Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall



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The outbreak of war in August, 1914, was responsible for two changes in the Naylor m?nage. First the at-home days were discontinued, secondly James was more than ever in evidence. Nobody, however, noticed the changes, because in Streatham such things are not considered worthy of notice.

Mr. Naylor received few letters, for which the postman was grateful to providence. Had Streatham been a little more curious, it would have noticed that Mr. Naylor's comings and goings were fraught with some curious and interesting characteristics. For one thing he appeared constitutionally unable to proceed direct to a given point. For instance, if Hampstead were his object, he would in all probability go to Charing Cross, take a 'bus along Strand, the tube to Piccadilly Circus, a taxi to Leicester Square, tube to Golders Green and 'bus to Hampstead.

Another curious circumstance connected with Mr. Naylor was the number of people who seemed to stop him to enquire their way, obviously people who found it difficult to pronounce the names and addresses of those they sought, for they invariably held in their hands pieces of paper, which Mr. Naylor would read and then proceed to direct them. This would occur in all parts of London.

To the casual observer interested in the details of Mr. Naylor's life, it would have appeared that London waited for his approach, and then incontinently made a bee-line for him to enquire its way. With smiling geniality Mr. Naylor would read the paper offered to him, make one or two remarks, then with a wave of his hand and a further genial smile proceed on his way.

His courtesy was almost continental. He would take great pains to direct the enquirer, sometimes even proceeding part of the way with him to ensure that he should not go astray.

Since the war Mr. Naylor had patriotically given up his car, handing it over to the Red Cross, and receiving from the local secretary a letter of very genuine thanks and appreciation. There had also been a paragraph in The Streatham Herald notifying this splendid act of citizenship.

In nothing was Mr. Naylor's sense of Christian charity so manifest as in the patience with which he answered the number of false rings he received on the telephone. It was extraordinary the way in which wrong numbers seemed to be put through to him; yet his courtesy never forsook him. His reply was always the same. "No; I am Mr. Montague Naylor of Streatham." It frequently happened that shortly after such a call Mr. Naylor would go out, when James would be left in the front garden.

Mrs. Naylor had particular instructions always to make a note of any rings that came on the telephone during Mr. Naylor's absence, no matter whether they were for him or for anyone else. She was to take down every word that was said, and always say in response that the subscriber was on to Mr. Naylor of Streatham.

One morning whilst John Dene was giving down letters to Dorothy in his customary jerky manner, Mr.

Naylor sat at breakfast, his attention equally divided between the meal and the morning paper. Opposite sat Mrs. Naylor, watching him as a dog watches a master of uncertain temper. She was a little woman with a colourless face, from which sparse grey hair was drawn with puritan severity. In her weak blue eyes was fear – fear of her lord and master, and in her manner deprecation and apology.

The only sound to be heard were the champing of Mr. Naylor's jaws, and the occasional rustle of the newspaper. Mr. Naylor was a hearty eater and an omnivorous reader of newspapers. In the front garden James gave occasional tongue, protesting against the existence of some passer-by.

After a particularly vigorous bout of barking on James's part, Mr. Naylor looked up suddenly and, fixing Mrs. Naylor with astern eye, demanded, "Any post?"

"I haven't heard the post-woman yet," faltered Mrs. Naylor apologetically. She was at heart a pacifist in the domestic sense.

"Go and see," was the gruff retort, as Mr. Naylor thrust into his mouth a large piece of bread, which he had previously wiped round his plate to absorb the elemental juices of the morning bacon.

Mrs. Naylor rose meekly and left the room. A few moments later she returned, carrying in her hand two envelopes. Mr. Naylor looked up over his spectacles.

"They were on the path," she explained timidly. "James is in the garden."

The post-woman had tacitly carried on the tradition of her predecessor, the postman. If James were about, the letters went over the garden gate; if James were not about, they went into the letter-box.

With a grunt Mr. Naylor snatched the letters from Mrs. Naylor's hand and looked at them keenly. One bore a halfpenny stamp, and was consequently of no particular importance. This he laid beside his plate. The other, however, he subjected to a rigorous and elaborate examination. He scrutinised the handwriting, examined carefully the postmark, turned it over and gazed at the fastening. Then taking a letter-opener from his pocket, he slowly slit the top of the envelope, and taking out a sheet of notepaper unfolded it.

"Gott – " He bit off the phrase savagely, and looked up fiercely at Mrs. Naylor, as if she was responsible for his lapse. Instinctively she shrank back. From the garden James's vigorous barking swelled out into a fortissimo of protest.

"Stop that dog," he shouted, whereat Mrs. Naylor rose and left the room.

With scowling eyebrows Mr. Naylor read his letter, and ground his teeth with suppressed fury.

"Der mann muss verr?ckt 'sein."

He re-read the letter, then placing it in his pocket looked across the table, seeming for the first time to notice that Mrs. Naylor had left the room. Going to the door he opened it and shouted a peremptory "Here!"

As Mrs. Naylor entered with obvious trepidation, he fixed her with a stern disapproving eye.

"There's somebody coming this afternoon at four," he said. "I'll see him in the study," and with that he once more drew the letter from his pocket and read it for the third time, whilst Mrs. Naylor withdrew.

The letter which was typewritten, even to the signature, ran:

'DEAR MR. NAYLOR, —

"I hope to call upon you on Thursday afternoon at four o'clock. I regret that unforseen circumstances have prevented me from giving myself this pleasure before.

"Yours very truly,

"J. VAN HELDER."

With a grumble in his throat Mr. Naylor walked out of the dining-room, across the hall and into his study. Closing and locking the door he went over to his writing-table, and seemed to collapse into rather than sit on the chair. He was oblivious to everything except the scrap of paper before him. The cloud upon his brow seemed to intensify, his face became more cruel. The Mr. Naylor of Streatham, patriot, philanthropist and good citizen, had vanished, giving place to a man in whose heart was anger and fear.

At the end of five minutes he drew towards him a small metal tray. Taking a match from a stand, he struck it and deliberately setting light to the paper, held it while it burned. When the flame seared his fingers, he placed the whole upon the metal dish, scowling at the paper as it writhed and crackled in its death agony. He then proceeded to burn the envelope. When both were reduced to twisted shapes of carbon, he opened a drawer, took from it a duster and pressed it down upon the metal plate, reducing the contents to black powder.

Picking up the tray he carried it over to the grate, emptied the powder into the fireplace, wiped the tray and replaced it upon the table, thrusting the duster back into the drawer. He then sank once more into his chair, conscious that the morning had begun ill.

Ten minutes later he rose, unlocked the door and went out into the hall. He took his hat from the stand and brushed it carefully. Picking up his gloves and umbrella, he gave a final look round, then composing his features for the outside world, he opened the door and passed out into Apthorpe Road.

For such of his neighbours as he encountered he had a cheery word, a lifting of his hat, or a wave of the hand. Housewives would sigh enviously as they saw Mr. Naylor pass genially on his way. He was always the same, they told themselves, remembering with a little pang the vagaries of their own husbands.

Before his return to "The Cedars" for lunch, Mr. Naylor with unaccustomed emphasis foretold the doom of the Government unless it immediately rushed a measure through Parliament for the internment of all aliens. He was nothing if not thorough.

CHAPTER VII
MR. NAYLOR RECEIVES A VISITOR

I

"Height five feet six and a half inches."

"Five feet eight, sir."

"Chest thirty-eight."

"Thirty-eight and a half, sir."

"Weight eleven stone nine."

"Twelve stone, sir."

"Near enough."

"Yes, sir," replied Thompson.

"You've got everything?"

"Down to his under-wear, sir," was the response.

"The ring?"

"Yes, sir."

Malcolm Sage looked up from the buff-coloured paper before him, then picking up a photograph from the table, proceeded to study it with great intentness.

"Yes," he said, "Finlay can do it."

At that moment Colonel Walton strode into the room, smoking the inevitable cigar. Thompson straightened himself to attention, Malcolm Sage nodded, then once more became absorbed in the photograph.

"I hear Finlay's here," said Colonel Walton.

Sage looked up and nodded. "We've just been checking his measurements," he said.

"With that Bergen fellow's?"

Sage nodded.

"It's a considerable risk," said Colonel Walton.

"Finlay likes 'em," retorted Sage without looking up. "I'd give a good deal to solve that little mystery."

The mystery to which Malcolm Sage referred was the arrest of a man on a Bergen-Hull boat some ten days previously. Although his passport and papers were in order, his story when he had been interrogated was not altogether satisfactory. It had been decided to deport him; but Malcolm Sage, who had subjected him to a lengthy cross-examination, had decided that it would be better to detain him for the time being, and the suspect was consequently lodged in the Tower. Both Malcolm Sage and Colonel Walton were convinced that he had been sent over on a special mission.

"Where's Finlay?" asked Colonel Walton.

"He's painting the lily," said Sage with a glint in his eye.

"In other words?" enquired Colonel Walton.

"Seeing how near he can get to this Bergen fellow. I took him down to the Tower to see the men together."

Colonel Walton nodded.

Malcolm Sage regarded disguise as exclusively the asset of the detective of fiction. A disguise, he maintained, could always be identified, although not necessarily penetrated. Few men could disguise their walk or bearing, no matter how clever they might be with the aid of false beards and wigs.

"You remember the lost code-book?" Sage queried.

"I do," said Colonel Walton.

"A remarkable piece of work of Finlay's," continued Sage. "It wasn't a disguise, it was an alteration; trim of moustache, cut and colour of hair, darkened skin and such trifles."

"And the black eye, sir," interpolated Thompson.

"That was certainly a happy stroke," cried Colonel Walton.

"It takes a good deal of moral courage to black your own eye," said Sage quietly. "I tried it once myself."

"How do you plan to proceed?" It was Colonel Walton who spoke.

"If Naylor is really the man we're after and this Bergen fellow is on a secret mission, then it's pretty sure they were intended to get into touch." Sage paused for a moment, then added: "Anyhow, it's worth trying. It's a risk, of course. Naylor may have met him before."

"The risk will be mainly Finlay's," said Colonel Walton drily, as he smoked meditatively.

"It would be yours or mine, chief, only nature cast us in a different mould."

For some moments Colonel Walton did not reply.

"I don't like sending a man on a – " He paused.

"There's no question of sending Finlay; it's more a matter of holding him back. By the way," he continued casually, "Thompson burgled John Dene's place last night, got a set of plans, the chit signed by Sir Lyster and the Skipper, and one or two other papers that should be useful."

"I don't quite like it, Sage." Colonel Walton knitted his brows.

"It's giving the Yard something to do," was Sage's indifferent retort. "They're buzzing about John Dene like flies to-day. He's expressing himself to them in choice Canadian too, so Thompson tells me."

Thompson gave an appreciative grin.

"I dropped in there this morning, sir, and – " He did not conclude his sentence; but his look was one of keen appreciation. "He's got some words, has Inspector Bluggers," he added, "but Mr. Dene left him standing."

"We've just been going over the points of Finlay and the Bergen man," explained Sage. "They're pretty well in agreement. Personally I believe there's a lot in that ring. We stripped the other fellow of his clothes, Finlay insisted on having them baked. Fussy sort of chap in things like that," he added, "but that ring. Men don't generally wear turquoises set in an eccentric pattern. Ha!" He looked up suddenly.

Colonel Walton looked across at him interrogatingly.

"You remember the initials inside, chief?"

Colonel Walton nodded.

"D.U.A. weren't they?"

"What about Deutsches ?ber alles?"

"A bit obvious," suggested Colonel Walton.

"The Hun always is."

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in," called Colonel Walton.

A moment later there entered a man of foreign appearance, with dark well-brushed hair, sallow skin and the deprecating manner of one who is in a country where he is not quite sure either of the customs or of the language. For a moment he stood smiling.

Malcolm Sage caught Colonel Walton's eye. Upon Thompson's face there spread a grin of admiration.

"Wonderful, Finlay," said Colonel Walton. "Wonderful."

"You think it is like?" enquired he who had been addressed as Finlay.

"Wonderful," repeated Colonel Walton, "but," he added a moment after, "it's a dangerous game."

Finlay shrugged his shoulders in a manner that was almost aggressively un-English. He possessed one remarkable characteristic, once he had assumed a personality, he continued to be that man until he finally relinquished the part.

"He'll put you to sleep if you make a mistake," said Sage with uncompromising candour.

Again the shrug of the shoulders.

"That ring," said Sage, pointing to a flat gold band on the third finger of the left hand in which were set three turquoises in the form of a triangle. "What do you make of the inscription?"

"I do not know," said Finlay with the finnicking inflection of one talking in a strange tongue.

"What about Deutsches ?ber alles?" suggested Walton.

"Ah! you have discovered."

"Perfect," said Sage, "absolutely perfect. You're a genius, Finlay."

With a smile and a half-shrug of his shoulders, Finlay deprecated the compliment.

"Where are you going to stay?" enquired Colonel Walton.

"At the Ritzton with John Dene, same floor if possible," said Sage. "He starts from the Tower to-morrow. Released, you know."

Colonel Walton nodded. "By the way, Thompson, you didn't happen to drop any finger prints about in Waterloo Place?"

"Rubber gloves, sir," said Thompson with a smile.

Malcolm Sage nodded.

"It would embarrass us a bit if you got lodged in Brixton prison," said Colonel Walton.

"No chance of that, sir," was the confident retort.

"The account will be in the papers this afternoon, I understand."

Malcolm Sage nodded.

"Well, Finlay," said Walton, "off you go and the best of luck. If you bring this off you ought to get a C.B.E."

"Gott in himmel!" cried Finlay in such tragic consternation, that both Colonel Walton and Sage were forced to smile.

"No, sir," said Sage drily, "we must guard Department Z. against the Order of the British Empire; it deserves well of the country.

"When does he go to Streatham?" enquired Colonel Walton.

"I go now," responded Finlay, "if I find the place. These suburbs!" He rolled his eyes expressively.

Malcolm Sage smiled grimly.

II

For some time Mr. Naylor had sat staring in front of him, immobile but for the movement of his eyes and the compression of his pouch-like lips as he swallowed. Irritation or anxiety always caused him to swallow with a noisy gulp-like sound.

Since lunch he had scowled impartially upon everything. Mrs. Naylor, Susan, James, the paper, his food, all seemed to come under the ban of his displeasure. From time to time he muttered under his breath. He made several efforts to concentrate upon the newspaper before him, but without success. His eyes would wander from the page and scowl into vacancy. The heavy jowls seemed to mould his face into a brutal square, which with his persistent swallowing gave him the appearance of a toad.

His original anger at the threatened advent of a visitor seemed to have changed into irritation at his non-arrival. From time to time he looked at his watch. A step echoing in the street brought him to a listening attitude. When at last a ring sounded at the bell, followed by a peremptory "rat-tat," he started violently. He listened intently to the pad of Mrs. Naylor's footsteps along the passage, to the murmur of voices that followed, and the sound of steps approaching.

When the door opened, the scowl had fled from Mr. Naylor's features, the jowls had lifted, the set frown had passed from his brows. His mouth was pursed up into a smile only one degree less repellent than the look that it had replaced. Mr. Naylor had assumed his best public-meeting manner.

"Mr. Van Helder?" he queried, as he shook hands and motioned his visitor to a seat.

"We shall not be overheard, no?" interrogated Van Helder.

Mr. Naylor shook his head, transferring his eyes from a paper-weight before him to his visitor's face and back again to the paper-weight.

"These London suburbs!" exclaimed Van Helder, as he drew a silk handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to wipe his face. "I seem to have pursued you to everywhere. I crossed from Bergen on the 21st," he added with a smile.

"The 21st," repeated Mr. Naylor.

"Just ten days ago," continued Van Helder. "I came not before because – " He raised his eyes suddenly and looked straight at Mr. Naylor, who smiled; but there was guile behind the momentary exposure of his yellow teeth.

"The crossing," continued Van Helder, "three times the alarm of U-boats." He smiled a crafty little smile. "The Germans they make the sea unsafe." Again he smiled.

"So you have been in London since the 21st." Mr. Naylor's tone was casual; but his eyes glinted.

Van Helder nodded indifferently.

"Where are you staying?" Mr. Naylor's eyes never left his visitor's face.

"At the Ritzton."

"You have been comfortable?" The tone was conversational.

Again Van Helder shrugged his shoulders.

"You have been seeing the sights?" Again the tone was casual; but in Mr. Naylor's eyes there was a crafty look.

"It is as I have been told," said Van Helder with a smile. "Always cautious. You are fond of dogs," he added irrelevantly, "I heard one."

"James does not like strangers." This with a sinister smile.

"No?" continued the other; taking a cigarette-case from his pocket and offering it to Mr. Naylor who declined. "I may smoke?"

Mr. Naylor nodded.

Van Helder lighted a cigarette and proceeded to blow smoke rings with quiet content. He wanted to think. It was obvious to him that something was wrong, something lacking. There was the suggestion in his host's manner of a cat watching a mouse, watching and waiting.

"You are becoming, how do you call it, ungeschickt," he said with a disarming smile, as he blew three rings in rapid succession.

"You think so?" Mr. Naylor smiled amiably.

"Yes, how do you call it, awkward, clumsy. You have lived long in England," he continued a little contemptuously, as he ejected more smoke-rings.

"You find London interesting?" asked Mr. Naylor, with ominous calm. He was determined to pick up the thread of conversation that had been snatched from his hand.

"You are a fool." Van Helder turned just as he emitted a smoke-ring. At the calm insolence of his tone Mr. Naylor started slightly, but quickly recovered himself.

"What do you mean?"

"I have been in the Tower." For the fraction of a second Van Helder's eyes sought those of Mr. Naylor. Was it relief that he saw? The change was only momentary, just a flash.

Van Helder continued to blow smoke-rings as if entirely indifferent alike to his host's presence and emotions. "I was released yesterday morning. They apologised for my detention."

"And you came here?" f Mr. Naylor's voice was even and devoid of inflection.

Deliberately Van Helder took from his pocket a gold ring set with three turquoises in the form of a triangle. It was his last card.

"Ah! I see you look at my ring," he said, seeing Mr. Naylor's eyes fix greedily upon it. "It was given to me by one whom I serve." Deliberately he drew it from his finger again and handed it to Mr. Naylor, who took it casually and proceeded to examine it. The other watched him closely. Yes; he was looking at the inscription on the inside.

"They are not my initials," said Van Helder.

Mr. Naylor looked up quickly. "No," he said, returning the ring.

The other shrugged his shoulders without replying. Mr. Naylor's manner had undergone a change.



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