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John Buchan


My name is Richard Hannay and I am thirty-seven years old.
I was born in Scotland, but in 1883 my family moved to Rhodesia. I grew up there and worked hard for twenty years. Then in March 1914 I returned to Britain. That was five months before the First World War began. I brought plenty of money with me and I wanted a good holiday. Indeed, Britain was the centre of all my dreams and plans, and I hoped to stay there for the rest of my life.
In May I was living in London in a flat which I had taken. One evening I was reading the newspaper there alone. There was some trouble in the East, and I also read a story about Karolides, the Greek Prime Minister.
'He's a good man,' I said to myself, 'and he's honest too. He may be the strongest Prime Minister in Europe, but the Germans hate him.'
Suddenly I heard a quiet knock on the door. I put down the newspaper and opened the door. A man was standing outside, and I recognized him at once. I did not know his name, but he had a flat on the top floor. He was a thin fellow with small bright blue eyes.
'I live on the top floor,' he said. 'Can I speak to you? May I come in?'
I invited him in and shut the door.
'I'm very sorry,' he -said. 'But I'm in trouble. Will you help me?'
'Well, I'll listen to you,' I said. 'But I'd rather not promise more than that.'
I could see that he was nervous. He could not stand still, so I mixed a strong drink for him. He drank it at once. When he put down the glass, he broke it.
'Excuse me,' he said. 'I'm rather nervous tonight and there's a good reason for it. Now you seem honest, sir, and you look brave too. Well, I'm in great trouble and I need a friend.'
'Tell me about it,' I said, 'and then I'll give you my answer.'
'I'm an American,' he said. 'A few years ago I came to Europe to work for an American newspaper. I learned several languages and discovered quite a lot about European politics. I also found out the German plans for war and I know a group of German spies. Well, these spies are hunting me now, and that's the trouble. If you know anything about politics, sir, you'll know this. Europe is very near to war, and there's only one man who can stop it.' 
'Who is he?' I asked. 
'Karolides, the Greek Prime Minister.'   
'Oh, I've just been reading about him,' I said. 'There's a story in the evening paper.'
'Yes. Well, the Germans want to kill him,' he said. 'They would kill me too if they could. Karolides will be coming to London next month. He has been invited to the Foreign Office on June 15th, and they've chosen that date to kill him. I'm the only man who can save him.'
'And how can I help you, Mr. -?'
'Scudder,' he said. 'Franklin P. Scudder. I've just told you, sir, that these spies want to kill me. I thought that I was quite safe in London. I was sure that my enemies hadn't followed me here. But yesterday evening I found a card in my letter-box, and there was a man's name on it. It was the name of my worst enemy.'
'You ought to tell the Foreign Office,' I said. 'They'll help you and they may save Karolides too.'
'There's no time for that. My enemies know that I'm in this building. They may be waiting outside to catch me. Do you think that I can hide in your flat, sir?'
'Well, I'd better prove your story first,' I said. 'I'll go outside and look around. If I see anything suspicious, I'll agree to help you. Is that all right?'
I left the flat and went out into the street. A man was standing outside the building. He raised his hand as soon as he saw me. I looked around quickly and noticed a face at a window-across the street. The man's signal was' answered immediately, and the face disappeared. I bought another newspaper at the corner of the street and then went back to the flat.
'All right, Mr. Scudder,' I said. 'You can stay here tonight. I've proved your story. There's a fellow outside who looks rather suspicious. Your enemies may be staying in the house across the street. I saw a face at the window but it soon disappeared.'

Scudder stayed quietly in my flat for several days. When I went out, he was very nervous. I noticed that someone was always standing outside the building. I saw the face at the window a few times, but no one came to the flat.
Scudder wrote a lot of short notes in a little black book. He counted the days to June I 5th and marked them off in the book.
One day he said, 'The time is going quickly, Hannay. If they're still watching the house, I won't be able to escape. If anything happens to me, will you continue the fight?'
I liked Scudder's adventures, and his story was exciting. But I had no interest in politics, and I did not listen to him carefully. He continued to talk.
He told me about a woman named Julia Czechenyi who was one of the spies. 'She's a terrible enemy, Hannay,' he said, 'but the old man is worse.'
This old man was Scudder's chief enemy, and he described him very carefully. 'It's strange,' he said, 'but he has the voice of a young man. And his eyes, Hannay! If you see his eyes, you'll never forget them. They're small and bright, like a bird's eyes.'
He talked for a long time that day. I cannot remember everything that he said. But I noticed that he was more nervous than usual.
In the evening I went out to dinner with a friend. It was half-past ten when I returned. I opened the door of the flat and went in. The lights were not lit and this seemed rather strange. I put them on and looked around. There was nobody there and I thought that Scudder had gone to bed early.
I walked into the next room and saw something in the corner. For a moment I did not recognize it, but then I suddenly felt very cold and weak. I wanted to open my mouth and cry out. But I could not move or say anything.
Scudder was lying on his back in the corner. There was a long knife through his heart. Its handle stood up above his clothes, and the poor man was fixed to the floor.

Adapted by Roland John for Intermediate Level


Click here to read CHAPTER 2: The Milkman