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CHAPTER IX

THE FOUR VERSUS THE HUNDRED


Some workmen, returning home of an evening and taking a short cut through a field two miles from Catford, saw a man hanging from a tree.

They ran across and found a fashionably dressed gentleman of foreign appearance. One of the labourers cut the rope with his knife, but the man was dead when they cut him down. Beneath the tree was a black bag, to which somebody had affixed a label bearing the warning, “Do not touch—this bag contains explosives: inform the police.” More remarkable still was the luggage label tied to the lapel of the dead man’s coat. It ran: “This is Franz Kitsinger, convicted at Prague in 1904, for throwing a bomb: escaped from prison March 17, 1905, was one of the three men responsible for the attempt on the Tower Bridge to-day. Executed by order of The Council of Justice.”

“It’s a humiliating confession,” said the chief commissioner when they brought the news to him, “but the presence of these men takes a load off my mind.”

But the Red Hundred were grimly persistent.

That night a man, smoking a cigar, strolled aimlessly past the policeman on point duty at the corner of Kensington Park Gardens, and walked casually into Ladbroke Square. He strolled on, turned a corner and, crossing a road, he came to where one great garden served for a double row of middle-class houses. The backs of these houses opened on to the square. He looked round and, seeing the coast clear, he clambered over the iron railings and dropped into the big pleasure ground, holding very carefully an object that bulged in his pocket.

He took a leisurely view of the houses before he decided on the victim. The blinds of this particular house were up and the French windows of the dining-room were open, and he could see the laughing group of young people about the table. There was a birthday party or something of the sort in progress, for there was a great parade of Parthian caps and paper sunbonnets.

The man was evidently satisfied with the possibilities for tragedy, and he took a pace nearer….

Two strong arms were about him, arms with muscles like cords of steel.

“Not that way, my friend,” whispered a voice in his ear…

The man showed his teeth in a dreadful grin.

The sergeant on duty at Notting Hill Gate Station received a note at the hands of a grimy urchin, who for days afterwards maintained a position of enviable notoriety.

“A gentleman told me to bring this,” he said.

The sergeant looked at the small boy sternly and asked him if he ever washed his face. Then he read the letter:

“The second man of the three concerned in the attempt to blow up the Tower Bridge will be found in the garden of Maidham Crescent, under the laurel bushes, opposite No. 72.”

It was signed “The Council of Justice”.

The commissioner was sitting over his coffee at the Ritz, when they brought him the news. Falmouth was a deferential guest, and the chief passed him the note without comment.

“This is going to settle the Red Hundred,” said Falmouth. “These people are fighting them with their own weapons—assassination with assassination, terror with terror. Where do we come in?”

“We come in at the end,” said the commissioner, choosing his words with great niceness, “to clean up the mess, and take any scraps of credit that are going”—he paused and shook his head. “I hope—I should be sorry——” he began.

“So should I,” said the detective sincerely, for he knew that his chief was concerned for the ultimate safety of the men whose arrest it was his duty to effect. The commissioner’s brows were wrinkled thoughtfully.

“Two,” he said musingly; “now, how on earth do the Four Just Men know the number in this—and how did they track them down—and who is the third?—heavens! one could go on asking questions the whole of the night!”

On one point the Commissioner might have been informed earlier in the evening—he was not told until three o’clock the next morning.

The third man was Von Dunop. Ignorant of the fate of his fellow-Terrorists, he sallied forth to complete the day notably.

The crowd at a theatre door started a train of thought, but he rejected that outlet to ambition. It was too public, and the chance of escape was nil. These British audiences did not lose their heads so quickly; they refused to be confounded by noise and smoke, and a writhing figure here and there. Von Dunop was no exponent of the Glory of Death school. He greatly desired glory, but the smaller the risk, the greater the glory. This was his code.

He stood for a moment outside the Hotel Ritz. A party of diners were leaving, and motor-cars were being steered up to carry these accursed plutocrats to the theatre. One soldierly-looking gentleman, with a grey moustache, and attended by a quiet, observant, clean-shaven man, interested the anarchist. He and the soldier exchanged glances.

“Who the dickens was that?” asked the commissioner as he stepped into the taxi. “I seem to know his face.”

“I have seen him before,” said Falmouth. “I won”t go with you, sir—I’ve a little business to do in this part of the world.”

Thereafter Von Dunop was not permitted to enjoy his walk in solitude, for, unknown to him, a man “picked him up” and followed him throughout the evening. And as the hour grew later, that one man became two, at eleven o’clock he became three, and at quarter to twelve, when Von Dunop had finally fixed upon the scene and scope of his exploit, he turned from Park Lane into Brook Street to discover, to his annoyance, quite a number of people within call. Yet he suspected nothing. He did not suspect the night wanderer mooching along the curb with downcast eyes, seeking the gutter for the stray cigar end; nor the two loudly talking men in suits of violet check who wrangled as they walked concerning the relative merits of the favourites for the Derby; nor the commissionaire trudging home with his bag in his hand and a pipe in his mouth, nor the clean-shaven man in evening dress.

The Home Secretary had a house in Berkeley Square. Von Dunop knew the number very well. He slackened pace to allow the man in evening dress to pass. The slow-moving taxi that was fifty yards away he must risk. This taxi had been his constant attendant during the last hour, but he did not know it.

He dipped his hand into his overcoat pocket and drew forth the machine. It was one of Culveri’s masterpieces and, to an extent, experimental—that much the master had warned him in a letter that bore the date-mark “Riga”. He felt with his thumb for the tiny key that “set” the machine and pushed it.

Then he slipped into the doorway of No. 196 and placed the bomb. It was done in a second, and so far as he could tell no man had seen him leave the pathway and he was back again on the sidewalk very quickly. But as he stepped back, he heard a shout and a man darted across the road, calling on him to surrender. From the left two men were running, and he saw the man in evening dress blowing a whistle.

He was caught; he knew it. There was a chance of escape—the other end of the street was clear—he turned and ran like the wind. He could hear his pursuers pattering along behind him. His ear, alert to every phase of the chase, heard one pair of feet check and spring up the steps of 196. He glanced round. They were gaining on him, and he turned suddenly and fired three times. Somebody fell; he saw that much. Then right ahead of him a tall policeman sprang from the shadows and clasped him round the waist.

“Hold that man!” shouted Falmouth, running up. Blowing hard came the night wanderer, a ragged object but skilful, and he had Von Dunop handcuffed in a trice.

It was he who noticed the limpness of the prisoner.

“Hullo!” he said, then held out his hand. “Show a light here.”

There were half a dozen policemen and the inevitable crowd on the spot by now, and the rays of the bull’s-eye focused on the detective”s hand. It was red with blood. Falmouth seized a lantern and flashed it on the man”s face.

There was no need to look farther. He was dead,—dead with the inevitable label affixed to the handle of the knife that killed him.

Falmouth rapped out an oath.

“It is incredible; it is impossible! he was running till the constable caught him, and he has not been out of our hands! Where is the officer who held him?”

Nobody answered, certainly not the tall policeman, who was at that moment being driven eastward, making a rapid change into the conventional evening costume of an English gentleman.