THE LOST NAVAL PAPERS
I A STORY AND A VISIT
II AT CLOSE QUARTERS
III AN INQUISITION
VII THE MARINE SENTRY
VIII TREHAYNE'S LETTER
IX THE WOMAN AND THE MAN
X A PROGRESSIVE FRIENDSHIP
XI AT BRIGHTON
SEE IS TO BELIEVE
XII DAWSON PRESCRIBES
XIII THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN
XIV A COFFIN AND AN OWL
THE CAPTAIN OF MARINES
XV DAWSON REAPPEARS
XVI DAWSON STRIKES
XVII DAWSON TELEPHONES FOR A SURGEON
A STORY AND A VISIT
At the beginning of the month of September, 1916, there appeared in
the Cornhill Magazine a story entitled "The Lost Naval Papers." I
had told this story at second hand, for the incidents had not occurred
within my personal experience. One of the principals—to whom I had
allotted the temporary name of Richard Cary—was an intimate friend,
but I had never met the Scotland Yard officer whom I called William
Dawson, and was not at all anxious to make his official acquaintance.
To me he then seemed an inhuman, icy-blooded "sleuth," a being of
great national importance, but repulsive and dangerous as an
associate. Yet by a turn of Fortune's wheel I came not only to know
William Dawson, but to work with him, and almost to like him. His
penetrative efficiency compelled one's admiration, and his unconcealed
vanity showed that he did not stand wholly outside the human family.
Yet I never felt safe with Dawson. In his presence, and when I knew
that somewhere round the corner he was carrying on his mysterious
investigations, I was perpetually apprehensive of his hand upon my
shoulder and his bracelets upon my wrists. I was unconscious of crime,
but the Defence of the Realm Regulations—which are to Dawson a new
fount of wisdom and power—create so many fresh offences every week
that it is difficult for the most timidly loyal of citizens to keep
his innocency up to date. I have doubtless trespassed many times, for
I have Dawson's assurance that my present freedom is due solely to his
reprehensible softness towards me. Whenever I have showed independence
of spirit—of which, God knows, I have little in these days—Dawson
would pull out his terrible red volumes of ever-expanding Regulations
and make notes of my committed crimes. The Act itself could be printed
on a sheet of notepaper, but it has given birth to a whole library of
Regulations. Thus he bent me to his will as he had my poor friend
The mills of Scotland Yard grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding
small. There is nothing showy about them. They work by system, not by
inspiration. Though Dawson was not specially intelligent—in some
respects almost stupid—he was dreadfully, terrifyingly efficient,
because he was part of the slowly grinding Scotland Yard machine.
As this book properly begins with my published story of "The Lost
Naval Papers," I will reprint it here exactly as it was written for
the readers of the Cornhill Magazine in September, 1916.
* * * * *
I. BAITING THE TRAP
This story—which contains a moral for those fearful folk who exalt
everything German—was told to me by Richard Cary, the accomplished
naval correspondent of a big paper in the North of England. I have
known him and his enthusiasm for the White Ensign for twenty years. He
springs from an old naval stock, the Carys of North Devon, and has
devoted his life to the study of the Sea Service. He had for so long
been accustomed to move freely among shipyards and navy men, and was
trusted so completely, that the veil of secrecy which dropped in
August 1914 between the Fleets and the world scarcely existed for him.
Everything which he desired to know for the better understanding of
the real work of the Navy came to him officially or unofficially.
When, therefore, he states that the Naval Notes with which this story
deals would have been of incalculable value to the enemy, I accept his
word without hesitation. I have myself seen some of them, and they
made me tremble—for Cary's neck. I pressed him to write this story
himself, but he refused. "No," said he, "I have told you the yarn just
as it happened; write it yourself. I am a dull dog, quite efficient at
handling hard facts and making scientific deductions from them, but
with no eye for the picturesque details. I give it to you." He rose to
go—Cary had been lunching with me—but paused for an instant upon my
front doorstep. "If you insist upon it," added he, smiling, "I don't
mind sharing in the plunder."
* * * * *
It was in the latter part of May 1916. Cary was hard at work one
morning in his rooms in the Northern City where he had established his
headquarters. His study table was littered with papers—notes,
diagrams, and newspaper cuttings—and he was laboriously reducing the
apparent chaos into an orderly series of chapters upon the Navy's Work
which he proposed to publish after the war was over. It was not
designed to be an exciting book—Cary has no dramatic instinct—but it
would be full of fine sound stuff, close accurate detail, and clear
analysis. Day by day for more than twenty months he had been
collecting details of every phase of the Navy's operations, here a
little and there a little. He had recently returned from a
confidential tour of the shipyards and naval bases, and had exercised
his trained eye upon checking and amplifying what he had previously
learned. While his recollection of this tour was fresh he was actively
writing up his Notes and revising the rough early draft of his book.
More than once it had occurred to him that his accumulations of Notes
were dangerous explosives to store in a private house. They were
becoming so full and so accurate that the enemy would have paid any
sum or have committed any crime to secure possession of them. Cary is
not nervous or imaginative—have I not said that he springs from a
naval stock?—but even he now and then felt anxious. He would, I
believe, have slept peacefully though knowing that a delicately primed
bomb lay beneath his bed, for personal risks troubled him little, but
the thought that hurt to his country might come from his well-meant
labours sometimes rapped against his nerves. A few days before his
patriotic conscience had been stabbed by no less a personage than
Admiral Jellicoe, who, speaking to a group of naval students which
included Cary, had said: "We have concealed nothing from you, for we
trust absolutely to your discretion. Remember what you have seen, but
do not make any notes." Yet here at this moment was Cary disregarding
the orders of a Commander-in-Chief whom he worshipped. He tried to
square his conscience by reflecting that no more than three people
knew of the existence of his Notes or of the book which he was writing
from them, and that each one of those three was as trustworthy as
himself. So he went on collating, comparing, writing, and the heap
upon his table grew bigger under his hands.
The clock had just struck twelve upon that morning when a servant
entered and said, "A gentleman to see you, sir, upon important
business. His name is Mr. Dawson."
Cary jumped up and went to his dining-room, where the visitor was
waiting. The name had meant nothing to him, but the instant his eyes
fell upon Mr. Dawson he remembered that he was the chief Scotland Yard
officer who had come north to teach the local police how to keep track
of the German agents who infested the shipbuilding centres. Cary had
met Dawson more than once, and had assisted him with his intimate
local knowledge. He greeted his visitor with smiling courtesy, but
Dawson did not smile. His first words, indeed, came like shots from an
"Mr. Cary," said he, "I want to see your Naval Notes."
Cary was staggered, for the three people whom I have mentioned did not
include Mr. Dawson. "Certainly," said he, "I will show them to you if
you ask officially. But how in the world did you hear anything about
"I am afraid that a good many people know about them, most undesirable
people too. If you will show them to me—I am asking officially—I
will tell you what I know."
Cary led the way to his study. Dawson glanced round the room, at the
papers heaped upon the table, at the tall windows bare of
curtains—Cary, who loved light and sunshine, hated curtains—and
growled. Then he locked the door, pulled down the thick blue blinds
required by the East Coast lighting orders, and switched on the
electric lights though it was high noon in May. "That's better," said
he. "You are an absolutely trustworthy man, Mr. Cary. I know all about
you. But you are damned careless. That bare window is overlooked from
half a dozen flats. You might as well do your work in the street."
Dawson picked up some of the papers, and their purport was explained
to him by Cary. "I don't know anything of naval details," said he,
"but I don't need any evidence of the value of the stuff here. The
enemy wants it, wants it badly; that is good enough for me."
"But," remonstrated Cary, "no one knows of these papers, or of the use
to which I am putting them, except my son in the Navy, my wife (who
has not read a line of them), and my publisher in London."
"Hum!" commented Dawson. "Then how do you account for this?"
He opened his leather despatch-case and drew forth a parcel carefully
wrapped up in brown paper. Within the wrapping was a large white
envelope of the linen woven paper used for registered letters, and
generously sealed. To Cary's surprise, for the envelope appeared to be
secure, Dawson cautiously opened it so as not to break the seal which
was adhering to the flap and drew out a second smaller envelope, also
sealed. This he opened in the same delicate way and took out a third;
from the third he drew a fourth, and so on until eleven empty
envelopes had been added to the litter piled upon Cary's table, and
the twelfth, a small one, remained in Dawson's hands.
"Did you ever see anything so childish?" observed he, indicating the
envelopes. "A big, registered, sealed Chinese puzzle like that is just
crying out to be opened. We would have seen the inside of that one
even if it had been addressed to the Lord Mayor, and not to—well,
someone in whom we are deeply interested, though he does not know it."
Cary, who had been fascinated by the succession of sealed envelopes,
stretched out his hand towards one of them. "Don't touch," snapped out
Dawson. "Your clumsy hands would break the seals, and then there would
be the devil to pay. Of course all these envelopes were first opened
in my office. It takes a dozen years to train men to open sealed
envelopes so that neither flap nor seal is broken, and both can be
again secured without showing a sign of disturbance. It is a trade
Dawson's expert fingers then opened the twelfth envelope, and he
produced a letter. "Now, Mr. Cary, if we had not known you and also
known that you were absolutely honest and loyal—though dangerously
simple-minded and careless in the matter of windows—this letter would
have been very awkward indeed for you. It runs: 'Hagan arrives 10.30
p.m. Wednesday to get Cary's Naval Notes. Meet him. Urgent.' Had we
not known you, Mr. Richard Cary might have been asked to explain how
Hagan knew all about his Naval Notes and was so very confident of
being able to get them."
Cary smiled. "I have often felt," said he, "especially in war-time,
that it was most useful to be well known to the police. You may ask me
anything you like, and I will do my best to answer. I confess that I
am aghast at the searchlight of inquiry which has suddenly been turned
upon my humble labours. My son at sea knows nothing of the Notes
except what I have told him in my letters, my wife has not read a line
of them, and my publisher is the last man to talk. I seem to have
suddenly dropped into the middle of a detective story." The poor man
scratched his head and smiled ruefully at the Scotland Yard officer.
"Mr. Cary," said Dawson, "those windows of yours would account for
anything. You have been watched for a long time, and I am perfectly
sure that our friend Hagan and his associates here know precisely in
what drawer of that desk you keep your Naval Papers. Your flat is easy
to enter—I had a look round before coming in to-day—and on Wednesday
night (that is to-morrow) there will be a scientific burglary here and
your Notes will be stolen."
"Oh no they won't," cried Cary. "I will take them down this afternoon
to my office and lock them up in the big safe. It will put me to a lot
of bother, for I shall also have to lock up there the chapters of my
"You newspaper men ought all to be locked up yourselves. You are a
cursed nuisance to honest, hard-worked Scotland Yard men like me. But
you mistake the object of my visit. I want this flat to be entered
to-morrow night, and I want your Naval Papers to be stolen."
For a moment the wild thought came to Cary that this man Dawson—the
chosen of the Yard—was himself a German Secret Service agent, and
must have shown in his eyes some signs of the suspicion, for Dawson
laughed loudly. "No, Mr. Cary, I am not in the Kaiser's pay, nor are
you, though the case against you might be painted pretty black. This
man Hagan is on our string in London, and we want him very badly
indeed. Not to arrest—at least not just yet—but to keep running
round showing us his pals and all their little games. He is an
Irish-American, a very unbenevolent neutral, to whom we want to give a
nice, easy, happy time, so that he can mix himself up thoroughly with
the spy business and wrap a rope many times round his neck. We will
pull on to the end when we have finished with him, but not a minute
too soon. He is too precious to be frightened. Did you ever come
across such an ass"—Dawson contemptuously indicated the pile of
sealed envelopes; "he must have soaked himself in American dime novels
and cinema crime films. He will be of more use to us than a dozen of
our best officers. I feel that I love Hagan, and won't have him
disturbed. When he comes here to-morrow night, he shall be seen, but
not heard. He shall enter this room, lift your Notes, which shall be
in their usual drawer, and shall take them safely away. After that I
rather fancy that we shall enjoy ourselves, and that the salt will
stick very firmly upon Hagan's little tail."
Cary did not at all like this plan; it might offer amusement and
instruction to the police, but seemed to involve himself in an
excessive amount of responsibility. "Will it not be far too risky to
let him take my Notes even if you do shadow him closely afterwards? He
will get them copied and scattered amongst a score of agents, one of
whom may get the information through to Germany. You know your job, of
course, but the risk seems too big for me. After all, they are my
Notes, and I would far sooner burn them now than that the Germans
should see a line of them."
Dawson laughed again. "You are a dear, simple soul, Mr. Cary; it does
one good to meet you. Why on earth do you suppose I came here to-day
if it were not to enlist your help? Hagan is going to take all the
risks; you and I are not looking for any. He is going to steal some
Naval Notes, but they will not be those which lie on this table. I
myself will take charge of those and of the chapters of your most
reprehensible book. You shall prepare, right now, a beautiful new
artistic set of notes calculated to deceive. They must be accurate
where any errors would be spotted, but wickedly false wherever
deception would be good for Fritz's health. I want you to get down to
a real plant. This letter shall be sealed up again in its twelve silly
envelopes and go by registered post to Hagan's correspondent. You
shall have till to-morrow morning to invent all those things which we
want Fritz to believe about the Navy. Make us out to be as rotten as
you plausibly can. Give him some heavy losses to gloat over and to
tempt him out of harbour. Don't overdo it, but mix up your fiction
with enough facts to keep it sweet and make it sound convincing. If
you do your work well—and the Naval authorities here seem to think a
lot of you—Hagan will believe in your Notes, and will try to get them
to his German friends at any cost or risk, which will be exactly what
we want of him. Then, when he has served our purpose, he will find
Dawson accompanied this slow, harmlessly sounding sentence with a grim
and nasty smile. Cary, before whose eyes flashed for a moment the
vision of a chill dawn, cold grey walls, and a silent firing party,
shuddered. It was a dirty task to lay so subtle a trap even for a
dirty Irish-American spy. His honest English soul revolted at the call
upon his brains and knowledge, but common sense told him that in this
way, Dawson's way, he could do his country a very real service. For a
few minutes he mused over the task set to his hand, and then spoke.
"All right. I think that I can put up exactly what you want. The faked
Notes shall be ready when you come to-morrow. I will give the whole
day to them."
In the morning the new set of Naval Papers was ready, and their
purport was explained in detail to Dawson, who chuckled joyously.
"This is exactly what Admiral —— wants, and it shall get through to
Germany by Fritz's own channels. I have misjudged you, Mr. Cary; I
thought you little better than a fool, but that story here of a
collision in a fog and the list of damaged Queen Elizabeths in dock
would have taken in even me. Fritz will suck it down like cream. I
like that effort even better than your grave comments on damaged
turbines and worn-out gun tubes. You are a genius, Mr. Cary, and I
must take you to lunch with the Admiral this very day. You can explain
the plant better than I can, and he is dying to hear all about it. Oh,
by the way, he particularly wants a description of the failure to
complete the latest batch of big shell fuses, and the shortage of
lyddite. You might get that done before the evening. Now for the
burglary. Do nothing, nothing at all, outside your usual routine. Come
home at your usual hour, go to bed as usual, and sleep soundly if you
can. Should you hear any noise in the night, put your head under the
bedclothes. Say nothing to Mrs. Cary unless you are obliged, and for
God's sake don't let any woman—wife, daughter, or maid-servant
—disturb my pearl of a burglar while he is at work. He must have
a clear run, with everything exactly as he expects to find it.
Can I depend upon you?"
"I don't pretend to like the business," said Cary, "but you can depend
upon me to the letter of my orders."
"Good," cried Dawson. "That is all I want."
II. THE TRAP CLOSES
Cary heard no noise, though he lay awake for most of the night,
listening intently. The flat seemed to be more quiet even than usual.
There was little traffic in the street below, and hardly a step broke
the long silence of the night. Early in the morning—at six
B.S.T.—Cary slipped out of bed, stole down to his study, and pulled
open the deep drawer in which he had placed the bundle of faked Naval
Notes. They had gone! So the Spy-Burglar had come, and, carefully
shepherded by Dawson's sleuth-hounds, had found the primrose path easy
for his crime. To Cary, the simple, honest gentleman, the whole plot
seemed to be utterly revolting—justified, of course, by the country's
needs in time of war, but none the less revolting. There is nothing of
glamour in the Secret Service, nothing of romance, little even of
excitement. It is a cold-blooded exercise of wits against wits, of
spies against spies. The amateur plays a fish upon a line and gives
him a fair run for his life, but the professional fisherman—to whom a
salmon is a people's food—nets him coldly and expeditiously as he
comes in from the sea.
Shortly after breakfast there came a call from Dawson on the
telephone. "All goes well. Come to my office as soon as possible."
Cary found Dawson bubbling with professional satisfaction. "It was
beautiful," cried he. "Hagan was met at the train, taken to a place we
know of, and shadowed by us tight as wax. We now know all his
associates—the swine have not even the excuse of being German. He
burgled your flat himself while one of his gang watched outside. Never
mind where I was; you would be surprised if I told you; but I saw
everything. He has the faked papers, is busy making copies, and this
afternoon is going down the river in a steamer to get a glimpse of the
shipyards and docks and check your Notes as far as can be done. Will
they stand all right?"
"Quite all right," said Cary. "The obvious things were given
"Good. We will be in the steamer."
Cary went that afternoon, quite unchanged in appearance by Dawson's
order. "If you try to disguise yourself," declared that expert, "you
will be spotted at once. Leave the refinements to us." Dawson himself
went as an elderly dug-out officer with the rank marks of a colonel,
and never spoke a word to Cary upon the whole trip down and up the
teeming river. Dawson's men were scattered here and there—one a
passenger of inquiring mind, another a deckhand, yet a third—a pretty
girl in khaki—sold tea and cakes in the vessel's saloon. Hagan—who,
Cary heard afterwards, wore the brass-bound cap and blue kit of a mate
in the American merchant service—was never out of sight for an
instant of Dawson or of one of his troupe. He busied himself with a
strong pair of marine glasses, and now and then asked innocent
questions of the ship's deckhands. He had evidently himself once
served as a sailor. One deckhand, an idle fellow to whom Hagan was
very civil, told his questioner quite a lot of interesting details
about the Navy ships, great and small, which could be seen upon the
building slips. All these details tallied strangely with those
recorded in Cary's Notes. The trip up and down the river was a great
success for Hagan and for Dawson, but for Cary it was rather a bore.
He felt somehow out of the picture. In the evening Dawson called at
Cary's office and broke in upon him. "We had a splendid trip to-day,"
said he. "It exceeded my utmost hopes. Hagan thinks no end of your
Notes, but he is not taking any risks. He leaves in the morning for
Glasgow to do the Clyde and to check some more of your stuff. Would
you like to come?" Cary remarked that he was rather busy, and that
these river excursions, though doubtless great fun for Dawson, were
rather poor sport for himself. Dawson laughed joyously—he was a
cheerful soul when he had a spy upon his string. "Come along," said
he. "See the thing through. I should like you to be in at the death."
Cary observed that he had no stomach for cold, damp dawns and firing
"I did not quite mean that," replied Dawson. "Those closing ceremonies
are still strictly private. But you should see the chase through to a
finish. You are a newspaper man, and should be eager for new
"I will come," said Cary, rather reluctantly. "But I warn you that my
sympathies are steadily going over to Hagan. The poor devil does not
look to have a dog's chance against you."
"He hasn't," said Dawson, with great satisfaction.
Cary, to whom the wonderful Clyde was as familiar as the river near
his own home, found the second trip almost as wearisome as the first.
But not quite. He was now able to recognise Hagan, who again appeared
as a brass-bounder, and did not affect to conceal his deep interest in
the naval panorama offered by the river. Nothing of real importance
can, of course, be learned from a casual steamer trip, but Hagan
seemed to think otherwise, for he was always either watching through
his glasses or asking apparently artless questions of passengers or
passing deckhands. Again a sailor seemed disposed to be communicative;
he pointed out more than one monster in steel, red raw with surface
rust, and gave particulars of a completed power which would have
surprised the Admiralty Superintendent. They would not, however, have
surprised Mr. Cary, in whose ingenious brain they had been conceived.
This second trip, like the first, was declared by Dawson to have been
a great success. "Did you know me?" he asked. "I was a clean-shaven
naval doctor, about as unlike the army colonel of the first trip as a
pigeon is unlike a gamecock. Hagan is off to London to-night by the
North-Western. There are two copies of your Notes. One is going by
Edinburgh and the east coast, and another by the Midland. Hagan has
the original masterpiece. I will look after him and leave the two
other messengers to my men. I have been on to the Yard by 'phone, and
have arranged that all three shall have passports for Holland. The two
copies shall reach the Kaiser, bless him, but I really must have
Hagan's set of Notes for my Museum."
"And what will become of Hagan?" asked Cary.
"Come and see," said Mr. Dawson.
Dawson entertained Cary at dinner in a private room at the Station
Hotel, waited upon by one of his own confidential men. "Nobody ever
sees me," he observed, with much satisfaction, "though I am
everywhere." (I suspect that Dawson is not without his little
vanities.) "Except in my office and with people whom I know well, I
am always some one else. The first time I came to your house I wore a
beard, and the second time looked like a gas inspector. You saw only
the real Dawson. When one has got the passion for the chase in one's
blood, one cannot bide for long in a stuffy office. As I have a jewel
of an assistant, I can always escape and follow up my own victims.
This man Hagan is a black heartless devil. Don't waste your sympathy
on him, Mr. Cary. He took money from us quite lately to betray the
silly asses of Sinn Feiners, and now, thinking us hoodwinked, is after
more money from the Kaiser. He is of the type that would sell his own
mother and buy a mistress with the money. He's not worth your pity. We
use him and his like for just so long as they can be useful, and then
the jaws of the trap close. By letting him take those faked Notes we
have done a fine stroke for the Navy, for the Yard, and for Bill
Dawson. We have got into close touch with four new German agents here
and two more down south. We shan't seize them yet; just keep them
hanging on and use them. That's the game. I am never anxious about an
agent when I know him and can keep him watched. Anxious, bless you; I
love him like a cat loves a mouse. I've had some spies on my string
ever since the war began; I wouldn't have them touched or worried for
the world. Their correspondence tells me everything, and if a letter
to Holland which they haven't written slips in sometimes, it's useful,
very useful, as useful almost as your faked Notes."
Half an hour before the night train was due to leave for the South,
Dawson, very simply but effectively changed in appearance—for Hagan
knew by sight the real Dawson—led Cary to the middle sleeping-coach
on the train. "I have had Hagan put in No. 5," he said, "and you and I
will take Nos. 4 and 6. No. 5 is an observation berth; there is one
fixed up for us on this sleeping-coach. Come in here." He pulled Cary
into No. 4, shut the door, and pointed to a small wooden knob set a
few inches below the luggage rack. "If one unscrews that knob one can
see into the next berth, No. 5. No. 6 is fitted in the same way, so
that we can rake No. 5 from both sides. But, mind you, on no account
touch those knobs until the train is moving fast and until you have
switched out the lights. If No. 5 was dark when you opened the
peep-hole, a ray of light from your side would give the show away. And
unless there was a good deal of vibration and rattle in the train you
might be heard. Now cut away to No. 6, fasten the door, and go to bed.
I shall sit up and watch, but there is nothing for you to do."
Hagan appeared in due course, was shown into No. 5 berth, and the
train started. Cary asked himself whether he should go to bed as
advised or sit up reading. He decided to obey Dawson's orders, but to
take a look in upon Hagan before settling down for the journey. He
switched off his lights, climbed upon the bed, and carefully unscrewed
the little knob which was like the one shown to him by Dawson. A beam
of light stabbed the darkness of his berth, and putting his eye with
some difficulty to the hole—one's nose gets so confoundedly in the
way—he saw Hagan comfortably arranging himself for the night. The spy
had no suspicion of his watchers on both sides, for, after settling
himself in bed, he unwrapped a flat parcel and took out a bundle of
blue papers, which Cary at once recognised as the originals of his
stolen Notes. Hagan went through them—he had put his suit-case across
his knees to form a desk—and carefully made marginal jottings. Cary,
who had often tried to write in trains, could not but admire the man's
laborious patience. He painted his letters and figures over and over
again, in order to secure distinctness, in spite of the swaying of the
train, and frequently stopped to suck the point of his pencil.
"I suppose," thought Cary, "that Dawson yonder is just gloating over
his prey, but for my part I feel an utterly contemptible beast. Never
again will I set a trap for even the worst of my fellow-creatures." He
put back the knob, went to bed, and passed half the night in extreme
mental discomfort and the other half in snatching brief intervals of
sleep. It was not a pleasant journey.
Dawson did not come out of his berth at Euston until after Hagan had
left the station in a taxi-cab, much to Cary's surprise, and then was
quite ready, even anxious, to remain for breakfast at the hotel. He
explained his strange conduct. "Two of my men," said he, as he
wallowed in tea and fried soles—one cannot get Dover soles in the
weary North—"who travelled in ordinary compartments, are after Hagan
in two taxis, so that if one is delayed, the other will keep touch.
Hagan's driver also has had a police warning, so that our spy is in a
barbed-wire net. I shall hear before very long all about him."
Cary and Dawson spent the morning at the hotel with a telephone beside
them; every few minutes the bell would ring, and a whisper of Hagan's
movements steal over the wires into the ears of the spider Dawson. He
reported progress to Cary with ever-increasing satisfaction.
"Hagan has applied for and been granted a passport to Holland, and has
booked a passage in the boat which leaves Harwich to-night for the
Hook. We will go with him. The other two spies, with the copies,
haven't turned up yet, but they are all right. My men will see them
safe across into Dutch territory, and make sure that no blundering
Customs officer interferes with their papers. This time the way of
transgressors shall be very soft. As for Hagan, he is not going to
"I don't quite understand why you carry on so long with him," said
Cary, who, though tired, could not but feel intense interest in the
perfection of the police system and in the serene confidence of
Dawson. The Yard could, it appeared, do unto the spies precisely what
Dawson chose to direct.
"Hagan is an American citizen," explained Dawson. "If he had been a
British subject I would have taken him at Euston—we have full
evidence of the burglary, and of the stolen papers in his suit-case.
But as he is a damned unbenevolent neutral we must prove his intention
to sell the papers to Germany. Then we can deal with him by secret
court-martial. The journey to Holland will prove this intention.
Hagan has been most useful to us in Ireland, and now in the North of
England and in Scotland, but he is too enterprising and too daring to
be left any longer on the string. I will draw the ends together at the
[Footnote 1: Author's Note: This conversation is dated May, 1916.]
"I did not want to go to Holland," said Cary to me, when telling his
story. "I was utterly sick and disgusted with the whole cold-blooded
game of cat and mouse, but the police needed my evidence about the
Notes and the burglary, and did not intend to let me slip out of their
clutches. Dawson was very civil and pleasant, but I was in fact as
tightly held upon his string as was the wretched Hagan. So I went on
to Holland with that quick-change artist, and watched him come on
board the steamer at Parkeston Quay, dressed as a rather
German-looking commercial traveller, eager for war commissions upon
smuggled goods. This sounds absurd, but his get-up seemed somehow to
suggest the idea. Then I went below. Dawson always kept away from me
whenever Hagan might have seen us together."
The passage across to Holland was free from incident; there was no
sign that we were at war, and Continental traffic was being carried
serenely on, within easy striking distance of the German submarine
base at Zeebrugge. The steamer had drawn in to the Hook beside the
train, and Hagan was approaching the gangway, suit-case in hand. The
man was on the edge of safety; once upon Dutch soil, Dawson could not
have laid hands upon him. He would have been a neutral citizen in a
neutral country, and no English warrant would run against him. But
between Hagan and the gangway suddenly interposed the tall form of the
ship's captain; instantly the man was ringed about by officers, and
before he could say a word or move a hand he was gripped hard and led
across the deck to the steamer's chart-house. Therein sat Dawson, the
real, undisguised Dawson, and beside him sat Richard Cary. Hagan's
face, which two minutes earlier had been glowing with triumph and with
the anticipation of German gold beyond the dreams of avarice, went
white as chalk. He staggered and gasped as one stabbed to the heart,
and dropped into a chair. His suit-case fell from his relaxed fingers
to the floor.
"Give him a stiff brandy-and-soda," directed Dawson, almost kindly,
and when the victim's colour had ebbed back a little from his
overcharged heart, and he had drunk deep of the friendly cordial, the
detective put him out of pain. The game of cat and mouse was over.
"It is all up, Hagan," said the detective gently. "Face the music and
make the best of it, my poor friend. This is Mr. Richard Cary, and you
have not for a moment been out of our sight since you left London for
the North four days ago."
When I had completed the writing of his story I showed the MS. to
Richard Cary, who was pleased to express a general approval. "Not at
all bad, Copplestone," said he, "not at all bad. You have clothed my
dry bones in real flesh and blood. But you have missed what to me is
the outstanding feature of the whole affair, that which justifies to
my mind the whole rather grubby business. Let me give you two dates.
On May 25 two copies of my faked Notes were shepherded through to
Holland and reached the Germans; on May 31 was fought the Battle of
Jutland. Can the brief space between these dates have been merely an
accident? I cannot believe it. No, I prefer to believe that in my
humble way I induced the German Fleet to issue forth and to risk an
action which, under more favourable conditions for us, would have
resulted in their utter destruction. I may be wrong, but I am happy in
retaining my faith."
"What became of Hagan?" I asked, for I wished to bring the narrative
to a clean artistic finish.
"I am not sure," answered Cary, "though I gave evidence as ordered by
the court-martial. But I rather think that I have here Hagan's
epitaph." He took out his pocket-book, and drew forth a slip of paper
upon which was gummed a brief newspaper cutting. This he handed to me,
and I read as follows:
"The War Office announces that a prisoner who was charged
with espionage and recently tried by court-martial at the
Westminster Guildhall was found guilty and sentenced to
death. The sentence was duly confirmed and carried out
* * * * *
Two months passed. Summer, what little there was of it, had gone, and
my spirits were oppressed by the wet and fog and dirt of November in
the North. I desired neither to write nor to read. My one overpowering
longing was to go to sleep until the war was over and then to awake in
a new world in which a decent civilised life would once more be
In this unhappy mood I was seated before my study fire when a servant
brought me a card. "A gentleman," said she, "wishes to see you. I said
that you were engaged, but he insisted. He's a terrible man, sir."
I looked at the card, annoyed at being disturbed; but at the sight of
it my torpor fell from me, for upon it was written the name of that
detective officer whom in my story I had called William Dawson, and in
the corner were the letters "C.I.D." (Criminal Investigation
Department). I had become a criminal, and was about to be
AT CLOSE QUARTERS
Dawson entered, and we stood eyeing one another like two strange dogs.
Neither spoke for some seconds, and then, recollecting that I was a
host in the presence of a visitor, I extended a hand, offered a chair,
and snapped open a cigarette case. Dawson seated himself and took a
cigarette. I breathed more freely. He could not design my immediate
arrest, or he would not have accepted of even so slight a hospitality.
We sat upon opposite sides of the fire, Dawson saying nothing, but
watching me in that unwinking cat-like way of his which I find so
exasperating. Many times during my association with Dawson I have
longed to spring upon him and beat his head against the floor—just to
show that I am not a mouse. If his silence were intended to make me
uncomfortable, I would give him evidence of my perfect composure.
"How did you find me out?" I asked calmly.
His start of surprise gratified me, and I saw a puzzled look come into
his eyes. "Find out what?" he muttered.
"How did you find out that I wrote a story about you?"
"Oh, that?" He grinned. "That was not difficult, Mr.—er—Copplestone.
I asked Mr.—er—Richard Cary for your real name and address, and he
had to give them to me. I was considering whether I should prosecute
both him and you."
"No doubt you bullied Cary," I said, "but you don't alarm me in the
least. I had taken precautions, and you would have found your way
barred if you had tried to touch either of us."
"It is possible," snapped Dawson. "I should like to lock up all you
writing people—you are an infernal nuisance—but you seem to have a
pull with the politicians."
We were getting on capitally: the first round was in my favour, and I
saw another opportunity of showing my easy unconcern of his powers.
"Oh no, Mr.—er—William Dawson. You would not lock us up, even if all
the authority in the State were vested in the soldiers and the police.
For who would then write of your exploits and pour upon your heads the
bright light of fame? The public knows nothing of Mr. ——" (I held up
his card), "but quite a lot of people have heard of William Dawson."
"They have," assented he, with obvious satisfaction. "I sent a copy of
the story to my Chief—just to put myself straight with him. I said
that it was all quite unauthorised, and that I would have stopped it
if I could."
"Oh no, you wouldn't. Don't talk humbug, Mr. William Dawson. During
the past two months you have pranced along the streets with your head
in the clouds. And in your own home Mrs. Dawson and the little
Dawsons—if there are any—have worshipped you as a god. There is
nothing so flattering as the sight of oneself in solid black print
upon nice white paper. Confess, now. Are you not at this moment
carrying a copy of that story of mine in your breast pocket next your
heart, and don't you flourish it before your colleagues and rivals
about six times, a day?"
Alone among mortal men I have seen a hardened detective blush.
"Throw away that cigarette," said I, "and take a cigar." I felt
Our relations were now established upon a basis satisfactory to me. I
had no inkling of the purpose of this visit, but he had lost the
advantage of mysterious attack. He had revealed human weakness and had
ceased for the moment to dominate me as a terrible engine of the law.
But I had heard too much of Dawson from Cary to be under any illusion.
He could be chaffed, even made ridiculous, without much difficulty,
but no one, however adroit, could divert him by an inch from his
professional purpose. He could joke with a victim and drink his health
and then walk him off, arm in arm, to the gallows.
"Now, Mr. Dawson," said I. "Perhaps you will tell me to what happy
circumstance I owe the honour of this visit?"
He had been chuckling over certain rich details in the Hagan
chase—with an eye, no doubt, to future enlarged editions—but these
words of mine pulled him up short. Instantly he became grave, drew
some papers from his pocket, and addressed himself to business.
"I have come to you, Mr. Copplestone, as I did to your friend Mr.
Cary, for information and assistance, and I have been advised by those
who know you here to be perfectly frank. You are not at present an
object of suspicion to the local police, who assure me, that though
you are known to have access to much secret information, yet that you
have never made any wrongful use of it. You have, moreover, been of
great assistance on many occasions both to the military and naval
authorities. Therefore, though my instinct would be to lock you up
most securely, I am told that I mustn't do it."
"You are very frank," said I. "But I bear no malice. Ask me what you
please, and I will do my best to answer fully."
"I ought to warn you," said he, with obvious reluctance, "that
anything which you say may, at some future time, be used in evidence
"I will take the risk, Mr. Dawson," cried I, laughing. "You have done
your duty in warning me, and you are so plainly hopeful that I shall
incriminate myself that it would be cruel to disappoint you. Let us
get on with the inquisition."
"You are aware, Mr. Copplestone, that a most important part of my work
consists in stopping the channels through which information of what is
going on in our shipyards and munition shops may get through to the
enemy. We can't prevent his agents from getting information—that is
always possible to those with unlimited command of money, for there
are always swine among workmen, and among higher folk than workmen,
who can be bought. You may take it as certain that little of
importance is done or projected in this country of which enemy agents
do not know. But their difficulty is to get it through to their
paymasters, within the limit of time during which the information is
useful. There are scores of possible channels, and it is up to us to
watch them all. You have already shown some grasp of our methods,
which in a sentence may be described as unsleeping vigilance. Once we
know the identity of an enemy agent, he ceases to be of any use to the
enemy, but becomes of the greatest value to us. Our motto is: Ab hoste
doceri." He pronounced the infinitive verb as if it rhymed with
"You are quite a scholar, Mr. Dawson," remarked I politely.
"Yes," said he, simply. "I had a good schooling. I need not go into
details," he went on, "of how we watch the correspondence of suspected
persons, but you may be interested to learn that during the three
weeks which I have passed in your city all your private letters have
been through my hands."
"The devil they have," I cried angrily. "You exceed your powers. This
is really intolerable."
"Oh, you need not worry," replied Dawson serenely. "Your letters were
quite innocent. I am gratified to learn that your two sons in the
Service are happy and doing well, and that you contemplate the
publication of another book."
It was impossible not to laugh at the man's effrontery, though I felt
exasperated at his inquisitiveness. After all, there are things in
private letters which one does not wish a stranger, and a police
officer, to read.
"And how long is this outrage to continue?" I asked crossly.
"That depends upon you. As soon as I am satisfied that you are as
trustworthy as the local police and other authorities believe you to
be, your correspondence will pass untouched. It is of no use for you
to fume or try to kick up a fuss in London. Scotland Yard would open
the Home Secretary's letters if it had any cause to feel doubtful of
"You cannot feel much suspicion of me or you would not tell me what
you have been doing."
"You might have thought of that at once," said Dawson derisively.
I shook myself and conceded the round to Dawson.
"It has been plain to us for a long time that the food parcels
despatched by relatives and 'god-mothers' of British prisoners in
Germany were a possible source of danger, and at last it has been
decided to stop them and to keep the despatch of food in the hands of
official organisations. Since there are now some 30,000 of military
prisoners, in addition to interned civilians at Ruhleben, the number
and complexity of the parcels have made it most difficult for a
thorough examination to be kept up. We have done our utmost, but have
been conscious that there has existed in them a channel through which
have passed communications from enemy agents to enemy employers."
"I can see the possibility, but a practical method of communication
looks difficult. How was it done?"
"In the most absurdly simple way. Real ingenuity is always simple. I
will give you an example. An English prisoner in Germany has, we will
suppose, parents in Newcastle, by whom food has been sent out
regularly. He dies in captivity, and in due course his relatives are
notified through the International Headquarters of the Red Cross in
Geneva. He is crossed off the Newcastle lists, and his parents, of
course, stop sending parcels. Now suppose that some one in Birmingham
begins to send parcels addressed to this lately deceased prisoner, his
name, unless Birmingham is very vigilant, will get upon the lists
there as that of a new live prisoner. The parcels addressed to this
name will go straight into the hands of the German Secret Service, and
a channel of communication will have been opened up between some one
in Birmingham and the enemy in Germany. Prisoners are frequently
dying, new prisoners are frequently being taken. Under a haphazard
system of individual parcels, despatched from all over the British
Isles, it has been practically impossible to keep track of all the
changes. For this, and other good reasons, we have had to make a clean
sweep and to take over the feeding of British prisoners by means of a
regular organisation which can ensure that nothing is sent with the
food which will be of any assistance to the enemy."
"That is a good job done," I observed. "Have you evidence that what is
possible has in fact been done?"
"We have," said Dawson. "Not many cases, perhaps, but sufficient to
show the existence of a very real danger. It is, indeed, one
particular instance of direct communication which has brought me to
you to-day. Orders were given not long since that all new cases, that
is, all parcels addressed to prisoners whose names were new to local
lists, should be opened and carefully examined. Some six or seven
weeks ago parcels began to be sent from this city addressed to a
lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers. There was nothing
remarkable in that, for though we are some distance here from
Northumberland, young officers are gazetted to regiments which need
them irrespective of the part of the country to which the officers
themselves belong. In accordance with the new orders all the parcels
for this lieutenant—which usually consisted of bread, chocolate, and
tins of sardines—were examined. The bread was cut up, the chocolate
broken to pieces, and the tins opened. If the parcel contained nothing
contraband, fresh supplies of bread, chocolate and sardines to take
the place of those destroyed in examination were put in, and the
parcel forwarded. For the first two weeks nothing was found, but in
the third parcel, buried in one of the loaves, was discovered a
cutting from an evening newspaper which at first sight seemed quite
innocent. But a microscopic search revealed tiny needle pricks in
certain words, and the words, thus indicated, read when taken by
themselves the sentence, 'Important naval news follows.' At this stage
I was sent for. My first step was to inquire very closely into the
antecedents of this lieutenant of Northumberland Fusiliers. I found
that his friends lived at Morpeth, that he had been taken prisoner
during the Loos advance of September 1915, and that he had died about
a year later of typhoid fever in a German camp. His friends, as soon
as they had been informed, of the death, had stopped sending parcels
of food out to him. They were not told the object of the inquiries. It
would have caused them needless pain. It was bad enough that their
only son had died far from home in a filthy German prison."
Dawson's rather metallic voice became almost sympathetic, and I was
pleased to observe that his harsh profession had not destroyed in him
all human feeling.
"After this you may suppose that the parcels addressed to our poor
friend the late lieutenant were very eagerly looked for. The alleged
sender, whose name and residence were written upon the labels, was
found not to exist. Both name and address were false. It was a hot
scent, and I was delighted, after a week of waiting, to see another
parcel come in. This would, in all probability, contain the 'important
naval news,' and I took its examination upon myself. I reduced the
bread and the chocolate to powder without finding anything."
"Excuse me," I cried, intensely interested, "but how could one conceal
a paper in bread or in chocolate without leaving external traces?"
"There is no difficulty. The loaves were of the kind which have soft
ends. One cuts a deep slit, inserts the paper, closes up the cut with
a little fresh dough, and rebakes the loaf for a short time, till all
signs of the cut have disappeared. The chocolate was in eggs, not in
bars. The oval lumps can be cut open, scooped out, a paper put in, and
the two halves joined up and the cut concealed by means of a strong
mixture of chocolate paste and white of egg. When thoroughly dried in
a warm place, chocolate thus treated will stand very close scrutiny. I
did not trouble to look for signs of disturbance in either loaves or
eggs; it was quicker and easier to break them up. I then addressed my
attention to the sardine tins, which from the first had seemed the
most likely hiding-places. A very moderately skilled mechanic can
unsolder a tin, empty out the fish and oil, put in what he pleases in
place, weight judiciously, and then refasten with fresh solder. I
opened all the tins, found that all except one had been undisturbed,
but that one was a blissful reward for all my trouble, for in it was a
tightly packed mass of glazier's putty, soft and heavy, and at the
bottom the carefully folded paper which I have now the honour of
showing to you."
Dawson handed me a stiff piece of paper, slimy to the touch and
smelling strongly of white lead. Upon it were two neatly made drawings
and some lines of words and figures. "It is just what I should have
expected," said I.
"You recognise it?"
"Of course," said I. "We have here a deck plan showing the disposition
of guns, and a section plan showing arrangement of armour, of one of
the big new ships which has been completed for the Grand Fleet. Below
we have the number and calibre of the guns, the thickness and extent
of the armour, the length, breadth, and depth of the vessel, her
tonnage, her horse power, and her estimated speed. Everything is
correct except the speed, which I happen to know is considerably
greater than the figure set down."
"You have not by any chance seen that paper before?" asked Dawson,
with rather a forced air of indifference.
"This? No. Why?"
"I was curious, that's all." He looked at me with a queer, quizzical
expression, and then laughed softly. "You will understand my question
directly, but for the moment let us get on. What sort of person should
you say made those drawings and wrote that description?"
I am no Sherlock Holmes; but any one who has had some acquaintance
with engineers and their handiwork can recognise the professional
"These drawings are the work of a trained draughtsman, and the writing
is that of a draughtsman. One can tell by the neatness and the
technique of the shading."
"Right first time," said Dawson approvingly. "At present I have that
draughtsman comfortably locked up; we picked him out of the drawing
office at ——" he named a famous yard in which had been built one of
the ships of the class illustrated upon the paper in my hands.
"Poor devil," I said. "What is the cause—drink, women, or the
pressure of high prices and a large family?"
"None of them. His employers give him the best of characters, he gets
good pay, is a man over military age, and has, so far as the police
can learn, no special embarrassments. He owns his house, and has two
or three hundred pounds in the War Loan."
"Then why in the name of wonder has the schweinehund sold his
"He declares that he never received a penny for supplying the
information upon that paper, and we have no evidence of any outside
payments to him. He did not attempt to conceal his handwriting, and
when I made inquiries of his firm, he owned up at once that the paper
was his work. He said that for years past he had given particulars of
ships under construction to the same parties as on this occasion. He
admitted that to do so was contrary to regulations, especially in
wartime, but thought that under the circumstances he was doing no
harm. I am not exactly a credulous person, and I have heard some tall
stories in my time, but for once I am inclined to believe that the man
is speaking the truth. I believe that he received no money, and was
acting throughout in good faith."
"I am more and more puzzled. What in the world can the circumstances
be which could induce an experienced middle-aged man, employed in
highly confidential work in a great shipyard, not only to break faith
and lose his job, but to stick his neck into a rope and his feet on
the drop of a gallows. Reveal the mystery."
"You are sure that you have never seen that paper before?" asked
Dawson again, this time slowly and deliberately.
"Of course not!" I said. "How could I?"
"That is just what I have to find out," said Dawson. He stopped, took
out a knife, prodded his nearly smoked cigar, puffed once or twice
hard to restore the draught, and spoke. "That is what interests me
just now. For, you see, this very indiscreet and reprehensible
swinehound of a draughtsman, who is at present in my lockup, declares
that he was without suspicion of serious wrong-doing, because
—because—the particulars of the new battleship upon that paper
were supplied to YOU."
Perhaps I ought to have seen it coming, but I didn't. For a moment, as
a washerwoman might say, I was struck all of a heap. Then the
delicious thought that I—by nature a vagabond, though by decree of
the High Gods the father of a family and a Justice of the Peace—had
to face the charge of being a German spy shook my soul with ribald
laughter. I had been dull and torpid before the arrival of Dawson; he
had awakened me into joyous life. I arose, filled and lighted a large
calabash pipe, and passed a box of cigars to the detective. "Throw
that stump away and take another," said I. "I owe you more than a
cigar or two." He stared at me, took what I offered, and his face
relaxed into a grin. "It is pleasant to see that you are a man of
humour, Mr. Dawson," I observed, when we were again seated comfortably
on opposite sides of the fire. "In my day I have played many parts,
but I cannot somehow recall the incident of unsoldering a sardine tin,
inserting a paper packed in a mess of putty, soldering it up, and
despatching the incriminating product within a parcel addressed to a
late lieutenant of Northumberland Fusiliers. I am not denying the
charge; the whole affair is too delightful to be cut short. Let us
spin it out delicately like children over plates of sweet pudding."
"You are a queer customer, Mr. Copplestone. I confess that the whole
business puzzles me, though you and your friends here seem to find it
devilish amusing. When I told the Chief Constable, the manager of the
shipyard, and the Admiral Superintendent of Naval Work that you were
the guilty party, they all roared. For some reason the Admiral and the
shipyard manager kept winking at one another and gurgling till I
thought they would have choked. What is the joke?"
"If you are good, Dawson, I will tell you some day. This is November,
and the Rampagious—the ship described on your paper—left for
Portsmouth in August. In July—" I broke off hurriedly, lest I should
tell my visitor too much. "It has taken our friend who put the paper
in the sardine tin three months to find out details of her. I could
have done better than that, Dawson."
"That is just what the Admiral said, though he wouldn't explain why."
"The truth is, Dawson, that the Admiral and I both come from Devon,
the land of pirates, smugglers, and buccaneers. We are law breakers by
instinct and family tradition. When we get an officer of the law on
toast, we like to make the most of him. It is a playful little way of
ours which I am sure you will understand and pardon."
"You know, of course, that I am justified in arresting you. I have a
warrant and handcuffs in my pocket."
"Admirable man!" I cried, with enthusiasm. "You are, Dawson, the
perfect detective. As a criminal I should be mightily afraid of you.
But, as in my buttonhole I always wear the white flower which
proclaims to the world my blameless life, I am thoroughly enjoying
this visit and our cosy chat beside the fire. Shall I telephone to my
office and say that I shall be unavoidably detained from duty for an
indefinite time? 'Detained' would be the strict truth and the mot
juste. If you would kindly lock me up, say, for three years or the
duration of the war I should be your debtor. I have often thought that
a prison, provided that one were allowed unlimited paper and the use
of a typewriter, would be the most charming of holidays—a perfect
rest cure. There are three books in my head which I should like to
write. Arrest me, Dawson, I implore you! Put on the handcuffs—I have
never been handcuffed—ring up a taxi, and let us be off to jail. You
will, I hope, do me the honour of lunching with me first and meeting
my wife. She will be immensely gratified to be quit of me. It cannot
often have happened in your lurid career, Dawson, to be welcomed with
"Why did that man say that he prepared the description of the ship for
"That is what we are going to find out, and I will help you all I can.
My reputation is like the bloom upon the peach—touch it, and it is
gone for ever. There is a faint glimmer of the truth at the back of my
mind which may become a clear light. Did he say that he had given it
to me personally, into my own hand?"
"No. He said that he was approached by a man whom he had known off and
on for years, a man who was employed by you in connection with
shipyard inquiries. He was informed that this man was still employed
by you for the same purpose now as in the past."
"Your case against me is thinning out, Dawson. At its best it is
second-hand; at its worst, the mere conjecture of a rather careless
draughtsman. I have two things to do: first to find out the real
seducer, who is probably also the despatcher of the parcels to the
late lieutenant of Northumberland Fusiliers, and second, to save if I
can this poor fool of a shipyard draughtsman from punishment for his
folly. I don't doubt that he honestly thought he was dealing with me."
"He will have to be punished. The Admiral will insist upon that."
"We must make the punishment as light as we can. You shall help me
with all the discretionary authority with which you are equipped. I
can see, Dawson, from the tactful skill with which you have dealt with
me that discretion is among your most distinguished characteristics.
If you had been a stupid, bull-headed policeman, you would have been
up against pretty serious trouble."
"That was quite my own view," replied Dawson drily.
"Who is the man described by our erring draughtsman?"
"He won't say. We have put on every allowable method of pressure, and
some that are not in ordinary times permitted. We have had over this
spy hunt business to shed most of our tender English regard for
suspected persons, and to adopt the French system of fishing
inquiries. In France the police try to make a man incriminate himself;
in England we try our hardest to prevent him. That may be very right
and just in peace time against ordinary law breakers; but war is war,
and spies are too dangerous to be treated tenderly. We have
cross-examined the man, and bully-ragged him, but he won't give up the
name of his accomplice. It may be a relation. One thing seems sure.
The man is, or was, a member of your staff, engaged in shipyard
inquiries. Can you give me a list of the men who are or have been on
this sort of work during the past few years?"
"I will get it for you. But please use it carefully. My present men
are precious jewels, the few left to me by zealous military
authorities. What I must look for is some one over military age who
has left me or been dismissed—probably dismissed. When a British
subject, of decent education and once respectable surroundings, gets
into the hands of German agents, you may be certain of one thing,
Dawson, that he has become a rotter through drink."
"That's it," cried Dawson. "You have hit it. Crime and drink are twin
brothers as no one knows better than the police. Look out for the name
and address of a man dismissed for drunkenness and we shall have our
"The name I can no doubt give you, but not the address."
"Give us any address where he lived, even if it were ten years ago,
and we will track him down in three days. That is just routine police
"I never presume to teach an expert his business—and you, Dawson, are
a super-expert, a director-general of those of common qualities—but
would it not be well to warn all the Post Offices, so that when
another parcel is brought in addressed to the lieutenant the bearer
may be arrested?"
Dawson sniffed. "Police work; common police work. It was done at once
for this city and fifty miles round. No parcel was put in last week.
The warning has since been extended to the whole of the United
Kingdom. We may get our man this week, or at least a messenger of his,
but no news has yet come to me. I will lunch with you, as you so
kindly suggest, and afterwards I want you to come with me to see the
draughtsman in the lockup. You may be able to shake his confounded
obstinacy. Run the pathetic stunt. Say if he keeps silent that you
will be arrested, your home broken up, your family driven into the
workhouse, and you yourself probably shot. Pitch it strong and rich.
He is a bit of a softy from the look of him. That tender-hearted lot
are always the most obstinate when asked to give away their pals."
"Do you know, Dawson," I said, as he went upstairs with me to have a
lick and a polish, as he put it—"I am inclined to agree with Cary
that you are rather an inhuman beast."
My wife, with whom I could exchange no more than a dozen words and a
wink or two, gripped the situation and played up to it in the fashion
which compels the admiration and terror of mere men. Do they humbug
us, their husbands, as they do the rest of the world on our behalf?
She met Dawson as if he were an old family friend, heaped hospitality
upon him, and chaffed him blandly as if to entertain a police officer
with a warrant and handcuffs in his pocket were the best joke in the
world. "My husband, Mr. Dawson, needs a holiday very badly, but won't
take one. He thinks that the war cannot be pursued successfully unless
he looks after it himself. If you would carry him off and keep him
quiet for a bit, I should be deeply grateful." She then fell into a
discussion with Dawson of the most conveniently situated prisons. Mrs.
Copplestone dismissed Dartmoor and Portland as too bleakly situated,
but was pleased to approve of Parkhurst in the Isle of Wight—which I
rather fancy is a House of Detention for women. She insisted that the
climate of the Island was suited to my health, and wrung a promise
from Dawson that I should, if possible, be interned there. Dawson's
manners and conversation surprised me. His homespun origin was
evident, yet he had developed an easy social style which was neither
familiar nor aggressive. We were in his eyes eccentrics, possibly what
he would call among his friends "a bit off," and he bore himself
towards us accordingly. My small daughter, Jane, to whom he had been
presented as a colonel of police—little Jane is deeply versed in
military ranks—took to him at once, and his manner towards her
confirmed my impression that some vestiges of humanity may still be
discovered in him by the patient searcher. She insisted upon sitting
next to him and in holding his hand when it was not employed in
conveying food to his mouth. She was startled at first by the
discussion upon the prisons most suitable for me, but quickly became
reconciled to the idea of a temporary separation.
"Colonel Dawson," she asked. "When daddy is in prison, may I come and
see him sometimes. Mother and me?" Dawson gripped his hair—we were
the maddest crew!—and replied. "Of course you shall, Miss Jane, as
often as you like."
"Thank you, Colonel Dawson; you are a nice man. I love you. Now show
me the handcuffs in your pocket."
For the second time that day poor Dawson blushed. He must have
regretted many times that he had mentioned to me those unfortunate
darbies. Now amid much laughter he was compelled to draw forth a
pretty shining pair of steel wristlets and permit Jane to put them on.
They were much too large for her; she could slip them on and off
without unlocking; but as toys they were a delight. "I shouldn't mind
being a prisoner," she declared, "if dear Colonel Dawson took me up."
We were sitting upon the fire-guard after luncheon, dallying over our
coffee, when Jane demanded to be shown a real arrest. "Show me how you
take up a great big man like Daddy."
Then came a surprise, which for a moment had so much in it of bitter
realism that it drove the blood from my wife's cheeks. I could not
follow Dawson's movements; his hands flickered like those of a
conjurer, there came a sharp click, and the handcuffs were upon my
wrists! I stared at them speechless, wondering how they got there,
and, looking up, met the coldly triumphant eyes of the detective. I
realised then exactly how the professional manhunter glares at the
prey into whom, after many days, he has set his claws. My wife gasped
and clutched at my elbow, little Jane screamed, and for a few seconds
even I thought that the game had been played and that serious business
was about to begin. Dawson gave us a few seconds of apprehension, and
then laughed grimly. From his waistcoat pocket he drew a key, and the
fetters were removed almost as quickly as they had been clapped on.
"Tit for tat," said he. "You have had your fun with me. Fair play is a
Little Jane was the first to recover speech. "I knew that dear Colonel
Dawson was only playing," she cried. "He only did it to please me.
Thank you, Colonel, though you did frighten me just a weeny bit at
first." And pulling him down towards her she kissed him heartily upon
his prickly cheek. It was a queer scene.
The door bell rang loudly, and we were informed that a policeman stood
without who was inquiring for Chief Inspector Dawson. "Show him in
here," said I. The constable entered, and his manner of addressing my
guest—that of a raw second lieutenant towards a general of
division—shed a new light upon Dawson's pre-eminence in his Service.
"A telegram for you, sir." Dawson seized it, was about to tear it
open, remembered suddenly his hostess, and bowed towards her. "Have I
your permission, madam?" he asked. She smiled and nodded; I turned
away to conceal a laugh. "Good," cried Dawson, poring over the
message. "I think, Mr. Copplestone, that you had better telephone to
your office and say that you are unavoidably detained."
"What—what is it?" cried my wife, who had again become white with
"Something which will occupy the attention of your husband and myself
to the exclusion of all other duties. This telegram informs me that a
parcel has been handed in at Carlisle and the bearer arrested."
"Excellent!" I cried. "My time is at your disposal, Dawson. We shall
now get full light."
He sat down and scribbled a reply wire directing the parcel and its
bearer to be brought to him with all speed. "They should arrive in two
or three hours," said he, "and in the meantime we will tackle the
draughtsman who made that plan of the battleship. Good-bye Mrs.
Copplestone, and thank you very much for your hospitality. Your
husband goes with me." My wife shook hands with Dawson, and politely
saw him off the premises. She has said little to me since about his
visit, but I do not think that she wishes ever to meet with him again.
Little Jane, who kissed him once more at parting, is still attached to
the memory of her colonel.
* * * * *
Dawson led me to the private office at the Central Police Station,
which was his temporary headquarters, and sent for the dossier of the
locked up draughtsman. "I have here full particulars of him," said he,
"and a verbatim note of my examination." I examined the photograph
attached, which represented a bearded citizen of harmless aspect; over
his features had spread a scared, puzzled look, with a suggestion in
it of pathetic appeal. He looked like a human rabbit caught in an
unexpected and uncomprehended trap. It was a police photograph. Then I
began to read the dossier, but got no farther than the first
paragraph. In it was set out the man's name, those of his wife and
children, his employment, record of service, and so on. What arrested
my researches was the maiden name of the wife, which, in accordance
with the northern custom, had been entered as a part of her legal
description. The name awoke in me a recollection of a painful incident
within my experience. I saw before me the puffed, degraded face of one
to whom I had given chance after chance of redeeming himself from
thraldom to the whisky bottle, one who had promised again and again to
amend his ways. At last, wearied, I had cast him out. He had been
looking after an important shipbuilding district, had conspicuous
ability and knowledge, the support of a faithful wife. But nothing
availed to save him from himself. "Give me five minutes alone with
your prisoner," I said to Dawson, "and I will give you the spy you
I had asked for five minutes, but two were sufficient for my purpose.
The draughtsman had been obstinate with Dawson, seeking loyally to
shield his wretched brother-in-law, but when he found that I had the
missing thread in my hands, he gave in at once. "What relation is ——
to your wife?" I asked. He had risen at my entrance, but the question
went through him like a bullet; his pale face flushed, he staggered
pitifully, and, sitting down, buried his face in his hands. "You may
tell the truth now," I said gently. "We can easily find out what we
must know, but the information will come better from you."
"He is my wife's brother," murmured the man.
"You knew that he was no longer in my service?"
"Yes, I knew."
I might fairly have asked why he had used my name, but refrained. One
can readily pardon the lapses of an honest man, terrified at finding
himself in the coils of the police, clinging to the good name of his
wife and her family, clutching at any device to throw the
sleuth-hounds of the law off the real scent. He had given his
brother-in-law forbidden information from a loyal desire to help him
and with no knowledge of the base use to which it would be put. When
detected, he had sought at any cost to shield him.
"I will do my best to help you," I said.
His head drooped down till it rested upon his bent arms, and he
groaned and panted under the torture of tears. His was not the stuff
of which criminals are made.
I found Dawson's chuckling joy rather repulsive. I felt that, being
successful, he might at least have had the decency to dissemble his
satisfaction. He might also have given me some credit for the rapid
clearing up of the problem in detection. But he took the whole thing
to himself, and gloated like a child over his own cleverness. I
neither obtained from him thanks for my assistance nor apologies for
his suspicions. It was Dawson, Dawson, all the time. Yet I found his
egotism and unrelieved vanity extraordinarily interesting. As we sat
together in his room waiting for the Carlisle train to come in he
discoursed freely to me of his triumphs in detection, his wide-spread
system of spying upon spies, his long delayed "sport" with some, and
his ruthless rapid trapping of others. Men are never so interesting as
when they talk shop, and as a talker of shop Dawson was sublime.
"If," said Dawson, as the time approached for the closing scene, "our
much-wanted friend has himself handed in the parcel at Carlisle—he
would be afraid to trust an accomplice—our job will be done. If not,
I will pull a drag net through this place which will bring him up
within a day or two. What a fool the man is to think that he could
escape the eye of Bill Dawson."
A policeman entered, laid a packet upon the table before us, and
announced that the prisoner had been placed in cell No. 2. Dawson
sprang up. "We will have a look at him through the peephole, and if it
is our man—" One glance was enough. Before me I saw him whom I had
expected to see. He and his cargo of whisky bottles had reached the
last stage of their long journey; at one end had been peace, reasonable
prosperity, and a happy home; at the other was, perhaps, a rope or a
Dawson began once more to descant upon his own astuteness, but I was
too sick at heart to listen. I remembered only the visit years before
which that man's wife had paid to me. "Will you not open the parcel?"
I interposed. He fell upon it, exposed its contents of bread,
chocolate, and sardine tins, and called for a can opener. He shook the
tins one by one beside his ear, and then, selecting that which gave
out no "flop" of oil, stripped it open, plunged his fingers inside,
and pulled forth a clammy mess of putty and sawdust. In a moment he
had come upon a paper which after reading he handed to me. It bore the
words in English, "Informant arrested: dare not send more."
"What a fool!" cried Dawson. "As if the evidence against him were not
sufficient already he must give us this."
"You will let that poor devil of a draughtsman down easily?" I
"We want him as a witness," replied Dawson. "Tit for tat. If he helps
us, we will help him. And now we will cut along to the Admiral. He is
eager for news."
We broke in upon the Admiral in his office near the shipyards, and he
greeted me with cheerful badinage. "So you are in the hands of the
police at last, Copplestone. I always told you what would be the end
of your naval inquisitiveness."
Dawson told his story, and the naval officer's keen kindly face grew
stern and hard. "Germans I can respect," said he, "even those that
pretend to be our friends. But one of our own folk—to sell us like
this—ugh! Take the vermin away; Dawson, and stamp upon it."
We stood talking for a few moments, and then Dawson broke in with a
question. "I have never understood, Admiral, why you were so very
confident that Mr. Copplestone here had no hand in this business. The
case against him looked pretty ugly, yet you laughed at it all the
time. Why were you so sure?"
The Admiral surveyed Dawson as if he were some strange creature from
an unknown world. "Mr. Copplestone is a friend of mine," said he
"Very likely," snapped the detective. "But is a man a white angel
because he has the honour to be your friend?"
"A fair retort," commented the Admiral. It happens that I had other
and better reasons. For in July I myself showed Mr. Copplestone over
the new battleship Rampagious, and after our inspection we both
lunched with the builders and discussed her design and armament in
every detail. So as Mr. Copplestone knew all about her in July, he was
not likely to suborn a draughtsman in November. See?"
"You should have told me this before. It was your duty."
"My good Dawson," said the Admiral gently, "you are an excellent
officer of police, but even you have a few things yet to learn. I had
in my mind to give you a lesson, especially as I owed you some
punishment for your impertinence in opening my friend Copplestone's
private letters. You have had the lesson; profit by it."
Dawson flushed angrily. "Punishment! Impertinence! This to me!"
"Yes," returned the Admiral stiffly, "beastly impertinence."
Dawson showed no malice towards the Admiral or myself for our
treatment of him. I do not think that he felt any; he was too fully
occupied in collecting the spoils of victory to trouble his head about
what a Scribbler or a Salt Horse might think of him. He gathered to
himself every scrap of credit which the affair could be induced to
yield, and received—I admit quite deservedly—the most handsome
encomiums from his superiors in office. During the two weeks he passed
in my city after the capture—weeks occupied in tracing out the
threads connecting his wretch of a prisoner with the German agents
upon what Dawson called his "little list"—he paid several visits both
to my house and my office. His happiness demanded that he should read
to me the many letters which poured in from high officials of the
C.I.D., from the Chief Commissioner, and on one day—a day of days in
the chronicles of Dawson—from the Home Secretary himself. To me it
seemed that all these astute potentates knew their Dawson very
thoroughly, and lubricated, as it were, with judicious flattery the
machinery of his energies. I could not but admire Dawson's truly royal
faculty for absorbing butter. The stomachs of most men, really good at
their business, would have revolted at the diet which his superiors
shovelled into Dawson, but he visibly expanded and blossomed. Yes,
Scotland Yard knew its Dawson, and exactly how to stimulate the best
that was in him. He never bored me; I enjoyed him too thoroughly.
One day in my club I chanced upon the Admiral.
"Have you met our friend Dawson lately?" I asked.
"Met him?" shouted he, with a roar of laughter. "Met him? He is in my
office every day—he almost lives with me; goodness knows when he does
his work. He has a pocket full of letters which he has read to me till
I know them by heart. If I did not know that he was a first-class man
I should set him down as a colossal ass. Yet, I rather wish that the
Admiralty would sometimes write to me as the severe but very human
Scotland Yard does to Dawson."
"Does he ever come to you in disguise?" I asked.
"Not that I know of. I see vast numbers of people; some of them may be
Dawson in his various incarnations, but he has not given himself
Then I explained to my naval friend my own experience. "He tried," I
said, "to play the disguise game on me, and clean bowled me the first
time. While he was laughing over my discomfiture I studied his face
more closely than a lover does that of his mistress. I tried to
penetrate his methods. He never wears a wig or false hair; he is too
wise for that folly. Yet he seems able to change his hair from light
to dark, to make it lank or curly, short or long. He does it; how I
don't know. He alters the shape of his nose, his cheeks, and his chin.
I suppose that he pads them out with little rubber insets. He alters
his voice, and his figure, and even his height. He can be stiff and
upright like a drilled soldier, or loose-jointed and shambling like a
tramp. He is a finished artist, and employs the very simplest means.
He could, I truly believe, deceive his wife or his mother, but he will
never again deceive me. I am not a specially observant man; still one
can make a shot at most things when driven to it, and I object to
being the subject of Dawson's ribaldry. If you will take my tip, you
will be able to spot him as readily as I do now."
"Good. I should love to score off Dawson. He is an aggravating beast."
"Study his ears," said I. "He cannot alter their chief characters. The
lobes of his ears are not loose, like yours or mine or those of most
men and women; his are attached to the back of his cheekbones. My
mother had lobes like those, so had the real Roger Tichborne; I
noticed Dawson's at once. Also at the top fold of his ears he has
rather a pronounced blob of flesh. This blob, more prominent in some
men than in others, is, I believe, a surviving relic of the sharp
point which adorned the ears of our animal ancestors. Dawson's
ancestor must have been a wolf or a bloodhound. Whenever now I have a
strange caller who is not far too tall or far too short to be Dawson,
if a stranger stops me in the street to ask for a direction, if a
porter at a station dashes up to help me with my bag, I go for his
ears. If the lobes are attached to the cheekbones and there is a
pronounced blob in the fold at the top, I address the man instantly as
Dawson, however impossibly unlike Dawson he may be. I have spotted him
twice now since he bowled me out, and he is frightfully savage—especially
as I won't tell him how the trick is done. He says that it is my duty to
tell him, and that he will compel me under some of his beloved Defence of
the Realm Regulations. But the rack could not force me to give away my
precious secret. Cherish it and use it. You will not tell, for you love
to mystify the ruffian as much as I do."
"I will watch for his ears when he next calls, which, I expect, will
be to-morrow. Thank you very much. I won't sneak."
"Remember that nothing else in the way of identification is of any
use, for I doubt if either of us has ever seen the real, undisguised
Dawson as he is known to God. We know a man whom we think is the
genuine article—but is he? Cary's description of him is most unlike
the man whom we see here. I expect that he has a different identity
for every place which he visits. If he told me that at any moment he
was wholly undisguised, I should be quite sure that he was lying. The
man wallows in deception for the very sport of the thing. But he can't
change his ears. Study them, and you will be safe."
Our club was the only place in which we could be sure that Dawson did
not penetrate, though I should not have been surprised to learn that
one or two of the waitresses were in his pay. Dawson is an ardent
feminist; he says that as secret agents women beat men to a frazzle.
Shortly before Dawson left for his headquarters on the north-east
coast he dropped in upon me. He had finished his researches, and
revealed the results to me with immense satisfaction.
"I have fixed up Menteith," he began, "and know exactly how he came
into communication with the German Secret Service." The contemptuous
emphasis which he laid on the word "Secret" would have annoyed the
Central Office at Potsdam. I have given the detected British spy the
name of Menteith after that of the most famous traitor in Scottish
history; if I called him, say, Campbell or Macdonald, nothing could
save me from the righteous vengeance of the outraged Clans.
"It was all very simple," he went on, "like most things in my business
when one gets to the bottom of them. He was seduced by a man whom the
local police have had on their string for a long time, but who will
now be put securely away. Menteith was a frequenter of a certain
public house down the river, where he posed as an authority on the
Navy, and hinted darkly at his stores of hidden information. Our
German agent made friends with him, gave him small sums for drinks,
and flattered his vanity. It is strange how easily some men are
deceived by flattery. The agent got from Menteith one or two bits of
news by pretending a disbelief in his sources of intelligence, and
then, when the fool had committed himself, threatened to denounce him
to the police unless he took service with him altogether. Money, of
course, passed, but not very much. The Germans who employ spies so
extensively pay them extraordinarily little. They treat them like
scurvy dogs, for whom any old bone is good enough, and I'm not sure
they are not right. They go on the principle that the white trash who
will sell their country need only to be paid with kicks and coppers.
Menteith swears that he did not receive more than four pounds for the
plans and description of the Rampagious. Fancy selling one's country
and risking one's neck for four measly pounds sterling! If he had got
four thousand, I should have had some respect for him. His home is in
a wretched state, and his wife—a pretty woman, though almost a
skeleton, and a very nicely mannered, honest woman—says that her
husband unexpectedly gave her four pounds a month ago. He had kept
none of the blood money for drink! Curious, isn't it?"
"It shows that the man had some good in him. It shows that he was
ashamed to use the money upon himself. We must do something for the
poor wife, Dawson."
"She will easily get work, and she will be far better without her sot
of a husband. She did not cry when I told her everything. 'I ought to
have left him long ago,' she said, 'but I tried to save him. Thank God
we have no children,' That seemed to be her most insistent thought,
for she repeated it over and over again. 'Thank God that we have no
"I hope that you were gentle with her, Dawson," said I, deeply moved.
Long ago the wife had come to me and pleaded for her husband. She had
shed no tear; she had admitted the justice, the necessity, of my
sentence. "Can you not give him another chance?" she had asked. "No,"
I had answered sadly. "He has exhausted all the chances." When she had
risen to go and I had pressed her hand, she had said, still dry-eyed,
"You are right, sir, it is no use, no use at all. Thank God that we
have no children."
"I hope that you were gentle with her, Dawson," I repeated.
He astonished me by the suddenness of his explosion. "Damn," roared
he—"damn and blast! Do you think that I am a brute. Gentle! It was as
much as I could do not to kiss the woman, as your little daughter
kissed me, and to promise that I would get her husband off somehow.
But I should not be a friend to her if I tried to save that man."
So Dawson had soft spots in his armour of callousness, and little
Jane's instinct was far surer than mine. She had taken to him at
sight. When I tried to get from her why, why he had so marked an
attraction for her, her replies baffled me more than the central fact.
"I love Colonel Dawson. He is a nice man. He has a little girl like
me. Her name is Clara. Her birthday is next month. I shall save up my
pocket money and send Clara a present. I like Colonel Dawson better
even than dear Bailey." I tore my hair, for "Bailey" is a wholly
imaginary friend of little Jane, whom I invented one evening at her
bedside and who has grown gradually into a personage of clearly
defined attributes—like the "Putois" of Anatole France. Dawson and
"Bailey"; they are both "nice men" and little Jane's friends; she is
sure of them, and I expect that she is right. Children always are
Dawson, after his outburst, glowered at me for a moment and then
laughed. "I am a man," said he, "though you may not think it, and I
have my weaknesses. But I never give way to them when they interfere
with business. Menteith is in my grip, and he won't get out of it. But
he is a poor creature. He handed over the description of the
Rampagious, saw it hidden in the sardine tin, and was ordered to
take the food parcel to the Post Office. The German agent who used him
had no notion of risking his own skin. Then followed the discovery and
the arrest of the draughtsman who had drawn the plan. Those who had
seduced Menteith forbade him to come near them. They slipped away into
hiding—which profited them little since all of them were on our
string—after threatening Menteith that he would be murdered if he
gave himself up to the police, as in his terror he seemed to want to
do. When nothing happened for two weeks, the vermin came out of their
holes, made up the last parcel, and forced Menteith to go to Carlisle
in order to post it. All through he has been the most abject of tools,
and received nothing except the four pounds and various small sums
spent in drinks."
"You have the principal all right?"
"Yes, I have him tight. The others associated with him I shall leave
free; they will be most useful in future. They don't know that we know
them; when they do know, their number will go up, for they will be
then of no further use to us. It is a beautiful system, Mr. Copplestone,
and you have had the unusual privilege of seeing it at work."
"What will your prisoners get by way of punishment?"
"I am not sure, but I can guess pretty closely. The principal will go
out suddenly early some morning. He is a Jew of uncertain Central
European origin, Pole or Czech, a natural born British subject, a
shining light of a local anti-German society, an 'indispensable' in
his job and exempted from military service. He will give no more
trouble. Menteith will spend anything from seven to ten years in p.s.,
learn to do without his daily whisky bottle, and possibly come out a
decent citizen. The draughtsman, I expect, will be let off with
eighteen months of the Jug. We are just, but not harsh. My birds don't
interest me much once they have been caught; it is the catching that I
enjoy. Down in the south, where I have a home of my own—which I
haven't seen during the past year except occasionally for an hour or
two—I used to grow big show chrysanthemums. All through the processes
of rooting the cuttings, repotting, taking the buds, feeding up the
plants, I never could endure any one to touch them. But once the
flowers were fully developed, my wife could cut them as much as she
pleased and fill the house with them. My job was done when I had got
the flowers perfect. It is just the same with my business. I cultivate
the little dears I am after, and hate any one to interfere with me; I
humour them and water them and feed them with opportunities till they
are ripe, and then I stick out my hand and grab them. After that the
law can do what it likes with them; they ain't my concern any more."
By this time it had become apparent even to my slow intelligence why
Dawson told me so much about himself and his methods. He had formed
the central figure in a real story in print, and the glory of it
possessed him. He had tasted of the rich sweet wine of fame, and he
thirsted for more of the same vintage. He never in so many words asked
me to write this book, but his eagerness to play Dr. Johnson to my
Boswell appeared in all our relations. He was communicative far beyond
the limits of official discretion. If I now disclosed half, or a
quarter, of what he told me of the inner working of the Secret
Service, Scotland Yard, which admires and loves him, would cast him
out, lock him up securely in gaol, and prepare for me a safe
harbourage in a contiguous cell. So for both our sakes I must be very,
"You have been most helpful to me," he said handsomely at parting,
"and if anything good turns up on the North-East coast, I will let you
know. Could you come if I sent for you?"
"I would contrive to manage it," said I.
Dawson went away, and the pressure of daily work and interests thrust
him from my mind. For a month I heard nothing of him or of Cary, and
then one morning came a letter and a telegram. The letter was from
Richard Cary, and read as follows: "A queer thing has happened here.
A cruiser which had come in for repair was due to go out this morning.
She was ready for sea the night before, the officers and crew had all
come back from short leave, and the working parties had cleared out.
Then in the middle watch, when the torpedo lieutenant was testing the
circuits, it was discovered that all the cables leading to the guns
had been cut. Dawson has been called in, and bids me say that, if you
can come down, now is the chance of your life. I will put you up."
The telegram was from Dawson himself. It ran: "They say I'm beaten.
But I'm not. Come and see."
"The deuce," said I. "Sabotage! I am off."
When at last I arrived at Cary's flat it was very late, and I was
exceedingly tired and out of temper. A squadron of Zeppelins had been
reported from the sea, the air-defence control at Newcastle had sent
out the preliminary warning "F.M.W.," and the speed of my train had
been reduced to about fifteen miles an hour. I had expected to get in
to dinner, but it was eleven o'clock before I reached my destination.
I had not even the satisfaction of seeing a raid, for the Zepps, made
cautious by recent heavy losses, had turned back before crossing the
line of the coast. Cary and his wife fell upon my neck, for we were
old friends, condoled with me, fed me, and prescribed a tall glass of
mulled port flavoured with cloves. My stern views upon the need for
Prohibition in time of war became lamentably weakened.
By midnight I had recovered my philosophic outlook upon life, and Cary
began to enlighten me upon the details of the grave problem which had
brought me eagerly curious to his city.
"I expect that Dawson will drop in some time to-night," he said. "All
hours are the same to him. I told him that you were on the way, and he
wants to give you the latest news himself. He is dead set upon you,
Copplestone. I can't imagine why."
"Am I then so very unattractive?" I inquired drily. "It seems to me
that Dawson is a man of sound judgment."
"I confess that I do not understand why he lavishes so much attention
"Your remarks, Cary," I observed, "are deficient in tact. You might,
at least, pretend to believe that my personal charm has won for me
Dawson's affection. As a matter of fact, he cares not a straw for my
beaux yeux; his motives are crudely selfish. He thinks that it is in
my power to contribute to the greater glory of Dawson, and he
cultivates me just as he would one of his show chrysanthemums. He has
done me the honour to appoint me his biographer extraordinary."
"I am sure you are wrong," cried Cary. "He was most frightfully angry
about that story of ours in Cornhill. He demanded from me your name
and address, and swore that if I ever again disclosed to you official
secrets he would proceed against me under the Defence of the Realm
Act. He was a perfect terror, I can assure you."
"And yet he always carries that story about with him in his
breast-pocket; he has summoned me here to see him at his work; and you
have been commanded to tell me everything which you know! My dear
Cary, do not be an ass. You are too simple a soul for this rather
grubby world. In your eyes every politician is an ardent,
disinterested patriot, and every soldier or sailor a knightly hero of
romance. Human beings, Cary, are made in streaks, like bacon; we have
our fat streaks and our lean ones; we can be big and bold, and also
very small and mean. Your great man and your national hero can become
very poor worms when, so to speak, they are off duty. But I didn't
come here, at great inconvenience, to talk this sort of stuff at
midnight. Go ahead; give me the details of this sabotage case which is
baffling Dawson and the naval authorities; let me hear about the
cutting of those electric wires."
"It is, as I told you, in my note, a queer business. The Antinous, a
fast light cruiser, came in about a fortnight ago to have some defects
made good in her high-speed geared-turbines. There was not much wrong,
but her engineer commander recommended a renewal of some of the spur
wheels. The officers and crew went on short leave in rotation, a care
and maintenance party was put in charge, and the builders placed a
working gang on board which was occupied in shifts, by night and by
day, in making good the defects. When a ship is under repair in a
river basin, it is practically impossible to keep up the beautiful
order and discipline of a ship at sea. Men of all kinds are constantly
coming and going, life on board is stripped of the most ordinary
comforts and conveniences, there is inevitably some falling off in
strict supervision. Lack of space, lack of facilities for moving about
the ship, lack of any regular routine. You will understand. Just as
the expansion in the New Army and the New Navy has made it possible
for unknown enemy agents to take service in the Army and the Navy, so
the dilution of labour in the shipyards has made it possible for
workmen—whose sympathies are with the enemy—to get employment about
the warships. The danger is fully recognised, and that is where
Dawson's widespread system of counter-espionage comes in. There is not
a trade union, among all the eighteen or twenty engaged in shipyard
work—riveters, fitters, platers, joiners, and all the rest of
them—in which he has not police officers enrolled as skilled
tradesmen, members of the unions, working as ordinary hands or as
foremen, sometimes even in office as "shop stewards" representing the
interest of the unions and acting as their spokesmen in disputes with
the employers. Dawson claims that there has never yet been a secret
Strike Committee, since the war began, upon which at least one of his
own men was not serving. He is a wonderful man. I don't like him; he
is too unscrupulous and merciless for my simple tastes; but his value
to the country is beyond payment."
"But where in the world does he raise these men? One can't turn a
policeman into a skilled worker at a moment's notice. How is it done?"
"He begins at the other end. All his skilled workmen are the best he
can pick out of their various trades. They have served their full time
as apprentices and journeymen. They are recommended to him by their
employers after careful testing and sounding. Most of them, I believe,
come from the Government dockyards and ordnance factories. They are
given a course of police training at Scotland Yard, and then dropped
down wherever they may be wanted. Dawson, and inspectors like him,
have these men everywhere—in shipyards, in shell shops, in gun
factories, in aeroplane sheds, everywhere. They take a leading part in
the councils of the unions wherever they go, for they add to their
skill as workmen a pronounced, even blatant parade of loyalty to the
interests of trade unions and a tasty flavour of socialist principles.
Dawson is perfectly cynically outspoken to me over the business which,
I confess, appals me. In his female agents—of which he has many—he
favours what he calls a 'judicious frailty'; in his male agents he
favours a subtle skill in the verbal technique of anarchism. And this
man Dawson is by religion a Peculiar Baptist, in private life a
faithful husband and a loving father, and in politics a strict Liberal
of the Manchester School! As a man he is good, honest, and rather
narrow; as a professional detective he is base and mean, utterly
without scruple, and a Jesuit of Jesuits. With him the end justifies
the means, whatever the means may be."
"And yet you admit that his value to the country is beyond payment.
Dawson—our remarkable Dawson of the double life in the two
compartments, professional and private, which never are allowed to
overlap—Dawson is an instrument of war. We do not like using gas or
liquid fire, but we are compelled to use them. We do not like
espionage, but we must employ it. As one who loves this fair land of
England beyond everything in the world, and as one who would do
anything, risk anything, and suffer anything to shield her from the
filthy Germans, I rejoice that she has in her service such supremely
efficient guardians as this most wickedly unscrupulous Dawson. There
is, at any rate, not a trace of our English muddle about him."
"Ours is a righteous cause," cried poor Cary desperately. "We are
fighting for right against wrong, for defence against aggression, for
civilisation against utter barbarism. We are by instinct clean
fighters. If in the stress of conflict we stoop to foul methods, can
we ever wash away the filth of them from our souls? We shall stand
before the world nakedly confessed as the nation of hypocrites we have
always been declared to be."
"Cary," I said, "you make me tired. We cannot be too thankful that we
possess Dawsons to counterplot against the Germans, and that
personally we are in no way responsible for the morality of their
methods. Come off the roof and get back to this most interesting
affair of the Antinous. I presume one of Dawson's men was working,
unknown to his fellows, with the care and maintenance party, and
another, equally unknown, with the engineers who were busy upon the
gearing of the turbines. Many of the regular ship's officers and men
would also have been on board. Had our remarkable friend his agents
among them too? Everything is possible with Dawson; I should not be
surprised to hear that he had police officers in the Fleet flagship."
"You are almost right. One of his men, a temporary petty officer of
R.N.V.R., was certainly on board, and he tells me that down in the
engine room was another—a civilian fitter. They were both first-class
men. The electric wires, as you know, are carried about the ship under
the deck beams, where they are accessible for examination and repairs.
They are coiled in cables from which wires are led to the switch room,
and thence to all parts of the ship. There are thousands of wires, and
no one who did not know intimately their purpose and disposition could
venture to tamper with them, for great numbers are always in use. If
any one cut the lighting wires, for instance, the defects would be
obvious at once; so with the heating or telephone wires. Nothing was
touched except the lines to the guns, of which there are eight
disposed upon the deck. From the guns connections run to the switch
room, the conning tower, the gunnery control platform aloft, and to
the gunnery officer's bridge. It was the main cable between the switch
room and the conning tower which was cut, and it was one cable laid
alongside a dozen others. Now who could know that this was the gun
cable, and the only one in which damage might escape detection while
the ship was in harbour? At sea there is constant gun drill, during
which the electrical controls and the firing-tubes are always tested,
but in harbour the guns are lying idle most of the time. It was
evidently the intention of the enemy, who cut these wires, that the
Antinous should go to sea before the defect was discovered, and that
her fire control should be out of action till the wiring system could
be repaired. That very serious disaster was prevented by the
preliminary testing during the night before sailing, but the enemy has
been successful in delaying the departure of an invaluable light
cruiser for two days. In these days, when the war of observation is
more important even than the war of fighting, the services of light
cruisers cannot be dispensed with for an hour without grave
inconvenience and risk. Yet here was one delayed for forty-eight hours
after her ordinary repairs had been completed. The naval authorities
are in a frightful stew. For what has happened to the Antinous may
happen to other cruisers, even to battleships. If there is sabotage
among the workmen in the shipyards, it must be discovered and stamped
out without a moment's delay. This time it is the cutting of a wire
cable; at another time it may be some wilful injury far more serious.
A warship is a mass of delicate machinery to which a highly skilled
enemy agent might do almost infinite damage. Dawson has been run off
his feet during the past two days; I don't know what he has
discovered; but if he does not get to the bottom of the business in
double-quick time we shall have the whole Board of Admiralty, Scotland
Yard, and possibly the War Cabinet down upon us. Think, too, of the
disgrace to this shipbuilding city of which we are all so proud."
"We shall know something soon," I said, "for, if I mistake not, here
comes Dawson." The electric bell at the front door had buzzed, and
Cary, slipping from the room, presently returned with a man who to me,
at the first glance, was a complete stranger. I sprang up, moved round
to a position whence I could see clearly the visitor's ears, and
gasped. It was Dawson beyond a doubt, but it was not the Dawson whom I
had known in the north. So what I had vaguely surmised was
true—Cary's Dawson and Copplestone's Dawson were utterly unlike.
Dawson winked at me, glanced towards Cary, and shook his head; from
which I gathered that he did not desire his appearance to be the
subject of comment. I therefore greeted him without remark, and, as he
sat down under the electric lights, examined him in detail. This
Dawson was ten years older than the man whom I had known and fenced
with. The hair of this one was lank and grey, while that of mine was
brown and curly; the face of this one was white and thin, while the
face of mine was rather full and ruddy. The teeth were different—I
found out afterwards that Dawson, who had few teeth of his own,
possessed several artificial sets of varied patterns—the shape of the
mouth was different, the nose was different. I could never have
recognised the man before me had I not possessed that clue to identity
furnished by his unchanging ears.
"So, Dawson," said I slowly, "we meet again. Permit me to say that I
congratulate you. It is very well done."
He grinned and glanced at the unconscious Cary. "You are learning.
Bill Dawson takes a bit of knowing."
"Have you any news, Mr. Dawson?" asked Cary eagerly.
"Not much. The wires of the Antinous have all been renewed—the
Admiralty won't allow cables to be patched except at sea—but I
haven't found out who played hanky-panky with them. It could not have
been any one in the engine-room party, as none of them went near the
place where the wires were cut. Besides, they were engineers, not
electricians, and could have known nothing of the arrangements and
disposition of the ship's wires. My man who worked with them is
positive that they are a sound, good lot without a sea-lawyer or a
pacifist among them; a gang of plain, honest tykes. So we are thrown
back on the maintenance party, included in which were all sorts of
ratings. Some of them are skilled in the electrical fittings—my own
man with them is, for one—but we get the best accounts of all of
them. They are long service men, cast for sea owing to various medical
reasons, but perfectly efficient for harbour work. Among the officers
of the ship is a R.N.R. lieutenant with a German name. I jumped to
him, but the captain laughed. The man's father and grandfather were in
the English merchant service, and though his people originally came
from Saxony, he is no more German than we are ourselves. Besides, my
experience is that an Englishman with an inherited German name is the
very last man to have any truck with the enemy. He is too much ashamed
of his forbears for one thing; and for another he is too dead set on
living down his beastly name. So we will rule out the Lieutenant
R.N.R. My own man, who is a petty officer R.N.V.R., and has worked on
a lot of ships which have come in for repairs, says that the temper
among the workmen in the yards is good now. It was ugly when dilution
of labour first came in, but the wages are so high that all that
trouble has settled down. I have had what you call sabotage in the
shell and gun shops, but never yet in the King's ships. We have had
every possible cutter of the wires on the mat before the Captain and
me. We have looked into all their records, had their homes visited and
their people questioned, inquired of their habits—Mr. Copplestone,
here, knows what comes of drink—and found out how they spend their
wages. Yet we have discovered nothing. It is the worst puzzle that
I've struck. When and how the gun cable was cut I can't tell you, but
whoever did it is much too clever to be about. He must have been
exactly informed of the lie and use of the cables, had with him the
proper tools, and used them in some fraction of a minute when he
wasn't under the eye of my own man whose business it was to watch
everybody and suspect everybody. I thought that I had schemed out a
pretty thorough system; up to now it has worked fine. Whenever we have
had the slightest reason to suspect any man, we have had him kept off
the ship and watched. We have run down a lot of footling spies, too
stupid to give us a minute's anxiety, but this man who cut the
Antinous's wires is of a different calibre altogether. He is AI, and
when I catch him, as I certainly shall, I will take off my hat to
"You say that the Antinous is all right now?" I observed.
"Yes. I saw her towed out of the repair basin an hour ago, and she
must be away down the river by this time. It is not of her that I'm
thinking, but of the other ships which are constantly in and out for
repairs. There are always a dozen here of various craft, usually small
stuff. While the man who cut those wires is unknown I shall be in a
perfect fever, and so will the Admiral-Superintendent. We'll get the
beauty sooner or later, but if it is later, there may be had mischief
done. If he can cut wires in one ship, he may do much worse things in
some other. The responsibility rests on me, and it is rather
Dawson spoke with less than his usual cheery confidence. I fancy that
the thinness and whiteness of his face were not wholly due to
disguise. He had not been to bed since he had been called up in the
middle watch of the night before last, and the man was worn out.
"If you take my poor advice, Dawson," I said, "you will cut off now
and get some sleep. Even your brain cannot work continuously without
rest. The country needs you at your best, and needs you very badly
His dull, weary eyes lighted as if under the stimulus of champagne,
and he turned upon me a look which was almost affectionate. I really
began to believe that Dawson likes me, that he sees in me a kindred
spirit as patriotically unscrupulous as himself.
He jumped up and gripped my hand. "You are right. I will put in a few
hours' sleep and then to work once more. This time I am up against a
man who is nearly as smart as I am myself, and I can't afford to carry
I led him to the door and put him out, and then turned to Cary with a
laugh. "And I, too, will follow Dawson's example. It is past one, and
my head is buzzing with queer ideas. Perhaps, after all, the Germans
have more imagination than we usually credit them with. I wonder—"
But I did not tell to Cary what I wondered.
* * * * *
We were sitting after breakfast in Cary's study, enjoying the first
sweet pipe of the day, when the telephone bell rang. Cary took off the
earpiece and I listened to a one-sided conversation somewhat as
"What! Is that you, Mr. Dawson? Yes, Copplestone is here. The
Antigone? What about her? She is a sister ship of the Antinous,
and was in with damage to her forefoot, which had been ripped up when
she ran down that big German submarine north of the Orkneys—Yes, I
know; she was due to go out some time to-day. What do you say? Wires
cut? Whose wires have been cut? The Antigone's? Oh, the devil! Yes,
we will both come down to your office this afternoon. Whenever you
Cary hung up the receiver and glared at me. "It has happened again,"
he groaned. "The Antigone this time. She has been in dry dock for
the past fortnight and was floated out yesterday. Her full complement
joined her last night. Dawson says that he was called up at
eight-o'clock by the news that her gun-wires have been cut exactly
like those of the Antinous and in the same incomprehensible way. He
seems, curiously enough, to be quite cheerful about it."
"He has had a few hours sleep. And, besides, he sees that this second
case, so exactly like the first, makes the solution of his problem
very much more easy. I am glad that he is cheerful, for I feel
exuberantly happy myself. I was kept awake half the night by a
persistent notion which seemed the more idiotic the more I thought all
round it. But now—now, there may be something in it."
"What is your idea? Tell me quick."
"No, thank you, Dr. Watson. We amateur masters of intuition don't work
our thrilling effects in that way. We keep our notions to ourselves
until they turn out to be right, and then we declare that we saw
through the problem from the first. When we have been wrong, we say
nothing. So you observe, Cary, that whatever happens our reputations
do not suffer."
Cary tried to shake my resolution, but I was obdurately silent. While
he canvassed the whole position, bringing to bear his really profound
knowledge of naval equipment and routine—and incidentally helping me
greatly to realise the improbability of my own guesswork solution—I
was able to maintain an air of lofty superiority. I must have
aggravated him intensely, unpardonably, for I was his guest. He ought
to have kicked me out. Yet he bore with me like the sweet-blooded
kindly angel that he is, and when at the end it appeared that I was
right after all, Cary was the first to pour congratulations and honest
admiration upon me. If he reads this book he will know that I am
repentant—though I must confess that I should behave in just the same
abominable way if the incident were to occur again. There is no great
value in repentance such as this.
We reached Dawson's office in the early afternoon, and found his chief
assistant there, but no Dawson. "The old man," remarked that officer,
a typical, stolid, faithful detective sergeant, "is out on the
rampage. He ought by rights to sit here directing the staff and leave
the outside investigations to me. He is a high-up man, almost a deputy
assistant commissioner, and has no call to be always disguising
himself and playing his tricks on everybody. I suppose you know that
white-haired old gent down here ain't a bit like Bill Dawson, who's
not a day over forty?"
"I have given up wondering where the real Dawson ends and where the
disguises begin. The man I met up north wasn't the least bit like the
one down here."
"A deal younger, I expect," said the chief assistant, grinning. "He
shifts about between thirty and sixty. The old man is no end of a
cure, and tries to take us in the same as he does you. There's an
inspector at the Yard who was at school with him down Hampshire way,
and ought to know what he is really like, but even he has given Dawson
up. He says that the old man does not know his own self in the
looking-glass; and as for Mrs. Dawson, I expect she has to take any
one who comes along claiming to be her husband, for she can't,
possibly tell t'other from which."
"One might make a good story out of that," I observed to Cary.
"I don't understand," said he. "Mr. Dawson told me once that I knew
the real Dawson, but that few other people did."
"If he told you that," calmly observed the assistant, "you may bet
your last shirt he was humbugging you. He couldn't tell the truth, not
if he tried ever so."
"What is he at now?" I asked.
"I don't know, sir. And if he told me, I shouldn't believe him. I
don't take no account of a word that man says. But he's the most
successful detective we've got in the whole Force. He's sure to be
head of the C.I.D. one day, and then he will have to stay in his
office and give us others a chance."
"I don't believe he will," I observed, laughing. "There will be a sham
Dawson in the office and the genuine article will be out on the
rampage. He is a man who couldn't sit still, not even if you tied him
in his chair and sealed the knots."
We spent a pleasant hour pulling Dawson to pieces and leaving to him
not a rag of virtue, except intense professional zeal. We exchanged
experiences of him, those of the chief assistant being particularly
rich and highly flavoured. It appeared that Dawson when off duty loved
to occupy the platform at meetings of his religious connection and to
hold forth to the elect. The privilege of "sitting under him" had been
enjoyed more than once by the assistant, who retailed to us extracts
from Dawson's favourite sermon on "Truth." His views upon Truth were
unbending as armour plate. "Under no circumstances, not to save
oneself from imminent death, not to shield a wife or a child from the
penalties for a lapse from virtue, not even to preserve one's country
from the attacks of an enemy, was it permissible to a Peculiar Baptist
to diverge by the breadth of a hair from the straight path of Truth.
Hell yawned on either hand; only along the knife edge of Truth could
salvation be reached."
"He made me shiver," said the chief assistant, "and he drove me to
thinking of one or two little deceptions of my own. When Dawson
preaches, his eyes blaze, his voice breaks, and he will fall on his
knees and pray for the souls of those who heed not his words. You
can't look at him then and not believe that he means every word he
says. Yet it's all humbug."
"No, it is not," said I. "Dawson in the pulpit, or on the tub—or
whatever platform he uses—is absolutely genuine. He is the finest
example that I have ever met of the dual personality. He is in dead
earnest when he preaches on Truth, and he is in just as dead earnest
when, stripped of every moral scruple, he pursues a spy or a criminal.
In pursuit he is ruthless as a Prussian, but towards the captured
victim he can be strangely tender. I should not be surprised to learn
that he hates capital punishment and is a strong advocate of gentle
methods in prison discipline."
The chief assistant stared, opened a drawer, and pulled forth a slim
grey pamphlet. It was marked "For Office Use Only," and was entitled,
"Some Notes on Prison Reform," by Chief Inspector William Dawson.
I had begun to read the pamphlet, when a step sounded outside; the
assistant snatched it from my hand, flashed it back into its place,
and jumped to attention as Dawson entered. He surveyed us with those
searching, unwinking eyes of his—for we had the air of
conspirators—and said brusquely: "Clear out, Wilson. You talk too
much. And don't admit any one except Petty Officer Trehayne."
"The Antigone!" cried Cary, who thought only of ships. "The
Antigone! Is she much damaged?"
"No. Whoever tried to cut her wires was disturbed, or in too great a
hurry to do his work well. The main gun-cable was nipped, but not cut
through. She will be delayed till to-morrow, not longer. I am not
worrying about the Antigone, but about the new battleship
Malplaquet, which was commissioned last month, is nearly filled up
with stores, and is expected to leave the river on Saturday. We can't
have her delayed by any hanky tricks, not even if we have to put the
whole detective force on board of her. Still, I'm not so anxious as I
was. This Antigone business has cleared things up a lot, and one can
sift out the impossible from the possible. To begin with, the
Antinous was in for repairs to her geared turbines, and the
Antigone for damage to her forefoot. Engineers were on one job, and
platers and riveters on the other. Different trades. So not a workman
who was in the Antinous was also in the Antigone. We can rule out
all the workmen. We can also rule out my lieutenant R.N.R. with the
German name who has gone to sea in the Antinous. The care and
maintenance party in the Antigone was not the same as the one in the
Antinous, not a man the same."
"You are sure of that?" cried I, for it seemed that my daring theory
had gone to wreck. "You are quite sure."
"Quite. I have all the names and have examined all the men. They were
all off the ship by eleven o'clock last night. I hadn't one of my own
men among them, but, to make sure, I sent Petty Officer Trehayne on
board at eight o'clock to keep a sharp look-out and to see all the
harbour party off the vessel. He reported a little after eleven that
they were all gone and the ship taken over by her own crew. The damage
was discovered at four bells in the morning watch."
"Six o'clock a.m.," interpreted Cary.
"It looks now as if there might be a traitor among her own crew, which
is her officers' job, not mine. I wash my hands of the Antigone, but
it is very much up to me to see that nothing hurtful happens to the
Malplaquet. The Admiral has orders to support me with all the force
under his command; the General of the District has the same orders.
But it isn't force we want so much as brains—Dawson's brains. I have
been beaten twice, but not the third time. I've told the Yard that if
the Malplaquet is touched I shall resign, and if they send any one
to help me I shall resign. Between to-day, Thursday, and Saturday I am
going to catch the wily josser who has a fancy for cutting gun cables
or Dawson will say good-bye to the Force. That's a fair stake."
The man swelled with determination and pride. He had no thought of
failure, and drew inspiration and joy from the heaviness of the bet
which he had made with Fortune. He took the born gambler's delight in
a big risk.
"Then you think that the Antinous and the Antigone were both
damaged by the same man, and that he may have designs upon the
Malplaquet?" said I.
"I don't propose to tell you what I think," replied Dawson stiffly.
"Still," I persisted, passing over the snub, "you have a theory?"
"No, thanks," said Dawson contemptuously. "I have no use for theories.
When they are wrong they mislead you, and when they are right they are
no help. I believe in facts—facts brought out by constant vigilance.
Unsleeping watchfulness and universal suspicion, those are the
principles I work on. The theory business makes pretty story books,
but the Force does not waste good time over them."
"What are you going to do?"
"This is Thursday afternoon. I am going to join the Malplaquet
presently, and I'm not going to sleep till she is safely down the
river. I'm going to be my own watchman this time."
"How? In what capacity?"
Dawson gave a shrug of impatience, for his nerves were on edge. For a
moment he hesitated, and then, recollecting the high post to which I
had tacitly been appointed in his household, he replied:
"I am going as one of the Marine sentries."
"It's no use, Dawson," protested I emphatically. "You are a wonder at
disguise, and will look, I do not doubt, the very spit of a Marine.
But you can't pass among the men for half an hour without discovery.
They are a class apart, they talk their own language, cherish their
own secret traditions, live in a world to which no stranger ever
penetrates. You could pass as a naval officer more easily than you
could as a Pongo. It is sheer madness, Dawson."
He gave a short laugh. "Much you know about it. I have served in the
Red Corps myself. I was a recruit at Deal, passed two years at
Plymouth, and served afloat for three years. I was then drafted into
the Naval Police. Afterwards I was recommended for detective work in
the dockyards, and at the end of my Marine service joined the Yard. My
good man, I was a sergeant before I left the Corps."
"I give up, Dawson," said I. "Nothing about you will ever surprise me
again. Not even if you claim to have been a Cabinet Minister."
A queer smile stole over his face. "No, I have not been a minister,
but I have attended a meeting of the Cabinet."
Cary interposed at this point. "Yours is a fine idea, Mr. Dawson. As a
Marine sentry you can get yourself posted by the Major wherever you
please, and the Guard will not talk even though they may wonder that
any man should want to do twenty-four hours of duty per day. The
Marines are the closest, faith-fullest, and best disciplined force in
the wide world. Bluejackets will gossip; Marines never. You will be
able to watch more closely than even Trehayne, who, I suppose, will
also be on board."
"Yes. He is coming up soon for instructions. It's his last chance, as
it is mine. He sees that he must be held responsible for the wire
cutting in the Antinous, and to some slight extent also in the
Antigone, and that if anything goes wrong with the Malplaquet he
will be dismissed. I shall be sorry to lose him, for he is an
exceptionally good man, but we can't allow failures in petty officer
detectives any more than we can in chief inspectors."
"Where does Trehayne come from? His name sounds Cornish," I asked.
"Falmouth, I believe. He is quite young, but he has had nearly three
years in the Vernon at Portsmouth and in the torpedo factory at
Greenock. A first-class engineer and electrician and a sound
detective. He has been with me for some twelve months. You will see
him if he calls soon."
I had been thinking hard over the details of Dawson's plans while the
talk went on, and then ventured to offer some comments.
"It is fortunate that you have grown a moustache since you were in the
north; you could not have been a Marine as a clean-shaven man."
"I often have to shave it," said Dawson, "but I always grow it again
between whiles. One can take it off quicker than one can put it on
again. False hair is the devil; I have never used it yet and never
will. So whenever I have a spell of leisure I grow a moustache against
emergencies—like this one."
My next comment was rather difficult to make, for I did not wish
either Cary or Dawson to divine its purpose. "If I may make a
suggestion to a man of your experience it would be that none of your
men here, not even your chief assistant or Trehayne, should know that
you are joining the Malplaquet as a Marine. Two independent strings
are in this case better than a double-jointed string."
"I never tell anything to any one, least of all to Pudden-Headed
Wilson. He is loyal, but a stupid ass with a flapping tongue. Trehayne
is close as wax, but, on general principles, I keep my movements
strictly to myself. He will be in the ship, but he won't know that I
am there too. The Commander must know and the Major of Marines, for I
shall want a uniform and the free run of the ship, so as to be posted
where I like. The Marine Sergeants of the Guard may guess, but, as Mr.
Cary says, they won't talk. You two gentlemen are safe," added Dawson
pleasantly, "for I've got you tight in my hand and could lock either
of you up in a minute if I chose."
A peculiar knock came upon the door, a word passed between Dawson and
the police sentry outside, and a young man in the uniform of a naval
petty officer entered the room. He was clean-shaven, looked about
twenty-five years old, was dark and slim of the Latin type which is
not uncommon in Cornwall, and impressed me at once with his air of
intelligence and refinement. His voice, too, was rather striking. It
was that of the wardroom rather than of the mess deck. I liked the
look of Petty Officer Trehayne. Dawson presented him to us and then
took him aside for instructions. When he had finished, both men
rejoined us, and the conversation became light and general. Trehayne,
though clearly suffering from nervous strain after his recent
professional failures, talked with the ease and detachment of a highly
cultivated man. It appeared that he had been educated at Blundell's
School, had lost his parents at about sixteen, had done a course in
some electrical engineering shops at Plymouth, and when twenty years
old had secured a good berth on the engineering staff of the Vernon.
He could speak both French and German, which he had learned partly at
school and partly on the Continent during leave. Dawson, who was
evidently very proud of his young pupil and assistant, paraded his
accomplishments before us rather to Trehayne's embarrassment. "Try him
with French and German," urged Dawson. "He can chatter them as well as
English. But he is as close as wax in all three languages. Some men
can't keep their tongues still in one."
I turned to Trehayne and spoke in French: "German I can't abide, but
French I love. My vocabulary is extensive, but my accent
abominable—incurably British. You can hear it for yourself how it
gives me away."
"It is not quite of Paris," replied Trehayne. "Mais vous parlez
francais tres bien, tres correctement. Beaucoup mieux que moi."
"Non, non, monsieur," I protested, and then reverted to English.
"Now," said Dawson, when Trehayne had left us, "I must get along, see
the Commander of the Malplaquet, and draw a uniform and rifle out of
the marine stores. It will be quite like old times. You won't see me
until Saturday, when I shall be either a triumphant or a broken man.
What is the betting, Mr. Copplestone?"
I could not understand the quizzical little smile that Dawson gave me,
nor the humorous twitch of his lips. He had contemptuously disclaimed
all use of theories, yet there was more moving behind that big
forehead of his than he chose to give away. Did his ideas run on
parallel lines with mine; did he even suspect that I had formed any
idea at all? I could not inquire, for I dislike being laughed at,
especially by this man Dawson. I had nothing to go upon, at least so
little that was palpable that anything which I might say would be
dismissed as the merest guesswork, for which, as Dawson proclaimed, he
had no use. Yet, yet—my original guess stuck firmly in my mind,
improbable though it might be, and had just been nailed down
tightly—I scorn to mystify the reader—by a few simple sentences
spoken in French.
THE MARINE SENTRY
We had a whole day to fill in before we could get any news of Dawson's
vigil in the Malplaquet, and I have never known a day as drearily
long. Cary and I were both restless as peas on a hot girdle, and could
not settle down to talk or to read or to write. Cary sought vainly to
persuade me to read and pass judgment upon his Navy Book. In spite of
my interest in the subject my soul revolted at the forbidding pile of
manuscript. I promised to read the proofs and criticise them with
severity, but as for the M.S.—no, thanks. Poor Cary needed all his
sweet patience to put up with me. By eleven o'clock we had become
unendurable to one another, and I gladly welcomed his suggestion to
adjourn to his club, have lunch there, and try to inveigle the
Commander of the Malplaquet into our net. "I know him," said Cary.
"He is a fine fellow; and though he must be pretty busy, he will be
glad to lunch somewhere away from the ship. If we have luck we will go
back with him and look over the Malplaquet ourselves."
"If you can manage that, Cary, you will have my blessing."
He did manage to work the luncheon part by telephoning to the yard
where the Malplaquet was fitting out, and we left the rest to our
Cary was right. The Commander was a very fine fellow, an English naval
officer of the best type. He confirmed the views I had frequently
heard expressed by others of his profession that no hatred exists
between English and German sailors. They leave that to middle-aged
civilians who write for newspapers. The German Navy, in his opinion,
was "a jolly fine Service," worthy in high courage and skill to
contest with us the supremacy of the seas. He had been through the
China troubles as a lieutenant in the Monmouth—afterwards sunk by
German shot off Coronel—knew von Spee, von Mueller, and other officers
of the Pacific Squadron, and spoke of them with enthusiasm. "They sunk
some of our ships and we wiped out theirs. That was all in the way of
business. We loved them in peace and we loved them in war. They were
splendidly loyal to us out in China—von Spee actually transferred
some of his ships to the command of our own senior officer so as to
avoid any clash of control—and when it came to fighting, they fought
like gentlemen. I grant you that their submarine work against merchant
ships has been pretty putrid, but I don't believe that was the choice
of their Navy. They got their orders from rotten civilians like Kaiser
Bill." Imagine if you can the bristling moustache of the Supreme War
Lord could he have heard himself described as a civilian!
Our guest had commanded a destroyer in the Jutland battle, and assured
us that the handling of the German battle squadrons had been masterly.
"They punished us heavily for just so long as they were superior in
strength, and then they slipped away before Jellicoe could get his
blow in. They kept fending us off with torpedo attacks until the night
came down, and then clean vanished. We got in some return smacks after
dark at stragglers, but it was very difficult to say how much damage
we did. Not much, I expect. Still it was a good battle, as decisive in
its way as Trafalgar. It proved that the whole German Fleet could not
fight out an action against our full force and have the smallest hope
of success. I am just praying for the chance of a whack at them in the
Malplaquet. My destroyer was a bonny ship, the best in the flotilla,
but the Malplaquet is a real peach. You should see her."
"We mean to," said Cary. "This very afternoon. You shall take us back
The Commander opened his eyes at this cool proposal, but we prevailed
upon him to seek the permission of the Admiral-Superintendent, who, a
good deal to my surprise, proved to be quite pliable. Cary's
reputation for discretion must be very high in the little village
where he lives if it is able to guarantee so disreputable a scribbler
as Bennet Copplestone! The Admiral, fortunately, had not read any of
my Works before they had been censored. When printed in Cornhill
they were comparatively harmless.
I must not describe the Malplaquet. Her design was not new to me—I
had seen more than one of her type—but as she is now a unit in
Beatty's Fleet her existence is not admitted to the world. As we went
up and down her many steep narrow ladders, and peered into dark
corners, I looked everywhere for a Marine sentry whom I could identify
by mark of ear as Dawson. I never saw him, but Trehayne passed me
twice, and I found myself again admiring his splendid young manhood.
He was not big, being rather slim and wiry than strongly built, but in
sheer beauty of face and form he was almost perfectly fashioned. "Do
you know that man?" I asked of our commander, indicating Trehayne.
"No," said he. "He is one of the shore party. But I should like to
have him with me. He is one of the smartest looking petty officers
that I have ever seen."
We were shown everything that we desired to see except the
transmission room and the upper conning tower—the twin holy of holies
in a commissioned ship—and slipped away, escaping the Captain by a
bare two minutes. Which was lucky, as he would probably have had us
thrown into the "ditch."
The end of the day was as weariful as the beginning, and we were all
glad—especially, I expect, Mrs. Cary—to go early to bed. That
ill-used lady, to whom we could disclose nothing of our anxieties,
must have found us wretched company.
We had finished breakfast the next morning—the Saturday of Dawson's
gamble—and were sitting on Cary's big fireguard talking of every
subject, except the one which had kept us awake at night, when a
servant entered and announced that a soldier was at the door with a
message from Mr. Dawson. "Show him in," almost shouted Cary, and I
jumped to my feet, stirred for once into a visible display of
A Marine came in, dressed in the smart blue sea kit that I love; upon
his head the low flat cap of his Corps. He gave us a full swinging
salute, and jumped to attention with a click of his heels. He looked
about thirty-five, and wore a neatly trimmed dark moustache. His hair,
also very dark, was cropped close to his head. Standing there with his
hands upon the red seams of his trousers, his chest well filled out,
and his face weather tanned, he looked a proper figure of a sea-going
soldier. "Mr. Cary, sir," he said, in a flat, monotonous orderly's
voice, "Major Boyle's compliments, and could you and your friend come
down to the Police Station to meet him and Chief Inspector Dawson. I
have a taxi-cab at the door, sir."
"Certainly," cried Cary; "in two minutes we shall be ready."
"Oh, no, we shan't," I remarked calmly, for I had moved to a position
of tactical advantage on the Marine's port beam. "We will have the
story here, if you don't mind, Dawson."
He stamped pettishly on the floor, whipped off his cap, and spun it
across the room. "Confound you, Mr. Copplestone!" he growled. "How
the—how the—do you do it?" He could not think of an expletive mild
enough for Mrs. Cary's ears. "There's something about me that I can't
hide. What is it? If you don't tell, I will get you on the Regulation
compelling all British subjects to answer questions addressed to them
by a competent naval or military authority."
"You don't happen to be either, Dawson," said I unkindly. "And,
beside, there was never yet a law made which could compel a man to
speak or a woman to hold her tongue. Some day perhaps, if you are
good, I will show you how the trick is done. But not yet. I want to
have something to bargain with when you cast me into jail. Out with
the story; we are impatient. If I mistake not, you come to us Dawson
triumphant. You haven't the air of a broken man."
"I have been successful," he answered gravely, "but I am a long, long
way from feeling triumphant. No, thank you, Mrs. Cary, I have had my
breakfast, but if I might trouble you for a cup of coffee? Many
Dawson sat down, and Cary moved about inspecting him from every angle.
"No," declared he at last, "I cannot see the smallest resemblance, not
the smallest. You were thin; now you are distinctly plump. Your hair
was nearly white. Your cheeks had fallen in as if your back teeth were
missing. Your lower lip stuck out." Dawson smiled, highly gratified.
"I took in all my people at the office this morning," he said. "They
all thought, and think still, that I was a messenger from the
Malplaquet, which, by the way, is well down the river safe and
sound. Just wait a minute." He walked into a corner of the room, moved
his hands quickly between his side pockets and his face, and then
returned. Except for the dark hair and moustache and the brown skin,
he had become the Dawson of the Thursday afternoon. "It is as simple
for me to change," said the artist, with a nasty look in my direction,
"as it seems to be for Mr. Copplestone here to spot me. It will take a
day or two to get the dye out of my hair and the tan off my skin. I am
going to have a sharp touch of influenza, which is a useful disease
when one wants to lie in. Since Sunday I have only been twice to bed."
We filled him up with coffee and flattery—as one fills a motor car
with petrol and oil—but asked him no questions until we were safely
in Cary's study and Mrs. Cary had gone about her household duties.
"Your good lady," remarked Dawson to Cary, "is as little curious as
any woman I have met, and we will leave her at that if you don't mind.
The best thing about our women is that they don't care tuppence about
naval and military details. If they did, and once started prying with
that keen scent and indomitable persistence of theirs, we might as
well chuck up. Even my own bright team of charmers never know and
never ask the meaning of the information that they ferret out for me.
Their curiosity is all personal—about men and women, never about
I cut Dawson short. He tended to become tedious.
"Quite so," I observed politely. "And to revert to one big female
creature, let us hear something of the Malplaquet."
"You at any rate are curious enough for a dozen. It would serve you
right to keep you hopping a bit longer. But I have a kindly eye for
human weakness, though you might not think it. I joined the ship on
Thursday afternoon, slipping in as one of a detachment of fifty
R.M.L.I. who had been wired for from Chatham. They were an emergency
lot; we hadn't enough in the ship for the double sentry go that I
wanted. All my plans were made with the Commander and Major Boyle, and
they both did exactly what I told them. It isn't often that a private
of Marines has the ordering about of two officers. But Dawson is
Dawson; no common man. They did as I told them, and were glad to do
it. I had extra light bulbs put on all over the lower decks and every
dark corner lit up—except one. Just one. And this one was where the
four gun-cables ran out of the switch-room and lay alongside one
another before they branched off to the fore and after turrets and to
the port and starboard side batteries. That was the most likely spot
which any one wanting to cut the gun-wires would mark down, and I
meant to watch it pretty closely myself. We had double sentries at the
magazines. The Malplaquet is an oil-fired ship, so we hadn't any
bothering coal bunkers to attract fancy bombs. I was pretty sure that
after the Antinous and the Antigone we had mostly wire-cutting to
fear. When a man has done one job successfully, and repeated it almost
successfully, he is pretty certain to have a third shot. Besides, if
one is out to delay a ship, cutting wires is as good a way as any. I
had an idea that my man was not a bomber."
"I thought that you scorned theories," I put in dryly. "When they are
wrong they mislead you, and when they are right they are no help."
Dawson frowned. "Shut up, Copplestone," snapped Cary.
"We were in no danger from the lighting, heating, and telephone wires,
for any defect would have been visible at once. It was the gun and
gunnery control cables that were the weak spots. So I had L.T.O.'s
posted in the spotting top, the conning tower, the transmission room,
the four turrets, and at the side batteries. Every few minutes they
put through tests which would have shown up at once any wires that had
been tampered with. After the shore party had cleared out about nine
o'clock on the Thursday, no officer or man was allowed to leave the
ship without a special permit from the Commander. This was all dead
against the sanitary regulations of the harbour, but I had the
Admiral's authority to break any rules I pleased. By the way, you two
ought never to have been allowed on board yesterday afternoon—I saw
you, though you didn't see me; it was contrary to my orders. I spoke
to the Admiral pretty sharp last night. 'Who is responsible for the
ship?' says I. 'You or me?' 'You,' says he. 'I leave it at that,' says
"One moment, Dawson," I put in. "If the shore party had all gone, how
was it that I saw Petty Officer Trehayne in the ship?"
"He had orders to stay and keep watch—though he didn't know I was on
board myself. Two pairs of police eyes are better than one pair, and
fifty times better than all the Navy eyes in the ship. Of all the
simple-minded, unsuspicious beggars in the world, give me a pack of
naval ratings! I wouldn't have one of them for sentries—that is why
the fifty emergency Marines were sent for." Dawson's limitless pride
in his old Service, and deep contempt for the mere sailor, had come
back in full flood with the uniform of his Corps.
"I started my own sentry duty in the dark corner I told you of as soon
as I had seen to the arrangements all over the Malplaquet, and I was
there, with very few breaks of not more than five minutes each for a
bite of food, for twenty-six hours. Two Marine sentries took my place
whenever I was away. I had my rifle and bayonet, and stood back in a
corner of a bulkhead where I couldn't be seen. The hours were awful
long; I stood without hardly moving. All the pins and needles out of
Redditch seemed to dance up and down me, but I stuck it out—and I had
my reward, I had my reward. I did my duty, but it's a sick and sorry
man that I am this day."
"There was nothing else to be done," I said. "What you feel now is a
"That's about it. I watched and watched, never feeling a bit like
sleep though my eyes burned something cruel and my feet—they were
lumps of prickly wood, not feet. Dull lumps with every now and then a
stab as if a tin tack had been driven into them. Beyond me in the open
alley-way the light was strong, and I could see men pass frequently,
but no one came into my corner till the end, and no one saw me. I
heard six bells go in the first watch ('Eleven p.m.,' whispered Cary)
on Friday evening, though there was a good bit of noise of getting
ready to go out in the early morning, and I was beginning to think
that all my trouble might go for naught, when a man in a Navy cap and
overalls stopped just opposite my dark hole between two bulkheads. His
face was turned from me, as he looked carefully up and down the
lighted way. He stood there quite still for some seconds, and then
stepped backwards towards me. I could see him plain against the light
beyond. He listened for another minute or so, and, satisfied that no
one was near, spun on his heels, whipped a tool from his dungaree
overalls, and reached up to the wires which ran under the deck beams
overhead. In spite of my aching joints and sore feet I was out in a
flash and had my bayonet up against his chest. He didn't move till my
point was through his clothes and into his flesh. I just shoved till
he gave ground, and so, step by step, I pushed him with the point of
my bayonet till he was under the lights. His arms had come down, he
dropped the big shears with insulated handles which he had drawn from
his pocket, but he didn't speak a word to me and I did not speak to
him. I just held him there under the lights, and we looked at one
another without a word spoken. There was no sign of surprise or fear
in his face, just a queer little smile. Suddenly he moved, made a
snatch at the front of his overalls, and put something into his mouth.
I guessed what it was, but did not try to stop him; it was the best
thing that he could do."
Dawson stopped and pulled savagely at his cigar. He jabbed the end
with his knife, though the cigar was drawing perfectly well, and gave
forth a deep growl which might have been a curse or a sob.
"Have you ever watched an electric bulb fade away when the current is
failing?" he asked. "The film pales down from glowing white to dull
red, which gets fainter and fainter, little by little, till nothing
but the memory of it lingers on your retina. His eyes went out exactly
like that bulb. They faded and faded out of his face, which still kept
up that queer, twisted smile. I've seen them ever since; wherever I
turn. I shall be glad of that bout of influenza, and shall begin it
with a stiff dose of veronal…. When the light had nearly gone out of
his eyes and he was rocking on his feet, I spoke for the first time. I
spoke loud too. 'Good-bye,' I called out; 'I'm Dawson.' He heard me,
for his eyes answered with a last flash; then they faded right out and
he fell flat on the steel deck. He had died on his feet; his will kept
him upright to the end; that was a Man. He lived a Man's life, doing
what he thought his duty, and he died a Man's death…. I blew my
whistle twice; up clattered a Sergeant with the Marine Guard and
stopped where that figure on the deck barred their way. 'Get a
stretcher,' I said, 'and send for the doctor. But it won't be any use.
The man's dead.' The Sergeant asked sharply for my report, and sent
off a couple of men for a stretcher. 'Excuse me, Sergeant,' I said, in
my best detective officer voice, 'I will report direct to your Major
and the Commander. I am Chief Inspector Dawson.' He showed no surprise
nor doubt of my word—if you want to understand discipline, gentlemen,
get the Marines to teach you—he asked no questions. With one word he
called the guard to attention, and himself saluted me—me a private! I
handed him my rifle—there was an inch of blood at the point of the
bayonet—and hobbled off to the nearest ladder. My word, I could
scarcely walk, and as for climbing a ship's ladder—I could never have
done if some one hadn't given me a boost behind and some one else a
hand at the top. The Commander and the Major of Marines were both in
the wardroom; I walked in, saluted them as a self-respecting private
should do, and told them the whole story."
"It was Petty Officer Trehayne," said I calmly—and waited for a
"Of course," replied Dawson, greatly to my annoyance. He might have
shown some astonishment at my wonderful intuition; but he didn't, not
a scrap. Even Cary was at first disappointing, though he warmed up
later, and did me full justice. "Trehayne a spy!" cried Cary. "He
looked a smart good man."
"I am not saying that he wasn't," snapped Dawson, whose nerves were
very badly on edge. "He was obeying the orders of his superiors as we
all have to do. He gave his life, and it was for his country's
service. Nobody can do more than that. Don't you go for to slander
Trehayne. I watched him die—on his feet."
Cary turned to me. "What made you think it was Trehayne?" he asked.
This was better. I looked at Dawson, who was brooding in his chair
with his thoughts far away. He was still seeing those eyes fading out
under the glare of the electrics between the steel decks of the
"It was a sheer guess at first," said I, preserving a decent show of
modesty. "When I heard how the enemy plotted and Dawson
counter-plotted with all those skilled workmen in his detective
service, it occurred to me that an enemy with imagination might
counter-counterplot by getting men inside Dawson's defences. I
couldn't see how one would work it, but if German agents, say, could
manage to become trusted servants of Dawson himself, they would have
the time of their lives. So far I was guessing at a possibility,
however improbable it might seem. Then when Dawson told us that he had
sent Trehayne into the Antigone and that he was the one factor
common to both vessels—the workmen and the maintenance part were all
different—I began to feel that my wild theory might have something in
it. I didn't say anything to you, Cary, or to Dawson—he despises
theories. Afterwards Trehayne came in and I spoke to him, and he to
me, in French. He did not utter a dozen words altogether, but I was
absolutely certain that his French had not been learned at an English
public school and during short trips on the Continent. I know too much
of English school French and of one's opportunities to learn upon
Continental trips. It took me three years of hard work to recover from
the sort of French which I learned at school, and I am not well yet.
The French spoken by Trehayne was the French of the nursery. It was
almost, if not quite, his mother tongue, just as his English was.
Trehayne's French accent did not fit into Trehayne's history as
retailed to us by Dawson. From that moment I plumped for Trehayne as
the cutter of gun wires."
Dawson had been listening, though he showed no interest in my speech.
When I had quite finished, and was basking in the respectful
admiration emanating from dear old Cary, he upset over me a bucket of
very cold water.
"Very pretty," said he. "But answer one question. Why did I send
Trehayne to the Antigone?"
"Why? How can I tell? You said it was to make sure that the shore
party were all off the ship."
"I said! What does it matter what I say! What I do matters a heap, but
what I say—pouf! I sent Trehayne to the Antigone to test him. I
sent him expecting that he would try to cut her wires, and he did.
Then when I was sure, though I had no evidence for a law court, I sent
him to the Malplaquet, and I set my trap there for him to walk into.
How did I guess? I don't guess; I watch. The more valuable a man is to
me, the more I watch him, for he might be even more valuable to
somebody else. Trehayne was an excellent man, but he had not been with
me a month before I was watching him as closely as any cat. I hadn't
been a Marine and served ashore and afloat without knowing a born
gentleman when I see one, and knowing, too, the naval stamp. Trehayne
was too much of a gentleman to have become a workman in the Vernon
and at Greenock without some very good reason. He said that he was an
orphan—yes; he said his parents left him penniless, and he had to
earn his living the best way he could—yes. Quite good reasons, but
they didn't convince me. I was certain sure that somewhere, some time,
Trehayne had been a naval officer. I had seen too many during my
service to make any mistake about that. So when I stood there waiting
in that damned cold corner behind that bulkhead, it was for Trehayne
that I was waiting. I meant to take him or to kill him. When he killed
himself, I was glad. As I watched his eyes fade out, it was as if my
own son was dying on his feet in front of me. But it was better so
than to die in front of a firing party. For I—I loved him, and I
wished him 'Good-bye,'"
Dawson pitched his cigar into the fire, got up, and walked away to the
far side of the room. I had never till that moment completely
reverenced the penetrative, infallible judgment of Little Jane.
Dawson came back after a few minutes, picked up another cigar from
Cary's box, and sat down. "You see, I have a letter from him. I found
it in his quarters where I went straight from the Malplaquet."
"May we read it?" I asked gently. "I was greatly taken with Trehayne
myself. He was a clean, beautiful boy. He was an enemy officer on
Secret Service; there is no dishonour in that. If he were alive, I
could shake his hand as the officer of the firing party shook the hand
of Lody before he gave the last order."
Dawson took a paper from his pocket, and handed it to me. "Read it
out," said he; "I can't."
I took the letter from Dawson and glanced through it. The first sheet
and the last had been written very recently—just before the boy had
left his quarters for the last time to go on board the Malplaquet;
the remainder had been set down at various times; and the whole had
been connected up, put together, and paged after the completion of the
last sheet. Trehayne wrote a pretty hand, firm and clear, the writing
of an artist who was also a trained engineer. There was no trace in
the script of nervousness or of hesitation. He had carried out his
Orders, he saw clearly that the path which he had trod was leading him
to the end of his journey, but he made no complaint. He was a Latin,
and to the last possessed that loftiness of spirit wedded to sombre
fatalism which is the heritage of the Latins. He was at war with his
kindred of Italy and France, and with the English among whom he had
been brought up, and whom he loved. He was their enemy by accident of
birth, but though he might and did love his foes better than his
German friends of Austria and Prussia, yet he had taken the oath of
faithful service, and kept it to the end. I could understand why
Dawson—that strange human bloodhound, in whom the ruthless will
continually struggled with and kept under the very tender heart—would
allow no one to slander Trehayne.
Cary was watching me eagerly, waiting for me to read the letter.
Dawson's head was resting on one hand, and his face was turned away,
so that I could not see it. He could not wholly conceal his emotion,
but he would not let us see more of it than he could help. He did not
move once during my reading.
* * * * *
To Chief Inspector William Dawson, C.I.D.
Will you be surprised, my friend, when you read this that I have left
for you, to learn that I, your right-hand man in the unending spy
hunt, I whom you have called your bright jewel of a pupil, Petty
Officer John Trehayne, R.N.V.R., am at this moment upon the books of
the Austrian Navy as a sub-lieutenant, seconded for Secret Service?
Have you ever been surprised by anything? I don't know. You have said
often in my hearing that you suspect every one. Have you suspected me?
Sometimes when I have caught that sidelong squint of yours, that
studied accidental glance which sees so much, I have felt almost sure
that you were far from satisfied that Trehayne was the man he gave
himself out to be. I have been useful to you. I have eaten your salt,
and have served you as faithfully as was consistent with the supreme
Orders by which I direct my action. With you I have run down and
captured German agents, wretched lumps of dirt, whom I loathe as much
as you do. Those who have sworn fidelity to this fair country of
England, and have accepted of her citizenship—things which I have
never done—and then in fancied security have spied upon their adopted
Mother, I loathe and spit upon. I have taken the police oath of
obedience to my superiors, and I have kept it, but I have never sworn
allegiance to His Majesty your King, whom I pray that God may preserve
though I am his enemy. To your blunt English mind, untrained in logic,
my sentiments and actions may lack consistency. But no. Those agents
whom we have run down, you and I, were traitors—traitors to England.
Of all traitors for whom Hell is hungry the German-born traitor is the
most devilish. I would not have you think, my friend, that I am at one
with them. Never while I have been in your pay and service have I had
any communication direct or indirect with any of the naturalised-
British Prussian scum, who have betrayed your noble generosity. I have
taken my Orders from Vienna, I have communicated always direct with
Vienna. I am an Austrian naval officer. I am no traitor to England.
* * * * *
I spring from an old Italian family which has long been settled in
Trieste. For many generations we have served in the Austrian Navy.
With modern Italy, with the Italy above all which has thrown the Holy
Father into captivity and stripped the Holy See of the dominions
bestowed upon it by God, we have no part or lot. Yet when I have met
Italian officers, and those too of France, as I have frequently done
during my cruises afloat, I have felt with them a harmony of spirit
which I have never experienced in association with German-Austrians
and with Prussians. I do not wish to speak evil of our Allies, the
Prussians, but to one of my blood they are the most detestable people
whom God ever had the ill-judgment to create.
* * * * *
I was born in Trieste, and lived there with my parents until I was
eight years old. In our private life we always spoke Italian or
French, German was our official language. I know that language well,
of course, but it is not my mother tongue. Italian or French, and
afterwards English—I speak and write all three equally well; which of
the three I shall use when I come to die and one reverts to the speech
of the nursery and schoolroom, I cannot say; it will depend upon whom
those are that stand about my deathbed.
When I was eight years old, my father, Captain —— (no, I will not
tell you my name; it is not Trehayne though somewhat similar in
sound), was appointed Austrian Consul at Plymouth, and we all moved to
that great Devonshire seaport. I was young enough to absorb the rich
English atmosphere, nowhere so rich as in that county which is the
home and breeding-ground of your most splendid Navy. I was born again,
a young Elizabethan Englishman. My story to you of my origin was true
in one particular—I really was educated at Blundell's School at
Tiverton. Whenever—and it has happened more than once—I have met as
Trehayne old schoolfellows of Blundell's they have accepted without
comment or inquiry my tale that I had become an Englishman, and had
anglicised my name. Among the peoples which exist on earth to-day, you
English are the most nobly generous and unsuspicious. The Prussians
laugh at you; I, an Austrian-Italian, love and respect you.
* * * * *
When I was sixteen, after I had spent eight years in Devon, and four
of those years at an English public school, I was in speech and almost
in the inner fibres of my mind an Englishman. Your naval authorities
at Plymouth and Devonport, as serenely trustful and heedless of
espionage as the mass of your kindly people, allowed my father—whom I
often accompanied—to see the dockyards, the engine shops, the
training schools, and the barracks. They knew that he was an Austrian
naval officer, and they took him to their hearts as a brother, of the
common universal brotherhood of the sea. I think that your Navy holds
those of a foreign naval service as more nearly of kin to themselves
than civilians of their own blood. The bond of a common profession is
more close than the bond of a common nationality. I do not doubt that
my father sent much information to our Embassy in London—it was what
he was employed to do—but I am sure that he did not basely betray the
wonderful confidence of his hosts. Our countries were at peace. My
father is no Prussian; he is a chivalrous gentleman. I am sure that he
did not send more than his English naval friends were content at the
time that he should send. For in those years your newspapers and your
books upon the Royal Navy of England concealed little from the world.
I have visited Dartmouth; I have dined in the Naval College there with
bright sailor boys of my own age. It was then my one dream, had I
remained in England, to have become an Englishman, and to have myself
served in your Navy. It was a vain dream, but I knew no better. Fate
and my birth made me afterwards your enemy. I would have fought you
gladly face to face on land or sea, but never, never, would I have
stabbed the meanest of Englishmen in the back.
When I was sixteen years old I left England with my parents and
returned to Triest. I was a good mathematician with a keen taste for
mechanics. I spent two years in the naval engineering shops at Pola,
and I was gazetted as a sub-lieutenant in the engineering branch of
the Austrian Navy. My next two years were spent afloat. Although I did
not know it, I had already been marked out by my superiors for the
Secret Service. My perfect acquaintance with English, my education at
Blundell's, my knowledge of your thoughts and your queer ways, and
twists of mind, had equipped me conspicuously for Secret Service work
in your midst.
As a youth of twenty, in the first flush of manhood, I was seconded
for service here, and I returned to England. That was five years ago.
* * * * *
[I paused, for my throat was dry, and looked up. Cary was leaning
forward intent upon every word. Dawson's face was still turned away;
he had not moved. It seemed to me that to our party of three had been
added a fourth, the spirit of Trehayne, and that he anxiously waited
there yonder in the shadows for the deliverance of our judgment. Had
he, an English public school boy, played the game according to the
immemorial English rules? I went on.]
* * * * *
It was extraordinarily easy for me to obtain employment in the heart
of your naval mysteries. Few questions were asked; you admitted me as
one of yourselves. I took the broad open path of full acceptance of
your conditions. I first obtained employment in a marine engineering
shop at Southampton, joined a trade union, attended Socialist
meetings—I, a member of one of the oldest families in Trieste. Though
a Catholic, I bent my knee in the English Church, and this was not
difficult, for I had always attended service in the chapel at
Blundell's. To you, my friend, I can say this, for you are of some
strange sect which consigns to the lowest Hell both Catholics and
Anglicans alike. Your Heaven will be a small place. From Southampton I
went to the torpedo training-ship Vernon. Again I had no difficulty.
I was a workman of skill and intelligence. I was there for more than
two years, learning all your secrets, and storing them in my mind for
the benefit of my own Service at home.
It was at Portsmouth that there came to me the great temptation of my
life, for I fell in love, not as you colder people do, but as a
Latin of the warm South. She was an English girl of good, if
undistinguished, family. Though in my hours of duty I belonged to that
you call the 'working classes,' I was well off, and lived in private
the life of my own class. I had double the pay of my rank, an
allowance from my father, and my wages, which were not small. There
were many English families in Portsmouth and Southsea who were
graciously pleased to recognise that John Trehayne, trade unionist,
and weekly wage-earning workman, was a gentleman by birth and
breeding. In any foreign port I should have been under police
supervision as a person eminently to be suspected; in Portsmouth I was
accepted without question for what I gave myself out to be—a
gentleman who wished to learn his business from the bottom upwards. I
will say nothing of the lady of my heart except that I loved her
passionately, and should have married her—aye, and become an
Englishman in fact, casting off my own, country—if War had not blown
my ignoble plans to shatters. There was nothing ignoble in my love,
for she was a queen among women, but in myself for permitting the hot
blood of youth to blind my eyes to the duty claimed of me by my
country. When war became imminent, I was not recalled, as I had hoped
to be, since I wished to fight afloat as became my rank and family. I
was ordered to take such steps as most effectively aided me to observe
the English plans and preparations, and to report when possible to
Vienna. In other words, I was ordered to act in your midst as a
special intelligence officer—what you would call a Spy. It was an
honourable and dangerous service which I had no choice but to accept.
My dreams of love had gone to wreck. I could have deceived the woman
whom I loved, for she would have trusted me and believed any story of
me that I had chosen to tell. But could I, an officer, a gentleman by
birth and I hope by practice, a secret enemy of England and a spy upon
her in the hour of her sorest trial, could I remain the lover of an
English girl without telling her fully and frankly exactly what I was?
Could I have committed this frightful treason to love and remained
other than an object of scorn and loathing to honest men? I could not.
In soul and heart she was mine; I was her man, and she was my woman.
With her there were no reserves in love. She was mine, yet I fled from
her with never a word, even of good-bye. I made my plans, obtained
certificates of my proficiency in the Vernon, kissed my dear love
quietly, almost coldly, without a trace of the passion that I felt,
and fled. It was the one thing left me to do. My friend, that was two
years ago. She knows not whether I am alive or am dead; I know not
whether she is alive or is dead. Yet during every hour of the long
days, and during every hour of the still longer nights, she has been
with me. I have done my duty, but I do not think that I wish to live
very much longer. If death comes to me quickly—and to those in my
present trade it comes quickly—will you, my friend, of your bountiful
kindness write to [here followed a name and address] and repeat
exactly what I now say. Do not tell what I was or how I died, but just
write, "He loved you to the last." There is a portrait in a locket
round my neck and a ring on my finger. Send her those, my good friend,
and she will know that your words are true.
* * * * *
I fled as far from Portsmouth, where my dear love dwelt, as I could
go; I fled to Greenock, that dreadful sodden corner of earth where the
rain never ceases to fall, and the sun never shines. At Greenock one
measures the rainfall not by inches, but by yards. Sometimes, not
often, a pale orb struggles through the clouds and glimmers faintly
upon the grimy town—some poor relation of the sun, maybe, but not the
godlike creature himself. For six months, in this cold desolate spot,
among a people strangely unlike the English of Devon, though they are
of kindred race, I laboured for six months in the Torpedo Factory. I
lived meanly in one room, for my Austrian pay and allowance had
stopped when War cut the channels of communication. I could, had I
chosen, have drawn money from German agencies in London, but I scorned
to hold truck with them. They were traitors to the England which
trusted and protected them, and of which they were citizens. I lived
upon my wages and preserved jealously all that I had saved during my
years of comparative affluence at Portsmouth. It was duty which made
me a Spy, not gold.
One day I was called into the office of the Superintendent, and it was
hinted to me, diplomatically, not unskilfully, that I was desired to
take service with the English secret police. I feigned reluctance,
made difficulties, professed diffidence, until pressure was put upon
me, and I was forced to accept a position which I could never by any
scheming have achieved. Those whom the gods seek to destroy, they
first drive mad—you are a very trustful unsuspicious folk, all except
you to whom I write. But even you did not, I am sure, suspect me at
the beginning. I was sent to Scotland Yard in London to be trained in
my new duties. You saw me there, and claimed me for your staff, and I
came to this centre of shipbuilding and worked here with you. I was
clothed in the uniform of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
There are two matters closely affecting my personal honour which will
seem of small moment to you—you who display always a sublime
patriotic scorn of every moral scruple; but to me they are great. I am
of the old chivalry of Italy, and I have been taught at school in
England always to play the game. Though I wore the uniform of the
R.N.V.R., it was as a disguise and cloak of my police office; I was
never attested. I have never, never, never sworn allegiance to
England. I have always kept troth with my own country; I have never
broken troth with England. Had the English naval oath been proffered
to me, I should have refused it at any hazard to my personal safety.
My honour is unstained.
You have paid me for my work, I have taken your pay, but I have not
spent it upon myself. Every penny of it for the last twelve months
will be found at my quarters. I have lived upon what I saved at
Portsmouth—lived sometimes very scantily. My funds are running low.
What I shall do when they are exhausted I cannot tell. Perhaps, who
knows, they will last my time. As for the rest, that packet of
Treasury Notes which has been my police pay, unexpended, will you take
it, my friend, and pay it to the fund for assisting the English
sailors interned in Holland? I should feel happier if they would
accept it, for I have, as you will presently learn, taken some of
their names in vain. I have not broken any oath, and I have not used
your pay; my honour is unstained.
* * * * *
[Again I paused and glanced at Dawson. He had not even winced—at
least not visibly—when Trehayne had held him free from every moral
scruple. He must, I think, have read the letter many times before he
had handed it to me. Cary looked troubled and uneasy. To him a spy had
been just a spy—he had never envisaged in his simple honest mind such
a super-spy as Trehayne. I went on.]
* * * * *
Now nothing was hidden from me; I had within my hands all the secrets
of England's Navy. My one difficulty—and it was not so great a one as
you may think—was communication with my country. Never for one moment
did it fail. Years before it had been thought out and prepared. I
varied my methods. At Portsmouth, during the early weeks of the War, I
had employed one means, at Greenock another, here yet another. The
basis of all was the same. It was much more difficult for me to
receive orders from my official superiors in Austria, but even those
came through once or twice. Never, during the whole of the past year,
have I failed to send every detail of the warships building and
completed here, of the ships damaged and repaired, of the movements of
the Fleets in so far as I could learn them. My country and her Allies
have seen the English at work here as clearly as if this river had
been within their own borders. John Trehayne has been their Eye—an
unsleeping, ever-watching Eye. Shall I tell you how I got my
information through? It was very simple, and was done under your own
keen nose. One of the R.N.V.R. who went with your Mr. Churchill to
Antwerp, and was interned in Holland, was a friend of mine at
Greenock, well known to me, I wrote to him constantly, though he never
received and was never meant to receive my letters. They were all
addressed to the care of a house in Haarlem where lived one of our
Austrian agents who was placed under my orders. All letters addressed
by me to my friend were received by him and forwarded post haste to
Vienna. Do you grasp the simplicity and subtlety of the device? My
friend was on the lists of those interned in Holland, no one here knew
where he lodged, the address used by me was as probable as any other;
what more natural and commendable than that I should write to cheer
him up a bit in exile, and that I should send him books and
illustrated magazines? If it had been noticed by the postal
authorities in Holland that my friend did not live at the address
which I used, it would have been supposed that I had made a mistake,
and no suspicion would have been attracted to me. But how did my
letters, books, and magazines containing information, the most secret
and urgent, pass through the censorship unchecked? That again was
simple. My letters were those which a friend in freedom in England
would write to his friend who was a captive in Holland. They were
personal, sympathetic, no more. The books and magazines were just
those which such a man as my friend would desire to have to lighten
the burden of idleness. Between the lines of my letters, and on the
white margins of the books and papers, I wrote the vital information
which my country desired to have, and I desired to give. The ink which
I used for this purpose left no trace and could not be made visible by
any one who had not its complementary secret. It is the special ink of
the Austrian Secret Service; you do not know it, your Censors do not
know it, your chemists might experiment for months and years and not
discover it. I used it always, and you never read what I wrote. Now
you will understand why I wish the small stock of money, my police
pay, which I could not myself have used without dishonour, to go to
the interned sailors in Holland. I feel that I owe to my friend some
little reparation for the crooked use to which I have put his name.
There is little more to tell. Three weeks ago I received by post from
London a copy of Punch. It had been despatched to me unordered, from
the office of the paper in an office wrapper. You know that English
papers may not now be sent abroad to neutral countries except direct
from the publishing offices of the newspapers themselves. It is a
precaution of the censorship, childish and laughable, for what is
easier than to imitate official wrappers? I guessed at once, when I
saw this unordered copy of Punch, that the wrapper was a faked one,
and that it had come to me bearing orders from my superiors. I applied
my chemical tests to the margins of the pages and upon the
advertisement of a brand of whisky appeared the orders which I had
expected. I read what was written, and I have not suffered greater
pain—no, not upon that day when I fled from Portsmouth without a
word of good-bye to the woman who possessed my heart. For I learned
then that my country, the proud, clean-fighting Austria, had given up
its soul into the keeping of the filthy Prussian assassins. I was
directed to damage or delay every warship upon which I worked, to
employ any means, to blow up unsuspecting English seamen—not in the
hot blood of battle, but secretly as an assassin. A step in rank was
promised for every battleship destroyed. Had these foul Orders
admitted of no loophole through which my honour might with difficulty
wriggle, I should have taken the only course possible to me. I should
have instantly resigned my commission in the Austrian Navy, and taken
my own life. But it happened that I had an alternative. I was ordered
to damage or delay warships. I would not treacherously slay the
English sailors among whom I worked, but I would, if I could, delay
the ships. My experience taught me that the simplest and most
effective way was to cut the electric wires, and I decided to do it
whenever opportunity offered. I could not do this for long. I was
certain to be discovered. You are not a man who fails before a
definite problem in detection. But before I was discovered I could do
something to carry out my Orders.
I cut the gun-wires of the Antinous. It was easy. I was the last to
leave of the shore party. Then you sent me on board the Antigone.
She was closely watched, the task was very difficult, and dangerous; I
was within the fraction of a second of discovery, but I took one chop
of my big shears. The job was ill done, but I could do no better.
You warned me fairly, that if injury came to the Malplaquet, while
under my charge, that I should be dismissed. She was my last chance as
she was your own. But what to me were risks? I had lost my love, and
my country had dishonoured herself in my eyes. I was nameless,
loveless, countryless. All had gone, and life might go too.
* * * * *
I am completing this letter before going on board the Malplaquet and
placing it where you will readily find it. I know you, my friend, more
intimately than you know yourself. I am certain that even now you are
in the ship, that you are preparing snares into which I shall in all
probability fall. Your snares are well set. If I fail, it will be
through you; if I am caught, it will be through you. But be sure of
this—if we meet in the Malplaquet, the fowler and the bird, it will
be for the last time. You may catch me, but you will not take me. For
a long time past I have provided against just such an outcome as this.
Upon my uniform tunics, upon my overalls, I have fixed buttons,
hollowed out, each of which contains enough of cyanide of potassium to
kill three men. If I were court-martialled and shot, there would be no
disgrace to me, an officer on secret service, but a whisper of it
might steal to Portsmouth and give deep pain to one there. No one will
learn of the petty officer of R.N.V.R. who died far away in the north.
The locket with the portrait is round my neck, the ring is upon my
finger. Both are ready waiting for you who will do what I ask and will
keep my secret from her.
I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
* * * * *
I folded up the papers and returned them to Dawson, who carefully
placed them in his pocket. In the shadows the spirit of Trehayne still
seemed to be waiting. I thought for a few minutes, and then rose to my
feet. "He was an officer on secret service," said I slowly. "An enemy,
but a gallant and generous enemy. In love and in war he played the
game, Requiescat in pace."
"Amen," said Cary.
Dawson rose and gripped our hands. "I have the locket and the ring,
and I will write as he wished. It is the least that I can do."
They buried Trehayne with naval honours as an enemy officer who had
died among us. England does not war with the dead. Though he had
fallen by his own hand, the Roman Church did not withhold from an
erring son the beautiful consolation of her ritual. Cary and I openly
attended the funeral. Dawson was officially in bed, suffering from his
much-desired attack of influenza. But in the firing party of Red
Marines, whose volleys rang through the wintry air over the body of
Trehayne, I espied one whom I was glad to see present.
THE WOMAN AND THE MAN
If one believed Dawson's own accounts of his exploits—I can conceive
no greater exercise in folly—one would conclude that he never failed,
that he always held the strings by which his puppets were constrained
to dance, and that he could pluck them from their games and shut them
within his black box whenever he grew wearied of their fruitless
sport. He trumpets his successes, but he never speaks of his
failures—he buries them so deeply that he forgets them himself. He
veils his plans, movements, and personal appearance in a fog of
mystery. None, not even his closest associates, know what he would be
at until a job is completely finished, and finished successfully. Thus
when he succeeds, his own small world is deeply impressed—even
nauseated—by the compelling spectacle of a Dawson triumphant; when he
fails, very few know or hear of the failure. He loves the jealousy of
his equals and inferiors even more than the admiration of his
superiors. Thoroughly to enjoy life he must be surrounded by both in
the amplest measure.
What I now have to tell is the story of a failure—a failure due to
his refusal ever to allow his right hand to know what his left hand
sought to do. He never told me himself one word concerning this story.
I obtained the details partly from Captain Rust, partly from Dawson's
Deputy, but chiefly from the lady who filled the star role. Dawson
himself foolishly introduced me to her nearly two years later; he did
not anticipate that we should become friendly, confidential, that we
should discuss him and his little ways over cups of tea, made the
sweeter by the clandestine nature of our frequent meetings. He had not
allowed for the fascinations of the lady—fascinations so alluring
that even I, a middle-aged Father of a Family and Justice of the
Peace, was instantly reduced by them to the softest moral pulp; and he
had not allowed for the Puckish glee with which I welcomed the tale,
rolled it round in my wicked fancy, and bent its ramifications into an
* * * * *
I very vividly remember my first meeting with the lady. She came one
day, a fortnight after I had returned from Cary's flat to my neglected
duties, heralded by a short note from Dawson. "I shall be greatly
obliged if you will give Madame Gilbert all assistance in your power.
She is one of my team." That was all, but my curiosity was piqued. I
had heard much of Dawson's team of feminine assistants—rudely called
by rivals his "harem"—and I was eager to meet one of them. I ordered
Madame Gilbert to be admitted to my presence. She came, I saw, she
conquered. When I assert that in two minutes she had plucked me from
my chair of dignity, flung me upon the Turkey carpet, and jumped upon
me with her daintily shod feet, I do not exaggerate.
She was not very young—I put her at two or three years over thirty.
She was, or gave herself out to be, a widow. She was a female
detective; I was a modest gentleman of rigid English respectability,
not without some matrimonial experience in the ways of Woman. There
was nothing in the purpose of her visit to have caused her to come
upon me as a Venus, fully armed, and to have forced me to an abject
surrender. From the feathers of her black picture hat to the tips of
her black velvety shoes she was French-clad, the French of Paris, and
wore her clothes like a Frenchwoman. She was dressed—bien habillee,
bien gantee, bien coiffee. Her hair was red copper, her skin—the
"glad neck" of her dress showed a lot of it—had the colour and bloom,
the cream and roses, of Devon. Her eyes were very large and of a deep
violet All these charms of dress and face and colour I could have
gallantly withstood, but the voice of her settled my business at once.
Its rich, full tone, its soft, appealing inflection, the pretty
foreign accent with which she then chose to speak English—I can hear
them now. I have always been sensitive to beautiful voices, and Madame
Gilbert's voice is beyond comparison the most beautiful voice in the
Madame Gilbert made one or two small requests to which I gave an
immediate assent, and then she asked me to do something within my
power but much against my uncontrolled will. "Madame," said I
shamelessly, "as you are strong be merciful; let me off as lightly as
you can." She laughed, and eyed me with interest. My defeat had been
with her, of course, a certainty, but perhaps it took place more
rapidly than she had expected. "I have not asked for much," said she.
"It is not what you have asked that I fear, but what you may ask
before I get you out of my room," said I.
She laughed again and let me down very gently. I did not tell her more
than three secrets which I was pledged never to reveal. "That's all,"
said Madame Gilbert. "Thank Heaven," said I.
On the following afternoon, about four o'clock, Madame Gilbert called
again upon me. When her card was brought in I trembled, and for a
moment had in mind to deny myself to her. But I thrust away the
cowardly thought. Be brave, said I to myself, advance boldly, attack
the terrible delightful siren, say "no" to her once, and you will be
saved! She entered, and though my knees shuddered as I rose to greet
her, my mien was bold and warlike. She warmly squeezed my hand, and I
returned the attention with empressement. For a few minutes we
exchanged polite compliments, and then she sprung upon me in her
tender confident tones, a request so preposterous that my rapidly
flitting courage was stimulated to return. Be brave, I murmured to
myself, attack boldly, say "No," and you will be saved for ever.
"I deeply regret, madame," said I coldly, "that it is not possible for
me to accede to your wishes." It was done, and I breathed more freely
though the sweat broke out on my forehead.
Her eyes opened upon me with the pained surprised look of a deeply
disappointed child. "Oh, Mr. Copplestone," she moaned, "and I thought
that you were my friend."
I clutched tightly at the arms of my faithful chair and held to my
programme of heroic boldness.
"You shouldn't have asked me such a question. You really
shouldn't—you know you shouldn't."
Her eyelids flickered, and the violet pools which they uncovered
glittered with a moisture which was not of tears, and she laughed,
laughed, and continued to laugh with the deepest enjoyment.
"I wanted to see how much you would stand," said she at last.
From that moment her spell over me was broken, and we became friends.
I admired her as much as ever, but she was no longer the all-devouring
siren. I could say "no" to her as easily as to the most dowdy and
unbeautiful of female axe-grinders.
"Will you permit me to offer you a cup of tea so as to wash from your
mouth the unpleasant taste of my brutal refusal?"
"I will," said Madame Gilbert graciously.
We issued from my office and betook ourselves to a pleasant shop where
we could drink tea and nibble cakes, and talk without being overheard.
Madame Gilbert, I observed, had a healthy appetite.
We talked of ourselves and exchanged delicious confidences. "You have
asked me many questions," I said. "May I ask one of you? What are you?
You are not English, and you are not, I think, French."
"Shall I also learn a lesson from you in unkindness and say 'No'?" she
inquired. "But it would be cruel, for you have really been quite nice
to me. I will reveal the secret of my birth." She put up one hand and
began to tick off the countries which had been privileged to play a
part in her origin and education. "My father was a Swede—one; my
mother was an Irishwoman—two. I was born at Cork in Ireland, but
remember nothing about it, for my father died when I was three years
old, and my Irish mother removed instantly to Paris—three. By the
way, I have observed that the Irish and the Scotch always run away
from their own countries at the first possible opportunity. Why is
"It is much pleasanter," I remarked sententiously "to sentimentalise
over the fringes of the United Kingdom from a safe distance, than to
live in them."
"Oh! Let me see, I had got as far as Paris. When I was old enough I
went to a convent school there. I speak French rather better than I do
the Irish-English which my mother taught me."
"You speak English most charmingly. There is about it now a delicate
suggestion, no more, of Ireland. When you first came to me your accent
was distinctly foreign, French or Italian. I am afraid that you are a
wicked woman, a deceiver, and that the fascinating accent was put on
for my subduing. It was a very pretty accent."
"I have found it most effective," said she brazenly.
"When I was eighteen I was married—to an Italian (Guilberti)—four. I
should have become a Catholic, my husband's faith, but for my mother's
Protestant-Irish prejudices. She was of the Irish Church, my husband
of the Roman, so I compromised. I joined the Church of England, the
"Your religion is almost as complicated as your nationality."
"Yes, isn't it?" said she. Her hand was still uplifted; she had paused
at the fourth finger. "We lived in Italy and in France. Two years ago
my husband died, and shortly after the war began my mother died. I had
a little money, I was known to the Embassy in Paris as one who could
pass indifferently as English, or French, or Italian. I wanted to
strike a blow for all my countries, and I was recommended to Mr.
Dawson for"—she looked round carefully, bent her head close to mine,
and whispered—"the Secret Service. So I came for the first time that
I remember to England—five."
"But what are you?" I asked, with knitted brows; "I am not an
"Mr. Dawson says"—I found that she has a childlike confidence in the
redoubtable Dawson—"that by birth I am a British subject. My Swedish
father doesn't count, as I never adopted Sweden when I came of age. My
domicile before marriage was France, but by marriage I became an
Italian. It is no matter; I am of the Entente, and I do my bit. It is
not a bad bit sometimes."
That was the first of many agreeable tea-drinkings which Madame
Gilbert and I took together.
Madame Gilbert believes herself to be, as she puts it, a woman of
"surprising virtue," and I am by no means sure that she is not right.
For the doing of her bit has led her into situations from which
nothing but the coolest of hearts and the quickest of wits could have
brought her out untarnished. She has played her part gallantly,
serenely, in the service of the Alliance; I should be a poor creature
if I judged her by British provincial standards. Among other stories
she told me the tale which I will repeat to the reader. Here and there
were gaps which I have sought diligently to fill up until the whole
has been made complete. Madame Gilbert told to me the most intimate
details without a blush, and if in my telling I startle the blood to
the cheek of the very oldest of readers, the fault will rest with me.
* * * * *
"I have a notion, Madame Gilbert, which I should like you to follow
up," said Dawson. He was at that time (the Spring of 1915) in his
office in London—he had not yet been despatched on his spacious
pilgrimage to the northern shipyards—and Madame Gilbert sat opposite
to him in an attitude deliberately provocative. She sat back in a
comfortable chair facing the light, her legs were crossed, and she
displayed a great deal more of beautifully rounded calf and perfectly
fitting silk stockings than is usual even in the best society.
Although she did not look at Dawson, she was fully conscious of the
frowning glare which he threw at the audacious leg.
"Please give me your attention—if you can. I have been out at the
Front lately, at General Headquarters, to advise upon the means of
stopping the flow of information from our lines to the enemy. All the
obvious channels have been stopped—the telephones hidden in French
cellars, the signals given by the hands of clocks, the German spies
dressed in uniforms stripped from our dead, and so on. Lots of them,
all obvious and simple. One can deal with that sort of thing by a
careful system of unremitting watchfulness. We must have caught up
with most of the arrangements made by the Germans before the war, but
they still get much more information than is good for them to have,
and for us to lose. I am convinced—and G.H.Q. agrees—that there are
many officers, especially in the French and Belgian armies, who were
planted there years before the war for the precise purpose to which
they are now put. Even in our own Army, which is expanding so rapidly,
the same thing is possible, even probable. An infantry officer spy can
do little—he knows nothing of the Staff plans, and cannot get into
communication with the enemy at all readily, without arousing
suspicion. I went into the whole thing at the Front, and I put my
finger, as I always do, upon the danger spot—the Flying Corps. Those
who fly constantly over our own and the enemy's lines have complete
information as to distribution and movements, and, if they choose, can
drop dummy bombs containing news for the enemy to pick up. A French,
Belgian, or English aeroplane 'observer' in the enemy's secret service
could convey information to him at pleasure and without the
possibility of detection. I don't suspect our own Flying Corps, except
on the general principle of suspecting everybody and everything, but I
do that of the French and the Belgians. France and Belgium were salted
through and through by the Germans in anticipation of war. There in
the Flying Corps we have a very grave danger which—But I see that you
are not attending, madame," he broke off angrily.
Her eyes withdrew from the offending leg for an instant, and flashed
at Dawson with a penetrative power which even he felt.
"Shall I repeat what you have said, word for word?" asked Madame
"I am not now dealing with facts, but with conjecture;" went on
Dawson, after begging her pardon. "I have nothing to go upon, but the
Germans have far more of imagination and ingenuity than we always
credit to them. They must see that with the great advance in the
Flying Corps of the Allied armies, and the opportunities which flying
men have for collecting and conveying information, one flying spy
would be worth a hundred spies on foot. For them to perceive is to
act. I therefore conclude positively that they have agents in the
flying squadrons of France and Belgium, and possibly even in our own.
So I told the C. in C., and he agreed with me. He was good enough to
say that he would never have thought of this had I not suggested it to
him. Soldiers are not detectives, madame, and very few detectives are
William Dawsons. If the War Office knew its business, every Assistant
Provost-Marshal would be, not a soldier, but a man from the Yard, and
I should be the P.M. in Chief on the Headquarters Staff. I should wear
a general's uniform and hat."
"You would look sweet," said Madame politely.
Dawson, the ex-private of Red Marines, swelled out his chest and felt
himself to be a Major-General at the least.
"They will do their best to follow up my idea at the Front, and I
shall start a campaign here. For I become more and more convinced that
the head centre of the German secret service is here in London. Paris,
even before the war, was too watchful, and now is as hot as Hell.
London reeked with spies, and though we locked up the worst of them
when war broke out, lots still remain. If you only knew how many we
laid by the heels and keep shut up without any trial, or nonsense of
that sort, you would be surprised. It is only since the Defence of the
Realm Act was passed that England has become a free country. We keep a
drag-net going continually, we have hundreds of agents in all
suspected quarters, but this wilderness of bricks and mortar is too
big even for us. Once an enemy agent has got himself into an English
or Allied uniform, he is horribly difficult to run down. That is where
you, and those like you, come in. Are you sure, my dear madame, that
you can pass without detection as a Frenchwoman or a French-Belgian?"
Madame Gilbert put up her left hand, and began to tick off her
qualifications. "My father was a Swede, my mother was Irish, I was
educated in France from the age of three to eighteen, I married an
Italian. Brussels I know almost as well as dear Paris. I can be
Parisienne or Bruxelloise—whichever you wish, Mr. Dawson."
"Good," said Dawson. "What I want of you is this. Whenever here in
London you see a French or Belgian officer wearing the badges of the
Flying Corps, mark him down. Make his acquaintance somehow; you will
know how. Entertain him, fascinate him, let him entertain you; fool
him as you would fool me if I let you; worm out his secrets, if he has
any. If you get upon a promising track, go strong; let the man make
love to you—he will, whoever he is, if you give him half a
chance—intoxicate him with those confounded eyes of yours. If you can
find only one who is in the enemy's service, you will be fully repaid
for all your trouble."
"It is a largish contract," murmured Madame thoughtfully.
"There are not so very many flying officers," said Dawson, "and they
are all young. You will work through them pretty quickly. Most of them
will be the genuine article upon whom you need not waste much time.
But the others, those whom I suspect, you must grab hold of and never
let go, whatever happens."
"I hope," said Madame primly, "that you do not expect me to do
Dawson stared at her in wonder. Her big eyes, shining with the lovely
innocence of childhood, met his without a flicker. "Bless my immortal
soul," he muttered, "she is getting at me again." Then aloud, and
gravely—"My assistants are always expected to conduct themselves with
the strictest propriety."
Madame laughed softly. "I have known many men in my time, Mr. Dawson,
but I have never enjoyed any man so much as I do you."
"I appear to have rather a roaming commission," Madame Gilbert went
on, after a thoughtful pause. "Can you not give me any guidance?"
"Not at present. I am testing an idea, that is all. You must be guided
by your own wit and judgment, in which I have the utmost confidence.
Don't waste your time or fascinations on the wrong people. Find out if
among the French or Belgian flying officers, who from time to time
visit London, there are any whose connections and movements will repay
close watching here and at the Front. Sift them out. When you get upon
a track which seems promising, follow it up, and do not be—what shall
I say?—do not be too squeamish. Money is no object. Behind us is the
whole British Treasury, and you can have whatever you want. Will you
take on the contract, madame?"
"I will do my best," she replied soberly, "and I will not be—too
squeamish. I can look after myself, my friend."
In another room of the great building upon the Thames Embankment sat
Deputy Chief Inspector Henri Froissart, a French detective officer who
had been "lent" to the English service. Opposite him was sitting a
young handsome man in the uniform of a captain in the British Army.
Froissart was frowning and speaking in savage disrespect of Dawson,
his immediate chief. "This English Dawson, with whom it is my
misfortune to work, is of all men the most impossible. He is clever,
as the Devil, but secretive—my faith! He tells me nothing. He lives
in disguise of body and mind. There are twenty men in his face, his
figure, and his dress. He comes to me as a police officer, a doctor, a
soldier, a priest, even as an old hag who cleans the stairs. He
deceives me continually, and laughs, laughs. He is a reproach and an
insult. I have it in my mind to score off him; what do you say, mon
Froissart spoke in French, and the English officer replied in the same
language. "With pleasure, in the way of business. I have been placed
at your orders, not at old man Dawson's. Go ahead, what is the game?"
Froissart nodded approval. "I think that you can pass as a French
officer or a French-speaking Belgian. Is it not so?"
"You should be able to certify that better than I can myself," replied
the officer modestly. "As a boy I was brought up at Dinard in
Normandy. I served two years in the French Army as a volunteer, a
gunner. Then I went to St. Cyr, but England, the home of my father,
claimed me, and I was given a commission in the Artillery. That was
two years ago. I volunteered for the Flying Corps, served in it at the
outbreak of war, but was invalided after that confounded accident
which spoilt my nerve. I fell two hundred feet into the sea, and
passed thirty hours in the bitter water before a destroyer picked me
up. Thirty hours, my friend. My nerve went, and I was besides crippled
by rheumatism of the heart. Then I was for a few weeks liaison officer
on the Yser at the point where the English and Belgian lines met. The
wet, the cold, were too great for me, and again I was invalided. I was
a temporary captain without a job until you met me and asked for me to
be attached to you for secret service. Yes, M. Froissart, I can pass
as a French or a Belgian officer. It needs but the uniform."
"Good," cried Froissart. "You are English of the English, and French
of the French. You have served under the Tricolor and under the Union
Jack. You are an embodiment of L'Entente Cordiale. You almost
reconcile me to that detestable Dawson, but not quite. He is of the
provincial English, what you call a Nonconformist—bah! He is clever,
but bourgeois. He grates upon me; for I, his subordinate in this
service, am aristocrat, a Count of l'ancien regime, catholique,
presque royaliste. His blood is that of muddy peasants, yet he is my
chief! Peste, I spit upon the sacred name of Dawson!"
"You don't seem to be a very loyal subordinate," observed the officer,
"Me, not loyal!" cried Froissart astonished. "I surely am of all men
most loyal to l'Entente. Have I not proved my loyalty? I have left my
beautiful France and come here to this foggy London to aid this
flat-footed homme de bout, Dawson, in his researches. Yet he tells
me nothing. He disguises himself before me, and laughs, laughs, when I
fail to recognize his filthy, obscene countenance. But I am loyal, of
a true loyalty unapproachable."
"I believe you, though you have a queer way of showing it. What is now
the game that you want to play off on the old man as a proof of your
"He is clever, my faith, clever as the Devil. He discerns the German
plans before they are made. He has their agents within a wire net
which closes whenever he wishes. He has swept London clean of the foul
brood which festered here before the war. I have great, limitless
confidence in this Dawson whom I detest, but to whom I am of all his
assistants the most loyal. He now suspects that contained within the
Flying Corps of us, the Belgians, and the English are observers in the
pay of Germany. It is an idea most splendid. For if it is true, what
greater opportunity could be given to any spies! To fly over our
lines, to learn of everything, and then to convey the news to the
enemy by way of the air! If he had told me of this most perspicuous of
theories, I would have aided him with all the wealth of my genius. But
no, he tells to me nothing. He comes and goes, he spins his web like a
great fat female spider, but he tells me nothing. It is my belief that
he despises me because I am French, aristocrat, and catholique.
But I will show him; I will, as you call it, score most bitterly off
him; I will do in my way successfully what he vainly seeks to do in
his way. Conspuez Dawson!"
"This is quite like the old times of the Dreyfus case," said the
"Dreyfus! But I will speak not of that. It is buried. We French are
one people now, one and indivisible. Though of traitors, the villain
Dreyfus was of the most horrible. Let us speak of cet homme tres
sale, Dawson. I do not know his plans. They will be shrewd, but
without imagination, without flair. He will watch, with his eyes of a
cat, the French and Belgian flying officers who come to London, but he
will not discover their secrets. For he does not understand, this cold
English Dawson, that secrets which endanger the neck are told only to
"Yet I have heard that he has a team of women—his harem, as it is
called. I have never seen one of them."
"Bah! Englishwomen, of the large feet and the so protruding teeth! Who
would tell of his precious secrets to them!"
"Oh, come, M. Froissart. We have as many pretty women in London as you
have in Paris."
"It is possible, my friend. All things, the most improbable, are
possible. But they conceal themselves most assiduously. I have not
seen them, these so pretty Englishwomen."
"Well, well. You are a bit out of date as regards our women. But I
don't want to argue. What is the game?"
Froissart leaned forward and spoke solemnly, forcibly.
"If the man Dawson is right, and there are German spies in the French
and Belgian flying services, they will come to London to get their
orders. And they will get them from women, depend upon it, my friend.
From women who are of French education, who appear to be French, yet
who are the deadly, the most dangerous, enemies of France. Let Dawson
watch the men themselves; but watch you such women as I
indicate—women who appear to be French and yet are not French. I will
speak to the Chief, not to Dawson, but to the Great Chief of us all.
You shall be dressed in the tenue of a French flying officer; you
shall avoid French or Belgian officers who might ask questions the
most embarrassing. You shall make the acquaintance of women who appear
to be French, yet who are not French. Grip on to these, my friend,
entertain them, make yourself of the most fascinating and agreeable,
give to them attentions and love of the warmest. And when after two or
three glasses of champagne you repose at ease with your arm about
their waists, get you at their secrets. You are young, handsome, and
your eye is bold. I give you a pleasant task—the deception of
deceiving women. In my younger days what joy would I not have taken in
Captain Rust became very gloomy during this speech for, though French
in education, he was by instinct an Englishman.
"I don't like the business at all. It sounds mean and grubby, ugh! Not
quite what one would ask of a gentleman."
Froissart was genuinely surprised. "What do you say, not for a
gentleman? Am I not a gentleman, I, who speak, a Froissart, a Count of
l'ancien regime, a Royalist almost? I offer you a task which
combines business and pleasure in the most delicious of proportions.
And you call my offer mean and grubby, meprisable et crotte! I do
not ask you to consort with those of the demi-monde. The women who
are of most danger to our countries are not courtisanes; they are of
the monde, fashionable. They meet officers in society; they humour
and flatter them; they display a melting softness of sympathy and
interest. I do not ask you, my friend, to endanger your English
The tone of wondering contempt with which he ended brought a smile to
"I am not so very virtuous, monsieur. But I am English, and I try,
vainly perhaps, to be a gentleman. It seems to me a dirty business to
make up to women in order to wheedle out their secrets."
"We have to do worse than that in defence of our country. We have to
plot and counterplot, to lie and deceive. But we do these things, and
you must do them too, if you would be of the Secret Service. Content
yourself. Think always that it is for la belle France or for le bel
Angleterre, for la grande Alliance. You have qualifications
unusual; you are young, handsome, and French in manner and speech. You
are a soldier; it is for me to command, and for you to obey. Besides,
think you; if success comes to us, picture to yourself the desolation
"Desolating Dawson is more your fun than mine. I have no grudge to
work off on the old man. Since you command, I will obey. I will do my
best, but, to be quite frank, I do not like the job."
"But you will do it. I think that you English, slow to move, do best
those things which you like least. You despise the Secret Service,
what you call dirty spying, yet you do it to admiration—with a
courage and sang froid most wonderful. You hate to begin a war, and
yet when you fight you are, of all people, the most unwilling to stop.
When we French and the Russians yonder have supped of this war to the
dregs, you English will just have begun to find your appetites. Stop?
you will cry. Make peace? Be content? Why, we have just got our second
wind! It will be the same with you, my friend. You begin reluctantly,
but when the chase becomes hot, you will be on fire with zest. You
will not trouble then that vous vous faites crottes."
"I will do my best; I cannot say more than that."
A PROGRESSIVE FRIENDSHIP
Neither Madame Gilbert nor Captain Rust are very communicative
concerning their adventures, until they begin to speak of that day
when first they met one another in the courtyard of the Savoy Hotel.
They both then become voluble. I rather gather—though I did not
cross-examine them at all closely—that they had been a good deal
bored. Their instructions were so very vague, and the best method of
carrying them out so far from clear to their ingenious minds, that
they wandered aimlessly about the resorts most affected by officers on
leave, spent much money, made a good many pleasant acquaintances, but
progressed not at all in their researches. Madame did not meet with
any French or Belgian flying officers who seemed likely to be German
agents, and Captain Rust failed to discover a siren who appeared to be
French and yet was not French, and who aroused any plausible suspicion
that she dwelt in the central web of German intrigue. Madame began to
think that for once the impeccable Dawson had despatched her upon a
wild goose chase, and Rust became convinced that Froissart's vivid
longing to score off the detested Dawson had misled him in the
selection of the means to bring about this much-desired consummation.
They told me little of these wanderings, but when I asked for details
of their first meeting, the one with the other, and their subsequent
rather startling proceedings, they broke into eager speech. It was not
until my keen and curious eye began to penetrate the delicate
mysteries surrounding their surprising week-end visit to Brighton that
Rust again became tongue-tied. He reprehensibly slurred over the most
entertaining details. Madame Gilbert, on the other hand, revealed
everything with that plain-spoken frankness which, in any other woman,
would appear to be brazen. Madame is thirty-two; Captain Rust no more
than twenty-six. He is a modest young man in spite of his French
training; she, I am afraid, is a hussy. But I would not have her other
than she is.
Madame Gilbert was taking tea alone in the courtyard of the Savoy. She
occupied one place at a table laid for four. It was a fine afternoon
in late spring, motors and taxis ran in and out unceasingly, the
open-air restaurant began to fill up, but none ventured to approach
any one of three empty places at Madame's table. She was, as usual,
perfectly dressed—though she assures me that her clothes cost next to
nothing. "It is the wearing of them, my friend, not the cost which
counts." I fancy that her unshakable temper and her gay humour, like
her beauty, are really based, as she says, upon her complete freedom
from ailments. She loves life, and this, perhaps, is why life loves
Madame Gilbert, though to the unobservant eye intent upon her tea and
cakes, saw every one who came and went. Many officers were in the
restaurant, but one only attracted her special notice. He was a young
handsome man in the field-service kit of the French Army, and upon his
sleeves and cap were the wings of the Flying Corps. This young man was
looking for a table, but could not find one that was empty. She waited
until he paused not far from her, and then, sweeping her eyes slowly
over the crowded tables, brought them to rest upon his face. He was
quite an attractive-looking young man. There was an appeal in his dark
eyes as they met hers; he was imploring her of her gracious kindness
to permit him to occupy one of her superfluous seats, and she
telegraphed to him an encouraging reply. The French officer
approached, saluted, and bowed: "Is it permitted, madame, to
inconvenience you?" he asked humbly. "The tables are very full, or I
would not venture to intrude." He spoke in careful, accurate English,
and with an accent markedly French.
"Please favour me by sitting down at once," replied Madame. "I feel
myself to be very selfish with my four places and one small person."
She spoke in careful, accurate English, and with an accent markedly
"Ah!" he exclaimed, seating himself opposite to her, and breaking into
French. "Madame is of my country, is it not so?"
"But certainly," said Madame in the same language, which was to her a
second mother-tongue. "I am of Paris. If you had not been French I
should not have dared to hint to you that a place at this table might
For a few minutes they talked together in the ceremonious style for
which the French language is the perfect medium, and then dropped into
more easy friendly speech. Madame, when she likes the look of a man,
becomes intimate at the shortest notice, and Rust, like every man born
of woman, succumbed helplessly, instantly, to the wiles of Madame.
Though she had finished tea, she urged Rust not to be hurried; there
was plenty of time, and one did not often have the happiness to meet a
French officer in this dreary London. She enveloped him in her meshes
of kindliness, and he responded by thinking to himself that she was
the loveliest, most friendly creature whom he had ever met. Madame
knows a great deal more of military details than most male civilians,
but when she talked to Captain Rust at the Savoy, her ignorance of the
Flying Corps was absolute. She asked questions, quite intelligent
questions, and he bubbled over with eagerness to answer them. Poor
Rust; I can picture the humbling scene. He made an ass of himself, of
course, but not a greater ass than I always make of myself—and I am
not far from double his age—whenever Madame gets to work upon me.
Within ten minutes she had wheedled out of him an account of his
accident. "I was out on patrol duty," he explained, "spotting for
submarines between the Straits and Zeebrugge. When the weather is fine
we can see deep down into the water, a hundred feet or so, and quite
easily make out a submerged U boat. I was testing a new plane fitted
with a 90 h.p. R.A.F. engine—" He paused and quickly glanced at her,
for he realised his blunder the instant the slip had been made. Madame
was all eager attention—what did she know of the marques of aeroplane
engines!—"It was a day of rotten luck for me. I spotted nothing, and
late in the afternoon my engine began to overheat and miss fire. I did
my utmost to struggle towards Do——, Dunkirk, but the beastly thing
gave out altogether, and down I dropped into the sea. I had an
ordinary land plane without floats, and was obliged to cut myself
clear and keep up as best I could with my air belt. It was a weary
time, waiting to be picked up, all that night and all the next day;
the cold of the water struck right through me, and I was senseless,
like a dead man, when at last, thirty hours afterwards, one of our
destroyers found me floating there, picked me up, and carried me into
Dover. I was in hospital for six weeks, crippled with rheumatic fever,
and my heart went wrong. It is much better now, and I hope soon to get
back to flying again. I am still on sick leave."
"Poor heart," sighed Madame, and smiled to herself…. "He looked at
me," she explained long afterwards, "as if there was still life in his
poor strained heart. It was a real kindness to give it some gentle
"And when you are well you will again fly for France?" she inquired.
"Ah, yes. I yearn for the day when the obdurate doctors will permit me
to fly again—for France…. And you, madame, who are so kind to a
poor crippled soldier, is it permitted to ask—"
"I am, alas, a widow." She paused, and though demurely looking at her
empty tea cup, saw his eyes light up. ["The silly boy was pleased that
I was a widow," she explained. "As if that mattered."] "My poor
husband fell for France—at Le Grand Couronne. That was eight months
ago, and I am still inconsolable. I love to meet the brother officers
of my dear lost husband. He was killed by a shell, close beside his
general, and I do not even know where he was buried." She delicately
wiped her eyes, and Rust murmured broken words of the deepest
sympathy. Yet he was not sorry to hear that his new friend was a
widow. It must have been a most pathetic scene.
Madame recovered from her sudden rush of grief—brought on by thoughts
of that unknown grave upon Le Grand Couronne!—and began to pull on
her gloves. "And you, my friend?" she asked gently.
"No one lives who will grieve for me," he replied sadly.
"You are young, my friend, and your heart will—recover itself. I am
old, made old by illness and sorrow." She was a picture of glowing
health! "May I ask the name by which I may remember you?"
He was clean bowled, for he, foolishly, had not prepared a plausible
name. "I am called," stammered he, "Captain Rouille." It was the best
that he could do on the instant—the translation of his uncommon
English name into French.
"A strange name," she murmured, "though the sound of it is beautiful.
Rouille! It signifies, for the moment, the decay of hopes, a mould of
rust obscuring ambition. But in a little while the steel of your
courage will shine bright once more. I am Madame Gilbert; my husband
was of the Territorial Army—a Captain also." She had thought to have
made him a Colonel on General Castelnau's staff, but refrained from so
risky a flight of imagination. An obscure Captain of Territorials
might well be called Guilbert, and pass unidentified.
As they pressed hands at parting, Rust hesitated. "May one hope,
madame, to meet you again. Your kindness has been great, and I feel
that I have made a new friend."
"And I also," sighed Madame. "I often come here to drink the English
tea. It is a pleasing custom of London."
"To-morrow?" he inquired anxiously. "It is possible," replied Madame,
* * * * *
"Well," said I, when Madame had told me of this meeting, "I hope that
you had the grace to feel ashamed of yourself. To deceive an invalided
flying officer with your tale of the Captain of Territorials, blown up
by a shell beside his general upon Le Grand Couronne. It was
"It was the unknown grave which fetched him," said Madame cheerfully.
"Worse and worse. Why could you not have told him the truth?"
"Because, my stupid friend, the Captain Rouille interested me, and I
was on duty. What was a captain in the French Flying Corps doing with
an aeroplane driven by a 90 h.p. Royal Aircraft Factory engine
(R.A.F.)? Why should he speak of 'our' destroyers, referring to those
of the British, when he ought to have said the 'English' destroyers as
a French officer would have done? Why again should he hesitate over
his name, and then give so impossible a one as Rouille? No, I had
discerned plainly that M. le Capitaine Rouille, whatever he might be,
was not the man he pretended that he was. He spoke French perfectly,
but he was not in the French flying service. He was English. I
recollected my instructions from the great Dawson—to stick to any one
who excited my suspicions, to let him make love to me if need be, and
to discover his secrets. I am, my friend, a martyr to duty. Besides,
le Capitaine Rouille was a handsome young man, very attractive. I was
not grieved at the thought that he might pursue me with his
"Why," I asked in turn of Rust, "did you begin by telling lies to the
charming Madame Gilbert?"
"I was in French uniform," said he, "and I had to play my part."
"And a nice mess you made of it," said I rudely.
"I am afraid that I did. That slip about the R.A.F. engine was
unpardonable. But then how was I to know that the dear woman knew as
much about aeroplanes as I did myself? She was like Desdemona at the
feet of Othello, and, of course, I lost my head. You are as crazy
about her as I am, with less excuse. Besides, I was on duty. Before
Madame had spoken to me for five minutes, I was certain that she was
not French. She spoke perfectly, but there was a little accent, a
delightful accent, that told me she was Irish. That soupcon of a
brogue which gives so delicate a spice to her English appears also in
her French. My mother was an Irish woman, though I have never lived in
Ireland. You know that all the Irish, especially those of America or
of France, are watched most carefully by the police. Many of them hate
the English, and spy upon us. When, therefore, I perceived that
Madame, though she appeared to be French was by birth Irish, I
recollected my instructions from Froissart. It was my duty to stick to
her, to study her. If necessary to make love to her. It did not seem
wholly disagreeable to me," he added dryly, "to make love to Madame
"I forgive you," said I, "though, from what I learn, you somewhat
exceeded your instructions."
* * * * *
If I were not a most serious writer, this veracious history of Madame
Gilbert and Captain Rust would tend to degenerate into comedy,
possibly to reach the depths of farce. But, to one of my grave bent of
mind, wasted deception, wasted energies, and, above all, wasted
national money, excite rather to tears than to laughter. What a
spectacle was this which I place before the reader! Here were two
trusted members of the English Secret Service pitting against one
another those treasures of intelligence, wit, and sensibility which
they were employed—and paid—to exercise in the defence of their
countries. It may be conceded that one of them was more or less
honest. Rust, I am convinced, had persuaded himself—he has no marked
ability or attractions of any kind that I can discern—that his duty
impelled him to watch Madame with exceeding closeness of attention.
That his strong inclinations marched with his duty may be allowed him
as a privilege; the plea of duty was not, I believe, merely an excuse.
But what can one say in defence of Madame, one who has stored within
her little copper-covered head enough brains to furnish a brigade,
say, of the Women's Emergency Corps? She had perceived that Rust was
an English officer masquerading as a Frenchman, yet she could not have
thought that he was a German spy. Why did she not ask him point blank
what he was doing in that galley. She has never supplied me with a
credible explanation, She pleads, with obvious insincerity, the
instructions of Dawson, which in the most reprehensible way granted to
her the vaguest of roving commissions. She parades her duty before me
in the most tattered of rags.
Upon the following afternoon, when Madame Gilbert drove up to the
Savoy in a taxi-cab at half-past four, a young man, in the uniform of
a French officer, opened the door and handed her out. It was, of
course, Captain Rust, who had waited palpitating upon the curb for
some three-quarters of an hour. He led her to a small table which he
had reserved for another charming duet of tea, cakes, and
At this second meeting, Madame bent herself to the deft
cross-examination of Rust "Had the Captain Rouille joined St. Cyr as a
cadet officer, or had he served in the ranks of the French Army?" He
had served in the ranks, and broke into details of his training and
garrison service which convinced her that he really had served. She
became thoughtful. Rust, eager to show off his accomplishments,
explained that he had been recommended for a commission and had joined
St. Cyr. More details followed, all of a verisimilitude wholly
convincing. Madame, who knew France and the French Army up and down,
became more thoughtful and more puzzled. It was plain that Rust had
really served in the ranks of the Army, and had been at St. Cyr. Yet
he was an Englishman and an officer of the English Flying Corps! She
asked further questions, innocent, flattering questions, seeking to
discover what had happened to him after his course at St. Cyr. He did
his best, but he was of inconsiderable agility of mind and deficient
in imagination. He had been, he said, with Maunoury's Sixth Army,
which, emerging from Paris in red taxis, had fallen upon the exposed
right wing of von Kluck. His description was accurate enough, but the
lavish details of former narratives were lacking. He had been
officier de liaison on the Aisne; again the little intimate touches
were lacking. He had joined the flying corps, but omitted to explain
how he had learned to fly. It had been at Farnborough, but he could
hardly admit this, and was, unhappily, quite ignorant of the French
Madame's quick mind began to see daylight. "How came it, my friend,
that you were flying upon the coast when you suffered that accident,
so terrible, and paralysed that poor brave heart of yours?" Madame
asked the question in the most natural, sympathetic way. It was a
facer for Rust, who regretted that he had been so communicative at
that first meeting "I was lent to the Naval Wing," he explained, and
avoided to particularise. By this time Madame had sorted out his
service. She was quite sure that he had not been with Maunoury or upon
the Aisne, but that in some manner, as yet not clear, he had left St.
Cyr to pass into the English Army.
When in his turn Rust sought diffidently to penetrate the mystery
surrounding Madame Gilbert, she overflowed with untruthful
particulars. She resembles her master Dawson in this—it is unwise to
believe one word which she wishes you to believe. Of her early life in
Paris she spoke with emotion. She was the beloved only child of a
French doctor—ah, the most learned and pious of men! He died early
smitten by disease contracted during his gratuitous practice amongst
the friendless poor. A most noble parent! Her mother, too, a saint and
angel, had gone aloft shortly after seeing her daughter, Madame,
happily married to a maker of caloriferes (anthracite stoves). "I am
unworthy of those so noble parents," wailed Madame in broken tones. It
was not until they were about to separate that Madame Gilbert herself
threw him a bone of truth designed to test his appetite for curiosity.
"I must fly," exclaimed she; "I am a woman tres occupee. I work, oh,
so very hard, for my belle France and to avenge the death of my
glorious husband." The blown-up stove maker did not seem to Rust to be
a figure of glory, yet he forced himself again to express the deepest
sympathy. "Yes," went on Madame, "I would avenge him. I work,"—she
glanced round cautiously, and then whispered—"I work for the
gouvernement anglais. I am an agent de police."
"Were you not rather rash," I asked of Madame Gilbert, "to give
yourself away so completely? He might not have been so thorough an ass
as you thought."
"My friend," said Madame calmly, "I had taken tea with him twice, and
had satisfied myself that he was not, what you call, very bright. A
dear fellow, handsome, a gentleman of the English pattern, but not
bright. If I had not helped him to get a move on, I might have lunched
with him, had tea, dined with him, attended theatres, traversed in
motors your pleasant countryside, flirted, until I had become a very
old woman, and there would have been nothing to show for all my
exertions. I remembered the instructions of Mr. Dawson, I recalled to
myself my duty, I was compelled to discover who and what was this
Capitaine Rouille, and I could only succeed by forcing him to reveal
himself—to give himself away. When I said that I was an agent of the
English police, he did not believe me; but he was curious—he watched
me. I gave him much to watch and to imagine that he had discovered.
Then one began to get forward."
* * * * *
I am ignorant of the diplomatic pourparlers which led up to the
week-end trip to Brighton, that remarkable trip which ended
l'affaire Rust. It must have been planned by Madame; it bears the
unmistakable imprint of her impish wit; it was, too, a bold
development of her designs for the effective speeding up of Rust. He
would have dallied all through the summer, looking feebly for an
opportunity to ravish a despatch-case which always accompanied Madame
and which had become the inseparable and ostentatious "gooseberry" at
their meetings. Madame declared that it was stuffed with papers the
most secret. "The English Government would be desolated if they passed
for one moment out of my hands." This despatch-case played parts quite
human. It was perpetually provocative of Rust's curiosity, and a
reminder that the agreeable pastime of making love to Madame was not
an end in itself, but a means whereby he might discharge his official
duties. It was, moreover, a visible sign that Madame was a woman,
tres occupee, and a self-styled agent de police; it rested always
silent at her side as a protector of innocence. Rust becomes uneasy
when that case is mentioned, but Madame bubbles over at the thoughts
of her petite chere portefeuille, cette idee de genie. She brags of
her genius, of her notion si lumineuse, of her guet-apens si
While Madame must have planned the Brighton trip, she contrived that
the suggestion should come timidly, deprecatingly, from Rust. She
would have scorned so crude an advance, one, too, falling so far short
of her high standard of womanly virtue, as a direct hint that she was
willing to pass three days in a seaside hotel with a young man! Mais,
non. Ce serait une betise incroyable! I can imagine her hints,
increasing in strength as she beat against the obtuse heaviness of
Rust's intellect. But I cannot imagine how any one, least of all the
brilliant Froissart, should have conceived that lumpish soldier to be
capable of the finesse needful for the Secret Service. He has since
been returned empty, and I do not wonder at it.
Madame must have lamented the stuffiness of London during the bright
days of early June, and painted, in her enthusiastic French fashion, a
picture of southern England and the glittering Channel. "Ma foi, mon
ami, what would I not give for one hour of peace and rest, away from
this swarming hive of men and women? It is as yet too cold to swim in
that sea which washes the shores of my beautiful France—and bears the
so gallant English soldiers to her help—but I would love to sit upon
the sands and gaze, gaze across the waters towards my poor bleeding
land. But, alas, I am a woman tres occupee." After a great deal of
this sort of thing, Rust was spurred up to suggest that he also was
weary, and that nothing could be more delightful than to sit beside
Madame upon those sands and to bewail with her the woes of their
common country. The idiot did not reflect that a woman of Madame's
taste in dress does not usually mess up her Paris frocks with nasty
sea sand. Madame sighed. It was a charming picture, but, alas, quite
impossible. Rust still further spurred by Madame—"Le Capitaine
Rouille is not very bright"—at last broke into a proposal delivered
with many hesitations and many apologies. Why should not they travel
to Brighton on the Friday evening and draw solace for their weary
souls from a Saturday, Sunday, and possibly Monday, at Brighton?
Madame became a frozen statue of offended womanhood! What, mon Dieu,
had she done that he should conceive her to be a light woman? She, the
never-to-be-comforted widow of the incomparably gallant hero of
anthracite stoves and le Grand Couronne. She had been too
unsuspicious, too trustful; their pleasant acquaintance must end upon
the instant; the too-gross insult which he had put upon her could
never be pardoned. Rust was borne away and overwhelmed in the flow of
her sad reproaches. Abjectly he grovelled: He regard the ineffable
Madame Guilbert as a light woman! Perish the thought! He, to whom she
had been an angel of kindness and discretion! He cast a slur upon the
shining brightness of her reputation! Rust had never in his life been
so eloquent. Madame listened with satisfaction. She might in time,
after long years, forgive him, but not yet. The insult, however
unintended, was too fresh and her heart was desolated! She scorched
and scarified Rust during two whole days, for their meetings continued
unbroken, and at last, as an undeserved concession and as evidence of
her soft forgiving heart, she consented to go to Brighton on the
Friday. "We must regard closely les convenances. You men, so rash
and so stupid, you do not understand how infinitely precious to us
poor women is the spotless bloom of our reputation." Rust protested
that the bloom upon the unplucked peach was not, in his eyes, more
stainless than the reputation of Madame. How she must have grinned! He
made plans, rude, coarse plans, for the shielding of the so precious
reputation of dear Madame Guilbert, but she gently put them aside. "In
my hands," she declared grandly, "le Capitaine Guilbert has left his
honour, and I will guard it with my life. Alas, what is my life when
my heart is buried in that lonely grave upon le Grand Couronne in
which I pray rests his much-blown-up body. I myself will devise the
means by which I can grant you a mark of my condescending forgiveness
and preserve sans reproche the honour of a Guilbert."
I confess that I have drawn upon my imagination for most of this
touching scene, but, knowing Madame as I do, I am sure that I have
given the hang of it.
Madame Gilbert and Captain Rust travelled to Brighton on the Friday
evening in the Pullman train. They occupied different carriages. Their
hotel, one of those facing the sea which washed the far-off shores of
their beloved, bleeding France, had been selected by Madame—"I desire
a hotel, my friend, not a caravanserai!" Madame arrived ten minutes
before Rust, and had disappeared within her own appartement when his
cab drove up to the doors. Rust then booked his room, one upon the
second floor. He took that which was offered, and did not observe that
Madame's room was also au seconde. But he did notice—he could not
help it—that the imposing lady in charge of the hotel office was
French. "Ah, monsieur le capitaine," said she, beaming caresses upon
him, "with what joy do I perceive the tenue de campagne of my own
Army. I will gladly grant to you one of the rooms of the very best and
at the price of the lowest. The patron, he also is French, and would
be furious if I did not give the most cordial welcome to an officier
francais." Rust thanked the lady of the bureau, and heartily approved
Madame's choice of an hotel.
"One moment, if you please," said I to Madame, who supplied me with
these details. "I perceive that both the rooms, yours and Rust's, were
upon the second floor. Is it in this way, you shameless woman, that
you preserved from reproach the honour of the late imaginary stove
Madame sighed, and turned upon me the look which, in my mind, I have
labelled "Innocence unjustly traduced." One of these days, with German
thoroughness, I shall prepare a numbered and annotated catalogue of
Madame Gilbert's looks and tones. Though it cannot teach her sex
anything which the youngest member does not already know, it will be
full of valuable instruction and warning for the innocent male.
"Am I responsible," wailed Madame, "for the allotment of rooms by
"Most certainly," I said severely. "I do not know your methods. It is
not given to man to penetrate the unfathomable duplicity of woman. But
I am convinced that had you wished it, you would have been placed an
premier, and Rust consigned to the uttermost cock-loft in the roof."
Madame and Rust dined that first evening at separate tables, but
discovered in one another old friends when they accidentally met
afterwards in the lounge…. "What happiness, can it indeed be le
Capitaine Rouille, the friend closer than a brother of my poor slain
husband?" … "Madame Guilbert! Can it be you whom I meet thus
unexpectedly? You whom I have not seen since that dreadful
never-to-be-forgotten day upon which I broke to you the news, the
terrible news—" Rust's voice failed; even Madame, who thinks little
of his ability, admits that he performed on this occasion to
admiration. The rencontre was a most affecting one, conducted in
voluble French in the full blaze of publicity in a crowded hotel
lounge. The English audience was impressed and honestly sympathetic;
our insular reserve has been melted in the fires of war. "It is a
French lady, poor thing, who has lost her husband," they whispered,
the one to another, "and that handsome fellow in ordinary
evening-dress is her man's brother officer, who was with him at the
last, and who brought the sad news to her. How sweet she looks, and
how tenderly sympathetic he is!" The eyes of the men had already been
drawn to Madame's royal beauty and those of the women to her dress, a
masterpiece of Paquin. Now that she had met Rust the men were
sorrowful, regretting a vanished opportunity of making her
acquaintance, and the women were relieved. She was too formidable a
rival to be at large, alone and unattended, but now she would be
monopolised naturally and properly by her good-looking compatriot. So
when Madame and Rust slipped away to a corner of the lounge, kindly
eyes followed them, and the voices of the censorious had no excuse to
be raised. "You are a wonder, madame," whispered Rust. "And you, my
friend, did not so badly," replied Madame in frank approval.
They separated early that evening, for Madame, who knew not what it
was to feel really tired, shammed fatigue as a reason for retiring
betimes. To her came Marie, a little dark French femme de chambre of
the second floor, imploring to be allowed to assist at the night
toilet of a desolate widow of France. While Marie brushed out the
long, rich, copper hair the two chattered unceasingly of France and
the Army of steel-hearted poilus which held the frontiers of
civilisation away yonder in Picardy, Artois, Champagne, and the
Vosges. Marie herself had a man out there of whose welfare she had
heard nothing since the war began. She had received no letters, and
the French publish no casualty lists. "Mon cher petit homme est mort,
madame. C'est certain, mais j'espere toujours." There are many, many
Frenchwomen to whom the death of their loved ones is certain, though
they hope always. "I felt rather a pig talking fibs to the poor girl,"
Madame Gilbert had made her plans with thoughtful care, and proposed
to carry them out with hardihood. She had determined to work so
adroitly on the Saturday upon the curiosity and "poor strained heart"
of Rust that he would be speeded up to run big risks. He did not know
that, however judiciously frail her conduct might be, she was a very
dragon of virtue in defence of her honour. "I gave my heart," said she
to me quite seriously, "to the Signor Guilberti, one far, far
different from le mari imaginaire of le Grand Couronne. Until, if
ever, I give my heart again no man shall possess me. I play, I kiss, I
philander—as you call it—but what are these trifles? Des
bagatelles, rien de tout!" He did not realise her serene indifference
to the small change of love and her respect for its true gold. But I
do not think that Rust, when Madame consented to be his companion at
Brighton, seriously misjudged her motives. He did not know, of course,
or in the last degree suspect that she designed his capture as a
Again and again she had told him that she was an agent of the English
police, and again and again, as she intended, he had disbelieved her.
She was so incomparably his intellectual superior that she could make
him believe or disbelieve precisely as she chose. She made him think
that she had come to Brighton for companionship, and as a proof of her
kindly forgiveness of a grave indiscretion. He believed; for never was
Rust, even Rust, so idiotic as to suppose that she had succumbed
before his charms and had come to throw herself into his arms.
But for the machinations of Madame the visit would, I am sure, have
passed without incident. Rust would not have lost his turnip of a
head. He would, out of loyalty to his orders from Froissart, have
tried to grab the despatch-case and ravish its secrets. But he would
not have done what he did, at the risk of compromising the bloom of
her so precious reputation, if she had not deliberately worked him up
to do it. Therefore, while I acquit Rust of evil intention, my
reproofs, my grave reproofs—at which she laughs and snaps her
fingers—are reserved for that unscrupulous Madame.
At breakfast Madame Gilbert and Captain Rust found that a private
table, a table of the best in a bay window facing the sea, had been
reserved for them by orders of the patron. The news of their pitiful
rencontre in the lounge had sped to his ears; he had wept copiously
before his sympathetic staff, and declared that the bereaved widow and
the so gallant captain should lack for nothing in his hotel. "If it
were not that I feared to offend their delicacy I would refrain from
presenting to them l'addition. Make, I pray you, mademoiselle du
bureau, their charges of the lowest." He was a most noble patron.
The path of the wicked was thus made smooth. By the English guests, by
the entire staff, it was considered inevitable, indeed highly
becoming, that Madame and Rust should devote themselves wholly to one
another. Had they embraced in public, and wept many times a day upon
one another's necks, the staff—half of which was French—would have
deemed the exhibition most seemly and fitting, and the English, though
embarrassed, would not have been censorious. By so much has war
brought to us an understanding of the simple honest hearts of our
closest Allies. In ceasing to be insular we are ceasing to worship our
wooden conventional gods.
Madame, who, as I have before remarked, says the most frightful things
in her soft, musical voice, regarding one the while with frank, steady
eyes, commented thus upon the attitude of le patron and his
assistants towards them. "They wrapped us about so thoroughly in their
tender sympathy that nothing which we had chosen to do in mutual
consolation could have shocked them."
I do not propose to weary the reader by detailing at length the
progress of Madame's Saturday campaign. Her methods of offence will,
by now, have become clear. To the "suffocating gas" of her smiles, and
the "liquid fire" of her eyes she had added the devastating
"Tank"—her despatch-case. She worked its mysteries unceasingly. When
it was not under her own hand it reposed—during meal times, for
example—in the steel safe of le patron. All except one paper, of
the most thrilling importance, which never left her person. This
small, unobtrusive paper, upon which, according to Madame, the
destinies of nations depended, was hidden always—happy paper—in the
bosom of her corset.
Did she not, inquired Rust, greatly daring, find it rather hard and
scratchy? To him its resting-place seemed too delicate a spot to be
used as a general store. Madame frowned at the allusion to so intimate
a topic, and Rust, terrified, implored her pardon, which was
"You should not, mon ami, speak to me as if I were that which you
once thought me—a light woman." She reduced him nearly to tears, and
then, in kindly consolation, permitted him to hold her hand. Both as a
pretended French officer, and as an English agent of the Secret
Service, Rust was the most derisory of frauds.
During the day the pair of plotters were inseparable, and Madame
played continually with unfailing deftness upon the two strings of
Rust's poor heart and of his intense curiosity, which she clearly
perceived though she did not know it to be professional. When the
heart swelled with stimulated emotion, and Rust began to show
inconvenient fondness, Madame would frown reproof and lead the
despatch-box into action. Very often she would carry her hand to that
pleasant spot where nestled the paper of so great international
importance, and she would speak of it and of the terrible
responsibilities which rested upon her as a secret agent de police.
"When I carry a document such as this," she would say, "one pour
faire les Boches se crever, it never leaves my bosom all the day and
rests under my pillow by night. Under my pillow, mon ami." She dwelt
upon that pillow, and raised in the mind of Rust a charming vision of
a white lace-edged surface upon which was spread out a lovely disorder
of red copper hair. She so worked upon him that his emotions and his
duties became inextricably mixed. Somehow he must secure that paper
and solve the baffling problem of the wonderful widow who appeared to
be French, and yet was not French. His brain by itself could not have
conceived of a means, but Madame assisted to stimulate its imagination
as she had done the beating of his heart. "It was wrong of you, mon
ami" she said, in gentle reproof, "to select a room upon the same
floor as mine, it was a proceeding bold and not a little indelicate,
which might have compromised my precious reputation had I not been
secure in the honour of my poor lost Captain Guilbert." Rust protested
that he had left the choice of rooms entirely to the lady of the
bureau, but Madame's smile showed that she was wholly sceptical. "I
speak frankly to you," said she, "so that there may be no longer in
your mind any thought that I am a woman of light conduct. I have come
here, driven by your sad pleadings, to give you of my companionship,
and my heart would be desolated if I thought that you still misjudged
me." The beautiful voice shook, and I do not doubt that the violet
eyes, glistening with pumped-up tears, were raised to Rust's face. I,
her friend, know that she can feel deeply, and I can distinguish that
which she simulates from that which moves her, but the poor creature
Rust was in her hands the most helpless and deluded of victims.
So the day passed. They lunched together and dined together. In the
intervals they walked upon the sunny front, for the weather was
perfect and the sun shone as it only shines at Brighton. Madame, I am
quite sure, did not sit upon the sand. It appears also that they
visited a succession of picture houses. Madame declares that she is
fascinated by this form of entertainment; the variety and rapid
movement delight her—as I admit they do my dull self—and she deeply
enjoys the blatant crudity of cinematic drama. "It is so entirely
unlike life that it transports one to another world," says she. "Here
in this strange visionary world of the pictures one lives in a
maelstrom of emotions. Boys and girls meet, embrace, and marry all
within the space of a few minutes upon the screen and of an hour or
two of dramatic action. Children are conceived and born by some
lightning process which it would be a happiness for the human kind to
learn. Heroes die while strong men bare their heads in grief, and ten
minutes later the corpse is capering joyously in a new piece. By
attending three or four houses in one afternoon one sups upon emotions
and feeds without restraint upon rich, satisfying laughter. Yes, mon
ami, I love the cinema. Rust did not, I think, greatly interest
himself in the pictures, but was happy in the darkness—holding my
She laughed as I broke into growls. "Is it not, mon cher" she went
on, "that the cinemas will always be most popular—however dull may be
the pictures—so long as boys and girls, men and women, who love,
desire to fondle one another's hands in the dark?"
"You and Rust did not love one another," I grunted.
"No. We were not the real thing, but we made ourselves into quite a
Madame pursued her programme with indefatigable ardour and patience.
She impressed again and again upon Rust's imagination a picture of
herself sleeping unprotected, in a room not far distant from his own,
while beneath her pillow reposed a paper precious and mysterious
beyond words to describe. She even hinted that a dread of fire, from
which she always suffered when sleeping at hotels, forbade the locking
of her door. "I am not afraid to die," said she, "for what have I to
bind me to life now that I can never visit the spot where repose the
shattered fragments of my beloved Capitaine Guilbert? But to be
burned, helpless, while rescue was cut off from me by a locked door! I
shrink from so terrible a fate." Subtlety, she had discovered, was
thrown away upon the obtuseness of Rust. She was compelled to be
brutally plain, and so she drove into his thick head the tempting fact
that nothing interposed during the hours of darkness between his eager
hands and the paper which she had taught him to covet. If she awoke
and mistook his motives—if she thought that he had ventured into her
room with designs upon her honour—Rust felt sure that her kind heart
would forgive him, by breakfast-time, though she would certainly
dismiss him from her bedside with the most haughty of reproaches. If
he could not find some other way before they separated for the night,
he had almost decided to essay the venture. She slept very soundly,
said Madame; she had not awakened in her appartement in Paris upon
one night when a bomb from a Prussian aeroplane had exploded within
two hundred yards of her house. Another way was still possible, and
Rust, while he was dressing for dinner, determined to try it; it was a
way, too, which thrilled him with pleasurable anticipation.
At dinner Madame declined champagne, which she said was a poor, feeble
drink. Let them for once share a bottle of sparkling Burgundy, a royal
wine, the Wine of Courage. The patron brought them the bottle himself,
and lamented that they would not indulge themselves in a second.
Madame had no desire that Rust should, under its influence, become too
enterprising. The evening was warm, and afterwards they moved into the
pleasant garden behind the hotel and sat together in a quiet corner.
Other guests were in the garden, but it had become tacitly agreed
among them that Madame and Rust—the "dear French things"—should be
permitted to console one another in seclusion. No one could perceive
that the black-sleeved arm of Rust had found a happy resting-place
around Madame's black-covered waist, or that her glowing head was not
far from his shoulder. Her Paris evening frock was cut low, though
never by the fraction of an inch would Madame permit her couturier
to exceed the limits of perfect taste. Looking down over her shoulder
Rust could see, protruding from the white lace below her bodice, the
corner of a paper. She talked little. It seemed to give her pleasure
to lean against his shoulder and dreamily, half asleep, to rest there
reposefully like a tired child. "But, mon ami" said Madame to me in
relating these tender details with the greatest satisfaction, "I was
very wide awake indeed."
Rust eyed that corner of paper and waited without speaking until his
companion should become almost unconscious of his movements. Then
gently he moved his right arm from her waist and placed it over her
shoulder. She moved slightly, but it was only to nestle more closely
against him. His dangling fingers moved little by little towards the
opening of her corsage, they descended, and with his thumb and
forefinger he gripped the paper. Madame did not move her body nor, to
Rust, did she seem to suspect his intentions. But her right arm lifted
slowly up, she gently grasped his hand in hers, pressed it kindly for
a moment, and then, still holding it, removed his arm from her
shoulder to her waist. "Your coat sleeve scratches my shoulder," she
murmured. Rust, who had instantly released the paper when Madame took
his hand, never again got an opportunity of touching it, for she kept
her arm pressed over his during the whole time that they sat together.
"I gave him the chance," explained Madame to me, "and it worked
beautifully. But once was enough. From that moment I became really
suspicious of Rust. Before I had only been puzzled. What he was I
could not guess, but I was dead set on finding out before the night
was over. Till then I had allowed only little freedoms, but when I
rose to go into the hotel and he bent over me I let him kiss me on my
lips. It was a severe disappointment, that kiss," added Madame
"Spare me the loathsome details," said I crossly.
When at last Madame Gilbert went to her room she was smiling gaily and
showing no signs of fatigue at the tiresome exercises of the day.
Though it was approaching midnight the faithful Marie was waiting to
assist her toilet. "Ah, madame," sighed Marie in her frank Parisienne
fashion, "le Capitaine is so beautiful and devoted. He regards you as
one who would devour. I marvel that you have the heart to separate
"Marie," said Madame, laughing, "you are a naughty girl, a corrupter
of my youthful morals. I am afraid that le bon Capitaine must go
hungry. For—" and then she pranced off upon that wearisome old story
about the blown-up Territorial bore of le Grand Couronne. Fidelity
to the scattered corpse of a husband—un mari assommant, mon Dieu,
pas un amant joyeux!—seemed to Marie the most wasted of emotions.
She, in common with all the other Frenchmen and women in the hotel,
was an ardent partisan of Captain Rouille.
"If my bell rings in the night, come quickly, Marie," said Madame, as
she dismissed the girl. "I shall need you a la grande vitesse."
Madame slipped the seductive paper and something else under her
pillow, saw that the electric and the light switch were close to her
hand upon the bedside table, and snuggled down contentedly. "The trap
is set and baited," she murmured; "I hope that the bird will not keep
An hour passed slowly. Rust has told me little of his feelings, but
admitted that he was in the "devil of a funk." He had determined to
make a daring shot at the paper and the solution of Madame's identity,
but he shivered at the prospect of her wrath should she awake and
catch him in the act. "She would have thought the worst of me, and,
like you, Copplestone, I cherish her beautiful friendship as the most
precious of privileges. On my honour I was only after the paper."
Madame found the waiting time very tedious, but I am sure that her
pulse did not quicken by a beat. She has a wonderful nerve.
At one o'clock, when the hotel was very quiet, and the boot-cleaner
had made his round of collection, Madame heard the handle of her door
move and the door itself push slowly open. Through her partly closed
eyes she saw the momentary flash of an electric torch with which Rust
took his bearings, and then she felt, rather than saw or heard, a
figure draw gently towards her bed. Her right hand was under the
pillow grasping that something, not the paper, which she had laid
there in readiness. Rust approached, bent over her, and his fingers
felt for the pillow. They touched her hair, and she knew that the
moment for action had come. Out stretched her arm, holding the pistol
well clear of his body, for she was loath to hurt him, and a sharp
report within a couple of feet of his side frightened Rust more
thoroughly than had the hottest of "crumps" in Flanders. He sprang
away, and darted for the door; but in an instant the lights went up,
and a loud, commanding voice—utterly unlike Madame's soft musical
social tones—called to him to halt. "Halt!" cried Madame in English.
"Right about turn! 'Shun!" The familiar words of command brought him
round in prompt obedience, and there before him he saw Madame Gilbert
sitting up in her bed, pointing a most business-like automatic pistol
straight for his heart. Her hand held it true, without a quiver, and
along the sights glittered an eye remorseless as blue steel. This was
a woman wholly different from that kindly yielding creature whom he
had embraced and kissed a couple of hours earlier!
"You will please stand quite still," said Madame, speaking the
slightly tinged Irish-English of her birth, "for if I shoot, le
Capitaine Rouille will be no more. See! Upon my dressing-table behind
you is a small vase supporting a rose. I will cut off its stem," She
quickly moved the pistol, and fired. "You may turn round." He obeyed,
and saw that the vase was unbroken, but that the rose, cut off at the
stem, lay upon the dressing-table. Behind it appeared a bullet-hole in
the plaster of the wall.
Madame flicked the spent cartridge off her counterpane, where it had
fallen upon ejection, and resumed. "I have rung the bell, and in a
moment there will be a most interested audience. You will then please
explain what brings you to my bedroom."
He had faced round towards her again, and his poor mind was a blank.
The situation was too big for him. He had fallen into a trap, but why
it had been set he could not guess. Who was this calmly capable,
straight-shooting widow who, with the copper hair falling over her
shoulders and streaming down the front of her dainty nightdress,
appeared in action even more lovely than in repose?
The first to arrive was Marie, then followed another femme de
chambre, then came the night porter, then the boot-collector, last,
with eyes opened wide at the surprising spectacle of a beautiful young
woman receiving her lover at the point of a pistol, appeared monsieur
le patron himself. They clustered in a group by the door. "I think,"
said Madame serenely, "that we have enough. Marie, the house is full;
shut the door and lock it." The order was obeyed. "Now," went on the
commanding voice from the bed, using French for the effective shutting
out of the English boot-cleaner and night porter, "if you men will
turn your backs, and Marie will hand me my dressing-gown, I will
prepare myself for the examination of Monsieur le Capitaine Rouille.
It is not seemly that a court of inquiry should be conducted in a
The men turned round, or were pushed round. Marie—gasping with wonder
at the whole incredible business, so unlike that which she had
suggested—brought the silk dressing-gown and robed Madame, who
skipped out of bed for the purpose. Then the fair juge
d'instruction, wrapped to the neck in blue silk, and looking prettier
than ever, propped herself upon the pillows and opened the court.
"Captain Rouille," ordered she in French, "please tell these others
why you came to my bedroom."
I regret to record that Marie and the other girl looked towards one
another and sniggered. The patron lifted up his hands in amazement.
Mon Dieu, what a question! The two English servants did not
Rust said nothing. Madame, who had observed the excusable
misunderstanding of her French audience, condescended to explain. "I
am sure," she said, "that Captain Rouille will not suggest that his
visit was designed to attack my honour."
"Quelle dame extraordinaire!" moaned the patron. "C'est
incroyable la sangfroid de celle-la."
"Of course not," cried Rust, speaking for the first time. "Never would
I have dared to think of such a thing. Madame Gilbert is a lady of the
highest virtue. It was not to compromise her that I entered her room."
"The man," groaned the patron, "is no less extraordinary than the
woman. Why in God's name this pistol, this scene so public! They are
lovers, beyond doubt, yet they spring upon my hotel this scene of the
most scandalous. It is not the way of France; I do not understand such
Madame drew a paper from her bed, and held it up. "Was it for this
that you came?"
"Yes," said Rust, "for that and that only."
"Un billet doux" said the patron, playing without design the part of
a bewildered chorus, "Why should not madame have given it to him if
she wished to write that which she was too modest to say?"
"Why did you want it?"
"What more natural," cried the patron, "than that the brave captain
should be eager to read the sweet confession of your love?" Madame
missed not a word which dribbled from the lips of the poor, puzzled
patron, who contributed the comic sauce which titillated her humorous
palate. The patron to her was a sheer joy.
"Why did you want it?" repeated Madame sternly.
"Because," said Rust, "you said that it contained the most important
"What have you to do with secrets which concern the fate of nations at
"Nations! War!" muttered the patron. "What words are these to find
upon the lips of lovers? By now they should, had they not both been
quite mad, have forgotten war in their mutual embraces."
Rust was silent, considering what he should say. He had not the wit to
invent a plausible story, and to such men there is only one safe
rule—when in doubt, tell the truth. He told the truth.
"I wanted that paper because I am a member of the Secret Service."
"Of Germany?" snapped Madame, flashing violet lightning from her eyes.
Sensation! The two French women broke into screams of rage, dreadful
to hear; the patron raised his clenched hands, and roared like a
furious beast. Rust, a brave man, shrank for a long, startled moment.
His flesh quivered, as if it felt fierce French nails fasten into it.
He saw the blood-lust flame in the eyes which searched his face. He
trembled, but spoke up firmly.
"No. The Secret Service of England."
"Liar!" roared the patron. "Menteur! Espion! Foul seducer of a
desolate veuve de France! Die, traitor! Madame, raise your pistol;
shoot—shoot instantly for the honour of France!" The man, a fat,
comfortable bourgeois, was transfigured with frightful, murderous
rage. He had become a figure almost heroic.
But Madame did not shoot. In ten seconds her swift brain had recalled
the whole series of incidents during her commerce with Rust; she
penetrated to the heart of the mystery, and immediately became
convinced that he spoke the truth.
"No," said she. "Monsieur le patron and you, mes demoiselles,
cease your cries. You do the brave Capitaine Rouille a very grave
injustice for which you must pray his forgiveness sur le champ. He
is a soldier of France, and of our noble Allies, the English. He is an
officer of the English Secret Service. The mistake was mine, for
which, mon capitaine, I implore your pardon."
She lay back in her bed, and the laughter poured out of her in one
unbroken flood. She laughed until she became weak as a baby, for the
idiotic comedy which they two had played—at the expense of the
British Treasury—was beyond any other means of expression. Rust, who
began to grasp something of the truth, also broke into a laugh, and
the amusement of the principals brought instant conviction to the
audience. The repentance of those who had thirsted for Rust's blood a
moment since was very pleasant to witness. The women begged permission
to kiss his brave hands, which had slain the foul Boches, and the
patron cast his burly person upon Rust's pyjama-clad bosom and saluted
him on both cheeks. He had a stiff, hard beard!
"And now," cried the patron, "this scene, so deplorable and
scandalous, is happily ended. Our beautiful Madame and the brave
captain, their mistakes and misunderstandings removed, are again
lovers of the fondest. Let us go, my friends, and leave them to
forgive one another as they will desire to do in decent privacy.
Allons, allons, vite!"
He drove away the boot-collector and the night porter, who had not
understood one word of the quick French which had been spoken. They
explained the scene satisfactorily to themselves by the one word,
"French." The women would also have gone if Madame, who was still
laughing, had not hastily recalled Marie.
"Marie," she whispered, spluttering with cheerful impropriety, "lead
that captain away and lock him into his room or my reputation is gone
for ever. Take Rouille away, and then leave me, for I want to laugh
and then to sleep."
But Rust, blushing deeply at the preposterous closing of the scene,
had sneaked quietly out of the room.
* * * * *
They met at breakfast without embarrassment. At least Madame was
perfectly tranquil; I cannot answer so surely for Rust. In the eyes of
the little world of the hotel nothing had been changed. They retained
their assumed characters as a Widow and Soldier of France, who
consorted with the freedom of old friends.
"So," said Madame, when all had been explained, "you were put on by
our dear, fiery Froissart, and I by the dear, secretive Dawson. We
blundered up against one another, and the rest followed naturally. You
were such an one as I looked for, and I was of the kind pictured by
the imaginative Froissart. It has all been most amusing, especially
when one reflects that the English Government has paid for all our
delightful lunches, teas, dinners, and motor runs. I doubt, though,
whether we can with easy consciences send in the bill for this
"No. We will divide the cost between ourselves, for I am sure that you
will refuse to be my guest. All I ask is that you do not cut our
holiday the shorter on account of what has passed."
"Not by an hour," replied Madame heartily. "I like you, Captain Rust;
we will enjoy ourselves to-day as colleagues en vacance, and
to-morrow we will report at headquarters. We will leave Dawson and
Froissart to sort out the responsibility for the whole comedy. It has
been a most pleasing experience. Never shall I forget that scene of
last night and the bewilderment of the poor patron. His comments were
a delight, and the conclusion was so purely French in its artless
conception that I felt for your innocent blushes."
"The patron was the limit," muttered Rust, flushing deeply.
"He was. And yet no one could convince him that the reconciliation so
desired by him was not the most natural and decorous for us. I am
still sore with excessive laughter. Again and again in the night I
woke up and simply bellowed."
The Sunday was again a very fine day, and Rust speaks of it still with
enthusiasm. Madame revealed herself to him, no longer as the seductive
siren, but as a true-hearted colleague and helper. He saw her not only
as a beautiful and most compelling fascinator, before whom he had
grovelled, but as a big-brained and big-souled friend. "She is the
only woman whom I have ever met with whom I would go tiger-shooting,"
said Rust to me. I will accept that one sentence as his considered
verdict; no greater tribute could be paid by a man to a woman.
At first he did not fully grasp that the Madame of that Sunday, the
real Madame, was wholly different from the one he had known before. As
they sat together upon the cliffs towards Rottingdean, he slipped his
arm about her waist. Gently, but very decidedly, she removed it. "No,
mon ami," said she. "All that has passed with the necessity for its
exercise. I do not play with my friends."
"Thank you," replied he—it was the brightest speech which Madame has
recorded of him. There is hope that Rust will, with years and
experience, develop in intelligence.
When Madame returned to London on the Monday, she sought an audience
of Chief Inspector Dawson, and told the whole story. He was not
pleased, but handsomely conceded that she had carried out her duties
with skill and enterprise. "The farce was not your fault," said he;
"it was entirely due to that French ass Froissart, who has no right to
play games of his own without consulting me. I will make a protest to
"Don't do that," urged Madame. "Froissart is rather a dear, and you
know that the fault was partly yours, for not taking him into your
confidence. I have determined to cultivate Froissart, and shall
endeavour to persuade him that your feminine assistants are not all of
microscopic intelligence and of repulsive appearance."
"You will succeed," said Dawson handsomely.
Froissart, to whom Rust reported, gleaned some consolation from the
failure of his agent. "This wonder of a woman, of whom I must
instantly make the honourable acquaintance, has saved the detested
Dawson from the deeps of humiliation. But we have scored off him most
surely. He has shown himself to be a blundering, conceited English
pig, and I will protest to the Chief that never again must he keep me
in ignorance of his projects. I shall laugh at him; all our people
here will laugh. I shall be revenged. Conspuez Dawson!"
"Don't be too hard on Dawson," urged Rust. "Madame Gilbert thinks a
lot of him, and would be pained if he suffered discredit through any
fault of hers."
"Fault!" shouted the gallant Froissart. "La belle Madame is sans
faute, peerless, a prodigy of skill and discretion! She is superb. If
she implores me to spare the man Dawson, then I will consent, though
my heart is rent in fragments. As for you, mon ami, I fear that in
her hands you were not a figure of admiration. She twisted you about
her pretty fingers like a skein of wool. I do not think that you are,
what you call, cut out for the Secret Service."
"That is quite my own opinion," assented he gloomily.
TO SEE IS TO BELIEVE
The mind of Dawson has the queerest limitations. He is entirely free
from any sense of proportion. If I wrote of those incidents which he
pressed upon me, this book would be intolerably dull. He sees no
interest in any episode which is not Dawson, Dawson, all the time. The
emotion which was aroused in the hearts of Cary and myself by
Trehayne's letter caused Dawson no small anxiety. He feared lest in
rendering this episode I should turn the limelight upon Trehayne and
leave the private of Marines in the shadows. Which is precisely what I
have done. From his "sick bed" he sent me a letter explaining that his
own honourable weakness of sympathy with an enemy spy was physical,
not moral—reprehensible failing induced by lack of sleep. He laboured
to convince me that the spirit of Dawson in the full flush of health
was of a frightfulness wholly Prussian in its logical completeness.
But I smiled, went my own way, and Dawson, when he comes to read this
book, can swear as loudly as he pleases.
If I had depended only upon Dawson, I should never have secured the
details of the story which I am about to write. It was Froissart who
first put me upon the track of it during one of those visits which I
paid to him when I was investigating l'affaire Rust. Froissart, in
imaginative insight, is as much superior to Dawson as the average
Frenchman is to the average Englishman. But in execution he admits
sorrowfully that he cannot hold a candle to his brutal secretive
English chief. "I have genius," exclaimed Froissart, "of which the
sacred dog Dawson has not a particle. I know not whence come his
ideas, the most penetrative. It cannot be from son Esprit of which
he has none; his brain reposes, without doubt, in his stomach. Yet,
ma foi, that man whom I detest and to whom I am a colleague most
loyal, is of a practical ingenuity most wonderful. Did you ever learn
how he hid the great cruisers Intrepid and Terrific from the
watching eyes of the Boche, and won, here in England, a glorious
victory for the English Navy, eight thousand miles away? I was with
him, and at the end, falling upon his bosom in generous admiration, I
kissed him on both cheeks. And what was my reward? It was to receive a
short-arm blow upon the diaphragm. That man of mud took my wind, as he
called it, and I was laid gasping upon the floor. It was in this
fashion that he repulsed me—me a Count of l'ancien regime. I could
have his blood."
I soothed Froissart, and extracted enough from him in rapid French
spasms—his idiomatic staccato French is often beyond my
understanding—to give me a general idea of what Dawson had done.
Thereafter I pursued my inquiries, pumping Dawson himself—who, for
some reason, did not greatly value the affair—tackling others who
knew more than they were always willing to tell, even to me their
friend. Yet in many ways, of which it were well not to be particular,
I arrived at the full story which I now tell. To my mind it shows
Dawson at his best, and Dawson's best is very good indeed.
* * * * *
It was early in November, three months after war had begun. Dawson, to
whom had been committed the general supervision of all known enemy
spies in London, and who had already put in force that combination of
tight net and loose string which I have described, received a summons
from his Chief the moment he arrived at his office at the Yard. "You
are wanted at the Admiralty," said the Commissioner—"and wanted
badly. You are to report at once in the First Lord's private room."
"What is the game?" inquired Dawson. "I have lots to do here which I
cannot well leave."
"I don't know. But I have orders to send you, and to relieve you from
all other duties. If you want help, you can take Froissart, that
French detective who has just been sent to us from Paris as a sort of
liaison officer. He is strongly recommended as a first-class man."
"Hum," said Dawson, between whom and his Chief was a very close
friendship. "I suppose I must toddle round and see what the little man
wants this time. Last month he had secret wireless installations on
Dawson found the First Lord striding up and down his big room. All
round the walls were set great maps bristling with pins to which were
attached numbered labels. Each pin represented a ship, and each ship
was obedient to an order flashed from the big aerials overhead. Here
was the Holy of Holies, the nerve ganglion of the English Navy, and
here, striding up and down, the man who could jab the nerve-centre
with his finger whenever he pleased. He often pleased. Then he would
gloat over the pins as they skipped about the maps.
Chief Inspector Dawson was announced, and stood to attention.
"Ha!" cried the First Lord, "so you are Dawson, the Master of Spies.
We need you, Dawson; the country needs you; I need you. You have a
great chance this day to show your quality, Dawson. Those of whom I
approve, I advance. They become great men. Am I to approve of you?"
Dawson observed that he could not well say until he learned what was
wanted of him.
"Ha!" cried the First Lord again, "you are a man of few words. I like
those with me who do not talk. When there is talking to be done—well,
I can do a little in that line myself. Among my instruments I demand
Dawson said nothing. The First Lord struck a bell; a servant in blue
uniform appeared. "Will you please tell his lordship that Chief
Inspector Dawson is here, and that I await his presence."
The man retired and presently returned. "His lordship is in his room
making out the orders for the Fleet. He bids me say that he is quite
at your service."
The First Lord flushed, and glanced hurriedly at Dawson, who stood at
attention, stolid, silent, immovable. It would seem that he read
nothing in the message.
"The Mountain is old and stiff in his joints," remarked the First Lord
playfully. "When he settles into his chair, it would take a bomb to
lift him out. We are young and active; we must consider the
infirmities of age. Mahomet will go to the Mountain, and you will
please to follow."
Mahomet, swinging his long coat-tails, strode out of the room and down
a passage, whence they emerged into another room also set about with
"Ha!" said the First Lord, "as you would not come to us, we have
unbent our dignity and come to you. This is Chief Inspector Dawson."
"So I supposed," growled the grizzled old man, who sat at a big desk
upon which was piled many flimsies. It was the great Lord Jacquetot,
who for all his French name was English of the English.
"Will you explain to Mr. Dawson what we want of him or shall I?"
inquired the First Lord. Lord Jacquetot rose from his chair, showing
nothing of the infirmities of age. He approached Dawson, looked over
him keenly, and said, "You don't look like a civilian policeman. Where
have you served?"
Dawson explained that he had in former days been a Red Marine.
"I thought as much," said Jacquetot. "There is no mistaking the back
and shoulders of them. Once a Pongo, always a Pongo." He held out his
hand, which Dawson shook diffidently. An ex-private of Marines does
not often shake the hand of a First Sea Lord.
Lord Jacquetot walked over to one of the maps and beckoned to Dawson
to follow. The First Lord hovered in the background, ready to put in a
word at the first opportunity.
"There has been a serious naval disaster in the South Seas," said
Jacquetot, "and we must clean up the mess, pretty damn quick. The news
came yesterday. Orders were wired at once that two battle-cruisers,
the Intrepid and Terrific, should be sent at full speed from
Scotland to Devonport to dock, coal, and complete with stores. To keep
them outside the enemy's observation, and to avoid any risk of mines
or submarines in the Irish Channel, they have been sent far out round
the west coast of Ireland. Here they are; we get messages from them
every hour." He indicated two pins. Just then a messenger entered and
handed to the First Sea Lord a wireless flimsy. Jacquetot read it,
slipped a scale along the map, took out the two pins, and shifted them
further south. "They are going well," said he; "doing twenty-five
knots. They should be off Plymouth Sound by to-morrow evening."
"It is a long way," put in Dawson, deeply interested. "Fifteen hundred
"There or thereabouts. The coast lights are all out, so that they will
steer a bit wide. They should do it in sixty hours."
"I gave the order within thirty minutes of getting the news of the
disaster," remarked the First Lord, smacking his lips.
Jacquetot made no reply, though his eyes hardened and his mouth drew
into a stiff line. It was his province to give Orders to the Fleet.
"Those battle-cruisers," went on Lord Jacquetot, addressing Dawson,
"will go into dock at Devonport as soon as they arrive. They will be
there forty-eight hours at least. They must be clean ships before they
go through the hot tropical water if their speed is to be kept up.
They have gun power, but power without speed is useless for the work
which they have to do. After leaving England it will be a month before
the Squadron, of which they are to form the chief part, will be
concentrated in the South Seas. For two days at Devonport, and for
four weeks while at sea, there must be the completest secrecy if our
plans are to succeed. Without absolute secrecy we shall fail. The
Board of Admiralty is responsible for the sea, but not for the land.
We can make certain that no news of the despatch of these two cruisers
gets out at sea; can you, Mr. Chief Inspector Dawson, undertake that
no news gets out on land—that no whisper of their sailing reaches the
enemy by means of his spies on land?"
"It is a large order," said Dawson thoughtfully.
"It is a very large order," asserted Lord Jacquetot, frowning.
"But large or small, the thing must be done," broke in the First Lord.
"If this news gets out, and we fail to come up with the German
Squadron down south, the effect upon the public will be horrible. The
English people may even lose their perfect, their sublime, faith in
"They may lose their faith in the Navy," muttered Jacquetot.
"It is the same thing," said the First Lord.
"Can you let me know more details, my lord?" asked Dawson. "What is
the programme? I don't see at present how the arrival, docking, and
sailing of the battle-cruisers can possibly be kept secret, but there
may be a way if one could only think of it."
"If the Intrepid and Terrific arrive according to programme," said
Jacquetot, "they will not come up the Sound till after dark. Then in
the small hours they will slip into dock, and no one but the regular
dockyard hands will know that they are there. We will haul them out
also in the middle of the night, and they will be clear away by
daybreak, forty-eight hours after arrival. Coal and other stores are
on the spot in plenty, and the shells and cordite for the twelve-inch
guns can soon be got down from the Plymouth magazines. The secrecy of
the operation seems to me to turn on whether we can trust the dockyard
Dawson shook his head. "I wouldn't plump on that, my lord. There have
been enemy agents working in every dockyard in the kingdom for years
past, and we haven't spotted all of them. Still, we have our own men
working alongside of them—Scotland Yard men engaged from among the
shipbuilding trades unions—accounting for every one, so that no man
can be away from his post without our knowing and shadowing him. It is
not easy to get any information out of the country nowadays. The
secret wireless stories are all humbug. Wireless gives itself away at
once. If one wants to get news to the enemy, one has to carry it
oneself, or hire some one else to carry it. Most of that which goes we
allow to go for our own purposes. I am pretty sure that no dockyard
hand could get anything away to Holland without our knowledge, so that
it doesn't matter whether they are trustworthy or not so long as we're
not fools enough to trust them. You may not know it, but I have my own
Yard men among your messengers here in this building, and among your
"What!" cried the First Lord. "You don't even trust the Admiralty!"
"Least of all," said Dawson grimly. "If I was head of the German
Secret Service, I would have my own man as your private secretary."
The First Lord sat down gasping. Jacquetot nodded kindly to Dawson,
and laughed in his grim old way. "You are the man we want," said he.
"I am not thinking much of the dockyard hands," went on Dawson; "I can
look after them. They're all provided for. The danger is in the gossip
of a seaport town. I have lived in Portsmouth for years, and Plymouth
is just like it. You may take my word for it that the arrival of the
Terrific and Intrepid in dock at Devonport will be known all over
the Three Towns half an hour after they get there. Their mission will
be discussed in every bar, and it won't be difficult to make a pretty
useful guess. Here is a disaster in the South Seas—which will be
published all over the country by to-morrow morning—and here are two
of our fastest battle-cruisers summoned in hot haste from Scotland to
be cleaned and loaded for a long voyage. Any child, let alone a
longshoreman, could put the two things together. 'So the Intrepid
and Terrific are off to the South Seas to biff old Fritz in the
eye.' That is what they will say in the Three Towns where there must
be hundreds of men—British subjects, too, the swine, and many of them
natural born—who would take risks to shove the news through to
Holland if they could get enough dirty money for it. Our worst spies
are not German, you bet; they are Irish and Scotch and Welsh and
English. That's where our difficulties come in. I am not afraid of the
dockyards, but the gossip of the Three Towns gives me the creeps."
"Then what can we possibly do?" wailed the First Lord, who saw his
prospect of a brilliant coup wilt away like a fair mirage. "The secret
will get out, our plans will fail, and MY Administration, my beautiful
Administration, will have to stand the racket. How shall I defend
myself in the House?"
"That won't matter much to the country," put in Jacquetot bluntly.
"What matters, is that we should do everything possible to keep the
secret in spite of all the inherent difficulties. Sit down, Mr.
Dawson, and do some hard thinking."
"I prefer to stand, my lord. When I want to think I do a bit of
"So do I!" exclaimed the First Lord. "All my most famous speeches were
composed while I walked up and down my dressing-room before my—" He
broke off hastily, but as neither Jacquetot nor Dawson were listening,
he might have completed the sentence without revealing the secrets of
"May I speak my mind, my lords?" asked Dawson.
"It is what you are here for," replied Jacquetot.
"I always work on certain general principles. They apply here. People
will talk; that is certain. If one doesn't want them to talk about
something really important, one puts up something else conspicuous,
harmless, and exciting to occupy their minds. In your politics"
—turning to the First Lord with an air of simplicity—"when
you've made a thorough mess of governing England, and don't want to be
found out, you set the people fighting about Home Rule for Ireland. I
don't mean you, sir, but politicians generally."
"Quite so," said the First Lord, blinking.
"Well, see here. We don't want any talk about the Intrepid and
Terrific. So, before they arrive, we must give the people of the
Three Towns a real titbit of excitement. Battle-cruisers come to dock
in Devonport quite often when they are damaged. Two battle-cruisers
which had been mined or submarined, one towing the other, would be a
pretty picture in the Sound. It would set all the folk talking for
days, and no one would think that two damaged cruisers had anything to
do with the South Seas. Everybody would say, 'What cruel luck. If the
Terrific and Intrepid hadn't got blown up they would be just right
and handy to send down south. As it is—' And then the German agents
would somehow get the news to Holland—we would help them all we could
in a quiet way—that the Intrepid and Terrific, two fast
battle-cruisers, had been nearly lost, and were being patched up at
Devonport. The Germans, hearing the glorious news, would hug
themselves and say that now was the time for the High Seas Fleet to
come out and smash Jellicoe. The last thing in their minds would be
any concentration in the south against their own Pacific Squadron.
That's how I apply my general principles to this case. Meanwhile, of
course, the Terrific and Intrepid, well and sound, would be racing
away down to the South Seas and no one in the Three Towns—except the
dockyard hands, whom we would look after—and no one at all in
Germany, would have a glimmer of the real truth."
While Dawson was thinking aloud in this rather halting, stumbling way,
the First Lord and his chief naval colleague were looking hard at one
another. The politician, with his quick House-of-Commons wits, jumped
to the idea before his slower thinking expert colleague could sort out
the two battle-cruisers who were to be mined or submarined from the
two which were to speed away south to avenge the recent disaster.
"If the two battle-cruisers are mined or submarined—which God
forbid," said Jacquetot, "how can they sail for the south?"
"Need they be the same ships?" inquired Dawson, whose eyes had begun
to flash with excitement. "Need they be the same?"
"Don't you see?" interposed the First Lord. "The idea is quite good. I
was just about to suggest something of the kind myself when Mr. Dawson
anticipated me. That is where the mind with a wide universal training
has a great advantage over the narrow intensive intelligence of the
professional expert. Even in war. What I propose, what Mr. Dawson here
proposes with my full concurrence, is that two severely damaged
battle-cruisers, known temporarily as the Terrific and Intrepid,
should be brought into the Sound in broad day and displayed before the
eyes of the curious in the Three Towns. The real ships will slip in,
be docked and coaled, and slip out again. The two others, upon whom
public attention has been concentrated, shall be put aground somewhere
in the Sound to be salved with great and leisurely ostentation. We
will keep them well away from the Hoe, and allow no one whatever to
approach them. We will, unofficially, allow the news of their sorry
state to get out of country and into the Dutch papers. Meanwhile, as
Mr. Dawson says, the real Terrific and Intrepid will be speeding
towards the south, and the saving for the nation's service of my
invaluable public reputation for accurate judgment and quick decision.
Mr. Dawson's suggestion—I should, perhaps, rather say my own
suggestion—shall be laid before the Board at once."
Though the stiff mind of Lord Jacquetot was not very quick to take in
a new idea, no man alive was better equipped for practically working
out a naval scheme. While the First Lord was assuming that sorely
damaged battle-cruisers, or vessels which could be passed off in place
of them, needed but his summons to spring from the deeps, Jacquetot
had pressed a bell and ordered a messenger to request the immediate
presence of the Fourth Sea Lord, within whose province was the whole
art and mystery of ship construction. Upon the appearance of this
officer the plan was gone over anew, and he was asked whence and
within what time he could produce two presentable dummies to do duty
in the Sound for the entertainment of the population of Plymouth,
Devonport, and Stonehouse. There were, said he, two if not three at
Portsmouth, constructed out of old cargo tramp hulls for the
mystification of the enemy. They had already done duty as newly
completed battleships, but with a little alteration to the canvas of
their funnels, the lath and plaster of their turrets and conning
towers, and the wood of their guns, they might be made into perfect
likenesses—at a distance—of the Intrepid and Terrific. The
ships' carpenters, he explained, could make the changes while the
dummies were coming round to Plymouth. Seated at the desk of Lord
Jacquetot he wrote the necessary orders in code, his Chief signed
them, and they were put at once on the wires for Portsmouth. The
sea-cocks, said the Fourth Lord, would be opened twenty miles from
land so that the "Intrepid" might come in sadly down by the bows,
and the "Terrific" with a list of twenty degrees, pluckily towing
her sorely crippled sister. With a chart of Plymouth Sound before
them, the two officers settled the precise spot, sufficiently remote,
yet well within sight of the Hoe, at which the two unhappy
battle-cruisers should come to rest upon the mud. "It will be a most
pathetic spectacle," said the Fourth Lord laughing, "and I will bet a
month's pay and allowances that at the distance not a man in the Three
Towns will have the smallest suspicion that the genuine
copper-bottomed Terrific and Intrepid are not ditched before his
blooming eyes." He rose from the table, upon which the chart had been
laid, walked over to Dawson and shook him warmly by the hand. "You
won't get any credit for the idea," he whispered. "One never does. But
it was a damned good notion. What are you going to do now?"
"I am going to Plymouth this afternoon to make sure that the German
truth gets over the water to Holland, and that the English truth stays
safely behind. If you will all do your part, I will do mine."
THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN
"Every man to his trade," said Dawson. "I didn't go into the
difficulties of our job to those high folks at the Admiralty, but they
are not at all small. You have a head on you, Froissart, though it has
the misfortune to be French; set it going on double shifts."
The two men were sitting in a specially reserved first-class
compartment in the Paddington-Plymouth express; as companions they
were hopelessly uncongenial, yet as colleagues formed a strong
combination in which the qualities of the one served to neutralise the
defects of the other. Dawson, in spite of his love for the Defence of
the Realm Regulations, was still sometimes unconsciously hampered by
an ingrained respect for the ordinary law and the rights of civilians;
Froissart, like all French detective officers, held the law in
contempt, and was by nature and training utterly lawless. The more
reputable a suspect, the more remorseless was his pursuit. They were,
professionally, a terrible pair who could have been passed through a
hair sieve without leaving behind a grain of moral scruple.
Froissart, when he would be at the trouble, understood and spoke
English quite well, though with me he used nothing but the raciest of
boulevard French. "My friend," said he, "your promise to those
Ministers of Marines was rash; for, unless there is the most perfect
execution of your scheme and the most sleepless watching of those whom
you call dockyard hands—ceux qui travaillent dans les chantiers, ne
c'est pas?—the sailing of these grands croiseurs will be told to
Germany. There are too many who will know. We are upon une folle
enterprise—a chase of the wild goose."
"You do not know my system if you think that," remarked Dawson,
"And if I do not, of whom is the fault?" inquired Froissart blandly;
"for, my faith, you never tell what you would be doing."
"A secret," said Dawson sententiously, "is a secret when known to one
only. If two know of it there is grave danger. If three, one might as
well shout it from the housetops. Therefore I keep my own counsel."
"That is just what I said," cried Froissart triumphantly. "If the
secret of these grand croiseurs is known to one hundred, two
hundred, le bon Dieu knows how many hundreds of dockyard hands, one
might as well print it in these dull English journaux. You attempt
the impossible, mon ami."
"They are Englishmen," proclaimed Dawson, who felt compelled to uphold
the character of his countrymen in the presence of a foreigner. "They
are patriots. Not a man of them would sell his country."
"I would not bank on their patriotism, my friend, when there is much
Boche gold to be won and much beer to be drunk."
"And who said that I did bank upon it?" cried Dawson testily,
forgetting his noble, words of two minutes earlier. "I wouldn't trust
one of them out of my sight. I have two dozen of my own men working
alongside of those dockyard hands, watching them by night and day. We
know if a man drinks two glasses of beer when he used to drink one,
and takes home to his wife eighteenpence above his ordinary wage. Do
you take me for a fool?"
"You'll be a bigger fool than I take you for if you do not play
straight this time with me, and tell me your plans in detail. I have
to work with you, and I cannot give service blindfold."
"You are not a bad fellow, Froissart," said Dawson thoughtfully—the
name in his mouth became Froy-zart—"and I will tell you here and now
more of my mind than I have yet shown even to the great Chief of us
all. It will take all your brains—for you have some brains—and all
of mine to keep the secret of those battle-cruisers."
* * * * *
In the morning the newspapers published the meagre details of the
disaster in the South Seas, and the Three Towns were shaken to their
foundations. For when naval ships go down, they take with them crews
of whom half have their homes in Devon. The disaster meant that eight
hundred families in the West mourned a son or a father. Ever since the
days of the Great Queen—whose name in the West is not Victoria, but
Elizabeth—Devon has paid in the lives of its best men the price of
Admiralty. The Three Towns mourned with a grief made more bitter by
the realisation that the disaster was one which never should have
happened. Bad slow English ships had been sent against good fast
German ships, and had been sunk with all hands without hurt to the
enemy. The Three Towns know the speed and power of every fighting ship
afloat, British or foreign, as you or I before the war knew the public
form of every leading golfer or cricketer. In every bar where
sailormen met one another, and met, too, the brothers and fathers of
sailormen, the Lords of the Admiralty were weighed and condemned. It
is a thing most serious when in the cradles of the Navy, Portsmouth
and the Three Towns, faith in the wisdom of Whitehall becomes shaken.
One may muzzle the Press, but no muzzle yet devised can close the
mouths of sailormen and their friends in dockyard towns.
In the afternoon of the same day, while the news of the disaster was
still fresh, there came a whisper, which gained in loudness and in
precision of detail as it passed from mouth to ear and from ear to
mouth, that the worst had not yet been told. There had been not one,
but two disasters. Two battle-cruisers, it was declared, had been sunk
in the Channel by German mines or submarines. What were their names?
inquired the white-faced women. The names were not yet known, but they
would soon come. A little later the severity of the rumour became
softened. The battle-cruisers had not, it appeared, been sunk, but
severely damaged. They were at that moment on their way to the Sound,
crippled sorely, yet afloat. Men groaned. Two battle-cruisers blown up
in the Channel; what in God's name were two battle-cruisers doing in
the mine-strewn Channel when their proper place was in one of the safe
eyries overlooking the North Sea? A plausible explanation was offered.
The two battle-cruisers had been coming to Plymouth to take in stores
that they might speed away south to avenge those other two cruisers
sunk by the Germans as had been told in the morning's papers. If this
were indeed true, the news was of the worst; England's prestige afloat
was gone. She could not spare two other whole battle-cruisers to
proceed upon a mission of vengeance to the South Seas while the
Germans' Battle Squadrons in the North Sea ports were still
undefeated. Meanwhile the Germans far away to the south could do what
they pleased; they could sink and burn our merchant steamers at will.
The command of the Pacific had passed from England to Germany, and the
White Ensign hung draggled and shamed for all the world to sneer at.
The Three Towns almost forgot their personal grief for drowned friends
in their horror at the disgrace which had come to their own sacred
It was still light, though late in the afternoon, when the anxious
watchers upon the Hoe made out, beyond Drake's Island, two big ships
coming in round the western end of the breakwater. Though deep in the
water they towered above their escort of destroyers and fast patrol
boats. The leading ship was listing badly, her tripod mast with its
spotting top hung far over to port, and she was towing stern first a
sister ship whose bows were almost hidden under water. The Three
Towns, which can recognise the outlines of warships afar off, rapidly
pronounced judgment. "That's the Intrepid" they declared, "and the
one she's towing is a battle-cruiser of the same class—the
Terrific or Tremendous. They're both badly holed." "Gawd
A'mighty," cried a grizzled longshoreman, who might have sailed with
Drake or Hawkins—as no doubt his forbears had done—"look to the list
of un! And thicky with her bows down under, being towed by the stern
to keep her from swamping entire. If it worn't for them bulk'eads un
wouldn't never have made the Sound." It was plain to those who had
glasses turned on the damaged ships that they were drawing far too
much water to be brought into the Hamoaze and over the sill of the dry
dock at Devonport, so that no one felt surprise when the
battle-cruisers were seen to pull out of the deep fairway and make
towards the shore. The purpose was plain to read. They were to be put
aground under Mount Edgcumbe, patched up, and pumped dry, and then
would go into dock for repairs. It was a job of weeks, and during all
that time the Fleet would be short of two battle-cruisers which might
have swept the South Seas clear of the German Ensign. It was cruel
luck, and the Three Towns had enough to talk of to keep them occupied
for many days. Presently more news came, authentic news, and passed
rapidly from mouth to mouth. The vessels were the Intrepid, the
flagship of Admiral Stocky, and her sister the Terrific, a pair of
fast Dreadnought cruisers. They had, as was surmised, been speeding
down from Scotland to dock at Plymouth on their way to clean up the
mess made in the far South. They had come safely through the Irish Sea
and round the Land's End, but when near their journey's end off Fowey
they had run into a patch of mines laid by German submarines. The
Terrific had had her bow plates ripped into slivers of ragged steel,
and the three fore compartments flooded. The Intrepid had picked up
the wire of a twin mine, got caught badly on the port side, but had
luckily escaped to starboard. She had taken her crippled sister in
tow, and brought her in safely. Both ships could easily be repaired,
but it would take time. The voyage to the South Seas was off. Nothing
could have been more convincing than the story which quickly got
about; the ships had been seen and recognised by the Three
Towns—there was no concealment and no mystery. For once the Silent
Navy appeared to be talkative. The hearts of German agents in the
Towns swelled with pride and joy. Here was convincing proof of the
kindly hand of the Prussian Gott. If the great news could be carried
through to the Kaiser and von Tirpitz, there would be much ringing of
church bells in the Fatherland. But these English, since the war
began, had become very watchful, very suspicious. The problem was: how
to get the glad news through.
* * * * *
It was two o'clock in the morning and very dark. The big dry docks at
Devonport were deserted except for a few picked hands, not more than
two score at the outside, told off on night shift for special duty.
Against all workmen who had not been warned for this duty the big
gates would be closed for two whole days. There were important jobs
awaiting completion, but they must wait. One hundred and twenty men,
working in three eight-hour shifts per day—forty at a time—could do
all that was needed to the Intrepid and Terrific, and not one man
was included who had not served at Devonport for at least ten years.
Dawson had been very firm, and the Commander-in-Chief had backed him
with full authority. "Don't make any mistake," said Dawson. "Among
even one hundred and twenty, though picked in this way, there will be
some few who would sell us if they could. One would have to go back
more than ten years to weed out all those whom the Germans have
corrupted. But out of this lot there should not be more than two or
three swine, and I can look after them." He did not say that he had
already been in touch with the Scotland Yard officer at Devonport, and
had arranged that a dozen out of his precious twenty-four
counter-spies should be put among the chosen hundred and twenty.
Dawson never did allow his left hand to know the wiles of his right.
Under the thick cover of the autumn night two massive silent forms,
which had crept with all lights out into the Sound after their long
fast voyage from the northern mists, were warped into dock; the
supporting shores were fitted, and the water around them run out. Long
before the flagship Intrepid stood clear and dry on the dock floor,
Dawson, in his uniform of a private of Marines—"A Marine can go
anywhere and do anything," he would say—had slipped on board and
shown the Commander credentials from the Board of Admiralty which made
that hardened officer open his eyes. "My word," exclaimed he, "you
must be some Marine! Come along quick to the Admiral." So Dawson went,
not a little nervous—the moment his foot trod the decks of a King's
ship all his assurance dropped off, his old sense of discipline flowed
back over him, and an Admiral became a very mighty potentate indeed.
Ashore Dawson could face up to the Lord Jacquetot himself; on board
ship a two-ring lieutenant was to him a god! He followed the
Commander, and was ushered into the Admiral's presence. "What!" cried
Stocky, stern in manner always, but very kindly at heart towards those
whom he found to be true men. "A private of Marines with plenary
powers from the First Lord? Take the papers off him and chuck the
damned comedian into the ditch. We have no time here for the First
Lord's humour." The Commander drew near and whispered. "What!
Authority endorsed by Jacquetot? There is something queer about this.
Look here, my fine fellow, who the devil are you? Are you a Marine, or
a too clever German spy, or what? Make haste. There is still enough
water left over the side to pitch you into without breaking your dirty
Dawson knew his man. He had served in the same ship with Stocky when
that officer had been a lieutenant; he had waited upon him in the
wardroom. He had felt the rasp of his tongue in old days. He
approached, and without saying a word handed the letters given him by
the First Lord and Jacquetot, adding his official card. The Admiral
read the papers slowly and came at last to the card. Then his frowning
brows softened, and he smiled. It was the old smile of Lieutenant
Stocky. "Why, it's Dawson who was my servant in the old Olympus; now
Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard. That explains all. But why the hell,
man, do you dress up as a Marine?"
"Once a Marine, always a Marine," replied Dawson, who felt happier now
that the Admiral had recognised him. "I can't keep out of the uniform,
sir. Besides, it's very useful when I want to be about the docks."
"My orders," said the Admiral, "are to dock, clean, coal, and be off.
I am expecting more detailed instructions, but they have not yet come.
These letters say that you will explain the programme here, and that
you have been charged with full responsibility for keeping our
movements secret. I am to give you all possible assistance. All right.
Go ahead. What do you want of us?"
Dawson rapidly told how the two dummy battle-cruisers had come
stumbling into the Sound in the afternoon, and how the Three Towns
believed that the Intrepid and Terrific were at that moment lying
on the shoals out of service for weeks to come. "No one must guess,"
he concluded, "that the real Intrepid and Terrific are here safe
in dock, that they will go out two days hence in the middle of the
night, and dash away south to wipe Fritz's flag off the seas. We have
picked the dockyard hands with the greatest care, and have them under
watch like mice with cats all about them. If a single one of your
officers or men goes out of the dock gates the game will be up and I
won't answer for the consequences. Everything rests with you, sir.
Will you give orders that no one, no one, not even you yourself, shall
leave either of the battle-cruisers while they are in dock—no one,
not for a minute."
The Admiral laughed, and the officers in his room respectfully joined
in. "So we have been mined and are aground somewhere yonder on the mud
surrounded by sorrowing patrols. And the Three Towns are dropping salt
tears into their beer. It is a fine game, Dawson. I didn't believe
much in Lord Jacquetot's dummies, but they've come in darned useful
this time. Are you going to keep Plymouth and Devonport in the dumps
"Until you've done your work, sir," said Dawson.
"So until then the Intrepid and Terrific will lie crippled in the
Sound for all the world to see and for Fritz to believe. If this very
bright scheme is yours, Dawson, we will all drink your health down
south as soon as our work has been done. For the credit will be yours
rather than ours. I will help you all I can; it is my duty and my very
keen desire. A man who can make so brilliant a plan for confounding
the enemy's spies is worth a statue of gold. He is even worth the
sacrifice of two day's leave while one's ship is in dock. What do you
"I never thought," said the Flag Captain, "that I would willingly
spend two days shut up in a smelly dock, but you may count me in, sir.
I won't head a mutiny when all leave is refused."
"You shall have your way, Dawson. All leave stopped in both ships. Not
a man is to go ashore on any pretence, no matter what the excuse. The
mothers of the lower decks may all die—they always do when a ship is
in port—but not a man shall leave to bury them. Give the orders in
the Intrepid, and ask the captain of the Terrific to be so good as
to come aboard."
* * * * *
"So far, good," exclaimed Dawson when he got back to his hotel and
found Froissart sitting up for him. "The ships are in and no one is to
be allowed ashore. I shall be in a fever till both of them are away
again. We are on very thin ice, Froissart. It is lucky that the
dockyard is on the Hamoaze, out of sight even of most of Devonport,
and far away from Plymouth and Stonehouse. I have seen all the foremen
of the dockyard myself, told them the whole trick which we are playing
on the Huns, and put them on their mettle to tackle their men. They
will pitch it fine and strong on the honour and patriotism of complete
silence, but not neglect to throw in a hint of the Defence of the
Realm Act and penal servitude. Never threaten an Englishman,
Froissart, but always let him know that behind your fine honourable
sentiments there is something devilish nasty. Preach as loud as you
can about the beauty of virtue, but don't forget to chuck in a
description of the fiery Hell which awaits wrongdoers. I don't depend
much either on the sentiments or the hints of punishment. I've got
every man of that hundred and twenty on my string, and if one of them
asks leave, within the next day or two, to go and bury his mother on
the East Coast, he shall go—but I shall go with him, and he shall
have a jolly little funeral of his own. Every letter which they write
will be read, every telegram copied for me, every message by 'phone
taken down. They are on my string, Froissart—every man."
"You do everything, Mr. Dawson," grumbled Froissart. "Where do I come
"You have helped me a lot already," replied Dawson handsomely. "You
being a foreigner make me talk very simple and plain, and think out my
plans so that I can explain them to you. One sees the weak points of a
scheme when one has to make it clear to a foreigner. You don't always
twig my meaning, Froissart, and sometimes your remarks are a bit
foolish; but you mean well, and, for a Frenchman, are quite
intelligent. I will say that for you, Froissart—quite intelligent."
"Sacre nom d'un chien—" began Froissart hotly; but Dawson paid no
heed. He just went on talking, and Froissart, realising that Dawson
could not understand his French, and that he himself could not give
words to his feelings in English, relapsed into wrathful silence. Much
as I respect and admire Dawson, I should not care to be his
"We must keep the cinema show going nice and lively for the Three
Towns," went on Dawson. "A big salvage steamer is coming down
to-morrow to give an air of verisimilitude to the proceedings. Patrol
boats will buzz about the Sound, and the potentates, naval and civil,
will gather from all parts. The unfortunate wrecks out at Picklecombe
Point will be guarded so that no shore boat can get within half a
mile. They won't bear a very close inspection. I hope that none of the
guns will break loose and float about the harbour. That would be what
you might call a blooming contretemps. I shall be pretty busy all the
next two days myself. Though I am a strict teetotaller, I shall get
into shore rig and spend my days in the public bars. I must know what
the Three Towns are talking about, and whether any suspicion of the
truth gets wind. I don't think that it can; at least, for some time.
The stage management has been too good. Later on there may be some
wonderment because none of the men from the Intrepid and Terrific
are allowed ashore. A lot of wives and families must be around here,
especially as the Intrepid is a Plymouth ship. Of course it must be
given out that they are all needed to help with the salvage
operations, and no leave is allowed. You, Froissart, might spend your
time reading copies of all telegrams sent out from the Towns. If any
German agent wants to get news of the damage to the battle-cruisers
over to Holland, he will probably travel up to the East Coast and send
a wire on ahead. That is what I hope for. You shall then follow him
up, and make smooth the path of crime. Half our trouble will be lost
unless we can help the spoof news over to the Kaiser, bless him. The
job, at first, will be pretty dull for you, Froissart, and not over
lively for me. I hate pubs, yet for two days I must loaf about them,
pretending to drink. You can read the telegrams, but you can't
understand English well enough to pick up the gossip of the bars. I
must do that myself."
"You have stopped all leave on the battle-cruisers—the real ones, I
mean—but what about the dockyard men," inquired Froissart. "Are they
to be allowed to go to their homes when they come off their shifts?"
"I have thought of that and weighed both sides. It will be safer to
let them go home as usual. If we locked them all up in the dockyard
till the Intrepid and Terrific were both safe away, there would be
no end of curiosity and gossip. What so very special, people would
ask, could be going on in the yard that no one was allowed out for two
days. I don't want wives and families and neighbours to come smelling
round those dockyard gates. They might see the spotting tops of the
cruisers inside. Of course there is a regular forest of masts and
gantries showing, and a couple of spotting tops more or less might not
be noticed. But my general idea is to concentrate attention on those
dear old dummies down at Picklecombe Point. They are the centre of
interest, the eye of the picture—the cynosure, as a scholar would
say. I am not a bad scholar myself. I passed the seventh standard, and
went to school all the time I was in the Red Marines. I was a
sergeant, which takes a bit of doing. But see here, Froissart,"
exclaimed Dawson, looking at his watch, "it is five o'clock, and we
must get quick to bed so as to be bright and lively in the morning."
Dawson carried out his programme. Though a strict teetotaller, he
passed hours at public houses, especially in the evenings, listening
to the talk of the port. It was all about the disaster in the South
Seas, the heavy casualties suffered by the Three Towns, and the rotten
ill-luck of the avenging battle-cruisers running upon the German
mines. Not a whisper could Dawson hear of suspicion that the ships
beached under Mount Edgcumbe were other than the genuine article. The
salvage steamer with her big arc lights glowing through the darkness
had been the last artistic touch which brought complete conviction.
Gold-laced officers, including the Commander-in-Chief himself, had
been coming and going all day; the acting of the Navy had been
perfect. Dawson blessed the four bones of old Jacquetot, who, when he
tackles a job, does it very thoroughly indeed. "I should not be
surprised," thought he, "if the Mountain, as that young Jackanapes
called him, came trotting down here himself just to make the show
complete." And sure enough he did, accompanied by the Fourth Sea Lord
who had worked out all the convincing details. Dawson was ordered to
meet them in the Admiral's quarters of the Intrepid. He went,
looking a very different person from the private of Marines of some
thirty hours earlier, and had the honour of being invited to luncheon.
That lunch was the one scene in the comedy upon which he dwelt in
telling the story to me. "Lord Jacquetot," he said, "clinked glasses
with me and wished me the best of luck and success. It was as much as
he could do, he said, to keep the First Lord from coming down and
monkeying the whole affair. Luckily there was a debate in Parliament
that he wanted to figure in, and so couldn't get away. Lord Jacquetot
said that the First Lord had grabbed the whole scheme as his very own,
and forgotten that I had any part in it. I don't mind. The Secret
Service never gets any credit for anything. If it did, it wouldn't be
Secret very long."
"No credit," I remarked, "and not much cash I expect."
"Little enough, sir," replied Dawson. "I suppose we do the job for the
love of it. There's no sport like it. Our real work never gets into
the papers or the story-books."
"Never?" I asked slily. "What about that story of mine in the
Cornhill Magazine, which you still carry about next your heart?"
Dawson changed the subject. He never will appreciate chaff.
At midnight of the day of the luncheon party the Intrepid and
Terrific, clean and fully loaded, cleared out of dock and slipped
off into the darkness attended by their destroyer escort, whose duty
it was to see them safe round Ushant. Eight hours later Dawson came
down to breakfast and found that Froissart, satisfied with his petit
dejeuner of coffee and rolls, had already gone out. Dawson felt
satisfied with himself, and was confident now that his work in the
Three Towns had been well and truly done. The rest could be left to
the Navy, and to his Secret Service agents. He sat down to a hearty
meal, but was not destined to finish it. First came a messenger from
the Officer in charge of the Dockyard, who handed over a sealed note
and took a receipt for it. Dawson broke the seal. "Dear Mr. Dawson,"
he read, "You will be interested to learn that one of the hands
engaged upon the work we know of has asked for three days' leave—that
he may bury his mother in Essex. She died, he says, at Burnham. I
await your views before granting the leave asked for. The man has been
in our service for sixteen years, and bears the best of characters."
"Now what do I know of Burnham?" muttered Dawson. "The name seems
familiar." He rang the bell, asked for an atlas, and studied carefully
the coast of Essex. Burnham stood upon the river Crouch, which Dawson
had heard of as a famous resort for motor-boats. His eyes gleamed, and
he threw up his head, which had been bent over the map. "The man shall
have his leave," murmured he. "But I don't think it will be his mother
who is buried."
Just at that moment in came Froissart, looking, as Dawson at once
remarked, merry and bright. "It is no wonder," said he, "for see this
telegram of which I have just had a copy. It was spotted at once at
the Bureau, and the man who despatched it has been shadowed by a
police officer." The telegram read, "Coming to-day by South Western.
Meet me this evening at usual place." It was addressed to
Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex.
Dawson picked up the note which he had received and passed it to
Froissart, who read it slowly. "The same place!" cried he.
"Yes," said Dawson slowly, "the same place, and a famous resort for
motor-boats. We have not finished yet, my friend, with the Intrepid
A COFFIN AND AN OWL
Dawson laid the letter and the telegram upon his breakfast-table, and
bent his head over them. In a few minutes he had weighed them up,
sorted out their relative significance, and spoke. "We have here,
Froissart, two distinct people. I am almost sure of that. My man of
the dockyard who wants leave to bury his mother in Essex has not yet
received permission from his Chief. He would not therefore be
telegraphing about his train. He does not know yet whether he will be
permitted to go at all. Your man is quite confident that his movements
are in no way restricted. As I read between the lines I judge that my
man, who knows the actual truth about the docking and sailing of the
battle-cruisers, wants to reach the East Coast, whence he has means of
transmitting the priceless news to Germany. Your man is of one of the
Towns; he has seen the dummy cruisers ashore in the Sound; he believes
them to be genuine, and he also wants to transmit the news to his
paymasters in Germany, He will be an ordinary German agent. The
identity of place whither both wish to go is partly a coincidence, and
partly explained by its excellence as a jumping-off place for fast
motor-boats, which, during these long autumn nights, could race over
to and get back again between sunset and dawn. We have coast watchers
always about for the very purpose of stopping such lines of
communication. You shall accompany your own man, and make sure that he
is allowed to get through. If he does not himself cross, arrest him as
soon as his boat has gone. If he does go, watch for his return and
arrest him, and his boat and all on board, the moment that they
return. In any event the boat and its crew must be seized upon return
to Essex. Are you quite clear about what you have to do?"
"Quite," said Froissart. "The spies and their boat must be caught
red-handed, but not till after the false news of the mining of the
battle-cruisers has been carried to Holland. But how shall we make
certain that the sleepless English Navy will not butt in and catch the
boat at sea before it gets across to Holland. The Narrow Seas swarm
with fast patrols."
"I will provide for that. I will write at once for you a letter to the
Inspector of police at Burnham, and enclose copies of my credentials
from the Admiralty. I will also wire to Lord Jacquetot in private
code. You will find on arrival that the responsible naval authorities
of the district will be entirely at your service. That motor-boat with
the news of the great spoof shall be shepherded across most craftily,
but when it comes to return will find that the way of transgressors is
very hard. Get ready and be off, Froissart; we depend upon your skill
and discretion. Get a good view of your man—the police will point him
out—before he boards the train, and then don't let him out of your
sight. Take two plain-clothes officers with you. Run no unnecessary
risks of being spotted. You are rather easily recognisable with those
shining black eyes and black beard, but no one here has seen you
officially, and you should pass unsuspected as a Scotland Yard man.
Can I trust you?"
"Mais certainement," said Froissart crossly. "This is simple police
work, which I have done a thousand times. I could do it on my head."
"Your train leaves at 10.8; the South Western station. I will give you
the letters at once, and then you can start."
Within a quarter of an hour Dawson—his breakfast forgotten—had given
Froissart his letters, sent a long telegram by special messenger to
the Commander-in-Chief for despatch in code to Jacquetot. Not even to
Dawson would the Admiralty entrust its private cypher. Then, as soon
as Froissart had disappeared, he called up the Chief of the Dockyard
on the telephone and arranged to come at once to his office.
"I had given the easy job to Froissart," he explained to me long
afterwards. "It was, as he called it, simple police work. He had,
without arousing suspicion, to make smooth the path for his spy just
as you and I opened the door to the Hook for the late-lamented Hagan,
and escorted him across in the mail-boat. We have helped false news
over to the Germans scores of times. It is grand sport. My job was
something much more tricky. I had to get plain proof that my man was a
spy in the dockyard, to keep him playing on my line to the very last
minute, but to make dead certain of stopping him at the fifty-fifth
second of the eleventh hour."
"Why did you not cut out your difficulties by just stopping him from
going to Essex? At a word from you his Chief would have refused
Dawson smiled at me in a fashion which I find intensely aggravating.
He has no tact; when he feels superior, he lets one see it plainly.
"The fat would have been in the fire then," exclaimed he. "Suppose he
lay low for a day or two, took French leave, and went. I should have
been off his track. Shadowing is all very well, but it does not always
succeed in a crowded district like the Three Towns. If he had got away
without me beside him, the man might have reached Essex and done there
what he pleased. Besides, he might have had accomplices unknown to me.
No, it was the only possible course to give him leave and follow him
up close. Then whatever he did would be under my own eye."
Dawson gulped down a cup of coffee, sadly regarded his rapidly
congealing bacon, and skipped off to the dockyard. "Who is this man of
yours whose mother has died at so very inconvenient a moment for us?
What the deuce is he doing with a mother in Essex at all? He ought to
be a Devon man."
"He isn't, anyway. I have been making close inquiries. Though he has
been with us for sixteen years, he did come originally from somewhere
in the East. The man is one of the best I have—never drinks, keeps
good time, and works hard. He makes big wages, and carries them
virtuously home to his wife. He has money in the savings bank, and
holds Consols, poor chap, on which he must have wasted the good toil
of years. I can't imagine any one less likely to take German gold than
this man Maynard. Sure you haven't a bee in your bonnet, Dawson? To a
police officer every one is a probable criminal, but some of us now
and then are passably honest. I will bet my commission that Maynard is
Dawson sniffed. "The honest men, with the excellent characters and the
virtuous wives, are always the most dangerous because least likely to
arouse suspicion. How do you know that Maynard hasn't a second
establishment hidden away somewhere in the Three Towns? The upper and
middle classes have no monopoly in illicit love affairs. Their working
class betters do a bit that way too."
"All right. Have it your own way. We will assume for the sake of
security that Maynard is a spy, that he has no dead mother whom he
wants leave to bury, and that he has sold his country for the sake of
some bit of fluff in Plymouth. The point is: what am I to do? Shall I
"Yes," said Dawson, "and do it handsomely. Give him four days and run
the sympathetic stunt. Offer him a Service pass by the Great Western.
Say how grieved you are and all the rest of the tosh. Have him up now,
and put me somewhere close so that I can take a good look at the swine
when he comes in and when he goes out."
The Chief of the Dockyards shrugged his shoulders, placed Dawson in an
adjoining room, and summoned Maynard from the yard. The man, who was
dressed in the awful dead black of his class when a funeral is in
prospect, came up, and Dawson got a full sight of him. Maynard was
about thirty-five, well set up—for he had served in the
Territorials—and looked what he was, a first-rate workman of the best
type. Even Dawson, who trusted no one, was slightly shaken. "I have
never seen a man who looked less like a spy," muttered he; "but then,
those always make the most dangerous of spies. Why has he a mother in
Essex, and why has she died just now? Real mothers don't do these
things; they've more sense."
Maynard received his third-class pass, respectfully thanked his
Officer for his kindly expressed sympathy—which in his case was quite
genuine—and disappeared. Dawson jumped into the room again to take a
word of farewell. "I should know him anywhere," he cried. "I am going
by the same train in the same carriage. Good-bye."
Maynard reached the Great Western station in good time, and found a
carriage which was not overcrowded. He was carrying a small handbag.
At the last moment before the train started a prosperous-looking
passenger, with "commercial gentleman" written all over him, stepped
into the same compartment and seated himself in a vacant seat opposite
the bereaved workman. It was Dawson in one of his favourite roles.
"There is nothing less like a detective," he would say, "than a
middle-aged commercial traveller. They are such genial, unsuspicious,
open-handed folk. This comes of wandering about the country at other
The 10.15 fast express from the Three Towns to Paddington is an
excellent one, and the journey was not more tedious than five hours
spent in a train are bound to be. All through the journey Dawson, from
behind his stock of papers and magazines, studied Maynard, and became,
not, perhaps shaken in his conviction, but certainly puzzled. "He
looked," he explained to me, "like a sick and sorrowful man. One who
had really lost a beloved mother far away would look just like that.
But so might one who had been unfaithful to a trusting wife and was
now risking his neck to pour gold into the greedy lap of a frowsy
mistress. One must never judge by appearances. A man may look as sick
over backing the wrong horse as at losing an only son in the trenches.
Human means of expression are limited."
"It takes time to learn that you are not such a beast as you pretend,"
I observed. Dawson grinned.
At Paddington Maynard took the Tube to Liverpool Street, and did not
observe that his fellow passenger of the brown tweed suit and the fat,
self-satisfied, rather oily face followed by the same route. Dawson,
who was famished, rejoiced to see Maynard make for the
refreshment-room. He could not lunch on the train, since the workman,
upon whom he attended, had economically fed himself upon sandwiches
put up in a "nosebag."
"No breakfast, no lunch," groaned Dawson. "What a day!" He did his
best during five minutes in the refreshment-room at Liverpool Street
to fill up the howling void in his person, and then watched Maynard
enter a train for Burnham-on-Crouch. In two minutes he had opened up
communications with a station Inspector of Police, made himself known,
and secured the services of a constable to travel in Maynard's
carriage. He did not wish to be seen again himself just at present. He
yearned, too, for a first-class compartment and an ample tea-basket.
Dawson's brain is a martyr to duty, but his stomach continually rises
in rebellion. It was a fast train which would not stop until the Essex
coast was reached, so that Dawson did not doubt that his quarry would
be upon the platform when he himself got out So he was, and so, too,
was a girl in deep mourning who had come to meet him. Dawson was
staggered; a girl, also in funeral blacks, upset the picture which he
had painted to himself. The man and girl talked together for a few
minutes, and then walked slowly arm in arm out of the station towards
the village. Dawson picked up his police assistant and followed. He
gave no explanation of the reasons for his shadowing of the man
Maynard, for he was just beginning to feel uneasy. Slowly the party of
four threaded through the pretty little place, bright under the
pleasant autumn twilight. Maynard and the girl were in front, Dawson
and his policeman followed some fifty yards behind. In a side street,
at the door of a small cottage—one of a humble row—the pair of
mourners stopped, opened the iron gate, and entered. Dawson waited,
watching. He could see through the windows into a little parlour where
some half a dozen people, all in deep black, were gathered. Presently,
as if they had waited only for the arrival of Maynard—which indeed
was the fact—the heavy steps of men clumping down wooden stairs
resounded from the open door, and there emerged into the street a
coffin borne upon the shoulders of six bearers. The moment that the
coffin appeared Dawson realised his blunder. Maynard had really lost
his mother, and, like a dutiful son, had come all the way from the
Three Towns to bury her! Off flew Dawson's hat, and he nudged the
policeman hard in the ribs. "Take off your helmet, you chump," he
growled savagely. "Don't you see that it's a funeral." The man, rather
dazed—he had been plucked away from Liverpool Street at a moment's
notice and sent upon what he thought was police service—did what he
was told. The group of mourners formed behind the coffin, which was
carried to the cemetery not far off. Still following, with their heads
bowed, Dawson and the bewildered policeman attended the funeral, heard
the beautiful service read, and the last offices completed. Then they
turned away and made for the railway station.
"Why, sir," asked the policeman, looking sideways rather fearfully at
his superior officer's stern face—"why, sir, did we come to this
"Why? Haven't you seen?" snapped Dawson. "To attend a funeral, of
* * * * *
I have never met that policeman. To have conversed with him and to
have sought to chop a way through the tangled recesses of his mind
would have gratified me hugely. For, if police constables think at
all, in what a bewildered whirl of confused speculation must his poor
brain have been occupied during the return journey to London! Dawson
tossed him into a compartment of the first train which came along, one
of extreme slowness, and then dismissed him into cold space without a
scrap of remorse. The humble creature, discharging his station duties
with the precision of daily habit, had swung into the overpowering
orbit of Chief Inspector Dawson, been caught up, dumped without
instructions upon an unknown journey in attendance upon an unknown
workman. Then when the train had stopped, he had been spewed out upon
a strange country platform, led through strange mean streets, and
forced with head bared to the autumn chill of evening, to attend the
obsequies of a total stranger. At the end, without a word of
explanation, still less of apology, he had been returned as an empty
rejected package to the platform at Liverpool Street. Yes, I should
dearly love to have met and cross-questioned that policeman, and have
listened to the bizarre solution which he had to offer to it all. But
most probably, in his stolid, faithful way, he never gave the subject
any thought at all. To be tossed about at the whims of superiors was
an experience which he would take as composedly as he would those
exiguous weekly wages which were the derisory compensation.
Dawson went to the small hotel which he had picked out with Froissart
as a convenient rendezvous. There he sat for hours doing nothing, for
he was far too wise a man to push his head into another man's
business, even though that one were a subordinate and a foreigner. He
had failed once; he could not afford, by deputy, to fail a second
time. Besides, he knew nothing of the movements of Froissart and his
quarry. They had not appeared within the visible horizon of
Burnham-on-Crouch, though they had had ample time in which to arrive.
I am afraid that his temper got the better of him, and as the night
drew on, unsolaced by a word from Froissart, and unrelieved by any
literature more engrossing than old railway time-tables and hotel
advertisements, he consigned to the Bottomless Pit the Chief of the
Devonport Dockyard, the disgustingly virtuous and unenterprising
Maynard, and even the harmless soul of his lately buried mother.
Dawson in a royal rage is no pleasant spectacle.
It had gone half-past eleven before Froissart came, a boisterous,
triumphant Froissart, bragging of his skill and his success in the
manner of a born Gascon.
"It was tremendous, mon ami," roared Froissart, unchecked by
Dawson's scowls. "I have done the blooming trick: the boat has gone to
Holland, and the filthy spy is in the strong lock-up. My vigilance, my
astuteness, my resource unfathomable, my flair, my soul of an artist,
my patience inexhaustible, my address so firm and yet so delicate, my
mastery of the minds of those others less gifted, my—"
"Oh, stow it!" roared Dawson.
"Unfailing insight, mon esprit francais, my genius for the service
of police, my unshakable courage and elan, have had their just and
inevitable reward. The boat with the message so false has gone to
Holland for the German Kaiser to gloat over, and the filthy spy is in
the safe lock-up. I took him with my own hands—I, le Comte de
Froissart, I bemired my hands by contact with his foul carcase. The
boat it flew down the river; ma foi, like a flash of the lightning,
going they said thirty knots, presque cinquante kilometres par
heure. The glorious Marine Anglaise will see that it reaches les
Pays Bas, and then when it is of return your sailors so splendid, with
sang-froid so perfect, will gobble it up. Just gobble it up. As I will
gobble up this cold beef upon your table. Peste, I am of a hunger
excruciating. I have not eaten for five, six, ten hours."
Froissart sat down at Dawson's table, where still lay the cold remains
of his supper—he had had the decency to reflect that his colleague
Froissart might be hungry upon arrival—and fell to eating copiously
and loudly. The French are least admirable when they are seen
Froissart ate while Dawson writhed. Though his colleague's success
would plant laurels upon his own brow—little would he ever say at the
Yard of that journey to Burnham and the preposterous funeral—he was
jealous, bitterly jealous. I am by special appointment the Boswell of
Dawson, yet I do not spare the feelings of my subject. Rather do I go
over them with a rake—for the ultimate good of Dawson's variegated
soul. He was bitterly jealous, but from natural curiosity yearned to
know the details of those feats of which Froissart prated so
triumphantly. And all the while, unconscious, heedless of his wrathful
exasperated chieftain, Froissart devoured food in immense quantities.
It was a disgusting exhibition.
Satisfied at last, Froissart broke away from the table, lit a
cigarette, and sat himself down beside Dawson before the fire. It was
well past midnight, but to these men regular habits were unknown, and
the hours of work and of sleep always indeterminate.
"Now," exclaimed Froissart, "I will tell to you, my friend Dawson, the
true histoire of my exploits so tremendous and unapproachable. I
reached the station at Plymouth at ten hours, my spy was upon the
platform. I knew him, for those who had kept him under watch had
informed me of him. I had with me two police officers en bourgeois,
what you call plain clothes, and I distributed them with the acumen of
a strategist. It was un train a couloir. The spy disposed himself in
a compartment. I placed one of my officers in the same compartment
with him, the other in the compartment contiguee towards the engine,
myself in that a derriere. He was thus the meat in our sandwich. If
he passed into the corridor and walked this way or that he was seen by
me or by my man in advance; all his movements while within his own
compartment were supervised every moment. So we travelled. He did
himself well that spy so atrocious. He partook of his dejeuner in
the buffet du train, and we all three took our dejeuner there
also. That was the last meal of which I ate before this my supper
here. The journey was without incident, but when he arrived at
Waterloo the trouble began. He was not taking risks, that spy. He knew
not that he was under watch, but he took not risks. He began to
perform a voyage designed to throw any man, except one of the
vigilance and resource of Froissart, completely off his track. I was
not learned in your Metropolitain before this day, but now I know your
Tubes as if a map of them were printed in colours upon my hand. At
Waterloo that spy, so astute, burrowed into the earth and entered a
train of the railway called Bakerloo, in which he journeyed to
Golder's Green. Then he crossed a quai and returned to the town
called Camden. Again he descended, passed through tunnels, and
emerging upon another quai proceeded to Highgate. All the while we
three followed, not close, but so that he never escaped from under our
eyes. At Highgate he turned about and returned to Tottenham Court
Road. Thence he departed by another line to the Bank, and, rising in
and ascenseur, emerged upon the pavements of your City. He looked
this way and that, not perceiving us who watched, walked warily to the
Lord Maire's station of the Mansion House, boarded the District
Railway, and did not alight till Wimbledon. It was easy to follow, but
my friend, the billets, the tickets, were une grande difficulte. I
solved the problem of tickets by my genius so superbe. We at first
tried to take them, but apres we abandoned the project so hopeless
and travelled sans payer. When asked at the barriers or in the
lifts, we offered pennies, and the men who collected took them
joyfully, asking not whence we came. It was une procedee tres
simple. It is possible that these wayward uncounted pennies dropped
into their own pockets. They rejoiced always to receive them. From
Wimbledon we returned to Earl's Court, and then, descending by an
electric staircase, which moved of itself, again found ourselves in
the Tubes. I loved that escalier electrique; one day I will return
and ascend and descend upon it for hours. From Earl's Court we went to
Piccadilly Circus; there we made another change for Oxford Circus;
there we again got out, and at last, after penetrating the bowels of
your London, travelled to Liverpool Street. By this time it had become
dark, and the spy's passion for underground travel had spent itself.
He crossed the street, descended to the grand station of the Eastern
Railway, and took a ticket for Burnham-on-Crouch. Exhausted, but ever
vigilant, Froissart and his faithful men took also tickets for
"I will not weary you more with our wanderings, but after many hours,
at ten o'clock, we at last arrived at this place. The spy was met upon
the quai by another villain, with whom he held converse, and the
pair of them, ignorant that the vengeance of Froissart overshadowed
them, marched heedlessly, openly, to the river side and entered a
large house of which the gardens ran down to the water. I left there
my two faithful but weary ones on watch, and hastened to the salle de
police. There an Inspector and a young officier anglais—a
sub-lieutenant of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve—were awaiting my
arrival with impatience. To them I told my story with the brevity that
I now recount it to you. They were intrigued greatly, and the
sous-lieutenant struck me violently upon the back and said, ma
foi, that I was a 'downy old bird,' It was a compliment tres
'bizarre mais tres aimable. I was, it appeared, an old bird of the
downiest plumage. I had noted the name of the house, and the Inspector
seized a Directory. 'We have suspected that house for some time,' said
he. There is a big boat-house at the bottom of the garden containing a
large sea-going motor-boat. The proprietor calls himself English, but
does not look like one. He is doubtless a snake, one whom they call
naturalise, a viper whom we English have warmed in our bosoms.' So
spake the Inspector. The Sub-Lieutenant whistled. He said only, 'Send
for little Tommy; it is a job for him.' A call was sent forth, and
there came into the room a scrap of an infant, habited in short
pantaloons and a green shirt. The child carried a long pole and stood
stiffly at attention. 'Ma foi, do I see before me a Boy Scout?' I
asked. 'You do,' replied the Sub-Lieutenant. 'This is little Tommy,
the patrol leader of the Owls.' 'Mon Dieu' I cried, 'an Owl! Un
Hibou! Is he then stupid as an owl?' I could see that the Tommy so
small frowned savagely, but the Sub-Lieutenant laughed. 'You will see
presently if he is stupid. I have forty miles of coast to watch, and I
do it all with Boy Scouts like this one.' 'Nom d'un chien,' I cried.
'You English are a great people.' 'We are,' agreed the Sub-Lieutenant,
'devilish great.' Tommy grinned.
"Then the officer so youthful—his age could not have exceeded
nineteen years—gave orders to the little Tommy. He was to go to the
house, to enter the garden, to squeeze his tiny person into the
boat-house, and watch. When the spy and his associates went towards
the boat, Tommy was to warn us with a hoot—like an owl—and we were
to take charge. At least so I understood the orders given in a strange
sea language. Tommy saluted, and vanished. If he had ten years, I
should be astonished; but he was a man, every inch of him. Wait till I
"We followed quickly behind Tommy, but saw him not, and joined my men,
who still watched the house. The Sub-Lieutenant and I moved warily,
climbed over the wall of the garden, and crept along the grass, soft
like moss to our feet, till we could see the boat-house stand out
against the dull shine of the river. There was no sign of the presence
of le petit Hibou. Suddenly the door of the house, which gave upon
the garden, opened, and four men walked down to the boat-house and
entered stealthily. My heart turned to water—what a calamity if they
should find and slay the pretty little Owl! The minutes passed,
perhaps five, perhaps ten, and then quite close we heard the soft low
hoot of an owl. The Sub-Lieutenant hooted a reply, and from among some
bushes there came out that serene, intrepid infant with the pole! He
joined us, and whispered eagerly to the officer. I could not hear what
he said. Afterwards the Sub-Lieutenant told me that the men had
entered, three had got into the boat, one remaining on land. It was a
forty-foot boat, reported Tommy—who seemed of wisdom and knowledge
encyclopaedic—it had a big cabin forrard, the engine was a
Wotherspoon, ten cylinders set V-fashion, the power a hundred horses.
So Tommy had observed and reported, and so I repeat to you. As we
watched we saw the boat push out into the river, turn towards the sea;
the engine so powerful buzzed like a million bees, a wave curled up in
front, and it sped away for Holland like the shot of an arrow. The
night was fine, the sea calm; it would complete the voyage in safety.
But upon return what a surprise has been prepared for that motor-boat
and its detestable owner! What a surprise, ma foi. I yearn to hear
of the denouement.
"'We will nab the fourth man who has stayed behind,' whispered the
officer, and we crept towards the boat-house. We were ten yards away
when he issued forth and turned to lock the door. Then we sprang upon
him. He was very quick—like the big snake that he was. He heard us,
spun round, and struck two blows of his fist. The Sub-Lieutenant got
one upon his beautiful nose; I got the other here under the jaw. We
were shot, sprawling, upon the grass, one to each side, and the
villain, springing between us, started to flee. I was struck down, but
not stunned; I was alert, undefeated, eager to resume the battle. I
rose to my knees. I saw the villain fleeing up the grass. Ah, he would
escape! But I had not reckoned upon the patrol leader, the little Owl,
the Hibou of a Boy Scout so deft and courageous. The spy fled, but
into his path sprang the tiny figure of the Owl, his pole in rest like
a lance. They met, the man and the little Owl, and the shock of that
tourney aroused the echoes of the night. The man, hit in the belly by
the point of the pole, collapsed upon the grass, and the Owl, driven
backwards by the weight of the man, rolled over and over like un
herisson. He was no longer an Owl; he was a round Hedgehog! I was
consumed with admiration for the gallant Owl. I got to my feet, I
jumped across the lawn, and fell with both knees hard upon the carcase
so foul of the spy whom I had pursued all day. He lay groaning from
the grievous pain in his belly, and I put upon him the handcuffs
before that he could recover. The little Tommy, the Hedgehog, picked
himself up, staggered to the body of his enemy, and there, leaning
upon the admirable pole which he had not released in his somersaults,
gave forth a hoot of victory. It was the Day of Tommy. But for that
morsel of a wise Owl the spy would have escaped. I embraced Tommy, who
wriggled with discomfort; the Sub-Lieutenant shook his hand, which he
appreciated the more. 'Good work,' said the officer. 'Thank you, sir,'
said Tommy. That was all; no emotion, no compliments, no embraces.
'Good work.' 'Thank you, sir.' Ma foi, what a people are the
"We locked up the spy. The Sub-Lieutenant told me that wireless orders
had gone out to the patrols spread far over the seas. The boat, of
which we had the name and description, would arrive at Holland, but
upon its return on the morrow it would be seized and escorted to
Harwich. If by mischance it eluded the patrols, it would be captured
when it arrived in the river Crouch. All was provided for. The false
news has gone to Holland, and Froissart has done good work. I ask for
no reward; I will be like the English—cold, implacable. When the
officer said at parting to me, 'Good work, M. Froissart, we are much
obliged to you,' I replied calmly, 'Thank you, sir,' I had, you will
observe, modelled myself upon the little Owl.
"And you, Mr. Dawson," concluded Froissart, wiping his face, for the
effort of talking so much English had brought out the sweat upon him,
"have you also succeeded?"
"Yes," said Dawson curtly, "I have also done my work, but it was not
exciting. My man was no spy, and the real news about the Intrepid
and Terrific will not get through to Germany."
"Saved," roared Froissart, springing to his feet. "We are colleagues
most perfect. We have done work of the most good. Embracons nous, mon
ami." Then occurred that deplorable incident which has already been
related. Froissart in his enthusiasm embraced the unresponsive Dawson,
and was laid out by a short-arm jab upon the diaphragm. It was really
too bad of Dawson; but then, as I have said, his temper was atrocious.
* * * * *
The two battle-cruisers remained upon the shoals of Picklecombe Point
all through November and well into the following month. The great
salvage steamer with the arc light went away, but others remained.
Work seemed to proceed, though it was unaccountably slow in producing
a result. The Three Towns lost interest in the derelicts until one
evening there fell upon them a blow which set them gasping for
coherent speech. The newsboys were crying in the streets a Special
Edition, very Special. Set in dirty type in an odd column, headed with
the mysterious words "Stop Press," appeared an announcement by the
Admiralty that far away in the South Seas the battle-cruisers
Intrepid and Terrific, under the command of Vice-Admiral Stocky,
had met and sunk the lately victorious German Squadron! It was
glorious news, but the Three Towns thought little at the moment of the
glory. They urgently hungered for an explanation of the inscrutable
means by which two battle-cruisers, mined and cast upon the shoals
below Mount Edgecumbe under their very eyes, could race hot foot to
the South Seas and there lay out a German squadron. As soon as the
winter dawn broke an immense crowd surged upon the Hoe gazing into
blank space. The two battle-cruisers, which for a month had lain
helpless before them, were gone! Gone, too, were the salvage steamers
and the patrol boats. The waters which had been so active and crowded
were void! Then the Three Towns understood; they grasped, men, women
and children, the great spoof of which they had been the interested
victims, and their approving laughter rose to Heaven. For in all that
appertains to the Royal Navy every one born within the circuit of the
Three Towns is very wise indeed.
THE CAPTAIN OF MARINES
I had seen nothing of Dawson during my intimate association with
Madame Gilbert. He had written to me copiously—for a very busy man he
was a curiously voluminous letter-writer. He always employed the backs
of official forms and wrote in pencil. His handwriting, large and
round, was that of a man who had received a good and careful Board
School education, but was quite free from personal characteristics.
Dawson's letters in no respect resembled the man. They were very long,
very dull, and very crudely phrased. He had evidently tried to put
them into what he conceived to be a literary shape, and the effect was
deplorable. One may read such letters, the work of unskilled writers,
in the newspapers which devote space to "Correspondence." The writers,
like Dawson, can probably talk vividly and forcibly, using strong
nervous vernacular English, but the moment they take the pen all
thought and individual character become swamped in a flood of turgid,
commonplace jargon. I was disappointed with Dawson's letters, and I am
sure that he will be even more disappointed when he finds none of them
made immortal in this book. His purpose in sending them to me will
have been ruthlessly defeated.
A week after Madame had vanished down my lift for the last time,
Dawson—in the make-up with which I was most familiar—called upon me
at my office. He also came to say good-bye, for a turn of the official
wheel had come, and he was ordered south to resume his duties at the
Yard. He was, he told me, taking a last tour of inspection to make
certain that the Secret Service net, which he had designed and laid,
would be deftly worked by the hands of his subordinates. "I shall not
be sorry," said he, "to get back to my deserted family and to be once
more the plain man Dawson whom God made."
"You have so many different incarnations," I observed, "that I wonder
the original has not escaped your memory."
He smiled. "If I had forgotten," said he, "my wife would soon remind
me. She always insists that she married a certain man Dawson and
declines to recognise any other."
"So if I come south to visit you, I shall see the original?"
"Thanks," said I; "I will come at the earliest opportunity."
"I don't say that if you call at the Yard you will see quite the same
person whom you will meet at Acacia Villas, Primrose Road, Tooting."
"That would be too much to expect. But under any guise, Dawson, I am
always sure of knowing you."
"Yes, confound you. I would give six months' pay to know how you do
"You shall know some day, and without any bribery. Now that you are
here, talk, talk, talk. I want to get the taste of those rotten
letters of yours out of my mouth."
He looked surprised and hurt. He looked exactly as a famous sculptor
looked who, when a beautiful work of his hands was unveiled, wished me
to publish a descriptive sonnet from his pen. I bluntly refused. He
was an admirable sculptor, but a dreadful sonneteer. Yet in his secret
heart he valued the sonnet far above the statue. In this strange way
we are made.
I did not conceal from Dawson my interest in Madame Gilbert, and he
rather rudely expressed strong disapproval. He suggested that for a
married man I was much too free in my ways. "That woman is full of
brains," said he, "but she is the artfullest hussy ever made. She will
turn any man around her pretty fingers if he gives way to her. She has
made a nice fool of you and of that ass Froissart. She even tried her
little games with me—with me indeed. But I was too strong for her."
I regarded Dawson with some interest and more pity. The poor fellow
did not realise that Madame had for years moulded him to her hands
like potter's clay. She had mastered him by ingenuously pretending
that he stood upon a serene pinnacle far removed from her influence.
He had preened his feathers and done her bidding.
"We are not all strong—like you, Dawson," said I mildly.
I switched Dawson off the subject of Madame Gilbert, and directed his
mind towards the contemplation of his own exploits. When handled
judiciously he will talk freely and frankly, giving away official
secrets with both hands. But his confidences always relate to the
past, to incidents completed. When he has a delicate job on hand, he
can be as close as the English Admiralty, even to me. He has no sense
of proportion. Again and again he has recounted the interminable
details of cases in which I take not the smallest interest, and has
ignored all my efforts to dam the unprofitable flood of narrative and
to divert the current into more fruitful channels. He looks at
everything from the Dawson standpoint, and cares for nothing which
does not add to the glory of Dawson. Unless he fills the stage, an
incident has for him no value or concern. Happily for me the most
startling of his exploits, that of bending a timid War Committee of
the Cabinet to his will in the winter of 1915-1916, and of bluffing
into utter submission nearly a hundred thousand rampant munition
workers who were eager to "down tools," fulfils all the Dawson
conditions of importance. He and he alone filled a star part, to him
and to him alone belonged the success of an incredibly bold manoeuvre.
I have drawn Dawson as I saw him, in his weakness and in his strength.
I have revealed his vanity and the carefully hidden tenderness of his
heart. In my whimsical way I have perhaps treated him as essentially a
figure of fun. But though I may smile at him, even rudely laugh at
him, he is a great public servant who once at least—though few at the
time knew—saved his country from a most grievous peril.
In the early weeks of 1916, when work for the Navy, and work in the
gun and ammunition shops which were rapidly being organised all over
the country, were within a very little of being suspended by a general
strike of workmen, terrified for their threatened trade-union
privileges, the strength and resource of Dawson put forth boldly in
the North dammed the peril at its source. In spite of the penalties
laid down in Munition Acts, in spite of the powers vested in military
authorities by the Defence of the Realm Regulations, there would have
been a great strike, and both the Navy and the New Army would have
been hung up gasping for the ships, the guns, and the supplies upon
which they had based all their plans for attack and defence. The
danger arose over that still insistent problem—the "dilution of
labour." The new armies had withdrawn so many skilled and unskilled
workmen from the workshops, and the demands for munitions of all kinds
were so overwhelming, that wholly new and strange methods of
recruiting labour were urgent. Women must be employed in large
numbers, in millions; machinery must be put to its full use without
regard for the restrictions of unions, if the country were to be
saved. Many of the younger and more open-minded of the trade-union
officials had enlisted; many of those older ones who remained could
not bend their stiff minds to the necessity for new conditions. They
were not consciously unpatriotic—their sons were fighting and dying;
they were not consciously seditious, though secret enemy agents moved
amongst them, and talked treason with them in the jargon of their
trades. They simply could not understand that the hardly won
privileges of peace must yield to the greater urgencies of war.
Civilians came north to examine the position on behalf of the Ministry
of Munitions; they came, wrung their hands, and reported in terror
that if dilution were pressed, a hundred thousand men would be "out."
Yet the risk had to be taken, for dilution must be pressed. Dawson was
hard at work sweeping into his widespread net all those whom he knew
to be enemy agents and all those whom he suspected. It was not an
occasion for squeamishness. With the consent of his official
superiors, he picked up with those prehensile fingers of his many of
the most troublesome of the union agitators, and deported them to safe
spots far distant, where they were constrained to cease from
troubling. Still the danger increased, and he saw that a few days only
could intervene between industrial peace and war. Already the
manufacture of heavy howitzers for the Spring Offensive had been
stopped—by a cunning embargo upon small essential parts—and the
moment had arrived for a trial of strength between authority and
rebellion. He made up his mind, plainly told his chiefs what his plans
were, obtained their whole-hearted concurrence, and went south by the
night train. By telegram he had sent an ultimatum which struck awe
into the official mind. "Unless," he wired, in code, "the Cabinet
wants a revolution, it had better meet at once and call me in. Unless
it does this at once I shall not go back here. I shall resign, and
leave the Government in the soup where it deserves to be."
Such a message from a man who in official eyes was no more than a
Chief Inspector of Police was in itself a portent. It revealed how
completely war had upset all official standards and conventions.
To the Chief, his Commissioner, he opened his mind freely. "I am about
fed up with politicians and lawyers," said he. "There is big trouble
coming, and not a man of them all has the pluck to get his blow in
first. I have always found that men will respect an order—they like
to be governed—but they despise slop. What the devil's the use of
Ministers going North and telling the men how well they have done, and
how patriotic they are, when the men themselves all know that they've
done damn badly and mean to do worse? I could settle the whole
business in twenty-four hours."
"They are frightened men, Dawson," said the Chief. "That is the matter
with the Government. They have been brought up to slobber over the
public and try to cheat it out of votes. They can't tell the truth.
When hard deadly reality breaks through their web of make-believe,
they cower together in corners and howl. I doubt if you will get a
free hand, Dawson. What do you want—martial law?"
"Yes. That, or something like it. If I have the threat of it at my
back, so that it rests with me, and me alone, to put it into force, I
shall not need to use it. But I must go North with the proclamation in
my pocket or I shall not go North at all. Here is my resignation."
Dawson tossed a letter upon the table, and laughed. The Chief picked
it up and read the curt lines in which Dawson delivered his last word.
"Good man," commented he; "that is the way to talk. They can't
understand how any man can have the grit to resign a fat job before he
is kicked out. They never do. They compromise. You may put starch into
their soft backbones, but personally I doubt the possibility. But at
least you will get your chance. There is to be a meeting of the War
Committee the first thing to-morrow morning and you are to be
summoned. I told the Home Secretary that I should resign myself if
they did not give you a full opportunity to state your case. I will
support you as long as I am in this chair."
Dawson held out his hand. "Thank you," he said simply. The two men
clasped hands and looked into one another's eyes. "It is a good
country, Dawson," said the Chief—"a jolly good country, and worth big
risks to oneself. It will be saved by plain, honest men if it is to be
saved at all. Our worst enemies are not the Germans, but our
flabby-fibred political classes at home. The people are just crying
out to be told what to do, and to be made to do it. Yet nobody tells
them. Don't let the Cabinet browbeat you, and smother you with
plausible sophistries. Just talk plain English to them, Dawson."
"I will. For once in their sheltered lives they shall hear the truth."
For what follows, Dawson is my principal, but not my sole authority. I
have tested what he told me in every way that I could, and the test
has held. Somehow—I am prepared to believe in the manner told by
him—he forced the Cabinet to give him the authority for which he
asked, and he used it in the manner which I shall tell of. He held
what is always a first-rate advantage: he knew exactly what he wanted,
no more or less, and was prepared to get it or retire from official
life. Those who gave to him authority gave it reluctantly—gave it
because they were between the devil and the deep sea. They would
gladly have thrown over Dawson, but they could not throw over the
civil and military powers who supported him in his demands. And had
they thrown him over they would have been left to deal by their
incompetent unaided selves with a strike in the midst of war which
might have spread like a prairie fire over the whole country. But
though they bent before Dawson, I am very sure that they did not love
him, and that he will never be the Chief Commissioner of Metropolitan
Police. Against his name in the official books stands a mark of the
most deadly blackness. Strength and success are never pardoned by
weakness and failure.
When at last Dawson was summoned to the sitting; of the War Committee,
he found himself in the presence of some half a dozen elderly and
embarrassed-looking gentlemen arranged round a big table. They had
been discussing him, and trying to devise some decent civil means to
get rid of him. He and his story of the coming strike in the North
were a distressful inconvenience, an intolerable intrusion upon a
quiet life. When he entered, he was without a friend in the room,
except the War Minister who loved a man who knew his own mind and was
prepared to accept big responsibilities. But even he doubted whether
it were possible to achieve the results aimed at with the means
required by Dawson.
Our friend suffered from no illusions. "I knew what I was up against,"
he said to me long afterwards. "I knew that they were all longing to
be quit of me and to go to sleep again. But I had made up my mind that
they should get some very plain speaking. I would compel them to
understand that what I offered was a forlorn chance of averting a
civil war, and that if they refused my offer they would be left to
themselves—not to stamp out a spark of revolution, but to subdue a
roaring furnace. They could take their choice in the certain knowledge
that if they chose wrongly the North would be in flames within
forty-eight hours. It was a great experience, Mr. Copplestone. I have
never enjoyed anything half so much."
Dawson was offered a chair set some six feet distant from the sacred
table, but he preferred to stand. His early training held, and he was
not comfortable in the presence of his superiors in rank or station
except when standing firmly at attention.
The Prime Minister fumbled with some papers, looked over them for a
few embarrassed minutes, and then spoke.
"Great pressure has been placed upon us, Mr. Dawson, to see you and to
hear your report. Great pressure—to my mind improper pressure. I have
here letters from Magistrates, Lords Lieutenant, competent military
authorities, naval officers superintending shipyards, officials of the
Munitions Department. They all declare that the industrial outlook in
the North is most perilous, and that at any moment a situation may
arise which will be fraught with the gravest peril to the country. We
have replied that the law provides adequate remedies, but to that the
retort is made that the men who are at the root of the grave troubles
pending snap their fingers at the law. We are pressed to take counsel
with you, though why the high officers who communicate with me should,
as it were, shift their responsibilities upon the shoulders of a Chief
Inspector of Scotland Yard I am at a loss to comprehend. What I would
ask of my colleagues is this: who is in fact responsible for the
maintenance of a due observance of law in the Northern district from
which you have come, and where you appear to discharge unofficial and
wholly irregular functions? Who is responsible? Perhaps my learned
friend the Home Secretary can enlighten us?" The Prime Minister
paused, and smiled happily to himself. He had at least made things
nasty for an intrusive colleague. But the Home Secretary, suave,
alert, was not to be caught. He at any rate was not prepared to admit
"It is possible, sir," he said, "that in some vague, undefined,
constitutional way I am responsible for the police service of the
United Kingdom. But happily my direct charge does not in practice
extend beyond England. The centre of disturbance appears to be on the
northern side of the Border, within the jurisdiction of the Secretary
for Scotland. It is possible that my right honourable friend who holds
that office, and whom I am pleased to see here with us, will answer
the Prime Minister's question. He is responsible for his obstreperous
countrymen." The Home Secretary paused, and also smiled happily to
himself. He had evaded a trap, and had involved an unloved colleague
in its meshes; what more could be required of a highly placed
"God forbid!" cried the Scottish Secretary hastily. "These aggressive
and troublesome workmen are no countrymen of mine. It is true," he
added pensively, "that when I am in the North I claim that a somewhat
shadowy Scottish ancestry makes of me a Scot to the finger tips, but
no sooner do I cross the Border upon my return to London than I revert
violently to my English self. A kindly Providence has ordained that
the central Scottish Office should be in London, and my urgent duties
compel me to reside there permanently. Which is indeed fortunate. It
is true that technically my responsibilities cover everything, or
nearly everything, which occurs in the unruly North, but I do not
interfere with the discretion of those on the spot who know the local
conditions and can deal adequately with them. I am content to rest my
action upon the advice of those responsible authorities whose
considered opinions have been quoted by the Prime Minister."
The Prime Minister smiled no more. The wheel which he had jogged so
agreeably had come full round, and, in colloquial speech, had biffed
him in the eye. He fumbled the papers once more, and frowned.
"It seems to me," plaintively put in the First Lord of the Admiralty
(a political chief very different from the one whom Dawson encountered
in Chapter XII), "though I am a child in these high matters, that no
one is ever responsible for the exercise of those duties with which he
is nominally charged. For, consider my own case. Though I am the First
Lord, and attend daily at the Admiralty, I am convinced that the
active and accomplished young gentleman whom I had the misfortune to
succeed regards himself as still responsible to the people of this
country for the disposition and control of the Fleets. At least that
is the not unnatural impression which I derive from his frequent
speeches and newspaper articles."
There was a general laugh, in which all joined except the War Minister
and Dawson. They were not politicians.
"If there is a big strike," growled the War Minister, "the Spring
Offensive will be off. It is threatened now, very seriously. I am
months behind with my howitzers."
His colleagues looked reproachfully at the famous warrior, and shifted
uneasily in their chairs. He had an uncomfortable habit of blurting
forth the most unpleasant truths.
"Yes," put in the Minister for Munitions, "we are behind with the
howitzers and with ammunition of all kinds. But what can one do with
these savage brutes in the North? I went there myself and spoke
plainly to them. By God's grace I am still alive, though at one moment
I had given up myself for lost. At one works where I made a speech the
audience were armed with what I believe are called monkey wrenches,
and showed an almost uncontrollable passion for launching them at my
head. I was hustled and wellnigh personally assaulted. Like my
patriotic friend the Scottish Secretary, I was very happy indeed when
I got south of the Border. The central office of the Munitions
Department is happily in London, and my urgent duties compel me to
reside there permanently. I have no leisure for roving expeditions."
"This is very interesting," broke in the First Lord, who lay back in
his chair with shut eyes. "There appears to be no eagerness on the
part of any one of us to stick his hands into the northern hornets'
nest, or to admit any responsibility for it. All of us, that is,
except our courageous and silent friend Mr. Dawson." He opened his
eyes and smiled most winningly towards Dawson. "Would it not be well
if we gave him an opportunity of telling us what his views are?"
"I have been waiting for him to begin," growled the War Minister.
"We are at your service, Mr. Dawson," said the Prime Minister
Dawson, standing stiffly at attention, had closely followed the
conversation, and, as it proceeded, his heart sank. He despaired of
discovering courage and quick decision in the group of Ministers
before him. Yet when called upon he made a last effort. If the country
were to be saved, it must be saved by its people, not by its
politicians, and he was a man of the people, resolute, enduring, long
"Gentlemen," said he, "we are threatened with a strike in the Northern
shops and shipyards which will cripple the country. It will begin
within forty-eight hours. I can stop it if I go North to-night with
the full powers of the Government in my pocket, and with the means for
which I ask. All the authorities in the North, civil, military and
naval, have approved of my plans. I ask only leave to carry them out."
"Your plans are?" snapped the War Minister.
"To get my blow in first," said Dawson simply.
The First Lord again looked at Dawson, and a glint of fighting light
flashed in his tired eyes. "Thrice armed is he who has his quarrel
just; and four times he who gets his blow in first. How would you do
it, Mr. Dawson."
"Yes, how?" eagerly inquired the War Minister.
"I have served," said Dawson, "in most parts of the world. When in
West Africa one is attacked by a snake, one does not wait until it
bites. One cuts off its head."
"You have served?" asked the War Minister. "In what Service?"
"The Red Marines," proudly answered Dawson.
"Ah!" The War Minister was plainly interested, and Dawson had, during
the rest of the interview, no eyes for any one except for him and for
the First Lord. He recognised these two as brother fighting men. The
others he waved aside as civilian truck. "Ah! The Red Marines. Long
service men, the best we have. So you would cut off the snake's head
before it can bite."
"To-morrow afternoon," explained Dawson, "I must attend a meeting of
shop stewards, over two hundred of them. They contain the head of the
snake. Give me powers, a proclamation of martial law which I may show
them, and I will cut off the snake's head."
"You soldiers are always prating about martial law," grumbled the
Prime Minister. "We have given to you the amplest powers under the
Defence of the Realm Act and the Munitions Act to punish strikers.
Those are sufficient. I have no patience with plans for enforcing a
"Excuse me, sir," said Dawson patiently, as to a child, "but if a
hundred thousand men go out on strike, your Acts of Parliament will be
waste paper. You cannot lock up or fine a hundred thousand men, and if
you could you would still be unable to make them work. No means have
ever been devised to make unwilling men work, except the lash, and
that is useless with skilled labour. No one in the North cares a rap
for Acts of Parliament, but there is a mystery about martial law which
carries terror into the hardest heart and the most stupid brain. I
want a signed proclamation of martial law, but I undertake not to
issue it unless all other forms of pressure fail. I must have it all
in cold print to show to the shop stewards when I strike my blow.
Without that proclamation I am helpless, and you will be helpless,
too, by Friday next. This is Wednesday. Unless I cut off the snake's
head to-morrow, it will bite you here even in your sheltered London."
The Prime Minister fumbled once more with the papers before him, but
they gave him no comfort. All advised the one measure of giving full
authority to Dawson and of trusting to his energy and skill. "Dawson
is a man of the people, and knows his own class. He can deal with the
men; we can't." So the urgent appeals ran.
"And if you do not succeed? If you proclaim martial law and we have to
enforce it, where shall we be then?"
"No worse off than you will be anyhow by Friday," said Dawson curtly.
"So you say. But suppose that we think you needlessly fearful. Suppose
that we prefer to wait until Friday and see; what then?"
"You will see what has not been seen in our country for over a hundred
years," retorted Dawson. "You will see artillery firing shotted guns
in the streets."
The Prime Minister shrugged his shoulders, but the War Secretary
turned to his pile of maps and picked up one on which was marked all
the depots and training camps in the northern district. "How many men
do you want?" he asked.
"No khaki, thank you," replied Dawson. "It is not trained, and the
workmen are used to it. To them khaki means their sons and brothers
and friends dressed up. I want my own soldiers of the Sea Regiment
in service blue. I want eighty men from my old division at Chatham."
"Eighty!" cried the War Minister—"eighty men! You are going to stop a
revolution with eighty Red Marines!"
"I could perhaps do with fewer," explained Dawson modestly. "But I
want to make sure work. Give me eighty Marines, none of less than five
years' service, a couple of sergeants, and a lieutenant—a regular
pukka lieutenant. Give them to me, and make me temporarily a captain
in command, and I will engage to cut off the snake's head. You can
have my own head if I fail."
The Great War Minister rose, walked over to Dawson, and shook his
embarrassed hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dawson," said he.
The First Lord, now fully awake, sat up and stared earnestly at the
detective. Those two, the chiefs of the Navy and the Army, had grasped
the startling fact that for once they were in the presence of a Man.
The others saw only a rather ill-dressed, intrusive, vulgar police
"I have rarely met a man with so economical a mind," went on the War
Minister, who resumed his seat. "If you had asked me for eight
thousand, I should not have been surprised." He turned to the Prime
Minister. "If our resolute friend here can stop a revolution with
eighty Red Marines, let him have them in God's name."
"Oh, he can have the Marines," growled the Prime Minister—"if the
First Lord agrees. They are in his department. And if it pleases him
to dress up as a temporary captain, that is nothing to me; but I draw
a firm line at any proclamation of martial law."
"Well," asked the War Minister of Dawson, "what say you?"
"I must have the proclamation, my lord," replied Dawson. "Not to put
up in the streets, but to show to the shop stewards. They won't
believe that the Cabinet has any spunk until they see the proclamation
signed by you. They know that what you say you do."
["Great Heavens," I said to Dawson, when he recounted to me the
details of his surprising interview with the War Committee, "tact is
hardly your strong suit. You could not have asked more plainly to be
kicked out. The flabbier a Cabinet is, the more convinced are its
members of adamantine resolution."
"If I had to go down and out," replied Dawson, "I had determined to go
fighting. I was there to speak my mind, not to flatter anybody."]
The silence which followed this awful speech could be felt. The Prime
Minister gasped, flushed to the eyes, and half rose to dismiss Dawson
from the room. He himself thought for a moment that all was lost, when
through the tense atmosphere ran a ripple of gay laughter. It was the
First Lord who, with instant decision, had taken the only means to
save his new friend Dawson. He has a delightfully infectious silvery
laugh, and the effect was electrical. The War Minister opened his
great mouth, and bellowed Ha! Ha! Ha! The Minister of Munitions put
his head down on the table and shrieked. Even the Home Secretary, a
severe, humourless, legal gentleman, cackled. The Prime Minister,
whose perceptions were of the quickest, saw that anger would be
ridiculous in the midst of laughter. He admitted the First Lord's
victory, and forced a smile.
"You are not a diplomatist, Mr. Dawson," said he reprovingly.
"Like Marcus Antonius," whispered the First Lord, as he wiped his eyes
delicately, "he is a plain, blunt man."
The War Minister pulled a sheet of paper towards' him and began to
write. He scribbled for a few minutes, made a few corrections, and
then read out slowly the words which he had set down. All present saw
that the moment of acute crisis had arrived.
"That is all that I want," said Dawson. "If you will sign that paper,
my lord, I need not trouble you gentlemen any longer."
"I am one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State," observed
the War Minister. "Shall I sign, sir?"
"I believe," remarked the Home Secretary primly, "that if one has
regard for strict historical accuracy there is but one Secretary of
State, and that I am that one."
"I will not trouble you," said the War Minister.
"I am technically responsible for the country over which I am supposed
to rule," put in the Scottish Secretary plaintively. "I speak, of
course under correction, but north of the Border my signature might—"
"You are not a Secretary of State," growled the War Minister, "and
your seat is not safe. No one shall sign except myself, for I have no
need to seek after working-class votes. Dawson and I will face this
"And if I decline to permit you to sign?" asked the Prime Minister
blandly. "This is not a Cabinet meeting, and we have no power to
commit the Government to so grave a step."
"You will require to fill up the vacant position of Secretary for
War," came the answer.
"And also the humble post of First Lord of the Admiralty," murmured
that high officer of State. "We are up against realities, and Cabinet
etiquette can go hang for me."
The War Minister again read aloud what he had written, signed it
carefully and deliberately, and rising up, handed it to Dawson. "Get
it printed at once and go ahead, Mr. Dawson."
"Captain Dawson, R.M.L.I.," corrected the First Lord, who also rose
and warmly shook hands with the new captain. "You shall be gazetted at
once. I will see the Adjutant-General myself and give orders to
"You have both made up your minds?" inquired the Prime Minister.
"Quite," said the War Secretary. The First Lord nodded.
"Very good," replied the Prime Minister; "I consent. We must above all
things preserve the unity of the Cabinet in these circumstances of
grave national crisis."
"Clear out, Dawson," whispered the First Lord.
Dawson cleared out.
It was a little past noon, and Dawson had much work to do before he
could be free to speed north by the midnight train. First he skipped
across to the Yard and into the private room of his firm friend the
Chief. To him he showed the potent proclamation and recounted the
methods of its extraction. "I thought that I was in a company of
jackals," said he at the end; "but I was wrong—two of them were
"We should be in a bad way if there were no lions," commented the
Chief. "Those two, and another who is dead, saved South Africa; there
are one or two more, but not many. What shall you do with this?"
"We will set it up on our own private press, and run off a couple of
hundred placards. The secret must not leak out; I am playing for
The Chief struck a bell, the order was given, and Dawson's priceless
proclamation vanished into the lower regions.
"Now?" inquired the Chief.
"Chatham," explained Dawson, "to pick up my men—and to get my
uniform." When telling the story, Dawson again and again described to
me his uniform, with which I happened by family association to be
intimately acquainted. He did not spare me a badge or a button. I am
convinced that no girl wore her first ball-dress with half the
palpitating pride with which Dawson surveyed himself in his captain's
kit. When I chaffed him gently, and hinted that the stars of a captain
were cheaply come by in these days, he had one retort always ready,
"Not in the Red Marines." He did not value his office of Chief
Detective Inspector a rap beside that temporary rank of Captain of Red
Marines. He had, you see, been a private in that proud exclusive
Corps, and its glory for him outshone all human glories.
He flew away to Chatham as fast as a deliberate railway service
permitted, and found upon arrival that an urgent telegram from the
Adjutant-General had preceded him. Dawson was shown at once to the
Commandant's quarters, and there explained his requirements. "Eighty
men, two sergeants, and a regular lieutenant. Not one of less than
five years' service. Also a sea-service kit with a captain's stars for
me. The mess-sergeant will fit me out. He trades in second-hand
"You have the advantage of me, Mr. Dawson," said the Commandant,
smiling, "in your profound knowledge of the functions of a mess
"I was a recruit here, sir, when you were a second lieutenant. I know
the by-ways of Chatham and the perquisites of mess-sergeants. I was a
sergeant myself once."
"I remember you, Dawson," said the Commandant kindly, "and am proud to
see one of us become so great a man. By the regulations a temporary
officer should wear khaki."
"No khaki for me, sir, please," implored Dawson. "I should not feel
that I belonged to the old Corps in khaki. In my time it was the red
parade tunic or the sea-service blue."
"Wear any kit you please. This is your day, not mine. I have been
ordered to place myself and all Chatham at your disposal, though what
your particular game is I have not a notion. I won't ask any questions
now, but please come and dine with me in mess when you return, and let
me have the whole story."
"I will, sir," cried Dawson heartily, "and thank you very much. I have
waited at the mess, but never dined with it The old Corps is going
with me to do a pretty bit of work, different from anything that it
has ever done before."
"That would not be easy; we have been in every scrap on land or sea
since the year dot."
Dawson looked round carefully, and then whispered, "Those eighty
Marines of mine are going to cut off a snake's head and stop a bloody
revolution. They've done that sort of thing many times at the ends of
the earth, but never, I believe, in England."
"I wish that I were again a lieutenant," growled the Commandant, "for
then I would volunteer to come with you."
"You shall choose my second-in-command yourself, sir," conceded Dawson
Captain Dawson chose his men with discrimination. All those above five
years' service were paraded in the barrack square, and Dawson,
assisted by the Commandant, to whom his men were as his own children,
picked out the eighty lucky ones at leisure. Those who were rejected
shrugged their stiff square shoulders and predicted disaster for the
expedition. In one small detail Dawson changed his plans. He had
intended to take two sergeants only, but in Chatham there were four
who had served with him in the ranks, and he could not withstand their
pleadings. When all was settled, Dawson went to the Commandant's
quarters to be introduced to his second-in-command, and surprised
there that officer endeavouring to squeeze his rather middle-aged
figure within the buttoned limits of a subaltern's tunic. Since the
senior officers of Marines never go to sea, the Commandant's own
official uniform was the field-service khaki of a Staff officer. "It
is all right," explained he, laughing. "I have become a lieutenant
again, and am going north with you. But I wish that your friend the
mess-sergeant had a pattern B tunic which would meet round my middle.
My young men must be devilish slim nowadays. I have been on to the
A.-G. by 'phone. He pretends to be derisory, but I am convinced that
really he is desperately jealous. He would love to go too. You seem,
my good Dawson, to have stirred up Whitehall and Spring Gardens in a
manner most emphatic."
"But you can't serve under me, sir," cried Dawson, aghast.
"Can't I!" retorted the new Lieutenant. "If admirals can joyfully go
afloat as lieut.-commanders, as lots of them are doing, what is to
prevent a Colonel of Marines serving as a subaltern? I am on this job
with you, Dawson, if you will have me."
"With four sergeants and eighty Marines," said Dawson slowly, "you and
I could have held Mons."
"We could that," cried the Colonel-Lieutenant, who had by now
completed the reduction of his rank to that of Captain Dawson's
subordinate. "Nothing, nothing, is beyond the powers of the Sea
At about 11.30 that night the wide roof of St. Pancras echoed to the
disciplined tramp of Dawson's detachment, which marched straight to
coaches reserved by order from Headquarters. "Marines don't talk,"
said Dawson, "but I am not taking risks. I don't want to sully the
virtue of my old Sea Pongos by mixing them up with raw land Tommies."
Dawson and his subaltern were moving towards the sleeping-coach in
which a double berth had been assigned to them, when two tall
gentlemen in civilian dress slipped out of the crowd and stood in
their path. Dawson, at the sight of them, glowed with pride, his chest
swelled out under his broad blue tunic, and his hand flew to the peak
of his red-banded cap. The Colonel-Lieutenant gasped. "Good luck,
Dawson," whispered the bigger of the strangers; "I would give my baton
to be going north with you."
"Colonel —— has given up his crowns," replied Dawson, as he
introduced his companion.
The Field-Marshal smiled and shook hands with the sporting Commandant.
"This is all frightfully irregular," said he, "but I sympathise.
Still, if I know our friend Dawson here, there won't be any fighting.
You have no idea of his skill as a diplomatist. He tells the truth,
which is so unusual and startling that the effect is overwhelming. He
is a heavy human howitzer. I envy you, Colonel."
"I have not a notion what we are to be at," said the Colonel.
"I am not very clear myself. It is Dawson's picnic, not ours, and we
have given him a free hand. You won't get any fighting, but there will
be lots of fun."
Meanwhile the First Lord had drawn Dawson to one side. "Good luck,
Captain Dawson; you have not wasted any time, and I have the best of
hopes. We had a beautiful row after you left us this morning. It did
my poor heart good. The P.M. declares that if you put martial law into
force, he will hand in his checks to the King. So, my poor friend, you
carry with you a mighty responsibility. But stick it out, don't
hesitate to follow your judgment, and wire me how you get on."
"Don't worry, sir," said Dawson, "I shall not fail. If it had not been
for you and his lordship here, I should not have had this great
chance. I won't let you down."
"Sh!" whispered the other. "Not so loud. We are conspirators, strictly
incog., dressed in the shabbiest of clothes. We had to see you off,
for I enjoyed the tussle of this morning beyond words. I would not for
anything have missed the P.M.'s face when he found himself driven to
act suddenly and definitely. I am eternally your debtor, Captain
Dawson of the Red Marines."
"My word," exclaimed the Colonel-Lieutenant, when the visitors had
slipped away like a couple of stage villains, with soft hats pulled
down over their eyes—"the Field-Marshal and the First Lord! You have
some friends, sir."
"I am only a ranker," said Dawson humbly, "with very temporary stars;
not a pukka officer and gentleman like you. I hope that you do not
mind sharing' a sleeper with me?"
"I should be proud to share with you the measliest dug-out in a
Flanders graveyard," replied the Colonel emphatically. The two
officers, so anomalously associated, entered their berth the best of
friends and talked together far into the night. And as they talked,
the Colonel, now a Lieutenant, made the same discovery which had
startled Dawson's two powerful supporters of the morning. In the
police officer, rough, half-educated, vain, tender of heart, he also
had discovered a Man. "But for me and my Red Marines," said Dawson, as
they turned in for some broken sleep, "those poor fools up yonder
would get themselves shot in the streets. But I shall save them, and
in saving them I shall save the country."
* * * * *
It was the afternoon of the following day, just twenty-four hours
after Dawson had commandeered the resources of Chatham, and the scene
was a public hall in a big industrial city. In the body of the room
sat two hundred and thirty-four men—shop stewards and district trade
union officials—and their faces were gloomy and anxious. They had
come for a last meeting with the officers of the Munitions Dept, and
to declare that the men whom they represented were resolved not to
permit of any further dilution of labour. The great majority of them
were not unpatriotic, their sons and brothers and friends had joined
the Forces, and had already fought and died gallantly, but they were
intensely suspicious. To them the "employer," the "capitalist," was a
greater, because more enduring and insidious, enemy than the Germans.
Dilution of labour had become in their eyes a device for destroying
all their hardly won privileges and restrictions, and for delivering
them bound and helpless to their "capitalist oppressers." To this
sorry pass had the perpetual disputes of peace brought the workmen
under stress of war! Rates of pay did not enter into the
dispute—never in their lives had they earned such wages—its origin
led in a queer perverted sense of loyalty to the trade unions, and to
those members who had gone forth to fight. "What will our folks say,"
asked the men of one another, "when they come home from the war, if we
have given away in their absence all that they fought for during long
years?" When it was attempted to make clear that the lives of their
own sons in the trenches were being made more hazardous by their
obstinacy, they shook their heads and simply did not believe. "We can
make all the guns and the shells that are wanted without giving up our
rules. We value our sons' lives as much as you do. We love our country
as much as you do. The capitalists are using a plea of patriotism to
get the better of us." It was a pitiful deadlock—honest for the most
part; yet it was a deadlock which, as Dawson said, brought very near
the day when English artillery would be firing shotted guns in English
At a small table on a low platform at one end of the room sat three
civilians, and a few feet away, sitting a little back, was an officer
whose uniform and badges attracted the eyes of the curious. None of
the workmen knew this brown-skinned man with the small, dark moustache
who looked so very professional a soldier, yet Dawson knew them, every
man of them, and had moved among them in their works many times. Ten
of those present were actually his own agents, working among their
fellow unionists and agitating with them—hidden sources of
information and of influence at need—and yet not one of those ten
knew that the Marine Captain upon the platform was his own official
chief. The chairman rose to speak to the men for the last time, and
Dawson sat listening and studying a small slip of paper in his hand.
The chairman said nothing that the men had not been told many times
during the past few days, but there was in his speech a note of solemn
appeal and warning which was new. The hearers shuffled their feet
uneasily, for most of them felt uneasy; they were, as I have said,
most of them honest men. But when the chairman had sat down, and the
men began, one after another, to reply, it appeared at once that there
was present an element not honest, even seditious. Dawson smiled to
himself, and studied his slip of paper, for the snake, whose head he
had come to cut off, was beginning to rear itself before him. Hints
began to appear that there was a strong minority at least which was
unwilling both to fight and to work for a country which was none of
theirs—"What has this country done for us that we should bleed and
sweat for it? It has starved us and sweated us to make profits out of
us, and now in its extremity slobbers us with fair words." At last one
man rose, a thin-faced, wild-eyed man, who, under happier conditions,
might have been a preacher or a writer, and delivered a speech which
was rankly seditious. "The workers," he declared, "are being shackled,
gagged, and robbed. Our enemy is not the German Kaiser. Our enemy
consists of that small, cunning, treacherous, well-organised, and
highly respectable section of the community who, by means of the money
power, compels the workers to sweat in order that their bellies may be
full and their fine ladies gowned in gorgeous raiment. They pass a
Munitions Act to chain the worker to his master. They 'dilute' labour
to call into being an invisible army which can be mobilised at short
notice to defeat the struggles of striking artisans. The attack of the
masters must be resisted. The workers must fight. There is a
fascinating attraction in the idea of meeting force with force,
violence with violence. It is undeniable that many of the more
thoughtful among the toilers would consider that their lives had not
been spent in vain if they organised their comrades to drilled and
The speaker paused. He was encouraged by a few cheers, but the mass of
his hearers were silent. He glanced at Dawson, whose face was set in
an expressionless mask. Cheers came again, and he went on, but with
less assurance. "The worker's labour power is his only wealth. It is
also his highest weapon. But the workers need not think of using this
weapon so long as they are split and divided into sects and groups and
crafts. To be effective they must organise as workers. An organisation
that would include all the workers, skilled and unskilled, throughout
the entire country, would prove irresistible. But as matters stand at
present I do not advocate armed rebellion. I advocate and herewith
proclaim a general strike."
He sat down, and there was a long silence. The die had been cast. If
the meeting broke up without the emphatic assertion of the
Government's authority, then a general strike upon the morrow was as
certain as that the sun would rise. It was for this moment, this
intensely critical moment, that Dawson had worked and fought in
London, and for which he was now ready. The chairman sighed and wiped
his face, which had become clammy. He looked at Dawson, who nodded
slightly, and then rose.
"I call," said he solemnly, "upon Captain Dawson. He is now in supreme
Dawson sprang to his feet, alert, decided, and picked up a large roll
of papers which had rested behind him upon his chair. He placed the
roll upon the table and faced the audience, who knew at once, with the
rapid instinct of a crowd, that the unexpected was about to happen.
Dawson pulled down his tunic, settled himself comfortably into his Sam
Browne belt, and rested his left hand upon the hilt of his sword.—It
was a pretty artistic touch, the wearing of that sword, and exactly
characteristic of Dawson's methods. I laughed when he told me of
it.—There were two doors to the room—one upon Dawson's left hand,
the other at the far end behind the workmen. He raised his right hand,
and the chairman, who was watching him, pressed an electric bell. Then
events began to happen.
The doors flew open, and through each of them filed a line of smart
men in blue, equipped with rifles and side arms. Twenty men and a
sergeant passed through each door, which was then closed. The ranks of
each detachment were dressed as if on parade, and when all were ready,
Dawson gave a sharp order. Instantly forty-two rifle-butts clashed as
one upon the floor, and the Marines stood at ease. At this moment the
door at the far end might have been seen to open, and an officer to
slip in who, though white of hair, had not apparently reached a higher
rank than that of lieutenant. "It was all very fine, Dawson," he
explained afterwards, "your plan of leaving me outside with the rest
of the Marines, but it wasn't good enough. I didn't come north to be
buried in the reserves."
"You should have obeyed orders," replied Dawson severely.
"I should," cheerfully assented the Colonel-Commandant of Chatham,
"but somehow I didn't."
While Dawson's body-guard of Marines was getting into position before
the doors, the workmen, surprised and trapped, were on their feet
chattering and gesticulating. The unfamiliar appearance of the
blue-uniformed men, not one of whom was less than five feet nine
inches in height, their well-set-up figures and stolid professional
faces, gave a business-like, even ominous flavour to the proceedings
which chilled the strike leaders to the bone. They would have cheered
an irruption of kilted recruits in khaki tunics as the coming of old
friends, and would have felt no more than local patriotic hostility
towards a detachment of English or Irish soldiers. But these blue men
of the Sea Regiment, an integral part of the great mysterious silent
Navy, had no part or lot with British workmen "rightly struggling to
be free." They represented some outside authority, some potent,
overpowering authority, as no khaki-clad soldiers could have
represented it. The surprise was complete, the moral effect was
staggering, and Dawson, who had counted upon both when he brought his
Marines north, smiled contentedly to himself. He stepped forward, with
that little slip of paper in his hand, and began to read from it. One
by one he read out twenty-three names, the very first being that of
the man who had made the speech which I have reported.
As name after name dropped from Dawson's lips, the wonder and terror
grew. Who was this strange officer who could thus surely divide the
goats from the sheep, who was picking out one after another the
self-seekers and fomenters of sedition, who, while he omitted none who
were really dangerous, yet included none who were honest though
mistaken? As the list drew towards its end, quite half the listeners
were smiling broadly. They could not have drawn up a more perfect one
themselves, and they did not love most of those whose names were found
"Now," said Dawson, when he had finished, "I must ask all those
gentlemen to step forward." Not a man moved. "Let me warn you that
every man whose name I have read out is personally known to me. If I
have to come and fetch you, I shall not come alone." There was still
some hesitation, and then those upon the proscribed list began to move
forward. They would willingly have hidden themselves, had that been
possible, but to be known and to be dragged out by those hard-faced
Marines would have added humiliation to terror. They came forth, until
all the twenty-three were ranged up before Dawson. Then the man, whose
name was first upon the list, rasped out, "What is your authority for
this outrage upon a peaceful meeting? I demand your authority."
"You shall have it," serenely replied Dawson. And, going up to the
pile of papers which he had laid upon the table, he drew one forth and
held it up so that all might see. It was a large placard, boldly
printed, a proclamation in cold, terse language of Martial Law, signed
by the Secretary for War himself.
"Martial Law! This is sheer militarism," cried the first of those
"For you and for these other twenty-two upon my list it is Martial
Law," replied Dawson. "But for the rest it will be as they choose
themselves. Sergeant, remove the prisoners." A sergeant stepped out,
the line of Marines before the door divided, and the prisoners were
led away. Dawson put the proclamation back upon the table, squared his
shoulders, and turned towards his audience, now silent, subdued, and
purged. His plans were working very well.
"I am no speaker," he began; "I am a man of the people, one of
yourselves. I have made my own way, and though I wear the uniform and
stars of a Captain of Marines, I am really an officer of police, Chief
Detective Inspector Dawson of Scotland Yard." He paused to allow time
for this astonishing fact to sink in. So that was why he had known the
names and faces of all the ring-leaders of sedition! And if he knew so
much, what more might he not know! Even the most innocent among his
audience began to feel loose about the neck.
"I know you all," he went on. "There is not a man among you whom I do
not know. You—or you—or you." He addressed those near to him by
name. "We sympathise with you and have reasoned with you. But you
proved obdurate. The King's Government must be carried on; the war
must be carried on if our country is to be saved. And those who have
given power to me—the power which you have seen set out upon these
papers, the powers of Martial Law—will exercise them unflinchingly if
there appears to be no other way. But there is another and a better
way. You must obey the laws which Parliament has passed for the
defence of the country and for the provision of munitions. Your rights
are protected under them. After the war is over, your privileges will
be restored. For the present they must be abandoned. Willingly or
unwillingly they must be abandoned. I said just now that it is for you
to choose whether Martial Law shall take effect or not. The moment
those placards are posted in the streets the military authorities
become supreme, but they will not be posted if you have the sense to
see when you are beaten. What I have to ask, to require of you, is
that to-morrow, at the mass meeting of the men which is to be held,
you will advise them to surrender unconditionally, to work hard
themselves, and to allow all others to work hard. There must be no
more holding up of essential parts of guns, no more writing and
talking sedition. Our country needs the whole-hearted service of us
all. If you here and now give me your promise that you will use every
effort—no perfunctory, but real effort—to stop at once all these
threats of a strike, I will let you go now and wish you God-speed. If
you fail, then Martial Law will be proclaimed forthwith. Make this
very clear to the men. Tell them that you have seen the proclamation,
signed by the Field-Marshal himself, and that I, Captain and Chief
Inspector Dawson, will post the placards in the streets with my own
hands. If you will not give me your promise—I do not ask for any
hostages or security, just your promise as loyal, honourable men—I
shall arrest you all here and now, and deport you all just as those
twenty-three have been arrested and will be deported. You will not see
those men for a long time; you know in your hearts that you are well
quit of them. If I arrest you all, I shall not stop my arrests at that
point. There are many others—many who are not workmen from whom has
come money for your strike funds and to offer bail when arrests have
been made. I shall pick them all up. Nothing that you can now do will
affect the fate of those who have been taken from this room. Whatever
loyalty you may owe to them has been discharged, and I will give you a
quittance. Their chapter has been closed. What you have to consider
now is the fate of yourselves and of many beside yourselves, of all
those who look to you for advice and guidance. Take time, talk among
yourselves, consult one another. I am not here to hurry you unduly,
but before you are allowed to leave this room there must be a complete
and final settlement."
He sat down. The men split into groups, and the buzz of talk ran
through the room. There was no anger or excitement, but much
bewilderment. They had come to the meeting as masters, strong in
numbers, to dictate terms, yet now the tables had been turned
dramatically upon them. No longer masters, they were in the presence
of a Force which at a word from Dawson could hale them forth as
prisoners to be dealt with under the mysterious shuddering powers of
Martial Law. They thought of those twenty-three, a few minutes since
so potent for mischief, now bound and helpless in the hands of the
Blue Men from the Sea.
At last an elderly grey-locked man stepped forward, and Dawson rose to
meet him. "We admit, sir," said he, "that you have us at a
disadvantage. We did not expect this Proclamation nor those Marines of
yours. We did not believe that the Government meant business. We
thought that we should have more talk, talk, and we are all sick of
talk. We are true patriots here—you have taken away all those who
cared nothing for their country—and we feel that if you are prepared
to use Martial Law and the forces of the Crown against us, that you
must be very much in earnest. We feel that you would not do these
terrible things unless the need were very urgent. We do not agree that
the need is urgent, but if you, representing the Government, say that
it is, we have no course open to us but to submit. If we now surrender
unconditionally and promise heartily to use every effort to bring the
mass of the men to our views, will you in your turn give us your
personal assurance that all our legitimate grievances will be fully
considered, and that every effort will be made to meet them? You may
crush us, sir, but you will not get good work from men whose spirit
has been broken."
"I cannot make conditions," replied Dawson gently, "but ask yourselves
why I brought my Marines all the way from Chatham to deal with this
meeting? Was it not that I would not put upon you the pain and
humiliation of arrest at the hands of your own sons and brothers?
Though I stand here with gold stars on my shoulders I am one of you.
My father worked all his life in the dockyard at Portsmouth, and I
myself as a boy have been a holder-on in a black squad of riveters. I
can make no conditions, but if you will leave yourself entirely in my
hands, and in those of my superiors, you may be assured that there
will be no attempt made to crush you, to break your spirit."
As he said these words an inspiration came to him, and by sure
instinct he acted upon it. Jumping down from the platform, he
approached the old sad-faced spokesman, and shook him hard by the
hand. Then he moved along among the other workmen, addressing them by
name, chatting to them of their work and private interests, and
showing so complete and human a regard for them that their hostility
melted away before him. This man, who had conquered them, was one of
themselves, a "tradesman" like them, one of the Black Squad of
Portsmouth, a fellow-worker. He was no tool of the hated "capitalist."
If he said that they must all go back to work unconditionally, well
they must go. But he was their friend, and would see justice done
them. Presently Dawson was handing out cigarettes—of which he had
brought a large supply in his pockets, Woodbines—and the meeting, of
which so much was feared, had apparently turned into, a happy
conversazione. For half an hour Dawson pursued his campaign of
personal conciliation, and then went back to his place upon the
"Go in peace," he cried. "Come again to-morrow afternoon and tell me
about the mass meeting. There will be more cigarettes awaiting you,
and even, possibly, a bottle or two of whisky."
The men laughed, and one wag called out, "Three cheers for holder-on
Dawson." The cheers were given heartily, the Marines stood aside from
the doors, and the room rapidly emptied. The officials of the
Munitions Department and the Colonel, who was Dawson's insubordinate
subaltern, crowded round him spouting congratulations. He soaked in
their flatteries as was his habit, and then delivered a lesson upon
the management of men which should be printed in letters of gold. "Men
are just grown-up children," said he, "and should be treated as
children. Be always just, praise them when they are good, and smack
them when they are naughty. But if when they are naughty you spare the
rod and try to slobber them with fine words, they will despise you
utterly, and become upon the instant naughtier than ever."
"What about that mass meeting to-morrow?" asked the Colonel.
"I shall not be there, but ten of my men will be. Have no fears of the
mass meeting. The snake's head is off—by to-morrow it will be two
hundred miles away—and though the body may wriggle, it will be quite
harmless. After two or three hours of talk and vain threats the
meeting will collapse, and we shall get unconditional surrender."
And so it happened. The talk went on for four solid hours—vain,
vapouring talk, during which steam was blown off. At the end the
surrender, as Dawson predicted, was unconditional.
That evening of the morrow a telegram sped away over the long wires to
the south addressed to the Secretary of the Admiralty.
"Please tell First Lord that the snake is dead. I am returning the
Marines carriage-paid and undamaged. My commission as a Captain is no
longer required. Dawson."
Back flashed a reply from the Minister himself: "To Captain Dawson,
R.M.L.I. Adjutant-General insists that you retain rank and pay until
the end of the war. So do I. You have done a wonderful piece of work
for which you will be adequately punished in official quarters. But
you will suffer in good company."
Though Dawson thus became entitled to call himself Captain for the
duration of the war, he never used the rank or the uniform again. Once
more, to my knowledge, he served in his well-beloved Corps, but it was
then not as Captain, but as private, during his long watch in the
Malplaquet, of which I have told the story earlier in this book.
DAWSON TELEPHONES FOR A SURGEON
I have never been able to plan this book upon any system which would
hold together for half a dozen consecutive chapters. I am the victim
of my characters who come and go and pull me with them tied to their
chariot wheels. When I wrote the first story of the "Lost Naval
Papers"—which, by the way, were not lost at all—I had not made the
personal acquaintance of William Dawson. When I wrote of my own
encounters with Dawson and of my share, a humble share, in his
researches, my dear Madame Gilbert had not met me and subdued me into
a drivelling worship of her shining personality. While I was amusing
myself trying to convey to the reader the frolicsome atmosphere which
Madame carries about with her and in which she hides the workings of
her big heart and brain, I was ignorant of the adventures of the two
battle-cruisers and of Dawson's encounter with the War Committee, and
of his triumph over the revolting workmen of the north. I have
therefore written, as it were, from hand to mouth, more as one who
keeps a vagabond diary than as one who consciously plans a work of
art. It is as a diary of personal experiences that this book should be
regarded. It has no merit of constructive skill, for I have never
known what the future would yield to me of material. When Dawson
parted with me to return south to the Yard, and to his deserted family
in Acacia Villas, Primrose Road, Tooting, I did not expect to see him
again for months, possibly years. But a turn came to the wheel of my
destiny as it had done to his. I also was plucked from my northern
place of exile and transported joyfully to the south country, whither
I have always fled whenever for a few days or weeks I could loosen the
bonds which tied me to the north. Now that those bonds have fallen
entirely from me, and I am back in my southern home—whether for good
or for evil rests upon the lap of the high gods—I have been able
unexpectedly to resume contact with Dawson and to bring this,
discursive book to some kind of a conclusion. It cannot really end so
long as Dawson and Froissart and Madame Gilbert live and remain in
friendly association with me. They have become parts of my life, and
if I have not outraged their feelings beyond forgiveness by what I
have written of them, I have hopes that I shall meet all of them often
in the future and that they will tell me many more stories of their
* * * * *
As soon as I had settled myself in London I took the earliest
opportunity of calling upon Dawson at the Yard. He was absent, but his
Deputy, who knew my name, received me kindly. He explained that it
would not be easy to find Dawson. "We never know where he is or what
he is doing. I suppose that the Chief knows; certainly no one else.
How can one be Deputy to a man who never tells one what he is doing or
where he may be found?" I agreed that the post seemed difficult to
fill adequately. "I wish I could chuck it as Froissart did when he
went back to Paris. Have you ever seen Madame Gilbert?" he inquired
eagerly. I observed that Madame did me the honour to be my friend. "So
you know her, do you? She's a clinker of a woman. Hot stuff, but a
real genuine clinker. She could do what she pleased with old man
Dawson; make him fetch and carry like a poodle. She's the only woman
born who ever turned Dawson round her fingers." I observed rather
stiffly that Madame Gilbert was a lady for whom I had a very high
regard, and that the expression "Hot stuff" was hardly respectful.
"Hum!" said the Deputy, eyeing me with interest. "So she has made a
fool of you like she has of the rest of us. Even the Chief gets down
on his rheumaticky old knees and kisses the carpet of his room after
she has trodden on it."
The Deputy tended to become garrulous, and I cut him short with an
inquiry for Dawson's exact address. He lived in Acacia Villas, but I
was without the precise number. The Deputy told me, and promised to
inform Dawson of my visit at the earliest moment. "It may be to-day,
or next week, or next month. It may not be till the War is over"—an
expression which has come into colloquial use as a synonym for the
Greek Kalends. I thanked the officer, and withdrew somewhat annoyed.
It appeared that Dawson was not far away, for a letter from him
reached me two days later at my club. It was an invitation to visit
his home and to dine with him on the following Sunday at one o'clock.
Enclosed was a plan designed to assist me in penetrating the mazes of
Tooting. That Sunday was a beautiful day in May, and I wandered down
with plenty of time to spare to provide against the danger of being
"bushed." But with the aid of Dawson's thoughtful plan I found
Primrose Road without difficulty. The hour was then 12.15, and the
house deserted. Dawson and his family were at chapel. I had forgotten
what I had heard months before of Dawson's fervour as a preacher upon
Truth until reminded of it by a constable whose beat passed the house.
"If you are looking for Chief Detective Inspector Dawson," said he, "I
can show you where to find him in chapel. He will be holding forth
just now." The opportunity of seeing Dawson as he really was—known
certainly only to his wife and to God—and of seeing him as a
preacher, spurred me into active interest. "My relief is coming now,"
said the constable; "as soon as I have handed over I will show you the
As we walked together the policeman revealed to me the admiration
inspired by Dawson in his humble subordinates. "There is nothing that
man can't do," said he. "He is a skilled mechanic, a soldier—some say
he has a general's uniform hid away in his house—an electrical
engineer, and a telegraph operator. He has been all over the world in
the Royal Navy, and could if he liked be commanding a ship now. He's
the friend of Ministers and Secretaries of State. He's the best
detective that the Yard ever knew, and he preaches to folk here
like—like the Archangel Gabriel come to trot 'em off to Hell. I'm a
Wesleyan, myself, but I often go to hear the Chief Inspector. He makes
one come out in a cold sweat, and gives a man a fine appetite for
dinner. He shakes you up so that you feel empty," he explained.
I observed that if Dawson were so great a stimulus upon appetite, he
would not be popular with the Food Controller. The policeman, though
he had heard of the Food Controller, was unconscious of his many
activities, which shows how little the world knows of its greatest
men. It also suggests that police constables do not read newspapers.
The chapel was a building illustrative of the straight line and plane.
It was fairly large, and so full that the crowd of worshippers bulged
out of the doors. Though we could not force our way inside, we could
hear the booming of a voice which was scarcely recognisable as that of
Dawson. Waves of emotion ran so strongly through the congregation that
we could feel them beat against the fringes by the doors. "The Chief
Inspector is on his game to-day," whispered the constable. "He's
hitting them fine." From which I judged that the constable had in his
youth come from the north, where golf is cheap. It was a
disappointment that I could not get in, but perhaps well for the
reader. The temptation to record a genuine sermon by Dawson might have
proved too much for me. Presently the voice ceased to boom, the
congregation squeezed out hot and oily, like grease from a full
barrel, and I waited for Dawson to appear. "Don't speak to him now,"
directed my guide. "Let him get up to his house. He can't talk for
half an hour after holding forth; there's not a word bad or good left
in his carcase."
After all the worshippers had gone there issued forth a party of
three: a man, a woman, and a little girl. "There he is," said the
constable, nudging me. "Who?" asked I. "The Chief Inspector. There he
is with Mrs. Dawson and their little girl." I stared and stared, but
failed to recognise my friend of the north. I was too far away to see
his ears, and his face was quite strange to me.
"I hope," I whispered primly to the constable, "that Mrs. Dawson is
sure he is her husband."
"She ought to be. Aren't you sure?"
"Not yet; I am not near enough to see properly. That Dawson, is not a
bit like those others whom I know."
"That Dawson! Those others! Is there more than one Chief Inspector
Dawson?" asked the man, wondering.
"I should say about a hundred," replied I, and left him gasping. I
fear that he now thinks that either I am quite mad or that Mrs. Dawson
is a pluralist in husbands.
I gave the Dawson family sufficient time to reach their home, and to
recover the power of speech, and then walked gravely to the door as if
I had just arrived. One becomes contagiously deceptive in the vicinity
The stranger, who was the real undisguised Dawson, welcomed me to his
home. The house was a small one and the family kept no servant. I do
not know what income the Chief Inspector draws from the Yard, but am
sure that it is absurdly inadequate to his services. The higher one
rises, the less work one does and the more pay one gets—provided that
one begins more than half-way up the ladder. For those like Dawson who
begin quite at the bottom, the rule seems to be inverted: the more
work one does, the less pay one gets. I should judge my own ill-gotten
income at twice or three times that of Dawson—which even that
cautious judge, Euclid, would declare to be absurd.
He led me to the parlour, which was well and tastefully
furnished—Dawson has seen good houses—and we waited there while Mrs.
Dawson dished up the dinner. "Please sit there, Dawson, facing the
light," said I. "Let me have a good look at you." He complied smiling,
and I examined his features with grave attention. Dawson, the real
Dawson as I now saw him for the first time, is a very fair man. His
pale sandy hair can readily be bleached white or dyed a dark colour.
He uses quick dyes which can be removed with appropriate chemicals.
His hair and moustache, he told me, grow very quickly. His complexion,
like his hair, is almost white, and his skin curiously opaque. His
blood is red and healthy, but it does not show through. His skin and
hair are like the canvas of a painter, always ready to receive
pigments and ready also to give them up when treated with skill. I
began to understand how Dawson can make to himself a face and
appearance of almost any habit or age. He can be fair or dark, dark or
fair, old or young, young or old, at will. He carries the employment
of rubber and wax insets very far indeed. His nose, his cheeks, his
mouth, his chin may be forced by internal packing to take to
themselves any shape. I made a hasty calculation that he can change
his appearance in seven hundred and twenty different ways. "So many as
that?" said Dawson, surprised when I told him. "I don't think that I
have gone beyond sixty." I assured him that on strict mathematical
principles I had arrived at the limiting number, and it gave him
pleasure to feel that so many untried permutations of countenance
remained to him. In actual everyday practice there are rarely more
than six Dawsons in being at the same time. He finds that number
sufficient for all useful purposes; a greater number, he says, would
excessively strain his memory. He has, you see, always to remember
which Dawson he is at any moment. When he was pulling my leg, or that
of his brave enemy Froissart, the number multiplied greatly, but, as a
working business rule, he is modestly content with six. "I suppose," I
asked, "that here in Acacia Villas you are always the genuine
"Always," he declared with emphasis. "Once," he went on, "I tried to
play a game on Emma. I came home as one of the others, forced my way
into the house, and was clouted over the head and chucked into the
street. When I got back to the Yard to alter myself—for I had left my
tools there—Emma had been telephoning to me to get the wicked
stranger arrested for house-breaking. I never tried any more games;
women have no sense of humour." He shuddered. Dawson is afraid of his
wife, and I pictured to myself a great haughty woman with the figure
and arms of a Juno.
But when Clara—who asked kindly after my little Jane—had summoned us
to the dining-room, I was presented to a small, quiet mouse of a woman
whose head reached no higher than Dawson's heart. This was the
redoubtable Emma! "Did she really clout you over the head and chuck
you into the street?" I whispered. "She did, sir!" he replied,
smiling. "She threw me yards over my own doorstep."
Between Dawson and his little wife there is a very tender affection.
In her eyes he is not a police officer, but an inspired preacher. She
knows nothing of his professional triumphs, and would not care to
know. She, I am very sure, will never trouble to read this book. To
her he is the lover of her youth, the most tender of husbands, and a
Boanerges who spends his Sabbaths dragging fellow-creatures from the
Pit. The God of Dawson and of his Emma is a pitiless giant with a
pitchfork, busily thrusting his creatures towards eternal torment;
Dawson, in Emma's eyes, is an intrepid salvor with a boat-hook who
once a week arduously pulls them out. Dawson married Emma when he was
a sergeant of Marines, and I think that he has shown to her his
uniform with the three captain's stars. To me she always spoke of him
as "the Captain," though I could not be quite sure whether she meant a
Captain of Marines or a Captain in the Army of Salvation. Dawson, his
Emma, and Clara are very happy, very united, and I am glad that I saw
them in their own home. I am helped to understand how tender is the
heart which beats under Dawson's assumed cloak of professional
ruthlessness. At first I wholly misjudged him, but I will not now
alter what I then wrote. My readers will learn to know their Dawson as
I learned myself.
Whenever in the future I wish to hear from Dawson of his exploits I
shall not seek him at his own house. He is an artist who is highly
sensitive to atmosphere. In Acacia Villas the police officer fades to
shadowy insignificance, even in his own mind. Then, he is a husband, a
father, and a mighty preacher. He will talk of his disguises, and in
general terms of his work, but there is no fiery enthusiasm for
manhunting when Dawson gets home to Tooting. I shall seek him at the
Yard, or upon the hot trail; then and then only shall I get from him
the full flavour of his genius for detection. Dawson, away from home,
is so vain as to be unconscious of his vanity; Dawson at home is quite
extraordinarily modest. He defers always to the opinion of Emma, and
she, gently, kindly, but with an air of infinite superiority, keeps
his wandering steps firmly in the path of truth. He is, I am told, a
most kindling preacher, but it is Emma who inspires his sermons.
Once only during my visit did I see a flash of the old Dawson, the
Dawson of the Malplaquet, and of the War Committee, and that was
just before I left. We were in the parlour smoking, and I was getting
rather bored. Conjugal virtue, domestic content and happiness, are
beautiful to look upon for a while, but I confess that in a
remorseless continuous film ("featuring" Dawson and Emma) I find them
boresome. There is little humour about Dawson and none at all about
his dear Emma. I would gladly exchange fifty virtuous Emmas for one
naughty Madame Gilbert. We had been talking idly of our sport together
and of his different incarnations. Suddenly he sprang from his chair
and his pale face lighted up. "Now that I have you here, Mr.
Copplestone, I shall not let you go until you tell me by what trick
you can always see through my disguises. Would you know me now as
"Of course," said I. "There is no difficulty. If you painted your face
black and your hair vermilion, I should still know you at once."
"You have promised to tell me the secret. Tell me now."
I considered whether I should tell. It was amusing to have some hold
over him, but was it quite fair to Dawson to keep him in ignorance of
those marks of ear by which I could always be certain of his identity.
He had been useful to me, and I had made free with his personality.
Yes, I would tell him, and in a few sentences I told.
He gripped his ears with both hands; he felt those lobes so firmly
secured to his cheekbones, and those blobs of flesh which remained to
him of his wolfish ancestors. He fingered them carefully while he
thought. At last he made up his mind. "It is the Sabbath," said he,
"but when I am on duty I work ever upon the Sabbath day. It is now my
duty to—" He reached for the telephone book, took off the receiver,
and called for a number.
"What are you doing?" I asked, though I ought to have known.
"I am making an appointment with a surgeon," said Dawson.