'But that can't be true,' Mr.
Whittaker said. 'Lord Alloa told me that he probably wouldn't come
to the meeting. But I know him very well and was not surprised to
see him here, You're quite wrong about this, Hannay.'
Sir Walter went out of the room and spoke to someone on the
telephone. When he came back, his face had turned pale.
'I've spoken to Alloa,' he said. 'He got out of bed to come to the
telephone. Hannay is right. The gentleman who was here was not
'I don't believe it,' General Winstanley said. 'Alloa was standing
beside me ten minutes ago.'
'Gentlemen,' I said, 'the Black Stone knows its business. You
probably didn't look at the man carefully. You were talking about
these important plans. The fellow was like Lord Alloa, and so you
accepted him. But it was another man, and I have probably seen him
during the past month.'
Then the Frenchman spoke. 'This young man is right,' he said
slowly and in good English. 'Our enemies know their business very
well. Listen and I'll tell you a true story. It happened many
years ago when I was in Senegal. I was living at a hotel but every
day I used to go fishing. The river was a few miles away and I
used to ride there on a little horse.
''Well, one day I packed my dinner as usual and hung it over the
horse's neck. Then I left for the river. When I arrived there, I
tied the horse to a tree. I fished for several hours, and I was
thinking only about the fish. I didn't take any notice of the
horse at all, but I could hear her. And I could see her shape from
the corner of my eye. She was moving about a lot and crying a bit
too. I spoke to her as usual, but I did not look up from the water.
''Well, dinner-time came, so I put the fish into a bag and walked
along the river bank. I was still fishing carefully and watching
the water. When I reached the tree, I threw the bag on to the
The Frenchman stopped and looked around the table.
'It was the smell that I noticed first. I looked up and turned my
head. My bag was lying on a lion's back. The horse was dead and
half-eaten on the ground behind him.'
'What happened next?' I asked. I recognized this as a real African
'I shot the lion in the head,' he said. 'But before he died he
took a part of me.' And he held up his left hand which had only
two fingers on it.
'That horse had been dead for an hour,' he continued. 'And the
lion was watching me all the time. He was a brown shape near the
tree. I had seen the shape and colour but I had not looked
carefully. That was my mistake, gentlemen, and we have made the
same mistake tonight.'
Sir Walter agreed.
''This Black Stone fellow,' the General said, 'is he a German spy
or something? No one could keep all these facts and figures in his
head. It doesn't seem very important to me.'
'Oh, yes, he could,' the Frenchman replied. 'A good spy can
remember everything. His eyes are like a camera. Did you notice
that he didn't speak at all? He read the papers several times but
didn't say anything. You can be sure that he has all the facts now.
When I was young, I could do the same thing.'
'Well, we must change the plans,' Sir Walter said.
Mr. Whittaker looked surprised. 'Did you say that to Lord Alloa?'
'Of course we can't decide it now. But I'm almost certain about
this: if we change the plans, we'll have to change the coast of
'And there's another problem,' Royer said. 'I've told you some of
the French plans, and that German spy heard them. Now we can't
possibly change our plans. But we can do this, gentlemen: we can
catch that man and his friends before they leave the country.'
'But how?' I cried. 'We don't know anything about them.'
'And there's the post,' Whittaker said. 'They can easily send the
facts to Germany by post. They may be on their way now. We can't
possibly search the post.'
'No,' the Frenchman said. 'You don't know how a good spy works,
gentlemen. He delivers the secrets himself The Germans will pay
the man who brings the plans. So we still have a chance. The
fellow must cross the sea to get to Germany, and we must search
all ships. Believe me, gentlemen. This matter is very important
for both France and Britain.'
Royer was clearly a wise man, and he had the right ideas. But
where could we find these German spies? The problem was a very
Then suddenly I remembered Scudder's book.
'Sir Walter,' I cried, 'did you bring Scudder's note-book from the
cottage? I've just remembered something in it.'
He nodded and went to a cupboard. And a few moments later I had
found the page.
'Thirty-nine steps,' I read. 'Thirty-nine steps - I counted them.
High tide is at seventeen minutes past ten.'
Whittaker was looking at me. 'What does all that mean?' he asked.
'Scudder knew these spies,' I said. 'And he knew the place where
they lived. They're probably leaving the country tomorrow. And I
believe that we'll find them near the sea. There are steps at this
place, and it has a high tide at seventeen minutes past ten.'
'But they could leave tonight,' someone said. 'They needn't wait
'I don't think so. They have their own secret way and they're not
going to hurry. They're Germans, aren't they? And Germans always
like to follow a plan. Now where can we find a book of tides?'
'Well, it's a chance,' Whittaker said, 'and it may be our only
chance to catch them.'
'Isn't there a book of tides at the Admiralty? Sir Walter asked.
'Yes, of course,' Whittaker replied. 'We'd better go there
We went out into the hall, and the butler gave their coats to the
gentlemen. We got into two of the motor-cars, but Sir Walter did
not come with us.
'I'm going to Scotland Yard,' he said. 'We'll probably need some
of MacGillivray's men.'
We reached the Admiralty and followed Whittaker through several
empty rooms to the map-room. There he found a book of tides and
gave it to me. I sat down at a desk and the others stood around
But the job was too difficult for any of us. There were hundreds
of names in the book. And high tide was at seventeen minutes past
ten in forty or fifty places.
I put down the book and began to think about the steps.
'We're looking for a place,' I said., 'which probably has several
sets of steps. But the important set has thirty-nine steps in it.'
'And the tide is important too,' Royer said. 'So that means that
it's probably a small harbour. These fellows won't try to escape
in a big boat. They may have a yacht or a fishing-boat.'
'That's quite possible,' I said. 'The place may not be a harbour
at all. These spies have been in London, and now they want to go
to Germany. So they'll probably leave from a place on the East
I picked up a piece of paper and wrote down our ideas.
(1) The place has several sets of steps or stairs. The important
set has thirty-nine steps.
(2) High tide is at seventeen minutes past ten, and the tide may
be necessary for boats to leave.
(3) The place has a small harbour or it may be a piece of open
(4) The Germans may use a yacht or a fishing-boat.
Then I guessed three things and wrote them down:
(1) The steps may not be a part of the harbour.
(2) It is a quiet place.
(3) It is on the East Coast between Cromer and Dover.
We have to look for a foreign yacht.
Sir Walter came into the room with MacGillivray behind him.
'The police are watching the harbours and railway stations,'
MacGillivray said. 'But it's not going to be easy for them.
They're looking for a fat man, a thin man and an old man!'
I showed my paper to Sir Walter and said, 'These are our ideas.
But we'll need someone to help us.' I turned to Whittaker and said,
'Is there a Chief Coastguard on the East Coast?'
'I don't know. But we have an Inspector of Coastguards in London.
He lives in Clapham and he knows the East Coast very well.'
'Can you bring him here tonight?' I asked.
'Yes, I think so. I'll go to his house.'
It was very late when Whittaker returned with the Inspector. He
was a fine old fellow and very polite to the officers. Sir Arthur
Drew spoke to him first.
'We're looking for a place on the East Coast,' he said, where
there are several sets of steps. They probably lead down to the
beach. Do you know any place like that?'
'Well, sir, I don't know. There's Brattlesham in Norfolk of course.
There are steps there, but only the fishermen use them.'
That isn't the place,' I said.
Then there are plenty of holiday places. They usually have a few
'No. This is probably a very quiet place.'
'Then I'm sorry, gentlemen. I don't know. There's only the Ruff...'
'What's that?' I asked.
'It's a bit of high ground on the Kent coast. Near Bradgate. There
are some fine houses on the top and some of them have stairs down
to the beach. They're private beaches of course.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'Well, the people who own the houses also own the beaches, sir.
When you buy a house there, you get a piece of private beach as
I picked up the book of tides and found Bradgate. High tide there
was at twenty-seven minutes past ten on June 15th.
'How can I find the time of high tide at the Ruff?' I asked the
'Oh, I know that, sir. I stayed there once in June. It's ten
minutes before high tide at Bradgate.'
I shut the book and looked around.
'Sir Walter.' I said, 'can I borrow your car and a map of the
roads in Kent? I'd like to have some of your men too, MacGillivray.
We may be able to surprise these German gentlemen tomorrow morning.'
They did not answer me for a moment. I did not work for the
Foreign Office or the Admiralty, and I was not in the British Army.
But I was young and strong and I had met these spies before.
It was Royer who spoke first. 'I'm quite happy,' he said, 'to
leave this matter in Mr. Hannay's hands.'
'Yes, yes,' Sir Walter said, 'I think so too.' And he nodded at
Half an hour later I was driving quickly through the villages of
Kent. MacGillivray's best officer was sitting beside me in the
car. It was half past three in the morning.