The Three Hostages, by John Buchan

Chapter X

Confidences at a Wayside Inn

My first impulse was to go to Macgillivray about this Kharáma fellow, who I was certain was up to mischief. I suspected him of some kind of political intrigue; otherwise what was he doing touring the capitals of Europe and putting up at expensive hotels? But on second thoughts I resolved to let the police alone. I could not explain about Kharáma without bringing in Medina, and I was determined to do nothing which would stir a breath of suspicion against him. But I got the chit from my doctor, recommending a week’s rest, and I went round to see Medina on the morning of the 19th. I told him I had been feeling pretty cheap for some days and that my doctor ordered me to go home and go to bed. He didn’t look pleased, so I showed him the doctor’s letter, and made a poor mouth, as if I hated the business but was torn between my inclinations and my duty. I think he liked my producing that chit, like a second-lieutenant asking for leave, anyhow he made the best of it and was quite sympathetic. “I’m sorry you’re going out of town,” he said, “for I want you badly. But it’s as well to get quite fit, and to lie up for a week ought to put you all right. When am I to expect you back?” I told him that without fail I would be in London on the 29th. “I’m going to disappear into a monastery,” I said. “Write no letters, receive none, not at home to visitors, only sleep and eat. I can promise you that my wife will watch me like a dragon.”

Then I hunted up Archie Roylance, whom I found on the very top of his form. He had seen Hansen, and discovered that on the island of Flacksholm, just off the mouth of the Merdalfjord, there was good landing. It was a big flattish island with a loch in the centre, and entirely uninhabited except for a farm at the south end. Archie had got a machine, a Sopwith, which he said he could trust, and I arranged with him to be at Flacksholm not later than the 27th, and to camp there as best he could. He was to keep watch by day for a motor-boat from the Merdalfjord, and at night if he saw a green light he was to make for it. I told him to take ample supplies, and he replied that he wasn’t such a fool as to neglect the commissariat. He said he had been to Fortnum & Mason and was going to load up with liqueurs and delicatessen. “Take all the clothes you’ve got, Dick,” he added. “It will be perishing cold in those parts at this time of year.” He arranged, too, to cable through Hansen for a motor-launch to be ready at Stavanger for a Mr. Brand who was due by the Hull steamer on the morning of the 23rd. If I had to change my plans I was to wire him at once.

That evening I went down to Fosse a little easier in my mind. It was a blessed relief to get out of London and smell clean air, and to reflect that for a week at any rate I should be engaged in a more congenial job than loafing about town. I found Peter John in the best of health and the Manor garden a glory of spring flowers.

I told Mary that I was ordered by my doctor to go to bed for a week and take a rest cure.

“Dick,” she asked anxiously, “you’re not ill, are you?”

“Not a bit, only a trifle stale. But officially I’m to be in bed for a week and not a blessed soul is to be allowed to come near me. Tell the servants, please, and get the cook on to invalid dishes. I’ll take Paddock into my confidence, and he’ll keep up a show of waiting on me.”

“A show?”

“Yes, for you see I’m going to put in a week in Norway — that is, unless Sandy has anything to say against it.”

“But I thought Colonel Arbuthnot was still abroad?”

“So he is — officially. But I’m going to breakfast with him the day after tomorrow at The Silent Woman — you remember, the inn we used to have supper at last summer when I was fishing the Colne.”

“Dick,” she said solemnly, “isn’t it time you told me a little more about what you’re doing?”

“I think it is,” I agreed, and that night after dinner I told her everything.

She asked a great many questions, searching questions, for Mary’s brain was about twice as good as mine. Then she sat pondering for a long time with her chin on her hand.

“I wish I had met Mr. Medina,” she said at last. “Aunt Claire and Aunt Doria know him. . . . I am afraid of him, terribly afraid, and I think I should be less afraid if I could just see him once. It is horrible, Dick, and you are fighting with such strange weapons. Your only advantage is that you’re such a gnarled piece of oak. I wish I could help. It’s dreadful to have to wait here and be tortured by anxiety for you, and to be thinking all the time of those poor people. I can’t get the little boy out of my head. I often wake in a terror, and have to go up to the night-nursery to hug Peter John. Nanny must think I’m mad. . . . I suppose you’re right to go to Norway?”

“I see no other way. We have a clue to the whereabouts of one of the hostages — I haven’t a notion which. I must act on that, and besides, if I find one it may give me a line on the others.”

“There will still be two lost,” she said, “and the time grows fearfully short. You are only one man. Can you not get helpers? Mr. Macgillivray?”

“No. He has his own job, and to let him into mine would wreck both.”

“Well, Colonel Arbuthnot? What is he doing?”

“Oh, Sandy’s busy enough, and, thank God! he’s back in England. I’ll know more about his game when I see him, but you may be sure it’s a deep one. While I’m away Sandy will be working all the time.”

“Do you know, I have never met him. Couldn’t I see him some time when you’re away? It would be a great comfort to me. And, Dick, can’t I help somehow? We’ve always shared everything, even before we were married, and you know I’m dependable.”

“Indeed I do, my darling,” I said. “But I can’t see how you can help — yet. If I could, I would inspan you straight off, for I would rather have you with me than a regiment.”

“It’s the poor little boy. I could endure the rest, but the thought of him makes me crazy. Have you seen Sir Arthur?”

“No, I have avoided him. I can stand the sight of Victor and the Duke, but I swear I shall never look Sir Arthur in the face unless I can hand him over his son.”

Then Mary got up and stood over me like a delivering angel.

“It is going to be done,” she cried. “Dick, you must never give up. I believe in my heart we shall win. We must win or I shall never be able to kiss Peter John again with a quiet mind. Oh, I wish — I wish I could do something.”

I don’t think Mary slept that night, and next morning she was rather pale and her eyes had that funny long-sighted look that they had had when I said good-bye to her at Amiens in March ‘18, before going up to the line.

I spent a blissful day with her and Peter John wandering round our little estate. It was one of those April days which seem to have been borrowed from late May, when you have the warmth of summer joined with the austerity and fresh colouring of spring. The riot of daffodils under the trees was something to thank God for, the banks of the little lake were one cascade of grape hyacinths, blue and white, and every dell in the woods was bright with primroses. We occupied the morning deepening the pools in a tiny stream which was to be one of the spawning-grounds for the new trout in the lake, and Peter John showed conspicuous talent as a hydraulic engineer. His nurse, who was a middle-aged Scotswoman from the Cheviots, finally carried him off for his morning rest, and when he had gone, Mary desisted from her watery excavations and sat down on a bank of periwinkles.

“What do you really think of Nanny?” she asked.

“About as good as they make,” I replied.

“That’s what I think too. You know, Dick, I feel I’m far too fussy about Peter John. I give hours of my time to him, and it’s quite unnecessary. Nanny can do everything better than I can. I scarcely dare let him out of my sight, and yet I’m certain that I could safely leave him for weeks with Nanny and Paddock — and Dr. Greenslade within call.”

“Of course you could,” I agreed, “but you’d miss him, as I do, for he’s jolly good company.”

“Yes, he’s jolly good company, the dear fellow,” she said.

In the afternoon we went for a canter on the downs, and I came back feeling as fit as a race-horse and keyed up for anything. But that evening, as we walked in the garden before dinner, I had another fit of longing to be free of the business and to return to my quiet life. I realised that I had buried my heart in my pleasant acres, and the thought of how much I loved them made me almost timid. I think Mary understood what I was feeling, for she insisted on talking about David Warcliff, and before I went to bed had worked me into that honest indignation which is the best stiffener of resolution. She went over my plans with me very carefully. On the 28th, if I could manage it, I was to come home, but if I was short of time I was to send her a wire and go straight to London. The pretence of my being in bed was to be religiously kept up. For safety’s sake I was to sign every wire with the name of Cornelius.

Very early next morning, long before anyone was stirring, I started the big Vauxhall with Paddock’s assistance, and, accompanied by a very modest kit, crept down the avenue. Paddock, who could drive a car, was to return to the house about ten o’clock, and explain to my chauffeur that by my orders he had taken the Vauxhall over to Oxford as a loan for a week to a friend of mine. I drove fast out of the silent hill roads and on to the great Roman way which lay like a strap across the highlands. It was not much after six o’clock when I reached The Silent Woman, which sat like an observation post on a ridge of down, at a junction of four roads. Smoke was going up from its chimneys, so I judged that Sandy had ordered early breakfast. Presently, as I was garaging the car in an outhouse, Sandy appeared in flannel bags and a tweed jacket, looking as fresh as paint and uncommonly sunburnt.

“I hope you’re hungry,” he said. “Capital fellow the landlord! He knows what a man’s appetite is. I ordered eggs, kidneys, sausages and cold ham, and he seemed to expect it. Yes. These are my headquarters for the present, though Advanced G.H.Q. is elsewhere. By the by, Dick, just for an extra precaution, my name’s Thomson — Alexander Thomson — and I’m a dramatic critic taking a belated Easter holiday.”

The breakfast was as good as Sandy had promised, and what with the run in the fresh air and the sight of him opposite me I began to feel light-hearted.

“I got your letters,” I said, “but, I say, your knowledge of Derby winners is pretty rocky. I thought that was the kind of information no gentleman was without.”

“I’m the exception. Did you act on them?”

“I told Medina I had broken with you for good and never wanted to see your face again. But why did you make such a point of it?”

“Simply because I wanted to be rid of his attentions, and I reckoned that if he thought we had quarrelled and that I had gone off for good, he might let me alone. You see he has been trying hard to murder me.”

“Good Lord!” I exclaimed. “When?”

“Four times,” said Sandy calmly, counting on his fingers. “Once before I left London. Oh, I can tell you I had an exciting departure. Three times in Paris, the last time only four days ago. I fancy he’s off my trail now, for he really thinks I sailed from Marseilles the day before yesterday.”

“But why on earth?”

“Well, I made some ill-advised remarks at the Thursday Club dinner. He believes that I’m the only man alive who might uncover him, and he won’t sleep peacefully till he knows that I am out of Europe and is convinced that I suspect nothing. I sent you those letters because I wanted to be let alone, seeing I had a lot to do, and nothing wastes time like dodging assassins. But my chief reason was to protect YOU. You mayn’t know it, Dick, but you’ve been walking for three weeks on the edge of a precipice with one foot nearly over. You’ve been in the most hideous danger, and I was never more relieved in my life than when I saw your solemn old face this morning. You were only safe when he regarded our friendship as broken and me out of the way and you his blind and devoted slave.”

“I’m that all right,” I said. “There’s been nothing like it since Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“Good. That’s the great thing, for it gives us a post in the enemy’s citadel. But we’re only at the beginning of a tremendous fight and there’s no saying how it will go. Have you sized up Medina?”

“Only a little bit. Have you?”

“I’m on the road. He’s the most complex thing I’ve ever struck. But now we’ve got to pool our knowledge. Shall I start?”

“Yes. Begin at the Thursday dinner. What started you off then? I could see that something he said intrigued you.”

“I must begin before that. You see, I’d heard a good deal about Medina up and down the world and couldn’t for the life of me place him. Everybody swore by him, but I had always a queer feeling about the man. I told you about Lavater. Well, I had nothing to go upon there except the notion that his influence upon my friend had been bad. So I began making inquiries, and, as you know, I’ve more facilities than most people for finding things out. I was curious to know what he had been doing during the War. The ordinary story was that he had been for the first two years pretty well lost in Central Asia, where he had gone on a scientific expedition, and that after that he has been with the Russians, and had finished up by doing great work with Denikin. I went into that story and discovered that he had been in Central Asia all right, but had never been near any fighting front and had never been within a thousand miles of Denikin. That’s what I meant when I told you that I believed the man was one vast lie.”

“He made everybody believe it.”

“That’s the point. He made the whole world believe what he wanted. Therefore he must be something quite out of the common — a propagandist of genius. That was my first conclusion. But how did he work? He must have a wonderful organisation, but he must have something more — the kind of personality which can diffuse itself like an atmosphere and which, like an electric current, is not weakened by distance. He must also have unique hypnotic powers. I had made a study of that in the East and had discovered how little we know here about the compulsion of spirit by spirit. That, I have always believed, is today, and ever has been, the true magic. You remember I said something about that at the Thursday dinner?”

I nodded. “I suppose you did it to try him?”

“Yes. It wasn’t very wise, for I might easily have frightened him. But I was luckier than I deserved, and I drew from him a tremendous confession.”

“The Latin quotation?”

“The Latin quotation. Sit vini abstemius qui hermeneuma tentat aut hominum petit dominatum. I nearly had a fit when I heard it. Listen, Dick. I’ve always had a craze for recondite subjects, and when I was at Oxford I wasted my time on them when I should have been working for my schools. I only got a third in Greats, but I acquired a lot of unusual information. One of my subjects was Michael Scott. Yes — the wizard, only he wasn’t a wizard, but a very patient and original thinker. He was a Borderer like me, and I started out to write a life of him. I kept up the study, and when I was at the Paris Embassy I spent my leisure tracking him through the libraries of Europe. Most of his works were published in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and mighty dull they are, but there are some still in manuscript, and I had always the hope of discovering more, for I was positive that the real Michael Scott was something far bigger than the translator and commentator whom we know. I believed that he taught the mad Emperor Ferdinand some queer things, and that the centre of his teaching was just how one human soul could control another. Well, as it turned out, I was right. I found some leaves of manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale, which I was certain were to be attributed to Michael. One of his best-known works, you remember, is the Physionomia, but that is only a version of Aristotle. This, too, was part of a Physionomia, and a very different thing from the other, for it purported to give the essence of the Secreta Secretorum — it would take too long to explain about that — and the teaching of the Therapeutae, with Michael’s own comments. It is a manual of the arts of spiritual control — oh, amazingly up-to-date, I assure you, and a long way ahead of our foolish psycho-analysts. Well, that quotation of Medina’s comes from that fragment — the rare word ‘hermeneuma’ caught my attention as soon as he uttered it. That proved that Medina was a student of Michael Scott, and showed me what was the bent of his mind.”

“Well, he gave himself away then, and you didn’t.”

“Oh yes, I did. You remember I asked him if he knew the guru who lived at the foot of the Shansi pass as you go over to Kaikand? That was a bad blunder, and it is on account of that question that he has been trying to remove me from the earth. For it was from that guru that he learned most of his art.”

“Was the guru’s name Kharáma?” I asked.

Sandy stared as if he had seen a ghost.

“Now how on earth do you know that?”

“Simply because I spent an hour with him and Medina a few nights ago.”

“The devil you did! Kharáma in London! Lord, Dick, this is an awesome business. Quick, tell me every single thing that passed.”

I told him as well as I remembered, and he seemed to forget his alarm and to be well satisfied. “This is tremendously important. You see the point of Medina’s talk? He wants to rivet his control over those three unfortunate devils, and to do that he is advised to assert it in some environment similar to that of their past lives. That gives us a chance to get on their track. And the control can only be released by him who first imposed it! I happened to know that, but I was not sure that Medina knew it. It is highly important to have found this out.”

“Finish your story,” I begged him. “I want to know what you have been doing abroad?”

“I continued my studies in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and I found that, as I suspected, Medina, or somebody like him, had got on to the Michael Scott MS. and had had a transcript made of it. I pushed my researches further, for Michael wasn’t the only pebble on the beach, though he was the biggest. Lord, Dick, it’s a queer business in a problem like ours to have to dig for help in the debris of the Middle Ages. I found out something — not much, but something.”

“And then?”

“Oh, all the time I was making inquiries about Medina’s past — not very fruitful — I’ve told you most of the results. Then I went to see Ram Dass — you remember my speaking about him. I thought he was in Munich, but I found him in Westphalia, keeping an eye on the German industrials. Don’t go to Germany for a holiday, Dick; it’s a sad country and a comfortless. I had to see Ram Dass, for he happens to be the brother of Kharáma.”

“What size of a fellow is Kharáma?” I asked.

Sandy’s reply was: “For knowledge of the practice unequalled but only a second-class practitioner”— exactly what Medina had said.

“Ram Dass told me most of what I wanted to know. But he isn’t aware that his brother is in Europe. I rather fancy he thinks he is dead. . . . That’s all I need tell you now. Fire away, Dick, and give me an exact account of your own doings.”

I explained as best I could the gradual change in Medina’s manner from friendship to proprietorship. I told how he had begun to talk freely to me, as if I were a disciple, and I described that extraordinary evening in Hill Street when I had met his mother.”

“His mother!” Sandy exclaimed, and made me go over every incident several times — the slap in the face, the spitting, my ultimate fainting. He seemed to enjoy it immensely. “Good business,” he said. “You never did a better day’s work, old man.”

“I have found the Blind Spinner at any rate,” I said.

“Yes. I had half guessed it. I didn’t mention it, but when I got into the house in Gospel Oak as the electric light man, I found a spinning-wheel in the back room, and they had been burning peat on the hearth. Well, that’s Number One.”

“I think I am on my way to find Number Two,” I said, and I told him of the talk I had overheard between the two about secundus and sending “the doctor” somewhere, and of how I had discovered that Dr. Newhover was starting this very day for the Skarso. “It’s the first clear clue,” I said, “and I think I ought to follow it up.”

“Yes. What do you propose to do?”

“I am travelling this evening on the Gudrun and I’m going to trail the fellow till I find out his game. I’m bound to act upon what little information we’ve got.”

“I agree. But this means a long absence from London, and secundus is only one of three.”

“Just a week,” I said. “I’ve got sick leave from Medina for a week, and I’m supposed to be having a rest cure at Fosse, with Mary warding off visitors. I’ve arranged with Archie Roylance to pick me up in an aeroplane about the 28th and bring me back. It doesn’t allow me much time, but an active man can do the deuce of a lot in a week.”

“Bravo!” he cried. “That’s your old moss-trooping self!”

“Do you approve?”

“Entirely. And, whatever happens, you present yourself to Medina on the 29th? That leaves us about six weeks for the rest of the job.”

“More like five,” I said gloomily, and I told him how I had learnt that the gang proposed to liquidate by midsummer, and that Macgillivray had therefore moved the date when he would take action ten days forward. “You see how we are placed. He must collect all the gang at the same moment, and we must release all three hostages, if we can, at the same time. The releasing mustn’t be done too soon or it will warn the gang. Therefore if Macgillivray strikes on the 10th of June, we must be ready to strike not earlier than the 9th and, of course, not later.”

“I see,” he said, and was silent for a little. “Have you anything more to tell me?”

I ransacked my memory and remembered about Odell. He wrote down the name of the dancing club where I had seen that unprepossessing butler. I mentioned that I had asked Macgillivray to get on to his dossier.

“You haven’t told Macgillivray too much?” he inquired anxiously and seemed relieved when I replied that I had never mentioned the Medina business.

“Well, here’s the position,” he said at last. “You go off for a week hunting Number Two. We are pretty certain that we have got Number One. Number Three — that nonsense about the fields of Eden and the Jew with a dyed beard in a curiosity shop in Marylebone — still eludes us. And of course we have as yet no word of any of the three hostages. There’s a terrible lot still to do. How do you envisage the thing, Dick? Do you think of the three, the girl, the young man, and the boy, shut up somewhere and guarded by Medina’s minions? Do you imagine that if we find their places of concealment we shall have done the job?”

“That was my idea.”

He shook his head. “It is far subtler than that. Did no one ever tell you that the best way of hiding a person is to strip him of his memory? Why is it that when a man loses his memory he is so hard to find? You see it constantly in the newspapers. Even a well-known figure, if he loses his memory and wanders away, is only discovered by accident. The reason is that the human personality is identified far less by appearance than by its habits and mind. Loss of memory means the loss of all true marks of identification, and the physical look alters to correspond. Medina has stolen these three poor souls’ memories and set them adrift like waifs. David Warcliff may at this moment be playing in a London gutter along with a dozen guttersnipes and his own father could scarcely pick him out from the rest. Mercot may be a dock labourer or a deck hand, whom you wouldn’t recognise if you met him, though you had sat opposite him in a college hall every night for a year. And Miss Victor may be in a gaiety chorus or a milliner’s assistant or a girl in a dancing saloon. . . . Wait a minute. You saw Odell at a dance-club? There may be something in that.” I could see his eyes abstracted in thought.

“There’s another thing I forgot to mention,” I said. “Miss Victor’s fiancé is over here, staying in Carlton House Terrace. He is old Turpin, who used to be with the division — the Marquis de la Tour du Pin.”

Sandy wrote the name down. “Her fiancé. He may come in useful. What sort of fellow?”

“Brave as a lion, but he’ll want watching, for he’s a bit of a Gascon.”

We went out after breakfast and sat in an arbour looking down a shallow side-valley to the upper streams of the Windrush. The sounds of morning were beginning to rise from the little village far away in the bottom, the jolt of a wagon, the “clink-clenk” from the smithy, the babble of children at play. In a fortnight the may-fly would be here, and every laburnum and guelder rose in bloom. Sandy, who had been away from England for years, did not speak for a long time, but drank in the sweet-scented peace of it. “Poor devil,” he said at last. “He has nothing like this to love. He can only hate.”

I asked whom he was talking about, and he said “Medina.”

“I’m trying to understand him. You can’t fight a man unless you understand him, and in a way sympathise with him.”

“Well, I can’t say I sympathise with him, and I most certainly don’t understand him.”

“Do you remember once telling me that he had no vanity? You were badly out there. He has a vanity which amounts to delirium.

“This is how I read him,” he went on. “To begin with, there’s a far-away streak of the Latin in him, but he is mainly Irish, and that never makes a good cross. He’s the déraciné Irish, such as you find in America. I take it that he imbibed from that terrible old woman — I’ve never met her, but I see her plainly and I know that she is terrible — he imbibed that venomous hatred of imaginary things — an imaginary England, an imaginary civilisation, which they call love of country. There is no love in it. They think there is, and sentimentalise about an old simplicity, and spinning wheels and turf fires and an uncouth language, but it’s all hollow. There’s plenty of decent plain folk in Ireland, but his kind of déraciné is a ghastly throw-back to something you find in the dawn of history, hollow and cruel like the fantastic gods of their own myths. Well, you start with this ingrained hate.”

“I agree about the old lady. She looked like Lady Macbeth.”

“But hate soon becomes conceit. If you hate, you despise, and when you despise you esteem inordinately the self which despises. This is how I look at it, but remember, I’m still in the dark and only feeling my way to an understanding. I see Medina growing up — I don’t know in what environment — conscious of great talents and immense good looks, flattered by those around him till he thinks himself a god. His hatred does not die, but it is transformed into a colossal egotism and vanity, which, of course, is a form of hate. He discovers quite early that he has this remarkable hypnotic power — Oh, you may laugh at it, because you happen to be immune from it, but it is a big thing in the world for all that. He discovers another thing — that he has an extraordinary gift of attracting people and making them believe in him. Some of the worst scoundrels in history have had it. Now, remember his vanity. It makes him want to play the biggest game. He does not want to be a king among pariahs; he wants to be the ruler of what is most strange to him, what he hates and in an unwilling bitter way admires. So he aims at conquering the very heart, the very soundest part of our society. Above all he wants to be admired by men and admitted into the innermost circle.”

“He has succeeded all right,” I said.

“He has succeeded, and that is the greatest possible tribute to his huge cleverness. Everything about him is dead right — clothes, manner, modesty, accomplishments. He has made himself an excellent sportsman. Do you know why he shoots so well, Dick? By faith — or fatalism, if you like. His vanity doesn’t allow him to believe that he could miss. . . . But he governs himself strictly. In his life he is practically an ascetic, and though he is adored by women he doesn’t care a straw for them. There are no lusts of the flesh in that kind of character. He has one absorbing passion which subdues all others — what our friend Michael Scott called ‘hominum dominatus.’”

“I see that. But how do you explain the other side?”

“It is all the ancestral hate. First of all, of course, he has got to have money, so he gets it in the way Macgillivray knows about. Second, he wants to build up a regiment of faithful slaves. That’s where you come in, Dick. There is always that inhuman hate at the back of his egotism. He wants to conquer in order to destroy, for destruction is the finest meat for his vanity. You’ll find the same thing in the lives of Eastern tyrants, for when a man aspires to be like God he becomes an incarnate devil.”

“It is a tough proposition,” I observed dismally.

“It would be an impossible proposition, but for one thing. He is always in danger of giving himself away out of sheer arrogance. Did you ever read the old Irish folk-lore? Very beautiful it is, but there is always something fantastic and silly which mars the finest stories. They lack the grave good-sense which you find in the Norse sagas and, of course, in the Greek. Well, he has this freakish element in his blood. That is why he sent out that rhyme about the three hostages, which by an amazing concatenation of chances put you on to his trail. Our hope is — and, mind you, I think it is a slender hope — that his vanity may urge him to further indiscretions.”

“I don’t know how you feel about it,” I said, “but I’ve got a pretty healthy hatred for that lad. I’m longing for a quiet life, but I swear I won’t settle down again till I’ve got even with him.”

“You never will,” said Sandy solemnly. “Don’t let’s flatter ourselves that you and I are going to down Medina. We are not. A very wise man once said to me that in this life you could often get success, if you didn’t want victory. In this case we’re out for success only. We want to release the hostages. Victory we can never hope for. Why, man, supposing we succeed fully, we’ll never be able to connect Medina with the thing. His tools are faithful, because he has stolen their souls and they work blindly under him. Supposing Macgillivray rounds up all the big gang and puts the halter round their necks. There will be none of them to turn King’s evidence and give Medina away. Why? Because none of them KNOW anything against him. They’re his unconscious agents, and very likely most have never seen him. And you may be pretty sure that his banking accounts are too skilfully arranged to show anything.”

“All the same,” I said stubbornly, “I have a notion that I’ll be able to put a spoke in his wheel.”

“Oh, I dare say we can sow suspicion, but I believe he’ll be too strong for us. He’ll advance in his glorious career, and may become Prime Minister — or Viceroy of India — what a chance the second would be for him! — and publish exquisite little poetry books, as finished and melancholy as The Shropshire Lad. Pessimism, you know, is often a form of vanity.”

At midday it was time for me to be off, if I was to be at Hull by six o’clock. I asked Sandy what he proposed to do next, and he said he was undecided. “My position,” he said, “badly cramps my form. It would be ruination if Medina knew I was in England — ruination for both you and me. Mr. Alexander Thomson must lie very low. I must somehow get in touch with Macgillivray to hear if he has anything about Odell. I rather fancy Odell. But there will probably be nothing doing till you come back, and I think I’ll have a little fishing.”

“Suppose I want to get hold of you?”

“Suppose nothing of the kind. You mustn’t make any move in my direction. That’s our only safety. If I want you I’ll come to you.”

As I was starting he said suddenly: “I’ve never met your wife, Dick. What about my going over to Fosse and introducing myself?”

“The very thing,” I cried. “She is longing to meet you. But remember that I’m supposed to be lying sick upstairs.”

As I looked back he was waving his hand, and his face wore its familiar elfish smile.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32