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John Buchan


We stayed at the Griffin Hotel in Bradgate. At seven o'clock in the morning I was looking out of a window there. It was a beautiful day.
A man was fishing down at the harbour, and I remembered Royer's story about the lion.
A small warship had just arrived and was lying south of the harbour. I called MacGillivray's man.
'Inspector Scaife,' I said, 'do you know that ship?
Perhaps Whittaker sent her here.'
'I don't think so,' he said. 'She's usually along this part of the coast.' And he told me her name and the name of her captain. I went to the telephone and sent a telegram to Sir Walter about them.
After breakfast Scaife and I walked along the beach. We went towards the stairs on the Ruff but stopped half a mile from them.
'I won't come all the way with you,' I said. 'These fellows know me very well. I'll wait here. You go on and count all the steps.'
I sat down behind a rock and waited. There was no one on the beach. It was ten o'clock when Scaife came back.
'There are six sets of stairs,' he said, 'and they lead to six different houses.' He took a piece of paper from his pocket and read: 'Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-nine, forty-two, forty-seven and twenty-one.'
I felt so pleased that I almost got up and shouted.
We hurried back to Bradgate and sent a telegram to MacGillivray. I wanted six good men, and they had to stay at different hotels in the town.
'Now go back to the thirty-nine steps,' I said to Scaife, and have a look at the house. Then go to the post-office and find out who lives there.'
He brought back some strange but interesting facts. The house was called Trafalgar Lodge and belonged to an old gentleman named Appleton. Mr. Appleton often stayed there in the summer. He had arrived about a week before and was still there. No one knew a lot about him but he seemed kind and quiet. Scaife had made some excuse to visit the house and noticed three women there.
'They look after the place,' he said, 'and they can't possibly be Germans. They talk too much for that.'
'Did you notice the houses on each side of Trafalgar Lodge?' I asked.
'Yes. The house on the right is empty. They're still building the place on the left.'
Before dinner I walked along the Ruff myself and I took Scaife's telescope. I found a quiet place away from the houses and sat down there. I could see the house very well through the telescope. It was a red stone place with large windows. There was a garden all around the house, and the British flag was flying there from a tall post!
While I was watching, a man left the house to walk along the hill-top. He was an old man wearing white trousers and a blue coat. He was also carrying a telescope, and he had a newspaper under his arm. He walked about two hundred yards and then sat down on a seat to read the paper. A few minutes later he put down the paper and looked at the warship through the telescope. And he looked at it for a long time. I watched him for half an hour, and then he got up to return to the house. I went back to my hotel.
I was not very happy about that old man. He did not look like a spy, but he could be the old fellow from that Scottish farm.
In the afternoon an exciting thing happened. A yacht came up from the south and lay near the Ruff. She was about a hundred and fifty tons and she flew the British flag. Scaife and I went down to the harbour and spoke to the coastguard there. We said that we wanted to go fishing. So the coastguard got a boat for us, and we sailed out of the harbour.
We caught about twenty pounds of fish that afternoon. And about four o'clock we sailed quite close to the yacht. She looked like a wonderful white bird on the water.
'She's a fast boat,' Scaife said. 'If anyone wants to get away quickly, they'll go in this ship. There's plenty of power in those engines.'
Her name was the Ariadne. We spoke to a few men on her, and they were clearly Englishmen. Then an officer appeared, and the men stopped talking. The officer was a young man with a bright clean face and he spoke English very well. But we were quite certain that he was not an Englishman. His hair was cut very short and his clothes looked quite foreign.
In the evening I met the captain of the warship at the hotel.
'We may need your ship tonight or tomorrow,' I said. 'Have you heard anything about it?'
'Yes, sir. I've had a message from the Admiralty. I'll come in close when it's dark. I know what to do.'
About an hour later I walked back along the hill-top towards Trafalgar Lodge. The old man and a young man were playing tennis in the garden. While I was watching them, a woman brought out bottles and glasses. The young man who was rather fat took the things from her.
'Those fellows seem all right,' I said to myself. 'They're quite different from those terrible men in Scotland. I've probably made a mistake.'
Then another man arrived at the house on a bicycle. He was thin, dark and quite young. They finished the game of tennis and they all went into the house.
I walked slowly back to the hotel. Was I wrong about those men? Were they acting while I was watching them? They did not know that anyone was watching them. And they behaved like any Englishmen.
But there were three men in that house: the old man, the fat one and the thin, dark fellow. The house agreed completely with Scudder's notes. A yacht was lying half a mile away and she had a foreign officer. I thought about Karolides and the danger of war. And I remembered the fear in Sir Arthur Drew's face.
I knew what I had to do. I had to go to that house and arrest those men. If I was wrong, I would take the blame myself. But I did not like the job at all.
Suddenly I remembered my friend Peter Pienaar in Rhodesia. I have already written something about him. Well, Peter had been a criminal before he became a policeman. In fact the police accepted him for that reason. He knew all the worst criminals in the country. Peter told me that he had once escaped very easily from the police. He had put on a black coat and gone to church. And he had chosen to sit next to a police officer. They had sung together and used the same book. And Peter had not been recognized!
I asked him why the policeman had not recognized him. And Peter replied, 'Because the place and my clothes were different. He would have known me if I had been in the street or at a hotel. He would have recognized me if I had been wearing my usual clothes. But he did not believe that I would go to church or wear a long black coat.'
These thoughts made me quite sure again. Our German enemies were as wise as Peter. They lived in an English house, and the British flag was flying in the garden. They used English names and played English games. Their private life was completely English, and so no one was suspicious of them.
It was now eight o'clock in the evening. I met Scaife at the hotel and gave him his orders.
'Put two men in the garden,' I said, 'and hide three others close to the windows. When I want you, I'll call.'
I was not hungry, so I went for a walk. I noticed the lights on the Ariadne and on the warship. I sat down on a seat and waited for more than an hour.
At half past nine I went to Trafalgar Lodge. Scaife's men were in their places by now, but I did not see anyone. There were lights in the house and the windows were open. I rang the door-bell.
One of the women opened the door.
'May I speak to Mr. Appleton?' I asked.
'Yes, sir. Please come in,' she said.
I had made a plan. I hoped to walk straight into the house and see those three German faces at once. They would recognize me immediately, and it would show on their faces.
But when I was inside, I could not move. I noticed their hats and coats and walking-sticks. There was a large clock in the corner of the hall. English pictures were hanging on the walls, and the place was like ten thousand other English homes.
'Your name, sir?' the woman asked.
'Hannay. Richard Hannay.'
She went into a room and called my name. I followed her immediately but I was too late. The three men had had a moment to hide their surprise.
The old man was standing up, and he and the fat one were wearing dinner-suits. The other man had on a suit of blue cloth.
'Mr. Hannay?' the old man said. 'You wish to speak to me, I believe. Excuse me, you fellows. Come into the next room, Mr. Hannay.'
I pulled a chair towards me and sat down on it.
'We've met before,' I said, 'and you know my business.'
The light was not very bright in the room. But I noticed that they all looked surprised.
'Perhaps we have,' the old man said, 'but I can't remember. I'm sorry that I don't know your business, sir. Will you please tell me?'
I thought about Peter Pienaar and said, 'This is the end, gentlemen. I've come to arrest you all.'
'Arrest us!' the old man said. 'But why?'
'I arrest you for the murder of Franklin Scudder in London on May 23rd.'
'I've never heard that name before,' the old man said, and his voice seemed very weak.
The fat man spoke then. 'I read about that in the papers. But this is terrible. We don't know anything about the murder, sir. Where do you come from?'
'Scotland Yard,' I said.
They said nothing when they heard that. The old man looked down at his feet and seemed very nervous.
Then the fat man said, 'This must be a mistake, uncle. These things do happen sometimes. But we can easily prove the truth. I wasn't even in England on May 23rd, and you were ill, weren't you, Bob? You were in London, uncle, I know, but you can explain your business there.'
'That's right, Percy! Now what did I do on May 23rd? Oh, I remember. I came up in the morning from Woking and had dinner with Charlie Symons. I was at Grantham House in the afternoon, wasn't I? Yes, that's right. And I stayed there all the evening.'
The fat fellow looked at me. 'I'm afraid you've made a mistake, sir. We'll help you if we can of course. But sometimes Scotland Yard is wrong.'
'Yes, indeed,' the old man said. 'We'll do anything to help you, sir, but this is clearly a mistake.'
'Won't Nellie laugh when she hears about this!' one of them said.
'Oh, she will! I must tell Charlie about it too. Now Mr. Hannay, I'm not angry with you, but you've come to the wrong place.'
They could not be acting. I felt sure that it was all true. I had made a mistake. And I wanted to say, 'I'm sorry, gentlemen,' and leave the house.
But the old man was very bald. The fat fellow was there too, and the third man was dark and thin. I looked at them carefully and I looked around the room. Everything was all right. I could not see one suspicious thing in that room. And I did not recognize their faces.
'Don't you agree, sir?' the old man asked me. 'Haven't you come to the wrong house?'
'No. This is the right house.'
'Well, it's a great waste of time,' the thin fellow said. 'Are you going to take us to the police station? You're only doing your duty, I know, but it's very difficult.'
I did not answer him. I thought, 'Oh, Peter Pienaar, help me!'
The fat man stood up. 'Perhaps Mr. Hannay needs more time,' he said. 'It isn't an easy problem for him. Let's play bridge for half an hour, shall we? Do you play, sir?'
'Yes. I've plenty of time and I like a game of bridge.'
We went into the next room, and I looked around. Books and newspapers were lying about. The tennis things were in an open cupboard in the corner. The old man's telescope was on top of the cupboard.
We sat around a card-table in the middle of the room. And the dark fellow brought me a drink. I played with him against the other two.
It was like a dream. The windows were open, and I could see the moonlight on the sea. The three men were not afraid at all. They were talking and laughing together. But my heart was beating very quickly.
I did not play very well that night. My thoughts were too ugly for me to follow the cards. I had doubts about these men, and they knew it of course. I looked at their faces again and again but could not recognize them. They did not only appear different. I felt sure that they were different. 'Oh, Peter,' I thought once more.
Then suddenly I noticed something. The old man had put down his cards to drink some wine. And he did not pick them up for a moment. He sat back in his chair and began to rub his right ear.
I immediately remembered that Scottish farm. I was standing in front of him there again. I had just finished telling him my story. And he had sat back and rubbed his ear. It was only a little thing, but I remembered it clearly.
The clouds lifted from my eyes and everything was bright again. I recognized the three men at once. Their faces changed suddenly and I knew all their secrets.
It was the dark fellow who had killed Scudder. I was still playing bridge with him, but his eyes looked cold and cruel now. The fat man had changed too. He did not have one face but a hundred faces. And he had probably been Lord Alloa of the night before.
But the old man was clearly the chief criminal. He was as hard as a rock and quite without fear. I remembered Scudder's words: 'If you see his eyes, Hannay, you'll never forget them.' And it was true. I should never forget them.
We continued to play, but my heart was full of hate. When the dark man spoke to me, I could not answer him.
'Bob! Look at the clock,' the old man said. 'You'll miss your train if we don't hurry.' He turned to me. 'Bob has to go back to London tonight.' The voice was now as completely false as their faces.
'I'm sorry,' I said, 'but he isn't going tonight.'
'Why not?' the young man asked. 'I must go. I'll give you my address.'
'No. You must stay here.'
That probably made them nervous. They had tried to deceive me, but the trick had failed. They had only one chance now, and the old man took it.
'Well, arrest me, Mr. Hannay, and let my nephew go. Will that be all right?'
I shouted, 'Scaife!'
The lights went out immediately. Strong arms held me, and I could not move.
'Schnell, Franz,' a voice cried, 'das Boot, das Boot!' (1)

I looked out of the window. Two police officers were running across the garden. The dark fellow had jumped through the window and was running towards the steps. Suddenly the room filled with people, and I was free. I caught the old man and held him. Scaife and another policeman fell upon the fat one. The lights came on.
We looked out of the window again. Franz reached the steps before the policemen. He opened the gate which locked itself behind him. And the policemen could not follow. We waited for a few minutes.
Suddenly the old man broke away from me. He rushed to the wall of the room and pressed a small button. A great noise rose up from below the house. The steps flew into the air in a cloud of dust.
'Dynamite!' I cried. 'They've destroyed the stairs!'
The old man was looking at me and laughing. A terrible light burned in his eyes.
'He is safe,' he shouted. 'You cannot follow him. He is gone ... He has won ... Der Schwarzestein ist in der Siegeskrone.' (2)
Two police officers caught the old fellow by the arms, and I said my last words to him.
'Franz hasn't won anything. He'll reach the Ariadne quite safely, I'm sure. But the boat has been in our hands for the last hour.'

Seven weeks later in August 1914, as all the world knows, we went to war. I joined the New Army at once, and because my experience in South Africa, was made an oficer. But I had done my best service, I think, before the war began.

(1) German for "Quickly, Franz, the boat.. the boat
(2) German for "The Black Stone has won the victory".

Adapted by Roland John for Intermediate Level