Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall

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Unconscious that he was forming the subject of discussion with the heads of the Admiralty, John Dene, on leaving the First Lord's room, turned to the right and walked quickly in the direction of the main staircase. As he reached a point where the corridor was intersected by another running at right angles, the sudden opening of a door on his left caused him to turn his head quickly. A moment later there was a feminine cry and a sound of broken crockery, and John Dene found himself gazing down at a broken teapot.


He looked up from the steaming ruin of newly brewed tea into the violet eyes of the girl who had directed him to the Admiralty. He noticed the purity of her skin, the redness of her lips and the rebelliousness of her corn-coloured hair, which seeming to refuse all constraint clung about her head in little wanton tendrils.

"That's my fault," said John Dene, removing his hat. "I'm sorry."

"Yes; but our tea," said the girl in genuine consternation; "we're rationed, you know."

"Rationed?" said John Dene.

"Yes; we only get two ounces a week each," she said with a comical look of despair.

"Gee!" cried John Dene, then he asked suddenly: "What are you?"

The girl looked at him in surprise, a little stiffly.

"Can you type? Never mind about the tea."

"But I do mind about the tea." She found John Dene's manner disarming.

"I take it you're a stenographer. Now tell me your name. I'll see about the tea." He had whipped out a note-book and pencil. "Hurry, I've got a cable to send."

Seeing that she was reluctant to give her name, he continued: "Never mind about your name. Be in the First Lord's room to-morrow at eleven o'clock; I'll see you there;" and with that he turned quickly, resumed his hat and retraced his steps.

Without knocking, he pushed open the door of Mr. Blair's room, walked swiftly across and opened the door leading to that of the First Lord.

"Here!" he cried, "where can I buy a pound of tea?"

If John Dene had asked where he could borrow an ichthyosaurus, Sir Lyster and Sir Bridgman could not have gazed at him with more astonishment.

"You can't," said Sir Bridgman, at length, his eyes twinkling as he watched the expression on Sir Lyster's face.

"Can't!" cried John Dene.

"Tea's rationed – two ounces a week," explained Sir Bridgman.

"Anyhow I've got to buy a pound of tea. I've just smashed up the teapot of a girl in the corridor."

"I'm afraid it's impossible," said Sir Lyster with quiet dignity.

"Impossible!" said John Dene irritably. "Here am I giving more'n a million dollars to the country and I can't get a pound of tea. I'll see about that. She'll be here in this room to-morrow at eleven o'clock," and with that the door closed and John Dene disappeared.

"I've told a girl to be here at eleven o'clock to-morrow. She's going to be my secretary," he explained to Mr. Blair as he passed through his office.


Blair blinked his eyes vigorously. He had seen Sir Lyster and Admiral Heyworth leave the Admiralty with John Dene, he gathered that they had had a long interview with the Prime Minister, then they had returned again and, for two hours, had sat in consultation with the First Sea Lord. Now the amazing John Dene had made an appointment to meet some girl in the First Lord's room at eleven o'clock the next morning.

As John Dene left the Admiralty puffing clouds of blue content from his cigar, the shifty-eyed man, in a grey suit, who had been examining the Royal Marines statue, drew a white handkerchief with a flourish from his pocket and proceeded to blow his nose vigorously. The act seemed to pass unnoticed save by a young girl sitting on a neighbouring seat. She immediately appeared to become greatly interested in the movements of John Dene, whilst the man in the grey suit walked away in the direction of Birdcage Walk.

"Where's the tea?" was the cry with which Dorothy West was greeted as she entered the room she occupied with a number of other girls after her encounter with John Dene.

"It's in the corridor," she replied.

"Oh! go and get it, there's a dear; I'm simply parched," cried Marjorie Rogers, a pretty little brunette at the further corner.

"It's all gone," said Dorothy West; "a Hun just knocked it out of my hand. He smashed the teapot."

"Smashed the teapot!" cried several girls in chorus.

"Oh! Wessie," wailed the little brunette, "I shall die."

"Why did you let him do it?" asked a fair girl with white eyelashes and glasses.

"I didn't," said Dorothy; "he just barged into me and knocked the teapot out of my hand, and then made an assignation for eleven o'clock to-morrow in the First Lord's room."

"An assignation! The First Lord's room!" cried Miss Cunliffe, who by virtue of a flat chest, a pair of round glasses, and an uncompromising manner made an ideal supervisor. She was known as "Old Goggles." "What do you mean, Miss West?"

"Exactly what I say, Miss Cunliffe. He asked me if I was a stenographer, and then said that I was to see him at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning in the First Lord's room. What do you think I had better do?"

"Who is he? What is he? Do tell us, Wessie, dear," cried Marjorie Rogers excitedly.

"Well, I should think he's either a madman or else he's bought the Admiralty," said Dorothy West, her head on one side as if weighing her words before uttering them. "He's the man I saw this morning with Sir Lyster Grayne and Admiral Heyworth, going to call on the Prime Minister – at least, I suppose they were; they went up the steps into Downing Street. But ought I to go at eleven o'clock, Miss Cunliffe?" she queried.

"I'll make enquiries," said Miss Cunliffe. "I'll see Mr. Blair. Perhaps he's mad."

"But what are we going to do about our tea?" wailed Marjorie. "I'd sooner lose my character than my tea."

"Miss Rogers!" said Miss Cunliffe, whose conception of supervisorship was that she should oversee the decorum as well as the work of the other occupants of the room.

"I believe she did it on purpose," said she of the white eyelashes spitefully to a girl in a velvet blouse.

"You had better brew to-morrow's tea to-day, Miss West," said Miss Cunliffe.

"Yes, do, there's a darling," cried Marjorie. "I simply can't wait another five minutes. Why, I couldn't lick a stamp to save my life. Borrow No. 13's pot when they've finished with it, and pinch some of their tea, if you can," she added.

And Dorothy West went out to interview the guardian of No. 13's teapot.



"Mr. Sage there? Very well, ask him to step in and see me as soon as he returns."

Colonel Walton replaced the telephone-receiver and continued to draw diagrams upon the blotting-pad before him, an occupation in which he had been engaged for the last quarter of an hour.

Since its creation two years before, he had been Chief of Department Z., the most secret section of the British Secret Service, with Malcolm Sage as his lieutenant.

Department Z. owed its inception to an inspiration on the part of Mr. Llewellyn John. He had conceived the idea of creating a secret service department, the working of which should be secret even from the Secret Service itself. Its primary object was that the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet might have a private means of obtaining such special information as it required. Department Z. was unhampered by rules and regulations, as devoid of conventions as an enterprising flapper.

In explaining his scheme to Mr. Thaw, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Llewellyn John had said, "Suppose I want to know what Chappeldale had for lunch yesterday, and don't like to ask him, how am I to find out? I want a Department that can tell me anything I want to know, and will be surprised at nothing."

With Mr. Llewellyn John to conceive a thing was to put it into practice. He did not make the mistake of placing Department Z. under the control of a regular secret service man.

"I'm tired of red-tape and traditions," he had remarked to Mr. Thaw. "If I go to the front, they won't let me speak to a man lower than a brigadier, whereas I want the point-of-view of the drummer-boy."

Mr. Llewellyn John had heard of Colonel Walton's exploits in India as head of the Burmah Police, had seen him, and in five minutes the first Chief of Department Z. was appointed. From the Ministry of Supply, Mr. Llewellyn John had plucked Malcolm Sage, whom he later described as "either a ferret turned dreamer, or a dreamer turned ferret," he was not quite sure which.

In discovering Malcolm Sage, Mr. Llewellyn John had achieved one of his greatest strokes of good fortune. When Minister of Supply his notice had been attracted to Sage, as the man who had been instrumental in bringing to light – that is official light, for the affair was never made public – the greatest contracts-scandal of the war. It was due entirely to his initiative and unobtrusive enquiries that a gigantic fraud, diabolical in its cleverness, had been discovered – a fraud that might have involved the country in the loss of millions.

Mr. Llewellyn John had recognised that this young accountant had done him a great service, perhaps saved him from a serious political set-back. Incidentally he discovered that Sage was a very uneasy person to have in a Government-department. Sage cared nothing for tradition, discipline, or bureaucracy. If they interfered with the proper performance of his duties, overboard they went. He was the most transferred man in Whitehall. No one seemed to want to keep him for longer than the period necessary for the formalities of his transfer.

"Uneasy lies the Head that has a Sage," was a phrase some wag had coined. If a man wanted to condemn another as too zealous, unnecessarily hard-working, or as a breaker of idols, he likened him to Sage.

The chief of the department from which Mr. Llewellyn John took Malcolm Sage when Department Z. was formed is said to have wept tears of joy at the news. For months he had striven to transfer his unconventional subordinate; but there was none who would have him. This unfortunate chief of department had gone through life like a man wanting to sell a dog of dubious pedigree. In the Ministry he was known as Henry II, and Sage came to be referred to as Beckett.

In Department Z. Sage found his proper niche. Under Colonel Walton, a man of few words and great tact, he had found an ideal chief, one who understood how to handle men.

As John Dene had left 110, Downing Street, with Sir Lyster and Admiral Heyworth, Mr. Llewellyn John had rung up Colonel Walton and requested that full enquiries be made at once as to John Dene of Toronto, and a report submitted to him in the morning. That was all. He had given no indication of why he wanted to know, or what was John Dene's business in London.

Hardly a day of his life passed without Mr. Llewellyn John having cause to be thankful for the inspiration that had resulted in the founding of Department Z. Nothing seemed to come amiss, either to the Department or its officials. They never required an elaborate filling-up of forms, they never asked for further particulars as did other departments. They just got to work.

Mr. Llewellyn John had, once and for all, defined Department Z. when he said to Mr. Thaw, "If I were to ask Scotland Yard if Chappeldale had gone over to the Bolshevists, or if Waytensee had become an Orangeman, they would send a man here, his pockets bulging with note-books. Department Z. would tell me all I wanted to know in a few hours."

In his first interview with Mr. Llewellyn John, previous to being appointed to Department Z., Malcolm Sage had bluntly criticised the Government's methods of dealing with the spy peril.

"You're all wrong, sir," he had said. "If you spot a spy, you arrest, imprison or deport him, according to the degree of his guilt. Any fool could do that," he had added quietly.

"And what would you do, Sage?" inquired Mr. Llewellyn John, who never took offence at the expression of any man's honest opinion, no matter how emphatically worded.

"I should watch him," was the laconic reply. "Just as was done before the war. You didn't arrest spies then, you just let them think they were safe."

For a few moments Mr. Llewellyn John had pondered the remark, and then asked for an explanation.

"If you arrest, shoot or intern a spy, another generally springs up in his place, and you have to start afresh to find him; he may do a lot of mischief before that comes about." Sage gazed meditatively at his finger-nails, a habit of his. "On the other hand," he continued, "if you know your man, you can watch him and generally find out what he's after. Better a known than an unknown danger," he had added oracularly.

"I'm afraid they wouldn't endorse that doctrine at Scotland Yard," smiled Mr. Llewellyn John.

"Scotland Yard is a place of promoted policemen," replied Sage, "regulation intellects in regulation boots."

Mr. Llewellyn John smiled. He always appreciated a phrase. "Then you would not arrest a burglar, but watch him," he said, glancing keenly at Sage.

"The cases are entirely different, sir," was the reply; "a burglar invariably works on his own, a spy is more frequently than not a cog of a machine and must be replaced. He seldom works entirely alone."

"Go on," Mr. Llewellyn John had said, seeing that Sage paused and was intently regarding his finger-nails of his right hand.

"Even when burglars work in gangs, there is no superior organisation to replace destroyed units," continued Sage. "With international secret service it is different; its casualties are made good as promptly as with a field army."

"I believe you're right," said Mr. Llewellyn John. "If you can convince Colonel Walton, then Department Z. can be run on those lines."

Malcolm Sage had found no difficulty in convincing his chief, a man of quiet demeanour, but unprejudiced mind. The result had been that Department Z. had not so far caused a single arrest, although it had countered many clever schemes. Its motto was "The Day" when it could make a really historical haul.

The progress of Malcolm Sage had been remarkable. Colonel Walton had quickly seen that his subordinate could work only along his own lines, and in consequence he had given him his head. Sage, on his part, had discovered in his chief a man with a sound knowledge of human nature, generously spiced with the devil.

As Sage entered, Colonel Walton ceased his diagrams and looked up. Sage was as unlike the "sleuth hound" of fiction as it is possible for a man to be. At first glance he looked like the superintendent of a provincial Sunday-school. He was about thirty-five years of age, sandy, wore gold-rimmed glasses and possessed a conical head, prematurely bald. He had a sharp nose, steel-coloured eyes and large ears; but there was the set of his jaw which told of determination.

Seating himself in his customary place, Sage proceeded to pull at the inevitable briar, without which he was seldom seen. For a full minute there was silence. Colonel Walton deliberately lighted a cigar and leaned back to listen. He knew his man and refrained from asking questions.

"They're puzzled, chief" – Sage knocked the ashes from his pipe into the ash-tray on the table – "and they're getting jumpy," he added.

Colonel Walton nodded.

"Twice they've ransacked John Dene's room at the Ritzton and found nothing."

"Does he know?" enquired Colonel Walton.

Sage nodded.

"John Dene's a dark horse," he remarked with respect in his voice, "and the Huns can't make up their minds."

"To what?" enquired the chief.

"To give up the shadow for the substance," he remarked, as he pressed down the tobacco in his pipe. "They want the plans, and they want to prevent the boat from putting to sea."

Colonel Walton nodded comprehendingly.

"They'll probably try to scotch her on the way over; but they won't know her route. They'll be lying in wait, however, in full strength in home waters. He's a bad psychologist," added Sage, as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"Who?" enquired Colonel Walton.

"The Hun," replied Sage, as he sucked away contentedly at his pipe. "He's never content to go for a single issue, or he'd probably have got the Channel ports. He's not content with concentrating on John Dene and his boat, he's after the plans. That's where he'll fail. Smart chap, John Dene."

For some moments the two men smoked in silence, which was finally broken by Sage.

"They'll try to get hold of John Dene, unless he's very careful, and hold him to ransom, the price being the plans."

"Incidentally, Sage, where did you get all this from?" enquired Walton.

Sage gazed at his chief through his gold-rimmed spectacles. "About three hundred yards west of the Temple Station on the Underground."

Colonel Walton glanced across at his subordinate; but refrained from asking further questions. "Have you warned Dene?" he enquired instead.

"No use," replied Sage with conviction. "Might as well warn a fly."

Colonel Walton nodded understandingly. "Still," he remarked, "I think he ought to be told."

"Why not have a try yourself?" Sage looked up swiftly from the inevitable contemplation of his finger-nails.

For fully a minute Colonel Walton sat revolving the proposal in his mind. "I think I will," he said later.

"He'll treat you like a superannuated policeman," was the grim retort.

"The Skipper wants to see us at eleven," said Colonel Walton, looking at his watch and rising. The "Skipper" was the name by which Mr. Llewellyn John was known at Department Z. Names were rarely referred to, and very few documents were ever exchanged. Colonel Walton picked up his hat from a bookcase and, followed by Sage, who extracted a cap from his pocket, left the room and Department Z. and walked across to Downing Street.

As Colonel Walton and Malcolm Sage were shown into Mr. Llewellyn John's room, the Prime Minister gave instructions that he was not to be disturbed for a quarter of an hour.

"Was the John Dene Report what you wanted, sir?" enquired Colonel Walton, as he took the seat Mr. Llewellyn John indicated.

"Excellent," cried Mr. Llewellyn John; then with a smile he added, "I was able to tell Sir Lyster quite a lot of things this morning. The Admiralty report was not ready until late last night. It was not nearly so instructive."

The main facts of John Dene's career had not been difficult to obtain. His father had emigrated to Canada in the early eighties; but, possessing only the qualifications of a clerk, he had achieved neither fame nor fortune. He had died when John Dene was eight years old, and his wife had followed him within eighteen months. After a varied career John Dene had drifted to the States, where as a youth he had entered a large engineering firm, and was instantly singled out as an inventor in embryo.

Several fortunate speculations had formed the foundation of a small fortune of twenty thousand dollars, with which he returned to Toronto. From that point his career had been one continual progression of successes. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, until "John's luck" became a well-known phrase in financial circles.

Unlike most successful business-men, he devoted a large portion of his time to his hobby, electrical engineering, and when the war broke out he sought to turn this to practical and patriotic uses.

"And when may we expect Mr. Dene's new submarine over?" enquired Malcolm Sage casually.

"Mr. Dene's new submarine!" Mr. Llewellyn John's hands dropped to his sides as he gazed at Sage in blank amazement. "His new submarine," he repeated.

"Yes, sir."

"What on earth do you know about it?" demanded Mr. Llewellyn John, looking at Sage with a startled expression.

"John Dene has invented a submarine," proceeded the literal Sage, "with some novel features, including a searchlight that has overcome the opacity of water. The thing is lying on the St. Lawrence River just below Quebec. Yesterday he called to see Sir Lyster Grayne, who brought him here with Admiral Heyworth."

Mr. Llewellyn John gazed in bewilderment at Malcolm Sage, his eyes shifted to Colonel Walton and then back again to Sage.

"But," he began, "you're watching us, not the enemy. Did you know of this?" he turned to the chief of Department Z.

Colonel Walton shook his head. "I haven't seen Sage since you telephoned yesterday until a few minutes ago," he said.

"Where – how – ?" Mr. Llewellyn John paused.

"It's our business to know things, sir," was Sage's quiet reply.

"And yet you didn't report this to – " began Mr. Llewellyn John.

"It saves time telling you both at once," responded Sage, looking at his chief with a smile.

"Suppose you tell us how you found out," suggested Mr. Llewellyn John a little irritably.

"Does that matter, sir?" Sage looked up calmly from an earnest examination of the nail of his left forefinger.

For some moments Mr. Llewellyn John gazed across at Malcolm Sage, frowning heavily.

"Sage has his own methods," remarked Colonel Walton tactfully.

"Methods," cried Mr. Llewellyn John, his brow clearing, "it's a good job he didn't live in the Middle Ages, or else he'd have been burned. I'm not so sure that he ought not to be burned now." He turned on Sage that smile that never failed in its magical effect.

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