Part 3 out of 7
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
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
'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
'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
'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
It wasn't safe for either of us to stick in that cave, so we cleared
away the marks of our occupation, and hid our packs in a deep crevice
on the rock. Wake announced his intention of climbing the tower, while
there was still a faint afterglow of light. 'It's broad on the top,
and I can keep a watch out to sea if any light shows. I've been up it
before. I found the way two years ago. No, I won't fall asleep and
tumble off. I slept most of the afternoon on the top of Sgurr
Vhiconnich, and I'm as wakeful as a bat now.'
I watched him shin up the face of the tower, and admired greatly the
speed and neatness with which he climbed. Then I followed the crevice
southward to the hollow just below the platform where I had found the
footmarks. There was a big boulder there, which partly shut off the
view of it from the direction of our cave. The place was perfect for
my purpose, for between the boulder and the wall of the tower was a
narrow gap, through which I could hear all that passed on the
platform. I found a stance where I could rest in comfort and keep an
eye through the crack on what happened beyond.
There was still a faint light on the platform, but soon that
disappeared and black darkness settled down on the hills. It was the
dark of the moon, and, as had happened the night before, a thin wrack
blew over the sky, hiding the stars. The place was very still, though
now and then would come the cry of a bird from the crags that beetled
above me, and from the shore the pipe of a tern or oyster-catcher. An
owl hooted from somewhere up on the tower. That I reckoned was Wake,
so I hooted back and was answered. I unbuckled my wrist-watch and
pocketed it, lest its luminous dial should betray me; and I noticed
that the hour was close on eleven. I had already removed my shoes, and
my jacket was buttoned at the collar so as to show no shirt. I did not
think that the coming visitor would trouble to explore the crevice
beyond the platform, but I wanted to be prepared for emergencies.
Then followed an hour of waiting. I felt wonderfully cheered and
exhilarated, for Wake had restored my confidence in human nature. In
that eerie place we were wrapped round with mystery like a fog. Some
unknown figure was coming out of the sea, the emissary of that Power
we had been at grips with for three years. It was as if the war had
just made contact with our own shores, and never, not even when I was
alone in the South German forest, had I felt so much the sport of a
whimsical fate. I only wished Peter could have been with me. And so my
thoughts fled to Peter in his prison camp, and I longed for another
sight of my old friend as a girl longs for her lover.
Then I heard the hoot of an owl, and presently the sound of careful
steps fell on my ear. I could see nothing, but I guessed it was the
Portuguese Jew, for I could hear the grinding of heavily nailed boots
on the gritty rock.
The figure was very quiet. It appeared to be sitting down, and then it
rose and fumbled with the wall of the tower just beyond the boulder
behind which I sheltered. It seemed to move a stone and to replace it.
After that came silence, and then once more the hoot of an owl. There
were steps on the rock staircase, the steps of a man who did not know
the road well and stumbled a little. Also they were the steps of one
without nails in his boots.
They reached the platform and someone spoke. It was the Portuguese Jew
and he spoke in good German.
'_Die vogelein schweigen im Walde,_' he said.
The answer came from a clear, authoritative voice.
'_Warte nur, balde ruhest du auch._'
Clearly some kind of password, for sane men don't talk about little
birds in that kind of situation. It sounded to me like indifferent
Then followed a conversation in low tones, of which I only caught odd
phrases. I heard two names--Chelius and what sounded like a Dutch
word, Bommaerts. Then to my joy I caught _Effenbein_, and when uttered
it seemed to be followed by a laugh. I heard too a phrase several
times repeated, which seemed to me to be pure gibberish--_Die
Stubenvogel verstehn_. It was spoken by the man from the sea. And then
the word _Wildvogel_. The pair seemed demented about birds.
For a second an electric torch was flashed in the shelter of the rock,
and I could see a tanned, bearded face looking at some papers. The
light disappeared, and again the Portuguese Jew was fumbling with the
stones at the base of the tower. To my joy he was close to my crack,
and I could hear every word. 'You cannot come here very often,' he
said, 'and it may be hard to arrange a meeting. See, therefore, the
place I have made to put the _Viageffutter_. When I get a chance I
will come here, and you will come also when you are able. Often there
will be nothing, but sometimes there will be much.'
My luck was clearly in, and my exultation made me careless. A stone,
on which a foot rested, slipped and though I checked myself at once,
the confounded thing rolled down into the hollow, making a great
clatter. I plastered myself in the embrasure of the rock and waited
with a beating heart. The place was pitch dark, but they had an
electric torch, and if they once flashed it on me I was gone. I heard
them leave the platform and climb down into the hollow. There they
stood listening, while I held my breath. Then I heard '_Nix, mein
freund,_' and the two went back, the naval officer's boots slipping on
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
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
'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
'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
'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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
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
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
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
'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
'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'
'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
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
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
I Take the Wings of a Dove
'Drive me somewhere to breakfast, Archie,' I said, 'for I'm perishing
He and I got into the tonneau, and the driver swung us out of the
station road up a long incline of hill. Sir Archie had been one of my
subalterns in the old Lennox Highlanders, and had left us before the
Somme to join the Flying Corps. I had heard that he had got his wings
and had done well before Arras, and was now training pilots at home.
He had been a light-hearted youth, who had endured a good deal of
rough-tonguing from me for his sins of omission. But it was the casual
class of lad I was looking for now.
I saw him steal amused glances at my appearance.
'Been seein' a bit of life, sir?' he inquired respectfully.
'I'm being hunted by the police,' I said.
'Dirty dogs! But don't worry, sir; we'll get you off all right. I've
been in the same fix myself. You can lie snug in my little log hut,
for that old image Gibbons won't blab. Or, tell you what, I've got an
aunt who lives near here and she's a bit of a sportsman. You can hide
in her moated grange till the bobbies get tired.'
I think it was Archie's calm acceptance of my position as natural and
becoming that restored my good temper. He was far too well bred to ask
what crime I had committed, and I didn't propose to enlighten him
much. But as we swung up the moorland road I let him know that I was
serving the Government, but that it was necessary that I should appear
to be unauthenticated and that therefore I must dodge the police. He
whistled his appreciation.
'Gad, that's a deep game. Sort of camouflage? Speaking from my
experience it is easy to overdo that kind of stunt. When I was at
Misieux the French started out to camouflage the caravans where they
keep their pigeons, and they did it so damned well that the poor
little birds couldn't hit 'em off, and spent the night out.'
We entered the white gates of a big aerodrome, skirted a forest of
tents and huts, and drew up at a shanty on the far confines of the
place. The hour was half past four, and the world was still asleep.
Archie nodded towards one of the hangars, from the mouth of which
projected the propeller end of an aeroplane.
'I'm by way of flyin' that bus down to Farnton tomorrow,' he remarked.
'It's the new Shark-Gladas. Got a mouth like a tree.'
An idea flashed into my mind.
'You're going this morning,' I said.
'How did you know?' he exclaimed. 'I'm due to go today, but the grouse
up in Caithness wanted shootin' so badly that I decided to wangle
another day's leave. They can't expect a man to start for the south of
England when he's just off a frowsy journey.'
'All the same you're going to be a stout fellow and start in two
hours' time. And you're going to take me with you.'
He stared blankly, and then burst into a roar of laughter. 'You're the
man to go tiger-shootin' with. But what price my commandant? He's not
a bad chap, but a trifle shaggy about the fetlocks. He won't
appreciate the joke.'
'He needn't know. He mustn't know. This is an affair between you and
me till it's finished. I promise you I'll make it all square with the
Flying Corps. Get me down to Farnton before evening, and you'll have
done a good piece of work for the country.'
'Right-o! Let's have a tub and a bit of breakfast, and then I'm your
man. I'll tell them to get the bus ready.'
In Archie's bedroom I washed and shaved and borrowed a green tweed cap
and a brand-new Aquascutum. The latter covered the deficiencies of my
raiment, and when I commandeered a pair of gloves I felt almost
respectable. Gibbons, who seemed to be a jack-of-all-trades, cooked us
some bacon and an omelette, and as he ate Archie yarned. In the
battalion his conversation had been mostly of race-meetings and the
forsaken delights of town, but now he had forgotten all that, and,
like every good airman I have ever known, wallowed enthusiastically in
'shop'. I have a deep respect for the Flying Corps, but it is apt to
change its jargon every month, and its conversation is hard for the
layman to follow. He was desperately keen about the war, which he saw
wholly from the viewpoint of the air. Arras to him was over before the
infantry crossed the top, and the tough bit of the Somme was October,
not September. He calculated that the big air-fighting had not come
along yet, and all he hoped for was to be allowed out to France to
have his share in it. Like all good airmen, too, he was very modest
about himself. 'I've done a bit of steeple-chasin' and huntin' and
I've good hands for a horse, so I can handle a bus fairly well. It's
all a matter of hands, you know. There ain't half the risk of the
infantry down below you, and a million times the fun. Jolly glad I
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
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
'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
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
'Tell him I can't wait now,' I said. 'I'll pay my respects to him in
'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
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
At eleven-thirty I was safe in the train, talking the jargon of the
returning soldier with half a dozen of my own type in a smoky
third-class carriage. I had been lucky in my escape, for at the
station entrance and on the platform I had noticed several men with
the unmistakable look of plainclothes police. Also--though this may
have been my fancy--I thought I caught in the crowd a glimpse of the
bagman who had called himself Linklater.
The Advantages of an Air Raid
The train was abominably late. It was due at eight-twenty-seven, but
it was nearly ten when we reached St Pancras. I had resolved to go
straight to my rooms in Westminster, buying on the way a cap and
waterproof to conceal my uniform should anyone be near my door on my
arrival. Then I would ring up Blenkiron and tell him all my
adventures. I breakfasted at a coffee-stall, left my pack and rifle in
the cloak-room, and walked out into the clear sunny morning.
I was feeling very pleased with myself. Looking back on my madcap
journey, I seemed to have had an amazing run of luck and to be
entitled to a little credit too. I told myself that persistence always
pays and that nobody is beaten till he is dead. All Blenkiron's
instructions had been faithfully carried out. I had found Ivery's post
office. I had laid the lines of our own special communications with
the enemy, and so far as I could see I had left no clue behind me.
Ivery and Gresson took me for a well-meaning nincompoop. It was true
that I had aroused profound suspicion in the breasts of the Scottish
police. But that mattered nothing, for Cornelius Brand, the suspect,
would presently disappear, and there was nothing against that rising
soldier, Brigadier-General Richard Hannay, who would soon be on his
way to France. After all this piece of service had not been so very
unpleasant. I laughed when I remembered my grim forebodings in
Gloucestershire. Bullivant had said it would be damnably risky in the
long run, but here was the end and I had never been in danger of
anything worse than making a fool of myself.
I remember that, as I made my way through Bloomsbury, I was not
thinking so much of my triumphant report to Blenkiron as of my speedy
return to the Front. Soon I would be with my beloved brigade again. I
had missed Messines and the first part of Third Ypres, but the battle
was still going on, and I had yet a chance. I might get a division,
for there had been talk of that before I left. I knew the Army
Commander thought a lot of me. But on the whole I hoped I would be
left with the brigade. After all I was an amateur soldier, and I
wasn't certain of my powers with a bigger command.
In Charing Cross Road I thought of Mary, and the brigade seemed
suddenly less attractive. I hoped the war wouldn't last much longer,
though with Russia heading straight for the devil I didn't know how it
was going to stop very soon. I was determined to see Mary before I
left, and I had a good excuse, for I had taken my orders from her. The
prospect entranced me, and I was mooning along in a happy dream, when
I collided violently with in agitated citizen.
Then I realized that something very odd was happening.
There was a dull sound like the popping of the corks of flat
soda-water bottles. There was a humming, too, from very far up in the
skies. People in the street were either staring at the heavens or
running wildly for shelter. A motor-bus in front of me emptied its
contents in a twinkling; a taxi pulled up with a jar and the driver
and fare dived into a second-hand bookshop. It took me a moment or two
to realize the meaning of it all, and I had scarcely done this when I
got a very practical proof. A hundred yards away a bomb fell on a
street island, shivering every window-pane in a wide radius, and
sending splinters of stone flying about my head. I did what I had done
a hundred times before at the Front, and dropped flat on my face.
The man who says he doesn't mind being bombed or shelled is either a
liar or a maniac. This London air raid seemed to me a singularly
unpleasant business. I think it was the sight of the decent civilized
life around one and the orderly streets, for what was perfectly
natural in a rubble-heap like Ypres or Arras seemed an outrage here. I
remember once being in billets in a Flanders village where I had the
Maire's house and sat in a room upholstered in cut velvet, with wax
flowers on the mantelpiece and oil paintings of three generations on
the walls. The Boche took it into his head to shell the place with a
long-range naval gun, and I simply loathed it. It was horrible to have
dust and splinters blown into that snug, homely room, whereas if I had
been in a ruined barn I wouldn't have given the thing two thoughts. In
the same way bombs dropping in central London seemed a grotesque
indecency. I hated to see plump citizens with wild eyes, and
nursemaids with scared children, and miserable women scuttling like
rabbits in a warren.
The drone grew louder, and, looking up, I could see the enemy planes
flying in a beautiful formation, very leisurely as it seemed, with all
London at their mercy. Another bomb fell to the right, and presently
bits of our own shrapnel were clattering viciously around me. I
thought it about time to take cover, and ran shamelessly for the best
place I could see, which was a Tube station. Five minutes before the
street had been crowded; now I left behind me a desert dotted with one
bus and three empty taxicabs.
I found the Tube entrance filled with excited humanity. One stout lady
had fainted, and a nurse had become hysterical, but on the whole
people were behaving well. Oddly enough they did not seem inclined to
go down the stairs to the complete security of underground; but
preferred rather to collect where they could still get a glimpse of
the upper world, as if they were torn between fear of their lives and
interest in the spectacle. That crowd gave me a good deal of respect
for my countrymen. But several were badly rattled, and one man a
little way off, whose back was turned, kept twitching his shoulders as
if he had the colic.
I watched him curiously, and a movement of the crowd brought his face
into profile. Then I gasped with amazement, for I saw that it was
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
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
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
''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
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
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
'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?'
'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
'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
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
'Especially when they have various enthusiastic amateur helpers.'
'So?' he said. 'Yes, of course. They would have. But I hope presently
to congratulate you on the success of your mission.'
'I'll bet you a pony you don't,' I said.
'I never bet on a professional subject. Why this pessimism?'
'Only that I know our gentleman better than you. I've been twice up
against him. He's the kind of wicked that don't cease from troubling
till they're stone-dead. And even then I'd want to see the body
cremated and take the ashes into mid-ocean and scatter them. I've got
a feeling that he's the biggest thing you or I will ever tackle.'
The Valley of Humiliation
I collected some baggage and a pile of newly arrived letters from my
rooms in Westminster and took a taxi to my Park Lane flat. Usually I
had gone back to that old place with a great feeling of comfort, like
a boy from school who ranges about his room at home and examines his
treasures. I used to like to see my hunting trophies on the wall and
to sink into my own armchairs But now I had no pleasure in the thing.
I had a bath, and changed into uniform, and that made me feel in
better fighting trim. But I suffered from a heavy conviction of abject
failure, and had no share in Macgillivray's optimism. The awe with
which the Black Stone gang had filled me three years before had
revived a thousandfold. Personal humiliation was the least part of my
trouble. What worried me was the sense of being up against something
inhumanly formidable and wise and strong. I believed I was willing to
own defeat and chuck up the game.
Among the unopened letters was one from Peter, a very bulky one which
I sat down to read at leisure. It was a curious epistle, far the
longest he had ever written me, and its size made me understand his
loneliness. He was still at his German prison-camp, but expecting
every day to go to Switzerland. He said he could get back to England
or South Africa, if he wanted, for they were clear that he could never
be a combatant again; but he thought he had better stay in
Switzerland, for he would be unhappy in England with all his friends
fighting. As usual he made no complaints, and seemed to be very
grateful for his small mercies. There was a doctor who was kind to
him, and some good fellows among the prisoners.
But Peter's letter was made up chiefly of reflection. He had always
been a bit of a philosopher, and now, in his isolation, he had taken
to 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,