It was a few minutes after one o’clock–the busiest hour of the day at
the most popular bar in London. The usual little throng of Americans,
journalists, men of business and loiterers, were occupying their
accustomed chairs in one corner of the long, green-carpeted room.
Around the bar, would-be customers were crowded three or four
deep–many of them stalwart Canadians in khaki, making the most of
their three days’ leave, and a thin sprinkling of men about town on
their way to lunch in the grill-room adjoining. On the outskirts of
the group was a somewhat incongruous figure, a rather under-sized,
ill-dressed, bespectacled little man, neither young nor old,
colourless, with a stoop which was almost a deformity. His fingers
were stained to the tip of his nails as though by chemicals or tobacco
juice. He held the glass of vermouth which he had just succeeded in
obtaining from the bar, half-way suspended to his lips. He was
listening to the conversation around him.
‘The most blackguardly trick that has ever been known in civilized
warfare!’ a Canadian officer declared indignantly.
‘It’s put the lid on all pretence of conducting this war decently,’
another assented. ‘What about the Hague Convention?’
‘The Hague Convention!’ a young journalist from the other side repeated
sarcastically. ‘I should like to know when Germany has ever shown the
slightest regard for the Hague Convention or any other agreement which
didn’t happen to suit her!’
The little man on the outskirts of the group, who had been listening
eagerly to the conversation, ventured upon a question. His accent at
once betrayed his transatlantic origin.
‘Say, is there anything fresh this morning?’ he inquired. ‘I haven’t
seen the papers yet.’
The Canadian glanced down at the speaker.
‘We were talking,’ he said, ‘about the use of poisonous gases by the
Germans. They started pumping them at us yesterday and pretty nearly
cleared us out of Ypres.’
The effect of this statement upon the little man was, in its way,
extraordinary. For a moment he stood with his mouth open, the glass
shaking between his fingers, a queer, set expression in his pale face.
Then his lips parted and he began to laugh. It was a mirth so
obviously ill-timed, so absolutely unaccountable, that they all turned
and stared at him. There was no doubt whatever that for some reason or
other the news which he had just heard had excited this strange little
person almost hysterically. His lips grew further apart, the whole of
his face was puckered up in little creases. Then, just as suddenly as
his extraordinary impulse towards mirth had come, it seemed to pass
away. He drained his glass, set it down on the edge of the counter,
and, turning around, walked slowly out of the place. The remarks that
followed him were not altogether inaudible and they were distinctly
‘All I could do to keep my toe off the little devil!’ the Canadian
exclaimed angrily. ‘I’d like to take him back with me out into the
trenches for a few days!’
A young man who had been talking to an English officer on the outskirts
of the group, turned around. He was a tall, well-set-up young man,
with a face rather grave for his years and a mouth a little over-firm.
He, too, had watched the exit of the stranger half in indignation, half
‘Who was that extraordinary little man?’ he inquired.
No one seemed to know. The waiter paused with a tray full of glasses.
‘He’s staying in the hotel–arrived yesterday from America, sir,’ he
announced. ‘I don’t know his name, but I think he’s a little queer in
The young man set down his glass upon the counter.
‘A person,’ he remarked, ‘who can laugh at such a ghastly thing, must
be either very queer in his head indeed, or—-‘
‘Or what, Ambrose?’ his companion asked.
‘I don’t know,’ the other replied thoughtfully. ‘Well, _au revoir_,
you fellows! I’m going in to lunch. Sure you won’t come with me,
‘Sorry, I have to be back in ten minutes,’ the other replied. ‘See you
Ambrose Lavendale strolled out of the room, crossed the smoke-room and
descended into the restaurant. At a table in a remote corner, seated
by himself, the little man who had been guilty of such a breach of
good-feeling was studying the menu with a waiter by his side.
Lavendale watched him for a moment curiously. Then he turned to speak
to one of the _maîtres d’hôtel_, a short, dark man with a
closely-cropped black moustache.
‘I shan’t want my usual table this morning, Jules,’ he announced. ‘I
am going to sit in that corner.’
He indicated a vacant table close to the little man whom he had been
watching. The _maîtres d’hôtel_ bowed and ushered him towards it.
‘Just as you like, Mr. Lavendale,’ he said. ‘It isn’t often you care
about this side of the room, though.’
Lavendale seated himself at the table he had selected, gave a brief
order, and, leaning back, glanced around him. The little man had sent
for a newspaper and was reading it eagerly, but for a moment
Lavendale’s interest was attracted elsewhere. At the very next table,
also alone, also reading a newspaper, was the most striking-looking
young woman he had ever seen in his life. Lavendale was neither
susceptible nor imaginative. He considered himself a practical,
hard-headed person, notwithstanding the fact that he had embraced what
was for his country practically a new profession. Nevertheless, he was
conscious of what almost amounted to a new interest in life as he
studied, a little too eagerly, perhaps, the girl’s features. She was
dark, with hair brushed plainly back from a somewhat high and
beautifully shaped forehead. Her complexion was pale, her eyes a deep
shade of soft brown. Her eyebrows were almost Japanese, fine and silky
yet intensely dark. Her mouth, even in repose, seemed full of curves.
She appeared to be of medium height and she was undoubtedly graceful,
and what made her more interesting still to Lavendale was the fact
that, although her manner of doing so was stealthy, she, too, was
watching the little man who was now commencing his luncheon.
Lavendale, after a few moments’ reflection, adopted the obvious course.
He summoned Jules and inquired the young lady’s name. The man was able
at once to give him the desired information.
‘Miss de Freyne, sir,’ he whispered discreetly. ‘She is a writer, I
believe. I am not quite sure,’ the man added, ‘whether she is not the
agent over here of some French dramatists. I have seen her sometimes
with theatrical parties.’
Lavendale nodded and settled down rather ineffectively to his lunch.
Before he had finished he had arrived at two conclusions. The first
was that Miss de Freyne, although obviously not for the same reason,
was as much interested in the stranger as he was; and the second that
his first impressions concerning her personality were, if anything, too
weak. He ransacked his memory for the names of all the theatrical
people whom he knew, and made mental notes of them. It was his firm
intention to make her acquaintance before the day was over. Once their
eyes met, and, notwithstanding a reasonable amount of _savoir faire_,
for the moment he was almost embarrassed. He found it impossible to
glance away, and she returned a regard which he felt in a way was
semi-committal, with a queer sort of nonchalant interest in a sense
provocative, although it contained nothing of invitation. At the end
of the meal Lavendale had come to a decision. He signed his bill, rose
from his place and approached the table at which the little man was
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I am a stranger to you, but I should like, if I may,
to ask you a question.’
Even in that moment’s pause, when the little man laid down his
newspaper and was staring up at his questioner in manifest surprise,
Lavendale felt that his proceeding had attracted the strongest interest
from the young woman seated only a few feet away. She had leaned ever
so slightly forward. A coffee cup with which she had been toying had
been noiselessly returned to its saucer. It was genuine interest,
this, not curiosity.
‘Say, how’s that?’ the little man exclaimed. ‘Ask me a question? Why,
I don’t know as there’d be any harm in that. I’m not promising that
I’ll answer it.’
‘I was in the bar a moment ago,’ Lavendale continued, ‘when they were
talking of these poisonous gases which the Germans are using. I heard
you ask a question and I heard the answer. You were apparently for the
first time informed of this new practice of theirs. Will you tell me
why, when you heard of it, you laughed?’
The little man nodded his head slowly as though in response to some
‘Sit down, young fellow,’ he invited. ‘Are you an American?’
‘I am,’ Lavendale admitted. ‘My name is Ambrose Lavendale and I was
attached to the Embassy here until last August.’
‘That so?’ the other replied with some interest. ‘Well, mine’s Hurn.
I don’t know a soul in London and you may be useful to me, so if you
like I’ll answer your question. You thought my laugh abominable, I
‘I did,’ Lavendale assented,–‘we all did. I dare say you heard some
of the comments that followed you out!’
‘It was a selfish laugh, perhaps,’ the little man continued
thoughtfully, ‘but it was not an inhuman one. Now, sir, I will answer
your question. I will tell you what that piece of information which I
heard at the bar, and which I find in the paper here, means to me and
means to the world. Hold tight, young man. I am going to make a
statement which, if you are sensible enough to believe it, will take
your breath away. If you don’t, you’ll think I’m a lunatic. Are you
‘Go ahead,’ Lavendale invited. ‘I guess my nerves are in pretty good
Mr. Hurn laid the flat of his hand upon the table and looked upwards at
his companion. He spoke very slowly and very distinctly.
‘I can stop the war,’ he declared.
Lavendale smiled at him incredulously–the man was mad!
‘Really?’ he exclaimed. ‘Well, you’ll be the greatest benefactor the
world has ever known, if you can.’
The little man, who had arrived at the final stage of his luncheon,
helped himself to another pat of butter.
‘You don’t believe me, of course,’ he said, ‘yet it happens that I am
speaking the truth. You are thinking, I guess, that I am a pitifully
insignificant little unit in this great city, in this raging world.
Yet I have spoken the solid truth. I can stop the war, and, if you
like, you can help me.’
Lavendale withdrew his eyes from his new acquaintance’s face for a
moment and glanced towards the girl. Something that was almost a smile
of mutual understanding flashed between them. Doubtless she had
overheard some part of their conversation. Lavendale raised his voice
a little in order that she might hear more. He felt a thrill of
pleasure at the thought that they were establishing a mutual confidence.
‘I’ll help, of course,’ he promised. ‘In what direction are your
efforts to be made?’
The little man paused in the act of drinking a glass of water, squinted
at his questioner, and set the tumbler down empty.
‘Wondering what sort of a crank you’ve got hold of, eh?’
Lavendale began to be impressed. The little man did not look in the
least like a lunatic.
‘Well, it’s rather a sweeping proposition, yours,’ Lavendale remarked.
‘Everything in the world,’ the other reminded him didactically, ‘was
impossible before it was done. Your help needn’t be very strenuous. I
guess there’s some sort of headquarters in London from which this war
is run, eh?’
‘There’s the War Office,’ Lavendale explained.
‘Know any one there?’
‘Yes, I know a good many soldiers who have jobs there just now.’
‘Then I guess you can help by saving me time. Do you happen to be
acquainted with any one in the Ordnance Department?’
Lavendale reflected for a moment.
‘Yes, I know a man there,’ he admitted. ‘It’s just as well to warn
you, though, that they’re absolutely fed up with trying new shells and
The little man smiled–a queer, reflective smile, filled with some
quality of self-appreciation which seemed at once to lift him above the
whole world of crazy inventors.
‘Your friend there now,’ he asked, ‘or will he be taking his British
two hours for lunch?’
‘He never leaves the building after he gets there in the morning,’
Mr. Daniel H. Hurn signed his bill and laid down an insignificant tip.
‘You through with your luncheon?’ he inquired. ‘Right! Then what
about taking me along and letting me have a word with your friend?’
‘I don’t mind,’ Lavendale agreed, a little doubtfully, ‘but he hasn’t
very much influence.’
Again the other smiled, and again Lavendale was impressed by that
mysterious contortion. He glanced towards the adjoining table. The
girl was still watching them closely. Jules, whom she had apparently
just summoned, was standing by her side, and Lavendale was convinced
that the questions which she was obviously asking, referred to him. He
left the room with reluctance and followed his companion through the
hall and into a taxi.
‘Not sure whether I told you,’ the latter remarked, as he seated
himself, ‘that my name is Hurn–Daniel H. Hurn–and I come from way out
‘Glad to meet you, Mr. Hurn,’ Lavendale murmured mechanically. ‘You
are not taking anything with you to show the people at the War Office,
Mr. Hurn shook his head.
‘Not necessary,’ he answered. ‘Bring me face to face with a live
man–that’s all I need, that’s all you need to end the war.’
‘I am an American,’ Lavendale reminded him.
Mr. Hurn glanced at his companion curiously. Lavendale, dressed by an
English tailor and at home in most of the capitals of Europe, was an
‘Shouldn’t have thought it,’ he admitted. ‘This the place?’
Lavendale nodded and paid for the taxi without any protest from his
companion, whom he piloted down many corridors until they reached a
room in the rear of the building. A boy scout guarded the door. He
stood on one side to let Lavendale pass, but glanced at his companion
‘Would you mind waiting here just for a moment?’ Lavendale suggested.
‘My friend is in this room, working with several other men. It would
be better for me to have a word with him first.’
‘Sure!’ the other agreed. ‘You run the show. I’ll wait.’
Lavendale entered the apartment and approached the desk before which
his friend was sitting.
‘Hullo, Reggie!’ he exclaimed.
The young man, who was hard at work, looked up from a sheaf of papers
and held out his left hand.
‘How are you, Ambrose? Sit down by the side of me, if you want to
talk. We’re up to the eyes here.’
Lavendale leaned over the desk.
‘Look here, old chap,’ he went on, ‘I’ve come on a sort of fool’s
errand, perhaps. I’ve got a little American outside. He’s a most
unholy-looking object, but he wants a word with some one in the
Merrill shook his head reproachfully.
‘Is this quite fair?’ he protested. ‘We’ve had our morning dose of
‘I’m sorry,’ Lavendale said, ‘but you’ve got to deal with one more.’
‘Know anything about him?’
‘Not a thing,’ Lavendale admitted. ‘I’ve talked to him for five
minutes, and I have just an idea that you ought to hear what he has to
Merrill laid down a paperweight upon his documents.
‘Look here, old fellow,’ he said, ‘I’ll take your little pal round to
Bembridge, if you say the word, but I warn you, he is as fed up as I am
and he’ll be pretty short with him.’
‘I shouldn’t think my man was sensitive,’ Lavendale observed. ‘Anyhow,
my trouble’s over if you’ll do that.’
Merrill sighed and closed his desk.
‘This way, then.’
They passed out of the room to where Mr. Daniel H. Hurn was waiting.
Merrill seemed a little taken aback as Lavendale briefly introduced
them, and his glance towards his friend was significant. However, he
led them both down the corridor and knocked at a door at the further
‘Is the General disengaged?’ he asked the orderly who opened it.
They were immediately ushered in. Two clerks were seated at a great
round table, apparently copying plans. There were models in the room
of every form of modern warfare. A tall, thin man in the uniform of a
General, was examining some new pattern of hand grenade as they entered.
‘Sir,’ Merrill began, addressing him apologetically, ‘my friend here,
Mr. Ambrose Lavendale, who was in the American Embassy for some time,
has brought Mr. Daniel Hurn of Chicago to have a word with you.’
The General dropped his eyeglass and sighed.
‘An invention?’ he asked patiently.
‘Something of the sort,’ Mr. Hurn admitted briskly. ‘Do I understand
that you are a General in the British Army?’
‘I am, sir,’ General Bembridge admitted.
‘Very well, then,’ Mr. Hurn proceeded, ‘I am here to tell you this–I
can end your war. When you’re through with smiling at me, you’ll
probably say ‘Prove it.’ I will prove it. There’s a row of taxicabs
down below. Take me outside this city of yours to where there’s a
garden and a field beyond. Afterwards we’ll talk business. You’ll
want to, right enough. It’ll take about an hour of your time–and I
can end the war!’
There was a moment’s silence. The two clerks who had been writing at
the table, had turned around. General Bembridge was looking a little
curiously at his unusual visitor.
‘Mr. Hurn,’ he said, ‘I will be frank with you. The average number of
visitors who present themselves here during the day with devices which
will end the war, is twenty. To-day that average has been exceeded. I
have already spoken to twenty-four. You make, you see, the
twenty-fifth. If we were to go out in taxicabs and watch experiments
with every one of them—-‘
‘Pshaw! I’m not one of those cranks,’ Mr. Hurn interrupted. ‘Read
He handed a half sheet of notepaper across to the General, who adjusted
his eyeglass and read. The heading at the top of the notepaper was
‘_The Chicago School of Chemical Research_’ and its contents were brief:
‘_Mr. Daniel H. Hurn is a distinguished member of this society. We
recommend the attention of the British War Office to any suggestion
he may make._’
‘Here’s another,’ Mr. Hurn went on. ‘This is from the greatest firm of
steel producers in the world–kind of personal.’
General Bembridge glanced at the historic name which recommended Mr.
Hurn to the consideration of the Government. Then he sighed.
‘I am going to-morrow morning at ten o’clock,’ he said, ‘to inspect a
battery at Hatton Park, three miles from Hatfield, on the road to
Baldock. You can meet me at the lodge gate at a quarter to ten and I
will give you a quarter of an hour.’
‘This afternoon would have been better,’ Mr. Hurn observed, buttoning
up the letters in his coat, ‘but to-morrow morning it shall be.’
The General waved them away. Merrill glanced curiously at the American
as the three men walked down the corridor.
‘Those letters did the trick,’ he remarked. ‘Forgive me if I hurry,
Lavendale. Don’t let your friend be a minute late to-morrow morning or
he’ll lose his chance.’
‘I’ll see to that,’ Mr. Hurn promised. ‘Guess I can hire some sort of
an automobile to take me out there. Good morning, Captain Merrill,’ he
added, by way of parting salute, holding out his curiously stained
hand. ‘I am much obliged to you for your help, and you can sleep
to-night feeling you’ve done more than any man in this great building
to save your country.’
Merrill winked at Lavendale as he disappeared within his room. The
latter, with the inventor by his side, stepped out into the street.
‘About going down there to-morrow morning—-‘ he began.
‘Young man,’ Mr. Hurn interrupted impressively, ‘you’ve done your best
for me and it’s only right you should have your reward. You may
accompany me to this place, wherever it is.’
Lavendale laughed softly, a laugh which his companion absolutely failed
‘All right,’ he agreed, ‘I’ll take you down in my car. I’ll be at the
hotel at nine o’clock.’
‘At five minutes to ten, if the General is punctual,’ Mr. Hurn
promised, ‘you shall see the most wonderful sight you have ever
witnessed in your life.’
Punctually at nine o’clock on the following morning, Lavendale brought
his car to a standstill before the front door of the Milan Hotel. Mr.
Hurn, looking, if possible, shabbier and more insignificant than ever,
was waiting under the portico. He clambered at once to the seat by
‘Haven’t you any apparatus to bring, or anything?’ the latter inquired.
Mr. Hurn smiled.
‘Not a darned thing!’
Lavendale was puzzled.
‘You mean you’re ready to start with your experiment, just as you are,
‘Sure!’ the little man answered, ‘and you’d better get her going.’
They started off in silence. Once more Lavendale, as he glanced at the
shabby little object by his side, began to lose confidence. As they
swung round into Golder’s Green he spoke again.
‘What sort of a show are you going to give us?’ he asked.
Mr. Hurn glanced at his watch.
‘You’ll know inside of an hour,’ he replied.
Lavendale frowned. His protégé’s appearance that morning was certainly
not prepossessing. His collar showed distinct traces of its
vicissitudes upon the previous day. His ugly, discoloured hands were
ungloved; his boots were of some dull, indescribable material which
seemed to have escaped the attentions of the valet; his flannel shirt
was of the style and pattern displayed in Strand establishments which
cater for the unæsthetic. He had discarded his hat for a black cloth
cap and he had developed a habit of muttering to himself. Lavendale
pressed the accelerator of his car and increased its pace.
‘I suppose I’ve made a fool of myself,’ he muttered.
They reached the open country and drew up in due time before the lodge
gates of what seemed to be a very large estate. There was no sign as
yet of the General. Mr. Hurn descended briskly and at once embarked
upon a survey of the neighbourhood. Lavendale lit a cigarette and
paused to watch the approach of a great limousine car rushing up the
hill. It passed them in a cloud of dust,–he stood staring after it.
Notwithstanding the closed windows, he had caught a glimpse of a face,
of eyes gazing with strained intentness out on to his side of the
road–the face of a woman convulsed with urgency–the woman who had
played such queer havoc with his thoughts. Almost at the same moment
there was a rasping voice in his ear.
‘Say, Mr. Lavendale, there’s just one thing I ought to have warned you
people about, you don’t want any spectators to this show. There ain’t
no one on this earth has seen what you are going to see.’
Lavendale was conscious of a queer flash of premonition. They
three–the girl, the crazy little American and he himself–at this
critical moment seemed to have come once more together. What was the
girl doing out here? Could her appearance really be fortuitous? The
little man’s warning became automatically associated with this
unexpected glimpse of her. Then, with a returning impulse of sanity,
Lavendale brushed his suspicions on one side.
‘There’ll only be farm labourers within sight, anyway,’ he remarked.
‘You see, no one could have known that we were coming here.’
‘That may be so or it mayn’t,’ Mr. Hurn replied dryly. ‘Anyway, I
guess this is the boss coming along.’
An open touring car, driven by a man in khaki, drew up at the lodge
gate. General Bembridge descended briskly and came towards them,
followed by Captain Merrill.
‘Glad to see you are punctual, Mr. Hurn,’ he said. ‘Now, if you
please, I am at your disposal for a quarter of an hour. What is it
that you have brought to show me?’
‘That’s all right, General,’ Mr. Hurn replied affably. ‘You don’t need
to worry. I’ve been taking my fixings round here. Just step this way.’
He shambled along across the turf. The others followed him, the
General walking by Lavendale’s side.
‘Hasn’t your friend brought any apparatus to show us?’ he inquired
irritably. ‘What’s he going to do?’
‘Heaven knows, sir!’ Lavendale replied. ‘He has told me nothing. If
it weren’t for those letters he showed you, I should have thought he
was a lunatic.’
Mr. Hurn assembled the little party about twenty-five yards ahead of a
fringe of trees which bordered the road-side and terminated after a
slight break in a compact little spinney. He turned to Captain Merrill.
‘Say, young man,’ he suggested, ‘you just hop round the other side and
make sure there’s no one about.’
Merrill, in obedience to a glance from the General, hurried off. The
latter turned towards Mr. Hurn.
‘You are leaving us very much in the dark, sir, he remarked. ‘What is
it that you propose to attempt?’
‘I propose to accomplish on a small scale,’ Mr. Hurn said
grandiloquently, ‘a work of destruction which you can repeat upon any
scale you choose. See here.’
With the utmost solemnity he drew from his pocket a schoolboy’s
ordinary catapult and a pill-box. From the latter he selected a pellet
a little smaller than a marble. He fitted it carefully into the back
of the catapult. Captain Merrill, who had completed his tour of the
‘There is no one about, sir,’ he announced.
Mr. Hurn had suddenly the air of a man who attempts great deeds. His
attitude, as he stepped forward, was almost theatrical. The General
had become very stern and was obviously annoyed. Lavendale’s heart was
sinking fast. He was already trying to think out some form of apology
for his share in what he felt had developed into a ridiculous fiasco.
Nevertheless, their eyes were all riveted upon the strange little
figure a few feet in front of them. Slowly he drew back the elastic of
the catapult and discharged the pellet. It struck a tree inside the
spinney and there was immediately a curious report, which sounded more
like a slow muttering of human pain than an ordinary detonation. Mr.
Hurn pointed towards the spinney. There were great things in his
attitude and in his gesture. A queer, very faint, grey smoke seemed to
be stealing through the place. There was a sound like the splitting of
branches amongst the trees, the shrill death cries of terrified
animals. The General would have moved forward, but Mr. Hurn caught him
by the belt.
‘Stay where you are, all of you,’ he ordered. ‘The place ain’t safe
The wonder began to grow upon them. The various shades of green in the
spinney seemed suddenly, before their eyes, to change into a universal
smoke-coloured ashen-grey. Without any cause that they could see, the
bark began to fall away from many of the trees, as though unseen hands
were engaged in some gruesome task of devastation. The little party
stood there, spellbound, watching this mysterious cataclysm. Mr. Hurn
glanced at his watch.
‘You can follow me now,’ he directed. ‘With this strong westerly wind
you won’t need respirators, but breathe as quietly as you can.’
They followed him to the edge of the spinney. There was not one of
them who was not absolutely dumbfounded. Every shred of colour had
passed from the foliage, the undergrowth and the hedges. Flowers and
weeds, every living thing, were the same ashen colour. The ground on
which their footsteps fell broke away as though the life had been
sapped from it. There were two rabbits, a dead cock pheasant, the
glory of his plumage turned into a sickly grey, and a dozen smaller
birds, all of the same ashen shade. Lavendale kicked one of them. It
crumbled into pieces as though it were the fossil of some creature a
thousand years old.
‘The pellet which I discharged from the catapult,’ Mr. Hurn announced,
in his queer, squeaky voice, ‘contained two grains of my preparation.
Shells can be made to contain a thousand grains. I reckon that this
spinney is eighty yards in area. I will guarantee to you that within
that eighty yards there is not alive, at the present moment, any bird
or insect or animal of any kind or description. Just as they have
died, so would have any human being who had been within this area, have
passed away. The rest is a matter of the multiplication table.’
‘But will your invention bear the shock of being fired from a gun?’ the
General asked eagerly.
‘That is all all arranged for,’ Mr. Hurn replied. ‘I have some trial
shells here. The powder, which is my invention, is of two sorts,
separated in the shell by a partition. They are absolutely harmless
until concussion breaks down that division. This little matter,’ he
added, waving his hand upon that scene of hideous desolation, ‘is like
the bite of a flea. A dozen boys with catapults could destroy a
division. With two batteries of guns, General, you could destroy ten
miles of trenches and a hundred thousand men.’
They walked around the spinney, still a little dazed with the wonder of
it. Suddenly Lavendale gave a little cry. Out in the field on the
other side lay the motionless body of a woman. They all hurried
‘I thought you came round here, Merrill!’ the General exclaimed.
‘I did, sir,’ the young officer replied. ‘There wasn’t a soul in
Lavendale was the first to reach the prostrate figure. Almost before
he stooped to gaze into her face, he recognized her. There were little
flecks of grey upon her dress and she was ghastly pale. Her eyes,
however, were open, and she was struggling helplessly to move.
‘I am all right,’ she assured them feebly. ‘Has any one–any brandy?’
She tried to sit up, but she was obviously on the point of collapse.
Mr. Hurn pushed his way to her side. From another pill-box which he
had withdrawn from his pocket, he took out a small pellet and forced it
unceremoniously through her teeth.
‘I invented an antidote whilst I was about it,’ he explained. ‘Had to
keep on taking it myself when I was experimenting. She’s only got a
touch of it. She’ll be all right in five minutes. What I should like
to know is,’ he concluded suspiciously, ‘what the devil she was doing
here, any way.’
The recovery of the young lady was almost magical. She first sat up.
Then, with the help of Lavendale’s hand, she rose easily to her feet.
She pointed to the spinney.
‘What on earth is this awful thing?’ she faltered.
No one spoke for a minute.
‘What were you doing round here, young lady?’ Mr. Hurn asked bluntly.
She looked at him with her big, innocent eyes as though surprised.
‘I was motoring along the road,’ she explained, ‘when I saw you stop,’
she went on, turning towards the General. ‘I remembered that I had
heard there was to be a review here. I thought I might see something
There was a silence.
‘Perhaps,’ Merrill suggested, ‘the young lady will give us her name and
She raised her eyebrows slightly.
‘But willingly,’ she answered. ‘I am Miss Suzanne de Freyne, and my
address is at the Milan Court. I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?’
‘Nothing at all,’ Lavendale assured her hastily. ‘It’s we who feel
‘But what does it all mean?’ she demanded, a little pathetically. ‘I
was just walking across the field when suddenly that happened. I felt
as though all the strength were going out of my body. I didn’t exactly
suffocate, but it was just as though I was swallowing something which
stopped in my throat.’
‘Capital!’ Mr. Hurn exclaimed, his face beaming. ‘Most interesting!
Perhaps, after all,’ he went on complacently, ‘if we may take it for
granted that the young lady’s presence is entirely accidental, her
experience is not without some interest to us.’
‘But will no one tell me what it means?’ she persisted.
There was a silence. Lavendale was suddenly oppressed by a queer
foreboding. The General took Miss de Freyne courteously by the arm and
led her on one side. He pointed with his riding whip to the gate where
the limousine was standing.
‘Young lady,’ he said, ‘Captain Merrill here will take you back to your
car. You will confer a great obligation upon every one here, and upon
your country, if you allow this little incident to pass from your mind.’
She laughed softly. Her eyes seemed to be seeking for something in
Lavendale’s face which she failed to find. Then she turned away with a
shrug of the shoulders and glanced up at Captain Merrill.
‘I am not a prisoner, am I?’ she asked. ‘Let me assure you all,’ she
declared, with a little wave of farewell, ‘that I never want to think
of this hateful spot again.’
They watched her pass through the gate and enter the car which was
standing in the road.
‘Does any one know her?’ the General inquired.
‘She was at the next table to Mr. Hurn here when I spoke to him at the
Milan,’ Lavendale observed thoughtfully. ‘She was listening to our
conversation. It may be a coincidence, but it seems strange that she
should have been on our heels just at this particular moment.’
The General passed his arm through Mr. Hurn’s.
‘The Intelligence Department shall make a few inquiries,’ he promised.
‘As for you, my dear sir, our positions are now reversed. My time is
yours. I will find another opportunity to inspect these troops. Will
you return with me to the War Office at once?’
‘Right away,’ Mr. Hurn assented. ‘And, General,’ he went on,
swaggering a little as he shambled along by the side of the tall,
alert, military figure–queerest contrast in the world–‘give me a
factory–one of your ordinary factories will do, all your ordinary
appliances will do, but give me control of it for one month and you can
invite me to Berlin to the peace signing.’
* * * * *
At about half-past eight that evening, after having waited about for
some time in the hall of the Milan Grill-room, Lavendale handed his
coat and hat to the vestiaire and passed into the crowded restaurant.
A young man of excellent poise and balance, he was almost bewildered at
his own sensations as he elbowed his way through the throng of waiters
and passers-by. At the corner of the glass screen he paused. The girl
was there, seated at the same table, with a newspaper propped up in
front of her. Her black hair seemed glossier than ever; her face,
unshadowed by any hat, a little more pallid and forceful. A fur coat
had fallen back from her white shoulders. She seemed to be wholly
absorbed in the paper in front of her.
‘A table, monsieur?’ a soft voice murmured at his elbow.
Lavendale shook off his abstraction and glanced reluctantly away.
‘I am dining with Mr. Hurn, Jules,’ he replied. ‘He said eight
o’clock, but I can’t see anything of him.’
Jules pointed to a table close at hand, evidently reserved for two
people. There were _hors d’oeuvres_ waiting and a bottle of wine upon
‘Mr. Hurn ordered dinner for eight o’clock punctually, sir,’ he
announced. ‘I have been expecting him in for some time.’
The girl, as though attracted by their voices, had raised her eyes.
She looked towards the unoccupied table by the side of which Jules was
standing. The three of them for a moment seemed to have concentrated
their regard upon the same spot, and Lavendale was conscious of a queer
little emotion, an unanalyzable foreboding.
‘The gentleman ordered a very excellent dinner,’ Jules observed. ‘I
have already sent back the cocktails twice.’
Lavendale glanced at the clock. Almost at the same time his eyes met
the girl’s. There was a quiver of recognition in her face. He took
instant advantage of it and moved towards her.
‘You are quite recovered, I trust, Miss de Freyne?’
She raised her eyes to his. Again he felt that sense of baffling
impenetrability. It was impossible even to know whether she
appreciated or resented his question.
‘I am quite recovered, thank you,’ she said. ‘You have seen nothing
more of our queer little friend?’
‘Nothing at all,’ she told him.
‘He invited me to dine with him,’ Lavendale explained, ‘at eight
o’clock punctually. I have been waiting outside for nearly half an
She glanced at the clock and Lavendale, with a little bow, passed on.
‘Perhaps he meant me to go up to his room,’ he remarked, addressing
Jules. ‘Do you know his number?’
‘Eighty-nine in the Court, sir,’ the man replied. ‘Shall I send up?’
‘I’ll go myself,’ Lavendale decided.
Jules bowed and, although Lavendale did not glance around, he felt that
the girl’s eyes as well as the man’s followed him to the door. He rang
for the lift and ascended to the fourth floor, made his way down the
corridor and paused before number eighty-nine. He knocked at the
door–there was no reply. Then he tried the handle, which yielded at
once to his touch. Inside all was darkness. He turned on the electric
light and pushed open the door of the sitting-room just in front.
‘Mr. Hurn!’ he exclaimed, raising his voice.
There was still no reply,–a strange, brooding silence which seemed to
possess subtle qualities of mystery and apprehension. Lavendale had
all the courage and unshaken nerves of youth and yet at that moment he
was afraid. His groped along the wall for the switch and found it with
an impulse of relief. The room was flooded with soft
light–Lavendale’s hand seemed glued to the little brass knob. He
stood there with his back to the wall, his face set, speechless. Mr.
Daniel H. Hurn was seated in an easy-chair in what appeared at first to
be a natural attitude. His head, however, had fallen back, and from
his neck drooped the long end of a silken cord. Lavendale took one
step forward and then paused again. The man’s face was visible
now–white, ghastly, with wide-open, sightless eyes….
The valet, who was passing down the corridor, paused and looked in at
‘Is there anything wrong, sir?’ he asked.
Lavendale seemed to come back with a rush into the world of real
things. He withdrew the key from the door, stepped outside and locked
‘You had better take that to the manager,’ he said. ‘I will wait
outside here. Tell him to come at once.’
‘Anything wrong, sir?’ the valet repeated.
‘The man there in the chair is dead!’ he whispered.
The two young men stood side by side before the window of the Milan
smoke-room–Ambrose Lavendale, the American, and his friend Captain
Merrill from the War Office. Directly opposite to them was a narrow
street running down to the Embankment, at the foot of which they could
catch a glimpse of the river. A little to the left was a dark and
melancholy building with a number of sightless windows.
‘Wonder what sort of people live in that place?’ Merrill asked
curiously. ‘Milan Mansions they call it, don’t they?’
The other nodded.
‘Gloomy sort of barracks,’ he remarked. ‘I’ve never seen even a face
at the window.’
‘There’s a new experience for you, then,’ Merrill observed, pointing a
little forward,–‘a girl’s face, too.’
Lavendale was stonily silent, yet when the momentarily raised curtain
had fallen he gave a little gasp. It could have been no hallucination.
The face, transfigured though it was, in a sense, by its air of
furtiveness, was, without a doubt, the face of the girl who had been
constantly in his thoughts for the last three weeks. He counted the
windows carefully from the ground, noted the exact position of the room
and passed his arm through his friend’s.
‘Come along, Reggie,’ he said.
‘Don’t ask any questions,’ Lavendale begged. ‘Just wait.’
They left the hotel by an unfrequented way, Lavendale half a dozen
paces ahead. Merrill ventured upon a mild protest.
‘Look here, old chap,’ he complained, ‘you might tell me where we are
Lavendale slackened his speed for a moment to explain.
‘To that room,’ he declared. ‘Didn’t you recognize the girl’s face?’
Merrill shook his head.
‘I scarcely noticed it.’
‘It was the girl whom we found unconscious, half poisoned by that
fellow Hurn’s diabolical invention,’ Lavendale explained. ‘She wasn’t
there by accident, either. I caught her listening in the Milan
Grill-room when Hurn was talking to me, and the day after the inquest
Merrill laid a hand upon his friend’s arm.
‘Even if this is so, Lavendale,’ he expostulated, ‘she probably doesn’t
want us bothering over here. What are you going to say to her? Pretty
sort of asses we shall look if we blunder in upon her like this.’
Lavendale continued to climb the stairs. By this time they had reached
the second landing.
‘If you feel that way about it, Merrill,’ he said, ‘you can wait for
me–or clear out altogether, if you like. I want to have a few words
with this young lady, and I am going to have them.’
‘I’ll see you through it, Ambrose,’ he grumbled. ‘All the same, I’m
not at all sure that we are not making fools of ourselves.’
They mounted yet another flight. A crazy lift went lumbering past them
up to the top of the building. Lavendale paused outside a door near
the end of the passage.
‘This should be the one,’ he announced.
He rang a bell. They could hear it pealing inside, but there was no
response. Once more he pressed the button. This time it seemed to
them both that its shrill summons was ringing through empty spaces.
There was no sound of any movement within. The door of the next flat,
however, opened. A tall, rather stout man, very untidily dressed, with
pale, unwholesome face and a mass of ill-arranged hair, looked out.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘it is no use ringing that bell. The only purpose you
serve is to disturb me at my labours. The flat is empty.’
‘Are you quite sure about that?’ Lavendale asked.
‘How was it, then, that I saw a face at one of the windows a quarter of
an hour ago?’ Lavendale demanded.
‘You are mistaken, sir,’ was the grim reply. ‘The thing is impossible.
The porter who has the letting of the flat is only on duty in the
afternoon, and, as a special favour to the proprietors, I have the keys
‘Then with your permission I will borrow them,’ Lavendale observed. ‘I
am looking for rooms in this neighbourhood.’
The man bowed and threw open the door.
‘Come in, sir,’ he invited pompously. ‘I will fetch the keys for you.
My secretary,’ he added, with a little wave of his hand, pointing to a
florid, over-buxom and untidy-looking woman who was struggling with an
ancient typewriter. ‘You find me hard at work trying to finish a play
I have been commissioned to write for my friend Tree. You are aware,
perhaps, of my–er–identity?’
‘I am sorry,’ Lavendale replied. ‘You see, I am an American, not a
‘That,’ the other declared, ‘accounts for it. My name is
Somers-Keyne–Hamilton Somers-Keyne. My work, I trust, is more
familiar to you than my personality?’
‘Naturally,’ Lavendale assented, a little vaguely.
The dramatist, who had been searching upon a mantelpiece which seemed
littered with cigarette ends, scraps of letters and an empty tumbler or
so, suddenly turned around with the key in his hand.
‘It is here,’ he pronounced. ‘Examine the rooms for yourself, Mr.—-?’
‘Mr. Lavendale. They are furnished, I believe, but as regards the rent
I know nothing except that the myrmidon who collects it is unpleasantly
persistent in his attentions. If you will return the key to me, sir,
when you have finished, I shall be obliged.’
‘Certainly,’ Lavendale promised.
The two young men opened the door and explored a dusty,
barely-furnished, gloomy, conventional little suite, consisting of a
single bedroom, a boxlike sitting-room, and a bathroom in the last
stages of dilapidation. The rooms were undoubtedly empty, nor was
there anywhere any sign of recent habitation. Lavendale stood at the
window, leaned over and counted. When he drew back his face was more
than ever puzzled. He looked once more searchingly around the
‘This was the window, Reggie,’ he insisted.
Merrill had lost interest in the affair and did not hesitate to show it.
‘Seems to me you must have counted wrongly,’ he declared. ‘In any
case, there’s no one here now, and it’s quite certain that no one has
been in during the last hour or so.’
Lavendale said nothing for a moment. He examined the flat once more
carefully, locked it up, and took the key back to Mr. Somers-Keyne’s
room. The dramatist opened the door himself.
‘You were favourably impressed, I trust, with the rooms?’ he inquired,
holding out his hand for the key.
‘I am not sure,’ Lavendale replied. ‘Tell me, how long is it since any
one occupied them?’
‘They are dusted and swept once a week,’ Mr. Somers-Keyne told him,
looking closely at his questioner from underneath his puffy eyelids,
‘and they may have been shown occasionally to a prospective tenant.
Otherwise, no one has been in them for nearly a month.’
‘No one could have been in them this morning, then?’
‘Absolutely impossible,’ was the confident answer. ‘The keys have not
been off my shelf.’
‘We must not interrupt you further,’ Lavendale declared. ‘I shall
apply for a first night seat when your production is presented, Mr.
‘You are very good, sir,’ the other acknowledged. ‘Your face, I may
say, is familiar to me as a patron of the theatre. What are the
chances, may I inquire, of your taking up your residence in this
‘I have not made up my mind,’ Lavendale replied. ‘There are some other
particulars I must have. I shall call and interview the hall-porter
‘If a welcome, sir, from your nearest neighbour is any inducement,’ Mr.
Somers-Keyne pronounced, ‘let me offer it to you. My secretary, too,
Miss Brown–I think I mentioned Miss Brown’s name?–is often nervous
with an empty flat next door. I am out a great deal in the evening,
Mr. Lavendale. My work demands a constant study of the most modern
methods of dramatic production. You follow me, I am sure?’
‘Absolutely,’ Lavendale assured him. ‘By the by, sir, we are returning
for a moment or two to the bar at the Milan. If you will accompany
Mr. Somers-Keyne was already reaching out for his hat.
‘With the utmost pleasure, my dear young friends,’ he consented. ‘The
Milan bar was at one time a hallowed spot to me. Misfortunes of
various sorts–but I will not weary you with a relation of my troubles.
If Tree rings up, Flora, say that I shall have finished the second act
to-night. You can tell him that it is wonderful. Now, gentlemen!’
They left the building together and a few moments later were ensconced
in a corner of the bar with a bottle of whisky and some tumblers before
them. Lavendale helped his guest bountifully. He had hard work,
however, to keep the trend of the conversation away from the subject of
Mr. Somers-Keyne’s early triumphs upon the stage, which it appeared
were numerous and remarkable. With every tumblerful of whisky and
soda, indeed, he seemed to grow more forgetful of his home across the
way. As he expanded he grew more untidy. His tie slipped, his collar
had flown open, his waistcoat was spotted with the liquid which had
fallen from the glass in his unsteady efforts to lift it to his lips.
His pasty face had become mottled. Lavendale, who had been watching
his guest closely, fired a sudden question at him.
‘You don’t happen to know a Miss de Freyne, do you?’ he inquired
The change in the man was wonderful. From a state of maudlin
amiability he seemed to be stricken with an emotion of either fear or
anger. His eyes narrowed. He set his glass down almost steadily,
although he was obliged to breathe heavily several times before he
‘Miss de Freyne,’ he repeated. ‘What about her?’
Lavendale pointed towards the window behind them.
‘Nothing except that when I was in here an hour ago I saw Miss de
Freyne’s face at the window of that empty suite next to yours,’ he said.
Mr. Somers-Keyne rose to his feet. A splendid dignity guided his
footsteps and kept his voice steady.
‘Sir,’ he pronounced, ‘I am able to surmise now the reason for your
excessive hospitality. I wish you good morning!’
He turned towards the door.
‘Mr. Somers-Keyne,’ Lavendale began, rising hastily to his feet—-
The dramatist waved him away. His gesture, if a little theatrical, was
final. The honours remained with him….
Lavendale, a few minutes later, on his way to his luncheon-table in the
grill-room, threw his accustomed glance across the room towards the
corner which was still possessed of a peculiar interest for him. He
paused in the act of taking his place. At her same table, with a
little pile of manuscript propped up in front of her, Miss de Freyne
was seated, studying the luncheon menu. For a moment he hesitated.
Then he rose to his feet and, crossing the room, addressed her.
‘Miss de Freyne!’
She glanced up in some surprise. She seemed, indeed, scarcely to
‘You have not forgotten me, I hope?’ he continued. ‘My name is
‘Of course,’ she assented slowly. ‘You were the friend of that strange
little creature with the marvellous invention, weren’t you?’
‘I was scarcely his friend,’ Lavendale corrected, ‘but I did my best to
She made a pencil mark in the margin of the manuscript and laid it face
downwards upon the table. Then she leaned back in her chair and looked
‘Tell me what happened?’ she begged. ‘I was obliged to leave London
the next day and I have only just returned. Was it suicide or murder?’
‘The man was murdered, without a doubt,’ Lavendale replied.
‘Is that so, really?’ she asked gravely. ‘Tell me, had he given over
his formula to the War Office?’
‘Unfortunately no! He was to have handed it over at eleven o’clock the
‘Was it found amongst his effects?’
‘Not a written line of any sort.’
‘Is any one suspected?’ she inquired, dropping her voice a little.
Lavendale hesitated and glanced cautiously around.
‘Scarcely that,’ he answered, ‘but you remember the man Jules, the
_maîtres d’hôtel_ here?’
‘A Swiss, wasn’t he? I was just wondering what had become of him.
‘During the investigations the next day,’ Lavendale continued, ‘it was
discovered that his papers were forged and that he was in reality an
Austrian. He was interned at once, of course, and I believe there was
a certain amount of secrecy about his movements on that night. So far
as I know, though, nothing has been discovered.’
She raised her eyebrows deprecatingly.
‘The detective system over here,’ she remarked, ‘is sometimes hopeless,
‘Yet in one respect,’ Lavendale pointed out, ‘they certainly were
prompt on that night. I understand that Jules was interned within an
hour of the discovery of the murder.’
Miss de Freyne drew her manuscript towards her with a little shrug of
‘They failed to find the formula, though,’ she reminded him.
Lavendale, accepting his dismissal, returned to his place, finished his
lunch and made his way round to the Milan Mansions. A caretaker was
established now in his office in the hall. He was a small and rather
melancholy-looking man, who hastily concealed a blackened pipe as
‘I understand that you have a suite to let,’ the latter began, ‘upon
the third floor?’
The man pulled out a list.
‘We have several suites to let, sir,’ he replied; ‘nothing upon the
third floor, though.’
‘What about number thirty-two?’
The caretaker shook his head.
‘Number thirty-two is let, sir.’
‘Are you sure?’ Lavendale persisted. ‘I called this morning and was
allowed to look over it by Mr. Somers-Keyne, who had the keys.’
‘It was taken by a young lady just before one o’clock, at our head
office,’ the man told him. ‘With regard to the other suites, sir—-‘
‘Could you tell me the young lady’s name?’ Lavendale interrupted.
‘I haven’t heard it yet,’ the man answered shortly. ‘With regard to
the other suites—-‘
Lavendale slipped a coin into his hand.
‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘there is no other suite in which I am interested
for the moment.’
He stepped out. Almost on the threshold he met Miss de Freyne, face to
‘Are you coming,’ he asked, raising his hat, ‘to take possession of
your new abode?’
She was entirely at her ease. She looked at him, however, a little
curiously. It was as though she were trying to make an appreciative
estimate of him in her mind.
‘I suppose,’ she observed, with a little sigh, ‘that we are playing at
cross-purposes. You are an American, are you not, Mr. Lavendale?’
‘I am,’ he answered.
‘Tell me exactly what that means?’ she insisted.
‘It means that my sympathies are concentrated upon my own country,’ he
answered. ‘Those prefixes–German-American or English-American–are
misnomers. Wherever my personal sympathies may be, my patriotism
overshadows them. Now you know the truth about me. I am an American
‘Yes,’ she murmured, ‘I had an idea that was your point of view. I am
a Frenchwoman, you see, for France.’
‘Our interests,’ he remarked, ‘should not be far apart.’
‘If I were sure of that,’ she declared, ‘the rest would be easy. I am
for France and for France only. You are for America, and, I am afraid,
for America only.’
‘Chance, in this instance,’ he ventured, ‘has at any rate made us
‘I should like to feel quite sure about that,’ she said. ‘If you are
not busy, will you walk with me on to the Embankment?’
They strolled down the narrow street and found a seat in the gardens.
‘Between thieves,’ she continued, looking him in the face, ‘there is
sometimes honour. Why not amongst those who are engaged upon affairs
which, if not nefarious, are at least secret? Let us see whether we
can be allies, and, if not, where our interests clash. You know
perfectly well, as I do, that Jules murdered that little chemist from
Chicago and stole the formula. You know very well that the suite in
which you take so much interest in the Milan Mansions, belongs to
Jules. You know very well that he was arrested there a quarter of an
hour after he left the hotel, and that he had had no time to dispose of
the formula. You know that the place has been searched, inch by inch,
but that the formula has not been found.’
‘I have just arrived exactly as far as that myself,’ Lavendale assented
‘You are some time behind me, but it is true that we have arrived at
the same point,’ she continued. ‘Now the question is, can we work
together? What should you do with the formula if ever it came into
His lips tightened.
‘I cannot tell you that,’ he said firmly.
‘I believe that I know,’ she went on. ‘Well, let me put you to the
She opened a black silk bag which she was carrying, a little trifle
with white velvet lining and turquoise clasp. From a very dainty
pocket-book in the interior she drew out a crumpled sheet of paper,
covered with strange, cabalistic signs. She smoothed it out upon her
knee and handed it to him.
‘Well,’ she exclaimed, ‘there it is! Now you shall tell me what you
are going to do with it?’
His hand had closed over the piece of paper. He gripped it firmly.
Before she could stop him he had transferred it to his own pocket. She
shrugged her shoulders.
‘You had better return it to me,’ she advised.
‘I shall not,’ he replied. ‘Forgive me. I did not ask you for the
formula–I did not know you had discovered it–but since I have it, I
want you to remember that it was the discovery of an American and I
shall keep it for my country.’
‘But your country is not in need of anything of the sort,’ she
‘I will be so far frank with you as to explain my motive,’ he said. ‘A
few months ago I was attached to the American Embassy here. I have
been attached to the Embassy in Paris, and for two months I was in
Berlin. I have come to certain conclusions about America, in which I
differ entirely from the popular opinion and the popular politics of my
country. England has been living for many years in great peril, but
there have been many who have recognized that. The peril of America is
at least as great, and has remained almost altogether unrecognized. We
have no army, a small navy, an immense seaboard, wealth sufficient to
excite the cupidity of any nation. And we have no allies. We make the
grave and serious mistake of ignoring world politics, of believing
ourselves outside them and yet imagining ourselves capable of
protecting the interests of American citizens in foreign countries.
That is where I know we are wrong. I have resigned from the Diplomatic
Service of America but I remain her one secret agent. I intend to keep
this formula for her. She will need it.’
Suzanne de Freyne shook her head.
You will not be able to leave the gardens alive with it,’ she assured
He glanced at her incredulously. Her smooth face was unwrinkled. She
had the air of looking at him as though he were a child.
‘You are in the kindergarten stage of your profession,’ she observed.
‘Now watch. You see those two men seated on the bench a little way
She rose from her seat, shook out her skirt and sat down again. The
two men, also, had risen and were advancing towards them. She held up
her hand–they seemed somehow to drift away.
‘I repeat,’ she went on, ‘that you would not leave this garden alive.
But, my friend, we will not quarrel over a worthless scrap of paper,
for that is precisely what you have carefully buttoned up in your
pocket-book. I have failed to find the formula. That is a dummy.
Keep it, if you will. There isn’t a single intelligible sign upon it.’
He drew it from his pocket and glanced at it. Even with his slight
knowledge of chemistry he was compelled to admit that her words were
‘Keep it or give it me back, as you like,’ she continued. ‘It has no
value. The fact remains that in his brief journey from the service
room at the Milan Grill-room to his rooms in the Milan Mansions, Jules
managed to conceal somewhere or other the paper which he has taken from
Hurn. If he passed it on to some one else, it is by this time in
Germany, but we have reason to know that he did not. The paper is
still in concealment. It is still to be found.’
‘And the means?’ he asked.
She shrugged her shoulders lightly.
‘Alas!’ she exclaimed, ‘how can I tell you now? How can I even engage
your help? You have disclosed your hand.’
He sat gazing gloomily out at the river.
‘Very well,’ he decided at last, ‘let me help and I will be content
with a copy of the formula.’
‘That is rather sensible of you,’ she said. ‘To tell you the truth, I
require your help. For reasons which I need not explain, we do not
wish this matter to be dealt with in any way officially. I am in
perfect accord with the English Secret Service, but we do not wish to
have their men seen about the Milan Mansions. To-night, Jules
re-enters into possession of his rooms. I offer you an adventure. It
is what you wish?’
‘But I thought Jules was interned?’
‘He was and is,’ she told him, ‘but the greater powers are working.
This afternoon he will be permitted to escape–he thinks through the
agency of friends. He will come to London in a motor-car, he will come
at once to his rooms, and, although every inch of them has been
searched, I am perfectly convinced that somewhere in them or between
them and the Milan, he will lay his hands upon the formula. You care
about this adventure?’
His eyes flashed.
‘Care about it!’ he repeated enthusiastically.
She smiled and rose to her feet.
‘Leave me now,’ she begged. ‘I want to speak to one of those men for a
minute. You can dine with me in the Grill-room at the Milan at seven
o’clock, in morning clothes. Till then, _au revoir!_’
* * * * *
The spirit of adventure warmed Lavendale’s blood that night. He
ordered his dinner with unusual care, and he was delighted to find his
guest sufficiently human to appreciate the delicacies he had chosen and
the vintage of the champagne which he had selected. Their conversation
was entirely general, almost formal. They had both lived for some time
in Paris and found mutual acquaintances there. As they neared the
conclusion of the meal she was summoned to the telephone. She was
absent only for a short time but when she returned she began to collect
her few trifles.
‘The car passed through Slough,’ she said, ‘a quarter of an hour ago.
I think perhaps we had better be moving.’
Lavendale signed his bill and they left the hotel together.
‘Nothing else you think you ought to tell me, I suppose?’ he remarked,
as they crossed the narrow street. ‘I am rather in the dark, you know.
The idea is, isn’t it, that Jules is coming up to get the formula from
some hiding-place in his room? Where shall we be?’
‘Wait,’ she begged.
They climbed the stairs in silence–the girl had purposely avoided the
lift. Arrived on the third floor, she passed the door of number
thirty-two and knocked softly at the adjoining one. There was, for a
moment, no answer. At the second summons, however, the door was
cautiously opened. The untidy secretary admitted them. In her soiled
black dress, shapeless and crumpled, with her fat, peevish face and
dishevelled peroxidized hair, she was by no means an attractive object.
She pointed half indignantly to where Mr. Somers-Keyne was lying upon
the couch, gazing towards them in incapable silence with a fatuous
smile upon his lips.
‘If it’s from you he gets the money for this sort of thing,’ she said
sharply, ‘why, I wish you’d keep it, and that’s straight. How are we
to get on with our work or anything, with him in that condition?’
‘Scondition’sh all right,’ Mr. Somers-Keyne insisted, making a weak
effort to rise.
Miss de Freyne frowned for a moment as she appreciated the situation.
Then she waved him back.
‘Don’t try to get up, Mr. Somers-Keyne, she begged. ‘We can manage
without you. Lie down and rest for a little time.’
Mr. Somers-Keyne sank back with a sigh of content.
‘Very shorry,’ he murmured. ‘Tree’sh awfully annoyed with me.
Promished go down and shee him sh’evening.’
‘Is this fellow one of your helpers?’ Lavendale asked.
‘In a small way. Never mind, we don’t need him to-night. Come here.’
She led him to the side of the wall nearest the adjoining apartment.
Her fingers felt about the pattern of the paper. Presently she found a
crack, pushed for a moment and a sliding door rolled back. She
stretched out her hand through the darkness and turned a small knob. A
wardrobe door swung outwards. They looked into the shadowy obscurity
of the adjoining room. Lavendale whistled softly.
‘This is all very well,’ he said, ‘but how can we watch Jules whilst
the door is closed?’
She pointed to two or three little ventilation holes near the top of
the wardrobe. Lavendale applied his eye to one of them and nodded.
‘That’s all right,’ he admitted. ‘There’s just enough light. Listen!’
They could both of them hear the quick, eager footsteps of a man
lightly shod, stealthy, ascending the last flight of stairs. Her
fingers gripped his arm for a moment. An excitement more poignant than
any begotten by their hazardous adventure suddenly thrilled him. The
greatest adventure of all was at hand….
The footsteps paused, the door slowly opened. It was Jules who
entered. He stood looking around for a moment, then unexpectedly
fingered the switch which stood upon the wall. The apartment was
flooded with light. Jules stood in the centre of it, distinctly
visible. He was paler even than usual, and his eyes were a little
sunken, but he had lost, somehow or other, that bearing of graceful
servility which had distinguished him in his former avocation. An
expression of subdued cunning had taken its place. He looked around
the apartment searchingly. His eyes rested for a moment upon a small
print at the further end of the room, which was hanging upon the wall
in a crooked position. As his eyes fell upon it, he frowned. He
seemed suddenly to stiffen into a new attention. He glanced once more
around him as though in fear and picked up his overcoat from the bed.
Before they could realize what his intentions were, he had left the
room, closing the door behind him.
‘What does that mean?’ Lavendale whispered.
She pushed open the wardrobe door. A little breath of fresher air was
grateful to both of them. Then she turned and pointed towards the
‘It was that print,’ she murmured. ‘It must have been a signal to him
that he was being watched. You see, it is on one side. I am perfectly
certain that when I was here this morning it was straight.’
‘A signal from whom?’
She had no time to answer him. They could hear the door of the next
room open. Their eyes met.
‘Mr. Somers-Keyne!’ he exclaimed.
They stepped back into the wardrobe. Her fingers felt for the spring.
Suddenly they both heard, within a few inches of them, on the other
side of the wall, the sound of a click. She pressed the spring in
vain. Then she stepped back and turned on the electric light in the
‘Try the door,’ she whispered.
Lavendale tried it. As they both expected, it was locked. She drew a
master-key from her pocket and opened it swiftly. They were out in the
corridor now, empty and silent. They could not even hear the sound of
any one moving about in Mr. Somers-Keyne’s room. Lavendale stood
before the latter’s door and listened. There was a mumbling as though
of smothered voices, then suddenly an angry exclamation.
‘Sick of the lot of you, that’s what I am! Here’s the old man dictates
his rubbish for about an hour a day and talks drivelling, drunken
piffle for the rest of it! Where’s my salary coming from, that’s what
I want to know?’
They heard Jules apparently trying to soothe her.
‘My dear Miss Brown, in a few days, if you will only be patient—-‘
‘Patient! Who’s going to be patient with that old drunkard blithering
around all the time? I’ve had enough!’
They heard the sound of stamping footsteps and Mr. Somers-Keyne’s
‘Flora, my dear, mosht unreasonable, I’m sure. Shimply asked you go
out for a few minutes while Mr. Jules and I dishcuss important matter.’
‘And I’m going out for a minute,’ Miss Brown shouted, suddenly opening
the door, ‘and you may thank your stars when you see me again!’
She appeared upon the threshold, holding a slatternly hat upon her head
with one hand and sticking hatpins in with the other. She stared
insolently at Lavendale and his companion, and brushed her way past
‘Here’s visitors for you,’ she called out over her shoulder. ‘You’ll
have to get rid of them now before you start on your precious business.’
She flopped down the stairs. The newcomers stepped across the
threshold. Jules stared at them in surprise. Mr. Somers-Keyne nodded
his head ponderously. His mind seemed to be still running upon Miss
‘A mosht ungrateful young woman,’ he declared. ‘Mish–er–de Freyne,
your shervant. Thish gentleman is the tenant of the roomsh you looked
over other day. Mr. Lavendale, don’t like you. Don’t want you here.
Ashked me questions about you, Mish de Freyne. Not a nice young man at
all. You lishen to me a moment.’
He staggered to his feet. Jules stood in the background. There was
something of the old obsequiousness about his manner. Mr. Somers-Keyne
swayed for a moment upon his feet. Then Lavendale felt a sudden
inspiration. He turned on his heel.
‘Excuse me for one moment,’ he whispered to the girl by his side.
He turned away with no show of haste, though the eyes of both men
seemed to follow him. Then he ran down the stairs on tiptoe, taking
them three at a time as he neared the ground floor. The motor-car was
drawn up outside, there was no sign of any one else in the street. He
sprang to the other side of the way and saw at once the object of his
pursuit, hurrying down towards the Embankment. He followed her as
stealthily as possible. Without looking around she increased her own
pace, crossed the Embankment and leaned for a moment over the wall. A
few yards further on were the steps and a little pier, and close by a
small tug was waiting. Lavendale, who was within reach of her now,
stretched out his hand and seized her shoulder.
‘I want you, Miss Brown!’ he exclaimed.
She turned and confronted him, her face mottled and flushed with the
unusual exercise, a strand of her unwholesome-looking hair hanging down
to her shoulder.
‘Now what’s wrong with you?’ she shouted. ‘Can’t you leave me alone?
I’m not coming back.’
‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘That’s none of your business,’ she snapped. ‘Let me pass.’
He glanced at the tug and his hand closed upon her wrist. He was a
strong man, but she almost succeeded in wrenching herself free.
‘Look here, Miss Brown,’ he said, ‘the game’s up. I want that paper
you’re keeping for Jules.’
She suddenly showed her teeth. Her face was like the face of a wild
animal. She struggled so violently that they swayed towards the
parapet. Her left hand slipped into the bosom of her gown. Before he
could stop her, her fingers were making pulp of the paper which she had
drawn up in crushed fragments. She threw it over the parapet into the
black water. Then she ceased to struggle. She laughed hysterically
and leaned back against the wall. The water near where the fragments
of paper had fallen was all churned up–the little tug had hurried off.
‘Clever, ain’t you?’ she mocked. ‘Any need to hold on to me any more?’
He released her wrist. The car had come thundering down the little
street. It suddenly pulled up with a grinding of brakes. Suzanne
sprang lightly out.
‘The formula?’ she cried.
He pointed downwards to the water.
Her sigh was almost one of relief.
‘Was there a tug here?’ she asked eagerly.
‘It made off when they saw us struggling.’
‘He told the truth, then!’ she exclaimed. ‘Jules shot himself as soon
as he realized that the game was up–there in the room before me, a few
minutes ago. He told me with his last breath that the formula was on
its way down the river to Germany.’
Lavendale smiled grimly.
‘It’s on its way down the river, right enough,’ he assented, ‘but I
don’t think it will reach Germany.’