Part 4 out of 7
and which doesn't come to you in the ordinary way of business. Still,
that's pretty much the same thing--good nerves and good health, and a
natural liking for rows. You see, Dick, in all that game there's a lot
of fun. There's excitement and the fun of using your wits and skill,
and you know that the bad bits can't last long. When Arcoll sent me to
Makapan's kraal I didn't altogether fancy the job, but at the worst it
was three parts sport, and I got so excited that I never thought of
the risk till it was over . . ._
_But the big courage is the cold-blooded kind, the kind that never
lets go even when you're feeling empty inside, and your blood's thin,
and there's no kind of fun or profit to be had, and the trouble's not
over in an hour or two but lasts for months and years. One of the men
here was speaking about that kind, and he called it 'Fortitude'. I
reckon fortitude's the biggest thing a man can have--just to go on
enduring when there's no guts or heart left in you. Billy had it when
he trekked solitary from Garungoze to the Limpopo with fever and a
broken arm just to show the Portugooses that he wouldn't be downed by
them. But the head man at the job was the Apostle Paul . . ._
Peter was writing for his own comfort, for fortitude was all that was
left to him now. But his words came pretty straight to me, and I read
them again and again, for I needed the lesson. Here was I losing heart
just because I had failed in the first round and my pride had taken a
knock. I felt honestly ashamed of myself, and that made me a far
happier man. There could be no question of dropping the business,
whatever its difficulties. I had a queer religious feeling that Ivery
and I had our fortunes intertwined, and that no will of mine could
keep us apart. I had faced him before the war and won; I had faced him
again and lost; the third time or the twentieth time we would reach a
final decision. The whole business had hitherto appeared to me a
trifle unreal, at any rate my own connection with it. I had been
docilely obeying orders, but my real self had been standing aside and
watching my doings with a certain aloofness. But that hour in the Tube
station had brought me into the serum, and I saw the affair not as
Bullivant's or even Blenkiron's, but as my own. Before I had been
itching to get back to the Front; now I wanted to get on to Ivery's
trail, though it should take me through the nether pit. Peter was
right; fortitude was the thing a man must possess if he would save his
The hours passed, and, as I expected, there came no word from
Macgillivray. I had some dinner sent up to me at seven o'clock, and
about eight I was thinking of looking up Blenkiron. just then came a
telephone call asking me to go round to Sir Walter Bullivant's house
in Queen Anne's Gate.
Ten minutes later I was ringing the bell, and the door was opened to
me by the same impassive butler who had admitted me on that famous
night three years before. Nothing had changed in the pleasant
green-panelled hall; the alcove was the same as when I had watched
from it the departure of the man who now called himself Ivery; the
telephone book lay in the very place from which I had snatched it in
order to ring up the First Sea Lord. And in the back room, where that
night five anxious officials had conferred, I found Sir Walter and
Both looked worried, the American feverishly so. He walked up and down
the hearthrug, sucking an unlit black cigar.
'Say, Dick,' he said, this is a bad business. It wasn't no fault of
yours. You did fine. It was us--me and Sir Walter and Mr Macgillivray
that were the quitters.'
'Any news?' I asked.
'So far the cover's drawn blank,' Sir Walter replied. 'It was the
devil's own work that our friend looked your way today. You're pretty
certain he saw that you recognized him?'
'Absolutely. As sure as that he knew I recognized him in your hall
three years ago when he was swaggering as Lord Alloa.'
'No,' said Blenkiron dolefully, that little flicker of recognition is
just the one thing you can't be wrong about. Land alive! I wish Mr
Macgillivray would come.'
The bell rang, and the door opened, but it was not Macgillivray. It
was a young girl in a white ball-gown, with a cluster of blue
cornflowers at her breast. The sight of her fetched Sir Walter out of
his chair so suddenly that he upset his coffee cup.
'Mary, my dear, how did you manage it? I didn't expect you till the
'I was in London, you see, and they telephoned on your telegram. I'm
staying with Aunt Doria, and I cut her theatre party. She thinks I'm
at the Shandwick's dance, so I needn't go home till morning . . .
Good evening, General Hannay. You got over the Hill Difficulty.'
'The next stage is the Valley of Humiliation,' I answered.
'So it would appear,' she said gravely, and sat very quietly on the
edge of Sir Walter's chair with her small, cool hand upon his.
I had been picturing her in my recollection as very young and
glimmering, a dancing, exquisite child. But now I revised that
picture. The crystal freshness of morning was still there, but I saw
how deep the waters were. It was the clean fineness and strength of
her that entranced me. I didn't even think of her as pretty, any more
than a man thinks of the good looks of the friend he worships.
We waited, hardly speaking a word, till Macgillivray came. The first
sight of his face told his story.
'Gone?' asked Blenkiron sharply. The man's lethargic calm seemed to
have wholly deserted him.
'Gone,' repeated the newcomer. 'We have just tracked him down. Oh, he
managed it cleverly. Never a sign of disturbance in any of his lairs.
His dinner ordered at Biggleswick and several people invited to stay
with him for the weekend--one a member of the Government. Two meetings
at which he was to speak arranged for next week. Early this afternoon
he flew over to France as a passenger in one of the new planes. He had
been mixed up with the Air Board people for months--of course as
another man with another face. Miss Lamington discovered that just too
late. The bus went out of its course and came down in Normandy. By
this time our man's in Paris or beyond it.'
Sir Walter took off his big tortoiseshell spectacles and laid them
carefully on the table.
'Roll up the map of Europe,' he said. 'This is our Austerlitz. Mary,
my dear, I am feeling very old.'
Macgillivray had the sharpened face of a bitterly disappointed man.
Blenkiron had got very red, and I could see that he was blaspheming
violently under his breath. Mary's eyes were quiet and solemn. She
kept on patting Sir Walter's hand. The sense of some great impending
disaster hung heavily on me, and to break the spell I asked for
'Tell me just the extent of the damage,' I asked. 'Our neat plan for
deceiving the Boche has failed. That is bad. A dangerous spy has got
beyond our power. That's worse. Tell me, is there still a worst?
What's the limit of mischief he can do?'
Sir Walter had risen and joined Blenkiron on the hearthrug. His brows
were furrowed and his mouth hard as if he were suffering pain.
'There is no limit,' he said. 'None that I can see, except the long-
suffering of God. You know the man as Ivery, and you knew him as that
other whom you believed to have been shot one summer morning and
decently buried. You feared the second--at least if you didn't, I
did--most mortally. You realized that we feared Ivery, and you knew
enough about him to see his fiendish cleverness. Well, you have the
two men combined in one man. Ivery was the best brain Macgillivray and
I ever encountered, the most cunning and patient and long-sighted.
Combine him with the other, the chameleon who can blend himself with
his environment, and has as many personalities as there are types and
traits on the earth. What kind of enemy is that to have to fight?'
'I admit it's a steep proposition. But after all how much ill can he
do? There are pretty strict limits to the activity of even the
'I agree. But this man is not a spy who buys a few wretched
subordinates and steals a dozen private letters. He's a genius who has
been living as part of our English life. There's nothing he hasn't
seen. He's been on terms of intimacy with all kinds of politicians. We
know that. He did it as Ivery. They rather liked him, for he was
clever and flattered them, and they told him things. But God knows
what he saw and heard in his other personalities. For all I know he
may have breakfasted at Downing Street with letters of introduction
from President Wilson, or visited the Grand Fleet as a distinguished
neutral. Then think of the women; how they talk. We're the leakiest
society on earth, and we safeguard ourselves by keeping dangerous
people out of it. We trust to our outer barrage. But anyone who has
really slipped inside has a million chances. And this, remember, is
one man in ten millions, a man whose brain never sleeps for a moment,
who is quick to seize the slightest hint, who can piece a plan
together out of a dozen bits of gossip. It's like--it's as if the
Chief of the Intelligence Department were suddenly to desert to the
enemy . . . The ordinary spy knows only bits of unconnected facts. This
man knows our life and our way of thinking and everything about us.'
'Well, but a treatise on English life in time of war won't do much
good to the Boche.'
Sir Walter shook his head. 'Don't you realize the explosive stuff that
is lying about? Ivery knows enough to make the next German peace
offensive really deadly--not the blundering thing which it has been up
to now, but something which gets our weak spots on the raw. He knows
enough to wreck our campaign in the field. And the awful thing is that
we don't know just what he knows or what he is aiming for. This war's
a packet of surprises. Both sides are struggling for the margin, the
little fraction of advantage, and between evenly matched enemies it's
just the extra atom of foreknowledge that tells.'
'Then we've got to push off and get after him,' I said cheerfully.
'But what are you going to do?' asked Macgillivray. 'If it were merely
a question of destroying an organization it might be managed, for an
organization presents a big front. But it's a question of destroying
this one man, and his front is a razor edge. How are you going to find
him? It's like looking for a needle in a haystack, and such a needle!
A needle which can become a piece of straw or a tin-tack when it
'All the same we've got to do it,' I said, remembering old Peter's
lesson on fortitude, though I can't say I was feeling very
Sir Walter flung himself wearily into an arm-chair. 'I wish I could be
an optimist,' he said, 'but it looks as if we must own defeat. I've
been at this work for twenty years, and, though I've been often
beaten, I've always held certain cards in the game. Now I'm hanged if
I've any. It looks like a knock-out, Hannay. It's no good deluding
ourselves. We're men enough to look facts in the face and tell
ourselves the truth. I don't see any ray of light in the business.
We've missed our shot by a hairsbreadth and that's the same as missing
I remember he looked at Mary as if for confirmation, but she did not
smile or nod. Her face was very grave and her eyes looked steadily at
him. Then they moved and met mine, and they seemed to give me my
'Sir Walter,' I said, 'three years ago you and I sat in this very
room. We thought we were done to the world, as we think now. We had
just that one miserable little clue to hang on to--a dozen words
scribbled in a notebook by a dead man. You thought I was mad when I
asked for Scudder's book, but we put our backs into the job and in
twenty-four hours we had won out. Remember that then we were fighting
against time. Now we have a reasonable amount of leisure. Then we had
nothing but a sentence of gibberish. Now we have a great body of
knowledge, for Blenkiron has been brooding over Ivery like an old hen,
and he knows his ways of working and his breed of confederate. You've
got something to work on now. Do you mean to tell me that, when the
stakes are so big, you're going to chuck in your hand?'
Macgillivray raised his head. 'We know a good deal about Ivery, but
Ivery's dead. We know nothing of the man who was gloriously
resurrected this evening in Normandy.'
'Oh, yes we do. There are many faces to the man, but only one mind,
and you know plenty about that mind.'
'I wonder,' said Sir Walter. 'How can you know a mind which has no
characteristics except that it is wholly and supremely competent? Mere
mental powers won't give us a clue. We want to know the character
which is behind all the personalities. Above all we want to know its
foibles. If we had only a hint of some weakness we might make a plan.'
'Well, let's set down all we know,' I cried, for the more I argued the
keener I grew. I told them in some detail the story of the night in
the Coolin and what I had heard there.
'There's the two names Chelius and Bommaerts. The man spoke them in
the same breath as Effenbein, so they must be associated with Ivery's
gang. You've got to get the whole Secret Service of the Allies busy to
fit a meaning to these two words. Surely to goodness you'll find
something! Remember those names don't belong to the Ivery part, but to
the big game behind all the different disguises . . . Then there's the
talk about the Wild Birds and the Cage Birds. I haven't a guess at
what it means. But it refers to some infernal gang, and among your
piles of records there must be some clue. You set the intelligence of
two hemispheres busy on the job. You've got all the machinery, and
it's my experience that if even one solitary man keeps chewing on at a
problem he discovers something.'
My enthusiasm was beginning to strike sparks from Macgillivray. He was
looking thoughtful now, instead of despondent.
'There might be something in that,' he said, 'but it's a far-out
'Of course it's a far-out chance, and that's all we're ever going to
get from Ivery. But we've taken a bad chance before and won . . . Then
you've all that you know about Ivery here. Go through his _dossier_
with a small-tooth comb and I'll bet you find something to work on.
Blenkiron, you're a man with a cool head. You admit we've a sporting
'Sure, Dick. He's fixed things so that the lines are across the track,
but we'll clear somehow. So far as John S. Blenkiron is concerned he's
got just one thing to do in this world, and that's to follow the
yellow dog and have him neatly and cleanly tidied up. I've got a stack
of personal affronts to settle. I was easy fruit and he hasn't been
very respectful. You can count me in, Dick.'
'Then we're agreed,' I cried. 'Well, gentlemen, it's up to you to
arrange the first stage. You've some pretty solid staff work to put in
before you get on the trail.'
'And you?' Sir Walter asked.
'I'm going back to my brigade. I want a rest and a change. Besides,
the first stage is office work, and I'm no use for that. But I'll be
waiting to be summoned, and I'll come like a shot as soon as you hoick
me out. I've got a presentiment about this thing. I know there'll be a
finish and that I'll be in at it, and I think it will be a desperate,
bloody business too.'
I found Mary's eyes fixed upon me, and in them I read the same
thought. She had not spoken a word, but had sat on the edge of a
chair, swinging a foot idly, one hand playing with an ivory fan. She
had given me my old orders and I looked to her for confirmation of the
'Miss Lamington, you are the wisest of the lot of us. What do you
She smiled--that shy, companionable smile which I had been picturing
to myself through all the wanderings of the past month.
'I think you are right. We've a long way to go yet, for the Valley of
Humiliation comes only half-way in the _Pilgrim's Progress_. The next
stage was Vanity Fair. I might be of some use there, don't you think?'
I remember the way she laughed and flung back her head like a gallant
'The mistake we've all been making,' she said, 'is that our methods
are too terre-a-terre. We've a poet to deal with, a great poet, and we
must fling our imaginations forward to catch up with him. His strength
is his unexpectedness, you know, and we won't beat him by plodding
only. I believe the wildest course is the wisest, for it's the most
likely to intersect his . . . Who's the poet among us?'
'Peter,' I said. 'But he's pinned down with a game leg in Germany. All
the same we must rope him in.'
By this time we had all cheered up, for it is wonderful what a tonic
there is in a prospect of action. The butler brought in tea, which it
was Bullivant's habit to drink after dinner. To me it seemed fantastic
to watch a slip of a girl pouring it out for two grizzled and
distinguished servants of the State and one battered soldier--as
decorous a family party as you would ask to see--and to reflect that
all four were engaged in an enterprise where men's lives must be
reckoned at less than thistledown.
After that we went upstairs to a noble Georgian drawing-room and Mary
played to us. I don't care two straws for music from an
instrument--unless it be the pipes or a regimental band--but I dearly
love the human voice. But she would not sing, for singing to her, I
fancy, was something that did not come at will, but flowed only like a
bird's note when the mood favoured. I did not want it either. I was
content to let 'Cherry Ripe' be the one song linked with her in my
It was Macgillivray who brought us back to business.
'I wish to Heaven there was one habit of mind we could definitely
attach to him and to no one else.' (At this moment 'He' had only one
meaning for us.)
'You can't do nothing with his mind,' Blenkiron drawled. 'You can't
loose the bands of Orion, as the Bible says, or hold Leviathan with a
hook. I reckoned I could and made a mighty close study of his
de-vices. But the darned cuss wouldn't stay put. I thought I had tied
him down to the double bluff, and he went and played the triple bluff
on me. There's nothing doing that line.'
A memory of Peter recurred to me.
'What about the "blind spot"?' I asked, and I told them old Peter's
pet theory. 'Every man that God made has his weak spot somewhere, some
flaw in his character which leaves a dull patch in his brain. We've
got to find that out, and I think I've made a beginning.'
Macgillivray in a sharp voice asked my meaning.
'He's in a funk . . . of something. Oh, I don't mean he's a coward. A
man in his trade wants the nerve of a buffalo. He could give us all
points in courage. What I mean is that he's not clean white all
through. There are yellow streaks somewhere in him . . . I've given a
good deal of thought to this courage business, for I haven't got a
great deal of it myself. Not like Peter, I mean. I've got heaps of
soft places in me. I'm afraid of being drowned for one thing, or of
getting my eyes shot out. Ivery's afraid of bombs--at any rate he's
afraid of bombs in a big city. I once read a book which talked about a
thing called agoraphobia. Perhaps it's that . . . Now if we know that
weak spot it helps us in our work. There are some places he won't go
to, and there are some things he can't do--not well, anyway. I reckon
'Ye-es,' said Macgillivray. 'Perhaps it's not what you'd call a
burning and a shining light.'
'There's another chink in his armour,' I went on. 'There's one person
in the world he can never practise his transformations on, and that's
me. I shall always know him again, though he appeared as Sir Douglas
Haig. I can't explain why, but I've got a feel in my bones about it. I
didn't recognize him before, for I thought he was dead, and the nerve
in my brain which should have been looking for him wasn't working. But
I'm on my guard now, and that nerve's functioning at full power.
Whenever and wherever and howsoever we meet again on the face of the
earth, it will be "Dr Livingstone, I presume" between him and me.'
'That is better,' said Macgillivray. 'If we have any luck, Hannay, it
won't be long till we pull you out of His Majesty's Forces.'
Mary got up from the piano and resumed her old perch on the arm of Sir
'There's another blind spot which you haven't mentioned.' It was a
cool evening, but I noticed that her cheeks had suddenly flushed.
'Last week Mr Ivery asked me to marry him,' she said.
I Become a Combatant Once More
I returned to France on 13 September, and took over my old brigade on
the 19th of the same month. We were shoved in at the Polygon Wood on
the 26th, and after four days got so badly mauled that we were brought
out to refit. On 7 October, very much to my surprise, I was given
command of a division and was on the fringes of the Ypres fighting
during the first days of November. From that front we were hurried
down to Cambrai in support, but came in only for the last backwash of
that singular battle. We held a bit of the St Quentin sector till just
before Christmas, when we had a spell of rest in billets, which
endured, so far as I was concerned, till the beginning of January,
when I was sent off on the errand which I shall presently relate.
That is a brief summary of my military record in the latter part of
1917. I am not going to enlarge on the fighting. Except for the days
of the Polygon Wood it was neither very severe nor very distinguished,
and you will find it in the history books. What I have to tell of here
is my own personal quest, for all the time I was living with my mind
turned two ways. In the morasses of the Haanebeek flats, in the slimy
support lines at Zonnebeke, in the tortured uplands about Flesquieres,
and in many other odd places I kept worrying at my private conundrum.
At night I would lie awake thinking of it, and many a toss I took into
shell-holes and many a time I stepped off the duckboards, because my
eyes were on a different landscape. Nobody ever chewed a few wretched
clues into such a pulp as I did during those bleak months in Flanders
For I had an instinct that the thing was desperately grave, graver
even than the battle before me. Russia had gone headlong to the devil,
Italy had taken it between the eyes and was still dizzy, and our own
prospects were none too bright. The Boche was getting uppish and with
some cause, and I foresaw a rocky time ahead till America could line
up with us in the field. It was the chance for the Wild Birds, and I
used to wake in a sweat to think what devilry Ivery might be
engineering. I believe I did my proper job reasonably well, but I put
in my most savage thinking over the other. I remember how I used to go
over every hour of every day from that June night in the Cotswolds
till my last meeting with Bullivant in London, trying to find a new
bearing. I should probably have got brain-fever, if I hadn't had to
spend most of my days and nights fighting a stiffish battle with a
very watchful Hun. That kept my mind balanced, and I dare say it gave
an edge to it; for during those months I was lucky enough to hit on a
better scent than Bullivant and Macgillivray and Blenkiron, pulling a
thousand wires in their London offices.
I will set down in order of time the various incidents in this private
quest of mine. The first was my meeting with Geordie Hamilton. It
happened just after I rejoined the brigade, when I went down to have a
look at our Scots Fusilier battalion. The old brigade had been roughly
handled on 31st July, and had had to get heavy drafts to come anywhere
near strength. The Fusiliers especially were almost a new lot, formed
by joining our remnants to the remains of a battalion in another
division and bringing about a dozen officers from the training unit at
I inspected the men and my eyes caught sight of a familiar face. I
asked his name and the colonel got it from the sergeant-major. It was
Lance-Corporal George Hamilton.
Now I wanted a new batman, and I resolved then and there to have my
old antagonist. That afternoon he reported to me at brigade
headquarters. As I looked at that solid bandy-legged figure, standing
as stiff to attention as a tobacconist's sign, his ugly face hewn out
of brown oak, his honest, sullen mouth, and his blue eyes staring into
vacancy, I knew I had got the man I wanted.
'Hamilton,' I said, 'you and I have met before.'
'Sirr?' came the mystified answer.
'Look at me, man, and tell me if you don't recognize me.'
He moved his eyes a fraction, in a respectful glance.
'Sirr, I don't mind of you.'
'Well, I'll refresh your memory. Do you remember the hall in Newmilns
Street and the meeting there? You had a fight with a man outside, and
got knocked down.'
He made no answer, but his colour deepened.
'And a fortnight later in a public-house in Muirtown you saw the same
man, and gave him the chase of his life.'
I could see his mouth set, for visions of the penalties laid down by
the King's Regulations for striking an officer must have crossed his
mind. But he never budged.
'Look me in the face, man,' I said. 'Do you remember me now?'
He did as he was bid.
'Sirr, I mind of you.'
'Have you nothing more to say?'
He cleared his throat. 'Sirr, I did not ken I was hittin' an officer.'
'Of course you didn't. You did perfectly right, and if the war was
over and we were both free men, I would give you a chance of knocking
me down here and now. That's got to wait. When you saw me last I was
serving my country, though you didn't know it. We're serving together
now, and you must get your revenge out of the Boche. I'm going to make
you my servant, for you and I have a pretty close bond between us.
What do you say to that?'
This time he looked me full in the face. His troubled eye appraised me
and was satisfied. 'I'm proud to be servant to ye, sirr,' he said.
Then out of his chest came a strangled chuckle, and he forgot his
discipline. 'Losh, but ye're the great lad!' He recovered himself
promptly, saluted, and marched off.
* * * * *
The second episode befell during our brief rest after the Polygon
Wood, when I had ridden down the line one afternoon to see a friend in
the Heavy Artillery. I was returning in the drizzle of evening,
clanking along the greasy path between the sad poplars, when I struck
a Labour company repairing the ravages of a Boche strafe that morning.
I wasn't very certain of my road and asked one of the workers. He
straightened himself and saluted, and I saw beneath a disreputable cap
the features of the man who had been with me in the Coolin crevice.
I spoke a word to his sergeant, who fell him out, and he walked a bit
of the way with me.
'Great Scot, Wake, what brought you here?' I asked.
'Same thing as brought you. This rotten war.'
I had dismounted and was walking beside him, and I noticed that his
lean face had lost its pallor and that his eyes were less hot than
they used to be.
'You seem to thrive on it,' I said, for I did not know what to say. A
sudden shyness possessed me. Wake must have gone through some violent
cyclones of feeling before it came to this. He saw what I was thinking
and laughed in his sharp, ironical way.
'Don't flatter yourself you've made a convert. I think as I always
thought. But I came to the conclusion that since the fates had made me
a Government servant I might as well do my work somewhere less
cushioned than a chair in the Home Office . . . Oh, no, it wasn't a
matter of principle. One kind of work's as good as another, and I'm a
better clerk than a navvy. With me it was self-indulgence: I wanted
fresh air and exercise.'
I looked at him--mud to the waist, and his hands all blistered and cut
with unaccustomed labour. I could realize what his associates must
mean to him, and how he would relish the rough tonguing of non-coms.
'You're a confounded humbug,' I said. 'Why on earth didn't you go into
an O.T.C. and come out with a commission? They're easy enough to get.'
'You mistake my case,' he said bitterly. 'I experienced no sudden
conviction about the justice of the war. I stand where I always stood.
I'm a non-combatant, and I wanted a change of civilian work . . . No,
it wasn't any idiotic tribunal sent me here. I came of my own free will,
and I'm really rather enjoying myself.'
'It's a rough job for a man like you,' I said.
'Not so rough as the fellows get in the trenches. I watched a
battalion marching back today and they looked like ghosts who had been
years in muddy graves. White faces and dazed eyes and leaden feet.
Mine's a cushy job. I like it best when the weather's foul. It cheats
me into thinking I'm doing my duty.'
I nodded towards a recent shell-hole. 'Much of that sort of thing?'
'Now and then. We had a good dusting this morning. I can't say I liked
it at the time, but I like to look back on it. A sort of moral
'I wonder what on earth the rest of your lot make of you?'
'They don't make anything. I'm not remarkable for my _bonhomie_. They
think I'm a prig--which I am. It doesn't amuse me to talk about beer
and women or listen to a gramophone or grouse about my last meal. But
I'm quite content, thank you. Sometimes I get a seat in a corner of a
Y.M.C.A. hut, and I've a book or two. My chief affliction is the
padre. He was up at Keble in my time, and, as one of my colleagues
puts it, wants to be "too bloody helpful". . . . What are you doing,
Hannay? I see you're some kind of general. They're pretty thick on the
'I'm a sort of general. Soldiering in the Salient isn't the softest of
jobs, but I don't believe it's as tough as yours is for you. D'you
know, Wake, I wish I had you in my brigade. Trained or untrained,
you're a dashed stout-hearted fellow.'
He laughed with a trifle less acidity than usual. 'Almost thou
persuadest me to be combatant. No, thank you. I haven't the courage,
and besides there's my jolly old principles. All the same I'd like to
be near you. You're a good chap, and I've had the honour to assist in
your education . . . I must be getting back, or the sergeant will think
We shook hands, and the last I saw of him was a figure saluting
stiffly in the wet twilight.
* * * * *
The third incident was trivial enough, though momentous in its
results. Just before I got the division I had a bout of malaria. We
were in support in the Salient, in very uncomfortable trenches behind
Wieltje, and I spent three days on my back in a dug-out. Outside was a
blizzard of rain, and the water now and then came down the stairs
through the gas curtain and stood in pools at my bed foot. It wasn't
the merriest place to convalesce in, but I was as hard as nails at the
time and by the third day I was beginning to sit up and be bored.
I read all my English papers twice and a big stack of German ones
which I used to have sent up by a friend in the G.H.Q. Intelligence,
who knew I liked to follow what the Boche was saying. As I dozed and
ruminated in the way a man does after fever, I was struck by the
tremendous display of one advertisement in the English press. It was a
thing called 'Gussiter's Deep-breathing System,' which, according to
its promoter, was a cure for every ill, mental, moral, or physical,
that man can suffer. Politicians, generals, admirals, and music-hall
artists all testified to the new life it had opened up for them. I
remember wondering what these sportsmen got for their testimonies, and
thinking I would write a spoof letter myself to old Gussiter.
Then I picked up the German papers, and suddenly my eye caught an
advertisement of the same kind in the _Frankfurter Zeitung_. It was
not Gussiter this time, but one Weissmann, but his game was
identical--'deep breathing'. The Hun style was different from the
English--all about the Goddess of Health, and the Nymphs of the
Mountains, and two quotations from Schiller. But the principle was the
That made me ponder a little, and I went carefully through the whole
batch. I found the advertisement in the _Frankfurter_ and in one or
two rather obscure _Volkstimmes_ and _Volkszeitungs_. I found it too
in _Der Grosse Krieg_, the official German propagandist picture-
paper. They were the same all but one, and that one had a bold
variation, for it contained four of the sentences used in the ordinary
This struck me as fishy, and I started to write a letter to
Macgillivray pointing out what seemed to be a case of trading with the
enemy, and advising him to get on to Mr Gussiter's financial backing.
I thought he might find a Hun syndicate behind him. And then I had
another notion, which made me rewrite my letter.
I went through the papers again. The English ones which contained the
advertisement were all good, solid, bellicose organs; the kind of
thing no censorship would object to leaving the country. I had before
me a small sheaf of pacifist prints, and they had not the
advertisement. That might be for reasons of circulation, or it might
not. The German papers were either Radical or Socialist publications,
just the opposite of the English lot, except the _Grosse Krieg_. Now
we have a free press, and Germany has, strictly speaking, none. All
her journalistic indiscretions are calculated. Therefore the Boche has
no objection to his rags getting to enemy countries. He wants it. He
likes to see them quoted in columns headed 'Through German Glasses',
and made the text of articles showing what a good democrat he is
As I puzzled over the subject, certain conclusions began to form in my
mind. The four identical sentences seemed to hint that 'Deep
Breathing' had Boche affiliations. Here was a chance of communicating
with the enemy which would defy the argus-eyed gentlemen who examine
the mails. What was to hinder Mr A at one end writing an advertisement
with a good cipher in it, and the paper containing it getting into
Germany by Holland in three days? Herr B at the other end replied in
the _Frankfurter_, and a few days later shrewd editors and acute
Intelligence officers--and Mr A--were reading it in London, though
only Mr A knew what it really meant.
It struck me as a bright idea, the sort of simple thing that doesn't
occur to clever people, and very rarely to the Boche. I wished I was
not in the middle of a battle, for I would have had a try at
investigating the cipher myself. I wrote a long letter to Macgillivray
putting my case, and then went to sleep. When I awoke I reflected that
it was a pretty thin argument, and would have stopped the letter, if
it hadn't gone off early by a ration party.
* * * * *
After that things began very slowly to happen. The first was when
Hamilton, having gone to Boulogne to fetch some mess-stores, returned
with the startling news that he had seen Gresson. He had not heard his
name, but described him dramatically to me as the wee red-headed devil
that kicked Ecky Brockie's knee yon time in Glesca, sirr,' I
recognized the description.
Gresson, it appeared, was joy-riding. He was with a party of Labour
delegates who had been met by two officers and carried off in
chars-a-bancs. Hamilton reported from inquiries among his friends that
this kind of visitor came weekly. I thought it a very sensible notion
on the Government's part, but I wondered how Gresson had been
selected. I had hoped that Macgillivray had weeks ago made a long arm
and quodded him. Perhaps they had too little evidence to hang him, but
he was the blackest sort of suspect and should have been interned.
A week later I had occasion to be at G.H.Q. on business connected with
my new division. My friends in the Intelligence allowed me to use the
direct line to London, and I called up Macgillivray. For ten minutes I
had an exciting talk, for I had had no news from that quarter since I
left England. I heard that the Portuguese Jew had escaped--had
vanished from his native heather when they went to get him. They had
identified him as a German professor of Celtic languages, who had held
a chair in a Welsh college--a dangerous fellow, for he was an upright,
high-minded, raging fanatic. Against Gresson they had no evidence at
all, but he was kept under strict observation. When I asked about his
crossing to France, Macgillivray replied that that was part of their
scheme. I inquired if the visit had given them any clues, but I never
got an answer, for the line had to be cleared at that moment for the
War Office. I hunted up the man who had charge of these Labour visits,
and made friends with him. Gresson, he said, had been a quiet, well-
mannered, and most appreciative guest. He had wept tears on Vimy
Ridge, and--strictly against orders--had made a speech to some troops
he met on the Arras road about how British Labour was remembering the
Army in its prayers and sweating blood to make guns. On the last day
he had had a misadventure, for he got very sick on the road--some
kidney trouble that couldn't stand the jolting of the car--and had to
be left at a village and picked up by the party on its way back. They
found him better, but still shaky. I cross-examined the particular
officer in charge about that halt, and learned that Gresson had been
left alone in a peasant's cottage, for he said he only needed to lie
down. The place was the hamlet of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne.
For several weeks that name stuck in my head. It had a pleasant,
quaint sound, and I wondered how Gresson had spent his hours there. I
hunted it up on the map, and promised myself to have a look at it the
next time we came out to rest. And then I forgot about it till I heard
the name mentioned again.
On 23rd October I had the bad luck, during a tour of my first-line
trenches, to stop a small shell-fragment with my head. It was a close,
misty day and I had taken off my tin hat to wipe my brow when the
thing happened. I got a long, shallow scalp wound which meant nothing
but bled a lot, and, as we were not in for any big move, the M.O. sent
me back to a clearing station to have it seen to. I was three days in
the place and, being perfectly well, had leisure to look about me and
reflect, so that I recall that time as a queer, restful interlude in
the infernal racket of war. I remember yet how on my last night there
a gale made the lamps swing and flicker, and turned the grey-green
canvas walls into a mass of mottled shadows. The floor canvas was
muddy from the tramping of many feet bringing in the constant dribble
of casualties from the line. In my tent there was no one very bad at
the time, except a boy with his shoulder half-blown off by a
whizz-bang, who lay in a drugged sleep at the far end. The majority
were influenza, bronchitis, and trench-fever--waiting to be moved to
the base, or convalescent and about to return to their units.
A small group of us dined off tinned chicken, stewed fruit, and radon
cheese round the smoky stove, where two screens manufactured from
packing cases gave some protection against the draughts which swept
like young tornadoes down the tent. One man had been reading a book
called the _Ghost Stories of an Antiquary_, and the talk turned on the
unexplainable things that happen to everybody once or twice in a
lifetime. I contributed a yarn about the men who went to look for
Kruger's treasure in the bushveld and got scared by a green
wildebeeste. It is a good yarn and I'll write it down some day. A tall
Highlander, who kept his slippered feet on the top of the stove, and
whose costume consisted of a kilt, a British warm, a grey hospital
dressing-gown, and four pairs of socks, told the story of the Camerons
at First Ypres, and of the Lowland subaltern who knew no Gaelic and
suddenly found himself encouraging his men with some ancient Highland
rigmarole. The poor chap had a racking bronchial cough, which
suggested that his country might well use him on some warmer
battle-ground than Flanders. He seemed a bit of a scholar and
explained the Cameron business in a lot of long words.
I remember how the talk meandered on as talk does when men are idle
and thinking about the next day. I didn't pay much attention, for I
was reflecting on a change I meant to make in one of my battalion
commands, when a fresh voice broke in. It belonged to a Canadian
captain from Winnipeg, a very silent fellow who smoked shag tobacco.
'There's a lot of ghosts in this darned country,' he said.
Then he started to tell about what happened to him when his division
was last back in rest billets. He had a staff job and put up with the
divisional command at an old French chateau. They had only a little
bit of the house; the rest was shut up, but the passages were so
tortuous that it was difficult to keep from wandering into the
unoccupied part. One night, he said, he woke with a mighty thirst,
and, since he wasn't going to get cholera by drinking the local water
in his bedroom, he started out for the room they messed in to try to
pick up a whisky-and-soda. He couldn't find it, though he knew the
road like his own name. He admitted he might have taken a wrong
turning, but he didn't think so. Anyway he landed in a passage which
he had never seen before, and, since he had no candle, he tried to
retrace his steps. Again he went wrong, and groped on till he saw a
faint light which he thought must be the room of the G.S.O., a good
fellow and a friend of his. So he barged in, and found a big, dim
salon with two figures in it and a lamp burning between them, and a
queer, unpleasant smell about. He took a step forward, and then he saw
that the figures had no faces. That fairly loosened his joints with
fear, and he gave a cry. One of the two ran towards him, the lamp went
out, and the sickly scent caught suddenly at his throat. After that he
knew nothing till he awoke in his own bed next morning with a
splitting headache. He said he got the General's permission and went
over all the unoccupied part of the house, but he couldn't find the
room. Dust lay thick on everything, and there was no sign of recent
I give the story as he told it in his drawling voice. 'I reckon that
was the genuine article in ghosts. You don't believe me and conclude I
was drunk? I wasn't. There isn't any drink concocted yet that could
lay me out like that. I just struck a crack in the old universe and
pushed my head outside. It may happen to you boys any day.'
The Highlander began to argue with him, and I lost interest in the
talk. But one phrase brought me to attention. 'I'll give you the name
of the darned place, and next time you're around you can do a bit of
prospecting for yourself. It's called the Chateau of Eaucourt
Sainte-Anne, about seven kilometres from Douvecourt. If I was
purchasing real estate in this country I guess I'd give that location
After that I had a grim month, what with the finish of Third Ypres and
the hustles to Cambrai. By the middle of December we had shaken down a
bit, but the line my division held was not of our choosing, and we had
to keep a wary eye on the Boche doings. It was a weary job, and I had
no time to think of anything but the military kind of intelligence
--fixing the units against us from prisoners' stories, organizing
small raids, and keeping the Royal Flying Corps busy. I was keen about
the last, and I made several trips myself over the lines with Archie
Roylance, who had got his heart's desire and by good luck belonged to
the squadron just behind me. I said as little as possible about this,
for G.H.Q. did not encourage divisional generals to practise such
methods, though there was one famous army commander who made a hobby
of them. It was on one of these trips that an incident occurred which
brought my spell of waiting on the bigger game to an end.
One dull December day, just after luncheon, Archie and I set out to
reconnoitre. You know the way that fogs in Picardy seem suddenly to
reek out of the ground and envelop the slopes like a shawl. That was
our luck this time. We had crossed the lines, flying very high, and
received the usual salute of Hun Archies. After a mile or two the
ground seemed to climb up to us, though we hadn't descended, and
presently we were in the heart of a cold, clinging mist. We dived for
several thousand feet, but the confounded thing grew thicker and no
sort of landmark could be found anywhere. I thought if we went on at
this rate we should hit a tree or a church steeple and be easy fruit
for the enemy.
The same thought must have been in Archie's mind, for he climbed
again. We got into a mortally cold zone, but the air was no clearer.
Thereupon he decided to head for home, and passed me word to work out
a compass course on the map. That was easier said than done, but I had
a rough notion of the rate we had travelled since we had crossed the
lines and I knew our original direction, so I did the best I could. On
we went for a bit, and then I began to get doubtful. So did Archie. We
dropped low down, but we could hear none of the row that's always
going on for a mile on each side of the lines. The world was very
eerie and deadly still, so still that Archie and I could talk through
'We've mislaid this blamed battle,'he shouted.
'I think your rotten old compass has soured on us,' I replied.
We decided that it wouldn't do to change direction, so we held on the
same course. I was getting as nervous as a kitten, chiefly owing to
the silence. It's not what you expect in the middle of a battle-field
. . . I looked at the compass carefully and saw that it was really
crocked. Archie must have damaged it on a former flight and forgotten
to have it changed.
He had a very scared face when I pointed this out.
'Great God!' he croaked--for he had a fearsome cold--'we're either
about Calais or near Paris or miles the wrong side of the Boche line.
What the devil are we to do?'
And then to put the lid on it his engine went wrong. It was the same
performance as on the Yorkshire moors, and seemed to be a speciality
of the Shark-Gladas type. But this time the end came quick. We dived
steeply, and I could see by Archie's grip on the stick that he was
going to have his work cut out to save our necks. Save them he did,
but not by much for we jolted down on the edge of a ploughed field
with a series of bumps that shook the teeth in my head. It was the
same dense, dripping fog, and we crawled out of the old bus and bolted
for cover like two ferreted rabbits.
Our refuge was the lee of a small copse.
'It's my opinion,' said Archie solemnly, 'that we're somewhere about
La Cateau. Tim Wilbraham got left there in the Retreat, and it took
him nine months to make the Dutch frontier. It's a giddy prospect,
I sallied out to reconnoitre. At the other side of the wood was a
highway, and the fog so blanketed sound that I could not hear a man on
it till I saw his face. The first one I saw made me lie flat in the
covert . . . For he was a German soldier, field-grey, forage cap, red
band and all, and he had a pick on his shoulder.
A second's reflection showed me that this was not final proof. He
might be one of our prisoners. But it was no place to take chances. I
went back to Archie, and the pair of us crossed the ploughed field and
struck the road farther on. There we saw a farmer's cart with a woman
and child in it. They looked French, but melancholy, just what you
would expect from the inhabitants of a countryside in enemy
Then we came to the park wall of a great house, and saw dimly the
outlines of a cottage. Here sooner or later we would get proof of our
whereabouts, so we lay and shivered among the poplars of the roadside.
No one seemed abroad that afternoon. For a quarter of an hour it was
as quiet as the grave. Then came a sound of whistling, and muffled
'That's an Englishman,' said Archie joyfully. 'No Boche could make
such a beastly noise.'
He was right. The form of an Army Service Corps private emerged from
the mist, his cap on the back of his head, his hands in his pockets,
and his walk the walk of a free man. I never saw a welcomer sight than
We stood up and greeted him. 'What's this place?' I shouted.
He raised a grubby hand to his forelock. ''Ockott Saint Anny, sir,' he
said. 'Beg pardon, sir, but you ain't whurt, sir?'
Ten minutes later I was having tea in the mess of an M.T. workshop
while Archie had gone to the nearest Signals to telephone for a car
and give instructions about his precious bus. It was almost dark, but
I gulped my tea and hastened out into the thick dusk. For I wanted to
have a look at the Chateau.
I found a big entrance with high stone pillars, but the iron gates
were locked and looked as if they had not been opened in the memory of
man. Knowing the way of such places, I hunted for the side entrance
and found a muddy road which led to the back of the house. The front
was evidently towards a kind of park; at the back was a nest of
outbuildings and a section of moat which looked very deep and black in
the winter twilight. This was crossed by a stone bridge with a door at
the end of it.
Clearly the Chateau was not being used for billets. There was no sign
of the British soldier; there was no sign of anything human. I crept
through the fog as noiselessly as if I trod on velvet, and I hadn't
even the company of my own footsteps. I remembered the Canadian's
ghost story, and concluded I would be imagining the same sort of thing
if I lived in such a place.
The door was bolted and padlocked. I turned along the side of the
moat, hoping to reach the house front, which was probably modern and
boasted a civilized entrance. There must be somebody in the place, for
one chimney was smoking. Presently the moat petered out, and gave
place to a cobbled causeway, but a wall, running at right angles with
the house, blocked my way. I had half a mind to go back and hammer at
the door, but I reflected that major-generals don't pay visits to
deserted chateaux at night without a reasonable errand. I should look
a fool in the eyes of some old concierge. The daylight was almost
gone, and I didn't wish to go groping about the house with a candle.
But I wanted to see what was beyond the wall--one of those whims that
beset the soberest men. I rolled a dissolute water-butt to the foot of
it, and gingerly balanced myself on its rotten staves. This gave me a
grip on the flat brick top, and I pulled myself up.
I looked down on a little courtyard with another wall beyond it, which
shut off any view of the park. On the right was the Chateau, on the
left more outbuildings; the whole place was not more than twenty yards
each way. I was just about to retire by the road I had come, for in
spite of my fur coat it was uncommon chilly on that perch, when I
heard a key turn in the door in the Chateau wall beneath me.
A lantern made a blur of light in the misty darkness. I saw that the
bearer was a woman, an oldish woman, round-shouldered like most French
peasants. In one hand she carried a leather bag, and she moved so
silently that she must have worn rubber boots. The light was held
level with her head and illumined her face. It was the evillest thing
I have ever beheld, for a horrible scar had puckered the skin of the
forehead and drawn up the eyebrows so that it looked like some
diabolical Chinese mask.
Slowly she padded across the yard, carrying the bag as gingerly as if
it had been an infant. She stopped at the door of one of the outhouses
and set down the lantern and her burden on the ground. From her apron
she drew something which looked like a gas-mask, and put it over her
head. She also put on a pair of long gauntlets. Then she unlocked the
door, picked up the lantern and went in. I heard the key turn behind
Crouching on that wall, I felt a very ugly tremor run down my spine. I
had a glimpse of what the Canadian's ghost might have been. That hag,
hooded like some venomous snake, was too much for my stomach. I
dropped off the wall and ran--yes, ran till I reached the highroad and
saw the cheery headlights of a transport wagon, and heard the honest
speech of the British soldier. That restored me to my senses, and made
me feel every kind of a fool.
As I drove back to the line with Archie, I was black ashamed of my
funk. I told myself that I had seen only an old countrywoman going to
feed her hens. I convinced my reason, but I did not convince the whole
of me. An insensate dread of the place hung around me, and I could
only retrieve my self-respect by resolving to return and explore every
nook of it.
The Adventure of the Picardy Chateau
I looked up Eaucourt Sainte-Anne on the map, and the more I studied
its position the less I liked it. It was the knot from which sprang
all the main routes to our Picardy front. If the Boche ever broke us,
it was the place for which old Hindenburg would make. At all hours
troops and transport trains were moving through that insignificant
hamlet. Eminent generals and their staffs passed daily within sight of
the Chateau. It was a convenient halting-place for battalions coming
back to rest. Supposing, I argued, our enemies wanted a key-spot for
some assault upon the morale or the discipline or health of the
British Army, they couldn't find a better than Eaucourt Sainte-Anne.
It was the ideal centre of espionage. But when I guardedly sounded my
friends of the Intelligence they didn't seem to be worrying about it.
From them I got a chit to the local French authorities, and, as soon
as we came out of the line, towards the end of December, I made
straight for the country town of Douvecourt. By a bit of luck our
divisional quarters were almost next door. I interviewed a tremendous
swell in a black uniform and black kid gloves, who received me affably
and put his archives and registers at my disposal. By this time I
talked French fairly well, having a natural turn for languages, but
half the rapid speech of the _sous-prifet_ was lost on me. By and by
he left me with the papers and a clerk, and I proceeded to grub up the
history of the Chateau.
It had belonged since long before Agincourt to the noble house of the
D'Eaucourts, now represented by an ancient Marquise who dwelt at
Biarritz. She had never lived in the place, which a dozen years before
had been falling to ruins, when a rich American leased it and
partially restored it. He had soon got sick of it--his daughter had
married a blackguard French cavalry officer with whom he quarrelled,
said the clerk--and since then there had been several tenants. I
wondered why a house so unattractive should have let so readily, but
the clerk explained that the cause was the partridge-shooting. It was
about the best in France, and in 1912 had shown the record bag.
The list of the tenants was before me. There was a second American, an
Englishman called Halford, a Paris Jew-banker, and an Egyptian prince.
But the space for 1913 was blank, and I asked the clerk about it. He
told me that it had been taken by a woollen manufacturer from Lille,
but he had never shot the partridges, though he had spent occasional
nights in the house. He had a five years' lease, and was still paying
rent to the Marquise. I asked the name, but the clerk had forgotten.
'It will be written there,' he said.
'But, no,' I said. 'Somebody must have been asleep over this register.
There's nothing after 1912.'
He examined the page and blinked his eyes. 'Someone indeed must have
slept. No doubt it was young Louis who is now with the guns in
Champagne. But the name will be on the Commissary's list. It is, as I
remember, a sort of Flemish.'
He hobbled off and returned in five minutes.
'Bommaerts,' he said, 'Jacques Bommaerts. A young man with no wife but
with money--Dieu de Dieu, what oceans of it!'
That clerk got twenty-five francs, and he was cheap at the price. I
went back to my division with a sense of awe on me. It was a
marvellous fate that had brought me by odd routes to this
out-of-the-way corner. First, the accident of Hamilton's seeing
Gresson; then the night in the Clearing Station; last the mishap of
Archie's plane getting lost in the fog. I had three grounds of
suspicion--Gresson's sudden illness, the Canadian's ghost, and that
horrid old woman in the dusk. And now I had one tremendous fact. The
place was leased by a man called Bommaerts, and that was one of the
two names I had heard whispered in that far-away cleft in the Coolin
by the stranger from the sea.
A sensible man would have gone off to the contre-espionage people and
told them his story. I couldn't do this; I felt that it was my own
private find and I was going to do the prospecting myself. Every
moment of leisure I had I was puzzling over the thing. I rode round by
the Chateau one frosty morning and examined all the entrances. The
main one was the grand avenue with the locked gates. That led straight
to the front of the house where the terrace was--or you might call it
the back, for the main door was on the other side. Anyhow the drive
came up to the edge of the terrace and then split into two, one branch
going to the stables by way of the outbuildings where I had seen the
old woman, the other circling round the house, skirting the moat, and
joining the back road just before the bridge. If I had gone to the
right instead of the left that first evening with Archie, I should
have circumnavigated the place without any trouble.
Seen in the fresh morning light the house looked commonplace enough.
Part of it was as old as Noah, but most was newish and jerry-built,
the kind of flat-chested, thin French Chateau, all front and no depth,
and full of draughts and smoky chimneys. I might have gone in and
ransacked the place, but I knew I should find nothing. It was borne in
on me that it was only when evening fell that that house was
interesting and that I must come, like Nicodemus, by night. Besides I
had a private account to settle with my conscience. I had funked the
place in the foggy twilight, and it does not do to let a matter like
that slide. A man's courage is like a horse that refuses a fence; you
have got to take him by the head and cram him at it again. If you
don't, he will funk worse next time. I hadn't enough courage to be
able to take chances with it, though I was afraid of many things, the
thing I feared most mortally was being afraid.
I did not get a chance till Christmas Eve. The day before there had
been a fall of snow, but the frost set in and the afternoon ended in a
green sunset with the earth crisp and crackling like a shark's skin. I
dined early, and took with me Geordie Hamilton, who added to his many
accomplishments that of driving a car. He was the only man in the
B.E.F. who guessed anything of the game I was after, and I knew that
he was as discreet as a tombstone. I put on my oldest trench cap,
slacks, and a pair of scaife-soled boots, that I used to change into
in the evening. I had a useful little electric torch, which lived in
my pocket, and from which a cord led to a small bulb of light that
worked with a switch and could be hung on my belt. That left my arms
free in case of emergencies. Likewise I strapped on my pistol.
There was little traffic in the hamlet of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne that
night. Few cars were on the road, and the M.T. detachment, judging
from the din, seemed to be busy on a private spree. It was about nine
o'clock when we turned into the side road, and at the entrance to it I
saw a solid figure in khaki mounting guard beside two bicycles.
Something in the man's gesture, as he saluted, struck me as familiar,
but I had no time to hunt for casual memories. I left the car just
short of the bridge, and took the road which would bring me to the
terraced front of the house.
Once I turned the corner of the Chateau and saw the long ghostly
facade white in the moonlight, I felt less confident. The eeriness of
the place smote me. In that still, snowy world it loomed up immense
and mysterious with its rows of shuttered windows, each with that air
which empty houses have of concealing some wild story. I longed to
have old Peter with me, for he was the man for this kind of escapade.
I had heard that he had been removed to Switzerland and I pictured him
now in some mountain village where the snow lay deep. I would have
given anything to have had Peter with a whole leg by my side.
I stepped on the terrace and listened. There was not a sound in the
world, not even the distant rumble of a cart. The pile towered above
me like a mausoleum, and I reflected that it must take some nerve to
burgle an empty house. It would be good enough fun to break into a
bustling dwelling and pinch the plate when the folk were at dinner,
but to burgle emptiness and silence meant a fight with the terrors in
a man's soul. It was worse in my case, for I wasn't cheered with
prospects of loot. I wanted to get inside chiefly to soothe my
I hadn't much doubt I would find a way, for three years of war and the
frequent presence of untidy headquarters' staffs have loosened the
joints of most Picardy houses. There's generally a window that doesn't
latch or a door that doesn't bar. But I tried window after window on
the terrace without result. The heavy green sun-shutters were down
over each, and when I broke the hinges of one there was a long bar
within to hold it firm. I was beginning to think of shinning up a
rain-pipe and trying the second floor, when a shutter I had laid hold
on swung back in my hand. It had been left unfastened, and, kicking
the snow from my boots, I entered a room.
A gleam of moonlight followed me and I saw I was in a big salon with a
polished wood floor and dark lumps of furniture swathed in sheets. I
clicked the bulb at my belt, and the little circle of light showed a
place which had not been dwelt in for years. At the far end was
another door, and as I tiptoed towards it something caught my eye on
the parquet. It was a piece of fresh snow like that which clumps on
the heel of a boot. I had not brought it there. Some other visitor had
passed this way, and not long before me.
Very gently I opened the door and slipped in. In front of me was a
pile of furniture which made a kind of screen, and behind that I
halted and listened. There was somebody in the room. I heard the sound
of human breathing and soft movements; the man, whoever he was, was at
the far end from me, and though there was a dim glow of Moon through a
broken shutter I could see nothing of what he was after. I was
beginning to enjoy myself now. I knew of his presence and he did not
know of mine, and that is the sport of stalking.
An unwary movement of my hand caused the screen to creak. Instantly
the movements ceased and there was utter silence. I held my breath,
and after a second or two the tiny sounds began again. I had a
feeling, though my eyes could not assure me, that the man before me
was at work, and was using a very small shaded torch. There was just
the faintest moving shimmer on the wall beyond, though that might come
from the crack of moonlight.
Apparently he was reassured, for his movements became more distinct.
There was a jar as if a table had been pushed back. Once more there
was silence, and I heard only the intake of breath. I have very quick
ears, and to me it sounded as if the man was rattled. The breathing
was quick and anxious.
Suddenly it changed and became the ghost of a whistle--the kind of
sound one makes with the lips and teeth without ever letting the tune
break out clear. We all do it when we are preoccupied with
something--shaving, or writing letters, or reading the newspaper. But
I did not think my man was preoccupied. He was whistling to quiet
Then I caught the air. It was 'Cherry Ripe'.
In a moment, from being hugely at my ease, I became the nervous one. I
had been playing peep-bo with the unseen, and the tables were turned.
My heart beat against my ribs like a hammer. I shuffled my feet, and
again there fell the tense silence.
'Mary,' I said--and the word seemed to explode like a bomb in the
stillness--'Mary! It's me--Dick Hannay.'
There was no answer but a sob and the sound of a timid step.
I took four paces into the darkness and caught in my arms a trembling
girl . . .
Often in the last months I had pictured the kind of scene which would
be the culminating point of my life. When our work was over and war
had been forgotten, somewhere--perhaps in a green Cotswold meadow or
in a room of an old manor--I would talk with Mary. By that time we
should know each other well and I would have lost my shyness. I would
try to tell her that I loved her, but whenever I thought of what I
should say my heart sank, for I knew I would make a fool of myself.
You can't live my kind of life for forty years wholly among men and be
of any use at pretty speeches to women. I knew I should stutter and
blunder, and I used despairingly to invent impossible situations where
I might make my love plain to her without words by some piece of
But the kind Fates had saved me the trouble. Without a syllable save
Christian names stammered in that eerie darkness we had come to
complete understanding. The fairies had been at work unseen, and the
thoughts of each of us had been moving towards the other, till love
had germinated like a seed in the dark. As I held her in my arms I
stroked her hair and murmured things which seemed to spring out of
some ancestral memory. Certainly my tongue had never used them before,
nor my mind imagined them . . . By and by she slipped her arms round my
neck and with a half sob strained towards me. She was still trembling.
'Dick,' she said, and to hear that name on her lips was the sweetest
thing I had ever known. 'Dick, is it really you? Tell me I'm not
'It's me, sure enough, Mary dear. And now I have found you I will
never let you go again. But, my precious child, how on earth did you
She disengaged herself and let her little electric torch wander over
my rough habiliments.
'You look a tremendous warrior, Dick. I have never seen you like this
before. I was in Doubting Castle and very much afraid of Giant
Despair, till you came.'
'I think I call it the Interpreter's House,' I said.
'It's the house of somebody we both know,' she went on. 'He calls
himself Bommaerts here. That was one of the two names, you remember. I
have seen him since in Paris. Oh, it is a long story and you shall
hear it all soon. I knew he came here sometimes, so I came here too. I
have been nursing for the last fortnight at the Douvecourt Hospital
only four miles away.'
'But what brought you alone at night?'
'Madness, I think. Vanity, too. You see I had found out a good deal,
and I wanted to find out the one vital thing which had puzzled Mr
Blenkiron. I told myself it was foolish, but I couldn't keep away. And
then my courage broke down, and before you came I would have screamed
at the sound of a mouse. If I hadn't whistled I would have cried.'
'But why alone and at this hour?'
'I couldn't get off in the day. And it was safest to come alone. You
see he is in love with me, and when he heard I was coming to
Douvecourt forgot his caution and proposed to meet me here. He said he
was going on a long journey and wanted to say goodbye. If he had found
me alone--well, he would have said goodbye. If there had been anyone
with me, he would have suspected, and he mustn't suspect me. Mr
Blenkiron says that would be fatal to his great plan. He believes I am
like my aunts, and that I think him an apostle of peace working by his
own methods against the stupidity and wickedness of all the
Governments. He talks more bitterly about Germany than about England.
He had told me how he had to disguise himself and play many parts on
his mission, and of course I have applauded him. Oh, I have had a
'Mary,' I cried, 'tell me you hate him.'
'No,' she said quietly. 'I do not hate him. I am keeping that for
later. I fear him desperately. Some day when we have broken him
utterly I will hate him, and drive all likeness of him out of my
memory like an unclean thing. But till then I won't waste energy on
hate. We want to hoard every atom of our strength for the work of
She had won back her composure, and I turned on my light to look at
her. She was in nurses' outdoor uniform, and I thought her eyes seemed
tired. The priceless gift that had suddenly come to me had driven out
all recollection of my own errand. I thought of Ivery only as a
would-be lover of Mary, and forgot the manufacturer from Lille who had
rented his house for the partridge-shooting. 'And you, Dick,' she
asked; 'is it part of a general's duties to pay visits at night to
'I came to look for traces of M. Bommaerts. I, too, got on his track
from another angle, but that story must wait.'
'You observe that he has been here today?'
She pointed to some cigarette ash spilled on the table edge, and a
space on its surface cleared from dust. 'In a place like this the dust
would settle again in a few hours, and that is quite clean. I should
say he has been here just after luncheon.'
'Great Scott!' I cried, 'what a close shave! I'm in the mood at this
moment to shoot him at sight. You say you saw him in Paris and knew
his lair. Surely you had a good enough case to have him collared.'
She shook her head. 'Mr Blenkiron--he's in Paris too--wouldn't hear of
it. He hasn't just figured the thing out yet, he says. We've
identified one of your names, but we're still in doubt about Chelius.'
'Ah, Chelius! Yes, I see. We must get the whole business complete
before we strike. Has old Blenkiron had any luck?'
'Your guess about the "Deep-breathing" advertisement was very clever,
Dick. It was true, and it may give us Chelius. I must leave Mr
Blenkiron to tell you how. But the trouble is this. We know something
of the doings of someone who may be Chelius, but we can't link them
with Ivery. We know that Ivery is Bommaerts, and our hope is to link
Bommaerts with Chelius. That's why I came here. I was trying to burgle
this escritoire in an amateur way. It's a bad piece of fake Empire and
I could see that Mary was eager to get my mind back to business, and
with some difficulty I clambered down from the exultant heights. The
intoxication of the thing was on me--the winter night, the circle of
light in that dreary room, the sudden coming together of two souls
from the ends of the earth, the realization of my wildest hopes, the
gilding and glorifying of all the future. But she had always twice as
much wisdom as me, and we were in the midst of a campaign which had no
use for day-dreaming. I turned my attention to the desk.
It was a flat table with drawers, and at the back a half-circle of
more drawers with a central cupboard. I tilted it up and most of the
drawers slid out, empty of anything but dust. I forced two open with
my knife and they held empty cigar boxes. Only the cupboard remained,
and that appeared to be locked. I wedged a key from my pocket into its
keyhole, but the thing would not budge.
'It's no good,' I said. 'He wouldn't leave anything he valued in a
place like this. That sort of fellow doesn't take risks. If he wanted
to hide something there are a hundred holes in this Chateau which
would puzzle the best detective.'
'Can't you open it?' she asked. 'I've a fancy about that table. He was
sitting here this afternoon and he may be coming back.'
I solved the problem by turning up the escritoire and putting my knee
through the cupboard door. Out of it tumbled a little dark-green
'This is getting solemn,' said Mary. 'Is it locked?'
It was, but I took my knife and cut the lock out and spilled the
contents on the table. There were some papers, a newspaper or two, and
a small bag tied with black cord. The last I opened, while Mary looked
over my shoulder. It contained a fine yellowish powder.
'Stand back,' I said harshly. 'For God's sake, stand back and don't
With trembling hands I tied up the bag again, rolled it in a
newspaper, and stuffed it into my pocket. For I remembered a day near
Peronne when a Boche plane had come over in the night and had dropped
little bags like this. Happily they were all collected, and the men
who found them were wise and took them off to the nearest laboratory.
They proved to be full of anthrax germs . . .
I remembered how Eaucourt Sainte-Anne stood at the junction of a dozen
roads where all day long troops passed to and from the lines. From
such a vantage ground an enemy could wreck the health of an army . . .
I remembered the woman I had seen in the courtyard of this house in
the foggy dusk, and I knew now why she had worn a gas-mask.
This discovery gave me a horrid shock. I was brought down with a crash
from my high sentiment to something earthly and devilish. I was fairly
well used to Boche filthiness, but this seemed too grim a piece of the
utterly damnable. I wanted to have Ivery by the throat and force the
stuff into his body, and watch him decay slowly into the horror he had
contrived for honest men.
'Let's get out of this infernal place,' I said.
But Mary was not listening. She had picked up one of the newspapers
and was gloating over it. I looked and saw that it was open at an
advertisement of Weissmann's 'Deep-breathing' system.
'Oh, look, Dick,' she cried breathlessly.
The column of type had little dots made by a red pencil below certain
'It's it,' she whispered, 'it's the cipher--I'm almost sure it's the
'Well, he'd be likely to know it if anyone did.'
'But don't you see it's the cipher which Chelius uses--the man in
Switzerland? Oh, I can't explain now, for it's very long, but I
think--I think--I have found out what we have all been wanting.
Chelius . . .'
'Whisht!' I said. 'What's that?'
There was a queer sound from the out-of-doors as if a sudden wind had
risen in the still night.
'It's only a car on the main road,' said Mary.
'How did you get in?' I asked.
'By the broken window in the next room. I cycled out here one morning,
and walked round the place and found the broken catch.'
'Perhaps it is left open on purpose. That may be the way M. Bommaerts
visits his country home . . . Let's get off, Mary, for this place has a
curse on it. It deserves fire from heaven.'
I slipped the contents of the attache case into my pockets. 'I'm going
to drive you back,' I said. 'I've got a car out there.'
'Then you must take my bicycle and my servant too. He's an old friend
of yours--one Andrew Amos.'
'Now how on earth did Andrew get over here?'
'He's one of us,' said Mary, laughing at my surprise. 'A most useful
member of our party, at present disguised as an _infirmier_ in Lady
Manorwater's Hospital at Douvecourt. He is learning French, and . . .'
'Hush!' I whispered. 'There's someone in the next room.'
I swept her behind a stack of furniture, with my eyes glued on a crack
of light below the door. The handle turned and the shadows raced
before a big electric lamp of the kind they have in stables. I could
not see the bearer, but I guessed it was the old woman.
There was a man behind her. A brisk step sounded on the parquet, and a
figure brushed past her. It wore the horizon-blue of a French officer,
very smart, with those French riding-boots that show the shape of the
leg, and a handsome fur-lined pelisse. I would have called him a young
man, not more than thirty-five. The face was brown and clean-shaven,
the eyes bright and masterful . . . Yet he did not deceive me. I had not
boasted idly to Sir Walter when I said that there was one man alive
who could never again be mistaken by me.
I had my hand on my pistol, as I motioned Mary farther back into the
shadows. For a second I was about to shoot. I had a perfect mark and
could have put a bullet through his brain with utter certitude. I
think if I had been alone I might have fired. Perhaps not. Anyhow now
I could not do it. It seemed like potting at a sitting rabbit. I was
obliged, though he was my worst enemy, to give him a chance, while all
the while my sober senses kept calling me a fool.
I stepped into the light.
'Hullo, Mr Ivery,' I said. 'This is an odd place to meet again!'
In his amazement he fell back a step, while his hungry eyes took in my
face. There was no mistake about the recognition. I saw something I
had seen once before in him, and that was fear. Out went the light and
he sprang for the door.
I fired in the dark, but the shot must have been too high. In the same
instant I heard him slip on the smooth parquet and the tinkle of glass
as the broken window swung open. Hastily I reflected that his car must
be at the moat end of the terrace, and that therefore to reach it he
must pass outside this very room. Seizing the damaged escritoire, I
used it as a ram, and charged the window nearest me. The panes and
shutters went with a crash, for I had driven the thing out of its
rotten frame. The next second I was on the moonlit snow.
I got a shot at him as he went over the terrace, and again I went
wide. I never was at my best with a pistol. Still I reckoned I had got
him, for the car which was waiting below must come back by the moat to
reach the highroad. But I had forgotten the great closed park gates.
Somehow or other they must have been opened, for as soon as the car
started it headed straight for the grand avenue. I tried a couple of
long-range shots after it, and one must have damaged either Ivery or
his chauffeur, for there came back a cry of pain.
I turned in deep chagrin to find Mary beside me. She was bubbling with
'Were you ever a cinema actor, Dick? The last two minutes have been a
really high-class performance. "Featuring Mary Lamington." How does
the jargon go?'
'I could have got him when he first entered,' I said ruefully.
'I know,' she said in a graver tone. 'Only of course you couldn't . . .
Besides, Mr Blenkiron doesn't want it--yet.'
She put her hand on my arm. 'Don't worry about it. It wasn't written
it should happen that way. It would have been too easy. We have a long
road to travel yet before we clip the wings of the Wild Birds.'
'Look,' I cried. 'The fire from heaven!'
Red tongues of flame were shooting up from the out-buildings at the
farther end, the place where I had first seen the woman. Some agreed
plan must have been acted on, and Ivery was destroying all traces of
his infamous yellow powder. Even now the concierge with her odds and
ends of belongings would be slipping out to some refuge in the
In the still dry night the flames rose, for the place must have been
made ready for a rapid burning. As I hurried Mary round the moat I
could see that part of the main building had caught fire. The hamlet
was awakened, and before we reached the corner of the highroad sleepy
British soldiers were hurrying towards the scene, and the Town Major
was mustering the fire brigade. I knew that Ivery had laid his plans
well, and that they hadn't a chance--that long before dawn the Chateau
of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne would be a heap of ashes and that in a day or
two the lawyers of the aged Marquise at Biarritz would be wrangling
with the insurance company.
At the corner stood Amos beside two bicycles, solid as a graven image.
He recognized me with a gap-toothed grin.
'It's a cauld night, General, but the home fires keep burnin'. I
havena seen such a cheery lowe since Dickson's mill at Gawly.'
We packed, bicycles and all, into my car with Amos wedged in the
narrow seat beside Hamilton. Recognizing a fellow countryman, he gave
thanks for the lift in the broadest Doric. 'For,' said he, 'I'm not
what you would call a practised hand wi' a velocipede, and my feet are
dinnled wi' standin' in the snaw.'
As for me, the miles to Douvecourt passed as in a blissful moment of
time. I wrapped Mary in a fur rug, and after that we did not speak a
word. I had come suddenly into a great possession and was dazed with
the joy of it.
Mr Blenkiron Discourses on Love and War
Three days later I got my orders to report at Paris for special
service. They came none too soon, for I chafed at each hour's delay.
Every thought in my head was directed to the game which we were
playing against Ivery. He was the big enemy, compared to whom the
ordinary Boche in the trenches was innocent and friendly. I had almost
lost interest in my division, for I knew that for me the real
battle-front was not in Picardy, and that my job was not so easy as
holding a length of line. Also I longed to be at the same work as
I remember waking up in billets the morning after the night at the
Chateau with the feeling that I had become extraordinarily rich. I
felt very humble, too, and very kindly towards all the world--even to
the Boche, though I can't say I had ever hated him very wildly. You
find hate more among journalists and politicians at home than among
fighting men. I wanted to be quiet and alone to think, and since that
was impossible I went about my work in a happy abstraction. I tried
not to look ahead, but only to live in the present, remembering that a
war was on, and that there was desperate and dangerous business before
me, and that my hopes hung on a slender thread. Yet for all that I had
sometimes to let my fancies go free, and revel in delicious dreams.
But there was one thought that always brought me back to hard ground,
and that was Ivery. I do not think I hated anybody in the world but
him. It was his relation to Mary that stung me. He had the insolence
with all his toad-like past to make love to that clean and radiant
girl. I felt that he and I stood as mortal antagonists, and the
thought pleased me, for it helped me to put some honest detestation
into my job. Also I was going to win. Twice I had failed, but the
third time I should succeed. It had been like ranging shots for a
gun--first short, second over, and I vowed that the third should be
dead on the mark.
I was summoned to G.H.Q., where I had half an hour's talk with the
greatest British commander. I can see yet his patient, kindly face and
that steady eye which no vicissitude of fortune could perturb. He took
the biggest view, for he was statesman as well as soldier, and knew
that the whole world was one battle-field and every man and woman
among the combatant nations was in the battle-line. So contradictory
is human nature, that talk made me wish for a moment to stay where I
was. I wanted to go on serving under that man. I realized suddenly how
much I loved my work, and when I got back to my quarters that night
and saw my men swinging in from a route march I could have howled like
a dog at leaving them. Though I say it who shouldn't, there wasn't a
better division in the Army.
One morning a few days later I picked up Mary in Amiens. I always
liked the place, for after the dirt of the Somme it was a comfort to
go there for a bath and a square meal, and it had the noblest church
that the hand of man ever built for God. It was a clear morning when
we started from the boulevard beside the railway station; and the air
smelt of washed streets and fresh coffee, and women were going
marketing and the little trams ran clanking by, just as in any other
city far from the sound of guns. There was very little khaki or
horizon-blue about, and I remember thinking how completely Amiens had
got out of the war-zone. Two months later it was a different story.
To the end I shall count that day as one of the happiest in my life.
Spring was in the air, though the trees and fields had still their
winter colouring. A thousand good fresh scents came out of the earth,
and the larks were busy over the new furrows. I remember that we ran
up a little glen, where a stream spread into pools among sallows, and
the roadside trees were heavy with mistletoe. On the tableland beyond
the Somme valley the sun shone like April. At Beauvais we lunched
badly in an inn--badly as to food, but there was an excellent Burgundy
at two francs a bottle. Then we slipped down through little
flat-chested townships to the Seine, and in the late afternoon passed
through St Germains forest. The wide green spaces among the trees set
my fancy dwelling on that divine English countryside where Mary and I
would one day make our home. She had been in high spirits all the
journey, but when I spoke of the Cotswolds her face grew grave.
'Don't let us speak of it, Dick,' she said. 'It's too happy a thing
and I feel as if it would wither if we touched it. I don't let myself
think of peace and home, for it makes me too homesick . . . I think we
shall get there some day, you and I . . . but it's a long road to the
Delectable Mountains, and Faithful, you know, has to die first . . .
There is a price to be paid.'
The words sobered me.
'Who is our Faithful?' I asked.
'I don't know. But he was the best of the Pilgrims.'
Then, as if a veil had lifted, her mood changed, and when we came
through the suburbs of Paris and swung down the Champs Elysees she was
in a holiday humour. The lights were twinkling in the blue January
dusk, and the warm breath of the city came to greet us. I knew little
of the place, for I had visited it once only on a four days' Paris
leave, but it had seemed to me then the most habitable of cities, and
now, coming from the battle-field with Mary by my side, it was like
the happy ending of a dream.
I left her at her cousin's house near the Rue St Honore, and deposited
myself, according to instructions, at the Hotel Louis Quinze. There I
wallowed in a hot bath, and got into the civilian clothes which had
been sent on from London. They made me feel that I had taken leave of
my division for good and all this time. Blenkiron had a private room,
where we were to dine; and a more wonderful litter of books and cigar
boxes I have never seen, for he hadn't a notion of tidiness. I could
hear him grunting at his toilet in the adjacent bedroom, and I noticed
that the table was laid for three. I went downstairs to get a paper,
and on the way ran into Launcelot Wake.
He was no longer a private in a Labour Battalion. Evening clothes
showed beneath his overcoat. 'Hullo, Wake, are you in this push too?'
'I suppose so,' he said, and his manner was not cordial. 'Anyhow I was
ordered down here. My business is to do as I am told.'
'Coming to dine?' I asked.
'No. I'm dining with some friends at the Crillon.'
Then he looked me in the face, and his eyes were hot as I first
remembered them. 'I hear I've to congratulate you, Hannay,' and he
held out a limp hand.
I never felt more antagonism in a human being.
'You don't like it?' I said, for I guessed what he meant.
'How on earth can I like it?' he cried angrily. 'Good Lord, man,
you'll murder her soul. You an ordinary, stupid, successful fellow and
she--she's the most precious thing God ever made. You can never
understand a fraction of her preciousness, but you'll clip her wings
all right. She can never fly now . . .'
He poured out this hysterical stuff to me at the foot of the staircase
within hearing of an elderly French widow with a poodle. I had no
impulse to be angry, for I was far too happy.
'Don't, Wake,' I said. 'We're all too close together to quarrel. I'm
not fit to black Mary's shoes. You can't put me too low or her too
high. But I've at least the sense to know it. You couldn't want me to
be humbler than I felt.'
He shrugged his shoulders, as he went out to the street. 'Your
infernal magnanimity would break any man's temper.'
I went upstairs to find Blenkiron, washed and shaven, admiring a pair
of bright patent-leather shoes.
'Why, Dick, I've been wearying bad to see you. I was nervous you would
be blown to glory, for I've been reading awful things about your
battles in the noospapers. The war correspondents worry me so I can't
He mixed cocktails and clinked his glass on mine. 'Here's to the young
lady. I was trying to write her a pretty little sonnet, but the darned
rhymes wouldn't fit. I've gotten a heap of things to say to you when
we've finished dinner.'
Mary came in, her cheeks bright from the weather, and Blenkiron
promptly fell abashed. But she had a way to meet his shyness, for,
when he began an embarrassed speech of good wishes, she put her arms
round his neck and kissed him. Oddly enough, that set him completely
at his ease.
It was pleasant to eat off linen and china again, pleasant to see old
Blenkiron's benignant face and the way he tucked into his food, but it
was delicious for me to sit at a meal with Mary across the table. It
made me feel that she was really mine, and not a pixie that would
vanish at a word. To Blenkiron she bore herself like an affectionate
but mischievous daughter, while the desperately refined manners that
afflicted him whenever women were concerned mellowed into something
like his everyday self. They did most of the talking, and I remember
he fetched from some mysterious hiding-place a great box of
chocolates, which you could no longer buy in Paris, and the two ate
them like spoiled children. I didn't want to talk, for it was pure
happiness for me to look on. I loved to watch her, when the servants
had gone, with her elbows on the table like a schoolboy, her crisp
gold hair a little rumpled, cracking walnuts with gusto, like some
child who has been allowed down from the nursery for dessert and means
to make the most of it.
With his first cigar Blenkiron got to business.
'You want to know about the staff-work we've been busy on at home.
Well, it's finished now, thanks to you, Dick. We weren't getting on
very fast till you took to peroosing the press on your sick-bed and
dropped us that hint about the "Deep-breathing" ads.'
'Then there was something in it?' I asked.
'There was black hell in it. There wasn't any Gussiter, but there was
a mighty fine little syndicate of crooks with old man Gresson at the
back of them. First thing, I started out to get the cipher. It took
some looking for, but there's no cipher on earth can't be got hold of
somehow if you know it's there, and in this case we were helped a lot
by the return messages in the German papers. It was bad stuff when we
read it, and explained the darned leakages in important noos we've
been up against. At first I figured to keep the thing going and turn
Gussiter into a corporation with John S. Blenkiron as president. But
it wouldn't do, for at the first hint of tampering with their
communications the whole bunch got skeery and sent out SOS signals. So
we tenderly plucked the flowers.'
'Gresson, too?' I asked.
He nodded. 'I guess your seafaring companion's now under the sod. We
had collected enough evidence to hang him ten times over . . . But that
was the least of it. For your little old cipher, Dick, gave us a line
I asked how, and Blenkiron told me the story. He had about a dozen
cross-bearings proving that the organization of the 'Deep-breathing'
game had its headquarters in Switzerland. He suspected Ivery from the
first, but the man had vanished out of his ken, so he started working
from the other end, and instead of trying to deduce the Swiss business
from Ivery he tried to deduce Ivery from the Swiss business. He went
to Berne and made a conspicuous public fool of himself for several
weeks. He called himself an agent of the American propaganda there,
and took some advertising space in the press and put in spread-eagle
announcements of his mission, with the result that the Swiss
Government threatened to turn him out of the country if he tampered
that amount with their neutrality. He also wrote a lot of rot in the
Geneva newspapers, which he paid to have printed, explaining how he
was a pacifist, and was going to convert Germany to peace by
'inspirational advertisement of pure-minded war aims'. All this was
in keeping with his English reputation, and he wanted to make himself
a bait for Ivery.
But Ivery did not rise to the fly, and though he had a dozen agents
working for him on the quiet he could never hear of the name Chelius.
That was, he reckoned, a very private and particular name among the
Wild Birds. However, he got to know a good deal about the Swiss end of
the 'Deep-breathing' business. That took some doing and cost a lot of
money. His best people were a girl who posed as a mannequin in a
milliner's shop in Lyons and a concierge in a big hotel at St Moritz.
His most important discovery was that there was a second cipher in the
return messages sent from Switzerland, different from the one that the
Gussiter lot used in England. He got this cipher, but though he could
read it he couldn't make anything out of it. He concluded that it was
a very secret means of communication between the inner circle of the
Wild Birds, and that Ivery must be at the back of it . . . But he was
still a long way from finding out anything that mattered.
Then the whole situation changed, for Mary got in touch with Ivery. I
must say she behaved like a shameless minx, for she kept on writing to
him to an address he had once given her in Paris, and suddenly she got
an answer. She was in Paris herself, helping to run one of the railway
canteens, and staying with her French cousins, the de Mezieres. One
day he came to see her. That showed the boldness of the man, and his
cleverness, for the whole secret police of France were after him and
they never got within sight or sound. Yet here he was coming openly in
the afternoon to have tea with an English girl. It showed another
thing, which made me blaspheme. A man so resolute and single-hearted
in his job must have been pretty badly in love to take a risk like
He came, and he called himself the Capitaine Bommaerts, with a
transport job on the staff of the French G.Q.G. He was on the staff
right enough too. Mary said that when she heard that name she nearly
fell down. He was quite frank with her, and she with him. They are
both peacemakers, ready to break the laws of any land for the sake of
a great ideal. Goodness knows what stuff they talked together. Mary
said she would blush to think of it till her dying day, and I gathered
that on her side it was a mixture of Launcelot Wake at his most
pedantic and schoolgirl silliness.
He came again, and they met often, unbeknown to the decorous Madame de
Mezieres. They walked together in the Bois de Boulogne, and once, with
a beating heart, she motored with him to Auteuil for luncheon. He
spoke of his house in Picardy, and there were moments, I gathered,
when he became the declared lover, to be rebuffed with a hoydenish
shyness. Presently the pace became too hot, and after some anguished
arguments with Bullivant on the long-distance telephone she went off
to Douvecourt to Lady Manorwater's hospital. She went there to escape
from him, but mainly, I think, to have a look--trembling in every
limb, mind you--at the Chateau of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne.
I had only to think of Mary to know just what Joan of Arc was. No man
ever born could have done that kind of thing. It wasn't recklessness.
It was sheer calculating courage.
Then Blenkiron took up the tale. The newspaper we found that Christmas
Eve in the Chateau was of tremendous importance, for Bommaerts had
pricked out in the advertisement the very special second cipher of the
Wild Birds. That proved that Ivery was at the back of the Swiss
business. But Blenkiron made doubly sure.
'I considered the time had come,' he said, 'to pay high for valuable
noos, so I sold the enemy a very pretty de-vice. If you ever gave your
mind to ciphers and illicit correspondence, Dick, you would know that
the one kind of document you can't write on in invisible ink is a
coated paper, the kind they use in the weeklies to print photographs
of leading actresses and the stately homes of England. Anything wet
that touches it corrugates the surface a little, and you can tell with
a microscope if someone's been playing at it. Well, we had the good
fortune to discover just how to get over that little difficulty--how
to write on glazed paper with a quill so as the cutest analyst
couldn't spot it, and likewise how to detect the writing. I decided to
sacrifice that invention, casting my bread upon the waters and looking
for a good-sized bakery in return . . . I had it sold to the enemy. The
job wanted delicate handling, but the tenth man from me--he was an
Austrian Jew--did the deal and scooped fifty thousand dollars out of
it. Then I lay low to watch how my friend would use the de-vice, and I
didn't wait long.'
He took from his pocket a folded sheet of _L'Illustration_. Over a
photogravure plate ran some words in a large sprawling hand, as if
written with a brush.
'That page when I got it yesterday,' he said, 'was an unassuming
picture of General Petain presenting military medals. There wasn't a
scratch or a ripple on its surface. But I got busy with it, and see
He pointed out two names. The writing was a set of key-words we did
not know, but two names stood out which I knew too well. They were
'Bommaerts' and 'Chelius'.
'My God!' I cried, 'that's uncanny. It only shows that if you chew
'Dick,' said Mary, 'you mustn't say that again. At the best it's an
ugly metaphor, and you're making it a platitude.'
'Who is Ivery anyhow?' I asked. 'Do you know more about him than we
knew in the summer? Mary, what did Bommaerts pretend to be?'
'An Englishman.' Mary spoke in the most matter-of-fact tone, as if it
were a perfectly usual thing to be made love to by a spy, and that
rather soothed my annoyance. 'When he asked me to marry him he
proposed to take me to a country-house in Devonshire. I rather think,
too, he had a place in Scotland. But of course he's a German.'
'Ye-es,' said Blenkiron slowly, 'I've got on to his record, and it
isn't a pretty story. It's taken some working out, but I've got all
the links tested now . . . He's a Boche and a large-sized nobleman in
his own state. Did you ever hear of the Graf von Schwabing?'
I shook my head.
'I think I have heard Uncle Charlie speak of him,' said Mary,
wrinkling her brows. 'He used to hunt with the Pytchley.'
'That's the man. But he hasn't troubled the Pytchley for the last
eight years. There was a time when he was the last thing in smartness
in the German court--officer in the Guards, ancient family, rich,
darned clever--all the fixings. Kaiser liked him, and it's easy to see
why. I guess a man who had as many personalities as the Graf was
amusing after-dinner company. Specially among the Germans, who in my
experience don't excel in the lighter vein. Anyway, he was William's
white-headed boy, and there wasn't a mother with a daughter who wasn't
out gunning for Otto von Schwabing. He was about as popular in London
and Noo York--and in Paris, too. Ask Sir Walter about him, Dick. He
says he had twice the brains of Kuhlmann, and better manners than the
Austrian fellow he used to yarn about . . . Well, one day there came an
almighty court scandal, and the bottom dropped out of the Graf's
World. It was a pretty beastly story, and I don't gather that
Schwabing was as deep in it as some others. But the trouble was that
those others had to be shielded at all costs, and Schwabing was made
the scapegoat. His name came out in the papers and he had to go .'
'What was the case called?' I asked.
Blenkiron mentioned a name, and I knew why the word Schwabiog was
familiar. I had read the story long ago in Rhodesia.
'It was some smash,' Blenkiron went on. 'He was drummed out of the
Guards, out of the clubs, out of the country . . . Now, how would you
have felt, Dick, if you had been the Graf? Your life and work and
happiness crossed out, and all to save a mangy princeling. "Bitter as
hell," you say. Hungering for a chance to put it across the lot that
had outed you? You wouldn't rest till you had William sobbing on his
knees asking your pardon, and you not thinking of granting it? That's
the way you'd feel, but that wasn't the Graf's way, and what's more it
isn't the German way. He went into exile hating humanity, and with a
heart all poison and snakes, but itching to get back. And I'll tell
you why. It's because his kind of German hasn't got any other home on
this earth. Oh, yes, I know there's stacks of good old Teutons come
and squat in our little country and turn into fine Americans. You can
do a lot with them if you catch them young and teach them the
Declaration of Independence and make them study our Sunday papers. But
you can't deny there's something comic in the rough about all Germans,
before you've civilized them. They're a pecooliar people, a darned
pecooliar people, else they wouldn't staff all the menial and indecent
occupations on the globe. But that pecooliarity, which is only
skin-deep in the working Boche, is in the bone of the grandee. Your
German aristocracy can't consort on terms of equality with any other
Upper Ten Thousand. They swagger and bluff about the world, but they
know very well that the world's sniggering at them. They're like a
boss from Salt Creek Gully who's made his pile and bought a dress suit
and dropped into a Newport evening party. They don't know where to put
their hands or how to keep their feet still . . . Your copper-bottomed
English nobleman has got to keep jogging himself to treat them as
equals instead of sending them down to the servants' hall. Their fine
fixings are just the high light that reveals the everlasting jay. They
can't be gentlemen, because they aren't sure of themselves. The world
laughs at them, and they know it and it riles them like hell . . .
That's why when a Graf is booted out of the Fatherland, he's got to
creep back somehow or be a wandering Jew for the rest of time.'
Blenkiron lit another cigar and fixed me with his steady, ruminating
'For eight years the man has slaved, body and soul, for the men who
degraded him. He's earned his restoration and I daresay he's got it in
his pocket. If merit was rewarded he should be covered with Iron
Crosses and Red Eagles . . . He had a pretty good hand to start out
with. He knew other countries and he was a dandy at languages. More,
he had an uncommon gift for living a part. That is real genius, Dick,
however much it gets up against us. Best of all he had a first-class
outfit of brains. I can't say I ever struck a better, and I've come
across some bright citizens in my time . . . And now he's going to win
out, unless we get mighty busy.'
There was a knock at the door and the solid figure of Andrew Amos
'It's time ye was home, Miss Mary. It chappit half-eleven as I came up
the stairs. It's comin' on to rain, so I've brought an umbrelly.'
'One word,' I said. 'How old is the man?'
'Just gone thirty-six,' Blenkiron replied.
I turned to Mary, who nodded. 'Younger than you, Dick,' she said
wickedly as she got into her big Jaeger coat.
'I'm going to see you home,' I said.
'Not allowed. You've had quite enough of my society for one day.
Andrew's on escort duty tonight.'
Blenkiron looked after her as the door closed.
'I reckon you've got the best girl in the world.'