The Four Just Men - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Four Just Men ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Written in 1905, it is one of Wallace’s many popular thriller novels. „Four Just Men” was the start of a series about a determined band of European vigilantes who decide to kill off people in the world whom the law cannot punish. Their ingenuity and ability to keep several steps ahead of those who would thwart them, including police, are the essence of the plot. When the British Foreign Secretary Sir Philip Ramon decides to push through a law which will allow the enforced return of political refugees to their countries of origin, he becomes a target of The Four Just Men. These are iconic stories of adventure, intrigue and retribution set in the time immediately following the First World War. Highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle.

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Liczba stron: 186

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Contents

PROLOGUE—THERY'S TRADE

I. A NEWSPAPER STORY

II. THE FAITHFUL COMMONS

III. ONE THOUSAND POUNDS REWARD

IV. PREPARATIONS

V. THE OUTRAGE AT THE 'MEGAPHONE'

VI. THE CLUES

VII. THE MESSENGER OF THE FOUR

VIII. THE POCKET-BOOK

IX. THE CUPIDITY OF MARKS

X. THREE WHO DIED

XI. A NEWSPAPER CUTTING

XII. CONCLUSION

PROLOGUE–THERY’S TRADE

IF you leave the Plaza del Mina, go down the narrow street, where, from ten till four, the big flag of the United States Consulate hangs lazily; through the square on which the Hotel de la France fronts, round by the Church of Our Lady, and along the clean, narrow thoroughfare that is the High Street of Cadiz, you will come to the Café of the Nations.

At five o’clock there will be few people in the broad, pillared saloon, and usually the little round tables that obstruct the sidewalk before its doors are untenanted.

In the late summer (in the year of the famine) four men sat about one table and talked business.

Leon Gonsalez was one, Poiccart was another, George Manfred was a notable third, and one, Thery, or Saimont, was the fourth. Of this quartet, only Thery requires no introduction to the student of contemporary history. In the Bureau of Public Affairs you will find his record. As Thery, alias Saimont, he is registered.

You may, if you are inquisitive, and have the necessary permission, inspect his photograph taken in eighteen positions–with his hands across his broad chest, full faced, with a three-days’ growth of beard, profile, with–but why enumerate the whole eighteen?

There are also photographs of his ears–and very ugly, bat-shaped ears they are–and a long and comprehensive story of his life.

Signor Paolo Mantegazza, Director of the National Museum of Anthropology, Florence, has done Thery the honour of including him in his admirable work (see chapter on ‘Intellectual Value of a Face’); hence I say that to all students of criminology and physiognomy, Thery must need no introduction.

He sat at a little table, this man, obviously ill at ease, pinching his fat cheeks, smoothing his shaggy eyebrows, fingering the white scar on his unshaven chin, doing all the things that the lower classes do when they suddenly find themselves placed on terms of equality with their betters.

For although Gonsalez, with the light blue eyes and the restless hands, and Poiccart, heavy, saturnine, and suspicious, and George Manfred, with his grey-shot beard and single eyeglass, were less famous in the criminal world, each was a great man, as you shall learn.

Manfred laid down the Heraldo di Madrid, removed his eyeglass, rubbed it with a spotless handkerchief, and laughed quietly.

“These Russians are droll,” he commented.

Poiccart frowned and reached for the newspaper. “Who is it–this time?”

“A governor of one of the Southern Provinces.”

“Killed?”

Manfred’s moustache curled in scornful derision.

“Bah! Who ever killed a man with a bomb! Yes, yes; I know it has been done–but so clumsy, so primitive, so very much like undermining a city wall that it may fall and slay–amongst others–your enemy.”

Poiccart was reading the telegram deliberately and without haste, after his fashion.

“The Prince was severely injured and the would-be assassin lost an arm,” he read, and pursed his lips disapprovingly. The hands of Gonsalez, never still, opened and shut nervously, which was Leon’s sign of perturbation.

“Our friend here”–Manfred jerked his head in the direction of Gonsalez and laughed–“our friend has a conscience and–”

“Only once,” interrupted Leon quickly, “and not by my wish you remember, Manfred; you remember, Poiccart”–he did not address Thery–“I advised against it. You remember?” He seemed anxious to exculpate himself from the unspoken charge. “It was a miserable little thing, and I was in Madrid,” he went on breathlessly, “and they came to me, some men from a factory at Barcelona. They said what they were going to do, and I was horror-stricken at their ignorance of the elements of the laws of chemistry. I wrote down the ingredients and the proportions, and begged them, yes, almost on my knees, to use some other method. ‘My children,’ I said, ‘you are playing with something that even chemists are afraid to handle. If the owner of the factory is a bad man, by all means exterminate him, shoot him, wait on him after he has dined and is slow and dull, and present a petition with the right hand and–with the left hand–so!’” Leon twisted his knuckles down and struck forward and upward at an imaginary oppressor. “But they would listen to nothing I had to say.”

Manfred stirred the glass of creamy liquid that stood at his elbow and nodded his head with an amused twinkle in his grey eyes.

“I remember–several people died, and the principal witness at the trial of the expert in explosives was the man for whom the bomb was intended.”

Thery cleared his throat as if to speak, and the three looked at him curiously. There was some resentment in Thery’s voice.

“I do not profess to be a great man like you, señors. Half the time I don’t understand what you are talking about–you speak of governments and kings and constitutions and causes. If a man does me an injury I smash his head”–he hesitated–“I do not know how to say it... but I mean... well, you kill people without hating them, men who have not hurt you. Now, that is not my way... “ He hesitated again, tried to collect his thoughts, looked intently at the middle of the roadway, shook his head, and relapsed into silence.

The others looked at him, then at one another, and each man smiled. Manfred took a bulky case from his pocket, extracted an untidy cigarette, re-rolled it deftly and struck a government match on the sole of his boot.

“Your-way-my-dear-Thery”–he puffed–“is a fool’s way. You kill for benefit; we kill for justice, which lifts us out of the ruck of professional slayers. When we see an unjust man oppressing his fellows; when we see an evil thing done against the good God”–Thery crossed himself–“and against man–and know that by the laws of man this evildoer may escape punishment–we punish.”

“Listen,” interrupted the taciturn Poiccart: “once there was a girl, young and beautiful, up there”–he waved his hand northward with unerring instinct–“and a priest–a priest, you understand–and the parents winked at it because it is often done... but the girl was filled with loathing and shame, and would not go a second time, so he trapped her and kept her in a house, and then when the bloom was off turned her out, and I found her. She was nothing to me, but I said, ‘Here is a wrong that the law cannot adequately right.’ So one night I called on the priest with my hat over my eyes and said that I wanted him to come to a dying traveller. He would not have come then, but I told him that the dying man was rich and was a great person. He mounted the horse I had brought, and we rode to a little house on the mountain... I locked the door and he turned round–so! Trapped, and he knew it. ‘What are you going to do?’ he said with a gasping noise. ‘I am going to kill you, señor,’ I said, and he believed me. I told him the story of the girl... He screamed when I moved towards him, but he might as well have saved his breath. ‘Let me see a priest,’ he begged; and I handed him–a mirror.”

Poiccart stopped to sip his coffee.

“They found him on the road next day without a mark to show how he died,” he said simply.

“How?” Thery bent forward eagerly, but Poiccart permitted himself to smile grimly, and made no response.

Thery bent his brows and looked suspiciously from one to the other.

“Government, and there are men whom the Government have never heard of. You remember one Garcia, Manuel Garcia, leader in the Carlist movement; he is in England; it is the only country where he is safe; from England he directs the movement here, the great movement. You know of what I speak?”

Thery nodded.

“This year as well as last there has been a famine, men have been dying about the church doors, starving in the public squares; they have watched corrupt Government succeed corrupt Government; they have seen millions flow from the public treasury into the pockets of politicians. This year something will happen; the old regime must go. The Government know this; they know where the danger lies, they know their salvation can only come if Garcia is delivered into their hands before the organisation for revolt is complete. But Garcia is safe for the present and would be safe for all time were it not for a member of the English Government, who is about to introduce and pass into law a Bill. When that is passed, Garcia is as good as dead. You must help us to prevent that from ever becoming law; that is why we have sent for you.”

Thery looked bewildered. “But how?” he stammered.

Manfred drew a paper from his pocket and handed it to Thery. “This, I think,” he said, speaking deliberately, “is an exact copy of the police description of yourself.” Thery nodded. Manfred leant over and, pointing to a word that occurred half way down the sheet, “Is that your trade?” he asked.

Thery looked puzzled. “Yes,” he replied.

“Do you really know anything about that trade?” asked Manfred earnestly; and the other two men leant forward to catch the reply.

“I know,” said Thery slowly, “everything there is to be known: had it not been for a–mistake I might have earned great money.”

Manfred heaved a sigh of relief and nodded to his two companions.

“Then,” said he briskly, “the English Minister is a dead man.”

I. A NEWSPAPER STORY

ON the fourteenth day of August, 19–, a tiny paragraph appeared at the foot of an unimportant page in London’s most sober journal to the effect that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had been much annoyed by the receipt of a number of threatening letters, and was prepared to pay a reward of fifty pounds to any person who would give such information as would lead to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons, etc. The few people who read London’s most sober journal thought, in their ponderous Athenaeum Club way, that it was a remarkable thing that a Minister of State should be annoyed at anything; more remarkable that he should advertise his annoyance, and most remarkable of all that he could imagine for one minute that the offer of a reward would put a stop to the annoyance.

News editors of less sober but larger circulated newspapers, wearily scanning the dull columns of Old Sobriety, read the paragraph with a newly acquired interest.

“Hullo, what’s this?” asked Smiles of the Comet, and cut out the paragraph with huge shears, pasted it upon a sheet of copy-paper and headed it:

Who is Sir Philip’s Correspondent?

As an afterthought–the Comet being in Opposition–he prefixed an introductory paragraph, humorously suggesting that the letters were from an intelligent electorate grown tired of the shilly-shallying methods of the Government.

The news editor of the Evening World–a white-haired gentleman of deliberate movement–read the paragraph twice, cut it out carefully, read it again and, placing it under a paperweight, very soon forgot all about it.

The news editor of the Megaphone, which is a very bright newspaper indeed, cut the paragraph as he read it, rang a bell, called a reporter, all in a breath, so to speak, and issued a few terse instructions.

“Go down to Portland Place, try to see Sir Philip Ramon, secure the story of that paragraph–why he is threatened, what he is threatened with; get a copy of one of the letters if you can. If you cannot see Ramon, get hold of a secretary.”

And the obedient reporter went forth.

He returned in an hour in that state of mysterious agitation peculiar to the reporter who has got a ‘beat’. The news editor duly reported to the Editor-in-Chief, and that great man said, “That’s very good, that’s very good indeed”–which was praise of the highest order.

What was ‘very good indeed’ about the reporter’s story may be gathered from the half-column that appeared in the Megaphone on the following day:

CABINET MINISTER IN DANGER THREATS TO MURDER THE FOREIGN SECRETARY ‘THE FOUR JUST MEN’ PLOT TO ARREST THE PASSAGE OF THE ALIENS EXTRADITION BILL EXTRAORDINARY REVELATIONS

Considerable comment was excited by the appearance in the news columns of yesterday’s National Journal of the following paragraph:

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Philip Ramon) has during the past few weeks been the recipient of threatening letters, all apparently emanating from one source and written by one person. These letters are of such a character that they cannot be ignored by his Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who hereby offers a reward of Fifty pounds (L50) to any person or persons, other than the actual writer, who will lay such information as will lead to the apprehension and conviction of the author of these anonymous letters.

So unusual was such an announcement, remembering that anonymous and threatening letters are usually to be found daily in the letter-bags of every statesman and diplomat, that the Daily Megaphone immediately instituted inquiries as to the cause for this unusual departure.

A representative of this newspaper called at the residence of Sir Philip Ramon, who very courteously consented to be seen.

“It is quite an unusual step to take,” said the great Foreign Secretary, in answer to our representative’s question, “but it has been taken with the full concurrence of my colleagues of the Cabinet. We have reasons to believe there is something behind the threats, and I might say that the matter has been in the hands of the police for some weeks past.

“Here is one of the letters,” and Sir Philip produced a sheet of foreign notepaper from a portfolio, and was good enough to allow our representative to make a copy.

It was undated, and beyond the fact that the handwriting was of the flourishing effeminate variety that is characteristic of the Latin races, it was written in good English.

It ran:

Your Excellency,–

The Bill that you are about to pass into law is an unjust one... It is calculated to hand over to a corrupt and vengeful Government men who now in England find an asylum from the persecutions of despots and tyrants. We know that in England opinion is divided upon the merits of your Bill, and that upon your strength, and your strength alone, depends the passing into law of the Aliens Political Offences Bill.

Therefore it grieves us to warn you that unless your Government withdraws this Bill, it will be necessary to remove you, and not alone you, but any other person who undertakes to carry into law this unjust measure.

(Signed) FOUR JUST MEN.

“The Bill referred to,” Sir Philip resumed, “is of course the Aliens Extradition (Political Offences) Bill, which, had it not been for the tactics of the Opposition, might have passed quietly into law last session.”

Sir Philip went on to explain that the Bill was called into being by the insecurity of the succession in Spain.

“It is imperative that neither England nor any other country should harbour propagandists who, from the security of these, or other shores, should set Europe ablaze. Coincident with the passage of this measure similar Acts or proclamations have been made in every country in Europe. In fact, they are all in existence, having been arranged to come into law simultaneously with ours, last session.”

“Why do you attach importance to these letters?” asked the Daily Megaphone representative.

“Because we are assured, both by our own police and the continental police, that the writers are men who are in deadly earnest. The ‘Four just men’, as they sign themselves, are known collectively in almost every country under the sun. Who they are individually we should all very much like to know. Rightly or wrongly, they consider that justice as meted out here on earth is inadequate, and have set themselves about correcting the law. They were the people who assassinated General Trelovitch, the leader of the Servian Regicides: they hanged the French Army Contractor, Conrad, in the Place de la Concorde–with a hundred policemen within call. They shot Hermon le Blois, the poet-philosopher, in his study for corrupting the youth of the world with his reasoning.”

The Foreign Secretary then handed to our representative a list of the crimes committed by this extraordinary quartet.

Our readers will recollect the circumstance of each murder, and it will be remembered that until today–so closely have the police of the various nationalities kept the secret of the Four Men–no one crime has been connected with the other; and certainly none of the circumstances which, had they been published, would have assuredly revealed the existence of this band, have been given to the public before today.

The Daily Megaphone is able to publish a full list of sixteen murders committed by the four men.

“Two years ago, after the shooting of le Blois, by some hitch in their almost perfect arrangements, one of the four was recognised by a detective as having been seen leaving le Blois’s house on the Avenue Kleber, and he was shadowed for three days, in the hope, that the four might be captured together. In the end he discovered he was being watched, and made a bolt for liberty. He was driven to bay in a café in Bordeaux–they had followed him from Paris: and before he was killed he shot a sergeant de ville and two other policemen. He was photographed, and the print was circulated throughout Europe, but who he was or what he was, even what nationality he was, is a mystery to this day.”

“But the four are still in existence?”

Sir Philip shrugged his shoulders. “They have either recruited another, or they are working shorthanded,” he said.

In conclusion the Foreign Secretary said:

“I am making this public through the Press, in order that the danger which threatens, not necessarily myself, but any public man who runs counter to the wishes of this sinister force, should be recognised. My second reason is that the public may in its knowledge assist those responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the execution of their office, and by their vigilance prevent the committal of further unlawful acts.”

Inquiries subsequently made at Scotland Yard elicited no further information on the subject beyond the fact that the Criminal Investigation Department was in communication with the chiefs of the continental police.

The following is a complete list of the murders committed by the Four Just Men, together with such particulars as the police have been able to secure regarding the cause for the crimes. We are indebted to the Foreign Office for permission to reproduce the list.

London, October 7, 1899.–Thomas Cutler, master tailor, found dead under suspicious circumstances. Coroner’s jury returned a verdict of ‘Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.’

(Cause of murder ascertained by police: Cutler, who was a man of some substance, and whose real name was Bentvitch, was a sweater of a particularly offensive type. Three convictions under the Factory Act. Believed by the police there was a further and more intimate cause for the murder not unconnected with Cutler’s treatment of women employees.)

Liege, February 28,1900.–Jacques Ellerman, prefect: shot dead returning from the Opera House. Ellerman was a notorious evil liver, and upon investigating his affairs after his death it was found that he had embezzled nearly a quarter of a million francs of the public funds.

Seattle (Kentucky), October, 1900.–Judge Anderson. Found dead in his room, strangled. Anderson had thrice been tried for his life on charges of murder. He was the leader of the Anderson faction in the Anderson-Hara feud. Had killed in all seven of the Hara clan, was three times indicted and three times released on a verdict of Not Guilty. It will be remembered that on the last occasion, when charged with the treacherous murder of the Editor of the Seattle Star, he shook hands with the packed jury and congratulated them.

New York, October 30, 1900.–Patrick Welch, a notorious grafter and stealer of public moneys. Sometime City Treasurer; moving spirit in the infamous Street Paving Syndicate; exposed by the New York Journal. Welch was found hanging in a little wood on Long Island. Believed at the time to have been suicide.

Paris, March 4, 1901.–Madame Despard. Asphyxiated. This also was regarded as suicide till certain information came to hands of French police. Of Madame Despard nothing good can be said. She was a notorious ‘dealer in souls’.

Paris, March 4, 1902 (exactly a year later).–Monsieur Gabriel Lanfin, Minister of Communication. Found shot in his brougham in the Bois de Boulogne. His coachman was arrested but eventually discharged. The man swore he heard no shot or cry from his master. It was raining at the time, and there were few pedestrians in the Bois.

(Here followed ten other cases, all on a par with those quoted above, including the cases of Trelovitch and le Blois.)

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