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When the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, receives a threatening, greenish-grey letter; ‘We shall have no other course to pursue but to fulfil our promise. You will die at Eight in the Evening – The Four Just Men’, he remains determined to see his Aliens Extradition Bill made law. A device in the members smoke room and a sudden magnesium flash that could easily have been nitroglycerine, leave Scotland Yard baffled. Even fleet Street cannot identify the illusive Manfred, Gonsalez, Pioccart and The Four Just Men dedicated to punishing by death those whom conventional justice cannot touch.
On the fourteenth day of August, 19–, a tiny paragraph appeared at the foot of an unimportant page in London’s most sober journal to the effect that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had been much annoyed by the receipt of a number of threatening letters, and was prepared to pay a reward of fifty pounds to any person who would give such information as would lead to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons, etc. The few people who read London’s most sober journal thought, in their ponderous Athenaeum Club way, that it was a remarkable thing that a Minister of State should be annoyed at anything; more remarkable that he should advertise his annoyance, and most remarkable of all that he could imagine for one minute that the offer of a reward would put a stop to the annoyance.
News editors of less sober but larger circulated newspapers, wearily scanning the dull columns of Old Sobriety, read the paragraph with a newly acquired interest.
“Hullo, what’s this?” asked Smiles of the Comet, and cut out the paragraph with huge shears, pasted it upon a sheet of copy-paper and headed it:
Who is Sir Philip’s Correspondent?
As an afterthought–the Comet being in Opposition–he prefixed an introductory paragraph, humorously suggesting that the letters were from an intelligent electorate grown tired of the shilly-shallying methods of the Government.
The news editor of the Evening World–a white-haired gentleman of deliberate movement–read the paragraph twice, cut it out carefully, read it again and, placing it under a paperweight, very soon forgot all about it.
The news editor of the Megaphone, which is a very bright newspaper indeed, cut the paragraph as he read it, rang a bell, called a reporter, all in a breath, so to speak, and issued a few terse instructions.
“Go down to Portland Place, try to see Sir Philip Ramon, secure the story of that paragraph–why he is threatened, what he is threatened with; get a copy of one of the letters if you can. If you cannot see Ramon, get hold of a secretary.”
And the obedient reporter went forth.
He returned in an hour in that state of mysterious agitation peculiar to the reporter who has got a ‘beat’. The news editor duly reported to the Editor-in-Chief, and that great man said, “That’s very good, that’s very good indeed”–which was praise of the highest order.
What was ‘very good indeed’ about the reporter’s story may be gathered from the half-column that appeared in the Megaphone on the following day:
CABINET MINISTER IN DANGER THREATS TO MURDER THE FOREIGN SECRETARY 'THE FOUR JUST MEN' PLOT TO ARREST THE PASSAGE OF THE ALIENS EXTRADITION BILL--EXTRAORDINARY REVELATIONS
Considerable comment was excited by the appearance in the news columns of yesterday’s National Journal of the following paragraph:
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Philip Ramon) has during the past few weeks been the recipient of threatening letters, all apparently emanating from one source and written by one person. These letters are of such a character that they cannot be ignored by his Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who hereby offers a reward of Fifty pounds (L50) to any person or persons, other than the actual writer, who will lay such information as will lead to the apprehension and conviction of the author of these anonymous letters.
So unusual was such an announcement, remembering that anonymous and threatening letters are usually to be found daily in the letter-bags of every statesman and diplomat, that the Daily Megaphone immediately instituted inquiries as to the cause for this unusual departure.
A representative of this newspaper called at the residence of Sir Philip Ramon, who very courteously consented to be seen.
“It is quite an unusual step to take,” said the great Foreign Secretary, in answer to our representative’s question, “but it has been taken with the full concurrence of my colleagues of the Cabinet. We have reasons to believe there is something behind the threats, and I might say that the matter has been in the hands of the police for some weeks past.
“Here is one of the letters,” and Sir Philip produced a sheet of foreign notepaper from a portfolio, and was good enough to allow our representative to make a copy.
It was undated, and beyond the fact that the handwriting was of the flourishing effeminate variety that is characteristic of the Latin races, it was written in good English.
It ran: Your Excellency,–
The Bill that you are about to pass into law is an unjust one… It is calculated to hand over to a corrupt and vengeful Government men who now in England find an asylum from the persecutions of despots and tyrants. We know that in England opinion is divided upon the merits of your Bill, and that upon your strength, and your strength alone, depends the passing into law of the Aliens Political Offences Bill.