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John Buchan


It was a beautiful morning. But I was not thinking about the fine weather or the views around me. My thoughts were all of Scudder and his notes.
The little man had lied to me. He had talked a lot about Karolides, and part of it was true. But he had not told me the important things. I did not blame Scudder for not telling me the real secrets. Perhaps he had been afraid to tell anyone. Of course Karolides was in danger, but the danger to all Europe was greater! That was the real secret which Scudder had kept in his little book.
The words 'Thirty-nine steps' appeared several times among his notes. And once he had written this: 'Thirty-nine steps. I counted them carefully. High tide there is at seventeen minutes past ten.'
I wondered what it meant. The 'thirty-nine steps' must be at some place on the coast. The word 'tide' proved that, but why was it important?
Scudder had written that war was certain and no one could stop it. The German plans had been ready since February 1912. They would kill Karolides on June 14th, and his death would be their excuse. 'The Germans will talk about peace in Europe,' he wrote, 'but they don't want peace. They're ready for war and they're going to attack us suddenly.'
Scudder had also written about the visit of a French officer to London. He was the chief of the French army and was coming on June i5th. 'This officer will be told the British plans and will then return to France.'
Then Scudder had added that the Black Stone would also be in London on that day. They would learn the plans too and would send them immediately to Germany.
I drove on through the pretty villages of Galloway. It was a beautiful part of Scotland. But I could not enjoy the peace that was all around me.
I had to escape from my enemies and stay alive. I had to wait for a chance to help Scudder. But it was going to be very difficult. The police and the 'Black Stone' were hunting me, and I had no friends in Scotland.
About noon I came to a large village. I was so hungry that I decided to stop. Then I noticed a policeman. He was standing outside the Post Office, reading a telegram.
When he saw my car, he raised his hand and ran to the middle of the road.
'Stop! stop!' he shouted.
I was suddenly suspicious and knew that the telegram was about me. Something had happened at the inn, and perhaps the police had agreed with the spies. They had described me and the car, and the police had sent telegrams to all the villages.
I did not stop. The policeman put out his hand and ran beside the car. He caught my arm through the window, which was open. And I hit him so hard that he fell back.
I drove into the country again, following a narrow road. I climbed several hills above a wide valley. I was tired and hungry and began to look for a quiet inn where I could rest. But suddenly there was a noise above me and I looked up. The plane was a few miles away, flying towards me.
I drove fast down a hill between trees and high bushes. A car drove out from a narrow road at the side, and I could not stop. I pulled-the wheel hard to the right and shut my eyes.
My car ran through the bushes and started to fall. I saw the bottom of the valley fifty feet below. I sprang out of the car and rolled into a bush. There was a terrible noise as the car turned over several times. Then it lay like a pile of old metal at the bottom of the valley.
Someone took my hand and pulled me out of the bush. A kind voice said, 'Are you hurt?'
A tall young man was standing beside me.
'I'm very sorry about this,' he said. 'I saw your car, but neither of us could stop in time. I hope that you're all right. But you look quite pale.'
I was rather glad about the accident. The police were looking for that car, so I could not travel far in it.
'It's my fault,,sir,' I said. 'I oughtn't to drive fast on these narrow roads. Well, that car will never be driven again. This is the end of my Scottish holiday, but I ought to be glad. It was almost the end of my life.'
'I'm very sorry indeed,' he said again. He looked at his watch and continued. 'There'll be time to go to my house. You can change your clothes and have something to eat there. Where's your case? Is it below in the car?'
'No. All my things are at an inn forty miles away.' I was wondering what to tell him about myself. I did not want to say that I was a Rhodesian. My name had been in the newspapers. The police knew that I had come from Rhodesia. Perhaps this man would guess the truth if I said anything about Rhodesia. So I decided to be an Australian. I had read a lot about Australia. I should be able to talk about that country if he asked me any questions. And he would never discover the truth.
'I'm an Australian,' I continued, 'and I never carry a lot of clothes about with me.'
'An Australian,' he cried. 'Well, I'm the luckiest man in Scotland! You agree with Free Trade of course.'
'I do,' I answered quickly. But I was not quite sure what he meant.
'That's fine. Free Trade is the best thing for Britain. Well now, you'll be able to help me this evening.' He took my arm and pulled me towards his car.
Three minutes later we reached the house. He took out three or four of his suits and laid them on the bed. I also borrowed one of his shirts. I chose a dark blue suit and put it on. Then he took me to the kitchen.
There was part of a meal on the table. 'If we don't hurry, we'll be late,' he said. 'Eat something now and take some food in your pocket. When we get back tonight, we'll have a good meal. We have to be in Brattleburn by seven o'clock.'
I had a cup of coffee and some cold meat. The young man stood by the fire and talked.
'You've come just at the right time, Mr.-. Oh, excuse me. You haven't told me your name.'
'Twisdon,' I said.
'Ah, Twisdon. Well, I'm in trouble, Mr. Twisdon, and I'd like you to help me. There's a public meeting tonight at Brattleburn, and I have to make a speech about politics. I'm the Liberal Candidate for this part of Galloway, and Brattleburn is my chief town. Well, I'd got everything ready for the meeting, and Crumpleton, the old Liberal Prime Minister, was going to make the chief speech. But I had a telegram from him this afternoon saying that he's ill and can't come. That means that I must make the speech myself.'
'Well, you're the candidate,' I said. 'You ought to be able to make a speech.'
'Oh, I can make a short speech all right, but ten minutes is quite long enough for me. Now be a good fellow, Twisdon, and help me. You can tell the meeting all about Free Trade and Australia.'
I did not know anything about Free Trade, but I needed someone to help me too. Perhaps this was a chance.
'All right,' I said. 'I'm not a very good speaker but I'll talk to your friends about Australia.'
We left the house then and drove towards Brattleburn. On the way the young man told me a few things about himself, and one of these facts was very interesting. His father and mother were dead. He usually lived with his uncle who was the Chief Secretary at the Foreign Office.
This was exciting news because the Chief Secretary was an important man. And I wanted to meet him. I hoped that this young man could do something for me.
We drove through a little town where two police officers stopped the car. They shone their lamps on our faces, and I felt very nervous. I was afraid that they were going to arrest me.
'I'm sorry, Sir Harry,' one of the officers said. 'We're looking for a stolen car and thought that this was it.'
'Oh, that's all right.' Sir Harry laughed. 'My car is too old for anyone to steal,' he said, and we drove on.
It was five minutes to seven when we reached Brattleburn. Sir Harry stopped the car outside the town hall, and we went in. There were about five hundred people in the hall.
A gentleman stood up and made a short speech. He explained that Mr. Crumpleton was ill and could not come. 'But we're very lucky in Brattleburn this evening,' he continued. 'A famous public speaker from Australia is here. But first we shall listen to the Liberal Candidate for Brattleburn.'
Sir Harry then began his speech. He had about fifty pages of notes in his hand and he started to read them. It was a terrible speech, and I felt very sorry for him. Sometimes he looked up from the papers, and then he could not say anything. Once or twice he forgot the subject of the speech but remembered a few sentences from a book. And he repeated them like a schoolboy. His ideas were quite wrong too. He talked about 'the German danger' and I almost laughed out loud.
'There's no German danger at all,' he said. 'The Government has invented it. The Germans want peace, and so we don't need a big army. We're wasting public money on guns and warships.'
I thought about Scudder's little black book! The Germans' plans for war were ready and they were not interested in peace.
I spoke after Sir Harry and talked about Australia. I described the country's politics and its plans and the work of the Liberal Government. The people listened very politely and sometimes cheered. But I forgot all about Free Trade!
The speakers were thanked at the end of the meeting. Sir Harry and I got into the car again and drove out of Brattleburn.
'That was a fine speech, Twisdon,' he said, 'and they enjoyed it. Did you hear them cheer when you said the word "liberal"? Now we'll go home and you can have a good meal. I want you to stay at my house tonight.'
After dinner that night we sat by the fire and talked.
'Listen, Sir Harry,' I said. 'I want to tell you something and it's very important. You're a good fellow, so I won't hide anything from you. Your speech was all wrong.'
He looked very surprised. 'Was it?' he said. 'Do you mean about the German danger? Do you think they'll attack us?'
'They may attack us next month,' I said. 'Now listen to this story. A few days ago a German spy killed a friend of mine in London ...'
I can still remember the bright fire-light in Sir Harry's room. I lay back in a big chair and told him everything. I repeated all Scudder's notes and I even remembered about the thirty-nine steps and the tide. I described my adventures with the milkman and the police at the inn.
Then I said, 'The police are trying to arrest me for the murder. But I can prove that I didn't kill Scudder. The truth is that I'm afraid of these German spies. They're a lot wiser than the police. If the police arrested me, there would be an accident. And I should get a knife in my heart, like Scudder.'
Sir Harry was looking at me carefully. 'Are you a nervous man, Mr. Hannay?' he asked.
I did not answer him immediately. I took down a heavy knife from the wall and did an old Rhodesian trick for him. I threw the knife up in the air and caught it in my mouth.
'I learned to do that trick many years ago,' I said. 'But a nervous man couldn't do it.'
He smiled. 'All right, Hannay. You needn't prove it. I may not know much about politics but I can recognize an honest man. I believe what you've said. Tell me what I can do to help you.'
'Well, your uncle is the Chief Secretary at the Foreign Office and he'll be able to do something. I want you to write a letter to him. Ask him if I can meet him before June I 5th.'
'What name shall I say?'
'Twisdon. It's safer to forget the name Hannay.'
Sir Harry sat down at a table and wrote this letter.

Dear Uncle,
I have given your address to a man named Twisdon who wants to meet you. He hopes to see you before June I 5th. Be kind to him, please, and believe his story.
When he comes, he'll say the words 'Black Stone'. And he'll sing a few lines of 'Annie Laurie'.

'Well, that looks all right,' Sir Harry said. 'My uncle's name is Sir Walter Bullivant, and his cottage is near Artinswell on the River Kennet. Now, what's the next thing?'
'Can you give me an old suit of clothes?' I said. 'And show me a map of Galloway. The police may come here to look for me, and you can show them the car in the valley. But don't tell them anything.'
'And if the spies come, what shall I say to them?'
'Say that I've gone to London.'
Sir Harry brought the clothes and a map of Galloway. I looked at the map carefully and noticed the railway to the south.
'That's the wildest part of the country,' Sir Harry said, pointing at the map. 'Go up the road here and then turn to the right. You ought to be up in the hills before breakfast. You'll be quite safe up there but you must travel south on June the 12th or 13th.'
He gave me an old bicycle and at two o'clock in the morning I left his house.
At five o'clock the sun rose, and I had travelled about twenty miles. High hills and wide green valleys lay around me on every side.

Adapted by Roland John for Intermediate Level


Click here to read CHAPTER 5: The Roadman Who Wore Spectacles