Part 2 out of 3
would crawl a mile on his belly to anything that had a title or a
million. I had a business introduction to his firm when I came to
London, and he was good enough to ask me to dinner at his club.
There he showed off at a great rate, and pattered about his duchesses
till the snobbery of the creature turned me sick. I asked a man
afterwards why nobody kicked him, and was told that Englishmen
reverenced the weaker sex.
Anyhow there he was now, nattily dressed, in a fine new car,
obviously on his way to visit some of his smart friends. A sudden
daftness took me, and in a second I had jumped into the tonneau
and had him by the shoulder.
'Hullo, jopley,' I sang out. 'Well met, my lad!' He got a horrid
fright. His chin dropped as he stared at me. 'Who the devil are
YOU?' he gasped.
'My name's Hannay,' I said. 'From Rhodesia, you remember.'
'Good God, the murderer!' he choked.
'Just so. And there'll be a second murder, my dear, if you don't
do as I tell you. Give me that coat of yours. That cap, too.'
He did as bid, for he was blind with terror. Over my dirty
trousers and vulgar shirt I put on his smart driving-coat, which
buttoned high at the top and thereby hid the deficiencies of my
collar. I stuck the cap on my head, and added his gloves to my get-
up. The dusty roadman in a minute was transformed into one of
the neatest motorists in Scotland. On Mr jopley's head I clapped
Turnbull's unspeakable hat, and told him to keep it there.
Then with some difficulty I turned the car. My plan was to go
back the road he had come, for the watchers, having seen it before,
would probably let it pass unremarked, and Marmie's figure was in
no way like mine.
'Now, my child,' I said, 'sit quite still and be a good boy. I mean
you no harm. I'm only borrowing your car for an hour or two. But
if you play me any tricks, and above all if you open your mouth, as
sure as there's a God above me I'll wring your neck. SAVEZ?'
I enjoyed that evening's ride. We ran eight miles down the
valley, through a village or two, and I could not help noticing
several strange-looking folk lounging by the roadside. These were
the watchers who would have had much to say to me if I had come
in other garb or company. As it was, they looked incuriously on.
One touched his cap in salute, and I responded graciously.
As the dark fell I turned up a side glen which, as I remember
from the map, led into an unfrequented corner of the hills. Soon
the villages were left behind, then the farms, and then even the
wayside cottage. Presently we came to a lonely moor where the
night was blackening the sunset gleam in the bog pools. Here we
stopped, and I obligingly reversed the car and restored to Mr
jopley his belongings.
'A thousand thanks,' I said. 'There's more use in you than I
thought. Now be off and find the police.'
As I sat on the hillside, watching the tail-light dwindle, I reflected
on the various kinds of crime I had now sampled. Contrary to
general belief, I was not a murderer, but I had become an unholy
liar, a shameless impostor, and a highwayman with a marked taste
for expensive motor-cars.
The Adventure of the Bald Archaeologist
I spent the night on a shelf of the hillside, in the lee of a boulder
where the heather grew long and soft. It was a cold business, for I
had neither coat nor waistcoat. These were in Mr Turnbull's keeping,
as was Scudder's little book, my watch and--worst of all--my
pipe and tobacco pouch. Only my money accompanied me in my
belt, and about half a pound of ginger biscuits in my trousers pocket.
I supped off half those biscuits, and by worming myself deep
into the heather got some kind of warmth. My spirits had risen,
and I was beginning to enjoy this crazy game of hide-and-seek. So
far I had been miraculously lucky. The milkman, the literary
innkeeper, Sir Harry, the roadman, and the idiotic Marmie, were all
pieces of undeserved good fortune. Somehow the first success gave
me a feeling that I was going to pull the thing through.
My chief trouble was that I was desperately hungry. When a Jew
shoots himself in the City and there is an inquest, the newspapers
usually report that the deceased was 'well-nourished'. I remember
thinking that they would not call me well-nourished if I broke my
neck in a bog-hole. I lay and tortured myself--for the ginger
biscuits merely emphasized the aching void--with the memory of
all the good food I had thought so little of in London. There were
Paddock's crisp sausages and fragrant shavings of bacon, and
shapely poached eggs--how often I had turned up my nose at
them! There were the cutlets they did at the club, and a particular
ham that stood on the cold table, for which my soul lusted. My
thoughts hovered over all varieties of mortal edible, and finally
settled on a porterhouse steak and a quart of bitter with a welsh
rabbit to follow. In longing hopelessly for these dainties I
I woke very cold and stiff about an hour after dawn. It took me
a little while to remember where I was, for I had been very weary
and had slept heavily. I saw first the pale blue sky through a net of
heather, then a big shoulder of hill, and then my own boots placed
neatly in a blaeberry bush. I raised myself on my arms and looked
down into the valley, and that one look set me lacing up my boots
in mad haste.
For there were men below, not more than a quarter of a mile off,
spaced out on the hillside like a fan, and beating the heather.
Marmie had not been slow in looking for his revenge.
I crawled out of my shelf into the cover of a boulder, and from it
gained a shallow trench which slanted up the mountain face. This led
me presently into the narrow gully of a burn, by way of which I
scrambled to the top of the ridge. From there I looked back, and
saw that I was still undiscovered. My pursuers were patiently quartering
the hillside and moving upwards.
Keeping behind the skyline I ran for maybe half a mile, till I
judged I was above the uppermost end of the glen. Then I showed
myself, and was instantly noted by one of the flankers, who passed
the word to the others. I heard cries coming up from below, and
saw that the line of search had changed its direction. I pretended to
retreat over the skyline, but instead went back the way I had come,
and in twenty minutes was behind the ridge overlooking my sleeping
place. From that viewpoint I had the satisfaction of seeing the
pursuit streaming up the hill at the top of the glen on a hopelessly
I had before me a choice of routes, and I chose a ridge which
made an angle with the one I was on, and so would soon put a
deep glen between me and my enemies. The exercise had warmed
my blood, and I was beginning to enjoy myself amazingly. As I
went I breakfasted on the dusty remnants of the ginger biscuits.
I knew very little about the country, and I hadn't a notion what I
was going to do. I trusted to the strength of my legs, but I was
well aware that those behind me would be familiar with the lie of
the land, and that my ignorance would be a heavy handicap. I saw
in front of me a sea of hills, rising very high towards the south, but
northwards breaking down into broad ridges which separated wide
and shallow dales. The ridge I had chosen seemed to sink after a
mile or two to a moor which lay like a pocket in the uplands. That
seemed as good a direction to take as any other.
My stratagem had given me a fair start--call it twenty minutes--
and I had the width of a glen behind me before I saw the first heads
of the pursuers. The police had evidently called in local talent to
their aid, and the men I could see had the appearance of herds or
gamekeepers. They hallooed at the sight of me, and I waved my
hand. Two dived into the glen and began to climb my ridge, while
the others kept their own side of the hill. I felt as if I were taking
part in a schoolboy game of hare and hounds.
But very soon it began to seem less of a game. Those fellows
behind were hefty men on their native heath. Looking back I saw
that only three were following direct, and I guessed that the others
had fetched a circuit to cut me off. My lack of local knowledge
might very well be my undoing, and I resolved to get out of this
tangle of glens to the pocket of moor I had seen from the tops. I
must so increase my distance as to get clear away from them, and I
believed I could do this if I could find the right ground for it. If
there had been cover I would have tried a bit of stalking, but on
these bare slopes you could see a fly a mile off. My hope must be in
the length of my legs and the soundness of my wind, but I needed
easier ground for that, for I was not bred a mountaineer. How I
longed for a good Afrikander pony!
I put on a great spurt and got off my ridge and down into the
moor before any figures appeared on the skyline behind me. I
crossed a burn, and came out on a highroad which made a pass
between two glens. All in front of me was a big field of heather
sloping up to a crest which was crowned with an odd feather of
trees. In the dyke by the roadside was a gate, from which a grass-
grown track led over the first wave of the moor.
I jumped the dyke and followed it, and after a few hundred yards
--as soon as it was out of sight of the highway--the grass stopped
and it became a very respectable road, which was evidently kept
with some care. Clearly it ran to a house, and I began to think of
doing the same. Hitherto my luck had held, and it might be that my
best chance would be found in this remote dwelling. Anyhow there
were trees there, and that meant cover.
I did not follow the road, but the burnside which flanked it on
the right, where the bracken grew deep and the high banks made a
tolerable screen. It was well I did so, for no sooner had I gained the
hollow than, looking back, I saw the pursuit topping the ridge
from which I had descended.
After that I did not look back; I had no time. I ran up the
burnside, crawling over the open places, and for a large part wading
in the shallow stream. I found a deserted cottage with a row of
phantom peat-stacks and an overgrown garden. Then I was among
young hay, and very soon had come to the edge of a plantation of
wind-blown firs. From there I saw the chimneys of the house smoking
a few hundred yards to my left. I forsook the burnside, crossed
another dyke, and almost before I knew was on a rough lawn. A
glance back told me that I was well out of sight of the pursuit,
which had not yet passed the first lift of the moor.
The lawn was a very rough place, cut with a scythe instead of a
mower, and planted with beds of scrubby rhododendrons. A brace
of black-game, which are not usually garden birds, rose at my
approach. The house before me was the ordinary moorland farm,
with a more pretentious whitewashed wing added. Attached to this
wing was a glass veranda, and through the glass I saw the face of
an elderly gentleman meekly watching me.
I stalked over the border of coarse hill gravel and entered the
open veranda door. Within was a pleasant room, glass on one side,
and on the other a mass of books. More books showed in an inner
room. On the floor, instead of tables, stood cases such as you see in
a museum, filled with coins and queer stone implements.
There was a knee-hole desk in the middle, and seated at it, with
some papers and open volumes before him, was the benevolent old
gentleman. His face was round and shiny, like Mr Pickwick's, big
glasses were stuck on the end of his nose, and the top of his head
was as bright and bare as a glass bottle. He never moved when I
entered, but raised his placid eyebrows and waited on me to speak.
It was not an easy job, with about five minutes to spare, to tell a
stranger who I was and what I wanted, and to win his aid. I did not
attempt it. There was something about the eye of the man before
me, something so keen and knowledgeable, that I could not find a
word. I simply stared at him and stuttered.
'You seem in a hurry, my friend,'he said slowly.
I nodded towards the window. It gave a prospect across the
moor through a gap in the plantation, and revealed certain figures
half a mile off straggling through the heather.
'Ah, I see,' he said, and took up a pair of field-glasses through
which he patiently scrutinized the figures.
'A fugitive from justice, eh? Well, we'll go into the matter at our
leisure. Meantime I object to my privacy being broken in upon by
the clumsy rural policeman. Go into my study, and you will see
two doors facing you. Take the one on the left and close it behind
you. You will be perfectly safe.'
And this extraordinary man took up his pen again.
I did as I was bid, and found myself in a little dark chamber
which smelt of chemicals, and was lit only by a tiny window high
up in the wall. The door had swung behind me with a click like the
door of a safe. Once again I had found an unexpected sanctuary.
All the same I was not comfortable. There was something about
the old gentleman which puzzled and rather terrified me. He had
been too easy and ready, almost as if he had expected me. And his
eyes had been horribly intelligent.
No sound came to me in that dark place. For all I knew the
police might be searching the house, and if they did they would
want to know what was behind this door. I tried to possess my soul
in patience, and to forget how hungry I was.
Then I took a more cheerful view. The old gentleman could scarcely
refuse me a meal, and I fell to reconstructing my breakfast. Bacon
and eggs would content me, but I wanted the better part of a flitch
of bacon and half a hundred eggs. And then, while my mouth was
watering in anticipation, there was a click and the door stood open.
I emerged into the sunlight to find the master of the house
sitting in a deep armchair in the room he called his study, and
regarding me with curious eyes.
'Have they gone?' I asked.
'They have gone. I convinced them that you had crossed the hill.
I do not choose that the police should come between me and one
whom I am delighted to honour. This is a lucky morning for you,
Mr Richard Hannay.'
As he spoke his eyelids seemed to tremble and to fall a little over
his keen grey eyes. In a flash the phrase of Scudder's came back to
me, when he had described the man he most dreaded in the world.
He had said that he 'could hood his eyes like a hawk'. Then I saw
that I had walked straight into the enemy's headquarters.
My first impulse was to throttle the old ruffian and make for the
open air. He seemed to anticipate my intention, for he smiled
gently, and nodded to the door behind me.
I turned, and saw two men-servants who had me covered with pistols.
He knew my name, but he had never seen me before. And as the
reflection darted across my mind I saw a slender chance.
'I don't know what you mean,' I said roughly. 'And who are you
calling Richard Hannay? My name's Ainslie.'
'So?' he said, still smiling. 'But of course you have others. We
won't quarrel about a name.'
I was pulling myself together now, and I reflected that my garb,
lacking coat and waistcoat and collar, would at any rate not betray
me. I put on my surliest face and shrugged my shoulders.
'I suppose you're going to give me up after all, and I call it a
damned dirty trick. My God, I wish I had never seen that cursed
motor-car! Here's the money and be damned to you,' and I flung four
sovereigns on the table.
He opened his eyes a little. 'Oh no, I shall not give you up. My
friends and I will have a little private settlement with you, that is
all. You know a little too much, Mr Hannay. You are a clever
actor, but not quite clever enough.'
He spoke with assurance, but I could see the dawning of a doubt
in his mind.
'Oh, for God's sake stop jawing,' I cried. 'Everything's against
me. I haven't had a bit of luck since I came on shore at Leith.
What's the harm in a poor devil with an empty stomach picking up
some money he finds in a bust-up motor-car? That's all I done, and
for that I've been chivvied for two days by those blasted bobbies
over those blasted hills. I tell you I'm fair sick of it. You can do
what you like, old boy! Ned Ainslie's got no fight left in him.'
I could see that the doubt was gaining.
'Will you oblige me with the story of your recent doings?'he asked.
'I can't, guv'nor,' I said in a real beggar's whine. 'I've not had a
bite to eat for two days. Give me a mouthful of food, and then
you'll hear God's truth.'
I must have showed my hunger in my face, for he signalled to
one of the men in the doorway. A bit of cold pie was brought and a
glass of beer, and I wolfed them down like a pig--or rather, like
Ned Ainslie, for I was keeping up my character. In the middle of
my meal he spoke suddenly to me in German, but I turned on him
a face as blank as a stone wall.
Then I told him my story--how I had come off an Archangel
ship at Leith a week ago, and was making my way overland to my
brother at Wigtown. I had run short of cash--I hinted vaguely at a
spree--and I was pretty well on my uppers when I had come on a
hole in a hedge, and, looking through, had seen a big motor-car
lying in the burn. I had poked about to see what had happened, and
had found three sovereigns lying on the seat and one on the floor.
There was nobody there or any sign of an owner, so I had pocketed
the cash. But somehow the law had got after me. When I had tried
to change a sovereign in a baker's shop, the woman had cried on
the police, and a little later, when I was washing my face in a burn,
I had been nearly gripped, and had only got away by leaving my
coat and waistcoat behind me.
'They can have the money back,' I cried, 'for a fat lot of good
it's done me. Those perishers are all down on a poor man. Now, if
it had been you, guv'nor, that had found the quids, nobody would
have troubled you.'
'You're a good liar, Hannay,' he said.
I flew into a rage. 'Stop fooling, damn you! I tell you my name's
Ainslie, and I never heard of anyone called Hannay in my born
days. I'd sooner have the police than you with your Hannays and
your monkey-faced pistol tricks ... No, guv'nor, I beg pardon, I
don't mean that. I'm much obliged to you for the grub, and I'll
thank you to let me go now the coast's clear.'
It was obvious that he was badly puzzled. You see he had never
seen me, and my appearance must have altered considerably from
my photographs, if he had got one of them. I was pretty smart and
well dressed in London, and now I was a regular tramp.
'I do not propose to let you go. If you are what you say you are,
you will soon have a chance of clearing yourself. If you are what I
believe you are, I do not think you will see the light much longer.'
He rang a bell, and a third servant appeared from the veranda.
'I want the Lanchester in five minutes,' he said. 'There will be
three to luncheon.'
Then he looked steadily at me, and that was the hardest ordeal
There was something weird and devilish in those eyes, cold,
malignant, unearthly, and most hellishly clever. They fascinated me
like the bright eyes of a snake. I had a strong impulse to throw
myself on his mercy and offer to join his side, and if you consider
the way I felt about the whole thing you will see that that impulse
must have been purely physical, the weakness of a brain mesmerized
and mastered by a stronger spirit. But I managed to stick it out and
even to grin.
'You'll know me next time, guv'nor,' I said.
'Karl,' he spoke in German to one of the men in the doorway,
'you will put this fellow in the storeroom till I return, and you will
be answerable to me for his keeping.'
I was marched out of the room with a pistol at each ear.
The storeroom was a damp chamber in what had been the old
farmhouse. There was no carpet on the uneven floor, and nothing
to sit down on but a school form. It was black as pitch, for the
windows were heavily shuttered. I made out by groping that the
walls were lined with boxes and barrels and sacks of some heavy
stuff. The whole place smelt of mould and disuse. My gaolers
turned the key in the door, and I could hear them shifting their feet
as they stood on guard outside.
I sat down in that chilly darkness in a very miserable frame of
mind. The old boy had gone off in a motor to collect the two
ruffians who had interviewed me yesterday. Now, they had seen me
as the roadman, and they would remember me, for I was in the
same rig. What was a roadman doing twenty miles from his beat,
pursued by the police? A question or two would put them on the
track. Probably they had seen Mr Turnbull, probably Marmie too;
most likely they could link me up with Sir Harry, and then the
whole thing would be crystal clear. What chance had I in this
moorland house with three desperadoes and their armed servants?
I began to think wistfully of the police, now plodding over the
hills after my wraith. They at any rate were fellow-countrymen and
honest men, and their tender mercies would be kinder than these
ghoulish aliens. But they wouldn't have listened to me. That old
devil with the eyelids had not taken long to get rid of them. I
thought he probably had some kind of graft with the constabulary.
Most likely he had letters from Cabinet Ministers saying he was to
be given every facility for plotting against Britain. That's the sort
of owlish way we run our politics in the Old Country.
The three would be back for lunch, so I hadn't more than a
couple of hours to wait. It was simply waiting on destruction, for I
could see no way out of this mess. I wished that I had Scudder's
courage, for I am free to confess I didn't feel any great fortitude.
The only thing that kept me going was that I was pretty furious. It
made me boil with rage to think of those three spies getting the
pull on me like this. I hoped that at any rate I might be able to
twist one of their necks before they downed me.
The more I thought of it the angrier I grew, and I had to get up
and move about the room. I tried the shutters, but they were the
kind that lock with a key, and I couldn't move them. From the
outside came the faint clucking of hens in the warm sun. Then I
groped among the sacks and boxes. I couldn't open the latter, and
the sacks seemed to be full of things like dog-biscuits that smelt of
cinnamon. But, as I circumnavigated the room, I found a handle in
the wall which seemed worth investigating.
It was the door of a wall cupboard--what they call a 'press' in
Scotland--and it was locked. I shook it, and it seemed rather
flimsy. For want of something better to do I put out my strength
on that door, getting some purchase on the handle by looping my
braces round it. Presently the thing gave with a crash which I
thought would bring in my warders to inquire. I waited for a bit,
and then started to explore the cupboard shelves.
There was a multitude of queer things there. I found an odd
vesta or two in my trouser pockets and struck a light. It was out in
a second, but it showed me one thing. There was a little stock of
electric torches on one shelf. I picked up one, and found it was in
With the torch to help me I investigated further. There were
bottles and cases of queer-smelling stuffs, chemicals no doubt for
experiments, and there were coils of fine copper wire and yanks and
yanks of thin oiled silk. There was a box of detonators, and a lot of
cord for fuses. Then away at the back of the shelf I found a stout
brown cardboard box, and inside it a wooden case. I managed to
wrench it open, and within lay half a dozen little grey bricks, each a
couple of inches square.
I took up one, and found that it crumbled easily in my hand. Then I
smelt it and put my tongue to it. After that I sat down to think.
I hadn't been a mining engineer for nothing, and I knew lentonite
when I saw it.
With one of these bricks I could blow the house to smithereens.
I had used the stuff in Rhodesia and knew its power. But the
trouble was that my knowledge wasn't exact. I had forgotten the
proper charge and the right way of preparing it, and I wasn't sure
about the timing. I had only a vague notion, too, as to its power,
for though I had used it I had not handled it with my own fingers.
But it was a chance, the only possible chance. It was a mighty
risk, but against it was an absolute black certainty. If I used it the
odds were, as I reckoned, about five to one in favour of my
blowing myself into the tree-tops; but if I didn't I should very
likely be occupying a six-foot hole in the garden by the evening.
That was the way I had to look at it. The prospect was pretty dark
either way, but anyhow there was a chance, both for myself and for
The remembrance of little Scudder decided me. It was about the
beastliest moment of my life, for I'm no good at these cold-blooded
resolutions. Still I managed to rake up the pluck to set my teeth
and choke back the horrid doubts that flooded in on me. I simply
shut off my mind and pretended I was doing an experiment as
simple as Guy Fawkes fireworks.
I got a detonator, and fixed it to a couple of feet of fuse. Then I
took a quarter of a lentonite brick, and buried it near the door
below one of the sacks in a crack of the floor, fixing the detonator
in it. For all I knew half those boxes might be dynamite. If the
cupboard held such deadly explosives, why not the boxes? In that
case there would be a glorious skyward journey for me and the
German servants and about an acre of surrounding country. There
was also the risk that the detonation might set off the other bricks
in the cupboard, for I had forgotten most that I knew about
lentonite. But it didn't do to begin thinking about the possibilities.
The odds were horrible, but I had to take them.
I ensconced myself just below the sill of the window, and lit the
fuse. Then I waited for a moment or two. There was dead silence--
only a shuffle of heavy boots in the passage, and the peaceful cluck
of hens from the warm out-of-doors. I commended my soul to my
Maker, and wondered where I would be in five seconds ...
A great wave of heat seemed to surge upwards from the floor,
and hang for a blistering instant in the air. Then the wall opposite
me flashed into a golden yellow and dissolved with a rending
thunder that hammered my brain into a pulp. Something dropped
on me, catching the point of my left shoulder.
And then I think I became unconscious.
My stupor can scarcely have lasted beyond a few seconds. I felt
myself being choked by thick yellow fumes, and struggled out of
the debris to my feet. Somewhere behind me I felt fresh air. The
jambs of the window had fallen, and through the ragged rent the
smoke was pouring out to the summer noon. I stepped over the
broken lintel, and found myself standing in a yard in a dense and
acrid fog. I felt very sick and ill, but I could move my limbs, and I
staggered blindly forward away from the house.
A small mill-lade ran in a wooden aqueduct at the other side of
the yard, and into this I fell. The cool water revived me, and I had
just enough wits left to think of escape. I squirmed up the lade
among the slippery green slime till I reached the mill-wheel. Then I
wriggled through the axle hole into the old mill and tumbled on to
a bed of chaff. A nail caught the seat of my trousers, and I left a
wisp of heather-mixture behind me.
The mill had been long out of use. The ladders were rotten with
age, and in the loft the rats had gnawed great holes in the floor.
Nausea shook me, and a wheel in my head kept turning, while my
left shoulder and arm seemed to be stricken with the palsy. I looked
out of the window and saw a fog still hanging over the house and
smoke escaping from an upper window. Please God I had set the
place on fire, for I could hear confused cries coming from the
But I had no time to linger, since this mill was obviously a bad
hiding-place. Anyone looking for me would naturally follow the
lade, and I made certain the search would begin as soon as they
found that my body was not in the storeroom. From another
window I saw that on the far side of the mill stood an old stone
dovecot. If I could get there without leaving tracks I might find a
hiding-place, for I argued that my enemies, if they thought I could
move, would conclude I had made for open country, and would go
seeking me on the moor.
I crawled down the broken ladder, scattering chaff behind me to
cover my footsteps. I did the same on the mill floor, and on the
threshold where the door hung on broken hinges. Peeping out, I
saw that between me and the dovecot was a piece of bare cobbled
ground, where no footmarks would show. Also it was mercifully
hid by the mill buildings from any view from the house. I slipped
across the space, got to the back of the dovecot and prospected a
way of ascent.
That was one of the hardest jobs I ever took on. My shoulder
and arm ached like hell, and I was so sick and giddy that I was
always on the verge of falling. But I managed it somehow. By the
use of out-jutting stones and gaps in the masonry and a tough ivy
root I got to the top in the end. There was a little parapet behind
which I found space to lie down. Then I proceeded to go off into
an old-fashioned swoon.
I woke with a burning head and the sun glaring in my face. For a
long time I lay motionless, for those horrible fumes seemed to have
loosened my joints and dulled my brain. Sounds came to me from
the house--men speaking throatily and the throbbing of a stationary
car. There was a little gap in the parapet to which I wriggled, and
from which I had some sort of prospect of the yard. I saw figures
come out--a servant with his head bound up, and then a younger
man in knickerbockers. They were looking for something, and
moved towards the mill. Then one of them caught sight of the wisp
of cloth on the nail, and cried out to the other. They both went
back to the house, and brought two more to look at it. I saw the
rotund figure of my late captor, and I thought I made out the man
with the lisp. I noticed that all had pistols.
For half an hour they ransacked the mill. I could hear them
kicking over the barrels and pulling up the rotten planking. Then
they came outside, and stood just below the dovecot arguing
fiercely. The servant with the bandage was being soundly rated. I
heard them fiddling with the door of the dovecote and for one
horrid moment I fancied they were coming up. Then they thought
better of it, and went back to the house.
All that long blistering afternoon I lay baking on the rooftop.
Thirst was my chief torment. My tongue was like a stick, and to
make it worse I could hear the cool drip of water from the mill-
lade. I watched the course of the little stream as it came in from the
moor, and my fancy followed it to the top of the glen, where it
must issue from an icy fountain fringed with cool ferns and mosses.
I would have given a thousand pounds to plunge my face into that.
I had a fine prospect of the whole ring of moorland. I saw the
car speed away with two occupants, and a man on a hill pony
riding east. I judged they were looking for me, and I wished them
joy of their quest.
But I saw something else more interesting. The house stood
almost on the summit of a swell of moorland which crowned a sort
of plateau, and there was no higher point nearer than the big hills
six miles off. The actual summit, as I have mentioned, was a
biggish clump of trees--firs mostly, with a few ashes and beeches.
On the dovecot I was almost on a level with the tree-tops, and
could see what lay beyond. The wood was not solid, but only a
ring, and inside was an oval of green turf, for all the world like a
I didn't take long to guess what it was. It was an aerodrome, and
a secret one. The place had been most cunningly chosen. For
suppose anyone were watching an aeroplane descending here, he
would think it had gone over the hill beyond the trees. As the place
was on the top of a rise in the midst of a big amphitheatre, any
observer from any direction would conclude it had passed out of
view behind the hill. Only a man very close at hand would realize
that the aeroplane had not gone over but had descended in the
midst of the wood. An observer with a telescope on one of the
higher hills might have discovered the truth, but only herds went
there, and herds do not carry spy-glasses. When I looked from the
dovecot I could see far away a blue line which I knew was the sea,
and I grew furious to think that our enemies had this secret
conning-tower to rake our waterways.
Then I reflected that if that aeroplane came back the chances
were ten to one that I would be discovered. So through the afternoon
I lay and prayed for the coming of darkness, and glad I was
when the sun went down over the big western hills and the twilight
haze crept over the moor. The aeroplane was late. The gloaming
was far advanced when I heard the beat of wings and saw it volplaning
downward to its home in the wood. Lights twinkled for a
bit and there was much coming and going from the house. Then
the dark fell, and silence.
Thank God it was a black night. The moon was well on its last
quarter and would not rise till late. My thirst was too great to allow
me to tarry, so about nine o'clock, so far as I could judge, I started
to descend. It wasn't easy, and half-way down I heard the back door
of the house open, and saw the gleam of a lantern against the mill
wall. For some agonizing minutes I hung by the ivy and prayed
that whoever it was would not come round by the dovecot. Then
the light disappeared, and I dropped as softly as I could on to the
hard soil of the yard.
I crawled on my belly in the lee of a stone dyke till I reached the
fringe of trees which surrounded the house. If I had known how to
do it I would have tried to put that aeroplane out of action, but I
realized that any attempt would probably be futile. I was pretty
certain that there would be some kind of defence round the house,
so I went through the wood on hands and knees, feeling carefully
every inch before me. It was as well, for presently I came on a wire
about two feet from the ground. If I had tripped over that, it
would doubtless have rung some bell in the house and I would
have been captured.
A hundred yards farther on I found another wire cunningly
placed on the edge of a small stream. Beyond that lay the moor, and
in five minutes I was deep in bracken and heather. Soon I was
round the shoulder of the rise, in the little glen from which the
mill-lade flowed. Ten minutes later my face was in the spring, and I
was soaking down pints of the blessed water.
But I did not stop till I had put half a dozen miles between me
and that accursed dwelling.
The Dry-Fly Fisherman
I sat down on a hill-top and took stock of my position. I wasn't
feeling very happy, for my natural thankfulness at my escape was
clouded by my severe bodily discomfort. Those lentonite fumes had
fairly poisoned me, and the baking hours on the dovecot hadn't
helped matters. I had a crushing headache, and felt as sick as a cat.
Also my shoulder was in a bad way. At first I thought it was only a
bruise, but it seemed to be swelling, and I had no use of my left arm.
My plan was to seek Mr Turnbull's cottage, recover my garments,
and especially Scudder's note-book, and then make for the main
line and get back to the south. It seemed to me that the sooner I
got in touch with the Foreign Office man, Sir Walter Bullivant, the
better. I didn't see how I could get more proof than I had got
already. He must just take or leave my story, and anyway, with him
I would be in better hands than those devilish Germans. I had
begun to feel quite kindly towards the British police.
It was a wonderful starry night, and I had not much difficulty
about the road. Sir Harry's map had given me the lie of the land,
and all I had to do was to steer a point or two west of south-west
to come to the stream where I had met the roadman. In all these
travels I never knew the names of the places, but I believe this
stream was no less than the upper waters of the river Tweed. I
calculated I must be about eighteen miles distant, and that meant I
could not get there before morning. So I must lie up a day somewhere,
for I was too outrageous a figure to be seen in the sunlight.
I had neither coat, waistcoat, collar, nor hat, my trousers were
badly torn, and my face and hands were black with the explosion. I
daresay I had other beauties, for my eyes felt as if they were
furiously bloodshot. Altogether I was no spectacle for God-fearing
citizens to see on a highroad.
Very soon after daybreak I made an attempt to clean myself in a
hill burn, and then approached a herd's cottage, for I was feeling
the need of food. The herd was away from home, and his wife was
alone, with no neighbour for five miles. She was a decent old body,
and a plucky one, for though she got a fright when she saw me, she
had an axe handy, and would have used it on any evil-doer. I told
her that I had had a fall--I didn't say how--and she saw by my
looks that I was pretty sick. Like a true Samaritan she asked no
questions, but gave me a bowl of milk with a dash of whisky in it,
and let me sit for a little by her kitchen fire. She would have bathed
my shoulder, but it ached so badly that I would not let her touch it.
I don't know what she took me for--a repentant burglar,
perhaps; for when I wanted to pay her for the milk and tendered a
sovereign which was the smallest coin I had, she shook her head
and said something about 'giving it to them that had a right to it'.
At this I protested so strongly that I think she believed me honest,
for she took the money and gave me a warm new plaid for it, and
an old hat of her man's. She showed me how to wrap the plaid
around my shoulders, and when I left that cottage I was the living
image of the kind of Scotsman you see in the illustrations to
Burns's poems. But at any rate I was more or less clad.
It was as well, for the weather changed before midday to a thick
drizzle of rain. I found shelter below an overhanging rock in the
crook of a burn, where a drift of dead brackens made a tolerable
bed. There I managed to sleep till nightfall, waking very cramped
and wretched, with my shoulder gnawing like a toothache. I ate the
oatcake and cheese the old wife had given me and set out again just
before the darkening.
I pass over the miseries of that night among the wet hills. There
were no stars to steer by, and I had to do the best I could from my
memory of the map. Twice I lost my way, and I had some nasty
falls into peat-bogs. I had only about ten miles to go as the crow
flies, but my mistakes made it nearer twenty. The last bit was
completed with set teeth and a very light and dizzy head. But I
managed it, and in the early dawn I was knocking at Mr Turnbull's
door. The mist lay close and thick, and from the cottage I could
not see the highroad.
Mr Turnbull himself opened to me--sober and something more
than sober. He was primly dressed in an ancient but well-tended
suit of black; he had been shaved not later than the night before; he
wore a linen collar; and in his left hand he carried a pocket Bible.
At first he did not recognize me.
'Whae are ye that comes stravaigin' here on the Sabbath mornin'?'
I had lost all count of the days. So the Sabbath was the reason
for this strange decorum.
My head was swimming so wildly that I could not frame a
coherent answer. But he recognized me, and he saw that I was ill.
'Hae ye got my specs?' he asked.
I fetched them out of my trouser pocket and gave him them.
'Ye'll hae come for your jaicket and westcoat,' he said. 'Come in-
bye. Losh, man, ye're terrible dune i' the legs. Haud up till I get ye
to a chair.'
I perceived I was in for a bout of malaria. I had a good deal of
fever in my bones, and the wet night had brought it out, while my
shoulder and the effects of the fumes combined to make me feel
pretty bad. Before I knew, Mr Turnbull was helping me off with
my clothes, and putting me to bed in one of the two cupboards that
lined the kitchen walls.
He was a true friend in need, that old roadman. His wife was
dead years ago, and since his daughter's marriage he lived alone.
For the better part of ten days he did all the rough nursing I
needed. I simply wanted to be left in peace while the fever took its
course, and when my skin was cool again I found that the bout had
more or less cured my shoulder. But it was a baddish go, and
though I was out of bed in five days, it took me some time to get
my legs again.
He went out each morning, leaving me milk for the day, and
locking the door behind him; and came in in the evening to sit
silent in the chimney corner. Not a soul came near the place. When
I was getting better, he never bothered me with a question. Several
times he fetched me a two days' old SCOTSMAN, and I noticed that the
interest in the Portland Place murder seemed to have died down.
There was no mention of it, and I could find very little about
anything except a thing called the General Assembly--some
ecclesiastical spree, I gathered.
One day he produced my belt from a lockfast drawer. 'There's a
terrible heap o' siller in't,' he said. 'Ye'd better coont it to see
it's a' there.'
He never even sought my name. I asked him if anybody had
been around making inquiries subsequent to my spell at the road-making.
'Ay, there was a man in a motor-cawr. He speired whae had ta'en
my place that day, and I let on I thocht him daft. But he keepit on
at me, and syne I said he maun be thinkin' o' my gude-brither frae
the Cleuch that whiles lent me a haun'. He was a wersh-lookin'
sowl, and I couldna understand the half o' his English tongue.'
I was getting restless those last days, and as soon as I felt myself
fit I decided to be off. That was not till the twelfth day of June,
and as luck would have it a drover went past that morning taking
some cattle to Moffat. He was a man named Hislop, a friend of
Turnbull's, and he came in to his breakfast with us and offered to
take me with him.
I made Turnbull accept five pounds for my lodging, and a hard
job I had of it. There never was a more independent being. He
grew positively rude when I pressed him, and shy and red, and
took the money at last without a thank you. When I told him how
much I owed him, he grunted something about 'ae guid turn
deservin' anither'. You would have thought from our leave-taking
that we had parted in disgust.
Hislop was a cheery soul, who chattered all the way over the pass
and down the sunny vale of Annan. I talked of Galloway markets
and sheep prices, and he made up his mind I was a 'pack-shepherd'
from those parts--whatever that may be. My plaid and my old hat,
as I have said, gave me a fine theatrical Scots look. But driving
cattle is a mortally slow job, and we took the better part of the day
to cover a dozen miles.
If I had not had such an anxious heart I would have enjoyed that
time. It was shining blue weather, with a constantly changing
prospect of brown hills and far green meadows, and a continual
sound of larks and curlews and falling streams. But I had no mind
for the summer, and little for Hislop's conversation, for as the
fateful fifteenth of June drew near I was overweighed with the
hopeless difficulties of my enterprise.
I got some dinner in a humble Moffat public-house, and walked
the two miles to the junction on the main line. The night express
for the south was not due till near midnight, and to fill up the time
I went up on the hillside and fell asleep, for the walk had tired me.
I all but slept too long, and had to run to the station and catch the
train with two minutes to spare. The feel of the hard third-class
cushions and the smell of stale tobacco cheered me up wonderfully.
At any rate, I felt now that I was getting to grips with my job.
I was decanted at Crewe in the small hours and had to wait till six to
get a train for Birmingham. In the afternoon I got to Reading, and
changed into a local train which journeyed into the deeps of Berkshire.
Presently I was in a land of lush water-meadows and slow
reedy streams. About eight o'clock in the evening, a weary and
travel-stained being--a cross between a farm-labourer and a vet--
with a checked black-and-white plaid over his arm (for I did not
dare to wear it south of the Border), descended at the little station
of Artinswell. There were several people on the platform, and I
thought I had better wait to ask my way till I was clear of the place.
The road led through a wood of great beeches and then into a
shallow valley, with the green backs of downs peeping over the
distant trees. After Scotland the air smelt heavy and flat, but
infinitely sweet, for the limes and chestnuts and lilac bushes were domes
of blossom. Presently I came to a bridge, below which a clear slow
stream flowed between snowy beds of water-buttercups. A little
above it was a mill; and the lasher made a pleasant cool sound in
the scented dusk. Somehow the place soothed me and put me at my
ease. I fell to whistling as I looked into the green depths, and the
tune which came to my lips was 'Annie Laurie'.
A fisherman came up from the waterside, and as he neared me he
too began to whistle. The tune was infectious, for he followed my
suit. He was a huge man in untidy old flannels and a wide-brimmed
hat, with a canvas bag slung on his shoulder. He nodded to me,
and I thought I had never seen a shrewder or better-tempered face.
He leaned his delicate ten-foot split-cane rod against the bridge,
and looked with me at the water.
'Clear, isn't it?' he said pleasantly. 'I back our Kenner any day
against the Test. Look at that big fellow. Four pounds if he's an
ounce. But the evening rise is over and you can't tempt 'em.'
'I don't see him,' said I.
'Look! There! A yard from the reeds just above that stickle.'
'I've got him now. You might swear he was a black stone.'
'So,' he said, and whistled another bar of 'Annie Laurie'.
'Twisdon's the name, isn't it?' he said over his shoulder, his eyes
still fixed on the stream.
'No,' I said. 'I mean to say, Yes.' I had forgotten all about
'It's a wise conspirator that knows his own name,' he observed,
grinning broadly at a moor-hen that emerged from the bridge's shadow.
I stood up and looked at him, at the square, cleft jaw and broad,
lined brow and the firm folds of cheek, and began to think that
here at last was an ally worth having. His whimsical blue eyes
seemed to go very deep.
Suddenly he frowned. 'I call it disgraceful,' he said, raising his
voice. 'Disgraceful that an able-bodied man like you should dare to
beg. You can get a meal from my kitchen, but you'll get no money
A dog-cart was passing, driven by a young man who raised his
whip to salute the fisherman. When he had gone, he picked up his rod.
'That's my house,' he said, pointing to a white gate a hundred
yards on. 'Wait five minutes and then go round to the back door.'
And with that he left me.
I did as I was bidden. I found a pretty cottage with a lawn
running down to the stream, and a perfect jungle of guelder-rose
and lilac flanking the path. The back door stood open, and a grave
butler was awaiting me.
'Come this way, Sir,' he said, and he led me along a passage and
up a back staircase to a pleasant bedroom looking towards the
river. There I found a complete outfit laid out for me--dress
clothes with all the fixings, a brown flannel suit, shirts, collars, ties,
shaving things and hair-brushes, even a pair of patent shoes. 'Sir
Walter thought as how Mr Reggie's things would fit you, Sir,' said
the butler. 'He keeps some clothes 'ere, for he comes regular on the
week-ends. There's a bathroom next door, and I've prepared a 'ot
bath. Dinner in 'alf an hour, Sir. You'll 'ear the gong.'
The grave being withdrew, and I sat down in a chintz-covered
easy-chair and gaped. It was like a pantomime, to come suddenly out
of beggardom into this orderly comfort. Obviously Sir Walter
believed in me, though why he did I could not guess. I looked at
myself in the mirror and saw a wild, haggard brown fellow, with a
fortnight's ragged beard, and dust in ears and eyes, collarless,
vulgarly shirted, with shapeless old tweed clothes and boots that
had not been cleaned for the better part of a month. I made a fine
tramp and a fair drover; and here I was ushered by a prim butler
into this temple of gracious ease. And the best of it was that they
did not even know my name.
I resolved not to puzzle my head but to take the gifts the gods
had provided. I shaved and bathed luxuriously, and got into the
dress clothes and clean crackling shirt, which fitted me not so
badly. By the time I had finished the looking-glass showed a not
unpersonable young man.
Sir Walter awaited me in a dusky dining-room where a little
round table was lit with silver candles. The sight of him--so
respectable and established and secure, the embodiment of law and
government and all the conventions--took me aback and made me
feel an interloper. He couldn't know the truth about me, or he
wouldn't treat me like this. I simply could not accept his hospitality
on false pretences.
'I'm more obliged to you than I can say, but I'm bound to make
things clear,' I said. 'I'm an innocent man, but I'm wanted by the
police. I've got to tell you this, and I won't be surprised if you kick
He smiled. 'That's all right. Don't let that interfere with your
appetite. We can talk about these things after dinner.'
I never ate a meal with greater relish, for I had had nothing all
day but railway sandwiches. Sir Walter did me proud, for we drank
a good champagne and had some uncommon fine port afterwards.
it made me almost hysterical to be sitting there, waited on by a
footman and a sleek butler, and remember that I had been living
for three weeks like a brigand, with every man's hand against me. I
told Sir Walter about tiger-fish in the Zambesi that bite off your
fingers if you give them a chance, and we discussed sport up and
down the globe, for he had hunted a bit in his day.
We went to his study for coffee, a jolly room full of books and
trophies and untidiness and comfort. I made up my mind that if
ever I got rid of this business and had a house of my own, I would
create just such a room. Then when the coffee-cups were cleared
away, and we had got our cigars alight, my host swung his long
legs over the side of his chair and bade me get started with my yarn.
'I've obeyed Harry's instructions,' he said, 'and the bribe he
offered me was that you would tell me something to wake me up.
I'm ready, Mr Hannay.'
I noticed with a start that he called me by my proper name.
I began at the very beginning. I told of my boredom in London,
and the night I had come back to find Scudder gibbering on my
doorstep. I told him all Scudder had told me about Karolides and
the Foreign Office conference, and that made him purse his lips and grin.
Then I got to the murder, and he grew solemn again. He heard
all about the milkman and my time in Galloway, and my deciphering
Scudder's notes at the inn.
'You've got them here?' he asked sharply, and drew a long
breath when I whipped the little book from my pocket.
I said nothing of the contents. Then I described my meeting
with Sir Harry, and the speeches at the hall. At that he laughed
'Harry talked dashed nonsense, did he? I quite believe it. He's as
good a chap as ever breathed, but his idiot of an uncle has stuffed
his head with maggots. Go on, Mr Hannay.'
My day as roadman excited him a bit. He made me describe the
two fellows in the car very closely, and seemed to be raking back in
his memory. He grew merry again when he heard of the fate of that
But the old man in the moorland house solemnized him. Again I
had to describe every detail of his appearance.
'Bland and bald-headed and hooded his eyes like a bird ... He
sounds a sinister wild-fowl! And you dynamited his hermitage,
after he had saved you from the police. Spirited piece of work, that!'
Presently I reached the end of my wanderings. He got up slowly,
and looked down at me from the hearth-rug.
'You may dismiss the police from your mind,' he said. 'You're in
no danger from the law of this land.'
'Great Scot!' I cried. 'Have they got the murderer?'
'No. But for the last fortnight they have dropped you from the
list of possibles.'
'Why?' I asked in amazement.
'Principally because I received a letter from Scudder. I knew
something of the man, and he did several jobs for me. He was half
crank, half genius, but he was wholly honest. The trouble about
him was his partiality for playing a lone hand. That made him
pretty well useless in any Secret Service--a pity, for he had uncommon
gifts. I think he was the bravest man in the world, for he was
always shivering with fright, and yet nothing would choke him off.
I had a letter from him on the 31st of May.'
'But he had been dead a week by then.'
'The letter was written and posted on the 23rd. He evidently did
not anticipate an immediate decease. His communications usually
took a week to reach me, for they were sent under cover to Spain
and then to Newcastle. He had a mania, you know, for concealing
'What did he say?' I stammered.
'Nothing. Merely that he was in danger, but had found shelter
with a good friend, and that I would hear from him before the 15th
of June. He gave me no address, but said he was living near
Portland Place. I think his object was to clear you if anything
happened. When I got it I went to Scotland Yard, went over the
details of the inquest, and concluded that you were the friend. We
made inquiries about you, Mr Hannay, and found you were respectable.
I thought I knew the motives for your disappearance--not
only the police, the other one too--and when I got Harry's scrawl I
guessed at the rest. I have been expecting you any time this past week.'
You can imagine what a load this took off my mind. I felt a free
man once more, for I was now up against my country's enemies
only, and not my country's law.
'Now let us have the little note-book,' said Sir Walter.
It took us a good hour to work through it. I explained the
cypher, and he was jolly quick at picking it up. He emended my
reading of it on several points, but I had been fairly correct, on the
whole. His face was very grave before he had finished, and he sat
silent for a while.
'I don't know what to make of it,' he said at last. 'He is right
about one thing--what is going to happen the day after tomorrow.
How the devil can it have got known? That is ugly enough in itself.
But all this about war and the Black Stone--it reads like some wild
melodrama. If only I had more confidence in Scudder's judgement.
The trouble about him was that he was too romantic. He had the
artistic temperament, and wanted a story to be better than God
meant it to be. He had a lot of odd biases, too. Jews, for example,
made him see red. Jews and the high finance.
'The Black Stone,' he repeated. 'DER SCHWARZE STEIN. It's like a
penny novelette. And all this stuff about Karolides. That is the
weak part of the tale, for I happen to know that the virtuous
Karolides is likely to outlast us both. There is no State in Europe
that wants him gone. Besides, he has just been playing up to Berlin
and Vienna and giving my Chief some uneasy moments. No! Scudder has
gone off the track there. Frankly, Hannay, I don't believe that part of
his story. There's some nasty business afoot, and he found out too much
and lost his life over it. But I am ready to take my oath that it is
ordinary spy work. A certain great European Power makes a hobby of her
spy system, and her methods are not too particular. Since she pays by
piecework her blackguards are not likely to stick at a murder or two.
They want our naval dispositions for their collection at the Marineamt;
but they will be pigeon-holed--nothing more.'
Just then the butler entered the room.
'There's a trunk-call from London, Sir Walter. It's Mr 'Eath, and
he wants to speak to you personally.'
My host went off to the telephone.
He returned in five minutes with a whitish face. 'I apologize to
the shade of Scudder,' he said. 'Karolides was shot dead this evening
at a few minutes after seven.'
The Coming of the Black Stone
I came down to breakfast next morning, after eight hours of blessed
dreamless sleep, to find Sir Walter decoding a telegram in the midst
of muffins and marmalade. His fresh rosiness of yesterday seemed a
'I had a busy hour on the telephone after you went to bed,' he
said. 'I got my Chief to speak to the First Lord and the Secretary
for War, and they are bringing Royer over a day sooner. This wire
clinches it. He will be in London at five. Odd that the code word
for a SOUS-CHEF D/ETAT MAJOR-GENERAL should be "Porker".'
He directed me to the hot dishes and went on.
'Not that I think it will do much good. If your friends were
clever enough to find out the first arrangement they are clever
enough to discover the change. I would give my head to know
where the leak is. We believed there were only five men in England
who knew about Royer's visit, and you may be certain there were
fewer in France, for they manage these things better there.'
While I ate he continued to talk, making me to my surprise a
present of his full confidence.
'Can the dispositions not be changed?' I asked.
'They could,' he said. 'But we want to avoid that if possible.
They are the result of immense thought, and no alteration would be
as good. Besides, on one or two points change is simply impossible.
Still, something could be done, I suppose, if it were absolutely
necessary. But you see the difficulty, Hannay. Our enemies are not
going to be such fools as to pick Royer's pocket or any childish
game like that. They know that would mean a row and put us on
our guard. Their aim is to get the details without any one of us
knowing, so that Royer will go back to Paris in the belief that the
whole business is still deadly secret. If they can't do that they fail,
for, once we suspect, they know that the whole thing must be altered.'
'Then we must stick by the Frenchman's side till he is home
again,' I said. 'If they thought they could get the information in
Paris they would try there. It means that they have some deep
scheme on foot in London which they reckon is going to win out.'
'Royer dines with my Chief, and then comes to my house where
four people will see him--Whittaker from the Admiralty, myself,
Sir Arthur Drew, and General Winstanley. The First Lord is ill,
and has gone to Sheringham. At my house he will get a certain
document from Whittaker, and after that he will be motored to
Portsmouth where a destroyer will take him to Havre. His journey
is too important for the ordinary boat-train. He will never be left
unattended for a moment till he is safe on French soil. The same
with Whittaker till he meets Royer. That is the best we can do, and
it's hard to see how there can be any miscarriage. But I don't mind
admitting that I'm horribly nervous. This murder of Karolides will
play the deuce in the chancelleries of Europe.'
After breakfast he asked me if I could drive a car.
'Well, you'll be my chauffeur today and wear Hudson's rig.
You're about his size. You have a hand in this business and we are
taking no risks. There are desperate men against us, who will not
respect the country retreat of an overworked official.'
When I first came to London I had bought a car and amused
myself with running about the south of England, so I knew something
of the geography. I took Sir Walter to town by the Bath
Road and made good going. It was a soft breathless June morning,
with a promise of sultriness later, but it was delicious enough
swinging through the little towns with their freshly watered streets,
and past the summer gardens of the Thames valley. I landed Sir
Walter at his house in Queen Anne's Gate punctually by half-past
eleven. The butler was coming up by train with the luggage.
The first thing he did was to take me round to Scotland Yard.
There we saw a prim gentleman, with a clean-shaven, lawyer's face.
'I've brought you the Portland Place murderer,' was Sir Walter's
The reply was a wry smile. 'It would have been a welcome
present, Bullivant. This, I presume, is Mr Richard Hannay, who for
some days greatly interested my department.'
'Mr Hannay will interest it again. He has much to tell you, but
not today. For certain grave reasons his tale must wait for
four hours. Then, I can promise you, you will be entertained and
possibly edified. I want you to assure Mr Hannay that he will suffer
no further inconvenience.'
This assurance was promptly given. 'You can take up your life
where you left off,' I was told. 'Your flat, which probably you no
longer wish to occupy, is waiting for you, and your man is still
there. As you were never publicly accused, we considered that there
was no need of a public exculpation. But on that, of course, you
must please yourself.'
'We may want your assistance later on, MacGillivray,' Sir Walter
said as we left.
Then he turned me loose.
'Come and see me tomorrow, Hannay. I needn't tell you to keep
deadly quiet. If I were you I would go to bed, for you must have
considerable arrears of sleep to overtake. You had better lie low,
for if one of your Black Stone friends saw you there might be trouble.'
I felt curiously at a loose end. At first it was very pleasant to be a
free man, able to go where I wanted without fearing anything. I
had only been a month under the ban of the law, and it was quite
enough for me. I went to the Savoy and ordered very carefully a
very good luncheon, and then smoked the best cigar the house
could provide. But I was still feeling nervous. When I saw anybody
look at me in the lounge, I grew shy, and wondered if they were
thinking about the murder.
After that I took a taxi and drove miles away up into North
London. I walked back through fields and lines of villas and terraces
and then slums and mean streets, and it took me pretty nearly two
hours. All the while my restlessness was growing worse. I felt that
great things, tremendous things, were happening or about to
happen, and I, who was the cog-wheel of the whole business, was
out of it. Royer would be landing at Dover, Sir Walter would be
making plans with the few people in England who were in the
secret, and somewhere in the darkness the Black Stone would be
working. I felt the sense of danger and impending calamity, and I
had the curious feeling, too, that I alone could avert it, alone could
grapple with it. But I was out of the game now. How could it be
otherwise? It was not likely that Cabinet Ministers and Admiralty
Lords and Generals would admit me to their councils.
I actually began to wish that I could run up against one of my
three enemies. That would lead to developments. I felt that I
wanted enormously to have a vulgar scrap with those gentry, where
I could hit out and flatten something. I was rapidly getting into a
very bad temper.
I didn't feel like going back to my flat. That had to be faced
some time, but as I still had sufficient money I thought I would put
it off till next morning, and go to a hotel for the night.
My irritation lasted through dinner, which I had at a restaurant
in Jermyn Street. I was no longer hungry, and let several courses
pass untasted. I drank the best part of a bottle of Burgundy, but it
did nothing to cheer me. An abominable restlessness had taken
possession of me. Here was I, a very ordinary fellow, with no
particular brains, and yet I was convinced that somehow I was
needed to help this business through--that without me it would all
go to blazes. I told myself it was sheer silly conceit, that four or
five of the cleverest people living, with all the might of the British
Empire at their back, had the job in hand. Yet I couldn't be
convinced. It seemed as if a voice kept speaking in my ear, telling
me to be up and doing, or I would never sleep again.
The upshot was that about half-past nine I made up my mind to
go to Queen Anne's Gate. Very likely I would not be admitted, but
it would ease my conscience to try.
I walked down Jermyn Street, and at the corner of Duke Street
passed a group of young men. They were in evening dress, had
been dining somewhere, and were going on to a music-hall. One of
them was Mr Marmaduke jopley.
He saw me and stopped short.
'By God, the murderer!' he cried. 'Here, you fellows, hold him!
That's Hannay, the man who did the Portland Place murder!' He
gripped me by the arm, and the others crowded round.
I wasn't looking for any trouble, but my ill-temper made me play
the fool. A policeman came up, and I should have told him the
truth, and, if he didn't believe it, demanded to be taken to Scotland
Yard, or for that matter to the nearest police station. But a delay at
that moment seemed to me unendurable, and the sight of Marmie's
imbecile face was more than I could bear. I let out with my left,
and had the satisfaction of seeing him measure his length in the
Then began an unholy row. They were all on me at once, and
the policeman took me in the rear. I got in one or two good blows,
for I think, with fair play, I could have licked the lot of them, but
the policeman pinned me behind, and one of them got his fingers
on my throat.
Through a black cloud of rage I heard the officer of the law
asking what was the matter, and Marmie, between his broken teeth,
declaring that I was Hannay the murderer.
'Oh, damn it all,' I cried, 'make the fellow shut up. I advise you
to leave me alone, constable. Scotland Yard knows all about me,
and you'll get a proper wigging if you interfere with me.'
'You've got to come along of me, young man,' said the policeman.
'I saw you strike that gentleman crool 'ard. You began it too,
for he wasn't doing nothing. I seen you. Best go quietly or I'll have
to fix you up.'
Exasperation and an overwhelming sense that at no cost must I
delay gave me the strength of a bull elephant. I fairly wrenched the
constable off his feet, floored the man who was gripping my collar,
and set off at my best pace down Duke Street. I heard a whistle
being blown, and the rush of men behind me.
I have a very fair turn of speed, and that night I had wings. In a
jiffy I was in Pall Mall and had turned down towards St James's
Park. I dodged the policeman at the Palace gates, dived through a
press of carriages at the entrance to the Mall, and was making for
the bridge before my pursuers had crossed the roadway. In the
open ways of the Park I put on a spurt. Happily there were few
people about and no one tried to stop me. I was staking all on
getting to Queen Anne's Gate.
When I entered that quiet thoroughfare it seemed deserted. Sir
Walter's house was in the narrow part, and outside it three or four
motor-cars were drawn up. I slackened speed some yards off and
walked briskly up to the door. If the butler refused me admission,
or if he even delayed to open the door, I was done.
He didn't delay. I had scarcely rung before the door opened.
'I must see Sir Walter,' I panted. 'My business is desperately
That butler was a great man. Without moving a muscle he held
the door open, and then shut it behind me. 'Sir Walter is engaged,
Sir, and I have orders to admit no one. Perhaps you will wait.'
The house was of the old-fashioned kind, with a wide hall and
rooms on both sides of it. At the far end was an alcove with a
telephone and a couple of chairs, and there the butler offered me a seat.
'See here,' I whispered. 'There's trouble about and I'm in it. But
Sir Walter knows, and I'm working for him. If anyone comes and
asks if I am here, tell him a lie.'
He nodded, and presently there was a noise of voices in the
street, and a furious ringing at the bell. I never admired a man
more than that butler. He opened the door, and with a face like a
graven image waited to be questioned. Then he gave them it. He
told them whose house it was, and what his orders were, and
simply froze them off the doorstep. I could see it all from my
alcove, and it was better than any play.
I hadn't waited long till there came another ring at the bell. The
butler made no bones about admitting this new visitor.
While he was taking off his coat I saw who it was. You couldn't
open a newspaper or a magazine without seeing that face--the grey
beard cut like a spade, the firm fighting mouth, the blunt square
nose, and the keen blue eyes. I recognized the First Sea Lord, the
man, they say, that made the new British Navy.
He passed my alcove and was ushered into a room at the back of
the hall. As the door opened I could hear the sound of low voices.
It shut, and I was left alone again.
For twenty minutes I sat there, wondering what I was to do
next. I was still perfectly convinced that I was wanted, but when or
how I had no notion. I kept looking at my watch, and as the time
crept on to half-past ten I began to think that the conference must
soon end. In a quarter of an hour Royer should be speeding along
the road to Portsmouth ...
Then I heard a bell ring, and the butler appeared. The door of
the back room opened, and the First Sea Lord came out. He walked
past me, and in passing he glanced in my direction, and for a
second we looked each other in the face.
Only for a second, but it was enough to make my heart jump. I
had never seen the great man before, and he had never seen me.
But in that fraction of time something sprang into his eyes, and that
something was recognition. You can't mistake it. It is a flicker, a
spark of light, a minute shade of difference which means one thing
and one thing only. It came involuntarily, for in a moment it died,
and he passed on. In a maze of wild fancies I heard the street door
close behind him.
I picked up the telephone book and looked up the number of his
house. We were connected at once, and I heard a servant's voice.
'Is his Lordship at home?' I asked.
'His Lordship returned half an hour ago,' said the voice, 'and has
gone to bed. He is not very well tonight. Will you leave a
I rang off and almost tumbled into a chair. My part in this
business was not yet ended. It had been a close shave, but I had
been in time.
Not a moment could be lost, so I marched boldly to the door of
that back room and entered without knocking.
Five surprised faces looked up from a round table. There was
Sir Walter, and Drew the War Minister, whom I knew from his
photographs. There was a slim elderly man, who was probably
Whittaker, the Admiralty official, and there was General Winstanley,
conspicuous from the long scar on his forehead. Lastly,
there was a short stout man with an iron-grey moustache and
bushy eyebrows, who had been arrested in the middle of a sentence.
Sir Walter's face showed surprise and annoyance.
'This is Mr Hannay, of whom I have spoken to you,' he said
apologetically to the company. 'I'm afraid, Hannay, this visit
I was getting back my coolness. 'That remains to be seen, Sir,' I
said; 'but I think it may be in the nick of time. For God's sake,
gentlemen, tell me who went out a minute ago?'
'Lord Alloa,' Sir Walter said, reddening with anger.
'It was not,' I cried; 'it was his living image, but it was not Lord
Alloa. It was someone who recognized me, someone I have seen in
the last month. He had scarcely left the doorstep when I rang up
Lord Alloa's house and was told he had come in half an hour
before and had gone to bed.'
'Who--who--' someone stammered.
'The Black Stone,' I cried, and I sat down in the chair so recently
vacated and looked round at five badly scared gentlemen.
The Thirty-Nine Steps
'Nonsense!' said the official from the Admiralty.
Sir Walter got up and left the room while we looked blankly at
the table. He came back in ten minutes with a long face. 'I have
spoken to Alloa,' he said. 'Had him out of bed--very grumpy. He
went straight home after Mulross's dinner.'
'But it's madness,' broke in General Winstanley. 'Do you mean
to tell me that that man came here and sat beside me for the best
part of half an hour and that I didn't detect the imposture? Alloa
must be out of his mind.'
'Don't you see the cleverness of it?' I said. 'You were too
interested in other things to have any eyes. You took Lord Alloa for
granted. If it had been anybody else you might have looked more
closely, but it was natural for him to be here, and that put you all
Then the Frenchman spoke, very slowly and in good English.
'The young man is right. His psychology is good. Our enemies
have not been foolish!'
He bent his wise brows on the assembly.
'I will tell you a tale,' he said. 'It happened many years ago in
Senegal. I was quartered in a remote station, and to pass the time
used to go fishing for big barbel in the river. A little Arab mare
used to carry my luncheon basket--one of the salted dun breed you
got at Timbuctoo in the old days. Well, one morning I had good
sport, and the mare was unaccountably restless. I could hear her
whinnying and squealing and stamping her feet, and I kept soothing
her with my voice while my mind was intent on fish. I could see
her all the time, as I thought, out of a corner of my eye, tethered
to a tree twenty yards away. After a couple of hours I began to
think of food. I collected my fish in a tarpaulin bag, and moved
down the stream towards the mare, trolling my line. When I got up
to her I flung the tarpaulin on her back--'
He paused and looked round.
'It was the smell that gave me warning. I turned my head and
found myself looking at a lion three feet off ... An old man-eater,
that was the terror of the village ... What was left of the mare, a
mass of blood and bones and hide, was behind him.'
'What happened?' I asked. I was enough of a hunter to know a
true yarn when I heard it.
'I stuffed my fishing-rod into his jaws, and I had a pistol. Also
my servants came presently with rifles. But he left his mark on me.'
He held up a hand which lacked three fingers.
'Consider,' he said. 'The mare had been dead more than an hour,
and the brute had been patiently watching me ever since. I never
saw the kill, for I was accustomed to the mare's fretting, and I
never marked her absence, for my consciousness of her was only of
something tawny, and the lion filled that part. If I could blunder
thus, gentlemen, in a land where men's senses are keen, why should
we busy preoccupied urban folk not err also?'
Sir Walter nodded. No one was ready to gainsay him.
'But I don't see,' went on Winstanley. 'Their object was to get
these dispositions without our knowing it. Now it only required
one of us to mention to Alloa our meeting tonight for the whole
fraud to be exposed.'
Sir Walter laughed dryly. 'The selection of Alloa shows their
acumen. Which of us was likely to speak to him about tonight? Or
was he likely to open the subject?'
I remembered the First Sea Lord's reputation for taciturnity and
shortness of temper.
'The one thing that puzzles me,' said the General, 'is what good
his visit here would do that spy fellow? He could not carry away
several pages of figures and strange names in his head.'
'That is not difficult,' the Frenchman replied. 'A good spy is
trained to have a photographic memory. Like your own Macaulay.
You noticed he said nothing, but went through these papers again
and again. I think we may assume that he has every detail stamped
on his mind. When I was younger I could do the same trick.'
'Well, I suppose there is nothing for it but to change the plans,'
said Sir Walter ruefully.
Whittaker was looking very glum. 'Did you tell Lord Alloa what
has happened?' he asked. 'No? Well, I can't speak with absolute
assurance, but I'm nearly certain we can't make any serious change
unless we alter the geography of England.'
'Another thing must be said,' it was Royer who spoke. 'I talked
freely when that man was here. I told something of the military
plans of my Government. I was permitted to say so much. But that
information would be worth many millions to our enemies. No, my
friends, I see no other way. The man who came here and his
confederates must be taken, and taken at once.'
'Good God,' I cried, 'and we have not a rag of a clue.'
'Besides,' said Whittaker, 'there is the post. By this time the news
will be on its way.'
'No,' said the Frenchman. 'You do not understand the habits
of the spy. He receives personally his reward, and he delivers
personally his intelligence. We in France know something of the
breed. There is still a chance, MES AMIS. These men must cross
the sea, and there are ships to be searched and ports to be
watched. Believe me, the need is desperate for both France and Britain.'
Royer's grave good sense seemed to pull us together. He was the
man of action among fumblers. But I saw no hope in any face, and
I felt none. Where among the fifty millions of these islands and
within a dozen hours were we to lay hands on the three cleverest
rogues in Europe?
Then suddenly I had an inspiration.
'Where is Scudder's book?' I cried to Sir Walter. 'Quick, man, I
remember something in it.'
He unlocked the door of a bureau and gave it to me.
I found the place. THIRTY-NINE STEPS, I read, and again, THIRTY-NINE
STEPS--I COUNTED THEM--HIGH TIDE 10.17 P.M.
The Admiralty man was looking at me as if he thought I had
'Don't you see it's a clue,' I shouted. 'Scudder knew where these
fellows laired--he knew where they were going to leave the
country, though he kept the name to himself. Tomorrow was the
day, and it was some place where high tide was at 10.17.'
'They may have gone tonight,' someone said.
'Not they. They have their own snug secret way, and they won't
be hurried. I know Germans, and they are mad about working to a
plan. Where the devil can I get a book of Tide Tables?'
Whittaker brightened up. 'It's a chance,' he said. 'Let's go over
to the Admiralty.'
We got into two of the waiting motor-cars--all but Sir Walter,
who went off to Scotland Yard--to 'mobilize MacGillivray', so he said.
We marched through empty corridors and big bare chambers
where the charwomen were busy, till we reached a little room lined
with books and maps. A resident clerk was unearthed, who
presently fetched from the library the Admiralty Tide Tables. I sat
at the desk and the others stood round, for somehow or other I had
got charge of this expedition.
It was no good. There were hundreds of entries, and so far as I
could see 10.17 might cover fifty places. We had to find some way
of narrowing the possibilities.
I took my head in my hands and thought. There must be some
way of reading this riddle. What did Scudder mean by steps? I
thought of dock steps, but if he had meant that I didn't think he
would have mentioned the number. It must be some place where
there were several staircases, and one marked out from the others
by having thirty-nine steps.
Then I had a sudden thought, and hunted up all the steamer
sailings. There was no boat which left for the Continent at 10.17 p.m.
Why was high tide so important? If it was a harbour it must be
some little place where the tide mattered, or else it was a heavy-
draught boat. But there was no regular steamer sailing at that hour,
and somehow I didn't think they would travel by a big boat from a
regular harbour. So it must be some little harbour where the tide
was important, or perhaps no harbour at all.
But if it was a little port I couldn't see what the steps signified.
There were no sets of staircases on any harbour that I had ever
seen. It must be some place which a particular staircase identified,
and where the tide was full at 10.17. On the whole it seemed to me
that the place must be a bit of open coast. But the staircases kept
Then I went back to wider considerations. Whereabouts would a
man be likely to leave for Germany, a man in a hurry, who wanted
a speedy and a secret passage? Not from any of the big harbours.
And not from the Channel or the West Coast or Scotland, for,
remember, he was starting from London. I measured the distance
on the map, and tried to put myself in the enemy's shoes. I
should try for Ostend or Antwerp or Rotterdam, and I should
sail from somewhere on the East Coast between Cromer and Dover.
All this was very loose guessing, and I don't pretend it was
ingenious or scientific. I wasn't any kind of Sherlock Holmes. But I
have always fancied I had a kind of instinct about questions like
this. I don't know if I can explain myself, but I used to use my
brains as far as they went, and after they came to a blank wall I
guessed, and I usually found my guesses pretty right.
So I set out all my conclusions on a bit of Admiralty paper. They
ran like this:
(1) Place where there are several sets of stairs; one that
matters distinguished by having thirty-nine steps.
(2) Full tide at 10.17 p.m. Leaving shore only possible at full
(3) Steps not dock steps, and so place probably not harbour.
(4) No regular night steamer at 10.17. Means of transport must
be tramp (unlikely), yacht, or fishing-boat.
There my reasoning stopped. I made another list, which I headed
'Guessed', but I was just as sure of the one as the other.
(1) Place not harbour but open coast.
(2) Boat small--trawler, yacht, or launch.
(3) Place somewhere on East Coast between Cromer and Dover.
it struck me as odd that I should be sitting at that desk with a
Cabinet Minister, a Field-Marshal, two high Government officials,
and a French General watching me, while from the scribble of a
dead man I was trying to drag a secret which meant life or death
Sir Walter had joined us, and presently MacGillivray arrived. He
had sent out instructions to watch the ports and railway stations for
the three men whom I had described to Sir Walter. Not that he or
anybody else thought that that would do much good.
'Here's the most I can make of it,' I said. 'We have got to find a
place where there are several staircases down to the beach, one of
which has thirty-nine steps. I think it's a piece of open coast with
biggish cliffs, somewhere between the Wash and the Channel. Also
it's a place where full tide is at 10.17 tomorrow night.'
Then an idea struck me. 'Is there no Inspector of Coastguards or
some fellow like that who knows the East Coast?'
Whittaker said there was, and that he lived in Clapham. He went
off in a car to fetch him, and the rest of us sat about the little room
and talked of anything that came into our heads. I lit a pipe and
went over the whole thing again till my brain grew weary.
About one in the morning the coastguard man arrived. He was a
fine old fellow, with the look of a naval officer, and was desperately
respectful to the company. I left the War Minister to cross-examine
him, for I felt he would think it cheek in me to talk.
'We want you to tell us the places you know on the East Coast
where there are cliffs, and where several sets of steps run down to
He thought for a bit. 'What kind of steps do you mean, Sir?
There are plenty of places with roads cut down through the cliffs,
and most roads have a step or two in them. Or do you mean
regular staircases--all steps, so to speak?'
Sir Arthur looked towards me. 'We mean regular staircases,' I said.
He reflected a minute or two. 'I don't know that I can think of
any. Wait a second. There's a place in Norfolk--Brattlesham--
beside a golf-course, where there are a couple of staircases, to let the
gentlemen get a lost ball.'
'That's not it,' I said.
'Then there are plenty of Marine Parades, if that's what you
mean. Every seaside resort has them.'
I shook my head.
'It's got to be more retired than that,' I said.
'Well, gentlemen, I can't think of anywhere else. Of course,
there's the Ruff--'
'What's that?' I asked.
'The big chalk headland in Kent, close to Bradgate. It's got a lot
of villas on the top, and some of the houses have staircases down to
a private beach. It's a very high-toned sort of place, and the residents
there like to keep by themselves.'
I tore open the Tide Tables and found Bradgate. High tide there
was at 10.17 P.m. on the 15th of June.
'We're on the scent at last,' I cried excitedly. 'How can I find out
what is the tide at the Ruff?'
'I can tell you that, Sir,' said the coastguard man. 'I once was lent
a house there in this very month, and I used to go out at night to
the deep-sea fishing. The tide's ten minutes before Bradgate.'
I closed the book and looked round at the company.
'If one of those staircases has thirty-nine steps we have solved
the mystery, gentlemen,' I said. 'I want the loan of your car, Sir
Walter, and a map of the roads. If Mr MacGillivray will spare me
ten minutes, I think we can prepare something for tomorrow.'
It was ridiculous in me to take charge of the business like this,
but they didn't seem to mind, and after all I had been in the show
from the start. Besides, I was used to rough jobs, and these eminent
gentlemen were too clever not to see it. It was General Royer who
gave me my commission. 'I for one,' he said, 'am content to leave
the matter in Mr Hannay's hands.'
By half-past three I was tearing past the moonlit hedgerows of
Kent, with MacGillivray's best man on the seat beside me.
Various Parties Converging on the Sea
A pink and blue June morning found me at Bradgate looking from
the Griffin Hotel over a smooth sea to the lightship on the Cock
sands which seemed the size of a bell-buoy. A couple of miles
farther south and much nearer the shore a small destroyer was
anchored. Scaife, MacGillivray's man, who had been in the Navy,
knew the boat, and told me her name and her commander's, so I
sent off a wire to Sir Walter.
After breakfast Scaife got from a house-agent a key for the gates
of the staircases on the Ruff. I walked with him along the sands,
and sat down in a nook of the cliffs while he investigated the half-
dozen of them. I didn't want to be seen, but the place at this hour
was quite deserted, and all the time I was on that beach I saw
nothing but the sea-gulls.
It took him more than an hour to do the job, and when I saw
him coming towards me, conning a bit of paper, I can tell you my
heart was in my mouth. Everything depended, you see, on my
guess proving right.
He read aloud the number of steps in the different stairs. 'Thirty-
four, thirty-five, thirty-nine, forty-two, forty-seven,' and 'twenty-
one' where the cliffs grew lower. I almost got up and shouted.
We hurried back to the town and sent a wire to MacGillivray. I
wanted half a dozen men, and I directed them to divide themselves
among different specified hotels. Then Scaife set out to prospect
the house at the head of the thirty-nine steps.
He came back with news that both puzzled and reassured me.
The house was called Trafalgar Lodge, and belonged to an old
gentleman called Appleton--a retired stockbroker, the house-agent
said. Mr Appleton was there a good deal in the summer time, and
was in residence now--had been for the better part of a week.
Scaife could pick up very little information about him, except that
he was a decent old fellow, who paid his bills regularly, and was
always good for a fiver for a local charity. Then Scaife seemed to
have penetrated to the back door of the house, pretending he was
an agent for sewing-machines. Only three servants were kept, a
cook, a parlour-maid, and a housemaid, and they were just the sort
that you would find in a respectable middle-class household. The
cook was not the gossiping kind, and had pretty soon shut the door
in his face, but Scaife said he was positive she knew nothing. Next
door there was a new house building which would give good cover
for observation, and the villa on the other side was to let, and its
garden was rough and shrubby.
I borrowed Scaife's telescope, and before lunch went for a walk
along the Ruff. I kept well behind the rows of villas, and found a
good observation point on the edge of the golf-course. There I had
a view of the line of turf along the cliff top, with seats placed at
intervals, and the little square plots, railed in and planted with
bushes, whence the staircases descended to the beach. I saw Trafalgar
Lodge very plainly, a red-brick villa with a veranda, a tennis
lawn behind, and in front the ordinary seaside flower-garden full of
marguerites and scraggy geraniums. There was a flagstaff from
which an enormous Union Jack hung limply in the still air.
Presently I observed someone leave the house and saunter along
the cliff. When I got my glasses on him I saw it was an old man,
wearing white flannel trousers, a blue serge jacket, and a straw hat.
He carried field-glasses and a newspaper, and sat down on one of
the iron seats and began to read. Sometimes he would lay down the
paper and turn his glasses on the sea. He looked for a long time at
the destroyer. I watched him for half an hour, till he got up and
went back to the house for his luncheon, when I returned to the
hotel for mine.
I wasn't feeling very confident. This decent common-place dwelling
was not what I had expected. The man might be the bald
archaeologist of that horrible moorland farm, or he might not. He
was exactly the kind of satisfied old bird you will find in every
suburb and every holiday place. If you wanted a type of the perfectly
harmless person you would probably pitch on that.
But after lunch, as I sat in the hotel porch, I perked up, for I saw
the thing I had hoped for and had dreaded to miss. A yacht came
up from the south and dropped anchor pretty well opposite the
Ruff. She seemed about a hundred and fifty tons, and I saw she
belonged to the Squadron from the white ensign. So Scaife and I
went down to the harbour and hired a boatman for an afternoon's fishing.
I spent a warm and peaceful afternoon. We caught between us
about twenty pounds of cod and lythe, and out in that dancing blue
sea I took a cheerier view of things. Above the white cliffs of the
Ruff I saw the green and red of the villas, and especially the great
flagstaff of Trafalgar Lodge. About four o'clock, when we had
fished enough, I made the boatman row us round the yacht, which
lay like a delicate white bird, ready at a moment to flee. Scaife said
she must be a fast boat for her build, and that she was pretty
Her name was the ARIADNE, as I discovered from the cap of one of
the men who was polishing brasswork. I spoke to him, and got an
answer in the soft dialect of Essex. Another hand that came along
passed me the time of day in an unmistakable English tongue. Our
boatman had an argument with one of them about the weather, and
for a few minutes we lay on our oars close to the starboard bow.
Then the men suddenly disregarded us and bent their heads to
their work as an officer came along the deck. He was a pleasant,
clean-looking young fellow, and he put a question to us about our
fishing in very good English. But there could be no doubt about
him. His close-cropped head and the cut of his collar and tie never
came out of England.
That did something to reassure me, but as we rowed back to
Bradgate my obstinate doubts would not be dismissed. The thing that
worried me was the reflection that my enemies knew that I had got my
knowledge from Scudder, and it was Scudder who had given me the
clue to this place. If they knew that Scudder had this clue, would they
not be certain to change their plans? Too much depended on their
success for them to take any risks. The whole question was how much
they understood about Scudder's knowledge. I had talked confidently
last night about Germans always sticking to a scheme, but if they had
any suspicions that I was on their track they would be fools not to
cover it. I wondered if the man last night had seen that I recognized
him. Somehow I did not think he had, and to that I had clung. But the
whole business had never seemed so difficult as that afternoon when
by all calculations I should have been rejoicing in assured success.
In the hotel I met the commander of the destroyer, to whom
Scaife introduced me, and with whom I had a few words. Then I
thought I would put in an hour or two watching Trafalgar Lodge.
I found a place farther up the hill, in the garden of an empty
house. From there I had a full view of the court, on which two
figures were having a game of tennis. One was the old man, whom
I had already seen; the other was a younger fellow, wearing some
club colours in the scarf round his middle. They played with tremendous
zest, like two city gents who wanted hard exercise to open
their pores. You couldn't conceive a more innocent spectacle. They
shouted and laughed and stopped for drinks, when a maid brought
out two tankards on a salver. I rubbed my eyes and asked myself if
I was not the most immortal fool on earth. Mystery and darkness
had hung about the men who hunted me over the Scotch moor in
aeroplane and motor-car, and notably about that infernal antiquarian.
It was easy enough to connect those folk with the knife
that pinned Scudder to the floor, and with fell designs on the
world's peace. But here were two guileless citizens taking their
innocuous exercise, and soon about to go indoors to a humdrum
dinner, where they would talk of market prices and the last cricket
scores and the gossip of their native Surbiton. I had been making a
net to catch vultures and falcons, and lo and behold! two plump
thrushes had blundered into it.
Presently a third figure arrived, a young man on a bicycle, with a
bag of golf-clubs slung on his back. He strolled round to the tennis
lawn and was welcomed riotously by the players. Evidently they
were chaffing him, and their chaff sounded horribly English. Then
the plump man, mopping his brow with a silk handkerchief, announced
that he must have a tub. I heard his very words--'I've got into
a proper lather,' he said. 'This will bring down my weight and
my handicap, Bob. I'll take you on tomorrow and give you a stroke a
hole.' You couldn't find anything much more English than that.
They all went into the house, and left me feeling a precious idiot.
I had been barking up the wrong tree this time. These men might
be acting; but if they were, where was their audience? They didn't
know I was sitting thirty yards off in a rhododendron. It was simply
impossible to believe that these three hearty fellows were anything
but what they seemed--three ordinary, game-playing, suburban
Englishmen, wearisome, if you like, but sordidly innocent.
And yet there were three of them; and one was old, and one was
plump, and one was lean and dark; and their house chimed in with
Scudder's notes; and half a mile off was lying a steam yacht with at
least one German officer. I thought of Karolides lying dead and all
Europe trembling on the edge of earthquake, and the men I had
left behind me in London who were waiting anxiously for the
events of the next hours. There was no doubt that hell was afoot
somewhere. The Black Stone had won, and if it survived this June
night would bank its winnings.
There seemed only one thing to do--go forward as if I had no
doubts, and if I was going to make a fool of myself to do it
handsomely. Never in my life have I faced a job with greater
disinclination. I would rather in my then mind have walked into a
den of anarchists, each with his Browning handy, or faced a charging
lion with a popgun, than enter that happy home of three
cheerful Englishmen and tell them that their game was up. How
they would laugh at me!
But suddenly I remembered a thing I once heard in Rhodesia
from old Peter Pienaar. I have quoted Peter already in this narrative.
He was the best scout I ever knew, and before he had turned
respectable he had been pretty often on the windy side of the law,
when he had been wanted badly by the authorities. Peter once
discussed with me the question of disguises, and he had a theory
which struck me at the time. He said, barring absolute certainties
like fingerprints, mere physical traits were very little use for
identification if the fugitive really knew his business. He laughed at
things like dyed hair and false beards and such childish follies. The
only thing that mattered was what Peter called 'atmosphere'.
If a man could get into perfectly different surroundings from
those in which he had been first observed, and--this is the important
part--really play up to these surroundings and behave as if
he had never been out of them, he would puzzle the cleverest
detectives on earth. And he used to tell a story of how he once
borrowed a black coat and went to church and shared the same
hymn-book with the man that was looking for him. If that man had
seen him in decent company before he would have recognized him;
but he had only seen him snuffing the lights in a public-house with
The recollection of Peter's talk gave me the first real comfort
that I had had that day. Peter had been a wise old bird, and these
fellows I was after were about the pick of the aviary. What if they
were playing Peter's game? A fool tries to look different: a clever
man looks the same and is different.
Again, there was that other maxim of Peter's which had helped
me when I had been a roadman. 'If you are playing a part, you
will never keep it up unless you convince yourself that you are
it.' That would explain the game of tennis. Those chaps didn't
need to act, they just turned a handle and passed into another
life, which came as naturally to them as the first. It sounds a
platitude, but Peter used to say that it was the big secret of all
the famous criminals.
It was now getting on for eight o'clock, and I went back and
saw Scaife to give him his instructions. I arranged with him how to
place his men, and then I went for a walk, for I didn't feel up to
any dinner. I went round the deserted golf-course, and then to a
point on the cliffs farther north beyond the line of the villas.
On the little trim newly-made roads I met people in flannels
coming back from tennis and the beach, and a coastguard from the