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´╗┐Title: Mr. Standfast
Author: Buchan, John, 1875-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mr. Standfast" ***

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MR STANDFAST


by

JOHN BUCHAN



  TO THAT MOST GALLANT COMPANY
  THE OFFICERS AND MEN
  OF THE
  SOUTH AFRICAN INFANTRY BRIGADE
  on the Western Front



CONTENTS


PART I

   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

PART II

  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



NOTE

The earlier adventures of Richard Hannay, to which occasional reference
is made in this narrative, are recounted in _The Thirty-Nine Steps_ and
_Greenmantle_.

J.B.



PART I



CHAPTER ONE

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 said.

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
grouse-bird 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
lamplight.

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 dead-black
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,
faint-heartedness, 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?'

'Perfectly.'

'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 me?'

'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.



CHAPTER TWO

'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 mind.'

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 Latter-day 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 remarkable.

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 dining-room.
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 re-written, 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 _Wiener 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.'



CHAPTER THREE

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 book-backs. 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 half-baked
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 romancer. 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
hotel 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 duodenum.'

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-and-bones 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 high-toned 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 copper-bottomed, 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 _Wiener 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 _Wiener 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 delicate.'

            *       *       *       *       *

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.



CHAPTER FOUR

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 middle-aged 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 two--three 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 sing-song
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 friends.'

'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?'

'Ay.'

'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--working-men 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 comrades.

'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.'



CHAPTER FIVE

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 south-western
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.



CHAPTER SIX

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 arm-chair, 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 bed-chamber 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 hill-wind, 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.



CHAPTER SEVEN

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 voegelein 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
poetry.

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 _Elfenbein_, 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
_Wildvoegel_. 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 treason.'

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 No-man's-land.'

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 pocket-book, 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.



CHAPTER EIGHT

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 coffee-room 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 dun-coloured
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 cross-beam, 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?'



CHAPTER NINE

I Take the Wings of a Dove

'Drive me somewhere to breakfast, Archie,' I said, 'for I'm perishing
hungry.'

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 movie-merchant 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 movie-merchant. 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
white-and-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.



CHAPTER TEN

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 lairs.'

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.'



CHAPTER ELEVEN

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
thinking 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
long-suffering 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 Elfenbein, 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
chance.'

'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 beginning.'

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.



PART II



CHAPTER TWELVE

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 thing?'

'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 picture-paper.
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 mess-stores, 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,
well-mannered, 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 first-line
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 whurt, 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.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

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 collared.'

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 Chelius.'

'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 dark-green
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.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN

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 'Deep-breathing'
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 pure-minded 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
there!'

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 middle-class
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, Dick?'

'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 bald-headed
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 megrims.'

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.'



CHAPTER FIFTEEN

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 lady-like 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 own.'

'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
individualist.'

'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 jibbers.'

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 serving-men 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 nine-fifteen 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.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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 upright.'

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 tunnel-mouth 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
devil-may-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 Wildvoegel muessen 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 Voegelein schweigen 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.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

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 dispatch-box. From some
papers he selected one, which seemed to be already signed.

'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.'

'Food?'

'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 ill-tempered 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.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

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 Grunewald.

'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 spread.

'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.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

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 way.'

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 greatness.'

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 good.'

Ivery sprang to attention like a ramrod. 'Karl,' he cried. 'Gustav!'

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.

'Meaning?'

'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.



CHAPTER TWENTY

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 well-polished 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 battle-zone. 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 battle-zone. 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.'



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

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 soft-spoken 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 eternal.'

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 him.'

'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 henceforward.'

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 way.'

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 6.30 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 starting-place 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
counter-stroke. 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.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

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 single-seater. 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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