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Home -> Arthur Conan Doyle -> Round The Red Lamp -> The Los Amigos Fiasco

Round The Red Lamp - The Los Amigos Fiasco

1. Behind the Times

2. His First Operation

3. A Straggler of '15

4. The Third Generation

5. A False Start

6. The Curse of Eve

7. Sweethearts

8. A Physiologist's Wife

9. The Case of Lady Sannox

10. A Question of Diplomacy

11. A Medical Document

12. Lot No. 249

13. The Los Amigos Fiasco

14. The Doctors of Hoyland

15. The Surgeon Talks

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 Amigos

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

"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

"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 not so?"

"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 levity.

"How can you so far forget yourself, Mr.
Stulpnagel," said he, "as to jest in the presence of

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

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, gentle-
men," 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

"Never better in my life," said Duncan Warner

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

"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.

"What! Noways?"

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 somehow."

In an instant the victim was up at the hook once

They kept him there for an hour, but when he came
down he was perfectly garrulous.

"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

Peter Stulpnagel took a step forward.

"I'll tell you all about it," said he.

"You seem to be the only person who knows

"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.

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