Have You Seen The Yellow Sign?
Letter from Trollope (1928-11-03)
5th November 1928
126, Long Acre,
I write this fast upon your leaving our meeting. I am going to be very frank — please pardon any offence that I cause. I am not certain of Dr. Highsmith’s motives in this case but I sense a curiosity in you in which I have decided to place my trust. I find in myself a need to unburden myself of things that I have left unsaid. I hesitate to put these on paper but nevertheless I proceed.
Contrary to possible appearance I am anxious to help Alexander. His father was a good friend of mine so I have known him since he was just a small boy. He is a decent, gentle young fellow who has, I think, fallen in with circumstances that misuse him.
I will talk of my first visit to Alexander in St. Agnes in June of 1927. Dr. Highsmith told me he was unmedicated and lucid and I found this to be the case despite some periodic confusion on his part. But his conversation was odd indeed. He seemed quite unlike the young man I knew. One of the few references in our talk that I could make sense of referred to the book he authored and upon my return to London I undertook to look at it. You may be aware that five or six years ago Alexander published a volume called The Walker by the Lake. I had never picked it up before — I believed that it would be difficult for me to digest — but though much within it was indeed bizarre or puzzling, somehow it held me. Certain words and phrases therein reminded me of Alexander’s talk at the asylum and I could see that these writings spoke to the root of his incapacity. Oddly, sections of the narrative were in German: I transcribed and later translated these passages.
My second visit to Alexander was about six months after the first, just before Christmas. On this occasion I found him sedated and correspondingly uncommunicative. Anxious that my journey not be a fruitless one I thought to try an experiment. I had bought some papers with me, transcriptions of his book, and I began to read out one of the German passages in that language. I am not sure what I expected from this, I suppose I was merely seeking a reaction of some kind. I stumbled over the phrases, I am not skilled at languages, but then Alexander responded. He spoke the text along with me. As he did, I stopped reciting myself and tried to engage him. What happened next is difficult for me to say.
He kept speaking now and I could see he was overly excited so I was reaching out to touch his shoulder. As I did I suddenly felt very weak and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor. I was inexplicably panicked. The madhouse attendant was down on one knee, giving me assistance, and Alexander stood above us. His face was his old one and very sad: “I am very sorry, Doctor. I cannot change what you saw.” And then I remembered what that was.
I will tell you that I think that Alexander knows how his father and sister died, and that their deaths were a result of events involving a person or persons using him. It seems Alexander came particularly under the influence of a Mr. Lawrence Bacon. Mr. Bacon is an antique merchant with premises in Liverpool Road, Islington but I believe he may also be a self-styled occultist. This information was gained at the behest of Alexander’s brother, Grahame, through a private detective hired in Wapping, a Mr. Vincent Tuck. I think Alexander would seek out Mr. Bacon again if released. It bears mention that I am sure that these matters had nothing to do with Alexander’s courtship with Miss Hartston, no matter what you might have been told.
I feel that I have done the right thing in sharing what I know although I ask that you use discretion for the sake of Alexander’s family and possibly for your own security. I urge you to read the book and to contact me again as soon as expedient. I will tell you more of the grounds for my suspicion of Mr. Bacon if you should consent to that meeting.
And lastly I bring myself to tell you what it was that I saw in that small cell in the asylum. As Alexander spoke I was no longer there in the cell. I was walking in St. James’s Park — I had just crossed the small suspension bridge to the south across the lake and I was looking along at the buildings on Whitehall. I have made this walk almost every night for the last thirty years and there I was and everything was just as it should be. I knew it was not a dream; it was in the detail and the normalcy: the mallards setting up their noise on Duck Island and up ahead the paperboy calling. The sun was setting. I reached into my pocket for my penny for the Standard, and as I did I heard a scuffed step behind me and I turned. I saw a sharp-faced man, quite tall, and his eyes held mine. “Keep still please, sir” he said and I felt a sharp pain and then I was falling. He helped me down as I clung to him. I closed my eyes and when I reopened them I was looking up at the sky. And there was the paperboy’s white face and I tried to say something to reassure him but couldn’t. And then I knew no more.
The Lord took me.
I hope to hear from you soon.