I used to be the leading practitioner of Los Amigos. Of course, everyone has
heard of the great electrical generating gear there. The town is wide spread,
and there are dozens of little townlets and villages all round, which receive
their supply from the same centre, so that the works are on a very large scale.
The Los Amigos folk say that they are the largest upon earth, but then we claim
that for everything in Los Amigos except the gaol and the death-rate. Those are
said to be the smallest.
Now, with so fine an electrical supply, it seemed to be a sinful waste of
hemp that the Los Amigos criminals should perish in the old-fashioned manner.
And then came the news of the eleotrocutions in the East, and how the results
had not after all been so instantaneous as had been hoped. The Western Engineers
raised their eyebrows when they read of the puny shocks by which these men had
perished, and they vowed in Los Amigos that when an irreclaimable came their way
he should be dealt handsomely by, and have the run of all the big dynamos. There
should be no reserve, said the engineers, but he should have all that they had
got. And what the result of that would be none could predict, save that it must
be absolutely blasting and deadly. Never before had a man been so charged with
electricity as they would charge him. He was to be smitten by the essence of ten
thunderbolts. Some prophesied combustion, and some disintegration and
disappearance. They were waiting eagerly to settle the question by actual
demonstration, and it was just at that moment that Duncan Warner came that way.
Warner had been wanted by the law, and by nobody else, for many years.
Desperado, murderer, train robber and road agent, he was a man beyond the pale
of human pity. He had deserved a dozen deaths, and the Los Amigos folk grudged
him so gaudy a one as that. He seemed to feel himself to be unworthy of it, for
he made two frenzied attempts at escape. He was a powerful, muscular man, with a
lion head, tangled black locks, and a sweeping beard which covered his broad
chest. When he was tried, there was no finer head in all the crowded court. It's
no new thing to find the best face looking from the dock. But his good looks
could not balance his bad deeds. His advocate did all he knew, but the cards lay
against him, and Duncan Warner was handed over to the mercy of the big Los
I was there at the committee meeting when the matter was discussed. The town
council had chosen four experts to look after the arrangements. Three of them
were admirable. There was Joseph M'Conner, the very man who had designed the
dynamos, and there was Joshua Westmacott, the chairman of the Los Amigos
Electrical Supply Company, Limited. Then there was myself as the chief medical
man, and lastly an old German of the name of Peter Stulpnagel. The Germans were
a strong body at Los Amigos, and they all voted for their man. That was how he
got on the committee. It was said that he had been a wonderful electrician at
home, and he was eternally working with wires and insulators and Leyden jars;
but, as he never seemed to get any further, or to have any results worth
publishing he came at last to be regarded as a harmless crank, who had made
science his hobby. We three practical men smiled when we heard that he had been
elected as our colleague, and at the meeting we fixed it all up very nicely
among ourselves without much thought of the old fellow who sat with his ears
scooped forward in his hands, for he was a trifle hard of hearing, taking no
more part in the proceedings than the gentlemen of the press who scribbled their
notes on the back benches.
We did not take long to settle it all. In New York a strength of some two
thousand volts had been used, and death had not been instantaneous. Evidently
their shock had been too weak. Los Amigos should not fall into that error. The
charge should be six times greater, and therefore, of course, it would be six
times more effective. Nothing could possibly be more logical. The whole
concentrated force of the great dynamos should be employed on Duncan Warner.
So we three settled it, and had already risen to break up the meeting, when
our silent companion opened his month for the first time.
"Gentlemen," said he, "you appear to me to show an extraordinary ignorance
upon the subject of electricity. You have not mastered the first principles of
its actions upon a human being."
The committee was about to break into an angry reply to this brusque comment,
but the chairman of the Electrical Company tapped his forehead to claim its
indulgence for the crankiness of the speaker.
"Pray tell us, sir," said he, with an ironical smile, "what is there in our
conclusions with which you find fault?"
"With your assumption that a large dose of electricity will merely increase
the effect of a small dose. Do you not think it possible that it might have an
entirely different result? Do you know anything, by actual experiment, of the
effect of such powerful shocks?"
"We know it by analogy," said the chairman, pompously. "All drugs increase
their effect when they increase their dose; for example—for example——"
"Whisky," said Joseph M'Connor.
"Quite so. Whisky. You see it there."
Peter Stulpnagel smiled and shook his head.
"Your argument is not very good," said he. "When I used to take whisky, I
used to find that one glass would excite me, but that six would send me to
sleep, which is just the opposite. Now, suppose that electricity were to act in
just the opposite way also, what then?"
We three practical men burst out laughing. We had known that our colleague
was queer, but we never had thought that he would be as queer as this.
"What then?" repeated Philip Stulpnagel.
"We'll take our chances," said the chairman.
"Pray consider," said Peter, "that workmen who have touched the wires, and
who have received shocks of only a few hundred volts, have died instantly. The
fact is well known. And yet when a much greater force was used upon a criminal
at New York, the man struggled for some little time. Do you not clearly see that
the smaller dose is the more deadly?"
"I think, gentlemen, that this discussion has been carried on quite long
enough," said the chairman, rising again. "The point, I take it, has already
been decided by the majority of the committee, and Duncan Warner shall be
electrocuted on Tuesday by the full strength of the Los Amigos dynamos. Is it
"I agree," said Joseph M'Connor.
"I agree," said I.
"And I protest," said Peter Stulpnagel.
"Then the motion is carried, and your protest will be duly entered in the
minutes," said the chairman, and so the sitting was dissolved.
The attendance at the electrocution was a very small one. We four members of
the committee were, of course, present with the executioner, who was to act
under their orders. The others were the United States Marshal, the governor of
the gaol, the chaplain, and three members of the press. The room was a small
brick chamber, forming an outhouse to the Central Electrical station. It had
been used as a laundry, and had an oven and copper at one side, but no other
furniture save a single chair for the condemned man. A metal plate for his feet
was placed in front of it, to which ran a thick, insulated wire. Above, another
wire depended from the ceiling, which could be connected with a small metallic
rod projecting from a cap which was to be placed upon his head. When this
connection was established Duncan Warner's hour was come.
There was a solemn hush as we waited for the coming of the prisoner. The
practical engineers looked a little pale, and fidgeted nervously with the wires.
Even the hardened Marshal was ill at ease, for a mere hanging was one thing, and
this blasting of flesh and blood a very different one. As to the pressmen, their
faces were whiter than the sheets which lay before them. The only man who
appeared to feel none of the influence of these preparations was the little
German crank, who strolled from one to the other with a smile on his lips and
mischief in his eyes. More than once he even went so far as to burst into a
shout of laughter, until the chaplain sternly rebuked him for his ill-timed
"How can you so far forget yourself, Mr. Stulpnagel," said he, "as to jest in
the presence of death?"
But the German was quite unabashed.
"If I were in the presence of death I should not jest," said he, "but since I
am not I may do what I choose."
This flippant reply was about to draw another and a sterner reproof from the
chaplain, when the door was swung open and two warders entered leading Duncan
Warner between them. He glanced round him with a set face, stepped resolutely
forward, and seated himself upon the chair.
"Touch her off!" said he.
It was barbarous to keep him in suspense. The chaplain murmured a few words
in his ear, the attendant placed the cap upon his head, and then, while we all
held our breath, the wire and the metal were brought in contact.
"Great Scott!" shouted Duncan Warner.
He had bounded in his chair as the frightful shock crashed through his
system. But he was not dead. On the contrary, his eyes gleamed far more brightly
than they had done before. There was only one change, but it was a singular one.
The black had passed from his hair and beard as the shadow passes from a
landscape. They were both as white as snow. And yet there was no other sign of
decay. His skin was smooth and plump and lustrous as a child's.
The Marshal looked at the committee with a reproachful eye.
"There seems to be some hitch here, gentlemen," said he.
We three practical men looked at each other.
Peter Stulpnagel smiled pensively.
"I think that another one should do it," said I.
Again the connection was made, and again Duncan Warner sprang in his chair
and shouted, but, indeed, were it not that he still remained in the chair none
of us would have recognised him. His hair and his beard had shredded off in an
instant, and the room looked like a barber's shop on a Saturday night. There he
sat, his eyes still shining, his skin radiant with the glow of perfect health,
but with a scalp as bald as a Dutch cheese, and a chin without so much as a
trace of down. He began to revolve one of his arms, slowly and doubtfully at
first, but with more confidence as he went on.
"That jint," said he, "has puzzled half the doctors on the Pacific Slope.
It's as good as new, and as limber as a hickory twig."
"You are feeling pretty well?" asked the old German.
"Never better in my life," said Duncan Warner cheerily.
The situation was a painful one. The Marshal glared at the committee. Peter
Stulpnagel grinned and rubbed his hands. The engineers scratched their heads.
The bald-headed prisoner revolved his arm and looked pleased.
"I think that one more shock——" began the chairman.
"No, sir," said the Marshal "we've had foolery enough for one morning. We are
here for an execution, and a execution we'll have."
"What do you propose?"
"There's a hook handy upon the ceiling. Fetch in a rope, and we'll soon set
this matter straight."
There was another awkward delay while the warders departed for the cord.
Peter Stulpnagel bent over Duncan Warner, and whispered something in his ear.
The desperado started in surprise.
"You don't say?" he asked.
The German nodded.
Peter shook his head, and the two began to laugh as though they shared some
huge joke between them.
The rope was brought, and the Marshal himself slipped the noose over the
criminal's neck. Then the two warders, the assistant and he swung their victim
into the air. For half an hour he hung—a dreadful sight—from the ceiling. Then
in solemn silence they lowered him down, and one of the warders went out to
order the shell to be brought round. But as he touched ground again what was our
amazement when Duncan Warner put his hands up to his neck, loosened the noose,
and took a long, deep breath.
"Paul Jefferson's sale is goin' well," he remarked, "I could see the crowd
from up yonder," and he nodded at the hook in the ceiling.
"Up with him again!" shouted the Marshal, "we'll get the life out of him
In an instant the victim was up at the hook once more.
They kept him there for an hour, but when he came down he was perfectly
"Old man Plunket goes too much to the Arcady Saloon," said he. "Three times
he's been there in an hour; and him with a family. Old man Plunket would do well
to swear off."
It was monstrous and incredible, but there it was. There was no getting round
it. The man was there talking when he ought to have been dead. We all sat
staring in amazement, but United States Marshal Carpenter was not a man to be
euchred so easily. He motioned the others to one side, so that the prisoner was
left standing alone.
"Duncan Warner," said he, slowly, "you are here to play your part, and I am
here to play mine. Your game is to live if you can, and my game is to carry out
the sentence of the law. You've beat us on electricity. I'll give you one there.
And you've beat us on hanging, for you seem to thrive on it. But it's my turn to
beat you now, for my duty has to be done."
He pulled a six-shooter from his coat as he spoke, and fired all the shots
through the body of the prisoner. The room was so filled with smoke that we
could see nothing, but when it cleared the prisoner was still standing there,
looking down in disgust at the front of his coat.
"Coats must be cheap where you come from," said he. "Thirty dollars it cost
me, and look at it now. The six holes in front are bad enough, but four of the
balls have passed out, and a pretty state the back must be in."
The Marshal's revolver fell from his hand, and he dropped his arms to his
sides, a beaten man.
"Maybe some of you gentlemen can tell me what this means," said he, looking
helplessly at the committee.
Peter Stulpnagel took a step forward.
"I'll tell you all about it," said he.
"You seem to be the only person who knows anything."
"I AM the only person who knows anything. I should have warned these
gentlemen; but, as they would not listen to me, I have allowed them to learn by
experience. What you have done with your electricity is that you have increased
this man's vitality until he can defy death for centuries."
"Yes, it will take the wear of hundreds of years to exhaust the enormous
nervous energy with which you have drenched him. Electricity is life, and you
have charged him with it to the utmost. Perhaps in fifty years you might execute
him, but I am not sanguine about it."
"Great Scott! What shall I do with him?" cried the unhappy Marshal.
Peter Stulpnagel shrugged his shoulders.
"It seems to me that it does not much matter what you do with him now," said he.
"Maybe we could drain the electricity out of him again. Suppose we hang him
up by the heels?"
"No, no, it's out of the question."
"Well, well, he shall do no more mischief in Los Amigos, anyhow," said the
Marshal, with decision. "He shall go into the new gaol. The prison will wear him out."
"On the contrary," said Peter Stulpnagel, "I think that it is much more
probable that he will wear out the prison."
It was rather a fiasco and for years we didn't talk more about it than we
could help, but it's no secret now and I thought you might like to jot down the
facts in your case-book.