The troubles of the future, however,
soon faded before the troubles of the present.
And of these, the most immediate and pressing was that
of hunger. Tommy had a healthy and vigorous appetite.
The steak and chips partaken of for lunch seemed now
to belong to another decade. He regretfully recognized
the fact that he would not make a success of a hunger
He prowled aimlessly about his prison.
Once or twice he discarded dignity, and pounded on
the door. But nobody answered the summons.
“Hang it all!” said Tommy
indignantly. “They can’t mean to starve
me to death.” A new-born fear passed through
his mind that this might, perhaps, be one of those
“pretty ways” of making a prisoner speak,
which had been attributed to Boris. But on reflection
he dismissed the idea.
“It’s that sour faced
brute Conrad,” he decided. “That’s
a fellow I shall enjoy getting even with one of these
days. This is just a bit of spite on his part.
I’m certain of it.”
Further meditations induced in him
the feeling that it would be extremely pleasant to
bring something down with a whack on Conrad’s
egg-shaped head. Tommy stroked his own head tenderly,
and gave himself up to the pleasures of imagination.
Finally a bright idea flashed across his brain.
Why not convert imagination into reality? Conrad
was undoubtedly the tenant of the house. The others,
with the possible exception of the bearded German,
merely used it as a rendezvous. Therefore, why
not wait in ambush for Conrad behind the door, and
when he entered bring down a chair, or one of the
decrepit pictures, smartly on to his head. One
would, of course, be careful not to hit too hard.
And then and then, simply walk out!
If he met anyone on the way down, well Tommy
brightened at the thought of an encounter with his
fists. Such an affair was infinitely more in
his line than the verbal encounter of this afternoon.
Intoxicated by his plan, Tommy gently unhooked the
picture of the Devil and Faust, and settled himself
in position. His hopes were high. The plan
seemed to him simple but excellent.
Time went on, but Conrad did not appear.
Night and day were the same in this prison room, but
Tommy’s wrist-watch, which enjoyed a certain
degree of accuracy, informed him that it was nine o’clock
in the evening. Tommy reflected gloomily that
if supper did not arrive soon it would be a question
of waiting for breakfast. At ten o’clock
hope deserted him, and he flung himself on the bed
to seek consolation in sleep. In five minutes
his woes were forgotten.
The sound of the key turning in the
lock awoke him from his slumbers. Not belonging
to the type of hero who is famous for awaking in full
possession of his faculties, Tommy merely blinked at
the ceiling and wondered vaguely where he was.
Then he remembered, and looked at his watch.
It was eight o’clock.
“It’s either early morning
tea or breakfast,” deduced the young man, “and
pray God it’s the latter!”
The door swung open. Too late,
Tommy remembered his scheme of obliterating the unprepossessing
Conrad. A moment later he was glad that he had,
for it was not Conrad who entered, but a girl.
She carried a tray which she set down on the table.
In the feeble light of the gas burner
Tommy blinked at her. He decided at once that
she was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever
seen. Her hair was a full rich brown, with sudden
glints of gold in it as though there were imprisoned
sunbeams struggling in its depths. There was
a wild-rose quality about her face. Her eyes,
set wide apart, were hazel, a golden hazel that again
recalled a memory of sunbeams.
A delirious thought shot through Tommy’s mind.
“Are you Jane Finn?” he asked breathlessly.
The girl shook her head wonderingly.
“My name is Annette, monsieur.”
She spoke in a soft, broken English.
“Oh!” said Tommy, rather taken aback.
“Francaise?” he hazarded.
“Oui, monsieur. Monsieur parle francais?”
“Not for any length of time,” said Tommy.
“What’s that? Breakfast?”
The girl nodded. Tommy dropped
off the bed and came and inspected the contents of
the tray. It consisted of a loaf, some margarine,
and a jug of coffee.
“The living is not equal to
the Ritz,” he observed with a sigh. “But
for what we are at last about to receive the Lord has
made me truly thankful. Amen.”
He drew up a chair, and the girl turned away to the
“Wait a sec,” cried Tommy.
“There are lots of things I want to ask you,
Annette. What are you doing in this house?
Don’t tell me you’re Conrad’s niece,
or daughter, or anything, because I can’t believe
“I do the service, monsieur. I am
not related to anybody.”
“I see,” said Tommy.
“You know what I asked you just now. Have
you ever heard that name?”
“I have heard people speak of Jane Finn, I think.”
“You don’t know where she is?”
Annette shook her head.
“She’s not in this house, for instance?”
“Oh no, monsieur. I must go now they
will be waiting for me.”
She hurried out. The key turned in the lock.
“I wonder who ‘they’
are,” mused Tommy, as he continued to make inroads
on the loaf. “With a bit of luck, that girl
might help me to get out of here. She doesn’t
look like one of the gang.”
At one o’clock Annette reappeared
with another tray, but this time Conrad accompanied
“Good morning,” said Tommy
amiably. “You have not used Pear’s
soap, I see.”
Conrad growled threateningly.
“No light repartee, have you,
old bean? There, there, we can’t always
have brains as well as beauty. What have we for
lunch? Stew? How did I know? Elementary,
my dear Watson the smell of onions is unmistakable.”
“Talk away,” grunted the
man. “It’s little enough time you’ll
have to talk in, maybe.”
The remark was unpleasant in its suggestion,
but Tommy ignored it. He sat down at the table.
“Retire, varlet,” he said,
with a wave of his hand. “Prate not to thy
That evening Tommy sat on the bed,
and cogitated deeply. Would Conrad again accompany
the girl? If he did not, should he risk trying
to make an ally of her? He decided that he must
leave no stone unturned. His position was desperate.
At eight o’clock the familiar
sound of the key turning made him spring to his feet.
The girl was alone.
“Shut the door,” he commanded.
“I want to speak to you.” She obeyed.
“Look here, Annette, I want
you to help me get out of this.” She shook
“Impossible. There are three of them on
the floor below.”
“Oh!” Tommy was secretly
grateful for the information. “But you would
help me if you could?”
The girl hesitated.
“I think they are
my own people. You have spied upon them.
They are quite right to keep you here.”
“They’re a bad lot, Annette.
If you’ll help me, I’ll take you away from
the lot of them. And you’d probably get
a good whack of money.”
But the girl merely shook her head.
“I dare not, monsieur; I am afraid of them.”
She turned away.
“Wouldn’t you do anything
to help another girl?” cried Tommy. “She’s
about your age too. Won’t you save her from
“You mean Jane Finn?”
“It is her you came here to look for? Yes?”
The girl looked at him, then passed her hand across
“Jane Finn. Always I hear that name.
It is familiar.”
Tommy came forward eagerly.
“You must know something about her?”
But the girl turned away abruptly.
“I know nothing only
the name.” She walked towards the door.
Suddenly she uttered a cry. Tommy stared.
She had caught sight of the picture he had laid against
the wall the night before. For a moment he caught
a look of terror in her eyes. As inexplicably
it changed to relief. Then abruptly she went
out of the room. Tommy could make nothing of it.
Did she fancy that he had meant to attack her with
it? Surely not. He rehung the picture on
the wall thoughtfully.
Three more days went by in dreary
inaction. Tommy felt the strain telling on his
nerves. He saw no one but Conrad and Annette,
and the girl had become dumb. She spoke only
in monosyllables. A kind of dark suspicion smouldered
in her eyes. Tommy felt that if this solitary
confinement went on much longer he would go mad.
He gathered from Conrad that they were waiting for
orders from “Mr. Brown.” Perhaps,
thought Tommy, he was abroad or away, and they were
obliged to wait for his return.
But the evening of the third day brought a rude awakening.
It was barely seven o’clock
when he heard the tramp of footsteps outside in the
passage. In another minute the door was flung
open. Conrad entered. With him was the evil-looking
Number 14. Tommy’s heart sank at the sight
“Evenin’, gov’nor,” said the
man with a leer. “Got those ropes, mate?”
The silent Conrad produced a length
of fine cord. The next minute Number 14’s
hands, horribly dexterous, were winding the cord round
his limbs, while Conrad held him down.
“What the devil ?” began
But the slow, speechless grin of the
silent Conrad froze the words on his lips.
Number 14 proceeded deftly with his
task. In another minute Tommy was a mere helpless
bundle. Then at last Conrad spoke:
“Thought you’d bluffed
us, did you? With what you knew, and what you
didn’t know. Bargained with us! And
all the time it was bluff! Bluff! You know
less than a kitten. But your number’s up
now all right, you b swine.”
Tommy lay silent. There was nothing
to say. He had failed. Somehow or other
the omnipotent Mr. Brown had seen through his pretensions.
Suddenly a thought occurred to him.
“A very good speech, Conrad,”
he said approvingly. “But wherefore the
bonds and fetters? Why not let this kind gentleman
here cut my throat without delay?”
“Garn,” said Number 14
unexpectedly. “Think we’re as green
as to do you in here, and have the police nosing round?
Not ’alf! We’ve ordered the carriage
for your lordship to-morrow mornin’, but in the
meantime we’re not taking any chances, see!”
“Nothing,” said Tommy,
“could be plainer than your words unless
it was your face.”
“Stow it,” said Number 14.
“With pleasure,” replied
Tommy. “You’re making a sad mistake but
yours will be the loss.”
“You don’t kid us that
way again,” said Number 14. “Talking
as though you were still at the blooming Ritz, aren’t
Tommy made no reply. He was engaged
in wondering how Mr. Brown had discovered his identity.
He decided that Tuppence, in the throes of anxiety,
had gone to the police, and that his disappearance
having been made public the gang had not been slow
to put two and two together.
The two men departed and the door
slammed. Tommy was left to his meditations.
They were not pleasant ones. Already his limbs
felt cramped and stiff. He was utterly helpless,
and he could see no hope anywhere.
About an hour had passed when he heard
the key softly turned, and the door opened. It
was Annette. Tommy’s heart beat a little
faster. He had forgotten the girl. Was it
possible that she had come to his help?
Suddenly he heard Conrad’s voice:
“Come out of it, Annette. He doesn’t
want any supper to-night.”
“Oui, oui, je
saïs bien. But I must take the other
tray. We need the things on it.”
“Well, hurry up,” growled Conrad.
Without looking at Tommy the girl
went over to the table, and picked up the tray.
She raised a hand and turned out the light.
“Curse you” Conrad had come
to the door “why did you do that?”
“I always turn it out.
You should have told me. Shall I relight it,
“No, come on out of it.”
“Le beau petit monsieur,”
cried Annette, pausing by the bed in the darkness.
“You have tied him up well, hein? He
is like a trussed chicken!” The frank amusement
in her tone jarred on the boy; but at that moment,
to his amazement, he felt her hand running lightly
over his bonds, and something small and cold was pressed
into the palm of his hand.
“Come on, Annette.”
“Mais me voila.”
The door shut. Tommy heard Conrad say:
“Lock it and give me the key.”
The footsteps died away. Tommy
lay petrified with amazement. The object Annette
had thrust into his hand was a small penknife, the
blade open. From the way she had studiously avoided
looking at him, and her action with the light, he
came to the conclusion that the room was overlooked.
There must be a peep-hole somewhere in the walls.
Remembering how guarded she had always been in her
manner, he saw that he had probably been under observation
all the time. Had he said anything to give himself
away? Hardly. He had revealed a wish to escape
and a desire to find Jane Finn, but nothing that could
have given a clue to his own identity. True,
his question to Annette had proved that he was personally
unacquainted with Jane Finn, but he had never pretended
otherwise. The question now was, did Annette really
know more? Were her denials intended primarily
for the listeners? On that point he could come
to no conclusion.
But there was a more vital question
that drove out all others. Could he, bound as
he was, manage to cut his bonds? He essayed cautiously
to rub the open blade up and down on the cord that
bound his two wrists together. It was an awkward
business, and drew a smothered “Ow” of
pain from him as the knife cut into his wrist.
But slowly and doggedly he went on sawing to and fro.
He cut the flesh badly, but at last he felt the cord
slacken. With his hands free, the rest was easy.
Five minutes later he stood upright with some difficulty,
owing to the cramp in his limbs. His first care
was to bind up his bleeding wrist. Then he sat
on the edge of the bed to think. Conrad had taken
the key of the door, so he could expect little more
assistance from Annette. The only outlet from
the room was the door, consequently he would perforce
have to wait until the two men returned to fetch him.
But when they did... Tommy smiled! Moving
with infinite caution in the dark room, he found and
unhooked the famous picture. He felt an economical
pleasure that his first plan would not be wasted.
There was now nothing to do but to wait. He waited.
The night passed slowly. Tommy
lived through an eternity of hours, but at last he
heard footsteps. He stood upright, drew a deep
breath, and clutched the picture firmly.
The door opened. A faint light
streamed in from outside. Conrad went straight
towards the gas to light it. Tommy deeply regretted
that it was he who had entered first. It would
have been pleasant to get even with Conrad. Number
14 followed. As he stepped across the threshold,
Tommy brought the picture down with terrific force
on his head. Number 14 went down amidst a stupendous
crash of broken glass. In a minute Tommy had
slipped out and pulled to the door. The key was
in the lock. He turned it and withdrew it just
as Conrad hurled himself against the door from the
inside with a volley of curses.
For a moment Tommy hesitated.
There was the sound of some one stirring on the floor
below. Then the German’s voice came up the
“Gott im Himmel! Conrad, what is it?”
Tommy felt a small hand thrust into
his. Beside him stood Annette. She pointed
up a rickety ladder that apparently led to some attics.
“Quick up here!”
She dragged him after her up the ladder. In another
moment they were standing in a dusty garret littered
with lumber. Tommy looked round.
“This won’t do. It’s a regular
trap. There’s no way out.”
The girl put her finger to her lips. She crept
to the top of the ladder and listened.
The banging and beating on the door
was terrific. The German and another were trying
to force the door in. Annette explained in a whisper:
“They will think you are still
inside. They cannot hear what Conrad says.
The door is too thick.”
“I thought you could hear what went on in the
“There is a peep-hole into the
next room. It was clever of you to guess.
But they will not think of that they are
only anxious to get in.”
“Yes but look here ”
“Leave it to me.”
She bent down. To his amazement, Tommy saw that
she was fastening the end of a long piece of string
to the handle of a big cracked jug. She arranged
it carefully, then turned to Tommy.
“Have you the key of the door?”
“Give it to me.”
He handed it to her.
“I am going down. Do you
think you can go halfway, and then swing yourself
down behind the ladder, so that they will not
“There’s a big cupboard
in the shadow of the landing. Stand behind it.
Take the end of this string in your hand. When
I’ve let the others out pull!”
Before he had time to ask her anything
more, she had flitted lightly down the ladder and
was in the midst of the group with a loud cry:
“Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Qu’est-ce
qu’il y a?”
The German turned on her with an oath.
“Get out of this. Go to your room!”
Very cautiously Tommy swung himself
down the back of the ladder. So long as they
did not turn round... all was well. He crouched
behind the cupboard. They were still between
him and the stairs.
“Ah!” Annette appeared
to stumble over something. She stooped. “Mon
Dieu, voila la clef!”
The German snatched it from her.
He unlocked the door. Conrad stumbled out, swearing.
“Where is he? Have you got him?”
“We have seen no one,”
said the German sharply. His face paled.
“Who do you mean?”
Conrad gave vent to another oath.
“He’s got away.”
“Impossible. He would have passed us.”
At that moment, with an ecstatic smile
Tommy pulled the string. A crash of crockery
came from the attic above. In a trice the men
were pushing each other up the rickety ladder and
had disappeared into the darkness above.
Quick as a flash Tommy leapt from
his hiding-place and dashed down the stairs, pulling
the girl with him. There was no one in the hall.
He fumbled over the bolts and chain. At last
they yielded, the door swung open. He turned.
Annette had disappeared.
Tommy stood spell-bound. Had
she run upstairs again? What madness possessed
her! He fumed with impatience, but he stood his
ground. He would not go without her.
And suddenly there was an outcry overhead,
an exclamation from the German, and then Annette’s
voice, clear and high:
“Ma foi, he has escaped!
And quickly! Who would have thought it?”
Tommy still stood rooted to the ground.
Was that a command to him to go? He fancied it
And then, louder still, the words floated down to
“This is a terrible house.
I want to go back to Marguerite. To Marguerite.
Tommy had run back to the stairs.
She wanted him to go and leave her. But why?
At all costs he must try and get her away with him.
Then his heart sank. Conrad was leaping down
the stairs, uttering a savage cry at the sight of
him. After him came the others.
Tommy stopped Conrad’s rush
with a straight blow with his fist. It caught
the other on the point of the jaw and he fell like
a log. The second man tripped over his body and
fell. From higher up the staircase there was
a flash, and a bullet grazed Tommy’s ear.
He realized that it would be good for his health to
get out of this house as soon as possible. As
regards Annette he could do nothing. He had got
even with Conrad, which was one satisfaction.
The blow had been a good one.
He leapt for the door, slamming it
behind him. The square was deserted. In
front of the house was a baker’s van. Evidently
he was to have been taken out of London in that, and
his body found many miles from the house in Soho.
The driver jumped to the pavement and tried to bar
Tommy’s way. Again Tommy’s fist shot
out, and the driver sprawled on the pavement.
Tommy took to his heels and ran none
too soon. The front door opened and a hail of
bullets followed him. Fortunately none of them
hit him. He turned the corner of the square.
“There’s one thing,”
he thought to himself, “they can’t go on
shooting. They’ll have the police after
them if they do. I wonder they dared to there.”
He heard the footsteps of his pursuers
behind him, and redoubled his own pace. Once
he got out of these by-ways he would be safe.
There would be a policeman about somewhere not
that he really wanted to invoke the aid of the police
if he could possibly do without it. It meant explanations,
and general awkwardness. In another moment he
had reason to bless his luck. He stumbled over
a prostrate figure, which started up with a yell of
alarm and dashed off down the street. Tommy drew
back into a doorway. In a minute he had the pleasure
of seeing his two pursuers, of whom the German was
one, industriously tracking down the red herring!
Tommy sat down quietly on the doorstep
and allowed a few moments to elapse while he recovered
his breath. Then he strolled gently in the opposite
direction. He glanced at his watch. It was
a little after half-past five. It was rapidly
growing light. At the next corner he passed a
policeman. The policeman cast a suspicious eye
on him. Tommy felt slightly offended. Then,
passing his hand over his face, he laughed. He
had not shaved or washed for three days! What
a guy he must look.
He betook himself without more ado
to a Turkish Bath establishment which he knew to be
open all night. He emerged into the busy daylight
feeling himself once more, and able to make plans.
First of all, he must have a square
meal. He had eaten nothing since midday yesterday.
He turned into an A.B.C. shop and ordered eggs and
bacon and coffee. Whilst he ate, he read a morning
paper propped up in front of him. Suddenly he
stiffened. There was a long article on Kramenin,
who was described as the “man behind Bolshevism”
in Russia, and who had just arrived in London some
thought as an unofficial envoy. His career was
sketched lightly, and it was firmly asserted that he,
and not the figurehead leaders, had been the author
of the Russian Revolution.
In the centre of the page was his portrait.
“So that’s who Number
1 is,” said Tommy with his mouth full of eggs
and bacon. “Not a doubt about it, I must
He paid for his breakfast, and betook
himself to Whitehall. There he sent up his name,
and the message that it was urgent. A few minutes
later he was in the presence of the man who did not
here go by the name of “Mr. Carter.”
There was a frown on his face.
“Look here, you’ve no
business to come asking for me in this way. I
thought that was distinctly understood?”
“It was, sir. But I judged it important
to lose no time.”
And as briefly and succinctly as possible
he detailed the experiences of the last few days.
Half-way through, Mr. Carter interrupted
him to give a few cryptic orders through the telephone.
All traces of displeasure had now left his face.
He nodded energetically when Tommy had finished.
“Quite right. Every moment’s
of value. Fear we shall be too late anyway.
They wouldn’t wait. Would clear out at once.
Still, they may have left something behind them that
will be a clue. You say you’ve recognized
Number 1 to be Kramenin? That’s important.
We want something against him badly to prevent the
Cabinet falling on his neck too freely. What about
the others? You say two faces were familiar to
you? One’s a Labour man, you think?
Just look through these photos, and see if you can
A minute later, Tommy held one up.
Mr. Carter exhibited some surprise.
“Ah, Westway! Shouldn’t
have thought it. Poses as being moderate.
As for the other fellow, I think I can give a good
guess.” He handed another photograph to
Tommy, and smiled at the other’s exclamation.
“I’m right, then. Who is he?
Irishman. Prominent Unionist M.P. All a blind,
of course. We’ve suspected it but
couldn’t get any proof. Yes, you’ve
done very well, young man. The 29th, you say,
is the date. That gives us very little time very
little time indeed.”
“But ” Tommy hesitated.
Mr. Carter read his thoughts.
“We can deal with the General
Strike menace, I think. It’s a toss-up but
we’ve got a sporting chance! But if that
draft treaty turns up we’re done.
England will be plunged in anarchy. Ah, what’s
that? The car? Come on, Beresford, we’ll
go and have a look at this house of yours.”
Two constables were on duty in front
of the house in Soho. An inspector reported to
Mr. Carter in a low voice. The latter turned to
“The birds have flown as
we thought. We might as well go over it.”
Going over the deserted house seemed
to Tommy to partake of the character of a dream.
Everything was just as it had been. The prison
room with the crooked pictures, the broken jug in the
attic, the meeting room with its long table.
But nowhere was there a trace of papers. Everything
of that kind had either been destroyed or taken away.
And there was no sign of Annette.
“What you tell me about the
girl puzzled me,” said Mr. Carter. “You
believe that she deliberately went back?”
“It would seem so, sir.
She ran upstairs while I was getting the door open.”
“H’m, she must belong
to the gang, then; but, being a woman, didn’t
feel like standing by to see a personable young man
killed. But evidently she’s in with them,
or she wouldn’t have gone back.”
“I can’t believe she’s
really one of them, sir. She seemed
so different ”
“Good-looking, I suppose?”
said Mr. Carter with a smile that made Tommy flush
to the roots of his hair. He admitted Annette’s
beauty rather shamefacedly.
“By the way,” observed
Mr. Carter, “have you shown yourself to Miss
Tuppence yet? She’s been bombarding me with
letters about you.”
“Tuppence? I was afraid
she might get a bit rattled. Did she go to the
Mr. Carter shook his head.
“Then I wonder how they twigged me.”
Mr. Carter looked inquiringly at him,
and Tommy explained. The other nodded thoughtfully.
“True, that’s rather a
curious point. Unless the mention of the Ritz
was an accidental remark?”
“It might have been, sir.
But they must have found out about me suddenly in
“Well,” said Mr. Carter,
looking round him, “there’s nothing more
to be done here. What about some lunch with me?”
“Thanks awfully, sir. But
I think I’d better get back and rout out Tuppence.”
“Of course. Give her my
kind regards and tell her not to believe you’re
killed too readily next time.”
“I take a lot of killing, sir.”
“So I perceive,” said
Mr. Carter dryly. “Well, good-bye.
Remember you’re a marked man now, and take reasonable
care of yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Hailing a taxi briskly Tommy stepped
in, and was swiftly borne to the Ritz’ dwelling
the while on the pleasurable anticipation of startling
“Wonder what she’s been
up to. Dogging ‘Rita’ most likely.
By the way, I suppose that’s who Annette meant
by Marguerite. I didn’t get it at the time.”
The thought saddened him a little, for it seemed to
prove that Mrs. Vandemeyer and the girl were on intimate
The taxi drew up at the Ritz.
Tommy burst into its sacred portals eagerly, but his
enthusiasm received a check. He was informed that
Miss Cowley had gone out a quarter of an hour ago.