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The Just Men of Cordova
By Edgar Wallace
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THREE MEN OF CORDOVA
THE MAN WHO SAT at the marble-topped table of the Café of the Great Captain—if I translate the sign aright—was a man of leisure. A tall man, with a trim beard and grave grey eyes that searched the street absently as though not quite certain of his quest. He sipped a coffee con leche and drummed a little tune on the table with his slender white hands.
He was dressed in black, which is the conventional garb in Spain, and his black cloak was lined with velvet. His cravat was of black satin, and his well-fitting trousers were strapped under his pointed boots, in the manner affected by certain caballero.
These features of his attire were the most striking, though he was dressed conventionally enough—for Cordova. He might have been a Spaniard, for grey eyes are a legacy of the Army of Occupation, and many were the unions between Wellington's rollicking Irishmen and the susceptible ladies of the Estremadura.
His speech was flawless. He spoke with the lisp of Andalusia, clipping his words as do the folk of the South. Also, there was evidence of his Southern origin in his response to the whining beggar that shuffled painfully to him, holding out crooked fingers for largess.
"In the name of the Virgin, and the Saints, and the God who is above all, I beseech you, señor, to spare me ten centimes."
The bearded man brought his far-seeing eyes to focus on the palm.
"God will provide," he said, in the slurred Arabic of Spanish Morocco.
"Though I live a hundred years," said the beggar monotonously, "I will never cease to pray for your lordship's happiness."
He of the velvet-lined cloak looked at the beggar.
The mendicant was a man of medium height, sharp-featured, unshaven, after the way of his kind, terribly bandaged across his head and one eye.
Moreover, he was lame. His feet were shapeless masses of swathed bandages, and his discoloured hands clutched a stick fiercely.
"Señor and Prince," he whined, "there is between me and the damnable pangs of hunger ten centimes, and your worship would not sleep this night in comfort thinking of me tossing in famine."
"Go in peace," said the other patiently.
"Exalted," moaned the beggar, "by the chico that lay on your mother's knee"—he crossed himself—"by the gallery of the Saints and the blessed blood of martyrs, I beseech you not to leave me to die by the wayside, when ten centimes, which is as the paring of your nails, would lead me to a full stomach."
The man at the table sipped his coffee unmoved.
"Go with God," he said.
Still the man lingered.
He looked helplessly up and down the sunlit street. He peered into the cool dark recess of the café, where an apathetic waiter sat at a table reading the Heraldo.
Then he leant forward, stretching out a slow hand to pick a crumb of cake from the next table.
"Do you know Dr. Essley?" he asked in perfect English.
The cavalier at the table looked thoughtful.
"I do not know him. Why?" he asked in the same language.
"You should know him," said the beggar; "he is interesting."
He said no more, shuffling a painful progress along the street. The caballero watched him with some curiosity as he made his way slowly to the next café. Then he clapped his hands sharply, and the apathetic waiter, now nodding significantly over his Heraldo, came suddenly to life, collected the bill, and a tip which was in proportion to the size of the bill. Though the sky was cloudless and the sun threw blue shadows in the street, those same shadows were immensely cold, for these were the chilly days before the first heat of spring.
The gentleman, standing up to his full heigh—the was well over the six-feet mark—shook his cloak and lightly threw one end across his shoulder; then he began to walk slowly in the direction taken by the beggar.
The way led him through narrow streets, so narrow that in the walls on either side ran deep recesses to allow the boxes of cartwheels to pass. He overtook the man in the Calle Paraiso, passed him, threading the narrow streets that led to San Fernando. Down this he went, walking very leisurely, then turned to the street of Carrera de Puente, and so came to the shadows of the mosque-cathedral which is dedicated to God and to Allah with delightful impartiality. He stood irresolutely before the gates that opened on to the courtyards, seemed half in doubt, then turned again, going downhill to the Bridge of Calahorra. Straight as a die the bridge runs, with its sixteen arches that the ancient Moors built. The man with the cloak reached the centre of the bridge and leant over, watching with idle interest the swollen yellow waters of the Guadalquivir.
Out of the corner of his eye he watched the beggar come slowly through the gate and walk in his direction. He had a long time to wait, for the man's progress was slow. At last he came sidling up to him, hat in hand, palm outstretched. The attitude was that of a beggar, but the voice was that of an educated Englishman.
"Manfred," he said earnestly, "you must see this man Essley. I have a special reason for asking."
"What is he?"
The beggar smiled.
"I am dependent upon memory to a great extent," he said, "the library at my humble lodgings being somewhat limited, but I have a dim idea that he is a doctor in a suburb of London, rather a clever surgeon."
"What is he doing here?"
The redoubtable Gonsalez smiled again.
"There is in Cordova a Dr. Cajalos. From the exalted atmosphere of the Paseo de Gran Capitan, wherein I understand you have your luxurious suite, no echo of the underworld of Cordova comes to you. Here"—he pointed to the roofs and the untidy jumble of buildings at the farther end of the bridge—"in the Campo of the Verdad, where men live happily on two pesetas a week, we know Dr. Cajalos. He is a household word—a marvellous man, George, performing miracles undreamt of in your philosophy: making the blind to see, casting spells upon the guilty, and creating infallible love philtres for the innocent! He'll charm a wart or arrest the ravages of sleeping sickness."
Manfred nodded. "Even in the Paseo de la Gran Capitan he is not without honour," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I have seen him and consulted him."
The beggar was a little astonished. "You're a wonderful man," he said, with admiration in his voice. "When did you do it?"
Manfred laughed softly.
"There was a certain night, not many weeks ago, when a beggar stood outside the worthy doctor's door, patiently waiting till a mysterious visitor, cloaked to his nose, had finished his business."
"I remember," said the other, nodding. "He was a stranger from Ronda, and I was curious—did you see me following him?"
"I saw you," said Manfred gravely. "I saw you from the corner of my eye."
"It was not you?" asked Gonsalez, astonished.
"It was I," said the other. "I went out of Cordova to come into Cordova."
Gonsalez was silent for a moment.
"I accept the humiliation," he said. "Now, since you know the doctor, can you see any reason for the visit of a commonplace English doctor to Cordova? He has come all the way without a halt from England by the Algeciras Express. He leaves Cordova to-morrow morning at daybreak by the same urgent system, and he comes to consult Dr. Cajalos."
"Poiccart is here: he has an interest in this Essley—so great an interest that he comes blandly to our Cordova, Baedeker in hand, seeking information of the itinerant guide and submitting meekly to his inaccuracies."
Manfred stroked his little beard, with the same grave thoughtful expression in his wise eyes as when he had watched Gonsalez shuffling from the Café de la Gran Capitan. "Life would be dull without Poiccart," he said.
"Dull, indeed—ah, señor, my life shall be your praise, and it shall rise like the smoke of holy incense to the throne of Heaven."
He dropped suddenly into his whine, for a policeman of the town guard was approaching, with a suspicious eye for the beggar who stood with expectant hand outstretched.
Manfred shook his head as the policeman strolled up.
"Go in peace," he said.
"Dog," said the policeman, his rough hand descending on the beggar's shoulder, "thief of a thief, begone lest you offend the nostrils of this illustrious."
With arms akimbo, he watched the man limp away, then he turned to Manfred.
"If I had seen this scum before, excellency," he said fiercely, "I should have relieved your presence of his company."
"It is not important," said Manfred conventionally.
"As for me," the policeman went on, releasing one hand from his hip to curl an insignificant moustache, "I have hard work in protecting rich and munificent caballeros from these swine. And God knows my pay is poor, and with three hungry mouths to fill, not counting my wife's mother, who comes regularly on feast days and must be taken to the bull-fight, life is hard. More especially, señor, since she is one of those damned proud Andalusian women who must have a seat in the shade at two pesetas. For myself, I have not tasted rioja since the feast of Santa Therese—"
Manfred slipped a peseta into the hand of the uniformed beggar. The man walked by his side to the end of the bridge, retailing his domestic difficulties with the freedom and intimacy which is possible nowhere else in the world. They stood chattering near the principal entrance to the Cathedral.
"Your excellency is not of Cordova?" asked the officer.
"I am of Malaga," said Manfred without hesitation.
"I had a sister who married a fisherman of Malaga," confided the policeman. "Her husband was drowned, and she now lives with a señor whose name I forget. She is a pious woman, but very selfish. Has your excellency been to Gibraltar?"
Manfred nodded. He was interested in a party of tourists which was being shown the glories of the Puerta del Perdon.
One of the tourists detached himself from his party and came towards them. He was a man of middle height and strongly built. There was a strange reserve in his air and a saturnine imperturbability in his face.
"Can you direct me to the Passeo de la Gran Capitan?" he asked in bad Spanish.
"I am going that way," said Manfred courteously; "if the señor would condescend to accompany me—"
"I shall be grateful," said the other.
They chatted a little on divers subjects—the weather, the delightful character of the mosque-cathedral.
"You must come along and see Essley," said the tourist suddenly. He spoke in perfect Spanish.
"Tell me about him." said Manfred. "Between you and Gonsalez, my dear Poiccart, you have piqued my curiosity."
"This is an important matter," said the other earnestly. "Essley is a doctor in a suburb of London. I have had him under observation for some months. He has a small practice—quite a little one—and he attends a few cases. Apparently he does no serious work in his suburb, and his history is a strange one. He was a student at University College, London, and soon after getting his degree left with a youth named Henley for Australia. Henley had been a hopeless failure and had been badly ploughed in his exams, but the two were fast friends, which may account for their going away together to try their luck in a new country. Neither of them had a relation in the world, except Henley, who had a rich uncle settled somewhere in Canada, and whom he had never seen. Arrived in Melbourne, the two started off up country with some idea of making for the new gold diggings, which were in full swing at that time. I don't know where the diggings were; at any rate, it was three months before Essley arrived—alone, his companion having died on the road!"
"He does not seem to have started practising," Poiccart went on, "for three or four years. We can trace his wanderings from mining camp to mining camp, where he dug a little, gambled a lot, and was generally known as Dr. S.—probably an abbreviation of Essley. Not until he reached Western Australia did he attempt to establish himself as a doctor. He had some sort of a practice, not a very high-class one, it is true, but certainly lucrative. He disappeared from Coolgardie in 1900; he did not reappear in England until 1908."
They had reached the Passeo by now. The streets were better filled than they had been when Manfred had followed the beggar.
"I've some rooms here," he said. "Come in and we will have some tea."
He occupied a flat over a jeweller's in the Calle Moreria. It was a well-furnished apartment, "and especially blessed in the matter of light," explained Manfred as he inserted the key. He put a silver kettle on the electric stove.
"The table is laid for two?" questioned Poiccart.
"I have visitors," said Manfred with a little smile. "Sometimes the begging profession becomes an intolerable burden to our Leon and he enters Cordova by rail, a most respectable member of society, full of a desire for the luxury of life—and stories. Go on with yours, Poiccart; I am interested."
The "tourist" seated himself in a deep arm-chair. "Where was I?" he asked. "Oh, yes. Dr. Essley disappeared from Coolgardie, and after an obliteration of eight years reappeared in London."
"In any exceptional circumstances?"
"No, very ordinarily. He seems to have been taken up by the newest kind of Napoleon."
"A Colonel Black?" asked Manfred, raising his eyebrows.
"That same meteor," he said. "At any rate, Essley, thanks to what practice he could steal from other practitioners in his own suburb—somewhere in the neighbourhood of Forest Hill—and what practice Napoleon's recommendation gives him, seems to be fairly well off. He first attracted my attention—"
There came a tap at the door, and Manfred raised his finger warningly. He crossed the room and opened the door. The concierge stood outside, cap in hand; behind him and a little way down the stairs was a stranger—obviously an Englishman.
"A señor to see your excellency," said the concierge.
"My house is at your disposal," said Manfred, addressing the stranger in Spanish.
"I am afraid I do not speak good Spanish," said the man on the stairs.
"Will you come up?" asked Manfred, in English.
The other mounted the stairs slowly.
He was a man of fifty. His hair was grey and long. His eyebrows were shaggy, and his under-jaw stuck out and gave his face an appearance which was slightly repulsive. He wore a black coat and carried a big, soft wideawake in his gloved hand.
He peered round the room from one to the other.
"My name," he said, "is Essley."
He pronounced the word, lingering upon the double "ss" till it sounded like a long hiss.
"Essley," he repeated as though he derived some satisfaction from the repetition—"Dr. Essley."
Manfred motioned him to a chair, but he shook his head.
"I'll stand," he said harshly. "When I have business, I stand." He looked suspiciously at Poiccart. "I have private business," he said pointedly.
"My friend has my complete confidence," said Manfred.
He nodded grudgingly. "I understand," he said, "that you are a scientist and a man of considerable knowledge of Spain."
Manfred shrugged his shoulders. In his present role he enjoyed some reputation as a quasi-scientific litterateur, and under the name of "de la Monte" had published a book on Modern Crime.
"Knowing this," said the man, "I came to Cordova, having other business also—but that will keep."
He looked round for a chair and Manfred offered one, into which he sat, keeping his back to the window.
"Mr. de la Monte," said the doctor, leaning forward with his hands on his knees and speaking very deliberately, "you have some knowledge of crime."
"I have written a book on the subject," said Manfred, "which is not necessarily the same thing."
"I had that fear," said the other bluntly. "I was also afraid that you might not speak English. Now I want to ask you a plain question and I want a plain answer."
"So far as I can give you this, I shall be most willing," said Manfred.
The doctor twisted his face nervously, then—"Have you ever heard of the Four Just Men?" he asked.
There was a little silence.
"Yes," said Manfred calmly, "I have heard of them."
"Are they in Spain?" The question was put sharply.
"I have no exact knowledge," said Manfred. "Why do you ask?"
Excerpted from The Just Men of Cordova by Edgar Wallace. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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