Monday, March 31, 2014

AUTISM In London in 1900: A Novel (pt 1)

(AUTISM In London in 1900 is not going to be the title of the novel. Well -- probably not. I'm writing this novel directly onto the blog, and when I write a novel, I generally don't have a title for it when I start. As soon as I know the title of this one, so will you.)

At about 9:14 AM on Tuesday, the 8th of May, 1900, police were in Victoria Station, looking for a fugitive, questioning people who might've seen him running through a crowded platform. A Constable Smith was herding a young man toward Inspector Raymond, who was in charge of the investigation -- herding is how Smith thought of the difficult task of impelling the young man toward the Inspector. At first Smith had just taken the man by the arm, but he hadn't seemed to've liked that at all and became very upset and gave a loud and alarming bellow until he was let go of again, when he went right back to muttering, as he'd been doing until he was touched. The man seemed witless and didn't react at all to Smith's request to come with him, but by standing a step back from him and thrusting his arms in the direction of Inspector Raymond -- as if he were rolling a barrel -- Smith was managing to impel the man in Raymond's direction. The herding didn't seem to bother the man, and it didn't interrupt his excited, nonstop muttering. And the muttering was why Smith was bringing the man to Inspector Raymond: because he was muttering about a man who'd just been running through the platform, quite possibly the man the police were looking for.

Hugh, one of the Constables standing next to the Inspector, saw the two of them coming and approached. Smith only had time to shout, "Don't touch -- " before Hugh did, in fact, touch the poor man's arm, at which he stood still and bellowed just as before. Hugh immediately let the man's arm go again. The muttering began again. Hugh and Smith exchanged a glance and shrugged at each other. Then Hugh leaned in close to the man's face and asked, "Would you come with us, please?" The man stopped muttering just for the instant it took him to nod, and he did, indeed, docilely follow Hugh. Young Hugh, Smith thought: a sharp lad, that one. Most likely make Chief Inspector long before I retire a Constable. Got him to follow, just like that. I couldn't even get him to stop muttering and listen to me.

Inspector Raymond raised his chin in a gesture for Smith to speak. "This young man here, Sir, he may've seen the one we're looking for. He -- "

Hugh interrupted Smith, abruptly, but he managed to pull it off without seeming rude: he leaned in close to the man's face again and asked slowly: "What is your name?" The man's stream of muttering paused long enough for him to answer: "Charles Evans," and then the muttering resumed; "...was just a bit off, a minute or two fast but then for an 1883 it's not so much but of course I have no way of knowing how often he re-sets it and of course the maintenance the maintenance is a complete unknown but it's just so strange with that chain to have it together with that chain is really very unusual and it was about to come out the pocket it was about to come out it was about to come out it was like he didn't know he had it it was about to come out and there was a scratch near the stem but of course that's hardly unusual the chain with it though that chain with that's very unusual..."

"He's been like that almost non-stop for two minutes, Sir, and who knows how much longer before I noticed him. I think he's talking about a man who was running through the platform a little while ago, running so that his watch almost flew out of his pocket, and there was something unusual about the chain -- " Evans paused in mid-babble and said a bit louder than his usual mutter:

"Yes, the chain, the chain, it was very unusual with an 1883, with an 1883, of course there are millions of them and their chains are never like that, never," dropping back down to the mutter, "I've never seen one like that, and the thing is that I don't if know he was careless or if it needed to be repaired, and, oh," and he stopped muttering suddenly and his eyes rolled and he fainted. Raymond and Smith each managed to grab one of his arms before he fell, and carried him toward a bench, Raymond shouting for the people on the bench to please let us have it, thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and at about that moment Evans regained consciousness and went very stiff and bellowed piteously. "He doesn't like being touched, Sir," Smith noted, but Evans still wasn't walking on his own, and the bellowing -- it was really heart-rending, you'd think Evans was being burned alive -- continued until they sat him down and let go. Then Evans was quiet, no more muttering. He just sat there rocking back and forth with his shoulders hunched very high. The Inspector leaned in close and said gently, "don't worry, we're not going to touch you any more." At that Evans dropped his shoulders a bit and seemed much more relaxed. He became less hunched, rocked slowly, rubbed his thighs with both hands, then took a deep breath and shuddered. "Johnson," the Inspector barked. "Get the man some water. Hornsby. See if there's a doctor about in this crowd. Church. You know Latham, at the Latham plant? The young one, Albert Latham. See if you can fetch him. Use the telephone, there. They have a telephone in the plant."

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