Charles Garrett, admirable journalist, had written the last line of a humorous description of a local concert at which a cabinet minister had sung pathetic ballads. Charles wrote with difficulty, for the situation had been of itself so funny, that extracting its hidden humours was a more than ordinarily heartbreaking thing. But he had finished and the thick batch of copy lay on the chief sub-editor”s desk—Charles wrote on an average six words to a folio, and a half a column story from his pen bulked like a three-volume novel.
Charles stopped to threaten an office-boy who had misdirected a letter, strolled into various quiet offices to “see who was there” and with his raincoat on his arm, and his stick in his hand, stopped at the end of his wanderings before the chattering tape machine. He looked through the glass box that shielded the mechanism, and was interested in a message from Teheran in the course of transmission.
“… at early date. Grand Vizier has informed Exchange Correspondent that the construction of line will be pushed forward …”
The tape stopped its stuttering and buzzed excitedly, then came a succession of quick jerks that cleared away the uncompleted message.
Then “… the leader of the Four Just Men was arrested in London to-night,” said the tape, and Charles broke for the editor’s room.
He flung open the door without ceremony, and repeated the story the little machine had told.
The grey chief received the news quietly, and the orders he gave in the next five minutes inconvenienced some twenty or thirty unoffending people.
The construction of the “story” of the Four Just Men, began at the lower rung of the intellectual ladder.
“You boy! get half a dozen taxicabs here quick… Poynter, ’phone the reporters in … get the Lambs Club on the ’phone and see if O’Mahony or any other of our bright youths are there…. There are five columns about the Four Just Men standing in the gallery, get it pulled up, Mr. Short… pictures—h’m … yet wire Massonni to get down to the police station and see if he can find a policeman who”ll give him material for a sketch…. Off you go, Charles, and get the story.”
There was no flurry, no rush; it was for all the world like the scene on a modern battleship when “clear lower deck for action” had sounded. Two hours to get the story into the paper was ample, and there was no need for the whip.
Later, with the remorseless hands of the clock moving on, taxi after taxi flew up to the great newspaper office, discharging alert young men who literally leapt into the building. Later, with waiting operators sitting tensely before the keyboards of the linotypes, came Charles Garrett doing notable things with a stump of pencil and a ream of thin copy paper.
It was the Megaphone that shone splendidly amidst its journalistic fellows, with pages—I quote the envenomed opinion of the news editor of the Mercury—that “shouted like the checks on a bookmaker’s waistcoat”.
It was the Megaphone that fed the fires of public interest, and was mainly responsible for the huge crowds that gathered outside Greenwich Police Court, and overflowed in dense masses to the foot of Blackheath Hill, whilst Manfred underwent his preliminary inquiries.
“George Manfred, aged 39, of no occupation, residing at Hill Crest Lodge, St John’s.” In this prosaic manner he was introduced to the world.
He made a striking figure in the steel-railed dock. A chair was placed for him, and he was guarded as few prisoners had been guarded. A special cell had been prepared for his reception, and departing from established custom, extra warders were detailed to watch him. Falmouth took no risks.
The charge that had been framed had to do with no well-known case. Many years before, one Samuel Lipski, a notorious East End sweater, had been found dead with the stereotyped announcement that he had fallen to the justice of the Four. Upon this the Treasury founded its case for the prosecution—a case which had been very thoroughly and convincingly prepared, and pigeon-holed against such time as arrest should overtake one or the other of the Four Just Men.
Reading over the thousands of newspaper cuttings dealing with the preliminary examination and trial of Manfred, I am struck with the absence of any startling feature, such as one might expect to find in a great state trial of this description. Summarizing the evidence that was given at the police court, one might arrange the “parts” of the dozen or so commonplace witnesses so that they read:
A policeman: “I found the body.”
An inspector: “I read the label.”
A doctor: “I pronounced him dead.”
An only man with a slight squint and broken English: “This man Lipski, I known him, he were a goot man and make the business wit the head, ker-vick.”
And the like.
Manfred refused to plead “guilty” or “not guilty”. He spoke only once during the police court proceedings, and then only when the formal question had been put to him.
“I am prepared to abide by the result of my trial,” he said clearly, “and it cannot matter much one way or the other whether I plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’”
“I will enter your plea as ‘not guilty,’” said the magistrate.
“That is at your worship’s discretion,” he said.
On the seventh of June he was formally committed for trial. He had a short interview with Falmouth before he was removed from the police-court cells.
Falmouth would have found it difficult to analyse his feelings towards this man. He scarcely knew himself whether he was glad or sorry that fate had thrown the redoubtable leader into his hands.
His attitude to Manfred was that of a subordinate to a superior, and that attitude he would have found hardest to explain.
When the cell door was opened to admit the detective, Manfred was reading. He rose with a cheery smile to greet his visitor. “Well, Mr. Falmouth,” he said lightly, “we enter upon the second and more serious act of the drama.”
“I don”t know whether I’m glad or sorry,” said Falmouth bluntly.
“You ought to be glad,” said Manfred with his quizzical smile. “For you’ve vindicated——”
“Yes, I know all about that,” said Falmouth dryly, “but it”s the other part I hate.”
Manfred did not complete the question.
“I do—it’s a hanging job, Mr. Manfred, and that is the hateful business after the wonderful work you’ve done for the country.”
Manfred threw back his head, and laughed in unrestrained amusement.
“Oh, it’s nothing to laugh about,” said the plain-spoken detective, “you are against a bad proposition—the Home Secretary is a cousin of Ramon’s, and he hates the very name of the Four Just Men.”
“Yet I may laugh,” said Manfred calmly, “for I shall escape.”
There was no boastfulness in the speech, but a quiet assurance that had the effect of nettling the other.
“Oh, you will, will you?” he said grimly. “Well, we shall see.”
There was no escape for Manfred in the dozen yards or so between his cell door and the prison van. He was manacled to two warders, and a double line of policemen formed an avenue through which he was marched. Not from the van itself that moved in a solid phalanx of mounted men with drawn swords. Nor from the gloomy portals of Wandsworth Gaol where silent, uniformed men closed round him and took him to the triple-locked cell.
Once in the night, as he slept, he was awakened by the sound of the changing guard, and this amused him.
If one had the space to write, one could compile a whole book concerning Manfred’s life during the weeks he lay in gaol awaiting trial. He had his visitors. Unusual laxity was allowed in this respect. Falmouth hoped to find the other two men. He generously confessed his hope to Manfred.
“You may make your mind easy on that point,” said Manfred; “they will not come.”
Falmouth believed him.
“If you were an ordinary criminal, Mr. Manfred,” he said smilingly, “I should hint the possibilities of King’s evidence, but I won’t insult you.”
Manfred’s reply staggered him.
“Of course not,” he said with an air of innocence; “if they were arrested, who on earth would arrange my escape?”
The Woman of Gratz did not come to see him, and he was glad.
He had his daily visits from the governor, and found him charmingly agreeable. They talked of countries known to both, of people whom each knew equally well, and tacitly avoided forbidden subjects. Only——
“I hear you are going to escape?” said the governor, as he concluded one of these visits. He was a largely built man, sometime Major of Marine Artillery, and he took life seriously. Therefore he did not share Falmouth’s view of the projected escape as being an ill-timed jest.
“Yes,” replied Manfred.
Manfred shook his head solemnly.
“The details have not yet been arranged,” he said with admirable gravity. The governor frowned.
“I don’t believe you”re trying to pull my leg—it’s too devilishly serious a matter to joke about—but it would be an awkward thing for me if you got away.” He was of the prisoner”s own caste and he had supreme faith in the word of the man who discussed prison-breaking so lightheartedly.
“That I realize,” said Manfred with a little show of deference, “and I shall accordingly arrange my plans, so that the blame shall be equally distributed.”
The governor, still frowning thoughtfully, left the cell. He came back in a few minutes.
“By the way, Manfred,” he said, “I forgot to tell you that you’ll get a visit from the chaplain. He’s a very decent young fellow, and I know I needn’t ask you to let him down lightly.”
With this subtle assumption of mutual paganism, he left finally.
“That is a worthy gentleman,” thought Manfred.
The chaplain was nervously anxious to secure an opening, and sought amidst the trivialities that led out of the conventional exchange of greetings a fissure for the insertion of a tactful inquiry.
Manfred, seeing his embarrassment, gave him the chance, and listened respectfully while the young man talked, earnestly, sincerely, manfully.
“N—no,” said the prisoner after a while, “I don’t think, Mr. Summers, that you and I hold very different opinions, if they were all reduced to questions of faith and appreciation of God”s goodness—but I have got to a stage where I shrink from labelling my inmost beliefs with this or that creed, or circumscribing the boundless limits of my faith with words. I know you will forgive me and believe that I do not say this from any desire to hurt you, but I have reached, too, a phase of conviction where I am adamant to outside influence. For good or ill, I must stand by the conceptions that I have built out of my own life and its teachings.
“There is another, and a more practical reason,” he added, “why I should not do you or any other chaplain the disservice of taking up your time—I have no intention of dying.”
With this, the young minister was forced to be content. He met Manfred frequently, talking of books and people and of strange religions.
To the warders and those about him, Manfred was a source of constant wonder. He never wearied them with the recital of his coming attempt. Yet all that he said and did seemed founded on that one basic article of faith: I shall escape.
The governor took every precaution to guard against rescue. He applied for and secured reinforcements of warders, and Manfred, one morning at exercise seeing strange faces amongst his guards, bantered him with over-nervousness.
“Yes,” said the Major, “I’ve doubled the staff. I’m taking you at your word, that is all—one must cling tight to the last lingering shreds of faith one has in mankind. You say that you”re going to escape, and I believe you.” He thought a moment, “I’ve studied you,” he added.
“Not here,” said the governor, comprehending the prison in a sweep of his hand, “but outside—read about you and thought about you and a little dimly understood you—that makes me certain that you’ve got something at the back of your mind when you talk so easily of escape.”
Manfred nodded. He nodded many times thoughtfully, and felt a new interest in the bluff, brusque man.
“And whilst I’m doubling the guard and that sort of thing, I know in my heart that that ‘something’ of yours isn’t ‘something’ with dynamite in it, or ‘something’ with brute force behind it, but it’s “something” that’s devilishly deep—that”s how I read it.”
He jerked his head in farewell, and the cell door closed behind him with a great jangling and snapping of keys.
He might have been tried at the sessions following his committal, but the Crown applied for a postponement, and being informed and asked whether he would care to raise any objection to that course, he replied that so far from objecting, he was grateful, because his arrangements were not yet completed, and when they asked him, knowing that he had refused solicitor and counsel, what arrangements he referred to, he smiled enigmatically and they knew he was thinking of this wonderful plan of escape. That such persistent assurances of delivery should eventually reach the public through the public press was only to be expected, and although “Manfred says he will escape from Wandsworth” in the Megaphone headline, became “A prisoner”s strange statement” in the Times, the substance of the story was the same, and you may be sure that it lost nothing in the telling. A Sunday journal, with a waning circulation, rallied on the discovery that Manfred was mad, and published a column-long account of this “poor lunatic gibbering of freedom.”
Being allowed to read the newspapers, Manfred saw this, and it kept him amused for a whole day.
The warders in personal attendance on him were changed daily, he never had the same custodian twice till the governor saw a flaw in the method that allowed a warder with whom he was only slightly acquainted, and of whose integrity he was ignorant, to come into close contact with his prisoner. Particularly did this danger threaten from the new officers who had been drafted to Wandsworth to reinforce the staff, and the governor went to the other extreme, and two trusted men, who had grown old in the service, were chosen for permanent watch-dogs.
“You won’t be able to have any more newspapers,” said the governor one morning. “I’ve had orders from headquarters—there have been some suspicious-looking ‘agonies’ in the Megaphone this last day or so.”
“I did not insert them,” said Manfred, smiling.
“No—but you may have read them,” said the governor drily.
“So I might have,” said the thoughtful Manfred.
Manfred made no reply.
“I suppose that isn’t a fair question,” said the governor cheerfully; “anyhow, no more papers. You can have books—any books you wish within limits.”
So Manfred was denied the pleasure of reading the little paragraphs that described the movements and doings of the fashionable world. Just then these interested him more than the rest of the newspaper put together. Such news as he secured was of a negative kind and through the governor.
“Am I still mad?” he asked.
“Was I born in Brittany—the son of humble parents?”
“No—there”s another theory now.”
“Is my real name still supposed to be Isadore something-or-other?”
“You are now a member of a noble family, disappointed at an early age by a reigning princess,” said the governor impressively.
“How romantic!” said Manfred in hushed tones. The gravity of his years, that was beyond his years, fell away from him in that time of waiting. He became almost boyish again. He had a never-ending fund of humour that turned even the tremendous issues of his trial into subject-matter of amusement.
Armed with the authority of the Home Secretary came Luigi Fressini, the youthful director of the Anthropological Institute of Rome.
Manfred agreed to see him and made him as welcome as the circumstances permitted. Fressini was a little impressed with his own importance, and had the professional manner strongly developed. He had a perky way of dropping his head on one side when he made observations, and reminded Manfred of a horse-dealer blessed with a little knowledge, but anxious to discover at all hazards the “points” that fitted in with his preconceived theories. “I would like to measure your head,” he said.
“I’m afraid I cannot oblige you,” said Manfred coolly; “partly because I object to the annoyance of it, and partly because head-measuring in anthropology is as much out of date as blood-letting in surgery.”
The director was on his dignity.
“I’m afraid I cannot take lessons in the science——” he began.
“Oh, yes, you can,” said Manfred, “and you’d be a greater man if you did. As it is Antonio de Costa and Felix Hedeman are both beating you on your own ground—that monograph of yours on ‘Cerebral Dynamics’ was awful nonsense.”
Whereupon Fressini went very red and spluttered and left the cell, afterwards in his indiscretion granting an interview to an evening newspaper, in the course of which he described Manfred as a typical homicide with those peculiarities of parietal development, that are invariably associated with cold-blooded murderers. For publishing what constituted a gross contempt of court, the newspaper was heavily fined, and at the instance of the British Government, Fressini was reprimanded, and eventually superseded by that very De Costa of whom Manfred spoke.
All these happenings formed the comedy of the long wait, and as to the tragedy, there was none.
A week before the trial Manfred, in the course of conversation, expressed a desire for a further supply of books.
“What do you want?” asked the governor, and prepared to take a note.
“Oh, anything,” said Manfred lazily—“travel, biography, science, sport—anything new that’s going.”
“I’ll get you a list,” said the governor, who was not a booky man. “The only travel books I know are those two new things, Three Months in Morocco and Through the Ituri Forest. One of them’s by a new man, Theodore Max—do you know him?”
Manfred shook his head.
“But I”ll try them,” he said.
“Isn’t it about time you started to prepare your defence?” the governor asked gruffly.
“I have ho defence to offer,” said Manfred, “therefore no defence to prepare.”
The governor seemed vexed.
“Isn’t life sufficiently sweet to you—to urge you to make an effort to save it?” he asked roughly, “or are you going to give it up without a struggle?”
“I shall escape,” said Manfred again; “aren’t you tired of hearing me tell you why I make no effort to save myself?”
“When the newspapers start the ‘mad’ theory again,” said the exasperated prison official, “I shall feel most inclined to break the regulations and write a letter in support of the speculation.”
“Do,” said Manfred cheerfully, “and tell them that I run round my cell on all fours biting visitors’ legs.”
The next day the books arrived. The mysteries of the Ituri Forest remained mysteries, but Three Months in Morocco (big print, wide margins, 12s. 6d.) he read with avidity from cover to cover, notwithstanding the fact that the reviewers to a man condemned it as being the dullest book of the season. Which was an unkindly reflection upon the literary merits of its author, Leon Gonsalez, who had worked early and late to prepare the book for the press, writing far into the night, whilst Poiccart, sitting at the other side of the table, corrected the damp proofs as they came from the printer.