The Law of the Four Just Men/The Man Who Was Happy
THE MAN WHO WAS HAPPY
On a pleasant evening in early summer, Leon Gonsalez descended from the top of a motor-omnibus at Piccadilly Circus and walking briskly down the Haymarket, turned into Jermyn Street apparently oblivious of the fact that somebody was following on his heels.
Manfred looked up from his writing as his friend came in, and nodded smilingly as Leon took off his light overcoat and made his way to the window overlooking the street.
"What are you searching for so anxiously, Leon?" he asked.
"Jean Prothero, of 75 Barside Buildings, Lambeth," said Leon, not taking his eyes from the street below. "Ah, there he is, the industrious fellow!"
"Who is Jean Prothero?"
"A very daring man," evaded Leon, "to wander about the West End at this hour." He looked at his watch. "Oh no, not so daring," he said, "everybody who is anybody is dressing for dinner just now."
"A ladder larcenist?" suggested Manfred, and Leon chuckled again.
"Nothing so vulgar," he said. "By ladder larcenist I presume you mean the type of petty thief who puts a ladder against a bedroom window whilst the family are busy at dinner downstairs, and makes off with the odd scraps of jewellery he can find?"
"That is the official description of this type of criminal," he agreed.
Leon shook his head.
"No, Mr. Prothero is interesting," he said. "Interesting for quite another reason. In the first place, he is a bald-headed criminal, or potential criminal, and as you know, my dear George, criminals are rarely bald. They are coarse-haired, and they are thin-haired: they have such personal eccentricities as parting their hair on the wrong side, but they are seldom bald. The dome of Mr. Prothero's head is wholly innocent of hair of any kind. He is the second mate of a tramp steamer engaged in the fruit trade between the Canary Islands and Southampton. He has a very pretty girl for a wife and, curiously enough, a ladder larcenist for a brother-in-law, and I have excited his suspicion quite unwittingly. Incidentally," he added as though it were a careless afterthought, "he knows that I am one of the Four Just Men."
Manfred was silent. Then:
"How does he know that?" he asked quietly.
Leon had taken off his coat and had slipped his arms into a faded alpaca jacket; he did not reply until he had rolled and lit an untidy Spanish cigarette.
"Years ago, when there was a hue and cry after that pernicious organisation, whose name I have mentioned, an organisation which, in its humble way, endeavoured to right the injustice of the world and to mete out to evil-doers the punishment which the ponderous machinery of the Law could not inflict, you were arrested, my dear George, and consigned to Chelmsford Gaol. From there you made a miraculous escape, and on reaching the coast you and I and Poiccart were taken aboard the yacht of our excellent friend the Prince of the Asturias, who honoured us by acting as the fourth of our combination."
"On that ship was Mr. Jean Prothero," said Leon. "How he came to be on the yacht of His Serene Highness I will explain at a later stage, but assuredly he was there. I never forget faces, George, but unfortunately I am not singular in this respect, Mr. Prothero remembered me, and seeing me in Barside Buildings——"
"What were you doing in Barside Buildings?" asked Manfred with a faint smile.
"In Barside Buildings," replied Leon impressively, "are two men unknown to one another, both criminals, and both colour-blind!"
Manfred put down his pen and turned, prepared for a lecture on criminal statistics, for he had noticed the enthusiasm in Gonsalez's voice.
"By means of these two men," said Leon joyously, "I am able to refute the perfectly absurd theories which both Mantegazza and Scheml have expounded, namely, that criminals are never colour-blind. The truth is, my dear George, both these men have been engaged in crime since their early youth. Both have served terms of imprisonment, and what is more important, their fathers were colour-blind and criminals!"
"Well, what about Mr. Prothero?" said Manfred, tactfully interrupting what promised to be an exhaustive disquisition upon optical defects in relation to congenital lawlessness.
"One of my subjects is Prothero's brother-in-law, or rather, half-brother to Mrs. Prothero, her own father having been a blameless carpenter, and lives in the flat overhead. These flats are just tiny dwelling places consisting of two rooms and a kitchen. The builders of Lambeth tenements do not allow for the luxury of a bathroom. In this way I came to meet Mrs. Prothero whilst overcoming the reluctance of her brother to talk about himself."
"And you met Prothero, too, I presume," said Manfred patiently.
"No, I didn't meet him, except by accident. He passed on the stairs and I saw him give me a swift glance. His face was in the shadow and I did not recognise him until our second meeting, which was today. He followed me home. As a matter of fact," he added, "I have an idea that he followed me yesterday, and only came today to confirm my place of residence."
"You're a rum fellow," said Manfred.
"Maybe I'll be rummer," smiled Leon. "Everything depends now," he said thoughtfully, "upon whether Prothero thinks that I recognised him. If he does——"
Leon shrugged his shoulders.
"Not for the first time have I fenced with death and overcome him," he said lightly.
Manfred was not deceived by the flippancy of his friend's tone.
"As bad as that, eh?" he said, "and more dangerous for him, I think," he added quietly. "I do not like the idea of killing a man because he has recognised us—that course does not seem to fit in with my conception of justice."
"Exactly," said Leon briskly, "and there will be no need, I think. Unless, of course——" he paused.
"Unless what?" asked Manfred.
"Unless Prothero really does love his wife, in which case it may be a very serious business."
The next morning he strolled into Manfred's bedroom carrying the cup of tea which the servant usually brought, and George stared up at him in amazement.
"What is the matter with you, Leon, haven't you been to bed?"
Leon Gonsalez was dressed in what he called his "pyjama outfit"—a grey flannel coat and trousers, belted at the waist, a silk shirt open at the neck and a pair of light slippers constituted his attire, and Manfred, who associated this costume with all-night studies, was not astonished when Leon shook his head.
"I have been sitting in the dining-room, smoking the pipe of peace," he said.
"All night?" said Manfred in surprise. "I woke up in the middle of the night and I saw no light."
"I sat in the dark," admitted Leon. "I wanted to hear things."
Manfred stirred his tea thoughtfully. "Is it as bad as that? Did you expect——"
Leon smiled. "I didn't expect what I got," he said. "Will you do me a favour, my dear George?"
"What is your favour?"
"I want you not to speak of Mr. Prothero for the rest of the day. Rather, I wish you to discuss purely scientific and agricultural matters, as becomes an honest Andalusian farmer, and moreover to speak in Spanish."
"Why?" and then: "I'm sorry, I can't get out of the habit of being mystified, you know, Leon. Spanish and agriculture it shall be, and no reference whatever to Prothero."
Leon was very earnest and Manfred nodded and swung out of bed.
"May I talk of taking a bath?" he asked sardonically.
Nothing particularly interesting happened that day. Once Manfred was on the point of referring to Leon's experience, and divining the drift of his thought, Leon raised a warning finger.
Gonsalez could talk about crime, and did. He talked of its more scientific aspects and laid particular stress upon his discovery of the colour-blind criminal. But of Mr. Prothero he said no word.
After they had dined that night, Leon went out of the flat and presently returned.
"Thank heaven we can now talk without thinking," he said.
He pulled a chair to the wall and mounted it nimbly. Above his head was a tiny ventilator fastened to the wall with screws. Humming a little tune he turned a screwdriver deftly and lifted the little grille from its socket, Manfred watching him gravely.
"Here it is," said Leon. "Pull up a chair, George."
"It" proved to be a small flat brown box four inches by four in the centre of which was a black vulcanite depression.
"Do you recognise him?" said Leon. "He is the detectaphone—in other words a telephone receiver fitted with a microphonic attachment."
"Has somebody been listening to all we've been saying?"
"The gentleman upstairs has had a dull and dreary day. Admitting that he speaks Spanish, and that I have said nothing which has not illuminated that branch of science which is my particular hobby," he added modestly, "he must have been terribly bored."
"But——" began Manfred.
"He is out now," said Gonsalez. "But to make perfectly sure——"
With deft fingers he detached one of the wires by which the box was suspended in the ventilator shaft.
"Mr. Prothero came last night," he explained. "He took the room upstairs, and particularly asked for it. This I learnt from the head waiter—he adores me because I give him exactly three times the tip which he gets from other residents in these service flats, and because I tip him three times as often. I didn't exactly know what Prothero's game was, until I heard the tap-tap of the microphone coming down the shaft."
He was busy re-fixing the grille of the ventilator—presently he jumped down.
"Would you like to come to Lambeth today? I do not think there is much chance of our meeting Mr. Prothero. On the other hand, we shall see Mrs. Prothero shopping at eleven o'clock in the London Road, for she is a methodical lady."
"Why do you want me to see her?" asked Manfred.
He was not usually allowed to see the workings of any of Leon's schemes until the dramatic dénouement, which was meat and drink to him, was near at hand.
"I want you, with your wide knowledge of human nature, to tell me whether she is the type of woman for whom a bald-headed man would commit murder," he said simply, and Manfred stared at him in amazement.
"The victim being——?"
"Me!" replied Gonsalez, and doubled up with silent laughter at the blank look on Manfred's face.
It was four minutes to eleven exactly when Manfred saw Mrs. Prothero. He felt the pressure of Leon's hand on his arm and looked.
"There she is," said Leon.
A girl was crossing the road. She was neatly, even well-dressed for one of her class. She carried a market bag in one gloved hand, a purse in the other.
"She's pretty enough," said Manfred.
The girl had paused to look in a jeweller's window and Manfred had time to observe her. Her face was sweet and womanly, the eyes big and dark, the little chin firm and rounded.
"What do you think of her?" said Leon.
"I think she's rather a perfect specimen of young womanhood," said Manfred.
"Come along and meet her," said the other, and took his arm.
The girl looked round at first in surprise, and then with a smile. Manfred had an impression of flashing white teeth and scarlet lips parted in amusement. Her voice was not the voice of a lady, but it was quiet and musical.
"Good morning, Doctor," she said to Leon. "What are you doing in this part of the world so early in the morning."
"Doctor," noted Manfred.
The adaptable Gonsalez assumed many professions for the purpose of securing his information.
"We have just come from Guy's Hospital. This is Dr. Selbert," he introduced Manfred. "You are shopping, I suppose?"
"Really, there was no need for me to come out, Mr. Prothero being away at the Docks for three days," she replied.
"Have you seen your brother this morning?" asked Leon.
A shadow fell over the girl's face.
"No," she said shortly.
Evidently, thought Manfred, she was not particularly proud of her relationship. Possibly she suspected his illicit profession, but at any rate she had no desire to discuss him, for she changed the subject quickly.
They talked for a little while, and then with an apology she left them and they saw her vanish through the wide door of a grocer's store.
"Well, what do you think of her?"
"She is a very beautiful girl," said Manfred quietly.
"The kind of girl that would make a bald-headed criminal commit a murder?" asked Leon, and Manfred laughed.
"It is not unlikely," he said, "but why should he murder you?"
"Nous verrons," replied Leon.
When they returned to their flat in the afternoon the mail had been and there were half a dozen letters. One bearing a heavy crest upon the envelope attracted Manfred's attention.
"Lord Pertham," he said, looking at the signature. "Who is Lord Pertham?"
"I haven't a Who's Who handy, but I seem to know the name," said Leon. "What does Lord Pertham want?"
"I'll read you the note," said Manfred. "'Dear Sir,'" it read.
"'Our mutual friend Mr. Fare of Scotland Yard is dining with us tonight at Connaught Gardens, and I wonder whether you would come along? Mr. Fare tells me that you are one of the cleverest criminologists of the century, and as it is a study which I have made particularly my own, I shall be glad to make your acquaintance.'"
It was signed "Pertham" and there was a postscript running——
"Of course, this invitation also includes your friend."
Manfred rubbed his chin.
"I really do not want to dine fashionably tonight," he said.
"But I do," said Leon promptly. "I have developed a taste for English cooking, and I seem to remember that Lord Pertham is an epicurean."
Promptly at the hour of eight they presented themselves at the big house standing at the corner of Connaught Gardens and were admitted by a footman who took their hats and coats and showed them into a large and gloomy drawing-room.
A man was standing with his back to the fire—a tall man of fifty with a mane of grey hair, that gave him an almost leonine appearance.
He came quickly to meet them.
"Which is Mr. Fuentes?" he asked, speaking in English.
"I am Signer Fuentes," replied Manfred, with a smile, "but it is my friend who is the criminologist."
"Delighted to meet you both—but I have an apology to make to you;" he said, speaking hurriedly. "By some mischance—the stupidity of one of my men—the letter addressed to Fare was not posted. I only discovered it half an hour ago. I hope you don't mind."
Manfred murmured something conventional and then the door opened to admit a lady.
"I want to present you to her ladyship," said Lord Pertham.
The woman who came in was thin and vinegary, a pair of pale eyes, a light-lipped mouth and a trick of frowning deprived her of whatever charm Nature had given to her.
Leon Gonsalez, who analysed faces automatically and mechanically, thought, "Spite—suspicion—uncharity—vanity."
The frown deepened as she offered a limp hand.
"Dinner is ready, Pertham," she said, and made no attempt to be agreeable to her guests.
It was an awkward meal. Lord Pertham was nervous and his nervousness might have communicated itself to the two men if they had been anything but what they were. This big man seemed to be in terror of his wife—was deferential, even humble in her presence, and when at last she swept her sour face from the room he made no attempt to hide his sigh of relief.
"I am afraid we haven't given you a very good dinner," he said. "Her ladyship has had a little—er—disagreement with my cook."
Apparently her ladyship was in the habit of having little disagreements with her cook, for in the course of the conversation which followed he casually mentioned certain servants in his household who were no longer in his employ. He spoke mostly of their facial characteristics, and it seemed to Manfred, who was listening as intently as his companion, that his lordship was not a great authority upon the subject. He spoke haltingly, made several obvious slips, but Leon did not correct him. He mentioned casually that he had an additional interest in criminals because his own life had been threatened.
"Let us go up and join my lady," he said after a long and blundering exposition of some phase of criminology which Manfred could have sworn he had read up for the occasion.
They went up the broad stairs into a little drawing-room on the first floor. It was empty. His lordship was evidently surprised.
"I wonder——" he began, when the door opened and Lady Pertham ran in. Her face was white and her thin lips were trembling.
"Pertham," she said rapidly, "I'm sure there's a man in my dressing-room."
"In your dressing-room?" said Lord Pertham, and ran out quickly.
The two men would have followed him, but he stopped half-way up the stairs and waved them back.
"You had better wait with her ladyship," he said. "Ring for Thomas, my love," he said.
Standing at the foot of the stairs they heard him moving about. Presently they heard a cry and the sound of a struggle. Manfred was half-way up the stairs when a door slammed above. Then came the sound of voices and a shot, followed by a heavy fall.
Manfred flung himself against the door from whence the sound came.
"It's all right," said Lord Pertham's voice.
A second later he unlocked the door and opened it.
"I'm afraid I've killed this fellow."
The smoking revolver was still in his hand. In the middle of the floor lay a poorly dressed man and his blood stained the pearl-grey carpet.
Gonsalez walked quickly to the body and turned it over. At the first sight he knew that the man was dead. He looked long and earnestly in his face, and Lord Pertham said:
"Do you know him?"
"I think so," said Gonsalez quietly. "He is my colour-blind criminal," for he had recognised the brother of Mrs. Prothero.
They walked home to their lodgings that night leaving Lord Pertham closeted with a detective-inspector, and Lady Pertham in hysterics.
Neither man spoke until they reached their flat, then Leon, with a sigh of content, curled up in the big armchair and pulled lovingly at an evil-smelling cigar.
He took no notice.
Leon shifted his head round and met George's eye.
"Did anything about that shooting to-night strike you as peculiar?"
"Several things," said Leon.
"Such as the oddness of the fate that took Slippery Bill—that was the name of my burglar—to Lord Pertham's house. It was not odd that he should commit the burglary, because he was a ladder larcenist, as you call him. By the way, did you look at the dead man's hand?" he asked, twisting round and peering across the table at Manfred.
"No, I didn't," said the other in surprise.
"What a pity—you would have thought it still more peculiar. What are the things you were thinking of?"
"I was wondering why Lord Pertham carried a revolver. He must have had it in his pocket at dinner."
"That is easily explained," said Gonsalez. "Don't you remember his telling us that his life had been threatened in anonymous letters?"
"I had forgotten that," he said. "But who locked the door?"
"The burglar, of course," said Leon and smiled. And by that smile Manfred knew that he was prevaricating. "And talking of locked doors——"
He went into his room and returned with two little instruments that looked like the gongs of electric bells, except that there was a prong sticking up from each.
He locked the sitting-room door and placed one of these articles on the floor, sticking the spike into the bottom of the door so that it was impossible to open without exercising pressure upon the bell. He tried it and there was a shrill peal.
"That's all right," he said, and turned to examine the windows.
"Are you expecting burglars?"
"I am rather," said Leon, "and really I cannot afford to lose my sleep."
Not satisfied with the fastening of the window he pushed in a little wedge, and performed the same office to the second of the windows looking upon the street.
Another door, leading to Manfred's room from the passage without, he treated as he had served the first.
In the middle of the night there was a frantic ring from one of the bells. Manfred leapt out of bed and switched on the light. His own door was fast and he raced into the sitting-room, but Gonsalez was there before him examining the little sentinel by the door. The door had been unlocked. He kicked away the alarm with his slippered foot.
"Come in, Lord Pertham," he said. "Let's talk this matter over."
There was a momentary silence, then the sound of a slippered foot, and a man came in. He was fully dressed and hatless, and Manfred, seeing the bald head, gasped.
"Sit down and make yourself at home, and let me relieve you of that lethal weapon you have in your pocket, because this matter can be arranged very amicably," said Leon.
It was undoubtedly Lord Pertham, though the great mop of hair had vanished, and Manfred could only stare as Leon's left hand slipped into the pocket of the midnight visitor and drew forth a revolver which he placed carefully on the mantelshelf.
Lord Pertham sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. For a while the silence was unbroken.
"You may remember the Honourable George Fearnside," began Leon, and Manfred started.
"Fearnside? Why, he was on the Prince's yacht——"
"He was on the Prince's yacht," agreed Gonsalez, "and we thoroughly believed that he did not associate us with escaping malefactors, but apparently he knew us for the Four Just Men. You came into your title about six years ago, didn't you, Pertham?"
The bowed figure nodded. Presently he sat up—his face was white and there were black circles about his eyes.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, "it seems that instead of getting you, you have got me. Now what are you going to do?"
Gonsalez laughed softly.
"For myself," he said, "I am certainly not going in the witness-box to testify that Lord Pertham is a bigamist and for many years has been leading a double life. Because that would mean I should also have to admit certain uncomfortable things about myself."
The man licked his lips and then:
"I came to kill you," he said thickly.
"So we gather," said Manfred. "What is this story, Leon?"
"Perhaps his lordship will tell us," said Gonsalez.
Lord Pertham looked round for something.
"I want a glass of water," he said, and it was Leon who brought it.
"It is perfectly true," said Lord Pertham after a while. "I recognised you fellows as two of the Four Just Men. I used to be a great friend of His Highness, and it was by accident that I was on board the yacht when you were taken off. His Highness told me a yarn about some escapade, but when I got to Spain and read the newspaper account of the escape I was pretty certain that I knew who you were. You probably know something about my early life, how I went before the mast as a common sailor and travelled all over the world. It was the kind of life which satisfied me more than any, other, for I got to know people and places and to know them from an angle which I should never have understood in any other way. If you ever want to see the world, travel in the fo'c'sle," he said with a half-smile.
"I met Martha Grey one night in the East End of London at a theatre. When I was a seaman I acted like a seaman. My father and I were not on the best of terms and I never wanted to go home. She sat by my side in the pit of the theatre and ridiculous as it may seem to you I fell in love with her."
"You were then married?" said Leon, but the man shook his head.
"No," he said quickly. "Like a fool I was persuaded to marry her ladyship about three months later, after I had got sick of the sea and had come back to my own people. She was an heiress and it was a good match for me. That was before my father had inherited his cousin's money. My life with her ladyship was a hell upon earth. You saw her to-night and you can guess the kind of woman she is. I have too great a respect for women and live too much in awe of them to exercise any control over her viperish temper and it was the miserable life I lived with her which drove me to seek out Martha.
"Martha is a good girl," he said, and there was a glitter in his eye as he challenged denial. "The purest, the dearest, the sweetest woman that ever lived. It was when I met her again that I realised how deeply in love I was, and as with a girl of her character there was no other way—I married her. I had fever when I was on a voyage to Australia and lost all my hair. That was long before I met Martha. I suppose it was vanity on my part, but when I went back to my own life and my own people, as I did for a time after that, I had a wig made which served the double purpose of concealing my infirmity and preventing my being recognised by my former shipmates.
"As the little hair I had had gone grey I had the wig greyed too, had it made large and poetical—" he smiled sadly, "to make my disguise more complete. Martha didn't mind my bald head. God bless her!" he said softly, "and my life with her has been a complete and unbroken period of happiness. I have to leave her at times to manage my own affairs and in those times I pretend to be at sea, just as I used to pretend to her ladyship that business affairs called me to America to explain my absence from her."
"The man you shot was Martha's half-brother, of course," said Gonsalez, and Lord Pertham nodded.
"It was just ill luck which brought him to my house," he said, "sheer bad luck. In the struggle my wig came off, he recognised me and I shot him," he said simply. "I shot him deliberately and in cold blood, not only because he threatened to wreck my happiness, but because for years he has terrorised his sister and has been living on her poor earnings."
"I saw grey hair in his hands and I guessed what had happened," he said.
"Now what are you going to do?" asked the Earl of Pertham.
Leon was smoking now.
"What are you going to do?" he asked in retort. "Perhaps you would like me to tell you?"
"I should," said the man earnestly.
"You are going to take your bigamous wife abroad just as soon as this inquest is over, and you are going to wait a reasonable time and then persuade your wife to get a divorce. After which you will marry your Mrs. Prothero in your own name," said Gonsalez.
"Leon," said Manfred after Fearnside had gone back to the room above, the room he had taken in the hope of discovering how much Gonsalez knew, "I think you are a thoroughly unmoral person. Suppose Lady Pertham does not divorce his lordship?"
"There is really no need for her to divorce Lord Pertham," he said, "for his lordship told us a little lie. He married his Martha first, deserted her and went back to her. I happen to know this because I have already examined both registers, and I know there was a Mrs. Prothero before there was a Lady Pertham."
"You're a wonderful fellow, Leon," said Manfred admiringly.
"I am," admitted Leon Gonsalez.