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Chapter LXXVIII

THE THREE DYNAMITARDS

from Memoirs of a great detective:
incidents in the life of John Wilson Murray
(1904)

compiled by Victor Speer

KINGSTON PENITENTIARY, where the desperate criminals and all long-term convicts of the Province are confined, looms a huge mass of grey stone on the shore of the St. Lawrence River. One side of the grim, high walls fronts on the water's edge. When night falls over Kingston and the long lines of convicts have gone to their cells with bolts and locks all fastened and secure, three men sit alone in three widely separate cells. Along the silent corridors go the velvet-slippered guards, their footfalls noiseless in their steady patrol. Occasionally a watchman stops and peers in. All is quiet; the three men seemingly are asleep. When morning comes they are up with the sun and through the dull day they go their dreary way, to the stone pile where the hammers rise and fall, or to the workshop where mutely they toil. Each is known by a number. Their sentence is for life. The great grey prison is the receiving vault to their eternal tomb. They are buried alive.

   Life is over for them. The future is a blank existence, bounded by four grim, grey walls. Friends, family, loved ones, home, happiness, all are bygone. Their companions now and through the future years are criminals who shuffle speechlessly, ceaselessly, on their weary road of punishment. The one glimpse of the world comes to them through the window of memory in visions of the vanished years. It is a living death and, saving one ever-cherished hope, the only change that will come will be a closing of the eyes, a stilling of the pulse, and then a creaking of the prison gates to let a hearse go by bearing them to smaller, darker cells.

   The ever-cherished hope! When years have softened the hearts of men and mercy moves them to generous forgiveness, it is the convict's endless yearning that a bit of paper may arrive to open his cell and let the punished man go free. It is the hope of pardon shining brightly into desolate lives — and none ever can tell what the far future years may bring forth.

   "The crime for which these three men went to Kingston," says Murray, "occurred at Thorold, at seven o'clock on the evening of Saturday, April 21st, 1900. It resounded in two thunderous explosions that tore up solid rocks, tossed skyward spouts of water, shook houses and shattered windows, while the earth trembled. For miles around people paused, terrified, amazed, or dumbfounded. They waited, as if for the aftermath, for a descent of death and destruction, for the swoop of a calamity that would wipe them and their homes from the face of the earth. It did not come. But by how small a chance it failed, is something that to this day sends shuddering those who saw the dreadful crime.

   "'Thorold is a Canadian hamlet. It nestles along the waterway of the Welland Canal, the Dominion's channel of commerce between Lakes Eric and Ontario. It is within easy walking distance of the frontier at Niagara Falls and is, in the general vicinity of the border towns from St. Catharine's to Clifton on the Niagara River by the Falls. Lock No. 24 of the Welland Canal is at Thorold. Above it, in the canal, is a level about one mile long, forty feet wide and twenty feet deep, with a second level, No. 25, beyond it. There is a drop of sixteen feet in the lock, and from it on to Lake Ontario, there is a series of drops, each level being lower like a series of steps, down which the waters made their way. The gates of the Thorold lock hold in placid check twelve million cubic feet of water, and the sudden smashing of the gates would have released this miniature sea and transformed it from an unruffled expanse of still water to a rushing, roaring, seething, furious torrent, surging in a deadly deluge over the lock, over the lower levels, obliterating their gate, freeing their floods of waters; raging over the Grand Trunk Railroad tracks and spreading out in angry, awful flood into the valley of Ten Mile Creek; wiping out homes and houses, ruining lands, devastating property, and, worst of all, ghastliest of all, drowning hundreds of innocent people and obliterating the town of Merritton. It would have paralysed Canada's great waterway, prostrating her water trade from the great lakes.

   "Eyewitnesses saw the explosion. Miss Euphemia Constable, a pretty sixteen-year-old girl, who lived with her parents about three hundred yards from the lock No. 24, was going to see a friend across the canal about 6.20. Near the bridge, which is by the lock, she saw two men. One was going down by the tool-house to the other end of the lock. The other was standing at the end of the bridge and then walked to the swing bridge. He laid down a valise or brown telescope he was carrying and got off the bridge. She passed him within five feet. He had one hand on the valise and the other at his face, but he moved the hand at his face and she saw his face clearly. He stepped through the side of the bridge and off the bridge from the middle, and took the valise to the end of the lock. Thus at each end of the lock stood one of the men and each had a valise. Miss Constable saw the man at the other end of the lock take a rope and tie it to the end of his valise.

   "'I walked on,' said Miss Constable later, 'and then I heard the man farthest away cry: "Hurry on, Jack, or it'll go off!" and he ran down the road leading to the Falls. I turned and saw the second man had not tied the rope to his valise yet. He finally tied it on, dropped the valise into the lock, sprang up on to the bridge, and ran after the first man on the road to the Falls.'

   "Then came the explosions. After the first explosion the girl lost consciousness and knew nothing of the second explosion. The explosion was of dynamite contained in the valises dangled into the lock. They were not quite simultaneous. They were fired by fuzes. They broke the castings on the head gate, tore up the banks on both sides of the lock, knocked people over who were sufficiently near and smashed windows and shook the country roundabout. Water rose skyward, but the gates held. The dynamiters had blundered by lowering the dynamite into the gate pits instead of into the chain holes. Experts later showed that there was not sufficient resistance to the explosive matter and that this fact alone prevented the dire disaster that would have followed, if the dynamite had done the work planned for it and had smashed the gates.

   "After lowering the satchels into the lock, the two men ran and were about twelve hundred feet from the lock when the first explosion occurred and the other immediately followed. They reached the Stone Road, or public highway, leading to Niagara Falls and hurried along it toward the border. The Mayor of Thorold and others, after the first terror and excitement had passed, followed in buggies along the Stone Road, other citizens taking other roads. The Mayor of Thorold passed the two men on the Stone Road, and arrived at the Falls ahead of them. The two, men arrived at the Falls on the Canada side about 8.45 p.m., and were pointed out by the Thorold people and were arrested. A third man, who had been seen around with them before the explosion, and who was at the Rosli House at the Falls, also was arrested. The two men gave their names as John Nolin and John Walsh. The third man gave his name as Karl Dallman. The three men were locked up. Intense excitement followed. Wild rumours were spread abroad. The soldiery were called out. The three prisoners were taken to Welland gaol and guarded by soldiers, while other soldiers patrolled the canal. There were tales of midnight prowlers, of shots in the dark, of mysterious phantoms. There were various theories as to the crime. The excitement along the border grew.

   "I found Dallman a stout, grey-haired, full-faced, smooth-shaven man of about fifty. Nolin was short and brown moustached, and looked a prosperous mechanic. Walsh was tall, red faced, smooth shaven and watery eyed. I had them photographed in Welland gaol. Dallman smashed the camera and made a break for liberty. I pulled my revolver and we had quite a tussle. Dallman strove to dash through the door. I halted him and forced him back and then locked him in a cell. He was a desperate man. Nolin and Walsh stood together as if Dallman were a stranger to them. Dallman said he was fifty years old, born in England, a clerk, married, a Methodist, and Buffalo the last place of residence. He said he knew nothing of any dynamite explosion or any plot to do harm.

   "'I went on a spree,' he said. 'I did no harm. I knew nothing of any plot to do harm, and I never knew Walsh or Nolin until I met them while on a spree at Niagara Falls.'

   "The evidence at the magistrate's hearing and at the trial was voluminous. Charles Lindenfield, of the Stafford House, in Buffalo, told of Dallman arriving there in March, going away, returning again on March 22nd, and again on April 11th, and again on April 14th, registering as Karl Dallman, of Trenton, New Jersey. On April 15th he was joined at the Stafford House, in Buffalo, by Nolin and Walsh, under the names of Smith and Moore. Lindenfield told of their meeting. Sergeant Maloney, of the Niagara Falls, New York Police, told of seeing Dallman, Nolin, and Walsh together in a trolley car at the Falls at ten o'clock on Thursday night, April 19th. Charles E. Lewis, a United States Secret Service man at the Falls, noticed the men together by reason of their frequent crossing of the cantilever bridge to Canada. He tracked Nolin, Walsh, and Dallman together to a room in the Dolphin House the day before the explosion. On the day of the explosion he saw Dallman and Nolin together with a package. On the night of the explosion he searched the room in the Dolphin House, and found two coils of fuse and a dynamite rubber pouch. Customs Officer W.F. Latta saw Nolin and Dallman with a package the day before the explosion, and saw Walsh carry the satchels across the bridge into Canada, one on Friday with Nolin, and one on Saturday. Joe Spencer, a cabman, identified Dallman, Nolin, and Walsh, as three men who hired him to drive them from the upper to the lower steel arch bridge a day or two before the explosion, Dallman paying for the cab. On Thursday, two days before the explosion, Spencer drove Nolin and Walsh to Thorold, where they took a walk. While returning to Thorold they passed Dallman driving on the road leading past lock No. 24. Owen Riley, of St. Catharine's, on a train from Merriton to Thorold, saw and talked with Dallman two days before the explosion. Dallman got off at Thorold, and Riley showed him where to hire a buggy. George Thomas, a clerk in Taylor's store at the Falls, told of selling to Walsh, while Nolin waited outside, the rope used to lower the satchels into the lock. The rope was bought about 8 p.m. on the day of the explosion. George Walters corroborated George Thomas. Miss Alma Cleveland of Thorold, saw Walsh and Nolin get off the train at Thorold with the satchels and the parcel containing the rope on the evening of the explosion. Mrs. Slingerland, of Catharine Street, Thorold, saw them as they walked from the train. William Chapel saw them pass his house within sight of the lock. Miss Euphemia Constable told of seeing them lower the satchels into the lock. Her mother told of seeing Dallman, Nolin, and Walsh at the lock on the Monday before the explosion. They were looking it over. Dan Parr, a watchman at the lock, heard a splash, and saw the men leaving, and then was knocked down by the explosion. Miss Mary Gregory and Mrs. Rebecca Gregory, her mother, passed the men on the Falls road after the explosion. William Pierce, a working man, fell in with them on the road to the Falls, and walked as far as Stamford, they saying nothing of the explosion. George Black saw them on the road, and followed them in his buggy. The Mayor of Thorold told of following and passing them. Alfred Burrows, of the Rosli House, told of Karl Dallman registering at his hotel from Washington, D.C., on April 12th and on April 16th, and of John Walsh, of Washington, D.C., being there on April 19th. Dr. Houseberger told of dressing three burns on Walsh's hand after his arrest. Officer Mains told of the actions of Dallman, Nolin, and Walsh together at the Falls on days before the explosion, and of their arrest after the explosion. Fred Latta, on the day before the explosion, walked up the street at the Falls behind Dallman and Walsh for two blocks. He was about four feet behind them. He heard Dallman say to Walsh:

   "'Do you know where Jack is?'

   "'I suppose he is getting drunk,' replied Walsh.

   "'If we don't keep that —— sober we will never be able to pull off that job,' was Dallman's answer.

   "'How are we going to keep him sober?' said Walsh.

   "'If we can't do it any other way we will have to lock him in a room.'

   "They passed on, and later met Nolin, who was carrying a parcel, which he handed to Dallman, and later took it back. All the witnesses identified the men positively. The Crown showed by Edward Walker, an expert on dynamite, that the failure of the explosion to accomplish its object probably was due to lack of sufficient resistance against the explosive. Two engineers testified as to the death and destruction that would have followed the deluge of 12,000,000 feet of water if the explosion had resulted as planned.

   "Dallman made a defence; Nolin and Walsh made none. Dallman tried to prove an alibi by Charles Kinney, a cabman, attempting to show he had not been at the lock with Nolin and Walsh a few days before the explosion. His alibi was a failure as Kinney became tangled up, and finally Chancellor Boyd remarked that he had made a mess of his evidence. None of the three prisoners went on the stand.

   "Their trial began before Chancellor Boyd at Welland on May 25th, 1900. The jury filed out as the clock struck six on the evening of May 26th. They filed in at 6.4. They were out just four minutes.

   "'Guilty,' said the foreman.

   "'All three?' asked Chancellor Boyd.

   "'Yes,' said the foreman; 'all three.'

   "The three prisoners arose and faced the court. They had been found guilty, after a fair and careful investigation, of a crime against the State and Crown, said Chancellor Boyd. It was a novel experiment in Canada, he continued, to use explosives to damage a public work. The motive had not been disclosed, and was unknown. In the case of Nolin and Walsh, said the court, it probably was one of hire and for gain. As to Dallman, said his lordship, he was the master spirit, more guilty than the others, and the motive was of hate and a blow against the State and civilisation. It was committed with illegal intent; it had been long and deliberately planned.

   "'I see no reason for altering the penalty of the indictment, and I sentence all three to imprisonment for life,' concluded the court.

   "The three prisoners were put into irons, and marched out and taken to Kingston Penitentiary.

   "When it came to ascertaining the details of the past life of the three men, I found a task involving much labour. I communicated with Scotland Yard, and sent them descriptions and photographs; for Nolin and Walsh seemed unmistakably to be from across the sea, and Walsh particularly had the manner and speech of a man recently over. I went to New York and saw friends there, both in and out of the police business. I went also to Philadelphia, Washington, Virginia, and elsewhere.

   "I learned that in Dublin, Ireland, in 1894 were three young men who set sail for America. They were John Nolin, a young machinist; John Rowan, a mechanic; and John Merna, a mechanic. They arrived in New York, and drifted about the metropolis until, on May 17th, 1894, Merna declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, took out his first papers, and gave his residence as No. 41, Peck Slip, New York. Nolin went to Philadelphia, and obtained employment in the Baldwin Locomotive Works. In 1895 all three — Nolin, Merna, and Rowan — returned to Ireland. Merna got a job on the Dublin Independent, and Nolin went to work as a machinist in a Dublin printing-office, and for a time also worked at Manchester, England, and other points, and then returned to Dublin. In November 1899 four men started from Dublin for America. They sailed from Liverpool, on a Red Star steamship of the American line, for Philadelphia. The steamer had a hard trip, and was given up for lost, but finally arrived in Philadelphia after nineteen days at sea. The four men from Dublin were four Johns, with Walsh the new one. Of the four men, Nolin and Walsh were reputed to be men of exceptional courage. Of Nolin it had been said, 'He would not fear to go aboard a boat with a belt of dynamite, and blow the boat to the bottom of the sea.' Of Walsh it was said 'He feared not another man, even with a naked knife.' Walsh left behind him a wife and four children, living at No. 16, St. Michael's Hill, Dublin. He had worked the previous year as a horse tender for the Dublin Electric Tramway Company, W.M.H. Murphy being the superintendent. Nolin left a wife, but no children, in Castle Street, Dublin. Merna left a wife at No. 88, Creaghton's Terrace, Dublin, and a sister, Mrs. Mary Tullman, at No. 31, Powers Street, Dublin. No charges of complicity in the explosions in Exchange Court, Dublin, had been made against any of the four men.

   "The four Johns, after spending a few days in Philadelphia, in November 1899, went to New York. They stopped at the lodging- or boarding-house of John M. Kerr, at No. 45 Peck Slip, in the shipping district. They hung about New York until December 1899, when Rowan returned to Ireland, and went to work at his trade, he then being a fitter or first-class machinist in Dublin. In December 1899 Nolin and Walsh applied to the South Brooklyn branch of the Amalgamated Society of Machinists, an old English Society, with offshoots in America, and known in England as the Society of Engineers. Nolin and Walsh applied for donation money, which is $3 per week for those out of work. Nolin got donation money from John A. Shearman, secretary of the American Society of Machinists, who worked in the Pioneer Machine Works in Brooklyn, and to whom Nolin sent his card.

   "In the last part of December 1899 Nolin, Walsh, and Merna went to Washington, D.C. Nolin remained there a short time, and then went on to Richmond, Virginia, where he went to work as a fitter in a foundry. On December 25th, 1899 (Christmas Day), Merna got a job in Washington as bar-tender at No. 212, Ninth Street, N.W., working for Joe McEnerney, a saloon-keeper. On January 1st, 1900, Walsh also got a job as bar-tender for McEnerney. Merna and Walsh relieved each other at the bar, and they shared a room together over the saloon. They worked as bar-tenders for McEnerney through January and February 1900 and along into March, while Nolin worked on in the Richmond foundry. Early in March Karl Dallman had registered at the Stafford House, in Buffalo, and then had gone away.

   "On Monday evening, March 12th, Merna was found dead in his room over the saloon in Washington, where he and Walsh worked. He was found lying on the floor with a bullet in his heart. The marble slab of the bureau was torn partly away. Beneath Merna was found a revolver, a 38-calibre British bulldog. Walsh was questioned, and he said Merna had entered the saloon in the evening in good spirits, laughed, chatted, went upstairs to their room, and fifteen minutes later he was found lying on the floor, dead. Suicide was the coroner's verdict, and Merna was buried in Washington on March 13th. Of the four Johns, two were left in America — Walsh in Washington and Nolin in Richmond.

   "Somewhere about April 10th, 1900, Nolin received a communication from a lodge to which he belonged. The lodge was known in secret circles as the Napper Tandy Club. It was a Clan-na-Gael organisation. It met at Tom Moore's Hall, corner of Third Avenue and Sixteenth Street, in New York. The entrance was at No. 149, East Sixteenth Street. Its president was a well-known bookseller. Nolin and Walsh both were members of this lodge. They were introduced by a man named Jack Hand, a sailor.

   "Nolin's instructions, sent to him in Richmond, were for him to go to Washington, get John Walsh, and, with Walsh, go to Philadelphia, where, at a place specified as the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Station, and a time fixed in the instructions at 7 p.m., on Saturday, April 14th, the two men, Nolin and Walsh, would meet a third man, who would give them further instructions as to what to do. Additional details, were arranged for. Nolin obeyed the instructions as they reached him. He left Richmond and went to Washington, where he got Walsh. When McEnerney heard Walsh was to leave he remonstrated and offered to raise Walsh's wages $12 per month if he would stay. Nolin and Walsh left Washington and went to the railroad station in Philadelphia specified in the instructions. That was on Saturday, April 14th, and about a quarter past seven in the evening, as they stood in the station, a well-dressed, stout man came up and asked if they were so-and-so. Nolin and Walsh replied satisfactorily, whereupon the stranger said: 'I am the man you want to see,' and the three men then had an earnest conversation, after which the stranger took $100 from his pocket and handed it to Nolin, along with two railroad tickets and two sleeping-car tickets from Philadelphia to Buffalo, over the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The stranger left the two men in the station, and Walsh and Nolin went to the Lehigh Valley train for Buffalo.

   "Nolin and Walsh arrived in Buffalo at noon on Sunday, April 15th, over the Lehigh Valley Railroad. They went direct to the Stafford House and registered, as they had been told to register, as John Smith, of New York, and Thomas Moore, of Washington. They were assigned to room No. 88 and ordered up drinks. While waiting for the drinks there was a knock on the door. They said 'Come in.' The door opened and in stepped Dallman. He introduced himself and a satisfactory understanding of one another was reached. After dinner they took a walk in Buffalo together, going into a certain concert place, among others. They returned to the Stafford House, where Dallman was registered as Karl Dallman, Trenton, New Jersey. Dallman told Nolin and Walsh to prepare for an early start in the morning. After breakfast at the Stafford House on Monday morning, April 16th, Dallman gave to Nolin and Walsh two canvas grips or telescopes. In each of these grips were about eighty pounds of dynamite, mixed to about the consistency of stiff dough. It was in the form of a cake or loaf. Fuses were with each cake, lying on top, but not connected or attached. Dallman, Nolin, and Walsh left Buffalo together on Monday morning, April 16th, and took a trolley car to Niagara Falls, New York. On arriving at Niagara Falls Nolin and Walsh left Dallman and went to the Imperial Hotel, and registered there as Smith and Moore. In the afternoon Dallman called for them, and said: 'Now we will go across.' Dallman, Walsh, and Nolin took a Grand Trunk train across Suspension Bridge and got off at Merriton, in Canada, and took a street-car at Merriton, and then went to Thorold, where Mrs. Constable saw them near the lock. When Nolin and Walsh and Dallman returned to the Falls that night, Nolin and Walsh, at Dallman's request, arranged to change their lodgings, and the next day, Tuesday, April 17th, they left the Imperial Hotel and went to the Dolphin House. Dallman went to the Rosli House on the Canada side of the Falls. Dallman, Nolin, and Walsh went driving together, and on Thursday afternoon, April 19th, Nolin and Walsh drove to Thorold, meeting Dallman, also driving, on the road near Thorold. The cabman and the liveryman's hired man, who drove Dallman, identified the three men. The three met on the American side, Dallman calling on them at the Dolphin House and they crossing and seeing Dallman.

   "Walsh took the dynamite into Canada. He went from the Dolphin House to the Rosli House. At a quarter past three on Friday afternoon, April 20th, he carried one of the bags of dynamite over, and at one o'clock on Saturday afternoon, April 21st, the day of the explosion, he carried the other bag over. The first bag was left with Dallman over-night, and the second bag was taken over and left with it on Saturday afternoon until Nolin and Walsh started for Thorold. Dallman gave Nolin and Walsh money for hotel bills and incidental expenses. After the explosion they were to meet at the Falls, or failing there, meet in Buffalo and take late trains away. The explosion, the arrests, the convictions, and the sentence for life followed.

   "Karl Dallman clearly was the most interesting figure in the entire affair. I sent his picture and his description to trusted friends in various cities and in due time I learned that Karl Dallman of Trenton, New Jersey, was none other than Luke Dillon, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At one time he was a member of the executive of the Clan-na-Gael, and defended it and publicly championed its cause, and achieved more than national prominence when, as a member of the executive committee of the Clan-na-Gael, he went to Chicago, at the time of the murder of Dr. Cronin, and denounced Alexander Sullivan, raised funds for the prosecution of those accused of murdering Dr. Cronin; advocated the throwing off of the oath of secrecy, so far as necessary to run down Cronin's assassins; went on the witness stand and, by his testimony, revealed the secret of the Triangle, the chief three who had ruled as the executive of the Clan-na-Gael; made public the charges against Sullivan and fought throughout on the side of the anti-Sullivan wing. The identification was made absolute and final. Men who knew Luke Dillon, who had worked day by day near him, went to see Karl Dallman and identified him positively as Luke Dillon. But more than all that, the Government knows that Karl Dallman is Luke Dillon as certainly and as surely as it knows that I am John W. Murray.

   "Dillon was a shoemaker originally. In 1881 he was shoemaking at No. 639, Paul Street, Philadelphia. He was married and for five years he lived in Paul Street, making a speciality of slipper-making, and in 1884 he added a small stock of shoes, becoming a shoedealer as well as a shoemaker. In 1887 he moved into a little brick house at No. 920, Passyunk Avenue. He became active and prominent in the Clan-na-Gael. When a split came he espoused the side of the Cronin faction, known as the United Brotherhood, which later merged into the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood. Dr. Cronin formerly lived at St. Catharine's, near Thorold, where the explosion occurred. In May 1889 he was murdered in Chicago. About 1891 Dillon abandoned the shoe business, and 1892 found him a teller in the Dime Savings Bank at No. 1429, Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. In 1899 he moved, with his family, to Federal Street, Philadelphia, where he was living in 1900, when he went to Thorold. The bank went into other hands eventually, turning over its deposits and accounts to the Union Surety Guarantee Company, across the street. In March and April he made trips to Buffalo, and on April 10th, the day Nolin received the communication to go to Washington and get Walsh, Dillon started for Buffalo, registered as Dallman at the Stafford House the next day, and the day after, on April 12th, went to Canada, in the vicinity of Thorold, and was registered at the Rosli House on the Canada side, where later he stopped, while Walsh and Nolin were at the Dolphin House. This was two days before Walsh and Nolin left Philadelphia. Dillon returned to the United States, and on April 14th again was at the Stafford House to meet Walsh and Nolin, who left Philadelphia that night and arrived the next afternoon. On the following Saturday, after the three men had been together all the week, the explosion occurred.

   "For two years after the three men went to Kingston for life the general public knew nothing of the identity of Karl Dallman. Then the Buffalo Express made known the fact, telling the story of his life and connection with the Cronin affair. Some of Dillon's friends explained that he had gone to South Africa to fight with the Boers against the British, and may have been killed there. The truth is that Luke Dillon is in Kingston Penitentiary. He went there as Karl Dallman. From the moment of his entrance he lost all names, real or assumed, and is known only by a number. Inmates are numbered, not named, in Kingston. He is a silent figure, grey-haired, white-faced, prison-garbed. He works during the day and when night comes, he lets down his shelf or bed of iron from the wall, blankets it and lies down to read. The light overhead goes out. The velvet purr of a cushioned tread hovers a moment by his door and dies away. Then all is still — and the stillness of the night in Kingston is a silence as grim as the great grey walls that shut out the world."

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