The Four Just Men (1920)/Part 2/Chapter 8
AN INCIDENT IN THE FIGHT
From what secret place in the metropolis the Woman of Gratz reorganized her forces we shall never know; whence came her strength of purpose and her unbounded energy we can guess. With Starque’s death she became virtually and actually the leader of the Red Hundred, and from every corner of Europe came reinforcements of men and money to strengthen her hand and to re-establish the shaking prestige of the most powerful association that Anarchism had ever known.
Great Britain had ever been immune from the active operations of the anarchist. It had been the sanctuary of the revolutionary for centuries, and Anarchism had hesitated to jeopardize the security of refugees by carrying on its propaganda on British soil. That the extremists of the movement had chafed under the restriction is well known, and when the Woman of Gratz openly declared war on England, she was acclaimed enthusiastically.
Then followed perhaps the most extraordinary duels that the world had ever seen. Two powerful bodies, both outside the pale of the law, fought rapidly, mercilessly, asking no quarter and giving none. And the eerie thing about it all was, that no man saw the agents of either of the combatants. It was as though two spirit forces were engaged in some titanic combat. The police were almost helpless. The fight against the Red Hundred was carried on, almost single-handedly, by the Four Just Men, or, to give them the title with which they signed their famous proclamation, “The Council of Justice.”
Since the days of the Fenian scare, London had never lived under the terror that the Red Hundred inspired. Never a day passed but preparations for some outrage were discovered, the most appalling of which was the attempt on the Tube Railway. If I refer to them as “attempts,” and if the repetition of that word wearies the reader, it is because, thanks to the extraordinary vigilance of the Council of Justice, they were no more.
“This sort of thing cannot go on,” said the Home Secretary petulantly at a meeting of the heads of the police. “Here we have admittedly the finest police force in the world, and we must needs be under obligation to men for whom warrants exist on a charge of murder!”
The chief commissioner was sufficiently harassed, and was inclined to resent the criticism in the minister’s voice.
“We’ve done everything that can be done, sir,” he said shortly; “if you think my resignation would help you out of the difficulty——”
“Now for heaven”s sake, don”t be a fool,” pleaded the Home Secretary, in his best unparliamentary manner. “Cannot you see——”
“I can see that no harm has been done so far,” said the commissioner doggedly; then he burst forth:
“Look here, sir! our people have very often to employ characters a jolly sight worse than the Four Just Menâ€”if we don’t employ them we exploit them. Mean little sneak-thieves, ‘narks’ they call ’em, old lags, burglars—and once or twice something worse. We are here to protect the public; so long as the public is being protected, nobody can kick——”
“But it is not you who are protecting the public—you get your information——”
“From the Council of Justice, that is so; but where it comes from doesn’t matter. Now, listen to me, sir.”
He was very earnest and emphasized his remarks with little raps on the desk.
“Get the Prince of the Escorial out of the country,” he said seriously. “I’ve got information that the Reds are after his blood. No, I haven’t been warned by the Just Men, that’s the queer part about it. I’ve got it straight from a man who’s selling me information. I shall see him tonight if they haven’t butchered him.”
“But the Prince is our guest.”
“He’s been here too long,” said the practical and unsentimental commissioner; “let him go back to Spain—he’s to be married in a month; let him go home and buy his trousseau or whatever he buys.”
“Is that a confession that you cannot safeguard him?”
The commissioner looked vexed.
“I could safeguard a child of six or a staid gentleman of sixty, but I cannot be responsible for a young man who insists on seeing London without a guide, who takes solitary motor-car drives, and refuses to give us any information beforehand as to his plans for the day—or if he does, breaks them!”
The minister was pacing the apartment with his head bent in thought.
“As to the Prince of the Escorial,” he said presently, “advice has already been conveyed to his Highness—from the highest quarter—to make his departure at an early date. Tonight, indeed, is his last night in London.”
The Commissioner of Police made an extravagant demonstration of relief.
“He”s going to the Auditorium tonight,” he said, rising. He spoke a little pityingly, and, indeed, the Auditorium, although a very first-class music hall, had a slight reputation. “I shall have a dozen men in the house and we’ll have his motor-car at the stage door at the end of the show.”
That night his Highness arrived promptly at eight o’clock and stood chatting pleasantly with the bare-headed manager in the vestibule. Then he went alone to his box and sat down in the shadow of the red velvet curtain.
Punctually at eight there arrived two other gentlemen, also in evening dress. Antonio Selleni was one and Karl Ollmanns was the other. They were both young men, and before they left the motor-car they completed their arrangement.
“You will occupy the box on the opposite side, but I will endeavour to enter the box. If I succeed—it will be finished. The knife is best,” there was pride in the Italian’s tone.
“If I cannot reach him the honour will be yours.” He had the stilted manner of the young Latin. The other man grunted. He replied in halting French.
“Once I shot an egg from between fingers—so,” he said.
They made their entry separately.
In the manager’s office, Superintendent Falmouth relieved the tedium of waiting by reading the advertisements in an evening newspaper.
To him came the manager with a message that under no circumstances was his Highness in Box A to be disturbed until the conclusion of the performance.
In the meantime Signor Selleni made a cautious way to Box A. He found the road clear, turned the handle softly, and stepped quickly into the dark interior of the box.
Twenty minutes later Falmouth stood at the back of the dress circle issuing instructions to a subordinate.
“Have a couple of men at the stage door—my God!”
Over the soft music, above the hum of voices, a shot rang out and a woman screamed. From the box opposite the Prince’s a thin swirl of smoke floated.
Karl Ollmanns, tired of waiting, had fired at the motionless figure sitting in the shadow of the curtain. Then he walked calmly out of the box into the arms of two breathless detectives.
“A doctor!” shouted Falmouth as he ran. The door of the Box A was locked, but he broke it open.
A man lay on the floor of the box very still and strangely stiff.
“Why, what——!” began the detective, for the dead man was bound hand and foot.
There was already a crowed at the door of the box, and he heard an authoritative voice demand admittance.
He looked over his shoulder to meet the eye of the commissioner.
“They’ve killed him, sir,” he said bitterly.
“Whom?” asked the commissioner in perplexity.
“His Highness!” the commissioner”s eyebrows rose in genuine astonishment. “Why, the Prince left Charing Cross for the Continent half an hour ago!”
The detective gasped.
“Then who in the name of Fate is this?”
It was M. Menshikoff, who had come in with the commissioner, who answered.
“Antonio Selleni, an anarchist of Milan,” he reported.
Carlos Ferdinand Bourbon, Prince of the Escorial, Duke of Buda-Gratz, and heir to three thrones, was married, and his many august cousins scattered throughout Europe had a sense of heartfelt relief.
A prince with admittedly advanced views, an idealist, with Utopian schemes for the regeneration of mankind, and, coming down to the mundane practical side of life, a reckless motor-car driver, an outrageously daring horseman, and possessed of the indifference to public opinion which is equally the equipment of your fool and your truly great man, his marriage had been looked forward to throughout the courts of Europe in the light of an international achievement.
Said his Imperial Majesty of Central Europe to the grizzled chancellor:
“Te Deums—you understand, von Hedlitz? In every church.”
“It is a great relief,” said the chancellor, wagging his head thoughtfully.
“Relief!” the Emperor stretched himself as though the relief were physical, “that young man owes me two years of life. You heard of the London essay?”
The chancellor had heard—indeed, he had heard three or four times—but he was a polite chancellor and listened attentively. His Majesty had the true story-telling faculty, and elaborated the introduction.
“… if I am to believe his Highness, he was sitting quietly in his box when the Italian entered. He saw the knife in his hand and half rose to grapple with the intruder. Suddenly, from nowhere in particular, sprang three men, who had the assassin on the floor bound and gagged. You would have thought our Carlos Ferdinand would have made an outcry! But not he! He sat stock still, dividing his attention between the stage and the prostrate man and the leader of this mysterious band of rescuers.”
“The Four Just Men!” put in the chancellor.
“Three, so far as I can gather,” corrected the imperial story-teller. “Well, it would appear that this leader, in quite a logical calm, matter-of-fact way, suggested that the prince should leave quietly; that his motor-car was at the stage door, that a saloon had been reserved at Charing Cross, a cabin at Dover, and a special train at Calais.”
His Majesty had a trick of rubbing his knee when anything amused him, and this he did now.
“Carl obeyed like a child—which seems the remarkably strange point about the whole proceedings—the captured anarchist was trussed and bound and sat on the chair, and left to his own unpleasant thoughts.”
“And killed,” said the chancellor.
“No, not killed,” corrected the Emperor. “Part of the story I tell you is his—he told it to the police at the hospital—no, no, not killed—his friend was not the marksman he thought.”