.

"My murderer," as I still called him, was on his guard. Having kept the
secret for eight months, he knew exactly what he was about.

I was waiting at the City exchange the following day, when Reilly called
me over a public line, and asked me to "ring up" the dead wire.

I did so, and someone exclaimed : "Is that you, John? When will you
return? Better come at once." It was a woman's voice--That of the woman
who had begged for mercy!

Standing back from the transmitter, I asked : "Where?"

"To the----" Buzz! whir-r-r! zip!

The contact was broken. I called up Reilly and told him to tie the two
wires together. He did so, but I could not get " my lady's" ear again. I
asked Reilly what he thought. In his opinion, the woman lived in Brixton.
The wire ran in that direction.

Reilly announced later in the day a change of mind. The copper wire was a
private one, running from a city office to a private house in Brixton. He
had traced it to an office building in Cheapside. The wire did not go to
Brixton, as he had supposed, although it ran in that direction for a good
way. Telephone wires are often pieced together, he explained, and a
lineman will sometimes appropriate an old wire, though it makes a long

The members of the firm in whose office the line ended were easily
discovered. Reilly slung a coil of wire over his shoulder next day and
entered the office. He asked for the telephone, and was shown into the
private room of the firm--"Gasper, Todd, and Markham."

At his desk sat John Perry Gasper, solicitor, aged fifty-seven. Reilly
was not a student of men; he could not read character as he could a Morse
instrument. But the wire was what he wanted, and now that he had found
one end of it, nothing appeared easier than to secure the other one.
After having made two or three pretended tests of the machine, he went
The instant he reached the landing outside the office, his manner
changed. He sprang down the stairs and to the bank on the ground floor,
where he asked for a city directory. There the residence of John Perry
Gasper was given: "Cheapside, and Kensington."

Madly triumphant, Reilly hurried to my address, and rushed breathlessly
into my room. In a few words he revealed his success. I was as jubilant
as he. We hurried to Kensington to look at the house. We almost ran.

No difficulty was experienced in finding the building. It was a corner
house of splendid proportions, and the name, "Gasper," showed audaciously
upon the door-plate. While my thoughts were busy as to my next action,
Reilly's were occupied with a different text. He had surveyed the
building from all possible points, in a thoroughly appreciative way; but
when he came back from a hasty walk down the side street, he was pale and

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Matter? Why, I'm ' knocked out.'"

"I don't understand," was my reply.

"Can't you see that there isn't a telephone wire entering that house?"

"What wire is that?" I asked, in dismay, pointing upward.

"Oh! that's a district--messenger call. Notice, it runs from the pole
opposite the stable, and is of the cheapest iron. There isn't any
telephone in that house. See! A reference to the telephone
catalogue--which we ought to have made earlier--shows that."

The more he was mystified the clearer became the situation to me. It was
a case of another woman--another family!

Nevertheless, the other end of the wire and the house of the murder were
as far away as ever.

One thing I could establish at once, and I would make the test. Strange
that I had allowed a moment to elapse since I had learned of Gasper's
connection with the case.

I went to the nearest Call Office, called up Gasper, Todd and Markham,
Cheapside, and asked to speak to Mr Gasper. I hadn't thought what I
should say, when a voice answered, " I am Mr. Gasper? What is wanted?"

I had only sense enough to reply: "When did you take the telephone out of
your house?"

"Never had any in it," was the curt retort ; after waiting a moment, he
added savagely, " And I don't want any."

This was the voice, and Gasper's name was John!

Reilly went back to Gasper's office to see the telephone. Gasper was not
there and the expert examined it more carefully. He discovered that the
wires led through the back of the little box in which was the 'phone,
thence into a large wardrobe. This was locked, but a moment's examination
showed that the two wires left that sealed clothes-press. They went out
by different windows, but they came from the same switch--a switch inside
the wardrobe, by which a private wire could be "cut in" or "cut out." The
line over which I had called up the office obviously was a different one
from that leading to the mysterious room where the shooting occurred.

This was really a discovery! I speak of it as a " discovery," although it
was, as yet, merely an assumption. But Reilly was as sure that a switch
existed in that cupboard as if he had seen it. As he told me his theory,
I remembered that the office had not responded when the wires were tied
together. The bell hadn't rung, because the private wire had been "
switched out! "
"One bold stroke," thought I, "and we shall have this story." My next
step was startling. I had been admitted to the Bar years before. I called
upon a prominent K.C. friend of mine and secured letters of introduction
to John Perry Gasper, and finally wrote him asking when I might call with
a certainty of a private interview. He named the following afternoon. I
presented my letters. One was from the Chief of Police. I watched the
lawyer's face, and a tremor crossed it as he broke the seal of the big
blue envelope bearing the arms of the department.

I waited for an inquiry from him as to my business; but he was stolid,
immobile as marble. His dull, grey eyes appeared slowly withdrawing
themselves inside his skull ; the eyelids gradually closed to a peculiar
squint. Reilly was waiting in the hall, and I knew the moment had come.
Now for audacity!

"Will you let me have an expert examine the cupboard immediately behind
your telephone?"

"There is no cupboard behind it," was the quick retort.

"Yes, there is right behind that door against which the 'phone box sits."

My voice trembled, and I was very pale ; but my "nerves" did not fail me.

Gasper took up the letters, one by one, read them through more carefully
than before, and then muttered: "Go to the--deuce."

"Not until I find the other end of that private wire leading from the
next room," I retorted. " If you refuse, I shall return with a search
warrant and thoroughly turn over the entire place. The warrant will be
based on the charge that you are defrauding the telephone company: but
that will not be the real accusation."


"Your arrest, which will follow, will mean--"


"That you are charged with the murder of Henry Stanage, who was found
dead in Hyde Park last winter, with a bullet in his head, and--your
pistol at his side."

I was sure of a sensation ; but it came in an unexpected way.

"That's your game, is it?" his voice ringing with exultation. " If ever a
man deserved to die, that scoundrel did."

It was my turn to be surprised into speechlessness.

"Look here," exclaimed Gasper, rising to his full height behind the desk:
"You're after blood ; but, man to man, I stake my life I can convince any
judge or jury that that rascal died at the right time. Denounce his
murderer, arrest him, indict him--hang him, if you can; I shall defend
him to the last extremity, and with every technicality known to the law."

"But you know the murderer?"

"As to who killed Stanage," Gasper fairly screamed, " that is for you to
find out."

My K.C. friend assures me that the case is not complete, because evidence
heard over a telephone is not admissible in a Court of Law. Gasper knows
that as well as the Public Prosecutor.

Therefore, I alone, of all living men, know how Henry Stanage died.

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