Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall

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"And now about John Dene. Ah!" as one smoke-ring passed through another.

"John Dene!"

"Yes, of Toronto," continued Van Helder, smiling and continuing to blow rings with apparent enjoyment. "He is staying at the Ritzton, too."

"London is full of visitors."

"My friend, we waste time. There is such a thing as over-caution. As I say you are ungeschickt. There was that affair of John Dene's lunch. Such things will not please those – " He shrugged his shoulders.

For fully a minute Naylor gazed at him quietly, searchingly.

"There was then the chocolates and the girl."

"I do not understand." Mr. Naylor looked across at him craftily.

"We waste time, I know. I will tell you. The secretary, you make your woman offer her chocolates at a tea-shop, and to go for a ride in a taxi. The chocolates – " He shrugged his shoulders expressively. "She refuses. You are clumsy."

The contemptuous insolence of his visitor seemed to impress Mr. Naylor. The look of suspicion in his eyes became less marked.

"How did you know?" he asked, still wary.

"We waste time," was the response with a wave of the hand.

For a few moments Mr. Naylor sat watching Van Helder as he continued to blow rings with manifest content.

"Listen," continued Van Helder. "John Dene has brought over here an invention, a submarine that is to end the war. He has given it to the Admiralty."

"Given it!" involuntarily repeated Mr. Naylor.

"Given it. There are patriots even in England. You think he is trying to sell it, therefore you try to remove him."

"Not selling it." Mr. Naylor leaned slightly forward.

"He gives it on condition that he commands it with his own men. It makes easy the matter."

"Then it is true what – " Mr. Naylor stopped.

"How did you learn this?" He slobbered his words slightly as he spoke.

"I know things, it is my duty," was the response.

"But what proof – ?"

With great deliberation Van Helder drew from his pocket a large envelope; extracting a single sheet of paper he handed it across the table. Mr. Naylor snatched it eagerly and proceeded to devour it with his eyes. "I also got a set of plans of a submarine; but it was one of our own. He is clever, this man."

"How did you get it?"

Van Helder smiled. "How did you get the copy?" he enquired.

"The copy! How did you know?"

Mr. Naylor stared at him, his jaw a little dropped. He swallowed noisily.

"You have been clumsy," repeated Van Helder. "You try to kill the cock that lays the eggs of gold." He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

Mr. Naylor flushed angrily. "And you?" he almost snarled.

"I am here to watch." He looked across at Mr. Naylor with a cunning smile. He was at last sure of his ground.

"Watch who?"

Van Helder shrugged his shoulders, and proceeded to light a new cigarette from the burning end of the old one.

"You must not kill – yet," he said, gazing at the end of his cigarette to see that it was well alight.

"What then?" demanded Mr.

Naylor. His jowls had returned and the yellow of his teeth was visible between his slightly parted lips.

"Wait and watch," was the reply.

"And let him go North," sneered the other.

"If you kill, where are the plans? Do as you would," he continued indifferently. "There will be The Day for you, too. Now I go." He made a movement to rise; but Mr. Naylor motioned him back into his chair.

Two hours later Mr. Naylor himself let out his visitor. Closing the front door, he returned to his study, where for an hour he sat at his table gazing straight in front of him. Mr. Naylor was puzzled.

Conscious that he was being followed by a small man in a grey suit with shifty eyes, James Finlay made his way leisurely to the High Road where he took a 'bus bound for Piccadilly Circus.


"Mother mine," cried Dorothy West, as she withdrew the pins from her hat, "John Dene's a dear, and I think his passion for me is developing."

"Dorothy!" cried Mrs. West, a tiny white-haired lady whose face still retained traces of youthful beauty.

"You needn't be shocked, lovie; John Dene is as worthy as his namesake in Evangeline." She laughed lightly. "Now I must eat. John Dene's like sea air, he's so stimulating;" and she began to eat the dinner that Mrs. West always prepared with such care.

For some minutes she watched with a smile of approval her daughter's healthy appetite.

"I think I should like Mr. Dene, Dorothy," she said at length. "I have always heard that Canadians are very nice to women. You must ask him to call."

"Oh, you funny little mother!" she laughed. "You forget that we have come down in the world, and that I'm a typist."

"A secretary, dear," corrected Mrs. West gently.

"Well, secretary, then; but even a secretary doesn't invite her employer to tea, even when the tea is as mother makes it. It's not done, so the less that's said of John, I think, the better," she quoted gaily. "Oh! by the way," she added, "you might get his goat; Sir Lyster does."

"His goat, dear!" Mrs. West looked up with a puzzled expression.

Dorothy explained the allusion. She went on to tell of some of the doings of John Dene, his impatience, his indifference to and contempt for constituted authority. In short she added a few vivid side-lights to the picture she had already given her mother of how John Dene had come and carried all before him.

"I think," she said in conclusion, screwing up her pretty features, "that John Dene is rather a dear." Then after a pause she added, "You see, he is also a man."

"A man, my dear," questioned Mrs. West, looking at her daughter with a smile.

"Yes, mother, he's so intensely masculine. I get so fed up with – "

"Dorothy!" expostulated Mrs. West.

"Yes, I know it's trying, mother, but I get so weary of the subaltern and junior naval officer. Of course they're splendid and brave; but they don't seem men."

"But think of how they have given their lives," began Mrs. West.

"Yes; but we see those who haven't, mother, and very few of them have chevrons on their sleeves. Now John Dene is quite different. He always seems to be a man; yet he never forgets that you are a woman, although he never appears to be conscious of your being a woman."

Dorothy caught her mother's eye, and laughed.

"Of course it sounds utterly ridiculous I know; but there it is, and then think of what – " She suddenly broke off.

"Yes, dear," said Mrs. West gently.

"I was nearly letting out official secrets, mother. Of course I mustn't do that, must I?"

"Of course not, dear," said Mrs. West.

"Yes," continued Dorothy, her head on one side, "I like John Dene. It must be ripping to be able to bully a First Lord of the Admiralty," she added irrelevantly.

"Bully a First Lord," said Mrs. West. Mrs. West seemed to be in a perpetual state of repeating in a bewildered manner her daughter's startling statements.

"He doesn't care for anybody. He calls Mr. Blair, that's Sir Lyster's secretary, the prize seal, and I'm sure he takes a delight in frightening the poor man. That's the best of being a Canadian, you see you don't care a damn – "

"Dorothy!" There was horror in Mrs. West's voice.

"I'm so sorry, mother dear; but it slipped out, you know, and really it's such an awfully convenient word, isn't it? It's so different from not caring a bother, or not caring a blow. Anyway, when you're a Canadian you don't care a – well you know, for anybody. If a man happens to be a lord or a duke, you're rude to him just to show that you're as good as he is. Sometimes, mother, I wish I were a Canadian," said Dorothy pensively. "I should so like to 'ginger-up' Sir Lyster."

"Your language, my dear," said Mrs. West gently.

"Oh, that's John Dene," said Dorothy airily. "That's his favourite expression, 'ginger-up.' He came over here to 'ginger-up' the Admiralty, and in fact 'ginger-up' anybody who didn't very strongly object to being 'gingered-up,' and those who did, well he gingers them up just the same. You should see poor Mr. Blair under the process." Dorothy laughed as she thought of Mr. Blair's sufferings. "The girls call him 'Oh, Reginald!' and he looks it," she added.

Mrs. West smiled vaguely, finding it a little difficult to follow her daughter along these paths of ultra-modernism.

"You see, if Sir Lyster says to me 'go,' I have to go," continued Dorothy, "and if he says to me 'come,' I have to come; but if he says to John Dene 'go,' he just says 'shucks.'"

"Says what, Dorothy?"

"Shucks!" she repeated with a laugh, "it means go to – well, you know, mother."

"And does he say that to Sir Lyster?" enquired Mrs. West in awe-struck voice.

Dorothy nodded vigorously.

"The only one that seems to understand him is Sir Bridgman North, and he never stands on his dignity, you know. If I were in the Navy," said Dorothy meditatively, "I should like to be under Sir Bridgman, he's really rather a dear."

"But why do – " began Mrs. West, "why does Sir Lyster allow – "

"Allow," broke in Dorothy. "It doesn't matter what you allow with John Dene. If you agree with him he just grunts; if you don't he says 'shucks,' or else he questions whether you've got any head-filling."

"Any what?" asked Mrs. West.

"Head-filling, that means brains. Oh, you've got an awful lot to learn," she added, nodding at her mother in mock despair. "I think John Dene very clever," she added.

"Dorothy, you mustn't call him 'John Dene."

"He's always called 'John Dene,'" said Dorothy. "You can't think of him as anything but John Dene, and do you know, mother, all the other girls are so intrigued. They're always asking me how I get on with 'the bear,' as they call him. That's because he doesn't take any notice of them, except Marjorie Rogers, and she's as cheeky as a robin."

"But he isn't a bear, is he, Dorothy?"

"A bear? He's the most polite creature that ever existed," said Dorothy – "when he remembers it," she added after a moment's pause. "You see they all expect me to marry him."


"I'm not so sure that they're wrong, either," she added na?vely. "You see, he's got plenty of money and – "

"I don't like to hear you talk like that, dear," said Mrs. West gravely.

"Oh, I'm horrid, aren't I?" she cried, running over to her mother and putting her arm round her neck. "What a dreadful thing it must be for you, poor mother mine, to have such a daughter! She outrages all the dear old Victorian conventions, doesn't she?"

"You mustn't talk like that, Dorothy dear," said Mrs. West. There was in her voice that which told her daughter she was in earnest.

"All right, mother dear, I won't; you know my bark is worse than my bite, don't you?"

"Yes, but dear – "

"You see, way down, as John Dene would say, in his own heart there is chivalry, and that is very, very rare nowadays among men. He is much nicer to me than he would be to Lady Grayne, or Mrs. Llewellyn John, or to the Queen herself, I believe. I'm sure he likes me," added Dorothy half to herself. "You see," she added, "he broke my teapot, and he owes me something for that, doesn't he?"

"Dorothy, you are very naughty." There was no rebuke in Mrs. West's voice.

"And you're wondering how it came about that such a dear, sweet, conventional, lovely, Victorian symbol of respectability and convention should have had such a dreadfully outrageous daughter as Dorothy West. Now confess, mother, aren't you?"

Mrs. West merely smiled the indulgent smile that Dorothy always interpreted into forgiveness for her lapses, past, present and to come.

"You see, mother, John Dene has got it into his head that we're hopelessly out of date," she said. "He's quite sincere. He thinks we're fools, Sir Lyster, Sir Bridgman and the whole lot of us, and as for poor Mr. Blair, he knows he's a fool. He thinks that Mr. Llewellyn John is almost a fool, in fact he's sure in his own mind that unless you happen to be born a Canadian you're a fool and can't help it. He's quite nice about it, because it really isn't your fault."

"I'm afraid he must be very narrow-minded," said Mrs. West gently.

"No, he isn't, that's where it's so funny, it's just his idea. He looks upon himself as a heaven-sent corrective to the British Government. I'm afraid poor John Dene is going to have a nasty jar before he's through, as he would say himself."

"How do you mean, Dorothy?" enquired Mrs. West.

"I mustn't say any more, because I should be divulging official secrets. The other girls are so curious to know what is happening. Bishy, that's Miss Bishcroft, asked me whether John Dene made love to me, and Rojjie is sure that he kisses me." Dorothy rippled off into laughter.

"How impertinent of her!" Mrs. West was shocked.

"It wasn't impertinence, mother, it was funny. If you could only see John Dene, and imagine him making love to anyone. It really is funny. Sometimes I sit and wonder if he knows how to kiss a girl."

"Dorothy, you are – " began Mrs. West.

"Why shouldn't we be frank and open about such matters? Every man kisses a girl at some time during his life, except John Dene," she added. "In Whitehall it's nothing but minutes and kisses. Why shouldn't we talk about it? It's helping to win the war. It's so silly to hide everything in that silly Victorian way of ours. If a nice girl meets a nice man she wants him to kiss her, and she's disappointed if he doesn't. Now isn't she?" challenged Dorothy as she perched herself upon the arm of her mother's chair and looked down at her, her eyebrows and mouth screwed up, impertinent and provocative.

"I wish you wouldn't talk like that, dear," said Mrs. West, as she regarded her daughter's pretty features.

"Why, mother?" she enquired, bending and brushing a swift kiss upon her mother's white hair.

"It – it doesn't seem – " she paused, then added rather weakly, "it doesn't seem quite nice."

Dorothy jumped up and stood before her mother, smiling mischievously.

"And so you don't think I'm quite nice, Mrs. West?" She made an elaborate curtsey. "Thank you very much indeed. At the Admiralty there are quite a lot of young men, and some old ones, too, who don't agree with you," she added, returning to her chair.

"But you mustn't say such – such things," protested Mrs. West weakly.

"But, mother, when you were a girl and knew a nice man, didn't you want him to kiss you?"

"We never thought about such things. We – "

"Didn't you want father to kiss you?" persisted Dorothy.

"We were engaged, my dear, and your dear father was so – "

"But before you were engaged. Suppose father had tried to kiss you. What would you have done?"

The girl's eyes were on her mother, mischievous and challenging. A faint blush tinged Mrs. West's cheeks.

"I'll tell you what you'd have done, you dear, naughty little mother. You'd have pretended to be shocked, but in your heart you would have been glad, and you'd have lain awake all night thinking what an awful rip you had been." She nodded her head wisely.

"Sometimes," said Mrs. West after a pause, "I wish it had not been necessary for you to work. Girls seem so different nowadays from what they were when I was young."

"We are, you dear little mouse," smiled Dorothy. "We know a lot more, and to be forewarned is to be forearmed. I'm glad I didn't live when you had to faint at the sight of a mouse, or swoon when you were kissed. It would be such a waste," she added gaily.

Mrs. West sighed, conscious that a new age of womanhood had dawned with which she was out of touch.

"Mother," said Dorothy presently, "what made you love father?"

Mrs. West looked up in surprise at her daughter, but continued to fold her napkin and place it in her ring before replying.

"Because your father, Dorothy, was – " she hesitated.

"My father," suggested Dorothy.

Mrs. West smiled; but there was a far-away look in her eyes. "Everybody loved your father," she went on a moment later.

"Yes, mother, but everybody didn't marry him," she said practically.

"Noooo – " hesitated Mrs. West.

"But you mean to say that everybody would have liked to marry him."

"He was very wonderful," said Mrs. West, a note of sadness creeping into her voice.

"But you haven't answered my question," persisted Dorothy. "Why is it that we women love men?"

Mrs. West was not conscious of the quaint phrasing of her daughter's remark.

"We don't love men, Dorothy," she cried, "we love a man, the right man."

"But," persisted Dorothy, "why do we do it? They're not pretty and they're not very interesting," she emphasised the "very," "and only a few of them are clever. Sometimes in the Tube coming home I see a girl and a man holding hands. What is it that makes them want to hold hands?"

"It's natural to fall in love," said Mrs. West gently.

"But that's not falling in love," protested Dorothy scornfully. "If I fell in love with a man I shouldn't want to hold his hand in a train. I should hate him if he expected it."

"It's a question of class," said Mrs. West a little primly.

"Oh! mother, what an awful snob you are," cried Dorothy, jumping up and going round and giving her mother a hug. "Let's go into the drawing-room and be comfy and have a chat."

When they were seated, Mrs. West in an armchair and Dorothy on a stool at her feet, the girl continued her interrogations. "Now suppose," she continued, "I were to fall in love with a man who was ugly, ill-mannered, badly dressed, with very little to say for himself. Why should I do it?" Dorothy looked challengingly up at her mother.

"But you wouldn't, dear," said Mrs. West with gentle conviction.

"Oh, mother, you're awfully trying you know," she cried in mock despair. "You've got to suppose that I have, or could. Why should I do it?" Mrs. West gazed at her daughter a little anxiously, then shook her head.

"Now I can quite understand," went on Dorothy, half to herself, "why a man should fall in love with me. I'm pretty and bright, wear nice things, particularly underneath – "

"Dorothy!" broke in Mrs. West in a tone of shocked protest.

She laughed. "Oh, mother, you're a dreadful prude. Why do you think girls wear pretty shoes and stockings, and low cut blouses as thin as a cobweb?"

"Hush! Dorothy, you mustn't say such things." There was pain in Mrs. West's voice.

"I wish we could face facts," said Dorothy with a sigh. "You see, mother dear," she continued, "when you're in a government office, with heaps of other girls and men about, you get to know things, see things, and sometimes you get to hate things."

"I have always regretted," began Mrs. West sadly.

"You mustn't do that, mother dear," cried Dorothy; "it has been an education. But what I want to know is, what is it in a man that attracts a girl?"

"Goodness, honour and – " began Mrs. West.

"No, it isn't," said Dorothy, "at least they don't attract me."

Mrs. West looked pained but said nothing.

"You see," continued Dorothy, "there are such a lot of good men about, and honourable men, and – and – they're so dreadfully dull and monotonous. I couldn't marry that sort of man," she added with conviction.

"But – " began Mrs. West. "You wouldn't – "

Then she paused.

"I can't explain it, mother," she said, "but I should hate to be doing the same thing always."

"But we are doing the same things always, Dorothy," said Mrs. West.

"Oh! no we're not," protested Dorothy. "I never know until I get home on Saturday where I'm going to take you. Now if I had a husband, a good and honourable husband, he would begin about Thursday saying that on Saturday afternoon we would go to Hampstead, or to Richmond, or to – oh! anywhere. Then when Saturday came I should hate the very name of the place he had chosen. Then on Sunday we should go to church in the morning, for a walk in the afternoon, pay a call or two, then church or a cinema in the evening. That's good and honourable married life," she concluded with decision.

Mrs. West looked down with a puzzled expression on her face.

"Wait a minute, mother," said Dorothy. "Now we'll imagine the real me married to a good and honourable man. At twelve-thirty on the Saturday that he has arranged to lose himself and me at the maze at Hampton Court, I telephone to say that we're going to Brighton, and that he's to meet me at Victoria at half-past one, and I'll bring his things. Now what do you think he'd do?" With head on one side she gazed challengingly at her mother.

"I – I don't know," faltered Mrs. West.

"I do," said Dorothy with conviction. "He'd have a fit. Then if I wanted him to come for a 'bus ride just as he was going to bed," went on Dorothy, "he'd have another fit; and if one fine morning, just as he was off to the office, I were to ask him not to go, but to take me to Richmond instead, he'd have a third fit, and then I should be a widow."

"A widow!" questioned Mrs. West. "What are you talking about?"

"Third fits are always fatal, mother," she said wisely. Then with a laugh she added, "Oh, there's a great time in store for the man who marries Dorothy West. He will have to have a strong heart, a robust constitution and above all any amount of stamina," and she gave a mischievous little chuckle of joy. Then a moment after, looking gravely at her mother she said, "You must have been very wicked, lovie, or you'd never have had such a daughter to plague you. I'm your cross;" but Mrs. West merely smiled.

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