The Thirty-Nine Steps

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CHAPTER1

ONE The Man Who Died I returned from the Cit y about three o?clock on that May afternoon pretty well dis gusted with life. I had been three m onths in the Old Country, and was fed up with it. If anyone had told m e a year ago that I would have been feeling like that I should ha ve laughed at him ; but there was the fact. The weather m ade m e liver ish, th e talk of the ordinary Englishm an m ade m e sick, I couldn?t get enough exercise, and the am use ments of London seem ed as flat as soda- wa ter that has been st anding in the sun. ?Richard Hannay,? I kept te lling myself, ?you have got into the wrong ditch, my friend, and you had better clim b out.? It m ade m e bite my lip s to think of the plans I had been building up those last years in Bulawayo. I had got my pile - not one of the big ones, but good enough for m e; and I had figured out all ki nds of ways of enjoying myself. My father had brought m e out from Scotland at the age of six, and I had ne ver been hom e since; so 3 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps England was a sort of Arabian Nights to m e, and I counted on stopping there for the rest of m y days. But from the first I was disa ppointed with it. In about a week I was tired of seeing sight s, and in less than a m onth I had had enough of restaurant s and theatres and race- meetings. I had no real pal to go about with, which probably explains things. Plen ty of people invited m e to their houses, but they didn?t s eem much interested in m e. They would fling m e a que stion or two about South Af rica, and then ge t on their o wn af fairs. A lot of Im perialist ladies asked m e to tea to m eet schoolm asters from New Zealand and editors from Vancouver, and that was the dis malest busin ess of all. H ere was I, th irty -seven years old, sound in wind and lim b, with enough money to have a good tim e, yawning m y head off all day. I had just about settled to clear out and get back to the veld, for I was the best bored m an in the United Kingdom . That afternoon I had been worrying m y brokers about investm ents to give m y m ind som ething to work on, and on m y way hom e I turned into my club - rather a pot- house, which took in Colonial m embers. I had a long drink, and read the evening pa pers. They were full of the row in the Near East, and there was an article abou t Karolides, the Greek Prem ier. I rather fancied the chap. 4 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps From all accounts he seem ed the one big m an in the show; and he played a straight gam e too, which was m ore than could be said for most of them. I gathered that they hated him pretty blackly in Berlin and Vienna, but that we were going to stick by him , and one paper said that he was the only barrier between Europe and Arm ageddon. I rem ember wondering if I could get a job in those parts. It struck m e that Albania was the sort of place that m ight keep a m an from yawni ng. About six o?clock I went hom e, dressed, dined at the Caf e Royal, and turned into a m usic-ha ll. I t was a silly show, all capering women and m onkey-faced m en, and I did not stay long. The night was fine and clear as I walked back to the flat I had hired near Portland Place. The crowd surged past m e on the pavem ents, busy and chattering, and I envied the people for having som ething to do. These shop-girls and clerks and dandies and policem en had som e interest in life that kept them going. I gave half-a- crown to a beggar because I saw him ya wn; he was a fellow-suf ferer. At Oxf ord Cir cus I look ed up into the spring sky and I m ade a vow. I would give the Old Country another day to fit m e into som ething; if nothing happened, I would take the next boat for the Cape. 5 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps My flat was the first floor in a new block behind Langham Pl ace. There was a com mon staircase, with a porter and a liftm an at the entran ce, but th ere was no restau ran t or anyth ing of that sort, an d each flat was quite shut off from the others. I hate servants on the prem ises, so I had a fe llow to look after m e who ca me in by the day. He arrived before eight o?cl ock every m orning and used to depart at seven, for I never dined at hom e. I was just f itting m y key into the doo r when I noticed a man at m y elbow. I had not seen him approach, and the sudden appearance m ade m e st art. He was a slim m an, with a short brown beard and sm all, gim lety blue eyes. I recognized him as the occupant of a flat on the top floor, with whom I had passed the tim e of day on the stairs. ?Can I speak to you? ? he sa id. ?M ay I com e in for a minute? ? He was steadying his voice with an effort, and his hand was pawing m y arm . I got m y door open and m otioned him in. No sooner was he over the threshold than he m ade a das h for my back room , where I used to sm oke and write my letters. Then he bolted back. ?Is the doo r lock ed ?? he asked f everishly, and he fastened the chain with his own hand. 6 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps ?I?m very sorry,? he s aid hum bly. ?It?s a m ighty liberty , but you looked the kind of m an who would understand. I?ve had you in m y m ind all th is week when things got troublesom e. Say, will y ou do m e a good turn ?? ?I?ll listen to you,? I said. ?That?s al l I?ll prom ise.? I was getting worried by the anti cs of this ne rvous little chap. There was a tray of drinks on a table beside him, from which he filled him self a s tiff whisky-and-soda. He drank it off in three gulps, and crack ed the glass as he set it down. ?Pardon,? he said, ?I?m a bit rattled tonight. You see, I happen at this m oment to be dead.? I sat down in an arm chair and lit m y pipe. ?W hat does it feel like? ? I asked. I was pretty certain that I had to deal with a m adman. A s mile flickered over his dr awn face. ?I?m not m ad - yet. Say, Sir, I?ve been wa tching you, and I reckon you?re a cool custom er. I reckon, too, you?re an honest m an, and not afraid of playing a bold hand. I?m going to confide in you. I need help worse than a ny m an ever needed it, and I want to know if I can count you in.? ?Get on with your yarn,? I said, ?and I?ll tell you.? 7 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps He seem ed to brace h imself for a great effort, and then started on th e queeres t rigm arol e. I didn?t get hold of it at first, and I had to stop and ask him questions. B ut here is the gist of it: He was an Am erican, from Kentucky, and after college, being pretty well off, he had started out to see the world. He wrote a bit, and acted as war correspondent for a Chicago paper, and spent a year or two in South-Eastern Europe. I gathered that he wa s a fine linguist, and had got to know pretty well the societ y in those parts. He spoke familiarly of m any nam es that I r emembered to have seen in the newspapers. He had played about with polit ics, he told m e, at first for the inte rest of them , and then because he couldn?t help him self. I read him as a sharp, restless fellow, who always wanted to get down to the roots of things. He got a little further down than he wanted. I am giving you what he told m e as well as I could make it out. Away behind all the Governm ents and the arm ies there was a big subt erranean move ment going on, engineered by very dangerous people. He had com e on it by accid ent; it fascinated him ; he went further, and then he got caught. I gathered that most of the peop le in it we re the sort of educated an archis ts that m ake revolutions, but 8 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps that beside them there were financiers who were playing for m oney. A clever m an can m ake big profits on a falling market, and it suited the book of both classes to set Europe by the ears. He told m e som e queer things that e xplained a lot tha t had puzzled m e - things that happened in the Balkan W ar, how one state suddenly cam e out on top, why alliances were m ade and broken, why cer tain m en disappeared, and where the sinews of war cam e from . The aim of the whole conspiracy was to get Russia and Germ any at loggerheads. When I asked why, he said that the anarchist lot thought it would give them their chance. E verything would be in the m eltin g- pot, and they look ed to s ee a new world em erge. The capitalists would rake in the shekels, and m ake fortunes by buying up wreckage. Capital, he said, had no conscience and no fatherland. Besides, the Jew was b ehind it, and the Jew hated Russia worse than h ell. ?Do you wonder? ? he cried. ?For three hundred years they have be en persecu ted, and this is the re turn m atch f or the pogrom s. The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him . Take any big Teutonic business concern. If you have dealings with it 9 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps the first m an you m eet is Pr ince von und Zu Som ething, an elegant young man who talks Eton-and-Harrow English. But he cuts no ice. If your business is big, you get behind him and find a pr ognathous W estphalian with a retreating brow and the m anners of a hog. He is the Germ an business m an t hat gives your English papers the shakes. But if you?re on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white -faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, Sir, h e is the m an who is ruling the world jus t now, a nd he has his knife in the Em pire of the Tzar, because his aunt was outraged and his father flogged in som e one- horse location on the Volga.? I could not help saying that his Jew -anarchis ts s eem ed to have got left behind a little. ?Yes and no,? he said. ?They won up to a point, but they struck a bigger thing than money, a thing that couldn?t be bought, the old elem ental fighting instincts of man. If you? re going to be killed yo u invent so me kind of flag and country to fight for, and if you survive you get to love the thing. Those foolish de vils of soldiers have found som ething they care for, and that has upset the pretty plan laid in Berlin and Vienna. But m y friends haven?t played their last card by a long sight. They?ve gotten th e ace up 10 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps their sleeves , and unless I can keep alive for a month they are going to play it and win.? ?But I thought you were dead,? I put in. ?MORS JANUA VITAE,? he sm iled. (I recogn ized the quotation: it was about all the Latin I knew.) ?I?m com ing to that, but I?ve got to put you wise about a lot of things first. If you read your ne wspaper, I guess you know the nam e of Constant ine Ka rolid es?? I sat up at that, for I had b een reading about him that very afternoon. ?He is the man that has wreck ed a ll their gam es. He is the one big brain in the whole show, and he happens also to be an hon est m an. Therefore h e has been m arked down these twelve m onths past. I found that out - not that it was difficult, for any fool could guess as m uch. But I found out the way they were going to get him , and that knowledge was deadly. That?s w hy I have had to decease. ? He had another drink, and I m ixed it for him myself, for I was getting interested in the beggar. ?They can?t get him in his own land, for he has a bodyguard of Epirotes th at would skin their grandm others. But on the 15th day of June he is com ing to th is c ity . The British Foreign Of fice has taken to 11 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps having International tea-parties, and the biggest of them is due on that date. Now Karolides is reckoned the principal guest, and if my f riends ha ve their way he will never return to his adm iring countrym en.? ?That?s sim ple enough, anyhow,? I said. ?You can warn him and keep him at hom e.? ?And play their gam e?? he asked sharply. ?If he does not com e they win, for he?s the only m an that can stra ighten o ut th e tang le. And if his Governm ent are warned he won?t com e, for he does not know how big the stakes will be on June the 15th.? ?W hat about the British Gove rnm ent?? I said. ?T hey?re not going to let their guests be m urdered. T ip them the wink, and th ey?ll take ex tra precau tio ns.? ?No good. They m ight stuff your city with plain- clothes detectives and doubl e the police and Constantine would still be a doom ed m an. My friends are not playing this g ame for candy. T hey want a big o ccasion for the taking off, with the eyes of all Europe on it. He?ll be murdered b y an Austrian, and th ere?ll be p lenty of evidence to show the connivance of the big folk in Vienna and Berlin. It will all be an infernal lie, of course, but the case will look black enough to the world. I?m not talking hot air, m y friend. I happen to know every detail of the 12 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps hellish contr ivance, and I can tell yo u it will be the m ost finished piece of blackguardism since the Borgias. But it?s no t going to com e of f if there ?s a cer tain m an who knows the wheels of the business alive right here in London on the 15th day of June. And that m an i s going to be your servant, Franklin P. Scudder.? I was gettin g to lik e th e little chap . His jaw h ad shut like a ra t- trap, and th ere was the fire of battle in his gim lety eyes. If he was spin ning me a yarn he could act up to it. ?W here did you find out this story?? I asked. ?I go t the f irst h int in an i nn on the Achensee in Tyrol. That set m e inquiring, and I co llected m y other clues in a fur-shop in the Galician quarter of Buda, in a Strangers? Club in Vienna, and in a little bookshop off the Racknitzs trasse in Le ips ic. I com pleted m y evidence ten days ago in Paris. I can?t tell you the details now, for it?s som ething of a history. When I was quite sure in m y own mind I judged it m y business to disappear, and I reached this city by a m ighty queer circuit. I left Paris a dandified young French-Am erican, and I sailed from Ham burg a Jew diam ond m erchant. In Norway I was an English student of Ibsen collecting m aterials for lectures, but when I left Bergen I w as a cinem a-m an with special ski 13 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps film s. And I cam e here from Leith with a lot of pulp- wood proposition s in my pocket to put before the London newspapers. Till yesterday I thought I had m uddied m y trail som e, and was feeling pretty happy. Then ...? The recollection seem ed to upset him, and he gulped down som e more whisky. ?Then I saw a m an standing in the stree t outs ide this block. I used to stay close in m y room all day, and only slip out after dark for an hour or two. I watched him for a bit from m y window, and I thought I recognized him ... He cam e in and spoke to the porter ... W hen I cam e back from m y wa lk last night I f ound a card in m y letter-box. It bore the nam e of the man I wa nt least to m eet on God?s earth. ? I think that the look in m y com panion?s eyes, the sheer naked scare on his face, com pleted m y conviction of his honesty. My own voice sharpened a bit as I asked him what he did next. ?I realized that I was bottl ed as s ure as a p ickled herring, and that there was only one way out. I had to die. If m y pursuers knew I was d ead they would go to sleep again.? ?How did you m anage it?? 14 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps ?I told th e m an that valets m e that I was f eeling pretty bad, and I got m yself up to look like death. T hat wasn?t difficult, for I?m no slouch at disguises. Then I got a corpse - you can always get a body in London if you know where to go for it. I fetched it back in a trunk on the top of a four-wheeler, and I ha d to be assisted upstairs to my room . You see I had to pile up som e evidence for the inquest. I went to bed and got my m an to m ix m e a sleeping- draught, and then told him to clear out. He wanted to f etch a doctor, but I swore som e and said I couldn?t abide leeches. When I was left alone I started in to fake up that corpse. He was m y size, and I judged had perished from too m uch alcohol, so I put som e spirits handy about the place. The jaw was the weak point in the likeness, so I blew it aw ay w ith a revolver. I daresay there will be somebody tom orrow to swear to having heard a shot, but there are no ne ighbours on m y floor, and I guessed I could risk it. So I left the body in bed dressed up in m y pyjam as, with a revolver lying on the bed- clothes and a considerable m ess around. Then I got into a suit of clothes I had kept waiting for em ergencies. I didn?t dare to shave for fear of l eaving tracks, and besides, it wasn?t any kind of use my tryi ng to get into the stre ets. I had had you in m y mind all day, and there seem ed 15 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps nothing to do but to make an appeal to you. I watched from m y window till I saw you com e hom e, and then slipped down the stair to m eet you ... There, Sir, I guess you know about as m uch as m e of this business.? He sat blink ing like an owl, f lutter ing with ner ves and yet de spera tely de term ined. By th is tim e I was pr etty well convinced that he was going st raight with m e. It was the wildest sor t of narrative, but I had heard in m y tim e m any steep tales which had turned out to be true, and I had made a practice of judging the man rather than the story. If he had wanted to get a location in my flat, and then cut my throat, he would have pitched a m ilder yarn. ?Hand m e your key,? I said, ?and I?ll take a look at the corpse. Excuse m y caution, but I?m bound to verify a bit if I can.? He shook his head m our nfully. ?I reckoned you?d ask for that, but I haven?t got it. It?s on m y chain on the dressing-table. I had to l eave it behind, for I couldn?t leave any clues to b reed susp icions. The gentry who are after m e are pretty bright-eyed citizens. You?ll have to take m e on trust for the ni ght, and tom orrow you?ll get proof of the corpse business right enough.? I thought for an instant or two. ?Right. I?ll trust you for the night. I?ll lock you into this room and keep the key. 16 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps just one word, Mr Scudder. I believe you?re straight, but if so be you are not I should warn you that I?m a handy man with a gun.? ?Sure,? he said, jum ping up with som e briskness. ?I haven?t the privilege of your nam e, Sir, but let m e tell you that you?re a white m an. I?l l thank you to lend m e a razor. ? I took him into m y bedroom and turned him loose. In half an hou r?s tim e a figure cam e out that I scarcely recognized. Only his gim lety, hungry eyes were the sam e. He was shaved clean, h is hair was parted in th e m iddle, and he had cut his eyebrows. Furth er, he carrie d him self as if he had been drilled, and was the very m odel, even to the brown com plexion, of so me British officer who had had a long spell in India. He had a monocle, too, which he stuck in his eye, and ever y trace of the Am erican had gone out of his speech. ?My hat! Mr Scudder -? I stamm ered. ?Not Mr Scudder,? he corre cted; ?Captain Theophilus Digby, of the 40th Gurkhas, presently hom e on l eave. I?ll thank you to rem ember that, Sir.? I m ade hi m up a bed in my s moking-room and sought my own couch, m ore cheerful than I had been for the past 17 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps month. Things did happen occasion ally, even in this God- forgotten metropolis. I woke next m orning to hear my m an, Paddock, making the deuce of a row at the sm oking-room door. Paddock was a fellow I had done a good turn to out on the Selakwe, and I had inspanned him as m y servant as soon as I got to E ngland. He had a bout as m uch gift of the gab as a hippopotam us, and was not a great hand at valeting, but I knew I could count on his loyalty. ?Stop that row, Paddock,? I said. ?There?s a friend of mine, Captain - Captain? (I couldn?t rem ember the nam e) ?dossing down in there. Get breakf ast for two and then com e and speak to m e.? I told Paddock a fine story about how m y friend was a great swe ll, with his n erves pretty bad from overwork, who wanted absolute rest a nd stillness. Nobody had got to know he was here, or he would be besieged by communications from the India Office and the Prim e Minister and his cure would be ruined. I am bound to say Scudder played up splendidly when he ca me to breakfast. He fixed Paddock with his ey eglass, just like a British officer, asked him about the Boer War, and slung out at me a lot of stuff about im aginary pals. Paddock couldn?t 18 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps learn to call m e ?Sir?, but he ?sirred? Scudder as if his life depended on it. I left him with the newspa per and a box of cigars, and went down t o the City till luncheon. When I got back the lift-m an had an im portant face. ?Nawsty business ?ere this m orning, Sir. Gent in No. 15 been and shot ?isself. They?ve just took ?im to the mortiary. Th e police are up there no w.? I ascended to No. 15, a nd found a couple of bobbies and an inspector busy m aking an exam ination. I asked a few idiotic questions, and they soon kicked m e out. Then I found the m an that had valeted Scudder, and pum ped him , but I could see he su spected nothing. He was a whining fellow with a churchyard f ace, and half- a-crown went far to console him . I attended the inquest next day. A partner of som e publishin g firm gave evidence th at the dece ased had brought him wood-pul p propositio ns, and had been, he believ ed, an agent of an Am erican business. The jury found it a case of suicide while of unsound m ind, and the few effects were handed over to the Am erican Consul to deal with. I gave Scudder a fu ll account of the affair, and it interested him greatly. He said he wished he could have 19 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps attended the inquest, for he reckoned it would be about as spicy as to read one?s own obituary notice. The f irst two days he stayed with me in that ba ck room he was very peaceful. He read an d sm oked a bit, and made a heap of jottings in a note-book, and every night we had a gam e of ches s, at which he beat m e hollow. I think he was nursing his nerves back to health, for he had had a p retty try ing tim e. But on the third day I could see he was beginning to get restless. He fixed up a list of the days till Jun e 15th, and ticked each off with a red pencil, making re marks in shorthand against them . I would find him sunk in a brown study, with his sharp eyes abstracted, and after th ose spells of m editation he was apt to be very despondent. Then I could see that he began to get edgy again. He listened for little noises, and was always asking m e if Paddock could be trusted. On ce or twice he got very peevish, and apologized for it. I didn?t blam e him. I m ade every allow ance, for he had taken on a fairly stiff job. It was no t th e saf ety of his own skin that troubled him, but the success of the schem e he had planned. That little man was clean grit all through, w ithout a soft spot in him . One night he was very solem n. 20 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps ?Say, Hannay,? he said, ?I j udge I should let you a bit deeper into this business. I should hate to go out without leaving som ebody else to put up a fi ght.? And he began to tell m e in detail what I ha d only heard from hi m vaguely. I did not give him very close attention. The fac t is, I was m ore interes ted in his own adventures than in his high politics. I reckoned that Karolides and his affairs were not m y business, le aving all tha t to him . So a lot tha t he said slipped clean out of my me mo ry. I reme mb er that he was very clear that the danger to Karolides would not begin till he had got to L ondon, and would com e from the very highest quarters, where there would be no thought of suspicion. He mentioned the name of a woman - Julia Czechenyi - as having s omething to do with th e danger. She would be the decoy, I gath ered, to get Karolides out of the care of his guards. He talked, too, about a Black Stone and a m an that lisped in his speech, and he described very particularly som ebody that he never referred to without a shudde r - an old m an with a young voice who could hood his eyes like a hawk. He spoke a good deal about death, too. He was mortally anxious about winni ng through with his job, but he didn?t care a rush for his lif e. ?I reckon it?s like going to sleep when you are pretty well tired out, and waking to 21 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps find a summer day with the s cent of hay com ing in at the window. I used to thank God for suc h m ornings way back in the Blue-Grass country, and I guess I?ll thank Hi m when I wake up on the other side of Jordan.? Next day he was m uch more cheerf ul, and read the life of Stonewall Jackson much of the tim e. I went out to dinner with a m ining engine er I had got to see on business, and cam e bac k about half-past ten in tim e for our gam e of chess before turning in. I had a cigar in m y m outh, I rem ember, as I pushed open the smoking-room door. The lights were not lit, which struck m e as odd. I w ondered if Scudder had turned in already. I snapped the switch, but th ere was nobody there. Then I saw som ething in the f ar co rner which m ade m e drop my cigar an d fall into a cold sweat. My guest w as lying sprawled on his back. There was a long knife through his heart wh ich skewered him to the floor. 22 of 184 The Thirty-Nine Steps
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