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Title: The Hair
Author: A. J. Alan
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609281.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: December 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2006

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Title: The Hair
Author: A. J. Alan

I'm going to give you an account of certain occurrences. I shan't
attempt to explain them because they're quite beyond me. When you've
heard all the facts, some of you may be able to offer suggestions. You
must forgive me for going into a certain amount of detail. When you
don't understand what you're talking about it's so difficult to know
what to leave out.

This business began in the dark ages, before there was any broadcasting.
In fact, in 1921.

I'd been staying the week-end with a friend of mine who lives about
fifteen miles out of Bristol.

There was another man stopping there, too, who lived at Dawlish. Well,
on the Monday morning our host drove us into Bristol in time for the
Dawlish man to catch his train, which left a good deal earlier than the
London one. Of course, if old Einstein had done his job properly, we
could both have gone by the same train. As it was, I had over half an
hour to wait. Talking of Einstein, wouldn't it be almost worth while
dying young so as to hear what Euclid says to him when they
meet--wherever it is?

There was a funny little old sort of curiosity shop in one of the
streets I went down, and I stopped to look in the window. Right at the
back, on a shelf, was a round brass box, not unlike a powder-box in
shape, and it rather took my fancy. I don't know why--perhaps it was
because I'd never seen anything quite like it before. That must be why
some women buy some hats.

Anyway, the shop window was so dirty that you could hardly see through
it, so I went inside to have a closer look. An incredibly old man came
out of the back regions and told me all he knew about the box, which
wasn't very much. It was fairly heavy, made of brass, round, four inches
high, and about three inches in diameter. There was something inside it,
which we could hear when we shook it, but no one had ever been able to
get the lid off. He'd bought it from a sailor some years before, but
couldn't say in the least what part of the world it came from.

"What about fifteen bob?"

I offered him ten, and he took it very quickly, and then I had to sprint
back to the station to catch my train. When I got home I took the box up
into my workshop and had a proper look at it. It was extremely primitive
as regards work, and had evidently been made by hand, and not on a
lathe. Also, there had been something engraved on the lid, but it had
been taken off with a file. Next job was to get the lid off without
doing any damage to it. It was a good deal more than hand tight, and no
ordinary methods were any good. I stood it lid downwards for a week in a
dish of glycerine as a start, and then made two brass collars, one for
the box and one for the lid. At the-end of the week I bolted the collars
on, fixed the box in the vice and tried tapping the lid round with a
hammer--but it wouldn't start. Then, I tried it the other way and it
went at once. That explained why no one had ever been able to unscrew
it--it had a left-handed thread on it. Rather a dirty trick--especially
to go and do it all those years before.

Well, here it was, unscrewing very sweetly, and I began to feel quite
like Howard Carter, wondering what I was going to find. It might go off
bang, or jump out and hit me in the face. However, nothing exciting
happened when the lid came off. In fact, the box only seemed to be
half-full of dust, but at the bottom was a curled-up plait of hair. When
straightened out, it was about nine inches long and nearly as thick as a
pencil. I unplaited a short length, and found it consisted of some
hundreds of very fine hairs, but in such a filthy state (I shoved them
under the microscope) that there was nothing much to be seen. So I
thought I'd clean them. You may as well know the process--first of all a
bath of dilute hydrochloric acid to get the grease off, then a solution
of washing soda to remove the acid. Then a washing in distilled water,
then a bath of alcohol to get rid of any traces of water, and a final
rinsing in ether to top off with.

Just as I took it out of the ether they called me down to the telephone,
so I shoved it down on the first clean thing which came handy, namely, a
piece of white cardboard, and went downstairs. When I examined the plait
later on, the only thing of interest that came to light was the fact
that the hairs had all apparently belonged to several different women.
The colours ranged from jet-black, through brown, red, and gold, right
up to pure white. None of the hair was dyed, which proved how very old
it was. I showed it to one or two people, but they didn't seem very
enthusiastic, so I put it, and its box, in a little corner cupboard we
have, and forgot all about it.

Then the first strange coincidence happened.

About ten days later a pal of mine called Matthews came into the club
with a bandage across his forehead. People naturally asked him what was
the matter, and he said he didn't know, and what's more the doctor
didn't know. He'd suddenly flopped down on his drawing-room floor, in
the middle of tea, and lain like a log. His wife was in a fearful stew,
of course, and telephoned for the doctor. However, Matthews came round
at the end of about five minutes, and sat up and asked what had hit him.
When the doctor blew in a few minutes later he was pretty well all right
again except for a good deal of pain in his forehead. The doctor
couldn't find anything the matter except a red mark which was beginning
to show on the skin just where the pain was.

Well, this mark got clearer and clearer, until it looked just like a
blow from a stick. Next day it was about the same, except that a big
bruise had come up all round the mark. After that it got gradually
better. Matthews took the bandage off and showed it me at the club, and
there was nothing much more than a bruise with a curved red line down
the middle of it, like the track of a red-hot worm.

They'd decided that he'd had an attack of giddiness and must somehow
have bumped his head in falling. And that was that.

About a month later, my wife said to me: "We really must tidy your
workshop!" And I said: "Must we?" And she said: "Yes, it's a disgrace."
So up we went.

Tidying my workshop consists of putting the tools back in their racks,
and of my wife wanting to throw away things she finds on the floor, and
me saying: "Oh, no, I could use that for so and so."

The first thing we came across was the piece of white cardboard I'd used
to put the plait of hair on while I'd run to the telephone that day.

When we came to look at the other side we found it was a flashlight
photograph of a dinner I'd been at. You know what happens. Just before
the speeches a lot of blighters come in with a camera and some poles
with tin trays on the top, and someone says: "Will the chairman please
stand?" and he's helped to his feet. Then there's a blinding flash and
the room's full of smoke, and the blighters go out again. Later on a man
comes round with proofs, and if you are very weak--or near the
chairman--you order one print.

Well, this dinner had been the worshipful company of skate-fasteners or
something, and I'd gone as the guest of the same bloke Matthews I've
already been telling you about, and we'd sat "side by each," as the
saying is. My wife was looking at the photograph, and she said: "What's
that mark on Mr. Matthews's forehead?" And I looked--and there, sure
enough, was the exact mark that he'd come into the club with a month
before. The curious part being, of course, that the photograph had been
taken at least six months before he'd had the funny attack which caused
the mark. Now, then--on the back of the photograph, when we examined it,
was a faint brown line. This was evidently left by the plait of hair
when I'd pinned it out to dry, and it had soaked through and caused the
mark on Matthews's face. I checked it by shoving a needle right through
the cardboard. Of course, this looked like a very strange coincidence,
on the face of it. I don't know what your experience of coincidences
is--but mine is that they usually aren't. Anyway, I took the trouble to
trace out the times, and I finally established, beyond a shadow of a
doubt, that I had pinned the hair out on the photograph between four and
a quarter-past on a particular day, and that Matthews had had his funny
attack on the same day at about a quarter-past four. That was something
_like_ a coincidence. Next, the idea came to me to try it again. Not on
poor old Matthews, obviously--he'd already had some--and, besides, he
was a friend of mine. I know perfectly well that we are told to be kind
to our enemies, and so on--in fact, I do quite a lot of that--but when
it comes to trying an experiment of this kind--even if the chances are a
million to one against it being a success, I mean having any result--one
naturally chooses an enemy rather than a friend. I looked round for a
suitable--victim--someone who wouldn't be missed much in case there
happened to be another coincidence. The individual on whom my choice
fell was the nurse next door.

We can see into their garden from our bathroom window--and we'd often
noticed the rotten way she treated the child she had charge of when she
thought no one was looking. Nothing one could definitely complain
about--you know what a thankless job it is to butt into your neighbour's
affairs--but she was systematically unkind, and we hated the sight of
her. Another thing--when she first came she used to lean over the garden
wall and sneak our roses--at least, she didn't even do that--she used to
pull them off their stalks and let them drop--I soon stopped that. I
fitted up some little arrangements of fish-hooks round some of the most
accessible roses and anchored them to the ground with wires. There was
Hell-and-Tommy the next morning, and she had her hand done up in
bandages for a week.

Altogether she was just the person for my experiment. The first thing
was to get a photograph of her, so the next sunny morning, when she was
in the garden, I made a noise like an aeroplane out of the bathroom
window to make her look up, and got her nicely. As soon as the first
print was dry, about eleven o'clock the same night, I fastened the plait
of hair across the forehead with two pins--feeling extremely foolish, as
one would, of course, doing an idiotic thing like that--and put it away
in a drawer in my workshop. The evening of the next day, when I got
home, my wife met me and said: "What do you think--the nurse next door
was found dead in bed this morning." And she went on to say that the
people were quite upset about it, and there was going to be an inquest,
and all the rest of it. I tell you, you could have knocked me down with
a brick. I said: "No, not really; what did she die of?" You must
understand that my lady wife didn't know anything about the experiment.
She'd never have let me try it. She's rather superstitious--in spite of
living with me. As soon as I could I sneaked up to the workshop drawer
and got out the photograph, and--I know you won't believe me, but it
doesn't make any difference--when I unpinned the plait of hair and took
it off there was a clearly-marked brown stain right across the nurse's
forehead. I tell you, that _did_ make me sit up, if you like--because
that made twice--first Matthews and now--now.

It was rather disturbing, and I know it sounds silly, but I couldn't
help feeling to blame in some vague way.

Well, the next thing was the inquest--I attended that, naturally, to
know what the poor unfortunate woman had died of. Of course, they
brought it in as "death from natural causes," namely, several burst
bloodvessels in the brain; but what puzzled the doctors was what had
caused the "natural causes"--also, she had the same sort of mark on her
forehead as Matthews had had. They had gone very thoroughly into the
theory that she might have been exposed to X-rays--it _did_ look a bit
like that--but it was more or less proved that she couldn't have been,
so they frankly gave it up. Of course, it was all very interesting and
entertaining, and I quite enjoyed it, as far as one can enjoy an
inquest, but they hadn't cleared up the vexed question--did she fall or
was she pu--well, had she snuffed it on account of the plait of hair, or
had she not? Obviously the matter couldn't be allowed to rest there--it
was much too thrilling. So I looked about for someone else to try it on
and decided that a man who lived in the house opposite would do
beautifully. He wasn't as bad as the nurse because he wasn't cruel--at
least, not intentionally--he played the fiddle--so I decided not to kill
him more than I could help.

The photograph was rather a bother, because he didn't go out much.
You've no idea how difficult it is to get a decent full-face photograph
of a man who knows you by sight without him knowing. However, I managed
to get one after a fortnight or so. It was rather small and I had to
enlarge it, but it wasn't bad considering. He used to spend most of his
evenings up in a top room practising, double stopping and what-not--so
after dinner I went up to my workshop window, which overlooks his, and
waited for him to begin. Then, when he'd really warmed up to his job, I
just touched the plait across the photograph--not hard, but--well, like
you do when you are testing a bit of twin flex to find out which wire is
which, you touch the ends across an accumulator or an H.T. battery.
Quite indefensible in theory, but invariably done in practice.
(Personally, I always use the electric light mains--the required
information is so instantly forthcoming.) Well, that's how I touched the
photograph with the plait. The first time I did it my bloke played a
wrong note. That was nothing, of course, so I did it again more slowly.
This time there was no doubt about it. He hastily put down his fiddle
and hung out of the window, gasping like a fish for about five minutes.
I tell you, I was so surprised that I felt like doing the same.

However, I pulled myself together, and wondered whether one ought to
burn the da--er--plait or not. But there seemed too many possibilities
in it for that--so I decided to learn how to use it instead. It would
take too long to tell you all about my experiments. They lasted for
several months, and I reduced the thing to such an exact science that I
could do anything from giving a gnat a headache to killing a man. All
this, mind you, at the cost of one man, one woman, lots of wood-lice,
and a conscientious objector. You must admit that that's pretty
moderate, considering what fun one _could_ have had with a discovery of
that kind.

Well, it seemed to me that, now the control of my absent treatment had
been brought to such a degree of accuracy, it would be rather a pity not
to employ it in some practical way. In other words, to make a fortune
quickly without undue loss of life.

One could, of course, work steadily through the people one disliked, but
it wouldn't bring in anything for some time.

I mean, even if you insure them first you've got to wait a year before
they die, or the company won't pay, and in any case it begins to look
fishy after you've done it a few times. Then I had my great idea: Why
shouldn't my process be applied to horse-racing? All one had to do was
to pick some outsider in a race--back it for all you were worth at about
100 to 1, and then see that it didn't get beaten.

The actual operation would be quite simple. One would only have to have
a piece of card-board with photographs of all the runners stuck on
it--except the one that was to win, of course--and then take up a
position giving a good view of the race.

I wasn't proposing to hurt any of the horses in the least. They were
only going to get the lightest of touches, just enough to give them a
tired feeling, soon after the start. Then, if my horse didn't seem to
have the race well in hand near the finish, I could give one more light
treatment to any horse which still looked dangerous.

It stood to reason that great care would have to be taken not to upset
the tunning too much. For instance, if all the horses except one fell
down, or even stopped and began to graze, there would be a chance of the
race being declared void.

So I had two or three rehearsals. They worked perfectly. The last one
hardly was a rehearsal because I had a tenner on at 33 to 1, just for
luck--and, of course, it came off.

However, it wasn't as lucky as it sounds. Just outside the entrance to
the grandstand there was rather a squash and, as I came away I got
surrounded by four or five men who seemed to be pushing me about a bit,
but it didn't strike me what the game was until one of them got his hand
into the breast-pocket of my coat.

Then I naturally made a grab at him and got him just above the elbow
with both hands, and drove his hand still further into my pocket. That
naturally pushed the pocket, with his hand inside it, under my right
arm, and I squeezed it against my ribs for all I was worth.

Now, there was nothing in that pocket but the test tube with the plait
of hair in it, and the moment I started squeezing it went with a crunch.
I'm a bit hazy about the next minute because my light-fingered friend
tried to get free, and two of his pals helped him by bashing me over the
head. They were quite rough. In fact, they entered so heartily into the
spirit of the thing that they went on doing it until the police came up
and collared them.

You should have seen that hand when it did come out of my pocket. Cut to
pieces, and bits of broken glass sticking out all over it--like a
crimson tipsy cake. He was so bad that we made a call at a doctor's on
the way to the police station for him to have a small artery tied up.
There was a cut on the back of my head that wanted a bit of attention,
too. Quite a nice chap, the doctor, but he was my undoing. He was,
without doubt, the baldest doctor I've ever seen, though I once saw a
balder alderman.

When he'd painted me with iodine, I retrieved the rest of the broken
glass and the hair from the bottom of my pocket and asked him if he
could give me an empty bottle to put it in. He said: "Certainly," and
produced one, and we corked the hair up in it. When I got home,
eventually, I looked in the bottle, but apart from a little muddy
substance at the bottom it was empty--the plait of hair had melted away.
Then I looked at the label on the bottle, and found the name of a
much-advertised hair restorer.


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