From a darkness punctuated with
throbbing stabs of fire, Tommy dragged his senses
slowly back to life. When he at last opened his
eyes, he was conscious of nothing but an excruciating
pain through his temples. He was vaguely aware
of unfamiliar surroundings. Where was he?
What had happened? He blinked feebly. This
was not his bedroom at the Ritz. And what the
devil was the matter with his head?
“Damn!” said Tommy, and
tried to sit up. He had remembered. He was
in that sinister house in Soho. He uttered a
groan and fell back. Through his almost-closed
lids he reconnoitred carefully.
“He is coming to,” remarked
a voice very near Tommy’s ear. He recognized
it at once for that of the bearded and efficient German,
and lay artistically inert. He felt that it would
be a pity to come round too soon; and until the pain
in his head became a little less acute, he felt quite
incapable of collecting his wits. Painfully he
tried to puzzle out what had happened. Obviously
somebody must have crept up behind him as he listened
and struck him down with a blow on the head. They
knew him now for a spy, and would in all probability
give him short shrift. Undoubtedly he was in
a tight place. Nobody knew where he was, therefore
he need expect no outside assistance, and must depend
solely on his own wits.
“Well, here goes,” murmured
Tommy to himself, and repeated his former remark.
“Damn!” he observed, and
this time succeeded in sitting up.
In a minute the German stepped forward
and placed a glass to his lips, with the brief command
“Drink.” Tommy obeyed. The potency
of the draught made him choke, but it cleared his
brain in a marvellous manner.
He was lying on a couch in the room
in which the meeting had been held. On one side
of him was the German, on the other the villainous-faced
doorkeeper who had let him in. The others were
grouped together at a little distance away. But
Tommy missed one face. The man known as Number
One was no longer of the company.
“Feel better?” asked the
German, as he removed the empty glass.
“Yes, thanks,” returned Tommy cheerfully.
“Ah, my young friend, it is
lucky for you your skull is so thick. The good
Conrad struck hard.” He indicated the evil-faced
doorkeeper by a nod. The man grinned.
Tommy twisted his head round with an effort.
“Oh,” he said, “so
you’re Conrad, are you? It strikes me the
thickness of my skull was lucky for you too.
When I look at you I feel it’s almost a pity
I’ve enabled you to cheat the hangman.”
The man snarled, and the bearded man said quietly:
“He would have run no risk of that.”
“Just as you like,” replied
Tommy. “I know it’s the fashion to
run down the police. I rather believe in them
His manner was nonchalant to the last
degree. Tommy Beresford was one of those young
Englishmen not distinguished by any special intellectual
ability, but who are emphatically at their best in
what is known as a “tight place.”
Their natural diffidence and caution fall from them
like a glove. Tommy realized perfectly that in
his own wits lay the only chance of escape, and behind
his casual manner he was racking his brains furiously.
The cold accents of the German took up the conversation:
“Have you anything to say before you are put
to death as a spy?”
“Simply lots of things,” replied Tommy
with the same urbanity as before.
“Do you deny that you were listening at that
“I do not. I must really
apologize but your conversation was so
interesting that it overcame my scruples.”
“How did you get in?”
“Dear old Conrad here.”
Tommy smiled deprecatingly at him. “I hesitate
to suggest pensioning off a faithful servant, but you
really ought to have a better watchdog.”
Conrad snarled impotently, and said
sullenly, as the man with the beard swung round upon
“He gave the word. How was I to know?”
“Yes,” Tommy chimed in.
“How was he to know? Don’t blame the
poor fellow. His hasty action has given me the
pleasure of seeing you all face to face.”
He fancied that his words caused some
discomposure among the group, but the watchful German
stilled it with a wave of his hand.
“Dead men tell no tales,” he said evenly.
“Ah,” said Tommy, “but I’m
not dead yet!”
“You soon will be, my young friend,” said
An assenting murmur came from the others.
Tommy’s heart beat faster, but his casual pleasantness
did not waver.
“I think not,” he said
firmly. “I should have a great objection
He had got them puzzled, he saw that by the look on
his captor’s face.
“Can you give us any reason
why we should not put you to death?” asked the
“Several,” replied Tommy.
“Look here, you’ve been asking me a lot
of questions. Let me ask you one for a change.
Why didn’t you kill me off at once before I
The German hesitated, and Tommy seized his advantage.
“Because you didn’t know
how much I knew and where I obtained that
knowledge. If you kill me now, you never will
But here the emotions of Boris became
too much for him. He stepped forward waving his
“You hell-hound of a spy,”
he screamed. “We will give you short shrift.
Kill him! Kill him!”
There was a roar of applause.
“You hear?” said the German,
his eyes on Tommy. “What have you to say
“Say?” Tommy shrugged
his shoulders. “Pack of fools. Let
them ask themselves a few questions. How did
I get into this place? Remember what dear old
Conrad said with your own
password, wasn’t it? How did I get
hold of that? You don’t suppose I came up
those steps haphazard and said the first thing that
came into my head?”
Tommy was pleased with the concluding
words of this speech. His only regret was that
Tuppence was not present to appreciate its full flavour.
“That is true,” said the
working man suddenly. “Comrades, we have
An ugly murmur arose. Tommy smiled at them encouragingly.
“That’s better. How
can you hope to make a success of any job if you don’t
use your brains?”
“You will tell us who has betrayed
us,” said the German. “But that shall
not save you oh, no! You shall tell
us all that you know. Boris, here, knows pretty
ways of making people speak!”
“Bah!” said Tommy scornfully,
fighting down a singularly unpleasant feeling in the
pit of his stomach. “You will neither torture
me nor kill me.”
“And why not?” asked Boris.
“Because you’d kill the
goose that lays the golden eggs,” replied Tommy
There was a momentary pause.
It seemed as though Tommy’s persistent assurance
was at last conquering. They were no longer completely
sure of themselves. The man in the shabby clothes
stared at Tommy searchingly.
“He’s bluffing you, Boris,” he said
Tommy hated him. Had the man seen through him?
The German, with an effort, turned roughly to Tommy.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean?”
parried Tommy, searching desperately in his own mind.
Suddenly Boris stepped forward, and shook his fist
in Tommy’s face.
“Speak, you swine of an Englishman speak!”
“Don’t get so excited,
my good fellow,” said Tommy calmly. “That’s
the worst of you foreigners. You can’t
keep calm. Now, I ask you, do I look as though
I thought there were the least chance of your killing
He looked confidently round, and was
glad they could not hear the persistent beating of
his heart which gave the lie to his words.
“No,” admitted Boris at last sullenly,
“you do not.”
“Thank God, he’s not a
mind reader,” thought Tommy. Aloud he pursued
“And why am I so confident?
Because I know something that puts me in a position
to propose a bargain.”
“A bargain?” The bearded man took him
“Yes a bargain. My life and
liberty against ” He paused.
The group pressed forward. You could have heard
a pin drop.
Slowly Tommy spoke.
“The papers that Danvers brought over from America
in the Lusitania.”
The effect of his words was electrical.
Every one was on his feet. The German waved them
back. He leaned over Tommy, his face purple with
“Himmel! You have got them, then?”
With magnificent calm Tommy shook his head.
“You know where they are?” persisted the
Again Tommy shook his head. “Not in the
“Then then ”
angry and baffled, the words failed him.
Tommy looked round. He saw anger
and bewilderment on every face, but his calm assurance
had done its work no one doubted but that
something lay behind his words.
“I don’t know where the
papers are but I believe that I can find
them. I have a theory ”
Tommy raised his hand, and silenced the clamours of
“I call it a theory but
I’m pretty sure of my facts facts
that are known to no one but myself. In any case
what do you lose? If I can produce the papers you
give me my life and liberty in exchange. Is it
“And if we refuse?” said the German quietly.
Tommy lay back on the couch.
“The 29th,” he said thoughtfully, “is
less than a fortnight ahead ”
For a moment the German hesitated. Then he made
a sign to Conrad.
“Take him into the other room.”
For five minutes, Tommy sat on the
bed in the dingy room next door. His heart was
beating violently. He had risked all on this throw.
How would they decide? And all the while that
this agonized questioning went on within him, he talked
flippantly to Conrad, enraging the cross-grained doorkeeper
to the point of homicidal mania.
At last the door opened, and the German
called imperiously to Conrad to return.
“Let’s hope the judge
hasn’t put his black cap on,” remarked
Tommy frivolously. “That’s right,
Conrad, march me in. The prisoner is at the bar,
The German was seated once more behind
the table. He motioned to Tommy to sit down opposite
“We accept,” he said harshly,
“on terms. The papers must be delivered
to us before you go free.”
“Idiot!” said Tommy amiably.
“How do you think I can look for them if you
keep me tied by the leg here?”
“What do you expect, then?”
“I must have liberty to go about the business
in my own way.”
The German laughed.
“Do you think we are little
children to let you walk out of here leaving us a
pretty story full of promises?”
“No,” said Tommy thoughtfully.
“Though infinitely simpler for me, I did not
really think you would agree to that plan. Very
well, we must arrange a compromise. How would
it be if you attached little Conrad here to my person.
He’s a faithful fellow, and very ready with the
“We prefer,” said the
German coldly, “that you should remain here.
One of our number will carry out your instructions
minutely. If the operations are complicated,
he will return to you with a report and you can instruct
“You’re tying my hands,”
complained Tommy. “It’s a very delicate
affair, and the other fellow will muff it up as likely
as not, and then where shall I be? I don’t
believe one of you has got an ounce of tact.”
The German rapped the table.
“Those are our terms. Otherwise, death!”
Tommy leaned back wearily.
“I like your style. Curt,
but attractive. So be it, then. But one thing
is essential, I must see the girl.”
“Jane Finn, of course.”
The other looked at him curiously
for some minutes, then he said slowly, and as though
choosing his words with care:
“Do you not know that she can tell you nothing?”
Tommy’s heart beat a little
faster. Would he succeed in coming face to face
with the girl he was seeking?
“I shall not ask her to tell
me anything,” he said quietly. “Not
in so many words, that is.”
“Then why see her?”
“To watch her face when I ask her one question,”
he replied at last.
Again there was a look in the German’s
eyes that Tommy did not quite understand.
“She will not be able to answer your question.”
“That does not matter. I shall have seen
her face when I ask it.”
“And you think that will tell
you anything?” He gave a short disagreeable
laugh. More than ever, Tommy felt that there was
a factor somewhere that he did not understand.
The German looked at him searchingly. “I
wonder whether, after all, you know as much as we
think?” he said softly.
Tommy felt his ascendancy less sure
than a moment before. His hold had slipped a
little. But he was puzzled. What had he said
wrong? He spoke out on the impulse of the moment.
“There may be things that you
know which I do not. I have not pretended to
be aware of all the details of your show. But
equally I’ve got something up my sleeve that
you don’t know about. And that’s where
I mean to score. Danvers was a damned clever
fellow ” He broke off as
if he had said too much.
But the German’s face had lightened a little.
“Danvers,” he murmured.
“I see ” He paused a
minute, then waved to Conrad. “Take him
away. Upstairs you know.”
“Wait a minute,” said Tommy. “What
about the girl?”
“That may perhaps be arranged.”
“It must be.”
“We will see about it. Only one person
can decide that.”
“Who?” asked Tommy. But he knew the
“Mr. Brown ”
“Shall I see him?”
“Come,” said Conrad harshly.
Tommy rose obediently. Outside
the door his gaoler motioned to him to mount the stairs.
He himself followed close behind. On the floor
above Conrad opened a door and Tommy passed into a
small room. Conrad lit a hissing gas burner and
went out. Tommy heard the sound of the key being
turned in the lock.
He set to work to examine his prison.
It was a smaller room than the one downstairs, and
there was something peculiarly airless about the atmosphere
of it. Then he realized that there was no window.
He walked round it. The walls were filthily dirty,
as everywhere else. Four pictures hung crookedly
on the wall representing scenes from Faust. Marguerite
with her box of jewels, the church scene, Siebel and
his flowers, and Faust and Méphistophélès. The
latter brought Tommy’s mind back to Mr. Brown
again. In this sealed and closed chamber, with
its close-fitting heavy door, he felt cut off from
the world, and the sinister power of the arch-criminal
seemed more real. Shout as he would, no one could
ever hear him. The place was a living tomb....
With an effort Tommy pulled himself
together. He sank on to the bed and gave himself
up to reflection. His head ached badly; also,
he was hungry. The silence of the place was dispiriting.
“Anyway,” said Tommy,
trying to cheer himself, “I shall see the chief the
mysterious Mr. Brown and with a bit of luck in bluffing
I shall see the mysterious Jane Finn also. After
After that Tommy was forced to admit
the prospect looked dreary.