Chapter 09 The Routine of Mr. Edgar Trent

Respectable London was quiet at night. In the era before the internal combustion engine, the business and financial districts at the center of the town were deserted and silent except for the quiet footsteps of the Metropolitan Police constables making their twenty-minute rounds.

As dawn came, the silence was broken by the crowing of roosters and the mooing of cows, barnyard sounds incongruous in an urban setting. But in those days there plenty of livestock in the central city, and animal husbandry was still a major London industry--- and indeed, during the day, a major source of traffic congestion. It was not uncommon for a fine gentleman to be delayed in his coach by a shepherd with his flock moving through the streets of the city. London was the largest urban concentration in the world at that time, but by modern standards the division between city and country life was blurred.

Blurred, that is, until the Horse Guards clock chimed seven o'clock, and the first of that peculiarly urban phenomenon--- commuters--- appeared on their way to work, conveyed by "the Marrowbone stage"; that is, on foot. These were the armies of women and girls employed as seamstresses in the sweatshops of West End dress factories, where they worked twelve hours a day for a few shillings a week.

At eight o'clock, the shops along the great thoroughfares took down their shutters; apprentices and assistants dressed the windows in preparation for the day's commerce, setting out what one sarcastic observer called "the innumerable whim-whams and frible-frabble of fashion."

Between eight and nine o'clock was rush hour, and the streets became crowded with men. Everyone from government clerks to bank cashiers, from stockbrokers to sugar-bakers and soap-oilers, made their way to work on foot, in omnibuses, tandems, dogcarts--- altogether a rattling, noisy, thickly jammed traffic of vehicles and drivers who cursed and swore and lashed at their horses.

In the midst of this, the street sweepers began their day's labors. In the ammonia-rich air, they collected the first droppings of horse dung, dashing among the carts and omnibuses. And they were busy: an ordinary London horse, according to Henry Mayhew, deposited six tons of dung on the streets each year, and there were at least a million horses in the city.

Gliding through the midst of this confusion, a few elegant broughams, with gleaming dark polished wood carriages and delicately sprung, lacy-spoked wheels, conveyed their substantial citizens in utter comfort to the day's employment.

Pierce and Agar, crouched on a rooftop overlooking the imposing facade of the Huddleston & Bradford Bank across the way, watched as one such brougham came down the street toward them.

"There he is now," Agar said.

Pierce nodded. "Well, we shall know soon enough." He checked his watch. "Eight-twenty-nine. Punctual, as usual."

Pierce and Agar had been on the rooftop since dawn. They had watched the early arrival of the tellers and clerks; they had seen the traffic in the street and on the sidewalks grow more brisk and hurried with each passing minute.

Now the brougham pulled up to the door of the bank, and the driver jumped down to open the door. The president of Huddleston & Bradford stepped down to the pavement. Mr. Edgar Trent was near sixty, his beard was gray, and he had a considerable paunch; whether he was balding or not, Pierce could not discern, for a high top hat covered his head.

"He's a fat one, isn't he," Agar said.

"Watch, now," Pierce said.

At the very moment that Mr. Trent stepped to the ground, a well-dressed young man jostled him roughly, muttered a brief apology over his shoulder, and moved on in the rush-hour crowd. Mr. Trent ignored the incident. He walked the few steps forward to the impressive oak doors of the bank.

Then he stopped, halting in mid-stride.

"He's realized," Pierce said.

On the street below, Trent looked after the well-dressed young man, and immediately patted his side coat pocket, feeling for some article. Apparently, what he sought was still in its place; his shoulders dropped in relief, and he continued on into the bank.

The brougham clattered off; the bank doors swung shut.

Pierce grinned and turned to Agar. "Well," he said, "that's that."

"That's what?" Agar said.

"That's what we need to know."

"What do we need to know, then?" Agar said. ,

"We need to know," Pierce said slowly, "that Mr. Trent brought his key with him today, for this is the day of-" He broke off abruptly. He had not yet informed Agar of the plan, and he saw no reason to do so until the last minute. A man with a tendency to be a soak, like Agar, could loosen his tongue at an unlikely time. But no drunk could split what he did not know.

"The day of what?" Agar persisted.

"The day of reckoning," Pierce said.

"You're a tight one," Agar said. And then he added, "Wasn't that Teddy Burke, trying a pull?"

"Who's Teddy Burke?" Pierce said

"A swell, works the Strand."

"I wouldn't know," Pierce said, and the two men left the building rooftop.

"Cor, you're a tight one," Agar said again. "That was Teddy Burke."

Pierce just smiled.

In the coming weeks, Pierce learned a great deal about Mr. Edgar Trent and his daily routine. Mr. Trent was a rather severe and devout gentleman; he rarely drank, never smoked or played at cards. He was the father of five children; his first wife had died in childbirth some years before and his second wife, Emily, was thirty years his junior and an acknowledged beauty, but she was as severe in disposition as her husband.

The Trent family resided at No. 17 Highwater Road, Mayfair, in a large Georgian mansion with twenty-three rooms, not including servants' quarters. Altogether, twelve servants were employed: a coach driver, two liverymen, a gardener, a doorman, a butler, a cook and two kitchen assistants, and three maids. There was also a governess for the three youngest children.

The children ranged in age from a four-year-old son to a twenty-nine-year-old daughter. All lived in the house. The youngest child had a tendency to somnambulation, so that there were often commotions at night that roused the entire household.

Mr. Trent kept two bulldogs, which were walked twice a day, at seven in the morning and at eight-fifteen at night, by the cook's assistants. The dogs were penned in run at the back of the house, not far from the tradesmen's entrance.

Mr. Trent himself followed a rigid routine. Each day, he arose at 7 am., breakfasted at 7:30, and departed for work at 8:10, arriving at 8:29. He invariably lunched at Simpson's at one o'clock, for one hour. He left the bank promptly at 7 p.m., returning home no later than 7:20. Although he was a member of several clubs in town, he rarely frequented them. Mr. Trent and his wife went out of an evening twice in the course of a week; they generally gave a dinner once a week and occasionally a large party. On such evenings, an extra maid and manservant would be laid on, but these people were obtained from adjacent households; they were very reliable and could not be bribed.

The tradesmen who came each day to the side entrance of the house worked the entire street, and they were careful never to associate with a potential thief. For a fruit or vegetable hawker, a "polite street" was not easily come by, and they were all a close-mouthed lot.

A chimney sweep named Marks worked the same area. He was known to inform the police of any approach by a lurker seeking information. The sweep's boy was a simpleton; nothing could be got from him.

The constable patrolling the street, Lewis, made his rounds once every seventeen minutes. The shift changed at midnight; the night man, Howell, made his rounds once every sixteen minutes. Both men were highly reliable, never sick or drunk, and not susceptible to bribes.

The servants were content. None had been recently hired, nor had any been recently discharged; they were all well-treated and loyal to the household, particularly to Mrs. Trent. The coach driver was married to the cook; one of the liverymen was sleeping with one of the upstairs maids; the other two maids were comely and did not, apparently, lack for male companionship--- they had found lovers among the serving staff of nearby households.

The Trent family took an annual seaside holiday during the month of August, but they would not do so this year, for Mr. Trent's business obligations were such that he was required to remain in town the whole of the summer. The family occasionally weekended in the country at the home of Mrs. Trent's parents, but during these outings most of the servants remained in the mansion. At no time, it seemed, were there fewer than eight people residing in the house.

All this information Pierce accumulated slowly and carefully, and often at some risk. Apparently he adopted various disguises when he talked with servants in pubs and on the street; he must also have loitered in the neighborhood, observing the patterns of the house, but this was a dangerous practice. He could, of course, hire a number of "crows" to scout the area for him, but the more people he hired, the more likely it was that rumors of an impending burglary of the Trent mansion would get out. In that case, the already formidable problems of cracking the house would be increased. So he did most of the reconnaissance himself, with some help from Agar.

According to his own testimony, by the end of August Pierce was no further ahead than he had been a month before. "The man afforded no purchase," Pierce said, speaking of Trent. "No vices, no weaknesses, no eccentricities, and a wife straight from the pages of a handbook on dutiful attention to the running of a happy household."

Clearly, there was no point in breaking into a twenty-three-room mansion on the off chance of coming upon the hidden key. Pierce had to have more information, and as he continued his surveillance it became evident that this information could be obtained only from Mr. Trent himself, who alone would know the location of the key.

Pierce had failed in every attempt to strike up a personal acquaintance with Mr. Trent. Henry Fowler, who shared with Pierce an occasional gentleman's evening on the town, had been approached on the subject of Trent, but Fowler had said the man was religious, proper, and rather a bore in conversation; and he added that his wife, though pretty, was equally tedious. (These comments, when brought forward in trial testimony, caused Mr. Fowler considerable embarrassment, but then Mr. Fowler was confronted with much greater embarrassments later.)

Pierce could hardly press for an introduction to such an unappetizing couple. Nor could he approach Trent directly, pretending business with the bank; Henry Fowler would rightly expect that Pierce would bring any business to him. Nor did Pierce know anyone except Fowler who was acquainted with Trent.

In short, Pierce had no gammon to play, and by the first of August he was considering several desperate ploys--- such as staging an accident in which he would be run down by a cab in front of the Trent household, or a similar episode in front of the bank. But these were cheap tricks and, to be effective, they would require some degree of genuine injury to Pierce. Understandably, he was not happy at the prospect, and kept postponing the matter.

Then, on the evening of August 3rd, Mr. Trent suddenly changed his established routine. He returned home at his usual time, 7:20, but he did not go indoors. Instead, he went directly to the dog run at the back of the house, and put one of his bulldogs on a leash. Petting the animal elaborately, he climbed back into his waiting carriage and drove off.

When Pierce saw that, he knew he had his man.