Saturday, 23 November 2013

four just men extract - the london mob

This is a section from The Four Just Men (first published in 1905, but much of this section rings strikingly true today), by Edgar Wallace, from near the end (p121 of 140), when the date and time are approaching when the Four Just Men have stated they will kill the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, having already demonstrated impressive feats which suggest they could do it:

The crowd that blocked the approaches to Whitehall soon began to grow as the news of Billy's death circulated, and soon after two o'clock that afternoon, by order of the Commissioner, Westminster Bridge was closed to all traffic, vehicular or passenger. The section of the Embankment that runs between Westminster and Hungerford Bridge was next swept by the police and cleared of curious pedestrians; Northumberland Avenue was barred, and before three o'clock there was no space within five hundred yards of the official residence of Sir Philip Ramon that was not held by a representative of the law. Members of Parliament on their way to the House were escorted by mounted men, and, taking on a reflected glory, were cheered by the crowd. All that afternoon a hundred thousand people waited patiently, seeing nothing, save towering above the heads of a host of constabuliary, the spires and towers of the Mother of Parliaments, or the blank faces of the buildings - in Trafalgar Square, along the Mall as far as the police would allow them, at the lower end of Victoria Street, eight deep along the Albert Embankment, growing in volume every hour. London waited, waited in patience, orderly, content to stare steadfastly at nothing, deriving no satisfaction for their weariness but the sense of being as near as it was humanly possible to be to the scene of a tragedy. A stranger arriving in London, bewildered by this gathering, asked for the cause. A man standing on the outskirts of the Embankment throng pointed across the river with the stem of his pipe.
'We're waiting for a man to be murdered,' he said simply, as one who describes a familiar function.
About the edge of these throngs newspaper boys drove a steady trade. From hand to hand the pink sheets were passed over the heads of the crowd. Every half hour brought a new edition, a new theory, a new description of the scene in which they themselves were playing an ineffectual if picturesque part. The clearing of the Thames Embankment produced an edition; the closing of Westminster Bridge brought another; the arrest of a foolish Socialist who sought to harangue the crowd in Trafalgar Square was worthy of another. Every incident of the day was faithfully recorded and industriously devoured.
All that afternoon they waited, telling and retelling the story of the Four, theorising, speculating, judging. And they spoke of the culmination as one speaks of a promised spectacle, watching the slow-moving hands of Big Ben ticking off the laggard minutes. 'Only two more hours to wait,' they said at six o'clock, and that sentence, or rather the tone of pleasurable anticipation in which it was said, indicated the spirit of the mob. For a mob is a cruel thing, heartless and unpitying.
Seven o'clock boomed forth, and the angry hum of talk ceased. London watched in silence, and with a quicker beating heart, the last hour crawl round the great clock's dial.
There had been a slight alteration in the arrangements at Downing Street, and it was after seven o'clock before Sir Philip, opening the door of his study, in which he had sat alone, beckoned the Commissioner and Falmouth to approach. They walked towards him, stopping a few feet from where he stood.
The Minister was pale, and there were lines on his face that had not been there before. But the hand that held the printed paper was steady and his face was sphhinxlike.
'I am about to lock my door,' he said calmly. 'I presume that the arrangements we have agreed upon will be carried out?'
'Yes, sir,' answered the Commissioner quietly.
Sir Philip was about to speak, but he checked himself.
After a moment he spoke again.
'I have been a just man according to my lights,' he said half to himself. 'Whatever happens I am satisfied that I am doing the right thing - What is that?'
Through the corridor there came a faint roar.
'The people - they are cheering you,' said Falmouth, who just before had made a tour of inspection.
The Minister's lip curled in disdain and the familiar acid crept into his voice.
'They will be terribly disappointed if nothing happens,' he said bitterly. 'The people! God save me from the people, their sympathy, their applause, their insufferable pity.'
He turned and pushed open the door of his study, slowly closed the heavy portal, and the two men heard the snick of the lock as he turned the key.
Falmouth looked at his watch.
'Forty minutes,' was his laconic comment.