Roy Glashan's Library
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As published in The Weekly News, Cardiff, Wales, 26 December 1908

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-04-07

Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.


ONE of the most unpleasant episodes in the course of my career, which has contained many brilliant successes and many gloomy failures, was the incident of our attempt to possess ourselves of a communication from Count Rodeholtz, the German Ambassador in London, to the Foreign Office in Berlin. The nature of that communication I never knew, but the history of our endeavours to obtain the precious document is set out in the lines that follow.

I was wandering through the grounds of a London exhibition one evening when a short, foreign-looking man, clothed in evening dress, approached me and said, in a low tone:—

"Have I the honour of addressing Mr. Godfrey Vince?"

"That is my name," I made answer at once; "what can I have the pleasure of doing for you?"

He handed me a letter, saying, abruptly, "Be good enough to read this letter; it will serve to introduce me."

The communication was from Count Antonio Delarocca of Milan, whom I had aided some months before by carrying off for him a famous Greek statue from an English country-house. It was very brief, and merely said:


This letter will introduce to you my good friend, Herr Fritz Moskovitz, who is anxious for you to undertake for him a difficult mission. I have told him that you are the one man in England who can hope to carry out such a work with success, and wishing you all a good fortune,—

Believe me, yours,


Having perused with satisfaction this flattering letter, I looked up and said, quickly, "I am honoured by your confidence, Herr Moskovitz. If you will come with me to my house, which is within a stone's throw of the Exhibition, I shall be delighted to hear all you have to say."

He bowed, and we left the Exhibition grounds at once, going in the direction of my abode. Arrived there, I installed my visitor in a chair, gave him something to drink and smoke, and then lay back in an arm-chair, waiting for him to unfold the details of his scheme.

"In the first place, my good sir," he exclaimed, talking in an excited undertone—"in the first place, I must tell you that this business is difficult almost up to the point of impossibility. To make a long story short, I will explain that on Friday morning next, about three o'clock, Count Rodeholtz will cause to be posted, or post with his own hand, at the pillar-box facing his house in Percy-street, Mayfair, a certain letter addressed to the Berlin Foreign Office. It is absolutely vital to me and to the cause I represent that that letter should never reach its destination, and I am commissioned to pay 40,000 marks or £2,000 of your English money to the man who will hand that letter to me intact—exactly as he finds it."

I thought for a moment, and then said, "I am willing to undertake the commission, and will fulfil it to the best of my ability. But, first of all, tell me how you are assured that the letter will be posted at the time you name. Is not three a.m. rather an unusual hour for the despatch of diplomatic communications?"

"Most certainly it is, but the Count is not like other men. He is bizarre—eccentric, as you call it, as, perhaps, you know. For the past four years—in fact, since he first came I to the Embassy—he has been in the habit of posting this document between; three and four o'clock, on Friday mornings ... Were it otherwise, we should not be undertaking this mission now, for it would be impossible for us to know when the document would be despatched ... As it is, we know perfectly all we want to know, except how to obtain the letter. It is you, my skilful friend, who must do that for us."

There was a pause, at the end of which I remarked: "I presume that the obvious and old-fashioned method of obtaining the letter by force is out of the question; otherwise we might waylay the person posting the letter, overpower him, and depart with the document."

He shook his head deprecatingly, "Useless, quite useless, for it would simply mean that the outrage would be discovered almost immediately, and then the contents of the letter would be telegraphed to Berlin, defeating our plans most entirely. No; the essence of the whole affair, my good sir, is that the letter should be removed and handed to me without the Embassy people having the slightest knowledge of the fact. Achieve this end for us, and the reward I have named is yours!"

I confess that I was puzzled. The whole business seemed to me extraordinary in the extreme. The ordinary method of sending diplomatic communications was by messenger or registered post; the posting at a pillar-box appeared most strange. I put this view to my visitor, who replied at once: "I am by no means astonished at your remark, my friend. It is natural enough in all conscience, but I may tell you that this means of delivery has always been adopted by the Count since he was appointed to the office. He declares that he considers this method of forwarding in reality far safer than the employment of a messenger—hence his action. Have you any further questions to ask?"

"No, thank you," I returned with a laugh; "all I want now is a little money to pay incidental expenses."

"Certainly," he replied, rising and taking from his pocket-book some notes; "here is £100. You see I trust you implicitly, for I have Count Antonio's assurance as to your straightforward dealings with those who employ you on such missions."

"I have never yet broken my word," I said, quietly; "and the fact that I occasionally break into houses is a mere incident. Where can I write you?"

"At this address, my friend." He handed me a card, and then shaking my hand and wishing me success, took his leave.


NEXT morning I went to Percy-street, Mayfair, to survey the Ambassador's house; 31, Percy-street, the mansion in question, was a dull-looking, grey abode exactly similar to the other houses in the street. Facing the house, on the other side of the street, was a pillar-box—the receptacle, it seemed, where the Count was in the habit of posting his communications to Berlin.

On the way home, I racked my wits in the endeavour to devise a means of carrying off the letter without causing the slightest outcry concerning it. Had the pillar-box been a receptacle easily shifted, the matter would have been as easy as smoking a cigarette, for we should simply have had to divert the policeman on the beat away from the street by means of a fictitious drunken disturbance, and then we could have driven up in a van and carted the box away. But, unfortunately, the Post Office people have made ample provisions against such removals, and I knew that the idea was hopelessly unworkable. I must think of something else.

And then, of a sudden, there flashed upon me an idea, coming whence I knew not, but it seemed to me that a voice spoke in my ear, and this is what it said: "Substitute another pillar-box on the opposite side of the street. Placard the genuine box with a notice saying that it is temporarily disused, and that letters are to be posted opposite. Stop up its mouth so that nothing can be inserted, and the Count or his messenger will then be compelled to cross the road and drop the letter into the false box. Clear the streets of the police by means of a row, and wait with a van at the corner of the street till the document is posted. Swoop down, collar the box, drive off, and then look out for the oof waiting at the other end!"

I must confess that the idea fascinated me, as a brilliant plot might delight a skilful author, and the blood mounted to my brain with excitement. That this scheme should have developed in my brain thus suddenly seemed little short of miraculous, and now nothing remained but to discuss the affair with my friends and carry it into execution.

I jumped into a cab and drove to a certain hostelry in the East-end, where I knew I should find plenty of my pals, who for a few pounds would throw themselves into any adventure of the kind. Nor was I disappointed, for I discovered no fewer than five of them in the bar-parlour, and they entered into the scheme riotously.

In a few words I conveyed to them what I wanted done. Two of the men, burly fellows, known as Jim Thursday and Bill East, were to devote their powers to quarrelling and getting "run in" at the corner of Percy-street, whilst another two were to keep watch at the corners of the street. The remaining man, Tom Rogers, was to assist me in depositing the pillar-box and removing it when the time came.

Then a new difficulty arose. How was the pillar-box to be obtained? To-day was Tuesday, and by Friday next it would be required.

"What is to be done about getting a box?" I asked the men. There was silence for a moment, and then East, scratching his head, said, gruffly:—

"What price old Bennett, the ironfounder in Goodge-street, wot got five years' stretch for passin' flash coin? 'E's out on ticket now, and is up to makin' a fancy pillar-box as soon as wink at yer. 'E'd do it like a bird for a ten pun' note."

"The very man," I exclaimed. "I shall go there at once." Having bidden them hold themselves at my disposal for final instructions, I went straight to Goodge-street, where I found the worthy Bennett in a surly mood, owing to slackness of trade. He smiled when I asked him if he could build for me a pillar-box to the Government pattern in the time at our disposal.

"Bless yer 'art, guv'nor," he cried, "I'd do it in 'arf the time, and call myself bloomin' slow then. Give us a fiver now and the rest when the job's done, and reckon on 'avin' yer blessed box safe an' sound on Thursday arternoon."

"Very good," I made answer, as I handed him the money. "We shall drive up and take it away in a covered van. Good morning."

On reaching home I wrote briefly to Herr Moskovitz informing him of my scheme, and adding that I hoped to have the pillar-box and letter safely at my house between four and five on the following Friday morning. I asked him to be waiting at my residence to receive the document, and to bring the promised reward with him, as I would only part with the letter in exchange for the same.

The letter despatched, I hired a van for the following Friday, and to disarm suspicion, gave the proprietor to understand that it was wanted for what is commonly known as a "shooting the moon" expedition. This completely re-assured him, and he undertook that the van should be in readiness at the time named.


ALL went well, and on the following Friday the van, containing the pillar-box, my assistants, and myself, set out for Percy-street, where we arrived at ten minutes to three. I noticed with satisfaction that the night was very dark, which fact was of course advantageous. I at once despatched Thursday and East to do their "quarrelling act," the other two men taking up their places at the corners of the street.

At three o'clock I heard loud shouts and curses proceeding from our two friends, and a moment later two policeman were hastening in the direction of the noise. The coast thus clear, we drove up to the Ambassador's house, and in a twinkling deposited the dummy box, which was an exact duplicate of the genuine article on the opposite side of the street.

"Now for the notice of Temporary Disuse," I said, with a laugh, and an instant afterwards the mouth of the genuine pillar-box was closed with gummed paper, and the following notice posted in front of the time-table of postal deliveries:

This pillar-box being in temporary disuse, the
public will oblige by posting Communications
at the temporary box across the road.—By order.

This work completed to our satisfaction, my pal and I climbed back into our van and drove noiselessly down a side street, from which we could watch all that happened outside Count Rodeholtz's mansion.

I confess that, hardened and experienced as I was, a terrible thrill of nervousness went through me as I stood in that van with my companion waiting for the long minutes to go by and the welcome appearance of the precious letter. For so many things might occur to upset our plans and defeat us in the very hour of triumph. The return of the policemen from the station before the conclusion of the business would ruin all; nay, if a chance youth on the way home from a dance were attracted by the notice on the box and lingered to look at it, we might be equally overthrown. Perhaps, throughout my whole career, I have never endured such an unpleasant quarter of an hour of anxiety as I experienced on that morning in that street.

It was, therefore, with a feeling of relief that amounted to positive joy that I beheld, at about a quarter past three, the door of the house open, and a young man, evidently the Ambassador's secretary, glide into the street. He held in his hand the letter, and I saw him run up to the genuine box and peer at it for a moment in surprise. Then with some expression, which, of course, we could not catch at that distance, he crossed the road, and, having deposited the letter in our box, returned with all speed to the house.

"Now," I exclaimed, in a voice trembling with delight, as I turned to my mate, "now, then, let us buck up and get the box into the van."

One minute sufficed for the work. Not a soul was in sight—the street was silent as the grave. We quickly tore down the "Notice" which had done us such good service, and removed the paper from the mouth of the box. Three minutes later we were driving away briskly in the direction of my house. We arrived at four a.m., and found Herr Moskovitz awaiting us, in intense excitement.

"Well!" he cried, gesticulating with both hands—"well, have you succeeded?"

"Perfectly," I replied; "here is the box, and here is the key. We have not touched or looked at the letter, believing it to be private."

"You have acted well," he returned, quickly; "and now to obtain the letter."

With hands which trembled so violently that he could scarce insert and turn the key, the excited man knelt down and drew forth the envelope. As he looked at the superscription, a cry of disgust escaped his lips and he tore it open. One glance at the letter seemed to suffice, and it transformed him utterly. He strode across the room and shook his great fist in my face.

"Fool! Simpleton! Imbecile!*' he yelled, each word having the malignity of a blow; "you have failed after all, and made a fool of yourself and me."

He flung the letter at me, and darted from the house, uttering curses as he rolled down the stairs.

"Wot's h'up with the bloke?" asked one of my pals, who stood open-mouthed regarding the curious scene.

Without answering, I took up the letter and read these words. They were written in a sloping, uneducated hand, and ran thus:

Dere Mary-H'Anne,—

Master sittin' up late to-night, as per usual, with his blessed letter-writin' and sichlike, I 'ave a few minits to rite to say as 'ow I opes this finds you as it leaves Me in ‘ealth and spirits, tho' dog-tired, and please to meet me at the Marble Arch at 3.0 sharp next Sunday, from your luvvin'


I saw through the whole business at once. The man I had taken to be the secretary was merely a valet or butler, and the letter was a servant's communication to his sweetheart, instead of an Ambassador's letter to his government. We had come away too soon, and that is how our diplomatic adventure failed and why we did not carry off the Count's letter after all.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.