The Three Hostages, by John Buchan

Chapter VI

The House in Gospel Oak

It was a dry March afternoon, with one of those fantastic winds which seem to change their direction hourly, and contrive to be in a man’s face at every street corner. The dust was swirling in the gutters, and the scent of hyacinth and narcissus from the flower-shops was mingled with that bleak sandy smell which is London’s foretaste of spring. As I crossed Oxford Street I remember thinking what an odd pointless business I had drifted into. I saw nothing for it but to continue drifting and see what happened. I was on my way to visit a doctor of whom I knew nothing, about some ailment which I was not conscious of possessing. I didn’t even trouble to make a plan, being content to let chance have the guiding of me.

The house was one of those solid dreary erections which have usually the names of half a dozen doctors on their front doors. But in this case there was only one — Dr. M. Newhover. The parlourmaid took me into the usual drab waiting-room furnished with Royal Academy engravings, fumed oak, and an assortment of belated picture-papers, and almost at once she returned and ushered me into the consulting-room. This again was of the most ordinary kind — glazed bookcases, wash-hand basin in a corner, roll-top desk, a table with a medical journal or two and some leather cases. And Dr. Newhover at first sight seemed nothing out of the common. He was a youngish man, with high cheek-bones, a high forehead, and a quantity of blond hair brushed straight back from it. He wore a pince-nez, and when he removed it showed pale prominent blue eyes. From his look I should have said that his father had called himself Neuhofer.

He greeted me with a manner which seemed to me to be at once patronising and dictatorial. I wondered if he was some tremendous swell in his profession, of whom I ought to have heard. “Well, Mr. Hannay, what can I do for you?” he said. I noticed that he called me “Mr.,” though I had given “Sir Richard” both on the telephone and to the parlourmaid. It occurred to me that someone had already been speaking of me to him, and that he had got the name wrong in his memory.

I thought I had better expound the alarming symptoms with which I had awakened that morning.

“I don’t know what’s gone wrong with me,” I said. “I’ve a pain behind my eyeballs, and my whole head seems muddled up. I feel drowsy and slack, and I’ve got a weakness in my legs and back like a man who has just had ‘flu.”

He made me sit down and proceeded to catechise me about my health. I said it had been good enough, but I mentioned my old malaria and several concussions, and I pretended to be pretty nervous about my condition. Then he went through the whole bag of tricks — sounding me with a stethoscope, testing my blood pressure, and hitting me hard below the knee to see if I reacted. I had to play up to my part, but upon my soul I came near reacting too vigorously to some of his questions and boxing his ears. Always he kept up that odd, intimate, domineering, rather offensive manner.

He made me lie down on a couch while he fingered the muscles of my neck and shoulder and seemed to be shampooing my head with his long chilly hands. I was by this time feeling rather extra well, but I managed to invent little tendernesses here and there and a lot of alarming mental aberrations. I wondered if he were not getting suspicious, for he asked abruptly: “Have you had these symptoms long?” so I thought it better to return to the truth, and told him “only since this morning.”

At last he bade me get up, took off the tortoise-shell spectacles he had been wearing and resumed his pince-nez, and while I was buttoning my collar seemed to be sunk in reflection. He made me sit in the patient’s chair, and stood up and looked down on me with a magisterial air that made me want to laugh.

“You are suffering,” he said, “from a somewhat abnormal form of a common enough complaint. Just as the effects of a concussion are often manifest only some days after the blow, so the results of nervous strain may take a long time to develop. I have no doubt that in spite of your good health you have during recent years been working your mind and body at an undue pressure, and now this morning quite suddenly you reap the fruits. I don’t want to frighten you, Mr. Hannay, but neurosis is so mysterious a disease in its working that we must take it seriously, especially at its first manifestations. There are one or two points in your case which I am not happy about. There is, for example, a certain congestion — or what seems to me a congestion — in the nerve centres of the neck and head. That may be induced by the accidents — concussion and the like — which you have told me of, or it may not. The true cure must, of course, take time, and rest and change of scene are obligatory. You are fond of sport? A fisherman?”

I told him I was.

“Well, a little later I may prescribe a salmon river in Norway. The remoteness of the life from ordinary existence and the contemplation of swift running water have had wonderful results with some of my patients. But Norway is not possible till May, and in the meantime I am going to order you specific treatment. Yes. I mean massage, but by no means ordinary massage. That science is still in its infancy, and its practitioners are only fumbling at the doorway. But now and then we find a person, man or woman, with a kind of extra sense for disentangling and smoothing out muscular and nervous abnormalities. I am going to send you to such an one. The address may surprise you, but you are man of the world enough to know that medical skill is not confined to the area between Oxford Street and the Marylebone Road.” He took off his glasses, and smiled.

Then he wrote something on a slip of paper and handed it to me. I read “Madame Breda, 4 Palmyra Square, N.W.”

“Right!” I said. “Much obliged to you. I hope Madame Breda will cure this infernal headache. When can I see her?”

“I can promise you she will cure the headache. She is a Swedish lady who has lived in London since the War, and is so much an enthusiast in her art that she will only now and then take a private patient. For the most part she gives her skill free to the children’s hospitals. But she will not refuse me. As for beginning, I should lose no time for the sake of your own comfort. What about tomorrow morning?”

“Why not to-night? I have nothing to do, and I want to be quit of my headache before bedtime. Why shouldn’t I go on there now?”

“No reason in the world. But I must make an appointment. Madame is on the telephone. Excuse me a moment.”

He left the room and returned in a few minutes to say that he had made an appointment for seven o’clock. “It is an outlandish place to get to, but most taxi-drivers know it. If your man doesn’t, tell him to drive to Gospel Oak, and then any policeman will direct you.”

I had my cheque-book with me, but he didn’t want his fee, saying that he was not done with me. I was to come back in a week and report progress. As I left I had a strong impression of a hand as cold as a snake, pale bulging eyes, and cheekbones like a caricature of a Scotchman. An odd but rather impressive figure was Dr. Newhover. He didn’t look a fool, and if I hadn’t known the uncommon toughness of my constitution I might have been unsettled by his forebodings.

I walked down to Oxford Street and had tea in a tea-shop. As I sat among the chattering typists and shopboys I kept wondering whether I was not wasting my time and behaving like a jackass. Here was I, as fit as a hunter, consulting specialists and visiting unknown masseuses in North London, and all with no clear purpose. In less than twenty-four hours I had tumbled into a perfectly crazy world, and for a second I had a horrid doubt whether the craziness was not inside my mind. Had something given in my brain last night in Medina’s room, so that now I was what people call “wanting”? I went over the sequence of events again, and was reassured by remembering that in it all I had kept my head. I had not got to the stage of making theories; I was still only waiting on developments, and I couldn’t see any other way before me. I must, of course, get hold of Sandy, but first let me see what this massage business meant. It might all be perfectly square; I might have remembered Dr. Newhover’s name by a queer trick of memory — heard it, perhaps, from some friend — and that remarkable practitioner might be quite honest. But then I remembered the man’s manner — I was quite clear that he knew something of me, that someone had told him to expect me. Then it occurred to me that I might be doing a rash thing in going off to an unknown house in a seedy suburb. So I went into a public telephone-booth, rang up the Club, and told the porter that if Colonel Arbuthnot called, I was at 4 Palmyra Square, N.W. — I made him write down the address — and would be back before ten o’clock.

I was rather short of exercise, so I decided to walk, since I had plenty of time. Strangely enough, the road was pretty much that which I had taken on that June day of 1914 when I had been waiting on Bulivant and the Black Stone gentry, and had walked clean out of London to pass the time. Then, I remembered, I had been thrilling with wild anticipation, but now I was an older and much wiser man, and though I was sufficiently puzzled I could curb my restlessness with philosophy. I went up Portland Place, past the Regent’s Park, till I left the houses of the well-to-do behind me, and got into that belt of mean streets which is the glacis of the northern heights. Various policemen directed me, and I enjoyed the walk as if I had been exploring, for London is always to me an undiscovered country. I passed yards which not so long ago had been patches of market-garden, and terraces, sometime pretentious, and now sinking into slums; for London is like the tropical bush — if you don’t exercise constant care the jungle, in the shape of the slums, will break in. The streets were full of clerks and shop-girls waiting for buses, and workmen from the St. Pancras and Clerkenwell factories going home. The wind was rising, and in the untidy alleys was stirring up a noisome dust; but as the ground rose it blew cleaner and seemed to bring from Kentish fields and the Channel the tonic freshness of spring. I stopped for a little and watched behind me the plain of lights, which was London, quivering in the dark-blue windy dusk.

It was almost dark when at last, after several false casts, I came into Palmyra Square. It was a square only in name, for one side was filled with a warehouse of sorts, and another straggled away in nests of small brick houses. One side was a terrace of artisans’ dwellings, quite new, each with a tiny bow-window and names like “Chatsworth” and “Kitchener Villa.” The fourth side, facing south, had once had a certain dignity, and the builder who had designed the place seventy years ago had thought, no doubt, that he was creating a desirable residential quarter. There the houses stood apart, each in a patch of garden, which may at one time have had lawns and flowers. Now these gardens were mere dusty yards, the refuge of tin cans and bits of paper, and only a blackened elm, an ill-grown privet hedge, and some stunted lilacs told of the more cheerful past. On one house was the brass plate of a doctor, on another that of a teacher of music; several advertised lodgings to let; the steps were untidy, the gates askew on their hinges, and over everything was written the dreary legend of a shabby gentility on the very brink of squalor.

Number 4 was smarter than the others, and its front door had been newly painted a vivid green. I rang the bell, which was an electric one, and the door was opened by a maid who looked sufficiently respectable. When I entered I saw that the house was on a more generous scale than I had thought, and had once, no doubt, been the home of some comfortable citizen. The hall was not the tank-like thing of the small London dwelling, and the room into which I was ushered, though small, was well furnished and had an electric fire in the grate. It seemed to be a kind of business room, for there was a telephone, a big safe, and on the shelves a line of lettered boxes for papers. I began to think that Madame Breda, whoever she might be, must be running a pretty prosperous show on ordinary business lines.

I was presently led by the maid to a room on the other side of the hall, where I was greeted by a smiling lady. Madame was a plump person in the early forties, with dark hair and a high colour, who spoke English almost without an accent. “Dr. Newhover has sent you. So? He has told me. Will you please go in there and take off your coat and waistcoat? Your collar, too, please.”

I did as I was bid, and in a little curtained cubicle divested myself of these garments and returned in my shirt-sleeves. The room was a very pleasant one, with folding doors at one end, furnished like an ordinary drawing-room, with flowers in pots and books, and what looked like good eighteenth-century prints. Any suspicion I may have had of the bona fides of the concern received a rude shock. Madame had slipped over her black dress a white linen overall, such as surgeons wear, and she had as her attendant a small thin odd-looking girl, who also wore an overall, and whose short hair was crowned with a small white cap.

“This is Gerda,” Madame said. “Gerda helps me. She is very clever.” She smiled on Gerda, and Gerda smiled back, a limp little contortion of a perfectly expressionless face.

Madame made me lie down on a couch. “You have a headache?”

I mendaciously said that I had.

“That I can soon cure. But there are other troubles? So? These I must explore. But first I will take away the pain.”

“I felt her light firm fingers playing about my temples and the base of my skull and my neck muscles. A very pleasant sensation it was, and I am certain that if I had been suffering from the worst headache in the world it would have been spirited away. As it was, being in excellent health, I felt soothed and freshened.

“So,” she said, beaming down on me. “You are better? You are so beeg that it is not easy to be well all over at once. Now, I must look into more difficult things. You are not happy in your nerves — not altogether. Ah! these nerves! We do not quite know what they are, except that they are what you call the devil. You are very wakeful now. Is it not so? Well I must put you to sleep. That is necessary, if you are willing.”

“Right-o,” I answered; but inwardly I said to myself, “No, my woman, I bet you don’t.” I was curious to see if, now that I was forewarned, I could resist any hypnotic business, as I believed I could.

I imagined that she would try to master me with her eyes, which were certainly remarkable orbs. But her procedure was the very opposite, for the small girl brought some things on a tray, and I saw that they were bandages. First of all, with a fine cambric handkerchief, she swathed my eyes, and then tied above it another of some heavy opaque material. They were loosely bound, so that I scarcely felt them, but I was left in the thickest darkness. I noticed that she took special pains so to adjust them that they should not cover my ears.

“You are not wakeful,” I heard her voice say, “I think you are sleepy. You will sleep now.”

I felt her fingers stray over my face, and the sensation was different, for whereas, when she had treated my headache, they had set up a delicious cool tingling of the skin, now they seemed to induce wave upon wave of an equally pleasant langour. She pressed my forehead, and my senses seemed to be focused there and to be lulled by that pressure. All the while she was cooing to me in a voice which was like the drowsy swell of the sea. If I had wanted to go to sleep I could have dropped off easily, but, as I didn’t want to, I had no difficulty in resisting the gentle coercion. That, I fancy, is my position about hypnotism. I am no kind of use under compulsion, and for the thing to affect me it has to have the backing of my own will. Anyhow, I could appreciate the pleasantness of it and yet disregard it. But it was my business to be a good subject, so I pretended to drift away into slumber. I made my breath come slowly and softly, and let my body relax into impassivity.

Presently she appeared to be satisfied. She said a word to the child, whose feet I could hear cross the room. There was a sound of opening doors — my ears, remember, were free of the bandages and my hearing is acute — and then it seemed to me that the couch on which I lay began slowly to move. I had a moment of alarm and nearly gave away the show by jerking up my head. The couch seemed to travel very smoothly on rails, and I was conscious that I had passed through the folding doors and was now in another room. Then the movement stopped, and I realised that I was in an entirely different atmosphere. I realised, too, that a new figure had come on the scene.

There was no word spoken, but I had the queer inexplicable consciousness of human presences which is independent of sight and hearing. I have said that the atmosphere of the place had changed. There was a scent in the air which anywhere else I would have sworn was due to peat smoke, and mixed with it another intangible savour which I could not put a name to, but which did not seem to belong to London at all, or to any dwelling, but to some wild out-of-doors. . . . And then I was aware of noiseless fingers pressing my temples.

They were not the plump capable hands of Madame Breda. Nay, they were as fine and tenuous as a wandering wind, but behind their airy lightness was a hint of steel, as if they could choke as well as caress. I lay supine, trying to keep my breathing regular, since I was supposed to be asleep, but I felt an odd excitement rising in my heart. And then it quieted for the fingers seemed to be smoothing it away. . . . A voice was speaking in a tongue of which I knew not a word, not speaking to me, but repeating, as it were, a private incantation. And the touch and voice combined to bring me nearer to losing my wits than even on the night before, nearer than I have ever been in all my days.

The experience was so novel and overpowering that I find it hard to give even a rough impression of it. Let me put it this way. A man at my time of life sees old age not so very far distant, and the nearer he draws to the end of his journey the more ardently he longs for his receding youth. I do not mean that, if some fairy granted him the gift, he would go back to boyhood; few of us would choose such a return; but he clothes all his youth in a happy radiance and aches to recapture the freshness and wonder with which he then looked on life. He treasures, like a mooning girl, stray sounds and scents and corners of landscape, which for a moment push the door ajar. . . . As I lay blindfolded on that couch I felt mysterious hands and voices plucking on my behalf at the barrier of the years and breaking it down. I was escaping into a delectable country, the Country of the Young, and I welcomed the escape. Had I been hypnotised, I should beyond doubt have moved like a sheep whithersoever this shepherd willed.

But I was awake, and, though on the very edge of surrender, I managed to struggle above the tides. Perhaps to my waking self the compulsion was too obvious and aroused a faint antagonism. Anyhow I had already begun a conscious resistance when the crooning voice spoke in English.

“You are Richard Hannay,” it said. “You have been asleep, but I have wakened you. You are happy in the world in which you have wakened?”

My freedom was now complete, for I had begun to laugh, silently, far down at the bottom of my heart. I remembered last night, and the performance in Medina’s house which had all day been growing clearer in my memory. I saw it as farce, and this as farce, and at the coming of humour the spell died. But it was up to me to make some kind of an answer, if I wanted to keep up the hoax, so I did my best to screw out an eerie sleep-walker’s voice.

“I am happy,” I said, and my pipe sounded like the twittering of sheeted ghosts.

“You wish to wake often in this world?”

I signified by a croak that I did.

“But to wake you must first sleep, and I alone can make you sleep and wake. I exact a price, Richard Hannay. Will you pay my price?”

I was puzzled about the voice. It had not the rich foreign tones of Madame Breda, but it had a very notable accent, which I could not place. At one moment it seemed to have the lilt which you find in Western Ross, but there were cadences in it which were not Highland. Also, its timbre was curious — very light and thin like a child’s. Was it possible that the queer little girl I had seen was the sibyl? No, I decided; the hands had not been a child’s hands.

“I will pay any price,” I said, which seemed to be the answer required of me.

“Then you are my servant when I summon you. Now, sleep again.”

I had never felt less like being anyone’s servant. The hands fluttered again around my temples, but they had no more effect on me than the buzzing of flies. I had an insane desire to laugh, which I repressed by thinking of the idiotic pointlessness of my recent doings. . . . I felt my couch slide backwards, and heard the folding doors open again and close. Then I felt my bandages being deftly undone, and I lay with the light on my closed eyelids, trying to look like a sleeping warrior on a tomb. Someone was pressing below my left ear and I recognised the old hunter’s method of bringing a man back gently from sleep to consciousness, so I set about the job of making a workmanlike awaking. I hope I succeeded. Anyhow I must have looked dazed enough, for the lamps hurt my eyes after the muffled darkness.

I was back in the first room, with only Madame beside me. She beamed on me with the friendliest eyes, and helped me on with my coat and collar. “I have had you under close observation,” she said, “for sleep often reveals where the ragged ends of the nerves lie. I have made certain deductions, which I will report to Dr. Newhover. . . . No, there is no fee. Dr. Newhover will make arrangements.” She bade me good-bye in the best professional manner, and I descended the steps into Palmyra Square as if I had been spending a commonplace hour having my back massaged for lumbago.

Once in the open air I felt abominably tired and very hungry. By good luck I hadn’t gone far when I picked up a taxi and told it to drive to the Club. I looked at my watch and saw that it was later than I thought — close on ten o’clock. I had been several hours in the house, and small wonder I was weary.

I found Sandy wandering restlessly about the hall. “Thank God!” he said when he saw me. “Where the devil have you been, Dick? The porter gave me a crazy address in North London. You look as if you wanted a drink.”

“I feel as if I wanted food,” I said. “I have a lot to tell you, but I must eat first. I’ve had no dinner.”

Sandy sat opposite me while I fed, and forbore to ask questions.

“What put you in such a bad humour last night?” I asked.

He looked very solemn. “Lord knows. No, that’s not true, I know well enough. I didn’t take to Medina.”

“Now I wonder why?”

“I wonder too. But I’m just like a dog: I take a dislike to certain people at first sight, and the queer thing is that my instinct isn’t often wrong.”

“Well, you’re pretty well alone in your opinion. What sets you against him? He is well-mannered, modest, a good sportsman, and you can see he’s as clever as they make.”

“Maybe. But I’ve got a notion that the man is one vast lie. However, let’s put it that I reserve my opinion. I have various inquiries to make.”

We found the little back smoking-room on the first floor empty, and when I had lit my pipe and got well into an armchair, Sandy drew up another at my elbow. “Now, Dick,” he said.

“First,” I said, “it may interest you to learn that Medina dabbles in hypnotism.”

“I knew that,” he said, “from his talk last night.”

“How on earth —?”

“Oh, from a casual quotation he used. It’s a longish story, which I’ll tell you later. Go on.”

I began from the break-up of the Thursday Club dinner and told him all I could remember of my hours in Medina’s house. As a story it met with an immense success. Sandy was so interested that he couldn’t sit in his chair, but must get up and stand on the hearth-rug before me. I told him that I had wakened up feeling uncommonly ill, with a blank mind except for the address of a doctorman in Wimpole Street, and how during the day recollection had gradually come back to me. He questioned me like a cross-examining counsel.

“Bright light — ordinary hypnotic property. Face, which seemed detached — that’s a common enough thing in Indian magic. You say you must have been asleep, but were also in a sense awake and could hear and answer questions, and that you felt a kind of antagonism all the time which kept your will alive. You’re probably about the toughest hypnotic proposition in the world, Dick, and you can thank God for that. Now, what were the questions? A summons to forget your past and begin as a new creature, subject to the authority of a master. You assented, making private reservations of which the hypnotist knew nothing. If you had not kept your head and made those reservations, you would have remembered nothing at all of last night, but there would have been a subconscious bond over your will. As it is, you’re perfectly free: only the man who tried to monkey with you doesn’t know that. Therefore you begin by being one up on the game. You know where you are and he doesn’t know where he is.”

“What do you suppose Medina meant by it? It was infernal impertinence anyhow. But was it Medina? I seem to remember another man in the room before I left.”

“Describe him.”

“I’ve only a vague picture — a sad grey-faced fellow.”

“Well, assume for the present that the experimenter was Medina. There’s such a thing, remember, as spiriting away a man’s recollection of his past, and starting him out as a waif in a new world. I’ve heard in the East of such performances, and of course it means that the memory-less being is at the mercy of the man who has stolen his memory. That is probably not the intention in your case. They wanted only to establish a subconscious control. But it couldn’t be done at once with a fellow of your antecedents, so they organised a process. They suggested to you in your trance a doctor’s name, and the next stage was his business. You woke feeling very seedy and remembering a doctor’s address, and they argued that you would think that you had been advised about the fellow and make a bee-line for him. Remember, they would assume that you had no recollection of anything else from the night’s doings. Now go ahead and tell me about the chirurgeon. Did you go to see him?”

I continued my story, and at the Wimpole Street episode Sandy laughed long and loud.

“Another point up in the game. You say you think the leech had been advised of your coming and not by you? By the way, he seems to have talked fairly good sense, but I’d as soon set a hippopotamus for nerves as you.” He wrote down Dr. Newhover’s address in his pocket book. “Continuez. You then proceeded, I take it, to 4 Palmyra Square.”

At the next stage in my narrative he did not laugh. I dare say I told it better than I have written it down here, for I was fresh from the experience, and I could see that he was a good deal impressed.

“A Swedish masseuse and an odd-looking little girl. She puts you to sleep, or thinks she has, and then, when your eyes are bandaged, someone else nearly charms the soul out of you. That sounds big magic. I see the general lines of it, but it is big magic, and I didn’t know that it was practised on these shores. Dick, this is getting horribly interesting. You kept wide awake — you are an old buffalo, you know — but you gave the impression of absolute surrender. Good for you — you are now three points ahead in the game.”

“Well, but what is the game? I’m hopelessly puzzled.”

“So am I, but we must work on assumptions. Let us suppose Medina is responsible. He may only be trying to find out the extent of his powers, and selects you as the most difficult subject to be found. You may be sure he knows all about your record. He may be only a vain man experimenting.”

“In which case,” I said, “I propose to punch his head.”

“In which case, as you justly observe, you will give yourself the pleasure of punching his head. But suppose that he has got a far deeper purpose, something really dark and damnable. If by his hypnotic power he could make a tool of you, consider what an asset he would have found. A man of your ability and force. I have always said, you remember, that you had a fine natural talent for crime.”

“I tell you, Sandy, that’s nonsense. It’s impossible that there’s anything wrong — badly wrong — with Medina.”

“Improbable, but not impossible. We’re taking no chances. And if he were a scoundrel, think what a power he might be with all his talents and charm and popularity.”

Sandy flung himself into a chair and appeared to be meditating. Once or twice he broke silence.

“I wonder what Dr. Newhover meant by talking of a salmon river in Norway. Why not golf at North Berwick?”

And again:

“You say there was a scent like peat in the room? Peat! You are certain?”

Finally he got up. “To-morrow,” he said, “I think I will have a look round the house in Gospel Oak. Gospel Oak, by the way, is a funny name, isn’t it? You say it has electric light. I will visit it as a man from the corporation to see about the meter. Oh, that can easily be managed. Macgillivray will pass the word for me.”

The mention of Macgillivray brought me to attention. “Look here,” I said, “I’m simply wasting my time. I got in touch with Medina in order to ask his help, and now I’ve been landed in a set of preposterous experiences which have nothing to do with my job. I must see Macgillivray tomorrow about getting alongside his Shropshire squire. For the present there can be nothing doing with Medina.”

“Shropshire squire be hanged! You’re an old ass, Dick. For the present there’s everything doing with Medina. You wanted his help. Why? Because he was the next stage in the clue to that nonsensical rhyme. Well, you’ve discovered that there may be odd things about him. You can’t get his help, but you may get something more. You may get the secret itself. Instead of having to burrow into his memory, as you did with Greenslade, you may find it sticking out of his life.”

“Do you really believe that?” I asked in some bewilderment.

“I believe nothing as yet. But it is far the most promising line. He thinks that from what happened last night PLUS what happened two hours ago you are under his influence, an acolyte, possibly a tool. It may be all quite straight, or it may be most damnably crooked. You have got to find out. You must keep close to him, and foster his illusions, and play up to him for all you’re worth. He is bound to show his hand. You needn’t take any steps on your own account. He’ll give you the lead all right.”

I can’t say I liked the prospect, for I have no love for playacting, but I am bound to admit that Sandy talked sense. I asked him about himself, for I counted on his backing more than I could say.

“I propose to resume my travels,” he said. “I wish to pursue my studies in the Bibliothèque Nationale of France.”

“But I thought you were with me in this show.”

“So I am. I go abroad on your business, as I shall explain to you some day. Also I want to see the man whom we used to call Ram Dass. I believe him to be in Munich at this moment. The day after tomorrow you will read in The Times that Colonel the Master of Clanroyden has gone abroad for an indefinite time on private business.”

“How long will you be away?” I groaned.

“A week perhaps, or a fortnight — or more. And when I come back it may not be as Sandy Arbuthnot.”

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