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John Buchan


In the morning the butler took away the dinner-suit and brought me some other clothes. 
I went down to breakfast and found Sir Walter at the table. There was a telegram in his hand.
'I've been busy during the night,' he said. 'I spoke to the Foreign Secretary and to the Secretary for War. They telephoned to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and they're bringing the Frenchman to London today instead of tomorrow. His name's Royer, and he'll be here at five o'clock this evening. This telegram is from the First Lord of the Admiralty.'
He pointed to the hot food on the table, and I began to eat. It was a very good breakfast.
'I don't think that this change is going to help us,' he continued. 'Our enemies found out the first date, so they'll probably find out the new one too. There must be a German spy in the Foreign Office or in the War Office. Only five men knew that Royer was coming. We believed so, but someone told Scudder and the Germans.'
'Can't you change your plans for war?' I asked.
'We can but we don't want to. We've thought a lot about these plans and they're the best possible ones.'
'But if it's necessary, you will change them.'
'Perhaps. It's a difficult problem, Hannay. Our enemies aren't children. They're not going to steal any papers from Royer. They want to know our plans, but they want to get them in secret. Then Royer will go back to France and say, "Here are the British plans for war, and they're completely secret. The Germans don't know anything about them."
'Then you must give the Frenchman a special guard,' I said, 'who will stay by his side all the time.'
'Royer is having dinner with the Foreign Secretary tonight. Then he's coming to my house where he'll meet four people. They are Sir Arthur Drew, General Winstanley, Mr. Whittaker and me. The First Lord hasn't been well for a few days, so Whittaker is coming instead. And he's bringing the plans from the First Lord's office at the Admiralty. We'll deliver them to Royer who will then leave for Portsmouth. A warship is waiting there to take him to France. He'll have a special guard all the time.'
After breakfast we left for London by car.
Sir Walter said!, 'I'm taking you to Scotland Yard, Hannay. I want you to meet the Commissioner of Police.'
It was half past eleven when we reached Scotland Yard. We walked into the great dark building, and I met the Commissioner. His name was MacGillivray.
'I've brought you the murderer,' Sir Walter said.
The officer smiled. 'I'd be very happy if you had brought the real murderer, Bullivant. Good morning, Mr. Hannay. You must be a very interesting man.'
'And he's going to tell you some interesting things,' Sir Walter said, 'but not today. You have to wait for twenty-four hours, I'm afraid. Mr. Hannay is a free man now, isn't he?'
'Yes, of course,' the Commissioner said. Then he turned to me. 'Do you want to go back to your old flat? It's ready for you, but perhaps you'd like to move.'
I was thinking about Scudder and could not reply.
'Well,' Sir Walter said, 'I must go now. Perhaps we'll need some of your men, MacGillivray, tonight or tomorrow. There may be some trouble.'
As we were leaving, Sir Walter took my hand.
'You're all right now, Hannay,' he said. 'You'll be quite safe in London. Come and see me tomorrow. But don't talk about these spies, will you? It's best to stay in your flat today.' He laughed suddenly. 'If these Black Stone people see you, they'll kill you.'
When Sir Walter had gone, I felt quite alone. I was a free man, and everything was all right. But I was very nervous. I went to the Savoy Hotel and ordered a fine meal. But I did not enjoy it. People were looking at me, and I thought, 'Do they recognize me? Have they seen my photograph in the newspapers?' I soon left the hotel.
In the afternoon I got a taxi and rode several miles to North London. I paid the taxi-man and then began to walk back. I walked for several hours and at last came to the centre of London again. I was feeling very unhappy.
It was six o'clock, and great things were happening in London. Royer had already arrived. Sir Walter was busy at
the Foreign Office or making plans for the meeting. The Black Stone spies were watching and waiting quietly. But what was I doing? I was walking about the centre of London.
Suddenly a strange thought came into my head. I believed that there was great danger in London that day. And it was such a danger that only I could fight against.
But what could I do? Sir Walter did not need me. I could not walk into a meeting of important officers and Ministers. I could look for the German spies of course. And if I found them, I would fight them. I was quite sure of one thing: my country needed me in this trouble. If I did not destroy their plans, the German spies would win.
'But is that true, Hannay?' I said to my-self. 'Can't Sir Walter and his friends easily look after Britain? Doesn't the First Lord of the Admiralty know his business better than you do? Can a few. German spies do anything against all this power?'
I was not sure. There was a little voice in my ear which repeated the same words: 'Do something, Hannay. Get up and do something now, or you'll never sleep well again.'
At half past nine I was walking along Jermyn Street. And I decided what to do. I would go'to Sir Walter's house. I knew the address and I could easily find it. He did not want to see me, but I had to do something.
I came to Duke Street and walked past a group of young men. They were wearing dinner-suits and had just come from a hotel. One of the young men was Mr. Marmaduke Jopley.
He saw me and recognized me at once.
'Look!' he cried. 'It's the murderer! Hold him! Hold him! That's Hannay the murderer!'
Jopley caught my arm, and the others rushed to help him. A policeman ran across the street. I hit Jopley hard with my left hand and saw him fall. But then the crowd held me and I could not move.
'What's the matter here?' the policeman said. 
That's Hannay the murderer,' Jopley shouted.
Oh, be quiet,' I said. 'I'm not a murderer. Listen, officer. Take my advice and don't arrest me. The Commissioner knows all about me. I was at Scotland Yard this morning.'
'Now young man, come along with me,' the policeman said. 'I saw you begin this quarrel.' He pointed at Jopley who was still on the ground. 'That gentleman didn't do anything to you, but I saw you hit him. Now come along quietly to the police station.'
I felt very angry indeed. I heard the little voice in my ear again. 'You must escape,' it said. 'Don't waste a minute here.'
Suddenly I felt as strong as an elephant. I turned quickly and threw the policeman to the ground. I pushed the other men away and ran along Duke Street.
I can run very fast when I want to. And that evening I almost flew. In a few minutes I reached Pall Mall and
turned towards St. James's Park. I ran between the taxis in the Mall and crossed the bridge. There were very few people in the park and no one stopped me. Sir Walter's house was at Queen Anne's Gate and there I began to walk.
Three or four motor-cars were standing in the street outside the house. I walked up to the door and rang the bell.
The butler opened the door at once. I could hear cries in the distance, but the street was empty.
'I must see Sir Walter,' I said. 'My business is very important.'
'Come in, sir,' he said. 'I'm afraid you can't see him immediately. But you can wait in the hall until the meeting is over.'
It was an old house with a large square hall. Doors led into several rooms on each side. A guard who was dressed in plain clothes stood outside one of the doors. I sat down in a corner near the telephone.
I made a sign to the butler. 'I'm in trouble again,' I said. 'But I'm working for Sir Walter, and he knows all about it. The police and a crowd of people are following me and may come here. Please don't tell them that I'm here. And don't let them come in.'
'All right, sir,' he replied.
A minute or two later I heard voices outside. The door-bell rang and the butler went to answer it. Someone spoke to him from outside, and he suddenly stood up very straight.
'I am sorry,' he said. 'This is Sir Walter Bullivant's house, and Sir Walter is Chief Secretary at the Foreign Office. I'm afraid that I don't know anything about a murderer. Now please go away, or I shall call the police myself.'
Then he shut the door and walked back through the hall.
Two minutes later the bell rang again, and a gentleman came in. While he was taking off his coat, I saw his face. It was a famous face, and I had often seen his photograph in
the newspapers. The gentleman was Lord Alloa, the First Lord of the Admiralty. He was a big man with a large nose and bright blue eyes.
He walked past me, and the guard opened the door of the room for him.
I waited in the hall for twenty minutes. And during this time the little voice was still speaking in my ear. 'Don't go away,' it said. 'You'll soon be needed.' A little bell rang at the back of the house. And the butler immediately came into the hall. The First Lord left the meeting-room, and the butler gave him his coat. I looked at the gentleman for a moment, and he looked straight at me. It all happened very quickly. My heart jumped suddenly because I noticed a light in his eyes. I had never met the First Lord before, and he had never met me. But there was no doubt at all about that sudden light in his eyes. It meant that he had recognized me. He looked away at once and walked to the door. The butler opened it for him and closed it behind him.
I picked up the telephone-book and quickly found Lord Alloa's telephone number. I rang and the butler answered.
'Is the First Lord at home?' I asked.
'Yes, sir,' the voice said. 'But he's not very well. He's been in bed since this afternoon. Can I give him a message, sir?'

'No, thank you,' I said, and I put the telephone down.
I crossed the hall quickly to the meeting-room and went in without knocking.
Five surprised faces looked up from a round table. Sir Walter was there and Drew, the War Minister. I easily recognized Sir Arthur Drew from his photographs in the papers. I had seen General Winstanley before, and an older man who was probably Whittaker stood next to him. The fifth man was short and fat with a dark grey moustache.
Sir Walter looked quite angry.
'This is Mr. Hannay, gentlemen,' he said. 'I've already told you something about him. But why have you come here, Hannay? You know that we're very busy.'
'Your enemies are busy too, sir,' I said. 'And one of them has just left this room.'
Sir Walter's face grew red as he said, 'But that was Lord Alloa.'
'It was not,' I cried. 'Lord Alloa has been in bed since this afternoon. I have just spoken to his butler on the telephone. The gentleman who recognized me. And Lord Alloa doesn't know me.'
'Then... who... who...?' someone asked.
'The Black Stone,' I cried. I looked around the table and saw doubt and fear in five pairs of eyes.

Adapted by Roland John for Intermediate Level


Click here to read CHAPTER 9: The Thirty-Nine Steps