FROM THE 'LONDON TIMES' OF 1904
Correspondence of the 'London Times' Chicago, April 1, 1904.
I resume by cable-telephone where I left off yesterday. For many hours
now, this vast city—along with the rest of the globe, of course—has
talked of nothing but the extraordinary episode mentioned in my last
report. In accordance with your instructions, I will now trace the romance
from its beginnings down to the culmination of yesterday—or today;
call it which you like. By an odd chance, I was a personal actor in a part
of this drama myself. The opening scene plays in Vienna. Date, one o'clock
in the morning, March 31, 1898. I had spent the evening at a social
entertainment. About midnight I went away, in company with the military
attaches of the British, Italian, and American embassies, to finish with a
late smoke. This function had been appointed to take place in the house of
Lieutenant Hillyer, the third attache mentioned in the above list. When we
arrived there we found several visitors in the room; young Szczepanik;(1)
Mr. K., his financial backer; Mr. W., the latter's secretary; and
Lieutenant Clayton, of the United States Army. War was at that time
threatening between Spain and our country, and Lieutenant Clayton had been
sent to Europe on military business. I was well acquainted with young
Szczepanik and his two friends, and I knew Mr. Clayton slightly. I had met
him at West Point years before, when he was a cadet. It was when General
Merritt was superintendent. He had the reputation of being an able
officer, and also of being quick-tempered and plain-spoken.
This smoking-party had been gathered together partly for business. This
business was to consider the availability of the telelectroscope for
military service. It sounds oddly enough now, but it is nevertheless true
that at that time the invention was not taken seriously by any one except
its inventor. Even his financial support regarded it merely as a curious
and interesting toy. Indeed, he was so convinced of this that he had
actually postponed its use by the general world to the end of the dying
century by granting a two years' exclusive lease of it to a syndicate,
whose intent was to exploit it at the Paris World's Fair. When we entered
the smoking-room we found Lieutenant Clayton and Szczepanik engaged in a
warm talk over the telelectroscope in the German tongue. Clayton was
'Well, you know my opinion of it, anyway!' and he brought his fist down
with emphasis upon the table.
'And I do not value it,' retorted the young inventor, with provoking
calmness of tone and manner.
Clayton turned to Mr. K., and said:
'I cannot see why you are wasting money on this toy. In my opinion, the
day will never come when it will do a farthing's worth of real service for
any human being.'
'That may be; yes, that may be; still, I have put the money in it, and am
content. I think, myself, that it is only a toy; but Szczepanik claims
more for it, and I know him well enough to believe that he can see father
than I can—either with his telelectroscope or without it.'
The soft answer did not cool Clayton down; it seemed only to irritate him
the more; and he repeated and emphasised his conviction that the invention
would never do any man a farthing's worth of real service. He even made it
a 'brass' farthing, this time. Then he laid an English farthing on the
table, and added:
'Take that, Mr. K., and put it away; and if ever the telelectroscope does
any man an actual service—mind, a real service—please mail it
to me as a reminder, and I will take back what I have been saying. Will
'I will,' and Mr. K. put the coin in his pocket.
Mr. Clayton now turned toward Szczepanik, and began with a taunt—a
taunt which did not reach a finish; Szczepanik interrupted it with a hardy
retort, and followed this with a blow. There was a brisk fight for a
moment or two; then the attaches separated the men.
The scene now changes to Chicago. Time, the autumn of 1901. As soon as the
Paris contract released the telelectroscope, it was delivered to public
use, and was soon connected with the telephonic systems of the whole
world. The improved 'limitless-distance' telephone was presently
introduced, and the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody,
and audibly discussible, too, by witnesses separated by any number of
By-and-by Szczepanik arrived in Chicago. Clayton (now captain) was serving
in that military department at the time. The two men resumed the Viennese
quarrel of 1898. On three different occasions they quarrelled, and were
separated by witnesses. Then came an interval of two months, during which
time Szczepanik was not seen by any of his friends, and it was at first
supposed that he had gone off on a sight seeing tour and would soon be
heard from. But no; no word came from him. Then it was supposed that he
had returned to Europe. Still, time drifted on, and he was not heard from.
Nobody was troubled, for he was like most inventors and other kinds of
poets, and went and came in a capricious way, and often without notice.
Now comes the tragedy. On December 29, in a dark and unused compartment of
the cellar under Captain Clayton's house, a corpse was discovered by one
of Clayton's maid-servants. Friends of deceased identified it as
Szczepanik's. The man had died by violence. Clayton was arrested,
indicted, and brought to trial, charged with this murder. The evidence
against him was perfect in every detail, and absolutely unassailable.
Clayton admitted this himself. He said that a reasonable man could not
examine this testimony with a dispassionate mind and not be convinced by
it; yet the man would be in error, nevertheless. Clayton swore that he did
not commit the murder, and that he had had nothing to do with it.
As your readers will remember, he was condemned to death. He had numerous
and powerful friends, and they worked hard to save him, for none of them
doubted the truth of his assertion. I did what little I could to help, for
I had long since become a close friend of his, and thought I knew that it
was not in his character to inveigle an enemy into a corner and
assassinate him. During 1902 and 1903 he was several times reprieved by
the governor; he was reprieved once more in the beginning of the present
year, and the execution day postponed to March 31.
The governor's situation has been embarrassing, from the day of the
condemnation, because of the fact that Clayton's wife is the governor's
niece. The marriage took place in 1899, when Clayton was thirty-four and
the girl twenty-three, and has been a happy one. There is one child, a
little girl three years old. Pity for the poor mother and child kept the
mouths of grumblers closed at first; but this could not last for ever—for
in America politics has a hand in everything—and by-and-by the
governor's political opponents began to call attention to his delay in
allowing the law to take its course. These hints have grown more and more
frequent of late, and more and more pronounced. As a natural result, his
own part grew nervous. Its leaders began to visit Springfield and hold
long private conferences with him. He was now between two fires. On the
one hand, his niece was imploring him to pardon her husband; on the other
were the leaders, insisting that he stand to his plain duty as chief
magistrate of the State, and place no further bar to Clayton's execution.
Duty won in the struggle, and the Governor gave his word that he would not
again respite the condemned man. This was two weeks ago. Mrs. Clayton now
'Now that you have given your word, my last hope is gone, for I know you
will never go back from it. But you have done the best you could for John,
and I have no reproaches for you. You love him, and you love me, and we
know that if you could honourable save him, you would do it. I will go to
him now, and be what help I can to him, and get what comfort I may out of
the few days that are left to us before the night comes which will have no
end for me in life. You will be with me that day? You will not let me bear
'I will take you to him myself, poor child, and I will be near you to the
By the governor's command, Clayton was now allowed every indulgence he
might ask for which could interest his mind and soften the hardships of
his imprisonment. His wife and child spent the days with him; I was his
companion by night. He was removed from the narrow cell which he had
occupied during such a dreary stretch of time, and given the chief
warden's roomy and comfortable quarters. His mind was always busy with the
catastrophe of his life, and with the slaughtered inventor, and he now
took the fancy that he would like to have the telelectroscope and divert
his mind with it. He had his wish. The connection was made with the
international telephone-station, and day by day, and night by night, he
called up one corner of the globe after another, and looked upon its life,
and studied its strange sights, and spoke with its people, and realised
that by grace of this marvellous instrument he was almost as free as the
birds of the air, although a prisoner under locks and bars. He seldom
spoke, and I never interrupted him when he was absorbed in this amusement.
I sat in his parlour and read, and smoked, and the nights were very quiet
and reposefully sociable, and I found them pleasant. Now and then I would
her him say 'Give me Yedo;' next, 'Give me Hong-Kong;' next, 'Give me
Melbourne.' And I smoked on, and read in comfort, while he wandered about
the remote underworld, where the sun was shining in the sky, and the
people were at their daily work. Sometimes the talk that came from those
far regions through the microphone attachment interested me, and I
Yesterday—I keep calling it yesterday, which is quite natural, for
certain reasons—the instrument remained unused, and that also was
natural, for it was the eve of the execution day. It was spent in tears
and lamentations and farewells. The governor and the wife and child
remained until a quarter-past eleven at night, and the scenes I witnessed
were pitiful to see. The execution was to take place at four in the
morning. A little after eleven a sound of hammering broke out upon the
still night, and there was a glare of light, and the child cried out,
'What is that, papa?' and ran to the window before she could be stopped
and clapped her small hands and said, 'Oh, come and see, mamma—such
a pretty thing they are making!' The mother knew—and fainted. It was
She was carried away to her lodging, poor woman, and Clayton and I were
alone—alone, and thinking, brooding, dreaming. We might have been
statues, we sat so motionless and still. It was a wild night, for winter
was come again for a moment, after the habit of this region in the early
spring. The sky was starless and black, and a strong wind was blowing from
the lake. The silence in the room was so deep that all outside sounds
seemed exaggerated by contrast with it. These sounds were fitting ones:
they harmonised with the situation and the conditions: the boom and
thunder of sudden storm-gusts among the roofs and chimneys, then the dying
down into moanings and wailings about the eaves and angles; now and then a
gnashing and lashing rush of sleet along the window-panes; and always the
muffled and uncanny hammering of the gallows-builders in the court-yard.
After an age of this, another sound—far off, and coming smothered
and faint through the riot of the tempest—a bell tolling twelve!
Another age, and it was tolled again. By-and-by, again. A dreary long
interval after this, then the spectral sound floated to us once more—one,
two three; and this time we caught our breath; sixty minutes of life left!
Clayton rose, and stood by the window, and looked up into the black sky,
and listened to the thrashing sleet and the piping wind; then he said:
'That a dying man's last of earth should be—this!' After a little he
said: 'I must see the sun again—the sun!' and the next moment he was
feverishly calling: 'China! Give me China—Peking!'
I was strangely stirred, and said to myself: 'To think that it is a mere
human being who does this unimaginable miracle—turns winter into
summer, night into day, storm into calm, gives the freedom of the great
globe to a prisoner in his cell, and the sun in his naked splendour to a
man dying in Egyptian darkness.'
I was listening.
'What light! what brilliancy! what radiance!... This is Peking?'
'What is the great crowd for, and in such gorgeous costumes? What masses
and masses of rich colour and barbaric magnificence! And how they flash
and glow and burn in the flooding sunlight! What is the occasion of it
'The coronation of our new emperor—the Czar.'
'But I thought that that was to take place yesterday.'
'This is yesterday—to you.'
'Certainly it is. But my mind is confused, these days: there are reasons
for it.... Is this the beginning of the procession?'
'Oh, no; it began to move an hour ago.'
'Is there much more of it still to come?'
'Two hours of it. Why do you sigh?'
'Because I should like to see it all.'
'And why can't you?'
'I have to go—presently.'
'You have an engagement?'
After a pause, softly: 'Yes.' After another pause: 'Who are these in the
'The imperial family, and visiting royalties from here and there and
yonder in the earth.'
'And who are those in the adjoining pavilions to the right and left?'
'Ambassadors and their families and suites to the right; unofficial
foreigners to the left.'
'If you will be so good, I—'
Boom! That distant bell again, tolling the half-hour faintly through the
tempest of wind and sleet. The door opened, and the governor and the
mother and child entered—the woman in widow's weeds! She fell upon
her husband's breast in a passion of sobs, and I—I could not stay; I
could not bear it. I went into the bedchamber, and closed the door. I sat
there waiting—waiting—waiting, and listening to the rattling
sashes and the blustering of the storm. After what seemed a long, long
time, I heard a rustle and movement in the parlour, and knew that the
clergyman and the sheriff and the guard were come. There was some
low-voiced talking; then a hush; then a prayer, with a sound of sobbing;
presently, footfalls—the departure for the gallows; then the child's
happy voice: 'Don't cry now, mamma, when we've got papa again, and taking
The door closed; they were gone. I was ashamed: I was the only friend of
the dying man that had no spirit, no courage. I stepped into the room, and
said I would be a man and would follow. But we are made as we are made,
and we cannot help it. I did not go.
I fidgeted about the room nervously, and presently went to the window and
softly raised it—drawn by that dread fascination which the terrible
and the awful exert—and looked down upon the court-yard. By the
garish light of the electric lamps I saw the little group of privileged
witnesses, the wife crying on her uncle's breast, the condemned man
standing on the scaffold with the halter around his neck, his arms
strapped to his body, the black cap on his head, the sheriff at his side
with his hand on the drop, the clergyman in front of him with bare head
and his book in his hand.
'I am the resurrection and the life—'
I turned away. I could not listen; I could not look. I did not know
whither to go or what to do. Mechanically and without knowing it, I put my
eye to that strange instrument, and there was Peking and the Czar's
procession! The next moment I was leaning out of the window, gasping,
suffocating, trying to speak, but dumb from the very imminence of the
necessity of speaking. The preacher could speak, but I, who had such need
of words—'And may God have mercy upon your soul. Amen.'
The sheriff drew down the black cap, and laid his hand upon the lever. I
got my voice.
'Stop, for God's sake! The man is innocent. Come here and see Szczepanik
face to face!'
Hardly three minutes later the governor had my place at the window, and
'Strike off his bonds and set him free!'
Three minutes later all were in the parlour again. The reader will imagine
the scene; I have no need to describe it. It was a sort of mad orgy of
A messenger carried word to Szczepanik in the pavilion, and one could see
the distressed amazement in his face as he listened to the tale. Then he
came to his end of the line, and talked with Clayton and the governor and
the others; and the wife poured out her gratitude upon him for saving her
husband's life, and in her deep thankfulness she kissed him at twelve
thousand miles' range.
The telelectroscopes of the world were put to service now, and for many
hours the kinds and queens of many realms (with here and there a reporter)
talked with Szczepanik, and praised him; and the few scientific societies
which had not already made him an honorary member conferred that grace
How had he come to disappear from among us? It was easily explained. HE
had not grown used to being a world-famous person, and had been forced to
break away from the lionising that was robbing him of all privacy and
repose. So he grew a beard, put on coloured glasses, disguised himself a
little in other ways, then took a fictitious name, and went off to wander
about the earth in peace.
Such is the tale of the drama which began with an inconsequential quarrel
in Vienna in the spring of 1898, and came near ending as a tragedy in the
spring of 1904.
Correspondence of the 'London Times' Chicago, April 5, 1904
To-day, by a clipper of the Electric Line, and the latter's Electric
Railway connections, arrived an envelope from Vienna, for Captain Clayton,
containing an English farthing. The receiver of it was a good deal moved.
He called up Vienna, and stood face to face with Mr. K., and said:
'I do not need to say anything: you can see it all in my face. My wife has
the farthing. Do not be afraid—she will not throw it away.'
Correspondence of the 'London Times' Chicago, April 23, 1904
Now that the after developments of the Clayton case have run their course
and reached a finish, I will sum them up. Clayton's romantic escape from a
shameful death stepped all this region in an enchantment of wonder and joy—during
the proverbial nine days. Then the sobering process followed, and men
began to take thought, and to say: 'But a man was killed, and Clayton
killed him.' Others replied: 'That is true: we have been overlooking that
important detail; we have been led away by excitement.'
The telling soon became general that Clayton ought to be tried again.
Measures were taken accordingly, and the proper representations conveyed
to Washington; for in America under the new paragraph added to the
Constitution in 1889, second trials are not State affairs, but national,
and must be tried by the most august body in the land—the Supreme
Court of the United States. The justices were therefore summoned to sit in
Chicago. The session was held day before yesterday, and was opened with
the usual impressive formalities, the nine judges appearing in their black
robes, and the new chief justice (Lemaitre) presiding. In opening the case
the chief justice said:
'It is my opinion that this matter is quite simple. The prisoner at the
bar was charged with murdering the man Szczepanik; he was tried for
murdering the man Szczepanik; he was fairly tried and justly condemned and
sentenced to death for murdering the man Szczepanik. It turns out that the
man Szczepanik was not murdered at all. By the decision of the French
courts in the Dreyfus matter, it is established beyond cavil or question
that the decisions of courts and permanent and cannot be revised. We are
obliged to respect and adopt this precedent. It is upon precedents that
the enduring edifice of jurisprudence is reared. The prisoner at the bar
has been fairly and righteously condemned to death for the murder of the
man Szczepanik, and, in my opinion, there is but one course to pursue in
the matter: he must be hanged.'
Mr. Justice Crawford said:
'But, your Excellency, he was pardoned on the scaffold for that.'
'The pardon is not valid, and cannot stand, because he was pardoned for
killing Szczepanik, a man whom he had not killed. A man cannot be pardoned
for a crime which he has not committed; it would be an absurdity.'
'But, your Excellency, he did kill a man.'
'That is an extraneous detail; we have nothing to do with it. The court
cannot take up this crime until the prisoner has expiated the other one.'
Mr. Justice Halleck said:
'If we order his execution, your Excellency, we shall bring about a
miscarriage of justice, for the governor will pardon him again.'
'He will not have the power. He cannot pardon a man for a crime which he
has not committed. As I observed before, it would be an absurdity.'
After a consultation, Mr. Justice Wadsworth said:
'Several of us have arrived at the conclusion, your Excellency, that it
would be an error to hang the prisoner for killing Szczepanik, instead of
for killing the other man, since it is proven that he did not kill
'On the contrary, it is proven that he did kill Szczepanik. By the French
precedent, it is plain that we must abide by the finding of the court.'
'But Szczepanik is still alive.'
'So is Dreyfus.'
In the end it was found impossible to ignore or get around the French
precedent. There could be but one result: Clayton was delivered over for
the execution. It made an immense excitement; the State rose as one man
and clamored for Clayton's pardon and retrial. The governor issued the
pardon, but the Supreme Court was in duty bound to annul it, and did so,
and poor Clayton was hanged yesterday. The city is draped in black, and,
indeed, the like may be said of the State. All America is vocal with scorn
of 'French justice,' and of the malignant little soldiers who invented it
and inflicted it upon the other Christian lands.
(1) Pronounced (approximately) Shepannik.