The Law of the Four Just Men/The Man Who Died Twice
THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE
The interval between Acts II and III was an unusually long one, and the three men who sat in the stage box were in such harmony of mind that none of them felt the necessity for making conversation. The piece was a conventional crook play and each of the three had solved the "mystery" of the murder before the drop fell on the first act. They had reached the same solution (and the right one) without any great mental effort.
Fare, the Police Commissioner, had dined with George Manfred and Leon Gonsalez (he addressed them respectively as "Señor Fuentes" and "Señor Mandrelino" and did not doubt that they were natives of Spain, despite their faultless English) and the party had come on to the theatre.
Mr. Fare frowned as at some unpleasant memory and heard a soft laugh. Looking up, he met the dancing eyes of Leon.
"Why do you laugh?" he asked, half smiling in sympathy.
"At your thoughts," replied the calm Gonsalez.
"At my thoughts!" repeated the other, startled,
"Yes," Leon nodded, "you were thinking of the Four Just Men."
"Extraordinary!" exclaimed Fare. "It is perfectly true. What is it, telepathy?"
Gonsalez shook his head. As to Manfred, he was gazing abstractedly into the stalls.
"No, it was not telepathy," said Leon, "it was your facial expression."
"But I haven't mentioned those rascals, how——"
"Facial expression," said Leon, revelling in his pet topic, "especially an expression of the emotions, comes into the category of primitive instincts—they are not 'willed'. For example, when a billiard player strikes a ball he throws and twists his body after the ball—you must have seen the contortions of a player who has missed his shot by a narrow margin? A man using scissors works his jaw, a rower moves his lips with every stroke of the oar. These are what we call 'automatisms'. Animals have these characteristics. A hungry dog approaching meat pricks his ears in the direction of his meal——"
"Is there a particular act of automatism produced by the thought of the Four Just Men?" asked the Commissioner, smiling.
"It would take long to describe, but I will not deceive you. I less read than guessed your thoughts by following them. The last line in the last act we saw was uttered by a ridiculous stage parson who says: 'Justice! There is a justice beyond the law!' And I saw you frown. And then you looked across the stalls and nodded to the editor of the Megaphone. And I remembered that you had written an article on the Four Just Men for that journal——"
"A little biography on poor Falmouth who died the other day," corrected Fare. "Yes, yes, I see. You were right, of course. I was thinking of them and their pretensions to act as judges and executioners when the law fails to punish the guilty, or rather the guilty succeed in avoiding conviction."
Manfred turned suddenly.
"Leon," he spoke in Spanish, in which language the three had been conversing off and on during the evening. "View the cavalier with the diamond in his shirt—what do you make of him?" The question was in English.
Leon raised his powerful opera glasses and surveyed the man whom his friend had indicated.
"I should like to hear him speak," he said after a while. "See how delicate his face is and how powerful are his jaws—almost prognathic, for the upper maxilla is distinctly arrested. Regard him, señor, and tell me if you do not agree that his eyes are unusually bright?"
Manfred took the glasses and looked at the unconscious man.
"They are swollen—yes, I see they are bright."
"What else do you see?"
"The lips are large and a little swollen too, I think," said Manfred.
Leon took the glasses and turned to the Commissioner.
"I do not bet, but if I did I would wager a thousand pesetas that this man speaks with a harsh cracked voice."
Fare looked from his companion to the object of their scrutiny and then back to Leon.
"You are perfectly right," he said quietly. "His name is Ballam and his voice is extraordinarily rough and harsh. What is he?"
"Vicious," replied Gonsalez. "My dear friend, that man is vicious, a bad man. Beware of the bright eyes and the cracked voice, señor! They stand for evil!"
Fare rubbed his nose irritably, a trick of his.
"If you were anybody else I should be very rude and say that you knew him or had met him," he said, "but after your extraordinary demonstration the other day I realise there must be something in physiognomy."
He referred to a visit which Leon Gonsalez and Manfred had paid to the record department of Scotland Yard. There, with forty photographs of criminals spread upon the table before him Gonsalez, taking them in order, had enumerated the crimes with which their names were associated. He only made four errors and even they were very excusable.
"Yes, Gregory Ballam is a pretty bad lot," said the Commissioner thoughtfully. "He has never been through our hands, but that is the luck of the game. He's as shrewd as the devil and it hurts me to see him with a nice girl like Genee Maggiore."
"The girl who is sitting with him?" asked Manfred, interested.
"An actress," murmured Gonsalez. "You observe, my dear George, how she turns her head first to the left and then to the right at intervals, though there is no attraction in either direction. She has the habit of being seen—it is not vanity, it is merely a peculiar symptom of her profession."
"What is his favourite vanity?" asked Manfred and the Commissioner smiled.
"You know our Dickens, eh?" he asked, for he thought of Manfred as a Spaniard. "Well, it would be difficult to tell you what Gregory Ballam does to earn his respectable income," he said more seriously. "I think he is connected with a moneylender's business and runs a few profitable sidelines."
"Such as——" suggested Manfred.
Mr. Fare was not, apparently, anxious to commit himself.
"I'll tell you in the strictest confidence," he said. "We believe, and have good cause to believe, that he has a hop joint which is frequented by wealthy people. Did you read last week about the man, John Bidworth, who shot a nursemaid in Kensington Gardens and then shot himself?"
"He was quite a well-connected person, wasn't he?" he asked.
"He was very well connected," replied Fare emphatically. "So well connected that we did not want to bring his people into the case at all. He died the next day in hospital and the surgeons tell us that he was undoubtedly under the influence of some Indian drug and that in his few moments of consciousness he as much as told the surgeon in charge of the case that he had been on a jag the night before and had finished up in what he called an opium house, and remembered nothing further till he woke up in the hospital. He died without knowing that he had committed this atrocious crime. There is no doubt that under the maddening influence of the drug he shot the first person he saw."
"Was it Mr. Ballam's opium house?" asked Gonsalez, interested.
The curtain rose at that moment and conversation went on in a whisper.
"We don't know—in his delirium he mentioned Ballam's name. We have tried our best to find out. He has been watched. Places at which he has stayed any length of time have been visited, but we have found nothing to incriminate him."
Leon Gonsalez had a favourite hour and a favourite meal at which he was at his brightest. That hour was at nine o'clock in the morning and the meal was breakfast. He put down his paper the next morning and asked:
"What is crime?"
"Professor," said Manfred solemnly, "I will tell you. It is the departure from the set rules which govern human society."
"You are conventional," said Gonsalez. "My dear George, you are always conventional at nine o'clock in the morning! Now, had I asked you at midnight you would have told me that it is any act which wilfully offends and discomforts your neighbour. If I desired to give it a narrow and what they call in this country a legal interpretation I would add, 'contrary to the law'. There must be ten thousand crimes committed for every one detected. People associated crime only with those offences which are committed by a certain type of illiterate or semi-illiterate lunatic or half-lunatic, glibly dubbed a 'criminal'. Now, here is a villainous crime, a monumental crime. He is a man who is destroying the souls of youth and breaking hearts ruthlessly! Here is one who is dragging down men and women from the upward road and debasing them in their own eyes, slaying ambition and all beauty of soul and mind in order that he should live in a certain comfort, wearing a clean dress shirt every evening of his life and drinking expensive and unnecessary wines with his expensive and indigestible dinner."
"Where is this man?" asked Manfred.
"He lives at 993 Jermyn Street, in fact he is a neighbour," said Leon.
"You're speaking of Mr. Ballam?"
"I'm speaking of Mr. Ballam," said Gonsalez gravely. "To-night I am going to be a foreign artist with large rolls of money in my pockets and an irresistible desire to be amused. I do not doubt that sooner or later Mr. Ballam and I will gravitate together. Do I look like a detective, George?" he asked abruptly.
"You look more like a successful pianist," said George and Gonsalez sniffed.
"You can even be offensive at nine o'clock in the morning," he said.
There are two risks which criminals face (with due respect to the opinions of Leon Gonsalez, this word criminal is employed by the narrator) in the pursuit of easy wealth. There is the risk of detection and punishment which applies to the big as well as to the little delinquent. There is the risk of losing large sums of money invested for the purpose of securing even larger sums. The criminal who puts money in his business runs the least risk of detection. That is why only the poor and foolish come stumbling up the stairs which lead to the dock at the Old Bailey, and that is why the big men, who would be indignant at the very suggestion that they were in the category of law-breakers, seldom or never make their little bow to the Judge.
Mr. Gregory Ballam stood for and represented certain moneyed interests which had purchased at auction three houses in Montague Street, Portland Place. They were three houses which occupied an island site. The first of these was let out in offices, the ground floor being occupied by a lawyer, the first floor by a wine and spirit merchant, the second being a very plain suite, dedicated to the business hours of Mr. Gregory Ballam. This gentleman also rented the cellar, which by the aid of lime-wash and distemper had been converted into, if not a pleasant, at any rate a neat and cleanly storage place. Through this cellar you could reach (amongst other places) a brand-new garage, which had been built for one of Mr. Ballam's partners, but in which Mr. Ballam was not interested at all.
None but the workmen who had been employed in renovation knew that it was possible also to walk from one house to the other, either through the door in the cellar which had existed when the houses were purchased, or through a new door in Mr. Ballam's office.
The third house, that at the end of the island site, was occupied by the International Artists' Club, and the police had never followed Mr. Ballam there because Mr. Ballam had never gone there, at least not by the front door. The Artists' Club had a "rest room" and there were times when Mr. Ballam had appeared, as if by magic, in that room, had met a select little party and conducted them through a well-concealed pass-door to the ground floor of the middle house. The middle house was the most respectable looking of the three. It had neat muslin curtains at all its windows and was occupied by a venerable gentleman and his wife.
The venerable gentleman made a practice of going out to business every morning at ten o'clock, his shiny silk hat set jauntily on the side of his head, a furled umbrella under his arm and a button-hole in his coat. The police knew him by sight and local constables touched their helmets to him. In the days gone by when Mr. Raymond, as he called himself, had a luxurious white beard and earned an elegant income by writing begging letters and interviewing credulous and sympathetic females, he did not have that name or the reputation which he enjoyed in Montague Street. But now he was clean-shaven and had the appearance of a retired admiral and he received £4 a week for going out of the house every morning at ten o'clock, with his silk hat set at a rakish angle, and his furled umbrella and his neat little boutonnière. He spent most of the day in the Guildhall reading-room and came back at five o'clock in the evening as jaunty as ever.
And his day's work being ended, he and his hard-faced wife went to their little attic room and played cribbage and their language was certainly jaunty but was not venerable.
On the first floor, behind triple black velvet curtains, men and women smoked day and night. It was a large room, being two rooms which had been converted into one and it had been decorated under Mr. Ballam's eye. In this room nothing but opium was smoked. If you had a fancy for hasheesh you indulged yourself in a basement apartment. Sometimes Mr. Ballam himself came to take a whiff of the dream-herb, but he usually reserved these visits for such occasions as the introduction of a new and profitable client. The pipe had no ill-effect upon Mr. Ballam. That was his boast. He boasted now to a new client, a rich Spanish artist who had been picked up by one of his jackals and piloted to the International Artists' Club.
"Nor on me," said the newcomer, waving away a yellow-faced Chinaman who ministered to the needs of the smokers. "I always bring my own smoke."
Ballam leant forward curiously as the man took a silver box from his pocket and produced therefrom a green and sticky-looking pill.
"What is that?" asked Ballam curiously.
"It is a mixture of my own, cannabis indica, opium and a little Turkish tobacco mixed. It is even milder than opium and the result infinitely more wonderful."
"You can't smoke it here," said Ballam, shaking his head. "Try the pipe, old man."
But the "old man"—he was really young in spite of his grey hair—was emphatic.
"It doesn't matter," he said, "I can smoke at home. I only came out of curiosity," and he rose to go.
"Don't be in a hurry," said Ballam hastily. "See here, we've got a basement downstairs where the hemp pipes go—the smokers up here don't like the smell—I'll come down and try one with you. Bring your coffee."
The basement was empty and selecting a comfortable divan Mr. Ballam and his guest sat down.
"You can light this with a match, you don't want a spirit stove," said the stranger.
Ballam, sipping his coffee, looked dubiously at the pipe which Gonsalez offered.
"There was a question I was going to ask you," said Leon. "Does running a show like this keep you awake at nights?"
"Don't be silly," said Mr. Ballam, lighting his pipe slowly and puffing with evident enjoyment. "This isn't bad stuff at all. Keep me awake at nights? Why should it?"
"Well," answered Leon. "Lots of people go queer here, don't they? I mean it ruins people smoking this kind of stuff."
"That's their look out," said Mr. Ballam comfortably. "They get a lot of fun. There's only one life and you've got to die once."
"Some men die twice," said Leon soberly. "Some men who under the influence of a noxious drug go fantee and wake to find themselves murderers. There's a drug in the East which the natives call bal. It turns men into raving lunatics."
"Well, that doesn't interest me," said Ballam impatiently. "We must hurry up with this smoke. I've a lady coming to see me. Must keep an appointment, old man," he laughed.
"On the contrary, the introduction of this drug into a pipe interests you very much," said Leon, "and in spite of Miss Maggiore's appointment——"
The other started.
"What the hell are you talking about?" he asked crossly.
"In spite of that appointment I must break the news to you that the drug which turns men into senseless beasts is more potent than any you serve in this den."
"What's it to do with me?" snarled Ballam.
"It interests you a great deal," said Leon coolly, "because you are at this moment smoking a double dose!"
With a howl of rage Ballam sprang to his feet and what happened after that he could not remember. Only something seemed to split in his head, and a blinding light flashed before his eyes and then a whole century of time went past, a hundred years of moving time and an eternity of flashing lights, of thunderous noises, of whispering voices, of ceaseless troubled movement. Sometimes he knew he was talking and listened eagerly to hear what he himself had to say. Sometimes people spoke to him and mocked him and he had a consciousness that he was being chased by somebody.
How long this went on he could not judge. In his half-bemused condition he tried to reckon time but found he had no standard of measurement. It seemed years after that he opened his eyes with a groan, and put his hand to his aching head. He was lying in bed. It was a hard bed and the pillow was even harder. He stared up at the white-washed ceiling and looked round at the plain distempered walls. Then he peered over the side of the bed and saw that the floor as of concrete. Two lights were burning, one above a table and one in a corner of the room where a man was sitting reading a newspaper. He was a curious-looking man and Ballam blinked at him.
"I am dreaming," he said aloud and the man looked up.
"Hello! Do you want to get up?"
Ballam did not reply. He was still staring, his mouth agape. The man was in uniform, in a dark, tight-fitting uniform. He wore a cap on his head and a badge. Round his waist was a shiny black belt and then Ballam read the letters on the shoulder-strap of the tunic.
"A.W.," he repeated, dazed. "A.W."
What did "A.W." stand for? And then the truth flashed on him.
Assistant Warder! He glared round the room. There was one window, heavily barred and covered with thick glass. On the wall was pasted a sheet of printed paper. He staggered out of bed and read, still open-mouthed:
"Regulations for His Majesty's Prisons."
He looked down at himself. He had evidently gone to bed with his breeches and stockings on and his breeches were of coarse yellow material and branded with faded black arrows. He was in prison! How long had he been there?
"Are you going to behave today?" asked the warder curtly. "We don't want any more of those scenes you gave us yesterday!"
"How long have I been here?" croaked Ballam.
"You know how long you've been here. You've been here three weeks, yesterday."
"Three weeks!" gasped Ballam. "What is the charge?"
"Now don't come that game with me, Ballam," said the warder, not unkindly. "You know I'm not allowed to have conversations with you. Go back and sleep. Sometimes I think you are as mad as you profess to be."
"Have I been—bad?" asked Ballam.
"Bad?" The warder jerked up his head. "I wasn't in the court with you, but they say you behaved in the dock like a man demented, and when the Judge was passing sentence of death——"
"My God!" shrieked Ballam and fell back on the bed, white and haggard. "Sentenced to death!" He could hardly form the words. "What have I done?"
"You killed a young lady, you know that," said the warder. "I'm surprised at you, trying to come it over me after the good friend I've been to you, Ballam. Why don't you buck up and take your punishment like a man?"
There was a calendar above the place where the warder had been sitting.
"Twelfth of April," read Ballam and could have shrieked again, for it was the first day of March that he met that mysterious stranger. He remembered it all now. Bal! The drug that drove men mad.
He sprang to his feet.
"I want to see the Governor! I want to tell them the truth! I've been drugged!"
"Now you've told us all that story before," said the warder with an air of resignation. "When you killed the young lady——"
"What young lady?" shrieked Ballam. "Not Maggiore! Don't tell me——"
"You know you killed her right enough," said the warder. "What's the good of making all this fuss? Now go back to bed, Ballam. You can't do any good by kicking up a shindy this night of all nights in the world."
"I want to see the Governor! Can I write to him?"
"You can write to him if you like," and the warder indicated the table.
Ballam staggered up to the table and sat down shakily in a chair. There was half a dozen sheets of blue note-paper headed in black: "H.M. Prison, Wandsworth, S.W.1."
He was in Wandsworth prison! He looked round the cell. It did not look like a cell and yet it did. It was so horribly bare and the door was heavy looking. He had never been in a cell before and of course it was different to what he had expected.
A thought struck him.
"When—when am I to be punished?" he said chokingly.
The word fell like a sentence of doom and the man fell forward, his head upon his arms and wept hysterically. Then of a sudden he began to write with feverish haste, his face red with weeping.
His letter was incoherent. It was about a man who had come to the club and had given him a drug and then he had spent a whole eternity in darkness seeing lights and being chased by people and hearing whispering voices. And he was not guilty. He loved Genee Maggiore. He would not have hurt a hair of her head.
He stopped here to weep again. Perhaps he was dreaming? Perhaps he was under the influence of this drug. He dashed his knuckles against the wall and the shock made him wince.
"Here, none of that," said the warder sternly. "You get back to bed."
Ballam looked at his bleeding knuckles. It was true! It was no dream! It was true, true!
He lay on the bed and lost consciousness again and when he awoke the warder was still sitting in his place reading. He seemed to doze again for an hour, although in reality it was only for a few minutes, and every time he woke something within him said: "This morning you die!"
Once he sprang shrieking from the bed and had to be thrown back.
"If you give me any more trouble I'll get another officer in and we'll tie you down. Why don't you take it like a man? It's no worse for you than it was for her," said the warder savagely.
After that he lay still and he was falling into what seemed a longer sleep when the warder touched him. When he awoke he found his own clothes laid neatly by the side of the bed upon a chair and he dressed himself hurriedly.
He looked around for something.
"Where's the collar?" he asked trembling.
"You don't need a collar," the warder's voice had a certain quality of sardonic humour.
"Pull yourself together," said the man roughly. "Other people have gone through this. From what I've heard you ran an opium den. A good many of your clients gave us a visit. They had to go through with it, and so must you."
He waited, sitting on the edge of the bed, his face in his hands and then the door opened and a man came in. He was a slight man with a red beard and a mop of red hair.
The warder swung the prisoner round.
"Put your hands behind you," he said and Ballam sweated as he felt the strap grip his wrists.
Then light was extinguished. A cap was drawn over his face and he thought he heard voices behind him. He wasn't fit to die, he knew that. There always was a parson in a case like this. Someone grasped his arm on either side and he walked slowly forward through the door across a yard and through another door. It was a long way and once his knees gave under him but he stood erect. Presently they stopped.
"Stand where you are," said a voice and he found a noose slipped round his neck and waited, waited in agony, minutes, hours it seemed. He took no account of time and could not judge it. Then he heard a heavy step and somebody caught him by the arm.
"What are you doing here, governor?" said a voice.
The bag was pulled from his head. He was in the street. It was night and he stood under the light of a street-lamp. The man regarding him curiously was a policeman.
"Got a bit of rope round your neck, too, somebody tied your hands. What is it—a hold-up case?" said the policeman as he loosened the straps. "Or is it a lark?" demanded the representative of the law.
"I'm surprised at you, an old gentleman like you with white hair!"
Gregory Ballam's hair had been black less than seven hours before when Leon Gonsalez had drugged his coffee and had brought him through the basement exit into the big yard at the back of the club.
For here was a nice new garage as Leon had discovered when he prospected the place, and here they were left uninterrupted to play the comedy of the condemned cell with blue sheets of prison notepaper put there for the occasion and a copy of Prison Regulations which was donated quite unwittingly by Mr. Fare, Commissioner of Police.