The Duke de Richleau and Mr. Simon Aron had gone in to dinner at eight o’clock, but coffee was not served till after ten.

Aron had eaten sparingly of each well-chosen course, and to one who made a hobby of such things the wines had proved a special pleasure. Since their mutual friend Richard Eaton had brought them together, he had dined on many occasions with De Richleau at his flat.

A casual observer might have considered it a strange friendship, but despite the difference in age and race, appearance and tradition, the two had many tastes in common.

Both the young English Jew and the elderly French exile loved beauty in its many forms, and could linger happily over a jade carving or a page of prose. They had also developed a pleasant rivalry in producing for each other great wines, fine food, and well-matured cigars.

Aron accepted a long Hoyo de Monterrey from the cedar cabinet which the Duke’s man presented to him, and his dark eyes flickered towards his host.

During dinner the impression had grown upon him that there was some special reason why the Duke had asked him to dine on this occasion. His intuition had not deceived him. De Richleau exhaled the first cloud of fragrant smoke from another of those long Hoyo’s which were his especial pride, and drew from his pocket a dirty piece of paper, which he flicked across the table. “My friend,” he said, raising his grey eyebrows a little, a slightly cynical smile on his thin lips, “I should be interested to have your opinion on this curious document.”

Simon Aron unfolded the piece of grimy paper. It had light blue rulings upon it, and was covered with a pencil scrawl; it might well have been a page torn from an exercise-book. Simon’s full mouth broadened into a wide grin, and, with a sudden gesture peculiar to himself, he gave a little nervous laugh, stooping his bird-like head with its pronounced Semitic nose to the hand which held his long cigar.

“Well, I’ll tell you, I’m no good at puzzles,” he grinned, “never done a cross-word in my life — but I’ll see what I can do.” As he spoke he took a pair of tortoise-shell spectacles from his pocket and began to study the crumpled paper, reading it out slowly as he did so.

“Dear Comrade,

Since I left the New York centre I have been investigating the possibilities of mineral wealth in this country.

There is one mine containing valuable deposits which has been closed down for a number of years, and I had hoped to get it going. Unfortunately, before I could do so, I was sent to the place where Comrade Eatonov was for a short time.

Work at the London centre must be almost at a standstill with the present reactionary Government in power, and if my transfer from here could be arranged for, I should badly need skilled assistance at the mine, so if you could come over, your help would be most welcome.

I would like to have met you in Moscow, but that will be impossible now. You can get all the information regarding the mine at Jack Straw’s. If little Simonoff is still with you, perhaps both of you could come.

I certainly need help pretty badly in my present position — it’s too much for me alone.

Your old comrade and fellow-worker,


Simon Aron shook his head with a little wriggle of his narrow shoulders. “How did it come to you?” he inquired.

The Duke passed over a flimsy envelope with which he had been toying. “Just so, my friend,” he said, lightly, “you will note that this bears a Finnish stamp, and was posted in Helsingfors.”

Simon examined the writing on the envelope. It was thin and angular — very different from the pencil scrawl of the letter — and bore the legend:

Monsieur Ricillou,

No. I Maison Arrol,


Gde. Bretagne.

“I — er — suppose it’s not a mistake?” ventured Simon, thoughtfully. “I mean, it is meant for you?”

The Duke ran the tips of his fingers down his lean, handsome face. “At first I was inclined to suppose that it had been sent here in error, but now I am convinced that it was intended for me.”

“Wonder it ever got here — addressed like this!”

“Yes, the name misspelt — also Errol House, no mention of Curzon Street, or Mayfair, or any district number. But tell me — who do you think it is from?”

“Tsarderynski,” Simon murmured, “don’t know — never heard of him; looks like a letter from one Bolshie agent to another, on the face of it”

“May I suggest that you endeavour to translate the name?” The grey eyes of almost piercing brilliance, which gave character to De Richleau’s face, lit up.

— “‘Tsar,’ that’s Caesar — King,” Simon Aron began,

“‘de’ of, or from — ‘ ryn’ — ah! now wait a minute — this is interesting, very interesting —” He sat forward suddenly and began nodding his narrow head up and down. “Of course — this is from our old friend Rex Van Ryn!”

His host smiled encouragement.

Simon read the letter through again. “And Rex is in a muddle — a really nasty muddle,” he added jerkily.

“Exactly the conclusion I had arrived at,” De Richleau agreed. “Now what do you make of the rest of the letter?”

For some little time Simon did not reply. In his left hand he slowly revolved the bowl-shaped glass that held some of the Duke’s wonderful old brandy, in his right he held the long evenly burning cigar. For the moment his thoughts had left the beautiful room with its lovely old panelling, its four famous pictures by great masters, and the heavy carpet which seemed to deaden every sound.

He was thinking of Rex Van Ryn — that great hulking American with the ugly face and the enormous sense of fun. He could see Rex now, in the little sitting-room of the house in Trevor Square, which he always took when he came to London. He could hear him dilating on the question of drinks — “Never give a guy a large cocktail, but plenty of ’em — make ’em dry and drink ’em quick — come on, boys — it takes a fourth to make an appetite — here’s to crime!” — and now this strange letter out of Russia. What sort of wild escapade could have taken Rex to such a place? What kind of trouble was he up against? For Simon had not the least doubt that he was in trouble, and Simon was worried — he was very fond of Rex.

De Richleau meanwhile sat silent at the head of the table, a striking and unusual figure. He was a slim, delicate-looking man, somewhat above middle height, with slender, fragile hands and greying hair; but there was no trace of weakness in his fine distinguished face. His aquiline nose, broad forehead, and grey devil’s eyebrows might well have replaced those of the cavalier in the Van Dyke that gazed down from the opposite wall. Instead of the conventional black, he wore a claret-coloured Vicuna smoking-suit, with silk lapels and braided fastenings; this touch of colour increased his likeness to the portrait. He watched Simon with a slight smile on his firm mouth. He knew the cautious, subtle brain that lay behind the sloping forehead of his guest too well to hurry his deliberations.

“Let’s go through it carefully,” said Simon at last “What’s all this business about a mine? I didn’t know that Rex ever trained as a mining engineer.”

“Nor I,” agreed the Duke. “What do you make of the passage about Eatonov?”

Simon’s dark eyes flickered over his spectacles at the Duke.

“That’s where the muddle comes in — Eatonov is Richard Eaton, of course — and poor Richard went to Brixton! Rex is in prison — that’s what it seems to me.”

“Without a doubt,” De Richleau nodded, “that reference to Eaton was a clever way of putting it — no ordinary person could understand it, but he would know that, to us, it would be abundantly clear. If one needs further confirmation, one has only to note the suggestion about his transfer being arranged for, and that ‘it will be impossible for him to come to Moscow now to meet us’; he is somewhere in Soviet Russia, but he is not a free man.”

“The letter was posted in Finland,” Simon remarked.

“Certainly.” The Duke pushed the old brandy across the table to his guest. “It looks as if the letter was smuggled out of Russia, evidently Rex was afraid that his messenger might be searched at the frontier, and so made him commit the address to memory. From the envelope I doubt if the man could even speak English. The whole thing, with its talk of centres, comrades, and reactionary Governments, is obviously designed to throw dust in the eyes of any Soviet official.”

“Who is Jack Straw? I don’t — er — understand that bit at all. The only Jack Straw’s that I’ve ever heard of is the Castle on the Heath.”

“Jack Straw’s Castle — what is that?” The Duke looked puzzled.

“An inn on Hampstead Heath — place where Dick Turpin, the highwayman, used to make his headquarters about a hundred and fifty years ago — at least,” Simon corrected himself, “I’m not certain that isn’t ‘The Spaniards’.”

“What can an inn on Hampstead Heath have to do with a mine in Russia? There must be some other explanation.”

“Perhaps,” Simon hesitated, “it is the meeting-place of some secret Bolshevik society.”

“But, my friend, if Rex has fallen foul of the Ogpu, surely they would be the last people to give us any information about him?”

“It might be a society of counter-revolutionaries, and Rex has been arrested for being in touch with them.”

“If you are right, Rex may have gone to Russia on behalf of these émigrés, and been arrested on that account — if so, the mine may be anything of value — perhaps even secret information.”

“Well — I’ll tell you,” said Simon, “I don’t like it a little bit — look at the last sentence in that letter — ‘ I certainly need help pretty badly in my present position, it’s too much for me alone.’”

The Duke gently laid the long blue-grey ash of his cigar in the onyx ash tray. “There is not a doubt,” he said, slowly, “our good friend Van Ryn is a prisoner in Soviet Russia — Rex is one of the bravest men I have ever known, he would never have written that last paragraph unless he were in dire distress. It is a cry for help. Where he may be in that vast territory which constitutes the Union of Soviet Peoples, it will be no easy task to discover. He has found somebody — a fellow prisoner, perhaps — who was about to leave the country, and persuaded him to take this letter in the hope that it would get through. The chances were all against it reaching it’s destination, but as it has done so — the point is now — what are we to do?”

Simon Aron leant forward and laughed his short, jerky laugh into his hand. “Well — er — I hate to say so,” he laughed again, “but it seems to me that you and I have got to take a trip to Russia.”