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The Secret Adversary - Chapter 8 - The Adventures of Tommy

1. Prologue

2. Chapter 1 - The Young Adventurers, Ltd.

3. Chapter 2 - Mr. Whittington's Offer

4. Chapter 3 - A Set Back

5. Chapter 4 - Who is Jane Finn?

6. Chapter 5 - Mr. Julius P. Hersheimmer

7. Chapter 6 - A Plan of Campaign

8. Chapter 7 - The House in Soho

9. Chapter 8 - The Adventures of Tommy

10. Chapter 9 - Tuppence Enters Domestic Service

11. Chapter 10 - Enter Sir James Peel Edgerton

12. Chapter 11 - Julius Tells a Story

13. Chapter 12 - A Friend in Need

14. Chapter 13 - The Vigil

15. Chapter 14 - A Consultation

16. Chapter 15 - Tuppence Receives a Proposal

17. Chapter 16 - Further Adventures of Tommy

18. Chapter 17 - Annette

19. Chapter 18 - The Telegram

20. Chapter 19 - Jane Finn

21. Chapter 20 - Too Late

22. Chapter 21 - Tommy Makes a Discovery

23. Chapter 22 - In Downing Street

24. Chapter 23 - A Rage Against Time

25. Chapter 24 - Julius Takes a Hand

26. Chapter 25 - Jane's Story

27. Chapter 26 - Mr. Brown

28. Chapter 27 - A Supper Party at the Savoy

29. Chapter 28 - And After

TAKEN aback though he was by the man's words, Tommy did not
hesitate. If audacity had successfully carried him so far, it was
to be hoped it would carry him yet farther. He quietly passed
into the house and mounted the ramshackle staircase. Everything
in the house was filthy beyond words. The grimy paper, of a
pattern now indistinguishable, hung in loose festoons from the
wall. In every angle was a grey mass of cobweb.

Tommy proceeded leisurely. By the time he reached the bend of
the staircase, he had heard the man below disappear into a back
room. Clearly no suspicion attached to him as yet. To come to
the house and ask for "Mr. Brown" appeared indeed to be a
reasonable and natural proceeding.

At the top of the stairs Tommy halted to consider his next move.
In front of him ran a narrow passage, with doors opening on
either side of it. From the one nearest him on the left came a
low murmur of voices. It was this room which he had been
directed to enter. But what held his glance fascinated was a
small recess immediately on his right, half concealed by a torn
velvet curtain. It was directly opposite the left-handed door
and, owing to its angle, it also commanded a good view of the
upper part of the staircase. As a hiding-place for one or, at a
pinch, two men, it was ideal, being about two feet deep and three
feet wide. It attracted Tommy mightily. He thought things over
in his usual slow and steady way, deciding that the mention of
"Mr. Brown" was not a request for an individual, but in all
probability a password used by the gang. His lucky use of it had
gained him admission. So far he had aroused no suspicion. But he
must decide quickly on his next step.

Suppose he were boldly to enter the room on the left of the
passage. Would the mere fact of his having been admitted to the
house be sufficient? Perhaps a further password would be
required, or, at any rate, some proof of identity. The
doorkeeper clearly did not know all the members of the gang by
sight, but it might be different upstairs. On the whole it seemed
to him that luck had served him very well so far, but that there
was such a thing as trusting it too far. To enter that room was a
colossal risk. He could not hope to sustain his part
indefinitely; sooner or later he was almost bound to betray
himself, and then he would have thrown away a vital chance in
mere foolhardiness.

A repetition of the signal knock sounded on the door below, and
Tommy, his mind made up, slipped quickly into the recess, and
cautiously drew the curtain farther across so that it shielded
him completely from sight. There were several rents and slits in
the ancient material which afforded him a good view. He would
watch events, and any time he chose could, after all, join the
assembly, modelling his behaviour on that of the new arrival.

The man who came up the staircase with a furtive, soft-footed
tread was quite unknown to Tommy. He was obviously of the very
dregs of society. The low beetling brows, and the criminal jaw,
the bestiality of the whole countenance were new to the young
man, though he was a type that Scotland Yard would have
recognized at a glance.

The man passed the recess, breathing heavily as he went. He
stopped at the door opposite, and gave a repetition of the signal
knock. A voice inside called out something, and the man opened
the door and passed in, affording Tommy a momentary glimpse of
the room inside. He thought there must be about four or five
people seated round a long table that took up most of the space,
but his attention was caught and held by a tall man with
close-cropped hair and a short, pointed, naval-looking beard, who
sat at the head of the table with papers in front of him. As the
new-comer entered he glanced up, and with a correct, but
curiously precise enunciation, which attracted Tommy's notice, he

"Your number, comrade?"

"Fourteen, gov'nor," replied the other hoarsely.


The door shut again.

"If that isn't a Hun, I'm a Dutchman!" said Tommy to himself.
"And running the show darned systematically too--as they always
do. Lucky I didn't roll in. I'd have given the wrong number, and
there would have been the deuce to pay. No, this is the place
for me. Hullo, here's another knock."

This visitor proved to be of an entirely different type to the
last. Tommy recognized in him an Irish Sinn Feiner. Certainly
Mr. Brown's organization was a far-reaching concern. The common
criminal, the well-bred Irish gentleman, the pale Russian, and
the efficient German master of the ceremonies! Truly a strange
and sinister gathering! Who was this man who held in his finger
these curiously variegated links of an unknown chain?

In this case, the procedure was exactly the same. The signal
knock, the demand for a number, and the reply "Correct."

Two knocks followed in quick succession on the door below. The
first man was quite unknown to Tommy, who put him down as a city
clerk. A quiet, intelligent-looking man, rather shabbily dressed.
The second was of the working classes, and his face was vaguely
familiar to the young man.

Three minutes later came another, a man of commanding appearance,
exquisitely dressed, and evidently well born. His face, again,
was not unknown to the watcher, though he could not for the
moment put a name to it.

After his arrival there was a long wait. In fact Tommy concluded
that the gathering was now complete, and was just cautiously
creeping out from his hiding-place, when another knock sent him
scuttling back to cover.

This last-comer came up the stairs so quietly that he was almost
abreast of Tommy before the young man had realized his presence.

He was a small man, very pale, with a gentle almost womanish air.
The angle of the cheek-bones hinted at his Slavonic ancestry,
otherwise there was nothing to indicate his nationality. As he
passed the recess, he turned his head slowly. The strange light
eyes seemed to burn through the curtain; Tommy could hardly
believe that the man did not know he was there and in spite of
himself he shivered. He was no more fanciful than the majority of
young Englishmen, but he could not rid himself of the impression
that some unusually potent force emanated from the man. The
creature reminded him of a venomous snake.

A moment later his impression was proved correct. The new-comer
knocked on the door as all had done, but his reception was very
different. The bearded man rose to his feet, and all the others
followed suit. The German came forward and shook hands. His
heels clicked together.

"We are honoured," he said. "We are greatly honoured. I much
feared that it would be impossible."

The other answered in a low voice that had a kind of hiss in it:

"There were difficulties. It will not be possible again, I fear.
But one meeting is essential--to define my policy. I can do
nothing without--Mr. Brown. He is here?"

The change in the German's voice was audible as he replied with
slight hesitation:

"We have received a message. It is impossible for him to be
present in person." He stopped, giving a curious impression of
having left the sentence unfinished.

A very slow smile overspread the face of the other. He looked
round at a circle of uneasy faces.

"Ah! I understand. I have read of his methods. He works in the
dark and trusts no one. But, all the same, it is possible that
he is among us now...." He looked round him again, and again that
expression of fear swept over the group. Each man seemed eyeing
his neighbour doubtfully.

The Russian tapped his cheek.

"So be it. Let us proceed."

The German seemed to pull himself together. He indicated the
place he had been occupying at the head of the table. The Russian
demurred, but the other insisted.

"It is the only possible place," he said, "for--Number One.
Perhaps Number Fourteen will shut the door?"

In another moment Tommy was once more confronting bare wooden
panels, and the voices within had sunk once more to a mere
undistinguishable murmur. Tommy became restive. The conversation
he had overheard had stimulated his curiosity. He felt that, by
hook or by crook, he must hear more.

There was no sound from below, and it did not seem likely that
the doorkeeper would come upstairs. After listening intently for
a minute or two, he put his head round the curtain. The passage
was deserted. Tommy bent down and removed his shoes, then,
leaving them behind the curtain, he walked gingerly out on his
stockinged feet, and kneeling down by the closed door he laid his
ear cautiously to the crack. To his intense annoyance he could
distinguish little more; just a chance word here and there if a
voice was raised, which merely served to whet his curiosity still

He eyed the handle of the door tentatively. Could he turn it by
degrees so gently and imperceptibly that those in the room would
notice nothing? He decided that with great care it could be
done. Very slowly, a fraction of an inch at a time, he moved it
round, holding his breath in his excessive care. A little more--a
little more still--would it never be finished? Ah! at last it
would turn no farther.

He stayed so for a minute or two, then drew a deep breath, and
pressed it ever so slightly inward. The door did not budge.
Tommy was annoyed. If he had to use too much force, it would
almost certainly creak. He waited until the voices rose a little,
then he tried again. Still nothing happened. He increased the
pressure. Had the beastly thing stuck? Finally, in desperation,
he pushed with all his might. But the door remained firm, and at
last the truth dawned upon him. It was locked or bolted on the

For a moment or two Tommy's indignation got the better of him.

"Well, I'm damned!" he said. "What a dirty trick!"

As his indignation cooled, he prepared to face the situation.
Clearly the first thing to be done was to restore the handle to
its original position. If he let it go suddenly, the men inside
would be almost certain to notice it, so, with the same infinite
pains, he reversed his former tactics. All went well, and with a
sigh of relief the young man rose to his feet. There was a
certain bulldog tenacity about Tommy that made him slow to admit
defeat. Checkmated for the moment, he was far from abandoning the
conflict. He still intended to hear what was going on in the
locked room. As one plan had failed, he must hunt about for

He looked round him. A little farther along the passage on the
left was a second door. He slipped silently along to it. He
listened for a moment or two, then tried the handle. It yielded,
and he slipped inside.

The room, which was untenanted, was furnished as a bedroom. Like
everything else in the house, the furniture was falling to
pieces, and the dirt was, if anything, more abundant.

But what interested Tommy was the thing he had hoped to find, a
communicating door between the two rooms, up on the left by the
window. Carefully closing the door into the passage behind him,
he stepped across to the other and examined it closely. The bolt
was shot across it. It was very rusty, and had clearly not been
used for some time. By gently wriggling it to and fro, Tommy
managed to draw it back without making too much noise. Then he
repeated his former manoeuvres with the handle--this time with
complete success. The door swung open--a crack, a mere fraction,
but enough for Tommy to hear what went on. There was a velvet
portiere on the inside of this door which prevented him from
seeing, but he was able to recognize the voices with a reasonable
amount of accuracy.

The Sinn Feiner was speaking. His rich Irish voice was

"That's all very well. But more money is essential. No money--no

Another voice which Tommy rather thought was that of Boris

"Will you guarantee that there ARE results?"

"In a month from now--sooner or later as you wish--I will
guarantee you such a reign of terror in Ireland as shall shake
the British Empire to its foundations."

There was a pause, and then came the soft, sibilant accents of
Number One:

"Good! You shall have the money. Boris, you will see to that."

Boris asked a question:

"Via the Irish Americans, and Mr. Potter as usual?"

"I guess that'll be all right!" said a new voice, with a
transatlantic intonation, "though I'd like to point out, here and
now, that things are getting a mite difficult. There's not the
sympathy there was, and a growing disposition to let the Irish
settle their own affairs without interference from America."

Tommy felt that Boris had shrugged his shoulders as he answered:

"Does that matter, since the money only nominally comes from the

"The chief difficulty is the landing of the ammunition," said the
Sinn Feiner. "The money is conveyed in easily enough--thanks to
our colleague here."

Another voice, which Tommy fancied was that of the tall,
commanding-looking man whose face had seemed familiar to him,

"Think of the feelings of Belfast if they could hear you!"

"That is settled, then," said the sibilant tones. "Now, in the
matter of the loan to an English newspaper, you have arranged the
details satisfactorily, Boris?"

"I think so."

"That is good. An official denial from Moscow will be
forthcoming if necessary."

There was a pause, and then the clear voice of the German broke
the silence:

"I am directed by--Mr. Brown, to place the summaries of the
reports from the different unions before you. That of the miners
is most satisfactory. We must hold back the railways. There may
be trouble with the A.S.E."

For a long time there was a silence, broken only by the rustle of
papers and an occasional word of explanation from the German.
Then Tommy heard the light tap-tap of fingers, drumming on the

"And--the date, my friend?" said Number One.

"The 29th."

The Russian seemed to consider:

"That is rather soon."

"I know. But it was settled by the principal Labour leaders, and
we cannot seem to interfere too much. They must believe it to be
entirely their own show."

The Russian laughed softly, as though amused.

"Yes, yes," he said. "That is true. They must have no inkling
that we are using them for our own ends. They are honest
men--and that is their value to us. It is curious--but you
cannot make a revolution without honest men. The instinct of the
populace is infallible." He paused, and then repeated, as though
the phrase pleased him: "Every revolution has had its honest
men. They are soon disposed of afterwards."

There was a sinister note in his voice.

The German resumed:

"Clymes must go. He is too far-seeing. Number Fourteen will see
to that."

There was a hoarse murmur.

"That's all right, gov'nor." And then after a moment or two:
"Suppose I'm nabbed."

"You will have the best legal talent to defend you," replied the
German quietly. "But in any case you will wear gloves fitted
with the finger-prints of a notorious housebreaker. You have
little to fear."

"Oh, I ain't afraid, gov'nor. All for the good of the cause. The
streets is going to run with blood, so they say." He spoke with a
grim relish. "Dreams of it, sometimes, I does. And diamonds and
pearls rolling about in the gutter for anyone to pick up!"

Tommy heard a chair shifted. Then Number One spoke:

"Then all is arranged. We are assured of success?"

"I--think so." But the German spoke with less than his usual

Number One's voice held suddenly a dangerous quality:

"What has gone wrong?"

"Nothing; but----"

"But what?"

"The Labour leaders. Without them, as you say, we can do
nothing. If they do not declare a general strike on the 29th----"

"Why should they not?"

"As you've said, they're honest. And, in spite of everything
we've done to discredit the Government in their eyes, I'm not
sure that they haven't got a sneaking faith and belief in it."


"I know. They abuse it unceasingly. But, on the whole, public
opinion swings to the side of the Government. They will not go
against it."

Again the Russian's fingers drummed on the table.

"To the point, my friend. I was given to understand that there
was a certain document in existence which assured success."

"That is so. If that document were placed before the leaders,
the result would be immediate. They would publish it broadcast
throughout England, and declare for the revolution without a
moment's hesitation. The Government would be broken finally and

"Then what more do you want?"

"The document itself," said the German bluntly.

"Ah! It is not in your possession? But you know where it is?"


"Does anyone know where it is?"

"One person--perhaps. And we are not sure of that even."

"Who is this person?"

"A girl."

Tommy held his breath.

"A girl?" The Russian's voice rose contemptuously. "And you have
not made her speak? In Russia we have ways of making a girl

"This case is different," said the German sullenly.

"How--different?" He paused a moment, then went on: "Where is
the girl now?"

"The girl?"


"She is----"

But Tommy heard no more. A crashing blow descended on his head,
and all was darkness.

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