Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall



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Sir Lyster nodded his approval of her action. "You did quite right, Miss – "

"West," said Dorothy.

"Miss West," continued Sir Lyster. "There are occasions when – " He hesitated for a word.

"John Dene's methods are best," suggested Sir Bridgman.

Sir Lyster smiled; but there was no answering smile in Dorothy's eyes.

"What do you think has happened?" she asked, looking from one to the other.

"It's impossible to say," began Sir Lyster, "it's – it's – "

"Spies," she said with a catch in her voice. "I'm sure of it. They've drugged him. They tried to poison our food."

"Poison your food," repeated Sir Lyster uncomprehendingly.

"Yes," said Dorothy, and she proceeded to tell how it came about that the luncheon and dinners were supplied from an anonymous source.

"That's Walton," said Admiral Heyworth, and the other nodded.

For a few minutes they sat in silence, all waiting for the arrival of Colonel Walton. When the telephone bell rang, Sir Lyster started perceptibly. Taking up the receiver from the instrument he listened for a few seconds.

"Show him in," he said; then, turning to the others, he explained: "Walton is out; but Sage is here."

"Good," said Sir Bridgman, "sometimes Jack is better than his master."

Sir Lyster looked at him meaningly, and then at Dorothy.

With perfect self-possession Malcolm Sage entered, gave a short, jerky bow, and without invitation drew a chair up opposite to where Dorothy was sitting. For a moment he gazed at her and saw the anxiety in her eyes.

"Don't be alarmed," he said quietly, "the situation is well in hand." There was the ghost of a smile about the corners of his mouth.

"Is he safe?" enquired Dorothy, leaning forward, whilst the three men looked at Sage as if not quite sure of his sanity.

"I can only repeat what I have said," replied Sage, "the situation is well in hand."

"But how the devil – " began Sir Bridgman.

"I should like to ask Miss West a few questions," said Sage.

Sir Bridgman subsided.

"Why did you come here?" he asked, turning to Dorothy.

"Mr. Dene didn't come this morning. I waited until past two, then I rang up the Ritzton," she paused.

"Go on," said Sage.

"They told me he had not been back since yesterday morning."

"And then?" enquired Sage.

"I rang up Mr. Blair. He had heard nothing, so I thought I had better come round and – and – I'm afraid I burst in here very rudely. Mr. Blair – "

"You did quite right, Miss West," said Sir Lyster. "Why didn't you act before?"

Dorothy felt Sage's eyes were burning through her brain, so intent was his gaze. "I had forgotten about the taxi. I – I – thought he might be unwell," said Dorothy.

"Why?"

"Well," she began, and then paused.

"Go on," said Sage encouragingly.

"He has seemed rather strange for some days," she said, "his memory was very bad.

As a rule he has a wonderful memory, and never makes a note."

"How was his memory bad?"

"He seemed to forget what he had written, and was always having letters turned up."

Sage nodded. "Go on," he said.

"Then," she continued, "he seemed to want always to put things off. He was undecided; so unlike his normal self. Most of the things he asked me to attend to."

"And that made you think he was ill," suggested Sage.

"Yes," she said, "that and other things."

"What other things?"

Dorothy screwed up her eyebrows, her head on one side, as if striving to find words to express what was in her mind. "His manner was strange," she began. "It is very difficult to give instances; but previously he had always been so pleasant and – and – "

"Unconscious of himself, shall we say?" suggested Sage.

"That's it," she said brightly. "He was just Mr. Dene. Afterwards he seemed to be always watching me, as if not quite sure who I was. It was almost uncanny. I thought perhaps – " She hesitated.

"What?"

"That he was being drugged," she concluded reluctantly.

"When did you first notice this?"

"Let me see," said Dorothy. "This is Tuesday. It was on Thursday morning that I first noticed it. What struck me then was that he said, 'Good morning' when he came in."

"And what did he usually say?" enquired Sage.

"He used to say 'morning,' or what really sounded more like 'morn,'" she said with a smile.

"Thank you," said Sage. "Unless these gentlemen have any further questions to put to you, there is nothing more to be done at present."

"But is he – " she began, then she paused.

"I should not be unnecessarily alarmed, Miss West, if I were you," said Sage. "Above all, keep your own counsel. Mr. Dene disapproves of people who talk."

"I know," said Dorothy, rising and drawing herself up with dignity.

"I regard your prompt action as highly commendable, Miss West," said Sir Lyster. "You will, of course, continue in attendance at the office until you hear further. If anything unusual transpires, please get into touch with me immediately, even to the extent of – " he paused a moment.

"Bursting in as you did just now," said Sir Bridgman with a laugh. "It's the real John Dene manner."

"Exactly," said Sir Lyster.

Sir Lyster conducted Dorothy into Mr. Blair's room.

"Mr. Blair," he said, "if Miss West ever wishes to see me urgently, please tell me, no matter with whom I am engaged. If I do not happen to be in, Sir Bridgman will see her, or failing that get through to Colonel Walton, or to Mr. Sage."

Sir Lyster bowed to Dorothy and returned to his room. Mr. Blair blinked his eyes in bewilderment; the influence of John Dene upon the British Admiralty was most extraordinary.

"I don't understand the drift of all your questions, Mr. Sage," said Sir Lyster, resuming his seat.

Malcolm Sage turned his eyes upon the First Lord. "I will explain that later, sir," he said, "but for the present I must ask your indulgence."

"But – " began Sir Lyster.

"I might advance a hundred theories; but until I am sure it would be better for me to keep silence. I must confer with my chief."

Sir Bridgman nodded approval.

"Quite so," said Sir Lyster. "In the meantime what is to be done?"

"Raise the hue and cry," said Sage quietly.

"Good God, man!" exclaimed Sir Bridgman. "It would give the whole game away."

"I propose," said Sage quietly, "that photographs of John Dene be inserted in every paper in the kingdom, that every continental paper likewise has full particulars of his disappearance. That you offer a thousand pounds reward for news that will lead to his discovery, and go on increasing it by a thousand every day until it reaches ten thousand." Malcolm Sage paused; his three listeners stared at him as if he were out of his senses.

"You seriously suggest this publicity?" enquired Sir Lyster in cold and even tones.

"I do," said Sage.

"You know why Mr. Dene is here."

"I do."

"And yet you still advise this course?" asked Sir Lyster.

"I do," responded Sage.

"Well, I'm damned!" said Sir Bridgman.

For a moment a flicker of a smile crossed Malcolm Sage's serious features.

"What are your reasons?" demanded Sir Lyster.

"My reasons are closely connected with my conclusions, sir, and at the present time they are too nebulous to express."

"We will consider this," said Sir Lyster with an air of concluding the interview.

Malcolm Sage rose. "The time is not one for consideration, sir," he said, "but for action. If you hesitate in this publicity, I must ask your permission to see the Prime Minister;" then with a sudden change of tone and speaking with an air of great seriousness he added, "This is a matter of vital importance. The announcement should be made in the late editions of all the evening papers, and the full story must appear in to-morrow's papers. There is not much time. Have I your permission to proceed?"

"No, sir, you have not," thundered Sir Lyster. "I shall report this matter to Colonel Walton."

"That, sir, you are quite at liberty to do," said Sage calmly. "Incidentally you might report that I have resigned from my position at Department Z. I wish you good afternoon, gentlemen," and with that Malcolm Sage left the room.

"Good Lord! Grayne, you've done it now," said Sir Bridgman. "L. J. thinks the world of that chap."

"He's a most impertinent fellow," said Sir Lyster with heat.

"Clever men frequently are," laughed Sir Bridgman. "It seems to me that everybody's getting under the influence of John Dene. I suppose it's Bolshevism," he muttered to himself.

Half an hour later Colonel Walton was seated in earnest conversation with Mr. Llewellyn John.

"It's very awkward, very awkward," said Mr. Llewellyn John; "still, you must act along your own lines. It's no good creating a department and then allowing another department to dictate to it; but it's very awkward," he added.

"It would be more awkward, sir, if Sage were allowed to go," said Colonel Walton.

"Of course, of course," said Mr. Llewellyn John, "that's unthinkable. If I were only told," he muttered, "if I were only told. They keep so much from me." Then after a pause he added, "I'm inclined to blame you, though, Walton, for not – not – " Mr. Llewellyn John hesitated.

"Keeping John Dene under proper observation," suggested Colonel Walton quietly.

"Exactly." Mr. Llewellyn John looked at him quickly.

"He was always guarded."

"Then you – " began Mr. Llewellyn John.

"Our men were tricked."

"Tricked!" Mr. Llewellyn John looked startled.

"Yes," continued Colonel Walton. "McLean was on duty that night. Immediately he saw John Dene hail a taxi, he jumped into his own taxi; but he had hardly started when he was run into by a small runabout, and the other taxi got away."

"But the number of – "

"Fictitious both, the taxi and the run-about. We thought it expedient not to detain the man who ran into McLean," Colonel Walton added.

For nearly a minute Mr. Llewellyn John sat staring at the Chief of Department Z.

"It's most unfortunate, disastrous in fact," he said at length. "We must try and get into touch with Auchinlech by wireless."

"I'm afraid it will be useless," was the response.

"There's the War Cabinet to be considered," murmured Mr. Llewellyn John to himself. "The war does not – " He hesitated.

"Make men tractable," suggested Colonel Walton helpfully.

"Exactly," agreed Mr. Llewellyn John. "They may not take the same view as Sir Lyster and myself with regard to that memorandum of ours to Dene. It's very awkward happening just now," he added, "with all this trouble about interning aliens."

"What am I to do, sir? There is very little time."

"Do," said Mr. Llewellyn John, "why run your department in your own way, Walton."

"I have an absolutely free hand?" enquired Colonel Walton.

"Absolutely," said Mr. Llewellyn John; "but I wish you could tell me more."

"To be quite frank, I'm as much in the dark as you are. Sage is as obstinate as a pack-mule and as sure-footed. He's no respecter of – "

"Prime Ministers or First Lords," suggested Mr. Llewellyn John with a smile.

"Exactly."

"Well, go your own way," said Mr. Llewellyn John; "but I should like to know what it all means. Frankly I'm puzzled. We are cut off entirely from Auchinlech, and without John Dene the Destroyer can't sail. We're losing valuable time. It's very unfortunate; it's a disaster, in fact. But," he burst out excitedly, "why on earth does Sage want to advertise our anxiety as to Dene's whereabouts? That's what puzzles me."

"It puzzles me too, sir," said Colonel Walton quietly.

"It's such a confession of weakness," continued Mr. Llewellyn John, "such a showing of our hand. What will people think when we offer ten thousand pounds for news of John Dene of Toronto?"

"They'll probably think that he's an extremely valuable man," was the dry retort.

"That's it exactly," said Mr. Llewellyn John, "and Berlin will congratulate itself upon a master-stroke."

Colonel Walton felt inclined to suggest that was exactly what Malcolm Sage seemed most to desire; but he refrained.

"Very well, Walton, carry on," said Mr. Llewellyn John; "but frankly I don't like it," he added half to himself.

Colonel Walton left No. 110, Downing Street, and ten minutes later Malcolm Sage withdrew his resignation.

Whilst Department Z. hummed and buzzed with energy, and men and women were coming and going continuously, Dorothy sat at the window of John Dene's room gazing out at a prospect of white enamelled bricks punctuated by windows. She had nothing to do. Everything seemed so different. John Dene's impulsive energy had vitalised all about him. Now she felt as if all her faculties had suddenly wilted.

In her own mind she was convinced that he was ill. She could not blot from her mind the strangeness of his manner during the last few days. His sudden loss of memory proved that he was unwell. For a man to forget where the postage stamps are kept, or the position in the room of the letter files, was, in itself, a proof that something very strange had suddenly come over him, the more so in the case of one who was almost aggressively proud of his memory. Then there had been other little details. His movements did not seem the same, that jerkiness and sudden upward glance from his table had disappeared. It was as if he had been drugged. Dorothy wondered if that really were the explanation. Oh! but she was very miserable and horribly lonely.

That night Dorothy and her mother sat up long after midnight talking of John Dene. To both had come the realisation that he stood to them in the light of an intimate friend.

As she said "Good night," Mrs. West put her arm round Dorothy's shoulders, and in a shaky voice said:

"I don't think God would let anything happen to a good man like Mr. Dene;" and Dorothy turned and left the room abruptly.

CHAPTER XIV
THE HUE AND CRY

The late editions of the evening papers contained no mention of the disappearance of John Dene. For one thing much valuable time had been lost owing to the attitude of Sir Lyster Grayne, for another, Malcolm Sage had decided to make a great display in the morning papers. All that afternoon Department Z. was feverishly busy. Photographs of John Dene had to be duplicated, and the story distributed through the Press Bureau, in order that it might possess an official character.

On the morning following the discovery of John Dene's disappearance, the British public was startled at its breakfast-table by an offer of ?10,000 reward for details that would lead to the discovery of the whereabouts of one John Dene, a citizen of Toronto, Canada, who had last been seen at 6 p.m. on the previous Monday outside his offices in Waterloo Place.

The notice drawn up by Department Z. ran:

MISSING
?10,000 REWARD
Where is
JOHN DENE of TORONTO?

"On Monday at 6 p.m., Mr. John Dene, the well-known Canadian inventor and engineer of Toronto, left his offices in Waterloo Place, after bidding his secretary good night. Since then a shroud of mystery seems to have enveloped his movements.

HIS SECRETARY BECOMES ALARMED

"His Secretary, Miss Dorothy West, arrived at the office at the usual time on Tuesday morning. Mr. Dene was most punctual in his habits, invariably reaching his office a few minutes after nine. Miss West waited until two o'clock, then fearing that he might be ill, she rang through to the Ritzton Hotel, where Mr. Dene was staying. To her surprise she was informed that he had not returned to his hotel the night before.

WHERE IS JOHN DENE OF TORONTO?

"Miss West immediately got into communication with the head of a certain Government department with which Mr. Dene was associated; but nothing was known of his whereabouts. The authorities have reason to believe that Mr. Dene has been spirited away by some organisation that has a special object in view.

IS IT FOUL PLAY?

"A reward of ?10,000 will be paid to anyone who will give such information as will lead directly to the discovery of Mr. John Dene's whereabouts. It may be added that Mr. Dene is a distinguished engineer and inventor, and it is the duty of every citizen of the British Empire to endeavour to assist the Authorities in tracing the missing man.

THIS IS WHAT HE IS LIKE

"The following is a description of Mr. John Dene: – Height 5 ft. 5 ins. Clean shaven with grey eyes and a determined expression, invariably carried a cigar in his mouth, very frequently unlighted. Has a peculiar habit of twisting and twirling the cigar in his mouth. Thick set with keen, rather jerky movements, and a habit of looking at people suddenly and piercingly. A square jaw and tightly closed lips. When last seen was wearing a dark grey tweed suit, trilby hat, dark blue tie and brown boots. Spoke with a marked Canadian accent.

"All communications should be addressed to Scotland Yard, S.W."

In addition to the foregoing semi-official particulars, there followed much information that had been gleaned by various reporters. Most of the papers gave a leader, and several hinted at the hidden hand, urging that this new outrage obviously pointed to the necessity for the internment of all aliens. Great emphasis was laid upon the importance of tracing the present whereabouts of John Dene of Toronto, and anyone who had seen a man at all answering to his description, was called upon to communicate with Scotland Yard.

The afternoon papers contained practically the same information, but elaborated and adorned. Several hinted at the fact that John Dene had come to England with a new invention of great importance, and that he had disappeared just on the eve of the fruition of his schemes, with the result that everything was at a stand-still. In support of this theory the writers pointed to the amount of the reward. Ten thousand pounds would not have been offered, they argued, unless there were good reasons for it. One paper went so far as to suggest that the Government itself was offering the reward, although in its next issue it apologised for and contradicted the statement – this was a little stroke of Malcolm Sage's.

Dorothy was besieged by interviewers, until at last she was forced to refrain from answering the succession of knocks at the outer door. Her head was in a whirl.

The prevailing topic of conversation was the disappearance of John Dene. Everybody was asking why such a reward had been offered. Shoals of letters descended upon Scotland Yard. Hundreds of callers lined up in a queue, waiting their turn to be interviewed. Telegrams rained in from the provinces. Apparently John Dene had been seen in places as far distant as St. Andrews and Bournemouth, Aberystwyth and King's Lynn. He had been observed in conversation with men, women and children, some of harmless, some of sinister appearance. He had been seen in trains, 'buses, trams and cars. He had been seen perturbed and calm, hastening and loitering, in uniform and in mufti.

Scotland Yard was almost out of its mind, and the officer in charge of the John Dene investigation rang through to Malcolm Sage, demanding what the funny peter he was to do with the enormous correspondence, and the bewildering queue that already stretched along the Embankment halfway to Charing Cross railway-bridge.

"Burn the telegrams and letters and tell the queue to write," was Sage's laconic response, as he put up the receiver, whereat the officer had sworn heavily into the mouth-piece of the instrument.

The Chief Commissioner was particularly annoyed because all his own correspondence had been engulphed in the epistolary flood, and he was expecting a letter from his wife telling him where to meet her on the following day on her return from a motor tour. Those who knew Lady Wrayle understood the Chief Commissioner's anxiety.

All day long Scotland Yard worked in a conscientious endeavour to sift the mass of evidence that streamed in upon it from all parts of the kingdom. Some of the stories to which weary but patient officials listened were grotesque in the extreme. As the chief expressed it, "Half the idiots and all the damned fools in the country are descending upon us."

The callers were interesting as studies in obtuseness and optimism; but they were as nothing to the telegrams. One man wired from St. Andrews that he was tracking a strange man round the golf course, would Scotland Yard telegraph a warrant for his arrest? Another enquired if the reward would be in cash or war bonds, and if the Government guaranteed the money – this man telegraphed from Aberdeen. Several asked for railway warrants to London that they might lay certain facts before the authorities. Scores telegraphed for photographs, as the pictures in the papers were indistinct. One lady telegraphed from Suffolk that a man with a beard identical with that worn by John Dene in the picture in The Daily Photo had that day come to her door begging.

The telegrams were, however, nothing to the letters that followed them. The lady who had telegraphed about a bearded John Dene, wrote to apologise for her mistake, explaining it by saying that the paper boy must have accidentally rubbed the paper before delivering it. She was not to be denied, however, and went on to say that she thought the picture strangely like the man who had begged of her. Did Scotland Yard think that John Dene had disguised himself with a false beard?

Some correspondents wrote bitterly censuring the Government for not interning all aliens, for allowing John Dene out of its sight, for an Imperialistic policy, for plunging the country into war, for offering the reward, and for a thousand and one other irrelevant things. The one thing that no one did was to supply any information that would be remotely useful to the authorities in tracing the missing man.



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