Taken aback though he was by the man’s
words, Tommy did not hesitate. If audacity had
successfully carried him so far, it was to be hoped
it would carry him yet farther. He quietly passed
into the house and mounted the ramshackle staircase.
Everything in the house was filthy beyond words.
The grimy paper, of a pattern now indistinguishable,
hung in loose festoons from the wall. In every
angle was a grey mass of cobweb.
Tommy proceeded leisurely. By
the time he reached the bend of the staircase, he
had heard the man below disappear into a back room.
Clearly no suspicion attached to him as yet. To
come to the house and ask for “Mr. Brown”
appeared indeed to be a reasonable and natural proceeding.
At the top of the stairs Tommy halted
to consider his next move. In front of him ran
a narrow passage, with doors opening on either side
of it. From the one nearest him on the left came
a low murmur of voices. It was this room which
he had been directed to enter. But what held
his glance fascinated was a small recess immediately
on his right, half concealed by a torn velvet curtain.
It was directly opposite the left-handed door and,
owing to its angle, it also commanded a good view
of the upper part of the staircase. As a hiding-place
for one or, at a pinch, two men, it was ideal, being
about two feet deep and three feet wide. It attracted
Tommy mightily. He thought things over in his
usual slow and steady way, deciding that the mention
of “Mr. Brown” was not a request for an
individual, but in all probability a password used
by the gang. His lucky use of it had gained him
admission. So far he had aroused no suspicion.
But he must decide quickly on his next step.
Suppose he were boldly to enter the
room on the left of the passage. Would the mere
fact of his having been admitted to the house be sufficient?
Perhaps a further password would be required, or, at
any rate, some proof of identity. The doorkeeper
clearly did not know all the members of the gang by
sight, but it might be different upstairs. On
the whole it seemed to him that luck had served him
very well so far, but that there was such a thing
as trusting it too far. To enter that room was
a colossal risk. He could not hope to sustain
his part indefinitely; sooner or later he was almost
bound to betray himself, and then he would have thrown
away a vital chance in mere foolhardiness.
A repetition of the signal knock sounded
on the door below, and Tommy, his mind made up, slipped
quickly into the recess, and cautiously drew the curtain
farther across so that it shielded him completely from
sight. There were several rents and slits in the
ancient material which afforded him a good view.
He would watch events, and any time he chose could,
after all, join the assembly, modelling his behaviour
on that of the new arrival.
The man who came up the staircase
with a furtive, soft-footed tread was quite unknown
to Tommy. He was obviously of the very dregs of
society. The low beetling brows, and the criminal
jaw, the bestiality of the whole countenance were
new to the young man, though he was a type that Scotland
Yard would have recognized at a glance.
The man passed the recess, breathing
heavily as he went. He stopped at the door opposite,
and gave a repetition of the signal knock. A voice
inside called out something, and the man opened the
door and passed in, affording Tommy a momentary glimpse
of the room inside. He thought there must be
about four or five people seated round a long table
that took up most of the space, but his attention
was caught and held by a tall man with close-cropped
hair and a short, pointed, naval-looking beard, who
sat at the head of the table with papers in front of
him. As the new-comer entered he glanced up,
and with a correct, but curiously precise enunciation,
which attracted Tommy’s notice, he asked:
“Your number, comrade?”
“Fourteen, gov’nor,” replied the
The door shut again.
“If that isn’t a Hun,
I’m a Dutchman!” said Tommy to himself.
“And running the show darned systematically
too as they always do. Lucky I didn’t
roll in. I’d have given the wrong number,
and there would have been the deuce to pay. No,
this is the place for me. Hullo, here’s
This visitor proved to be of an entirely
different type to the last. Tommy recognized
in him an Irish Sinn Feiner. Certainly Mr. Brown’s
organization was a far-reaching concern. The common
criminal, the well-bred Irish gentleman, the pale
Russian, and the efficient German master of the ceremonies!
Truly a strange and sinister gathering! Who was
this man who held in his finger these curiously variegated
links of an unknown chain?
In this case, the procedure was exactly
the same. The signal knock, the demand for a
number, and the reply “Correct.”
Two knocks followed in quick succession
on the door below. The first man was quite unknown
to Tommy, who put him down as a city clerk. A
quiet, intelligent-looking man, rather shabbily dressed.
The second was of the working classes, and his face
was vaguely familiar to the young man.
Three minutes later came another,
a man of commanding appearance, exquisitely dressed,
and evidently well born. His face, again, was
not unknown to the watcher, though he could not for
the moment put a name to it.
After his arrival there was a long
wait. In fact Tommy concluded that the gathering
was now complete, and was just cautiously creeping
out from his hiding-place, when another knock sent
him scuttling back to cover.
This last-comer came up the stairs
so quietly that he was almost abreast of Tommy before
the young man had realized his presence.
He was a small man, very pale, with
a gentle almost womanish air. The angle of the
cheek-bones hinted at his Slavonic ancestry, otherwise
there was nothing to indicate his nationality.
As he passed the recess, he turned his head slowly.
The strange light eyes seemed to burn through the
curtain; Tommy could hardly believe that the man did
not know he was there and in spite of himself he shivered.
He was no more fanciful than the majority of young
Englishmen, but he could not rid himself of the impression
that some unusually potent force emanated from the
man. The creature reminded him of a venomous
A moment later his impression was
proved correct. The new-comer knocked on the
door as all had done, but his reception was very different.
The bearded man rose to his feet, and all the others
followed suit. The German came forward and shook
hands. His heels clicked together.
“We are honoured,” he
said. “We are greatly honoured. I much
feared that it would be impossible.”
The other answered in a low voice
that had a kind of hiss in it:
“There were difficulties.
It will not be possible again, I fear. But one
meeting is essential to define my policy.
I can do nothing without Mr. Brown.
He is here?”
The change in the German’s voice
was audible as he replied with slight hesitation:
“We have received a message.
It is impossible for him to be present in person.”
He stopped, giving a curious impression of having left
the sentence unfinished.
A very slow smile overspread the face
of the other. He looked round at a circle of
“Ah! I understand.
I have read of his methods. He works in the dark
and trusts no one. But, all the same, it is possible
that he is among us now....” He looked
round him again, and again that expression of fear
swept over the group. Each man seemed eyeing his
The Russian tapped his cheek.
“So be it. Let us proceed.”
The German seemed to pull himself
together. He indicated the place he had been
occupying at the head of the table. The Russian
demurred, but the other insisted.
“It is the only possible place,”
he said, “for Number One. Perhaps
Number Fourteen will shut the door?”
In another moment Tommy was once more
confronting bare wooden panels, and the voices within
had sunk once more to a mere undistinguishable murmur.
Tommy became restive. The conversation he had
overheard had stimulated his curiosity. He felt
that, by hook or by crook, he must hear more.
There was no sound from below, and
it did not seem likely that the doorkeeper would come
upstairs. After listening intently for a minute
or two, he put his head round the curtain. The
passage was deserted. Tommy bent down and removed
his shoes, then, leaving them behind the curtain,
he walked gingerly out on his stockinged feet, and
kneeling down by the closed door he laid his ear cautiously
to the crack. To his intense annoyance he could
distinguish little more; just a chance word here and
there if a voice was raised, which merely served to
whet his curiosity still farther.
He eyed the handle of the door tentatively.
Could he turn it by degrees so gently and imperceptibly
that those in the room would notice nothing?
He decided that with great care it could be done.
Very slowly, a fraction of an inch at a time, he moved
it round, holding his breath in his excessive care.
A little more a little more still would
it never be finished? Ah! at last it would turn
He stayed so for a minute or two,
then drew a deep breath, and pressed it ever so slightly
inward. The door did not budge. Tommy was
annoyed. If he had to use too much force, it
would almost certainly creak. He waited until
the voices rose a little, then he tried again.
Still nothing happened. He increased the pressure.
Had the beastly thing stuck? Finally, in desperation,
he pushed with all his might. But the door remained
firm, and at last the truth dawned upon him. It
was locked or bolted on the inside.
For a moment or two Tommy’s
indignation got the better of him.
“Well, I’m damned!” he said.
“What a dirty trick!”
As his indignation cooled, he prepared
to face the situation. Clearly the first thing
to be done was to restore the handle to its original
position. If he let it go suddenly, the men inside
would be almost certain to notice it, so, with the
same infinite pains, he reversed his former tactics.
All went well, and with a sigh of relief the young
man rose to his feet. There was a certain bulldog
tenacity about Tommy that made him slow to admit defeat.
Checkmated for the moment, he was far from abandoning
the conflict. He still intended to hear what was
going on in the locked room. As one plan had
failed, he must hunt about for another.
He looked round him. A little
farther along the passage on the left was a second
door. He slipped silently along to it. He
listened for a moment or two, then tried the handle.
It yielded, and he slipped inside.
The room, which was untenanted, was
furnished as a bedroom. Like everything else
in the house, the furniture was falling to pieces,
and the dirt was, if anything, more abundant.
But what interested Tommy was the
thing he had hoped to find, a communicating door between
the two rooms, up on the left by the window.
Carefully closing the door into the passage behind
him, he stepped across to the other and examined it
closely. The bolt was shot across it. It
was very rusty, and had clearly not been used for some
time. By gently wriggling it to and fro, Tommy
managed to draw it back without making too much noise.
Then he repeated his former manoeuvres with the handle this
time with complete success. The door swung open a
crack, a mere fraction, but enough for Tommy to hear
what went on. There was a velvet portiere on
the inside of this door which prevented him from seeing,
but he was able to recognize the voices with a reasonable
amount of accuracy.
The Sinn Feiner was speaking.
His rich Irish voice was unmistakable:
“That’s all very well.
But more money is essential. No money no
Another voice which Tommy rather thought
was that of Boris replied:
“Will you guarantee that there are results?”
“In a month from now sooner
or later as you wish I will guarantee you
such a reign of terror in Ireland as shall shake the
British Empire to its foundations.”
There was a pause, and then came the
soft, sibilant accents of Number One:
“Good! You shall have the
money. Boris, you will see to that.”
Boris asked a question:
“Via the Irish Americans, and Mr. Potter as
“I guess that’ll be all
right!” said a new voice, with a transatlantic
intonation, “though I’d like to point out,
here and now, that things are getting a mite difficult.
There’s not the sympathy there was, and a growing
disposition to let the Irish settle their own affairs
without interference from America.”
Tommy felt that Boris had shrugged his shoulders as
“Does that matter, since the
money only nominally comes from the States?”
“The chief difficulty is the
landing of the ammunition,” said the Sinn Feiner.
“The money is conveyed in easily enough thanks
to our colleague here.”
Another voice, which Tommy fancied
was that of the tall, commanding-looking man whose
face had seemed familiar to him, said:
“Think of the feelings of Belfast
if they could hear you!”
“That is settled, then,”
said the sibilant tones. “Now, in the matter
of the loan to an English newspaper, you have arranged
the details satisfactorily, Boris?”
“I think so.”
“That is good. An official
denial from Moscow will be forthcoming if necessary.”
There was a pause, and then the clear
voice of the German broke the silence:
“I am directed by Mr.
Brown, to place the summaries of the reports from
the different unions before you. That of the miners
is most satisfactory. We must hold back the railways.
There may be trouble with the A.S.E.”
For a long time there was a silence,
broken only by the rustle of papers and an occasional
word of explanation from the German. Then Tommy
heard the light tap-tap of fingers, drumming on the
“And the date, my friend?”
said Number One.
The Russian seemed to consider:
“That is rather soon.”
“I know. But it was settled
by the principal Labour leaders, and we cannot seem
to interfere too much. They must believe it to
be entirely their own show.”
The Russian laughed softly, as though amused.
“Yes, yes,” he said.
“That is true. They must have no inkling
that we are using them for our own ends. They
are honest men and that is their value
to us. It is curious but you cannot
make a revolution without honest men. The instinct
of the populace is infallible.” He paused,
and then repeated, as though the phrase pleased him:
“Every revolution has had its honest men.
They are soon disposed of afterwards.”
There was a sinister note in his voice.
The German resumed:
“Clymes must go. He is
too far-seeing. Number Fourteen will see to that.”
There was a hoarse murmur.
“That’s all right, gov’nor.”
And then after a moment or two: “Suppose
“You will have the best legal
talent to defend you,” replied the German quietly.
“But in any case you will wear gloves fitted
with the finger-prints of a notorious housebreaker.
You have little to fear.”
“Oh, I ain’t afraid, gov’nor.
All for the good of the cause. The streets is
going to run with blood, so they say.” He
spoke with a grim relish. “Dreams of it,
sometimes, I does. And diamonds and pearls rolling
about in the gutter for anyone to pick up!”
Tommy heard a chair shifted. Then Number One
“Then all is arranged. We are assured of
“I think so.” But the
German spoke with less than his usual confidence.
Number One’s voice held suddenly a dangerous
“What has gone wrong?”
“Nothing; but ”
“The Labour leaders. Without
them, as you say, we can do nothing. If they
do not declare a general strike on the 29th ”
“Why should they not?”
“As you’ve said, they’re
honest. And, in spite of everything we’ve
done to discredit the Government in their eyes, I’m
not sure that they haven’t got a sneaking faith
and belief in it.”
“I know. They abuse it
unceasingly. But, on the whole, public opinion
swings to the side of the Government. They will
not go against it.”
Again the Russian’s fingers drummed on the table.
“To the point, my friend.
I was given to understand that there was a certain
document in existence which assured success.”
“That is so. If that document
were placed before the leaders, the result would be
immediate. They would publish it broadcast throughout
England, and declare for the revolution without a
moment’s hesitation. The Government would
be broken finally and completely.”
“Then what more do you want?”
“The document itself,” said the German
“Ah! It is not in your possession?
But you know where it is?”
“Does anyone know where it is?”
“One person perhaps. And we
are not sure of that even.”
“Who is this person?”
Tommy held his breath.
“A girl?” The Russian’s
voice rose contemptuously. “And you have
not made her speak? In Russia we have ways of
making a girl talk.”
“This case is different,” said the German
He paused a moment, then went on: “Where
is the girl now?”
“She is ”
But Tommy heard no more. A crashing
blow descended on his head, and all was darkness.