Read CHAPTER I - WALKING PAPERS of Alias The Lone Wolf, free online book, by Louis Joseph Vance, on ReadCentral.com.

Through the suave, warm radiance of that afternoon of Spring in England a gentleman of modest and commonly amiable deportment bore a rueful countenance down Piccadilly and into Halfmoon street, where presently he introduced it to one whom he found awaiting him in his lodgings, much at ease in his easiest chair, making free with his whiskey and tobacco, and reading a slender brown volume selected from his shelves.

This dégage person was patently an Englishman, though there were traces of Oriental ancestry in his cast. The other, he of the doleful habit, was as unmistakably of Gallic pattern, though he dressed and carried himself in a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon fashion, and even seemed a trace intrigued when greeted by a name distinctively French.

For the Englishman, rousing from his appropriated ease, dropped his book to the floor beside the chair, uprose and extended a cordial hand, exclaiming: “H’are ye, Monsieur Duchemin?”

To this the other responded, after a slight pause, obscurely enough: “Oh! ancient history, eh? Well, for the matter of that: How are you, Mister Wertheimer?”

Their hands fell apart, and Monsieur Duchemin proceeded to do away his hat and stick and chamois gloves; while his friend, straddling in front of a cold grate and extending his hands to an imaginary blaze, covered with a mild complaint the curiosity excited by a brief study of that face of melancholy.

“Pretty way you’ve got of making your friends wait on your pleasure. Here I’ve wasted upwards of two hours of His Majesty’s time...”

“How was I to know you’d have the cheek to force your way in here in my absence and help yourself to my few poor consolations?” Duchemin retorted, helping himself to them in turn. “But then one never does know what fresh indignity Fate has in store...”

“After you with that whiskey, by your leave. I say: I’d give something to know where you ignorant furriners come by this precious pre-War stuff.” But without waiting to be denied this information, Mr. Wertheimer continued: “Going on the evidence of your looks and temper, you’ve been down to Tilbury Docks this afternoon to see Karslake and Sonia off.”

“A few such flashes of intelligence applied professionally, my friend, should carry you far.”

“And the experience has left you feeling a bit down, what?”

“I imagine even you do not esteem parting with those whom one loves an exhilarating pastime.”

“But when it’s so obviously for their own good...”

“Oh, I know!” Duchemin agreed without enthusiasm. “If anything should happen to Karslake now, it would break Sonia’s heart, but...”

“And after the part he played in that Vassilyevski show his lease of life wouldn’t be apt to be prolonged by staying on in England.”

“I agree; but still !” sighed Duchemin, throwing himself heavily into a chair.

“Which,” Wertheimer continued, standing, “is why we arranged to give him that billet with the British Legation in Peking.”

“Didn’t know you had a hand in that,” observed Duchemin, after favouring the other with a morose stare.

“Oh, you can’t trust me! When you get to know me better you’ll find I’m always like that forever flitting hither and yon, bestowing benefits and boons on the ungrateful, like any other giddy Providence.”

“But one is not ungrateful,” Duchemin insisted. “God knows I would gladly have sped Karslake’s emigration with Sonia to Van Dieman’s Land or Patagonia or where you will, if it promised to keep him out of the way long enough for the Smolny Institute to forget him.”

“Since the said Smolny inconsiderately persists in failing to collapse, as per the daily predictions of the hopeful.”

“Just so.”

“But aren’t you forgetting you yourself have given that Smolny lot the same and quite as much reason for holding your name anathema?”

“Ah!” Duchemin growled “as for me, I can take care of myself, thank you. My trouble is, I want somebody else to take care of. I had a daughter once, for a few weeks, long enough to make me strangely fond of the responsibilities of a father; and then Karslake took her away, leaving me nothing to do with my life but twiddle futile thumbs and contemplate the approach of middle age.” “Middle age? Why flatter yourself? With a daughter married, too!”

“Sonia’s only eighteen...”

“She was born when you were twenty. That makes you nearly forty, and that’s next door to second childhood, Man!” the Englishman declared solemnly “you’re superannuated.”

“I know; and so long as I feel my years, even you can abuse me with impunity.”

But Wertheimer would not hear him. “Odd,” he mused, “I never thought of it before, that you were growing old. And I’ve been wondering, too, what it was that has been making you so precious slow and cautious and cranky of late. You’re just doddering and I thought you were simply tired out and needed a holiday.”

“Perhaps I am and do,” said Duchemin patiently. “One feels one has earned a holiday, if ever anybody did in your blessed S. S.”

“Ah! You think so?”

“You’d think so if you’d been mucking round the East End all Winter with your life in your hands.”

“Still at your age I’d be thinking about retiring instead of asking for a rest.”

Although Duchemin knew very well that he was merely being ragged in that way of deadly seriousness which so often amuses the English, he chose to suggest sourly: “My resignation is at your disposal any time you wish it.”

“Accepted,” said Wertheimer airily, “to take effect at once.”

To this Duchemin merely grunted, as who should say he didn’t consider this turn of conversation desperately amusing. And Wertheimer resuming his chair, the two remained for some moments in silence, a silence so doggedly maintained on both sides that Duchemin was presently aware of dull gnawings of curiosity. It occurred to him that his caller should have found plenty to do in his bureau in the War Office....

“And to what,” he enquired with the tedious irony of ennui, “is one indebted for this unexpected honour on the part of the First Under-Secretary of the British Secret Service? Or whatever your high-sounding official title is...”

“Oh!” Wertheimer replied lazily and knocked out his pipe “I merely dropped in to say good-bye.”

Duchemin discovered symptoms of more animation.

“Hello! Where are you off to?”

“Nowhere worse luck! I mean I’m here to bid you farewell and Godspeed and what not on the eve of your departure from the British Isles.”

“And where, pray, am I going?”

“That’s for you to say.”

Monsieur Duchemin meditated briefly. “I see,” he announced: “I’m to have a roving commission.”

“Worse than that: none at all.”

Duchemin opened his eyes wide.

“‘The wind bloweth where it listeth,’” Wertheimer affirmed. “How do I know whither you’ll blow, now you’re a free agent again, entirely on your own? I’ve got no control over your movements.”

“The S. S. has.”

“Never no more. Didn’t you tender me your resignation a moment ago? Wasn’t it promptly accepted?”

“Look here: What the devil !”

“Well, if you must know,” the Englishman interrupted hastily, “my instructions were to give you your walking papers if you refused to resign. So your connection with the S. S. is from this hour severed. And if you ain’t out of England within twenty-four hours, we’ll jolly well deport you. And that’s that.”

“One perceives one has served England not wisely but too well.”

“Shrewd lad!” Wertheimer laughed. “You see, old soul, we admire you no end, and we’re determined to save your life. Word has leaked through from Petrograd that your name has been triple-starred on the Smolny’s Index Expurgatorius. Karslake’s too. An honour legitimately earned by your pernicious collaboration in the Vassilyevski bust. Karslake’s already taken care of, but you’re still in the limelight, and that makes you a public nuisance. If you linger here much longer the verdict will undoubtedly be: Violent death at the hands of some person or persons unknown. So here are passports and a goodish bit of money. If you run through all of it before this blows over, we’ll find a way, of course, to get more to you. You understand: No price too high that buys good riddance of you. And there will be a destroyer waiting at Portsmouth to-night with instructions to put ashore secretly anywhere you like across the Channel. After that as far as the British Empire is concerned your blood be on your own head.”

The other nodded, investigating the envelope which his late chief had handed him, then from his letter of credit and passports looked up with a reminiscent smile.

“It isn’t the first time you’ve vouched for me by this style. Remember?”

“Well, you’ve earned as fair title to the name of Duchemin as I ever did to that of Wertheimer.”

But the smile was fading from the eyes of the man whom England preferred to recognize as Andre Duchemin.

“But where on earth is one to go?” “Don’t ask me,” the Englishman protested. “And above all, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Since I’ve been on this job, I’ve learned to believe in telepathy and mind reading and witchcraft and all manner of unholy rot. And I don’t want you to come to a sudden end through somebody’s establishing illicit intercourse with my subconscious mind.”

He took his leave shortly after that; and Monsieur Duchemin settled down in the chair which his guest had quitted to grapple with his problem: where under Heaven to go?

After a wasted while, he picked up in abstraction the book which Wertheimer had been reading and wondered if, by any chance, he had left it there on purpose, so strong seemed the hint. It was Stevenson’s ‘Travels with a Donkey.’ Duchemin was familiar enough with the work, and had no need to dip anew into its pages to know it offered one fair solution to his quandary.

If he assured himself there were any place in Europe where one might count on being reasonably secure from the solicitous attentions of the grudge-bearing Bolsheviki, it was the Cevennes, those little-known hills in the south of France, well inland from the sea.