The Four Just Men (1920)/Part 2/Chapter 7
THE GOVERNMENT AND MR. JESSEN
In recording the events that followed the reappearance of the Four Just Men, I have confined myself to those which I know to have been the direct outcome of the Red Hundred propaganda and the counter-activity of the Four Just Men.
Thus I make no reference to the explosion at Woolwich Arsenal, which was credited to the Red Hundred, knowing, as I do, that the calamity was due to the carelessness of a workman. Nor to the blowing up of the main in Oxford Street, which was a much more simple explanation than the fantastic theories of the Megaphone would have you imagine. This was not the first time that a fused wire and a leaking gas main brought about the upheaval of a public thoroughfare, and the elaborate plot with which organized anarchy was credited was without existence.
I think the most conscientiously accurate history of the Red Hundred movement is that set forth in the series of ten articles contributed to the Morning Leader by Harold Ashton under the title of “Forty Days of Terrorism”, and, whilst I think the author frequently fails from lack of sympathy for the Four Just Men to thoroughly appreciate the single-mindedness of this extraordinary band of men, yet I shall always regard “Forty Days of Terrorism” as being the standard history of the movement, and its failure.
On one point in the history alone I find myself in opposition to Mr. Ashton, and that is the exact connection between the discovery of the Carlby Mansion Tragedy, and the extraordinary return of Mr. Jessen of 37 Presley Street.
It is perhaps indiscreet of me to refer at so early a stage to this return of Jessen’s, because whilst taking exception to the theories put forward in “Forty Days of Terrorism”, I am not prepared to go into the evidence on which I base my theories.
The popular story is that one morning Mr. Jessen walked out of his house and demanded from the astonished milkman why he had omitted to leave his morning supply. Remembering that the disappearance of “Long”—perhaps it would be less confusing to call him the name by which he was known in Presley Street—had created an extraordinary sensation; that pictures of his house and the interior of his house had appeared in all the newspapers; that the newspaper crime experts had published columns upon columns of speculative theories, and that 37 Presley Street, had for some weeks been the Mecca of the morbid minded, who, standing outside, stared the unpretentious façade out of countenance for hours on end; you may imagine that the milkman legend had the exact journalistic touch that would appeal to a public whose minds had been trained by generations of magazine-story writers to just such dénouement as this.
The truth is that Mr. Long, upon coming to life, went immediately to the Home Office and told his story to the Under Secretary. He did not drive up in a taxi, nor was he lifted out in a state of exhaustion as one newspaper had erroneously had it, but he arrived on the top of a motor omnibus which passed the door, and was ushered into the Presence almost at once. When Mr. Long had told his story he was taken to the Home Secretary himself, and the chief commissioner was sent for, and came hurriedly from Scotland Yard, accompanied by Superintendent Falmouth. All this is made clear in Mr. Ashton’s book.
“For some extraordinary reason,” I quote the same authority, “Long, or Jessen, seems by means of documents in his possession to have explained to the satisfaction of the Home Secretary and the Police Authorities his own position in the matter, and moreover to have inspired the right hon. gentleman with these mysterious documents, that Mr. Ridgeway, so far from accepting the resignation that Jessen placed in his hands, reinstated him in his position.”
As to how two of these documents came to Jessen or to the Four Just Men, Mr. Ashton is very wisely silent, not attempting to solve a mystery which puzzled both the Quai d’Orsay and Petrograd. For these two official forms, signed in the one case by the French President and in the other with the sprawling signature of Czar Nicholas, were supposed to be incorporated with other official memoranda in well-guarded national archives.
It was subsequent to Mr. Jessen”s visit to the Home Office that the discovery of the Carlby Mansions Tragedy was made, and I cannot do better than quote the Times, since that journal, jealous of the appearance in its columns of any news of a sensational character, reduced the intelligence to its most constricted limits. Perhaps the Megaphone account might make better reading, but the space at my disposal will not allow of the inclusion in this book of the thirty-three columns of reading matter, headlines, portraits, and diagrammatic illustrations with which that enterprising journal served up particulars of the grisly horror to its readers.
Thus, the Times:—
“Shortly after one o”clock yesterday afternoon and in consequence of information received, Superintendent Falmouth, of the Criminal Investigation Department, accompanied by Detective-Sergeants Boyle and Lawley, effected an entrance into No. 69, Carlby Mansions, occupied by the Countess Slienvitch, a young Russian lady of independent means. Lying on the floor were the bodies of three men who have since been identified as—
“Lauder Bartholomew, aged 33, late of the Koondorp Mounted Rifles;
“Rudolph Starque, aged 40, believed to be an Austrian and a prominent revolutionary propagandist;
“Henri Delaye Francois, aged 36, a Frenchman, also believed to have been engaged in propaganda work.
“The cause of death in the case of Bartholomew seems to be evident, but with the other two men some doubt exists, and the police, who preserve an attitude of rigid reticence, will await the medical examination before making any statement.
“One unusual feature of the case is understood to be contained in a letter found in the room accepting, on behalf of an organization known as the Four Just Men, full responsibility for the killing of the two foreigners, and another, writes a correspondent, is the extraordinary structural damage to the room itself. The tenant, the Countess Slienvitch, had not, up to a late hour last night, been traced.”
Superintendent Falmouth, standing in the centre of the room, from which most traces of the tragedy had been removed, was mainly concerned with the “structural damage” that the Times so lightly passed over.
At his feet yawned a great square hole, and beneath, in the empty flat below, was a heap of plaster and laths, and the débris of destruction.
“The curious thing is, and it shows how thorough these men are,” explained the superintendent to his companion, “that the first thing we found when we got there was a twenty-pound note pinned to the wall with a brief note in pencil saying that this was to pay the owner of the property for the damage.”
It may be added that by the express desire of the young man at his side he dispensed with all ceremony of speech.
Once or twice in speaking, he found himself on the verge of saying, “Your Highness”, but the young man was so kindly, and so quickly put the detective at his ease, that he overcame the feeling of annoyance that the arrival of the distinguished visitor with the letter from the commissioner had caused him, and became amiable.
“Of course, I have an interest in all this,” said the young man quietly; “these people, for some reason, have decided I am not fit to encumber the earth——”
“What have you done to the Red Hundred, sir?”
The young man laughed.
“Nothing. On the contrary,” he added with a whimsical smile, “I have helped them.”
The detective remembered that this hereditary Prince of the Escorial bore a reputation for eccentricity.
With a suddenness which was confusing, the Prince turned with a smile on his lips.
“You are thinking of my dreadful reputation?”
“No, no!” disclaimed the embarrassed Mr. Falmouth. “I——”
“Oh, yes—I”ve done lots of things,” said the other with a little laugh; “it’s in the blood—my illustrious cousin——”
“I assure your Highness,” said Falmouth impressively, “my reflections were not—er—reflections on yourself—there is a story that you have dabbled in socialism—but that, of course——”
“Is perfectly true,” concluded the Prince calmly. He turned his attention to the hole in the floor.
“Have you any theory?” he asked.
The detective nodded.
It’s more than a theory—it’s knowledge—you see we’ve seen Jessen, and the threads of the story are all in hand.”
“What will you do?”
“Nothing,” said the detective stolidly; “hush up the inquest until we can lay the Four Just Men by the heels.”
“And the manner of killing?”
“That must be kept quiet,” replied Falmouth emphatically. This conversation may furnish a clue as to the unprecedented conduct of the police at the subsequent inquest.
In the little coroner’s court there was accommodation for three pressmen and some fifty of the general public. Without desiring in any way to cast suspicion upon the cleanest police force in the world, I can only state that the jury were remarkably well disciplined, that the general public found the body of the court so densely packed with broad-shouldered men that they were unable to obtain admission. As to the press, the confidential circular had done its work, and the three shining lights of journalism that occupied the reporters” desk were careful to carry out instructions.
The proceedings lasted a very short time, a verdict, “… some person or persons unknown,” was recorded, and another London mystery was added (I quote from the Evening News) to the already alarming and formidable list of unpunished crimes.
Charles Garrett was one of the three journalists admitted to the inquest, and after it was all over he confronted Falmouth.
“Look here, Falmouth,” he said pugnaciously, “what’s the racket?” Falmouth, having reason to know, and to an extent stand in awe of, the little man, waggled his head darkly.
“Oh, rot!” said Charles rudely, “don’t be so disgustingly mysterious —why aren’t we allowed to say these chaps died——?”
“Have you seen Jessen?” asked the detective.
“I have,” said Charles bitterly, “and after what I’ve done for that man; after I’ve put his big feet on the rungs of culture——”
“Wouldn”t he speak?” asked Falmouth innocently.
“He was as close,” said Charles sadly, “as the inside washer of a vacuum pump.”
“Hm!” the detective was considering. Sooner or later the connection must occur to Charles, and he was the only man who would be likely to surprise Jessen”s secret. Better that the journalist should know now.
“If I were you,” said Falmouth quietly, “I shouldn”t worry Jessen; you know what he is, and in what capacity he serves the Government. Come along with me.”
He did not speak a word in reply to the questions Charles put until they passed through the showy portals of Carlby Mansions and a lift had deposited them at the door of the flat.
Falmouth opened the door with a key, and Charles went into the flat at his heels.
He saw the hole in the floor.
“This wasn’t mentioned at the inquest,” he said; “but what’s this to do with Jessen?”
He looked up at the detective in perplexity, then a light broke upon him and he whistled.
“Well, I’m—” he said, then he added softly—“But what does the Government say to this?”
“The Government,” said Falmouth in his best official manner, smoothing the nap of his hat the while—“the Government regard the circumstances as unusual, but they have accepted the situation with great philosophy.”
That night Mr. Long (or Jessen) reappeared at the Guild as though nothing whatever had happened, and addressed his audience for half an hour on the subject of “Do burglars make good caretakers?”