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Chapter 8 The Coming of the Black Stone

  • I came down to breakfast next morning, after eight hours of blessed dreamles_leep, to find Sir Walter decoding a telegram in the midst of muffins an_armalade. His fresh rosiness of yesterday seemed a thought tarnished.
  • 'I had a busy hour on the telephone after you went to bed,' he said. 'I got m_hief to speak to the First Lord and the Secretary for War, and they ar_ringing Royer over a day sooner. This wire clinches it. He will be in Londo_t 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 t_ind 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 onl_ive men in England who knew about Royer's visit, and you may be certain ther_ere 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 hi_ull confidence.
  • 'Can the dispositions not be changed?' I asked.
  • 'They could,' he said. 'But we want to avoid that if possible. They are th_esult of immense thought, and no alteration would be as good. Besides, on on_r two points change is simply impossible. Still, something could be done, _uppose, 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 an_hildish game like that. They know that would mean a row and put us on ou_uard. Their aim is to get the details without any one of us knowing, so tha_oyer will go back to Paris in the belief that the whole business is stil_eadly secret. If they can't do that they fail, for, once we suspect, the_now 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 recko_s going to win out.'
  • 'Royer dines with my Chief, and then comes to my house where four people wil_ee him — Whittaker from the Admiralty, myself, Sir Arthur Drew, and Genera_instanley. The First Lord is ill, and has gone to Sheringham. At my house h_ill get a certain document from Whittaker, and after that he will be motore_o Portsmouth where a destroyer will take him to Havre. His journey is to_mportant for the ordinary boat-train. He will never be left unattended for _oment till he is safe on French soil. The same with Whittaker till he meet_oyer. That is the best we can do, and it's hard to see how there can be an_iscarriage. But I don't mind admitting that I'm horribly nervous. This murde_f 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 m_hauffeur today and wear Hudson's rig. You're about his size. You have a han_n this business and we are taking no risks. There are desperate men agains_s, 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 runnin_bout the south of England, so I knew something of the geography. I took Si_alter to town by the Bath Road and made good going. It was a soft breathles_une morning, with a promise of sultriness later, but it was delicious enoug_winging through the little towns with their freshly watered streets, and pas_he summer gardens of the Thames valley. I landed Sir Walter at his house i_ueen Anne's Gate punctually by half-past eleven. The butler was coming up b_rain with the luggage.
  • The first thing he did was to take me round to Scotland Yard. There we saw _rim gentleman, with a clean-shaven, lawyer's face.
  • 'I've brought you the Portland Place murderer,' was Sir Walter's introduction.
  • 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 m_epartment.'
  • 'Mr Hannay will interest it again. He has much to tell you, but not today. Fo_ertain grave reasons his tale must wait for four hours. Then, I can promis_ou, you will be entertained and possibly edified. I want you to assure M_annay that he will suffer no further inconvenience.'
  • This assurance was promptly given. 'You can take up your life where you lef_ff,' I was told. 'Your flat, which probably you no longer wish to occupy, i_aiting for you, and your man is still there. As you were never publicl_ccused, we considered that there was no need of a public exculpation. But o_hat, of course, you must please yourself.'
  • 'We may want your assistance later on, MacGillivray,' Sir Walter said as w_eft.
  • Then he turned me loose.
  • 'Come and see me tomorrow, Hannay. I needn't tell you to keep deadly quiet. I_ were you I would go to bed, for you must have considerable arrears of slee_o overtake. You had better lie low, for if one of your Black Stone friend_aw you there might be trouble.'
  • I felt curiously at a loose end. At first it was very pleasant to be a fre_an, able to go where I wanted without fearing anything. I had only been _onth under the ban of the law, and it was quite enough for me. I went to th_avoy and ordered very carefully a very good luncheon, and then smoked th_est cigar the house could provide. But I was still feeling nervous. When _aw anybody look at me in the lounge, I grew shy, and wondered if they wer_hinking about the murder.
  • After that I took a taxi and drove miles away up into North London. I walke_ack through fields and lines of villas and terraces and then slums and mea_treets, and it took me pretty nearly two hours. All the while my restlessnes_as growing worse. I felt that great things, tremendous things, were happenin_r about to happen, and I, who was the cog-wheel of the whole business, wa_ut of it. Royer would be landing at Dover, Sir Walter would be making plan_ith the few people in England who were in the secret, and somewhere in th_arkness the Black Stone would be working. I felt the sense of danger an_mpending calamity, and I had the curious feeling, too, that I alone coul_vert it, alone could grapple with it. But I was out of the game now. Ho_ould it be otherwise? It was not likely that Cabinet Ministers and Admiralt_ords 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 _ulgar scrap with those gentry, where I could hit out and flatten something. _as rapidly getting into a very bad temper.
  • I didn't feel like going back to my flat. That had to be faced some time, bu_s I still had sufficient money I thought I would put it off till nex_orning, and go to a hotel for the night.
  • My irritation lasted through dinner, which I had at a restaurant in Jermy_treet. I was no longer hungry, and let several courses pass untasted. I dran_he best part of a bottle of Burgundy, but it did nothing to cheer me. A_bominable restlessness had taken possession of me. Here was I, a ver_rdinary fellow, with no particular brains, and yet I was convinced tha_omehow I was needed to help this business through — that without me it woul_ll go to blazes. I told myself it was sheer silly conceit, that four or fiv_f the cleverest people living, with all the might of the British Empire a_heir back, had the job in hand. Yet I couldn't be convinced. It seemed as i_ voice kept speaking in my ear, telling me to be up and doing, or I woul_ever sleep again.
  • The upshot was that about half-past nine I made up my mind to go to Quee_nne's Gate. Very likely I would not be admitted, but it would ease m_onscience to try.
  • I walked down Jermyn Street, and at the corner of Duke Street passed a grou_f young men. They were in evening dress, had been dining somewhere, and wer_oing 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 th_thers crowded round. I wasn't looking for any trouble, but my ill-temper mad_e 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 fo_hat matter to the nearest police station. But a delay at that moment seeme_o me unendurable, and the sight of Marmie's imbecile face was more than _ould bear. I let out with my left, and had the satisfaction of seeing hi_easure his length in the gutter.
  • Then began an unholy row. They were all on me at once, and the policeman too_e in the rear. I got in one or two good blows, for I think, with fair play, _ould have licked the lot of them, but the policeman pinned me behind, and on_f them got his fingers on my throat.
  • Through a black cloud of rage I heard the officer of the law asking what wa_he matter, and Marmie, between his broken teeth, declaring that I was Hanna_he murderer.
  • 'Oh, damn it all,' I cried, 'make the fellow shut up. I advise you to leave m_lone, constable. Scotland Yard knows all about me, and you'll get a prope_igging if you interfere with me.'
  • 'You've got to come along of me, young man,' said the policeman. 'I saw yo_trike that gentleman crool 'ard. You began it too, for he wasn't doin_othing. 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 m_he 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 dow_uke 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 wa_n Pall Mall and had turned down towards St James's Park. I dodged th_oliceman at the Palace gates, dived through a press of carriages at th_ntrance to the Mall, and was making for the bridge before my pursuers ha_rossed the roadway. In the open ways of the Park I put on a spurt. Happil_here were few people about and no one tried to stop me. I was staking all o_etting to Queen Anne's Gate.
  • When I entered that quiet thoroughfare it seemed deserted. Sir Walter's hous_as 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 th_utler refused me admission, or if he even delayed to open the door, I wa_one.
  • He didn't delay. I had scarcely rung before the door opened.
  • 'I must see Sir Walter,' I panted. 'My business is desperately important.'
  • 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 t_dmit no one. Perhaps you will wait.'
  • The house was of the old-fashioned kind, with a wide hall and rooms on bot_ides of it. At the far end was an alcove with a telephone and a couple o_hairs, and there the butler offered me a seat.
  • 'See here,' I whispered. 'There's trouble about and I'm in it. But Sir Walte_nows, and I'm working for him. If anyone comes and asks if I am here, tel_im a lie.'
  • He nodded, and presently there was a noise of voices in the street, and _urious ringing at the bell. I never admired a man more than that butler. H_pened 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 order_ere, and simply froze them off the doorstep. I could see it all from m_lcove, and it was better than any play.
  • I hadn't waited long till there came another ring at the bell. The butler mad_o bones about admitting this new visitor.
  • While he was taking off his coat I saw who it was. You couldn't open _ewspaper or a magazine without seeing that face — the grey beard cut like _pade, 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 Britis_avy.
  • He passed my alcove and was ushered into a room at the back of the hall. A_he door opened I could hear the sound of low voices. It shut, and I was lef_lone again.
  • For twenty minutes I sat there, wondering what I was to do next. I was stil_erfectly convinced that I was wanted, but when or how I had no notion. I kep_ooking at my watch, and as the time crept on to half-past ten I began t_hink that the conference must soon end. In a quarter of an hour Royer shoul_e speeding along the road to Portsmouth …
  • Then I heard a bell ring, and the butler appeared. The door of the back roo_pened, and the First Sea Lord came out. He walked past me, and in passing h_lanced 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 see_he great man before, and he had never seen me. But in that fraction of tim_omething sprang into his eyes, and that something was recognition. You can'_istake it. It is a flicker, a spark of light, a minute shade of differenc_hich means one thing and one thing only. It came involuntarily, for in _oment it died, and he passed on. In a maze of wild fancies I heard the stree_oor close behind him.
  • I picked up the telephone book and looked up the number of his house. We wer_onnected 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 t_ed. He is not very well tonight. Will you leave a message, Sir?'
  • I rang off and almost tumbled into a chair. My part in this business was no_et 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 roo_nd entered without knocking.
  • Five surprised faces looked up from a round table. There was Sir Walter, an_rew the War Minister, whom I knew from his photographs. There was a sli_lderly man, who was probably Whittaker, the Admiralty official, and there wa_eneral 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 t_he company. 'I'm afraid, Hannay, this visit is ill-timed.'
  • I was getting back my coolness. 'That remains to be seen, Sir,' I said; 'but _hink it may be in the nick of time. For God's sake, gentlemen, tell me wh_ent 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 wh_ecognized me, someone I have seen in the last month. He had scarcely left th_oorstep when I rang up Lord Alloa's house and was told he had come in half a_our before and had gone to bed.'
  • 'Who — who—' someone stammered.
  • 'The Black Stone,' I cried, and I sat down in the chair so recently vacate_nd looked round at five badly scared gentlemen.