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Title: The Submarine Boat
Author: Clifford Ashdown
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607811.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: October 2006
Date most recently updated: October 2006

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Title: The Submarine Boat
Author: Clifford Ashdown





Tric-trac! tric-trac! went the black and white discs as the players
moved them over the backgammon board in expressive justification of the
French term for the game. Tric-trac! They are indeed a nation of poets,
reflected Mr Pringle. Was not Teuf-teuf! for the motor-car a veritable
inspiration? And as he smoked, the not unmusical clatter of the enormous
wooden discs filled the atmosphere.

In these days of cookery not entirely based upon air-tights--to use the
expressive Americanism for tinned meats--it is no longer necessary for
the man who wishes to dine, as distinguished from the mere feeding
animal, to furtively seek some restaurant in remote Soho, jealously
guarding its secret from his fellows. But Mr Pringle, in his favourite
study of human nature, was an occasional visitor to the 'Poissonière'
in Gerrard Street, and, the better to pursue his researches, had always
denied familiarity with the foreign tongues he heard around him. The
restaurant was distinctly close--indeed, some might have called it
stuffy--and Pringle, though near a ventilator, thoughtfully provided by
the management, was fast being lulled into drowsiness, when a man who
had taken his seat with a companion at the next table leaned across the
intervening gulf and addressed him.

'Nous ne vous dérangeons pas, monsieur?'

Pringle, with a smile of fatuous uncomprehending, bowed, but said never
a word.

'Cochon d'Anglais, n'entendez-vous pas?'

'I'm afraid I do not understand,' returned Pringle, shaking his head
hopelessly, but still smiling.

'Canaille! Faut-il que je vous tire le nez?' persisted the Frenchman,
as, apparently still sceptical of Pringle's assurance, he added threats
to abuse.

'I have known the English gentleman a long time, and without a doubt he
does not understand French,' testified the waiter who had now come
forward for orders. Satisfied by this corroboration of Pringle's
innocence, the Frenchman bowed and smiled sweetly to him, and, ordering
a bottle of Clos de Vougeot, commenced an earnest conversation with his
neighbour.

By the time this little incident had closed, Pringle's drowsiness had
given place to an intense feeling of curiosity. For what purpose could
the Frenchman have been so insistent in disbelieving his expressed
ignorance of the language? Why, too, had he striven to make Pringle
betray himself by resenting the insults showered upon him? In a Parisian
restaurant, as he knew, far more trivial affronts had ended in meetings
in the Bois de Boulogne. Besides, cochon was an actionable term of
opprobrium in France. The Frenchman and his companion had seated
themselves at the only vacant table, also it was in a corner; Pringle,
at the next, was the single person within ear-shot, and the Frenchman's
extraordinary behaviour could only be due to a consuming thirst for
privacy. Settling himself in an easy position, Pringle closed his eyes,
and while appearing to resume his slumber, strained every nerve to
discern the lightest word that passed at the next table. Dressed in the
choicest mode of Piccadilly, the Frenchman bore himself with all the
intolerable self-consciousness of the Boulevardier; but there was no
trace of good-natured levity in the dark aquiline features, and the evil
glint of the eyes recalled visions of an operatic Mephistopheles. His
guest was unmistakably an Englishman of the bank-clerk type, who
contributed his share of the conversation in halting Anglo-French,
punctuated by nervous laughter as, with agonising pains, he dredged his
memory for elusive colloquialisms.

Freely translated, this was what Pringle heard:

'So your people have really decided to take up the submarine, after
all?'

'Yes; I am working out the details of some drawings in small-scale.'

'But are they from headquarters?'

'Certainly! Duly initialled and passed by the chief constructor.'

'And you are making----'

'Full working drawings.'

'There will be no code or other secret about them?'

'What I am doing can be understood by any naval architect.'

'Ah, an English one!'

'The measurements of course, are English, but they are easily
convertible.'

'You could do that?'

'Too dangerous! Suppose a copy in metric scale were found in my
possession! Besides, any draughtsman could reduce them in an hour or
two.'

'And when can you let me have it?'

'In about two weeks.'

'Impossible! I shall not be here.'

'Unless something happens to let me get on with it quickly, I don't see
how I can do it even then. I am never sufficiently free from
interruption to take tracings; there are far too many eyes upon me. The
only chance I have is to spoil the thing as soon as I have the salient
points worked out on it, and after I have pretended to destroy it,
smuggle it home; then I shall have to take elaborate notes every day and
work out the details from them in the evening. It is simply impossible
for me to attempt to take a finished drawing out of the yard, and, as it
is, I don't quite see my way to getting the spoilt one out--they look so
sharply after spoilt drawings.'

'Two weeks you say, then?'

'Yes; and I shall have to sit up most nights copying the day's work from
my notes to do it.'

'Listen! In a week I must attend at the Ministry of Marine in Paris, but
our military attaché is my friend. I can trust him; he shall come down
to you.'

'What, at Chatham? Do you wish to ruin me?' A smile from the Frenchman.
'No; it must be in London, where no one knows me.'

'Admirable! My friend will be better able to meet you.'

'Very well, as soon as I am ready I will telegraph to you.'

'Might not the address of the embassy be remarked by the telegraph
officials? Your English post-office is charmingly unsuspicious, but we
must not risk anything.'

'Ah, perhaps so. Well, I will come up to London and telegraph to you
from here. But your representative--will he be prepared for it?'

'I will warn him to expect it in fourteen days.' He made an entry in his
pocket-book. 'How will you sign the message?'

'Gustave Zédé,' suggested the Englishman, sniggering for the first and
only time.

'Too suggestive. Sign yourself "Pauline", and simply add the time.'

'"Pauline", then. Where shall the rendezvous be?'

'The most public place we can find.'

'Public?'

'Certainly. Some place where everyone will be too much occupied with his
own affairs to notice you. What say you to your Nelson's Column? There
you can wait in a way we shall agree upon.'

'It would be a difficult thing for me to wear a disguise.'

'All disguises are clumsy unless one is an expert. Listen! You shall be
gazing at the statue with one hand in your breast--so.'

'Yes; and I might hold a "Baedeker" in my other hand.'

'Admirable, my friend! You have the true spirit of an artist,' sneered
the Frenchman.

'Your representative will advance and say to me, "Pauline", and the
exchange can be made without another word.'

'Exchange?'

'I presume your Government is prepared to pay me handsomely for the very
heavy risks I am running in this matter,' said the Englishman stiffly.

'Pardon, my friend! How imbecile of me! I am authorised to offer you ten
thousand francs.'

A pause, during which the Englishman made a calculation on the back of
an envelope.

'That is four hundred pounds,' he remarked, tearing the envelope into
carefully minute fragments. 'Far too little for such a risk.'

'Permit me to remind you, my friend, that you came in search of me, or
rather of those I represent. You have something to sell? Good! But it is
customary for the merchant to display his wares first.'

'I pledge myself to give you copies of the working drawings made for the
use of the artificers themselves. I have already met you oftener than is
prudent. As I say, you offer too little.'

'Should the drawings prove useless to us, we should, of course, return
them to your Admiralty, explaining how they came into our possession.'
There was an unpleasant smile beneath the Frenchman's waxed moustache as
he spoke. 'What sum do you ask?'

'Five hundred pounds in small notes--say, five pounds each.'

'That is--what do you say? Ah, twelve thousand five hundred francs!
Impossible! My limit is twelve thousand.'

To this the Englishman at length gave an ungracious consent, and after
some adroit compliments beneath which the other sought to bury his
implied threat, the pair rose from the table. Either by accident or
design, the Frenchman stumbled over the feet of Pringle, who, with his
long legs stretching out from under the table, his head bowed and his
lips parted, appeared in a profound slumber. Opening his eyes slowly, he
feigned a lifelike yawn, stretched his arms, and gazed lazily around, to
the entire satisfaction of the Frenchman, who, in the act of parting
with his companion, was watching him from the door.

Calling for some coffee, Pringle lighted a cigarette, and reflected with
a glow of indignant patriotism upon the sordid transaction he had become
privy to. It is seldom that public servants are in this country found
ready to betray their trust--with all honour be it recorded of them! But
there ever exists the possibility of some under-paid official succumbing
to the temptation at the command of the less scrupulous representatives
of foreign powers, whose actions in this respect are always ignored
officially by their superiors. To Pringle's somewhat cynical
imagination, the sordid huckstering of a dockyard draughtsman with a
French naval attaché appealed as corroboration of Walpole's famous
principle, and as he walked homewards to Furnival's Inn, he determined,
if possible, to turn his discovery to the mutual advantage of his
country and himself--especially the latter.

During the next few days Pringle elaborated a plan of taking up a
residence at Chatham, only to reject it as he had done many previous
ones. Indeed, so many difficulties presented themselves to every single
course of action, that the tenth day after found him strolling down Bond
Street in the morning without having taken any further step in the
matter. With his characteristic fastidious neatness in personal matters,
he was bound for the Piccadilly establishment of the chief and, for
West-Enders, the only firm of hatters in London.

'Breton Stret, do you noh?' said a voice suddenly. And Pringle, turning,
found himself accosted by a swarthy foreigner.

'Bruton Street, n'est-ce pas?' Pringle suggested.

'Mais oui, Brrruten Stret, monsieur!' was the reply in faint echo of the
English syllables.

'Le voila! a droite,' was Pringle's glib direction. Politely raising his
hat in response to the other's salute, he was about to resume his walk
when he noticed that the Frenchman had been joined by a companion, who
appeared to have been making similar inquiries. The latter started and
uttered a slight exclamation on meeting Pringle's eye. The recognition
was mutual--it was the French attaché! As he hurried down Bond Street,
Pringle realised with acutest annoyance that his deception at the
restaurant had been unavailing, while he must now abandon all hope of a
counter-plot for the honour of his country, to say nothing of his own
profit. The port-wine mark on his right cheek was far too conspicuous
for the attaché not to recognise him by it, and he regretted his neglect
to remove it as soon as he had decided to follow up the affair.
Forgetful of all beside, he walked on into Piccadilly, and it was not
until he found himself more than half-way back to his chambers that he
remembered the purpose for which he had set out; but matters of greater
moment now claimed his attention, and he endeavoured by the brisk
exercise to work off some of the chagrin with which he was consumed.
Only as he reached the Inn and turned into the gateway did it occur to
him that he had been culpably careless in thus going straight homeward.
What if he had been followed? Never in his life had he shown such
disregard of ordinary precautions. Glancing back, he just caught a
glimpse of a figure which seemed to whip behind the corner of the
gateway. He retraced his steps and looked out into Holborn. There, in
the very act of retreat, and still but a few feet from the gate, was the
attaché himself. Cursing the persistence of his own folly, Pringle dived
through the arch again, and determined that the Frenchman should
discover no more that day he turned nimbly to the left and ran up his
own stairway before the pursuer could have time to re-enter the Inn.

The most galling reflection was his absolute impotence in the matter.
Through lack of the most elementary foresight he had been fairly run to
earth, and could see no way of ridding himself of this unwelcome
attention. To transfer his domicile, to tear himself up by the roots as
it were, was out of the question; and as he glanced around him, from the
soft carpets and luxurious chairs to the warm, distempered walls with
their old prints above the dado of dwarf bookcases, he felt that the
pang of severance from the refined associations of his chambers would be
too acute. Besides, he would inevitably be tracked elsewhere. He would
gain nothing by the transfer. One thing at least was absolutely
certain--the trouble which the Frenchman was taking to watch him showed
the importance he attached to Pringle's discovery. But this again only
increased his disgust with the ill-luck which had met him at the very
outset. After all, he had done nothing illegal, however contrary it
might be to the code of ethics, so that if it pleased them the entire
French legation might continue to watch him till the Day of Judgment,
and, consoling himself with this reflection, he philosophically
dismissed the matter from his mind.

It was nearing six when he again left the Inn for Pagani's, the Great
Portland Street restaurant which he much affected; instead of proceeding
due west, he crossed Holborn intending to bear round by way of the
Strand and Regent Street, and so get up an appetite. In Staple Inn he
paused a moment in the further archway. The little square, always
reposeful amid the stress and turmoil of its environment, seemed doubly
so this evening, its eighteenth-century calm so welcome after the
raucous thoroughfare. An approaching footfall echoed noisily, and as
Pringle moved from the shadow of the narrow wall the newcomer hesitated
and stopped, and then made the circuit of the square, scanning the
doorways as if in search of a name. The action was not unnatural, and
twenty-four hours earlier Pringle would have thought nothing of it, but
after the events of the morning he endowed it with a personal interest,
and, walking on, he ascended the steps into Southampton Buildings and
stopped by a hoarding. As he looked back he was rewarded by the sight of
a man stealthily emerging from the archway and making his way up the
steps, only to halt as he suddenly came abreast of Pringle. Although his
face was unfamiliar, Pringle could only conclude that the man was
following him, and all doubt was removed when, having walked along the
street and turning about at the entrance to Chancery Lane, he saw the
spy had resumed the chase and was now but a few yards back. Pringle, as
a philosopher, felt more inclined to laughter than resentment at this
ludicrous espionage. In a spirit of mischief, he pursued his way to the
Strand at a tortoise-like crawl, halting as if doubtful of his way at
every corner, and staring into every shop whose lights still invited
customers. Once or twice he even doubled back, and passing quite close
to the man, had several opportunities of examining him. He was quite
unobtrusive, even respectable-looking; there was nothing of the
foreigner about him, and Pringle shrewdly conjectured that the attaché,
wearied of sentry-go had turned it over to some English servant on whom
he could rely.

Thus shepherded, Pringle arrived at the restaurant, from which he only
emerged after a stay maliciously prolonged over each item of the menu,
followed by the smoking of no fewer than three cigars of a brand
specially lauded by the proprietor. With a measure of humanity diluting
his malice, he was about to offer the infallibly exhausted sentinel some
refreshment when he came out, but as the man was invisible, Pringle
started for home, taking much the same route as before, and calmly
debating whether or no the cigars he had just sampled would be a wise
investment; nor until he had reached Southampton Buildings and the sight
of the hoarding recalled the spy's discomfiture, did he think of looking
back to see if he were still followed. All but the main thoroughfares
were by this time deserted, and although he shot a keen glance up and
down Chancery Lane, now clear of all but the most casual traffic, not a
soul was anywhere near him. By a curious psychological process Pringle
felt inclined to resent the man's absence. He had begun to regard him
almost in the light of a body-guard, the private escort of some eminent
politician. Besides, the whole incident was pregnant with possibilities
appealing to his keenly intellectual sense of humour, and as he passed
the hoarding, he peered into its shadow with the half-admitted hope that
his attendant might be lurking in the depths. Later on he recalled how,
as he glanced upwards, a man's figure passed like a shadow from a ladder
to an upper platform of the scaffold. The vision, fleeting and
unsubstantial, had gone almost before his retina had received it, but
the momentary halt was to prove his salvation. Even as he turned to walk
on, a cataract of planks, amid scaffold-poles and a chaos of loose
bricks, crashed on the spot he was about to traverse; a stray beam, more
erratic in its descent, caught his hat, and, telescoping it, glanced off
his shoulder, bearing him to the ground, where he lay dazed by the
sudden uproar and half-choked by the cloud of dust. Rapid and
disconcerting as was the event, he remembered afterwards a dim and
spectral shape approaching through the gloom. In a dreamy kind of way he
connected it with that other shadow-figure he had seen high up on the
scaffold, and as it bent over him he recognized the now familiar
features of the spy. But other figures replaced the first, and, when
helped to his feet, he made futile search for it amid the circle of
faces gathered round him. He judged it an hallucination. By the time he
had undergone a tentative dust-down, he was sufficiently collected to
acknowledge the sympathetic congratulations of the crowd and to decline
the homeward escort of a constable.

In the privacy of his chambers, his ideas began to clarify. Events
arranged themselves in logical sequence, and the spectres assumed more
tangible form. A single question dwarfed all others. He asked himself,
'Was the cataclysm such an accident as it appeared?' And as he surveyed
the battered ruins of his hat, he began to realise how nearly had he
been the victim of a murderous vendetta!

When he arose the next morning, he scarcely needed the dilapidated hat
to remind him of the events of yesterday. Normally a sound and dreamless
sleeper, his rest had been a series of short snatches of slumber
interposed between longer spells of rumination. While he marvelled at
the intensity of malice which he could no longer doubt pursued him--a
vindictiveness more natural to a mediaeval Italian state than to this
present-day metropolis--he bitterly regretted the fatal curiosity which
had brought him to such an extremity. By no means deficient in the
grosser forms of physical courage, his sense that in the game which was
being played his adversaries, as unscrupulous as they were crafty, held
all the cards, and above all, that their espionage effectually prevented
him filling the gaps in the plot which he had as yet only
half-discovered, was especially galling to his active and somewhat
neurotic temperament. Until yesterday he had almost decided to drop the
affair of the Restaurant 'Poissonière' but now, after what he firmly
believed to be a deliberate attempt to assassinate him, he realized the
desperate situation of a duellist with his back to a wall--having scarce
room to parry, he felt the prick of his antagonist's rapier deliberately
goading him to an incautious thrust. Was he regarded as the possessor of
a dangerous secret? Then it behoved him to strike, and that without
delay.

Now that he was about to attack, a disguise was essential; and
reflecting how lamentably he had failed through the absence of one
hitherto, he removed the port-wine mark from his right cheek with his
customary spirit-lotion, and blackened his fair hair with a few smart
applications of a preparation from his bureau. It was with a
determination to shun any obscure streets or alleys, and especially all
buildings in course of erection, that he started out after his usual
light breakfast. At first he was doubtful whether he was being followed
or not, but after a few experimental turns and doublings he was unable
to single out any regular attendant of his walk; either his disguise had
proved effectual, or his enemies imagined that the attempt of last night
had been less innocent in its results.

Somewhat soothed by this discovery, Pringle had gravitated towards the
Strand and was nearing Charing Cross, when he observed a man cross from
the station to the opposite corner carrying a brown paper roll. With his
thoughts running in the one direction, Pringle in a flash recognised the
dockyard draughtsman. Could he be even now on his way to keep the
appointment at Nelson's Column? Had he been warned of Pringle's
discovery, and so expedited his treacherous task? And thus reflecting,
Pringle determined at all hazards to follow him. The draughtsman made
straight for the telegraph office. It was now the busiest time of the
morning, most of the little desks were occupied by more or less glib
message-writers, and the draughtsman had found a single vacancy at the
far end when Pringle followed him in and reached over his shoulder to
withdraw a form from the rack in front of him. Grabbing three or four,
Pringle neatly spilled them upon the desk, and with an abject apology
hastily gathered them up together with the form the draughtsman was
employed upon. More apologies, and Pringle, seizing a suddenly vacant
desk, affected to compose a telegram of his own. The draughtsman's
message had been short, and (to Pringle) exceptionally sweet, consisting
as it did of the three words--'Four-thirty, Pauline'. The address
Pringle had not attempted to read--he knew that already. The moment the
other left Pringle took up a sheaf of forms, and, as if they had been
the sole reason of his visit, hurried out of the office and took a
hansom back to Furnival's Inn. Here his first care was to fold some
newspapers into a brown-paper parcel resembling the one carried by the
draughtsman as nearly as he remembered it, and having cut a number of
squares of stiff tissue paper, he stuffed an envelope with them and
pondered over a cigarette the most difficult stage of his campaign.
Twice had the draughtsman seen him. Once at the restaurant in his
official guise as the sham literary agent, with smooth face, fair hair,
and the fugitive port-wine mark staining his right cheek; again that
morning, with blackened hair and unblemished face. True, he might have
forgotten the stranger at the restaurant; on the other hand, he might
not--and Pringle was then (as always) steadfastly averse to leaving
anything to chance.


Besides, in view of this sudden journey to London, it was very likely
that he had received warning of Pringle's discovery. Lastly, it was more
than probable that the spy was still on duty, even though he had failed
to recognise Pringle that morning. The matter was clinched by a single
glance at the Venetian mirror above the mantel, which reflected a
feature he had overlooked--his now blackened hair. Nothing remained for
him but to assume a disguise which should impose on both the spy and the
draughtsman, and after some thought he decided to make up as a Frenchman
of the South, and to pose as a servant of the French embassy.
Reminiscent of the immortal Tartarin, his ready bureau furnished him
with a stiff black moustache and some specially stout horsehair to
typify the stubbly beard of that hero. When, at almost a quarter to
four, he descended into the Inn with the parcel in his hand, a Baedeker
and the envelope of tissues in his pocket, a cab was just setting down,
and impulsively he chartered it as far as Exeter Hall. Concealed in the
cab, he imagined he would the more readily escape observation, and by
the time he alighted, flattered himself that any pursuit had been
baffled. As he discharged the cab, however, he noticed a hansom draw up
a few paces in the rear, whilst a man got out and began to saunter
westward behind him. His suspicions alert, although the man was
certainly a stranger, Pringle at once put him to the test by entering
Romano's and ordering a small whisky. After a decent delay, he emerged,
and his pulse quickened when he saw a couple of doors off the same man
staring into a shop window! Pringle walked a few yards back, and then
crossed to the opposite side of the street, but although he dodged at
infinite peril through a string of omnibuses, he was unable to shake off
his satellite, who, with unswerving persistence, occupied the most
limited horizon whenever he looked back.

For almost the first time in his life, Pringle began to despair. The
complacent regard of his own precautions had proved but a fool's
paradise. Despite his elaborate disguise, he must, have been plainly
recognisable to his enemies, and he began to ask himself whether it was
not useless to struggle further. As he paced slowly on, an indefinable
depression stole over him. He thought of the heavy price so nearly
exacted for his interposition. Resentment surged over him at the memory,
and his hand clenched on the parcel. The contact furnished the very
stimulus he required. The instrument of settling such a score was in his
hands, and rejecting his timorous doubts, he strode on, determined to
make one bold and final stroke for vengeance. The shadows had lengthened
appreciably, and the quarter chiming from near St Martin's warned him
that there was no time to lose--the spy must be got rid of at any cost.
Already could he see the estuary of the Strand, with the Square widening
beyond; on his right loomed the tunnel of the Lowther Arcade, with its
vista of juvenile delights. The sight was an inspiration. Darting in, he
turned off sharp to the left into an artist's repository, with a double
entrance to the Strand and the Arcade, and, softly closing the door,
peeped through the palettes and frames which hung upon the glass. Hardly
had they ceased swinging to his movement when he had the satisfaction of
seeing the spy, the scent already cold, rush furiously up the Arcade,
his course marked by falling toys and the cries of the outraged
stall-keepers. Turning, Pringle made the purchase of a sketching-block,
the first thing handy, and then passed through the door which gave on
the Strand. At the post-office he stopped to survey the scene. A single
policeman stood by the eastward base of the column, and the people
scattered round seemed but ordinary wayfarers, but just across the maze
of traffic was a spectacle of intense interest to him. At the quadrant
of the Grand Hotel, patrolling aimlessly in front of the shops, at which
he seemed too perturbed to stare for more than a few seconds at a time,
the draughtsman kept palpitating vigil until the clock should strike the
half-hour of his treason. True to the Frenchman's advice, he sought
safety in a crowd, avoiding the desert of the square until the last
moment.

It wanted two minutes to the half-hour when Pringle opened his Baedeker,
and thrusting one hand into his breast, examined the statue and coil of
rope erected to the glory of our greatest hero. 'Pauline!' said a voice,
with the musical inflection unattainable by any but a Frenchman. Beside
him stood a slight, neatly dressed young man, with close-cropped hair,
and a moustache and imperial, who cast a significant look at the parcel.
Pringle immediately held it towards him, and the dark gentleman
producing an envelope from his breast-pocket, the exchange was effected
in silence. With bows and a raising of hats they parted, while Big Ben
boomed on his eight bells.

The attaché's representative had disappeared some minutes beyond the
westernmost lion before the draughtsman appeared from the opposite
direction, his uncertain steps intermitted by frequent halts and nervous
backward glances. With his back to the National Gallery he produced a
Baedeker and commenced to stare up at the monument, withdrawing his eyes
every now and then to cast a shamefaced look to right and left. In his
agitation the draughtsman had omitted the hand-in-the-breast attitude,
and even as Pringle advanced to his side and murmured 'Pauline', his
legs (almost stronger than his will) seemed to be urging him to a flight
from the field of dishonour. With tremulous eagerness he thrust a brown
paper parcel into Pringle's hands, and, snatching the envelope of tissue
slips, rushed across the road and disappeared in the bar of the Grand
Hotel.

Pringle turned to go, but was confronted by a revolver, and as his eye
traversed the barrel and met that of its owner, he recognised the
Frenchman to whom he had just sold the bundle of newspapers. Dodging the
weapon, he tried to spring into the open, but a restraining grip on each
elbow held him in the angle of the plinth, and turning ever so little
Pringle found himself in custody of the man whom he had last seen in
full cry up the Lowther Arcade. No constable was anywhere near, and even
casual passengers walked unheeding by the nook, so quiet was the
progress of this little drama. Lowering his revolver, the dark gentleman
picked up the parcel which had fallen from Pringle in the struggle. He
opened it with delicacy, partially withdrew some sheets of tracing
paper, which he intently examined, and then placed the whole in an inner
pocket, and giving a sign to the spy to loose his grasp, he spoke for
the first time.

'May I suggest, sir,' he said in excellent English with the slightest
foreign accent, 'may I suggest that in future you do not meddle with
what cannot possibly concern you? These documents have been bought and
sold, and although you have been good enough to act as intermediary in
the transaction, I can assure you we were under no necessity of calling
on you for your help.' Here his tone hardened, and, speaking with less
calmness, the accent became more noticeable. 'I discovered your
impertinence in selling me a parcel of worthless papers very shortly
after I left you. Had you succeeded in the attempt you appear to have
planned so carefully, it is possible you might have lived long enough to
regret it--perhaps not! I wish you good day, sir.' He bowed, as did his
companion, and Pringle, walking on, turned up by the corner of the Union
Club.

Dent's clock marked twenty minutes to five, and Pringle reflected how
much had been compressed into the last quarter of an hour. True, he had
not prevented the sale of his country's secrets; on the other hand---he
pressed the packet which held the envelope of notes. Hailing a cab, he
was about to step in, when, looking back, at the nook between the lions
he saw a confused movement about the spot. The two men he had just left
were struggling with a third, who, brandishing a handful of something
white, was endeavouring, with varying success, to plant his fist on
divers areas of their persons. He was the draughtsman. A small crowd,
which momentarily increased, surrounded them, and as Pringle climbed
into the hansom two policemen were seen to penetrate the ring and
impartially lay hands upon the three combatants.



THE END




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