The Kingdom of the Blind
Surgeon-Major Thomson had apparently forgotten his appointment to view camp
bedsteads, for, a few minutes after he had left Geraldine and her brother, his taxicab set
him down before a sombre-looking house in Adelphi Terrace. He passed through the
open doorway, up two flights of stairs, drew a key of somewhat peculiar shape from his
pocket and opened a door in front of him. He found himself in a very small hall, from
which there was no egress save through yet another door, through which he passed and
stepped into a large but singularly bare-looking apartment. Three great safes were ranged
along one side of the wall, piles of newspapers and maps were strewn all over a long
table, and a huge Ordnance map of the French and Belgian Frontiers stood upon an easel.
The only occupant of the apartment was a man who was sitting before a typewriter in
front of the window. He turned his head and rose at Thomson's entrance, a rather short,
keen-looking young man, his face slightly pitted with smallpox, his mouth hard and firm,
his eyes deep-set and bright.
"Anything happened, Ambrose?"
"A dispatch, sir," was the brief reply.
"From the War Office?"
"No, sir, it came direct."
Thomson drew the thin sheet of paper from its envelope and swept a space for himself at
the corner of the table. Then he unlocked one of the safes and drew out from an inner
drawer a parchment book bound in brown vellum. He spread out the dispatch and read it
carefully. It had been handed in at a town near the Belgian frontier about eight hours
Fifty thousand camp bedsteads are urgently required for neighbourhood of La Guir.
Please do your best for us, the matter is urgent. Double mattress if possible. London.
For a matter of ten minutes Thomson was busy with his pencil and the code-book. When
he had finished, he studied thoughtfully the message which he had transcribed:--
Plans for attack on La Guir communicated. Attack foiled. Believe Smith in London.
"Anything important, sir?" the young man at the typewriter asked.
Thomson nodded but made no immediate reply. He first of all carefully destroyed the
message which he had received, and the transcription, and watched the fragments of
paper burn into ashes. Then he replaced the code-book in the safe, which he carefully
locked, and strolled towards the window. He stood for several minutes looking out
towards the Thames.