The Four Just Men (1920)/PART 1/Chapter 13
Falmouth sat on the opposite side of the chief commissioner’s desk, his hands clasped before him. On the blotting-pad lay a thin sheet of grey notepaper.
The commissioner picked it up again and reread it.
“When you receive this,” it ran, “we who for want of a better title call ourselves ‘The Four Just Men’ will be scattered throughout Europe, and there is little likelihood of your ever tracing us. In no spirit of boastfulness we say: We have accomplished that which we set ourselves to accomplish. In no sense of hypocrisy we repeat our regret that such a step as we took was necessary.
“Sir Philip Ramon’s death would appear to have been an accident. This much we confess. Thery bungled—and paid the penalty. We depended too much upon his technical knowledge. Perhaps by diligent search you will solve the mystery of Sir Philip Ramon’s death—when such a search is rewarded you will realise the truth of this statement. Farewell.”
“It tells us nothing,” said the Commissioner.
Falmouth shook his head despairingly.
“Search!” he said bitterly; “we have searched the house in Downing Street from end to end—where else can we search?”
“Is there no paper amongst Sir Philip’s documents that might conceivably put you on the track?”
“None that we have seen.”
The chief bit the end of his pen thoughtfully.
“Has his country house been examined?”
“I didn’t think that necessary.”
“Nor Portland Place?”
“No: it was locked up at the time of the murder.”
The commissioner rose.
“Try Portland Place,” he advised. “At present it is in the hands of Sir Philip’s executors.”
The detective hailed a hansom, and in a quarter of an hour found himself knocking upon the gloomy portals of the late Foreign Secretary’s town house. A grave man-servant opened the door; it was Sir Philip’s butler, a man known to Falmouth, who greeted him with a nod.
“I want to make a search of the house, Perks,” he said. “Has anything been touched?”
The man shook his head.
“No, Mr Falmouth,” he replied, “everything is just as Sir Philip left it. The lawyer gentlemen have not even made an inventory.”
Falmouth walked through the chilly hall to the comfortable little room set apart for the butler.
“I should like to start with the study,” he said.
“I’m afraid there will be a difficulty, then, sir,” said Perks respectfully.
“Why?” demanded Falmouth sharply.
“It is the only room in the house for which we have no key. Sir Philip had a special lock for his study and carried the key with him. You see, being a cabinet minister, and a very careful man, he was very particular about people entering his study.”
Falmouth thought. A number of Sir Philip’s private keys were deposited at Scotland Yard. He scribbled a brief note to his chief and sent a footman by cab to the Yard.
Whilst he was waiting he sounded the butler.
“Where were you when the murder was committed, Perks?” he asked.
“In the country: Sir Philip sent away all the servants, you will remember.”
“And the house?”
“Was empty—absolutely empty.”
“Was there any evidence on your return that any person had effected an entrance?”
“None, sir; it would be next to impossible to burgle this house. There are alarm wires fixed communicating with the police station, and the windows are automatically locked.” “There were no marks on the doors or windows that would lead you to believe that an entrance had been attempted?”
The butler shook his head emphatically.
“None; in the course of my daily duty I make a very careful inspection of the paintwork, and I should have noticed any marks of the kind.”
In half an hour the footman, accompanied by a detective, returned, and Falmouth took from the plain-clothed officer a small bunch of keys.
The butler led the way to the first floor.
He indicated the study, a massive oaken door, fitted with a microscopic lock.
Very carefully Falmouth made his selection of keys. Twice he tried unsuccessfully, but at the third attempt the lock turned with a click, and the door opened noiselessly.
He stood for a moment at the entrance, for the room was in darkness.
“I forgot,” said Perks, “the shutters are closed—shall I open them?”
“If you please,” said the detective.
In a few minutes the room was flooded with light.
It was a plainly furnished apartment, rather similar in appearance to that in which the Foreign Secretary met his end. It smelt mustily of old leather, and the walls of the room were covered with bookshelves. In the centre stood a big mahogany writing-table, with bundles of papers neatly arranged.
Falmouth took a rapid and careful survey of this desk. It was thick with accumulated dust. At one end, within reach of the vacant chair stood an ordinary table telephone.
“No bells,” said Falmouth.
“No,” replied the butler. “Sir Philip disliked bells-there is a ‘buzzer’.”
“Of course,” he said quickly. “I remember—hullo!”
He bent forward eagerly.
“Why, what has happened to the telephone?”
He might well ask, for its steel was warped and twisted. Beneath where the vulcanite receiver stood was a tiny heap of black ash, and of the flexible cord that connected it with the outside world nothing remained but a twisted piece of discoloured wire.
The table on which it stood was blistered as with some great heat.
The detective drew a long breath.
He turned to his subordinate.
“Run across to Miller’s in Regent Street—the electrician—and ask Mr. Miller to come here at once.”
He was still standing gazing at the telephone when the electrician arrived.
“Mr Miller,” said Falmouth slowly, “what has happened to this telephone?”
The electrician adjusted his pince-nez and inspected the ruin.
“H’m,” he said, “it rather looks as though some linesman had been criminally careless.”
“Linesman? What do you mean?” demanded Falmouth.
“I mean the workmen engaged to fix telephone wires.” He made another inspection. “Cannot you see?” He pointed to the battered instrument.
“I see that the machine is entirely ruined—but why?”
The electrician stooped and picked up the scorched wire from the ground.
“What I mean is this,” he said. “Somebody has attached a wire carrying a high voltage—probably an electric-lighting wire—to this telephone line: and if anybody had happened to have been at——” He stopped suddenly, and his face went white. “Good God!” he whispered, “Sir Philip Ramon was electrocuted!”
For a while not one of the party spoke. Then Falmouth’s hand darted into his pocket and he drew out the little notebook which Billy Marks had stolen.
“That is the solution,” he cried; “here is the direction the wires took—but how is it that the telephone at Downing Street was not destroyed in a similar manner?”
The electrician, white and shaking, shook his head impatiently.
“I have given up trying to account for the vagaries of electricity,” he said; “besides, the current, the full force of the current, might have been diverted—a short circuit might have been effected—anything might have happened.”
“Wait!” said Falmouth eagerly. “Suppose the man making the connection had bungled—had taken the full force of the current himself—would that have brought about this result?”
“‘Thery bungled—and paid the penalty,’” quoted Falmouth slowly. “Ramon got a slight shock—sufficient to frighten him—he had a weak heart—the burn on his hand, the dead sparrows! By Heaven! it’s as clear as daylight!”
Later, a strong force of police raided the house in Carnaby Street, but they found nothing—except a half-smoked cigarette bearing the name of a London tobacconist, and the counterfoil of a passage ticket to New York.
It was marked per R.M.S. Lucania, and was for three first-class passengers.
When the Lucania arrived at New York she was searched from stem to stern, but the Four Just Men were not discovered.
It was Gonsalez who had placed the “clue” for the police to find.
Falmouth expressed the thought of the whole police department—of all the foreces of law and order—not so very long after this when, reviewing all the facts in the case of Sir Philip Ramon in a discussion with his chief, he suddenly burst out, “Think what it would mean if some time we might have these men working with us instead of against us!”