فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Chapter four

The Adventure with Sir Harry

It was a beautiful morning, but I was not thinking about the fine weather or the views around me. My thoughts were all of Scudder and his notes.

I knew now that Scudder lied to me in my flat. He told me a lot about Karolides, and part of it was true. But he did not tell me his really important secrets. Perhaps he was afraid to tell anyone. Of course Karolides was in danger, but the danger to Europe itself was greater! That was the real secret which Scudder kept in his little book.

The words “thirty-nine steps” were there several times in his notes. In one place he wrote: “Thirty-nine steps. I counted them. High tide 10.17 p.m.” What did it mean? The “thirty-nine steps” were somewhere on the coast; the word “tide” proved that. But why were these steps important?

Scudder’s notes said that there was definitely going to be a war. Nobody could stop it. The Germans had their plans ready years before, in February 1912. They planned to kill Karolides and to use his death as the excuse for war. “The Germans will talk about calm in Europe,” he wrote, “but they’re ready for war. They’re going to attack us suddenly.”

Scudder also wrote about the visit of a French officer to London. He was the head of the French army and was coming on 15 June. “This officer will learn about the British plans and will then return to France.” Scudder added that the Black Stone, the group of German spies, were also going to be in London on that same day. They hoped to learn about the plans too and to send them to Germany. When he died, Scudder was trying to stop them.

I drove on through the pretty villages of Galloway. It was a beautiful part of Scotland. But I could not enjoy the calm that was all around me. I had to get away from my enemies and stop them killing me. I had to find a way to continue Scudder’s work. But it was going to be very difficult. The police and the “Black Stone” were after me, and I had no friends in Scotland.

At midday I came to a large village. I was very hungry and I decided to stop there. Then I saw a policeman. He was standing outside the Post Office, reading a telegram.

When he saw my car, he lifted his hand. At the same time he ran into the middle of the road.

‘Stop! Stop!’ he shouted.

I suddenly knew that the telegram was about me. After their conversation at the inn, perhaps the police accepted the spies’ story. The spies probably described me and the car, and the police then sent telegrams to officers in all the villages.

I did not stop. The policeman put out his hand and ran along at the side of the car. He caught my arm through the window, which was open. I hit him very hard and he fell back into the road. I drove into the country again.

I drove up and down several hills. I was tired and hungry. I began to look for a quiet inn where I could rest. But suddenly there was a noise above me and I looked up. The plane was a few kilometres away, flying towards me. I drove fast down a hill between the trees. A car drove out from a side road, and I could not stop. I pulled the wheel hard to the right and shut my eyes.

My car ran through the trees and started to fall. I saw a river 15 metres below me. I jumped out of the car and fell into the grass. There was a terrible noise as the car turned over several times. Then it lay like a pile of old metal on the river bank.

Someone took my hand and pulled me out of the grass. A kind voice said, ‘Are you hurt?’

A tall young man was standing there. ‘I’m very sorry about this,’ he said. ‘I saw your car, but neither of us could stop in time. I hope that you’re all right. But you look quite pale.’

I was rather pleased about the accident. The police were looking for that car, so I could not travel far in it now.

‘I was the one who was driving badly, sir,’ I said. ‘I was going too fast on these narrow roads. Well, I can’t drive that car again. This is the end of my Scottish holiday, but at least I’m not dead.’

‘I’m very sorry,’ he said again. He looked at his watch and continued. ‘There’s time to go to my house. You can change your clothes and have something to eat there. Where’s your case? Is it down there in the car?’

‘No. All my things are at an inn 60 kilometres away.’ What could I tell him about myself? I did not want to say that I was Rhodesian. My name was in all the newspapers. The police knew that I was from Rhodesia. So I decided to be an Australian. I knew a lot about Australia. Then he could not discover who I was.

‘I’m Australian,’ I continued, ‘and I never carry a lot of clothes with me.’

‘An Australian,’ he cried. ‘Well, I’m the luckiest man in Scotland! You are against Protection, of course.’

‘I am,’ I answered quickly. But I had no idea what he meant.

‘That’s fine. The free movement of goods is the best thing for Britain. Well now, you’ll be able to help me this evening.’ He took my arm and pulled me towards his car.

A few minutes later we reached the house. He took out three or four of his suits and put them on the bed. I chose a dark blue suit and put it on. I also borrowed one of his shirts. Then he took me to the kitchen. There was some food on the table. ‘If we don’t hurry, we’ll be late,’ he said. ‘Eat something now and take some food in your pocket. When we get back tonight, we’ll have a good meal. We have to be in Brattleburn by seven o’clock.’

I had a cup of coffee and some cold meat. The young man stood by the fire and talked.

‘You’ve come just at the right time, Mr- Oh, excuse me. You haven’t told me your name.’

‘Twisdon,’ I said.

‘Ah, Twisdon. Well, I’m in trouble, Mr Twisdon, and I’d like you to help me. There’s a meeting tonight at Brattleburn, and I have to make a political speech. I’m standing for Parliament for this part of Galloway, and Brattleburn is my chief town. Well, I had everything ready for the meeting, and Crumpleton - you know, the last Prime Minister - was going to make the main speech. But I had a telegram from him this afternoon. He’s very ill and he can’t come. That means that I have to make the speech myself.’

‘Well, if you want people to vote for you,’ I said, ‘you should be able to make a speech.’

‘Oh, I can make a short speech all right, but ten minutes is quite long enough for me. Now be a good man, Twisdon, and help me. You can tell the meeting all about the free movement of goods and Australia.’

I did not know anything about this, but I needed help too. Perhaps this was a chance.

‘All right,’ I said. ‘I’m not a very good speaker but I’ll talk to your friends about Australia.’

We left the house then and drove towards Brattleburn. On the way the young man told me a few things about himself, and one of these facts was very interesting. His father and mother were dead. So he usually lived with his uncle, who was the Chief Secretary at the Foreign Office. This was exciting news because the Chief Secretary was an important man. I wanted to meet him. I hoped that this young man could do something for me.

We drove through a little town where two police officers stopped the car. They shone lights on our faces, and I felt very nervous. I was afraid that they were going to arrest me.

‘I’m sorry, Sir Harry,’ one of the officers said. ‘We’re looking for a stolen car.’

‘Oh, that’s all right.’ Sir Harry laughed. ‘My car is too old for anyone to steal,’ he said, and we drove on.

It was five minutes to seven when we reached Brattleburn. Sir Harry stopped the car outside the town hall, and we went in. There were about 500 people in the hall. A man stood up and made a short speech. He explained that Mr Crumpleton was ill and could not come. ‘But we’re very lucky in Brattleburn this evening,’ he continued. ‘A famous speaker from Australia is here. First, though, we shall listen to the man who is going to receive every vote in Brattleburn.’

Sir Harry then began his speech. He had about 50 pages of notes in his hand and he started to read them. It was a terrible speech, and I felt very sorry for him. Sometimes he looked up from the papers, and then he lost his place. Once or twice he completely forgot where he was. He remembered a few sentences from a book and he repeated them proudly like a schoolboy. His ideas were quite wrong too. He said that the Government was making terrible mistakes; there was no danger from Germany. I almost laughed out loud.

‘There’s no danger from Germany at all,’ he said. ‘The Government has imagined it. The Germans just want to be friends, and so we don’t need a big army. We’re throwing away money on arms and warships.’

I thought about Scudder’s little black book. The Germans’ plans were ready. They were not interested in being friendly.

I spoke after Sir Harry and talked about Australia. I described the country’s politics and its plans and the work of the Government there. People listened very politely and sometimes showed their agreement. But I forgot all about the free movement of goods!

The speakers were thanked at the end of the meeting. Sir Harry and I got into the car again and drove out of Brattleburn.

‘That was a fine speech, Twisdon,’ he said, ‘and they enjoyed it. Now we’ll go home and you can have a good meal. I want you to stay at my house tonight.’

After dinner that night we sat by the fire and talked.

‘Listen, Sir Harry,’ I said. ‘I want to tell you something and it’s very important. You’re a good man, so I won’t hide anything from you. You’re quite wrong.’

He looked very surprised. ‘You mean, in my speech?’ he asked. ‘Do you mean about the danger from Germany? Do you think they’ll attack us?’

‘They will probably attack us next month,’ I said. ‘Now listen to this story. A few days ago a German spy killed a friend of mine in London…’

I remember the light from the fire in Sir Harry’s room. I lay back in a big chair and told him everything. I repeated all Scudder’s notes and I even remembered about the thirty-nine steps and the tide. I described my adventures with the milkman and the police at the inn.

Then I said, ‘The police are trying to arrest me for the murder. But I can prove that I didn’t kill Scudder. The fact is that I’m afraid of these German spies. They’re much cleverer than the police. If the police arrest me, there will be an accident. And I’ll get a knife in my heart, like Scudder.’

Sir Harry was looking at me thoughtfully. ‘Are you a nervous man, Mr Hannay?’ he asked.

I did not answer him in words. I took down a heavy knife from the wall. I threw the knife up in the air and caught it in my mouth.

‘I learned to do that many years ago in Rhodesia,’ I said. ‘But a nervous man couldn’t do it.’

He smiled. ‘All right, Hannay. You needn’t prove it. I don’t know much about politics but I know an honest man. I believe what you’ve said. Tell me what I can do to help you.’

‘Well, your uncle is the Chief Secretary at the Foreign Office and he’ll be able to do something. I want you to write a letter to him. Ask him if I can meet him before 15 June.’

‘What name shall I say?’

‘Twisdon. It’s safer to forget the name Hannay.’

Sir Harry sat down at a table and wrote this letter.

Dear Uncle,

I have given your address to a man named Twisdon who wants to meet you. He hopes to see you before 15 June. Be kind to him, please, and believe his story.

When he comes, he’ll say the words “Black Stone”. And he’ll sing a few lines of “Annie Laurie”.

‘Well, that looks all right,’ Sir Harry said. ‘My uncle’s name is Sir Walter Bullivant, and his house is near Artinswell on the River Kennet. Now, what’s the next thing?’

‘Can you give me an old suit of clothes?’ I said. ‘And show me a map of Galloway. If the police come here to look for me, you can show them the car. But don’t tell them anything.’

‘And if the spies come, what shall I say to them?’

‘Say that I’ve gone to London.’

Sir Harry brought the clothes and a map of Galloway. I looked at the map and found the railway to the south.

‘That’s the emptiest part of the country,’ Sir Harry said, showing me an area not far away. ‘Go up the road here and then turn to the right. You will be in the hills before breakfast. You’ll be quite safe up there but you’ll have to travel south on 12 or 13 June.’

He gave me an old bicycle and at two o’clock in the morning I left his house. At five o’clock the sun came up and I was about 30 kilometres away. Green hills rose around me on every side.

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