Tales of Terror and Mystery HTML version

The Lost Special
The confession of Herbert de Lernac, now lying under sentence of death at Marseilles,
has thrown a light upon one of the most inexplicable crimes of the century--an incident
which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any country:
Although there is a reluctance to discuss the matter in official circles, and little
information has been given to the Press, there are still indications that the statement of
this arch-criminal is corroborated by the facts, and that we have at last found a solution
for a most astounding business. As the matter is eight years old, and as its importance
was somewhat obscured by a political crisis which was engaging the public attention at
the time, it may be as well to state the facts as far as we have been able to ascertain them.
They are collated from the Liverpool papers of that date, from the proceedings at the
inquest upon John Slater, the engine-driver, and from the records of the London and West
Coast Railway Company, which have been courteously put at my disposal. Briefly, they
are as follows:
On the 3rd of June, 1890, a gentleman, who gave his name as Monsieur Louis Caratal,
desired an interview with Mr. James Bland, the superintendent of the London and West
Coast Central Station in Liverpool. He was a small man, middle-aged and dark, with a
stoop which was so marked that it suggested some deformity of the spine. He was
accompanied by a friend, a man of imposing physique, whose deferential manner and
constant attention showed that his position was one of dependence. This friend or
companion, whose name did not transpire, was certainly a foreigner, and probably from
his swarthy complexion, either a Spaniard or a South American. One peculiarity was
observed in him. He carried in his left hand a small black, leather dispatch box, and it was
noticed by a sharp- eyed clerk in the Central office that this box was fastened to his wrist
by a strap. No importance was attached to the fact at the time, but subsequent events
endowed it with some significance. Monsieur Caratal was shown up to Mr. Bland's
office, while his companion remained outside.
Monsieur Caratal's business was quickly dispatched. He had arrived that afternoon from
Central America. Affairs of the utmost importance demanded that he should be in Paris
without the loss of an unnecessary hour. He had missed the London express. A special
must be provided. Money was of no importance. Time was everything. If the company
would speed him on his way, they might make their own terms.
Mr. Bland struck the electric bell, summoned Mr. Potter Hood, the traffic manager, and
had the matter arranged in five minutes. The train would start in three-quarters of an
hour. It would take that time to insure that the line should be clear. The powerful engine
called Rochdale (No. 247 on the company's register) was attached to two carriages, with
a guard's van behind. The first carriage was solely for the purpose of decreasing the
inconvenience arising from the oscillation. The second was divided, as usual, into four
compartments, a first-class, a first-class smoking, a second-class, and a second-class
smoking. The first compartment, which was nearest to the engine, was the one allotted to