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The Rome Express

The Rome Express

Author:Arthur Griffiths


The Rome Express, the _direttissimo_, or most direct, was approaching Paris one morning in March, when it became known to the occupants of the sleeping-car that there was something amiss, very much amiss, in the car.
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  The Rome Express, the _direttissimo_, or most direct, was approaching

Paris one morning in March, when it became known to the occupants of the

sleeping-car that there was something amiss, very much amiss, in the


The train was travelling the last stage, between Laroche and Paris, a

run of a hundred miles without a stop. It had halted at Laroche for

early breakfast, and many, if not all the passengers, had turned out. Of

those in the sleeping-car, seven in number, six had been seen in the

restaurant, or about the platform; the seventh, a lady, had not stirred.

All had reëntered their berths to sleep or doze when the train went on,

but several were on the move as it neared Paris, taking their turn at

the lavatory, calling for water, towels, making the usual stir of

preparation as the end of a journey was at hand.

There were many calls for the porter, yet no porter appeared. At last

the attendant was found--lazy villain!--asleep, snoring loudly,

stertorously, in his little bunk at the end of the car. He was roused

with difficulty, and set about his work in a dull, unwilling, lethargic

way, which promised badly for his tips from those he was supposed to


By degrees all the passengers got dressed, all but two,--the lady in 9

and 10, who had made no sign as yet; and the man who occupied alone a

double berth next her, numbered 7 and 8.

As it was the porter's duty to call every one, and as he was anxious,

like the rest of his class, to get rid of his travellers as soon as

possible after arrival, he rapped at each of the two closed doors behind

which people presumably still slept.

The lady cried "All right," but there was no answer from No. 7 and 8.

Again and again the porter knocked and called loudly. Still meeting

with no response, he opened the door of the compartment and went in.

It was now broad daylight. No blind was down; indeed, the one narrow

window was open, wide; and the whole of the interior of the compartment

was plainly visible, all and everything in it.

The occupant lay on his bed motionless. Sound asleep? No, not merely

asleep--the twisted unnatural lie of the limbs, the contorted legs, the

one arm drooping listlessly but stiffly over the side of the berth, told

of a deeper, more eternal sleep.

The man was dead. Dead--and not from natural causes.

One glance at the blood-stained bedclothes, one look at the gaping wound

in the breast, at the battered, mangled face, told the terrible story.

It was murder! murder most foul! The victim had been stabbed to the


With a wild, affrighted, cry the porter rushed out of the compartment,

and to the eager questioning of all who crowded round him, he could only

mutter in confused and trembling accents:

"There! there! in there!"

Thus the fact of the murder became known to every one by personal

inspection, for every one

even the lady had appeared for just a moment

had looked in where the body lay. The compartment was filled for some

ten minutes or more by an excited, gesticulating, polyglot mob of half a

dozen, all talking at once in French, English, and Italian.

The first attempt to restore order was made by a tall man, middle-aged,

but erect in his bearing, with bright eyes and alert manner, who took

the porter aside, and said sharply in good French, but with a strong

English accent:

"Here! it's your business to do something. No one has any right to be in

that compartment now. There may be reasons--traces--things to remove;

never mind what. But get them all out. Be sharp about it; and lock the

door. Remember you will be held responsible to justice."

The porter shuddered, so did many of the passengers who had overheard

the Englishman's last words.

Justice! It is not to be trifled with anywhere, least of all in France,

where the uncomfortable superstition prevails that every one who can be

reasonably suspected of a crime is held to be guilty of that crime until

his innocence is clearly proved.

All those six passengers and the porter were now brought within the

category of the accused. They were all open to suspicion; they, and they

alone, for the murdered man had been seen alive at Laroche, and the fell

deed must have been done since then, while the train was in transit,

that is to say, going at express speed, when no one could leave it

except at peril of his life.

"Deuced awkward for us!" said the tall English general, Sir Charles

Collingham by name, to his brother the parson, when he had reëntered

their compartment and shut the door.

"I can't see it. In what way?" asked the Reverend Silas Collingham, a

typical English cleric, with a rubicund face and square-cut white

whiskers, dressed in a suit of black serge, and wearing the professional

white tie.

"Why, we shall be detained, of course; arrested, probably--certainly

detained. Examined, cross-examined, bully-ragged--I know something of

the French police and their ways."

"If they stop us, I shall write to the _Times_" cried his brother, by

profession a man of peace, but with a choleric eye that told of an angry


"By all means, my dear Silas, when you get the chance. That won't be

just yet, for I tell you we're in a tight place, and may expect a good

deal of worry." With that he took out his cigarette-case, and his

match-box, lighted his cigarette, and calmly watched the smoke rising

with all the coolness of an old campaigner accustomed to encounter and

face the ups and downs of life. "I only hope to goodness they'll run

straight on to Paris," he added in a fervent tone, not unmixed with

apprehension. "No! By jingo, we're slackening speed--."

"Why shouldn't we? It's right the conductor, or chief of the train, or

whatever you call him, should know what has happened."

"Why, man, can't you see? While the train is travelling express, every

one must stay on board it; if it slows, it is possible to leave it."

"Who would want to leave it?"

"Oh, I don't know," said the General, rather testily. "Any way, the

thing's done now."

The train had pulled up in obedience to the signal of alarm given by

some one in the sleeping-car, but by whom it was impossible to say. Not

by the porter, for he seemed greatly surprised as the conductor came up

to him.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Know! Know what? You stopped me."

"I didn't."

"Who rang the bell, then?"

"I did not. But I'm glad you've come. There has been a crime--murder."

"Good Heavens!" cried the conductor, jumping up on to the car, and

entering into the situation at once. His business was only to verify the

fact, and take all necessary precautions. He was a burly, brusque,

peremptory person, the despotic, self-important French official, who

knew what to do--as he thought--and did it without hesitation or


"No one must leave the car," he said in a tone not to be misunderstood.

"Neither now, nor on arrival at the station."

There was a shout of protest and dismay, which he quickly cut short.

"You will have to arrange it with the authorities in Paris; they can

alone decide. My duty is plain: to detain you, place you under

surveillance till then. Afterwards, we will see. Enough, gentlemen and


He bowed with the instinctive gallantry of his nation to the female

figure which now appeared at the door of her compartment. She stood for

a moment listening, seemingly greatly agitated, and then, without a

word, disappeared, retreating hastily into her own private room, where

she shut herself in.

Almost immediately, at a signal from the conductor, the train resumed

its journey. The distance remaining to be traversed was short; half an

hour more, and the Lyons station, at Paris, was reached, where the bulk

of the passengers--all, indeed, but the occupants of the

sleeper--descended and passed through the barriers. The latter were

again desired to keep their places, while a posse of officials came and

mounted guard. Presently they were told to leave the car one by one, but

to take nothing with them. All their hand-bags, rugs, and belongings

were to remain in the berths, just as they lay. One by one they were

marched under escort to a large and bare waiting-room, which had, no

doubt, been prepared for their reception.

Here they took their seats on chairs placed at wide intervals apart, and

were peremptorily forbidden to hold any communication with each other,

by word or gesture. This order was enforced by a fierce-looking guard in

blue and red uniform, who stood facing them with his arms folded,

gnawing his moustache and frowning severely.

Last of all, the porter was brought in and treated like the passengers,

but more distinctly as a prisoner. He had a guard all to himself; and it

seemed as though he was the object of peculiar suspicion. It had no

great effect upon him, for, while the rest of the party were very

plainly sad, and a prey to lively apprehension, the porter sat dull and

unmoved, with the stolid, sluggish, unconcerned aspect of a man just

roused from sound sleep and relapsing into slumber, who takes little

notice of what is passing around.

Meanwhile, the sleeping-car, with its contents, especially the corpse

of the victim, was shunted into a siding, and sentries were placed on it

at both ends. Seals had been affixed upon the entrance doors, so that

the interior might be kept inviolate until it could be visited and

examined by the Chef de la Sûreté, or Chief of the Detective Service.

Every one and everything awaited the arrival of this all-important