Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall



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As Spotty passed Mr. Blair he turned and, thrusting his face forward, growled, "Ruddy tyke." It was his way of indicating loyalty to his chief; but it spoiled Mr. Blair's lunch.

For some moments after John Dene had gone, Sir Lyster and Sir Bridgman and Admiral Heyworth gazed at each other without speaking.

"Do you think it's drink, Grayne, or only the heat?" Sir Bridgman laughed.

Sir Lyster winced and looked across at him as a man might at a boy who has just blown a trumpet in his ear. Without replying he lifted the telephone receiver from its rest.

"Get me through to the Prime Minister. What's that? Yes, Sir Bridgman's here. Very well, we'll come round at once."

As he replaced the receiver he rose.

"The Prime Minister would like us to step round," he said. "Walton and Sage are there. It's about John Dene."

"Seen John Dene?" asked Sir Bridgman of Mr. Blair, as they passed through the room. "You'd better apply for that twenty thousand pounds, Blair."

Sir Lyster wondered why Sir Bridgman persisted in his jokes, however much they might have become frayed at the edges.

When they entered Mr. Llewellyn John's room it was to find him a veritable aurora borealis of smiles. He was obviously in the best of spirits.

"John Dene has been found," he cried before his callers had taken the chairs to which he waved them.

"We left poor Blair with the same conviction," laughed Sir Bridgman.

"Then you know?"

"I telephoned Sir Lyster," said Colonel Walton.

"Mr. Dene has only just left us," explained Sir Lyster. "He was extremely annoyed at the closing of his office and the disappearance of his secretary."

"But – " Mr. Llewellyn John looked from Colonel Walton to Malcolm Sage, and then on to Sir Lyster in bewilderment.

"Perhaps, Sage – " suggested Colonel Walton.

"You'd better tell the story, Sage, as Colonel Walton suggests," said Mr. Llewellyn John.

"There is an official report in preparation," said Colonel Walton.

Mr. Llewellyn John nodded.

In the course of the next half-hour Malcolm Sage kept his hearers in a state of breathless interest by the story of the coming and going of John Dene, as known to Department Z.

"I gave Mr. Dene the credit of being possessed of more than the ordinary amount of what he calls 'head-filling,'" began Sage, "but I didn't realise at first that he possessed a twin brother; but I'll begin at the beginning."

"When you turned over the matter to Department Z.," continued Malcolm Sage, "we made exhaustive inquiries and discovered that the Huns were determined to prevent the Destroyer from putting to sea, and they were prepared at any cost to stop Mr. Dene from going north. In Canada and on the way over they made attempts upon his life; but then, as so frequently happens, they became the victims of divided councils. They wanted the plans. Thanks to, er – certain happenings they learned that the Destroyer would not sail without Mr.

Dene."

"How?" interpolated Mr. Llewellyn John

"They obtained the guarantee."

"I remember," said Mr. Llewellyn John, "it was stolen."

"Mr. Dene used to leave his safe open with such papers in it as he wanted the enemy to see. That's what he meant when on one occasion he said, 'If you've got a hungry dog feed it.'"

Sir Bridgman North laughed, Sir Lyster turned to him reproachfully.

"Mr. Dene became convinced that an effort would be made to kidnap and hold him to ransom, the price being the plans of the Destroyer. Department Z. also became convinced of this, but at a later date. As a precaution John Dene sent to England by another ship his twin brother, known as James Grant. When everything was ready the two changed places; that accounted for the strangeness of manner that Miss West noticed with Mr. Dene a few days before his disappearance."

Malcolm Sage then went on to explain the method by which the false John Dene had been kidnapped, and of Department Z.'s discovery with relation to Mr. Montagu Naylor.

"But all that time what happened to the Destroyer?"

"The Destroyer was responsible for the extraordinary increase in the mortality among U-boats."

Mr. Llewellyn John jumped from his chair as if he had been thrown up by a hidden spring.

"But – but – " he began.

"Mr. Dene hit upon a clever ruse," continued Sage, "and – "

"But the advertisements! Did you know this at the time?"

"It was known at Department Z., sir, and the advertisements were to convince the Hun of our eagerness to find John Dene so that we might start operations."

"I see, I see," cried Mr. Llewellyn John; "but how on earth did you ferret all this out?"

"We just sat down, sir, and waited for the other side to make mistakes," said Malcolm Sage quietly, "just as the Opposition does in the House of Commons," he added slyly.

And Mr. Llewellyn John smiled.

"It was better to say nothing about the Finlay business," said Malcolm Sage, as he and Colonel Walton walked back to St. James's Square. "It's results they're concerned with."

Colonel Walton nodded. "We must see John Dene, however," he said.

"If only for the good of his own soul," said Sage, as he knocked his pipe against a railing.

CHAPTER XIX
COMMANDER JOHN DENE GOES TO BOURNEMOUTH

I

Late one afternoon when Dorothy and Mrs. West were walking along the Christchurch Road on their way back to the boarding-house for dinner, Dorothy suddenly gave vent to an exclamation, and with both hands clutched her mother's arm so fiercely that she winced with the pain.

"Look, mother," she cried, "it's – "

Following the direction of her daughter's eyes Mrs. West saw walking sturdily towards them on the other side of the road, a man in the uniform of a naval commander. In his mouth was a cigar, from which he was puffing volumes of smoke. With a little cry Mrs. West recognised him. It was John Dene of Toronto.

There was no mistaking that truculent, aggressive air of a man who knows his own mind, and is determined that every one else shall know it too.

Suddenly Dorothy released her mother's arm and, running across the road, planted herself directly in John Dene's path.

"Mr. Dene!" she cried, when he was within a yard or two of her.

Several passers-by turned their heads. For a fraction of a moment John Dene gazed at the apparition in front of him, not recognising Dorothy in the white frock and large hat that shaded her eyes. Then with what was to him a super-smile, he held out his hand.

"Say, this is bully," he cried, giving Dorothy a grip that caused her to wince. "I've just been to your apartment-house and found you out." Then catching sight of Mrs. West, "Why, there's your mother," he cried and, gripping Dorothy's arm with an enthusiasm that she was convinced would leave bruises, he guided her across the road. A moment later Mrs. West was having the greatest difficulty in preserving a straight face under John Dene's vigorous greeting.

"I've been chasing all over Robin Hood's barn to find you," he cried, still clasping Mrs. West's hand.

"And according to the papers other people have been doing the same with you," said Dorothy, deciding in her own mind that John Dene ought to spend the rest of his life in uniform. It gave him a distinction that hitherto he had lacked in the ill-cut and ill-made clothes he habitually wore.

"I found these waiting for me at my hotel," he said, looking down at himself, as if divining her thoughts. "I ordered them way back," he added.

"You look very nice, Mr. Dene," said Mrs. West, smiling happily. She had not yet recovered from her surprise.

"All the girls are turning and envying mother and me," said Dorothy mischievously.

"Envying you?" John Dene turned upon her a look of interrogation.

"For being with you," she explained.

For some reason John Dene's face fell. Mrs. West hastened to the rescue.

"We've all been so anxious about you," she smiled. "We – we thought – "

"And shall I get twenty thousand pounds if I give you up to a policeman?" asked Dorothy. She felt she wanted to cry from sheer happiness.

"Reward's withdrawn. Haven't you seen the papers?" he said practically; "but they nearly did for Jim," he added inconsequently.

"Jim!" repeated Dorothy. "Who is Jim?"

"My brother," was the reply. "He took my place and I went north."

"Oooooooh!" Gradually light was dawning upon Dorothy. "Then it wasn't you who forgot where the stamps were kept and," she added wickedly, "seemed to disapprove of me so."

"Disapprove of you!" John Dene managed to precipitate such a wealth of meaning into the words that Dorothy felt herself blushing furiously. Even Mrs. West appeared a little embarrassed at his directness.

"Here, it's about time we had some food," he said, turning his wrist to see the time.

"We were just going home to dinner," said Mrs. West. "Won't you come with us?"

"I want you to come right along to my hotel. I've booked a table for you."

"That's not very complimentary to our attractiveness, Mr. Dene," said Dorothy.

Again John Dene turned to her with a puzzled look in his eyes.

"You should have assumed that two such desirable people as mother and me were dining out every night, shouldn't he, mother?"

John Dene turned to Mrs. West, his brows meeting in a frown of uncertainty.

"Dorothy will never be serious," she explained with a little sigh. "She's only joking," whereat John Dene's face cleared, and without further ado he hailed a taxi. As Sir Bridgman North had said, John Dene never waited to be contradicted.

That evening many of the diners at the Imperial turned their heads in the direction of a table at which sat a man in the uniform of a naval commander, a fair-haired girl and a little white-haired lady, the happiness of whose face seemed to arouse responsive smiles in those who gazed at her.

Slowly and haltingly John Dene told of what had happened since that Wednesday night some three months before when his brother had taken his place. Although John Dene never hesitated when telling of what he was going to do, he seemed to experience considerable difficulty in narrating what he had actually done.

"And aren't you happy?" enquired Dorothy, her eyes sparkling with excitement at the story of what the Destroyer, her Destroyer, had done.

"Sure," he replied, looking straight into her eyes, whereat she dropped her gaze to the peach upon her plate.

"I feel very proud that I know you, Mr. Dene," said Mrs. West, her eyes moist with happiness.

"Proud to know me!" he repeated, and then as if Mrs. West's statement held some subtle humour that he alone had seen, he smiled.

"Why do you smile?" asked Dorothy, looking up at him from beneath her lashes.

"Well, it tickled me some."

"What did?" she demanded.

"That anyone should be proud to know me," he said simply.

"Perhaps it's because you've never gingered mother up," said Dorothy pertly.

"Dorothy!" Mrs. West looked anxiously at John Dene, but his eyes were on Dorothy.

"And are you glad to know me?" he demanded

"'Proud' was the word," corrected Dorothy, playing with her fruit knife.

"'Glad' will do," he said, watching her keenly. "Are you glad I'm back."

"'You see I'm your secretary," she said demurely, "and I'm – I'm paid to be glad, aren't I?"

John Dene's face fell.

"When you get to know her better," said Mrs. West, "you will see that she only teases her friends."

"And her poor mother," put in Dorothy. "When do we resume work, Mr. Dene?" she asked, turning to him.

"We'll go back to-morrow a.m.," he said, obviously relieved at the suggestion.

"But our holidays!" cried Dorothy in mock consternation.

"You can have as long a vacation as you like when I'm through," was the answer, and Dorothy drew a sigh of relief. She was longing to get back to work.

That night she and Mrs. West sat up until dawn was fingering the east, talking of the miraculous reappearance of John Dene of Toronto, as they leisurely packed ready for the morrow.

II

For nearly an hour John Dene had sat in his chair listening. From time to time he gave to the unlit half-cigar in his mouth a rapid twirl with his tongue; but beyond that he had manifested no sign of emotion.

Quietly and as succinctly as possible Malcolm Sage had gone over the happenings of the last few months, telling of the discovery of Mr. Montagu Naylor's secret code, how it had enabled Department Z. to enlarge the scope of its operations, how Finlay had hampered Mr. Naylor in his murderous intentions with regard to his prisoner by suggesting the displeasure that would be created in high quarters, if anything happened to John Dene before the plans of the Destroyer had been secured.

"I didn't figure on Jim getting corralled," said John Dene at length.

"That was where your reasoning was at fault," was Malcolm Sage's quiet retort.

"I warned him," began John Dene; then a moment later he added, "I'd hate to have anything happen to Jim. He seems all used up."

"He'll be all right in a month or so," said Colonel Walton reassuringly.

"He's always sort of been around when I've wanted things done, has Jim," continued John Dene with a note of real feeling in his voice. "He's a white man, clean to the bone."

Malcolm Sage had already learned all he wanted to know with regard to James Dene. Quiet, taciturn, seldom uttering more than a word or two at a time, and then only when absolutely necessary, he was entirely devoid of the brilliant qualities of his brother, for whom, however, he possessed an almost dog-like affection. All their lives it had been John who had planned things, and James who had stood admiringly by.

"I was tickled to death about those advertisements," said John Dene presently.

"You probably thought we were barking up the wrong tree," suggested Colonel Walton.

"Sure, until you put me wise."

"We were trying to play into your hands and save your brother," said Malcolm Sage, as he knocked the ashes from his pipe against the heel of his boot, and proceeded to stuff tobacco into the bowl.

"If it hadn't been for those advertisements – " began John Dene, then he paused.

"The first hole dug in Mr. Naylor's back-garden would have been filled-in again," said Sage quietly.

"But how did they manage Jim after he'd got into that taxi?"

"The driver released a multiple curtain that fell over his head. As it dropped chloroform was sprayed over it. Quite a simple automatic contrivance."

There was a look in John Dene's eyes that would have been instructive to Mr. Naylor could he have seen it.

"They took him right out into the country," continued Sage, "then brought him to and doped him. He was taken to 'The Cedars' between one and two the next morning. That was where we picked up the scent again," he added.

As Sage ceased speaking, Colonel Walton offered his cigar-case to John Dene, who, taking a cigar proceeded to light it.

"By the way, Mr. Dene," said Sage casually, "do you remember some one treading on your toe at King's Cross the night you were going north. You were quite annoyed about it."

John Dene nodded and looked across at Sage, as if expecting something further.

"That was one of our men."

"But – "

"I told him to tread on your toe," proceeded Malcolm Sage, "so that you might remember that Department Z. was not quite so – "

"Now it gets me," cried John Dene. "It was you who trod on my foot at the theatre."

"At 'Chu Chin Chow,'" said Malcolm Sage, smiling.

"Seems to be a sort of stunt of yours," said John Dene as he rose.

"Going, Mr. Dene?" enquired Colonel Walton.

"Yep!" he said, as he shook hands with each in turn, then with an air of conviction added: "I take it all back. You'd do well in T'ronto: " and with a nod he went out.

"I wonder if that's a testimonial to us, or a reflection upon Toronto," murmured Malcolm Sage, as he polished his nails with a silk handkerchief.

"What I like about colonials," remarked Colonel Walton drily, "is their uncompromising directness."

Whilst John Dene was removing, from the list of things that required gingering-up, Department Z. and its two chiefs, Mr. Llewellyn John was engaged in reading Commander Ryles's report upon the operations of the Destroyer. It proved to be one of the most remarkable documents of the war. First it described how the Destroyer had hung about the Danish coast, but had been greatly embarrassed by the density of the water, owing to the shallowness of the North Sea. She had carefully to seek out the clear passages where the depth was sufficiently great to prevent the discolouration of water by sand.

After the first few weeks the Destroyer had been brought south, there to catch U-boats soon after they submerged. That was where the Germans suffered their greatest losses. Once the Destroyer had penetrated right into the Heligoland Bight, her "eyes" enabling her to avoid submerged mines and entanglements.

Commander Ryles had himself witnessed the destruction of thirty-four U-boats. Three times the Destroyer had returned to her base to re-victual and recharge her batteries, also to rest her crew. At the termination of the third trip, it had been decided that the boat was badly in need of a thorough overhaul, and in accordance with the instructions received, he had prepared his report and brought it south in order that he might deliver it in person to the First Lord.

When he had finished the lengthy document, Mr. Llewellyn John laid it on the table beside him. For some minutes he sat thinking. Presently he pressed the knob of the bell. As a secretary appeared he said, "Ring through to Sir Roger Flynn, and tell him I shall be delighted if he can breakfast with me to-morrow."

And Mr. Llewellyn John smiled.

CHAPTER XX
JOHN DENE'S PROPOSAL

Marjorie Rogers had entered the outer office at Waterloo Place expecting to find Dorothy. Instead, John Dene sat half-turned in her direction, with one arm over the back of the chair.

"She's gone home," he said, divining the cause of Marjorie's call.

The girl slipped into the room, softly closing the door behind her, and walked a hesitating step or two in John Dene's direction, a picture of shy maidenhood. Marjorie Rogers was an instinctive actress.

"Gone home!" she repeated as a conversational opening. "Is she ill?" She gave him a look from beneath her lashes, a look she had found equally deadly with subs and captains.

John Dene shook his head, but continued to gaze at her.

He was a very difficult man to talk to, Marjorie decided. She had already come to the conclusion that she had been wrong in her suspicion that he made love to Dorothy.

"You don't like us, do you, Mr. Dene?" She made a half-step in his direction, dropping her eyes and drawing in her under lip in a way that had once nearly caused a rear-admiral to strike his colours.

"Like who?" demanded John Dene, wondering why the girl stayed now that he had told her Dorothy had gone home.

"Us girls." Marjorie flashed at him the sub-captain look. "May I sit down?" she asked softly.

"Sure." John Dene was regarding her much as he might a blue zebra that had strayed into his office.

"Thank you, Mr. Dene." Marjorie sat down, crossing her legs in a way that gave him the full benefit of a dainty foot and ankle. She had on her very best silk stockings, silk all the way up, so that there need be no anxiety as to the exact whereabouts of her skirt.

"I have been wondering about Wessie – "

"Wessie, who's she, a cat?"

Marjorie dimpled, then she laughed outright.

"You are funny, Mr. Dene," and again she drew in her lower lip and raked him with her eyes.

"Who's Wessie, anyhow?" he demanded.

"Wessie's Dorothy," she explained. "You see," she went on, "her name's West and – "

"I get you." John Dene continued to regard her with a look that suggested he was still at a loss to account for her presence.

"As I said," she continued, "I've been wondering about Dorothy."

"Wondering what?"

John Dene was certainly a most difficult man to talk to, she decided.

"She's thinner," announced Marjorie after a slight pause.

"Thinner?"

"Yes, not so fat." How absurd he was with his —

"She never was fat." There was decision in John Dene's tone.

"You know, Mr. Dene, you're very difficult for a girl to talk to," said Marjorie.

"I never had time to learn," he said simply.

"I think it's through you, Mr. Dene." She gave him a little fugitive smile she had learned from an American film, and had practised assiduously at home.

"What's through me?" he demanded, hopelessly at sea as to her drift.

"At first I thought you were working her too hard, Mr. Dene, but," she added hastily, as if in anticipation of protest, "but – but – "

"But what?" John Dene rapped out the words with a peremptoriness that startled Marjorie.

"But when you got lost – " She hesitated.

"Got what?"

"I mean when you disappeared," she added hastily, "then I knew."

"Knew what?"

Marjorie no longer had any doubts about John Dene's interest in Dorothy. He had swung round his chair, and was now seated directly facing her.

"You know she worried," continued Marjorie, "and she got pale and – " Again she paused.

John Dene continued to stare in a way that made her frightened to look up, although she watched him furtively through her lowered lashes.

"Is that what you came here to say?" demanded John Dene.

"I – I came to see Dorothy, and now I must run away," she cried, jumping up. "I've got an appointment. Good-bye, Mr. Dene. Thank you for asking me in;" and she held out her hand, which John Dene took as a man takes a circular thrust upon him.



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