Monday, November 5, 2007



on the Western Front
1. The Wicket-Gate
2. 'The Village Named Morality'
3. The Reflections of a Cured Dyspeptic
4. Andrew Amos
5. Various Doings in the West
6. The Skirts of the Coolin
7. I Hear of the Wild Birds
8. The Adventures of a Bagman
9. I Take the Wings of a Dove
10. The Advantages of an Air Raid
11. The Valley of Humiliation
12. I Become a Combatant Once More
13. The Adventure of the Picardy Chateau
14. Mr Blenkiron Discourses on Love and War
15. St Anton
16. I Lie on a Hard Bed
17. The Col of the Swallows
18. The Underground Railway
19. The Cage of the Wild Birds
20. The Storm Breaks in the West
21. How an Exile Returned to His Own People
22. The Summons Comes for Mr Standfast
The earlier adventures of Richard Hannay, to which occasional
reference is made in this narrative, are recounted in _The
_Thirty-Nine _Steps and _Greenmantle.
The Wicket-Gate
I spent one-third of my journey looking out of the window of a
first-class carriage, the next in a local motor-car following the course
of a trout stream in a shallow valley, and the last tramping over a
ridge of downland through great beech-woods to my quarters for
the night. In the first part I was in an infamous temper; in the
second I was worried and mystified; but the cool twilight of the
third stage calmed and heartened me, and I reached the gates of
Fosse Manor with a mighty appetite and a quiet mind.
As we slipped up the Thames valley on the smooth Great Western
line I had reflected ruefully on the thorns in the path of duty. For
more than a year I had never been out of khaki, except the months
I spent in hospital. They gave me my battalion before the Somme,
and I came out of that weary battle after the first big September
fighting with a crack in my head and a D.S.O. I had received a C.B.
for the Erzerum business, so what with these and my Matabele and
South African medals and the Legion of Honour, I had a chest like
the High Priest's breastplate. I rejoined in January, and got a
brigade on the eve of Arras. There we had a star turn, and took
about as many prisoners as we put infantry over the top. After that
we were hauled out for a month, and subsequently planted in a bad
bit on the Scarpe with a hint that we would soon be used for a big
push. Then suddenly I was ordered home to report to the War
Office, and passed on by them to Bullivant and his merry men. So
here I was sitting in a railway carriage in a grey tweed suit, with a
neat new suitcase on the rack labelled C.B. The initials stood for
Cornelius Brand, for that was my name now. And an old boy in the
corner was asking me questions and wondering audibly why I
wasn't fighting, while a young blood of a second lieutenant with a
wound stripe was eyeing me with scorn.
The old chap was one of the cross-examining type, and after he
had borrowed my matches he set to work to find out all about me.
He was a tremendous fire-eater, and a bit of a pessimist about our
slow progress in the west. I told him I came from South Africa and
was a mining engineer.
'Been fighting with Botha?' he asked.
'No,' I said. 'I'm not the fighting kind.'
The second lieutenant screwed up his nose.
'Is there no conscription in South Africa?'
'Thank God there isn't,' I said, and the old fellow begged
permission to tell me a lot of unpalatable things. I knew his kind and
didn't give much for it. He was the sort who, if he had been under
fifty, would have crawled on his belly to his tribunal to get
exempted, but being over age was able to pose as a patriot. But I
didn't like the second lieutenant's grin, for he seemed a good class
of lad. I looked steadily out of the window for the rest of the way,
and wasn't sorry when I got to my station.
I had had the queerest interview with Bullivant and Macgillivray.
They asked me first if I was willing to serve again in the old game,
and I said I was. I felt as bitter as sin, for I had got fixed in the
military groove, and had made good there. Here was I - a brigadier
and still under forty, and with another year of the war there was no
saying where I might end. I had started out without any ambition,
only a great wish to see the business finished. But now I had
acquired a professional interest in the thing, I had a nailing good
brigade, and I had got the hang of our new kind of war as well as
any fellow from Sandhurst and Camberley. They were asking me to
scrap all I had learned and start again in a new job. I had to agree,
for discipline's discipline, but I could have knocked their heads
together in my vexation.
What was worse they wouldn't, or couldn't, tell me anything
about what they wanted me for. It was the old game of running me
in blinkers. They asked me to take it on trust and put myself
unreservedly in their hands. I would get my instructions later, they
I asked if it was important.
Bullivant narrowed his eyes. 'If it weren't, do you suppose we
could have wrung an active brigadier out of the War Office? As it
was, it was like drawing teeth.'
'Is it risky?' was my next question.
'in the long run - damnably,' was the answer.
'And you can't tell me anything more?'
'Nothing as yet. You'll get your instructions soon enough. You
know both of us, Hannay, and you know we wouldn't waste the
time of a good man on folly. We are going to ask you for something
which will make a big call on your patriotism. It will be a difficult
and arduous task, and it may be a very grim one before you get to
the end of it, but we believe you can do it, and that no one else can
... You know us pretty well. Will you let us judge for you?'
I looked at Bullivant's shrewd, kind old face and Macgillivray's
steady eyes. These men were my friends and wouldn't play with Me.
'All right,' I said. 'I'm willing. What's the first step?'
'Get out of uniform and forget you ever were a soldier. Change
your name. Your old one, Cornelis Brandt, will do, but you'd
better spell it "Brand" this time. Remember that you are an engineer
just back from South Africa, and that you don't care a rush about
the war. You can't understand what all the fools are fighting about,
and you think we might have peace at once by a little friendly
business talk. You needn't be pro-German - if you like you can be
rather severe on the Hun. But you must be in deadly earnest about
a speedy peace.'
I expect the corners of my mouth fell, for Bullivant burst
out laughing.
'Hang it all, man, it's not so difficult. I feel sometimes inclined to
argue that way myself, when my dinner doesn't agree with me. It's
not so hard as to wander round the Fatherland abusing Britain,
which was your last job.'
'I'm ready,' I said. 'But I want to do one errand on my own first.
I must see a fellow in my brigade who is in a shell-shock hospital in
the Cotswolds. Isham's the name of the place.'
The two men exchanged glances. 'This looks like fate,' said
Bullivant. 'By all means go to Isham. The place where your work
begins is only a couple of miles off. I want you to spend next
Thursday night as the guest of two maiden ladies called Wymondham
at Fosse Manor. You will go down there as a lone South
African visiting a sick friend. They are hospitable souls and entertain
many angels unawares.'
'And I get my orders there?'
'You get your orders, and you are under bond to obey them.'
And Bullivant and Macgillivray smiled at each other.
I was thinking hard about that odd conversation as the small
Ford car, which I had wired for to the inn, carried me away from
the suburbs of the county town into a land of rolling hills and
green water-meadows. It was a gorgeous afternoon and the blossom
of early June was on every tree. But I had no eyes for landscape
and the summer, being engaged in reprobating Bullivant and cursing
my fantastic fate. I detested my new part and looked forward to
naked shame. It was bad enough for anyone to have to pose as a
pacifist, but for me, strong as a bull and as sunburnt as a gipsy and
not looking my forty years, it was a black disgrace. To go into
Germany as an anti-British Afrikander was a stoutish adventure,
but to lounge about at home talking rot was a very different-sized
job. My stomach rose at the thought of it, and I had pretty well
decided to wire to Bullivant and cry off. There are some things that
no one has a right to ask of any white man.
When I got to Isham and found poor old Blaikie I didn't feel
happier. He had been a friend of mine in Rhodesia, and after the
German South-West affair was over had come home to a Fusilier
battalion, which was in my brigade at Arras. He had been buried by
a big crump just before we got our second objective, and was dug
out without a scratch on him, but as daft as a hatter. I had heard he
was mending, and had promised his family to look him up the first
chance I got. I found him sitting on a garden seat, staring steadily
before him like a lookout at sea. He knew me all right and cheered
up for a second, but very soon he was back at his staring, and every
word he uttered was like the careful speech of a drunken man. A
bird flew out of a bush, and I could see him holding himself tight
to keep from screaming. The best I could do was to put a hand on
his shoulder and stroke him as one strokes a frightened horse. The
sight of the price my old friend had paid didn't put me in love
with pacificism.
We talked of brother officers and South Africa, for I wanted to
keep his thoughts off the war, but he kept edging round to it.
'How long will the damned thing last?' he asked.
'Oh, it's practically over,' I lied cheerfully. 'No more fighting for
you and precious little for me. The Boche is done in all right ... What
you've got to do, my lad, is to sleep fourteen hours in the twenty-four
and spend half the rest catching trout. We'll have a shot at the grousebird
together this autumn and we'll get some of the old gang to join us.'
Someone put a tea-tray on the table beside us, and I looked up to
see the very prettiest girl I ever set eyes on. She seemed little more
than a child, and before the war would probably have still ranked
as a flapper. She wore the neat blue dress and apron of a V.A.D.
and her white cap was set on hair like spun gold. She smiled
demurely as she arranged the tea-things, and I thought I had never
seen eyes at once so merry and so grave. I stared after her as she
walked across the lawn, and I remember noticing that she moved
with the free grace of an athletic boy.
'Who on earth's that?' I asked Blaikie.
'That? Oh, one of the sisters,' he said listlessly. 'There are squads
of them. I can't tell one from another.'
Nothing gave me such an impression of my friend's sickness as
the fact that he should have no interest in something so fresh and
jolly as that girl. Presently my time was up and I had to go, and as I
looked back I saw him sunk in his chair again, his eyes fixed on
vacancy, and his hands gripping his knees.
The thought of him depressed me horribly. Here was I condemned
to some rotten buffoonery in inglorious safety, while the
salt of the earth like Blaikie was paying the ghastliest price. From
him my thoughts flew to old Peter Pienaar, and I sat down on a
roadside wall and read his last letter. It nearly made me howl.
Peter, you must know, had shaved his beard and joined the
Royal Flying Corps the summer before when we got back from the
Greenmantle affair. That was the only kind of reward he wanted,
and, though he was absurdly over age, the authorities allowed it.
They were wise not to stickle about rules, for Peter's eyesight and
nerve were as good as those of any boy of twenty. I knew he would
do well, but I was not prepared for his immediately blazing success.
He got his pilot's certificate in record time and went out to France;
and presently even we foot-sloggers, busy shifting ground before
the Somme, began to hear rumours of his doings. He developed a
perfect genius for air-fighting. There were plenty better trick-flyers,
and plenty who knew more about the science of the game, but
there was no one with quite Peter's genius for an actual scrap. He
was as full of dodges a couple of miles up in the sky as he had been
among the rocks of the Berg. He apparently knew how to hide in
the empty air as cleverly as in the long grass of the Lebombo Flats.
Amazing yarns began to circulate among the infantry about this
new airman, who could take cover below one plane of an enemy
squadron while all the rest were looking for him. I remember
talking about him with the South Africans when we were out
resting next door to them after the bloody Delville Wood business.
The day before we had seen a good battle in the clouds when the
Boche plane had crashed, and a Transvaal machine-gun officer
brought the report that the British airman had been Pienaar. 'Well
done, the old _takhaar!' he cried, and started to yarn about Peter's
methods. It appeared that Peter had a theory that every man has a
blind spot, and that he knew just how to find that blind spot in the
world of air. The best cover, he maintained, was not in cloud or a
wisp of fog, but in the unseeing patch in the eye of your enemy. I
recognized that talk for the real thing. It was on a par with Peter's
doctrine of 'atmosphere' and 'the double bluff' and all the other
principles that his queer old mind had cogitated out of his rackety life.
By the end of August that year Peter's was about the best-known
figure in the Flying Corps. If the reports had mentioned names he
would have been a national hero, but he was only 'Lieutenant
Blank', and the newspapers, which expatiated on his deeds, had to
praise the Service and not the man. That was right enough, for half
the magic of our Flying Corps was its freedom from advertisement.
But the British Army knew all about him, and the men in the
trenches used to discuss him as if he were a crack football-player.
There was a very big German airman called Lensch, one of the
Albatross heroes, who about the end of August claimed to have
destroyed thirty-two Allied machines. Peter had then only seventeen
planes to his credit, but he was rapidly increasing his score. Lensch
was a mighty man of valour and a good sportsman after his fashion.
He was amazingly quick at manoeuvring his machine in the actual
fight, but Peter was supposed to be better at forcing the kind of
fight he wanted. Lensch, if you like, was the tactician and Peter the
strategist. Anyhow the two were out to get each other. There were
plenty of fellows who saw the campaign as a struggle not between
Hun and Briton, but between Lensch and Pienaar.
The 15th September came, and I got knocked out and went to
hospital. When I was fit to read the papers again and receive letters,
I found to my consternation that Peter had been downed. It
happened at the end of October when the southwest gales badly
handicapped our airwork. When our bombing or reconnaissance
jobs behind the enemy lines were completed, instead of being able
to glide back into safety, we had to fight our way home slowly
against a head-wind exposed to Archies and Hun planes. Somewhere
east of Bapaume on a return journey Peter fell in with Lensch - at
least the German Press gave Lensch the credit. His petrol tank was
shot to bits and he was forced to descend in a wood near Morchies.
'The celebrated British airman, Pinner,' in the words of the German
communique, was made prisoner.
I had no letter from him till the beginning of the New Year,
when I was preparing to return to France. It was a very contented
letter. He seemed to have been fairly well treated, though he had
always a low standard of what he expected from the world in the
way of comfort. I inferred that his captors had not identified in the
brilliant airman the Dutch miscreant who a year before had broken
out of a German jail. He had discovered the pleasures of reading
and had perfected himself in an art which he had once practised
indifferently. Somehow or other he had got a _Pilgrim's _Progress,
from which he seemed to extract enormous pleasure. And then at
the end, quite casually, he mentioned that he had been badly
wounded and that his left leg would never be much use again.
After that I got frequent letters, and I wrote to him every week
and sent him every kind of parcel I could think of. His letters used
to make me both ashamed and happy. I had always banked on old
Peter, and here he was behaving like an early Christian martyr -
never a word of complaint, and just as cheery as if it were a winter
morning on the high veld and we were off to ride down springbok.
I knew what the loss of a leg must mean to him, for bodily fitness
had always been his pride. The rest of life must have unrolled itself
before him very drab and dusty to the grave. But he wrote as if he
were on the top of his form and kept commiserating me on the
discomforts of my job. The picture of that patient, gentle old
fellow, hobbling about his compound and puzzling over his _Pilgrim's
_Progress, a cripple for life after five months of blazing glory,
would have stiffened the back of a jellyfish.
This last letter was horribly touching, for summer had come and
the smell of the woods behind his prison reminded Peter of a place
in the Woodbush, and one could read in every sentence the ache of
exile. I sat on that stone wall and considered how trifling were the
crumpled leaves in my bed of life compared with the thorns Peter
and Blaikie had to lie on. I thought of Sandy far off in Mesopotamia,
and old Blenkiron groaning with dyspepsia somewhere in America,
and I considered that they were the kind of fellows who did their
jobs without complaining. The result was that when I got up to go
on I had recovered a manlier temper. I wasn't going to shame my
friends or pick and choose my duty. I would trust myself to Providence,
for, as Blenkiron used to say, Providence was all right if you
gave him a chance.
It was not only Peter's letter that steadied and calmed me. Isham
stood high up in a fold of the hills away from the main valley, and
the road I was taking brought me over the ridge and back to the
stream-side. I climbed through great beechwoods, which seemed in
the twilight like some green place far below the sea, and then over
a short stretch of hill pasture to the rim of the vale. All about me
were little fields enclosed with walls of grey stone and full of dim
sheep. Below were dusky woods around what I took to be Fosse
Manor, for the great Roman Fosse Way, straight as an arrow,
passed over the hills to the south and skirted its grounds. I could
see the stream slipping among its water-meadows and could hear
the plash of the weir. A tiny village settled in a crook of the hill,
and its church-tower sounded seven with a curiously sweet chime.
Otherwise there was no noise but the twitter of small birds and the
night wind in the tops of the beeches.
In that moment I had a kind of revelation. I had a vision of what
I had been fighting for, what we all were fighting for. It was peace,
deep and holy and ancient, peace older than the oldest wars, peace
which would endure when all our swords were hammered into
ploughshares. It was more; for in that hour England first took hold
of me. Before my country had been South Africa, and when I
thought of home it had been the wide sun-steeped spaces of the
veld or some scented glen of the Berg. But now I realized that I
had a new home. I understood what a precious thing this little
England was, how old and kindly and comforting, how wholly
worth striving for. The freedom of an acre of her soil was cheaply
bought by the blood of the best of us. I knew what it meant to be a
poet, though for the life of me I could not have made a line of
verse. For in that hour I had a prospect as if from a hilltop which
made all the present troubles of the road seem of no account. I saw
not only victory after war, but a new and happier world after
victory, when I should inherit something of this English peace and
wrap myself in it till the end of my days.
Very humbly and quietly, like a man walking through a cathedral,
I went down the hill to the Manor lodge, and came to a door in an
old red-brick facade, smothered in magnolias which smelt like hot
lemons in the June dusk. The car from the inn had brought on my
baggage, and presently I was dressing in a room which looked out
on a water-garden. For the first time for more than a year I put on
a starched shirt and a dinner-jacket, and as I dressed I could have
sung from pure lightheartedness. I was in for some arduous job,
and sometime that evening in that place I should get my marching
orders. Someone would arrive - perhaps Bullivant - and read me
the riddle. But whatever it was, I was ready for it, for my whole
being had found a new purpose. Living in the trenches, you are apt
to get your horizon narrowed down to the front line of enemy
barbed wire on one side and the nearest rest billets on the other.
But now I seemed to see beyond the fog to a happy country.
High-pitched voices greeted my ears as I came down the broad
staircase, voices which scarcely accorded with the panelled walls
and the austere family portraits; and when I found my hostesses in
the hall I thought their looks still less in keeping with the house.
Both ladies were on the wrong side of forty, but their dress was
that of young girls. Miss Doria Wymondham was tall and thin with
a mass of nondescript pale hair confined by a black velvet fillet.
Miss Claire Wymondham was shorter and plumper and had done
her best by ill-applied cosmetics to make herself look like a foreign
demi-mondaine. They greeted me with the friendly casualness which
I had long ago discovered was the right English manner towards
your guests; as if they had just strolled in and billeted themselves,
and you were quite glad to see them but mustn't be asked to
trouble yourself further. The next second they were cooing like
pigeons round a picture which a young man was holding up in the
He was a tallish, lean fellow of round about thirty years, wearing
grey flannels and shoes dusty from the country roads. His thin face
was sallow as if from living indoors, and he had rather more hair
on his head than most of us. In the glow of the lamp his features
were very clear, and I examined them with interest, for, remember,
I was expecting a stranger to give me orders. He had a long, rather
strong chin and an obstinate mouth with peevish lines about its
corners. But the remarkable feature was his eyes. I can best describe
them by saying that they looked hot - not fierce or angry, but so
restless that they seemed to ache physically and to want sponging
with cold water.
They finished their talk about the picture - which was couched
in a jargon of which I did not understand one word - and Miss
Doria turned to me and the young man.
'My cousin Launcelot Wake - Mr Brand.'
We nodded stiffly and Mr Wake's hand went up to smooth his
hair in a self-conscious gesture.
'Has Barnard announced dinner? By the way, where is Mary?'
'She came in five minutes ago and I sent her to change,' said
Miss Claire. 'I won't have her spoiling the evening with that horrid
uniform. She may masquerade as she likes out-of-doors, but this
house is for civilized people.'
The butler appeared and mumbled something. 'Come along,'
cried Miss Doria, 'for I'm sure you are starving, Mr Brand. And
Launcelot has bicycled ten miles.'
The dining-room was very unlike the hall. The panelling had been
stripped off, and the walls and ceiling were covered with a deadblack
satiny paper on which hung the most monstrous pictures in
large dull-gold frames. I could only see them dimly, but they seemed
to be a mere riot of ugly colour. The young man nodded towards
them. 'I see you have got the Degousses hung at last,' he said.
'How exquisite they are!' cried Miss Claire. 'How subtle and
candid and brave! Doria and I warm our souls at their flame.'
Some aromatic wood had been burned in the room, and there
was a queer sickly scent about. Everything in that place was strained
and uneasy and abnormal - the candle shades on the table, the mass
of faked china fruit in the centre dish, the gaudy hangings and the
nightmarish walls. But the food was magnificent. It was the best
dinner I had eaten since 1914.
'Tell me, Mr Brand,' said Miss Doria, her long white face propped
on a much-beringed hand. 'You are one of us? You are in revolt
against this crazy war?'
'Why, yes,' I said, remembering my part. 'I think a little
common-sense would settle it right away.'
'With a little common-sense it would never have started,' said
Mr Wake.
'Launcelot's a C.O., you know,' said Miss Doria.
I did not know, for he did not look any kind of soldier ... I was
just about to ask him what he commanded, when I remembered
that the letters stood also for 'Conscientious Objector,' and stopped
in time.
At that moment someone slipped into the vacant seat on my
right hand. I turned and saw the V.A.D. girl who had brought tea
to Blaikie that afternoon at the hospital.
'He was exempted by his Department,' the lady went on, 'for
he's a Civil Servant, and so he never had a chance of testifying in
court, but no one has done better work for our cause. He is on the
committee of the L.D.A., and questions have been asked about him
in Parliament.'
The man was not quite comfortable at this biography. He glanced
nervously at me and was going to begin some kind of explanation,
when Miss Doria cut him short. 'Remember our rule, Launcelot.
No turgid war controversy within these walls.'
I agreed with her. The war had seemed closely knit to the
Summer landscape for all its peace, and to the noble old chambers
of the Manor. But in that demented modish dining-room it was
shriekingly incongruous.
Then they spoke of other things. Mostly of pictures or common
friends, and a little of books. They paid no heed to me, which was
fortunate, for I know nothing about these matters and didn't
understand half the language. But once Miss Doria tried to bring me in.
They were talking about some Russian novel - a name like Leprous
Souls - and she asked me if I had read it. By a curious chance I had.
It had drifted somehow into our dug-out on the Scarpe, and after
we had all stuck in the second chapter it had disappeared in the
mud to which it naturally belonged. The lady praised its 'poignancy'
and 'grave beauty'. I assented and congratulated myself on my
second escape - for if the question had been put to me I should
have described it as God-forgotten twaddle.
I turned to the girl, who welcomed me with a smile. I had
thought her pretty in her V.A.D. dress, but now, in a filmy black
gown and with her hair no longer hidden by a cap, she was the
most ravishing thing you ever saw. And I observed something else.
There was more than good looks in her young face. Her broad, low
brow and her laughing eyes were amazingly intelligent. She had an
uncanny power of making her eyes go suddenly grave and deep,
like a glittering river narrowing into a pool.
'We shall never be introduced,' she said, 'so let me reveal myself.
I'm Mary Lamington and these are my aunts ... Did you really like
Leprous Souls?'
it was easy enough to talk to her. And oddly enough her mere
presence took away the oppression I had felt in that room. For she
belonged to the out-of-doors and to the old house and to the world
at large. She belonged to the war, and to that happier world
beyond it - a world which must be won by going through the
struggle and not by shirking it, like those two silly ladies.
I could see Wake's eyes often on the girl, while he boomed and
oraculated and the Misses Wymondham prattled. Presently the
conversation seemed to leave the flowery paths of art and to verge
perilously near forbidden topics. He began to abuse our generals in
the field. I could not choose but listen. Miss Lamington's brows
were slightly bent, as if in disapproval, and my own temper began
to rise.
He had every kind of idiotic criticism - incompetence, faintheartedness,
corruption. Where he got the stuff I can't imagine,
for the most grousing Tommy, with his leave stopped, never put
together such balderdash. Worst of all he asked me to agree with him.
It took all my sense of discipline. 'I don't know much about the
subject,' I said, 'but out in South Africa I did hear that the British
leading was the weak point. I expect there's a good deal in what
you say.'
It may have been fancy, but the girl at my side seemed to
whisper 'Well done!'
Wake and I did not remain long behind before joining the ladies;
I purposely cut it short, for I was in mortal fear lest I should lose
my temper and spoil everything. I stood up with my back against
the mantelpiece for as long as a man may smoke a cigarette, and I
let him yarn to me, while I looked steadily at his face. By this time I
was very clear that Wake was not the fellow to give me my instructions.
He wasn't playing a game. He was a perfectly honest crank, but
not a fanatic, for he wasn't sure of himself. He had somehow
lost his self-respect and was trying to argue himself back into it. He
had considerable brains, for the reasons he gave for differing from
most of his countrymen were good so far as they went. I shouldn't
have cared to take him on in public argument. If you had told me
about such a fellow a week before I should have been sick at the
thought of him. But now I didn't dislike him. I was bored by him
and I was also tremendously sorry for him. You could see he was as
restless as a hen.
When we went back to the hall he announced that he must get
on the road, and commandeered Miss Lamington to help him find
his bicycle. It appeared he was staying at an inn a dozen miles off
for a couple of days' fishing, and the news somehow made me like
him better. Presently the ladies of the house departed to bed for
their beauty sleep and I was left to my own devices.
For some time I sat smoking in the hall wondering when the
messenger would arrive. It was getting late and there seemed to be
no preparation in the house to receive anybody. The butler came in
with a tray of drinks and I asked him if he expected another guest
that night.
'I 'adn't 'eard of it, sir,' was his answer. 'There 'asn't
been a telegram that I know of, and I 'ave received no instructions.'
I lit my pipe and sat for twenty minutes reading a weekly paper.
Then I got up and looked at the family portraits. The moon
coming through the lattice invited me out-of-doors as a cure for my
anxiety. It was after eleven o'clock, and I was still without any
knowledge of my next step. It is a maddening business to be
screwed up for an unpleasant job and to have the wheels of the
confounded thing tarry.
Outside the house beyond a flagged terrace the lawn fell away,
white in the moonshine, to the edge of the stream, which here had
expanded into a miniature lake. By the water's edge was a little
formal garden with grey stone parapets which now gleamed like
dusky marble. Great wafts of scent rose from it, for the lilacs were
scarcely over and the may was in full blossom. Out from the shade
of it came suddenly a voice like a nightingale.
It was singing the old song 'Cherry Ripe', a common enough
thing which I had chiefly known from barrel-organs. But heard in
the scented moonlight it seemed to hold all the lingering magic of
an elder England and of this hallowed countryside. I stepped inside
the garden bounds and saw the head of the girl Mary.
She was conscious of my presence, for she turned towards me.
'I was coming to look for you,' she said, 'now that the house is
quiet. I have something to say to you, General Hannay.'
She knew my name and must be somehow in the business. The
thought entranced me.
'Thank God I can speak to you freely,' I cried. 'Who and what
are you - living in that house in that kind of company?'
'My good aunts!' She laughed softly. 'They talk a great deal
about their souls, but they really mean their nerves. Why, they are
what you call my camouflage, and a very good one too.'
'And that cadaverous young prig?'
'Poor Launcelot! Yes - camouflage too - perhaps something a
little more. You must not judge him too harshly.'
'But ... but -' I did not know how to put it, and stammered in
my eagerness. 'How can I tell that you are the right person for me
to speak to? You see I am under orders, and I have got none
about you.'
'I will give You Proof,' she said. 'Three days ago Sir Walter
Bullivant and Mr Macgillivray told you to come here tonight and
to wait here for further instructions. You met them in the little
smoking-room at the back of the Rota Club. You were bidden take
the name of Cornelius Brand, and turn yourself from a successful
general into a pacifist South African engineer. Is that correct?'
'You have been restless all evening looking for the messenger to
give you these instructions. Set your mind at ease. No messenger is
coming. You will get your orders from me.'
'I could not take them from a more welcome source,' I said.
'Very prettily put. If you want further credentials I can tell you
much about your own doings in the past three years. I can explain
to you who don't need the explanation, every step in the business
of the Black Stone. I think I could draw a pretty accurate map of
your journey to Erzerum. You have a letter from Peter Pienaar in
your pocket - I can tell you its contents. Are you willing to trust
'With all my heart,' I said.
'Good. Then my first order will try you pretty hard. For I have
no orders to give you except to bid you go and steep yourself in a
particular kind of life. Your first duty is to get "atmosphere", as
your friend Peter used to say. Oh, I will tell you where to go and
how to behave. But I can't bid you do anything, only live idly with
open eyes and ears till you have got the "feel" of the situation.'
She stopped and laid a hand on my arm.
'It won't be easy. It would madden me, and it will be a far
heavier burden for a man like you. You have got to sink down
deep into the life of the half-baked, the people whom this war
hasn't touched or has touched in the wrong way, the people who
split hairs all day and are engrossed in what you and I would call
selfish little fads. Yes. People like my aunts and Launcelot, only for
the most part in a different social grade. You won't live in an old
manor like this, but among gimcrack little "arty" houses. You will
hear everything you regard as sacred laughed at and condemned,
and every kind of nauseous folly acclaimed, and you must hold
your tongue and pretend to agree. You will have nothing in the
world to do except to let the life soak into you, and, as I have said,
keep your eyes and ears open.'
'But you must give me some clue as to what I should be looking for?'
'My orders are to give you none. Our chiefs - yours and mine -
want you to go where you are going without any kind of _parti _pris.
Remember we are still in the intelligence stage of the affair. The
time hasn't yet come for a plan of campaign, and still less for action.'
'Tell me one thing,' I said. 'Is it a really big thing we're after?'
'A - really - big - thing,' she said slowly and very gravely. 'You
and I and some hundred others are hunting the most dangerous
man in all the world. Till we succeed everything that Britain does is
crippled. If we fail or succeed too late the Allies may never win the
victory which is their right. I will tell you one thing to cheer you.
It is in some sort a race against time, so your purgatory won't
endure too long.'
I was bound to obey, and she knew it, for she took my willingness
for granted.
From a little gold satchel she selected a tiny box, and opening it
extracted a thing like a purple wafer with a white St Andrew's
Cross on it.
'What kind of watch have you? Ah, a hunter. Paste that inside
the lid. Some day you may be called on to show it ... One other
thing. Buy tomorrow a copy of the _Pilgrim's _Progress and get it by
heart. You will receive letters and messages some day and the style
of our friends is apt to be reminiscent of John Bunyan ... The car
will be at the door tomorrow to catch the ten-thirty, and I will give
you the address of the rooms that have been taken for you ...
Beyond that I have nothing to say, except to beg you to play the
part well and keep your temper. You behaved very nicely at dinner.'
I asked one last question as we said good night in the hall. 'Shall
I see you again?'
'Soon, and often,' was the answer. 'Remember we are colleagues.'
I went upstairs feeling extraordinarily comforted. I had a perfectly
beastly time ahead of me, but now it was all glorified and coloured
with the thought of the girl who had sung 'Cherry Ripe' in the
garden. I commended the wisdom of that old serpent Bullivant in
the choice of his intermediary, for I'm hanged if I would have
taken such orders from anyone else.
'The Village Named Morality'
UP on the high veld our rivers are apt to be strings of pools linked
by muddy trickles - the most stagnant kind of watercourse you
would look for in a day's journey. But presently they reach the
edge of the plateau and are tossed down into the flats in noble
ravines, and roll thereafter in full and sounding currents to the sea.
So with the story I am telling. It began in smooth reaches, as idle as
a mill-pond; yet the day soon came when I was in the grip of a
torrent, flung breathless from rock to rock by a destiny which I
could not control. But for the present I was in a backwater, no less
than the Garden City of Biggleswick, where Mr Cornelius Brand, a
South African gentleman visiting England on holiday, lodged in a
pair of rooms in the cottage of Mr Tancred jimson.
The house - or 'home' as they preferred to name it at Biggleswick
- was one of some two hundred others which ringed a pleasant
Midland common. It was badly built and oddly furnished; the bed
was too short, the windows did not fit, the doors did not stay shut;
but it was as clean as soap and water and scrubbing could make it.
The three-quarters of an acre of garden were mainly devoted to the
culture of potatoes, though under the parlour window Mrs jimson
had a plot of sweet-smelling herbs, and lines of lank sunflowers
fringed the path that led to the front door. It was Mrs jimson who
received me as I descended from the station fly - a large red
woman with hair bleached by constant exposure to weather, clad in
a gown which, both in shape and material, seemed to have been
modelled on a chintz curtain. She was a good kindly soul, and as
proud as Punch of her house.
'We follow the simple life here, Mr Brand,' she said. 'You
must take us as you find us.'
I assured her that I asked for nothing better, and as I
unpacked in my fresh little bedroom with a west wind blowing in at
the window I considered that I had seen worse quarters.
I had bought in London a considerable number of books, for I
thought that, as I would have time on my hands, I might as well do
something about my education. They were mostly English classics,
whose names I knew but which I had never read, and they were all
in a little flat-backed series at a shilling apiece. I arranged them on
top of a chest of drawers, but I kept the _Pilgrim's _Progress beside my
bed, for that was one of my working tools and I had got to get it
by heart.
Mrs jimson, who came in while I was unpacking to see if
the room was to my liking, approved my taste. At our midday
dinner she wanted to discuss books with me, and was so full of her
own knowledge that I was able to conceal my ignorance.
'We are all labouring to express our personalities,' she
informed me. 'Have you found your medium, Mr Brand? is it to be
the pen or the pencil? Or perhaps it is music? You have the brow of
an artist, the frontal "bar of Michelangelo", you remember!'
I told her that I concluded I would try literature, but before
writing anything I would read a bit more.
It was a Saturday, so jimson came back from town in the early
afternoon. He was a managing clerk in some shipping office, but
you wouldn't have guessed it from his appearance. His city clothes
were loose dark-grey flannels, a soft collar, an orange tie, and a
soft black hat. His wife went down the road to meet him, and
they returned hand-in-hand, swinging their arms like a couple of
schoolchildren. He had a skimpy red beard streaked with grey, and mild
blue eyes behind strong glasses. He was the most friendly creature
in the world, full of rapid questions, and eager to make me feel one
of the family. Presently he got into a tweed Norfolk jacket, and
started to cultivate his garden. I took off my coat and lent him a
hand, and when he stopped to rest from his labours - which was
every five minutes, for he had no kind of physique - he would mop
his brow and rub his spectacles and declaim about the good smell
of the earth and the joy of getting close to Nature.
Once he looked at my big brown hands and muscular arms with
a kind of wistfulness. 'You are one of the doers, Mr Brand,' he said,
'and I could find it in my heart to envy you. You have seen Nature
in wild forms in far countries. Some day I hope you will tell us
about your life. I must be content with my little corner, but happily
there are no territorial limits for the mind. This modest dwelling is
a watch-tower from which I look over all the world.'
After that he took me for a walk. We met parties of returning
tennis-players and here and there a golfer. There seemed to be an
abundance of young men, mostly rather weedy-looking, but with
one or two well-grown ones who should have been fighting. The
names of some of them jimson mentioned with awe. An unwholesome
youth was Aronson, the great novelist; a sturdy, bristling
fellow with a fierce moustache was Letchford, the celebrated
leader-writer of the Critic. Several were pointed out to me as artists
who had gone one better than anybody else, and a vast billowy
creature was described as the leader of the new Orientalism in
England. I noticed that these people, according to jimson, were all
'great', and that they all dabbled in something 'new'. There were
quantities of young women, too, most of them rather badly dressed
and inclining to untidy hair. And there were several decent couples
taking the air like house-holders of an evening all the world Over.
Most of these last were jimson's friends, to whom he introduced
me. They were his own class - modest folk, who sought for a
coloured background to their prosaic city lives and found it in this
odd settlement.
At supper I was initiated into the peculiar merits of Biggleswick.
'It is one great laboratory of thought,' said Mrs jimson. 'It is
glorious to feel that you are living among the eager, vital people
who are at the head of all the newest movements, and that the
intellectual history of England is being made in our studies and
gardens. The war to us seems a remote and secondary affair. As
someone has said, the great fights of the world are all fought in the
A spasm of pain crossed her husband's face. 'I wish I could feel
it far away. After all, Ursula, it is the sacrifice of the young that
gives people like us leisure and peace to think. Our duty is to do
the best which is permitted to us, but that duty is a poor thing
compared with what our young soldiers are giving! I may be quite
wrong about the war ... I know I can't argue with Letchford. But
I will not pretend to a superiority I do not feel.'
I went to bed feeling that in jimson I had struck a pretty sound
fellow. As I lit the candles on my dressing-table I observed that the
stack of silver which I had taken out of my pockets when I washed
before supper was top-heavy. It had two big coins at the top and
sixpences and shillings beneath. Now it is one of my oddities that
ever since I was a small boy I have arranged my loose coins
symmetrically, with the smallest uppermost. That made me observant
and led me to notice a second point. The English classics on the
top of the chest of drawers were not in the order I had left them.
Izaak Walton had got to the left of Sir Thomas Browne, and the
poet Burns was wedged disconsolately between two volumes of
Hazlitt. Moreover a receipted bill which I had stuck in the _Pilgrim's
_Progress to mark my place had been moved. Someone had been
going through my belongings.
A moment's reflection convinced me that it couldn't have been
Mrs jimson. She had no servant and did the housework herself, but
my things had been untouched when I left the room before supper,
for she had come to tidy up before I had gone downstairs. Someone
had been here while we were at supper, and had examined
elaborately everything I possessed. Happily I had little luggage,
and no papers save the new books and a bill or two in the name of
Cornelius Brand- The inquisitor, whoever he was, had found
nothing ... The incident gave me a good deal of comfort. It had
been hard to believe that any mystery could exist in this public
place, where people lived brazenly in the open, and wore their
hearts on their sleeves and proclaimed their opinions from the
rooftops. Yet mystery there must be, or an inoffensive stranger
with a kit-bag would not have received these strange attentions. I
made a practice after that of sleeping with my watch below my
pillow, for inside the case was Mary Lamington's label. Now began
a period of pleasant idle receptiveness. Once a week it was my
custom to go up to London for the day to receive letters and
instructions, if any should come. I had moved from my chambers
in Park Lane, which I leased under my proper name, to a small flat
in Westminster taken in the name of Cornelius Brand. The letters
addressed to Park Lane were forwarded to Sir Walter, who sent
them round under cover to my new address. For the rest I used to
spend my mornings reading in the garden, and I discovered for the
first time what a pleasure was to be got from old books. They
recalled and amplified that vision I had seen from the Cotswold
ridge, the revelation of the priceless heritage which is England. I
imbibed a mighty quantity of history, but especially I liked the
writers, like Walton, who got at the very heart of the English
countryside. Soon, too, I found the _Pilgrim's _Progress not a duty but
a delight. I discovered new jewels daily in the honest old story, and
my letters to Peter began to be as full of it as Peter's own epistles. I
loved, also, the songs of the Elizabethans, for they reminded me of
the girl who had sung to me in the June night.
In the afternoons I took my exercise in long tramps along the
good dusty English roads. The country fell away from Biggleswick
into a plain of wood and pasture-land, with low hills on the horizon.
The Place was sown with villages, each with its green and pond and
ancient church. Most, too, had inns, and there I had many a draught
of cool nutty ale, for the inn at Biggleswick was a reformed place
which sold nothing but washy cider. Often, tramping home in the
dusk, I was so much in love with the land that I could have sung
with the pure joy of it. And in the evening, after a bath, there
would be supper, when a rather fagged jimson struggled between
sleep and hunger, and the lady, with an artistic mutch on her untidy
head, talked ruthlessly of culture.
Bit by bit I edged my way into local society. The Jimsons were a
great help, for they were popular and had a nodding acquaintance
with most of the inhabitants. They regarded me as a meritorious
aspirant towards a higher life, and I was paraded before their
friends with the suggestion of a vivid, if Philistine, past. If I had
any gift for writing, I would make a book about the inhabitants of
Biggleswick. About half were respectable citizens who came there
for country air and low rates, but even these had a touch of
queerness and had picked up the jargon of the place. The younger
men were mostly Government clerks or writers or artists. There
were a few widows with flocks of daughters, and on the outskirts
were several bigger houses - mostly houses which had been there
before the garden city was planted. One of them was brand-new, a
staring villa with sham-antique timbering, stuck on the top of a hill
among raw gardens. It belonged to a man called Moxon Ivery, who
was a kind of academic pacificist and a great god in the place.
Another, a quiet Georgian manor house, was owned by a London
publisher, an ardent Liberal whose particular branch of business
compelled him to keep in touch with the new movements. I used to
see him hurrying to the station swinging a little black bag and
returning at night with the fish for dinner.
I soon got to know a surprising lot of people, and they were the
rummiest birds you can imagine. For example, there were the
Weekeses, three girls who lived with their mother in a house so
artistic that you broke your head whichever way you turned in it.
The son of the family was a conscientious objector who had refused
to do any sort of work whatever, and had got quodded for his
pains. They were immensely proud of him and used to relate his
sufferings in Dartmoor with a gusto which I thought rather heartless.
Art was their great subject, and I am afraid they found me
pretty heavy going. It was their fashion never to admire anything
that was obviously beautiful, like a sunset or a pretty woman, but
to find surprising loveliness in things which I thought hideous.
Also they talked a language that was beyond me. This kind of
conversation used to happen. - miss WEEKES: 'Don't you admire
Ursula jimson?' SELF: 'Rather!' miss w.: 'She is so John-esque in
her lines.' SELF: 'Exactly!' miss w.: 'And Tancred, too - he is so
full of nuances.' SELF: 'Rather!' miss w.: 'He suggests one of
Degousse's countrymen.' SELF: 'Exactly!'
They hadn't much use for books, except some Russian ones, and
I acquired merit in their eyes for having read Leprous Souls. If you
talked to them about that divine countryside, you found they didn't
give a rap for it and had never been a mile beyond the village.
But they admired greatly the sombre effect of a train going into
Marylebone station on a rainy day.
But it was the men who interested me most. Aronson, the
novelist, proved on acquaintance the worst kind of blighter. He
considered himself a genius whom it was the duty of the country to
support, and he sponged on his wretched relatives and anyone who
would lend him money. He was always babbling about his sins, and
pretty squalid they were. I should like to have flung him among a
few good old-fashioned full-blooded sinners of my acquaintance;
they would have scared him considerably. He told me that he
sought 'reality' and 'life' and 'truth', but it was hard to see how he
could know much about them, for he spent half the day in bed
smoking cheap cigarettes, and the rest sunning himself in the
admiration of half-witted girls. The creature was tuberculous in mind
and body, and the only novel of his I read, pretty well turned my
stomach. Mr Aronson's strong point was jokes about the war. If he
heard of any acquaintance who had joined up or was even doing
war work his merriment knew no bounds. My fingers used to itch
to box the little wretch's ears.
Letchford was a different pair of shoes. He was some kind of a
man, to begin with, and had an excellent brain and the worst
manners conceivable. He contradicted everything you said, and
looked out for an argument as other people look for their dinner.
He was a double-engined, high-speed pacificist, because he was the
kind of cantankerous fellow who must always be in a minority. if
Britain had stood out of the war he would have been a raving
militarist, but since she was in it he had got to find reasons why she
was wrong. And jolly good reasons they were, too. I couldn't have
met his arguments if I had wanted to, so I sat docilely at his feet.
The world was all crooked for Letchford, and God had created him
with two left hands. But the fellow had merits. He had a couple of
jolly children whom he adored, and he would walk miles with me
on a Sunday, and spout poetry about the beauty and greatness of
England. He was forty-five; if he had been thirty and in my battalion
I could have made a soldier out of him.
There were dozens more whose names I have forgotten, but they
had one common characteristic. They were puffed up with spiritual
pride, and I used to amuse myself with finding their originals in the
_Pilgrim's _Progress. When I tried to judge them by the standard of
old Peter, they fell woefully short. They shut out the war from
their lives, some out of funk, some out of pure levity of mind, and
some because they were really convinced that the thing was all
wrong. I think I grew rather popular in my role of the seeker after
truth, the honest colonial who was against the war by instinct and
was looking for instruction in the matter. They regarded me as a
convert from an alien world of action which they secretly dreaded,
though they affected to despise it. Anyhow they talked to me very
freely, and before long I had all the pacifist arguments by heart. I
made out that there were three schools. One objected to war
altogether, and this had few adherents except Aronson and Weekes,
C.O., now languishing in Dartmoor. The second thought that the
Allies' cause was tainted, and that Britain had contributed as much
as Germany to the catastrophe. This included all the adherents of
the L.D.A. - or League of Democrats against Aggression - a very
proud body. The third and much the largest, which embraced
everybody else, held that we had fought long enough and that the
business could now be settled by negotiation, since Germany had
learned her lesson. I was myself a modest member of the last
school, but I was gradually working my way up to the second, and
I hoped with luck to qualify for the first. My acquaintances
approved my progress. Letchford said I had a core of fanaticism in
my slow nature, and that I would end by waving the red flag.
Spiritual pride and vanity, as I have said, were at the bottom of
most of them, and, try as I might, I could find nothing very dangerous
in it all. This vexed me, for I began to wonder if the mission
which I had embarked on so solemnly were not going to be a
fiasco. Sometimes they worried me beyond endurance. When the
news of Messines came nobody took the slightest interest, while I
was aching to tooth every detail of the great fight. And when they
talked on military affairs, as Letchford and others did sometimes, it
was difficult to keep from sending them all to the devil, for their
amateur cocksureness would have riled job. One had got to batten
down the recollection of our fellows out there who were sweating
blood to keep these fools snug. Yet I found it impossible to be
angry with them for long, they were so babyishly innocent. Indeed,
I couldn't help liking them, and finding a sort of quality in them. I
had spent three years among soldiers, and the British regular, great
follow that he is, has his faults. His discipline makes him in a funk
of red-tape and any kind of superior authority. Now these people
were quite honest and in a perverted way courageous. Letchford
was, at any rate. I could no more have done what he did and got
hunted off platforms by the crowd and hooted at by women in the
streets than I could have written his leading articles.
All the same I was rather low about my job. Barring the episode
of the ransacking of my effects the first night, I had not a suspicion
of a clue or a hint of any mystery. The place and the people were as
open and bright as a Y.M.C.A. hut. But one day I got a solid wad
of comfort. In a corner of Letchford's paper, the _Critic, I found a
letter which was one of the steepest pieces of invective I had ever
met with. The writer gave tongue like a beagle pup about the
prostitution, as he called it, of American republicanism to the vices
of European aristocracies. He declared that Senator La Follette was
a much-misunderstood patriot, seeing that he alone spoke for the
toiling millions who had no other friend. He was mad with President
Wilson, and he prophesied a great awakening when Uncle
Sam got up against John Bull in Europe and found out the kind of
standpatter he was. The letter was signed 'John S. Blenkiron' and
dated 'London, 3 July-'
The thought that Blenkiron was in England put a new
complexion on my business. I reckoned I would see him soon, for he
wasn't the man to stand still in his tracks. He had taken up the role
he had played before he left in December 1915, and very right too,
for not more than half a dozen people knew of the Erzerum affair,
and to the British public he was only the man who had been fired
out of the Savoy for talking treason. I had felt a bit lonely before,
but now somewhere within the four corners of the island the best
companion God ever made was writing nonsense with his tongue
in his old cheek.
There was an institution in Biggleswick which deserves mention.
On the south of the common, near the station, stood a red-brick
building called the Moot Hall, which was a kind of church for the
very undevout population. Undevout in the ordinary sense, I mean,
for I had already counted twenty-seven varieties of religious
conviction, including three Buddhists, a Celestial Hierarch, five Latterday
Saints, and about ten varieties of Mystic whose names I could never
remember. The hall had been the gift of the publisher I have
spoken of, and twice a week it was used for lectures and debates.
The place was managed by a committee and was surprisingly popular,
for it gave all the bubbling intellects a chance of airing their
views. When you asked where somebody was and were told he was
'at Moot,' the answer was spoken in the respectful tone in which
you would mention a sacrament.
I went there regularly and got my mind broadened to cracking
point. We had all the stars of the New Movements. We had Doctor
Chirk, who lectured on 'God', which, as far as I could make out,
was a new name he had invented for himself. There was a woman,
a terrible woman, who had come back from Russia with what she
called a 'message of healing'. And to my joy, one night there was a
great buck nigger who had a lot to say about 'Africa for the
Africans'. I had a few words with him in Sesutu afterwards, and
rather spoiled his visit. Some of the people were extraordinarily
good, especially one jolly old fellow who talked about English folk
songs and dances, and wanted us to set up a Maypole. In the
debates which generally followed I began to join, very coyly at
first, but presently with some confidence. If my time at Biggleswick
did nothing else it taught me to argue on my feet.
The first big effort I made was on a full-dress occasion, when
Launcelot Wake came down to speak. Mr Ivery was in the chair -
the first I had seen of him - a plump middle-aged man, with a
colourless face and nondescript features. I was not interested in him
till he began to talk, and then I sat bolt upright and took notice.
For he was the genuine silver-tongue, the sentences flowing from
his mouth as smooth as butter and as neatly dovetailed as a parquet
floor. He had a sort of man-of-the-world manner, treating his
opponents with condescending geniality, deprecating all passion
and exaggeration and making you feel that his urbane statement
must be right, for if he had wanted he could have put the case so
much higher. I watched him, fascinated, studying his face carefully;
and the thing that struck me was that there was nothing in it -
nothing, that is to say, to lay hold on. It was simply nondescript,
so almightily commonplace that that very fact made it rather
Wake was speaking of the revelations of the Sukhomhnov trial
in Russia, which showed that Germany had not been responsible
for the war. He was jolly good at the job, and put as clear an
argument as a first-class lawyer. I had been sweating away at the
subject and had all the ordinary case at my fingers' ends, so when I
got a chance of speaking I gave them a long harangue, with some
good quotations I had cribbed out of the _Vossische _Zeitung, which
Letchford lent me. I felt it was up to me to be extra violent, for I
wanted to establish my character with Wake, seeing that he was a
friend of Mary and Mary would know that I was playing the game.
I got tremendously applauded, far more than the chief speaker, and
after the meeting Wake came up to me with his hot eyes, and
wrung my hand. 'You're coming on well, Brand,' he said, and then
he introduced me to Mr Ivery. 'Here's a second and a better
Smuts,' he said.
Ivery made me walk a bit of the road home with him. 'I am
struck by your grip on these difficult problems, Mr Brand,' he told
me. 'There is much I can tell you, and you may be of great value to
our cause.' He asked me a lot of questions about my past, which I
answered with easy mendacity. Before we parted he made me
promise to come one night to supper.
Next day I got a glimpse of Mary, and to my vexation she cut
me dead. She was walking with a flock of bare-headed girls, all
chattering hard, and though she saw me quite plainly she turned
away her eyes. I had been waiting for my cue, so I did not lift my
hat, but passed on as if we were strangers. I reckoned it was part of
the game, but that trifling thing annoyed me, and I spent a
morose evening.
The following day I saw her again, this time talking sedately
with Mr Ivery, and dressed in a very pretty summer gown, and
a broad-brimmed straw hat with flowers in it. This time she stopped
with a bright smile and held out her hand. 'Mr Brand, isn't it?'
she asked with a pretty hesitation. And then, turning to her
companion - 'This is Mr Brand. He stayed with us last month
in Gloucestershire.'
Mr Ivery announced that he and I were already acquainted. Seen
in broad daylight he was a very personable fellow, somewhere
between forty-five and fifty, with a middle-aged figure and a
curiously young face. I noticed that there were hardly any lines on it,
and it was rather that of a very wise child than that of a man. He
had a pleasant smile which made his jaw and cheeks expand like
indiarubber. 'You are coming to sup with me, Mr Brand,' he cried
after me. 'On Tuesday after Moot. I have already written.' He
whisked Mary away from me, and I had to content myself with
contemplating her figure till it disappeared round a bend of the road.
Next day in London I found a letter from Peter. He had been
very solemn of late, and very reminiscent of old days now that he
concluded his active life was over. But this time he was in a
different mood. '_I _think,' he wrote, '__that you and I will meet again soon,
my old friend. Do you remember when we went after the big black-maned
lion in the Rooirand and couldn't get on his track, and then one morning
we woke up and said we would get him today? - and we did, but he
very near got you first. I've had a feel these last days that we're
both going down into the Valley to meet with Apolyon, and that the
devil will give us a bad time, but anyhow we'll be _together.'
I had the same kind of feel myself, though I didn't see how
Peter and I were going to meet, unless I went out to the Front
again and got put in the bag and sent to the same Boche prison.
But I had an instinct that my time in Biggleswick was drawing to a
close, and that presently I would be in rougher quarters. I felt quite
affectionate towards the place, and took all my favourite walks, and
drank my own health in the brew of the village inns, with a
consciousness of saying goodbye. Also I made haste to finish my
English classics, for I concluded I wouldn't have much time in the
future for miscellaneous reading.
The Tuesday came, and in the evening I set out rather late for
the Moot Hall, for I had been getting into decent clothes after a
long, hot stride. When I reached the place it was pretty well packed,
and I could only find a seat on the back benches. There on the
platform was Ivery, and beside him sat a figure that thrilled every
inch of me with affection and a wild anticipation. 'I have now the
privilege,' said the chairman, 'of introducing to you the speaker
whom we so warmly welcome, our fearless and indefatigable American
friend, Mr Blenkiron.'
It was the old Blenkiron, but almightily changed. His stoutness
had gone, and he was as lean as Abraham Lincoln. Instead of a
puffy face, his cheek-bones and jaw stood out hard and sharp, and
in place of his former pasty colour his complexion had the clear
glow of health. I saw now that he was a splendid figure of a man,
and when he got to his feet every movement had the suppleness of
an athlete in training. In that moment I realized that my serious
business had now begun. My senses suddenly seemed quicker, my
nerves tenser, my brain more active. The big game had started, and
he and I were playing it together.
I watched him with strained attention. It was a funny speech,
stuffed with extravagance and vehemence, not very well argued and
terribly discursive. His main point was that Germany was now in a
fine democratic mood and might well be admitted into a brotherly
partnership - that indeed she had never been in any other mood,
but had been forced into violence by the plots of her enemies.
Much of it, I should have thought, was in stark defiance of the
Defence of the Realm Acts, but if any wise Scotland Yard officer
had listened to it he would probably have considered it harmless
because of its contradictions. It was full of a fierce earnestness, and
it was full of humour - long-drawn American metaphors at which
that most critical audience roared with laughter. But it was not the
kind of thing that they were accustomed to, and I could fancy what
Wake would have said of it. The conviction grew upon me that
Blenkiron was deliberately trying to prove himself an honest idiot.
If so, it was a huge success. He produced on one the impression of
the type of sentimental revolutionary who ruthlessly knifes his
opponent and then weeps and prays over his tomb.
just at the end he seemed to pull himself together and to try a
little argument. He made a great point of the Austrian socialists
going to Stockholm, going freely and with their Government's
assent, from a country which its critics called an autocracy, while
the democratic western peoples held back. 'I admit I haven't any
real water-tight proof,' he said, 'but I will bet my bottom dollar
that the influence which moved the Austrian Government to allow
this embassy of freedom was the influence of Germany herself. And
that is the land from which the Allied Pharisees draw in their skirts
lest their garments be defiled!'
He sat down amid a good deal of applause, for his audience had
not been bored, though I could see that some of them thought his
praise of Germany a bit steep. It was all right in Biggleswick to
prove Britain in the wrong, but it was a slightly different thing to
extol the enemy. I was puzzled about his last point, for it was not
of a piece with the rest of his discourse, and I was trying to guess at
his purpose. The chairman referred to it in his concluding remarks.
'I am in a position,' he said, 'to bear out all that the lecturer has
said. I can go further. I can assure him on the best authority that
his surmise is correct, and that Vienna's decision to send delegates
to Stockholm was largely dictated by representations from Berlin. I
am given to understand that the fact has in the last few days been
admitted in the Austrian Press.'
A vote of thanks was carried, and then I found myself shaking
hands with Ivery while Blenkiron stood a yard off, talking to one
of the Misses Weekes. The next moment I was being introduced.
'Mr Brand, very pleased to meet you,' said the voice I knew so
well. 'Mr Ivery has been telling me about you, and I guess we've
got something to say to each other. We're both from noo countries,
and we've got to teach the old nations a little horse-sense.'
Mr Ivery's car - the only one left in the neighbourhood - carried
us to his villa, and presently we were seated in a brightly-lit diningroom.
It was not a pretty house, but it had the luxury of an
expensive hotel, and the supper we had was as good as any London
restaurant. Gone were the old days of fish and toast and boiled
milk. Blenkiron squared his shoulders and showed himself a
noble trencherman.
'A year ago,' he told our host, 'I was the meanest kind of
dyspeptic. I had the love of righteousness in my heart, but I had the
devil in my stomach. Then I heard stories about the Robson
Brothers, the star surgeons way out west in White Springs,
Nebraska. They were reckoned the neatest hands in the world at
carving up a man and removing devilments from his intestines.
Now, sir, I've always fought pretty shy of surgeons, for I considered
that our Maker never intended His handiwork to be reconstructed
like a bankrupt Dago railway. But by that time I was feeling so
almighty wretched that I could have paid a man to put a bullet
through my head. "There's no other way," I said to myself. "Either
you forget your religion and your miserable cowardice and get cut
up, or it's you for the Golden Shore." So I set my teeth and
journeyed to White Springs, and the Brothers had a look at my
duodenum. They saw that the darned thing wouldn't do, so they
sidetracked it and made a noo route for my noo-trition traffic. It
was the cunningest piece of surgery since the Lord took a rib out of
the side of our First Parent. They've got a mighty fine way of
charging, too, for they take five per cent of a man's income, and it's
all one to them whether he's a Meat King or a clerk on twenty
dollars a week. I can tell you I took some trouble to be a very rich
man last year.'
All through the meal I sat in a kind of stupor. I was trying to
assimilate the new Blenkiron, and drinking in the comfort of his
heavenly drawl, and I was puzzling my head about Ivery. I had a
ridiculous notion that I had seen him before, but, delve as I might
into my memory, I couldn't place him. He was the incarnation of
the commonplace, a comfortable middle-class sentimentalist, who
patronized pacificism out of vanity, but was very careful not to dip
his hands too far. He was always damping down Blenkiron's
volcanic utterances. 'Of course, as you know, the other side have
an argument which I find rather hard to meet ...' 'I can
sympathize with patriotism, and even with jingoism, in certain
moods, but I always come back to this difficulty.' 'Our opponents are
not ill-meaning so much as ill-judging,' - these were the sort
of sentences he kept throwing in. And he was full of quotations
from private conversations he had had with every sort of person -
including members of the Government. I remember that he expressed
great admiration for Mr Balfour.
Of all that talk, I only recalled one thing clearly, and I recalled it
because Blenkiron seemed to collect his wits and try to argue, just
as he had done at the end of his lecture. He was speaking about a
story he had heard from someone, who had heard it from someone
else, that Austria in the last week of July 1914 had accepted Russia's
proposal to hold her hand and negotiate, and that the Kaiser had
sent a message to the Tsar saying he agreed. According to his story
this telegram had been received in Petrograd, and had been rewritten,
like Bismarck's Ems telegram, before it reached the
Emperor. He expressed his disbelief in the yarn. 'I reckon if it had
been true,' he said, 'we'd have had the right text out long ago.
They'd have kept a copy in Berlin. All the same I did hear a sort of
rumour that some kind of message of that sort was published in a
German paper.'
Mr Ivery looked wise. 'You are right,' he said. 'I happen to
know that it has been published. You will find it in the
_Wieser _Zeitung.'
'You don't say?' he said admiringly. 'I wish I could read the old
tombstone language. But if I could they wouldn't let me have the papers.'
'Oh yes they would.' Mr Ivery laughed pleasantly. 'England has
still a good share of freedom. Any respectable person can get a
permit to import the enemy press. I'm not considered quite
respectable, for the authorities have a narrow definition of
patriotism, but happily I have respectable friends.'
Blenkiron was staying the night, and I took my leave as the clock
struck twelve. They both came into the hall to see me off, and, as I
was helping myself to a drink, and my host was looking for my hat
and stick, I suddenly heard Blenkiron's whisper in my ear. 'London
... the day after tomorrow,' he said. Then he took a formal farewell.
'Mr Brand, it's been an honour for me, as an American citizen, to
make your acquaintance, sir. I will consider myself fortunate if we
have an early reunion. I am stopping at Claridge's Ho-tel, and I
hope to be privileged to receive you there.'
The Reflections of a Cured Dyspeptic
Thirty-five hours later I found myself in my rooms in Westminster.
I thought there might be a message for me there, for I didn't
propose to go and call openly on Blenkiron at Claridge's till I had
his instructions. But there was no message - only a line from Peter,
saying he had hopes of being sent to Switzerland. That made me
realize that he must be pretty badly broken up.
Presently the telephone bell rang. It was Blenkiron who spoke.
'Go down and have a talk with your brokers about the War Loan.
Arrive there about twelve o'clock and don't go upstairs till you
have met a friend. You'd better have a quick luncheon at your club,
and then come to Traill's bookshop in the Haymarket at two. You
can get back to Biggleswick by the 5.16.'
I did as I was bid, and twenty minutes later, having travelled by
Underground, for I couldn't raise a taxi, I approached the block of
chambers in Leadenhall Street where dwelt the respected firm who
managed my investments. It was still a few minutes before noon,
and as I slowed down a familiar figure came out of the bank next door.
Ivery beamed recognition. 'Up for the day, Mr Brand?' he asked.
'I have to see my brokers,' I said, 'read the South African
papers in my club, and get back by the 5.16. Any chance of
your company?'
'Why, yes - that's my train. _Au _revoir. We meet at the station.'
He bustled off, looking very smart with his neat clothes and a rose
in his button-hole.
I lunched impatiently, and at two was turning over some new
books in Traill's shop with an eye on the street-door behind me. It
seemed a public place for an assignation. I had begun to dip into a
big illustrated book on flower-gardens when an assistant came up.
'The manager's compliments, sir, and he thinks there are some old
works of travel upstairs that might interest you.' I followed him
obediently to an upper floor lined with every kind of volume and
with tables littered with maps and engravings. 'This way, sir,' he
said, and opened a door in the wall concealed by bogus bookbacks.
I found myself in a little study, and Blenkiron sitting in an
armchair smoking.
He got up and seized both my hands. 'Why, Dick, this is better
than good noos. I've heard all about your exploits since we parted a
year ago on the wharf at Liverpool. We've both been busy on our
own jobs, and there was no way of keeping you wise about my
doings, for after I thought I was cured I got worse than hell inside,
and, as I told you, had to get the doctor-men to dig into me. After
that I was playing a pretty dark game, and had to get down and out of
decent society. But, holy Mike! I'm a new man. I used to do my work
with a sick heart and a taste in my mouth like a graveyard, and now I
can eat and drink what I like and frolic round like a colt. I wake up
every morning whistling and thank the good God that I'm alive, It
was a bad day for Kaiser when I got on the cars for White Springs.'
'This is a rum place to meet,' I said, 'and you brought me by a
roundabout road.'
He grinned and offered me a cigar.
'There were reasons. It don't do for you and me to advertise our
acquaintance in the street. As for the shop, I've owned it for five
years. I've a taste for good reading, though you wouldn't think it,
and it tickles me to hand it out across the counter ... First, I want
to hear about Biggleswick.'
'There isn't a great deal to it. A lot of ignorance, a large slice of
vanity, and a pinch or two of wrong-headed honesty - these are the
ingredients of the pie. Not much real harm in it. There's one or
two dirty literary gents who should be in a navvies' battalion, but
they're about as dangerous as yellow Kaffir dogs. I've learned a lot
and got all the arguments by heart, but you might plant a
Biggleswick in every shire and it wouldn't help the Boche. I can see
where the danger lies all the same. These fellows talked academic
anarchism, but the genuine article is somewhere about and to find
it you've got to look in the big industrial districts. We had faint
echoes of it in Biggleswick. I mean that the really dangerous fellows
are those who want to close up the war at once and so get on with
their blessed class war, which cuts across nationalities. As for being
spies and that sort of thing, the Biggleswick lads are too callow.'
'Yes,' said Blenkiron reflectively. 'They haven't got as much
sense as God gave to geese. You're sure you didn't hit against any
heavier metal?'
'Yes. There's a man called Launcelot Wake, who came down to
speak once. I had met him before. He has the makings of a fanatic,
and he's the more dangerous because you can see his conscience is
uneasy. I can fancy him bombing a Prime Minister merely to quiet
his own doubts.'
'So,' he said. 'Nobody else?'
I reflected. 'There's Mr Ivery, but you know him better than I. I
shouldn't put much on him, but I'm not precisely certain, for I
never had a chance of getting to know him.'
'Ivery,' said Blenkiron in surprise. 'He has a hobby for halfbaked
youth, just as another rich man might fancy orchids or fast
trotters. You sure can place him right enough.'
'I dare say. Only I don't know enough to be positive.'
He sucked at his cigar for a minute or so. 'I guess, Dick, if I told
you all I've been doing since I reached these shores you would call
me a ro-mancer. I've been way down among the toilers. I did a
spell as unskilled dilooted labour in the Barrow shipyards. I was
barman in a ho-tel on the Portsmouth Road, and I put in a black
month driving a taxicab in the city of London. For a while I was
the accredited correspondent of the Noo York Sentinel and used to
go with the rest of the bunch to the pow-wows of under-secretaries
of State and War Office generals. They censored my stuff so cruel
that the paper fired me. Then I went on a walking-tour round
England and sat for a fortnight in a little farm in Suffolk. By and
by I came back to Claridge's and this bookshop, for I had learned
most of what I wanted.
'I had learned,' he went on, turning his curious, full, ruminating
eyes on me, 'that the British working-man is about the soundest
piece of humanity on God's earth. He grumbles a bit and jibs a bit
when he thinks the Government are giving him a crooked deal, but
he's gotten the patience of job and the sand of a gamecock.
And he's gotten humour too, that tickles me to death. There's not
much trouble in that quarter for it's he and his kind that's beating
the Hun ... But I picked up a thing or two besides that.'
He leaned forward and tapped me on the knee. 'I reverence the
British Intelligence Service. Flies don't settle on it to any
considerable extent. It's got a mighty fine mesh, but there's one hole in
that mesh, and it's our job to mend it. There's a high-powered brain in
the game against us. I struck it a couple of years ago when I was
hunting Dumba and Albert, and I thought it was in Noo York, but
it wasn't. I struck its working again at home last year and located
its head office in Europe. So I tried Switzerland and Holland, but
only bits of it were there. The centre of the web where the old
spider sits is right here in England, and for six months I've been
shadowing that spider. There's a gang to help, a big gang, and a
clever gang, and partly an innocent gang. But there's only one
brain, and it's to match that that the Robson Brothers settled my
I was listening with a quickened pulse, for now at last I was
getting to business.
'What is he - international socialist, or anarchist, or what?'
I asked.
'Pure-blooded Boche agent, but the biggest-sized brand in the
catalogue - bigger than Steinmeier or old Bismarck's Staubier.
Thank God I've got him located ... I must put you wise about
some things.'
He lay back in his rubbed leather armchair and yarned for twenty
minutes. He told me how at the beginning of the war Scotland Yard
had had a pretty complete register of enemy spies, and without
making any fuss had just tidied them away. After that, the covey
having been broken up, it was a question of picking off stray birds.
That had taken some doing. There had been all kinds of inflammatory
stuff around, Red Masons and international anarchists, and, worst of
all, international finance-touts, but they had mostly been ordinary
cranks and rogues, the tools of the Boche agents rather than agents
themselves. However, by the middle Of 1915 most of the stragglers
had been gathered in. But there remained loose ends, and towards
the close of last year somebody was very busy combining these ends
into a net. Funny cases cropped up of the leakage of vital information.
They began to be bad about October 1916, when the Hun submarines
started on a special racket. The enemy suddenly appeared possessed
of a knowledge which we thought to be shared only by half a dozen
officers. Blenkiron said he was not surprised at the leakage, for
there's always a lot of people who hear things they oughtn't to.
What surprised him was that it got so quickly to the enemy.
Then after last February, when the Hun submarines went in for
frightfulness on a big scale, the thing grew desperate. Leakages
occurred every week, and the business was managed by people who
knew their way about, for they avoided all the traps set for them,
and when bogus news was released on purpose, they never sent it.
A convoy which had been kept a deadly secret would be attacked at
the one place where it was helpless. A carefully prepared defensive
plan would be checkmated before it could be tried. Blenkiron said
that there was no evidence that a single brain was behind it all, for
there was no similarity in the cases, but he had a strong impression
all the time that it was the work of one man. We managed to close
some of the bolt-holes, but we couldn't put our hands near the big ones.
'By this time,' said he, 'I reckoned I was about ready to change
my methods. I had been working by what the highbrows call
induction, trying to argue up from the deeds to the doer. Now I
tried a new lay, which was to calculate down from the doer to the
deeds. They call it deduction. I opined that somewhere in this
island was a gentleman whom we will call Mr X, and that, pursuing
the line of business he did, he must have certain characteristics. I
considered very carefully just what sort of personage he must be. I
had noticed that his device was apparently the Double Bluff. That is
to say, when he had two courses open to him, A and B, he pretended
he was going to take B, and so got us guessing that he would try A.
Then he took B after all. So I reckoned that his camouflage must
correspond to this little idiosyncrasy. Being a Boche agent, he
wouldn't pretend to be a hearty patriot, an honest old blood-andbones
Tory. That would be only the Single Bluff. I considered that
he would be a pacifist, cunning enough just to keep inside the
law, but with the eyes of the police on him. He would write books
which would not be allowed to be exported. He would get himself
disliked in the popular papers, but all the mugwumps would admire
his moral courage. I drew a mighty fine picture to myself of just the
man I expected to find. Then I started out to look for him.'
Blenkiron's face took on the air of a disappointed child. 'It was
no good. I kept barking up the wrong tree and wore myself out
playing the sleuth on white-souled innocents.'
'But you've found him all right,' I cried, a sudden suspicion
leaping into my brain.
'He's found,' he said sadly, 'but the credit does not belong to
John S. Blenkiron. That child merely muddied the pond. The big
fish was left for a young lady to hook.'
'I know,' I cried excitedly. 'Her name is Miss Mary Lamington.'
He shook a disapproving head. 'You've guessed right, my son,
but you've forgotten your manners. This is a rough business and
we won't bring in the name of a gently reared and pure-minded
young girl. If we speak to her at all we call her by a pet name out
of the _Pilgrim's _Progress ... Anyhow she hooked the fish, though he
isn't landed. D'you see any light?'
'Ivery,' I gasped.
'Yes. Ivery. Nothing much to look at, you say. A common,
middle-aged, pie-faced, golf-playing high-brow, that you wouldn't
keep out of a Sunday school. A touch of the drummer, too, to show
he has no dealings with your effete aristocracy. A languishing
silver-tongue that adores the sound of his own voice. As mild, you'd
say, as curds and cream.'
Blenkiron got out of his chair and stood above me. 'I tell you,
Dick, that man makes my spine cold. He hasn't a drop of good red
blood in him. The dirtiest apache is a Christian gentleman compared
to Moxon Ivery. He's as cruel as a snake and as deep as hell. But,
by God, he's got a brain below his hat. He's hooked and we're
playing him, but Lord knows if he'll ever be landed!'
'Why on earth don't you put him away?' I asked.
'We haven't the proof - legal proof, I mean; though there's
buckets of the other kind. I could put up a morally certain case, but
he'd beat me in a court of law. And half a hundred sheep would get
up in Parliament and bleat about persecution. He has a graft with
every collection of cranks in England, and with all the geese that
cackle about the liberty of the individual when the Boche is ranging
about to enslave the world. No, sir, that's too dangerous a game!
Besides, I've a better in hand, Moxon Ivery is the best-accredited
member of this State. His _dossier is the completest thing outside
the Recording Angel's little note-book. We've taken up his references
in every corner of the globe and they're all as right as
Morgan's balance sheet. From these it appears he's been a hightoned
citizen ever since he was in short-clothes. He was raised in
Norfolk, and there are people living who remember his father. He
was educated at Melton School and his name's in the register. He
was in business in Valparaiso, and there's enough evidence to write
three volumes of his innocent life there. Then he came home with a
modest competence two years before the war, and has been in the
public eye ever since. He was Liberal candidate for a London
constitooency and he has decorated the board of every institootion
formed for the amelioration of mankind. He's got enough alibis to
choke a boa constrictor, and they're water-tight and copperbottomed,
and they're mostly damned lies ... But you can't beat
him at that stunt. The man's the superbest actor that ever walked
the earth. You can see it in his face. It isn't a face, it's a mask. He
could make himself look like Shakespeare or Julius Caesar or Billy
Sunday or Brigadier-General Richard Hannay if he wanted to. He
hasn't got any personality either - he's got fifty, and there's no one
he could call his own. I reckon when the devil gets the handling of
him at last he'll have to put sand on his claws to keep him from
slipping through.'
Blenkiron was settled in his chair again, with one leg hoisted
over the side.
'We've closed a fair number of his channels in the last few
months. No, he don't suspect me. The world knows nothing of its
greatest men, and to him I'm only a Yankee peace-crank, who gives
big subscriptions to loony societies and will travel a hundred miles
to let off steam before any kind of audience. He's been to see me at
Claridge's and I've arranged that he shall know all my record. A
darned bad record it is too, for two years ago I was violent pro-
British before I found salvation and was requested to leave England.
When I was home last I was officially anti-war, when I wasn't
stretched upon a bed of pain. Mr Moxon Ivery don't take any stock
in John S. Blenkiron as a serious proposition. And while I've been
here I've been so low down in the social scale and working in so
many devious ways that he can't connect me up ... As I was
saying, we've cut most of his wires, but the biggest we haven't got
at. He's still sending stuff out, and mighty compromising stuff it is.
Now listen close, Dick, for we're coming near your own business.'
It appeared that Blenkiron had reason to suspect that the channel
still open had something to do with the North. He couldn't get
closer than that, till he heard from his people that a certain Abel
Gresson had turned up in Glasgow from the States. This Gresson
he discovered was the same as one Wrankester, who as a leader of
the Industrial Workers of the World had been mixed up in some
ugly cases of sabotage in Colorado. He kept his news to himself,
for he didn't want the police to interfere, but he had his own lot
get into touch with Gresson and shadow him closely. The man
was very discreet but very mysterious, and he would disappear
for a week at a time, leaving no trace. For some unknown reason -
he couldn't explain why - Blenkiron had arrived at the conclusion
that Gresson was in touch with Ivery, so he made experiments to
prove it.
'I wanted various cross-bearings to make certain, and I got them
the night before last. My visit to Biggleswick was good business.'
'I don't know what they meant,' I said, 'but I know where they
came in. One was in your speech when you spoke of the Austrian
socialists, and Ivery took you up about them. The other was after
supper when he quoted the _Wieser _Zeitung.'
'You're no fool, Dick,' he said, with his slow smile. 'You've hit
the mark first shot. You know me and you could follow my
process of thought in those remarks. Ivery, not knowing me so
well, and having his head full of just that sort of argument, saw
nothing unusual. Those bits of noos were pumped into Gresson
that he might pass them on. And he did pass them on - to ivery.
They completed my chain.'
'But they were commonplace enough things which he might
have guessed for himself.'
'No, they weren't. They were the nicest tit-bits of political noos
which all the cranks have been reaching after.'
'Anyhow, they were quotations from German papers. He might
have had the papers themselves earlier than you thought.'
'Wrong again. The paragraph never appeared in the _Wieser _Zeitung.
But we faked up a torn bit of that noospaper, and a very pretty bit
of forgery it was, and Gresson, who's a kind of a scholar, was
allowed to have it. He passed it on. Ivery showed it me two nights
ago. Nothing like it ever sullied the columns of Boche journalism.
No, it was a perfectly final proof ... Now, Dick, it's up to you to
get after Gresson.'
'Right,' I said. 'I'm jolly glad I'm to start work again. I'm
getting fat from lack of exercise. I suppose you want me to catch
Gresson out in some piece of blackguardism and have him and
Ivery snugly put away.'
'I don't want anything of the kind,' he said very slowly and
distinctly. 'You've got to attend very close to your instructions, I
cherish these two beauties as if they were my own white-headed
boys. I wouldn't for the world interfere with their comfort and
liberty. I want them to go on corresponding with their friends. I
want to give them every facility.'
He burst out laughing at my mystified face.
'See here, Dick. How do we want to treat the Boche? Why, to
fill him up with all the cunningest lies and get him to act on them.
Now here is Moxon Ivery, who has always given them good
information. They trust him absolutely, and we would be fools to
spoil their confidence. Only, if we can find out Moxon's methods,
we can arrange to use them ourselves and send noos in his name
which isn't quite so genooine. Every word he dispatches goes
straight to the Grand High Secret General Staff, and old Hindenburg
and Ludendorff put towels round their heads and cipher it out.
We want to encourage them to go on doing it. We'll arrange to
send true stuff that don't matter, so as they'll continue to trust
him, and a few selected falsehoods that'll matter like hell. It's a
game you can't play for ever, but with luck I propose to play it
long enough to confuse Fritz's little plans.'
His face became serious and wore the air that our corps
commander used to have at the big pow-wow before a push.
'I'm not going to give you instructions, for you're man enough
to make your own. But I can give you the general hang of the
situation. You tell Ivery you're going North to inquire into
industrial disputes at first hand. That will seem to him natural and
in line with your recent behaviour. He'll tell his people that you're
a guileless colonial who feels disgruntled with Britain, and may come
in useful. You'll go to a man of mine in Glasgow, a red-hot
agitator who chooses that way of doing his bit for his country. It's
a darned hard way and darned dangerous. Through him you'll get
in touch with Gresson, and you'll keep alongside that bright citizen.
Find out what he is doing, and get a chance of following him. He
must never suspect you, and for that purpose you must be very
near the edge of the law yourself. You go up there as an unabashed
pacifist and you'll live with folk that will turn your stomach.
Maybe you'll have to break some of these two-cent rules the British
Government have invented to defend the realm, and it's up to you
not to get caught out ... Remember, you'll get no help from me.
you've got to wise up about Gresson with the whole forces of the
British State arrayed officially against you. I guess it's a steep
proposition, but you're man enough to make good.'
As we shook hands, he added a last word. 'You must take your
own time, but it's not a case for slouching. Every day that passes
ivery is sending out the worst kind of poison. The Boche is blowing
up for a big campaign in the field, and a big effort to shake the
nerve and confuse the judgement of our civilians. The whole earth's
war-weary, and we've about reached the danger-point. There's
pretty big stakes hang on you, Dick, for things are getting mighty
I purchased a new novel in the shop and reached St Pancras in time
to have a cup of tea at the buffet. Ivery was at the bookstall buying
an evening paper. When we got into the carriage he seized my
_Punch and kept laughing and calling my attention to the pictures.
As I looked at him, I thought that he made a perfect picture of the
citizen turned countryman, going back of an evening to his innocent
home. Everything was right - his neat tweeds, his light spats, his
spotted neckcloth, and his Aquascutum.
Not that I dared look at him much. What I had learned made me
eager to search his face, but I did not dare show any increased
interest. I had always been a little off-hand with him, for I had
never much liked him, so I had to keep on the same manner. He
was as merry as a grig, full of chat and very friendly and amusing. I
remember he picked up the book I had brought off that morning to
read in the train - the second volume of Hazlitt's _Essays, the last of
my English classics - and discoursed so wisely about books that I
wished I had spent more time in his company at Biggleswick.
'Hazlitt was the academic Radical of his day,' he said. 'He is always
lashing himself into a state of theoretical fury over abuses he has
never encountered in person. Men who are up against the real thing
save their breath for action.'
That gave me my cue to tell him about my journey to the North. I
said I had learned a lot in Biggleswick, but I wanted to see industrial
life at close quarters. 'Otherwise I might become like Hazlitt,' I said.
He was very interested and encouraging. 'That's the right way to
set about it,' he said. 'Where were you thinking of going?'
I told him that I had half thought of Barrow, but decided to try
Glasgow, since the Clyde seemed to be a warm corner.
'Right,' he said. 'I only wish I was coming with you. It'll take
you a little while to understand the language. You'll find a good
deal of senseless bellicosity among the workmen, for they've got
parrot-cries about the war as they used to have parrot-cries about
their labour politics. But there's plenty of shrewd brains and sound
hearts too. You must write and tell me your conclusions.'
It was a warm evening and he dozed the last part of the journey.
I looked at him and wished I could see into the mind at the back of
that mask-like face. I counted for nothing in his eyes, not even
enough for him to want to make me a tool, and I was setting out to
try to make a tool of him. It sounded a forlorn enterprise. And all
the while I was puzzled with a persistent sense of recognition. I
told myself it was idiocy, for a man with a face like that must have
hints of resemblance to a thousand people. But the idea kept nagging
at me till we reached our destination.
As we emerged from the station into the golden evening I saw
Mary Lamington again. She was with one of the Weekes girls, and
after the Biggleswick fashion was bareheaded, so that the sun glinted
from her hair. Ivery swept his hat off and made her a pretty speech,
while I faced her steady eyes with the expressionlessness of the
stage conspirator.
'A charming child,' he observed as we passed on. 'Not without a
touch of seriousness, too, which may yet be touched to noble issues.'
I considered, as I made my way to my final supper with the
jimsons, that the said child was likely to prove a sufficiently serious
business for Mr Moxon Ivery before the game was out.
Andrew Amos
I took the train three days later from King's Cross to Edinburgh. I
went to the Pentland Hotel in Princes Street and left there a suit-case
containing some clean linen and a change of clothes. I had
been thinking the thing out, and had come to the conclusion that I
must have a base somewhere and a fresh outfit. Then in well-worn
tweeds and with no more luggage than a small trench kit-bag, I
descended upon the city of Glasgow.
I walked from the station to the address which Blenkiron had
given me. It was a hot summer evening, and the streets were filled
with bareheaded women and weary-looking artisans. As I made my
way down the Dumbarton Road i was amazed at the number of
able-bodied fellows about, considering that you couldn't stir a mile
on any British front without bumping up against a Glasgow battalion.
Then I realized that there were such things as munitions and
ships, and I wondered no more.
A stout and dishevelled lady at a close-mouth directed me to Mr
Amos's dwelling. 'Twa stairs up. Andra will be in noo, havin' his
tea. He's no yin for overtime. He's generally hame on the chap of
six.' I ascended the stairs with a sinking heart, for like all South
Africans I have a horror of dirt. The place was pretty filthy, but at
each landing there were two doors with well-polished handles and
brass plates. On one I read the name of Andrew Amos.
A man in his shirt-sleeves opened to me, a little man, without a
collar, and with an unbuttoned waistcoat. That was all I saw of him
in the dim light, but he held out a paw like a gorilla's and drew me in.
The sitting-room, which looked over many chimneys to a pale
yellow sky against which two factory stalks stood out sharply, gave
me light enough to observe him fully. He was about five feet
four, broad-shouldered, and with a great towsy head of grizzled
hair. He wore spectacles, and his face was like some old-fashioned
Scots minister's, for he had heavy eyebrows and whiskers which
joined each other under his jaw, while his chin and enormous upper
lip were clean-shaven. His eyes were steely grey and very solemn,
but full of smouldering energy. His voice was enormous and would
have shaken the walls if he had not had the habit of speaking with
half-closed lips. He had not a sound tooth in his head.
A saucer full of tea and a plate which had once contained ham
and eggs were on the table. He nodded towards them and asked me
if I had fed.
'Ye'll no eat onything? Well, some would offer ye a dram, but
this house is staunch teetotal. I door ye'll have to try the nearest
public if ye're thirsty.'
I disclaimed any bodily wants, and produced my pipe, at which
he started to fill an old clay. 'Mr Brand's your name?' he asked in
his gusty voice. 'I was expectin' ye, but Dod! man ye're late!'
He extricated from his trousers pocket an ancient silver watch,
and regarded it with disfavour. 'The dashed thing has stoppit.
What do ye make the time, Mr Brand?'
He proceeded to prise open the lid of his watch with the knife he
had used to cut his tobacco, and, as he examined the works, he
turned the back of the case towards me. On the inside I saw pasted
Mary Lamington's purple-and-white wafer.
I held my watch so that he could see the same token. His keen
eyes, raised for a second, noted it, and he shut his own with a snap
and returned it to his pocket. His manner lost its wariness and
became almost genial.
'Ye've come up to see Glasgow, Mr Brand? Well, it's a steerin'
bit, and there's honest folk bides in it, and some not so honest.
They tell me ye're from South Africa. That's a long gait away, but I
ken something aboot South Africa, for I had a cousin's son oot
there for his lungs. He was in a shop in Main Street, Bloomfountain.
They called him Peter Dobson. Ye would maybe mind of him.'
Then he discoursed of the Clyde. He was an incomer, he told me,
from the Borders, his native place being the town of Galashiels, or,
as he called it, 'Gawly'. 'I began as a powerloom tuner in Stavert's
mill. Then my father dee'd and I took up his trade of jiner. But it's
no world nowadays for the sma' independent business, so I cam to
the Clyde and learned a shipwright's job. I may say I've become a
leader in the trade, for though I'm no an official of the Union, and
not likely to be, there's no man's word carries more weight than
mine. And the Goavernment kens that, for they've sent me on
commissions up and down the land to look at wuds and report on
the nature of the timber. Bribery, they think it is, but Andrew
Amos is not to be bribit. He'll have his say about any Goavernment
on earth, and tell them to their face what he thinks of them. Ay,
and he'll fight the case of the workingman against his oppressor,
should it be the Goavernment or the fatted calves they ca' Labour
Members. Ye'll have heard tell o' the shop stewards, Mr Brand?'
I admitted I had, for I had been well coached by Blenkiron in the
current history of industrial disputes.
'Well, I'm a shop steward. We represent the rank and file against
office-bearers that have lost the confidence o' the workingman. But
I'm no socialist, and I would have ye keep mind of that. I'm yin o'
the old Border radicals, and I'm not like to change. I'm for
individual liberty and equal rights and chances for all men. I'll no
more bow down before a Dagon of a Goavernment official than
before the Baal of a feckless Tweedside laird. I've to keep my views
to mysel', for thae young lads are all drucken-daft with their wee
books about Cawpital and Collectivism and a wheen long senseless
words I wouldna fyle my tongue with. Them and their socialism!
There's more gumption in a page of John Stuart Mill than in all
that foreign trash. But, as I say, I've got to keep a quiet sough, for
the world is gettin' socialism now like the measles. It all comes of a
defective eddication.'
'And what does a Border radical say about the war?' I asked.
He took off his spectacles and cocked his shaggy brows at me.
'I'll tell ye, Mr Brand. All that was bad in all that I've ever wrestled
with since I cam to years o' discretion - Tories and lairds and
manufacturers and publicans and the Auld Kirk - all that was bad,
I say, for there were orra bits of decency, ye'll find in the Germans
full measure pressed down and running over. When the war started,
I considered the subject calmly for three days, and then I said:
"Andra Amos, ye've found the enemy at last. The ones ye fought
before were in a manner o' speakin' just misguided friends. It's
either you or the Kaiser this time, my man!"'
His eyes had lost their gravity and had taken on a sombre
ferocity. 'Ay, and I've not wavered. I got a word early in the
business as to the way I could serve my country best. It's not been
an easy job, and there's plenty of honest folk the day will give me a
bad name. They think I'm stirrin' up the men at home and desertin'
the cause o' the lads at the front. Man, I'm keepin' them straight. If
I didna fight their battles on a sound economic isshue, they would
take the dorts and be at the mercy of the first blagyird that preached
revolution. Me and my like are safety-valves, if ye follow me. And
dinna you make ony mistake, Mr Brand. The men that are agitating
for a rise in wages are not for peace. They're fighting for the lads
overseas as much as for themselves. There's not yin in a thousand
that wouldna sweat himself blind to beat the Germans. The Goavernment
has made mistakes, and maun be made to pay for them. If it were
not so, the men would feel like a moose in a trap, for they would
have no way to make their grievance felt. What for should the
big man double his profits and the small man be ill set to get
his ham and egg on Sabbath mornin'? That's the meaning o' Labour
unrest, as they call it, and it's a good thing, says I, for if Labour
didna get its leg over the traces now and then, the spunk o' the
land would be dead in it, and Hindenburg could squeeze it like a
rotten aipple.'
I asked if he spoke for the bulk of the men.
'For ninety per cent in ony ballot. I don't say that there's not
plenty of riff-raff - the pint-and-a-dram gentry and the soft-heads
that are aye reading bits of newspapers, and muddlin' their wits
with foreign whigmaleeries. But the average man on the Clyde, like
the average man in ither places, hates just three things, and that's
the Germans, the profiteers, as they call them, and the Irish. But he
hates the Germans first.'
'The Irish!' I exclaimed in astonishment.
'Ay, the Irish,' cried the last of the old Border radicals. 'Glasgow's
stinkin' nowadays with two things, money and Irish. I mind the
day when I followed Mr Gladstone's Home Rule policy, and used
to threep about the noble, generous, warm-hearted sister nation
held in a foreign bondage. My Goad! I'm not speakin' about Ulster,
which is a dour, ill-natured den, but our own folk all the same. But
the men that will not do a hand's turn to help the war and take the
chance of our necessities to set up a bawbee rebellion are hateful to
Goad and man. We treated them like pet lambs and that's the
thanks we get. They're coming over here in thousands to tak the
jobs of the lads that are doing their duty. I was speakin' last week
to a widow woman that keeps a wee dairy down the Dalmarnock
Road. She has two sons, and both in the airmy, one in the Cameronians
and one a prisoner in Germany. She was telling me that she
could not keep goin' any more, lacking the help of the boys,
though she had worked her fingers to the bone. "Surely it's a crool
job, Mr Amos," she says, "that the Goavernment should tak baith
my laddies, and I'll maybe never see them again, and let the Irish
gang free and tak the bread frae our mouth. At the gasworks across
the road they took on a hundred Irish last week, and every yin o'
them as young and well set up as you would ask to see. And my
wee Davie, him that's in Germany, had aye a weak chest, and
Jimmy was troubled wi' a bowel complaint. That's surely no
justice!". ...'
He broke off and lit a match by drawing it across the seat of his
trousers. 'It's time I got the gas lichtit. There's some men coming
here at half-ten.'
As the gas squealed and flickered in the lighting, he sketched for me
the coming guests. 'There's Macnab and Niven, two o' my colleagues.
And there's Gilkison of the Boiler-fitters, and a lad Wilkie - he's got
consumption, and writes wee bits in the papers. And there's a queer
chap o' the name o' Tombs - they tell me he comes frae Cambridge,
and is a kind of a professor there - anyway he's more stuffed wi'
havers than an egg wi' meat. He telled me he was here to get at the
heart o' the workingman, and I said to him that he would hae to look a
bit further than the sleeve o' the workin'-man's jaicket. There's no
muckle in his head, poor soul. Then there'll be Tam Norie, him that
edits our weekly paper - _Justice _for _All. Tam's a humorist and great on
Robert Burns, but he hasna the balance o' a dwinin' teetotum ... Ye'll
understand, Mr Brand, that I keep my mouth shut in such company,
and don't express my own views more than is absolutely necessary. I
criticize whiles, and that gives me a name of whunstane common-sense,
but I never let my tongue wag. The feck o' the lads comin' the night
are not the real workingman - they're just the froth on the pot, but it's
the froth that will be useful to you. Remember they've heard tell o' ye
already, and ye've some sort o' reputation to keep up.'
'Will Mr Abel Gresson be here?' I asked.
'No,' he said. 'Not yet. Him and me havena yet got to the point
O' payin' visits. But the men that come will be Gresson's friends
and they'll speak of ye to him. It's the best kind of introduction ye
could seek.'
The knocker sounded, and Mr Amos hastened to admit the first
comers. These were Macnab and Wilkie: the one a decent middleaged
man with a fresh-washed face and a celluloid collar-, the other
a round-shouldered youth, with lank hair and the large eyes and
luminous skin which are the marks of phthisis. 'This is Mr Brand
boys, from South Africa,' was Amos's presentation. Presently came
Niven, a bearded giant, and Mr Norie, the editor, a fat dirty fellow
smoking a rank cigar. Gilkison of the Boiler-fitters, when he
arrived, proved to be a pleasant young man in spectacles who
spoke with an educated voice and clearly belonged to a slightly
different social scale. Last came Tombs, the Cambridge 'professor,
a lean youth with a sour mouth and eyes that reminded me of
Launcelot Wake.
'Ye'll no be a mawgnate, Mr Brand, though ye come from South
Africa,' said Mr Norie with a great guffaw.
'Not me. I'm a working engineer,' I said. 'My father was from
Scotland, and this is my first visit to my native country, as my
friend Mr Amos was telling you.'
The consumptive looked at me suspiciously. 'We've got twothree
of the comrades here that the cawpitalist Government expelled
from the Transvaal. If ye're our way of thinking, ye will maybe
ken them.'
I said I would be overjoyed to meet them, but that at the time of
the outrage in question I had been working on a mine a thousand
miles further north.
Then ensued an hour of extraordinary talk. Tombs in his singsong
namby-pamby University voice was concerned to get information.
He asked endless questions, chiefly of Gilkison, who was the
only one who really understood his language. I thought I had never
seen anyone quite so fluent and so futile, and yet there was a kind
of feeble violence in him like a demented sheep. He was engaged in
venting some private academic spite against society, and I thought
that in a revolution he would be the class of lad I would personally
conduct to the nearest lamp-post. And all the while Amos and
Macnab and Niven carried on their own conversation about the
affairs of their society, wholly impervious to the tornado raging
around them.
It was Mr Norie, the editor, who brought me into the discussion.
'Our South African friend is very blate,' he said in his boisterous
way. 'Andra, if this place of yours wasn't so damned teetotal and
we had a dram apiece, we might get his tongue loosened. I want to
hear what he's got to say about the war. You told me this morning
he was sound in the faith.'
'I said no such thing,' said Mr Amos. 'As ye ken well, Tam
Norie, I don't judge soundness on that matter as you judge it. I'm
for the war myself, subject to certain conditions that I've often
stated. I know nothing of Mr Brand's opinions, except that he's a
good democrat, which is more than I can say of some o' your
'Hear to Andra,' laughed Mr Norie. 'He's thinkin' the inspector
in the Socialist State would be a waur kind of awristocrat then the
Duke of Buccleuch. Weel, there's maybe something in that. But
about the war he's wrong. Ye ken my views, boys. This war was
made by the cawpitalists, and it has been fought by the workers,
and it's the workers that maun have the ending of it. That day's
comin' very near. There are those that want to spin it out till
Labour is that weak it can be pit in chains for the rest o' time.
That's the manoeuvre we're out to prevent. We've got to beat the
Germans, but it's the workers that has the right to judge when the
enemy's beaten and not the cawpitalists. What do you say, Mr Brand?'
Mr Norie had obviously pinned his colours to the fence, but he
gave me the chance I had been looking for. I let them have my
views with a vengeance, and these views were that for the sake of
democracy the war must be ended. I flatter myself I put my case
well, for I had got up every rotten argument and I borrowed
largely from Launcelot Wake's armoury. But I didn't put it too
well, for I had a very exact notion of the impression I wanted to
produce. I must seem to be honest and in earnest, just a bit of a
fanatic, but principally a hard-headed businessman who knew when
the time had come to make a deal. Tombs kept interrupting me
with imbecile questions, and I had to sit on him. At the end Mr
Norie hammered with his pipe on the table.
'That'll sort ye, Andra. Ye're entertain' an angel unawares. What
do ye say to that, my man?'
Mr Amos shook his head. 'I'll no deny there's something in it,
but I'm not convinced that the Germans have got enough of a
wheepin'.' Macnab agreed with him; the others were with me.
Norie was for getting me to write an article for his paper, and the
consumptive wanted me to address a meeting.
'Wull ye say a' that over again the morn's night down at our hall
in Newmilns Street? We've got a lodge meeting o' the I.W.B., and
I'll make them pit ye in the programme.' He kept his luminous
eyes, like a sick dog s, fixed on me, and I saw that I had made one
ally. I told him I had come to Glasgow to learn and not to teach,
but I would miss no chance of testifying to my faith.
'Now, boys, I'm for my bed,' said Amos, shaking the dottle from
his pipe. 'Mr Tombs, I'll conduct ye the morn over the Brigend
works, but I've had enough clavers for one evening. I'm a man that
wants his eight hours' sleep.'
The old fellow saw them to the door, and came back to me with
the ghost of a grin in his face.
'A queer crowd, Mr Brand! Macnab didna like what ye said. He
had a laddie killed in Gallypoly, and he's no lookin' for peace this
side the grave. He's my best friend in Glasgow. He's an elder in the
Gaelic kirk in the Cowcaddens, and I'm what ye call a free-thinker,
but we're wonderful agreed on the fundamentals. Ye spoke your
bit verra well, I must admit. Gresson will hear tell of ye as a
promising recruit.'
'It's a rotten job,' I said.
'Ay, it's a rotten job. I often feel like vomiting over it mysel'.
But it's no for us to complain. There's waur jobs oot in France for
better men ... A word in your ear, Mr Brand. Could ye not look a
bit more sheepish? Ye stare folk ower straight in the een, like a
Hieland sergeant-major up at Maryhill Barracks.' And he winked
slowly and grotesquely with his left eye.
He marched to a cupboard and produced a black bottle and
glass. 'I'm blue-ribbon myself, but ye'll be the better of something
to tak the taste out of your mouth. There's Loch Katrine water at
the pipe there ... As I was saying, there's not much ill in that lot.
Tombs is a black offence, but a dominie's a dominie all the world
over. They may crack about their Industrial Workers and the braw
things they're going to do, but there's a wholesome dampness
about the tinder on Clydeside. They should try Ireland.'
Supposing,' I said, 'there was a really clever man who wanted to
help the enemy. You think he could do little good by stirring up
trouble in the shops here?'
'I'm positive.'
'And if he were a shrewd fellow, he'd soon tumble to that?'
'Then if he still stayed on here he would be after bigger game -
something really dangerous and damnable?'
Amos drew down his brows and looked me in the face. 'I see
what ye're ettlin' at. Ay! That would be my conclusion. I came to it
weeks syne about the man ye'll maybe meet the morn's night.'
Then from below the bed he pulled a box from which he drew a
handsome flute. 'Ye'll forgive me, Mr Brand, but I aye like a tune
before I go to my bed. Macnab says his prayers, and I have a tune
on the flute, and the principle is just the same.'
So that singular evening closed with music - very sweet and true
renderings of old Border melodies like 'My Peggy is a young
thing', and 'When the kye come hame'. I fell asleep with a vision of
Amos, his face all puckered up at the mouth and a wandering
sentiment in his eye, recapturing in his dingy world the emotions of
a boy.
The widow-woman from next door, who acted as house-keeper,
cook, and general factotum to the establishment, brought me shaving
water next morning, but I had to go without a bath. When I
entered the kitchen I found no one there, but while I consumed the
inevitable ham and egg, Amos arrived back for breakfast. He
brought with him the morning's paper.
'The _Herald says there's been a big battle at Eepers,'
he announced.
I tore open the sheet and read of the great attack Of 31 July
which was spoiled by the weather. 'My God!' I cried. 'They've got
St Julien and that dirty Frezenberg ridge ... and Hooge ... and
Sanctuary Wood. I know every inch of the damned place. ...'
'Mr Brand,' said a warning voice, 'that'll never do. If our
friends last night heard ye talk like that ye might as well tak the train
back to London ... They're speakin' about ye in the yards this morning.
ye'll get a good turnout at your meeting the night, but they're
SaYin' that the polis will interfere. That mightna be a bad thing, but
I trust ye to show discretion, for ye'll not be muckle use to onybody
if they jyle ye in Duke Street. I hear Gresson will be there with a
fraternal message from his lunatics in America ... I've arranged
that ye go down to Tam Norie this afternoon and give him a hand
with his bit paper. Tam will tell ye the whole clash o' the West
country, and I look to ye to keep him off the drink. He's aye
arguin' that writin' and drinkin' gang thegither, and quotin' Robert
Burns, but the creature has a wife and five bairns dependin' on him.'
I spent a fantastic day. For two hours I sat in Norie's dirty den,
while he smoked and orated, and, when he remembered his business,
took down in shorthand my impressions of the Labour situation in
South Africa for his rag. They were fine breezy impressions, based
on the most whole-hearted ignorance, and if they ever reached the
Rand I wonder what my friends there made of Cornelius Brand,
their author. I stood him dinner in an indifferent eating-house in a
street off the Broomielaw, and thereafter had a drink with him in a
public-house, and was introduced to some of his less reputable friends.
About tea-time I went back to Amos's lodgings, and spent an
hour or so writing a long letter to Mr Ivery. I described to him
everybody I had met, I gave highly coloured views of the explosive
material on the Clyde, and I deplored the lack of clearheadedness
in the progressive forces. I drew an elaborate picture of Amos, and
deduced from it that the Radicals were likely to be a bar to true
progress. 'They have switched their old militancy,' I wrote, 'on to
another track, for with them it is a matter of conscience to be
always militant.' I finished up with some very crude remarks on
economics culled from the table-talk of the egregious Tombs. It
was the kind of letter which I hoped would establish my character
in his mind as an industrious innocent.
Seven o'clock found me in Newmilns Street, where I was seized
upon by Wilkie. He had put on a clean collar for the occasion and
had partially washed his thin face. The poor fellow had a cough
that shook him like the walls of a power-house when the dynamos
are going.
He was very apologetic about Amos. 'Andra belongs to a past
worrld,' he said. 'He has a big reputation in his society, and he's a
fine fighter, but he has no kind of Vision, if ye understand me. He's
an auld Gladstonian, and that's done and damned in Scotland. He's
not a Modern, Mr Brand, like you and me. But tonight ye'll meet
one or two chaps that'll be worth your while to ken. Ye'll maybe
no go quite as far as them, but ye're on the same road. I'm hoping
for the day when we'll have oor Councils of Workmen and Soldiers
like the Russians all over the land and dictate our terms to the
pawrasites in Pawrliament. They tell me, too, the boys in the
trenches are comin' round to our side.'
We entered the hall by a back door, and in a little waiting-room I
was introduced to some of the speakers. They were a scratch lot as
seen in that dingy place. The chairman was a shop-steward in one
of the Societies, a fierce little rat of a man, who spoke with a
cockney accent and addressed me as 'Comrade'. But one of them
roused my liveliest interest. I heard the name of Gresson, and
turned to find a fellow of about thirty-five, rather sprucely dressed,
with a flower in his buttonhole. 'Mr Brand,' he said, in a rich
American voice which recalled Blenkiron's. 'Very pleased to meet
you, sir. We have Come from remote parts of the globe to be
present at this gathering.' I noticed that he had reddish hair, and
small bright eyes, and a nose with a droop like a Polish jew's.
As soon as we reached the platform I saw that there was going
to be trouble. The hall was packed to the door, and in all the front
half there was the kind of audience I expected to see - workingmen
of the political type who before the war would have thronged
to party meetings. But not all the crowd at the back had come to
listen. Some were scallawags, some looked like better-class clerks
out for a spree, and there was a fair quantity of khaki. There were
also one or two gentlemen not strictly sober.
The chairman began by putting his foot in it. He said we were
there tonight to protest against the continuation of the war and to
form a branch of the new British Council of Workmen and Soldiers.
He told them with a fine mixture of metaphors that we had got to
take the reins into our own hands, for the men who were running
the war had their own axes to grind and were marching to oligarchy
through the blood of the workers. He added that we had no quarrel
with Germany half as bad as we had with our own capitalists. He
looked forward to the day when British soldiers would leap from
their trenches and extend the hand of friendship to their German
'No me!' said a solemn voice. 'I'm not seekin' a bullet in my
wame,' - at which there was laughter and cat-calls.
Tombs followed and made a worse hash of it. He was determined
to speak, as he would have put it, to democracy in its own language,
so he said 'hell' several times, loudly but without conviction.
Presently he slipped into the manner of the lecturer, and the audience
grew restless. 'I propose to ask myself a question -' he began,
and from the back of the hall came - 'And a damned sully answer
ye'll get.' After that there was no more Tombs.
I followed with extreme nervousness, and to my surprise got a
fair hearing. I felt as mean as a mangy dog on a cold morning, for I
hated to talk rot before soldiers - especially before a couple of
Royal Scots Fusiliers, who, for all I knew, might have been in my
own brigade. My line was the plain, practical, patriotic man, just
come from the colonies, who looked at things with fresh eyes, and
called for a new deal. I was very moderate, but to justify my
appearance there I had to put in a wild patch or two, and I got
these by impassioned attacks on the Ministry of Munitions. I mixed
up a little mild praise of the Germans, whom I said I had known all
over the world for decent fellows. I received little applause, but no
marked dissent, and sat down with deep thankfulness.
The next speaker put the lid on it. I believe he was a noted
agitator, who had already been deported. Towards him there was
no lukewarmness, for one half of the audience cheered wildly when
he rose, and the other half hissed and groaned. He began with
whirlwind abuse of the idle rich, then of the middle-classes (he
called them the 'rich man's flunkeys'), and finally of the Government.
All that was fairly well received, for it is the fashion of the
Briton to run down every Government and yet to be very averse to
parting from it. Then he started on the soldiers and slanged the
officers ('gentry pups' was his name for them), and the generals,
whom he accused of idleness, of cowardice, and of habitual intoxication.
He told us that our own kith and kin were sacrificed in every
battle by leaders who had not the guts to share their risks. The
Scots Fusiliers looked perturbed, as if they were in doubt of his
meaning. Then he put it more plainly. 'Will any soldier deny that
the men are the barrage to keep the officers' skins whole?'
'That's a bloody lee,' said one of the Fusilier jocks.
The man took no notice of the interruption, being carried away
by the torrent of his own rhetoric, but he had not allowed for the
persistence of the interrupter. The jock got slowly to his feet, and
announced that he wanted satisfaction. 'If ye open your dirty gab to
blagyird honest men, I'll come up on the platform and wring your neck.'
At that there was a fine old row, some crying out 'Order',
some 'Fair play', and some applauding. A Canadian at the back
of the hall started a song, and there was an ugly press forward.
The hall seemed to be moving up from the back, and already
men were standing in all the passages and right to the edge of
the platform. I did not like the look in the eyes of these
new-comers, and among the crowd I saw several who were obviously
plain-clothes policemen.
The chairman whispered a word to the speaker, who continued
when the noise had temporarily died down. He kept off the army
and returned to the Government, and for a little sluiced out pure
anarchism. But he got his foot in it again, for he pointed to the
Sinn Feiners as examples of manly independence. At that,
pandemonium broke loose, and he never had another look in. There were
several fights going on in the hall between the public and
courageous supporters of the orator.
Then Gresson advanced to the edge of the platform in a vain
endeavour to retrieve the day. I must say he did it uncommonly
well. He was clearly a practised speaker, and for a moment his
appeal 'Now, boys, let's cool down a bit and talk sense,' had an
effect. But the mischief had been done, and the crowd was surging
round the lonely redoubt where we sat. Besides, I could see that for
all his clever talk the meeting did not like the look of him. He was
as mild as a turtle dove, but they wouldn't stand for it. A missile
hurtled past my nose, and I saw a rotten cabbage envelop the
baldish head of the ex-deportee. Someone reached out a long arm
and grabbed a chair, and with it took the legs from Gresson. Then
the lights suddenly went out, and we retreated in good order by the
platform door with a yelling crowd at our heels.
It was here that the plain-clothes men came in handy. They held
the door while the ex-deportee was smuggled out by some side
entrance. That class of lad would soon cease to exist but for the
protection of the law which he would abolish. The rest of us,
having less to fear, were suffered to leak into Newmilns Street. I
found myself next to Gresson, and took his arm. There was
something hard in his coat pocket.
Unfortunately there was a big lamp at the point where we
emerged, and there for our confusion were the Fusilier jocks. Both
were strung to fighting pitch, and were determined to have
someone's blood. Of me they took no notice, but Gresson had
spoken after their ire had been roused, and was marked out as a
victim. With a howl of joy they rushed for him.
I felt his hand steal to his side-pocket. 'Let that alone, you fool,'
I growled in his ear.
'Sure, mister,' he said, and the next second we were in the thick
of it.
It was like so many street fights I have seen - an immense crowd
which surged up around us, and yet left a clear ring. Gresson and I
got against the wall on the side-walk, and faced the furious soldiery.
My intention was to do as little as possible, but the first minute
convinced me that my companion had no idea how to use his fists,
and I was mortally afraid that he would get busy with the gun in
his pocket. It was that fear that brought me into the scrap. The
jocks were sportsmen every bit of them, and only one advanced to
the combat. He hit Gresson a clip on the jaw with his left, and but
for the wall would have laid him out. I saw in the lamplight the
vicious gleam in the American's eye and the twitch of his hand to
his pocket. That decided me to interfere and I got in front of him.
This brought the second jock into the fray. He was a broad,
thickset fellow, of the adorable bandy-legged stocky type that I had
seen go through the Railway Triangle at Arras as though it were
blotting-paper. He had some notion of fighting, too, and gave me a
rough time, for I had to keep edging the other fellow off Gresson.
'Go home, you fool,' I shouted. 'Let this gentleman alone. I
don't want to hurt you.'
The only answer was a hook-hit which I just managed to guard,
followed by a mighty drive with his right which I dodged so that
he barked his knuckles on the wall. I heard a yell of rage, and
observed that Gresson seemed to have kicked his assailant on the
shin. I began to long for the police.
Then there was that swaying of the crowd which betokens the
approach of the forces of law and order. But they were too late to
prevent trouble. In self-defence I had to take my jock seriously,
and got in my blow when he had overreached himself and lost his
balance. I never hit anyone so unwillingly in my life. He went over
like a poled ox, and measured his length on the causeway.
I found myself explaining things politely to the constables. 'These
men objected to this gentleman's speech at the meeting, and I had
to interfere to protect him. No, no! I don't want to charge anybody.
It was all a misunderstanding.' I helped the stricken jock to rise
and offered him ten bob for consolation.
He looked at me sullenly and spat on the ground. 'Keep your
dirty money,' he said. 'I'll be even with ye yet, my man - you
and that red-headed scab. I'll mind the looks of ye the next time I
see ye.'
Gresson was wiping the blood from his cheek with a silk
handkerchief. 'I guess I'm in your debt, Mr Brand,' he said. 'You
may bet I won't forget it.'
I returned to an anxious Amos. He heard my story in silence and
his only comment was -'Well done the Fusiliers!'
'It might have been worse, I'll not deny,' he went on. 'Ye've
established some kind of a claim upon Gresson, which may come in
handy ... Speaking about Gresson, I've news for ye. He's sailing
on Friday as purser in the _Tobermory. The _Tobermory's a boat that
wanders every month up the West Highlands as far as Stornoway.
I've arranged for ye to take a trip on that boat, Mr Brand.'
I nodded. 'How did you find out that?' I asked.
'It took me some finding,' he said dryly, 'but I've ways and
means. Now I'll not trouble ye with advice, for ye ken your job as
well as me. But I'm going north myself the morn to look after
some of the Ross-shire wuds, and I'll be in the way of getting
telegrams at the Kyle. Ye'll keep that in mind. Keep in mind, too,
that I'm a great reader of the_Pilgrim's _Progress and that I've a
cousin of the name of Ochterlony.'
Various Doings in the West
The _Tobermory was no ship for passengers. Its decks were littered
with a hundred oddments, so that a man could barely walk a step
without tacking, and my bunk was simply a shelf in the frowsty
little saloon, where the odour of ham and eggs hung like a fog. I
joined her at Greenock and took a turn on deck with the captain
after tea, when he told me the names of the big blue hills to the
north. He had a fine old copper-coloured face and side-whiskers
like an archbishop, and, having spent all his days beating up the
western seas, had as many yarns in his head as Peter himself.
'On this boat,' he announced, 'we don't ken what a day may
bring forth. I may put into Colonsay for twa hours and bide there
three days. I get a telegram at Oban and the next thing I'm awa
ayont Barra. Sheep's the difficult business. They maun be fetched
for the sales, and they're dooms slow to lift. So ye see it's not what
ye call a pleasure trip, Maister Brand.'
Indeed it wasn't, for the confounded tub wallowed like a fat sow
as soon as we rounded a headland and got the weight of the southwestern
wind. When asked my purpose, I explained that I was a
colonial of Scots extraction, who was paying his first visit to his
fatherland and wanted to explore the beauties of the West
Highlands. I let him gather that I was not rich in this world's goods.
' Ye'll have a passport?' he asked. 'They'll no let ye go north o'
Fort William without one.'
Amos had said nothing about passports, so I looked blank.
'I could keep ye on board for the whole voyage,' he went on,
'but ye wouldna be permitted to land. if ye're seekin' enjoyment, it
would be a poor job sittin' on this deck and admirin' the works O'
God and no allowed to step on the pier-head. Ye should have
applied to the military gentlemen in Glesca. But ye've plenty o'
time to make up your mind afore we get to Oban. We've a heap
o' calls to make Mull and Islay way.'
The purser came up to inquire about my ticket, and greeted me
with a grin.
,Ye're acquaint with Mr Gresson, then?' said the captain. 'Weel,
we're a cheery wee ship's company, and that's the great thing on
this kind o' job.'
I made but a poor supper, for the wind had risen to half a gale,
and I saw hours of wretchedness approaching. The trouble with me
is that I cannot be honestly sick and get it over. Queasiness and
headache beset me and there is no refuge but bed. I turned into my
bunk, leaving the captain and the mate smoking shag not six feet
from my head, and fell into a restless sleep. When I woke the place
was empty, and smelt vilely of stale tobacco and cheese. My throbbing
brows made sleep impossible, and I tried to ease them by
staggering upon deck. I saw a clear windy sky, with every star as
bright as a live coal, and a heaving waste of dark waters running to
ink-black hills. Then a douche of spray caught me and sent me
down the companion to my bunk again, where I lay for hours
trying to make a plan of campaign.
I argued that if Amos had wanted me to have a passport he
would have provided one, so I needn't bother my head about that.
But it was my business to keep alongside Gresson, and if the boat
stayed a week in some port and he went off ashore, I must follow
him. Having no passport I would have to be always dodging
trouble, which would handicap my movements and in all likelihood
make me more conspicuous than I wanted. I guessed that Amos
had denied me the passport for the very reason that he wanted
Gresson to think me harmless. The area of danger would, therefore,
be the passport country, somewhere north of Fort William.
But to follow Gresson I must run risks and enter that country.
His suspicions, if he had any, would be lulled if I left the boat at
Oban, but it was up to me to follow overland to the north and hit
the place where the _Tobermory made a long stay. The confounded
tub had no plans; she wandered about the West Highlands looking
for sheep and things; and the captain himself could give me no
time-table of her voyage. It was incredible that Gresson should take
all this trouble if he did not know that at some place - and the right
place - he would have time to get a spell ashore. But I could
scarcely ask Gresson for that information, though I determined to
cast a wary fly over him. I knew roughly the _Tobermory's course -
through the Sound of Islay to Colonsay; then up the east side of
Mull to Oban; then through the Sound of Mull to the islands with
names like cocktails, Rum and Eigg and Coll; then to Skye; and
then for the Outer Hebrides. I thought the last would be the place,
and it seemed madness to leave the boat, for the Lord knew how
I should get across the Minch. This consideration upset all my
plans again, and I fell into a troubled sleep without coming to
any conclusion.
Morning found us nosing between Jura and Islay, and about
midday we touched at a little port, where we unloaded some cargo
and took on a couple of shepherds who were going to Colonsay.
The mellow afternoon and the good smell of salt and heather got
rid of the dregs of my queasiness, and I spent a profitable hour on
the pier-head with a guide-book called _Baddely's _Scotland, and one
of Bartholomew's maps. I was beginning to think that Amos might
be able to tell me something, for a talk with the captain had
suggested that the _Tobermory would not dally long in the neighbourhood
of Rum and Eigg. The big droving season was scarcely on yet,
and sheep for the Oban market would be lifted on the return
journey. In that case Skye was the first place to watch, and if I
could get wind of any big cargo waiting there I would be able to
make a plan. Amos was somewhere near the Kyle, and that was
across the narrows from Skye. Looking at the map, it seemed to me
that, in spite of being passportless, I might be able somehow to
make my way up through Morvern and Arisaig to the latitude of
Skye. The difficulty would be to get across the strip of sea, but
there must be boats to beg, borrow or steal.
I was poring over Baddely when Gresson sat down beside me.
He was in a good temper, and disposed to talk, and to my surprise
his talk was all about the beauties of the countryside. There was a
kind of apple-green light over everything; the steep heather hills
cut into the sky like purple amethysts, while beyond the straits the
western ocean stretched its pale molten gold to the sunset. Gresson
waxed lyrical over the scene. 'This just about puts me right inside,
Mr Brand. I've got to get away from that little old town pretty
frequent or I begin to moult like a canary. A man feels a man when
he gets to a place that smells as good as this. Why in hell do we
ever get messed up in those stone and lime cages? I reckon some
day I'll pull my freight for a clean location and settle down there
and make little poems. This place would about content me. And
there's a spot out in California in the Coast ranges that I've been
keeping my eye on,' The odd thing was that I believe he meant it.
His ugly face was lit up with a serious delight.
He told me he had taken this voyage before, so I got out Baddely
and asked for advice. 'I can't spend too much time on holidaying,' I
told him, 'and I want to see all the beauty spots. But the best of
them seem to be in the area that this fool British Government
won't let you into without a passport. I suppose I shall have to
leave you at Oban.'
'Too bad,' he said sympathetically. 'Well, they tell me there's
some pretty sights round Oban.' And he thumbed the guide-book
and began to read about Glencoe.
I said that was not my purpose, and pitched him a yarn about
Prince Charlie and how my mother's great-grandfather had played
some kind of part in that show. I told him I wanted to see the place
where the Prince landed and where he left for France. 'So far as I
can make out that won't take me into the passport country, but I'll
have to do a bit of footslogging. Well, I'm used to padding the
hoof. I must get the captain to put me off in Morvern, and then I
can foot it round the top of Lochiel and get back to Oban through
Appin. How's that for a holiday trek?'
He gave the scheme his approval. 'But if it was me, Mr Brand, I
would have a shot at puzzling your gallant policemen. You and I
don't take much stock in Governments and their two-cent laws,
and it would be a good game to see just how far you could get into
the forbidden land. A man like you could put up a good bluff on
those hayseeds. I don't mind having a bet ...'
'No,' I said. 'I'm out for a rest, and not for sport. If there was
anything to be gained I'd undertake to bluff my way to the Orkney
Islands. But it's a wearing job and I've better things to think about.'
'So? Well, enjoy yourself your own way. I'll be sorry when you
leave us, for I owe you something for that rough-house, and beside
there's darned little company in the old moss-back captain.'
That evening Gresson and I swopped yarns after supper to the
accompaniment of the 'Ma Goad!' and 'Is't possible?' of captain
and mate. I went to bed after a glass or two of weak grog, and
made up for the last night's vigil by falling sound asleep. I had very
little kit with me, beyond what I stood up in and could carry in my
waterproof pockets, but on Amos's advice I had brought my little
nickel-plated revolver. This lived by day in my hip pocket, but at
night I put it behind my pillow. But when I woke next morning to
find us casting anchor in the bay below rough low hills, which I
knew to be the island of Colonsay, I could find no trace of the
revolver. I searched every inch of the bunk and only shook out
feathers from the mouldy ticking. I remembered perfectly putting
the thing behind my head before I went to sleep, and now it had
vanished utterly. Of course I could not advertise my loss, and
I didn't greatly mind it, for this was not a job where I could
do much shooting. But it made me think a good deal about Mr
Gresson. He simply could not suspect me; if he had bagged my
gun, as I was pretty certain he had, it must be because he wanted it
for himself and not that he might disarm me. Every way I argued
it I reached the same conclusion. In Gresson's eyes I must seem
as harmless as a child.
We spent the better part of a day at Colonsay, and Gresson, so
far as his duties allowed, stuck to me like a limpet. Before I went
ashore I wrote out a telegram for Amos. I devoted a hectic hour to
the _Pilgrim's _Progress, but I could not compose any kind of
intelligible message with reference to its text. We had all the same
edition - the one in the _Golden _Treasury series - so I could have
made up a sort of cipher by referring to lines and pages, but that
would have taken up a dozen telegraph forms and seemed to me
too elaborate for the purpose. So I sent this message:
__Ochterlony, Post Office, Kyle,
I hope to spend part of holiday near you and to see you if boat's
programme permits. Are any good cargoes waiting in your
neighbourhood? Reply Post Office, _Oban.
It was highly important that Gresson should not see this, but it
was the deuce of a business to shake him off. I went for a walk in
the afternoon along the shore and passed the telegraph office, but
the confounded fellow was with me all the time. My only chance
was just before we sailed, when he had to go on board to check
some cargo. As the telegraph office stood full in view of the ship's
deck I did not go near it. But in the back end of the clachan I found
the schoolmaster, and got him to promise to send the wire. I also
bought off him a couple of well-worn sevenpenny novels.
The result was that I delayed our departure for ten minutes and
when I came on board faced a wrathful Gresson. 'Where the hell
have you been?' he asked. 'The weather's blowing up dirty and the
old man's mad to get off. Didn't you get your legs stretched
enough this afternoon?'
I explained humbly that I had been to the schoolmaster to get
something to read, and produced my dingy red volumes. At that his
brow cleared. I could see that his suspicions were set at rest.
We left Colonsay about six in the evening with the sky behind us
banking for a storm, and the hills of Jura to starboard an angry
purple. Colonsay was too low an island to be any kind of breakwater
against a western gale, so the weather was bad from the start. Our
course was north by east, and when we had passed the butt-end of
the island we nosed about in the trough of big seas, shipping tons
of water and rolling like a buffalo. I know as much about boats as
about Egyptian hieroglyphics, but even my landsman's eyes could
tell that we were in for a rough night. I was determined not to get
queasy again, but when I went below the smell of tripe and onions
promised to be my undoing; so I dined off a slab of chocolate and a cabin
biscuit, put on my waterproof, and resolved to stick it out on deck.
I took up position near the bows, where I was out of reach of
the oily steamer smells. It was as fresh as the top of a mountain, but
mighty cold and wet, for a gusty drizzle had set in, and I got the
spindrift of the big waves. There I balanced myself, as we lurched
into the twilight, hanging on with one hand to a rope which
descended from the stumpy mast. I noticed that there was only an
indifferent rail between me and the edge, but that interested me and
helped to keep off sickness. I swung to the movement of the vessel,
and though I was mortally cold it was rather pleasant than
otherwise. My notion was to get the nausea whipped out of me by the
weather, and, when I was properly tired, to go down and turn in.
I stood there till the dark had fallen. By that time I was an
automaton, the way a man gets on sentry-go, and I could have
easily hung on till morning. My thoughts ranged about the earth,
beginning with the business I had set out on, and presently - by
way of recollections of Blenkiron and Peter - reaching the German
forest where, in the Christmas of 1915, I had been nearly done in by
fever and old Stumm. I remembered the bitter cold of that wild
race, and the way the snow seemed to burn like fire when I stumbled
and got my face into it. I reflected that sea-sickness was kitten's
play to a good bout of malaria.
The weather was growing worse, and I was getting more than
spindrift from the seas. I hooked my arm round the rope, for my
fingers were numbing. Then I fell to dreaming again, principally
about Fosse Manor and Mary Lamington. This so ravished me that
I was as good as asleep. I was trying to reconstruct the picture as I
had last seen her at Biggleswick station ...
A heavy body collided with me and shook my arm from the
rope. I slithered across the yard of deck, engulfed in a whirl of
water. One foot caught a stanchion of the rail, and it gave with me,
so that for an instant I was more than half overboard. But my
fingers clawed wildly and caught in the links of what must have
been the anchor chain. They held, though a ton's weight seemed to
be tugging at my feet ... Then the old tub rolled back, the waters
slipped off, and I was sprawling on a wet deck with no breath in
me and a gallon of brine in my windpipe.
I heard a voice cry out sharply, and a hand helped me to my feet.
It was Gresson, and he seemed excited.
'God, Mr Brand, that was a close call! I was coming up to find
you, when this damned ship took to lying on her side. I guess I
must have cannoned into you, and I was calling myself bad names
when I saw you rolling into the Atlantic. If I hadn't got a grip on
the rope I would have been down beside you. Say, you're not hurt?
I reckon you'd better come below and get a glass of rum under
your belt. You're about as wet as mother's dish-clouts.'
There's one advantage about campaigning. You take your luck
when it comes and don't worry about what might have been. I
didn't think any more of the business, except that it had cured me
of wanting to be sea-sick. I went down to the reeking cabin without
one qualm in my stomach, and ate a good meal of welsh-rabbit and
bottled Bass, with a tot of rum to follow up with. Then I shed my
wet garments, and slept in my bunk till we anchored off a village in
Mull in a clear blue morning.
It took us four days to crawl up that coast and make Oban, for
we seemed to be a floating general store for every hamlet in those
parts. Gresson made himself very pleasant, as if he wanted to atone
for nearly doing me in. We played some poker, and I read the little
books I had got in Colonsay, and then rigged up a fishing-line, and
caught saithe and lythe and an occasional big haddock. But I found
the time pass slowly, and I was glad that about noon one day we
came into a bay blocked with islands and saw a clean little town
sitting on the hills and the smoke of a railway engine.
I went ashore and purchased a better brand of hat in a tweed
store. Then I made a bee-line for the post office, and asked for
telegrams. One was given to me, and as I opened it I saw Gresson
at my elbow.
It read thus:
_Brand, Post office, Oban. Page 117, paragraph 3. _Ochterlony.
I passed it to Gresson with a rueful face.
'There's a piece of foolishness,' I said. 'I've got a cousin who's a
Presbyterian minister up in Ross-shire, and before I knew about
this passport humbug I wrote to him and offered to pay him a visit.
I told him to wire me here if it was convenient, and the old idiot
has sent me the wrong telegram. This was likely as not meant for
some other brother parson, who's got my message instead.'
'What's the guy's name?' Gresson asked curiously, peering at
the signature.
'Ochterlony. David Ochterlony. He's a great swell at writing
books, but he's no earthly use at handling the telegraph. However,
it don't signify, seeing I'm not going near him.' I crumpled up the
pink form and tossed it on the floor. Gresson and I walked to the
_Tobermory together.
That afternoon, when I got a chance, I had out my _Pilgrim's
_Progress. Page 117, paragraph 3, read:
'__Then I saw in my dream, that a little off the road, over
against the Silver-mine, stood Demas (gentlemanlike) to call to
passengers to come and see: who said to Christian and his
fellow, Ho, turn aside hither and I will show you a _thing.
At tea I led the talk to my own past life. I yarned about my
experiences as a mining engineer, and said I could never get out of
the trick of looking at country with the eye of the prospector. 'For
instance,' I said, 'if this had been Rhodesia, I would have said there
was a good chance of copper in these little kopjes above the town.
They're not unlike the hills round the Messina mine.' I told the
captain that after the war I was thinking of turning my attention to
the West Highlands and looking out for minerals.
'Ye'll make nothing of it,' said the captain. 'The costs are ower
big, even if ye found the minerals, for ye'd have to import a' your
labour. The West Hielandman is no fond o' hard work. Ye ken the
psalm o' the crofter?
__O that the peats would cut themselves,
The fish chump on the shore,
And that I in my bed might lie
Henceforth for ever _more!'
'Has it ever been tried?' I asked.
'Often. There's marble and slate quarries, and there was word o'
coal in Benbecula. And there's the iron mines at Ranna.'
'Where's that?' I asked.
'Up forenent Skye. We call in there, and generally bide a bit.
There's a heap of cargo for Ranna, and we usually get a good load
back. But as I tell ye, there's few Hielanders working there. Mostly
Irish and lads frae Fife and Falkirk way.'
I didn't pursue the subject, for I had found Demas's silver-mine.
If the _Tobermory lay at Ranna for a week, Gresson would have time
to do his own private business. Ranna would not be the spot, for
the island was bare to the world in the middle of a much-frequented
channel. But Skye was just across the way, and when I looked in
my map at its big, wandering peninsulas I concluded that my guess
had been right, and that Skye was the place to make for.
That night I sat on deck with Gresson, and in a wonderful starry
silence we watched the lights die out of the houses in the town, and
talked of a thousand things. I noticed - what I had had a hint of
before - that my companion was no common man. There were
moments when he forgot himself and talked like an educated gentleman:
then he would remember, and relapse into the lingo of Leadville,
Colorado. In my character of the ingenuous inquirer I set him
posers about politics and economics, the kind of thing I might have
been supposed to pick up from unintelligent browsing among little
books. Generally he answered with some slangy catchword, but
occasionally he was interested beyond his discretion, and treated me
to a harangue like an equal. I discovered another thing, that he had
a craze for poetry, and a capacious memory for it. I forgot how we
drifted into the subject, but I remember he quoted some queer
haunting stuff which he said was Swinburne, and verses by people I
had heard of from Letchford at Biggleswick. Then he saw by my
silence that he had gone too far, and fell back into the jargon of the
West. He wanted to know about my plans, and we went down into
the cabin and had a look at the map. I explained my route, up
Morvern and round the head of Lochiel, and back to Oban by the
east side of Loch Linnhe.
'Got you,' he said. 'You've a hell of a walk before you. That bug
never bit me, and I guess I'm not envying you any. And after that,
Mr Brand?'
'Back to Glasgow to do some work for the cause,' I said lightly.
'Just so,' he said with a grin. 'It's a great life if you
don't weaken.'
We steamed out of the bay next morning at dawn, and about
nine o'clock I got on shore at a little place called Lochaline. My kit
was all on my person, and my waterproof's pockets were stuffed
with chocolates and biscuits I had bought in Oban. The captain
was discouraging. 'Ye'll get your bellyful o' Hieland hills, Mr
Brand, afore ye win round the loch head. Ye'll be wishin' yerself
back on the _Tobermory.' But Gresson speeded me joyfully on my
way, and said he wished he were coming with me. He even
accompanied me the first hundred yards, and waved his hat after me
till I was round the turn of the road.
The first stage in that journey was pure delight. I was thankful to
be rid of the infernal boat, and the hot summer scents coming
down the glen were comforting after the cold, salt smell of the sea.
The road lay up the side of a small bay, at the top of which a big
white house stood among gardens. Presently I had left the coast
and was in a glen where a brown salmon-river swirled through
acres of bog-myrtle. It had its source in a loch, from which the
mountain rose steeply - a place so glassy in that August forenoon
that every scar and wrinkle of the hillside were faithfully reflected.
After that I crossed a low pass to the head of another sea-lock, and,
following the map, struck over the shoulder of a great hill and ate
my luncheon far up on its side, with a wonderful vista of wood and
water below me.
All that morning I was very happy, not thinking about Gresson
or Ivery, but getting my mind clear in those wide spaces, and my
lungs filled with the brisk hill air. But I noticed one curious thing.
On my last visit to Scotland, when I covered more moorland miles
a day than any man since Claverhouse, I had been fascinated by the
land, and had pleased myself with plans for settling down in it. But
now, after three years of war and general rocketing, I felt less
drawn to that kind of landscape. I wanted something more green
and peaceful and habitable, and it was to the Cotswolds that my
memory turned with longing.
I puzzled over this till I realized that in all my Cotswold pictures a
figure kept going and coming - a young girl with a cloud of gold hair
and the strong, slim grace of a boy, who had sung 'Cherry Ripe' in a
moonlit garden. Up on that hillside I understood very clearly that I,
who had been as careless of women as any monk, had fallen wildly in
love with a child of half my age. I was loath to admit it, though for
weeks the conclusion had been forcing itself on me. Not that I didn't
revel in my madness, but that it seemed too hopeless a business, and I
had no use for barren philandering. But, seated on a rock munching
chocolate and biscuits, I faced up to the fact and resolved to trust my
luck. After all we were comrades in a big job, and it was up to me to
be man enough to win her. The thought seemed to brace any courage
that was in me. No task seemed too hard with her approval to gain
and her companionship somewhere at the back of it. I sat for a long
time in a happy dream, remembering all the glimpses I had had of
her, and humming her song to an audience of one black-faced sheep.
On the highroad half a mile below me, I saw a figure on a
bicycle mounting the hill, and then getting off to mop its face at the
summit. I turned my Ziess glasses on to it, and observed that it was
a country policeman. It caught sight of me, stared for a bit, tucked
its machine into the side of the road, and then very slowly began to
climb the hillside. Once it stopped, waved its hand and shouted
something which I could not hear. I sat finishing my luncheon, till
the features were revealed to me of a fat oldish man, blowing like a
grampus, his cap well on the back of a bald head, and his trousers
tied about the shins with string.
There was a spring beside me and I had out my flask to round
off my meal.
'Have a drink,' I said.
His eye brightened, and a smile overran his moist face.
'Thank you, sir. It will be very warrm coming up the brae.'
'You oughtn't to,' I said. 'You really oughtn't, you know.
Scorching up hills and then doubling up a mountain are not good for
your time of life.'
He raised the cap of my flask in solemn salutation. 'Your very
good health.' Then he smacked his lips, and had several cupfuls of
water from the spring.
'You will haf come from Achranich way, maybe?' he said in his
soft sing-song, having at last found his breath.
'Just so. Fine weather for the birds, if there was anybody to
shoot them.'
'Ah, no. There will be few shots fired today, for there are no
gentlemen left in Morvern. But I wass asking you, if you come
from Achranich, if you haf seen anybody on the road.'
From his pocket he extricated a brown envelope and a bulky
telegraph form. 'Will you read it, sir, for I haf forgot my spectacles?'
It contained a description of one Brand, a South African and a
suspected character, whom the police were warned to stop and
return to Oban. The description wasn't bad, but it lacked any one
good distinctive detail. Clearly the policeman took me for an innocent
pedestrian, probably the guest of some moorland shooting-box,
with my brown face and rough tweeds and hobnailed shoes.
I frowned and puzzled a little. 'I did see a fellow about three
miles back on the hillside. There's a public-house just where the
burn comes in, and I think he was making for it. Maybe that was
your man. This wire says "South African"; and now I remember
the fellow had the look of a colonial.'
The policeman sighed. 'No doubt it will be the man. Perhaps he
will haf a pistol and will shoot.'
'Not him,' I laughed. 'He looked a mangy sort of chap, and he'll
be scared out of his senses at the sight of you. But take my advice
and get somebody with you before you tackle him. You're always
the better of a witness.'
'That is so,' he said, brightening. 'Ach, these are the bad times!
in old days there wass nothing to do but watch the doors at the
flower-shows and keep the yachts from poaching the sea-trout. But
now it is spies, spies, and "Donald, get out of your bed, and go off
twenty mile to find a German." I wass wishing the war wass by, and
the Germans all dead.'
'Hear, hear!' I cried, and on the strength of it gave him
another dram.
I accompanied him to the road, and saw him mount his bicycle
and zig-zag like a snipe down the hill towards Achranich. Then I
set off briskly northward. It was clear that the faster I moved
the better.
As I went I paid disgusted tribute to the efficiency of the Scottish
police. I wondered how on earth they had marked me down.
Perhaps it was the Glasgow meeting, or perhaps my association
with Ivery at Biggleswick. Anyhow there was somebody somewhere
mighty quick at compiling a _dossier. Unless I wanted to be bundled
back to Oban I must make good speed to the Arisaig coast.
Presently the road fell to a gleaming sea-loch which lay like the
blue blade of a sword among the purple of the hills. At the head
there was a tiny clachan, nestled among birches and rowans, where a
tawny burn wound to the sea. When I entered the place it was
about four o'clock in the afternoon, and peace lay on it like a
garment. In the wide, sunny street there was no sign of life, and no
sound except of hens clucking and of bees busy among the roses.
There was a little grey box of a kirk, and close to the bridge a
thatched cottage which bore the sign of a post and telegraph office.
For the past hour I had been considering that I had better
prepare for mishaps. If the police of these parts had been warned
they might prove too much for me, and Gresson would be allowed
to make his journey unmatched. The only thing to do was to send a
wire to Amos and leave the matter in his hands. Whether that was
possible or not depended upon this remote postal authority.
I entered the little shop, and passed from bright sunshine to a
twilight smelling of paraffin and black-striped peppermint balls. An
old woman with a mutch sat in an arm-chair behind the counter.
She looked up at me over her spectacles and smiled, and I took to
her on the instant. She had the kind of old wise face that God loves.
Beside her I noticed a little pile of books, one of which was a
Bible. Open on her lap was a paper, the __United Free Church _Monthly.
I noticed these details greedily, for I had to make up my mind on
the part to play.
'It's a warm day, mistress,' I said, my voice falling into the broad
Lowland speech, for I had an instinct that she was not of the Highlands.
She laid aside her paper. 'It is that, sir. It is grand weather for the
hairst, but here that's no till the hinner end o' September, and at
the best it's a bit scart o' aits.'
'Ay. It's a different thing down Annandale way,' I said.
Her face lit up. 'Are ye from Dumfries, sir?'
'Not just from Dumfries, but I know the Borders fine.'
'Ye'll no beat them,' she cried. 'Not that this is no a guid place
and I've muckle to be thankfu' for since John Sanderson - that was
ma man - brought me here forty-seeven year syne come Martinmas.
But the aulder I get the mair I think o' the bit whaur I was born. It
was twae miles from Wamphray on the Lockerbie road, but they
tell me the place is noo just a rickle o' stanes.'
'I was wondering, mistress, if I could get a cup of tea in
the village.'
'Ye'll hae a cup wi' me,' she said. 'It's no often we see onybody
frae the Borders hereaways. The kettle's just on the boil.'
She gave me tea and scones and butter, and black-currant jam, and
treacle biscuits that melted in the mouth. And as we ate we talked of
many things - chiefly of the war and of the wickedness of the world.
'There's nae lads left here,' she said. 'They a' joined the Camerons,
and the feck o' them fell at an awfu' place called Lowse. John and
me never had no boys, jist the one lassie that's married on Donald
Frew, the Strontian carrier. I used to vex mysel' about it, but now I
thank the Lord that in His mercy He spared me sorrow. But I wad
hae liked to have had one laddie fechtin' for his country. I whiles
wish I was a Catholic and could pit up prayers for the sodgers that
are deid. It maun be a great consolation.'
I whipped out the _Pilgrim's _Progress from my pocket. 'That is the
grand book for a time like this.'
'Fine I ken it,' she said. 'I got it for a prize in the Sabbath School
when I was a lassie.'
I turned the pages. I read out a passage or two, and then I
seemed struck with a sudden memory.
'This is a telegraph office, mistress. Could I trouble you to send a
telegram? You see I've a cousin that's a minister in Ross-shire at
the Kyle, and him and me are great correspondents. He was writing
about something in the_Pilgrim's _Progress and I think I'll send him a
telegram in answer.'
'A letter would be cheaper,' she said.
'Ay, but I'm on holiday and I've no time for writing.'
She gave me a form, and I wrote:
__ochterlony. Post Office, Kyle. - Demas will be at his mine
within the week. Strive with him, lest I faint by the _way.
'Ye're unco lavish wi' the words, sir,' was her only comment.
We parted with regret, and there was nearly a row when I tried
to pay for the tea. I was bidden remember her to one David
Tudhole, farmer in Nether Mirecleuch, the next time I passed by Wamphray.
The village was as quiet when I left it as when I had entered. I
took my way up the hill with an easier mind, for I had got off the
telegram, and I hoped I had covered my tracks. My friend the
postmistress would, if questioned, be unlikely to recognize any
South African suspect in the frank and homely traveller who had
spoken with her of Annandale and the_Pilgrim's _Progress.
The soft mulberry gloaming of the west coast was beginning to
fall on the hills. I hoped to put in a dozen miles before dark to the
next village on the map, where I might find quarters. But ere I had
gone far I heard the sound of a motor behind me, and a car slipped
past bearing three men. The driver favoured me with a sharp
glance, and clapped on the brakes. I noted that the two men in the
tonneau were carrying sporting rifles.
' Hi, you, sir,' he cried. 'Come here.' The two rifle-bearers -
solemn gillies - brought their weapons to attention.
'By God,' he said, 'it's the man. What's your name? Keep him
covered, Angus.'
The gillies duly covered me, and I did not like the look
of their wavering barrels. They were obviously as surprised as myself.
I had about half a second to make my plans. I advanced with a very
stiff air, and asked him what the devil he meant. No Lowland Scots
for me now. My tone was that of an adjutant of a Guards' battalion.
My inquisitor was a tall man in an ulster, with a green felt hat on
his small head. He had a lean, well-bred face, and very choleric blue
eyes. I set him down as a soldier, retired, Highland regiment or
cavalry, old style.
He produced a telegraph form, like the policeman.
'Middle height - strongly built - grey tweeds - brown hat -
speaks with a colonial accent - much sunburnt. What's your name, sir?'
I did not reply in a colonial accent, but with the hauteur of the
British officer when stopped by a French sentry. I asked him again
what the devil he had to do with my business. This made him
angry and he began to stammer.
'I'll teach you what I have to do with it. I'm a deputy-lieutenant
of this county, and I have Admiralty instructions to watch the
coast. Damn it, sir, I've a wire here from the Chief Constable
describing you. You're Brand, a very dangerous fellow, and we
want to know what the devil you're doing here.'
As I looked at his wrathful eye and lean head, which could not
have held much brains, I saw that I must change my tone. if I
irritated him he would get nasty and refuse to listen and hang me
up for hours. So my voice became respectful.
'I beg your pardon, sir, but I've not been accustomed to be
pulled up suddenly, and asked for my credentials. My name is
Blaikie, Captain Robert Blaikie, of the Scots Fusiliers. I'm home on
three weeks' leave, to get a little peace after Hooge. We were only
hauled out five days ago.' I hoped my old friend in the shell-shock
hospital at Isham would pardon my borrowing his identity.
The man looked puzzled. 'How the devil am I to be satisfied
about that? Have you any papers to prove it?'
'Why, no. I don't carry passports about with me on a walking
tour. But you can wire to the depot, or to my London address.'
He pulled at his yellow moustache. 'I'm hanged if I know what
to do. I want to get home for dinner. I tell you what, sir, I'll take
you on with me and put you up for the night. My boy's at home,
convalescing, and if he says you're pukka I'll ask your pardon and
give you a dashed good bottle of port. I'll trust him and I warn you
he's a keen hand.'
There was nothing to do but consent, and I got in beside him
with an uneasy conscience. Supposing the son knew the real Blaikie!
I asked the name of the boy's battalion, and was told the 10th
Seaforths. That wasn't pleasant hearing, for they had been brigaded
with us on the Somme. But Colonel Broadbury - for he told me his
name - volunteered another piece of news which set my mind at
rest. The boy was not yet twenty, and had only been out seven
months. At Arras he had got a bit of shrapnel in his thigh, which
had played the deuce with the sciatic nerve, and he was still
on crutches.
We spun over ridges of moorland, always keeping northward,
and brought up at a pleasant white-washed house close to the sea.
Colonel Broadbury ushered me into a hall where a small fire of
peats was burning, and on a couch beside it lay a slim, pale-faced
young man. He had dropped his policeman's manner, and behaved
like a gentleman. 'Ted,' he said, 'I've brought a friend home for the
night. I went out to look for a suspect and found a British officer.
This is Captain Blaikie, of the Scots Fusiliers.'
The boy looked at me pleasantly. 'I'm very glad to meet you, sir.
You'll excuse me not getting up, but I've got a game leg.' He was
the copy of his father in features, but dark and sallow where the
other was blond. He had just the same narrow head, and stubborn
mouth, and honest, quick-tempered eyes. It is the type that makes
dashing regimental officers, and earns V.C.s, and gets done in
wholesale. I was never that kind. I belonged to the school of the
cunning cowards.
In the half-hour before dinner the last wisp of suspicion fled
from my host's mind. For Ted Broadbury and I were immediately
deep in 'shop'. I had met most of his senior officers, and I knew all
about their doings at Arras, for his brigade had been across the
river on my left. We fought the great fight over again, and yarned
about technicalities and slanged the Staff in the way young officers
have, the father throwing in questions that showed how mighty
proud he was of his son. I had a bath before dinner, and as he led
me to the bathroom he apologized very handsomely for his bad
manners. 'Your coming's been a godsend for Ted. He was moping
a bit in this place. And, though I say it that shouldn't, he's a dashed
good boy.'
I had my promised bottle of port, and after dinner I took on the
father at billiards. Then we settled in the smoking-room, and I laid
myself out to entertain the pair. The result was that they would
have me stay a week, but I spoke of the shortness of my leave, and
said I must get on to the railway and then back to Fort William for
my luggage.
So I spent that night between clean sheets, and ate a Christian
breakfast, and was given my host's car to set me a bit on the road. I
dismissed it after half a dozen miles, and, following the map, struck
over the hills to the west. About midday I topped a ridge, and
beheld the Sound of Sleat shining beneath me. There were other
things in the landscape. In the valley on the right a long goods
train was crawling on the Mallaig railway. And across the strip of
sea, like some fortress of the old gods, rose the dark bastions and
turrets of the hills of Skye.
The Skirts of the Coolin
Obviously I must keep away from the railway. If the police were
after me in Morvern, that line would be warned, for it was a barrier
I must cross if I were to go farther north. I observed from the map
that it turned up the coast, and concluded that the place for me to
make for was the shore south of that turn, where Heaven might
send me some luck in the boat line. For I was pretty certain that
every porter and station-master on that tin-pot outfit was anxious
to make better acquaintance with my humble self.
I lunched off the sandwiches the Broadburys had given me, and
in the bright afternoon made my way down the hill, crossed at the
foot of a small fresh-water lochan, and pursued the issuing stream
through midge-infested woods of hazels to its junction with the
sea. It was rough going, but very pleasant, and I fell into the same
mood of idle contentment that I had enjoyed the previous morning.
I never met a soul. Sometimes a roe deer broke out of the covert,
or an old blackcock startled me with his scolding. The place was
bright with heather, still in its first bloom, and smelt better than the
myrrh of Arabia. It was a blessed glen, and I was as happy as a
king, till I began to feel the coming of hunger, and reflected that
the Lord alone knew when I might get a meal. I had still some
chocolate and biscuits, but I wanted something substantial.
The distance was greater than I thought, and it was already
twilight when I reached the coast. The shore was open and desolate
- great banks of pebbles to which straggled alders and hazels from
the hillside scrub. But as I marched northward and turned a little
point of land I saw before me in a crook of the bay a smoking
cottage. And, plodding along by the water's edge, was the bent
figure of a man, laden with nets and lobster pots. Also, beached on
the shingle was a boat.
I quickened my pace and overtook the fisherman. He was an old
man with a ragged grey beard, and his rig was seaman's boots and a
much-darned blue jersey. He was deaf, and did not hear me when I
hailed him. When he caught sight of me he never stopped, though
he very solemnly returned my good evening. I fell into step with
him, and in his silent company reached the cottage.
He halted before the door and unslung his burdens. The place
was a two-roomed building with a roof of thatch, and the walls
all grown over with a yellow-flowered creeper. When he had
straightened his back, he looked seaward and at the sky, as if to
prospect the weather. Then he turned on me his gentle, absorbed
eyes. 'It will haf been a fine day, sir. Wass you seeking the road
to anywhere?'
'I was seeking a night's lodging,' I said. 'I've had a long tramp
on the hills, and I'd be glad of a chance of not going farther.'
'We will haf no accommodation for a gentleman,' he said gravely.
'I can sleep on the floor, if you can give me a blanket and a bite
of supper.'
'Indeed you will not,' and he smiled slowly. 'But I will ask the
wife. Mary, come here!'
An old woman appeared in answer to his call, a woman whose
face was so old that she seemed like his mother. In highland places
one sex ages quicker than the other.
'This gentleman would like to bide the night. I wass telling him
that we had a poor small house, but he says he will not be minding it.'
She looked at me with the timid politeness that you find only in
outland places.
'We can do our best, indeed, sir. The gentleman can have Colin's
bed in the loft, but he will haf to be doing with plain food. Supper
is ready if you will come in now.'
I had a scrub with a piece of yellow soap at an adjacent pool in
the burn and then entered a kitchen blue with peat-reek. We had a
meal of boiled fish, oatcakes and skim-milk cheese, with cups of
strong tea to wash it down. The old folk had the manners of
princes. They pressed food on me, and asked me no questions, till
for very decency's sake I had to put up a story and give some
account of myself.
I found they had a son in the Argylls and a young boy in the
Navy. But they seemed disinclined to talk of them or of the war. By
a mere accident I hit on the old man's absorbing interest. He was
passionate about the land. He had taken part in long-forgotten
agitations, and had suffered eviction in some ancient landlords'
quarrel farther north. Presently he was pouring out to me all the
woes of the crofter - woes that seemed so antediluvian and forgotten
that I listened as one would listen to an old song. 'You who come
from a new country will not haf heard of these things,' he kept
telling me, but by that peat fire I made up for my defective education.
He told me of evictions in the year. One somewhere in Sutherland,
and of harsh doings in the Outer Isles. It was far more than a
political grievance. It was the lament of the conservative for vanished
days and manners. 'Over in Skye wass the fine land for black cattle,
and every man had his bit herd on the hillside. But the lairds said it
wass better for sheep, and then they said it wass not good for sheep,
so they put it under deer, and now there is no black cattle anywhere
in Skye.' I tell you it was like sad music on the bagpipes hearing that
old fellow. The war and all things modern meant nothing to him; he
lived among the tragedies of his youth and his prime.
I'm a Tory myself and a bit of a land-reformer, so we agreed well
enough. So well, that I got what I wanted without asking for it. I
told him I was going to Skye, and he offered to take me over in his
boat in the morning. 'It will be no trouble. Indeed no. I will be
going that way myself to the fishing.'
I told him that after the war, every acre of British soil would
have to be used for the men that had earned the right to it. But that
did not comfort him. He was not thinking about the land itself, but
about the men who had been driven from it fifty years before. His
desire was not for reform, but for restitution, and that was past the
power of any Government. I went to bed in the loft in a sad,
reflective mood, considering how in speeding our newfangled
plough we must break down a multitude of molehills and how
desirable and unreplaceable was the life of the moles.
In brisk, shining weather, with a wind from the south-east, we
put off next morning. In front was a brown line of low hills, and
behind them, a little to the north, that black toothcomb of mountain range
which I had seen the day before from the Arisaig ridge.
'That is the Coolin,' said the fisherman. 'It is a bad place where
even the deer cannot go. But all the rest of Skye wass the fine land
for black cattle.'
As we neared the coast, he pointed out many places. 'Look there,
Sir, in that glen. I haf seen six cot houses smoking there, and now
there is not any left. There were three men of my own name had
crofts on the machars beyond the point, and if you go there you will
only find the marks of their bit gardens. You will know the place
by the gean trees.'
When he put me ashore in a sandy bay between green ridges of
bracken, he was still harping upon the past. I got him to take a
pound - for the boat and not for the night's hospitality, for he
would have beaten me with an oar if I had suggested that. The last
I saw of him, as I turned round at the top of the hill, he had still his
sail down, and was gazing at the lands which had once been full of
human dwellings and now were desolate.
I kept for a while along the ridge, with the Sound of Sleat on my
right, and beyond it the high hills of Knoydart and Kintail. I was
watching for the _Tobermory, but saw no sign of her. A steamer put
out from Mallaig, and there were several drifters crawling up the
channel and once I saw the white ensign and a destroyer bustled
northward, leaving a cloud of black smoke in her wake. Then, after
consulting the map, I struck across country, still keeping the higher
ground, but, except at odd minutes, being out of sight of the sea. I
concluded that my business was to get to the latitude of Ranna
without wasting time.
So soon as I changed my course I had the Coolin for company.
Mountains have always been a craze of mine, and the blackness and
mystery of those grim peaks went to my head. I forgot all about
Fosse Manor and the Cotswolds. I forgot, too, what had been my
chief feeling since I left Glasgow, a sense of the absurdity of my
mission. It had all seemed too far-fetched and whimsical. I was
running apparently no great personal risk, and I had always the
unpleasing fear that Blenkiron might have been too clever and that
the whole thing might be a mare's nest. But that dark mountain
mass changed my outlook. I began to have a queer instinct that that
was the place, that something might be concealed there, something
pretty damnable. I remember I sat on a top for half an hour raking
the hills with my glasses. I made out ugly precipices, and glens
which lost themselves in primeval blackness. When the sun caught
them - for it was a gleamy day - it brought out no colours,
only degrees of shade. No mountains I had ever seen - not the
Drakensberg or the red kopjes of Damaraland or the cold, white
peaks around Erzerum - ever looked so unearthly and uncanny.
Oddly enough, too, the sight of them set me thinking about
Ivery. There seemed no link between a smooth, sedentary being,
dwelling in villas and lecture-rooms, and that shaggy tangle of
precipices. But I felt there was, for I had begun to realize the
bigness of my opponent. Blenkiron had said that he spun his web
wide. That was intelligible enough among the half-baked youth of
Biggleswick, and the pacifist societies, or even the toughs on the
Clyde. I could fit him in all right to that picture. But that he should
be playing his game among those mysterious black crags seemed
to make him bigger and more desperate, altogether a different kind
of proposition. I didn't exactly dislike the idea, for my objection to
my past weeks had been that I was out of my proper job, and this
was more my line of country. I always felt that I was a better bandit
than a detective. But a sort of awe mingled with my satisfaction. I
began to feel about Ivery as I had felt about the three devils of the
Black Stone who had hunted me before the war, and as I never felt
about any other Hun. The men we fought at the Front and the men
I had run across in the Greenmantle business, even old Stumm
himself, had been human miscreants. They were formidable enough,
but you could gauge and calculate their capacities. But this Ivery
was like a poison gas that hung in the air and got into unexpected
crannies and that you couldn't fight in an upstanding way. Till
then, in spite of Blenkiron's solemnity, I had regarded him simply
as a problem. But now he seemed an intimate and omnipresent
enemy, intangible, too, as the horror of a haunted house. Up on
that sunny hillside, with the sea winds round me and the whaups
calling, I got a chill in my spine when I thought of him.
I am ashamed to confess it, but I was also horribly hungry.
There was something about the war that made me ravenous, and
the less chance of food the worse I felt. If I had been in London
with twenty restaurants open to me, I should as likely as not have
gone off my feed. That was the cussedness of my stomach. I had
still a little chocolate left, and I ate the fisherman's buttered scones
for luncheon, but long before the evening my thoughts were dwelling
on my empty interior.
I put up that night in a shepherd's cottage miles from anywhere.
The man was called Macmorran, and he had come from Galloway
when sheep were booming. He was a very good imitation of a
savage, a little fellow with red hair and red eyes, who might have
been a Pict. He lived with a daughter who had once been in service
in Glasgow, a fat young woman with a face entirely covered with
freckles and a pout of habitual discontent. No wonder, for that
cottage was a pretty mean place. It was so thick with peat-reek that
throat and eyes were always smarting. It was badly built, and must
have leaked like a sieve in a storm. The father was a surly fellow,
whose conversation was one long growl at the world, the high
prices, the difficulty of moving his sheep, the meanness of his
master, and the godforsaken character of Skye. 'Here's me no seen
baker's bread for a month, and no company but a wheen ignorant
Hielanders that yatter Gawlic. I wish I was back in the Glenkens.
And I'd gang the morn if I could get paid what I'm awed.'
However, he gave me supper - a braxy ham and oatcake, and I
bought the remnants off him for use next day. I did not trust his
blankets, so I slept the night by the fire in the ruins of an armchair,
and woke at dawn with a foul taste in my mouth. A dip in the burn
refreshed me, and after a bowl of porridge I took the road again.
For I was anxious to get to some hill-top that looked over to Ranna.
Before midday I was close under the eastern side of the Coolin,
on a road which was more a rockery than a path. Presently I saw a
big house ahead of me that looked like an inn, so I gave it a miss
and struck the highway that led to it a little farther north. Then I
bore off to the east, and was just beginning to climb a hill which I
judged stood between me and the sea, when I heard wheels on the
road and looked back.
It was a farmer's gig carrying one man. I was about half a mile
off, and something in the cut of his jib seemed familiar. I got my
glasses on him and made out a short, stout figure clad in a mackintosh,
with a woollen comforter round its throat. As I watched, it
made a movement as if to rub its nose on its sleeve. That was the
pet trick of one man I knew. Inconspicuously I slipped through the
long heather so as to reach the road ahead of the gig. When I rose
like a wraith from the wayside the horse started, but not the driver.
'So ye're there,' said Amos's voice. 'I've news for ye. The _Tobermory
will be in Ranna by now. She passed Broadford two hours
syne. When I saw her I yoked this beast and came up on the chance
of foregathering with ye.'
'How on earth did you know I would be here?' I asked in some surprise.
'Oh, I saw the way your mind was workin' from your telegram.
And says I to mysel' - that man Brand, says I, is not the chiel to be
easy stoppit. But I was feared ye might be a day late, so I came up
the road to hold the fort. Man, I'm glad to see ye. Ye're younger
and soopler than me, and yon Gresson's a stirrin' lad.'
'There's one thing you've got to do for me,' I said. 'I can't go
into inns and shops, but I can't do without food. I see from the
map there's a town about six miles on. Go there and buy me
anything that's tinned - biscuits and tongue and sardines, and a
couple of bottles of whisky if you can get them. This may be a long
job, so buy plenty.'
'Whaur'll I put them?' was his only question.
We fixed on a cache, a hundred yards from the highway in a
place where two ridges of hill enclosed the view so that only a
short bit of road was visible.
'I'll get back to the Kyle,' he told me, 'and a'body there kens
Andra Amos, if ye should find a way of sendin' a message or comin'
yourself. Oh, and I've got a word to ye from a lady that we ken of.
She says, the sooner ye're back in Vawnity Fair the better she'll be
pleased, always provided ye've got over the Hill Difficulty.'
A smile screwed up his old face and he waved his whip in
farewell. I interpreted Mary's message as an incitement to speed,
but I could not make the pace. That was Gresson's business. I think I
was a little nettled, till I cheered myself by another interpretation.
She might be anxious for my safety, she might want to see me
again, anyhow the mere sending of the message showed I was not
forgotten. I was in a pleasant muse as I breasted the hill, keeping
discreetly in the cover of the many gullies. At the top I looked
down on Ranna and the sea.
There lay the _Tobermory busy unloading. It would be some time,
no doubt, before Gresson could leave. There was no row-boat in
the channel yet, and I might have to wait hours. I settled myself
snugly between two rocks, where I could not be seen, and where I
had a clear view of the sea and shore. But presently I found that I
wanted some long heather to make a couch, and I emerged to get
some. I had not raised my head for a second when I flopped down
again. For I had a neighbour on the hill-top.
He was about two hundred yards off, just reaching the crest,
and, unlike me, walking quite openly. His eyes were on Ranna, so
he did not notice me, but from my cover I scanned every line of
him. He looked an ordinary countryman, wearing badly cut, baggy
knickerbockers of the kind that gillies affect. He had a face like a
Portuguese Jew, but I had seen that type before among people with
Highland names; they might be Jews or not, but they could speak
Gaelic. Presently he disappeared. He had followed my example and
selected a hiding-place.
It was a clear, hot day, but very pleasant in that airy place. Good
scents came up from the sea, the heather was warm and fragrant,
bees droned about, and stray seagulls swept the ridge with their
wings. I took a look now and then towards my neighbour, but he
was deep in his hidey-hole. Most of the time I kept my glasses on
Ranna, and watched the doings of the _Tobermory. She was tied up at
the jetty, but seemed in no hurry to unload. I watched the captain
disembark and walk up to a house on the hillside. Then some idlers
sauntered down towards her and stood talking and smoking close
to her side. The captain returned and left again. A man with papers
in his hand appeared, and a woman with what looked like a telegram.
The mate went ashore in his best clothes. Then at last, after
midday, Gresson appeared. He joined the captain at the piermaster's
office, and presently emerged on the other side of the jetty where
some small boats were beached. A man from the _Tobermory came in
answer to his call, a boat was launched, and began to make its way
into the channel. Gresson sat in the stern, placidly eating his luncheon.
I watched every detail of that crossing with some satisfaction
that my forecast was turning out right. About half-way across,
Gresson took the oars, but soon surrendered them to the _Tobermory
man, and lit a pipe. He got out a pair of binoculars and raked my
hillside. I tried to see if my neighbour was making any signal, but
all was quiet. Presently the boat was hid from me by the bulge of
the hill, and I caught the sound of her scraping on the beach.
Gresson was not a hill-walker like my neighbour. It took him the
best part of an hour to get to the top, and he reached it at a point
not two yards from my hiding-place. I could hear by his labouring
breath that he was very blown. He walked straight over the crest
till he was out of sight of Ranna, and flung himself on the ground.
He was now about fifty yards from me, and I made shift to lessen
the distance. There was a grassy trench skirting the north side of
the hill, deep and thickly overgrown with heather. I wound my
way along it till I was about twelve yards from him, where I stuck,
owing to the trench dying away. When I peered out of the cover I
saw that the other man had joined him and that the idiots were
engaged in embracing each other.
I dared not move an inch nearer, and as they talked in a low
voice I could hear nothing of what they said. Nothing except one
phrase, which the strange man repeated twice, very emphatically.
'Tomorrow night,' he said, and I noticed that his voice had not the
Highland inflection which I looked for. Gresson nodded and glanced
at his watch, and then the two began to move downhill towards the
road I had travelled that morning.
I followed as best I could, using a shallow dry watercourse of
which sheep had made a track, and which kept me well below the
level of the moor. It took me down the hill, but some distance from
the line the pair were taking, and I had to reconnoitre frequently
to watch their movements. They were still a quarter of a mile or so
from the road, when they stopped and stared, and I stared with
them. On that lonely highway travellers were about as rare as
roadmenders, and what caught their eye was a farmer's gig driven
by a thick-set elderly man with a woollen comforter round his neck.
I had a bad moment, for I reckoned that if Gresson recognized
Amos he might take fright. Perhaps the driver of the gig thought
the same, for he appeared to be very drunk. He waved his whip, he
jiggoted the reins, and he made an effort to sing. He looked towards
the figures on the hillside, and cried out something. The gig
narrowly missed the ditch, and then to my relief the horse bolted.
Swaying like a ship in a gale, the whole outfit lurched out of sight
round the corner of hill where lay my cache. If Amos could stop
the beast and deliver the goods there, he had put up a masterly bit
of buffoonery.
The two men laughed at the performance, and then they parted.
Gresson retraced his steps up the hill. The other man - I called him
in my mind the Portuguese Jew - started off at a great pace due
west, across the road, and over a big patch of bog towards the
northern butt of the Coolin. He had some errand, which Gresson
knew about, and he was in a hurry to perform it. It was clearly my
job to get after him.
I had a rotten afternoon. The fellow covered the moorland miles
like a deer, and under the hot August sun I toiled on his trail. I had
to keep well behind, and as much as possible in cover, in case he
looked back; and that meant that when he had passed over a ridge I
had to double not to let him get too far ahead, and when we were
in an open place I had to make wide circuits to keep hidden. We
struck a road which crossed a low pass and skirted the flank of the
mountains, and this we followed till we were on the western side
and within sight of the sea. It was gorgeous weather, and out on the
blue water I saw cool sails moving and little breezes ruffling the
calm, while I was glowing like a furnace. Happily I was in fair
training, and I needed it. The Portuguese Jew must have done a
steady six miles an hour over abominable country.
About five o'clock we came to a point where I dared not follow.
The road ran flat by the edge of the sea, so that several miles of it
were visible. Moreover, the man had begun to look round every
few minutes. He was getting near something and wanted to be sure
that no one was in his neighbourhood. I left the road accordingly,
and took to the hillside, which to my undoing was one long
cascade of screes and tumbled rocks. I saw him drop over a rise
which seemed to mark the rim of a little bay into which descended
one of the big corries of the mountains. It must have been a good
half-hour later before I, at my greater altitude and with far worse
going, reached the same rim. I looked into the glen and my man
had disappeared.
He could not have crossed it, for the place was wider than I had
thought. A ring of black precipices came down to within half a
mile of the shore, and between them was a big stream - long,
shallow pools at the sea end and a chain of waterfalls above. He had
gone to earth like a badger somewhere, and I dared not move in
case he might be watching me from behind a boulder.
But even as I hesitated he appeared again, fording the stream, his
face set on the road we had come. Whatever his errand was he had
finished it, and was posting back to his master. For a moment I
thought I should follow him, but another instinct prevailed. He
had not come to this wild place for the scenery. Somewhere down
in the glen there was something or somebody that held the key of
the mystery. It was my business to stay there till I had unlocked it.
Besides, in two hours it would be dark, and I had had enough
walking for one day.
I made my way to the stream side and had a long drink. The
corrie behind me was lit up with the westering sun, and the bald cliffs
were flushed with pink and gold. On each side of the stream was
turf like a lawn, perhaps a hundred yards wide, and then a tangle of
long heather and boulders right up to the edge of the great rocks. I
had never seen a more delectable evening, but I could not enjoy its
peace because of my anxiety about the Portuguese Jew. He had not
been there more than half an hour, just about long enough for a
man to travel to the first ridge across the burn and back. Yet he
had found time to do his business. He might have left a letter in
some prearranged place - in which case I would stay there till the
man it was meant for turned up. Or he might have met someone,
though I didn't think that possible. As I scanned the acres of rough
moor and then looked at the sea lapping delicately on the grey sand
I had the feeling that a knotty problem was before me. It was too
dark to try to track his steps. That must be left for the morning,
and I prayed that there would be no rain in the night.
I ate for supper most of the braxy ham and oatcake I had
brought from Macmorran's cottage. It took some self-denial, for I
was ferociously hungry, to save a little for breakfast next morning.
Then I pulled heather and bracken and made myself a bed in the
shelter of a rock which stood on a knoll above the stream. My bedchamber
was well hidden, but at the same time, if anything should
appear in the early dawn, it gave me a prospect. With my waterproof
I was perfectly warm, and, after smoking two pipes, I fell asleep.
My night's rest was broken. First it was a fox which came and
barked at my ear and woke me to a pitch-black night, with scarcely
a star showing. The next time it was nothing but a wandering hillwind,
but as I sat up and listened I thought I saw a spark of light
near the edge of the sea. It was only for a second, but it disquieted
me. I got out and climbed on the top of the rock, but all was still
save for the gentle lap of the tide and the croak of some night bird
among the crags. The third time I was suddenly quite wide awake,
and without any reason, for I had not been dreaming. Now I have
slept hundreds of times alone beside my horse on the veld, and I
never knew any cause for such awakenings but the one, and that
was the presence near me of some human being. A man who is
accustomed to solitude gets this extra sense which announces like
an alarm-clock the approach of one of his kind.
But I could hear nothing. There was a scraping and rustling on
the moor, but that was only the wind and the little wild things of
the hills. A fox, perhaps, or a blue hare. I convinced my reason, but
not my senses, and for long I lay awake with my ears at full cock
and every nerve tense. Then I fell asleep, and woke to the first flush
of dawn.
The sun was behind the Coolin and the hills were black as ink,
but far out in the western seas was a broad band of gold. I got up
and went down to the shore. The mouth of the stream was shallow,
but as I moved south I came to a place where two small capes
enclosed an inlet. It must have been a fault in the volcanic rock, for
its depth was portentous. I stripped and dived far into its cold
abysses, but I did not reach the bottom. I came to the surface rather
breathless, and struck out to sea, where I floated on my back and
looked at the great rampart of crag. I saw that the place where I
had spent the night was only a little oasis of green at the base of
one of the grimmest corries the imagination could picture. It was as
desert as Damaraland. I noticed, too, how sharply the cliffs rose
from the level. There were chimneys and gullies by which a man
might have made his way to the summit, but no one of them could
have been scaled except by a mountaineer.
I was feeling better now, with all the frowsiness washed out of
me, and I dried myself by racing up and down the heather. Then I
noticed something. There were marks of human feet at the top of
the deep-water inlet - not mine, for they were on the other side.
The short sea-turf was bruised and trampled in several places, and
there were broken stems of bracken. I thought that some fisherman
had probably landed there to stretch his legs.
But that set me thinking of the Portuguese Jew. After breakfasting
on my last morsels of food - a knuckle of braxy and a bit of
oatcake - I set about tracking him from the place where he had first
entered the glen. To get my bearings, I went back over the road I
had come myself, and after a good deal of trouble I found his
spoor. It was pretty clear as far as the stream, for he had been
walking - or rather running - over ground with many patches of
gravel on it. After that it was difficult, and I lost it entirely in the
rough heather below the crags. All that I could make out for
certain was that he had crossed the stream, and that his business,
whatever it was, had been with the few acres of tumbled wilderness
below the precipices.
I spent a busy morning there, but found nothing except the
skeleton of a sheep picked clean by the ravens. It was a thankless
job, and I got very cross over it. I had an ugly feeling that I was on
a false scent and wasting my time. I wished to Heaven I had old
Peter with me. He could follow spoor like a Bushman, and would
have riddled the Portuguese jew's track out of any jungle on earth.
That was a game I had never learned, for in the old days I had always
left it to my natives. I chucked the attempt, and lay disconsolately
on a warm patch of grass and smoked and thought about Peter. But my
chief reflections were that I had breakfasted at five, that it was now
eleven, that I was intolerably hungry, that there was nothing here to
feed a grasshopper, and that I should starve unless I got supplies.
It was a long road to my cache, but there were no two ways of it.
My only hope was to sit tight in the glen, and it might involve a
wait of days. To wait I must have food, and, though it meant
relinquishing guard for a matter of six hours, the risk had to be
taken. I set off at a brisk pace with a very depressed mind.
From the map it seemed that a short cut lay over a pass in the
range. I resolved to take it, and that short cut, like most of its kind,
was unblessed by Heaven. I will not dwell upon the discomforts of
the journey. I found myself slithering among screes, climbing steep
chimneys, and travelling precariously along razor-backs. The shoes
were nearly rent from my feet by the infernal rocks,which were all
pitted as if by some geological small-pox. When at last I crossed the
divide, I had a horrible business getting down from one level to
another in a gruesome corrie, where each step was composed of
smooth boiler-plates. But at last I was among the bogs on the east
side, and came to the place beside the road where I had fixed my cache.
The faithful Amos had not failed me. There were the provisions -
a couple of small loaves, a dozen tins, and a bottle of whisky. I
made the best pack I could of them in my waterproof, swung it on
my stick, and started back, thinking that I must be very like the
picture of Christian on the title-page of_Pilgrim's _Progress.
I was liker Christian before I reached my destination - Christian
after he had got up the Hill Difficulty. The morning's walk
had been bad, but the afternoon's was worse, for I was in a fever
to get back, and, having had enough of the hills, chose the longer
route I had followed the previous day. I was mortally afraid of
being seen, for I cut a queer figure, so I avoided every stretch of
road where I had not a clear view ahead. Many weary detours I
made among moss-hags and screes and the stony channels of
burns. But I got there at last, and it was almost with a sense of
comfort that I flung my pack down beside the stream where I
had passed the night.
I ate a good meal, lit my pipe, and fell into the equable mood
which follows upon fatigue ended and hunger satisfied. The sun
was westering, and its light fell upon the rock-wall above the place
where I had abandoned my search for the spoor.
As I gazed at it idly I saw a curious thing.
It seemed to be split in two and a shaft of sunlight came through
between. There could be no doubt about it. I saw the end of the
shaft on the moor beneath, while all the rest lay in shadow. I rubbed
my eyes, and got out my glasses. Then I guessed the explanation.
There was a rock tower close against the face of the main precipice
and indistinguishable from it to anyone looking direct at the face.
Only when the sun fell on it obliquely could it be discovered. And
between the tower and the cliff there must be a substantial hollow.
The discovery brought me to my feet, and set me running
towards the end of the shaft of sunlight. I left the heather, scrambled
up some yards of screes, and had a difficult time on some very
smooth slabs, where only the friction of tweed and rough rock
gave me a hold. Slowly I worked my way towards the speck of
sunlight, till I found a handhold, and swung myself into the crack.
On one side was the main wall of the hill, on the other a tower
some ninety feet high, and between them a long crevice varying in
width from three to six feet. Beyond it there showed a small bright
patch of sea.
There was more, for at the point where I entered it there was an
overhang which made a fine cavern, low at the entrance but a
dozen feet high inside, and as dry as tinder. Here, thought I, is the
perfect hiding-place. Before going farther I resolved to return for
food. It was not very easy descending, and I slipped the last twenty
feet, landing on my head in a soft patch of screes. At the burnside I
filled my flask from the whisky bottle, and put half a loaf, a tin of
sardines, a tin of tongue, and a packet of chocolate in my waterproof
pockets. Laden as I was, it took me some time to get up again, but
I managed it, and stored my belongings in a corner of the cave.
Then I set out to explore the rest of the crack.
It slanted down and then rose again to a small platform. After
that it dropped in easy steps to the moor beyond the tower. If the
Portuguese Jew had come here, that was the way by which he had
reached it, for he would not have had the time to make my ascent. I
went very cautiously, for I felt I was on the eve of a big discovery.
The platform was partly hidden from my end by a bend in the
crack, and it was more or less screened by an outlying bastion of
the tower from the other side. Its surface was covered with fine
powdery dust, as were the steps beyond it. In some excitement I
knelt down and examined it.
Beyond doubt there was spoor here. I knew the Portuguese
jew's footmarks by this time, and I made them out clearly, especially
in one corner. But there were other footsteps, quite different. The
one showed the rackets of rough country boots, the others were
from un-nailed soles. Again I longed for Peter to make certain,
though I was pretty sure of my conclusions. The man I had followed
had come here, and he had not stayed long. Someone else had been
here, probably later, for the un-nailed shoes overlaid the rackets.
The first man might have left a message for the second. Perhaps the
second was that human presence of which I had been dimly
conscious in the night-time.
I carefully removed all traces of my own footmarks, and went
back to my cave. My head was humming with my discovery. I
remembered Gresson's word to his friend: 'Tomorrow night.' As I
read it, the Portuguese Jew had taken a message from Gresson to
someone, and that someone had come from somewhere and picked
it up. The message contained an assignation for this very night. I
had found a point of observation, for no one was likely to come
near my cave, which was reached from the moor by such a toilsome
climb. There I should bivouac and see what the darkness brought
forth. I remember reflecting on the amazing luck which had so far
attended me. As I looked from my refuge at the blue haze of
twilight creeping over the waters, I felt my pulses quicken with a
wild anticipation.
Then I heard a sound below me, and craned my neck round the
edge of the tower. A man was climbing up the rock by the way I
had come.
I Hear of the Wild Birds
I saw an old green felt hat, and below it lean tweed-clad shoulders.
Then I saw a knapsack with a stick slung through it, as the owner
wriggled his way on to a shelf. Presently he turned his face upward
to judge the remaining distance. It was the face of a young man, a
face sallow and angular, but now a little flushed with the day's sun
and the work of climbing. It was a face that I had first seen at
Fosse Manor.
I felt suddenly sick and heartsore. I don't know why, but I had
never really associated the intellectuals of Biggleswick with a business
like this. None of them but Ivery, and he was different. They
had been silly and priggish, but no more - I would have taken my
oath on it. Yet here was one of them engaged in black treason
against his native land. Something began to beat in my temples
when I remembered that Mary and this man had been friends, that
he had held her hand, and called her by her Christian name. My
first impulse was to wait till he got up and then pitch him down
among the boulders and let his German accomplices puzzle over his
broken neck.
With difficulty I kept down that tide of fury. I had my duty to
do, and to keep on terms with this man was part of it. I had to
convince him that I was an accomplice, and that might not be easy.
I leaned over the edge, and, as he got to his feet on the ledge above
the boiler-plates, I whistled so that he turned his face to me.
'Hullo, Wake,'I said.
He started, stared for a second, and recognized me. He did not
seem over-pleased to see me.
'Brand!' he cried. 'How did you get here?'
He swung himself up beside me, straightened his back and
unbuckled his knapsack. 'I thought this was my own private sanctuary,
and that nobody knew it but me. Have you spotted the cave?
It's the best bedroom in Skye.' His tone was, as usual, rather acid.
That little hammer was beating in my head. I longed to get my
hands on his throat and choke the smug treason in him. But I kept
my mind fixed on one purpose - to persuade him that I shared his
secret and was on his side. His off-hand self-possession seemed only
the clever screen of the surprised conspirator who was hunting for
a plan.
We entered the cave, and he flung his pack into a corner. 'Last
time I was here,' he said, 'I covered the floor with heather. We
must get some more if we would sleep soft.' In the twilight he was
a dim figure, but he seemed a new man from the one I had last seen
in the Moot Hall at Biggleswick. There was a wiry vigour in his
body and a purpose in his face. What a fool I had been to set him
down as no more than a conceited fidneur!
He went out to the shelf again and sniffed the fresh evening.
There was a wonderful red sky in the west, but in the crevice the
shades had fallen, and only the bright patches at either end told of
the sunset.
'Wake,' I said, 'you and I have to understand each other. I'm a
friend of Ivery and I know the meaning of this place. I discovered
it by accident, but I want you to know that I'm heart and soul with
you. You may trust me in tonight's job as if I were Ivery himself.'
He swung round and looked at me sharply. His eyes were hot
again, as I remembered them at our first meeting.
'What do you mean? How much do you know?'
The hammer was going hard in my forehead, and I had to pull
myself together to answer.
'I know that at the end of this crack a message was left last night,
and that someone came out of the sea and picked it up. That
someone is coming again when darkness falls, and there will be
another message.'
He had turned his head away. 'You are talking nonsense. No
submarine could land on this coast.'
I could see that he was trying me.
'This morning,' I said, 'I swam in the deep-water inlet below us.
It is the most perfect submarine shelter in Britain.'
He still kept his face from me, looking the way he had come. For
a moment he was silent, and then he spoke in the bitter, drawling
voice which had annoyed me at Fosse Manor.
'How do you reconcile this business with your principles, Mr
Brand? You were always a patriot, I remember, though you didn't
see eye to eye with the Government.'
It was not quite what I expected and I was unready. I stammered
in my reply. 'It's because I am a patriot that I want peace. I think
that ... I mean ...'
'Therefore you are willing to help the enemy to win?'
'They have already won. I want that recognized and the end
hurried on.' I was getting my mind clearer and continued fluently.
'The longer the war lasts, the worse this country is ruined. We
must make the people realize the truth, and -'
But he swung round suddenly, his eyes blazing.
'You blackguard!' he cried, 'you damnable blackguard!' And he
flung himself on me like a wild-cat.
I had got my answer. He did not believe me, he knew me for a
spy, and he was determined to do me in. We were beyond finesse
now, and back at the old barbaric game. It was his life or mine.
The hammer beat furiously in my head as we closed, and a fierce
satisfaction rose in my heart.
He never had a chance, for though he was in good trim and had
the light, wiry figure of the mountaineer, he hadn't a quarter of my
muscular strength. Besides, he was wrongly placed, for he had the
outside station. Had he been on the inside he might have toppled
me over the edge by his sudden assault. As it was, I grappled him
and forced him to the ground, squeezing the breath out of his body
in the process. I must have hurt him considerably, but he never
gave a cry. With a good deal of trouble I lashed his hands behind
his back with the belt of my waterproof, carried him inside the cave
and laid him in the dark end of it. Then I tied his feet with the
strap of his own knapsack. I would have to gag him, but that could wait.
I had still to contrive a plan of action for the night, for I did not
know what part he had been meant to play in it. He might be the
messenger instead of the Portuguese Jew, in which case he would
have papers about his person. If he knew of the cave, others might
have the same knowledge, and I had better shift him before they
came. I looked at my wrist-watch, and the luminous dial showed
that the hour was half past nine.
Then I noticed that the bundle in the corner was sobbing.
It was a horrid sound and it worried me. I had a little pocket
electric torch and I flashed it on Wake's face. If he was crying, it
was with dry eyes.
'What are you going to do with me?' he asked.
'That depends,' I said grimly.
'Well, I'm ready. I may be a poor creature, but I'm damned if
I'm afraid of you, or anything like you.' That was a brave thing to
say, for it was a lie; his teeth were chattering.
'I'm ready for a deal,' I said.
'You won't get it,' was his answer. 'Cut my throat if you mean to,
but for God's sake don't insult me ... I choke when I think about you.
You come to us and we welcome you, and receive you in our houses,
and tell you our inmost thoughts, and all the time you're a bloody
traitor. You want to sell us to Germany. You may win now, but by
God! your time will come! That is my last word to you ... you swine!'
The hammer stopped beating in my head. I saw myself suddenly
as a blind, preposterous fool. I strode over to Wake, and he shut
his eyes as if he expected a blow. Instead I unbuckled the straps
which held his legs and arms.
'Wake, old fellow,' I said, 'I'm the worst kind of idiot. I'll eat all
the dirt you want. I'll give you leave to knock me black and blue,
and I won't lift a hand. But not now. Now we've another job on
hand. Man, we're on the same side and I never knew it. It's too bad
a case for apologies, but if it's any consolation to you I feel the
lowest dog in Europe at this moment.'
He was sitting up rubbing his bruised shoulders. 'What do you
mean?' he asked hoarsely.
'I mean that you and I are allies. My name's not Brand. I'm a
soldier - a general, if you want to know. I went to Biggleswick
under orders, and I came chasing up here on the same job. Ivery's
the biggest German agent in Britain and I'm after him. I've struck
his communication lines, and this very night, please God, we'll get
the last clue to the riddle. Do you hear? We're in this business
together, and you've got to lend a hand.'
I told him briefly the story of Gresson, and how I had tracked
his man here. As I talked we ate our supper, and I wish I could
have watched Wake's face. He asked questions, for he wasn't convinced
in a hurry. I think it was my mention of Mary Lamington
that did the trick. I don't know why, but that seemed to satisfy
him. But he wasn't going to give himself away.
'You may count on me,' he said, 'for this is black, blackguardly
treason. But you know my politics, and I don't change them for
this. I'm more against your accursed war than ever, now that I
know what war involves.'
'Right-o,' I said, 'I'm a pacifist myself. You won't get any
heroics about war from me. I'm all for peace, but we've got to
down those devils first.'
It wasn't safe for either of us to stick in that cave, so we cleared
away the marks of our occupation, and hid our packs in a deep
crevice on the rock. Wake announced his intention of climbing the
tower, while there was still a faint afterglow of light. 'It's broad on
the top, and I can keep a watch out to sea if any light shows. I've
been up it before. I found the way two years ago. No, I won't fall
asleep and tumble off. I slept most of the afternoon on the top of
Sgurr Vhiconnich, and I'm as wakeful as a bat now.'
I watched him shin up the face of the tower, and admired greatly
the speed and neatness with which he climbed. Then I followed the
crevice southward to the hollow just below the platform where I
had found the footmarks. There was a big boulder there, which
partly shut off the view of it from the direction of our cave. The
place was perfect for my purpose, for between the boulder and the
wall of the tower was a narrow gap, through which I could hear all
that passed on the platform. I found a stance where I could rest in
comfort and keep an eye through the crack on what happened beyond.
There was still a faint light on the platform, but soon that
disappeared and black darkness settled down on the hills. It was the
dark of the moon, and, as had happened the night before, a thin
wrack blew over the sky, hiding the stars. The place was very still,
though now and then would come the cry of a bird from the crags
that beetled above me, and from the shore the pipe of a tern or
oyster-catcher. An owl hooted from somewhere up on the tower.
That I reckoned was Wake, so I hooted back and was answered.
I unbuckled my wrist-watch and pocketed it, lest its luminous
dial should betray me; and I noticed that the hour was close on
eleven. I had already removed my shoes, and my jacket was
buttoned at the collar so as to show no shirt. I did not think that
the coming visitor would trouble to explore the crevice beyond the
platform, but I wanted to be prepared for emergencies.
Then followed an hour of waiting. I felt wonderfully cheered
and exhilarated, for Wake had restored my confidence in human
nature. In that eerie place we were wrapped round with mystery
like a fog. Some unknown figure was coming out of the sea, the
emissary of that Power we had been at grips with for three years. It
was as if the war had just made contact with our own shores, and
never, not even when I was alone in the South German forest, had
I felt so much the sport of a whimsical fate. I only wished Peter
could have been with me. And so my thoughts fled to Peter in his
prison camp, and I longed for another sight of my old friend as a
girl longs for her lover.
Then I heard the hoot of an owl, and presently the sound of
careful steps fell on my ear. I could see nothing, but I guessed it
was the Portuguese Jew, for I could hear the grinding of heavily
nailed boots on the gritty rock.
The figure was very quiet. It appeared to be sitting down, and
then it rose and fumbled with the wall of the tower just beyond the
boulder behind which I sheltered. It seemed to move a stone and to
replace it. After that came silence, and then once more the hoot of
an owl. There were steps on the rock staircase, the steps of a man
who did not know the road well and stumbled a little. Also they
were the steps of one without nails in his boots.
They reached the platform and someone spoke. It was the Portuguese
Jew and he spoke in good German.
'__Die vogelein schweigen im _Walde,' he said.
The answer came from a clear, authoritative voice.
'__Warte nur, balde ruhest du _auch.'
Clearly some kind of password, for sane men don't talk about
little birds in that kind of situation. It sounded to me like indifferent
Then followed a conversation in low tones, of which I only
caught odd phrases. I heard two names - Chelius and what sounded
like a Dutch word, Bommaerts. Then to my joy I caught _Effenbein,
and when uttered it seemed to be followed by a laugh. I heard too a
phrase several times repeated, which seemed to me to be pure gibberish -
__Die Stubenvogel _verstehn. It was spoken by the man from the
sea. And then the word _Wildvogel. The pair seemed demented about birds.
For a second an electric torch was flashed in the shelter of the
rock, and I could see a tanned, bearded face looking at some
papers. The light disappeared, and again the Portuguese Jew was
fumbling with the stones at the base of the tower. To my joy he
was close to my crack, and I could hear every word. 'You cannot
come here very often,' he said, 'and it may be hard to arrange a
meeting. See, therefore, the place I have made to put the _Viageffutter.
When I get a chance I will come here, and you will come also when
you are able. Often there will be nothing, but sometimes there will
be much.'
My luck was clearly in, and my exultation made me careless. A
stone, on which a foot rested, slipped and though I checked myself
at once, the confounded thing rolled down into the hollow, making
a great clatter. I plastered myself in the embrasure of the rock and
waited with a beating heart. The place was pitch dark, but they had
an electric torch, and if they once flashed it on me I was gone. I
heard them leave the platform and climb down into the hollow.
There they stood listening, while I held my breath. Then I heard
'_Nix, _mein _freund,' and the two went back, the naval officer's boots
slipping on the gravel.
They did not leave the platform together. The man from the sea
bade a short farewell to the Portuguese Jew, listening, I thought,
impatiently to his final message as if eager to be gone. It was a
good half-hour before the latter took himself off, and I heard the
sound of his nailed boots die away as he reached the heather of the moor.
I waited a little longer, and then crawled back to the cave. The
owl hooted, and presently Wake descended lightly beside me; he
must have known every foothold and handhold by heart to do the
job in that inky blackness. I remember that he asked no question of
me, but he used language rare on the lips of conscientious objectors
about the men who had lately been in the crevice. We, who four
hours earlier had been at death grips, now curled up on the hard
floor like two tired dogs, and fell sound asleep.
I woke to find Wake in a thundering bad temper. The thing he
remembered most about the night before was our scrap and the
gross way I had insulted him. I didn't blame him, for if any man
had taken me for a German spy I would have been out for his
blood, and it was no good explaining that he had given me grounds
for suspicion. He was as touchy about his blessed principles as an
old maid about her age. I was feeling rather extra buckish myself
and that didn't improve matters. His face was like a gargoyle as we
went down to the beach to bathe, so I held my tongue. He was
chewing the cud of his wounded pride.
But the salt water cleared out the dregs of his distemper. You
couldn't be peevish swimming in that jolly, shining sea. We raced
each other away beyond the inlet to the outer water, which a brisk
morning breeze was curling. Then back to a promontory of heather,
where the first beams of the sun coming over the Coolin dried our
skins. He sat hunched up staring at the mountains while I prospected
the rocks at the edge. Out in the Minch two destroyers were
hurrying southward, and I wondered where in that waste of blue
was the craft which had come here in the night watches.
I found the spoor of the man from the sea quite fresh on a patch
of gravel above the tide-mark.
'There's our friend of the night,' I said.
'I believe the whole thing was a whimsy,' said Wake, his eyes on
the chimneys of Sgurr Dearg. 'They were only two natives - poachers,
perhaps, or tinkers.'
'They don't speak German in these parts.'
'It was Gaelic probably.'
'What do you make of this, then?' and I quoted the stuff about
birds with which they had greeted each other.
Wake looked interested. 'That's _Uber _allen _Gipfeln. Have you ever
read Goethe?'
'Never a word. And what do you make of that?' I pointed to a
flat rock below tide-mark covered with a tangle of seaweed. It was
of a softer stone than the hard stuff in the hills and somebody had
scraped off half the seaweed and a slice of the side. 'That wasn't
done yesterday morning, for I had my bath here.'
Wake got up and examined the place. He nosed about in the
crannies of the rocks lining the inlet, and got into the water again
to explore better. When he joined me he was smiling. 'I apologize
for my scepticism,' he said. 'There's been some petrol-driven craft
here in the night. I can smell it, for I've a nose like a retriever. I
daresay you're on the right track. Anyhow, though you seem to
know a bit about German, you could scarcely invent immortal poetry.'
We took our belongings to a green crook of the burn, and made
a very good breakfast. Wake had nothing in his pack but plasmon
biscuits and raisins, for that, he said, was his mountaineering
provender, but he was not averse to sampling my tinned stuff. He was a
different-sized fellow out in the hills from the anaemic intellectual of
Biggleswick. He had forgotten his beastly self-consciousness, and
spoke of his hobby with a serious passion. It seemed he had scrambled
about everywhere in Europe, from the Caucasus to the
Pyrenees. I could see he must be good at the job, for he didn't brag
of his exploits. It was the mountains that he loved, not wriggling
his body up hard places. The Coolin, he said, were his favourites,
for on some of them you could get two thousand feet of good rock.
We got our glasses on the face of Sgurr Alasdair, and he sketched
out for me various ways of getting to its grim summit. The Coolin
and the Dolomites for him, for he had grown tired of the Chamonix
aiguilles. I remember he described with tremendous gusto the joys
of early dawn in Tyrol, when you ascended through acres of flowery
meadows to a tooth of clean white limestone against a clean blue
sky. He spoke, too, of the little wild hills in the Bavarian
Wettersteingebirge, and of a guide he had picked up there and
trained to the job.
'They called him Sebastian Buchwieser. He was the jolliest boy
you ever saw, and as clever on crags as a chamois. He is probably
dead by now, dead in a filthy jaeger battalion. That's you and your
accursed war.'
'Well, we've got to get busy and end it in the right way,' I said.
'And you've got to help, my lad.'
He was a good draughtsman, and with his assistance I drew a
rough map of the crevice where we had roosted for the night,
giving its bearings carefully in relation to the burn and the sea.
Then I wrote down all the details about Gresson and the Portuguese
Jew, and described the latter in minute detail. I described, too,
most precisely the cache where it had been arranged that the
messages should be placed. That finished my stock of paper, and I
left the record of the oddments overheard of the conversation for a
later time. I put the thing in an old leather cigarette-case I possessed,
and handed it to Wake.
'You've got to go straight off to the Kyle and not waste any
time on the way. Nobody suspects you, so you can travel any road
you please. When you get there you ask for Mr Andrew Amos,
who has some Government job in the neighbourhood. Give him
that paper from me. He'll know what to do with it all right. Tell
him I'll get somehow to the Kyle before midday the day after
tomorrow. I must cover my tracks a bit, so I can't come with you,
and I want that thing in his hands just as fast as your legs will take
you. If anyone tries to steal it from you, for God's sake eat it. You
can see for yourself that it's devilish important.'
'I shall be back in England in three days,' he said. 'Any message
for your other friends?'
'Forget all about me. You never saw me here. I'm still Brand, the
amiable colonial studying social movements. If you meet Ivery, say
you heard of me on the Clyde, deep in sedition. But if you see Miss
Lamington you can tell her I'm past the Hill Difficulty. I'm coming
back as soon as God will let me, and I'm going to drop right into
the Biggleswick push. Only this time I'll be a little more advanced
in my views ... You needn't get cross. I'm not saying anything
against your principles. The main point is that we both hate dirty
He put the case in his waistcoat pocket. 'I'll go round Garsbheinn,'
he said, 'and over by Camasunary. I'll be at the Kyle long
before evening. I meant anyhow to sleep at Broadford tonight ...
Goodbye, Brand, for I've forgotten your proper name. You're not
a bad fellow, but you've landed me in melodrama for the first time
in my sober existence. I have a grudge against you for mixing up
the Coolin with a shilling shocker. You've spoiled their sanctity.'
'You've the wrong notion of romance,' I said. 'Why, man, last
night for an hour you were in the front line - the place where the
enemy forces touch our own. You were over the top - you were in
He laughed. 'That is one way to look at it'; and then he stalked
off and I watched his lean figure till it was round the turn of the hill.
All that morning I smoked peacefully by the burn, and let my
thoughts wander over the whole business. I had got precisely what
Blenkiron wanted, a post office for the enemy. It would need
careful handling, but I could see the juiciest lies passing that way to
the _Grosses _Haupiquartier. Yet I had an ugly feeling at the back of
my head that it had been all too easy, and that Ivery was not the
man to be duped in this way for long. That set me thinking about
the queer talk on the crevice. The poetry stuff I dismissed as the
ordinary password, probably changed every time. But who were
Chelius and Bommaerts, and what in the name of goodness were the
Wild Birds and the Cage Birds? Twice in the past three years I had
had two such riddles to solve - Scudder's scribble in his pocketbook,
and Harry Bullivant's three words. I remembered how it
had only been by constant chewing at them that I had got a sort of
meaning, and I wondered if fate would some day expound this
puzzle also.
Meantime I had to get back to London as inconspicuously as I
had come. It might take some doing, for the police who had been
active in Morvern might be still on the track, and it was essential
that I should keep out of trouble and give no hint to Gresson and
his friends that I had been so far north. However, that was for
Amos to advise me on, and about noon I picked up my waterproof
with its bursting pockets and set off on a long detour up the coast.
All that blessed day I scarcely met a soul. I passed a distillery which
seemed to have quit business, and in the evening came to a little
town on the sea where I had a bed and supper in a superior kind
of public-house.
Next day I struck southward along the coast, and had two experiences
of interest. I had a good look at Ranna, and observed that
the _Tobermory was no longer there. Gresson had only waited to get
his job finished; he could probably twist the old captain any way he
wanted. The second was that at the door of a village smithy I saw
the back of the Portuguese Jew. He was talking Gaelic this time -
good Gaelic it sounded, and in that knot of idlers he would have
passed for the ordinariest kind of gillie.
He did not see me, and I had no desire to give him the chance,
for I had an odd feeling that the day might come when it would be
good for us to meet as strangers.
That night I put up boldly in the inn at Broadford, where they
fed me nobly on fresh sea-trout and I first tasted an excellent
liqueur made of honey and whisky. Next morning I was early
afoot, and well before midday was in sight of the narrows of the
Kyle, and the two little stone clachans which face each other across
the strip of sea.
About two miles from the place at a turn of the road I came
upon a farmer's gig, drawn up by the wayside, with the horse
cropping the moorland grass. A man sat on the bank smoking,
with his left arm hooked in the reins. He was an oldish man, with a
short, square figure, and a woollen comforter enveloped his throat.
The Adventures of a Bagman
'Ye're punctual to time, Mr Brand,' said the voice of Amos. 'But
losh! man, what have ye done to your breeks! And your buits?
Ye're no just very respectable in your appearance.'
I wasn't. The confounded rocks of the Coolin had left their mark
on my shoes, which moreover had not been cleaned for a week, and
the same hills had rent my jacket at the shoulders, and torn my
trousers above the right knee, and stained every part of my apparel
with peat and lichen.
I cast myself on the bank beside Amos and lit my pipe. 'Did you
get my message?' I asked.
'Ay. It's gone on by a sure hand to the destination we ken of.
Ye've managed well, Mr Brand, but I wish ye were back in London.'
He sucked at his pipe, and the shaggy brows were pulled so low as
to hide the wary eyes. Then he proceeded to think aloud.
'Ye canna go back by Mallaig. I don't just understand why, but
they're lookin' for you down that line. It's a vexatious business
when your friends, meanin' the polis, are doing their best to upset
your plans and you no able to enlighten them. I could send word to
the Chief Constable and get ye through to London without a stop
like a load of fish from Aiberdeen, but that would be spoilin' the
fine character ye've been at such pains to construct. Na, na! Ye
maun take the risk and travel by Muirtown without ony creedentials.'
'It can't be a very big risk,' I interpolated.
'I'm no so sure. Gresson's left the _Tobermory. He went by here
yesterday, on the Mallaig boat, and there was a wee blackavised
man with him that got out at the Kyle. He's there still, stoppin' at
the hotel. They ca' him Linklater and he travels in whisky. I don't
like the looks of him.'
'But Gresson does not suspect me?'
'Maybe no. But ye wouldna like him to see ye hereaways. Yon
gentry don't leave muckle to chance. Be very certain that every
man in Gresson's lot kens all about ye, and has your description
down to the mole on your chin.'
'Then they've got it wrong,' I replied.
'I was speakin' feeguratively,' said Amos. 'I was considerin' your
case the feck of yesterday, and I've brought the best I could do for
ye in the gig. I wish ye were more respectable clad, but a good
topcoat will hide defeecencies.'
From behind the gig's seat he pulled out an ancient Gladstone
bag and revealed its contents. There was a bowler of a vulgar and
antiquated style; there was a ready-made overcoat of some dark
cloth, of the kind that a clerk wears on the road to the office; there
was a pair of detachable celluloid cuffs, and there was a linen collar
and dickie. Also there was a small handcase, such as bagmen carry
on their rounds.
'That's your luggage,' said Amos with pride. 'That wee bag's full
of samples. Ye'll mind I took the precaution of measurin' ye in
Glasgow, so the things'll fit. Ye've got a new name, Mr Brand, and
I've taken a room for ye in the hotel on the strength of it. Ye're
Archibald McCaskie, and ye're travellin' for the firm o' Todd, Sons
& Brothers, of Edinburgh. Ye ken the folk? They publish wee
releegious books, that ye've bin trying to sell for Sabbath-school
prizes to the Free Kirk ministers in Skye.'
The notion amused Amos, and he relapsed into the sombre
chuckle which with him did duty for a laugh.
I put my hat and waterproof in the bag and donned the bowler
and the top-coat. They fitted fairly well. Likewise the cuffs and
collar, though here I struck a snag, for I had lost my scarf somewhere
in the Coolin, and Amos, pelican-like, had to surrender the
rusty black tie which adorned his own person. It was a queer rig,
and I felt like nothing on earth in it, but Amos was satisfied.
'Mr McCaskie, sir,' he said, 'ye're the very model of a publisher's
traveller. Ye'd better learn a few biographical details, which ye've
maybe forgotten. Ye're an Edinburgh man, but ye were some years
in London, which explains the way ye speak. Ye bide at 6, Russell
Street, off the Meadows, and ye're an elder in the Nethergate U.F.
Kirk. Have ye ony special taste ye could lead the crack on to, if
ye're engaged in conversation?'
I suggested the English classics.
'And very suitable. Ye can try poalitics, too. Ye'd better be a
Free-trader but convertit by Lloyd George. That's a common case,
and ye'll need to be by-ordinar common ... If I was you, I would
daunder about here for a bit, and no arrive at your hotel till after
dark. Then ye can have your supper and gang to bed. The Muirtown
train leaves at half-seven in the morning ... Na, ye can't come with
me. It wouldna do for us to be seen thegither. If I meet ye in the
street I'll never let on I know ye.'
Amos climbed into the gig and jolted off home. I went down to
the shore and sat among the rocks, finishing about tea-time the
remains of my provisions. In the mellow gloaming I strolled into
the clachan and got a boat to put me over to the inn. It proved to
be a comfortable place, with a motherly old landlady who showed
me to my room and promised ham and eggs and cold salmon for
supper. After a good wash, which I needed, and an honest attempt
to make my clothes presentable, I descended to the meal in a coffeeroom
lit by a single dim parafin lamp.
The food was excellent, and, as I ate, my spirits rose. In two days
I should be back in London beside Blenkiron and somewhere
within a day's journey of Mary. I could picture no scene now
without thinking how Mary fitted into it. For her sake I held
Biggleswick delectable, because I had seen her there. I wasn't sure
if this was love, but it was something I had never dreamed of
before, something which I now hugged the thought of. It made the
whole earth rosy and golden for me, and life so well worth living
that I felt like a miser towards the days to come.
I had about finished supper, when I was joined by another guest.
Seen in the light of that infamous lamp, he seemed a small, alert
fellow, with a bushy, black moustache, and black hair parted in the
middle. He had fed already and appeared to be hungering for
human society.
In three minutes he had told me that he had come down from
Portree and was on his way to Leith. A minute later he had whipped
out a card on which I read 'J. J. Linklater', and in the corner the
name of Hatherwick Bros. His accent betrayed that he hailed from
the west.
'I've been up among the distilleries,' he informed me. 'It's a poor
business distillin' in these times, wi' the teetotallers yowlin' about
the nation's shame and the way to lose the war. I'm a temperate
man mysel', but I would think shame to spile decent folks' business.
If the Government want to stop the drink, let them buy us out.
They've permitted us to invest good money in the trade, and they
must see that we get it back. The other way will wreck public
credit. That's what I say. Supposin' some Labour Government
takes the notion that soap's bad for the nation? Are they goin' to
shut up Port Sunlight? Or good clothes? Or lum hats? There's no
end to their daftness if they once start on that track. A lawfu'
trade's a lawfu' trade, says I, and it's contrary to public policy to pit
it at the mercy of wheen cranks. D'ye no agree, sir? By the way, I
havena got your name?'
I told him and he rambled on.
'We're blenders and do a very high-class business, mostly foreign.
The war's hit us wi' our export trade, of course, but we're no as
bad as some. What's your line, Mr McCaskie?'
When he heard he was keenly interested.
'D'ye say so? Ye're from Todd's! Man, I was in the book business
mysel', till I changed it for something a wee bit more lucrative. I
was on the road for three years for Andrew Matheson. Ye ken the
name - Paternoster Row - I've forgotten the number. I had a kind
of ambition to start a book-sellin' shop of my own and to make
Linklater o' Paisley a big name in the trade. But I got the offer from
Hatherwick's, and I was wantin' to get married, so filthy lucre won
the day. And I'm no sorry I changed. If it hadna been for this war, I
would have been makin' four figures with my salary and
commissions ... My pipe's out. Have you one of those rare and valuable
curiosities called a spunk, Mr McCaskie?'
He was a merry little grig of a man, and he babbled on, till I
announced my intention of going to bed. If this was Amos's
bagman, who had been seen in company with Gresson, I understood
how idle may be the suspicions of a clever man. He had probably
foregathered with Gresson on the Skye boat, and wearied that
saturnine soul with his cackle.
I was up betimes, paid my bill, ate a breakfast of porridge and
fresh haddock, and walked the few hundred yards to the station. It
was a warm, thick morning, with no sun visible, and the Skye hills
misty to their base. The three coaches on the little train were nearly
filled when I had bought my ticket, and I selected a third-class
smoking carriage which held four soldiers returning from leave.
The train was already moving when a late passenger hurried
along the platform and clambered in beside me. A cheery 'Mornin',
Mr McCaskie,' revealed my fellow guest at the hotel.
We jolted away from the coast up a broad glen and then on to a
wide expanse of bog with big hills showing towards the north. It
was a drowsy day, and in that atmosphere of shag and crowded
humanity I felt my eyes closing. I had a short nap, and woke to
find that Mr Linklater had changed his seat and was now beside me.
'We'll no get a Scotsman till Muirtown,' he said. 'Have ye nothing
in your samples ye could give me to read?'
I had forgotten about the samples. I opened the case and found
the oddest collection of little books, all in gay bindings. Some were
religious, with names like _Dew _of _Hermon and _Cool _Siloam; some
were innocent narratives, __How Tommy saved his _Pennies, __A Missionary
Child in _China, and __Little Susie and her _Uncle. There was a __Life of
David _Livingstone, a child's book on sea-shells, and a richly gilt
edition of the poems of one James Montgomery. I offered the
selection to Mr Linklater, who grinned and chose the Missionary
Child. 'It's not the reading I'm accustomed to,' he said. 'I like
strong meat - Hall Caine and Jack London. By the way, how d'ye
square this business of yours wi' the booksellers? When I was in
Matheson's there would have been trouble if we had dealt direct
wi' the public like you.'
The confounded fellow started to talk about the details of the
book trade, of which I knew nothing. He wanted to know on what
terms we sold 'juveniles', and what discount we gave the big
wholesalers, and what class of book we put out 'on sale'. I didn't
understand a word of his jargon, and I must have given myself
away badly, for he asked me questions about firms of which I had
never heard, and I had to make some kind of answer. I told myself
that the donkey was harmless, and that his opinion of me mattered
nothing, but as soon as I decently could I pretended to be absorbed
in the _Pilgrim's _Progress, a gaudy copy of which was among the
samples. It opened at the episode of Christian and Hopeful in the
Enchanted Ground, and in that stuffy carriage I presently followed
the example of Heedless and Too-Bold and fell sound asleep.
I was awakened by the train rumbling over the points of a little
moorland junction. Sunk in a pleasing lethargy, I sat with my eyes
closed, and then covertly took a glance at my companion. He had
abandoned the Missionary Child and was reading a little duncoloured
book, and marking passages with a pencil. His face was
absorbed, and it was a new face, not the vacant, good-humoured
look of the garrulous bagman, but something shrewd, purposeful,
and formidable. I remained hunched up as if still sleeping, and tried
to see what the book was. But my eyes, good as they are, could
make out nothing of the text or title, except that I had a very
strong impression that that book was not written in the English tongue.
I woke abruptly, and leaned over to him. Quick as lightning he
slid his pencil up his sleeve and turned on me with a fatuous smile.
'What d'ye make o' this, Mr McCaskie? It's a wee book I picked
up at a roup along with fifty others. I paid five shillings for the lot.
It looks like Gairman, but in my young days they didna teach us
foreign languages.'
I took the thing and turned over the pages, trying to keep any
sign of intelligence out of my face. It was German right enough, a
little manual of hydrography with no publisher's name on it. It had
the look of the kind of textbook a Government department might
issue to its officials.
I handed it back. 'It's either German or Dutch. I'm not much of
a scholar, barring a little French and the Latin I got at Heriot's
Hospital ... This is an awful slow train, Mr Linklater.'
The soldiers were playing nap, and the bagman proposed a game
of cards. I remembered in time that I was an elder in the Nethergate
U.F. Church and refused with some asperity. After that I shut my
eyes again, for I wanted to think out this new phenomenon.
The fellow knew German - that was clear. He had also been seen
in Gresson's company. I didn't believe he suspected me, though I
suspected him profoundly. It was my business to keep strictly to
my part and give him no cause to doubt me. He was clearly
practising his own part on me, and I must appear to take him
literally on his professions. So, presently, I woke up and engaged
him in a disputatious conversation about the morality of selling
strong liquors. He responded readily, and put the case for alcohol
with much point and vehemence. The discussion interested the
soldiers, and one of them, to show he was on Linklater's side,
produced a flask and offered him a drink. I concluded by observing
morosely that the bagman had been a better man when he peddled
books for Alexander Matheson, and that put the closure on the business.
That train was a record. It stopped at every station, and in the
afternoon it simply got tired and sat down in the middle of a moor
and reflected for an hour. I stuck my head out of the window now
and then, and smelt the rooty fragrance of bogs, and when we
halted on a bridge I watched the trout in the pools of the brown
river. Then I slept and smoked alternately, and began to get
furiously hungry.
Once I woke to hear the soldiers discussing the war. There was
an argument between a lance-corporal in the Camerons and a sapper
private about some trivial incident on the Somme.
'I tell ye I was there,' said the Cameron. 'We were relievin' the
Black Watch, and Fritz was shelling the road, and we didna get up
to the line till one o'clock in the mornin'. Frae Frickout Circus to
the south end o' the High Wood is every bit o' five mile.'
'Not abune three,' said the sapper dogmatically.
'Man, I've trampit it.'
'Same here. I took up wire every nicht for a week.'
The Cameron looked moodily round the company. 'I wish there
was anither man here that kent the place. He wad bear me out.
These boys are no good, for they didna join till later. I tell ye it's
five mile.'
'Three,' said the sapper.
Tempers were rising, for each of the disputants felt his veracity
assailed. It was too hot for a quarrel and I was so drowsy that I
was heedless.
'Shut up, you fools,' I said. 'The distance is six kilometres, so
you're both wrong.'
My tone was so familiar to the men that it stopped the wrangle,
but it was not the tone of a publisher's traveller. Mr Linklater
cocked his ears.
'What's a kilometre, Mr McCaskie?' he asked blandly.
'Multiply by five and divide by eight and you get the miles.'
I was on my guard now, and told a long story of a nephew who
had been killed on the Somme, and how I had corresponded with
the War Office about his case. 'Besides,' I said, 'I'm a great student
o' the newspapers, and I've read all the books about the war. It's a
difficult time this for us all, and if you can take a serious interest in
the campaign it helps a lot. I mean working out the places on the
map and reading Haig's dispatches.'
'Just so,' he said dryly, and I thought he watched me with an
odd look in his eyes.
A fresh idea possessed me. This man had been in Gresson's
company, he knew German, he was obviously something very
different from what he professed to be. What if he were in the
employ of our own Secret Service? I had appeared out of the void
at the Kyle, and I had made but a poor appearance as a bagman,
showing no knowledge of my own trade. I was in an area interdicted
to the ordinary public; and he had good reason to keep an eye on
my movements. He was going south, and so was I; clearly we must
somehow part company.
'We change at Muirtown, don't we?' I asked. 'When does the
train for the south leave?'
He consulted a pocket timetable. 'Ten-thirty-three. There's
generally four hours to wait, for we're due in at six-fifteen. But this
auld hearse will be lucky if it's in by nine.'
His forecast was correct. We rumbled out of the hills into
haughlands and caught a glimpse of the North Sea. Then we were hung
up while a long goods train passed down the line. It was almost
dark when at last we crawled into Muirtown station and disgorged
our load of hot and weary soldiery.
I bade an ostentatious farewell to Linklater. 'Very pleased to
have met you. I'll see you later on the Edinburgh train. I'm for a
walk to stretch my legs, and a bite o' supper.' I was very determined
that the ten-thirty for the south should leave without me.
My notion was to get a bed and a meal in some secluded inn, and
walk out next morning and pick up a slow train down the line.
Linklater had disappeared towards the guard's van to find his
luggage, and the soldiers were sitting on their packs with that air of
being utterly and finally lost and neglected which characterizes the
British fighting-man on a journey. I gave up my ticket and, since I
had come off a northern train, walked unhindered into the town.
It was market night, and the streets were crowded. Blue-jackets
from the Fleet, country-folk in to shop, and every kind of military
detail thronged the pavements. Fish-hawkers were crying their
wares, and there was a tatterdemalion piper making the night
hideous at a corner. I took a tortuous route and finally fixed on a
modest-looking public-house in a back street. When I inquired for a
room I could find no one in authority, but a slatternly girl informed
me that there was one vacant bed, and that I could have ham and
eggs in the bar. So, after hitting my head violently against a crossbeam,
I stumbled down some steps and entered a frowsty little
place smelling of spilt beer and stale tobacco.
The promised ham and eggs proved impossible - there were no
eggs to be had in Muirtown that night - but I was given cold
mutton and a pint of indifferent ale. There was nobody in the place
but two farmers drinking hot whisky and water and discussing
with sombre interest the rise in the price of feeding-stuffs. I ate
my supper, and was just preparing to find the whereabouts of
my bedroom when through the street door there entered a dozen soldiers.
In a second the quiet place became a babel. The men were strictly
sober; but they were in that temper of friendliness which demands a
libation of some kind. One was prepared to stand treat; he was the
leader of the lot, and it was to celebrate the end of his leave that he
was entertaining his pals. From where I sat I could not see him, but
his voice was dominant. 'What's your fancy, jock? Beer for you,
Andra? A pint and a dram for me. This is better than vongblong
and vongrooge, Davie. Man, when I'm sittin' in those estamints, as
they ca' them, I often long for a guid Scots public.'
The voice was familiar. I shifted my seat to get a view of
the speaker, and then I hastily drew back. It was the Scots Fusilier
I had clipped on the jaw in defending Gresson after the Glasgow meeting.
But by a strange fatality he had caught sight of me.
'Whae's that i' the corner?' he cried, leaving the bar to stare at me.
Now it is a queer thing, but if you have once fought with a man, though
only for a few seconds, you remember his face, and the scrap in
Glasgow had been under a lamp. The jock recognized me well enough.
'By God!' he cried, 'if this is no a bit o' luck! Boys, here's the
man I feucht wi' in Glesca. Ye mind I telled ye about it. He laid me
oot, and it's my turn to do the same wi' him. I had a notion I was
gaun to mak' a nicht o't. There's naebody can hit Geordie Hamilton
without Geordie gettin' his ain back some day. Get up, man, for
I'm gaun to knock the heid off ye.'
I duly got up, and with the best composure I could muster
looked him in the face.
'You're mistaken, my friend. I never clapped eyes on you before,
and I never was in Glasgow in my life.'
'That's a damned lee,' said the Fusilier. 'Ye're the man, and if
ye're no, ye're like enough him to need a hidin'!'
'Confound your nonsense!' I said. 'I've no quarrel with you, and
I've better things to do than be scrapping with a stranger
in a public-house.'
'Have ye sae? Well, I'll learn ye better. I'm gaun to hit ye, and
then ye'll hae to fecht whether ye want it or no. Tam, haud my
jacket, and see that my drink's no skailed.'
This was an infernal nuisance, for a row here would bring in the
police, and my dubious position would be laid bare. I thought of
putting up a fight, for I was certain I could lay out the jock a
second time, but the worst of that was that I did not know where
the thing would end. I might have to fight the lot of them, and that
meant a noble public shindy. I did my best to speak my opponent
fair. I said we were all good friends and offered to stand drinks for
the party. But the Fusilier's blood was up and he was spoiling for a
row, ably abetted by his comrades. He had his tunic off now and
was stamping in front of me with doubled fists.
I did the best thing I could think of in the circumstances. My
seat was close to the steps which led to the other part of the inn. I
grabbed my hat, darted up them, and before they realized what I
was doing had bolted the door behind me. I could hear
pandemonium break loose in the bar.
I slipped down a dark passage to another which ran at right
angles to it, and which seemed to connect the street door of the inn
itself with the back premises. I could hear voices in the little hall,
and that stopped me short.
One of them was Linklater's, but he was not talking as Linklater
had talked. He was speaking educated English. I heard another
with a Scots accent, which I took to be the landlord's, and a third
which sounded like some superior sort of constable's, very prompt
and official. I heard one phrase, too, from Linklater - 'He calls
himself McCaskie.' Then they stopped, for the turmoil from the bar
had reached the front door. The Fusilier and his friends were
looking for me by the other entrance.
The attention of the men in the hall was distracted, and that gave
me a chance. There was nothing for it but the back door. I slipped
through it into a courtyard and almost tumbled over a tub of water.
I planted the thing so that anyone coming that way would fall over
it. A door led me into an empty stable, and from that into a lane. It
was all absurdly easy, but as I started down the lane I heard a
mighty row and the sound of angry voices. Someone had gone into
the tub and I hoped it was Linklater. I had taken a liking to the
Fusilier jock.
There was the beginning of a moon somewhere, but that lane
was very dark. I ran to the left, for on the right it looked like a
cul-de-sac. This brought me into a quiet road of two-storied cottages
which showed at one end the lights of a street. So I took the other
way, for I wasn't going to have the whole population of Muirtown
on the hue-and-cry after me. I came into a country lane, and I also
came into the van of the pursuit, which must have taken a short
cut. They shouted when they saw me, but I had a small start, and legged
it down that road in the belief that I was making for open country.
That was where I was wrong. The road took me round to the
other side of the town, and just when I was beginning to think I
had a fair chance I saw before me the lights of a signal-box and a
little to the left of it the lights of the station. In half an hour's time
the Edinburgh train would be leaving, but I had made that impossible.
Behind me I could hear the pursuers, giving tongue like hound puppies,
for they had attracted some pretty drunken gentlemen to their party.
I was badly puzzled where to turn, when I noticed outside the
station a long line of blurred lights, which could only mean a train
with the carriage blinds down. It had an engine attached and seemed
to be waiting for the addition of a couple of trucks to start. It was a
wild chance, but the only one I saw. I scrambled across a piece of
waste ground, climbed an embankment and found myself on the
metals. I ducked under the couplings and got on the far side of the
train, away from the enemy.
Then simultaneously two things happened. I heard the yells of
my pursuers a dozen yards off, and the train jolted into motion. I
jumped on the footboard, and looked into an open window. The
compartment was packed with troops, six a side and two men
sitting on the floor, and the door was locked. I dived headforemost
through the window and landed on the neck of a weary warrior
who had just dropped off to sleep.
While I was falling I made up my mind on my conduct. I must
be intoxicated, for I knew the infinite sympathy of the British
soldier towards those thus overtaken. They pulled me to my feet,
and the man I had descended on rubbed his skull and blasphemously
demanded explanations.
'Gen'lmen,' I hiccoughed, 'I 'pologize. I was late for this bl-blighted train and
I mus' be in E'inburgh 'morrow or I'll get the
sack. I 'pologize. If I've hurt my friend's head, I'll kiss it and make
it well.'
At this there was a great laugh. 'Ye'd better accept, Pete,' said
one. 'It's the first time anybody ever offered to kiss your ugly heid.'
A man asked me who I was, and I appeared to be searching for
a card-case.
'Losht,' I groaned. 'Losht, and so's my wee bag and I've bashed
my po' hat. I'm an awful sight, gen'lmen - an awful warning to be
in time for trains. I'm John Johnstone, managing clerk to Messrs
Watters, Brown & Elph'stone, 923 Charl'tte Street, E'inburgh. I've
been up north seein' my mamma.'
'Ye should be in France,' said one man.
'Wish't I was, but they wouldn't let me. "Mr Johnstone," they
said, "ye're no dam good. Ye've varicose veins and a bad heart,"
they said. So I says, "Good mornin', gen'lmen. Don't blame me if
the country's ru'ned". That's what I said.'
I had by this time occupied the only remaining space left on the
floor. With the philosophy of their race the men had accepted my
presence, and were turning again to their own talk. The train had
got up speed, and as I judged it to be a special of some kind I
looked for few stoppings. Moreover it was not a corridor carriage,
but one of the old-fashioned kind, so I was safe for a time from the
unwelcome attention of conductors. I stretched my legs below the
seat, rested my head against the knees of a brawny gunner, and
settled down to make the best of it.
My reflections were not pleasant. I had got down too far below
the surface, and had the naked feeling you get in a dream when you
think you have gone to the theatre in your nightgown. I had had
three names in two days, and as many characters. I felt as if I had
no home or position anywhere, and was only a stray dog with
everybody's hand and foot against me. It was an ugly sensation,
and it was not redeemed by any acute fear or any knowledge of
being mixed up in some desperate drama. I knew I could easily go
on to Edinburgh, and when the police made trouble, as they would,
a wire to Scotland Yard would settle matters in a couple of hours.
There wasn't a suspicion of bodily danger to restore my dignity.
The worst that could happen would be that Ivery would hear of my
being befriended by the authorities, and the part I had settled to
play would be impossible. He would certainly hear. I had the
greatest respect for his intelligence service.
Yet that was bad enough. So far I had done well. I had put
Gresson off the scent. I had found out what Bullivant wanted to
know, and I had only to return unostentatiously to London to have
won out on the game. I told myself all that, but it didn't cheer my
spirits. I was feeling mean and hunted and very cold about the feet.
But I have a tough knuckle of obstinacy in me which makes me
unwilling to give up a thing till I am fairly choked off it. The
chances were badly against me. The Scottish police were actively
interested in my movements and would be ready to welcome me at
my journey's end. I had ruined my hat, and my clothes, as Amos
had observed, were not respectable. I had got rid of a four-days'
beard the night before, but had cut myself in the process, and what
with my weather-beaten face and tangled hair looked liker a tinker
than a decent bagman. I thought with longing of my portmanteau
in the Pentland Hotel, Edinburgh, and the neat blue serge suit and
the clean linen that reposed in it. It was no case for a subtle game,
for I held no cards. Still I was determined not to chuck in my hand
till I was forced to. If the train stopped anywhere I would get out,
and trust to my own wits and the standing luck of the British Army
for the rest.
The chance came just after dawn, when we halted at a little
junction. I got up yawning and tried to open the door, till I
remembered it was locked. Thereupon I stuck my legs out of the
window on the side away from the platform, and was immediately
seized upon by a sleepy Seaforth who thought I contemplated suicide.
'Let me go,' I said. 'I'll be back in a jiffy.'
'Let him gang, jock,' said another voice. 'Ye ken what a man's
like when he's been on the bash. The cauld air'll sober him.'
I was released, and after some gymnastics dropped on the metals
and made my way round the rear of the train. As I clambered on
the platform it began to move, and a face looked out of one of
the back carriages. It was Linklater and he recognized me. He tried
to get out, but the door was promptly slammed by an indignant
porter. I heard him protest, and he kept his head out till the train
went round the curve. That cooked my goose all right. He would
wire to the police from the next station.
Meantime in that clean, bare, chilly place there was only one
traveller. He was a slim young man, with a kit-bag and a gun-case.
His clothes were beautiful, a green Homburg hat, a smart green
tweed overcoat, and boots as brightly polished as a horse chestnut.
I caught his profile as he gave up his ticket and to my amazement I
recognized it.
The station-master looked askance at me as I presented myself,
dilapidated and dishevelled, to the official gaze. I tried to speak in a
tone of authority.
'Who is the man who has just gone out?'
'Whaur's your ticket?'
'I had no time to get one at Muirtown, and as you see I have left
my luggage behind me. Take it out of that pound and I'll come
back for the change. I want to know if that was Sir Archibald Roylance.'
He looked suspiciously at the note. 'I think that's the name. He's
a captain up at the Fleein' School. What was ye wantin' with him?'
I charged through the booking-office and found my man about
to enter a big grey motor-car.
'Archie,' I cried and beat him on the shoulders.
He turned round sharply. 'What the devil -! Who are you?'
And then recognition crept into his face and he gave a joyous
shout. 'My holy aunt! The General disguised as Charlie Chaplin! Can
I drive you anywhere, sir?'
I Take the Wings of a Dove
'Drive me somewhere to breakfast, Archie,' I said, 'for I'm perishing
He and I got into the tonneau, and the driver swung us out of
the station road up a long incline of hill. Sir Archie had been one of
my subalterns in the old Lennox Highlanders, and had left us
before the Somme to join the Flying Corps. I had heard that he had
got his wings and had done well before Arras, and was now
training pilots at home. He had been a light-hearted youth, who
had endured a good deal of rough-tonguing from me for his sins of
omission. But it was the casual class of lad I was looking for now.
I saw him steal amused glances at my appearance.
'Been seein' a bit of life, sir?' he inquired respectfully.
'I'm being hunted by the police,' I said.
'Dirty dogs! But don't worry, sir; we'll get you off all right. I've
been in the same fix myself. You can lie snug in my little log hut,
for that old image Gibbons won't blab. Or, tell you what, I've got
an aunt who lives near here and she's a bit of a sportsman. You can
hide in her moated grange till the bobbies get tired.'
I think it was Archie's calm acceptance of my position as natural
and becoming that restored my good temper. He was far too well
bred to ask what crime I had committed, and I didn't propose to
enlighten him much. But as we swung up the moorland road I let
him know that I was serving the Government, but that it was
necessary that I should appear to be unauthenticated and that therefore
I must dodge the police. He whistled his appreciation.
'Gad, that's a deep game. Sort of camouflage? Speaking from my
experience it is easy to overdo that kind of stunt. When I was at
Misieux the French started out to camouflage the caravans where
they keep their pigeons, and they did it so damned well that the
poor little birds couldn't hit 'em off, and spent the night out.'
We entered the white gates of a big aerodrome, skirted a forest
of tents and huts, and drew up at a shanty on the far confines of the
place. The hour was half past four, and the world was still asleep.
Archie nodded towards one of the hangars, from the mouth of
which projected the propeller end of an aeroplane.
'I'm by way of flyin' that bus down to Farnton tomorrow,' he
remarked. 'It's the new Shark-Gladas. Got a mouth like a tree.'
An idea flashed into my mind.
'You're going this morning,' I said.
'How did you know?' he exclaimed. 'I'm due to go today, but
the grouse up in Caithness wanted shootin' so badly that I decided
to wangle another day's leave. They can't expect a man to start for
the south of England when he's just off a frowsy journey.'
'All the same you're going to be a stout fellow and start in two
hours' time. And you're going to take me with you.'
He stared blankly, and then burst into a roar of laughter. 'You're
the man to go tiger-shootin' with. But what price my commandant?
He's not a bad chap, but a trifle shaggy about the fetlocks. He
won't appreciate the joke.'
'He needn't know. He mustn't know. This is an affair between
you and me till it's finished. I promise you I'll make it all square
with the Flying Corps. Get me down to Farnton before evening,
and you'll have done a good piece of work for the country.'
'Right-o! Let's have a tub and a bit of breakfast, and then I'm
your man. I'll tell them to get the bus ready.'
In Archie's bedroom I washed and shaved and borrowed a green
tweed cap and a brand-new Aquascutum. The latter covered the
deficiencies of my raiment, and when I commandeered a pair of
gloves I felt almost respectable. Gibbons, who seemed to be a
jack-of-all-trades, cooked us some bacon and an omelette, and as he ate
Archie yarned. In the battalion his conversation had been mostly of
race-meetings and the forsaken delights of town, but now he had
forgotten all that, and, like every good airman I have ever known,
wallowed enthusiastically in 'shop'. I have a deep respect for the
Flying Corps, but it is apt to change its jargon every month, and its
conversation is hard for the layman to follow. He was desperately
keen about the war, which he saw wholly from the viewpoint of
the air. Arras to him was over before the infantry crossed the top,
and the tough bit of the Somme was October, not September. He
calculated that the big air-fighting had not come along yet, and all
he hoped for was to be allowed out to France to have his share in
it. Like all good airmen, too, he was very modest about himself.
'I've done a bit of steeple-chasin' and huntin' and I've good
hands for a horse, so I can handle a bus fairly well. It's all a matter
of hands, you know. There ain't half the risk of the infantry down
below you, and a million times the fun. jolly glad I changed, sir.'
We talked of Peter, and he put him about top. Voss, he thought,
was the only Boche that could compare with him, for he hadn't
made up his mind about Lensch. The Frenchman Guynemer he
ranked high, but in a different way. I remember he had no respect
for Richthofen and his celebrated circus.
At six sharp we were ready to go. A couple of mechanics had got
out the machine, and Archie put on his coat and gloves and climbed
into the pilot's seat, while I squeezed in behind in the observer's
place. The aerodrome was waking up, but I saw no officers about.
We were scarcely seated when Gibbons called our attention to a
motor-car on the road, and presently we heard a shout and saw men
waving in our direction.
'Better get off, my lad,' I said. 'These look like my friends.'
The engine started and the mechanics stood clear. As we taxied
over the turf I looked back and saw several figures running in our
direction. The next second we had left the bumpy earth for the
smooth highroad of the air.
I had flown several dozen times before, generally over the enemy
lines when I wanted to see for myself how the land lay. Then we
had flown low, and been nicely dusted by the Hun Archies, not to
speak of an occasional machine-gun. But never till that hour had I
realized the joy of a straight flight in a swift plane in perfect
weather. Archie didn't lose time. Soon the hangars behind looked
like a child's toys, and the world ran away from us till it seemed
like a great golden bowl spilling over with the quintessence of
light. The air was cold and my hands numbed, but I never felt
them. As we throbbed and tore southward, sometimes bumping in
eddies, sometimes swimming evenly in a stream of motionless ether,
my head and heart grew as light as a boy's. I forgot all about the
vexations of my job and saw only its joyful comedy. I didn't think
that anything on earth could worry me again. Far to the left was a
wedge of silver and beside it a cluster of toy houses. That must be
Edinburgh, where reposed my portmanteau, and where a most
efficient police force was now inquiring for me. At the thought I
laughed so loud that Archie must have heard me. He turned round,
saw my grinning face, and grinned back. Then he signalled to me
to strap myself in. I obeyed, and he proceeded to practise 'stunts' -
the loop, the spinning nose-dive, and others I didn't know the
names of. It was glorious fun, and he handled his machine as a
good rider coaxes a nervous horse over a stiff hurdle. He had that
extra something in his blood that makes the great pilot.
Presently the chessboard of green and brown had changed to a
deep purple with faint silvery lines like veins in a rock. We were
crossing the Border hills, the place where I had legged it for weary
days when I was mixed up in the Black Stone business. What a
marvellous element was this air, which took one far above the
fatigues of humanity! Archie had done well to change. Peter had
been the wise man. I felt a tremendous pity for my old friend
hobbling about a German prison-yard, when he had once flown a
hawk. I reflected that I had wasted my life hitherto. And then I
remembered that all this glory had only one use in war and that was
to help the muddy British infantryman to down his Hun opponent.
He was the fellow, after all, that decided battles, and the thought
comforted me.
A great exhilaration is often the precursor of disaster, and mine
was to have a sudden downfall. It was getting on for noon and we
were well into England - I guessed from the rivers we had passed
that we were somewhere in the north of Yorkshire - when the
machine began to make odd sounds, and we bumped in perfectly
calm patches of air. We dived and then climbed, but the confounded
thing kept sputtering. Archie passed back a slip of paper on which
he had scribbled: 'Engine conked. Must land at Micklegill. Very
sorry.' So we dropped to a lower elevation where we could see
clearly the houses and roads and the long swelling ridges of a
moorland country. I could never have found my way about, but
Archie's practised eye knew every landmark. We were trundling
along very slowly now, and even I was soon able to pick up the
hangars of a big aerodrome.
We made Micklegill, but only by the skin of our teeth. We were
so low that the smoky chimneys of the city of Bradfield seven miles
to the east were half hidden by a ridge of down. Archie achieved a
clever descent in the lee of a belt of firs, and got out full of
imprecations against the Gladas engine. 'I'll go up to the camp and
report,' he said, 'and send mechanics down to tinker this darned
gramophone. You'd better go for a walk, sir. I don't want to
answer questions about you till we're ready to start. I reckon it'll be
an hour's job.'
The cheerfulness I had acquired in the upper air still filled me. I
sat down in a ditch, as merry as a sand-boy, and lit a pipe. I was
possessed by a boyish spirit of casual adventure, and waited on the
next turn of fortune's wheel with only a pleasant amusement.
That turn was not long in coming. Archie appeared very breathless.
'Look here, sir, there's the deuce of a row up there. They've
been wirin' about you all over the country, and they know you're
with me. They've got the police, and they'll have you in five
minutes if you don't leg it. I lied like billy-o and said I had never
heard of you, but they're comin' to see for themselves. For God's
sake get off ... You'd better keep in cover down that hollow and
round the back of these trees. I'll stay here and try to brazen it out.
I'll get strafed to blazes anyhow ... I hope you'll get me out of the
scrape, sir.'
'Don't you worry, my lad,' I said. 'I'll make it all square when I
get back to town. I'll make for Bradfield, for this place is a bit
conspicuous. Goodbye, Archie. You're a good chap and I'll see you
don't suffer.'
I started off down the hollow of the moor, trying to make speed
atone for lack of strategy, for it was hard to know how much my
pursuers commanded from that higher ground. They must have
seen me, for I heard whistles blown and men's cries. I struck a
road, crossed it, and passed a ridge from which I had a view of
Bradfield six miles off. And as I ran I began to reflect that this kind
of chase could not last long. They were bound to round me up in
the next half-hour unless I could puzzle them. But in that bare
green place there was no cover, and it looked as if my chances were
pretty much those of a hare coursed by a good greyhound on a
naked moor.
Suddenly from just in front of me came a familiar sound. It was
the roar of guns - the slam of field-batteries and the boom of small
howitzers. I wondered if I had gone off my head. As I plodded on
the rattle of machine-guns was added, and over the ridge before me
I saw the dust and fumes of bursting shells. I concluded that I was
not mad, and that therefore the Germans must have landed. I
crawled up the last slope, quite forgetting the pursuit behind me.
And then I'm blessed if I did not look down on a veritable battle.
There were two sets of trenches with barbed wire and all the
fixings, one set filled with troops and the other empty. On these
latter shells were bursting, but there was no sign of life in them. In
the other lines there seemed the better part of two brigades, and the
first trench was stiff with bayonets. My first thought was that
Home Forces had gone dotty, for this kind of show could have no
sort of training value. And then I saw other things - cameras and
camera-men on platforms on the flanks, and men with megaphones
behind them on wooden scaffoldings. One of the megaphones was
going full blast all the time.
I saw the meaning of the performance at last. Some moviemerchant
had got a graft with the Government, and troops had been
turned out to make a war film. It occurred to me that if I were
mixed up in that push I might get the cover I was looking for. I
scurried down the hill to the nearest camera-man.
As I ran, the first wave of troops went over the top. They did it
uncommon well, for they entered into the spirit of the thing, and
went over with grim faces and that slow, purposeful lope that I had
seen in my own fellows at Arras. Smoke grenades burst among
them, and now and then some resourceful mountebank would roll
over. Altogether it was about the best show I have ever seen. The
cameras clicked, the guns banged, a background of boy scouts
applauded, and the dust rose in billows to the sky.
But all the same something was wrong. I could imagine that this
kind of business took a good deal of planning from the point of
view of the movie-merchant, for his purpose was not the same as
that of the officer in command. You know how a photographer
finicks about and is dissatisfied with a pose that seems all right to
his sitter. I should have thought the spectacle enough to get any
cinema audience off their feet, but the man on the scaffolding near
me judged differently. He made his megaphone boom like the
swan-song of a dying buffalo. He wanted to change something and
didn't know how to do it. He hopped on one leg; he took the
megaphone from his mouth to curse; he waved it like a banner and
yelled at some opposite number on the other flank. And then his
patience forsook him and he skipped down the ladder, dropping his
megaphone, past the camera-men, on to the battlefield.
That was his undoing. He got in the way of the second wave and
was swallowed up like a leaf in a torrent. For a moment I saw a red
face and a loud-checked suit, and the rest was silence. He was
carried on over the hill, or rolled into an enemy trench, but anyhow
he was lost to my ken.
I bagged his megaphone and hopped up the steps to the platform.
At last I saw a chance of first-class cover, for with Archie's coat
and cap I made a very good appearance as a movie-merchant. Two
waves had gone over the top, and the cinema-men, working like
beavers, had filmed the lot. But there was still a fair amount of
troops to play with, and I determined to tangle up that outfit so
that the fellows who were after me would have better things to
think about.
My advantage was that I knew how to command men. I could
see that my opposite number with the megaphone was helpless, for
the mistake which had swept my man into a shell-hole had reduced
him to impotence. The troops seemed to be mainly in charge of
N.C.O.s (I could imagine that the officers would try to shirk this
business), and an N.C.O. is the most literal creature on earth. So
with my megaphone I proceeded to change the battle order.
I brought up the third wave to the front trenches. In about three
minutes the men had recognized the professional touch and were
moving smartly to my orders. They thought it was part of the
show, and the obedient cameras clicked at everything that came
into their orbit. My aim was to deploy the troops on too narrow a
front so that they were bound to fan outward, and I had to be
quick about it, for I didn't know when the hapless movie-merchant
might be retrieved from the battle-field and dispute my authority.
It takes a long time to straighten a thing out, but it does not take
long to tangle it, especially when the thing is so delicate a machine as
disciplined troops. In about eight minutes I had produced chaos. The
flanks spread out, in spite of all the shepherding of the N.C.O.s, and
the fringe engulfed the photographers. The cameras on their little
platforms went down like ninepins. It was solemn to see the startled
face of a photographer, taken unawares, supplicating the purposeful
infantry, before he was swept off his feet into speechlessness.
It was no place for me to linger in, so I chucked away the
megaphone and got mixed up with the tail of the third wave. I was
swept on and came to anchor in the enemy trenches, where I found,
as I expected, my profane and breathless predecessor, the moviemerchant.
I had nothing to say to him, so I stuck to the trench till
it ended against the slope of the hill.
On that flank, delirious with excitement, stood a knot of boy
scouts. My business was to get to Bradfield as quick as my legs
would take me, and as inconspicuously as the gods would permit.
Unhappily I was far too great an object of interest to that nursery
of heroes. Every boy scout is an amateur detective and hungry for
knowledge. I was followed by several, who plied me with questions,
and were told that I was off to Bradfield to hurry up part of the
cinema outfit. It sounded lame enough, for that cinema outfit was
already past praying for.
We reached the road and against a stone wall stood several
bicycles. I selected one and prepared to mount.
'That's Mr Emmott's machine,' said one boy sharply. 'He told
me to keep an eye on it.'
'I must borrow it, sonny,' I said. 'Mr Emmott's my very good
friend and won't object.'
From the place where we stood I overlooked the back of the
battle-field and could see an anxious congress of officers. I could see
others, too, whose appearance I did not like. They had not been
there when I operated on the megaphone. They must have come
downhill from the aerodrome and in all likelihood were the pursuers
I had avoided. The exhilaration which I had won in the air and
which had carried me into the tomfoolery of the past half-hour was
ebbing. I had the hunted feeling once more, and grew middle-aged
and cautious. I had a baddish record for the day, what with getting
Archie into a scrape and busting up an official cinema show -
neither consistent with the duties of a brigadier-general. Besides, I
had still to get to London.
I had not gone two hundred yards down the road when a boy
scout, pedalling furiously, came up abreast me.
'Colonel Edgeworth wants to see you,' he panted. 'You're to
come back at once.'
'Tell him I can't wait now,' I said. 'I'll pay my respects to him in
an hour.'
'He said you were to come at once,' said the faithful messenger.
'He's in an awful temper with you, and he's got bobbies with him.'
I put on pace and left the boy behind. I reckoned I had the better
part of two miles' start and could beat anything except petrol. But
my enemies were bound to have cars, so I had better get off the
road as soon as possible. I coasted down a long hill to a bridge
which spanned a small discoloured stream that flowed in a wooded
glen. There was nobody for the moment on the hill behind me, so I
slipped into the covert, shoved the bicycle under the bridge, and hid
Archie's aquascutum in a bramble thicket. I was now in my own
disreputable tweeds and I hoped that the shedding of my most
conspicuous garment would puzzle my pursuers if they should
catch up with me.
But this I was determined they should not do. I made good
going down that stream and out into a lane which led from the
downs to the market-gardens round the city. I thanked Heaven I
had got rid of the aquascutum, for the August afternoon was warm
and my pace was not leisurely. When I was in secluded ground I
ran, and when anyone was in sight I walked smartly.
As I went I reflected that Bradfield would see the end of my
adventures. The police knew that I was there and would watch the
stations and hunt me down if I lingered in the place. I knew no one
there and had no chance of getting an effective disguise. Indeed I
very soon began to wonder if I should get even as far as the streets.
For at the moment when I had got a lift on the back of a fishmonger's
cart and was screened by its flapping canvas, two figures
passed on motor-bicycles, and one of them was the inquisitive boy
scout. The main road from the aerodrome was probably now being
patrolled by motor-cars. It looked as if there would be a degrading
arrest in one of the suburbs.
The fish-cart, helped by half a crown to the driver, took me past
the outlying small-villadom, between long lines of workmen's
houses, to narrow cobbled lanes and the purlieus of great factories.
As soon as I saw the streets well crowded I got out and walked. In
my old clothes I must have appeared like some second-class bookie
or seedy horse-coper. The only respectable thing I had about me
was my gold watch. I looked at the time and found it half past five.
I wanted food and was casting about for an eating-house when
I heard the purr of a motor-cycle and across the road saw the
intelligent boy scout. He saw me, too, and put on the brake with a
sharpness which caused him to skid and all but come to grief under
the wheels of a wool-wagon. That gave me time to efface myself by
darting up a side street. I had an unpleasant sense that I was about
to be trapped, for in a place I knew nothing of I had not a chance
to use my wits.
I remember trying feverishly to think, and I suppose that my
preoccupation made me careless. I was now in a veritable slum, and
when I put my hand to my vest pocket I found that my watch had gone.
That put the top stone on my depression. The reaction from the
wild burnout of the forenoon had left me very cold about the feet. I
was getting into the under-world again and there was no chance of
a second Archie Roylance turning up to rescue me. I remember yet
the sour smell of the factories and the mist of smoke in the evening air.
It is a smell I have never met since without a sort of dulling of spirit.
Presently I came out into a market-place. Whistles were blowing,
and there was a great hurrying of people back from the mills. The
crowd gave me a momentary sense of security, and I was just about
to inquire my way to the railway station when someone jostled my arm.
A rough-looking fellow in mechanic's clothes was beside me.
'Mate,' he whispered. 'I've got summat o' yours here.' And to
my amazement he slipped my watch into my hand.
'It was took by mistake. We're friends o' yours. You're right
enough if you do what I tell you. There's a peeler over there got
his eye on you. Follow me and I'll get you off.'
I didn't much like the man's looks, but I had no choice, and
anyhow he had given me back my watch. He sidled into an alley
between tall houses and I sidled after him. Then he took to his
heels, and led me a twisting course through smelly courts into a
tanyard and then by a narrow lane to the back-quarters of a factory.
Twice we doubled back, and once we climbed a wall and followed
the bank of a blue-black stream with a filthy scum on it. Then we
got into a very mean quarter of the town, and emerged in a dingy
garden, strewn with tin cans and broken flowerpots. By a back
door we entered one of the cottages and my guide very carefully
locked it behind him.
He lit the gas and drew the blinds in a small parlour and looked
at me long and quizzically. He spoke now in an educated voice.
'I ask no questions,' he said, 'but it's my business to put my
services at your disposal. You carry the passport.'
I stared at him, and he pulled out his watch and showed a whiteand-
purple cross inside the lid.
'I don't defend all the people we employ,' he said, grinning.
'Men's morals are not always as good as their patriotism. One of
them pinched your watch, and when he saw what was inside it he
reported to me. We soon picked up your trail, and observed you
were in a bit of trouble. As I say, I ask no questions. What can we
do for you?'
'I want to get to London without any questions asked. They're
looking for me in my present rig, so I've got to change it.'
'That's easy enough,' he said. 'Make yourself comfortable for a
little and I'll fix you up. The night train goes at eleven-thirty. ...
You'll find cigars in the cupboard and there's this week's _Critic on
that table. It's got a good article on Conrad, if you care for
such things.'
I helped myself to a cigar and spent a profitable half-hour reading
about the vices of the British Government. Then my host returned
and bade me ascend to his bedroom. 'You're Private Henry
Tomkins of the 12th Gloucesters, and you'll find your clothes
ready for you. I'll send on your present togs if you give me an address.'
I did as I was bid, and presently emerged in the uniform of a
British private, complete down to the shapeless boots and the
dropsical puttees. Then my friend took me in hand and finished the
transformation. He started on my hair with scissors and arranged a
lock which, when well oiled, curled over my forehead. My hands
were hard and rough and only needed some grubbiness and hacking
about the nails to pass muster. With my cap on the side of my head,
a pack on my back, a service rifle in my hands, and my pockets
bursting with penny picture papers, I was the very model of the
British soldier returning from leave. I had also a packet of Woodbine
cigarettes and a hunch of bread-and-cheese for the journey. And I had a
railway warrant made out in my name for London.
Then my friend gave me supper - bread and cold meat and a
bottle of Bass, which I wolfed savagely, for I had had nothing since
breakfast. He was a curious fellow, as discreet as a tombstone, very
ready to speak about general subjects, but never once coming near
the intimate business which had linked him and me and Heaven
knew how many others by means of a little purple-and-white
cross in a watch-case. I remember we talked about the topics that
used to be popular at Biggleswick - the big political things that
begin with capital letters. He took Amos's view of the soundness of
the British working-man, but he said something which made me
think. He was convinced that there was a tremendous lot of German
spy work about, and that most of the practitioners were innocent.
'The ordinary Briton doesn't run to treason, but he's not very
bright. A clever man in that kind of game can make better use of a
fool than a rogue.'
As he saw me off he gave me a piece of advice. 'Get out of
these clothes as soon as you reach London. Private Tomkins will
frank you out of Bradfield, but it mightn't be a healthy alias
in the metropolis.'
At eleven-thirty I was safe in the train, talking the jargon of the
returning soldier with half a dozen of my own type in a smoky
third-class carriage. I had been lucky in my escape, for at the station
entrance and on the platform I had noticed several men with the
unmistakable look of plainclothes police. Also - though this may
have been my fancy - I thought I caught in the crowd a glimpse of
the bagman who had called himself Linklater.
The Advantages of an Air Raid
The train was abominably late. It was due at eight-twenty-seven,
but it was nearly ten when we reached St Pancras. I had resolved to
go straight to my rooms in Westminster, buying on the way a cap
and waterproof to conceal my uniform should anyone be near
my door on my arrival. Then I would ring up Blenkiron and tell
him all my adventures. I breakfasted at a coffee-stall, left my pack
and rifle in the cloak-room, and walked out into the clear sunny morning.
I was feeling very pleased with myself. Looking back on my
madcap journey, I seemed to have had an amazing run of luck and
to be entitled to a little credit too. I told myself that persistence
always pays and that nobody is beaten till he is dead. All Blenkiron's
instructions had been faithfully carried out. I had found Ivery's
post office. I had laid the lines of our own special communications
with the enemy, and so far as I could see I had left no clue behind
me. Ivery and Gresson took me for a well-meaning nincompoop. It
was true that I had aroused profound suspicion in the breasts of the
Scottish police. But that mattered nothing, for Cornelius Brand, the
suspect, would presently disappear, and there was nothing against
that rising soldier, Brigadier-General Richard Hannay, who would
soon be on his way to France. After all this piece of service had not
been so very unpleasant. I laughed when I remembered my grim
forebodings in Gloucestershire. Bullivant had said it would be
damnably risky in the long run, but here was the end and I had
never been in danger of anything worse than making a fool of myself.
I remember that, as I made my way through Bloomsbury, I was
not thinking so much of my triumphant report to Blenkiron as of
my speedy return to the Front. Soon I would be with my beloved
brigade again. I had missed Messines and the first part of Third
Ypres, but the battle was still going on, and I had yet a chance. I
might get a division, for there had been talk of that before I left. I
knew the Army Commander thought a lot of me. But on the whole
I hoped I would be left with the brigade. After all I was an amateur
soldier, and I wasn't certain of my powers with a bigger command.
In Charing Cross Road I thought of Mary, and the brigade
seemed suddenly less attractive. I hoped the war wouldn't last
much longer, though with Russia heading straight for the devil I
didn't know how it was going to stop very soon. I was determined
to see Mary before I left, and I had a good excuse, for I had taken
my orders from her. The prospect entranced me, and I was mooning
along in a happy dream, when I collided violently with in
agitated citizen.
Then I realized that something very odd was happening.
There was a dull sound like the popping of the corks of flat
soda-water bottles. There was a humming, too, from very far up in
the skies. People in the street were either staring at the heavens or
running wildly for shelter. A motor-bus in front of me emptied its
contents in a twinkling; a taxi pulled up with a jar and the driver
and fare dived into a second-hand bookshop. It took me a moment
or two to realize the meaning of it all, and I had scarcely done this
when I got a very practical proof. A hundred yards away a bomb
fell on a street island, shivering every window-pane in a wide
radius, and sending splinters of stone flying about my head. I did
what I had done a hundred times before at the Front, and dropped
flat on my face.
The man who says he doesn't mind being bombed or shelled is
either a liar or a maniac. This London air raid seemed to me a
singularly unpleasant business. I think it was the sight of the decent
civilized life around one and the orderly streets, for what was
perfectly natural in a rubble-heap like Ypres or Arras seemed an
outrage here. I remember once being in billets in a Flanders village
where I had the Maire's house and sat in a room upholstered in cut
velvet, with wax flowers on the mantelpiece and oil paintings of
three generations on the walls. The Boche took it into his head to
shell the place with a long-range naval gun, and I simply loathed it.
It was horrible to have dust and splinters blown into that snug,
homely room, whereas if I had been in a ruined barn I wouldn't
have given the thing two thoughts. In the same way bombs dropping in
central London seemed a grotesque indecency. I hated to see plump
citizens with wild eyes, and nursemaids with scared children, and
miserable women scuttling like rabbits in a warren.
The drone grew louder, and, looking up, I could see the enemy
planes flying in a beautiful formation, very leisurely as it seemed,
with all London at their mercy. Another bomb fell to the right, and
presently bits of our own shrapnel were clattering viciously around
me. I thought it about time to take cover, and ran shamelessly for
the best place I could see, which was a Tube station. Five minutes
before the street had been crowded; now I left behind me a desert
dotted with one bus and three empty taxicabs.
I found the Tube entrance filled with excited humanity. One
stout lady had fainted, and a nurse had become hysterical, but on
the whole people were behaving well. Oddly enough they did not
seem inclined to go down the stairs to the complete security of
underground; but preferred rather to collect where they could still
get a glimpse of the upper world, as if they were torn between fear
of their lives and interest in the spectacle. That crowd gave me a
good deal of respect for my countrymen. But several were badly
rattled, and one man a little way off, whose back was turned, kept
twitching his shoulders as if he had the colic.
I watched him curiously, and a movement of the crowd brought
his face into profile. Then I gasped with amazement, for I saw that
it was Ivery.
And yet it was not Ivery. There were the familiar nondescript
features, the blandness, the plumpness, but all, so to speak, in ruins.
The man was in a blind funk. His features seemed to be dislimning
before my eyes. He was growing sharper, finer, in a way younger, a
man without grip on himself, a shapeless creature in process of
transformation. He was being reduced to his rudiments. Under the
spell of panic he was becoming a new man.
And the crazy thing was that I knew the new man better than the old.
My hands were jammed close to my sides by the crowd; I could
scarcely turn my head, and it was not the occasion for one's neighbours
to observe one's expression. If it had been, mine must have
been a study. My mind was far away from air raids, back in the hot
summer weather Of 1914. I saw a row of villas perched on a
headland above the sea. In the garden of one of them two men
were playing tennis, while I was crouching behind an adjacent
bush. One of these was a plump young man who wore a coloured
scarf round his waist and babbled of golf handicaps ... I saw him
again in the villa dining-room, wearing a dinner-jacket, and lisping
a little. ... I sat opposite him at bridge, I beheld him collared by
two of Macgillivray's men, when his comrade had rushed for the
thirty-nine steps that led to the sea ... I saw, too, the sitting-room
of my old flat in Portland Place and heard little Scudder's quick,
anxious voice talking about the three men he feared most on earth,
one of whom lisped in his speech. I had thought that all three had
long ago been laid under the turf ...
He was not looking my way, and I could devour his face
in safety. There was no shadow of doubt. I had always put him
down as the most amazing actor on earth, for had he not played
the part of the First Sea Lord and deluded that officer's daily
colleagues? But he could do far more than any human actor, for he
could take on a new personality and with it a new appearance, and
live steadily in the character as if he had been born in it ... My
mind was a blank, and I could only make blind gropings at conclusions
... How had he escaped the death of a spy and a murderer,
for I had last seen him in the hands of justice? ... Of course he had
known me from the first day in Biggleswick ... I had thought to
play with him, and he had played most cunningly and damnably
with me. In that sweating sardine-tin of refugees I shivered in the
bitterness of my chagrin.
And then I found his face turned to mine, and I knew that he
recognized me.
more, I knew that he knew that I had recognized him - not as
Ivery, but as that other man. There came into his eyes a curious
look of comprehension, which for a moment overcame his funk.
I had sense enough to see that that put the final lid on it. There
was still something doing if he believed that I was blind, but if he
once thought that I knew the truth he would be through our
meshes and disappear like a fog.
My first thought was to get at him and collar him and summon
everybody to help me by denouncing him for what he was. Then I
saw that that was impossible. I was a private soldier in a borrowed
uniform, and he could easily turn the story against me. I must use
surer weapons. I must get to Bullivant and Macgillivray and set
their big machine to work. Above all I must get to Blenkiron.
I started to squeeze out of that push, for air raids now seemed far
too trivial to give a thought to. Moreover the guns had stopped,
but so sheeplike is human nature that the crowd still hung together,
and it took me a good fifteen minutes to edge my way to the open
air. I found that the trouble was over, and the street had resumed
its usual appearance. Buses and taxis were running, and voluble
knots of people were recounting their experiences. I started off for
Blenkiron's bookshop, as the nearest harbour of refuge.
But in Piccadilly Circus I was stopped by a military policeman.
He asked my name and battalion, and I gave him them, while his
suspicious eye ran over my figure. I had no pack or rifle, and the
crush in the Tube station had not improved my appearance. I
explained that I was going back to France that evening, and he
asked for my warrant. I fancy my preoccupation made me nervous
and I lied badly. I said I had left it with my kit in the house of my
married sister, but I fumbled in giving the address. I could see that
the fellow did not believe a word of it.
just then up came an A.P.M. He was a pompous dug-out, very
splendid in his red tabs and probably bucked up at having just been
under fire. Anyhow he was out to walk in the strict path of duty.
'Tomkins!' he said. 'Tomkins! We've got some fellow of that
name on our records. Bring him along, Wilson.'
'But, sir,' I said, 'I must - I simply must meet my friend. It's
urgent business, and I assure you I'm all right. If you don't believe
me, I'll take a taxi and we'll go down to Scotland Yard and I'll
stand by what they say.'
His brow grew dark with wrath. 'What infernal nonsense is this?
Scotland Yard! What the devil has Scotland Yard to do with it?
You're an imposter. I can see it in your face. I'll have your depot
rung up, and you'll be in jail in a couple of hours. I know a
deserter when I see him. Bring him along, Wilson. You know what
to do if he tries to bolt.'
I had a momentary thought of breaking away, but decided that
the odds were too much against me. Fuming with impatience, I
followed the A.P.M. to his office on the first floor in a side street.
The precious minutes were slipping past; Ivery, now thoroughly
warned, was making good his escape; and I, the sole repository of a
deadly secret, was tramping in this absurd procession.
The A.P.M. issued his orders. He gave instructions that my
depot should be rung up, and he bade Wilson remove me to what
he called the guard-room. He sat down at his desk, and busied
himself with a mass of buff dockets.
in desperation I renewed my appeal. 'I implore you to telephone
to Mr Macgillivray at Scotland Yard. It's a matter of life and death,
Sir. You're taking a very big responsibility if you don't.'
I had hopelessly offended his brittle dignity. 'Any more of your
insolence and I'll have you put in irons. I'll attend to you soon
enough for your comfort. Get out of this till I send for you.'
As I looked at his foolish, irritable face I realized that I was fairly
UP against it. Short of assault and battery on everybody I was
bound to submit. I saluted respectfully and was marched away.
The hours I spent in that bare anteroom are like a nightmare in
my recollection. A sergeant was busy at a desk with more buff
dockets and an orderly waited on a stool by a telephone. I looked at
my watch and observed that it was one o'clock. Soon the slamming
of a door announced that the A.P.M. had gone to lunch. I tried
conversation with the fat sergeant, but he very soon shut me up. So
I sat hunched up on the wooden form and chewed the cud of my vexation.
I thought with bitterness of the satisfaction which had filled me
in the morning. I had fancied myself the devil of a fine fellow, and
I had been no more than a mountebank. The adventures of the past
days seemed merely childish. I had been telling lies and cutting
capers over half Britain, thinking I was playing a deep game, and I
had only been behaving like a schoolboy. On such occasions a man
is rarely just to himself, and the intensity of my self-abasement
would have satisfied my worst enemy. It didn't console me that the
futility of it all was not my blame. I was looking for excuses. It was
the facts that cried out against me, and on the facts I had been an
idiotic failure.
For of course Ivery had played with me, played with me since
the first day at Biggleswick. He had applauded my speeches and
flattered me, and advised me to go to the Clyde, laughing at me all
the time. Gresson, too, had known. Now I saw it all. He had tried
to drown me between Colonsay and Mull. It was Gresson who had
set the police on me in Morvern. The bagman Linklater had been
one of Gresson's creatures. The only meagre consolation was that
the gang had thought me dangerous enough to attempt to murder
me, and that they knew nothing about my doings in Skye. Of that I
was positive. They had marked me down, but for several days I had
slipped clean out of their ken.
As I went over all the incidents, I asked if everything was yet
lost. I had failed to hoodwink Ivery, but I had found out his post
office, and if he only believed I hadn't recognized him for the
miscreant of the Black Stone he would go on in his old ways and
play into Blenkiron's hands. Yes, but I had seen him in undress, so
to speak, and he knew that I had so seen him. The only thing now
was to collar him before he left the country, for there was ample
evidence to hang him on. The law must stretch out its long arm
and collect him and Gresson and the Portuguese Jew, try them by
court martial, and put them decently underground.
But he had now had more than an hour's warning, and I was
entangled with red-tape in this damned A.P.M.'s office. The thought
drove me frantic, and I got up and paced the floor. I saw the
orderly with rather a scared face making ready to press the bell, and
I noticed that the fat sergeant had gone to lunch.
'Say, mate,' I said, 'don't you feel inclined to do a poor fellow a
good turn? I know I'm for it all right, and I'll take my medicine
like a lamb. But I want badly to put a telephone call through.'
'It ain't allowed,' was the answer. 'I'd get 'ell from the old man.'
'But he's gone out,' I urged. 'I don't want you to do anything
wrong, mate, I leave you to do the talkin' if you'll only send my
message. I'm flush of money, and I don't mind handin' you a quid
for the job.'
He was a pinched little man with a weak chin, and he
obviously wavered.
''Oo d'ye want to talk to?' he asked.
'Scotland Yard,' I said, 'the home of the police. Lord bless you,
there can't be no harm in that. Ye've only got to ring up Scotland
Yard - I'll give you the number - and give the message to Mr
Macgillivray. He's the head bummer of all the bobbies.'
'That sounds a bit of all right,' he said. 'The old man 'e won't be
back for 'alf an hour, nor the sergeant neither. Let's see your
quid though.'
I laid a pound note on the form beside me. 'It's yours, mate, if
you get through to Scotland Yard and speak the piece I'm goin' to
give you.'
He went over to the instrument. 'What d'you want to say to the
bloke with the long name?'
'Say that Richard Hannay is detained at the A.P.M.'s office in
Claxton Street. Say he's got important news - say urgent and secret
news - and ask Mr Macgillivray to do something about it at once.'
'But 'Annay ain't the name you gave.'
'Lord bless you, no. Did you never hear of a man borrowin'
another name? Anyhow that's the one I want you to give.'
'But if this Mac man comes round 'ere, they'll know 'e's bin rung
up, and I'll 'ave the old man down on me.'
It took ten minutes and a second pound note to get him past this
hurdle. By and by he screwed up courage and rang up the number.
I listened with some nervousness while he gave my message - he
had to repeat it twice - and waited eagerly on the next words.
'No, sir,' I heard him say, "e don't want you to come round 'ere.
E thinks as 'ow - I mean to say, 'e wants -'
I took a long stride and twitched the receiver from him.
'Macgillivray,' I said, 'is that you? Richard Hannay! For the love
of God come round here this instant and deliver me from the
clutches of a tomfool A.P.M. I've got the most deadly news.
There's not a second to waste. For God's sake come quick!' Then I
added: 'Just tell your fellows to gather Ivery in at once. You know his
I hung up the receiver and faced a pale and indignant orderly.
'It's all right,' I said. 'I promise you that you won't get into any
trouble on my account. And there's your two quid.'
The door in the next room opened and shut. The A.P.M. had
returned from lunch ...
Ten minutes later the door opened again. I heard Macgillivray's
voice, and it was not pitched in dulcet tones. He had run up against
minor officialdom and was making hay with it.
I was my own master once more, so I forsook the company of
the orderly. I found a most rattled officer trying to save a few rags
of his dignity and the formidable figure of Macgillivray instructing
him in manners.
'Glad to see you, Dick,' he said. 'This is General Hannay, sir. It
may comfort you to know that your folly may have made just the
difference between your country's victory and defeat. I shall have a
word to say to your superiors.'
It was hardly fair. I had to put in a word for the old fellow,
whose red tabs seemed suddenly to have grown dingy.
'It was my blame wearing this kit. We'll call it a misunderstanding
and forget it. But I would suggest that civility is not wasted even
on a poor devil of a defaulting private soldier.'
Once in Macgillivray's car, I poured out my tale. 'Tell me it's a
nightmare,' I cried. 'Tell me that the three men we collected on the
Ruff were shot long ago.'
'Two,' he replied, 'but one escaped. Heaven knows how he
managed it, but he disappeared clean out of the world.'
'The plump one who lisped in his speech?'
Macgillivray nodded.
'Well, we're in for it this time. Have you issued instructions?'
'Yes. With luck we shall have our hands on him within an hour.
We've our net round all his haunts.'
'But two hours' start! It's a big handicap, for you're dealing with
a genius.'
'Yet I think we can manage it. Where are you bound for?'
I told him my rooms in Westminster and then to my old flat in
Park Lane. 'The day of disguises is past. In half an hour I'll be
Richard Hannay. It'll be a comfort to get into uniform again. Then
I'll look up Blenkiron.'
He grinned. 'I gather you've had a riotous time. We've had a
good many anxious messages from the north about a certain Mr
Brand. I couldn't discourage our men, for I fancied it might have
spoiled your game. I heard that last night they had lost touch with
you in Bradfield, so I rather expected to see you here today. Efficient
body of men the Scottish police.'
'Especially when they have various enthusiastic amateur helpers.'
'So?' he said. 'Yes, of course. They would have. But I hope
presently to congratulate you on the success of your mission.'
'I'll bet you a pony you don't,' I said.
'I never bet on a professional subject. Why this pessimism?'
'Only that I know our gentleman better than you. I've been
twice up against him. He's the kind of wicked that don't cease from
troubling till they're stone-dead. And even then I'd want to see the
body cremated and take the ashes into mid-ocean and scatter them.
I've got a feeling that he's the biggest thing you or I will
ever tackle.'
The Valley of Humiliation
I collected some baggage and a pile of newly arrived letters from
my rooms in Westminster and took a taxi to my Park Lane flat.
Usually I had gone back to that old place with a great feeling of
comfort, like a boy from school who ranges about his room at
home and examines his treasures. I used to like to see my hunting
trophies on the wall and to sink into my own armchairs But now I
had no pleasure in the thing. I had a bath, and changed into
uniform, and that made me feel in better fighting trim. But I
suffered from a heavy conviction of abject failure, and had no share
in Macgillivray's optimism. The awe with which the Black Stone
gang had filled me three years before had revived a thousandfold.
Personal humiliation was the least part of my trouble. What worried
me was the sense of being up against something inhumanly formidable
and wise and strong. I believed I was willing to own defeat
and chuck up the game.
Among the unopened letters was one from Peter, a very bulky
one which I sat down to read at leisure. It was a curious epistle, far
the longest he had ever written me, and its size made me understand
his loneliness. He was still at his German prison-camp, but expecting
every day to go to Switzerland. He said he could get back to
England or South Africa, if he wanted, for they were clear that he
could never be a combatant again; but he thought he had better
stay in Switzerland, for he would be unhappy in England with all
his friends fighting. As usual he made no complaints, and seemed
to be very grateful for his small mercies. There was a doctor who
was kind to him, and some good fellows among the prisoners.
But Peter's letter was made up chiefly of reflection. He had
always been a bit of a philosopher, and now, in his isolation, he had
taken to thinkin hard, and poured out the results to me on pages
of thin paper in his clumsy handwriting. I could read between the
lines that he was having a stiff fight with himself. He was trying to
keep his courage going in face of the bitterest trial he could be
called on to face - a crippled old age. He had always known a good
deal about the Bible, and that and the_Pilgrim's _Progress were his
chief aids in reflection. Both he took quite literally, as if they were
newspaper reports of actual recent events.
He mentioned that after much consideration he had reached the
conclusion that the three greatest men he had ever heard of or met
were Mr Valiant-for-Truth, the Apostle Paul, and a certain Billy
Strang who had been with him in Mashonaland in '92. Billy I knew
all about; he had been Peter's hero and leader till a lion got him in
the Blaauwberg. Peter preferred Valiant-for-Truth to Mr Greatheart, I
think, because of his superior truculence, for, being very
gentle himself, he loved a bold speaker. After that he dropped into
a vein of self-examination. He regretted that he fell far short of any
of the three. He thought that he might with luck resemble Mr
Standfast, for like him he had not much trouble in keeping wakeful,
and was also as 'poor as a howler', and didn't care for women. He
only hoped that he could imitate him in making a good end.
Then followed some remarks of Peter's on courage, which came
to me in that London room as if spoken by his living voice. I have
never known anyone so brave, so brave by instinct, or anyone who
hated so much to be told so. It was almost the only thing that
could make him angry. All his life he had been facing death, and to
take risks seemed to him as natural as to get up in the morning and
eat his breakfast. But he had started out to consider the very thing
which before he had taken for granted, and here is an extract from
his conclusions. I paraphrase him, for he was not grammatical.
__It's easy enough to be brave if you're feeling well and have
food inside you. And it's not so difficult even if you're short of a meal
and seedy, for that makes you inclined to gamble. I mean by being brave
playing the game by the right rules without letting it worry you that you
may very likely get knocked on the head. It's the wisest way to save
your skin. It doesn't do to think about death if you're facing a charging
lion or trying to bluff a lot of savages. If you think about it you'll get
it; if you don't, the odds are you won't. That kind of courage is only
good nerves and experience ... Most courage is experience. Most people
are a little scared at new things ...
__You want a bigger heart to face danger which you go out to look
for, and which doesn't come to you in the ordinary way of business.
Still, that's Pretty much the same thing - good nerves and good health,
and a natural liking for rows. You see, Dick, in all that game there's a lot Of
fun. There's excitement and the fun of using your wits and skill, and you
know that the bad bits can't last long. When Arcoll sent me to Makapan's
kraal I didn't altogether fancy the job, but at the worst it was three parts
sport, and I got so excited that I never thought of the risk till it
was over ...
__But the big courage is the cold-blooded kind, the kind that never
lets go even when you're feeling empty inside, and your blood's thin, and
there's no kind of fun or profit to be had, and the trouble's not over in
an hour or two but lasts for months and years. One of the men here was
speaking about that kind, and he called it 'Fortitude'. I reckon fortitude's
the biggest thing a man can have - just to go on enduring when there's no
guts or heart left in you. Billy had it when he trekked solitary from
Garungoze to the Limpopo with fever and a broken arm just to show the
Portugooses that he wouldn't be downed by them. But the head man at the job
was the Apostle _Paul ...
Peter was writing for his own comfort, for fortitude was all that
was left to him now. But his words came pretty straight to me, and
I read them again and again, for I needed the lesson. Here was I
losing heart just because I had failed in the first round and my pride
had taken a knock. I felt honestly ashamed of myself, and that made
me a far happier man. There could be no question of dropping the
business, whatever its difficulties. I had a queer religious feeling
that Ivery and I had our fortunes intertwined, and that no will of
mine could keep us apart. I had faced him before the war and won;
I had faced him again and lost; the third time or the twentieth time
we would reach a final decision. The whole business had hitherto
appeared to me a trifle unreal, at any rate my own connection with
it. I had been docilely obeying orders, but my real self had been
standing aside and watching my doings with a certain aloofness.
But that hour in the Tube station had brought me into the serum,
and I saw the affair not as Bullivant's or even Blenkiron's, but as
my own. Before I had been itching to get back to the Front; now I
wanted to get on to Ivery's trail, though it should take me through
the nether pit. Peter was right; fortitude was the thing a man must
possess if he would save his soul.
The hours passed, and, as I expected, there came no word from
Macgillivray. I had some dinner sent up to me at seven o'clock, and
about eight I was thinking of looking up Blenkiron. just then came
a telephone call asking me to go round to Sir Walter Bullivant's
house in Queen Anne's Gate.
Ten minutes later I was ringing the bell, and the door was
opened to me by the same impassive butler who had admitted me
on that famous night three years before. Nothing had changed in
the pleasant green-panelled hall; the alcove was the same as when I
had watched from it the departure of the man who now called
himself Ivery; the telephone book lay in the very place from which
I had snatched it in order to ring up the First Sea Lord. And in the
back room, where that night five anxious officials had conferred, I
found Sir Walter and Blenkiron.
Both looked worried, the American feverishly so. He walked up
and down the hearthrug, sucking an unlit black cigar.
'Say, Dick,' he said, this is a bad business. It wasn't no fault of
yours. You did fine. It was us - me and Sir Walter and Mr
Macgillivray that were the quitters.'
'Any news?' I asked.
'So far the cover's drawn blank,' Sir Walter replied. 'It was the
devil's own work that our friend looked your way today. You're
pretty certain he saw that you recognized him?'
'Absolutely. As sure as that he knew I recognized him in your
hall three years ago when he was swaggering as Lord Alloa.'
'No,' said Blenkiron dolefully, that little flicker of recognition is
just the one thing you can't be wrong about. Land alive! I wish Mr
Macgillivray would come.'
The bell rang, and the door opened, but it was not Macgillivray.
It was a young girl in a white ball-gown, with a cluster of blue
cornflowers at her breast. The sight of her fetched Sir Walter out of
his chair so suddenly that he upset his coffee cup.
'Mary, my dear, how did you manage it? I didn't expect you till
the late train.'
'I was in London, you see, and they telephoned on your telegram.
I'm staying with Aunt Doria, and I cut her theatre party. She thinks
I'm at the Shandwick's dance, so I needn't go home till morning ...
Good evening, General Hannay. You got over the Hill Difficulty.'
'The next stage is the Valley of Humiliation,' I answered.
'So it would appear,' she said gravely, and sat very quietly on the
edge of Sir Walter's chair with her small, cool hand upon his.
I had been picturing her in my recollection as very young and
glimmering, a dancing, exquisite child. But now I revised that
picture. The crystal freshness of morning was still there, but I saw
how deep the waters were. It was the clean fineness and strength
of her that entranced me. I didn't even think of her as pretty,
any more than a man thinks of the good looks of the friend he worships.
We waited, hardly speaking a word, till Macgillivray came. The
first sight of his face told his story.
'Gone?' asked Blenkiron sharply. The man's lethargic calm
seemed to have wholly deserted him.
'Gone,' repeated the newcomer. 'We have just tracked him
down. Oh, he managed it cleverly. Never a sign of disturbance in
any of his lairs. His dinner ordered at Biggleswick and several
people invited to stay with him for the weekend - one a member of
the Government. Two meetings at which he was to speak arranged
for next week. Early this afternoon he flew over to France as a
passenger in one of the new planes. He had been mixed up with the
Air Board people for months - of course as another man with
another face. Miss Lamington discovered that just too late. The bus
went out of its course and came down in Normandy. By this time
our man's in Paris or beyond it.'
Sir Walter took off his big tortoiseshell spectacles and laid them
carefully on the table.
'Roll up the map of Europe,' he said. 'This is our Austerlitz.
Mary, my dear, I am feeling very old.'
Macgillivray had the sharpened face of a bitterly disappointed
man. Blenkiron had got very red, and I could see that he was
blaspheming violently under his breath. Mary's eyes were quiet and
solemn. She kept on patting Sir Walter's hand. The sense of some
great impending disaster hung heavily on me, and to break the spell
I asked for details.
'Tell me just the extent of the damage,' I asked. 'Our neat plan
for deceiving the Boche has failed. That is bad. A dangerous spy
has got beyond our power. That's worse. Tell me, is there still a
worst? What's the limit of mischief he can do?'
Sir Walter had risen and joined Blenkiron on the hearthrug. His
brows were furrowed and his mouth hard as if he were suffering Pain.
'There is no limit,' he said. 'None that I can see, except the longsuffering
of God. You know the man as Ivery, and you knew him
as that other whom you believed to have been shot one summer
morning and decently buried. You feared the second - at least if
you didn't, I did - most mortally. You realized that we feared
Ivery, and you knew enough about him to see his fiendish cleverness.
Well, you have the two men combined in one man. Ivery
was the best brain Macgillivray and I ever encountered, the most
cunning and patient and long-sighted. Combine him with the other,
the chameleon who can blend himself with his environment, and
has as many personalities as there are types and traits on the earth.
What kind of enemy is that to have to fight?'
'I admit it's a steep proposition. But after all how much ill can he
do? There are pretty strict limits to the activity of even the
cleverest spy.'
'I agree. But this man is not a spy who buys a few wretched
subordinates and steals a dozen private letters. He's a genius who
has been living as part of our English life. There's nothing he
hasn't seen. He's been on terms of intimacy with all kinds of
politicians. We know that. He did it as Ivery. They rather liked
him, for he was clever and flattered them, and they told him things.
But God knows what he saw and heard in his other personalities.
For all I know he may have breakfasted at Downing Street with
letters of introduction from President Wilson, or visited the Grand
Fleet as a distinguished neutral. Then think of the women; how
they talk. We're the leakiest society on earth, and we safeguard
ourselves by keeping dangerous people out of it. We trust to our
outer barrage. But anyone who has really slipped inside has a
million chances. And this, remember, is one man in ten millions, a
man whose brain never sleeps for a moment, who is quick to seize
the slightest hint, who can piece a plan together out of a dozen bits
of gossip. It's like - it's as if the Chief of the Intelligence
Department were suddenly to desert to the enemy ... The ordinary spy
knows only bits of unconnected facts. This man knows our life and
our way of thinking and everything about us.'
'Well, but a treatise on English life in time of war won't do
much good to the Boche.'
Sir Walter shook his head. 'Don't you realize the explosive stuff
that is lying about? Ivery knows enough to make the next German
peace offensive really deadly - not the blundering thing which it
has been up to now, but something which gets our weak spots on
the raw. He knows enough to wreck our campaign in the field.
And the awful thing is that we don't know just what he knows or
what he is aiming for. This war's a packet of surprises. Both sides
are struggling for the margin, the little fraction of advantage, and
between evenly matched enemies it's just the extra atom of
foreknowledge that tells.'
'Then we've got to push off and get after him,' I said cheerfully.
'But what are you going to do?' asked Macgillivray. 'If it were
merely a question of destroying an organization it might be
managed, for an organization presents a big front. But it's a question
of destroying this one man, and his front is a razor edge. How are
you going to find him? It's like looking for a needle in a haystack,
and such a needle! A needle which can become a piece of straw or a
tin-tack when it chooses!'
'All the same we've got to do it,' I said, remembering old Peter's
lesson on fortitude, though I can't say I was feeling very stout-hearted.
Sir Walter flung himself wearily into an arm-chair. 'I wish I
could be an optimist,' he said, 'but it looks as if we must own
defeat. I've been at this work for twenty years, and, though I've
been often beaten, I've always held certain cards in the game. Now
I'm hanged if I've any. It looks like a knock-out, Hannay. It's no
good deluding ourselves. We're men enough to look facts in the
face and tell ourselves the truth. I don't see any ray of light in the
business. We've missed our shot by a hairsbreadth and that's the
same as missing by miles.'
I remember he looked at Mary as if for confirmation, but she did
not smile or nod. Her face was very grave and her eyes looked
steadily at him. Then they moved and met mine, and they seemed
to give me my marching orders.
'Sir Walter,' I said, 'three years ago you and I sat in this very
room. We thought we were done to the world, as we think now.
We had just that one miserable little clue to hang on to - a dozen
words scribbled in a notebook by a dead man. You thought I was
mad when I asked for Scudder's book, but we put our backs into
the job and in twenty-four hours we had won out. Remember that
then we were fighting against time. Now we have a reasonable
amount of leisure. Then we had nothing but a sentence of gibberish.
Now we have a great body of knowledge, for Blenkiron has been
brooding over Ivery like an old hen, and he knows his ways of
working and his breed of confederate. You've got something to
work on now. Do you mean to tell me that, when the stakes are so
big, you're going to chuck in your hand?'
Macgillivray raised his head. 'We know a good deal about Ivery,
but Ivery's dead. We know nothing of the man who was gloriously
resurrected this evening in Normandy.'
'Oh, yes we do. There are many faces to the man, but only one
mind, and you know plenty about that mind.'
'I wonder,' said Sir Walter. 'How can you know a mind which
has no characteristics except that it is wholly and supremely competent?
Mere mental powers won't give us a clue. We want to know
the character which is behind all the personalities. Above all we
want to know its foibles. If we had only a hint of some weakness
we might make a plan.'
'Well, let's set down all we know,' I cried, for the more I argued
the keener I grew. I told them in some detail the story of the night
in the Coolin and what I had heard there.
'There's the two names Chelius and Bommaerts. The man spoke
them in the same breath as Effenbein, so they must be associated
with Ivery's gang. You've got to get the whole Secret Service of
the Allies busy to fit a meaning to these two words. Surely to
goodness you'll find something! Remember those names don't
belong to the Ivery part, but to the big game behind all the different
disguises ... Then there's the talk about the Wild Birds and the
Cage Birds. I haven't a guess at what it means. But it refers to some
infernal gang, and among your piles of records there must be some
clue. You set the intelligence of two hemispheres busy on the job.
You've got all the machinery, and it's my experience that if even
one solitary man keeps chewing on at a problem he discovers something.'
My enthusiasm was beginning to strike sparks from Macgillivray.
He was looking thoughtful now, instead of despondent.
'There might be something in that,' he said, 'but it's a far-out
'Of course it's a far-out chance, and that's all we're ever going to
get from Ivery. But we've taken a bad chance before and won ...
Then you've all that you know about Ivery here. Go through his
_dossier with a small-tooth comb and I'll bet you find something to
work on. Blenkiron, you're a man with a cool head. You admit
we've a sporting chance.'
'Sure, Dick. He's fixed things so that the lines are across the
track, but we'll clear somehow. So far as John S. Blenkiron is
concerned he's got just one thing to do in this world, and that's to
follow the yellow dog and have him neatly and cleanly tidied up.
I've got a stack of personal affronts to settle. I was easy fruit and he
hasn't been very respectful. You can count me in, Dick.'
'Then we're agreed,' I cried. 'Well, gentlemen, it's up to you to
arrange the first stage. You've some pretty solid staff work to put
in before you get on the trail.'
'And you?' Sir Walter asked.
'I'm going back to my brigade. I want a rest and a change.
Besides, the first stage is office work, and I'm no use for that. But
I'll be waiting to be summoned, and I'll come like a shot as soon as
you hoick me out. I've got a presentiment about this thing. I know
there'll be a finish and that I'll be in at it, and I think it will be a
desperate, bloody business too.'
I found Mary's eyes fixed upon me, and in them I read the same
thought. She had not spoken a word, but had sat on the edge of a
chair, swinging a foot idly, one hand playing with an ivory fan. She
had given me my old orders and I looked to her for confirmation
of the new.
'Miss Lamington, you are the wisest of the lot of us. What do
you say?'
She smiled - that shy, companionable smile which I had been
picturing to myself through all the wanderings of the past month.
'I think you are right. We've a long way to go yet, for the Valley
of Humiliation comes only half-way in the_Pilgrim's _Progress. The
next stage was Vanity Fair. I might be of some use there, don't
you think?'
I remember the way she laughed and flung back her head like a
gallant boy.
'The mistake we've all been making,' she said, 'is that our
methods are too terre-a-terre. We've a poet to deal with, a great
poet, and we must fling our imaginations forward to catch up with
him. His strength is his unexpectedness, you know, and we won't
beat him by plodding only. I believe the wildest course is the
wisest, for it's the most likely to intersect his ... Who's the poet
among us?'
'Peter,' I said. 'But he's pinned down with a game leg in Germany.
All the same we must rope him in.'
By this time we had all cheered up, for it is wonderful what a
tonic there is in a prospect of action. The butler brought in tea,
which it was Bullivant's habit to drink after dinner. To me it
seemed fantastic to watch a slip of a girl pouring it out for two
grizzled and distinguished servants of the State and one battered
soldier - as decorous a family party as you would ask to see - and
to reflect that all four were engaged in an enterprise where men's
lives must be reckoned at less than thistledown.
After that we went upstairs to a noble Georgian drawing-room
and Mary played to us. I don't care two straws for music from an
instrument - unless it be the pipes or a regimental band - but I
dearly love the human voice. But she would not sing, for singing to
her, I fancy, was something that did not come at will, but flowed
only like a bird's note when the mood favoured. I did not want it
either. I was content to let 'Cherry Ripe' be the one song linked
with her in my memory.
It was Macgillivray who brought us back to business.
'I wish to Heaven there was one habit of mind we could definitely
attach to him and to no one else.' (At this moment 'He' had only
one meaning for us.)
'You can't do nothing with his mind,' Blenkiron drawled. 'You
can't loose the bands of Orion, as the Bible says, or hold Leviathan
with a hook. I reckoned I could and made a mighty close study of
his de-vices. But the darned cuss wouldn't stay put. I thought I had
tied him down to the double bluff, and he went and played the
triple bluff on me. There's nothing doing that line.'
A memory of Peter recurred to me.
'What about the "blind spot"?' I asked, and I told them old
Peter's pet theory. 'Every man that God made has his weak spot
somewhere, some flaw in his character which leaves a dull patch
in his brain. We've got to find that out, and I think I've made a
Macgillivray in a sharp voice asked my meaning.
'He's in a funk ... of something. Oh, I don't mean he's a
coward. A man in his trade wants the nerve of a buffalo. He could
give us all points in courage. What I mean is that he's not clean
white all through. There are yellow streaks somewhere in him ...
I've given a good deal of thought to this courage business, for I
haven't got a great deal of it myself. Not like Peter, I mean. I've
got heaps of soft places in me. I'm afraid of being drowned for one
thing, or of getting my eyes shot out. Ivery's afraid of bombs - at
any rate he's afraid of bombs in a big city. I once read a book
which talked about a thing called agoraphobia. Perhaps it's that ...
Now if we know that weak spot it helps us in our work. There are
some places he won't go to, and there are some things he can't do -
not well, anyway. I reckon that's useful.'
'Ye-es,' said Macgillivray. 'Perhaps it's not what you'd call a
burning and a shining light.'
'There's another chink in his armour,' I went on. 'There's one
person in the world he can never practise his transformations on,
and that's me. I shall always know him again, though he appeared
as Sir Douglas Haig. I can't explain why, but I've got a feel in my
bones about it. I didn't recognize him before, for I thought he was
dead, and the nerve in my brain which should have been looking
for him wasn't working. But I'm on my guard now, and that
nerve's functioning at full power. Whenever and wherever and
howsoever we meet again on the face of the earth, it will be "Dr
Livingstone, I presume" between him and me.'
'That is better,' said Macgillivray. 'If we have any luck, Hannay,
it won't be long till we pull you out of His Majesty's Forces.'
Mary got up from the piano and resumed her old perch on the
arm of Sir Walter's chair.
'There's another blind spot which you haven't mentioned.' It
was a cool evening, but I noticed that her cheeks had suddenly flushed.
'Last week Mr Ivery asked me to marry him,' she said.
I Become a Combatant Once More
I returned to France on 13 September, and took over my old
brigade on the 19th of the same month. We were shoved in at the
Polygon Wood on the 26th, and after four days got so badly
mauled that we were brought out to refit. On 7 October, very
much to my surprise, I was given command of a division and was
on the fringes of the Ypres fighting during the first days of November.
From that front we were hurried down to Cambrai in
support, but came in only for the last backwash of that singular
battle. We held a bit of the St Quentin sector till just before
Christmas, when we had a spell of rest in billets, which endured, so
far as I was concerned, till the beginning of January, when I was
sent off on the errand which I shall presently relate.
That is a brief summary of my military record in the latter part
Of 1917. I am not going to enlarge on the fighting. Except for the
days of the Polygon Wood it was neither very severe nor very
distinguished, and you will find it in the history books. What I
have to tell of here is my own personal quest, for all the time I was
living with my mind turned two ways. In the morasses of the
Haanebeek flats, in the slimy support lines at Zonnebeke, in the
tortured uplands about Flesquieres, and in many other odd places I
kept worrying at my private conundrum. At night I would lie
awake thinking of it, and many a toss I took into shell-holes and
many a time I stepped off the duckboards, because my eyes were on
a different landscape. Nobody ever chewed a few wretched clues
into such a pulp as I did during those bleak months in Flanders
and Picardy.
For I had an instinct that the thing was desperately grave, graver
even than the battle before me. Russia had gone headlong to the
devil, Italy had taken it between the eyes and was still dizzy, and
our own prospects were none too bright. The Boche was getting
uppish and with some cause, and I foresaw a rocky time ahead till
America could line up with us in the field. It was the chance for the
Wild Birds, and I used to wake in a sweat to think what devilry
Ivery might be engineering. I believe I did my proper job reasonably
well, but I put in my most savage thinking over the other. I
remember how I used to go over every hour of every day from that
June night in the Cotswolds till my last meeting with Bullivant in
London, trying to find a new bearing. I should probably have got
brain-fever, if I hadn't had to spend most of my days and nights
fighting a stiffish battle with a very watchful Hun. That kept my
mind balanced, and I dare say it gave an edge to it; for during those
months I was lucky enough to hit on a better scent than Bullivant
and Macgillivray and Blenkiron, pulling a thousand wires in their
London offices.
I will set down in order of time the various incidents in this
private quest of mine. The first was my meeting with Geordie
Hamilton. It happened just after I rejoined the brigade, when I
went down to have a look at our Scots Fusilier battalion. The old
brigade had been roughly handled on 31st July, and had had to get
heavy drafts to come anywhere near strength. The Fusiliers
especially were almost a new lot, formed by joining our remnants
to the remains of a battalion in another division and bringing about
a dozen officers from the training unit at home.
I inspected the men and my eyes caught sight of a familiar face. I
asked his name and the colonel got it from the sergeant-major. It
was Lance-Corporal George Hamilton.
Now I wanted a new batman, and I resolved then and there to
have my old antagonist. That afternoon he reported to me at
brigade headquarters. As I looked at that solid bandy-legged figure,
standing as stiff to attention as a tobacconist's sign, his ugly face
hewn out of brown oak, his honest, sullen mouth, and his blue eyes
staring into vacancy, I knew I had got the man I wanted.
'Hamilton,' I said, 'you and I have met before.'
'Sirr?' came the mystified answer.
'Look at me, man, and tell me if you don't recognize me.'
He moved his eyes a fraction, in a respectful glance.
'Sirr, I don't mind of you.'
'Well, I'll refresh your memory. Do you remember the hall in
Newmilns Street and the meeting there? You had a fight with a
man outside, and got knocked down.'
He made no answer, but his colour deepened.
'And a fortnight later in a public-house in Muirtown you saw the
same man, and gave him the chase of his life.'
I could see his mouth set, for visions of the penalties laid down
by the King's Regulations for striking an officer must have crossed
his mind. But he never budged.
'Look me in the face, man,' I said. 'Do you remember me now?'
He did as he was bid.
'Sirr, I mind of you.'
'Have you nothing more to say?'
He cleared his throat. 'Sirr, I did not ken I was hittin' an officer.'
'Of course you didn't. You did perfectly right, and if the war
was over and we were both free men, I would give you a chance of
knocking me down here and now. That's got to wait. When you
saw me last I was serving my country, though you didn't know it.
We're serving together now, and you must get your revenge out of
the Boche. I'm going to make you my servant, for you and I have a
pretty close bond between us. What do you say to that?'
This time he looked me full in the face. His troubled eye appraised
me and was satisfied. 'I'm proud to be servant to ye, sirr,' he said.
Then out of his chest came a strangled chuckle, and he forgot his
discipline. 'Losh, but ye're the great lad!' He recovered himself
promptly, saluted, and marched off.
The second episode befell during our brief rest after the Polygon
Wood, when I had ridden down the line one afternoon to see a
friend in the Heavy Artillery. I was returning in the drizzle of
evening, clanking along the greasy path between the sad poplars,
when I struck a Labour company repairing the ravages of a Boche
strafe that morning. I wasn't very certain of my road and asked one
of the workers. He straightened himself and saluted, and I saw
beneath a disreputable cap the features of the man who had been
with me in the Coolin crevice.
I spoke a word to his sergeant, who fell him out, and he walked
a bit of the way with me.
'Great Scot, Wake, what brought you here?' I asked.
'Same thing as brought you. This rotten war.'
I had dismounted and was walking beside him, and I noticed that
his lean face had lost its pallor and that his eyes were less hot than
they used to be.
'You seem to thrive on it,' I said, for I did not know what to
say. A sudden shyness possessed me. Wake must have gone through
some violent cyclones of feeling before it came to this. He saw
what I was thinking and laughed in his sharp, ironical way.
'Don't flatter yourself you've made a convert. I think as I always
thought. But I came to the conclusion that since the fates had made
me a Government servant I might as well do my work somewhere
less cushioned than a chair in the Home Office ... Oh, no, it
wasn't a matter of principle. One kind of work's as good as another,
and I'm a better clerk than a navvy. With me it was self-indulgence:
I wanted fresh air and exercise.'
I looked at him - mud to the waist, and his hands all blistered
and cut with unaccustomed labour. I could realize what his associates
must mean to him, and how he would relish the rough
tonguing of non-coms.
'You're a confounded humbug,' I said. 'Why on earth didn't you
go into an O.T.C. and come out with a commission? They're easy
enough to get.'
'You mistake my case,' he said bitterly. 'I experienced no sudden
conviction about the justice of the war. I stand where I always
stood. I'm a non-combatant, and I wanted a change of civilian
work ... No, it wasn't any idiotic tribunal sent me here. I came of
my own free will, and I'm really rather enjoying myself.'
'It's a rough job for a man like you,' I said.
'Not so rough as the fellows get in the trenches. I watched a
battalion marching back today and they looked like ghosts who had
been years in muddy graves. White faces and dazed eyes and leaden
feet. Mine's a cushy job. I like it best when the weather's foul. It
cheats me into thinking I'm doing my duty.'
I nodded towards a recent shell-hole. 'Much of that sort of
'Now and then. We had a good dusting this morning. I can't say
I liked it at the time, but I like to look back on it. A sort of
moral anodyne.'
'I wonder what on earth the rest of your lot make of you?'
'They don't make anything. I'm not remarkable for my _bonhomie.
They think I'm a prig - which I am. It doesn't amuse me to talk
about beer and women or listen to a gramophone or grouse about
my last meal. But I'm quite content, thank you. Sometimes I get a
seat in a corner of a Y.M.C.A. hut, and I've a book or two. My
chief affliction is the padre. He was up at Keble in my time, and, as
one of my colleagues puts it, wants to be "too bloody helpful". ...
What are you doing, Hannay? I see you're some kind of general.
They're pretty thick on the ground here.'
'I'm a sort of general. Soldiering in the Salient isn't the softest of
jobs, but I don't believe it's as tough as yours is for you. D'you
know, Wake, I wish I had you in my brigade. Trained or untrained,
you're a dashed stout-hearted fellow.'
He laughed with a trifle less acidity than usual. 'Almost thou
persuadest me to be combatant. No, thank you. I haven't the
courage, and besides there's my jolly old principles. All the same
I'd like to be near you. You're a good chap, and I've had the
honour to assist in your education ... I must be getting back, or
the sergeant will think I've bolted.'
We shook hands, and the last I saw of him was a figure saluting
stiffly in the wet twilight.
The third incident was trivial enough, though momentous in its
results. just before I got the division I had a bout of malaria. We
were in support in the Salient, in very uncomfortable trenches
behind Wieltje, and I spent three days on my back in a dug-out.
Outside was a blizzard of rain, and the water now and then came
down the stairs through the gas curtain and stood in pools at my
bed foot. It wasn't the merriest place to convalesce in, but I was as
hard as nails at the time and by the third day I was beginning to sit
up and be bored.
I read all my English papers twice and a big stack of German
ones which I used to have sent up by a friend in the G.H.Q.
Intelligence, who knew I liked to follow what the Boche was
saying. As I dozed and ruminated in the way a man does after
fever, I was struck by the tremendous display of one advertisement
in the English press. It was a thing called 'Gussiter's Deep-breathing
System,' which, according to its promoter, was a cure for every ill,
mental, moral, or physical, that man can suffer. Politicians, generals,
admirals, and music-hall artists all testified to the new life it had
opened up for them. I remember wondering what these sportsmen
got for their testimonies, and thinking I would write a spoof letter
myself to old Gussiter.
Then I picked up the German papers, and suddenly my eye
caught an advertisement of the same kind in the _Frankfurter _Zeitung.
It was not Gussiter this time, but one Weissmann, but his game
was identical - 'deep breathing'. The Hun style was different from
the English - all about the Goddess of Health, and the Nymphs of
the Mountains, and two quotations from Schiller. But the principle
was the same.
That made me ponder a little, and I went carefully through the
whole batch. I found the advertisement in the _Frankfurter and in
one or two rather obscure _Volkstimmes and _Volkszeitungs. I found it
too in _Der _Grosse _Krieg, the official German propagandist picturepaper.
They were the same all but one, and that one had a bold
variation, for it contained four of the sentences used in the ordinary
English advertisement.
This struck me as fishy, and I started to write a letter to
Macgillivray pointing out what seemed to be a case of trading with the
enemy, and advising him to get on to Mr Gussiter's financial
backing. I thought he might find a Hun syndicate behind him. And
then I had another notion, which made me rewrite my letter.
I went through the papers again. The English ones which contained
the advertisement were all good, solid, bellicose organs; the
kind of thing no censorship would object to leaving the country. I
had before me a small sheaf of pacifist prints, and they had not
the advertisement. That might be for reasons of circulation, or it
might not. The German papers were either Radical or Socialist publications,
just the opposite of the English lot, except the _Grosse _Krieg. Now
we have a free press, and Germany has, strictly speaking, none. All
her journalistic indiscretions are calculated. Therefore the Boche
has no objection to his rags getting to enemy countries. He wants
it. He likes to see them quoted in columns headed 'Through German
Glasses', and made the text of articles showing what a good
democrat he is becoming.
As I puzzled over the subject, certain conclusions began to form
in my mind. The four identical sentences seemed to hint that 'Deep
Breathing' had Boche affiliations. Here was a chance of communicating
with the enemy which would defy the argus-eyed gentlemen
who examine the mails. What was to hinder Mr A at one end
writing an advertisement with a good cipher in it, and the paper
containing it getting into Germany by Holland in three days? Herr
B at the other end replied in the _Frankfurter, and a few days later
shrewd editors and acute Intelligence officers - and Mr A - were
reading it in London, though only Mr A knew what it really meant.
It struck me as a bright idea, the sort of simple thing that doesn't
occur to clever people, and very rarely to the Boche. I wished I was
not in the middle of a battle, for I would have had a try at
investigating the cipher myself. I wrote a long letter to Macgillivray
putting my case, and then went to sleep. When I awoke I reflected
that it was a pretty thin argument, and would have stopped the
letter, if it hadn't gone off early by a ration party.
After that things began very slowly to happen. The first was
when Hamilton, having gone to Boulogne to fetch some messstores,
returned with the startling news that he had seen Gresson.
He had not heard his name, but described him dramatically to me
as the wee red-headed devil that kicked Ecky Brockie's knee yon
time in Glesca, sirr,' I recognized the description.
Gresson, it appeared, was joy-riding. He was with a party of Labour
delegates who had been met by two officers and carried off in
chars-a-bancs. Hamilton reported from inquiries among his friends that
this kind of visitor came weekly. I thought it a very sensible notion
on the Government's part, but I wondered how Gresson had been
selected. I had hoped that Macgillivray had weeks ago made a
long arm and quodded him. Perhaps they had too little evidence to
hang him, but he was the blackest sort of suspect and should have
been interned.
A week later I had occasion to be at G.H.Q. on business connected
with my new division. My friends in the Intelligence allowed
me to use the direct line to London, and I called up Macgillivray.
For ten minutes I had an exciting talk, for I had had no news from
that quarter since I left England. I heard that the Portuguese Jew
had escaped - had vanished from his native heather when they
went to get him. They had identified him as a German professor of
Celtic languages, who had held a chair in a Welsh college - a
dangerous fellow, for he was an upright, high-minded, raging fanatic.
Against Gresson they had no evidence at all, but he was kept
under strict observation. When I asked about his crossing to France,
Macgillivray replied that that was part of their scheme. I inquired if
the visit had given them any clues, but I never got an answer, for
the line had to be cleared at that moment for the War Office.
I hunted up the man who had charge of these Labour visits, and
made friends with him. Gresson, he said, had been a quiet, wellmannered,
and most appreciative guest. He had wept tears on Vimy
Ridge, and - strictly against orders - had made a speech to some
troops he met on the Arras road about how British Labour was
remembering the Army in its prayers and sweating blood to make
guns. On the last day he had had a misadventure, for he got very
sick on the road - some kidney trouble that couldn't stand the
jolting of the car - and had to be left at a village and picked up by
the party on its way back. They found him better, but still shaky. I
cross-examined the particular officer in charge about that halt, and
learned that Gresson had been left alone in a peasant's cottage, for
he said he only needed to lie down. The place was the hamlet of
Eaucourt Sainte-Anne.
For several weeks that name stuck in my head. It had a pleasant,
quaint sound, and I wondered how Gresson had spent his hours
there. I hunted it up on the map, and promised myself to have a
look at it the next time we came out to rest. And then I forgot
about it till I heard the name mentioned again.
On 23rd October I had the bad luck, during a tour of my firstline
trenches, to stop a small shell-fragment with my head. It was
a close, misty day and I had taken off my tin hat to wipe my
brow when the thing happened. I got a long, shallow scalp wound
which meant nothing but bled a lot, and, as we were not in for
any big move, the M.O. sent me back to a clearing station to
have it seen to. I was three days in the place and, being perfectly
well, had leisure to look about me and reflect, so that I recall
that time as a queer, restful interlude in the infernal racket of war.
I remember yet how on my last night there a gale made the
lamps swing and flicker, and turned the grey-green canvas walls
into a mass of mottled shadows. The floor canvas was muddy
from the tramping of many feet bringing in the constant dribble
of casualties from the line. In my tent there was no one very bad at
the time, except a boy with his shoulder half-blown off by a
whizz-bang, who lay in a drugged sleep at the far end. The
majority were influenza, bronchitis, and trench-fever - waiting to be
moved to the base, or convalescent and about to return to their units.
A small group of us dined off tinned chicken, stewed fruit, and
radon cheese round the smoky stove, where two screens manufactured
from packing cases gave some protection against the draughts
which swept like young tornadoes down the tent. One man had
been reading a book called the __Ghost Stories of an _Antiquary, and the
talk turned on the unexplainable things that happen to everybody
once or twice in a lifetime. I contributed a yarn about the men who
went to look for Kruger's treasure in the bushveld and got scared
by a green wildebeeste. It is a good yarn and I'll write it down
some day. A tall Highlander, who kept his slippered feet on the top
of the stove, and whose costume consisted of a kilt, a British warm,
a grey hospital dressing-gown, and four pairs of socks, told the
story of the Camerons at First Ypres, and of the Lowland subaltern
who knew no Gaelic and suddenly found himself encouraging his
men with some ancient Highland rigmarole. The poor chap had a
racking bronchial cough, which suggested that his country might
well use him on some warmer battle-ground than Flanders. He
seemed a bit of a scholar and explained the Cameron business in a
lot of long words.
I remember how the talk meandered on as talk does when men
are idle and thinking about the next day. I didn't pay much attention,
for I was reflecting on a change I meant to make in one of my
battalion commands, when a fresh voice broke in. It belonged to a
Canadian captain from Winnipeg, a very silent fellow who smoked
shag tobacco.
'There's a lot of ghosts in this darned country,' he said.
Then he started to tell about what happened to him when his
division was last back in rest billets. He had a staff job and put up
with the divisional command at an old French chateau. They had
only a little bit of the house; the rest was shut up, but the passages
were so tortuous that it was difficult to keep from wandering into
the unoccupied part. One night, he said, he woke with a mighty
thirst, and, since he wasn't going to get cholera by drinking the
local water in his bedroom, he started out for the room they messed
in to try to pick up a whisky-and-soda. He couldn't find it, though
he knew the road like his own name. He admitted he might have
taken a wrong turning, but he didn't think so. Anyway he landed
in a passage which he had never seen before, and, since he had no
candle, he tried to retrace his steps. Again he went wrong, and
groped on till he saw a faint light which he thought must be the
room of the G.S.O., a good fellow and a friend of his. So he
barged in, and found a big, dim salon with two figures in it and a
lamp burning between them, and a queer, unpleasant smell about.
He took a step forward, and then he saw that the figures had no
faces. That fairly loosened his joints with fear, and he gave a cry.
One of the two ran towards him, the lamp went out, and the sickly
scent caught suddenly at his throat. After that he knew nothing till
he awoke in his own bed next morning with a splitting headache.
He said he got the General's permission and went over all
the unoccupied part of the house, but he couldn't find the room. Dust
lay thick on everything, and there was no sign of recent human presence.
I give the story as he told it in his drawling voice. 'I reckon that
was the genuine article in ghosts. You don't believe me and conclude
I was drunk? I wasn't. There isn't any drink concocted yet
that could lay me out like that. I just struck a crack in the old
universe and pushed my head outside. It may happen to you boys
any day.'
The Highlander began to argue with him, and I lost interest in
the talk. But one phrase brought me to attention. 'I'll give you the
name of the darned place, and next time you're around you can do
a bit of prospecting for yourself. It's called the Chateau of Eaucourt
Sainte-Anne, about seven kilometres from Douvecourt. If I was
purchasing real estate in this country I guess I'd give that
location a miss.'
After that I had a grim month, what with the finish of Third Ypres
and the hustles to Cambrai. By the middle of December we had shaken
down a bit, but the line my division held was not of our choosing, and
we had to keep a wary eye on the Boche doings. It was a weary job, and
I had no time to think of anything but the military kind of intelligence
- fixing the units against us from prisoners' stories, organizing small
raids, and keeping the Royal Flying Corps busy. I was keen about the
last, and I made several trips myself over the lines with Archie
Roylance, who had got his heart's desire and by good luck belonged to
the squadron just behind me. I said as little as possible about this, for
G.H.Q. did not encourage divisional generals to practise such
methods, though there was one famous army commander who made a
hobby of them. It was on one of these trips that an incident occurred
which brought my spell of waiting on the bigger game to an end.
One dull December day, just after luncheon, Archie and I set out
to reconnoitre. You know the way that fogs in Picardy seem
suddenly to reek out of the ground and envelop the slopes like a
shawl. That was our luck this time. We had crossed the lines, flying
very high, and received the usual salute of Hun Archies. After a
mile or two the ground seemed to climb up to us, though we
hadn't descended, and presently we were in the heart of a cold,
clinging mist. We dived for several thousand feet, but the confounded
thing grew thicker and no sort of landmark could be
found anywhere. I thought if we went on at this rate we should hit
a tree or a church steeple and be easy fruit for the enemy.
The same thought must have been in Archie's mind, for he
climbed again. We got into a mortally cold zone, but the air was no
clearer. Thereupon he decided to head for home, and passed me
word to work out a compass course on the map. That was easier
said than done, but I had a rough notion of the rate we had
travelled since we had crossed the lines and I knew our original
direction, so I did the best I could. On we went for a bit, and then
I began to get doubtful. So did Archie. We dropped low down, but
we could hear none of the row that's always going on for a mile on
each side of the lines. The world was very eerie and deadly still, so
still that Archie and I could talk through the speaking-tube.
'We've mislaid this blamed battle,'he shouted.
'I think your rotten old compass has soured on us,' I replied.
We decided that it wouldn't do to change direction, so we held
on the same course. I was getting as nervous as a kitten, chiefly
owing to the silence. It's not what you expect in the middle of a
battle-field ... I looked at the compass carefully and saw that it was
really crocked. Archie must have damaged it on a former flight and
forgotten to have it changed.
He had a very scared face when I pointed this out.
'Great God!' he croaked - for he had a fearsome cold - 'we're
either about Calais or near Paris or miles the wrong side of the
Boche line. What the devil are we to do?'
And then to put the lid on it his engine went wrong. It was the
same performance as on the Yorkshire moors, and seemed to be
a speciality of the Shark-Gladas type. But this time the end
came quick. We dived steeply, and I could see by Archie's grip
on the stick that he was going to have his work cut out to save our
necks. Save them he did, but not by much for we jolted down on
the edge of a ploughed field with a series of bumps that shook the
teeth in my head. It was the same dense, dripping fog, and we
crawled out of the old bus and bolted for cover like two
ferreted rabbits.
Our refuge was the lee of a small copse.
'It's my opinion,' said Archie solemnly, 'that we're somewhere
about La Cateau. Tim Wilbraham got left there in the Retreat, and
it took him nine months to make the Dutch frontier. It's a giddy
prospect, sir.'
I sallied out to reconnoitre. At the other side of the wood was a
highway, and the fog so blanketed sound that I could not hear a
man on it till I saw his face. The first one I saw made me lie flat in
the covert ... For he was a German soldier, field-grey, forage cap,
red band and all, and he had a pick on his shoulder.
A second's reflection showed me that this was not final proof.
He might be one of our prisoners. But it was no place to take
chances. I went back to Archie, and the pair of us crossed the
ploughed field and struck the road farther on. There we saw a
farmer's cart with a woman and child in it. They looked French,
but melancholy, just what you would expect from the inhabitants
of a countryside in enemy occupation.
Then we came to the park wall of a great house, and saw dimly
the outlines of a cottage. Here sooner or later we would get proof
of our whereabouts, so we lay and shivered among the poplars of
the roadside. No one seemed abroad that afternoon. For a quarter
of an hour it was as quiet as the grave. Then came a sound of
whistling, and muffled steps.
'That's an Englishman,' said Archie joyfully. 'No Boche could
make such a beastly noise.'
He was right. The form of an Army Service Corps private
emerged from the mist, his cap on the back of his head, his hands
in his pockets, and his walk the walk of a free man. I never saw a
welcomer sight than that jam-merchant.
We stood up and greeted him. 'What's this place?' I shouted.
He raised a grubby hand to his forelock.
'Ockott Saint Anny, sir,' he said. 'Beg pardon, sir, but you ain't
hurt, sir?'
Ten minutes later I was having tea in the mess of an M.T.
workshop while Archie had gone to the nearest Signals to telephone
for a car and give instructions about his precious bus. It was almost
dark, but I gulped my tea and hastened out into the thick dusk. For
I wanted to have a look at the Chateau.
I found a big entrance with high stone pillars, but the iron gates
were locked and looked as if they had not been opened in the
memory of man. Knowing the way of such places, I hunted for the
side entrance and found a muddy road which led to the back of the
house. The front was evidently towards a kind of park; at the back
was a nest of outbuildings and a section of moat which looked very
deep and black in the winter twilight. This was crossed by a stone
bridge with a door at the end of it.
Clearly the Chateau was not being used for billets. There was no
sign of the British soldier; there was no sign of anything human. I
crept through the fog as noiselessly as if I trod on velvet, and I
hadn't even the company of my own footsteps. I remembered the
Canadian's ghost story, and concluded I would be imagining the
same sort of thing if I lived in such a place.
The door was bolted and padlocked. I turned along the side of
the moat, hoping to reach the house front, which was probably
modern and boasted a civilized entrance. There must be somebody
in the place, for one chimney was smoking. Presently the moat
petered out, and gave place to a cobbled causeway, but a wall,
running at right angles with the house, blocked my way. I had half
a mind to go back and hammer at the door, but I reflected that
major-generals don't pay visits to deserted chateaux at night without
a reasonable errand. I should look a fool in the eyes of some old
concierge. The daylight was almost gone, and I didn't wish to go
groping about the house with a candle.
But I wanted to see what was beyond the wall - one of those
whims that beset the soberest men. I rolled a dissolute water-butt
to the foot of it, and gingerly balanced myself on its rotten staves.
This gave me a grip on the flat brick top, and I pulled myself up.
I looked down on a little courtyard with another wall beyond it,
which shut off any view of the park. On the right was the Chateau,
on the left more outbuildings; the whole place was not more than
twenty yards each way. I was just about to retire by the road I had
come, for in spite of my fur coat it was uncommon chilly on that
perch, when I heard a key turn in the door in the Chateau wall
beneath me.
A lantern made a blur of light in the misty darkness. I saw that
the bearer was a woman, an oldish woman, round-shouldered like
most French peasants. In one hand she carried a leather bag, and
she moved so silently that she must have worn rubber boots. The
light was held level with her head and illumined her face. It was the
evillest thing I have ever beheld, for a horrible scar had puckered
the skin of the forehead and drawn up the eyebrows so that it
looked like some diabolical Chinese mask.
Slowly she padded across the yard, carrying the bag as gingerly
as if it had been an infant. She stopped at the door of one of the
outhouses and set down the lantern and her burden on the ground.
From her apron she drew something which looked like a gas-mask,
and put it over her head. She also put on a pair of long gauntlets.
Then she unlocked the door, picked up the lantern and went in. I
heard the key turn behind her.
Crouching on that wall, I felt a very ugly tremor run down my
spine. I had a glimpse of what the Canadian's ghost might have
been. That hag, hooded like some venomous snake, was too much
for my stomach. I dropped off the wall and ran - yes, ran till I
reached the highroad and saw the cheery headlights of a transport
wagon, and heard the honest speech of the British soldier. That
restored me to my senses, and made me feel every kind of a fool.
As I drove back to the line with Archie, I was black ashamed of
my funk. I told myself that I had seen only an old countrywoman
going to feed her hens. I convinced my reason, but I did not
convince the whole of me. An insensate dread of the place hung
around me, and I could only retrieve my self-respect by resolving
to return and explore every nook of it.
The Adventure of the Picardy Chateau
I looked up Eaucourt Sainte-Anne on the map, and the more I
studied its position the less I liked it. It was the knot from which
sprang all the main routes to our Picardy front. If the Boche ever
broke us, it was the place for which old Hindenburg would make.
At all hours troops and transport trains were moving through that
insignificant hamlet. Eminent generals and their staffs passed daily
within sight of the Chateau. It was a convenient halting-place for
battalions coming back to rest. Supposing, I argued, our enemies
wanted a key-spot for some assault upon the morale or the discipline
or health of the British Army, they couldn't find a better than
Eaucourt Sainte-Anne. It was the ideal centre of espionage. But
when I guardedly sounded my friends of the Intelligence they
didn't seem to be worrying about it.
From them I got a chit to the local French authorities, and, as
soon as we came out of the line, towards the end of December, I
made straight for the country town of Douvecourt. By a bit of luck
our divisional quarters were almost next door. I interviewed a
tremendous swell in a black uniform and black kid gloves, who
received me affably and put his archives and registers at my disposal.
By this time I talked French fairly well, having a natural turn for
languages, but half the rapid speech of the sous-prifet was lost on
me. By and by he left me with the papers and a clerk, and I
proceeded to grub up the history of the Chateau.
It had belonged since long before Agincourt to the noble house
of the D'Eaucourts, now represented by an ancient Marquise who
dwelt at Biarritz. She had never lived in the place, which a dozen
years before had been falling to ruins, when a rich American leased
it and partially restored it. He had soon got sick of it - his daughter
had married a blackguard French cavalry officer with whom he
quarrelled, said the clerk - and since then there had been several
tenants. I wondered why a house so unattractive should have
let so readily, but the clerk explained that the cause was the
partridge-shooting. It was about the best in France, and in 1912
had shown the record bag.
The list of the tenants was before me. There was a second
American, an Englishman called Halford, a Paris Jew-banker, and
an Egyptian prince. But the space for 1913 was blank, and I asked
the clerk about it. He told me that it had been taken by a woollen
manufacturer from Lille, but he had never shot the partridges,
though he had spent occasional nights in the house. He had a five
years' lease, and was still paying rent to the Marquise. I asked the
name, but the clerk had forgotten. 'It will be written there,' he said.
'But, no,' I said. 'Somebody must have been asleep over this
register. There's nothing after 1912.'
He examined the page and blinked his eyes. 'Someone indeed
must have slept. No doubt it was young Louis who is now with the
guns in Champagne. But the name will be on the Commissary's list.
It is, as I remember, a sort of Flemish.'
He hobbled off and returned in five minutes.
'Bommaerts,' he said, 'Jacques Bommaerts. A young man with
no wife but with money - Dieu de Dieu, what oceans of it!'
That clerk got twenty-five francs, and he was cheap at the price.
I went back to my division with a sense of awe on me. It was a
marvellous fate that had brought me by odd routes to this out-of-the-way
corner. First, the accident of Hamilton's seeing Gresson;
then the night in the Clearing Station; last the mishap of Archie's
plane getting lost in the fog. I had three grounds of suspicion -
Gresson's sudden illness, the Canadian's ghost, and that horrid old
woman in the dusk. And now I had one tremendous fact. The place
was leased by a man called Bommaerts, and that was one of the two
names I had heard whispered in that far-away cleft in the Coolin by
the stranger from the sea.
A sensible man would have gone off to the contre-espionage people
and told them his story. I couldn't do this; I felt that it was my own
private find and I was going to do the prospecting myself. Every
moment of leisure I had I was puzzling over the thing. I rode
round by the Chateau one frosty morning and examined all the
entrances. The main one was the grand avenue with the locked
gates. That led straight to the front of the house where the terrace
was - or you might call it the back, for the main door was on the
other side. Anyhow the drive came up to the edge of the terrace
and then split into two, one branch going to the stables by way of
the outbuildings where I had seen the old woman, the other circling
round the house, skirting the moat, and joining the back road just
before the bridge. If I had gone to the right instead of the left that
first evening with Archie, I should have circumnavigated the place
without any trouble.
Seen in the fresh morning light the house looked commonplace
enough. Part of it was as old as Noah, but most was newish and
jerry-built, the kind of flat-chested, thin French Chateau, all front
and no depth, and full of draughts and smoky chimneys. I might
have gone in and ransacked the place, but I knew I should find
nothing. It was borne in on me that it was only when evening fell
that that house was interesting and that I must come, like Nicodemus,
by night. Besides I had a private account to settle with my
conscience. I had funked the place in the foggy twilight, and it does
not do to let a matter like that slide. A man's courage is like a horse
that refuses a fence; you have got to take him by the head and cram him
at it again. If you don't, he will funk worse next time. I hadn't enough
courage to be able to take chances with it, though I was afraid of
many things, the thing I feared most mortally was being afraid.
I did not get a chance till Christmas Eve. The day before there
had been a fall of snow, but the frost set in and the afternoon ended
in a green sunset with the earth crisp and crackling like a shark's
skin. I dined early, and took with me Geordie Hamilton, who
added to his many accomplishments that of driving a car. He was
the only man in the B.E.F. who guessed anything of the game I
was after, and I knew that he was as discreet as a tombstone. I put
on my oldest trench cap, slacks, and a pair of scaife-soled boots,
that I used to change into in the evening. I had a useful little
electric torch, which lived in my pocket, and from which a cord led
to a small bulb of light that worked with a switch and could be
hung on my belt. That left my arms free in case of emergencies.
Likewise I strapped on my pistol.
There was little traffic in the hamlet of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne
that night. Few cars were on the road, and the M.T. detachment,
judging from the din, seemed to be busy on a private spree. It was
about nine o'clock when we turned into the side road, and at the
entrance to it I saw a solid figure in khaki mounting guard beside
two bicycles. Something in the man's gesture, as he saluted, struck
me as familiar, but I had no time to hunt for casual memories. I left
the car just short of the bridge, and took the road which would
bring me to the terraced front of the house.
Once I turned the corner of the Chateau and saw the long
ghostly facade white in the moonlight, I felt less confident. The
eeriness of the place smote me. In that still, snowy world it loomed
up immense and mysterious with its rows of shuttered windows,
each with that air which empty houses have of concealing some
wild story. I longed to have old Peter with me, for he was the man
for this kind of escapade. I had heard that he had been removed to
Switzerland and I pictured him now in some mountain village
where the snow lay deep. I would have given anything to have had
Peter with a whole leg by my side.
I stepped on the terrace and listened. There was not a sound in
the world, not even the distant rumble of a cart. The pile towered
above me like a mausoleum, and I reflected that it must take some
nerve to burgle an empty house. It would be good enough fun to
break into a bustling dwelling and pinch the plate when the folk
were at dinner, but to burgle emptiness and silence meant a fight
with the terrors in a man's soul. It was worse in my case, for I
wasn't cheered with prospects of loot. I wanted to get inside chiefly
to soothe my conscience.
I hadn't much doubt I would find a way, for three years of war
and the frequent presence of untidy headquarters' staffs have loosened
the joints of most Picardy houses. There's generally a window
that doesn't latch or a door that doesn't bar. But I tried window after
window on the terrace without result. The heavy green sun-shutters
were down over each, and when I broke the hinges of one there was a
long bar within to hold it firm. I was beginning to think of shinning
up a rain-pipe and trying the second floor, when a shutter I had laid
hold on swung back in my hand. It had been left unfastened, and,
kicking the snow from my boots, I entered a room.
A gleam of moonlight followed me and I saw I was in a big
salon with a polished wood floor and dark lumps of furniture
swathed in sheets. I clicked the bulb at my belt, and the little circle
of light showed a place which had not been dwelt in for years. At
the far end was another door, and as I tiptoed towards it something
caught my eye on the parquet. It was a piece of fresh snow like that
which clumps on the heel of a boot. I had not brought it there.
Some other visitor had passed this way, and not long before me.
Very gently I opened the door and slipped in. In front of me was a
pile of furniture which made a kind of screen, and behind that I
halted and listened. There was somebody in the room. I heard the
sound of human breathing and soft movements; the man, whoever he
was, was at the far end from me, and though there was a dim glow of
Moon through a broken shutter I could see nothing of what he was
after. I was beginning to enjoy myself now. I knew of his presence
and he did not know of mine, and that is the sport of stalking.
An unwary movement of my hand caused the screen to creak.
Instantly the movements ceased and there was utter silence. I held
my breath, and after a second or two the tiny sounds began again. I
had a feeling, though my eyes could not assure me, that the man
before me was at work, and was using a very small shaded torch.
There was just the faintest moving shimmer on the wall beyond,
though that might come from the crack of moonlight.
Apparently he was reassured, for his movements became more
distinct. There was a jar as if a table had been pushed back. Once
more there was silence, and I heard only the intake of breath. I
have very quick ears, and to me it sounded as if the man was
rattled. The breathing was quick and anxious.
Suddenly it changed and became the ghost of a whistle - the
kind of sound one makes with the lips and teeth without ever
letting the tune break out clear. We all do it when we are preoccupied
with something - shaving, or writing letters, or reading the
newspaper. But I did not think my man was preoccupied. He was
whistling to quiet fluttering nerves.
Then I caught the air. It was 'Cherry Ripe'.
In a moment, from being hugely at my ease, I became the
nervous one. I had been playing peep-bo with the unseen, and the
tables were turned. My heart beat against my ribs like a hammer. I
shuffled my feet, and again there fell the tense silence.
'Mary,' I said - and the word seemed to explode like a bomb in
the stillness -'Mary! It's me - Dick Hannay.'
There was no answer but a sob and the sound of a timid step.
I took four paces into the darkness and caught in my arms a
trembling girl ...
Often in the last months I had pictured the kind of scene which
would be the culminating point of my life. When our work was
over and war had been forgotten, somewhere - perhaps in a green
Cotswold meadow or in a room of an old manor - I would talk
with Mary. By that time we should know each other well and I
would have lost my shyness. I would try to tell her that I loved her,
but whenever I thought of what I should say my heart sank, for I
knew I would make a fool of myself. You can't live my kind of life
for forty years wholly among men and be of any use at pretty
speeches to women. I knew I should stutter and blunder, and I
used despairingly to invent impossible situations where I might
make my love plain to her without words by some piece of
melodramatic sacrifice.
But the kind Fates had saved me the trouble. Without a syllable
save Christian names stammered in that eerie darkness we had come
to complete understanding. The fairies had been at work unseen,
and the thoughts of each of us had been moving towards the other,
till love had germinated like a seed in the dark. As I held her in my
arms I stroked her hair and murmured things which seemed to
spring out of some ancestral memory. Certainly my tongue had
never used them before, nor my mind imagined them ... By and
by she slipped her arms round my neck and with a half sob strained
towards me. She was still trembling.
'Dick,' she said, and to hear that name on her lips was the
sweetest thing I had ever known. 'Dick, is it really you? Tell me
I'm not dreaming.'
'It's me, sure enough, Mary dear. And now I have found you I
will never let you go again. But, my precious child, how on earth
did you get here?'
She disengaged herself and let her little electric torch wander
over my rough habiliments.
'You look a tremendous warrior, Dick. I have never seen you
like this before. I was in Doubting Castle and very much afraid of
Giant Despair, till you came.'
'I think I call it the Interpreter's House,' I said.
'It's the house of somebody we both know,' she went on. 'He
calls himself Bommaerts here. That was one of the two names, you
remember. I have seen him since in Paris. Oh, it is a long story and
you shall hear it all soon. I knew he came here sometimes, so I
came here too. I have been nursing for the last fortnight at the
Douvecourt Hospital only four miles away.'
'But what brought you alone at night?'
'Madness, I think. Vanity, too. You see I had found out a good
deal, and I wanted to find out the one vital thing which had
puzzled Mr Blenkiron. I told myself it was foolish, but I couldn't
keep away. And then my courage broke down, and before you
came I would have screamed at the sound of a mouse. If I hadn't
whistled I would have cried.'
'But why alone and at this hour?'
'I couldn't get off in the day. And it was safest to come alone.
You see he is in love with me, and when he heard I was coming to
Douvecourt forgot his caution and proposed to meet me here. He
said he was going on a long journey and wanted to say goodbye. If
he had found me alone - well, he would have said goodbye. If
there had been anyone with me, he would have suspected, and he
mustn't suspect me. Mr Blenkiron says that would be fatal to his
great plan. He believes I am like my aunts, and that I think him an
apostle of peace working by his own methods against the stupidity
and wickedness of all the Governments. He talks more bitterly
about Germany than about England. He had told me how he had
to disguise himself and play many parts on his mission, and of
course I have applauded him. Oh, I have had a difficult autumn.'
'Mary,' I cried, 'tell me you hate him.'
'No,' she said quietly. 'I do not hate him. I am keeping that for later.
I fear him desperately. Some day when we have broken him utterly I
will hate him, and drive all likeness of him out of my memory like an
unclean thing. But till then I won't waste energy on hate. We want to
hoard every atom of our strength for the work of beating him.'
She had won back her composure, and I turned on my light to
look at her. She was in nurses' outdoor uniform, and I thought her
eyes seemed tired. The priceless gift that had suddenly come to me
had driven out all recollection of my own errand. I thought of
Ivery only as a would-be lover of Mary, and forgot the manufacturer
from Lille who had rented his house for the partridge-shooting.
'And you, Dick,' she asked; 'is it part of a general's duties to pay
visits at night to empty houses?'
'I came to look for traces of M. Bommaerts. I, too, got on his
track from another angle, but that story must wait.'
'You observe that he has been here today?'
She pointed to some cigarette ash spilled on the table edge, and a
space on its surface cleared from dust. 'In a place like this the dust
would settle again in a few hours, and that is quite clean. I should
say he has been here just after luncheon.'
'Great Scott!' I cried, 'what a close shave! I'm in the mood at this
moment to shoot him at sight. You say you saw him in Paris and
knew his lair. Surely you had a good enough case to have him
She shook her head. 'Mr Blenkiron - he's in Paris too - wouldn't
hear of it. He hasn't just figured the thing out yet, he says. We've
identified one of your names, but we're still in doubt about
'Ah, Chelius! Yes, I see. We must get the whole business complete
before we strike. Has old Blenkiron had any luck?'
'Your guess about the "Deep-breathing" advertisement was very
clever, Dick. It was true, and it may give us Chelius. I must leave
Mr Blenkiron to tell you how. But the trouble is this. We know
something of the doings of someone who may be Chelius, but we
can't link them with Ivery. We know that Ivery is Bommaerts, and
our hope is to link Bommaerts with Chelius. That's why I came
here. I was trying to burgle this escritoire in an amateur way. It's a
bad piece of fake Empire and deserves smashing.'
I could see that Mary was eager to get my mind back to business,
and with some difficulty I clambered down from the exultant
heights. The intoxication of the thing was on me - the winter
night, the circle of light in that dreary room, the sudden coming
together of two souls from the ends of the earth, the realization of
my wildest hopes, the gilding and glorifying of all the future. But
she had always twice as much wisdom as me, and we were in the
midst of a campaign which had no use for day-dreaming. I turned
my attention to the desk.
It was a flat table with drawers, and at the back a half-circle of
more drawers with a central cupboard. I tilted it up and most of the
drawers slid out, empty of anything but dust. I forced two open
with my knife and they held empty cigar boxes. Only the cupboard
remained, and that appeared to be locked. I wedged a key from my
pocket into its keyhole, but the thing would not budge.
'It's no good,' I said. 'He wouldn't leave anything he valued in a
place like this. That sort of fellow doesn't take risks. If he wanted
to hide something there are a hundred holes in this Chateau which
would puzzle the best detective.'
'Can't you open it?' she asked. 'I've a fancy about that table. He
was sitting here this afternoon and he may be coming back.'
I solved the problem by turning up the escritoire and putting my
knee through the cupboard door. Out of it tumbled a little darkgreen
attache case.
'This is getting solemn,' said Mary. 'Is it locked?'
It was, but I took my knife and cut the lock out and spilled the
contents on the table. There were some papers, a newspaper or
two, and a small bag tied with black cord. The last I opened, while
Mary looked over my shoulder. It contained a fine yellowish powder.
'Stand back,' I said harshly. 'For God's sake, stand back and
don't breathe.'
With trembling hands I tied up the bag again, rolled it in a
newspaper, and stuffed it into my pocket. For I remembered a day
near Peronne when a Boche plane had come over in the night and
had dropped little bags like this. Happily they were all collected,
and the men who found them were wise and took them off to the
nearest laboratory. They proved to be full of anthrax germs ...
I remembered how Eaucourt Sainte-Anne stood at the junction
of a dozen roads where all day long troops passed to and from the
lines. From such a vantage ground an enemy could wreck the
health of an army ...
I remembered the woman I had seen in the courtyard of this
house in the foggy dusk, and I knew now why she had worn a gas-mask.
This discovery gave me a horrid shock. I was brought down
with a crash from my high sentiment to something earthly and
devilish. I was fairly well used to Boche filthiness, but this seemed
too grim a piece of the utterly damnable. I wanted to have Ivery by
the throat and force the stuff into his body, and watch him decay
slowly into the horror he had contrived for honest men.
'Let's get out of this infernal place,' I said.
But Mary was not listening. She had picked up one of the
newspapers and was gloating over it. I looked and saw that it was
open at an advertisement of Weissmann's 'Deep-breathing' system.
'Oh, look, Dick,' she cried breathlessly.
The column of type had little dots made by a red pencil below
certain words.
'It's it,' she whispered, 'it's the cipher - I'm almost sure it's
the cipher!'
'Well, he'd be likely to know it if anyone did.'
'But don't you see it's the cipher which Chelius uses - the man in
Switzerland? Oh, I can't explain now, for it's very long, but I
think - I think - I have found out what we have all been wanting.
Chelius ...'
'Whisht!' I said. 'What's that?'
There was a queer sound from the out-of-doors as if a sudden
wind had risen in the still night.
'It's only a car on the main road,' said Mary.
'How did you get in?' I asked.
'By the broken window in the next room. I cycled out here one
morning, and walked round the place and found the broken catch.'
'Perhaps it is left open on purpose. That may be the way M.
Bommaerts visits his country home ... Let's get off, Mary, for this
place has a curse on it. It deserves fire from heaven.'
I slipped the contents of the attache case into my pockets. 'I'm
going to drive you back,' I said. 'I've got a car out there.'
'Then you must take my bicycle and my servant too. He's an old
friend of yours - one Andrew Amos.'
'Now how on earth did Andrew get over here?'
'He's one of us,' said Mary, laughing at my surprise. 'A most
useful member of our party, at present disguised as an _infirmier in
Lady Manorwater's Hospital at Douvecourt. He is learning French, and ...'
'Hush!' I whispered. 'There's someone in the next room.'
I swept her behind a stack of furniture, with my eyes glued on a
crack of light below the door. The handle turned and the shadows
raced before a big electric lamp of the kind they have in stables. I
could not see the bearer, but I guessed it was the old woman.
There was a man behind her. A brisk step sounded on the
parquet, and a figure brushed past her. It wore the horizon-blue of
a French officer, very smart, with those French riding-boots that
show the shape of the leg, and a handsome fur-lined pelisse. I
would have called him a young man, not more than thirty-five. The
face was brown and clean-shaven, the eyes bright and masterful ...
Yet he did not deceive me. I had not boasted idly to Sir Walter
when I said that there was one man alive who could never again be
mistaken by me.
I had my hand on my pistol, as I motioned Mary farther back
into the shadows. For a second I was about to shoot. I had a
perfect mark and could have put a bullet through his brain with
utter certitude. I think if I had been alone I might have fired.
Perhaps not. Anyhow now I could not do it. It seemed like potting
at a sitting rabbit. I was obliged, though he was my worst enemy,
to give him a chance, while all the while my sober senses kept
calling me a fool.
I stepped into the light.
'Hullo, Mr Ivery,' I said. 'This is an odd place to meet again!'
In his amazement he fell back a step, while his hungry eyes took
in my face. There was no mistake about the recognition. I saw
something I had seen once before in him, and that was fear. Out
went the light and he sprang for the door.
I fired in the dark, but the shot must have been too high. In the
same instant I heard him slip on the smooth parquet and the tinkle
of glass as the broken window swung open. Hastily I reflected that
his car must be at the moat end of the terrace, and that therefore to
reach it he must pass outside this very room. Seizing the damaged
escritoire, I used it as a ram, and charged the window nearest me.
The panes and shutters went with a crash, for I had driven the
thing out of its rotten frame. The next second I was on the moonlit snow.
I got a shot at him as he went over the terrace, and again I went
wide. I never was at my best with a pistol. Still I reckoned I had
got him, for the car which was waiting below must come back by
the moat to reach the highroad. But I had forgotten the great
closed park gates. Somehow or other they must have been opened,
for as soon as the car started it headed straight for the grand
avenue. I tried a couple of long-range shots after it, and one must
have damaged either Ivery or his chauffeur, for there came back a
cry of pain.
I turned in deep chagrin to find Mary beside me. She was
bubbling with laughter.
'Were you ever a cinema actor, Dick? The last two minutes have
been a really high-class performance. "Featuring Mary Lamington."
How does the jargon go?'
'I could have got him when he first entered,' I said ruefully.
'I know,' she said in a graver tone. 'Only of course you couldn't
... Besides, Mr Blenkiron doesn't want it - yet.'
She put her hand on my arm. 'Don't worry about it. It wasn't
written it should happen that way. It would have been too easy. We
have a long road to travel yet before we clip the wings of the
Wild Birds.'
'Look,' I cried. 'The fire from heaven!'
Red tongues of flame were shooting up from the out-buildings at
the farther end, the place where I had first seen the woman. Some
agreed plan must have been acted on, and Ivery was destroying all
traces of his infamous yellow powder. Even now the concierge with
her odds and ends of belongings would be slipping out to some
refuge in the village.
In the still dry night the flames rose, for the place must have been
made ready for a rapid burning. As I hurried Mary round the moat I
could see that part of the main building had caught fire. The hamlet
was awakened, and before we reached the corner of the highroad
sleepy British soldiers were hurrying towards the scene, and the
Town Major was mustering the fire brigade. I knew that Ivery had
laid his plans well, and that they hadn't a chance - that long before
dawn the Chateau of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne would be a heap of
ashes and that in a day or two the lawyers of the aged Marquise at
Biarritz would be wrangling with the insurance company.
At the corner stood Amos beside two bicycles, solid as a graven
image. He recognized me with a gap-toothed grin.
'It's a cauld night, General, but the home fires keep burnin'. I
havena seen such a cheery lowe since Dickson's mill at Gawly.'
We packed, bicycles and all, into my car with Amos wedged in
the narrow seat beside Hamilton. Recognizing a fellow countryman,
he gave thanks for the lift in the broadest Doric. 'For,' said he, 'I'm
not what you would call a practised hand wi' a velocipede, and my
feet are dinnled wi' standin' in the snaw.'
As for me, the miles to Douvecourt passed as in a blissful
moment of time. I wrapped Mary in a fur rug, and after that we did
not speak a word. I had come suddenly into a great possession and
was dazed with the joy of it.
Mr Blenkiron Discourses on Love and War
Three days later I got my orders to report at Paris for special
service. They came none too soon, for I chafed at each hour's
delay. Every thought in my head was directed to the game which
we were playing against Ivery. He was the big enemy, compared to
whom the ordinary Boche in the trenches was innocent and friendly.
I had almost lost interest in my division, for I knew that for me the
real battle-front was not in Picardy, and that my job was not so
easy as holding a length of line. Also I longed to be at the same
work as Mary.
I remember waking up in billets the morning after the night at
the Chateau with the feeling that I had become extraordinarily rich.
I felt very humble, too, and very kindly towards all the world -
even to the Boche, though I can't say I had ever hated him very
wildly. You find hate more among journalists and politicians at
home than among fighting men. I wanted to be quiet and alone to
think, and since that was impossible I went about my work in a
happy abstraction. I tried not to look ahead, but only to live in the
present, remembering that a war was on, and that there was desperate
and dangerous business before me, and that my hopes hung on a
slender thread. Yet for all that I had sometimes to let my fancies go
free, and revel in delicious dreams.
But there was one thought that always brought me back to hard
ground, and that was Ivery. I do not think I hated anybody in the
world but him. It was his relation to Mary that stung me. He had
the insolence with all his toad-like past to make love to that clean
and radiant girl. I felt that he and I stood as mortal antagonists, and
the thought pleased me, for it helped me to put some honest
detestation into my job. Also I was going to win. Twice I had
failed, but the third time I should succeed. It had been like ranging
shots for a gun - first short, second over, and I vowed that the
third should be dead on the mark.
I was summoned to G.H.Q., where I had half an hour's talk with
the greatest British commander. I can see yet his patient, kindly
face and that steady eye which no vicissitude of fortune could
perturb. He took the biggest view, for he was statesman as well as
soldier, and knew that the whole world was one battle-field and
every man and woman among the combatant nations was in the
battle-line. So contradictory is human nature, that talk made me wish
for a moment to stay where I was. I wanted to go on serving under
that man. I realized suddenly how much I loved my work, and
when I got back to my quarters that night and saw my men
swinging in from a route march I could have howled like a dog at
leaving them. Though I say it who shouldn't, there wasn't a better
division in the Army.
One morning a few days later I picked up Mary in Amiens. I
always liked the place, for after the dirt of the Somme it was a
comfort to go there for a bath and a square meal, and it had the
noblest church that the hand of man ever built for God. It was a
clear morning when we started from the boulevard beside the
railway station; and the air smelt of washed streets and fresh coffee,
and women were going marketing and the little trams ran clanking
by, just as in any other city far from the sound of guns. There was
very little khaki or horizon-blue about, and I remember thinking
how completely Amiens had got out of the war-zone. Two months
later it was a different story.
To the end I shall count that day as one of the happiest in my
life. Spring was in the air, though the trees and fields had still their
winter colouring. A thousand good fresh scents came out of the
earth, and the larks were busy over the new furrows. I remember
that we ran up a little glen, where a stream spread into pools
among sallows, and the roadside trees were heavy with mistletoe.
On the tableland beyond the Somme valley the sun shone like
April. At Beauvais we lunched badly in an inn - badly as to food,
but there was an excellent Burgundy at two francs a bottle. Then
we slipped down through little flat-chested townships to the Seine,
and in the late afternoon passed through St Germains forest. The
wide green spaces among the trees set my fancy dwelling on that
divine English countryside where Mary and I would one day make
our home. She had been in high spirits all the journey, but when I
spoke of the Cotswolds her face grew grave.
'Don't let us speak of it, Dick,' she said. 'It's too happy a thing
and I feel as if it would wither if we touched it. I don't let myself
think of peace and home, for it makes me too homesick ... I think
we shall get there some day, you and I ... but it's a long road
to the Delectable Mountains, and Faithful, you know, has to die
first ... There is a price to be paid.'
The words sobered me.
'Who is our Faithful?' I asked.
'I don't know. But he was the best of the Pilgrims.'
Then, as if a veil had lifted, her mood changed, and when we
came through the suburbs of Paris and swung down the Champs
Elysees she was in a holiday humour. The lights were twinkling in
the blue January dusk, and the warm breath of the city came to
greet us. I knew little of the place, for I had visited it once only on
a four days' Paris leave, but it had seemed to me then the most
habitable of cities, and now, coming from the battle-field with
Mary by my side, it was like the happy ending of a dream.
I left her at her cousin's house near the Rue St Honore, and
deposited myself, according to instructions, at the Hotel Louis
Quinze. There I wallowed in a hot bath, and got into the civilian
clothes which had been sent on from London. They made me feel
that I had taken leave of my division for good and all this time.
Blenkiron had a private room, where we were to dine; and a
more wonderful litter of books and cigar boxes I have never seen,
for he hadn't a notion of tidiness. I could hear him grunting at his
toilet in the adjacent bedroom, and I noticed that the table was laid
for three. I went downstairs to get a paper, and on the way ran into
Launcelot Wake.
He was no longer a private in a Labour Battalion. Evening
clothes showed beneath his overcoat.
'Hullo, Wake, are you in this push too?'
'I suppose so,' he said, and his manner was not cordial. 'Anyhow
I was ordered down here. My business is to do as I am told.'
'Coming to dine?' I asked.
'No. I'm dining with some friends at the Crillon.'
Then he looked me in the face, and his eyes were hot as I first
remembered them. 'I hear I've to congratulate you, Hannay,' and
he held out a limp hand.
I never felt more antagonism in a human being.
'You don't like it?' I said, for I guessed what he meant.
'How on earth can I like it?' he cried angrily. 'Good Lord, man,
you'll murder her soul. You an ordinary, stupid, successful fellow
and she - she's the most precious thing God ever made. You can
never understand a fraction of her preciousness, but you'll clip her
wings all right. She can never fly now ...'
He poured out this hysterical stuff to me at the foot of the
staircase within hearing of an elderly French widow with a poodle.
I had no impulse to be angry, for I was far too happy.
'Don't, Wake,' I said. 'We're all too close together to quarrel.
I'm not fit to black Mary's shoes. You can't put me too low or her
too high. But I've at least the sense to know it. You couldn't want
me to be humbler than I felt.'
He shrugged his shoulders, as he went out to the street. 'Your
infernal magnanimity would break any man's temper.'
I went upstairs to find Blenkiron, washed and shaven, admiring a
pair of bright patent-leather shoes.
'Why, Dick, I've been wearying bad to see you. I was nervous you
would be blown to glory, for I've been reading awful things
about your battles in the noospapers. The war correspondents worry
me so I can't take breakfast.'
He mixed cocktails and clinked his glass on mine. 'Here's to the
young lady. I was trying to write her a pretty little sonnet, but the
darned rhymes wouldn't fit. I've gotten a heap of things to say to
you when we've finished dinner.'
Mary came in, her cheeks bright from the weather, and Blenkiron
promptly fell abashed. But she had a way to meet his shyness, for,
when he began an embarrassed speech of good wishes, she put her
arms round his neck and kissed him. Oddly enough, that set him
completely at his ease.
It was pleasant to eat off linen and china again, pleasant to see
old Blenkiron's benignant face and the way he tucked into his food,
but it was delicious for me to sit at a meal with Mary across the
table. It made me feel that she was really mine, and not a pixie that
would vanish at a word. To Blenkiron she bore herself like an
affectionate but mischievous daughter, while the desperately refined
manners that afflicted him whenever women were concerned
mellowed into something like his everyday self. They did most of
the talking, and I remember he fetched from some mysterious
hiding-place a great box of chocolates, which you could no longer
buy in Paris, and the two ate them like spoiled children. I didn't
want to talk, for it was pure happiness for me to look on. I loved
to watch her, when the servants had gone, with her elbows on the
table like a schoolboy, her crisp gold hair a little rumpled, cracking
walnuts with gusto, like some child who has been allowed down
from the nursery for dessert and means to make the most of it.
With his first cigar Blenkiron got to business.
'You want to know about the staff-work we've been busy on at
home. Well, it's finished now, thanks to you, Dick. We weren't
getting on very fast till you took to peroosing the press on your
sick-bed and dropped us that hint about the "Deep-breathing" ads.'
'Then there was something in it?' I asked.
'There was black hell in it. There wasn't any Gussiter, but there
was a mighty fine little syndicate of crooks with old man Gresson
at the back of them. First thing, I started out to get the cipher. It
took some looking for, but there's no cipher on earth can't be got
hold of somehow if you know it's there, and in this case we were
helped a lot by the return messages in the German papers. It
was bad stuff when we read it, and explained the darned leakages in
important noos we've been up against. At first I figured to keep the
thing going and turn Gussiter into a corporation with John S.
Blenkiron as president. But it wouldn't do, for at the first hint Of
tampering with their communications the whole bunch got skeery
and sent out SOS signals. So we tenderly plucked the flowers.'
'Gresson, too?' I asked.
He nodded. 'I guess your seafaring companion's now under the
sod. We had collected enough evidence to hang him ten times over
... But that was the least of it. For your little old cipher, Dick,
gave us a line on Ivery.'
I asked how, and Blenkiron told me the story. He had about a
dozen cross-bearings proving that the organization of the 'Deepbreathing'
game had its headquarters in Switzerland. He suspected
Ivery from the first, but the man had vanished out of his ken, so he
started working from the other end, and instead of trying to deduce
the Swiss business from Ivery he tried to deduce Ivery from the
Swiss business. He went to Berne and made a conspicuous public
fool of himself for several weeks. He called himself an agent of the
American propaganda there, and took some advertising space in
the press and put in spread-eagle announcements of his mission,
with the result that the Swiss Government threatened to turn him
out of the country if he tampered that amount with their neutrality.
He also wrote a lot of rot in the Geneva newspapers, which he paid
to have printed, explaining how he was a pacifist, and was going to
convert Germany to peace by 'inspirational advertisement of pureminded
war aims'. All this was in keeping with his English
reputation, and he wanted to make himself a bait for Ivery.
But Ivery did not rise to the fly, and though he had a dozen
agents working for him on the quiet he could never hear of the
name Chelius. That was, he reckoned, a very private and particular
name among the Wild Birds. However, he got to know a good deal
about the Swiss end of the 'Deep-breathing' business. That took
some doing and cost a lot of money. His best people were a girl
who posed as a mannequin in a milliner's shop in Lyons and a
concierge in a big hotel at St Moritz. His most important discovery
was that there was a second cipher in the return messages sent from
Switzerland, different from the one that the Gussiter lot used in
England. He got this cipher, but though he could read it he couldn't
make anything out of it. He concluded that it was a very secret
means of communication between the inner circle of the Wild
Birds, and that Ivery must be at the back of it ... But he was still a
long way from finding out anything that mattered.
Then the whole situation changed, for Mary got in touch with
Ivery. I must say she behaved like a shameless minx, for she kept
on writing to him to an address he had once given her in Paris, and
suddenly she got an answer. She was in Paris herself, helping to run
one of the railway canteens, and staying with her French cousins,
the de Mezieres. One day he came to see her. That showed the
boldness of the man, and his cleverness, for the whole secret police
of France were after him and they never got within sight or sound.
Yet here he was coming openly in the afternoon to have tea with an
English girl. It showed another thing, which made me blaspheme.
A man so resolute and single-hearted in his job must have been
pretty badly in love to take a risk like that.
He came, and he called himself the Capitaine Bommaerts, with a
transport job on the staff of the French G.Q.G. He was on the staff
right enough too. Mary said that when she heard that name she
nearly fell down. He was quite frank with her, and she with him.
They are both peacemakers, ready to break the laws of any land for
the sake of a great ideal. Goodness knows what stuff they talked
together. Mary said she would blush to think of it till her dying
day, and I gathered that on her side it was a mixture of Launcelot
Wake at his most pedantic and schoolgirl silliness.
He came again, and they met often, unbeknown to the decorous
Madame de Mezieres. They walked together in the Bois de
Boulogne, and once, with a beating heart, she motored with him to
Auteuil for luncheon. He spoke of his house in Picardy, and there
were moments, I gathered, when he became the declared lover, to
be rebuffed with a hoydenish shyness. Presently the pace became
too hot, and after some anguished arguments with Bullivant on the
long-distance telephone she went off to Douvecourt to Lady Manorwater's
hospital. She went there to escape from him, but mainly, I
think, to have a look - trembling in every limb, mind you - at the
Chateau of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne.
I had only to think of Mary to know just what Joan of Arc was.
No man ever born could have done that kind of thing. It wasn't
recklessness. It was sheer calculating courage.
Then Blenkiron took up the tale. The newspaper we found that
Christmas Eve in the Chateau was of tremendous importance, for
Bommaerts had pricked out in the advertisement the very special
second cipher of the Wild Birds. That proved that Ivery was at the
back of the Swiss business. But Blenkiron made doubly sure.
'I considered the time had come,' he said, 'to pay high for
valuable noos, so I sold the enemy a very pretty de-vice. If you ever
gave your mind to ciphers and illicit correspondence, Dick, you
would know that the one kind of document you can't write on in
invisible ink is a coated paper, the kind they use in the weeklies
to print photographs of leading actresses and the stately homes of
England. Anything wet that touches it corrugates the surface a
little, and you can tell with a microscope if someone's been playing
at it. Well, we had the good fortune to discover just how to get
over that little difficulty - how to write on glazed paper with a
quill so as the cutest analyst couldn't spot it, and likewise how to
detect the writing. I decided to sacrifice that invention, casting my
bread upon the waters and looking for a good-sized bakery in
return ... I had it sold to the enemy. The job wanted delicate
handling, but the tenth man from me - he was an Austrian Jew -
did the deal and scooped fifty thousand dollars out of it. Then I
lay low to watch how my friend would use the de-vice, and I didn't
wait long.'
He took from his pocket a folded sheet of _L'Illustration. Over a
photogravure plate ran some words in a large sprawling hand, as if
written with a brush.
'That page when I got it yesterday,' he said, 'was an unassuming
picture of General Petain presenting military medals. There wasn't
a scratch or a ripple on its surface. But I got busy with it, and see
He pointed out two names. The writing was a set of key-words
we did not know, but two names stood out which I knew too well.
They were 'Bommaerts' and 'Chelius'.
'My God!' I cried, 'that's uncanny. It only shows that if you
chew long enough - - .'
'Dick,' said Mary, 'you mustn't say that again. At the best it's an
ugly metaphor, and you're making it a platitude.'
'Who is Ivery anyhow?' I asked. 'Do you know more about him
than we knew in the summer? Mary, what did Bommaerts pretend to be?'
'An Englishman.' Mary spoke in the most matter-of-fact tone, as
if it were a perfectly usual thing to be made love to by a spy, and
that rather soothed my annoyance. 'When he asked me to marry
him he proposed to take me to a country-house in Devonshire. I
rather think, too, he had a place in Scotland. But of course
he's a German.'
'Ye-es,' said Blenkiron slowly, 'I've got on to his record, and it
isn't a pretty story. It's taken some working out, but I've got all the
links tested now ... He's a Boche and a large-sized nobleman in his
own state. Did you ever hear of the Graf von Schwabing?'
I shook my head.
'I think I have heard Uncle Charlie speak of him,' said Mary,
wrinkling her brows. 'He used to hunt with the Pytchley.'
'That's the man. But he hasn't troubled the Pytchley for the last
eight years. There was a time when he was the last thing in smartness
in the German court - officer in the Guards, ancient family,
rich, darned clever - all the fixings. Kaiser liked him, and it's easy
to see why. I guess a man who had as many personalities as the
Graf was amusing after-dinner company. Specially among the
Germans, who in my experience don't excel in the lighter vein.
Anyway, he was William's white-headed boy, and there wasn't a
mother with a daughter who wasn't out gunning for Otto von
Schwabing. He was about as popular in London and Noo York -
and in Paris, too. Ask Sir Walter about him, Dick. He says he had
twice the brains of Kuhlmann, and better manners than the Austrian
fellow he used to yarn about ... Well, one day there came an
almighty court scandal, and the bottom dropped out of the Graf's
World. It was a pretty beastly story, and I don't gather that SchwabIng
was as deep in it as some others. But the trouble was that those
others had to be shielded at all costs, and Schwabing was made the
scapegoat. His name came out in the papers and he had to go .'
'What was the case called?' I asked.
Blenkiron mentioned a name, and I knew why the word SchwabIng
was familiar. I had read the story long ago in Rhodesia.
'It was some smash,' Blenkiron went on. 'He was drummed out
of the Guards, out of the clubs, out of the country ... Now, how
would you have felt, Dick, if you had been the Graf? Your life and
work and happiness crossed out, and all to save a mangy princeling.
"Bitter as hell," you say. Hungering for a chance to put it across
the lot that had outed you? You wouldn't rest till you had William
sobbing on his knees asking your pardon, and you not thinking of
granting it? That's the way you'd feel, but that wasn't the Graf's
way, and what's more it isn't the German way. He went into exile
hating humanity, and with a heart all poison and snakes, but itching
to get back. And I'll tell you why. It's because his kind of German
hasn't got any other home on this earth. Oh, yes, I know there's
stacks of good old Teutons come and squat in our little country
and turn into fine Americans. You can do a lot with them if you
catch them young and teach them the Declaration of Independence
and make them study our Sunday papers. But you can't deny
there's something comic in the rough about all Germans, before
you've civilized them. They're a pecooliar people, a darned pecooliar
people, else they wouldn't staff all the menial and indecent occupations
on the globe. But that pecooliarity, which is only skin-deep in
the working Boche, is in the bone of the grandee. Your German
aristocracy can't consort on terms of equality with any other Upper
Ten Thousand. They swagger and bluff about the world, but they
know very well that the world's sniggering at them. They're like a
boss from Salt Creek Gully who's made his pile and bought a dress
suit and dropped into a Newport evening party. They don't know
where to put their hands or how to keep their feet still ... Your
copper-bottomed English nobleman has got to keep jogging himself
to treat them as equals instead of sending them down to the servants'
hall. Their fine fixings are just the high light that reveals the
everlasting jay. They can't be gentlemen, because they aren't sure
of themselves. The world laughs at them, and they know it and it
riles them like hell ... That's why when a Graf is booted out of the
Fatherland, he's got to creep back somehow or be a wandering Jew
for the rest of time.'
Blenkiron lit another cigar and fixed me with his steady,
ruminating eye.
'For eight years the man has slaved, body and soul, for the men
who degraded him. He's earned his restoration and I daresay he's
got it in his pocket. If merit was rewarded he should be covered
with Iron Crosses and Red Eagles ... He had a pretty good hand
to start out with. He knew other countries and he was a dandy at
languages. More, he had an uncommon gift for living a part. That
is real genius, Dick, however much it gets up against us. Best of all
he had a first-class outfit of brains. I can't say I ever struck a better,
and I've come across some bright citizens in my time ... And now
he's going to win out, unless we get mighty busy.'
There was a knock at the door and the solid figure of Andrew
Amos revealed itself.
'It's time ye was home, Miss Mary. It chappit half-eleven as I
came up the stairs. It's comin' on to rain, so I've brought an umbrelly.'
'One word,' I said. 'How old is the man?'
'Just gone thirty-six,' Blenkiron replied.
I turned to Mary, who nodded. 'Younger than you, Dick,' she
said wickedly as she got into her big Jaeger coat.
'I'm going to see you home,' I said.
'Not allowed. You've had quite enough of my society for one
day. Andrew's on escort duty tonight.'
Blenkiron looked after her as the door closed.
'I reckon you've got the best girl in the world.'
'Ivery thinks the same,' I said grimly, for my detestation of the
man who had made love to Mary fairly choked me.
'You can see why. Here's this degenerate coming out of his
rotten class, all pampered and petted and satiated with the easy
pleasures of life. He has seen nothing of women except the bad
kind and the overfed specimens of his own country. I hate being
impolite about females, but I've always considered the German
variety uncommon like cows. He has had desperate years of intrigue
and danger, and consorting with every kind of scallawag.
Remember, he's a big man and a poet, with a brain and an imagination
that takes every grade without changing gears. Suddenly he meets
something that is as fresh and lovely as a spring flower, and has
wits too, and the steeliest courage, and yet is all youth and gaiety.
It's a new experience for him, a kind of revelation, and he's big enough
to value her as she should be valued ... No, Dick, I can understand
you getting cross, but I reckon it an item to the man's credit.'
'It's his blind spot all the same,' I said.
'His blind spot,' Blenkiron repeated solemnly, 'and, please God,
we're going to remember that.'
Next morning in miserable sloppy weather Blenkiron carted me
about Paris. We climbed five sets of stairs to a flat away up in
Montmartre, where I was talked to by a fat man with spectacles and
a slow voice and told various things that deeply concerned me.
Then I went to a room in the Boulevard St Germain, with a little
cabinet opening off it, where I was shown papers and maps and
some figures on a sheet of paper that made me open my eyes. We
lunched in a modest cafe tucked away behind the Palais Royal, and
our companions were two Alsatians who spoke German better than
a Boche and had no names - only numbers. In the afternoon I went
to a low building beside the Invalides and saw many generals,
including more than one whose features were familiar in two
hemispheres. I told them everything about myself, and I was examined
like a convict, and all particulars about my appearance and manner
of speech written down in a book. That was to prepare the way for
me, in case of need, among the vast army of those who work
underground and know their chief but do not know each other.
The rain cleared before night, and Blenkiron and I walked back
to the hotel through that lemon-coloured dusk that you get in a
French winter. We passed a company of American soldiers, and
Blenkiron had to stop and stare. I could see that he was stiff with
pride, though he wouldn't show it.
'What d'you think of that bunch?' he asked.
'First-rate stuff,' I said.
'The men are all right,' he drawled critically. 'But some of the
officer-boys are a bit puffy. They want fining down.'
'They'll get it soon enough, honest fellows. You don't keep your
weight long in this war.'
'Say, Dick,' he said shyly, 'what do you truly think of our
Americans? You've seen a lot of them, and I'd value your views.'
His tone was that of a bashful author asking for an opinion on his
first book.
'I'll tell you what I think. You're constructing a great middleclass
army, and that's the most formidable fighting machine on
earth. This kind of war doesn't want the Berserker so much as the
quiet fellow with a trained mind and a lot to fight for. The American
ranks are filled with all sorts, from cow-punchers to college boys,
but mostly with decent lads that have good prospects in life
before them and are fighting because they feel they're bound to,
not because they like it. It was the same stock that pulled through
your Civil War. We have a middle-class division, too - Scottish
Territorials, mostly clerks and shopmen and engineers and farmers'
sons. When I first struck them my only crab was that the officers
weren't much better than the men. It's still true, but the men are
super-excellent, and consequently so are the officers. That division
gets top marks in the Boche calendar for sheer fighting devilment
... And, please God, that's what your American army's going to
be. You can wash out the old idea of a regiment of scallawags
commanded by dukes. That was right enough, maybe, in the days
when you hurrooshed into battle waving a banner, but it don't do
with high explosives and a couple of million men on each side and
a battle front of five hundred miles. The hero of this war is the
plain man out of the middle class, who wants to get back to his
home and is going to use all the brains and grit he possesses to
finish the job soon.'
'That sounds about right,' said Blenkiron reflectively. 'It pleases
me some, for you've maybe guessed that I respect the British Army
quite a little. Which part of it do you put top?'
'All of it's good. The French are keen judges and they give front
place to the Scots and the Australians. For myself I think the
backbone of the Army is the old-fashioned English county regiments
that hardly ever get into the papers Though I don't
know, if I had to pick, but I'd take the South Africans. There's
only a brigade of them, but they're hell's delight in a battle. But
then you'll say I'm prejudiced.'
'Well,' drawled Blenkiron, you're a mighty Empire anyhow.
I've sojourned up and down it and I can't guess how the old-time
highbrows in your little island came to put it together. But I'll let
you into a secret, Dick. I read this morning in a noospaper that
there was a natural affinity between Americans and the men of the
British Dominions. Take it from me, there isn't - at least not with
this American. I don't understand them one little bit. When I see
your lean, tall Australians with the sun at the back of their eyes, I'm
looking at men from another planet. Outside you and Peter, I never
got to fathom a South African. The Canadians live over the fence
from us, but you mix up a Canuck with a Yank in your remarks
and you'll get a bat in the eye ... But most of us Americans have
gotten a grip on your Old Country. You'll find us mighty respectful
to other parts of your Empire, but we say anything we damn well
please about England. You see, we know her that well and like her
that well, we can be free with her.
'It's like,' he concluded as we reached the hotel, 'it's like a lot of
boys that are getting on in the world and are a bit jealous and
stand-offish with each other. But they're all at home with the old
man who used to warm them up with a hickory cane, even though
sometimes in their haste they call him a stand-patter.'
That night at dinner we talked solid business - Blenkiron and I
and a young French Colonel from the IIIeme Section at G.Q.G.
Blenkiron, I remember, got very hurt about being called a business
man by the Frenchman, who thought he was paying him a compliment.
'Cut it out,' he said. 'It is a word that's gone bad with me.
There's just two kind of men, those who've gotten sense and those
who haven't. A big percentage of us Americans make our living by
trading, but we don't think because a man's in business or even
because he's made big money that he's any natural good at every
job. We've made a college professor our President, and do what he
tells us like little boys, though he don't earn more than some of us
pay our works' manager. You English have gotten business on the
brain, and think a fellow's a dandy at handling your Government if
he happens to have made a pile by some flat-catching ramp on your
Stock Exchange. It makes me tired. You're about the best business
nation on earth, but for God's sake don't begin to talk about it or
you'll lose your power. And don't go confusing real business with
the ordinary gift of raking in the dollars. Any man with sense could
make money if he wanted to, but he mayn't want. He may prefer
the fun of the job and let other people do the looting. I reckon the
biggest business on the globe today is the work behind your lines
and the way you feed and supply and transport your army. It beats
the Steel Corporation and the Standard Oil to a frazzle. But the
man at the head of it all don't earn more than a thousand dollars a
month ... Your nation's getting to worship Mammon, Dick. Cut it
out. There's just the one difference in humanity - sense or no
sense, and most likely you won't find any more sense in the man
that makes a billion selling bonds than in his brother Tim that lives
in a shack and sells corn-cobs. I'm not speaking out of sinful
jealousy, for there was a day when I was reckoned a railroad king,
and I quit with a bigger pile than kings usually retire on. But I
haven't the sense of old Peter, who never even had a bank account
... And it's sense that wins in this war.'
The Colonel, who spoke good English, asked a question about a
speech which some politician had made.
'There isn't all the sense I'd like to see at the top,' said Blenkiron.
'They're fine at smooth words. That wouldn't matter, but they're
thinking smooth thoughts. What d'you make of the situation,
'I think it's the worst since First Ypres,' I said. 'Everybody's
cock-a-whoop, but God knows why.'
'God knows why,' Blenkiron repeated. 'I reckon it's a simple
calculation, and you can't deny it any more than a mathematical
law. Russia is counted out. The Boche won't get food from her for
a good many months, but he can get more men, and he's got them.
He's fighting only on one foot, and he's been able to bring troops
and guns west so he's as strong as the Allies now on paper. And
he's stronger in reality. He's got better railways behind him, and
he's fighting on inside lines and can concentrate fast against any bit
of our front. I'm no soldier, but that's so, Dick?'
The Frenchman smiled and shook his head. 'All the same they
will not pass. They could not when they were two to one in 1914,
and they will not now. If we Allies could not break through in the
last year when we had many more men, how will the Germans
succeed now with only equal numbers?'
Blenkiron did not look convinced. 'That's what they all say. I
talked to a general last week about the coming offensive, and he
said he was praying for it to hurry up, for he reckoned Fritz would
get the fright of his life. It's a good spirit, maybe, but I don't think
it's sound on the facts. We've got two mighty great armies of fine
fighting-men, but, because we've two commands, we're bound to
move ragged like a peal of bells. The Hun's got one army and forty
years of stiff tradition, and, what's more, he's going all out this
time. He's going to smash our front before America lines up, or
perish in the attempt ... Why do you suppose all the peace racket
in Germany has died down, and the very men that were talking
democracy in the summer are now hot for fighting to a finish? I'll
tell you. It's because old Ludendorff has promised them complete
victory this spring if they spend enough men, and the Boche is a
good gambler and is out to risk it. We're not up against a local
attack this time. We're standing up to a great nation going baldheaded
for victory or destruction. If we're broken, then America's
got to fight a new campaign by herself when she's ready, and the
Boche has time to make Russia his feeding-ground and diddle our
blockade. That puts another five years on to the war, maybe another
ten. Are we free and independent peoples going to endure that
much? ... I tell you we're tossing to quit before Easter.'
He turned towards me, and I nodded assent.
'That's more or less my view,' I said. 'We ought to hold, but it'll
be by our teeth and nails. For the next six months we'll be fighting
without any margin.'
'But, my friends, you put it too gravely,' cried the Frenchman.
'We may lose a mile or two of ground - yes. But serious danger is
not possible. They had better chances at Verdun and they failed.
Why should they succeed now?'
'Because they are staking everything,' Blenkiron replied. 'It is the
last desperate struggle of a wounded beast, and in these struggles
sometimes the hunter perishes. Dick's right. We've got a wasting
margin and every extra ounce of weight's going to tell. The battle's
in the field, and it's also in every corner of every Allied land. That's
why within the next two months we've got to get even with the
Wild Birds.'
The French Colonel - his name was de Valliere - smiled at the
name, and Blenkiron answered my unspoken question.
'I'm going to satisfy some of your curiosity, Dick, for I've put
together considerable noos of the menagerie. Germany has a good
army of spies outside her borders. We shoot a batch now and then,
but the others go on working like beavers and they do a mighty
deal of harm. They're beautifully organized, but they don't draw on
such good human material as we, and I reckon they don't pay in
results more than ten cents on a dollar of trouble. But there they
are. They're the intelligence officers and their business is just to
forward noos. They're the birds in the cage, the - what is it your
friend called them?'
'_Die _Stubenvogel,' I said.
'Yes, but all the birds aren't caged. There's a few outside the bars
and they don't collect noos. They do things. If there's anything
desperate they're put on the job, and they've got power to act
without waiting on instructions from home. I've investigated till my
brain's tired and I haven't made out more than half a dozen whom I
can say for certain are in the business. There's your pal, the
Portuguese Jew, Dick. Another's a woman in Genoa, a princess of
some sort married to a Greek financier. One's the editor of a pro-Ally
up-country paper in the Argentine. One passes as a Baptist
minister in Colorado. One was a police spy in the Tzar's Government
and is now a red-hot revolutionary in the Caucasus. And the biggest,
of course, is Moxon Ivery, who in happier times was the Graf von
Schwabing. There aren't above a hundred people in the world know
of their existence, and these hundred call them the Wild Birds.'
'Do they work together?' I asked.
'Yes. They each get their own jobs to do, but they're apt to flock
together for a big piece of devilment. There were four of them in
France a year ago before the battle of the Aisne, and they pretty
near rotted the French Army. That's so, Colonel?'
The soldier nodded grimly. 'They seduced our weary troops and
they bought many politicians. Almost they succeeded, but not quite.
The nation is sane again, and is judging and shooting the
accomplices at its leisure. But the principals we have never caught.'
'You hear that, Dick,, said Blenkiron. 'You're satisfied this isn't
a whimsy of a melodramatic old Yank? I'll tell you more. You
know how Ivery worked the submarine business from England.
Also, it was the Wild Birds that wrecked Russia. It was Ivery that
paid the Bolshevists to sedooce the Army, and the Bolshevists took
his money for their own purpose, thinking they were playing a
deep game, when all the time he was grinning like Satan, for they
were playing his. It was Ivery or some other of the bunch that
doped the brigades that broke at Caporetto. If I started in to tell
you the history of their doings you wouldn't go to bed, and if you
did you wouldn't sleep ... There's just this to it. Every finished
subtle devilry that the Boche has wrought among the Allies since
August 1914 has been the work of the Wild Birds and more or less
organized by Ivery. They're worth half a dozen army corps to
Ludendorff. They're the mightiest poison merchants the world ever
saw, and they've the nerve of hell ...'
'I don't know,' I interrupted. 'Ivery's got his soft spot. I saw him
in the Tube station.'
'Maybe, but he's got the kind of nerve that's wanted. And now I
rather fancy he's whistling in his flock,'
Blenkiron consulted a notebook. 'Pavia - that's the Argentine
man - started last month for Europe. He transhipped from a coasting
steamer in the West Indies and we've temporarily lost track of
him, but he's left his hunting-ground. What do you reckon that means?'
'It means,' Blenkiron continued solemnly, 'that Ivery thinks the
game's nearly over. The play's working up for the big climax ...
And that climax is going to be damnation for the Allies, unless we
get a move on.'
'Right,' I said. 'That's what I'm here for. What's the move?'
'The Wild Birds mustn't ever go home, and the man they call
Ivery or Bommaerts or Chelius has to decease. It's a cold-blooded
proposition, but it's him or the world that's got to break. But
before he quits this earth we're bound to get wise about some of
his plans, and that means that we can't just shoot a pistol at his face.
Also we've got to find him first. We reckon he's in Switzerland,
but that is a state with quite a lot of diversified scenery to lose a
man in ... Still I guess we'll find him. But it's the kind of business
to plan out as carefully as a battle. I'm going back to Berne on my
old stunt to boss the show, and I'm giving the orders. You're an
obedient child, Dick, so I don't reckon on any trouble that way.'
Then Blenkiron did an ominous thing. He pulled up a little table
and started to lay out Patience cards. Since his duodenum was
cured he seemed to have dropped that habit, and from his resuming
it I gathered that his mind was uneasy. I can see that scene as if it
were yesterday - the French colonel in an armchair smoking a
cigarette in a long amber holder, and Blenkiron sitting primly on
the edge of a yellow silk ottoman, dealing his cards and looking
guiltily towards me.
'You'll have Peter for company,' he said. 'Peter's a sad man, but
he has a great heart, and he's been mighty useful to me already.
They're going to move him to England very soon. The authorities
are afraid of him, for he's apt to talk wild, his health having made
him peevish about the British. But there's a deal of red-tape in the
world, and the orders for his repatriation are slow in coming.' The
speaker winked very slowly and deliberately with his left eye.
I asked if I was to be with Peter, much cheered at the prospect.
'Why, yes. You and Peter are the collateral in the deal. But the
big game's not with you.'
I had a presentiment of something coming, something anxious
and unpleasant.
'Is Mary in it?' I asked.
He nodded and seemed to pull himself together for an explanation.
'See here, Dick. Our main job is to get Ivery back to Allied soil
where we can handle him. And there's just the one magnet that can
fetch him back. You aren't going to deny that.'
I felt my face getting very red, and that ugly hammer began
beating in my forehead. Two grave, patient eyes met my glare.
'I'm damned if I'll allow it!' I cried. 'I've some right to a say in the
thing. I won't have Mary made a decoy. It's too infernally degrading.'
'It isn't pretty, but war isn't pretty, and nothing we do is pretty.
I'd have blushed like a rose when I was young and innocent to
imagine the things I've put my hand to in the last three years. But
have you any other way, Dick? I'm not proud, and I'll scrap the
plan if you can show me another ... Night after night I've
hammered the thing out, and I can't hit on a better ... Heigh-ho,
Dick, this isn't like you,' and he grinned ruefully. 'You're making
yourself a fine argument in favour of celibacy - in time of war,
anyhow What is it the poet sings? -
White hands cling to the bridle rein,
Slipping the spur from the booted heel -'
I was as angry as sin, but I felt all the time I had no case. Blenkiron
stopped his game of Patience, sending the cards flying over the
carpet, and straddled on the hearthrug.
'You're never going to be a piker. What's dooty, if you won't
carry it to the other side of Hell? What's the use of yapping about
your country if you're going to keep anything back when she calls
for it? What's the good of meaning to win the war if you don't put
every cent you've got on your stake? You'll make me think you're
like the jacks in your English novels that chuck in their hand and
say it's up to God, and call that "seeing it through" ... No, Dick,
that kind of dooty don't deserve a blessing. You dursn't keep back
anything if you want to save your soul.
'Besides,' he went on, 'what a girl it is! She can't scare and she
can't soil. She's white-hot youth and innocence, and she'd take no
more harm than clean steel from a muck-heap.'
I knew I was badly in the wrong, but my pride was all raw.
'I'm not going to agree till I've talked to Mary.'
'But Miss Mary has consented,' he said gently. 'She made the plan.'
Next day, in clear blue weather that might have been May, I drove
Mary down to Fontainebleau. We lunched in the inn by the bridge
and walked into the forest. I hadn't slept much, for I was tortured
by what I thought was anxiety for her, but which was in truth
jealousy of Ivery. I don't think that I would have minded her
risking her life, for that was part of the game we were both in, but
I jibbed at the notion of Ivery coming near her again. I told myself
it was honourable pride, but I knew deep down in me that it was jealousy.
I asked her if she had accepted Blenkiron's plan, and she turned
mischievous eyes on me.
'I knew I should have a scene with you, Dick. I told Mr Blenkiron
so ... Of course I agreed. I'm not even very much afraid of it. I'm
a member of the team, you know, and I must play up to my form. I
can't do a man's work, so all the more reason why I should tackle
the thing I can do.'
'But,' I stammered, 'it's such a ... such a degrading business for
a child like you. I can't bear ... It makes me hot to think of it.'
Her reply was merry laughter.
'You're an old Ottoman, Dick. You haven't doubled Cape Turk
yet, and I don't believe you're round Seraglio Point. Why, women
aren't the brittle things men used to think them. They never were,
and the war has made them like whipcord. Bless you, my dear,
we're the tougher sex now. We've had to wait and endure, and
we've been so beaten on the anvil of patience that we've lost all our
She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
'Look at me, Dick, look at your someday-to-be espoused saint.
I'm nineteen years of age next August. Before the war I should
have only just put my hair up. I should have been the kind of
shivering debutante who blushes when she's spoken to, and oh! I
should have thought such silly, silly things about life ... Well, in
the last two years I've been close to it, and to death. I've nursed the
dying. I've seen souls in agony and in triumph. England has allowed
me to serve her as she allows her sons. Oh, I'm a robust young
woman now, and indeed I think women were always robuster than
men ... Dick, dear Dick, we're lovers, but we're comrades too -
always comrades, and comrades trust each other.'
I hadn't anything to say, except contrition, for I had my lesson. I
had been slipping away in my thoughts from the gravity of our
task, and Mary had brought me back to it. I remember that as we
walked through the woodland we came to a place where there were
no signs of war. Elsewhere there were men busy felling trees, and
anti-aircraft guns, and an occasional transport wagon, but here there
was only a shallow grassy vale, and in the distance, bloomed over
like a plum in the evening haze, the roofs of an old dwelling-house
among gardens.
Mary clung to my arm as we drank in the peace of it.
'That is what lies for us at the end of the road, Dick,' she said softly.
And then, as she looked, I felt her body shiver. She returned to
the strange fancy she had had in the St Germains woods three days before.
'Somewhere it's waiting for us and we shall certainly find it ...
But first we must go through the Valley of the Shadow ... And
there is the sacrifice to be made ... the best of us.'
St Anton
Ten days later the porter Joseph Zimmer of Arosa, clad in the
tough and shapeless trousers of his class, but sporting an old
velveteen shooting-coat bequeathed to him by a former German master
- speaking the guttural tongue of the Grisons, and with all his
belongings in one massive rucksack, came out of the little station of
St Anton and blinked in the frosty sunshine. He looked down upon
the little old village beside its icebound lake, but his business was
with the new village of hotels and villas which had sprung up in
the last ten years south of the station. He made some halting
inquiries of the station people, and a cab-driver outside finally
directed him to the place he sought - the cottage of the Widow
Summermatter, where resided an English intern, one Peter Pienaar.
The porter Joseph Zimmer had had a long and roundabout
journey. A fortnight before he had worn the uniform of a British
major-general. As such he had been the inmate of an expensive Paris
hotel, till one morning, in grey tweed clothes and with a limp, he
had taken the Paris-Mediterranean Express with a ticket for an
officers' convalescent home at Cannes. Thereafter he had declined
in the social scale. At Dijon he had been still an Englishman, but at
Pontarlier he had become an American bagman of Swiss parentage,
returning to wind up his father's estate. At Berne he limped
excessively, and at Zurich, at a little back-street hotel, he became
frankly the peasant. For he met a friend there from whom he
acquired clothes with that odd rank smell, far stronger than Harris
tweed, which marks the raiment of most Swiss guides and all Swiss
porters. He also acquired a new name and an old aunt, who a little
later received him with open arms and explained to her friends that
he was her brother's son from Arosa who three winters ago had
hurt his leg wood-cutting and had been discharged from the levy.
A kindly Swiss gentleman, as it chanced, had heard of the deserving
Joseph and interested himself to find him employment. The
said philanthropist made a hobby of the French and British prisoners
returned from Germany, and had in mind an officer, a crabbed
South African with a bad leg, who needed a servant. He was, it
seemed, an ill-tempered old fellow who had to be billeted alone,
and since he could speak German, he would be happier with a
Swiss native. Joseph haggled somewhat over the wages, but on his
aunt's advice he accepted the job, and, with a very complete set of
papers and a store of ready-made reminiscences (it took him some
time to swot up the names of the peaks and passes he had traversed)
set out for St Anton, having dispatched beforehand a monstrously
ill-spelt letter announcing his coming. He could barely read and
write, but he was good at maps, which he had studied carefully,
and he noticed with satisfaction that the valley of St Anton gave
easy access to Italy.
As he journeyed south the reflections of that porter would have
surprised his fellow travellers in the stuffy third-class carriage. He
was thinking of a conversation he had had some days before in a
cafe at Dijon with a young Englishman bound for Modane ...
We had bumped up against each other by chance in that strange
flitting when all went to different places at different times, asking
nothing of each other's business. Wake had greeted me rather
shamefacedly and had proposed dinner together.
I am not good at receiving apologies, and Wake's embarrassed me
more than they embarrassed him. 'I'm a bit of a cad sometimes,'he said.
'You know I'm a better fellow than I sounded that night, Hannay.'
I mumbled something about not talking rot - the conventional
phrase. What worried me was that the man was suffering. You
could see it in his eyes. But that evening I got nearer Wake than
ever before, and he and I became true friends, for he laid bare his
soul before me. That was his trouble, that he could lay bare his
soul, for ordinary healthy folk don't analyse their feelings. Wake
did, and I think it brought him relief.
'Don't think I was ever your rival. I would no more have
proposed to Mary than I would have married one of her aunts. She
was so sure of herself, so happy in her single-heartedness that she
terrified me. My type of man is not meant for marriage, for women
must be in the centre of life, and we must always be standing aside
and looking on. It is a damnable thing to be left-handed.'
'The trouble about you, my dear chap,' I said, 'is that you're too
hard to please.'
'That's one way of putting it. I should put it more harshly. I hate
more than I love. All we humanitarians and pacifists have hatred
as our mainspring. Odd, isn't it, for people who preach brotherly
love? But it's the truth. We're full of hate towards everything that
doesn't square in with our ideas, everything that jars on our ladylike
nerves. Fellows like you are so in love with their cause that
they've no time or inclination to detest what thwarts them. We've
no cause - only negatives, and that means hatred, and self-torture,
and a beastly jaundice of soul.'
Then I knew that Wake's fault was not spiritual pride, as I had
diagnosed it at Biggleswick. The man was abased with humility.
'I see more than other people see,' he went on, 'and I feel more.
That's the curse on me. You're a happy man and you get things
done, because you only see one side of a case, one thing at a time.
How would you like it if a thousand strings were always tugging at
you, if you saw that every course meant the sacrifice of lovely and
desirable things, or even the shattering of what you know to be
unreplaceable? I'm the kind of stuff poets are made of, but I
haven't the poet's gift, so I stagger about the world left-handed and
game-legged ... Take the war. For me to fight would be worse than
for another man to run away. From the bottom of my heart I
believe that it needn't have happened, and that all war is a blistering
iniquity. And yet belief has got very little to do with virtue. I'm not
as good a man as you, Hannay, who have never thought out
anything in your life. My time in the Labour battalion taught me
something. I knew that with all my fine aspirations I wasn't as true
a man as fellows whose talk was silly oaths and who didn't care a
tinker's curse about their soul.'
I remember that I looked at him with a sudden understanding. 'I
think I know you. You're the sort of chap who won't fight for his
country because he can't be sure that she's altogether in the right.
But he'd cheerfully die for her, right or wrong.'
His face relaxed in a slow smile. 'Queer that you should say that.
I think it's pretty near the truth. Men like me aren't afraid to die,
but they haven't quite the courage to live. Every man should be
happy in a service like you, when he obeys orders. I couldn't get on
in any service. I lack the bump of veneration. I can't swallow
things merely because I'm told to. My sort are always talking about
"service", but we haven't the temperament to serve. I'd give all I
have to be an ordinary cog in the wheel, instead of a confounded
outsider who finds fault with the machinery ... Take a great
violent high-handed fellow like you. You can sink yourself till you
become only a name and a number. I couldn't if I tried. I'm not
sure if I want to either. I cling to the odds and ends that are my
'I wish I had had you in my battalion a year ago,' I said.
'No, you don't. I'd only have been a nuisance. I've been a Fabian
since Oxford, but you're a better socialist than me. I'm a rancid
'But you must be feeling better about the war?' I asked.
'Not a bit of it. I'm still lusting for the heads of the politicians
that made it and continue it. But I want to help my country.
Honestly, Hannay, I love the old place. More, I think, than I love
myself, and that's saying a devilish lot. Short of fighting - which
would be the sin against the Holy Spirit for me - I'll do my
damnedest. But you'll remember I'm not used to team work. If I'm a
jealous player, beat me over the head.'
His voice was almost wistful, and I liked him enormously.
'Blenkiron will see to that,' I said. 'We're going to break you to
harness, Wake, and then you'll be a happy man. You keep your
mind on the game and forget about yourself. That's the cure for
As I journeyed to St Anton I thought a lot about that talk. He
was quite right about Mary, who would never have married him. A
man with such an angular soul couldn't fit into another's. And then
I thought that the chief thing about Mary was just her serene
certainty. Her eyes had that settled happy look that I remembered
to have seen only in one other human face, and that was Peter's ...
But I wondered if Peter's eyes were still the same.
I found the cottage, a little wooden thing which had been left
perched on its knoll when the big hotels grew around it. It had a
fence in front, but behind it was open to the hillside. At the gate
stood a bent old woman with a face like a pippin. My make-up
must have been good, for she accepted me before I introduced myself.
'God be thanked you are come,' she cried. 'The poor lieutenant
needed a man to keep him company. He sleeps now, as he does
always in the afternoon, for his leg wearies him in the night ... But
he is brave, like a soldier ... Come, I will show you the house, for
you two will be alone now.'
Stepping softly she led me indoors, pointing with a warning
finger to the little bedroom where Peter slept. I found a kitchen
with a big stove and a rough floor of planking, on which lay some
badly cured skins. Off it was a sort of pantry with a bed for me.
She showed me the pots and pans for cooking and the stores she
had laid in, and where to find water and fuel. 'I will do the
marketing daily,' she said, 'and if you need me, my dwelling is half
a mile up the road beyond the new church. God be with you,
young man, and be kind to that wounded one.'
When the Widow Summermatter had departed I sat down in
Peter's arm-chair and took stock of the place. It was quiet and
simple and homely, and through the window came the gleam of
snow on the diamond hills. On the table beside the stove were
Peter's cherished belongings - his buck-skin pouch and the pipe
which Jannie Grobelaar had carved for him in St Helena, an
aluminium field match-box I had given him, a cheap large-print
Bible such as padres present to well-disposed privates, and an old
battered _Pilgrim's _Progress with gaudy pictures. The illustration at
which I opened showed Faithful going up to Heaven from the fire
of Vanity Fair like a woodcock that has just been flushed. Everything
in the room was exquisitely neat, and I knew that that was
Peter and not the Widow Summermatter. On a peg behind the
door hung his much-mended coat, and sticking out of a pocket I
recognized a sheaf of my own letters. In one corner stood something
which I had forgotten about - an invalid chair.
The sight of Peter's plain little oddments made me feel solemn. I
wondered if his eyes would be like Mary's now, for I could not
conceive what life would be for him as a cripple. Very silently I
opened the bedroom door and slipped inside.
He was lying on a camp bedstead with one of those striped Swiss
blankets pulled up round his ears, and he was asleep. It was the old
Peter beyond doubt. He had the hunter's gift of breathing evenly
through his nose, and the white scar on the deep brown of his
forehead was what I had always remembered. The only change since I
last saw him was that he had let his beard grow again, and it was grey.
As I looked at him the remembrance of all we had been through
together flooded back upon me, and I could have cried with joy at
being beside him. Women, bless their hearts! can never know what
long comradeship means to men; it is something not in their lives -
something that belongs only to that wild, undomesticated world
which we forswear when we find our mates. Even Mary understood
only a bit of it. I had just won her love, which was the greatest
thing that ever came my way, but if she had entered at that moment
I would scarcely have turned my head. I was back again in the old
life and was not thinking of the new.
Suddenly I saw that Peter was awake and was looking at me.
'Dick,' he said in a whisper, 'Dick, my old friend.'
The blanket was tossed off, and his long, lean arms were stretched
out to me. I gripped his hands, and for a little we did not speak.
Then I saw how woefully he had changed. His left leg had shrunk,
and from the knee down was like a pipe stem. His face, when
awake, showed the lines of hard suffering and he seemed shorter by
half a foot. But his eyes were still like Mary's. Indeed they seemed
to be more patient and peaceful than in the days when he sat beside
me on the buck-waggon and peered over the hunting-veld.
I picked him up - he was no heavier than Mary - and carried
him to his chair beside the stove. Then I boiled water and made tea,
as we had so often done together.
'Peter, old man,' I said, 'we're on trek again, and this is a very
snug little _rondavel. We've had many good yarns, but this is going
to be the best. First of all, how about your health?'
'Good, I'm a strong man again, but slow like a hippo cow. I
have been lonely sometimes, but that is all by now. Tell me of the
big battles.'
But I was hungry for news of him and kept him to his own case.
He had no complaint of his treatment except that he did not like
Germans. The doctors at the hospital had been clever, he said, and
had done their best for him, but nerves and sinews and small bones
had been so wrecked that they could not mend his leg, and Peter
had all the Boer's dislike of amputation. One doctor had been in
Damaraland and talked to him of those baked sunny places and
made him homesick. But he returned always to his dislike of
Germans. He had seen them herding our soldiers like brute beasts,
and the commandant had a face like Stumm and a chin that stuck
out and wanted hitting. He made an exception for the great airman
Lensch, who had downed him.
'He is a white man, that one,' he said. 'He came to see me in
hospital and told me a lot of things. I think he made them treat me
well. He is a big man, Dick, who would make two of me, and he
has a round, merry face and pale eyes like Frickie Celliers who
could put a bullet through a pauw's head at two hundred yards. He
said he was sorry I was lame, for he hoped to have more fights
with me. Some woman that tells fortunes had said that I would be
the end of him, but he reckoned she had got the thing the wrong
way on. I hope he will come through this war, for he is a good
man, though a German ... But the others! They are like the fool in
the Bible, fat and ugly in good fortune and proud and vicious when
their luck goes. They are not a people to be happy with.'
Then he told me that to keep up his spirits he had amused
himself with playing a game. He had prided himself on being a
Boer, and spoken coldly of the British. He had also, I gathered,
imparted many things calculated to deceive. So he left Germany
with good marks, and in Switzerland had held himself aloof from
the other British wounded, on the advice of Blenkiron, who had
met him as soon as he crossed the frontier. I gathered it was
Blenkiron who had had him sent to St Anton, and in his time there,
as a disgruntled Boer, he had mixed a good deal with Germans.
They had pumped him about our air service, and Peter had told
them many ingenious lies and heard curious things in return.
'They are working hard, Dick,' he said. 'Never forget that. The
German is a stout enemy, and when we beat him with a machine he
sweats till he has invented a new one. They have great pilots, but
never so many good ones as we, and I do not think in ordinary
fighting they can ever beat us. But you must watch Lensch, for I
fear him. He has a new machine, I hear, with great engines and a
short wingspread, but the wings so cambered that he can climb fast.
That will be a surprise to spring upon us. You will say that we'll soon
better it. So we shall, but if it was used at a time when we were pushing
hard it might make the little difference that loses battles.'
'You mean,' I said, 'that if we had a great attack ready and had
driven all the Boche planes back from our front, Lensch and his
circus might get over in spite of us and blow the gaff?'
'Yes,' he said solemnly. 'Or if we were attacked, and had a weak
spot, Lensch might show the Germans where to get through. I do
not think we are going to attack for a long time; but I am
pretty sure that Germany is going to fling every man against us. That is
the talk of my friends, and it is not bluff.'
That night I cooked our modest dinner, and we smoked our pipes
with the stove door open and the good smell of woodsmoke in our
nostrils. I told him of all my doings and of the Wild Birds and
Ivery and the job we were engaged on. Blenkiron's instructions were
that we two should live humbly and keep our eyes and ears open,
for we were outside suspicion - the cantankerous lame Boer and his
loutish servant from Arosa. Somewhere in the place was a rendezvous
of our enemies, and thither came Chelius on his dark errands.
Peter nodded his head sagely, 'I think I have guessed the place.
The daughter of the old woman used to pull my chair sometimes
down to the village, and I have sat in cheap inns and talked to
servants. There is a fresh-water pan there, it is all covered with
snow now, and beside it there is a big house that they call the Pink
Chalet. I do not know much about it, except that rich folk live in it,
for I know the other houses and they are harmless. Also the big
hotels, which are too cold and public for strangers to meet in.'
I put Peter to bed, and it was a joy to me to look after him, to
give him his tonic and prepare the hot water bottle that comforted
his neuralgia. His behaviour was like a docile child's, and he never
lapsed from his sunny temper, though I could see how his leg gave
him hell. They had tried massage for it and given it up, and there
was nothing for him but to endure till nature and his tough constitution
deadened the tortured nerves again. I shifted my bed out of
the pantry and slept in the room with him, and when I woke in the
night, as one does the first time in a strange place, I could tell by
his breathing that he was wakeful and suffering.
Next day a bath chair containing a grizzled cripple and pushed
by a limping peasant might have been seen descending the long hill
to the village. It was clear frosty weather which makes the cheeks
tingle, and I felt so full of beans that it was hard to remember my
game leg. The valley was shut in on the east by a great mass of
rocks and glaciers, belonging to a mountain whose top could not
be seen. But on the south, above the snowy fir-woods, there was a
most delicate lace-like peak with a point like a needle. I looked at it
with interest, for beyond it lay the valley which led to the Staub
pass, and beyond that was Italy - and Mary.
The old village of St Anton had one long, narrow street which
bent at right angles to a bridge which spanned the river flowing
from the lake. Thence the road climbed steeply, but at the other
end of the street it ran on the level by the water's edge, lined with
gimcrack boarding-houses, now shuttered to the world, and a few
villas in patches of garden. At the far end, just before it plunged
into a pine-wood, a promontory jutted into the lake, leaving a
broad space between the road and the water. Here were the grounds
of a more considerable dwelling - snow-covered laurels and rhododendrons
with one or two bigger trees - and just on the water-edge
stood the house itself, called the Pink Chalet.
I wheeled Peter past the entrance on the crackling snow of the
highway. Seen through the gaps of the trees the front looked new,
but the back part seemed to be of some age, for I could see high
walls, broken by few windows, hanging over the water. The place
was no more a chalet than a donjon, but I suppose the name was
given in honour of a wooden gallery above the front door. The
whole thing was washed in an ugly pink. There were outhouses -
garage or stables among the trees - and at the entrance there were
fairly recent tracks of an automobile.
On our way back we had some very bad beer in a cafe and made
friends with the woman who kept it. Peter had to tell her his story,
and I trotted out my aunt in Zurich, and in the end we heard her
grievances. She was a true Swiss, angry at all the belligerents who
had spoiled her livelihood, hating Germany most but also fearing
her most. Coffee, tea, fuel, bread, even milk and cheese were hard
to get and cost a ransom. It would take the land years to recover,
and there would be no more tourists, for there was little money left
in the world. I dropped a question about the Pink Chalet, and was
told that it belonged to one Schweigler, a professor of Berne, an
old man who came sometimes for a few days in the summer. It was
often let, but not now. Asked if it was occupied, she remarked
that some friends of the Schweiglers - rich people from Basle - had
been there for the winter. 'They come and go in great cars,' she
said bitterly, 'and they bring their food from the cities. They spend
no money in this poor place.'
Presently Peter and I fell into a routine of life, as if we had always
kept house together. In the morning he went abroad in his chair, in
the afternoon I would hobble about on my own errands. We sank
into the background and took its colour, and a less conspicuous
pair never faced the eye of suspicion. Once a week a young Swiss
officer, whose business it was to look after British wounded, paid
us a hurried visit. I used to get letters from my aunt in Zurich,
Sometimes with the postmark of Arosa, and now and then these
letters would contain curiously worded advice or instructions from
him whom my aunt called 'the kind patron'. Generally I was told to
be patient. Sometimes I had word about the health of 'my little
cousin across the mountains'. Once I was bidden expect a friend of
the patron's, the wise doctor of whom he had often spoken, but
though after that I shadowed the Pink Chalet for two days no
doctor appeared.
My investigations were a barren business. I used to go down to
the village in the afternoon and sit in an out-of-the-way cafe, talking
slow German with peasants and hotel porters, but there was little
to learn. I knew all there was to hear about the Pink Chalet, and
that was nothing. A young man who ski-ed stayed for three nights
and spent his days on the alps above the fir-woods. A party of four,
including two women, was reported to have been there for a night
- all ramifications of the rich family of Basle. I studied the house
from the lake, which should have been nicely swept into ice-rinks,
but from lack of visitors was a heap of blown snow. The high old
walls of the back part were built straight from the water's edge. I
remember I tried a short cut through the grounds to the high-road
and was given 'Good afternoon' by a smiling German manservant.
One way and another I gathered there were a good many servingmen
about the place - too many for the infrequent guests. But
beyond this I discovered nothing.
Not that I was bored, for I had always Peter to turn to. He was
thinking a lot about South Africa, and the thing he liked best was
to go over with me every detail of our old expeditions. They
belonged to a life which he could think about without pain, whereas
the war was too near and bitter for him. He liked to hobble out-of-doors
after the darkness came and look at his old friends, the stars.
He called them by the words they use on the veld, and the first star
of morning he called the _voorlooper - the little boy who inspans the
oxen - a name I had not heard for twenty years. Many a great yarn
we spun in the long evenings, but I always went to bed with a sore
heart. The longing in his eyes was too urgent, longing not for old
days or far countries, but for the health and strength which had
once been his pride.
one night I told him about Mary.
'She will be a happy _mysie,' he said, 'but you will need to be very
clever with her, for women are queer cattle and you and I don't
know their ways. They tell me English women do not cook and
make clothes like our vrouws, so what will she find to do? I doubt
an idle woman will be like a mealie-fed horse.'
It was no good explaining to him the kind of girl Mary was, for
that was a world entirely beyond his ken. But I could see that he
felt lonelier than ever at my news. So I told him of the house I
meant to have in England when the war was over - an old house in
a green hilly country, with fields that would carry four head of
cattle to the Morgan and furrows of clear water, and orchards of
plums and apples. 'And you will stay with us all the time,' I said.
'You will have your own rooms and your own boy to look after
you, and you will help me to farm, and we will catch fish together,
and shoot the wild ducks when they come up from the pans in the
evening. I have found a better countryside than the Houtbosch,
where you and I planned to have a farm. It is a blessed and happy
place, England.'
He shook his head. 'You are a kind man, Dick, but your pretty
_mysie won't want an ugly old fellow like me hobbling about her
house ... I do not think I will go back to Africa, for I should be
sad there in the sun. I will find a little place in England, and some
day I will visit you, old friend.'
That night his stoicism seemed for the first time to fail him. He
was silent for a long time and went early to bed, where I can vouch
for it he did not sleep. But he must have thought a lot in the night
time, for in the morning he had got himself in hand and was as
cheerful as a sandboy.
I watched his philosophy with amazement. It was far beyond
anything I could have compassed myself. He was so frail and so
poor, for he had never had anything in the world but his bodily
fitness, and he had lost that now. And remember, he had lost it
after some months of glittering happiness, for in the air he had
found the element for which he had been born. Sometimes he
dropped a hint of those days when he lived in the clouds and
invented a new kind of battle, and his voice always grew hoarse. I
could see that he ached with longing for their return. And yet he
never had a word of complaint. That was the ritual he had set
himself, his point of honour, and he faced the future with the same
kind of courage as that with which he had tackled a wild beast or
Lensch himself. Only it needed a far bigger brand of fortitude.
Another thing was that he had found religion. I doubt if that is
the right way to put it, for he had always had it. Men who live in
the wilds know they are in the hands of God. But his old kind had
been a tattered thing, more like heathen superstition, though it had
always kept him humble. But now he had taken to reading the
Bible and to thinking in his lonely nights, and he had got a creed of
his own. I dare say it was crude enough, I am sure it was
unorthodox; but if the proof of religion is that it gives a man a prop
in bad days, then Peter's was the real thing. He used to ferret about
in the Bible and the_Pilgrim's _Progress - they were both equally
inspired in his eyes - and find texts which he interpreted in his own
way to meet his case. He took everything quite literally. What
happened three thousand years ago in Palestine might, for all he
minded, have been going on next door. I used to chaff him and tell
him that he was like the Kaiser, very good at fitting the Bible to his
purpose, but his sincerity was so complete that he only smiled. I
remember one night, when he had been thinking about his flying
days, he found a passage in Thessalonians about the dead rising to
meet their Lord in the air, and that cheered him a lot. Peter, I could
see, had the notion that his time here wouldn't be very long, and he
liked to think that when he got his release he would find once more
the old rapture.
Once, when I said something about his patience, he said he had
got to try to live up to Mr Standfast. He had fixed on that character
to follow, though he would have preferred Mr Valiant-for-Truth if
he had thought himself good enough. He used to talk about Mr
Standfast in his queer way as if he were a friend of us both, like
Blenkiron ... I tell you I was humbled out of all my pride by the
Sight of Peter, so uncomplaining and gentle and wise. The Almighty
Himself couldn't have made a prig out of him, and he never would
have thought of preaching. Only once did he give me advice. I had
always a liking for short cuts, and I was getting a bit restive under
the long inaction. One day when I expressed my feelings on the
matter, Peter upped and read from the_Pilgrim's _Progress: 'Some also
have wished that the next way to their Father's house were here,
that they might be troubled no more with either hills or mountains
to go over, but the Way is the Way, and there is an end.'
All the same when we got into March and nothing happened I
grew pretty anxious. Blenkiron had said we were fighting against
time, and here were the weeks slipping away. His letters came
occasionally, always in the shape of communications from my aunt.
One told me that I would soon be out of a job, for Peter's repatriation
was just about through, and he might get his movement order
any day. Another spoke of my little cousin over the hills, and said
that she hoped soon to be going to a place called Santa Chiara in
the Val Saluzzana. I got out the map in a hurry and measured the
distance from there to St Anton and pored over the two roads
thither - the short one by the Staub Pass and the long one by the
Marjolana. These letters made me think that things were nearing a
climax, but still no instructions came. I had nothing to report in my
own messages, I had discovered nothing in the Pink Chalet but idle
servants, I was not even sure if the Pink Chalet were not a harmless
villa, and I hadn't come within a thousand miles of finding Chelius.
All my desire to imitate Peter's stoicism didn't prevent me from
getting occasionally rattled and despondent.
The one thing I could do was to keep fit, for I had a notion I
might soon want all my bodily strength. I had to keep up my
pretence of lameness in the daytime, so I used to take my exercise at
night. I would sleep in the afternoon, when Peter had his siesta,
and then about ten in the evening, after putting him to bed, I
would slip out-of-doors and go for a four or five hours' tramp.
Wonderful were those midnight wanderings. I pushed up through
the snow-laden pines to the ridges where the snow lay in great
wreaths and scallops, till I stood on a crest with a frozen world at
my feet and above me a host of glittering stars. Once on a night of
full moon I reached the glacier at the valley head, scrambled up the
moraine to where the ice began, and peered fearfully into the
spectral crevasses. At such hours I had the earth to myself, for there
was not a sound except the slipping of a burden of snow from the
trees or the crack and rustle which reminded me that a glacier was a
moving river. The war seemed very far away, and I felt the littleness
of our human struggles, till I thought of Peter turning from side to
side to find ease in the cottage far below me. Then I realized that
the spirit of man was the greatest thing in this spacious world ... I
would get back about three or four, have a bath in the water which
had been warming in my absence, and creep into bed, almost
ashamed of having two sound legs, when a better man a yard away
had but one.
Oddly enough at these hours there seemed more life in the Pink
Chalet than by day. Once, tramping across the lake long after
midnight, I saw lights in the lake-front in windows which for
ordinary were blank and shuttered. Several times I cut across the
grounds, when the moon was dark. On one such occasion a great
car with no lights swept up the drive, and I heard low voices at the
door. Another time a man ran hastily past me, and entered the
house by a little door on the eastern side, which I had not before
noticed ... Slowly the conviction began to grow on me that we
were not wrong in marking down this place, that things went on
within it which it deeply concerned us to discover. But I was
puzzled to think of a way. I might butt inside, but for all I knew it
would be upsetting Blenkiron's plans, for he had given me no
instructions about housebreaking. All this unsettled me worse than
ever. I began to lie awake planning some means of entrance ... I
would be a peasant from the next valley who had twisted his ankle ...
I would go seeking an imaginary cousin among the servants ...
I would start a fire in the place and have the doors flung open to
zealous neighbours ...
And then suddenly I got instructions in a letter from Blenkiron.
It came inside a parcel of warm socks that arrived from my kind
aunt. But the letter for me was not from her. It was in Blenkiron's
large sprawling hand and the style of it was all his own. He told me
that he had about finished his job. He had got his line on Chelius,
who was the bird he expected, and that bird would soon wing its
way southward across the mountains for the reason I knew of.
'We've got an almighty move on,' he wrote, 'and please God
you're going to hustle some in the next week. It's going better than
I ever hoped.' But something was still to be done. He had struck a
countryman, one Clarence Donne, a journalist of Kansas City,
whom he had taken into the business. Him he described as a
'crackerjack' and commended to my esteem. He was coming to St
Anton, for there was a game afoot at the Pink Chalet, which he
would give me news of. I was to meet him next evening at ninefifteen
at the little door in the east end of the house. 'For the love
of Mike, Dick,' he concluded, 'be on time and do everything
Clarence tells you as if he was me. It's a mighty complex affair, but
you and he have sand enough to pull through. Don't worry about
your little cousin. She's safe and out of the job now.'
My first feeling was one of immense relief, especially at the last
words. I read the letter a dozen times to make sure I had its
meaning. A flash of suspicion crossed my mind that it might be a
fake, principally because there was no mention of Peter, who had
figured large in the other missives. But why should Peter be mentioned
when he wasn't on in this piece? The signature convinced
me. Ordinarily Blenkiron signed himself in full with a fine
commercial flourish. But when I was at the Front he had got into the
habit of making a kind of hieroglyphic of his surname to me and
sticking J.S. after it in a bracket. That was how this letter was
signed, and it was sure proof it was all right.
I spent that day and the next in wild spirits. Peter spotted what
was on, though I did not tell him for fear of making him envious. I
had to be extra kind to him, for I could see that he ached to have a
hand in the business. Indeed he asked shyly if I couldn't fit him in,
and I had to lie about it and say it was only another of my aimless
circumnavigations of the Pink Chalet.
'Try and find something where I can help,' he pleaded. 'I'm
pretty strong still, though I'm lame, and I can shoot a bit.'
I declared that he would be used in time, that Blenkiron had
promised he would be used, but for the life of me I couldn't see how.
At nine o'clock on the evening appointed I was on the lake
opposite the house, close in under the shore, making my way to the
rendezvous. It was a coal-black night, for though the air was clear
the stars were shining with little light, and the moon had not yet
risen. With a premonition that I might be long away from food, I
had brought some slabs of chocolate, and my pistol and torch were
in my pocket. It was bitter cold, but I had ceased to mind weather,
and I wore my one suit and no overcoat.
The house was like a tomb for silence. There was no crack of
light anywhere, and none of those smells of smoke and food which
proclaim habitation. It was an eerie job scrambling up the steep
bank east of the place, to where the flat of the garden started, in a
darkness so great that I had to grope my way like a blind man.
I found the little door by feeling along the edge of the building.
Then I stepped into an adjacent clump of laurels to wait on my
companion. He was there before me.
'Say,' I heard a rich Middle West voice whisper, 'are you Joseph
Zimmer? I'm not shouting any names, but I guess you are the guy
I was told to meet here.'
'Mr Donne?' I whispered back.
'The same,'he replied. 'Shake.'
I gripped a gloved and mittened hand which drew me towards the door.
I Lie on a Hard Bed
The journalist from Kansas City was a man of action. He wasted no
words in introducing himself or unfolding his plan of campaign.
'You've got to follow me, mister, and not deviate one inch from
my tracks. The explaining part will come later. There's big business
in this shack tonight.' He unlocked the little door with scarcely a
sound, slid the crust of snow from his boots, and preceded me into
a passage as black as a cellar. The door swung smoothly behind us,
and after the sharp out-of-doors the air smelt stuffy as the inside of
a safe.
A hand reached back to make sure that I followed. We appeared
to be in a flagged passage under the main level of the house. My
hobnailed boots slipped on the floor, and I steadied myself on the
wall, which seemed to be of undressed stone. Mr Donne moved
softly and assuredly, for he was better shod for the job than me,
and his guiding hand came back constantly to make sure of my whereabouts.
I remember that I felt just as I had felt when on that August
night I had explored the crevice of the Coolin - the same sense that
something queer was going to happen, the same recklessness and
contentment. Moving a foot at a time with immense care, we came
to a right-hand turning. Two shallow steps led us to another passage,
and then my groping hands struck a blind wall. The American
was beside me, and his mouth was close to my ear.
'Got to crawl now,' he whispered. 'You lead, mister, while I
shed this coat of mine. Eight feet on your stomach and then
I wriggled through a low tunnel, broad enough to take three
men abreast, but not two feet high. Half-way through I felt suffocated,
for I never liked holes, and I had a momentary anxiety as to
what we were after in this cellar pilgrimage. Presently I smelt free
air and got on to my knees.
'Right, mister?' came a whisper from behind. My companion
seemed to be waiting till I was through before he followed.
'Right,' I answered, and very carefully rose to my feet.
Then something happened behind me. There was a jar and a
bump as if the roof of the tunnel had subsided. I turned sharply and
groped at the mouth. I stuck my leg down and found a block.
'Donne,' I said, as loud as I dared, 'are you hurt? Where are you?'
But no answer came.
Even then I thought only of an accident. Something had miscarried,
and I was cut off in the cellars of an unfriendly house away
from the man who knew the road and had a plan in his head. I was
not so much frightened as exasperated. I turned from the tunnelmouth
and groped into the darkness before me. I might as well
prospect the kind of prison into which I had blundered.
I took three steps - no more. My feet seemed suddenly to go
from me and fly upward. So sudden was it that I fell heavy and
dead like a log, and my head struck the floor with a crash that for a
moment knocked me senseless. I was conscious of something falling
on me and of an intolerable pressure on my chest. I struggled for
breath, and found my arms and legs pinned and my whole body in
a kind of wooden vice. I was sick with concussion, and could do
nothing but gasp and choke down my nausea. The cut in the back
of my head was bleeding freely and that helped to clear my wits,
but I lay for a minute or two incapable of thought. I shut my eyes
tight, as a man does when he is fighting with a swoon.
When I opened them there was light. It came from the left side
of the room, the broad glare of a strong electric torch. I watched it
stupidly, but it gave me the fillip needed to pick up the threads. I
remembered the tunnel now and the Kansas journalist. Then behind
the light I saw a face which pulled my flickering senses out of the mire.
I saw the heavy ulster and the cap, which I had realized, though
I had not seen, outside in the dark laurels. They belonged to the
journalist, Clarence Donne, the trusted emissary of Blenkiron. But I
saw his face now, and it was that face which I had boasted to
Bullivant I could never mistake again upon earth. I did not mistake
it now, and I remember I had a faint satisfaction that I had made
good my word. I had not mistaken it, for I had not had the chance
to look at it till this moment. I saw with acid clearness the common
denominator of all its disguises - the young man who lisped in the
seaside villa, the stout philanthropist of Biggleswick, the pulpy
panic-stricken creature of the Tube station, the trim French staff
officer of the Picardy chateau ... I saw more, for I saw it beyond
the need of disguise. I was looking at von Schwabing, the exile,
who had done more for Germany than any army commander ...
Mary's words came back to me - 'the most dangerous man in the
world' ... I was not afraid, or broken-hearted at failure, or angry -
not yet, for I was too dazed and awestruck. I looked at him as one
might look at some cataclysm of nature which had destroyed a continent.
The face was smiling.
'I am happy to offer you hospitality at last,' it said.
I pulled my wits farther out of the mud to attend to him. The
cross-bar on my chest pressed less hard and I breathed better. But
when I tried to speak, the words would not come.
'We are old friends,' he went on. 'We have known each other
quite intimately for four years, which is a long time in war. I have
been interested in you, for you have a kind of crude intelligence,
and you have compelled me to take you seriously. If you were
cleverer you would appreciate the compliment. But you were fool
enough to think you could beat me, and for that you must be
punished. Oh no, don't flatter yourself you were ever dangerous.
You were only troublesome and presumptuous like a mosquito one
flicks off one's sleeve.'
He was leaning against the side of a heavy closed door. He lit a
cigar from a little gold tinder box and regarded me with amused eyes.
'You will have time for reflection, so I propose to enlighten you
a little. You are an observer of little things. So? Did you ever see a
cat with a mouse? The mouse runs about and hides and manoeuvres
and thinks it is playing its own game. But at any moment the cat
can stretch out its paw and put an end to it. You are the mouse, my
poor General - for I believe you are one of those funny amateurs
that the English call Generals. At any moment during the last nine
months I could have put an end to you with a nod.'
My nausea had stopped and I could understand what he said,
though I had still no power to reply.
'Let me explain,' he went on. 'I watched with amusement your
gambols at Biggleswick. My eyes followed you when you went to the Clyde
and in your stupid twistings in Scotland. I gave you rope, because you
were futile, and I had graver things to attend to. I allowed you to
amuse yourself at your British Front with childish investigations and to
play the fool in Paris. I have followed every step of your course in
Switzerland, and I have helped your idiotic Yankee friend to plot against
myself. While you thought you were drawing your net around me, I was
drawing mine around you. I assure you, it has been a charming relaxation
from serious business.'
I knew the man was lying. Some part was true, for he had clearly
fooled Blenkiron; but I remembered the hurried flight from
Biggleswick and Eaucourt Sainte-Anne when the game was certainly
against him. He had me at his mercy, and was wreaking his vanity
on me. That made him smaller in my eyes, and my first awe began to pass.
'I never cherish rancour, you know,' he said. 'In my business it is
silly to be angry, for it wastes energy. But I do not tolerate insolence,
my dear General. And my country has the habit of doing
justice on her enemies. It may interest you to know that the end is
not far off. Germany has faced a jealous world in arms and she is
about to be justified of her great courage. She has broken up bit by
bit the clumsy organization of her opponents. Where is Russia
today, the steam-roller that was to crush us? Where is the poor
dupe Rumania? Where is the strength of Italy, who was once to do
wonders for what she called Liberty? Broken, all of them. I have
played my part in that work and now the need is past. My country
with free hands is about to turn upon your armed rabble in the
West and drive it into the Atlantic. Then we shall deal with the
ragged remains of France and the handful of noisy Americans. By
midsummer there will be peace dictated by triumphant Germany.'
'By God, there won't!' I had found my voice at last.
'By God, there will,' he said pleasantly. 'It is what you call a
mathematical certainty. You will no doubt die bravely, like the
savage tribes that your Empire used to conquer. But we have the
greater discipline and the stronger spirit and the bigger brain.
Stupidity is always punished in the end, and you are a stupid race.
Do not think that your kinsmen across the Atlantic will save you.
They are a commercial people and by no means sure of themselves.
When they have blustered a little they will see reason and find some
means of saving their faces. Their comic President will make a
speech or two and write us a solemn Note, and we will reply with
the serious rhetoric which he loves, and then we shall kiss and be
friends. You know in your heart that it will be so.'
A great apathy seemed to settle on me. This bragging did not
make me angry, and I had no longer any wish to contradict him. It
may have been the result of the fall, but my mind had stopped working.
I heard his voice as one listens casually to the ticking of a clock.
'I will tell you more,' he was saying. 'This is the evening of the
18th day of March. Your generals in France expect an attack, but
they are not sure where it will come. Some think it may be in
Champagne or on the Aisne, some at Ypres, some at St Quentin.
Well, my dear General, you alone will I take into our confidence.
On the morning of the 21st, three days from now, we attack the
right wing of the British Army. In two days we shall be in Amiens.
On the third we shall have driven a wedge as far as the sea. Then in
a week or so we shall have rolled up your army from the right, and
presently we shall be in Boulogne and Calais. After that Paris falls,
and then Peace.'
I made no answer. The word 'Amiens' recalled Mary, and I was
trying to remember the day in January when she and I had motored
south from that pleasant city.
'Why do I tell you these things? Your intelligence, for you are
not altogether foolish, will have supplied the answer. It is because
your life is over. As your Shakespeare says, the rest is silence ...
No, I am not going to kill you. That would be crude, and I hate
crudities. I am going now on a little journey, and when I return in
twenty-four hours' time you will be my companion. You are going
to visit Germany, my dear General.'
That woke me to attention, and he noticed it, for he went on
with gusto.
'You have heard of the _Untergrundbahn? No? And you boast of
an Intelligence service! Yet your ignorance is shared by the whole
of your General Staff. It is a little organization of my own. By it we
can take unwilling and dangerous people inside our frontier to be
dealt with as we please. Some have gone from England and many
from France. Officially I believe they are recorded as "missing", but
they did not go astray on any battle-field. They have been gathered
from their homes or from hotels or offices or even the busy streets.
I will not conceal from you that the service of our Underground
Railway is a little irregular from England and France. But from
Switzerland it is smooth as a trunk line. There are unwatched spots
on the frontier, and we have our agents among the frontier guards,
and we have no difficulty about passes. It is a pretty device, and
you will soon be privileged to observe its working ... In Germany
I cannot promise you comfort, but I do not think your life will be dull.'
As he spoke these words, his urbane smile changed to a grin of
impish malevolence. Even through my torpor I felt the venom
and I shivered.
'When I return I shall have another companion.' His voice was
honeyed again. 'There is a certain pretty lady who was to be the
bait to entice me into Italy. It was so? Well, I have fallen to the bait.
I have arranged that she shall meet me this very night at a mountain
inn on the Italian side. I have arranged, too, that she shall be alone.
She is an innocent child, and I do not think that she has been more
than a tool in the clumsy hands of your friends. She will come with
me when I ask her, and we shall be a merry party in the
Underground Express.'
My apathy vanished, and every nerve in me was alive at the words.
'You cur!' I cried. 'She loathes the sight of you. She wouldn't
touch you with the end of a barge-pole.'
He flicked the ash from his cigar. 'I think you are mistaken. I am
very persuasive, and I do not like to use compulsion with a woman.
But, willing or not, she will come with me. I have worked hard and I am
entitled to my pleasure, and I have set my heart on that little lady.'
There was something in his tone, gross, leering, assured, half
contemptuous, that made my blood boil. He had fairly got me on
the raw, and the hammer beat violently in my forehead. I could
have wept with sheer rage, and it took all my fortitude to keep my
mouth shut. But I was determined not to add to his triumph.
He looked at his watch. 'Time passes,' he said. 'I must depart to
my charming assignation. I will give your remembrances to the
lady. Forgive me for making no arrangements for your comfort till
I return. Your constitution is so sound that it will not suffer from a
day's fasting. To set your mind at rest I may tell you that escape is
impossible. This mechanism has been proved too often, and if you
did break loose from it my servants would deal with you. But I
must speak a word of caution. If you tamper with it or struggle too
much it will act in a curious way. The floor beneath you covers a
shaft which runs to the lake below. Set a certain spring at work and
you may find yourself shot down into the water far below the ice,
where your body will rot till the spring ... That, of course, is an
alternative open to you, if you do not care to wait for my return.'
He lit a fresh cigar, waved his hand, and vanished through the
doorway. As it shut behind him, the sound of his footsteps instantly
died away. The walls must have been as thick as a prison's.
I suppose I was what people in books call 'stunned'. The illumination
during the past few minutes had been so dazzling that my
brain could not master it. I remember very clearly that I did not
think about the ghastly failure of our scheme, or the German plans
which had been insolently unfolded to me as to one dead to the
world. I saw a single picture - an inn in a snowy valley (I saw it as
a small place like Peter's cottage), a solitary girl, that smiling devil
who had left me, and then the unknown terror of the Underground
Railway. I think my courage went for a bit, and I cried with
feebleness and rage. The hammer in my forehead had stopped for
it only beat when I was angry in action. Now that I lay trapped, the
manhood had slipped out of my joints, and if Ivery had still been in
the doorway, I think I would have whined for mercy. I would have
offered him all the knowledge I had in the world if he had promised
to leave Mary alone.
Happily he wasn't there, and there was no witness of my
cowardice. Happily, too, it is just as difficult to be a coward for long as
to be a hero. It was Blenkiron's phrase about Mary that pulled me
together - 'She can't scare and she can't soil'. No, by heavens, she
couldn't. I could trust my lady far better than I could trust myself. I
was still sick with anxiety, but I was getting a pull on myself. I was
done in, but Ivery would get no triumph out of me. Either I would
go under the ice, or I would find a chance of putting a bullet
through my head before I crossed the frontier. If I could do nothing
else I could perish decently ... And then I laughed, and I knew I
was past the worst. What made me laugh was the thought of Peter.
I had been pitying him an hour ago for having only one leg, but
now he was abroad in the living, breathing world with years before
him, and I lay in the depths, limbless and lifeless, with my number up.
I began to muse on the cold water under the ice where I could
go if I wanted. I did not think that I would take that road, for a
man's chances are not gone till he is stone dead, but I was glad the
way existed ... And then I looked at the wall in front of me, and,
very far up, I saw a small square window.
The stars had been clouded when I entered that accursed house,
but the mist must have cleared. I saw my old friend Orion, the
hunter's star, looking through the bars. And that suddenly made me think.
Peter and I had watched them by night, and I knew the place of
all the chief constellations in relation to the St Anton valley. I
believed that I was in a room on the lake side of the Pink Chalet: I
must be, if Ivery had spoken the truth. But if so, I could not
conceivably see Orion from its window ... There was no other
possible conclusion, I must be in a room on the east side of the
house, and Ivery had been lying. He had already lied in his boasting
of how he had outwitted me in England and at the Front. He might
be lying about Mary ... No, I dismissed that hope. Those words of
his had rung true enough.
I thought for a minute and concluded that he had lied to terrorize
me and keep me quiet; therefore this infernal contraption had
probably its weak point. I reflected, too, that I was pretty strong,
far stronger probably than Ivery imagined, for he had never seen
me stripped. Since the place was pitch dark I could not guess how
the thing worked, but I could feel the cross-bars rigid on my chest
and legs and the side-bars which pinned my arms to my sides ... I
drew a long breath and tried to force my elbows apart. Nothing
moved, nor could I raise the bars on my legs the smallest fraction.
Again I tried, and again. The side-bar on my right seemed to be
less rigid than the others. I managed to get my right hand raised
above the level of my thigh, and then with a struggle I got a grip
with it on the cross-bar, which gave me a small leverage. With a
mighty effort I drove my right elbow and shoulder against the
side-bar. It seemed to give slightly ... I summoned all my strength
and tried again. There was a crack and then a splintering, the
massive bar shuffled limply back, and my right arm was free to
move laterally, though the cross-bar prevented me from raising it.
With some difficulty I got at my coat pocket where reposed my
electric torch and my pistol. With immense labour and no little pain
I pulled the former out and switched it on by drawing the catch
against the cross-bar. Then I saw my prison house.
It was a little square chamber, very high, with on my left the
massive door by which Ivery had departed. The dark baulks of my
rack were plain, and I could roughly make out how the thing had
been managed. Some spring had tilted up the flooring, and dropped
the framework from its place in the right-hand wall. It was clamped,
I observed, by an arrangement in the floor just in front of the door.
If I could get rid of that catch it would be easy to free myself, for
to a man of my strength the weight would not be impossibly heavy.
My fortitude had come back to me, and I was living only in the
moment, choking down any hope of escape. My first job was to
destroy the catch that clamped down the rack, and for that my only
weapon was my pistol. I managed to get the little electric torch
jammed in the corner of the cross-bar, where it lit up the floor
towards the door. Then it was hell's own business extricating the
pistol from my pocket. Wrist and fingers were always cramping,
and I was in terror that I might drop it where I could not retrieve it.
I forced myself to think out calmly the question of the clamp, for
a pistol bullet is a small thing, and I could not afford to miss. I
reasoned it out from my knowledge of mechanics, and came to the
conclusion that the centre of gravity was a certain bright spot of
metal which I could just see under the cross-bars. It was bright and
so must have been recently repaired, and that was another reason
for thinking it important. The question was how to hit it, for I
could not get the pistol in line with my eye. Let anyone try that
kind of shooting, with a bent arm over a bar, when you are lying
flat and looking at the mark from under the bar, and he will
understand its difficulties. I had six shots in my revolver, and I
must fire two or three ranging shots in any case. I must not exhaust
all my cartridges, for I must have a bullet left for any servant who
came to pry, and I wanted one in reserve for myself. But I did not
think shots would be heard outside the room; the walls were too thick.
I held my wrist rigid above the cross-bar and fired. The bullet
was an inch to the right of the piece of bright steel. Moving a
fraction I fired again. I had grazed it on the left. With aching eyes
glued on the mark, I tried a third time. I saw something leap apart,
and suddenly the whole framework under which I lay fell loose and
mobile ... I was very cool and restored the pistol to my pocket and
took the torch in my hand before I moved ... Fortune had been
kind, for I was free. I turned on my face, humped my back, and
without much trouble crawled out from under the contraption.
I did not allow myself to think of ultimate escape, for that would
only flurry me, and one step at a time was enough. I remember that
I dusted my clothes, and found that the cut in the back of my head
had stopped bleeding. I retrieved my hat, which had rolled into a
corner when I fell ... Then I turned my attention to the next step.
The tunnel was impossible, and the only way was the door. If I
had stopped to think I would have known that the chances against
getting out of such a house were a thousand to one. The pistol
shots had been muffled by the cavernous walls, but the place, as I
knew, was full of servants and, even if I passed the immediate door,
I would be collared in some passage. But I had myself so well in
hand that I tackled the door as if I had been prospecting to sink a
new shaft in Rhodesia.
It had no handle nor, so far as I could see, a keyhole ... But I
noticed, as I turned my torch on the ground, that from the clamp
which I had shattered a brass rod sunk in the floor led to one of the
door-posts. Obviously the thing worked by a spring and was
connected with the mechanism of the rack.
A wild thought entered my mind and brought me to my feet. I
pushed the door and it swung slowly open. The bullet which freed
me had released the spring which controlled it.
Then for the first time, against all my maxims of discretion, I
began to hope. I took off my hat and felt my forehead burning, so
that I rested it for a moment on the cool wall ... Perhaps my luck
still held. With a rush came thoughts of Mary and Blenkiron and
Peter and everything we had laboured for, and I was mad to win.
I had no notion of the interior of the house or where lay the main
door to the outer world. My torch showed me a long passage with something
like a door at the far end, but I clicked it off, for I did not dare to
use it now. The place was deadly quiet. As I listened I seemed to hear a
door open far away, and then silence fell again.
I groped my way down the passage till I had my hands on the far
door. I hoped it might open on the hall, where I could escape by a
window or a balcony, for I judged the outer door would be locked.
I listened, and there came no sound from within. It was no use
lingering, so very stealthily I turned the handle and opened it a crack.
It creaked and I waited with beating heart on discovery, for inside
I saw the glow of light. But there was no movement, so it must be
empty. I poked my head in and then followed with my body.
It was a large room, with logs burning in a stove, and the floor
thick with rugs. It was lined with books, and on a table in the
centre a reading-lamp was burning. Several dispatch-boxes stood
on the table, and there was a little pile of papers. A man had been
here a minute before, for a half-smoked cigar was burning on the
edge of the inkstand.
At that moment I recovered complete use of my wits and all my
self-possession. More, there returned to me some of the old devilmay-
careness which before had served me well. Ivery had gone, but
this was his sanctum. just as on the roofs of Erzerum I had burned
to get at Stumm's papers, so now it was borne in on me that at all
costs I must look at that pile.
I advanced to the table and picked up the topmost paper. It was
a little typewritten blue slip with the lettering in italics, and in a
corner a curious, involved stamp in red ink. On it I read:
'__Die Wildvogel missen _beimkehren.'
At the same moment I heard steps and the door opened on the
far side, I stepped back towards the stove, and fingered the pistol in
my pocket.
A man entered, a man with a scholar's stoop, an unkempt beard,
and large sleepy dark eyes. At the sight of me he pulled up and his
whole body grew taut. It was the Portuguese Jew, whose back I
had last seen at the smithy door in Skye, and who by the mercy of
God had never seen my face.
I stopped fingering my pistol, for I had an inspiration. Before he
could utter a word I got in first.
'__Die Vogelein schwei igem im _Walde,' I said.
His face broke into a pleasant smile, and he replied:
'_Warte nur, balde rubest du _auch.'
'Ach,' he said in German, holding out his hand, 'you have come
this way, when we thought you would go by Modane. I welcome
you, for I know your exploits. You are Conradi, who did so nobly
in Italy?'
I bowed. 'Yes, I am Conradi,' I said.
The Col of the Swallows
He pointed to the slip on the table.
'You have seen the orders?'
I nodded.
'The long day's work is over. You must rejoice, for your part
has been the hardest, I think. Some day you will tell me about it?'
The man's face was honest and kindly, rather like that of the
engineer Gaudian, whom two years before I had met in Germany.
But his eyes fascinated me, for they were the eyes of the dreamer
and fanatic, who would not desist from his quest while life lasted. I
thought that Ivery had chosen well in his colleague.
'My task is not done yet,' I said. 'I came here to see Chelius.'
'He will be back tomorrow evening.'
'Too late. I must see him at once. He has gone to Italy, and I
must overtake him.'
'You know your duty best,' he said gravely.
'But you must help me. I must catch him at Santa Chiara, for it is
a business of life and death. Is there a car to be had?'
'There is mine. But there is no chauffeur. Chelius took him.'
'I can drive myself and I know the road. But I have no pass to
cross the frontier.'
'That is easily supplied,' he said, smiling.
in one bookcase there was a shelf of dummy books. He unlocked
this and revealed a small cupboard, whence he took a tin dispatchbox.
From some papers he selected one, which seemed to be already
'Name?' he asked.
'Call me Hans Gruber of Brieg,' I said. 'I travel to pick up my
master, who is in the timber trade.'
'And your return?'
'I will come back by my old road,' I said mysteriously; and if he
knew what I meant it was more than I did myself.
He completed the paper and handed it to me. 'This will take you
through the frontier posts. And now for the car. The servants will
be in bed, for they have been preparing for a long journey, but I
will myself show it you. There is enough petrol on board to take
you to Rome.'
He led me through the hall, unlocked the front door, and we
crossed the snowy lawn to the garage. The place was empty but for
a great car, which bore the marks of having come from the muddy
lowlands. To my joy I saw that it was a Daimler, a type with which
I was familiar. I lit the lamps, started the engine, and ran it out on
to the road.
'You will want an overcoat,' he said.
'I never wear them.'
'I have some chocolate. I will breakfast at Santa Chiara.'
'Well, God go with you!'
A minute later I was tearing along the lake-side towards
St Anton village.
I stopped at the cottage on the hill. Peter was not yet in bed. I
found him sitting by the fire, trying to read, but I saw by his face
that he had been waiting anxiously on my coming.
'We're in the soup, old man,' I said as I shut the door. In a dozen
sentences I told him of the night's doings, of Ivery's plan and my
desperate errand.
'You wanted a share,' I cried. 'Well, everything depends on you
now. I'm off after Ivery, and God knows what will happen.
Meantime, you have got to get on to Blenkiron, and tell him what I've
told you. He must get the news through to G.H.Q. somehow. He
must trap the Wild Birds before they go. I don't know how, but he
must. Tell him it's all up to him and you, for I'm out of it. I must
save Mary, and if God's willing I'll settle with Ivery. But the big
job is for Blenkiron - and you. Somehow he has made a bad break,
and the enemy has got ahead of him. He must sweat blood to make
Up. My God, Peter, it's the solemnest moment of our lives. I
don't see any light, but we mustn't miss any chances. I'm leaving it
all to you.'
I spoke like a man in a fever, for after what I had been through I
wasn't quite sane. My coolness in the Pink Chalet had given place
to a crazy restlessness. I can see Peter yet, standing in the ring of
lamplight, supporting himself by a chair back, wrinkling his brows
and, as he always did in moments of excitement, scratching gently
the tip of his left ear. His face was happy.
'Never fear, Dick,' he said. 'It will all come right.
__Ons sal 'n plan maak.'
And then, still possessed with a demon of disquiet, I was on the
road again, heading for the pass that led to Italy.
The mist had gone from the sky, and the stars were shining
brightly. The moon, now at the end of its first quarter, was setting
in a gap of the mountains, as I climbed the low col from the St Anton
valley to the greater Staubthal. There was frost and the hard
snow crackled under my wheels, but there was also that feel in the
air which preludes storm. I wondered if I should run into snow in
the high hills. The whole land was deep in peace. There was not a
light in the hamlets I passed through, not a soul on the highway.
In the Staubthal I joined the main road and swung to the left up
the narrowing bed of the valley. The road was in noble condition,
and the car was running finely, as I mounted through forests of
snowy Pines to a land where the mountains crept close together,
and the highway coiled round the angles of great crags or skirted
perilously some profound gorge, with only a line of wooden posts
to defend it from the void. In places the snow stood in walls on
either side, where the road was kept open by man's labour. In other
parts it lay thin, and in the dim light one might have fancied that
one was running through open meadowlands.
Slowly my head was getting clearer, and I was able to look
round my problem. I banished from my mind the situation I had
left behind me. Blenkiron must cope with that as best he could. It
lay with him to deal with the Wild Birds, my job was with Ivery
alone. Sometime in the early morning he would reach Santa Chiara,
and there he would find Mary. Beyond that my imagination could
forecast nothing. She would be alone - I could trust his cleverness
for that; he would try to force her to come with him, or he might
persuade her with some lying story. Well, please God, I should
come in for the tail end of the interview, and at the thought I
cursed the steep gradients I was climbing, and longed for some
magic to lift the Daimler beyond the summit and set it racing down
the slope towards Italy.
I think it was about half-past three when I saw the lights of the
frontier post. The air seemed milder than in the valleys, and there
was a soft scurry of snow on my right cheek. A couple of sleepy
Swiss sentries with their rifles in their hands stumbled out as I drew up.
They took my pass into the hut and gave me an anxious quarter
of an hour while they examined it. The performance was repeated
fifty yards on at the Italian post, where to my alarm the sentries
were inclined to conversation. I played the part of the sulky servant,
answering in monosyllables and pretending to immense stupidity.
'You are only just in time, friend,' said one in German. 'The
weather grows bad and soon the pass will close. Ugh, it is as cold
as last winter on the Tonale. You remember, Giuseppe?'
But in the end they let me move on. For a little I felt my way
gingerly, for on the summit the road had many twists and the snow
was confusing to the eyes. Presently came a sharp drop and I let the
Daimler go. It grew colder, and I shivered a little; the snow became
a wet white fog around the glowing arc of the headlights; and
always the road fell, now in long curves, now in steep short dips,
till I was aware of a glen opening towards the south. From long
living in the wilds I have a kind of sense for landscape without the
testimony of the eyes, and I knew where the ravine narrowed or
widened though it was black darkness.
In spite of my restlessness I had to go slowly, for after the first
rush downhill I realized that, unless I was careful, I might wreck
the car and spoil everything. The surface of the road on the southern
slope of the mountains was a thousand per cent worse than that on
the other. I skidded and side-slipped, and once grazed the edge of
the gorge. It was far more maddening than the climb up, for then it
had been a straight-forward grind with the Daimler doing its
utmost, whereas now I had to hold her back because of my own
lack of skill. I reckon that time crawling down from the summit of
the Staub as some of the weariest hours I ever spent.
Quite suddenly I ran out of the ill weather into a different
climate. The sky was clear above me, and I saw that dawn was very
near. The first pinewoods were beginning, and at last came a
straight slope where I could let the car out. I began to recover my
spirits, which had been very dashed, and to reckon the distance I
had still to travel ... And then, without warning, a new world
sprang up around me. Out of the blue dusk white shapes rose like
ghosts, peaks and needles and domes of ice, their bases fading
mistily into shadow, but the tops kindling till they glowed like
jewels. I had never seen such a sight, and the wonder of it for a
moment drove anxiety from my heart. More, it gave me an earnest
of victory. I was in clear air once more, and surely in this diamond
ether the foul things which loved the dark must be worsted ...
And then I saw, a mile ahead, the little square red-roofed building
which I knew to be the inn of Santa Chiara.
It was here that misfortune met me. I had grown careless now,
and looked rather at the house than the road. At one point the
hillside had slipped down - it must have been recent, for the road
was well kept - and I did not notice the landslide till I was on it. I
slewed to the right, took too wide a curve, and before I knew the
car was over the far edge. I slapped on the brakes, but to avoid
turning turtle I had to leave the road altogether. I slithered down a
steep bank into a meadow, where for my sins I ran into a fallen tree
trunk with a jar that shook me out of my seat and nearly broke my
arm. Before I examined the car I knew what had happened. The
front axle was bent, and the off front wheel badly buckled.
I had not time to curse my stupidity. I clambered back to the
road and set off running down it at my best speed. I was mortally
stiff, for Ivery's rack was not good for the joints, but I realized it
only as a drag on my pace, not as an affliction in itself. My whole
mind was set on the house before me and what might be happening there.
There was a man at the door of the inn, who, when he caught
sight of my figure, began to move to meet me. I saw that it was
Launcelot Wake, and the sight gave me hope.
But his face frightened me. It was drawn and haggard like one
who never sleeps, and his eyes were hot coals.
'Hannay,' he cried, 'for God's sake what does it mean?'
'Where is Mary?' I gasped, and I remember I clutched at a lapel
of his coat.
He pulled me to the low stone wall by the roadside.
'I don't know,' he said hoarsely. 'We got your orders to come
here this morning. We were at Chiavagno, where Blenkiron told us
to wait. But last night Mary disappeared ... I found she had hired
a carriage and come on ahead. I followed at once, and reached here
an hour ago to find her gone ... The woman who keeps the place
is away and there are only two old servants left. They tell me that
Mary came here late, and that very early in the morning a closed car
came over the Staub with a man in it. They say he asked to see the
young lady, and that they talked together for some time, and that
then she went off with him in the car down the valley ... I must
have passed it on my way up ... There's been some black devilment
that I can't follow. Who was the man? Who was the man?'
He looked as if he wanted to throttle me.
'I can tell you that,' I said. 'It was Ivery.'
He stared for a second as if he didn't understand. Then he leaped
to his feet and cursed like a trooper. 'You've botched it, as I knew
you would. I knew no good would come of your infernal subtleties.'
And he consigned me and Blenkiron and the British army and
Ivery and everybody else to the devil.
I was past being angry. 'Sit down, man,' I said, 'and listen to
me.' I told him of what had happened at the Pink Chalet. He heard
me out with his head in his hands. The thing was too bad for cursing.
'The Underground Railway!' he groaned. 'The thought of it
drives me mad. Why are you so calm, Hannay? She's in the hands
of the cleverest devil in the world, and you take it quietly. You
should be a raving lunatic.'
'I would be if it were any use, but I did all my raving last night in that
den of Ivery's. We've got to pull ourselves together, Wake. First of all,
I trust Mary to the other side of eternity. She went with him of her own
free will. I don't know why, but she must have had a reason, and be
sure it was a good one, for she's far cleverer than you or me ... We've
got to follow her somehow. Ivery's bound for Germany, but his route
is by the Pink Chalet, for he hopes to pick me up there. He went down
the valley; therefore he is going to Switzerland by the Marjolana. That
is a long circuit and will take him most of the day. Why he chose that
way I don't know, but there it is. We've got to get back by the Staub.'
'How did you come?' he asked.
'That's our damnable luck. I came in a first-class six-cylinder
Daimler, which is now lying a wreck in a meadow a mile up the
road. We've got to foot it.'
'We can't do it. It would take too long. Besides, there's the
frontier to pass.'
I remembered ruefully that I might have got a return passport
from the Portuguese Jew, if I had thought of anything at the time
beyond getting to Santa Chiara.
'Then we must make a circuit by the hillside and dodge the
guards. It's no use making difficulties, Wake. We're fairly up against
it, but we've got to go on trying till we drop. Otherwise I'll take
your advice and go mad.'
'And supposing you get back to St Anton, you'll find the house
shut up and the travellers gone hours before by the Underground Railway.'
'Very likely. But, man, there's always the glimmering of a chance.
It's no good chucking in your hand till the game's out.'
'Drop your proverbial philosophy, Mr Martin Tupper, and look up there.'
He had one foot on the wall and was staring at a cleft in the
snow-line across the valley. The shoulder of a high peak dropped
sharply to a kind of nick and rose again in a long graceful curve of
snow. All below the nick was still in deep shadow, but from the
configuration of the slopes I judged that a tributary glacier ran
from it to the main glacier at the river head.
'That's the Colle delle Rondini,' he said, 'the Col of the Swallows.
It leads straight to the Staubthal near Grunewald. On a good day I
have done it in seven hours, but it's not a pass for winter-time. It
has been done of course, but not often. ... Yet, if the weather held,
it might go even now, and that would bring us to St Anton by the
evening. I wonder' - and he looked me over with an appraising eye
-'I wonder if you're up to it.'
My stiffness had gone and I burned to set my restlessness to
physical toil.
'If you can do it, I can,' I said.
'No. There you're wrong. You're a hefty fellow, but you're no
mountaineer, and the ice of the Colle delle Rondini needs knowledge.
It would be insane to risk it with a novice, if there were any
other way. But I'm damned if I see any, and I'm going to chance it.
We can get a rope and axes in the inn. Are you game?'
'Right you are. Seven hours, you say. We've got to do it in six.'
'You will be humbler when you get on the ice,' he said grimly.
'We'd better breakfast, for the Lord knows when we shall see food again.'
We left the inn at five minutes to nine, with the sky cloudless and a
stiff wind from the north-west, which we felt even in the deep-cut
valley. Wake walked with a long, slow stride that tried my patience.
I wanted to hustle, but he bade me keep in step. 'You take your
orders from me, for I've been at this job before. Discipline in the
ranks, remember.'
We crossed the river gorge by a plank bridge, and worked our
way up the right bank, past the moraine, to the snout of the glacier.
It was bad going, for the snow concealed the boulders, and I often
floundered in holes. Wake never relaxed his stride, but now and
then he stopped to sniff the air.
I observed that the weather looked good, and he differed. 'It's
too clear. There'll be a full-blown gale on the Col and most likely
snow in the afternoon.' He pointed to a fat yellow cloud that was
beginning to bulge over the nearest peak. After that I thought he
lengthened his stride.
'Lucky I had these boots resoled and nailed at Chiavagno,' was
the only other remark he made till we had passed the seracs of the
main glacier and turned up the lesser ice-stream from the Colle
delle Rondini.
By half-past ten we were near its head, and I could see clearly the
ribbon of pure ice between black crags too steep for snow to lie on,
which was the means of ascent to the Col. The sky had clouded
over, and ugly streamers floated on the high slopes. We tied on the
rope at the foot of the bergschrund, which was easy to pass because
of the winter's snow. Wake led, of course, and presently we came
on to the icefall.
In my time I had done a lot of scrambling on rocks and used to
promise myself a season in the Alps to test myself on the big peaks.
If I ever go it will be to climb the honest rock towers around
Chamonix, for I won't have anything to do with snow mountains.
That day on the Colle delle Rondini fairly sickened me of ice. I
daresay I might have liked it if I had done it in a holiday mood, at
leisure and in good spirits. But to crawl up that couloir with a sick
heart and a desperate impulse to hurry was the worst sort of
nightmare. The place was as steep as a wall of smooth black ice that
seemed hard as granite. Wake did the step-cutting, and I admired
him enormously. He did not seem to use much force, but every
step was hewn cleanly the right size, and they were spaced the right
distance. In this job he was the true professional. I was thankful
Blenkiron was not with us, for the thing would have given a
squirrel vertigo. The chips of ice slithered between my legs and I
could watch them till they brought up just above the bergschrund.
The ice was in shadow and it was bitterly cold. As we crawled
up I had not the exercise of using the axe to warm me, and I got
very numb standing on one leg waiting for the next step. Worse
still, my legs began to cramp. I was in good condition, but that
time under Ivery's rack had played the mischief with my limbs.
Muscles got out of place in my calves and stood in aching lumps,
till I almost squealed with the pain of it. I was mortally afraid I
should slip, and every time I moved I called out to Wake to warn
him. He saw what was happening and got the pick of his axe fixed
in the ice before I was allowed to stir. He spoke often to cheer me
up, and his voice had none of its harshness. He was like some illtempered
generals I have known, very gentle in a battle.
At the end the snow began to fall, a soft powder like the overspill
of a storm raging beyond the crest. It was just after that that Wake
cried out that in five minutes we would be at the summit. He
consulted his wrist-watch. 'Jolly good time, too. Only twenty-five
minutes behind my best. It's not one o'clock.'
The next I knew I was lying flat on a pad of snow easing my
cramped legs, while Wake shouted in my ear that we were in for
something bad. I was aware of a driving blizzard, but I had no
thought of anything but the blessed relief from pain. I lay for some
minutes on my back with my legs stiff in the air and the toes turned
inwards, while my muscles fell into their proper place.
It was certainly no spot to linger in. We looked down into a
trough of driving mist, which sometimes swirled aside and showed
a knuckle of black rock far below. We ate some chocolate, while
Wake shouted in my ear that now we had less step-cutting. He did
his best to cheer me, but he could not hide his anxiety. Our faces
were frosted over like a wedding-cake and the sting of the wind
was like a whiplash on our eyelids.
The first part was easy, down a slope of firm snow where steps
were not needed. Then came ice again, and we had to cut into it
below the fresh surface snow. This was so laborious that Wake
took to the rocks on the right side of the couloir, where there was
some shelter from the main force of the blast. I found it easier, for I
knew something about rocks, but it was difficult enough with
every handhold and foothold glazed. Presently we were driven
back again to the ice, and painfully cut our way through a throat of
the ravine where the sides narrowed. There the wind was terrible,
for the narrows made a kind of funnel, and we descended, plastered
against the wall, and scarcely able to breathe, while the tornado
plucked at our bodies as if it would whisk us like wisps of grass
into the abyss.
After that the gorge widened and we had an easier slope, till
suddenly we found ourselves perched on a great tongue of rock
round which the snow blew like the froth in a whirlpool. As we
stopped for breath, Wake shouted in my ear that this was the Black Stone.
'The what?' I yelled.
'The Schwarzstein. The Swiss call the pass the Schwarzsteinthor.
You can see it from Grunewald.'
I suppose every man has a tinge of superstition in him. To hear that
name in that ferocious place gave me a sudden access of confidence. I
seemed to see all my doings as part of a great predestined plan. Surely
it was not for nothing that the word which had been the key of my first
adventure in the long tussle should appear in this last phase. I felt new
strength in my legs and more vigour in my lungs. 'A good omen,' I
shouted. 'Wake, old man, we're going to win out.'
'The worst is still to come,' he said.
He was right. To get down that tongue of rock to the lower
snows of the couloir was a job that fairly brought us to the end of
our tether. I can feel yet the sour, bleak smell of wet rock and ice
and the hard nerve pain that racked my forehead. The Kaffirs used
to say that there were devils in the high berg, and this place was
assuredly given over to the powers of the air who had no thought
of human life. I seemed to be in the world which had endured from
the eternity before man was dreamed of. There was no mercy in it,
and the elements were pitting their immortal strength against two
pigmies who had profaned their sanctuary. I yearned for warmth,
for the glow of a fire, for a tree or blade of grass or anything which
meant the sheltered homeliness of mortality. I knew then what the
Greeks meant by panic, for I was scared by the apathy of nature.
But the terror gave me a kind of comfort, too. Ivery and his doings
seemed less formidable. Let me but get out of this cold hell and I
could meet him with a new confidence.
Wake led, for he knew the road and the road wanted knowing.
Otherwise he should have been last on the rope, for that is the
place of the better man in a descent. I had some horrible moments
following on when the rope grew taut, for I had no help from it.
We zigzagged down the rock, sometimes driven to the ice of the
adjacent couloirs, sometimes on the outer ridge of the Black Stone,
sometimes wriggling down little cracks and over evil boiler-plates.
The snow did not lie on it, but the rock crackled with thin ice or
oozed ice water. Often it was only by the grace of God that I did
not fall headlong, and pull Wake out of his hold to the bergschrund
far below. I slipped more than once, but always by a miracle
recovered myself. To make things worse, Wake was tiring. I could
feel him drag on the rope, and his movements had not the precision
they had had in the morning. He was the mountaineer, and I the
novice. If he gave out, we should never reach the valley.
The fellow was clear grit all through. When we reached the foot
of the tooth and sat huddled up with our faces away from the wind,
I saw that he was on the edge of fainting. What that effort Must
have cost him in the way of resolution you may guess, but he did
not fail till the worst was past. His lips were colourless, and he was
choking with the nausea of fatigue. I found a flask of brandy in his
pocket, and a mouthful revived him.
'I'm all out,' he said. 'The road's easier now, and I can direct YOU
about the rest ... You'd better leave me. I'll only be a drag. I'll
come on when I feel better.'
'No, you don't, you old fool. You've got me over that infernal
iceberg, and I'm going to see you home.'
I rubbed his arms and legs and made him swallow some chocolate.
But when he got on his feet he was as doddery as an old man.
Happily we had an easy course down a snow gradient, which we
glissaded in very unorthodox style. The swift motion freshened
him up a little, and he was able to put on the brake with his axe to
prevent us cascading into the bergschrund. We crossed it by a snow
bridge, and started out on the seracs of the Schwarzstein glacier.
I am no mountaineer - not of the snow and ice kind, anyway -
but I have a big share of physical strength and I wanted it all now.
For those seracs were an invention of the devil. To traverse that
labyrinth in a blinding snowstorm, with a fainting companion who
was too weak to jump the narrowest crevasse, and who hung on
the rope like lead when there was occasion to use it, was more than
I could manage. Besides, every step that brought us nearer to the
valley now increased my eagerness to hurry, and wandering in that
maze of clotted ice was like the nightmare when you stand on the
rails with the express coming and are too weak to climb on the
platform. As soon as possible I left the glacier for the hillside, and
though that was laborious enough in all conscience, yet it enabled
me to steer a straight course. Wake never spoke a word. When I
looked at him his face was ashen under a gale which should have
made his cheeks glow, and he kept his eyes half closed. He was
staggering on at the very limits of his endurance ...
By and by we were on the moraine, and after splashing through a
dozen little glacier streams came on a track which led up the
hillside. Wake nodded feebly when I asked if this was right. Then
to my joy I saw a gnarled pine.
I untied the rope and Wake dropped like a log on the ground.
'Leave me,' he groaned. 'I'm fairly done. I'll come on later.'
And he shut his eyes.
My watch told me that it was after five o'clock.
'Get on my back,' I said. 'I won't part from you till I've found a
cottage. You're a hero. You've brought me over those damned
mountains in a blizzard, and that's what no other man in England
would have done. Get up.'
He obeyed, for he was too far gone to argue. I tied his wrists
together with a handkerchief below my chin, for I wanted my arms to hold
up his legs. The rope and axes I left in a cache beneath the pine-tree.
Then I started trotting down the track for the nearest dwelling.
My strength felt inexhaustible and the quicksilver in my bones
drove me forward. The snow was still falling, but the wind was
dying down, and after the inferno of the pass it was like summer.
The road wound over the shale of the hillside and then into what in
spring must have been upland meadows. Then it ran among trees,
and far below me on the right I could hear the glacier river churning
in its gorge' Soon little empty huts appeared, and rough enclosed
paddocks, and presently I came out on a shelf above the stream and
smelt the wood-smoke of a human habitation.
I found a middle-aged peasant in the cottage, a guide by
profession in summer and a woodcutter in winter.
'I have brought my Herr from Santa Chiara,' I said, 'over the
Schwarzsteinthor. He is very weary and must sleep.'
I decanted Wake into a chair, and his head nodded on his chest.
But his colour was better.
'You and your Herr are fools,' said the man gruffly, but not
unkindly. 'He must sleep or he will have a fever. The Schwarzsteinthor
in this devil's weather! Is he English?'
'Yes,' I said, 'like all madmen. But he's a good Herr, and a
brave mountaineer.'
We stripped Wake of his Red Cross uniform, now a collection of
sopping rags, and got him between blankets with a huge earthenware
bottle of hot water at his feet. The woodcutter's wife boiled
milk, and this, with a little brandy added, we made him drink. I
was quite easy in my mind about him, for I had seen this condition
before. In the morning he would be as stiff as a poker, but recovered.
'Now I'm off for St Anton,' I said. 'I must get there tonight.'
'You are the hardy one,' the man laughed. 'I will show you the
quick road to Grunewald, where is the railway. With good fortune
you may get the last train.'
I gave him fifty francs on my Herr's behalf, learned his directions
for the road, and set off after a draught of goat's milk, munching
my last slab of chocolate. I was still strung up to a mechanical
activity, and I ran every inch of the three miles to the Staubthal
without consciousness of fatigue. I was twenty minutes too soon
for the train, and, as I sat on a bench on the platform, my energy
suddenly ebbed away. That is what happens after a great exertion. I
longed to sleep, and when the train arrived I crawled into a carriage
like a man with a stroke. There seemed to be no force left in my
limbs. I realized that I was leg-weary, which is a thing you see
sometimes with horses, but not often with men.
All the journey I lay like a log in a kind of coma, and it was with
difficulty that I recognized my destination, and stumbled out of the
train. But I had no sooner emerged from the station of St Anton
than I got my second wind. Much snow had fallen since yesterday,
but it had stopped now, the sky was clear, and the moon was
riding. The sight of the familiar place brought back all my anxieties.
The day on the Col of the Swallows was wiped out of my memory,
and I saw only the inn at Santa Chiara, and heard Wake's hoarse
voice speaking of Mary. The lights were twinkling from the village
below, and on the right I saw the clump of trees which held the
Pink Chalet.
I took a short cut across the fields, avoiding the little town. I ran
hard, stumbling often, for though I had got my mental energy back
my legs were still precarious. The station clock had told me that it
was nearly half-past nine.
Soon I was on the high-road, and then at the Chalet gates. I heard
as in a dream what seemed to be three shrill blasts on a whistle.
Then a big car passed me, making for St Anton. For a second I
would have hailed it, but it was past me and away. But I had a
conviction that my business lay in the house, for I thought Ivery
was there, and Ivery was what mattered.
I marched up the drive with no sort of plan in my head, only a
blind rushing on fate. I remembered dimly that I had still three
cartridges in my revolver.
The front door stood open and I entered and tiptoed down the
passage to the room where I had found the Portuguese Jew. No
one hindered me, but it was not for lack of servants. I had the
impression that there were people near me in the darkness, and I
thought I heard German softly spoken. There was someone ahead
of me, perhaps the speaker, for I could hear careful footsteps. It
was very dark, but a ray of light came from below the door of the
room. Then behind me I heard the hall door clang, and the noise of
a key turned in its lock. I had walked straight into a trap and all
retreat was cut off.
My mind was beginning to work more clearly, though my purpose
was still vague. I wanted to get at Ivery and I believed that he
was somewhere in front of me. And then I thought of the door
which led from the chamber where I had been imprisoned. If I
could enter that way I would have the advantage of surprise.
I groped on the right-hand side of the passage and found a
handle. It opened upon what seemed to be a dining-room, for there
was a faint smell of food. Again I had the impression of people
near, who for some unknown reason did not molest me. At the far
end I found another door, which led to a second room, which I
guessed to be adjacent to the library. Beyond it again must lie the
passage from the chamber with the rack. The whole place was as
quiet as a shell.
I had guessed right. I was standing in the passage where I had
stood the night before. In front of me was the library, and there
was the same chink of light showing. Very softly I turned the
handle and opened it a crack ...
The first thing that caught my eye was the profile of Ivery. He
was looking towards the writing-table, where someone was sitting.
The Underground Railway
This is the story which I heard later from Mary ...
She was at Milan with the new Anglo-American hospital when
she got Blenkiron's letter. Santa Chiara had always been the place
agreed upon, and this message mentioned specifically Santa Chiara,
and fixed a date for her presence there. She was a little puzzled by
it, for she had not yet had a word from Ivery, to whom she had
written twice by the roundabout address in France which
Bommaerts had given her. She did not believe that he would come to
Italy in the ordinary course of things, and she wondered at
Blenkiron's certainty about the date.
The following morning came a letter from Ivery in which he
ardently pressed for a meeting. It was the first of several, full of
strange talk about some approaching crisis, in which the
forebodings of the prophet were mingled with the solicitude of a lover.
'The storm is about to break,' he wrote, 'and I cannot think only of
my own fate. I have something to tell you which vitally concerns
yourself. You say you are in Lombardy. The Chiavagno valley is
within easy reach, and at its head is the inn of Santa Chiara, to
which I come on the morning of March 19th. Meet me there even if
only for half an hour, I implore you. We have already shared hopes
and confidences, and I would now share with you a knowledge
which I alone in Europe possess. You have the heart of a lion, my
lady, worthy of what I can bring you.'
Wake was summoned from the _Croce _Rossa unit with which he
was working at Vicenza, and the plan arranged by Blenkiron was
faithfully carried out. Four officers of the Alpini, in the rough dress
of peasants of the hills, met them in Chiavagno on the morning of
the 18th. It was arranged that the hostess of Santa Chiara should go
on a visit to her sister's son, leaving the inn, now in the shuttered
quiet of wintertime, under the charge of two ancient servants. The
hour of Ivery's coming on the 19th had been fixed by him for
noon, and that morning Mary would drive up the valley, while
Wake and the Alpini went inconspicuously by other routes so as to
be in station around the place before midday.
But on the evening of the 18th at the Hotel of the Four Kings in
Chiavagno Mary received another message. It was from me and
told her that I was crossing the Staub at midnight and would be at
the inn before dawn. It begged her to meet me there, to meet me
alone without the others, because I had that to say to her which
must be said before Ivery's coming. I have seen the letter. It was
written in a hand which I could not have distinguished from my
own scrawl. It was not exactly what I would myself have written,
but there were phrases in it which to Mary's mind could have come
only from me. Oh, I admit it was cunningly done, especially the
love-making, which was just the kind of stammering thing which
I would have achieved if I had tried to put my feelings on paper.
Anyhow, Mary had no doubt of its genuineness. She slipped off
after dinner, hired a carriage with two broken-winded screws and
set off up the valley. She left a line for Wake telling him to follow
according to the plan - a line which he never got, for his anxiety
when he found she had gone drove him to immediate pursuit.
At about two in the morning of the 19th after a slow and icy
journey she arrived at the inn, knocked up the aged servants, made
herself a cup of chocolate out of her tea-basket and sat down to
wait on my coming.
She has described to me that time of waiting. A home-made
candle in a tall earthenware candlestick lit up the little _salle-a-manger,
which was the one room in use. The world was very quiet, the
snow muffled the roads, and it was cold with the penetrating chill
of the small hours of a March night. Always, she has told me, will
the taste of chocolate and the smell of burning tallow bring back to
her that strange place and the flutter of the heart with which she
waited. For she was on the eve of the crisis of all our labours, she
was very young, and youth has a quick fancy which will not be
checked. Moreover, it was I who was coming, and save for the
scrawl of the night before, we had had no communication for many
weeks ... She tried to distract her mind by repeating poetry, and
the thing that came into her head was Keats's 'Nightingale', an odd
poem for the time and place.
There was a long wicker chair among the furnishings of the
room, and she lay down on it with her fur cloak muffled around
her. There were sounds of movement in the inn. The old woman
who had let her in, with the scent of intrigue of her kind, had
brightened when she heard that another guest was coming. Beautiful
women do not travel at midnight for nothing. She also was awake
and expectant.
Then quite suddenly came the sound of a car slowing down
outside. She sprang to her feet in a tremor of excitement. It was
like the Picardy chateau again - the dim room and a friend coming
out of the night. She heard the front door open and a step in the
little hall ...
She was looking at Ivery. ... He slipped his driving-coat off as he
entered, and bowed gravely. He was wearing a green hunting suit
which in the dusk seemed like khaki, and, as he was about my own
height, for a second she was misled. Then she saw his face and her
heart stopped.
'You!' she cried. She had sunk back again on the wicker chair.
'I have come as I promised,' he said, 'but a little earlier. You will
forgive me my eagerness to be with you.'
She did not heed his words, for her mind was feverishly busy.
My letter had been a fraud and this man had discovered our plans.
She was alone with him, for it would be hours before her friends
came from Chiavagno. He had the game in his hands, and of all our
confederacy she alone remained to confront him. Mary's courage
was pretty near perfect, and for the moment she did not think of
herself or her own fate. That came later. She was possessed with
poignant disappointment at our failure. All our efforts had gone to
the winds, and the enemy had won with contemptuous ease. Her
nervousness disappeared before the intense regret, and her brain set
coolly and busily to work.
It was a new Ivery who confronted her, a man with vigour and
purpose in every line of him and the quiet confidence of power. He
spoke with a serious courtesy.
'The time for make-believe is past,' he was saying. 'We have
fenced with each other. I have told you only half the truth, and you
have always kept me at arm's length. But you knew in your heart,
my dearest lady, that there must be the full truth between us some
day, and that day has come. I have often told you that I love you. I
do not come now to repeat that declaration. I come to ask you to
entrust yourself to me, to join your fate to mine, for I can promise
you the happiness which you deserve.'
He pulled up a chair and sat beside her. I cannot put down all
that he said, for Mary, once she grasped the drift of it, was busy
with her own thoughts and did not listen. But I gather from her
that he was very candid and seemed to grow as he spoke in mental
and moral stature. He told her who he was and what his work had
been. He claimed the same purpose as hers, a hatred of war and a
passion to rebuild the world into decency. But now he drew a
different moral. He was a German: it was through Germany alone
that peace and regeneration could come. His country was purged
from her faults, and the marvellous German discipline was about to
prove itself in the eye of gods and men. He told her what he had
told me in the room at the Pink Chalet, but with another colouring.
Germany was not vengeful or vainglorious, only patient and merciful.
God was about to give her the power to decide the world's
fate, and it was for him and his kind to see that the decision was
beneficent. The greater task of his people was only now beginning.
That was the gist of his talk. She appeared to listen, but her
mind was far away. She must delay him for two hours, three hours,
four hours. If not, she must keep beside him. She was the only one
of our company left in touch with the enemy ...
'I go to Germany now,' he was saying. 'I want you to come with
me - to be my wife.'
He waited for an answer, and got it in the form of a startled question.
'To Germany? How?'
'It is easy,' he said, smiling. 'The car which is waiting outside is
the first stage of a system of travel which we have perfected.' Then
he told her about the Underground Railway - not as he had told it
to me, to scare, but as a proof of power and forethought.
His manner was perfect. He was respectful, devoted, thoughtful
of all things. He was the suppliant, not the master. He offered her
power and pride, a dazzling career, for he had deserved well of his
country, the devotion of the faithful lover. He would take her to
his mother's house, where she would be welcomed like a princess. I
have no doubt he was sincere, for he had many moods, and the
libertine whom he had revealed to me at the Pink Chalet had given
place to the honourable gentleman. He could play all parts well
because he could believe in himself in them all.
Then he spoke of danger, not so as to slight her courage, but to
emphasize his own thoughtfulness. The world in which she had
lived was crumbling, and he alone could offer a refuge. She felt the
steel gauntlet through the texture of the velvet glove.
All the while she had been furiously thinking, with her chin in
her hand in the old way ... She might refuse to go. He could
compel her, no doubt, for there was no help to be got from the old
servants. But it might be difficult to carry an unwilling woman
over the first stages of the Underground Railway. There might be
chances ... Supposing he accepted her refusal and left her. Then
indeed he would be gone for ever and our game would have closed
with a fiasco. The great antagonist of England would go home
rejoicing, taking his sheaves with him.
At this time she had no personal fear of him. So curious a thing
is the human heart that her main preoccupation was with our
mission, not with her own fate. To fail utterly seemed too bitter.
Supposing she went with him. They had still to get out of Italy and
cross Switzerland. If she were with him she would be an emissary
of the Allies in the enemy's camp. She asked herself what could she
do, and told herself 'Nothing.' She felt like a small bird in a very
large trap, and her chief sensation was that of her own powerlessness.
But she had learned Blenkiron's gospel and knew that
Heaven sends amazing chances to the bold. And, even as she made
her decision, she was aware of a dark shadow lurking at the back of
her mind, the shadow of the fear which she knew was awaiting her.
For she was going into the unknown with a man whom she hated,
a man who claimed to be her lover.
It was the bravest thing I have ever heard of, and I have lived
my life among brave men.
'I will come with you,' she said. 'But you mustn't speak to me,
please. I am tired and troubled and I want peace to think.'
As she rose weakness came over her and she swayed till his arm
caught her. 'I wish I could let you rest for a little,' he said tenderly,
'but time presses. The car runs smoothly and you can sleep there.'
He summoned one of the servants to whom he handed Mary.
'We leave in ten minutes,' he said, and he went out to see to the car.
Mary's first act in the bedroom to which she was taken was to
bathe her eyes and brush her hair. She felt dimly that she must keep
her head clear. Her second was to scribble a note to Wake, telling
him what had happened, and to give it to the servant with a tip.
'The gentleman will come in the morning,' she said. 'You must
give it him at once, for it concerns the fate of your country.'
The woman grinned and promised. It was not the first time she had
done errands for pretty ladies.
Ivery settled her in the great closed car with much solicitude, and
made her comfortable with rugs. Then he went back to the inn for
a second, and she saw a light move in the _salle-a-manger. He returned
and spoke to the driver in German, taking his seat beside him.
But first he handed Mary her note to Wake. 'I think you left this
behind you,' he said. He had not opened it.
Alone in the car Mary slept. She saw the figures of Ivery and the
chauffeur in the front seat dark against the headlights, and then
they dislimned into dreams. She had undergone a greater strain
than she knew, and was sunk in the heavy sleep of weary nerves.
When she woke it was daylight. They were still in Italy, as her
first glance told her, so they could not have taken the Staub route.
They seemed to be among the foothills, for there was little snow,
but now and then up tributary valleys she had glimpses of the high
peaks. She tried hard to think what it could mean, and then
remembered the Marjolana. Wake had laboured to instruct her in the
topography of the Alps, and she had grasped the fact of the two
open passes. But the Marjolana meant a big circuit, and they would
not be in Switzerland till the evening. They would arrive in the
dark, and pass out of it in the dark, and there would be no chance
of succour. She felt very lonely and very weak.
Throughout the morning her fear grew. The more hopeless her
chance of defeating Ivery became the more insistently the dark
shadow crept over her mind. She tried to steady herself by watching
the show from the windows. The car swung through little villages,
past vineyards and pine-woods and the blue of lakes, and over the
gorges of mountain streams. There seemed to be no trouble about
passports. The sentries at the controls waved a reassuring hand
when they were shown some card which the chauffeur held between
his teeth. In one place there was a longish halt, and she could hear
Ivery talking Italian with two officers of Bersaglieri, to whom he
gave cigars. They were fresh-faced, upstanding boys, and for a
second she had an idea of flinging open the door and appealing to
them to save her. But that would have been futile, for Ivery was
clearly amply certificated. She wondered what part he was now playing.
The Marjolana route had been chosen for a purpose. In one town
ivery met and talked to a civilian official, and more than once the
car slowed down and someone appeared from the wayside to speak
a word and vanish. She was assisting at the last gathering up of the
threads of a great plan, before the Wild Birds returned to their nest.
Mostly these conferences seemed to be in Italian, but once or twice
she gathered from the movement of the lips that German was
spoken and that this rough peasant or that black-hatted bourgeois
was not of Italian blood.
Early in the morning, soon after she awoke, Ivery had stopped
the car and offered her a well-provided luncheon basket. She could
eat nothing, and watched him breakfast off sandwiches beside the
driver. In the afternoon he asked her permission to sit with her.
The car drew up in a lonely place, and a tea-basket was produced
by the chauffeur. Ivery made tea, for she seemed too listless to
move, and she drank a cup with him. After that he remained beside her.
'In half an hour we shall be out of Italy,' he said. The car was
running up a long valley to the curious hollow between snowy
saddles which is the crest of the Marjolana. He showed her the
place on a road map. As the altitude increased and the air grew
colder he wrapped the rugs closer around her and apologized for
the absence of a foot-warmer. 'In a little,' he said, 'we shall be in
the land where your slightest wish will be law.'
She dozed again and so missed the frontier post. When she woke
the car was slipping down the long curves of the Weiss valley,
before it narrows to the gorge through which it debouches on
'We are in Switzerland now,' she heard his voice say. It may have
been fancy, but it seemed to her that there was a new note in it. He
spoke to her with the assurance of possession. They were outside
the country of the Allies, and in a land where his web was thickly
'Where do we stop tonight?' she asked timidly.
'I fear we cannot stop. Tonight also you must put up with the
car. I have a little errand to do on the way, which will delay us a
few minutes, and then we press on. Tomorrow, my fairest one,
fatigue will be ended.'
There was no mistake now about the note of possession in his
voice. Mary's heart began to beat fast and wild. The trap had closed
down on her and she saw the folly of her courage. It had delivered
her bound and gagged into the hands of one whom she loathed
more deeply every moment, whose proximity was less welcome
than a snake's. She had to bite hard on her lip to keep from screaming.
The weather had changed and it was snowing hard, the same
storm that had greeted us on the Col of the Swallows. The pace
was slower now, and Ivery grew restless. He looked frequently at
his watch, and snatched the speaking-tube to talk to the driver.
Mary caught the word 'St Anton'.
'Do we go by St Anton?' she found voice to ask.
'Yes, he said shortly.
The word gave her the faintest glimmering of hope, for she
knew that Peter and I had lived at St Anton. She tried to look out
of the blurred window, but could see nothing except that the
twilight was falling. She begged for the road-map, and saw that so
far as she could make out they were still in the broad Grunewald
valley and that to reach St Anton they had to cross the low pass from
the Staubthal. The snow was still drifting thick and the car crawled.
Then she felt the rise as they mounted to the pass. Here the
going was bad, very different from the dry frost in which I had
covered the same road the night before. Moreover, there seemed to
be curious obstacles. Some careless wood-cart had dropped logs on
the highway, and more than once both Ivery and the chauffeur had
to get out to shift them. In one place there had been a small
landslide which left little room to pass, and Mary had to descend and
cross on foot while the driver took the car over alone. Ivery's temper
seemed to be souring. To the girl's relief he resumed the outside seat,
where he was engaged in constant argument with the chauffeur.
At the head of the pass stands an inn, the comfortable hostelry of
Herr Kronig, well known to all who clamber among the lesser
peaks of the Staubthal. There in the middle of the way stood a man
with a lantern.
'The road is blocked by a snowfall,' he cried. 'They are clearing
it now. It will be ready in half an hour's time.'
Ivery sprang from his seat and darted into the hotel. His business
was to speed up the clearing party, and Herr Kronig himself
accompanied him to the scene of the catastrophe. Mary sat still, for
she had suddenly become possessed of an idea. She drove it from
her as foolishness, but it kept returning. Why had those tree-trunks
been spilt on the road? Why had an easy pass after a moderate
snowfall been suddenly closed?
A man came out of the inn-yard and spoke to the chauffeur. It
seemed to be an offer of refreshment, for the latter left his seat and
disappeared inside. He was away for some time and returned shivering
and grumbling at the weather, with the collar of his greatcoat
turned up around his ears. A lantern had been hung in the porch
and as he passed Mary saw the man. She had been watching the
back of his head idly during the long drive, and had observed that
it was of the round bullet type, with no nape to the neck, which is
common in the Fatherland. Now she could not see his neck for the
coat collar, but she could have sworn that the head was a different
shape. The man seemed to suffer acutely from the cold, for he
buttoned the collar round his chin and pulled his cap far over his brows.
Ivery came back, followed by a dragging line of men with spades
and lanterns. He flung himself into the front seat and nodded to the
driver to start. The man had his engine going already so as to lose
no time. He bumped over the rough debris of the snowfall and
then fairly let the car hum. Ivery was anxious for speed, but he did
not want his neck broken and he yelled out to take care. The driver
nodded and slowed down, but presently he had got up speed again.
If Ivery was restless, Mary was worse. She seemed suddenly to
have come on the traces of her friends. In the St Anton valley the
snow had stopped and she let down the window for air, for she was
choking with suspense. The car rushed past the station, down the
hill by Peter's cottage, through the village, and along the lake shore
to the Pink Chalet.
Ivery halted it at the gate. 'See that you fill up with petrol,' he
told the man. 'Bid Gustav get the Daimler and be ready to follow
in half in hour.'
He spoke to Mary through the open window.
'I will keep you only a very little time. I think you had better
wait in the car, for it will be more comfortable than a dismantled house.
A servant will bring you food and more rugs for the night journey.'
Then he vanished up the dark avenue.
Mary's first thought was to slip out and get back to the village
and there to find someone who knew me or could take her where
Peter lived. But the driver would prevent her, for he had been left
behind on guard. She looked anxiously at his back, for he alone
stood between her and liberty.
That gentleman seemed to be intent on his own business. As
soon as Ivery's footsteps had grown faint, he had backed the car
into the entrance, and turned it so that it faced towards St Anton.
Then very slowly it began to move.
At the same moment a whistle was blown shrilly three times.
The door on the right had opened and someone who had been
waiting in the shadows climbed painfully in. Mary saw that it was a
little man and that he was a cripple. She reached a hand to help him,
and he fell on to the cushions beside her. The car was gathering speed.
Before she realized what was happening the new-comer had taken
her hand and was patting it.
About two minutes later I was entering the gate of the Pink Chalet.
The Cage of the Wild Birds
'Why, Mr Ivery, come right in,' said the voice at the table.
There was a screen before me, stretching from the fireplace to
keep off the draught from the door by which I had entered. It
stood higher than my head but there were cracks in it through
which I could watch the room. I found a little table on which I
could lean my back, for I was dropping with fatigue.
Blenkiron sat at the writing-table and in front of him were little
rows of Patience cards. Wood ashes still smouldered in the stove,
and a lamp stood at his right elbow which lit up the two figures.
The bookshelves and the cabinets were in twilight.
'I've been hoping to see you for quite a time.' Blenkiron was
busy arranging the little heaps of cards, and his face was wreathed
in hospitable smiles. I remember wondering why he should play the
host to the true master of the house.
Ivery stood erect before him. He was rather a splendid figure now
that he had sloughed all disguises and was on the threshold of his
triumph. Even through the fog in which my brain worked it was
forced upon me that here was a man born to play a big part. He had a jowl
like a Roman king on a coin, and scornful eyes that were used to
mastery. He was younger than me, confound him, and now he looked it.
He kept his eyes on the speaker, while a smile played round his
mouth, a very ugly smile.
'So,' he said. 'We have caught the old crow too. I had scarcely
hoped for such good fortune, and, to speak the truth, I had not
concerned myself much about you. But now we shall add you to
the bag. And what a bag of vermin to lay out on the lawn!' He
flung back his head and laughed.
'Mr Ivery -' Blenkiron began, but was cut short.
'Drop that name. All that is past, thank God! I am the Graf von
Schwabing, an officer of the Imperial Guard. I am not the least of
the weapons that Germany has used to break her enemies.'
'You don't say,' drawled Blenkiron, still fiddling with his
Patience cards.
The man's moment had come, and he was minded not to miss a
jot of his triumph. His figure seemed to expand, his eye kindled, his
voice rang with pride. It was melodrama of the best kind and he
fairly rolled it round his tongue. I don't think I grudged it him, for
I was fingering something in my pocket. He had won all right, but
he wouldn't enjoy his victory long, for soon I would shoot him. I
had my eye on the very spot above his right ear where I meant to
put my bullet ... For I was very clear that to kill him was the only
way to protect Mary. I feared the whole seventy millions of Germany
less than this man. That was the single idea that remained
firm against the immense fatigue that pressed down on me.
'I have little time to waste on you,' said he who had been called
Ivery. 'But I will spare a moment to tell you a few truths. Your
childish game never had a chance. I played with you in England
and I have played with you ever since. You have never made a
move but I have quietly countered it. Why, man, you gave me your
confidence. The American Mr Donne ...'
'What about Clarence?' asked Blenkiron. His face seemed a study
in pure bewilderment.
'I was that interesting journalist.'
'Now to think of that!' said Blenkiron in a sad, gentle voice. 'I
thought I was safe with Clarence. Why, he brought me a letter
from old Joe Hooper and he knew all the boys down Emporia
Ivery laughed. 'You have never done me justice, I fear; but I
think you will do it now. Your gang is helpless in my hands.
General Hannay ...' And I wish I could give you a notion of the
scorn with which he pronounced the word 'General'.
'Yes - Dick?' said Blenkiron intently.
'He has been my prisoner for twenty-four hours. And the pretty
Miss Mary, too. You are all going with me in a little to my own
country. You will not guess how. We call it the Underground
Railway, and you will have the privilege of studying its working.
... I had not troubled much about you, for I had no special dislike
of you. You are only a blundering fool, what you call in your
country easy fruit.'
'I thank you, Graf,' Blenkiron said solemnly.
'But since you are here you will join the others ... One last
word. To beat inepts such as you is nothing. There is a far greater
thing. My country has conquered. You and your friends will be
dragged at the chariot wheels of a triumph such as Rome never
saw. Does that penetrate your thick skull? Germany has won, and
in two days the whole round earth will be stricken dumb by her
As I watched Blenkiron a grey shadow of hopelessness seemed to
settle on his face. His big body drooped in his chair, his eyes fell,
and his left hand shuffled limply among his Patience cards. I could
not get my mind to work, but I puzzled miserably over his amazing
blunders. He had walked blindly into the pit his enemies had
dug for him. Peter must have failed to get my message to him,
and he knew nothing of last night's work or my mad journey to
Italy. We had all bungled, the whole wretched bunch of us, Peter
and Blenkiron and myself ... I had a feeling at the back of my head
that there was something in it all that I couldn't understand, that
the catastrophe could not be quite as simple as it seemed. But I had
no power to think, with the insolent figure of Ivery dominating the
room ... Thank God I had a bullet waiting for him. That was the
one fixed point in the chaos of my mind. For the first time in my
life I was resolute on killing one particular man, and the purpose
gave me a horrid comfort.
Suddenly Ivery's voice rang out sharp. 'Take your hand out of
your pocket. You fool, you are covered from three points in the
walls. A movement and my men will make a sieve of you. Others
before you have sat in that chair, and I am used to take precautions.
Quick. Both hands on the table.'
There was no mistake about Blenkiron's defeat. He was done
and out, and I was left with the only card. He leaned wearily on his
arms with the palms of his hands spread out.
'I reckon you've gotten a strong hand, Graf,' he said, and his
voice was flat with despair.
'I hold a royal flush,' was the answer.
And then suddenly came a change. Blenkiron raised his head, and
his sleepy, ruminating eyes looked straight at Ivery.
'I call you,' he said.
I didn't believe my ears. Nor did Ivery.
'The hour for bluff is past,' he said.
'Nevertheless I call you.'
At that moment I felt someone squeeze through the door behind
me and take his place at my side. The light was so dim that I saw
only a short, square figure, but a familiar voice whispered in my
ear. 'It's me - Andra Amos. Man, this is a great ploy. I'm here to
see the end o't.'
No prisoner waiting on the finding of the jury, no commander
expecting news of a great battle, ever hung in more desperate
suspense than I did during the next seconds. I had forgotten my
fatigue; my back no longer needed support. I kept my eyes glued to
the crack in the screen and my ears drank in greedily every syllable.
Blenkiron was now sitting bolt upright with his chin in his
hands. There was no shadow of melancholy in his lean face.
'I say I call you, Herr Graf von Schwabing. I'm going to put you
wise about some little things. You don't carry arms, so I needn't
warn you against monkeying with a gun. You're right in saying
that there are three places in these walls from which you can shoot.
Well, for your information I may tell you that there's guns in all
three, but they're covering _you at this moment. So you'd better be
Ivery sprang to attention like a ramrod. 'Karl,' he cried.
As if by magic figures stood on either side of him, like warders
by a criminal. They were not the sleek German footmen whom I
had seen at the Chalet. One I did not recognize. The other was my
servant, Geordie Hamilton.
He gave them one glance, looked round like a hunted animal,
and then steadied himself. The man had his own kind of courage.
'I've gotten something to say to you,' Blenkiron drawled. 'It's
been a tough fight, but I reckon the hot end of the poker is with
you. I compliment you on Clarence Donne. You fooled me fine
over that business, and it was only by the mercy of God you didn't
win out. You see, there was just the one of us who was liable to
recognize you whatever way you twisted your face, and that was
Dick Hannay. I give you good marks for Clarence ... For the rest,
I had you beaten flat.'
He looked steadily at him. 'You don't believe it. Well, I'll give
you proof. I've been watching your Underground Railway for
quite a time. I've had my men on the job, and I reckon most of the
lines are now closed for repairs. All but the trunk line into France.
That I'm keeping open, for soon there's going to be some traffic on it.'
At that I saw Ivery's eyelids quiver. For all his self-command he
was breaking.
'I admit we cut it mighty fine, along of your fooling me about
Clarence. But you struck a bad snag in General Hannay, Graf.
Your heart-to-heart talk with him was poor business. You reckoned
you had him safe, but that was too big a risk to take with a man
like Dick, unless you saw him cold before you left him ... He got
away from this place, and early this morning I knew all he knew.
After that it was easy. I got the telegram you had sent this morning
in the name of Clarence Donne and it made me laugh. Before
midday I had this whole outfit under my hand. Your servants have
gone by the Underground Railway - to France. Ehrlich - well, I'm
sorry about Ehrlich.'
I knew now the name of the Portuguese Jew.
'He wasn't a bad sort of man,' Blenkiron said regretfully, 'and he
was plumb honest. I couldn't get him to listen to reason, and he
would play with firearms. So I had to shoot.'
'Dead?' asked Ivery sharply.
'Ye-es. I don't miss, and it was him or me. He's under the ice
now - where you wanted to send Dick Hannay. He wasn't your
kind, Graf, and I guess he has some chance of getting into Heaven.
If I weren't a hard-shell Presbyterian I'd say a prayer for his soul.'
I looked only at Ivery. His face had gone very pale, and his eyes were
wandering. I am certain his brain was working at lightning speed, but
he was a rat in a steel trap and the springs held him. If ever I saw a man
going through hell it was now. His pasteboard castle had crumbled
about his ears and he was giddy with the fall of it. The man was made of
pride, and every proud nerve of him was caught on the raw.
'So much for ordinary business,' said Blenkiron. 'There's the
matter of a certain lady. You haven't behaved over-nice about her,
Graf, but I'm not going to blame you. You maybe heard a whistle
blow when you were coming in here? No! Why, it sounded like
Gabriel's trump. Peter must have put some lung power into it.
Well, that was the signal that Miss Mary was safe in your car ...
but in our charge. D'you comprehend?'
He did. The ghost of a flush appeared in his cheeks.
'You ask about General Hannay? I'm not just exactly sure where
Dick is at the moment, but I opine he's in Italy.'
I kicked aside the screen, thereby causing Amos almost to fall on
his face.
'I'm back,' I said, and pulled up an arm-chair, and dropped into it.
I think the sight of me was the last straw for Ivery. I was a wild
enough figure, grey with weariness, soaked, dirty, with the clothes
of the porter Joseph Zimmer in rags from the sharp rocks of the
Schwarzsteinthor. As his eyes caught mine they wavered, and I saw
terror in them. He knew he was in the presence of a mortal enemy.
'Why, Dick,' said Blenkiron with a beaming face, 'this is mighty
opportune. How in creation did you get here?'
'I walked,' I said. I did not want to have to speak, for I was too
tired. I wanted to watch Ivery's face.
Blenkiron gathered up his Patience cards, slipped them into a
little leather case and put it in his pocket.
'I've one thing more to tell you. The Wild Birds have been
summoned home, but they won't ever make it. We've gathered
them in - Pavia, and Hofgaard, and Conradi. Ehrlich is dead. And
you are going to join the rest in our cage.'
As I looked at my friend, his figure seemed to gain in presence.
He sat square in his chair with a face like a hanging judge, and his
eyes, sleepy no more, held Ivery as in a vice. He had dropped, too,
his drawl and the idioms of his ordinary speech, and his voice came
out hard and massive like the clash of granite blocks.
'You're at the bar now, Graf von Schwabing. For years you've
done your best against the decencies of life. You have deserved
well of your country, I don't doubt it. But what has your country
deserved of the world? One day soon Germany has to do some
heavy paying, and you are the first instalment.'
'I appeal to the Swiss law. I stand on Swiss soil, and I demand
that I be surrendered to the Swiss authorities.' Ivery spoke with dry
lips and the sweat was on his brow.
'Oh, no, no,' said Blenkiron soothingly. 'The Swiss are a nice
people, and I would hate to add to the worries of a poor little
neutral state ... All along both sides have been outside the law in
this game, and that's going to continue. We've abode by the rules
and so must you ... For years you've murdered and kidnapped and
seduced the weak and ignorant, but we're not going to judge your
morals. We leave that to the Almighty when you get across Jordan.
We're going to wash our hands of you as soon as we can. You'll
travel to France by the Underground Railway and there be handed
over to the French Government. From what I know they've enough
against you to shoot you every hour of the day for a twelvemonth.'
I think he had expected to be condemned by us there and then
and sent to join Ehrlich beneath the ice. Anyhow, there came a
flicker of hope into his eyes. I daresay he saw some way to dodge
the French authorities if he once got a chance to use his miraculous
wits. Anyhow, he bowed with something very like self-possession,
and asked permission to smoke. As I have said, the man had his
own courage.
'Blenkiron,' I cried, 'we're going to do nothing of the kind.'
He inclined his head gravely towards me. 'What's your notion, Dick?'
'We've got to make the punishment fit the crime,' I said. I was
so tired that I had to form my sentences laboriously, as if I were
speaking a half-understood foreign tongue.
'I mean that if you hand him over to the French he'll either twist
out of their hands somehow or get decently shot, which is far too
good for him. This man and his kind have sent millions of honest
folk to their graves. He has sat spinning his web like a great spider
and for every thread there has been an ocean of blood spilled.
It's his sort that made the war, not the brave, stupid, fighting
Boche. It's his sort that's responsible for all the clotted beastliness
... And he's never been in sight of a shell. I'm for putting him in
the front line. No, I don't mean any Uriah the Hittite business. I want
him to have a sporting chance, just what other men have. But,
by God, he's going to learn what is the upshot of the strings
he's been pulling so merrily ... He told me in two days' time
Germany would smash our armies to hell. He boasted that he would be
mostly responsible for it. Well, let him be there to see the smashing.'
'I reckon that's just,' said Blenkiron.
Ivery's eyes were on me now, fascinated and terrified like those
of a bird before a rattlesnake. I saw again the shapeless features of
the man in the Tube station, the residuum of shrinking mortality
behind his disguises. He seemed to be slipping something from his
pocket towards his mouth, but Geordie Hamilton caught his wrist.
'Wad ye offer?' said the scandalized voice of my servant. 'Sirr,
the prisoner would appear to be trying to puishon hisself. Wull I
search him?'
After that he stood with each arm in the grip of a warder.
'Mr Ivery,' I said, 'last night, when I was in your power, you
indulged your vanity by gloating over me. I expected it, for your
class does not breed gentlemen. We treat our prisoners differently,
but it is fair that you should know your fate. You are going into
France, and I will see that you are taken to the British front. There
with my old division you will learn something of the meaning of
war. Understand that by no conceivable chance can you escape.
Men will be detailed to watch you day and night and to see that
you undergo the full rigour of the battlefield. You will have the
same experience as other people, no more, no less. I believe in a
righteous God and I know that sooner or later you will find death
- death at the hands of your own people - an honourable death
which is far beyond your deserts. But before it comes you will have
understood the hell to which you have condemned honest men.'
In moments of great fatigue, as in moments of great crisis, the
mind takes charge and may run on a track independent of the will.
It was not myself that spoke, but an impersonal voice which I did
not know, a voice in whose tones rang a strange authority. Ivery
recognized the icy finality of it, and his body seemed to wilt, and
droop. Only the hold of the warders kept him from falling.
I, too, was about at the end of my endurance. I felt dimly that the
room had emptied except for Blenkiron and Amos, and that the
former was trying to make me drink brandy from the cup of a
flask. I struggled to my feet with the intention of going to Mary,
but my legs would not carry me ... I heard as in a dream Amos
giving thanks to an Omnipotence in whom he officially disbelieved.
'What's that the auld man in the Bible said? Now let thou thy
servant depart in peace. That's the way I'm feelin' mysel'.' And
then slumber came on me like an armed man, and in the chair by
the dying wood-ash I slept off the ache of my limbs, the tension of
my nerves, and the confusion of my brain.
The Storm Breaks in the West
The following evening - it was the 20th day of March - I started
for France after the dark fell. I drove Ivery's big closed car, and
within sat its owner, bound and gagged, as others had sat before
him on the same errand. Geordie Hamilton and Amos were his
companions. From what Blenkiron had himself discovered and from
the papers seized in the Pink Chalet I had full details of the road
and its mysterious stages. It was like the journey of a mad dream.
In a back street of a little town I would exchange passwords with a
nameless figure and be given instructions. At a wayside inn at an
appointed hour a voice speaking a thick German would advise that
this bridge or that railway crossing had been cleared. At a hamlet
among pine woods an unknown man would clamber up beside me
and take me past a sentry-post. Smooth as clockwork was the
machine, till in the dawn of a spring morning I found myself
dropping into a broad valley through little orchards just beginning
to blossom, and I knew that I was in France. After that, Blenkiron's
own arrangements began, and soon I was drinking coffee with a
young lieutenant of Chasseurs, and had taken the gag from Ivery's
mouth. The bluecoats looked curiously at the man in the green
ulster whose face was the colour of clay and who lit cigarette from
cigarette with a shaky hand.
The lieutenant rang up a General of Division who knew all
about us. At his headquarters I explained my purpose, and he
telegraphed to an Army Headquarters for a permission which was
granted. It was not for nothing that in January I had seen certain
great personages in Paris, and that Blenkiron had wired ahead of
me to prepare the way. Here I handed over Ivery and his guard, for
I wanted them to proceed to Amiens under French supervision,
well knowing that the men of that great army are not used to let
slip what they once hold.
It was a morning of clear spring sunlight when we breakfasted in
that little red-roofed town among vineyards with a shining river
looping at our feet. The General of Division was an Algerian
veteran with a brush of grizzled hair, whose eye kept wandering to a
map on the wall where pins and stretched thread made a spider's web.
'Any news from the north?' I asked.
'Not yet,' he said. 'But the attack comes soon. It will be against
our army in Champagne.' With a lean finger he pointed out the
enemy dispositions.
'Why not against the British?' I asked. With a knife and fork I
made a right angle and put a salt dish in the centre. 'That is the
German concentration. They can so mass that we do not know
which side of the angle they will strike till the blow falls.'
'It is true,' he replied. 'But consider. For the enemy to attack
towards the Somme would be to fight over many miles of an old
battle-ground where all is still desert and every yard of which you
British know. In Champagne at a bound he might enter unbroken
country. It is a long and difficult road to Amiens, but not so long
to Chilons. Such is the view of Petain. Does it convince you?'
'The reasoning is good. Nevertheless he will strike at Amiens,
and I think he will begin today.'
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. '_Nous _verrons. You are
obstinate, my general, like all your excellent countrymen.'
But as I left his headquarters an aide-de-camp handed him a
message on a pink slip. He read it, and turned to me with a grave face.
'You have a flair, my friend. I am glad we did not wager. This
morning at dawn there is great fighting around St Quentin. Be
comforted, for they will not pass. Your _Marechal will hold them.'
That was the first news I had of the battle.
At Dijon according to plan I met the others. I only just caught
the Paris train, and Blenkiron's great wrists lugged me into the
carriage when it was well in motion. There sat Peter, a docile figure
in a carefully patched old R.F.C. uniform. Wake was reading a pile
of French papers, and in a corner Mary, with her feet up on the
seat, was sound asleep.
We did not talk much, for the life of the past days had been so
hectic that we had no wish to recall it. Blenkiron's face wore an air
of satisfaction, and as he looked out at the sunny spring landscape
he hummed his only tune. Even Wake had lost his restlessness. He
had on a pair of big tortoiseshell reading glasses, and when he
looked up from his newspaper and caught my eye he smiled. Mary
slept like a child, delicately flushed, her breath scarcely stirring the
collar of the greatcoat which was folded across her throat. I
remember looking with a kind of awe at the curve of her young face
and the long lashes that lay so softly on her cheek, and wondering
how I had borne the anxiety of the last months. Wake raised his
head from his reading, glanced at Mary and then at me, and his eyes
were kind, almost affectionate. He seemed to have won peace of
mind among the hills.
Only Peter was out of the picture. He was a strange, disconsolate
figure, as he shifted about to ease his leg, or gazed incuriously from
the window. He had shaved his beard again, but it did not make
him younger, for his face was too lined and his eyes too old to
change. When I spoke to him he looked towards Mary and held up
a warning finger.
'I go back to England,' he whispered. 'Your little _mysie is going
to take care of me till I am settled. We spoke of it yesterday at my
cottage. I will find a lodging and be patient till the war is over.
And you, Dick?'
'Oh, I rejoin my division. Thank God, this job is over. I have an
easy _trund now and can turn my attention to straight-forward soldiering.
I don't mind telling you that I'll be glad to think that you and
Mary and Blenkiron are safe at home. What about you, Wake?'
'I go back to my Labour battalion,' he said cheerfully. 'Like you,
I have an easier mind.'
I shook my head. 'We'll see about that. I don't like such sinful waste.
We've had a bit of campaigning together and I know your quality.'
'The battalion's quite good enough for me,' and he relapsed into
a day-old _Temps.
Mary had suddenly woke, and was sitting upright with her fists
in her eyes like a small child. Her hand flew to her hair, and her
eyes ran over us as if to see that we were all there. As she counted
the four of us she seemed relieved.
'I reckon you feel refreshed, Miss Mary,' said Blenkiron. 'It's
good to think that now we can sleep in peace, all of us. Pretty soon
you'll be in England and spring will be beginning, and please God
it'll be the start of a better world. Our work's over, anyhow.'
'I wonder,' said the girl gravely. 'I don't think there's any discharge
in this war. Dick, have you news of the battle? This was the day.'
'It's begun,' I said, and told them the little I had learned from
the French General. 'I've made a reputation as a prophet, for he
thought the attack was coming in Champagne. It's St Quentin
right enough, but I don't know what has happened. We'll hear in Paris.'
Mary had woke with a startled air as if she remembered her old
instinct that our work would not be finished without a sacrifice,
and that sacrifice the best of us. The notion kept recurring to me
with an uneasy insistence. But soon she appeared to forget her
anxiety. That afternoon as we journeyed through the pleasant land
of France she was in holiday mood, and she forced all our spirits up
to her level. It was calm, bright weather, the long curves of ploughland
were beginning to quicken into green, the catkins made a blue
mist on the willows by the watercourses, and in the orchards by the
red-roofed hamlets the blossom was breaking. In such a scene it
was hard to keep the mind sober and grey, and the pall of war slid
from us. Mary cosseted and fussed over Peter like an elder sister
over a delicate little boy. She made him stretch his bad leg full
length on the seat, and when she made tea for the party of us it was
a protesting Peter who had the last sugar biscuit. Indeed, we were
almost a merry company, for Blenkiron told stories of old hunting
and engineering days in the West, and Peter and I were driven to
cap them, and Mary asked provocative questions, and Wake listened
with amused interest. It was well that we had the carriage to
ourselves, for no queerer rigs were ever assembled. Mary, as always,
was neat and workmanlike in her dress; Blenkiron was magnificent
in a suit of russet tweed with a pale-blue shirt and collar, and wellpolished
brown shoes; but Peter and Wake were in uniforms which
had seen far better days, and I wore still the boots and the shapeless
and ragged clothes of Joseph Zimmer, the porter from Arosa.
We appeared to forget the war, but we didn't, for it was in the
background of all our minds. Somewhere in the north there was
raging a desperate fight, and its issue was the true test of our
success or failure. Mary showed it by bidding me ask for news at
every stopping-place. I asked gendarmes and _Permissionnaires, but I
learned nothing. Nobody had ever heard of the battle. The upshot
was that for the last hour we all fell silent, and when we reached
Paris about seven o'clock my first errand was to the bookstall.
I bought a batch of evening papers, which we tried to read in the
taxis that carried us to our hotel. Sure enough there was the
announcement in big headlines. The enemy had attacked in great
strength from south of Arras to the Oise; but everywhere he had
been repulsed and held in our battle-zone. The leading articles were
confident, the notes by the various military critics were almost
braggart. At last the German had been driven to an offensive, and
the Allies would have the opportunity they had longed for of
proving their superior fighting strength. It was, said one and all,
the opening of the last phase of the war.
I confess that as I read my heart sank. If the civilians were so
over-confident, might not the generals have fallen into the same
trap? Blenkiron alone was unperturbed. Mary said nothing, but she
sat with her chin in her hands, which with her was a sure sign of
deep preoccupation.
Next morning the papers could tell us little more. The main
attack had been on both sides of St Quentin, and though the British
had given ground it was only the outposts line that had gone. The
mist had favoured the enemy, and his bombardment had been
terrific, especially the gas shells. Every journal added the old old
comment - that he had paid heavily for his temerity, with losses far
exceeding those of the defence.
Wake appeared at breakfast in his private's uniform. He wanted
to get his railway warrant and be off at once, but when I heard that
Amiens was his destination I ordered him to stay and travel with
me in the afternoon. I was in uniform myself now and had taken
charge of the outfit. I arranged that Blenkiron, Mary, and Peter
should go on to Boulogne and sleep the night there, while Wake
and I would be dropped at Amiens to await instructions.
I spent a busy morning. Once again I visited with Blenkiron the
little cabinet in the Boulevard St Germain, and told in every detail
our work of the past two months. Once again I sat in the low
building beside the Invalides and talked to staff officers. But some
of the men I had seen on the first visit were not there. The chiefs of
the French Army had gone north.
We arranged for the handling of the Wild Birds, now safely in
France, and sanction was given to the course I had proposed to
adopt with Ivery. He and his guard were on their way to Amiens,
and I would meet them there on the morrow. The great men were
very complimentary to us, so complimentary that my knowledge of
grammatical French ebbed away and I could only stutter in reply.
That telegram sent by Blenkiron on the night of the 18th, from the
information given me in the Pink Chalet, had done wonders in
clearing up the situation.
But when I asked them about the battle they could tell me little.
It was a very serious attack in tremendous force, but the British line
was strong and the reserves were believed to be sufficient. Petain
and Foch had gone north to consult with Haig. The situation in
Champagne was still obscure, but some French reserves were already
moving thence to the Somme sector. One thing they did show me,
the British dispositions. As I looked at the plan I saw that my old
division was in the thick of the fighting.
'Where do you go now?' I was asked.
'To Amiens, and then, please God, to the battle front,' I said.
'Good fortune to you. You do not give body or mind much rest,
my general.'
After that I went to the _Mission _Anglaise, but they had nothing
beyond Haig's communique and a telephone message from G.H.Q.
that the critical sector was likely to be that between St Quentin and
the Oise. The northern pillar of our defence, south of Arras, which
they had been nervous about, had stood like a rock. That pleased
me, for my old battalion of the Lennox Highlanders was there.
Crossing the Place de la Concorde, we fell in with a British staff
officer of my acquaintance, who was just starting to motor back to
G.H.Q. from Paris leave. He had a longer face than the people at
the Invalides.
'I don't like it, I tell you,' he said. 'It's this mist that worries me. I
went down the whole line from Arras to the Oise ten days ago. It was
beautifully sited, the cleverest thing you ever saw. The outpost line was
mostly a chain of blobs - redoubts, you know, with machine-guns - so
arranged as to bring flanking fire to bear on the advancing enemy. But
mist would play the devil with that scheme, for the enemy would be
past the place for flanking fire before we knew it... Oh, I know we had
good warning, and had the battle-zone manned in time, but the outpost
line was meant to hold out long enough to get everything behind in
apple-pie order, and I can't see but how big chunks of it must have gone
in the first rush. ... Mind you, we've banked everything on that battlezone.
It's damned good, but if it's gone -'He flung up his hands.
'Have we good reserves?' I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
'Have we positions prepared behind the battle-zone?'
'i didn't notice any,' he said dryly, and was off before I could get
more out of him.
'You look rattled, Dick,' said Blenkiron as we walked to the hotel.
'I seem to have got the needle. It's silly, but I feel worse about
this show than I've ever felt since the war started. Look at this city
here. The papers take it easily, and the people are walking about as
if nothing was happening. Even the soldiers aren't worried. You
may call me a fool to take it so hard, but I've a sense in my bones
that we're in for the bloodiest and darkest fight of our lives, and
that soon Paris will be hearing the Boche guns as she did in 1914.'
'You're a cheerful old Jeremiah. Well, I'm glad Miss Mary's
going to be in England soon. Seems to me she's right and that this
game of ours isn't quite played out yet. I'm envying you some, for
there's a place waiting for you in the fighting line.'
'You've got to get home and keep people's heads straight there.
That's the weak link in our chain and there's a mighty lot of work
before you.'
'Maybe,' he said abstractedly, with his eye on the top of the
Vendome column.
The train that afternoon was packed with officers recalled from
leave, and it took all the combined purchase of Blenkiron and myself
to get a carriage reserved for our little party. At the last moment I
opened the door to admit a warm and agitated captain of the R.F.C.
in whom I recognized my friend and benefactor, Archie Roylance.
'Just when I was gettin' nice and clean and comfy a wire comes
tellin' me to bundle back, all along of a new battle. It's a cruel war,
Sir.' The afflicted young man mopped his forehead, grinned cheerfully
at Blenkiron, glanced critically at Peter, then caught sight of
Mary and grew at once acutely conscious of his appearance. He
smoothed his hair, adjusted his tie and became desperately sedate.
I introduced him to Peter and he promptly forgot Mary's existence.
If Peter had had any vanity in him it would have been
flattered by the frank interest and admiration in the boy's eyes.
'I'm tremendously glad to see you safe back, sir. I've always
hoped I might have a chance of meeting you. We want you badly
now on the front. Lensch is gettin' a bit uppish.'
Then his eye fell on Peter's withered leg and he saw that he had
blundered. He blushed scarlet and looked his apologies. But they
weren't needed, for it cheered Peter to meet someone who talked of
the possibility of his fighting again. Soon the two were deep in
technicalities, the appalling technicalities of the airman. It was no
good listening to their talk, for you could make nothing of it, but it
was bracing up Peter like wine. Archie gave him a minute description
of Lensch's latest doings and his new methods. He, too, had
heard the rumour that Peter had mentioned to me at St Anton, of a
new Boche plane, with mighty engines and stumpy wings cunningly
cambered, which was a devil to climb; but no specimens had yet
appeared over the line. They talked of Bali, and Rhys Davids, and
Bishop, and McCudden, and all the heroes who had won their
spurs since the Somme, and of the new British makes, most of
which Peter had never seen and had to have explained to him.
Outside a haze had drawn over the meadows with the twilight. I
pointed it out to Blenkiron.
'There's the fog that's doing us. This March weather is just like
October, mist morning and evening. I wish to Heaven we could
have some good old drenching spring rain.'
Archie was discoursing of the Shark-Gladas machine.
'I've always stuck to it, for it's a marvel in its way, but it has my
heart fairly broke. The General here knows its little tricks. Don't
you, sir? Whenever things get really excitin', the engine's apt to
quit work and take a rest.'
'The whole make should be publicly burned,' I said, with
gloomy recollections.
'I wouldn't go so far, sir. The old Gladas has surprisin' merits.
On her day there's nothing like her for pace and climbing-power,
and she steers as sweet as a racin' cutter. The trouble about her is
she's too complicated. She's like some breeds of car - you want to
be a mechanical genius to understand her ... If they'd only get her
a little simpler and safer, there wouldn't be her match in the field.
I'm about the only man that has patience with her and knows her
merits, but she's often been nearly the death of me. All the same, if
I were in for a big fight against some fellow like Lensch, where it
was neck or nothing, I'm hanged if I wouldn't pick the Gladas.'
Archie laughed apologetically. 'The subject is banned for me in
our mess. I'm the old thing's only champion, and she's like a mare I
used to hunt that loved me so much she was always tryin' to chew
the arm off me. But I wish I could get her a fair trial from one of
the big pilots. I'm only in the second class myself after all.'
We were running north of St just when above the rattle of the
train rose a curious dull sound. It came from the east, and was like
the low growl of a veld thunderstorm, or a steady roll of muffled drums.
'Hark to the guns!' cried Archie. 'My aunt, there's a tidy bombardment
goin' on somewhere.'
I had been listening on and off to guns for three years. I had
been present at the big preparations before Loos and the Somme
and Arras, and I had come to accept the racket of artillery as
something natural and inevitable like rain or sunshine. But this
sound chilled me with its eeriness, I don't know why. Perhaps it
was its unexpectedness, for I was sure that the guns had not been
heard in this area since before the Marne. The noise must be
travelling down the Oise valley, and I judged there was big fighting
somewhere about Chauny or La Fere. That meant that the enemy
was pressing hard on a huge front, for here was clearly a great
effort on his extreme left wing. Unless it was our counter-attack.
But somehow I didn't think so.
I let down the window and stuck my head into the night. The
fog had crept to the edge of the track, a gossamer mist through
which houses and trees and cattle could be seen dim in the moonlight.
The noise continued - not a mutter, but a steady rumbling
flow as solid as the blare of a trumpet. Presently, as we drew nearer
Amiens, we left it behind us, for in all the Somme valley there is
some curious configuration which blankets sound. The countryfolk
call it the 'Silent Land', and during the first phase of the
Somme battle a man in Amiens could not hear the guns twenty
miles off at Albert.
As I sat down again I found that the company had fallen silent,
even the garrulous Archie. Mary's eyes met mine, and in the indifferent
light of the French railway-carriage I could see excitement in
them - I knew it was excitement, not fear. She had never heard the
noise of a great barrage before. Blenkiron was restless, and Peter
was sunk in his own thoughts. I was growing very depressed, for
in a little I would have to part from my best friends and the girl I
loved. But with the depression was mixed an odd expectation,
which was almost pleasant. The guns had brought back my
profession to me, I was moving towards their thunder, and God only
knew the end of it. The happy dream I had dreamed of the Cotswolds
and a home with Mary beside me seemed suddenly to have
fallen away to an infinite distance. I felt once again that I was on
the razor-edge of life.
The last part of the journey I was casting back to rake up my
knowledge of the countryside. I saw again the stricken belt from
Serre to Combles where we had fought in the summer Of '17. I had
not been present in the advance of the following spring, but I had
been at Cambrai and I knew all the down country from Lagnicourt
to St Quentin. I shut my eyes and tried to picture it, and to see the
roads running up to the line, and wondered just at what points the
big pressure had come. They had told me in Paris that the British
were as far south as the Oise, so the bombardment we had heard
must be directed to our address. With Passchendaele and Cambrai
in my mind, and some notion of the difficulties we had always had
in getting drafts, I was puzzled to think where we could have
found the troops to man the new front. We must be unholily thin
on that long line. And against that awesome bombardment! And the
masses and the new tactics that Ivery had bragged of!
When we ran into the dingy cavern which is Amiens station I
seemed to note a new excitement. I felt it in the air rather than
deduced it from any special incident, except that the platform was
very crowded with civilians, most of them with an extra amount of
baggage. I wondered if the place had been bombed the night before.
'We won't say goodbye yet,' I told the others. 'The train doesn't
leave for half an hour. I'm off to try and get news.'
Accompanied by Archie, I hunted out an R.T.O. of my acquaintance.
To my questions he responded cheerfully.
'Oh, we're doing famously, sir. I heard this afternoon from a
man in Operations that G.H.Q. was perfectly satisfied. We've killed
a lot of Huns and only lost a few kilometres of ground ... You're
going to your division? Well, it's up Peronne way, or was last
night. Cheyne and Dunthorpe came back from leave and tried to
steal a car to get up to it ... Oh, I'm having the deuce of a time.
These blighted civilians have got the wind up, and a lot are trying
to clear out. The idiots say the Huns will be in Amiens in a week.
What's the phrase? "__Pourvu que les civils _tiennent." 'Fraid I must
push on, Sir.'
I sent Archie back with these scraps of news and was about to
make a rush for the house of one of the Press officers, who would,
I thought, be in the way of knowing things, when at the station
entrance I ran across Laidlaw. He had been B.G.G.S. in the corps
to which my old brigade belonged, and was now on the staff of
some army. He was striding towards a car when I grabbed his arm,
and he turned on me a very sick face.
'Good Lord, Hannay! Where did you spring from? The news,
you say?' He sank his voice, and drew me into a quiet corner. 'The
news is hellish.'
'They told me we were holding,' I observed.
'Holding be damned! The Boche is clean through on a broad
front. He broke us today at Maissemy and Essigny. Yes, the battlezone.
He's flinging in division after division like the blows of a
hammer. What else could you expect?' And he clutched my arm
fiercely. 'How in God's name could eleven divisions hold a front of
forty miles? And against four to one in numbers? It isn't war, it's
naked lunacy.'
I knew the worst now, and it didn't shock me, for I had known
it was coming. Laidlaw's nerves were pretty bad, for his face was
pale and his eyes bright like a man with a fever.
'Reserves!' and he laughed bitterly. 'We have three infantry divisions
and two cavalry. They're into the mill long ago. The French
are coming up on our right, but they've the devil of a way to go.
That's what I'm down here about. And we're getting help from
Horne and Plumer. But all that takes days, and meantime we're
walking back like we did at Mons. And at this time of day, too ...
Oh, yes, the whole line's retreating. Parts of it were pretty comfortable,
but they had to get back or be put in the bag. I wish to
Heaven I knew where our right divisions have got to. For all I
know they're at Compiegne by now. The Boche was over the canal
this morning, and by this time most likely he's across the Somme.'
At that I exclaimed. 'D'you mean to tell me we're going to lose Peronne?'
'Peronne!' he cried. 'We'll be lucky not to lose Amiens! ... And
on the top of it all I've got some kind of blasted fever. I'll be
raving in an hour.'
He was rushing off, but I held him.
'What about my old lot?' I asked.
'Oh, damned good, but they're shot all to bits. Every division
did well. It's a marvel they weren't all scuppered, and it'll be a
flaming miracle if they find a line they can stand on. Westwater's
got a leg smashed. He was brought down this evening, and you'll
find him in the hospital. Fraser's killed and Lefroy's a prisoner - at
least, that was my last news. I don't know who's got the brigades,
but Masterton's carrying on with the division ... You'd better get
up the line as fast as you can and take over from him. See the Army
Commander. He'll be in Amiens tomorrow morning for a pow-wow.'
Laidlaw lay wearily back in his car and disappeared into the
night, while I hurried to the train.
The others had descended to the platform and were grouped
round Archie, who was discoursing optimistic nonsense. I got
them into the carriage and shut the door.
'It's pretty bad,' I said. 'The front's pierced in several places and
we're back to the Upper Somme. I'm afraid it isn't going to stop
there. I'm off up the line as soon as I can get my orders. Wake,
you'll come with me, for every man will be wanted. Blenkiron,
you'll see Mary and Peter safe to England. We're just in time, for
tomorrow it mightn't be easy to get out of Amiens.'
I can see yet the anxious faces in that ill-lit compartment. We said
goodbye after the British style without much to-do. I remember
that old Peter gripped my hand as if he would never release it, and
that Mary's face had grown very pale. If I delayed another second I
should have howled, for Mary's lips were trembling and Peter had
eyes like a wounded stag. 'God bless you,' I said hoarsely, and as I
went off I heard Peter's voice, a little cracked, saying 'God bless
you, my old friend.'
I spent some weary hours looking for Westwater. He was not in
the big clearing station, but I ran him to earth at last in the new
hospital which had just been got going in the Ursuline convent. He
was the most sterling little man, in ordinary life rather dry and
dogmatic, with a trick of taking you up sharply which didn't make
him popular. Now he was lying very stiff and quiet in the hospital
bed, and his blue eyes were solemn and pathetic like a sick dog's.
'There's nothing much wrong with me,' he said, in reply to my
question. 'A shell dropped beside me and damaged my foot. They
say they'll have to cut it off ... I've an easier mind now you're
here, Hannay. Of course you'll take over from Masterton. He's a
good man but not quite up to his job. Poor Fraser - you've heard
about Fraser. He was done in at the very start. Yes, a shell. And
Lefroy. If he's alive and not too badly smashed the Hun has got a
troublesome prisoner.'
He was too sick to talk, but he wouldn't let me go.
'The division was all right. Don't you believe anyone who says
we didn't fight like heroes. Our outpost line held up the Hun for
six hours, and only about a dozen men came back. We could have
stuck it out in the battle-zone if both flanks hadn't been turned.
They got through Crabbe's left and came down the Verey ravine,
and a big wave rushed Shropshire Wood ... We fought it out yard
by yard and didn't budge till we saw the Plessis dump blazing in
our rear. Then it was about time to go ... We haven't many
battalion commanders left. Watson, Endicot, Crawshay ...' He
stammered out a list of gallant fellows who had gone.
'Get back double quick, Hannay. They want you. I'm not happy
about Masterton. He's too young for the job.' And then a nurse
drove me out, and I left him speaking in the strange forced voice of
great weakness.
At the foot of the staircase stood Mary.
'I saw you go in,' she said, 'so I waited for you.'
'Oh, my dear,' I cried, 'you should have been in Boulogne by
now. What madness brought you here?'
'They know me here and they've taken me on. You couldn't
expect me to stay behind. You said yourself everybody was wanted,
and I'm in a Service like you. Please don't be angry, Dick.'
I wasn't angry, I wasn't even extra anxious. The whole thing seemed
to have been planned by fate since the creation of the world. The game
we had been engaged in wasn't finished and it was right that we should
play it out together. With that feeling came a conviction, too, of
ultimate victory. Somehow or sometime we should get to the end of
our pilgrimage. But I remembered Mary's forebodings about the
sacrifice required. The best of us. That ruled me out, but what about her?
I caught her to my arms. 'Goodbye, my very dearest. Don't
worry about me, for mine's a soft job and I can look after my skin.
But oh! take care of yourself, for you are all the world to me.'
She kissed me gravely like a wise child.
'I am not afraid for you,' she said. 'You are going to stand in the
breach, and I know - I know you will win. Remember that there is
someone here whose heart is so full of pride of her man that it
hasn't room for fear.'
As I went out of the convent door I felt that once again I had
been given my orders.
It did not surprise me that, when I sought out my room on an
upper floor of the Hotel de France, I found Blenkiron in the
corridor. He was in the best of spirits.
'You can't keep me out of the show, Dick,' he said, 'so you
needn't start arguing. Why, this is the one original chance of a
lifetime for John S. Blenkiron. Our little fight at Erzerum was only
a side-show, but this is a real high-class Armageddon. I guess I'll
find a way to make myself useful.'
I had no doubt he would, and I was glad he had stayed behind.
But I felt it was hard on Peter to have the job of returning to
England alone at such a time, like useless flotsam washed up by a flood.
'You needn't worry,' said Blenkiron. 'Peter's not making England
this trip. To the best of my knowledge he has beat it out of this
township by the eastern postern. He had some talk with Sir Archibald
Roylance, and presently other gentlemen of the Royal Flying
Corps appeared, and the upshot was that Sir Archibald hitched on
to Peter's grip and departed without saying farewell. My notion is
that he's gone to have a few words with his old friends at some
flying station. Or he might have the idea of going back to England
by aeroplane, and so having one last flutter before he folds his
wings. Anyhow, Peter looked a mighty happy man. The last I saw
he was smoking his pipe with a batch of young lads in a Flying
Corps waggon and heading straight for Germany.'
How an Exile Returned to His Own People
Next morning I found the Army Commander on his way to Doullens.
'Take over the division?' he said. 'Certainly. I'm afraid there isn't
much left of it. I'll tell Carr to get through to the Corps Headquarters,
when he can find them. You'll have to nurse the remnants,
for they can't be pulled out yet - not for a day or two. Bless me,
Hannay, there are parts of our line which we're holding with a man
and a boy. You've got to stick it out till the French take over.
We're not hanging on by our eyelids - it's our eyelashes now.'
'What about positions to fall back on, sir?' I asked.
'We're doing our best, but we haven't enough men to prepare
them.' He plucked open a map. 'There we're digging a line - and
there. If we can hold that bit for two days we shall have a fair line
resting on the river. But we mayn't have time.'
Then I told him about Blenkiron, whom of course he had heard
of. 'He was one of the biggest engineers in the States, and he's
got a nailing fine eye for country. He'll make good somehow if you
let him help in the job.'
'The very fellow,' he said, and he wrote an order. 'Take this to
Jacks and he'll fix up a temporary commission. Your man can find
a uniform somewhere in Amiens.'
After that I went to the detail camp and found that Ivery had
duly arrived.
'The prisoner has given no trouble, sirr,' Hamilton reported.
'But he's a wee thing peevish. They're saying that the Gairmans is
gettin' on fine, and I was tellin' him that he should be proud of his
ain folk. But he wasn't verra weel pleased.'
Three days had wrought a transformation in Ivery. That face,
once so cool and capable, was now sharpened like a hunted beast's.
His imagination was preying on him and I could picture its torture.
He, who had been always at the top directing the machine, was
now only a cog in it. He had never in his life been anything but
powerful; now he was impotent. He was in a hard, unfamiliar
world, in the grip of something which he feared and didn't understand,
in the charge of men who were in no way amenable to his
persuasiveness. It was like a proud and bullying manager suddenly
forced to labour in a squad of navvies, and worse, for there was the
gnawing physical fear of what was coming.
He made an appeal to me.
'Do the English torture their prisoners?' he asked. 'You have
beaten me. I own it, and I plead for mercy. I will go on my knees if
you like. I am not afraid of death - in my own way.'
'Few people are afraid of death - in their own way.'
'Why do you degrade me? I am a gentleman.'
'Not as we define the thing,' I said.
His jaw dropped. 'What are you going to do with me?' he quavered.
'You have been a soldier,' I said. 'You are going to see a little
fighting - from the ranks. There will be no brutality, you will be
armed if you want to defend yourself, you will have the same
chance of survival as the men around you. You may have heard
that your countrymen are doing well. It is even possible that they
may win the battle. What was your forecast to me? Amiens in two
days, Abbeville in three. Well, you are a little behind scheduled
time, but still you are prospering. You told me that you were the
chief architect of all this, and you are going to be given the chance
of seeing it, perhaps of sharing in it - from the other side. Does it
not appeal to your sense of justice?'
He groaned and turned away. I had no more pity for him than I
would have had for a black mamba that had killed my friend and
was now caught to a cleft tree. Nor, oddly enough, had Wake. If
we had shot Ivery outright at St Anton, I am certain that Wake
would have called us murderers. Now he was in complete agreement.
His passionate hatred of war made him rejoice that a chief
contriver of war should be made to share in its terrors.
'He tried to talk me over this morning,' he told me. 'Claimed he
was on my side and said the kind of thing I used to say last year. It
made me rather ashamed of some of my past performances to hear
that scoundrel imitating them ... By the way, Hannay, what are
you going to do with me?'
'You're coming on my staff. You're a stout fellow and I can't do
without you.'
'Remember I won't fight.'
'You won't be asked to. We're trying to stem the tide which
wants to roll to the sea. You know how the Boche behaves in
occupied country, and Mary's in Amiens.'
At that news he shut his lips.
'Still -'he began.
still" I said. 'I don't ask you to forfeit one of your blessed
principles. You needn't fire a shot. But I want a man to carry
orders for me, for we haven't a line any more, only a lot of blobs
like quicksilver. I want a clever man for the job and a brave one,
and I know that you're not afraid.'
'No,' he said. 'I don't think I am - much. Well. I'm content!'
I started Blenkiron off in a car for Corps Headquarters, and in
the afternoon took the road myself. I knew every inch of the
country - the lift of the hill east of Amiens, the Roman highway
that ran straight as an arrow to St Quentin, the marshy lagoons of
the Somme, and that broad strip of land wasted by battle between
Dompierre and Peronne. I had come to Amiens through it in
January, for I had been up to the line before I left for Paris, and
then it had been a peaceful place, with peasants tilling their fields,
and new buildings going up on the old battle-field, and carpenters
busy at cottage roofs, and scarcely a transport waggon on the road
to remind one of war. Now the main route was choked like the
Albert road when the Somme battle first began - troops going up
and troops coming down, the latter in the last stage of weariness; a
ceaseless traffic of ambulances one way and ammunition waggons
the other; busy staff cars trying to worm a way through the mass;
strings of gun horses, oddments of cavalry, and here and there blue
French uniforms. All that I had seen before; but one thing was new
to me. Little country carts with sad-faced women and mystified
children in them and piles of household plenishing were creeping
westward, or stood waiting at village doors. Beside these tramped
old men and boys, mostly in their Sunday best as if they were going
to church. I had never seen the sight before, for I had never seen
the British Army falling back. The dam which held up the waters
had broken and the dwellers in the valley were trying to save their
pitiful little treasures. And over everything, horse and man, cart
and wheelbarrow, road and tillage, lay the white March dust, the
sky was blue as June, small birds were busy in the copses, and in the
corners of abandoned gardens I had a glimpse of the first violets.
Presently as we topped a rise we came within full noise of the
guns. That, too, was new to me, for it was no ordinary bombardment.
There was a special quality in the sound, something ragged,
straggling, intermittent, which I had never heard before. It was the
sign of open warfare and a moving battle.
At Peronne, from which the newly returned inhabitants had a
second time fled, the battle seemed to be at the doors. There I had
news of my division. It was farther south towards St Christ. We
groped our way among bad roads to where its headquarters were
believed to be, while the voice of the guns grew louder. They
turned out to be those of another division, which was busy getting
ready to cross the river. Then the dark fell, and while airplanes flew
west into the sunset there was a redder sunset in the east, where the
unceasing flashes of gunfire were pale against the angry glow of
burning dumps. The sight of the bonnet-badge of a Scots Fusilier
made me halt, and the man turned out to belong to my division.
Half an hour later I was taking over from the much-relieved Masterton
in the ruins of what had once been a sugar-beet factory.
There to my surprise I found Lefroy. The Boche had held him
prisoner for precisely eight hours. During that time he had been so
interested in watching the way the enemy handled an attack that he
had forgotten the miseries of his position. He described with
blasphemous admiration the endless wheel by which supplies and
reserve troops move up, the silence, the smoothness, the perfect
discipline. Then he had realized that he was a captive and unwounded,
and had gone mad. Being a heavy-weight boxer of note, he had sent
his two guards spinning into a ditch, dodged the ensuing shots, and
found shelter in the lee of a blazing ammunition dump where his
pursuers hesitated to follow. Then he had spent an anxious hour
trying to get through an outpost line, which he thought was Boche.
Only by overhearing an exchange of oaths in the accents of Dundee
did he realize that it was our own ... It was a comfort to have Lefroy
back, for he was both stout-hearted and resourceful. But I found that
I had a division only on paper. It was about the strength of a
brigade, the brigades battalions, and the battalions companies.
This is not the place to write the story of the week that followed. I
could not write it even if I wanted to, for I don't know it. There
was a plan somewhere, which you will find in the history books,
but with me it was blank chaos. Orders came, but long before they
arrived the situation had changed, and I could no more obey them
than fly to the moon. Often I had lost touch with the divisions on
both flanks. Intelligence arrived erratically out of the void, and for
the most part we worried along without it. I heard we were under
the French - first it was said to be Foch, and then Fayolle, whom I
had met in Paris. But the higher command seemed a million miles
away, and we were left to use our mother wits. My problem was to
give ground as slowly as possible and at the same time not to delay
too long, for retreat we must, with the Boche sending in brand-new
divisions each morning. It was a kind of war worlds distant from
the old trench battles, and since I had been taught no other I had to
invent rules as I went along. Looking back, it seems a miracle that
any of us came out of it. Only the grace of God and the uncommon
toughness of the British soldier bluffed the Hun and prevented him
pouring through the breach to Abbeville and the sea. We were no
better than a mosquito curtain stuck in a doorway to stop the
advance of an angry bull.
The Army Commander was right; we were hanging on with our
eyelashes. We must have been easily the weakest part of the whole front,
for we were holding a line which was never less than two miles and
was often, as I judged, nearer five, and there was nothing in reserve
to us except some oddments of cavalry who chased about the whole
battle-field under vague orders. Mercifully for us the Boche blundered.
Perhaps he did not know our condition, for our airmen were
magnificent and you never saw a Boche plane over our line by day,
though they bombed us merrily by night. If he had called our bluff
we should have been done, but he put his main strength to the
north and the south of us. North he pressed hard on the Third
Army, but he got well hammered by the Guards north of Bapaume
and he could make no headway at Arras. South he drove at the
Paris railway and down the Oise valley, but there Petain's reserves
had arrived, and the French made a noble stand.
Not that he didn't fight hard in the centre where we were, but he
hadn't his best troops, and after we got west of the bend of the
Somme he was outrunning his heavy guns. Still, it was a desperate
enough business, for our flanks were all the time falling back, and
we had to conform to movements we could only guess at. After all,
we were on the direct route to Amiens, and it was up to us to yield
slowly so as to give Haig and Petain time to get up supports. I was
a miser about every yard of ground, for every yard and every
minute were precious. We alone stood between the enemy and the
city, and in the city was Mary.
If you ask me about our plans I can't tell you. I had a new one
every hour. I got instructions from the Corps, but, as I have said,
they were usually out of date before they arrived, and most of my
tactics I had to invent myself. I had a plain task, and to fulfil it I
had to use what methods the Almighty allowed me. I hardly slept, I
ate little, I was on the move day and night, but I never felt so
strong in my life. It seemed as if I couldn't tire, and, oddly enough,
I was happy. If a man's whole being is focused on one aim, he has
no time to worry ... I remember we were all very gentle and softspoken
those days. Lefroy, whose tongue was famous for its edge,
now cooed like a dove. The troops were on their uppers, but as
steady as rocks. We were against the end of the world, and that
stiffens a man ...
Day after day saw the same performance. I held my wavering
front with an outpost line which delayed each new attack till I
could take its bearings. I had special companies for counter-attack
at selected points, when I wanted time to retire the rest of the
division. I think we must have fought more than a dozen of such
little battles. We lost men all the time, but the enemy made no big
scoop, though he was always on the edge of one. Looking back, it
seems like a succession of miracles. Often I was in one end of a
village when the Boche was in the other. Our batteries were always
on the move, and the work of the gunners was past praising.
Sometimes we faced east, sometimes north, and once at a most
critical moment due south, for our front waved and blew like a flag
at a masthead ... Thank God, the enemy was getting away from
his big engine, and his ordinary troops were fagged and poor in
quality. It was when his fresh shock battalions came on that I held
my breath ... He had a heathenish amount of machine-guns and he
used them beautifully. Oh, I take my hat off to the Boche performance.
He was doing what we had tried to do at the Somme and the
Aisne and Arras and Ypres, and he was more or less succeeding.
And the reason was that he was going bald-headed for victory.
The men, as I have said, were wonderfully steady and patient
under the fiercest trial that soldiers can endure. I had all kinds in
the division - old army, new army, Territorials - and you couldn't
pick and choose between them. They fought like Trojans, and,
dirty, weary, and hungry, found still some salt of humour in their
sufferings. It was a proof of the rock-bottom sanity of human
nature. But we had one man with us who was hardly sane. ...
In the hustle of those days I now and then caught sight of Ivery.
I had to be everywhere at all hours, and often visited that remnant
of Scots Fusiliers into which the subtlest brain in Europe had been
drafted. He and his keepers were never on outpost duty or in any
counter-attack. They were part of the mass whose only business was
to retire discreetly. This was child's play to Hamilton, who had
been out since Mons; and Amos, after taking a day to get used to
it, wrapped himself in his grim philosophy and rather enjoyed it.
You couldn't surprise Amos any more than a Turk. But the man
with them, whom they never left - that was another matter.
'For the first wee bit,' Hamilton reported, 'we thocht he was
gaun daft. Every shell that came near he jumped like a young
horse. And the gas! We had to tie on his mask for him, for his
hands were fushionless. There was whiles when he wadna be
hindered from standin' up and talkin' to hisself, though the bullets
was spittin'. He was what ye call demoralized ... Syne he got as
though he didna hear or see onything. He did what we tell't him,
and when we let him be he sat down and grat. He's aye greetin' ...
Queer thing, sirr, but the Gairmans canna hit him. I'm aye shakin'
bullets out o' my claes, and I've got a hole in my shoulder, and
Andra took a bash on his tin that wad hae felled onybody that
hadna a heid like a stot. But, sirr, the prisoner taks no scaith. Our
boys are feared of him. There was an Irishman says to me that he
had the evil eye, and ye can see for yerself that he's no canny.'
I saw that his skin had become like parchment and that his eyes
were glassy. I don't think he recognized me.
'Does he take his meals?' I asked.
'He doesna eat muckle. But he has an unco thirst. Ye canna keep
him off the men's water-bottles.'
He was learning very fast the meaning of that war he had so
confidently played with. I believe I am a merciful man, but as I
looked at him I felt no vestige of pity. He was dreeing the weird he
had prepared for others. I thought of Scudder, of the thousand
friends I had lost, of the great seas of blood and the mountains of
sorrow this man and his like had made for the world. Out of the
corner of my eye I could see the long ridges above Combles and
Longueval which the salt of the earth had fallen to win, and which
were again under the hoof of the Boche. I thought of the distracted
city behind us and what it meant to me, and the weak, the pitifully
weak screen which was all its defence. I thought of the foul deeds
which had made the German name to stink by land and sea, foulness
of which he was the arch-begetter. And then I was amazed at our
forbearance. He would go mad, and madness for him was more
decent than sanity.
I had another man who wasn't what you might call normal, and
that was Wake. He was the opposite of shell-shocked, if you understand
me. He had never been properly under fire before, but he
didn't give a straw for it. I had known the same thing with other
men, and they generally ended by crumpling up, for it isn't natural
that five or six feet of human flesh shouldn't be afraid of what can
torture and destroy it. The natural thing is to be always a little
scared, like me, but by an effort of the will and attention to work
to contrive to forget it. But Wake apparently never gave it a
thought. He wasn't foolhardy, only indifferent. He used to go
about with a smile on his face, a smile of contentment. Even the
horrors - and we had plenty of them - didn't affect him. His eyes,
which used to be hot, had now a curious open innocence like
Peter's. I would have been happier if he had been a little rattled.
One night, after we had had a bad day of anxiety, I talked to him
as we smoked in what had once been a French dug-out. He was an
extra right arm to me, and I told him so. 'This must be a queer
experience for you,' I said.
'Yes,' he replied, 'it is very wonderful. I did not think a man
could go through it and keep his reason. But I know many things I
did not know before. I know that the soul can be reborn without
leaving the body.'
I stared at him, and he went on without looking at me.
'You're not a classical scholar, Hannay? There was a strange cult
in the ancient world, the worship of Magna Mater - the Great
Mother. To enter into her mysteries the votary passed through a
bath of blood - - - I think I am passing through that bath. I think
that like the initiate I shall be _renatus _in _aeternum - reborn into the
I advised him to have a drink, for that talk frightened me. It
looked as if he were becoming what the Scots call 'fey'. Lefroy
noticed the same thing and was always speaking about it. He was as
brave as a bull himself, and with very much the same kind of
courage; but Wake's gallantry perturbed him. 'I can't make the
chap out,' he told me. 'He behaves as if his mind was too full of
better things to give a damn for Boche guns. He doesn't take
foolish risks - I don't mean that, but he behaves as if risks didn't
signify. It's positively eerie to see him making notes with a steady
hand when shells are dropping like hailstones and we're all thinking
every minute's our last. You've got to be careful with him, sir. He's
a long sight too valuable for us to spare.'
Lefroy was right about that, for I don't know what I should
have done without him. The worst part of our job was to keep
touch with our flanks, and that was what I used Wake for. He
covered country like a moss-trooper, sometimes on a rusty bicycle,
oftener on foot, and you couldn't tire him. I wonder what other
divisions thought of the grimy private who was our chief means of
communication. He knew nothing of military affairs before, but he
got the hang of this rough-and-tumble fighting as if he had been
born for it. He never fired a shot; he carried no arms; the only
weapons he used were his brains. And they were the best conceivable.
I never met a staff officer who was so quick at getting a point or at
sizing up a situation. He had put his back into the business, and
first-class talent is not common anywhere. One day a G. S. O. from
a neighbouring division came to see me.
'Where on earth did you pick up that man Wake?' he asked.
'He's a conscientious objector and a non-combatant,' I said.
'Then I wish to Heaven we had a few more conscientious objectors
in this show. He's the only fellow who seems to know anything
about this blessed battle. My general's sending you a chit about
'No need,' I said, laughing. 'I know his value. He's an old friend
of mine.'
I used Wake as my link with Corps Headquarters, and especially
with Blenkiron. For about the sixth day of the show I was beginning
to get rather desperate. This kind of thing couldn't go on for ever.
We were miles back now, behind the old line Of '17, and, as we
rested one flank on the river, the immediate situation was a little
easier. But I had lost a lot of men, and those that were left were blind
with fatigue. The big bulges of the enemy to north and south had
added to the length of the total front, and I found I had to fan out
my thin ranks. The Boche was still pressing on, though his impetus
was slacker. If he knew how little there was to stop him in my
section he might make a push which would carry him to Amiens.
Only the magnificent work of our airmen had prevented him getting
that knowledge, but we couldn't keep the secrecy up for ever.
Some day an enemy plane would get over, and it only needed the
drive of a fresh storm-battalion or two to scatter us. I wanted a
good prepared position, with sound trenches and decent wiring.
Above all I wanted reserves - reserves. The word was on my lips
all day and it haunted my dreams. I was told that the French were
to relieve us, but when - when? My reports to Corps Headquarters
were one long wail for more troops. I knew there was a position
prepared behind us, but I needed men to hold it.
Wake brought in a message from Blenkiron. 'We're waiting for
you, Dick,' he wrote, 'and we've gotten quite a nice little home
ready for you. This old man hasn't hustled so hard since he struck
copper in Montana in '92. We've dug three lines of trenches and
made a heap of pretty redoubts, and I guess they're well laid out,
for the Army staff has supervised them and they're no slouches at
this brand of engineering. You would have laughed to see the
labour we employed. We had all breeds of Dago and Chinaman,
and some of your own South African blacks, and they got so busy
on the job they forgot about bedtime. I used to be reckoned a bit
of a slave driver, but my special talents weren't needed with this
push. I'm going to put a lot of money into foreign missions
I wrote back: 'Your trenches are no good without men. For God's
sake get something that can hold a rifle. My lot are done to the world.'
Then I left Lefroy with the division and went down on the back
of an ambulance to see for myself. I found Blenkiron, some of the
Army engineers, and a staff officer from Corps Headquarters, and I
found Archie Roylance.
They had dug a mighty good line and wired it nobly. It ran from
the river to the wood of La Bruyere on the little hill above the
Ablain stream. It was desperately long, but I saw at once it couldn't
well be shorter, for the division on the south of us had its hands
full with the fringe of the big thrust against the French.
'It's no good blinking the facts,' I told them. 'I haven't a thousand
men, and what I have are at the end of their tether. If you put 'em
in these trenches they'll go to sleep on their feet. When can the
French take over?'
I was told that it had been arranged for next morning, but that it
had now been put off twenty-four hours. It was only a temporary
measure, pending the arrival of British divisions from the north.
Archie looked grave. 'The Boche is pushin' up new troops in
this sector. We got the news before I left squadron headquarters.
It looks as if it would be a near thing, sir.'
'It won't be a near thing. It's an absolute black certainty. My
fellows can't carry on as they are another day. Great God, they've
had a fortnight in hell! Find me more men or we buckle up at the
next push.' My temper was coming very near its limits.
'We've raked the country with a small-tooth comb, sir,' said one
of the staff officers. 'And we've raised a scratch pack. Best part of
two thousand. Good men, but most of them know nothing about
infantry fighting. We've put them into platoons, and done our best
to give them some kind of training. There's one thing may cheer
you. We've plenty of machine-guns. There's a machine-gun school
near by and we got all the men who were taking the course and all
the plant.'
I don't suppose there was ever such a force put into the field
before. It was a wilder medley than Moussy's camp-followers at
First Ypres. There was every kind of detail in the shape of men
returning from leave, representing most of the regiments in the
army. There were the men from the machine-gun school. There
were Corps troops - sappers and A.S.C., and a handful of Corps
cavalry. Above all, there was a batch of American engineers,
fathered by Blenkiron. I inspected them where they were drilling
and liked the look of them. 'Forty-eight hours,' I said to myself.
'With luck we may just pull it off.'
Then I borrowed a bicycle and went back to the division. But
before I left I had a word with Archie. 'This is one big game of
bluff, and it's you fellows alone that enable us to play it. Tell your
people that everything depends on them. They mustn't stint the
planes in this sector, for if the Boche once suspicions how little he's
got before him the game's up. He's not a fool and he knows that
this is the short road to Amiens, but he imagines we're holding it in
strength. If we keep up the fiction for another two days the thing's
done. You say he's pushing up troops?'
'Yes, and he's sendin' forward his tanks.'
'Well, that'll take time. He's slower now than a week ago and
he's got a deuce of a country to march over. There's still an outside
chance we may win through. You go home and tell the R.F.C.
what I've told you.'
He nodded. 'By the way, sir, Pienaar's with the squadron. He
would like to come up and see you.'
'Archie,' I said solemnly, 'be a good chap and do me a favour. If
I think Peter's anywhere near the line I'll go off my head with
worry. This is no place for a man with a bad leg. He should have
been in England days ago. Can't you get him off - to Amiens, anyhow?'
'We scarcely like to. You see, we're all desperately sorry for him,
his fun gone and his career over and all that. He likes bein' with us
and listenin' to our yarns. He has been up once or twice too. The
Shark-Gladas. He swears it's a great make, and certainly he knows
how to handle the little devil.'
'Then for Heaven's sake don't let him do it again. I look to you,
Archie, remember. Promise.'
'Funny thing, but he's always worryin' about you. He has a map
on which he marks every day the changes in the position, and he'd
hobble a mile to pump any of our fellows who have been up your
That night under cover of darkness I drew back the division to
the newly prepared lines. We got away easily, for the enemy was busy
with his own affairs. I suspected a relief by fresh troops.
There was no time to lose, and I can tell you I toiled to get
things straight before dawn. I would have liked to send my own
fellows back to rest, but I couldn't spare them yet. I wanted them
to stiffen the fresh lot, for they were veterans. The new position
was arranged on the same principles as the old front which had
been broken on March 21st. There was our forward zone, consisting
of an outpost line and redoubts, very cleverly sited, and a line of
resistance. Well behind it were the trenches which formed the
battle-zone. Both zones were heavily wired, and we had plenty of
machine-guns; I wish I could say we had plenty of men who knew
how to use them. The outposts were merely to give the alarm and
fall back to the line of resistance which was to hold out to the last.
In the forward zone I put the freshest of my own men, the units
being brought up to something like strength by the details returning
from leave that the Corps had commandeered. With them I put the
American engineers, partly in the redoubts and partly in companies
for counter-attack. Blenkiron had reported that they could shoot
like Dan'l Boone, and were simply spoiling for a fight. The rest of
the force was in the battle-zone, which was our last hope. If that
went the Boche had a clear walk to Amiens. Some additional field
batteries had been brought up to support our very weak divisional
artillery. The front was so long that I had to put all three of my
emaciated brigades in the line, so I had nothing to speak of in
reserve. It was a most almighty gamble.
We had found shelter just in time. At 6.3o next day - for a
change it was a clear morning with clouds beginning to bank up
from the west - the Boche let us know he was alive. He gave us a
good drenching with gas shells which didn't do much harm, and
then messed up our forward zone with his trench mortars. At 7.20
his men began to come on, first little bunches with machine-guns
and then the infantry in waves. It was clear they were fresh troops,
and we learned afterwards from prisoners that they were Bavarians -
6th or 7th, I forget which, but the division that hung us up at
Monchy. At the same time there was the sound of a tremendous
bombardment across the river. It looked as if the main battle had
swung from Albert and Montdidier to a direct push for Amiens.
I have often tried to write down the events of that day. I tried it
in my report to the Corps; I tried it in my own diary; I tried it
because Mary wanted it; but I have never been able to make any
story that hung together. Perhaps I was too tired for my mind to
retain clear impressions, though at the time I was not conscious of
special fatigue. More likely it is because the fight itself was so
confused, for nothing happened according to the books and the
orderly soul of the Boche must have been scarified ...
At first it went as I expected. The outpost line was pushed in,
but the fire from the redoubts broke up the advance, and enabled
the line of resistance in the forward zone to give a good account of
itself. There was a check, and then another big wave, assisted by a
barrage from field-guns brought far forward. This time the line of
resistance gave at several points, and Lefroy flung in the Americans
in a counter-attack. That was a mighty performance. The engineers,
yelling like dervishes, went at it with the bayonet, and those that
preferred swung their rifles as clubs. It was terribly costly fighting
and all wrong, but it succeeded. They cleared the Boche out of a
ruined farm he had rushed, and a little wood, and re-established our
front. Blenkiron, who saw it all, for he went with them and got the
tip of an ear picked off by a machine-gun bullet, hadn't any words
wherewith to speak of it. 'And I once said those boys looked
puffy,' he moaned.
The next phase, which came about midday, was the tanks. I had
never seen the German variety, but had heard that it was speedier
and heavier than ours, but unwieldy. We did not see much of their
speed, but we found out all about their clumsiness. Had the things
been properly handled they should have gone through us like
rotten wood. But the whole outfit was bungled. It looked good
enough country for the use of them, but the men who made our
position had had an eye to this possibility. The great monsters,
mounting a field-gun besides other contrivances, wanted something
like a highroad to be happy in. They were useless over anything
like difficult ground. The ones that came down the main road got
on well enough at the start, but Blenkiron very sensibly had mined
the highway, and we blew a hole like a diamond pit. One lay
helpless at the foot of it, and we took the crew prisoner; another
stuck its nose over and remained there till our field-guns got the
range and knocked it silly. As for the rest - there is a marshy
lagoon called the Patte d'Oie beside the farm of Gavrelle, which
runs all the way north to the river, though in most places it only
seems like a soft patch in the meadows. This the tanks had to cross
to reach our line, and they never made it. Most got bogged, and
made pretty targets for our gunners; one or two returned; and one
the Americans, creeping forward under cover of a little stream,
blew up with a time fuse.
By the middle of the afternoon I was feeling happier. I knew the
big attack was still to come, but I had my forward zone intact and I
hoped for the best. I remember I was talking to Wake, who had
been going between the two zones, when I got the first warning of
a new and unexpected peril. A dud shell plumped down a few yards from me.
'Those fools across the river are firing short and badly off the
straight,' I said.
Wake examined the shell. 'No, it's a German one,' he said.
Then came others, and there could be no mistake about the
direction - followed by a burst of machine-gun fire from the same
quarter. We ran in cover to a point from which we could see the
north bank of the river, and I got my glass on it. There was a lift of
land from behind which the fire was coming. We looked at each
other, and the same conviction stood in both faces. The Boche had
pushed down the northern bank, and we were no longer in line
with our neighbours. The enemy was in a situation to catch us with
his fire on our flank and left rear. We couldn't retire to conform,
for to retire meant giving up our prepared position.
It was the last straw to all our anxieties, and for a moment I was
at the end of my wits. I turned to Wake, and his calm eyes pulled
me together.
'If they can't retake that ground, we're fairly carted,' I said.
'We are. Therefore they must retake it.'
'I must get on to Mitchinson.' But as I spoke I realized the
futility of a telephone message to a man who was pretty hard up
against it himself. Only an urgent appeal could effect anything ... I
must go myself ... No, that was impossible. I must send Lefroy
... But he couldn't be spared. And all my staff officers were up to
their necks in the battle. Besides, none of them knew the position
as I knew it ... And how to get there? It was a long way round by
the bridge at Loisy.
Suddenly I was aware of Wake's voice. 'You had better send
me,' he was saying. 'There's only one way - to swim the river a
little lower down.'
'That's too damnably dangerous. I won't send any man to certain death.'
'But I volunteer,' he said. 'That, I believe, is always allowed in war.'
'But you'll be killed before you can cross.'
'Send a man with me to watch. If I get over, you may be sure I'll get to
General Mitchinson. If not, send somebody else by Loisy. There's
desperate need for hurry, and you see yourself it's the only way.'
The time was past for argument. I scribbled a line to Mitchinson
as his credentials. No more was needed, for Wake knew the position
as well as I did. I sent an orderly to accompany him to his startingplace
on the bank.
'Goodbye,' he said, as we shook hands. 'You'll see, I'll come
back all right.' His face, I remember, looked singularly happy.
Five minutes later the Boche guns opened for the final attack.
I believe I kept a cool head; at least so Lefroy and the others
reported. They said I went about all afternoon grinning as if I liked
it, and that I never raised my voice once. (It's rather a fault of mine
that I bellow in a scrap.) But I know I was feeling anything but
calm, for the problem was ghastly. It all depended on Wake and
Mitchinson. The flanking fire was so bad that I had to give up the
left of the forward zone, which caught it fairly, and retire the men
there to the battle-zone. The latter was better protected, for between
it and the river was a small wood and the bank rose into a bluff
which sloped inwards towards us. This withdrawal meant a switch,
and a switch isn't a pretty thing when it has to be improvised in the
middle of a battle.
The Boche had counted on that flanking fire. His plan was to
break our two wings - the old Boche plan which crops up in every
fight. He left our centre at first pretty well alone, and thrust along
the river bank and to the wood of La Bruyere, where we linked up
with the division on our right. Lefroy was in the first area, and
Masterton in the second, and for three hours it was as desperate a
business as I have ever faced ... The improvised switch went, and
more and more of the forward zone disappeared. It was a hot, clear
spring afternoon, and in the open fighting the enemy came on like
troops at manoeuvres. On the left they got into the battle-zone, and
I can see yet Lefroy's great figure leading a counter-attack in person,
his face all puddled with blood from a scalp wound ...
I would have given my soul to be in two places at once, but I
had to risk our left and keep close to Masterton, who needed me
most. The wood of La Bruyere was the maddest sight. Again and
again the Boche was almost through it. You never knew where he
was, and most of the fighting there was duels between machine-gun
parties. Some of the enemy got round behind us, and only a fine
performance of a company of Cheshires saved a complete breakthrough.
As for Lefroy, I don't know how he stuck it out, and he doesn't
know himself, for he was galled all the time by that accursed
flanking fire. I got a note about half past four saying that Wake had
crossed the river, but it was some weary hours after that before the
fire slackened. I tore back and forward between my wings, and
every time I went north I expected to find that Lefroy had broken.
But by some miracle he held. The Boches were in his battle-zone
time and again, but he always flung them out. I have a recollection of
Blenkiron, stark mad, encouraging his Americans with strange
tongues. Once as I passed him I saw that he had his left arm tied
up. His blackened face grinned at me. 'This bit of landscape's
mighty unsafe for democracy,' he croaked. 'For the love of Mike
get your guns on to those devils across the river. They're plaguing
my boys too bad.'
It was about seven o'clock, I think, when the flanking fire slacked
off, but it was not because of our divisional guns. There was a
short and very furious burst of artillery fire on the north bank, and
I knew it was British. Then things began to happen. One of our
planes - they had been marvels all day, swinging down like hawks
for machine-gun bouts with the Boche infantry - reported that
Mitchinson was attacking hard and getting on well. That eased my
mind, and I started off for Masterton, who was in greater straits
than ever, for the enemy seemed to be weakening on the river bank
and putting his main strength in against our right ... But my
G.S.O.2 stopped me on the road. 'Wake,' he said. 'He wants to see you.'
'Not now,' I cried.
'He can't live many minutes.'
I turned and followed him to the ruinous cowshed which was my
divisional headquarters. Wake, as I heard later, had swum the river
opposite to Mitchinson's right, and reached the other shore safely,
though the current was whipped with bullets. But he had scarcely
landed before he was badly hit by shrapnel in the groin. Walking at
first with support and then carried on a stretcher, he managed to
struggle on to the divisional headquarters, where he gave my message
and explained the situation. He would not let his wound be
looked to till his job was done. Mitchinson told me afterwards that
with a face grey from pain he drew for him a sketch of our position
and told him exactly how near we were to our end ... After that he
asked to be sent back to me, and they got him down to Loisy in a
crowded ambulance, and then up to us in a returning empty. The
M.O. who looked at his wound saw that the thing was hopeless,
and did not expect him to live beyond Loisy. He was bleeding
internally and no surgeon on earth could have saved him.
When he reached us he was almost pulseless, but he recovered
for a moment and asked for me.
I found him, with blue lips and a face drained of blood, lying on
my camp bed. His voice was very small and far away.
'How goes it?' he asked.
'Please God, we'll pull through ... thanks to you, old man.'
'Good,' he said and his eyes shut.
He opened them once again.
'Funny thing life. A year ago I was preaching peace ... I'm still
preaching it ... I'm not sorry.'
I held his hand till two minutes later he died.
In the press of a fight one scarcely realizes death, even the death of
a friend. It was up to me to make good my assurance to Wake, and
presently I was off to Masterton. There in that shambles of La
Bruyere, while the light faded, there was a desperate and most
bloody struggle. It was the last lap of the contest. Twelve hours
now, I kept telling myself, and the French will be here and we'll
have done our task. Alas! how many of us would go back to rest?
... Hardly able to totter, our counter-attacking companies went in
again. They had gone far beyond the limits of mortal endurance,
but the human spirit can defy all natural laws. The balance trembled,
hung, and then dropped the right way. The enemy impetus
weakened, stopped, and the ebb began.
I wanted to complete the job. Our artillery put up a sharp barrage,
and the little I had left comparatively fresh I sent in for a counterstroke.
Most of the men were untrained, but there was that in our
ranks which dispensed with training, and we had caught the enemy
at the moment of lowest vitality. We pushed him out of La Bruyere,
we pushed him back to our old forward zone, we pushed him out of
that zone to the position from which he had begun the day.
But there was no rest for the weary. We had lost at least a third
of our strength, and we had to man the same long line. We consolidated
it as best we could, started to replace the wiring that had been
destroyed, found touch with the division on our right, and established
outposts. Then, after a conference with my brigadiers, I went
back to my headquarters, too tired to feel either satisfaction or
anxiety. In eight hours the French would be here. The words made
a kind of litany in my ears.
In the cowshed where Wake had lain, two figures awaited me.
The talc-enclosed candle revealed Hamilton and Amos, dirty beyond
words, smoke-blackened, blood-stained, and intricately bandaged.
They stood stiffly to attention.
'Sirr, the prisoner,' said Hamilton. 'I have to report that the
prisoner is deid.'
I stared at them, for I had forgotten Ivery. He seemed a creature
of a world that had passed away.
'Sirr, it was like this. Ever sin' this mornin', the prisoner seemed
to wake up. Ye'll mind that he was in a kind of dream all week. But
he got some new notion in his heid, and when the battle began he
exheebited signs of restlessness. Whiles he wad lie doun in the
trench, and whiles he was wantin' back to the dug-out. Accordin'
to instructions I provided him wi' a rifle, but he didna seem to ken
how to handle it. It was your orders, sirr, that he was to have
means to defend hisself if the enemy cam on, so Amos gie'd him a
trench knife. But verra soon he looked as if he was ettlin' to cut his
throat, so I deprived him of it.'
Hamilton stopped for breath. He spoke as if he were reciting a
lesson, with no stops between the sentences.
'I jaloused, sirr, that he wadna last oot the day, and Amos here
was of the same opinion. The end came at twenty minutes past
three - I ken the time, for I had just compared my watch with
Amos. Ye'll mind that the Gairmans were beginning a big attack.
We were in the front trench of what they ca' the battle-zone, and
Amos and me was keepin' oor eyes on the enemy, who could be
obsairved dribblin' ower the open. just then the prisoner catches
sight of the enemy and jumps up on the top. Amos tried to hold
him, but he kicked him in the face. The next we kenned he was
runnin' verra fast towards the enemy, holdin' his hands ower his
heid and crying out loud in a foreign langwidge.'
'It was German,' said the scholarly Amos through his broken teeth.
'It was Gairman,' continued Hamilton. 'It seemed as if he was
appealin' to the enemy to help him. But they paid no attention, and
he cam under the fire of their machine-guns. We watched him spin
round like a teetotum and kenned that he was bye with it.'
'You are sure he was killed?' I asked.
'Yes, sirr. When we counter-attacked we fund his body.'
There is a grave close by the farm of Gavrelle, and a wooden cross
at its head bears the name of the Graf von Schwabing and the date
of his death. The Germans took Gavrelle a little later. I am glad to
think that they read that inscription.
The Summons Comes for Mr Standfast
I slept for one and three-quarter hours that night, and when I
awoke I seemed to emerge from deeps of slumber which had lasted
for days. That happens sometimes after heavy fatigue and great
mental strain. Even a short sleep sets up a barrier between past and
present which has to be elaborately broken down before you can
link on with what has happened before. As my wits groped at the
job some drops of rain splashed on my face through the broken roof.
That hurried me out-of-doors. It was just after dawn and the sky was
piled with thick clouds, while a wet wind blew up from the southwest.
The long-prayed-for break in the weather seemed to have
come at last. A deluge of rain was what I wanted, something to soak
the earth and turn the roads into water-courses and clog the enemy
transport, something above all to blind the enemy's eyes ... For I
remembered what a preposterous bluff it all had been, and what a
piteous broken handful stood between the Germans and their goal.
If they knew, if they only knew, they would brush us aside like flies.
As I shaved I looked back on the events of yesterday as on
something that had happened long ago. I seemed to judge them
impersonally, and I concluded that it had been a pretty good fight.
A scratch force, half of it dog-tired and half of it untrained, had
held up at least a couple of fresh divisions ... But we couldn't do it
again, and there were still some hours before us of desperate peril.
When had the Corps said that the French would arrive? ... I was
on the point of shouting for Hamilton to get Wake to ring up
Corps Headquarters, when I remembered that Wake was dead. I
had liked him and greatly admired him, but the recollection gave
me scarcely a pang. We were all dying, and he had only gone on a
stage ahead.
There was no morning strafe, such as had been our usual fortune
in the past week. I went out-of-doors and found a noiseless world
under the lowering sky. The rain had stopped falling, the wind of
dawn had lessened, and I feared that the storm would be delayed. I
wanted it at once to help us through the next hours of tension. Was
it in six hours that the French were coming? No, it must be four. It
couldn't be more than four, unless somebody had made an infernal
muddle. I wondered why everything was so quiet. It would be
breakfast time on both sides, but there seemed no stir of man's
presence in that ugly strip half a mile off. Only far back in the
German hinterland I seemed to hear the rumour of traffic.
An unslept and unshaven figure stood beside me which revealed
itself as Archie Roylance.
'Been up all night,' he said cheerfully, lighting a cigarette. 'No, I
haven't had breakfast. The skipper thought we'd better get another
anti-aircraft battery up this way, and I was superintendin' the job.
He's afraid of the Hun gettin' over your lines and spying out the
nakedness of the land. For, you know, we're uncommon naked, sir.
Also,' and Archie's face became grave, 'the Hun's pourin' divisions
down on this sector. As I judge, he's blowin' up for a thunderin'
big drive on both sides of the river. Our lads yesterday said all the
country back of Peronne was lousy with new troops. And he's
gettin' his big guns forward, too. You haven't been troubled with
them yet, but he has got the roads mended and the devil of a lot of
new light railways, and any moment we'll have the five-point-nines
sayin' Good-mornin' ... Pray Heaven you get relieved in time, sir.
I take it there's not much risk of another push this mornin'?'
'I don't think so. The Boche took a nasty knock yesterday, and
he must fancy we're pretty strong after that counter-attack. I don't
think he'll strike till he can work both sides of the river, and that'll
take time to prepare. That's what his fresh divisions are for ... But
remember, he can attack now, if he likes. If he knew how weak we
were he's strong enough to send us all to glory in the next three
hours. It's just that knowledge that you fellows have got to prevent
his getting. If a single Hun plane crosses our lines and returns,
we're wholly and utterly done. You've given us splendid help since
the show began, Archie. For God's sake keep it up to the finish and
put every machine you can spare in this sector.'
'We're doin' our best,' he said. 'We got some more fightin'
scouts down from the north, and we're keepin' our eyes skinned.
But you know as well as I do, sir, that it's never an ab-so-lute
certainty. If the Hun sent over a squadron we might beat 'em all
down but one, and that one might do the trick. It's a matter of
luck. The Hun's got the wind up all right in the air just now and I
don't blame the poor devil. I'm inclined to think we haven't had
the pick of his push here. Jennings says he's doin' good work in
Flanders, and they reckon there's the deuce of a thrust comin' there
pretty soon. I think we can manage the kind of footler he's been
sendin' over here lately, but if Lensch or some lad like that were to
choose to turn up I wouldn't say what might happen. The air's a
big lottery,' and Archie turned a dirty face skyward where two of
our planes were moving very high towards the east.
The mention of Lensch brought Peter to mind, and I asked if he
had gone back.
'He won't go,' said Archie, 'and we haven't the heart to make
him. He's very happy, and plays about with the Gladas singleseater.
He's always speakin' about you, sir, and it'd break his heart if
we shifted him.'
I asked about his health, and was told that he didn't seem to
have much pain.
'But he's a bit queer,' and Archie shook a sage head. 'One of the
reasons why he won't budge is because he says God has some work
for him to do. He's quite serious about it, and ever since he got the
notion he has perked up amazin'. He's always askin' about Lensch,
too - not vindictive like, you understand, but quite friendly. Seems
to take a sort of proprietary interest in him. I told him Lensch had
had a far longer spell of first-class fightin' than anybody else and
was bound by the law of averages to be downed soon, and he was
quite sad about it.'
I had no time to worry about Peter. Archie and I swallowed
breakfast and I had a pow-wow with my brigadiers. By this time I
had got through to Corps H.Q. and got news of the French. It was
worse than I expected. General Peguy would arrive about ten
o'clock, but his men couldn't take over till well after midday. The
Corps gave me their whereabouts and I found it on the map. They
had a long way to cover yet, and then there would be the slow
business of relieving. I looked at my watch. There were still six
hours before us when the Boche might knock us to blazes, six
hours of maddening anxiety ... Lefroy announced that all was
quiet on the front, and that the new wiring at the Bois de la Bruyere
had been completed. Patrols had reported that during the
night a fresh German division seemed to have relieved that which
we had punished so stoutly yesterday. I asked him if he could stick
it out against another attack. 'No,' he said without hesitation.
'We're too few and too shaky on our pins to stand any more. I've
only a man to every three yards.' That impressed me, for Lefroy
was usually the most devil-may-care optimist.
'Curse it, there's the sun,' I heard Archie cry. It was true, for the
clouds were rolling back and the centre of the heavens was a patch
of blue. The storm was coming - I could smell it in the air - but
probably it wouldn't break till the evening. Where, I wondered,
would we be by that time?
it was now nine o'clock, and I was keeping tight hold on myself,
for I saw that I was going to have hell for the next hours. I am a
pretty stolid fellow in some ways, but I have always found patience
and standing still the most difficult job to tackle, and my nerves
were all tattered from the long strain of the retreat. I went up to
the line and saw the battalion commanders. Everything was
unwholesomely quiet there. Then I came back to my headquarters to
study the reports that were coming in from the air patrols. They all
said the same thing - abnormal activity in the German back areas.
Things seemed shaping for a new 21st of March, and, if our luck
were out, my poor little remnant would have to take the shock. I
telephoned to the Corps and found them as nervous as me. I gave
them the details of my strength and heard an agonized whistle at
the other end of the line. I was rather glad I had companions in the
same purgatory.
I found I couldn't sit still. If there had been any work to do I
would have buried myself in it, but there was none. Only this
fearsome job of waiting. I hardly ever feel cold, but now my blood
seemed to be getting thin, and I astonished my staff by putting on a
British warm and buttoning up the collar. Round that derelict farm
I ranged like a hungry wolf, cold at the feet, queasy in the stomach,
and mortally edgy in the mind.
Then suddenly the cloud lifted from me, and the blood seemed to
run naturally in my veins. I experienced the change of mood which
a man feels sometimes when his whole being is fined down and
clarified by long endurance. The fight of yesterday revealed itself as
something rather splendid. What risks we had run and how gallantly
we had met them! My heart warmed as I thought of that old
division of mine, those ragged veterans that were never beaten as
long as breath was left them. And the Americans and the boys from
the machine-gun school and all the oddments we had
commandeered! And old Blenkiron raging like a good-tempered lion! It
was against reason that such fortitude shouldn't win out. We had
snarled round and bitten the Boche so badly that he wanted no
more for a little. He would come again, but presently we should be
relieved and the gallant blue-coats, fresh as paint and burning for
revenge, would be there to worry him.
I had no new facts on which to base my optimism, only a
changed point of view. And with it came a recollection of other
things. Wake's death had left me numb before, but now the thought
of it gave me a sharp pang. He was the first of our little confederacy
to go. But what an ending he had made, and how happy he had
been in that mad time when he had come down from his pedestal
and become one of the crowd! He had found himself at the last, and
who could grudge him such happiness? If the best were to be
taken, he would be chosen first, for he was a big man, before
whom I uncovered my head. The thought of him made me very
humble. I had never had his troubles to face, but he had come clean
through them, and reached a courage which was for ever beyond
me. He was the Faithful among us pilgrims, who had finished his
journey before the rest. Mary had foreseen it. 'There is a price to be
paid,' she had said -'the best of us.'
And at the thought of Mary a flight of warm and happy hopes
seemed to settle on my mind. I was looking again beyond the war
to that peace which she and I would some day inherit. I had a
vision of a green English landscape, with its far-flung scents of
wood and meadow and garden ... And that face of all my dreams,
with the eyes so childlike and brave and honest, as if they, too, saw
beyond the dark to a radiant country. A line of an old song, which
had been a favourite of my father's, sang itself in my ears:
__There's an eye that ever weeps and a fair face will be fain
When I ride through Annan Water wi' my bonny bands _again!
We were standing by the crumbling rails of what had once been the
farm sheepfold. I looked at Archie and he smiled back at me, for he
saw that my face had changed. Then he turned his eyes to the
billowing clouds.
I felt my arm clutched.
'Look there!' said a fierce voice, and his glasses were turned upward.
I looked, and far up in the sky saw a thing like a wedge of wild
geese flying towards us from the enemy's country. I made out
the small dots which composed it, and my glass told me they
were planes. But only Archie's practised eye knew that they were enemy.
'Boche?' I asked.
'Boche,' he said. 'My God, we're for it now.'
My heart had sunk like a stone, but I was fairly cool. I looked at
my watch and saw that it was ten minutes to eleven.
'How many?'
'Five,' said Archie. 'Or there may be six - not more.'
'Listen!' I said. 'Get on to your headquarters. Tell them that it's
all up with us if a single plane gets back. Let them get well over the
line, the deeper in the better, and tell them to send up every
machine they possess and down them all. Tell them it's life or
death. Not one single plane goes back. Quick!'
Archie disappeared, and as he went our anti-aircraft guns broke
out. The formation above opened and zigzagged, but they were too
high to be in much danger. But they were not too high to see that
which we must keep hidden or perish.
The roar of our batteries died down as the invaders passed
westward. As I watched their progress they seemed to be
dropping lower. Then they rose again and a bank of cloud concealed them.
I had a horrid certainty that they must beat us, that some at any
rate would get back. They had seen thin lines and the roads behind
us empty of supports. They would see, as they advanced, the blue
columns of the French coming up from the south-west, and they
would return and tell the enemy that a blow now would open the
road to Amiens and the sea. He had plenty of strength for it,
and presently he would have overwhelming strength. It only
needed a spear-point to burst the jerry-built dam and let the flood
through ... They would return in twenty minutes, and by noon we
would be broken. Unless - unless the miracle of miracles happened,
and they never returned.
Archie reported that his skipper would do his damnedest and
that our machines were now going up. 'We've a chance, sir,' he
said, 'a good sportin' chance.' It was a new Archie, with a hard
voice, a lean face, and very old eyes.
Behind the jagged walls of the farm buildings was a knoll which
had once formed part of the high-road. I went up there alone, for I
didn't want anybody near me. I wanted a viewpoint, and I wanted
quiet, for I had a grim time before me. From that knoll I had a big
prospect of country. I looked east to our lines on which an
occasional shell was falling, and where I could hear the chatter of
machine-guns. West there was peace for the woods closed down on
the landscape. Up to the north, I remember, there was a big glare as
from a burning dump, and heavy guns seemed to be at work in the
Ancre valley. Down in the south there was the dull murmur of a
great battle. But just around me, in the gap, the deadliest place of
all, there was an odd quiet. I could pick out clearly the different
sounds. Somebody down at the farm had made a joke and there
was a short burst of laughter. I envied the humorist his composure.
There was a clatter and jingle from a battery changing position. On
the road a tractor was jolting along - I could hear its driver shout
and the screech of its unoiled axle.
My eyes were glued to my glasses, but they shook in my hands
so that I could scarcely see. I bit my lip to steady myself, but they
still wavered. From time to time I glanced at my watch. Eight
minutes gone - ten - seventeen. If only the planes would come into
sight! Even the certainty of failure would be better than this harrowing
doubt. They should be back by now unless they had swung
north across the salient, or unless the miracle of miracles -
Then came the distant yapping of an anti-aircraft gun, caught up
the next second by others, while smoke patches studded the distant
blue sky. The clouds were banking in mid-heaven, but to the west
there was a big clear space now woolly with shrapnel bursts. I
counted them mechanically - one - three - five - nine - with
despair beginning to take the place of my anxiety. My hands were
steady now, and through the glasses I saw the enemy.
Five attenuated shapes rode high above the bombardment, now
sharp against the blue, now lost in a film of vapour. They were
coming back, serenely, contemptuously, having seen all they wanted.
The quiet was gone now and the din was monstrous. Anti-aircraft
guns, singly and in groups, were firing from every side. As I
watched it seemed a futile waste of ammunition. The enemy didn't
give a tinker's curse for it ... But surely there was one down. I
could only count four now. No, there was the fifth coming out of a
cloud. In ten minutes they would be all over the line. I fairly
stamped in my vexation. Those guns were no more use than a sick
headache. Oh, where in God's name were our own planes?
At that moment they came, streaking down into sight, four
fighting-scouts with the sun glinting on their wings and burnishing
their metal cowls. I saw clearly the rings of red, white, and blue.
Before their downward drive the enemy instantly spread out.
I was watching with bare eyes now, and I wanted companionship,
for the time of waiting was over. Automatically I must have run
down the knoll, for the next I knew I was staring at the heavens
with Archie by my side. The combatants seemed to couple
instinctively. Diving, wheeling, climbing, a pair would drop out of
the melee or disappear behind a cloud. Even at that height I could
hear the methodical rat-tat-tat of the machine-guns. Then there was
a sudden flare and wisp of smoke. A plane sank, turning and
twisting, to earth.
'Hun!' said Archie, who had his glasses on it.
Almost immediately another followed. This time the pilot recovered
himself, while still a thousand feet from the ground, and
started gliding for the enemy lines. Then he wavered, plunged
sickeningly, and fell headlong into the wood behind La Bruyere.
Farther east, almost over the front trenches, a two-seater Albatross
and a British pilot were having a desperate tussle. The bombardment
had stopped, and from where we stood every movement
could be followed. First one, then another, climbed uppermost and
dived back, swooped out and wheeled in again, so that the two
planes seemed to clear each other only by inches. Then it looked as
if they closed and interlocked. I expected to see both go crashing,
when suddenly the wings of one seemed to shrivel up, and the
machine dropped like a stone.
'Hun,' said Archie. 'That makes three. Oh, good lads! Good lads!'
Then I saw something which took away my breath. Sloping
down in wide circles came a German machine, and, following, a
little behind and a little above, a British. It was the first surrender in
mid-air I had seen. In my amazement I watched the couple right
down to the ground, till the enemy landed in a big meadow across
the high-road and our own man in a field nearer the river.
When I looked back into the sky, it was bare. North, south, east,
and west, there was not a sign of aircraft, British or German.
A violent trembling took me. Archie was sweeping the heavens
with his glasses and muttering to himself. Where was the fifth man?
He must have fought his way through, and it was too late.
But was it? From the toe of a great rolling cloud-bank a flame
shot earthwards, followed by a V-shaped trail of smoke. British or
Boche? British or Boche? I didn't wait long for an answer. For,
riding over the far end of the cloud, came two of our fighting scouts.
I tried to be cool, and snapped my glasses into their case, though
the reaction made me want to shout. Archie turned to me with a
nervous smile and a quivering mouth. 'I think we have won on the
post,' he said.
He reached out a hand for mine, his eyes still on the sky, and I
was grasping it when it was torn away. He was staring upwards
with a white face.
We were looking at the sixth enemy plane.
It had been behind the others and much lower, and was making
straight at a great speed for the east. The glasses showed me a
different type of machine - a big machine with short wings, which
looked menacing as a hawk in a covey of grouse. It was under the
cloud-bank, and above, satisfied, easing down after their fight, and
unwitting of this enemy, rode the two British craft.
A neighbouring anti-aircraft gun broke out into a sudden burst,
and I thanked Heaven for its inspiration. Curious as to this new
development, the two British turned, caught sight of the Boche,
and dived for him.
What happened in the next minutes I cannot tell. The three
seemed to be mixed up in a dog fight, so that I could not distinguish
friend from foe. My hands no longer trembled; I was too desperate.
The patter of machine-guns came down to us, and then one of the
three broke clear and began to climb. The others strained to follow,
but in a second he had risen beyond their fire, for he had easily the
pace of them. Was it the Hun?
Archie's dry lips were talking.
'It's Lensch,' he said.
'How d'you know?' I gasped angrily.
'Can't mistake him. Look at the way he slipped out as he banked.
That's his patent trick.'
In that agonizing moment hope died in me. I was perfectly calm
now, for the time for anxiety had gone. Farther and farther drifted
the British pilots behind, while Lensch in the completeness of his
triumph looped more than once as if to cry an insulting farewell. In
less than three minutes he would be safe inside his own lines, and
he carried the knowledge which for us was death.
Someone was bawling in my ear, and pointing upward. It was
Archie and his face was wild. I looked and gasped - seized my
glasses and looked again.
A second before Lensch had been alone; now there were two machines.
I heard Archie's voice. 'My God, it's the Gladas - the little
Gladas.' His fingers were digging into my arm and his face was
against my shoulder. And then his excitement sobered into an awe
which choked his speech, as he stammered -'It's old -'
But I did not need him to tell me the name, for I had divined it
when I first saw the new plane drop from the clouds. I had that
queer sense that comes sometimes to a man that a friend is present
when he cannot see him. Somewhere up in the void two heroes
were fighting their last battle - and one of them had a crippled leg.
I had never any doubt about the result, though Archie told me
later that he went crazy with suspense. Lensch was not aware of his
opponent till he was almost upon him, and I wonder if by any freak
of instinct he recognized his greatest antagonist. He never fired a
shot, nor did Peter ... I saw the German twist and side-slip as if to
baffle the fate descending upon him. I saw Peter veer over vertically
and I knew that the end had come. He was there to make certain of
victory and he took the only way. The machines closed, there
was a crash which I felt though I could not hear it, and next second
both were hurtling down, over and over, to the earth.
They fell in the river just short of the enemy lines, but I did not
see them, for my eyes were blinded and I was on my knees.
After that it was all a dream. I found myself being embraced by a
French General of Division, and saw the first companies of the
cheerful bluecoats whom I had longed for. With them came the
rain , and it was under a weeping April sky that early in the night I
marched what was left of my division away from the battle-field.
The enemy guns were starting to speak behind us, but I did not
heed them. I knew that now there were warders at the gate, and I
believed that by the grace of God that gate was barred for ever.
They took Peter from the wreckage with scarcely a scar except his
twisted leg. Death had smoothed out some of the age in him, and
left his face much as I remembered it long ago in the Mashonaland
hills. In his pocket was his old battered_Pilgrim's _Progress. It lies
before me as I write, and beside it - for I was his only legatee - the
little case which came to him weeks later, containing the highest
honour that can be bestowed upon a soldier of Britain.
It was from the_Pilgrim's _Progress that I read next morning, when
in the lee of an apple-orchard Mary and Blenkiron and I stood in
the soft spring rain beside his grave. And what I read was the tale
in the end not of Mr Standfast, whom he had singled out for his
counterpart, but of Mr Valiant-for-Truth whom he had not hoped
to emulate. I set down the words as a salute and a farewell:
__Then said he, 'I am going to my Father's; and though with great
difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the
trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to
him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and
skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me,
to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will
be my rewarder.'
__So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on
the other _side.

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