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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XIV. WHAT VAN ZWIETEN KNEW.
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CHAPTER XIV. WHAT VAN ZWIETEN KNEW.
The clever criminal who wishes to escape the law does not seek provincial neighborhoods or foreign climes. He remains in London; for him no place is so safe. There a man can disappear from one district and reappear in another without danger of recognition by unwelcome friends. Of course the pertinacity of the police may do much to complicate matters, but the history of crime goes to show very clearly that they are by no means infallible. But about them Van Zwieten troubled himself very little. Certainly he changed his name to Jones, for his own, in those anti-Dutch times, smacked overmuch of Holland. But for the rest his disguise was slight. From St. James\'s he changed his address to a part of Westminster where none of his West End friends were likely to come across him; and as Mr. Jones he carried on his plotting against the Empire with every sense of security. And in such security he saw only a strong proof of John Bull\'s stupidity. An Englishman would have seen in it a glorious example of freedom.

In a side street Van Zwieten, alias Mr. Jones, dwelt on the first floor of a quiet house let out in lodgings by the quietest of widows. And Mrs. Hicks had a good opinion of her lodger. It is true he was somewhat erratic in his movements. For days he would go away--into the country, he said--and even when in town would be absent for many hours at a stretch. But he paid well and regularly, was not exacting about either his food or attendance, and behaved altogether in the most becoming manner. He certainly saw a great number of people, and they called on him principally at night, but Mr. Jones had kindly informed her how he was writing a great book on London, and how these people were gathering materials for him. Had Mrs. Hicks known the kind of materials they were collecting, she might or might not have been astonished. Certainly she would have been but little the wiser.

A decent, if narrow-minded little person, Mrs. Hicks knew little of politics and still less of spies. These latter--on those few occasions when they had presented themselves to her mind--she pictured as foreign persons given to meeting by candlelight with mask and cloaks and daggers. That the kind gentleman who was so polite to her and so kind to her fatherless children should be a spy assuredly never entered Mrs. Hick\'s head.

Van Zwieten--it is more convenient to call him so--sat in his rooms one night in the second week in October. His face wore a satisfied smile, for a great event had taken place. Free State and Transvaal, under the sapient guidance of their Presidents, had thrown down the gage of defiance to England, and the Federal armies were overrunning Natal. Scarse and his following were dreadfully shocked at this sample of simplicity on the part of their "innocent lamb." It was all out of keeping with Mr. Kruger\'s pacific intentions as extolled by them. Indeed, they found it necessitated a change of tactics on their part, so they right-about faced and deplored that war should thus have been forced on an honest, God-fearing man. In all sincerity they tried to divide the country on the question of the war; and in Brussels Leyds was doing his best to hound on the Continental Powers to attacking England. Altogether Van Zwieten was very well satisfied with the outlook. What with the unprepared state of the British in Natal, Leyds on the Continent, Scarse and his friends in London, it seemed as though the Boers, by treachery and cunning and the due display of armament--as formidable as it was wholly unlooked for--would come safely out of the desperate adventure to which they had committed themselves. Van Zwieten\'s part was to send off certain final information to Leyds for transmission to Pretoria, and then to leave England.

But Van Zwieten was not going out to fight for his adopted country. Oh, dear, no! He had ostensibly thrown up his appointment in the Transvaal--which in truth he had never held--in great indignation before the war began. Proclaiming himself as a neutral person anxious to reconcile the English and the Boers, he had solicited and obtained the post of war correspondent on a Little England newspaper called The Morning Planet. This paper, whose columns were filled with the hysterical hooting of Scarse and his friends, was only too glad to employ a foreigner instead of an Englishman, and Van Zwieten received good pay, and an order to go to the front at once.

Now he was occupied in burning a mass of papers, gathering up the loose ends of his innumerable conspiracies, and looking forward to a speedy departure. All his spies had been paid and dismissed. He had one more letter to despatch to the patriotic Leyds, and then he was free to turn his attention to his private affairs.

These were concerned chiefly with an attempt to force Brenda into giving up Burton and accepting his hand, by threatening to denounce her father and his brother. He had never for a moment intended to keep the promise he had made to Scarse. He was too "slim" for that. He possessed knowledge which would serve him to his own ends, and he intended to use it for that purpose. Burton, too, was to leave with his regiment next day, and was already at Southampton. And once he was parted from Brenda there would be a better chance of bringing her to see reason. Van Zwieten smiled sweetly as he thought on these things, and gave himself up to the contemplation of that rosy future when the Republics conquered England, as they assuredly would. He forgot that very significant saying that man proposes and God disposes. But Van Zwieten was a heathen, and had very little belief in an overruling Providence.

He knew how to make himself snug did this Dutchman. His room was large, and comfortably if not luxuriously furnished. Wall paper, carpet and curtains were all of a dark green tone. Two windows led on to a light iron balcony, but at present these were closed and the curtains were drawn. The firelight--he had lighted a fire because the evening was chilly--shed its comfortable glow on the two easy-chairs wherewith he had supplemented the furniture of Mrs. Hicks. To him belonged also a tall press with pigeon-holes filled with papers, and a knee-hole desk with many drawers and brass knobs. On this latter the lamp was placed, and its crimson shade shut off the light beyond the immediate circle cast on the desk. On the mantel glittered a gimcrack French clock, and three extraordinary ornaments with brass pendants. But altogether the room was decidedly comfortable, and as Mr. van Zwieten did not pay for it out of his own pocket, maybe he enjoyed it all the more on that account.

At the present moment he was shifting papers from the pigeon-holes into an iron box, destroying some, and burning others, and executing the business with ease and despatch.

While he was thus employed a timid knock came at the door. He knew the knock well, and he knew that behind it was Mrs. Hicks. He did not desist from his occupation because he held her of but small account. It would have been otherwise had the knock been sharp and peremptory.

"Well, Mrs. Hicks," he said graciously as the pale widow glided in, "what is it?"

"If you please, Mr. Jones, there is a man waiting to see you."

"A man--a gentleman?

"A common person, sir, in a rough coat, and a cap and big boots. I don\'t think he\'s a gentleman, as he speaks rough like, and his black hair and beard look very untidy, Mr. Jones. I was once a lady\'s maid, sir, so I ought to know a gentleman when I see him."

"Show him up," said Van Zwieten, curtly; then, as she left the room, he made certain preparations. He closed the press doors and the lid of his iron box, seated himself at his desk, and glanced into a drawer to be sure that his revolver was handy. In Van Zwieten\'s walk of life it was necessary to be forearmed as well as forewarned.

The man who shortly afterward came tramping into the room fully bore out Mrs. Hicks\'s description. He was of medium height and rather stout, and was roughly dressed in coarse blue serge, and had a tangle of black curls and a heavy black beard. He was not a prepossessing object. In response to Van Zwieten\'s invitation he shuffled into an armchair by the desk, and pushed it well back into the shadow. The act, though skillfully done, roused the Dutchman\'s suspicions. But he was accustomed in his delicate profession to deal with curious customers, and he showed no surprise. He did not even shift the shade of the lamp. But very much on the alert, he waited for the stranger to state his business.

"Is your name Jones?" asked the man, in a gruff, surly voice.

"Yes, that is my name. And yours?"

"Dobbs--Augustus Dobbs. I should have brought a letter to you, but I didn\'t. It\'s better to do my own business off my own hook, I reckon."

"Are you a Yankee?" asked Van Zwieten, noting the expression and a slight twang.

"I guess so. I come from N\'York City, I do; and I fancy a run out to the Transvaal to have a slap at the Britishers."

"Indeed!" said the Dutchman, staring blankly at his visitor, "and what have I to do with your ambitions in that direction?"

The man dre............
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