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Somewhere in France, Summer 1858

They invited the priest. Would you believe it? The priest!

There is a mirror in the mayor's office. My reflection looks at me with his emotionless eyes, his stiff moustache, his flawless uniform, all his shining brass. Distant, martial, a creature from another world. He is not fooling me. I know that beneath the shell of the distinguished officer arrived from the capital, he is just as frustrated as I am. I was respected, I was well connected, I was in line for a promotion. One mistake, and all of that is gone. Here I am, now, in this pathetic excuse for a town, sent to fix what can only be some ridiculous rural squabble.

I am about to be made aware of the trouble by the authorities of this place: the mayor, a stout old man who dresses like a gentleman and speaks like a peasant, the elderly sergeant in charge of maintaining the peace, and, of course, the parish priest. I am sure the reverend is an expert in matters of public security...

The mayor seems to have come to the end of his endless introduction and appears to have come to the point:

"You see, Captain, this is a community of honest people. Hard working, always voting for the government". I nod along, feigning the keenest interest. "So you can imagine the shock when we found out that four dangerous revolutionaries are hiding in our beautiful town".

It takes me a couple of seconds to realise what he is saying. Four revolutionaries? Here?

"Excuse me, Monsieur le Maire, what do you mean by revolutionaries?"

There you go: nothing like sounding stupid to inspire confidence in our loyal citizens.

The mayor looks genuinely surprised: "I don't understand, I thought you were aware of the problem. After all, the dossier that started the investigation came directly from Paris."

"Of course, of course. Wrong choice of words, I apologise. I am just trying to establish what you know about the issue." - For a moment, only a moment, my twin beyond the mirror lost his countenance. This is the most humiliating moment of my whole life. Why wasn't I told?

The mayor doesn't seem to have noticed my misery. With a gesture, he invites the sergeant to illustrate the situation. The old man jumps from his chair with unsuspected enthusiasm, laying the content of a leather folder on the table so vehemently that he comes dangerously close to toppling the reverend's cognac.

"Monsieur le Maire, Captain, this is what we know so far:" - he says, visibly excited - "four dangerous revolutionaries have established their residence in our peaceful community. They are known in their circles by the names of Brumaire, Pantagruel, Norbert and K89. We know that they are affiliates of the notorious agitators Louis Blanqui, Mikhail Bakunin, Karl Marx and Giuseppe Mazzini, although we are yet to draw the individual connections. We know that one of them is plotting to assassinate a member of the imperial family, and another one will try to plant a bomb in this very place, our beloved Town Hall."

The priest gasps and empties his glass in one gulp. I am speechless. I thought I was going to deal with some silly story of cattle rustlers, and all of the sudden I find myself involved in something much bigger than this squalid town.

"As for the other two, their plans are not as murderous but no less despicable. One is apparently aiding some fugitives to escape abroad, while the other is organising a shipment of vicious merchandise of some sort into our country."

"Do we know who these criminals are?" - I ask.

"Not at the moment. However, we have managed to identify five suspicious individuals:

  • Signor Ettore E., of Florence. We are aware of his affiliation with Mazzini, but we have no other information on his plans.
  • Monsieur Benôit B. He appears to be a wealthy gentleman, but he seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Besides, he often receives encrypted communications.
  • Madame Michelle M. She is a teacher in the local school. She has received encrypted communications in the past.
  • Herr Hans H. A Swiss cobbler with strange literary interests and even stranger acquaintances.
  • Miss Judith J. A well educated English lady. Nobody can explain her presence in town."

"So we have five suspects, but only four of them are our rebels?"

"Yes, sir. However, we are aware of suspicious traffic of information to and from five foreign countries. We suspect that the crooks could have backers in those countries".

"What countries?"

"Russia, Great Britain, Belgium, plus one of the Italian states and a German Kingdom."

"What elements do we currently have?" - I ask.

"Of course you will be aware of the four dispatches we have intercepted..."

"Of course" - I lie - "do you have them with you?"

"I do indeed. This is evidence 1. A letter addressed to Madame Michelle M., from a person in the Kingdom of Bavaria. It was intercepted and never delivered:"

EGNRTU OYUNRI TSDAIL TACPHS RUEOVY ELDATE YTOAUH CSOIVD DEARPE TTOOAL SASSIS ETEAMN SESREP NEIGEU SIRHIT TSRKIS REIGNG PNRUEG EDNETC ERPDRE ISOSNE AESLEP ATBSLE CHOSNI TCWAIT HTEHPT TTEORL NOVCIS TEHCEN AOBTAM NOTDHN ALNPTE HSAISH OIRRIP VOEYRT ORWUNO ETRNPE ESXIXR

"This is evidence 2. It is a telegram received by Monsieur Benôit B. The telegraph office has provided us with a copy."

TM EA IWR USJP LN OFGV KDQ HEZ AIW RU YS JPCL XFBT MNO GVH KDQ EZA IW RUS JP YL FCXV HB ETA IW RUS JPML FN O VHEA I WGR KUDS QZY CJ PLF V XH B EAI T MNO WGK R DUS QJP LF ZV YCH XBT ME NAOI GKD QW ZRU SJ Y PL CXB TF M VHEA IN O GWKD QZY RUC SJ XP B L FTV HME AIN WOGR K DUQZ YCX SJB PTL M FNV HO EAIG W RKUS JPL FD QV ZHE AY CIXW BRTU S JMNP O LG FKDV QZY HEA IW C RU XBT MS JN O GPKL DQZ FVY HCE X ABTI WMRU S JN PLF V OHGE KDQ ZA IWR US YJP L FCV HE XB TM A NIW RU SO G J PKL F D VHQ EZA YI C XBT WRU SM JP NL O FGKV H D E AQI WRU ZSJP LFY VCH XBE TAMN OGK IWD RQU SJP ZLY CXB FTVH MENO AG

"Evidence 3 was intercepted when we arrested a traveler with no identification document. The woman claimed that she did not know the sender nor the intended recipient. She was instructed to drop the envelope at a certain place and at a certain time."

ZTPNKH JZSKSN TAXVTR XLINYK SLSZCN XUJLBN QNZAYP STCZJL ZZJNYJ KURNSZ KYLZQL YZXNLI EZCTVX LZNYTG ULRUJQ NZYLSI TZJNXN IAVLZK TSLQRL ZNXKLQ JKIINS KSLVLX HTTGRL VJKSNU LXZYKC KQQZLP NVLXNT GZJNZX LSYUTX ZLZKTS ZTZJNO TXINXL YUXNBK TAYQEI KYVAYY NICJNS NBNXEZ JKSHKY XNLIEG TXZJNU LYYLHN KCKQQQ NZETAP STCZJX TAHJZJ NAYALQ VJLSSN QYZJNX NKYYTR NZJKSH NQYNLG XKNSIK SOXAHN YJLYON NSVTSZ LVZNIO EYTRNN SHQKYJ HNSZQN RNSCJT CTAQIQ KPNZTT XHLSKY NLZXKU ZTOXKZ LKSGTX YTRNBN XEKSZN XNYZKS HULYYN SHNXYG XTRGXL SVNKZY NNRYQK PNYTRN TGZJNR CKQQZX LBNQZJ XTAHJE TAXQKZ ZQNZTC SKZCTA QIONJN QUGAQK GETAVT AQIZXE ZTGKSI TAZCJT LXNCNI NLQKSH CKZJUN XJLUYE TAVTAQ ILYPOX ARLKXN TXNBNS ETAXLS LXVJKY ZGXKNS IGXLZN XSLQQE OGTAXT SNXXXX

"Evidence 4 was handed over by a local farmer who shot the pigeon that carried it. Again, the sender and the intended recipient are unknown."

NDSK HSFMSPKODB,

ZOLM S IDU BYFDL MG DFLOKD WGO MTSM SIMDK MTD DSKBW HKGEBDCL Y UKGMD SEGOM YF CW BSLM CDLLSPD MTD BYMMBD HKGZDRM UD SKD UGKAYFP GF YL HKGRDDNYFP UYMTGOM IOKMTDK NDBSWL. WGOK NSOPTMDK YL MTD EDLM GKPSFYLDK UD TSQD DQDK TSN. WGO TSQD SBB MTD KYPTM MG ED S HKGON ISMTDK. MTD YFIGKCSMYGF WGO HSLLDN GF YF WGOK BSLM BDMMDK TSL BDIM DQDKWGFD KSMTDK EDCOLDN. UD RSFFGM OFNDKLMSFN UTW S EBSFJOYLM HBGM UGOBN KDRDYQD IOFNYFPL IKGC LSKNYFYS. GI RGOKLD, LYFRD WGO SKD LG RGFIYNDFM MTSM MTSM CSKVYLM CSF YL MDBBYFP WGO MTD MKOMT, UD TSQD FG KDSLGF MG NGOEM YM. WGOKL LYFRDKDBW,

PSKPSFMOS

"Have you made any progress in their decryption?" - I ask, now almost excited.

"No, sir. We don't have the resources for that. That's why we asked for support from the Capital."

I sigh. This is more than I bargained for. However, if somehow I manage to link each of these suspects with their codename, their political affiliation, their plot, and the nationality of their backers, we will have a solid case against these subversive individuals and, most importantly, I will have something juicy to bring back to my superiors. And who knows? Perhaps my past mistakes will be forgotten.

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You should arrest

everyone except Benoit, probably going after Michelle first for your own safety and then Judith because of the severity of what she is planning to do. ("The female of the species is deadlier than the male.") You might also want to congratulate Benoit on his forthcoming marriage and promotion.

Let's begin with the decryption.

Message 1

is a pretty straightforward transposition cipher, where each group of 6 letters ABCDEF needs to be read in order FDBACE. This yields: "Urgent: In your last dispatch you revealed that you discovered a plot to assassinate Empress Eugenie. This risks triggering unprecedented repression. Please establish contact with the plotters, convince them to abandon the plan. This has priority over our own enterprise." (Along with two "X"s as padding at the end.) Clearly Mme. M. M. is not the revolutionary who is plotting to assassinate a member of the Imperial family. Seems unlikely to be the Mazzinist, who I'd have thought would only be concerned with Italian internal affairs, but that's pretty subjective.

Message 2

is decoded as follows: write everything in (modern) Morse code, take just the first symbol of each letter, group those together by words and interpret as Morse letters. We get: "Misha -- Cousin Fyodor is in Paris. Father consents to wedding on condition that you interrupt your travels and accept a position at court. Please consider immediate return to Saint Petersburg. Yours, Kolya." So perhaps Benôit B is actually a Russian named Mikhail. Does that help us? He can't literally be Bakunin, who in 1858 was in exile in Siberia. At face value the message contains nothing suspicious, though plenty of things here could have secret meanings of one sort or another.

Message 3

is a simple substitution cipher, the substitution being determined in the usual way by the keyword LOVING (which I'm guessing doesn't carry any useful information). The message is: "To K Eight Nine: Our comrades in Antwerp have let us know that the shipment is at last ready: two crates of pamphlets and other education material hidden in a cargo of machine parts. I will take care of the transportation to the border as previously discussed. When everything is ready for the passage, I will let you know through the usual channels. There is something else: a friend in Bruges has been contacted by some English gentlemen who would like to organize a trip to Britain for some very interesting passengers from France; it seems like some of them will travel through your little town. It would be helpful if you could try to find out who are we dealing with. Perhaps you could ask Brumaire or even your anarchist friend. Fraternally, B Four One." So K89, whatever their public identity may be, is not an anarchist (which I guess means not a follower of Bakunin since Marx, Mazzini and Blanqui weren't anarchists), and neither is Brumaire. It sounds as if the "interesting passengers from France" are the ones planning to bomb this town. The term "Comrade" suggests but doesn't prove that this is the Marxist. Oh, and Antwerp is in Belgium.

Message 4

is another simple substitution cipher, the substitution being derived from keyword SERENDIPITY which again I guess is not itself informative. It says: "Dear Pantagruel, just a few lines to ensure you that after the early problems I wrote about in my last message the little project we are working on is proceeding without further delays. Your daughter is the best organiser we have ever had. You have all the right to be a proud father. The information you passed on in your last letter has left everyone rather bemused. We cannot understand why a Blanquist plot would receive fundings from Sardinia. Of course, since you are so confident that that Marxist man is telling you the truth, we have no reason to doubt it. Yours sincerely, Gargantua". So Pantagruel is neither the Blanquist nor the Marxist. It seems Pantagruel is male, unless the "daughter" is some weird metaphor.

OK, let's now see what inferences we can draw. First of all,

I'm going to take it that Benoit B = Misha, the recipient of message 2, is not any sort of revolutionary despite his use of at least one false name, since apparently he is considering taking up a position at the Russian court. I'm not sure how justifiable this is, but I think we need it in order to get a solution. I think we also need to assume that no one is lying, no one is a double agent, there aren't any plots afoot other than the ones we know about, and words like "father" and "daughter" and "wedding" mean what they say rather than being code for other things. Maybe we can also assume that "Benoit"'s innocent communications with Russia are a complete explanation of the suspicious communications with that nation, so the other four nations mentioned are the ones we need to worry about.

Now

the "Marxist man" (4) is not Benoit; neither is he Ettore, who is a known Mazzinist; so he must be Hans. (The other two suspects are not men.) And now Pantagruel, a "proud father" (4) and hence also a man, must be Ettore, the Mazzinist.

There is

a Blanquist plot funded from Sardinia. This can't involve Benoit (deemed innocent) or Michelle (whose associates are in Bavaria) or Ettore (who is a Mazzinist) or Hans (who is a Marxist). So this one is Judith.

At this point we know that

Ettore is a Mazzinist, Benoit is innocent, Hans is a Marxist and Judith is a Blanquist. Therefore Michelle is the Bakuninite anarchist.

Now, Michelle

is not plotting assassination (message 1), pamphlet-smuggling (message 3), or extracting fugitives (message 3). So she is the one with the bomb plot.

And K89,

with the pamphlets and the Belgian connections, is not Ettore (who is Pantagruel) or Benoit (who is innocent) or Michelle (whose connections are Bavarian) or Judith (whose connections are Sardinian). So this one is Hans, the Marxist. Now we've assigned countries to everyone other than Ettore, who must be the one with British connections.

This means,

by message 3, that Ettore is the one helping fugitives escape, and now we've assigned plots (or absence-of-plots) to everyone but Judith, whose Sardinian-funded Blanquist plot is apparently the assassination.

At this point the only thing we haven't figured out is a couple of the codenames:

Michelle and Judith are Norbert and Brumaire. But from message 3 we know that Brumaire isn't the anarchist, and we have found that Michelle is the anarchist. So Judith is Brumaire, and Michelle is Norbert. (Should it be surprising that Norbert turns out to be female?)

And now we know everything:

Ettore, also known as Pantagruel, is a Mazzinist running a British plot to smuggle fugitives out of France.
Benoit is not involved in the plots; he is a Russian nobleman travelling incognito, which explains the suspicious communications to and from Russia.
Michelle, also known as Norbert, is a Bakuninite anarchist funded by Bavarians, plotting to blow up the town hall.
Hans, also known as K89, is a Marxist with Belgian connections plotting to smuggle subversive literature.
Judith, also known as Brumaire, is a Blanquist funded for unknown reasons by some Sardinians in a plot to assassinate the Empress, a plot that even the anarchists regard as unwise.

Some stereotypes are confirmed here:

the anarchists are running a bomb plot, Brumaire belongs to a specifically French revolutionary group, and the Marxists are the ones calling one another "comrade".

Credit where due:

Stiv suggested that word lengths 1-4 are suggestive of Morse letters. David G observed that the telegram would have been in Morse already and that we should use it in that form. I don't think Stiv had figured out the correct treatment, but perhaps David G had :-).

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  • $\begingroup$ For 2, have you considered rot13(Zbefr pbqr? Guvf jbhyq rkcynva gur yratgu 1-4... Cbffvoyl fbzr yrggref pna or genafyngrq nf qbgf naq bguref qnfurf, znlor nygreangr yrggref be gur gjb unyirf be yrggref jvgu n pybfrq pbhagre ner n qbg... abg fher, unira'g gevrq vg lrg, ohg tvira vg'f n GRYRTENZ guvf zvtug or jbeg vairfgvtngvat?) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Jun 17 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ I have, indeed, but I was thinking rot13(va grezf bs genafyngvat jbeq-yratguf vagb flzobyf fbzrubj), which seems not to work at all. The idea of rot13(gheavat rnpu yrggre vagb n Zbefr qbg be qnfu) seems very, very plausible. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 17 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ rot13(Znccvat yrggref gb {.,-} nppbeqvat gb (1) cnevgl bs yrggre ahzore naq (2) jurgure gur yrggre vf va gur svefg 13 yrggref bs gur nycunorg) doesn't seem to work. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 17 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ It's a cause of some concern that rot13(gur anzrf ABEOREG naq OEHZNVER, juvpu V guvax ner gur gjb jub nera'g gur vagraqrq erpvcvragf bs bgure zrffntrf, lvryq frdhraprf bs Zbefr yrggre yratguf gung qba'g nccrne naljurer va zrffntr 2). $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 17 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ rot13(Gur fnzr vf gehr bs CNAGNTEHRY jub vf gur erpvcvrag bs zrffntr 4 ohg zvtug unir orra zragvbarq va zrffntr 2 naljnl.) $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 17 at 22:45

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