Read CHAPTER XXVI - ‘WHEN ROGUES’ of The Dictator , free online book, by Justin McCarthy, on ReadCentral.com.

‘I have put out the fire, Sir Rupert,’ Ericson said composedly, ’or, rather, I have shown your men how to do it. It was not a very difficult job after all, and they managed very well. They obeyed orders that is the good point about all Englishmen.’

‘Well, what’s to be done now?’ Sir Rupert asked.

’Now? I don’t know that there is much to be done now by us. We shall be soon in the hands of the coroner, and the magistrates, and the police; is not that the regular sort of thing?’

’Yes, I suppose we must put up with the ordinary conventionalities of criminal administration. Our American friends, these two gentlemen here, Professor Flick and Mr. Copping, they are rather anxious to be allowed to go on their way. We have taken up some of their valuable time already by bringing them down to this out-of-the-way sort of place.’

’Oh, but, Sir Rupert, ‘twas so great an honour to us,’ Mr. Copping said, and a very keen observer might have fancied that he gave a glance to Professor Flick which admonished him to join in protest against the theory that any inconvenience could have come from the kindly acceptance of an invitation to Seagate Hall.

‘Of course, of course,’ Professor Flick murmured perfunctorily.

‘I don’t see how we can release our friends just yet,’ Ericson replied quietly. ’There will be questions of evidence. These gentlemen may have seen something you and I did not see, they may have heard something we did not hear. But the delay will not be long in any case, I should think, and meanwhile this is not a very disagreeable place to stay in, now that we have succeeded in putting out the fire, and we don’t expect any more dynamite explosions.’

‘Then the fire is all out?’ Sir Rupert asked, not hurriedly, but certainly somewhat anxiously, as anxiously as a somewhat self-conscious Minister of State could own up to.

‘Yes, we have got it under completely,’ the Dictator replied, as calmly as if the putting out of fires were the natural business of his daily life.

‘Then perhaps we can let these gentlemen go,’ Sir Rupert suggested, for he felt a sort of unwillingness, being the host, to keep anyone under his roof longer than the guest desired to tarry.

‘No no I am afraid we can’t do that just yet,’ Ericson replied; ’we shall all have to give our evidence to tell what each of us knows. Our American friends will not grudge remaining a little time longer with us in order to help us to explain to our police authorities what this whole thing is, and how it came about.’

‘Delighted delighted I am sure to stay here under any conditions,’ Mr. Copping hastened to say.

‘But still, if one has other work to do,’ Professor Flick was beginning to articulate.

‘My friend is very much occupied with his own special culture,’ Mr. Copping said in gentle explanation, ’and he does not quite live in the ordinary world of men; but still, I think he will see how necessary it is that we should stay here just for the present and add our testimony, as impartial outsiders, to what the regular residents of the house may have to tell.’

‘I can tell nothing,’ Professor Flick said bluntly, and yet with curiously trembling lip.

‘Oh, yes you can,’ his colleague added blandly; and again he flashed a danger signal on the eyes that were alert enough when not actually observed under the moony spectacles.

The signalled eyes under the moony spectacles received the danger signal with something of impatience. The learned Professor seemed to be beginning to think that the time had come in this particular business for every man to drag his own corpse out of the fight. The influence of Mr. Copping of Omaha had kept him in due control for awhile, but the time was clearly coming when the Professor would kick over the traces and give his friend from Omaha the good-bye. It was curious it might have been evident to anyone who was there and took notice that the parts of the two friends had changed of late. When the pair set out on their London social expedition the Professor with his folk-lore was the man deliberately put in front and the leader of the whole enterprise. Now it seemed somehow as if the sceptre of the leadership had suddenly and altogether passed into the hands of the quiet Mr. Andrew Copping of Omaha. Ericson began to see something of this, and to be impressed by it. But he said nothing to Sir Rupert; his own suspicions were only suspicions as yet. He was trying to get two names back to his memory, and he felt sure he had much better let events discover and display themselves.

‘Still, I don’t quite know that I can stay,’ Professor Flick began to argue. Mr. Copping struck impatiently in:

’Why, of course, Professor Flick, you have just got to stay. We are bound to stay, don’t you see? We must throw all the light we can on this distressing business.’

‘But I can’t throw any light,’ the hapless Professor said, ’upon anything. And I came to England about folk-lore, and not about cases of dynamite and fire and explosions.’

The dawn was now beginning to throw light on various things. It was flooding the corridor there were splashes of red sunlight on the floors, which to the excited imagination of Helena seemed like little pools of blood. There was a stained window in the corridor which certainly caught the softest stream of the entering sunlight, and transfigured it there and then into a stream of blood. Helena and the Duchess had stolen back into the corridor; Mrs. Sarrasin and Miss Paulo were in attendance on Captain Sarrasin; the Duchess and Helena both felt in a vague manner that sense of being rather in the way which most women feel when some serious business concerning men is going on, and they have no particular mission to stanch a wound or smooth a pillow.

‘I think, dear child,’ the Duchess whispered, ’we had better go and leave these men to themselves.’

But Helena’s eyes were fixed on the Dictator’s face. She had heard about the easy way in which he had got the fire under, but just now she felt sure that he was thinking of something quite different and something very serious.

‘Stay a moment, Duchess,’ she entreated; ’they won’t mind us or my father will tell us to go if they want us away.’

Then there was a little commotion caused by the arrival of the coroner for that part of the county, two local doctors, and the local inspector of police. The coroner, Mr. St. John Raven, was very proud of being summoned to the house of so great a man as Sir Rupert Langley. Mysterious deaths and mysterious crimes in the home of a Minister of State are events that cannot happen in the lives of many coroners. The doctors and the police inspector were less swelled up with pride. The sore throat of a lady’s maid would at any time bring a doctor to Seagate Hall; the most commonplace burglary, without any question of jewels, would summon the police inspector thither. After formal salutations, Mr. St. John Raven looked doubtfully adown the corridor.

‘I think,’ he suggested, ’we had better, Sir Rupert, request these ladies to withdraw unless, of course, either is in a position to contribute by personal evidence to the elucidation of the case. Of course, if either can, or both ’

‘I can’t tell anything,’ Helena said; ’I heard a crash, and that was all I felt as if I were in an earthquake; I know nothing more about it.’

‘I hardly know even so much,’ the Duchess said, ’for I had not wits enough left in me even to think about the earthquake. Come, dear child, let us go.’

She made a sweeping bow to all the company. The coroner afterwards learned that she was a Duchess, and was glad to have caught her eyes.

‘I have summoned a jury,’ the coroner said blandly. Sir Rupert winced. The idea of having a coroner’s jury in his home seemed a sort of degradation to him. But so, too, did the idea of a dynamite explosion. Even his genuine grief for poor Soame Rivers left room enough in his breast for a very considerable stowage of vexation that the whole confounded thing should have happened in his house. Grief is seldom so arbitrary as to exclude vexation. The giant comes attended by his dwarf.

‘Well, we shall have a look at everything,’ the coroner said cheerily. ‘I suppose we need not think of the possibility of a mere accident?’

And now Ericson found himself involuntarily, and voluntarily too, working out that marvellous, never-to-be-explained problem about the revival of a vanished memory. It is like the effort to bring back to life a three-parts drowned creature. Or it is like the effort to get some servant far down beneath you who has gone to sleep to rouse up and obey your call and attend to his duty. You ring and ring and no answer comes, until at last, when you have all but given up hope, the summons tells upon the sleeper’s ear and he wakes up and gives you his answer.

So it was with Ericson. Just as he thought the quest was hopeless, just as he thought the last opportunity was slipping by, his sluggish servant, Memory, woke up with a start, and fulfilled its duty.

And Ericson quietly put himself forward and said:

’I beg your pardon, Sir Rupert and Mr. Coroner, but I have to say something in this matter. I have to charge these two men, who say they are American citizens, with being escaped or released convicts from the State prison of the capital of Gloria, in South America. I charge them with being guilty of the plot for assassination and for dynamite in this house. I say that their names are Jose Cano and Manoel Silva. I say it was I who commuted the death sentence of these men to perpetual imprisonment, and I say that in my firm conviction they have been let loose to do these crimes.’

Sir Rupert seemed thunderstruck.

‘My dear Ericson,’ he pleaded. ‘These gentleman are my guests.’

‘I never remembered their names until this moment,’ Ericson said. ’But they are the men and they are the murderers.’

The face of Professor Flick was livid with fear. Great pearls of perspiration stood out on his forehead. Mr. Copping of Omaha stood composed and firm, like a man with his back to the wall who just turns up his sleeves and gets his sword and dagger ready and is prepared to try the last chance the very last.

‘We are American citizens,’ he said stoutly; ’the flag of the Stars and Stripes defends us wherever we go.’

‘God bless the flag of the Stars and Stripes,’ Ericson exclaimed, ’and if it shelters you I shall have nothing more to say. But only just try if it will either claim you or shelter you. I remember now that you both of you did take refuge for a long time in Southern California, but if you prove yourselves American citizens, then you can be made to answer to American reading of international law, and the flag of the Great Republic will not shelter convicts from a prison in Gloria when they are accused of dynamite outrage in England. Sir Rupert, Mr. Coroner, I have only to ask you to do your duty.’

‘This will be an international question,’ Mr. Andrew Copping quietly said. ‘There will be a row over this.’

‘No there won’t,’ Professor Flick declared abruptly. ’Look here, we have made a muddle of this. My comrade in this business has been managing things pretty badly; he always wanted to boss the show too much. Now I am getting sick of all that, don’t you see? I have had the dangerous part always, and he has had the pleasure of bullying me. Now I am tired of all that, and I have made up my mind, and I am just going to have the bulge on him by turning what do you call it? Queen’s evidence.’

Then Mr. Andrew Copping suddenly thrust himself into the front.

‘No you don’t you bet you don’t!’ he exclaimed. ’You are a coward and a traitor, and you shall never give Queen’s evidence or any other evidence against me.’

Those who stood around thought he was going to strike Professor Flick. Some ran between, but they were not quick enough. Copping made one clutch at his breast, and then, with a touch that seemed as light as if he were merely throwing his hand into the air unpurposing, he made a push at the breast of Professor Flick, and Professor Flick went down as the bull goes down in the amphitheatre of Madrid or Seville when the hand of the practised swordsman has touched him with the point in just the place where he lived. Professor Flick, as he called himself, was dead, and the whole plot was revealed and was over.

By a curious stroke of fate it was Ericson who caught the dying Professor Flick as he fainted and died, and it was Hamilton who gripped the murderer, the so-called Copping. Copping made no struggle; the police took quiet charge of him and of his weapon.

‘Well, I think,’ said Sir Rupert with a shudder, ’we have case enough for a committal now.’

‘We have occasion,’ said the Coroner with functional gravity, ’for three inquests; three? no, pardon me, for four inquests, and for at least one charge of deliberate murder.’

‘Good Heaven, how coolly one takes it,’ Sir Rupert murmured, ’when it really does happen! Well, Mr. Coroner, Mr. Inspector, we must have a warrant signed for Mr. Andrew J. Copping’s detention if he still prefers to be called by that name.’

‘Call me by any name you like,’ Copping said sullenly, but pluckily. ’I don’t care what you call me or what you do to me, so long as I have had the best of the traitor who deserted me in the fight. He’ll not give any Queen’s evidence that’s all I care about now. I’d have done the work but for that coward; I’d have done the work if I had been alone!’

Yet a little, and the silence and quietude of a perfectly serene and ordered household had returned to Seagate Hall. The Coroner’s jury had viewed the dead, and then had gone off to the best public-house in the village to hold their inquest. The dead themselves had been laid in seemly beds. The Sicilian and the victimised serving-man were not allowed to be seen by anyone but the Coroner and his jury, and the police officials, and of course the doctors. Almost any wound may be seen by courageous and kindly eyes that is not on the head and face. But a destruction to the head and face is a sight that the bravest and most kindly eyes had better not look upon unless they are trained against shock and horror by long prosaic experience. The wounds of Soame Rivers happened to be almost altogether in his chest and ribs his chest was well-nigh torn away and when the doctors and the nurses made him up seemly in his death-bed he might be looked upon without horror. He was looked upon by Helena Langley without horror. She sat beside him, and mourned over him, and cried over him, and wished that she could have better appreciated him while he lived and never did know, and never will know, what was the act of treachery which had stirred him up to remorse and to manhood, and which in fact had redeemed him, and had caused his death.

Silence and order fell with subdued voice upon the house which had so lately crashed with dynamite and rung with hurrying, scurrying feet. The Coroner’s jury had found a verdict of wilful murder against the man describing himself as Andrew J. Copping of Omaha, for the killing of the man describing himself as Professor Flick, and had found that the calamities at Seagate Hall were the work of certain conspirators at present not fully known, but of whom Andrew J. Copping, otherwise known as Manoel Silva, was charged with being one. Then the whole question was remitted into the hands of the magistrates and the police; and the so-called Andrew J. Copping was sent to the County Gaol to await his trial. The Dictator had little evidence to give except the fact of his distinct recollection that two men, whose names he perfectly well remembered now, but whose faces he could not identify, had been relieved by him from the death penalty in Gloria, but had been sent to penal servitude for life; and that he believed the men who called themselves Flick and Copping were the two professional murderers. The fact could easily be established by telegraph had, as we know, been already established that the real Professor Flick, the authority on folk-lore, had not yet reached England, but would soon be here on his way home. Not many hours of investigation were needed to foreshadow the whole plan and purpose of the conspiracy. In any case, it did not seem likely that the man who called himself Andrew J. Copping would give himself any great trouble to interfere with the regular course of justice. No matter how often he was warned by the police officials that any words he chose to utter would be taken down and used in evidence against him, he continued to say with a kind of delight that he had done his work faithfully, and that he could have done it quite successfully if he had not been mated with a coward and a skunk, and that he didn’t much care now what came of him, since he didn’t suppose they would let him loose and give him one hour’s chance again, and see if he couldn’t work the thing somewhat better than he had had a chance of doing before. If he had not trusted too long to the courage and nerve of his comrade it would have been all right, he said. His only remorse seemed to be in that self-accusation.

Sarrasin recovered consciousness in a few hours. As his plucky wife said, it took a good deal to kill him. His story was clear. The Sicilian the Saffron Hill Sicilian came into his room and tried to kill him. Of course the Sicilian believed that he was trying to kill Ericson. Sarrasin easily disarmed this pitiful assassin, and then came the explosion. Sarrasin was perfectly clear in his mind that the Sicilian had nothing to do with the explosion that it was made from without, and not from within the door. His own theory was clear from the beginning, and was in perfect harmony with the theory which the Dictator had formed at the time of the abortive attempt at assassination in St. James’s Park. Then a miserable stabber of the class familiar to every South Italian or South American town was hired at a good price to do a vulgar job which, if it only succeeded, would satisfy easily and cheaply the business of those who hired the murderer. The scheme failed, and something more subtle had to be sought. The something more subtle, according to Sarrasin, was found in the rehiring of the same creature to do a deed which he was told would be made quite easy for him the smuggling him into the house to do the deed; and then the surrounding of the deed with conditions which would at the same moment make him seem the sole actor in the deed, and destroy at once his life and his evidence. The real assassins, Sarrasin felt assured, had no doubt that their hireling would get a fair way on the road to his business of assassination, and then a well-timed dynamite cartridge would make sure his work, and would make sure also that he never could appear in evidence against the men who had set him on.

Thus it was that Sarrasin reasoned out the case from the first moment of his returning senses, and to this theory he held. But one of the first painful sensations in Sarrasin’s mind when he realised, appreciated, and enjoyed the fact that he was still alive that his wife was still alive that they were still left to live for one another one of the first painful sensations in his mind was that he could not go out with the Dictator to his landing in Gloria. It was clear to the stout old soldier that it must take some time before he could be of any personal use to any cause; and, despite of himself, he knew that he must regard himself as an invalid. It was a hard stroke of ill-luck. Still, he had known such strokes of ill-luck before. It had happened to him many a time to be stricken down in the first hour of a battle, and to be sent forthwith to the rear, and to lose the whole story of the struggle, and yet to pull through and fight another day many other days. So Sarrasin took his wife’s hand in his and whispered, ’We may have a chance yet; it may not all be settled so soon as some of them think.’

Mrs. Sarrasin comforted him.

’If it can be all settled without us, darling, so much the better! If it takes time and trouble, well, we shall be there.’

Consoled and encouraged by her sympathetic and resolute words, Sarrasin fell into a sound and wholesome sleep.