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If you like a villain to be a proper villain then Oberzhon is the genuine article. What a villain! What an adventure! There are crimes for which no punishment is adequate, offences that the written law cannot efface. When conventional justice fails The Three Just Men employ their great intellect and cunning. They use their own methods, carry out their own verdicts. There can be no compromise.
366 pages, with a reading time of ~5.75 hours (91,610 words), and first published in 1924. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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“£520 p.a. Wanted at once, Laboratory Secretary (lady). Young; no previous experience required, but must have passed recognized examination which included physics and inorganic (elementary) chemistry. Preference will be given to one whose family has some record in the world of science. Apply by letter, Box 9754, Daily Megaphone. If applicant is asked to interview advertiser, fare will be paid from any station within a hundred and fifty miles of London.”
A GOOD friend sent one of the issues containing this advertisement to Heavytree Farm and circled the announcement with a blue pencil. Mirabelle Leicester found the newspaper on the hall settee when she came in from feeding the chickens, and thought that it had been sent by the Alington land agent who was so constantly calling her attention to the advertisers who wished to buy cheap farms. It was a practice of his. She had the feeling that he resented her presence in the country, and was anxious to replace her with a proprietor less poverty-stricken. Splitting the wrapper with a dusty thumb, she turned naturally to the advertisement pages, having the agent in mind. Her eyes went rapidly down the “Wanted to Buy” column. There were several “gentlemen requiring small farm in good district,” but none that made any appeal to her, and she was wondering why the parsimonious man had spent tuppence-ha’penny on postage and paper when the circled paragraph caught her eye. “Glory!” said Mirabelle, her red lips parted in excited wonder. Aunt Alma looked up from her press-cutting book, startled as Mirabelle dashed in. “Me!” she said dramatically, and pointed a finger at the advertisement. “I am young–I have no experience–I have my higher certificate–and daddy was something in the world of science. And, Alma, we are exactly a hundred and forty miles from London town!”
“Dear me!” said Aunt Alma, a lady whose gaunt and terrifying appearance was the terror of tradesmen and farm hands, although a milder woman never knitted stockings.
“Isn’t it wonderful? This solves all our problems. We leave the farm to Mark, open the flat in Bloomsbury…we can afford one or even two theatres a week…”
Alma read the announcement for the second time.
“It seems good,” she said with conventional caution, “though I don’t like the idea of your working, my dear. Your dear father…”
“Would have whisked me up to town and I should have had the job by to-night,” said Mirabelle definitely. ‘;
But Alma wasn’t sure. London was full of pitfalls and villainy untold lurked in its alleys and dark passages. She herself never went to London except under protest.
“I was there years ago when those horrible Four Just Men were about, my dear,” she said, and Mirabelle, who loved her, listened to the oft-told story. “They terrorized London. One couldn’t go out at night with the certainty that one would come back again alive…and to think that they have had a free pardon! It is simply encouraging crime.”
“My dear,” said Mirabelle (and this was her inevitable rejoinder), “they weren’t criminals at all. They were very rich men who gave up their lives to punishing those whom the law let slip through its greasy old fingers. And they were pardoned for the intelligence work they did in the war–one worked for three months in the German War Office–and there aren’t four at all: there are only three. I’d love to meet them–they must be dears!”
When Aunt Alma made a grimace, she was hideous. Mirabelle averted her eyes.
“Anyway, they are not in London now, darling,” she said, “and you will be able to sleep soundly at nights.”
“What about the snake?” asked Miss Alma Goddard ominously.
Now if there was one thing which no person contemplating a visit to London wished to be reminded about, it was the snake. Six million people rose from their beds every morning, opened their newspapers and looked for news of the snake. Eighteen daily newspapers never passed a day without telling their readers that the scare was childish and a shocking commentary on the neurotic tendencies of the age; they also published, at regular intervals, intimate particulars of the black mamba, its habits and its peculiar deadliness, and maintained quite a large staff of earnest reporters to “work on the story.”