Part 5 out of 7
'Ivery thinks the same,' I said grimly, for my detestation of the man
who had made love to Mary fairly choked me.
'You can see why. Here's this degenerate coming out of his rotten
class, all pampered and petted and satiated with the easy pleasures of
life. He has seen nothing of women except the bad kind and the overfed
specimens of his own country. I hate being impolite about females, but
I've always considered the German variety uncommon like cows. He has
had desperate years of intrigue and danger, and consorting with every
kind of scallawag. Remember, he's a big man and a poet, with a brain
and an imagination that takes every grade without changing gears.
Suddenly he meets something that is as fresh and lovely as a spring
flower, and has wits too, and the steeliest courage, and yet is all
youth and gaiety. It's a new experience for him, a kind of revelation,
and he's big enough to value her as she should be valued . . . No, Dick,
I can understand you getting cross, but I reckon it an item to the
'It's his blind spot all the same,' I said.
'His blind spot,' Blenkiron repeated solemnly, 'and, please God, we're
going to remember that.'
* * * * *
Next morning in miserable sloppy weather Blenkiron carted me about
Paris. We climbed five sets of stairs to a flat away up in Montmartre,
where I was talked to by a fat man with spectacles and a slow voice
and told various things that deeply concerned me. Then I went to a
room in the Boulevard St Germain, with a little cabinet opening off
it, where I was shown papers and maps and some figures on a sheet of
paper that made me open my eyes. We lunched in a modest cafe tucked
away behind the Palais Royal, and our companions were two Alsatians
who spoke German better than a Boche and had no names--only numbers.
In the afternoon I went to a low building beside the Invalides and saw
many generals, including more than one whose features were familiar in
two hemispheres. I told them everything about myself, and I was
examined like a convict, and all particulars about my appearance and
manner of speech written down in a book. That was to prepare the way
for me, in case of need, among the vast army of those who work
underground and know their chief but do not know each other.
The rain cleared before night, and Blenkiron and I walked back to the
hotel through that lemon-coloured dusk that you get in a French
winter. We passed a company of American soldiers, and Blenkiron had to
stop and stare. I could see that he was stiff with pride, though he
wouldn't show it.
'What d'you think of that bunch?' he asked.
'First-rate stuff,' I said.
'The men are all right,' he drawled critically. 'But some of the
officer-boys are a bit puffy. They want fining down.'
'They'll get it soon enough, honest fellows. You don't keep your
weight long in this war.'
'Say, Dick,' he said shyly, 'what do you truly think of our Americans?
You've seen a lot of them, and I'd value your views.' His tone was
that of a bashful author asking for an opinion on his first book.
'I'll tell you what I think. You're constructing a great middle-class
army, and that's the most formidable fighting machine on earth. This
kind of war doesn't want the Berserker so much as the quiet fellow
with a trained mind and a lot to fight for. The American ranks are
filled with all sorts, from cow-punchers to college boys, but mostly
with decent lads that have good prospects in life before them and are
fighting because they feel they're bound to, not because they like it.
It was the same stock that pulled through your Civil War. We have a
middle-class division, too--Scottish Territorials, mostly clerks and
shopmen and engineers and farmers' sons. When I first struck them my
only crab was that the officers weren't much better than the men. It's
still true, but the men are super-excellent, and consequently so are
the officers. That division gets top marks in the Boche calendar for
sheer fighting devilment . . . And, please God, that's what your
American army's going to be. You can wash out the old idea of a
regiment of scallawags commanded by dukes. That was right enough,
maybe, in the days when you hurrooshed into battle waving a banner,
but it don't do with high explosives and a couple of million men on
each side and a battle front of five hundred miles. The hero of this
war is the plain man out of the middle class, who wants to get back to
his home and is going to use all the brains and grit he possesses to
finish the job soon.'
'That sounds about right,' said Blenkiron reflectively. 'It pleases me
some, for you've maybe guessed that I respect the British Army quite a
little. Which part of it do you put top?'
'All of it's good. The French are keen judges and they give front
place to the Scots and the Australians. For myself I think the
backbone of the Army is the old-fashioned English county regiments
that hardly ever get into the papers Though I don't know, if I had to
pick, but I'd take the South Africans. There's only a brigade of them,
but they're hell's delight in a battle. But then you'll say I'm
'Well,' drawled Blenkiron, you're a mighty Empire anyhow. I've
sojourned up and down it and I can't guess how the old-time highbrows
in your little island came to put it together. But I'll let you into a
secret, Dick. I read this morning in a noospaper that there was a
natural affinity between Americans and the men of the British
Dominions. Take it from me, there isn't--at least not with this
American. I don't understand them one little bit. When I see your
lean, tall Australians with the sun at the back of their eyes, I'm
looking at men from another planet. Outside you and Peter, I never got
to fathom a South African. The Canadians live over the fence from us,
but you mix up a Canuck with a Yank in your remarks and you'll get a
bat in the eye . . . But most of us Americans have gotten a grip on your
Old Country. You'll find us mighty respectful to other parts of your
Empire, but we say anything we damn well please about England. You
see, we know her that well and like her that well, we can be free with
'It's like,' he concluded as we reached the hotel, 'it's like a lot of
boys that are getting on in the world and are a bit jealous and
stand-offish with each other. But they're all at home with the old man
who used to warm them up with a hickory cane, even though sometimes in
their haste they call him a stand-patter.'
That night at dinner we talked solid business--Blenkiron and I and a
young French Colonel from the IIIeme Section at G.Q.G. Blenkiron, I
remember, got very hurt about being called a business man by the
Frenchman, who thought he was paying him a compliment.
'Cut it out,' he said. 'It is a word that's gone bad with me. There's
just two kind of men, those who've gotten sense and those who haven't.
A big percentage of us Americans make our living by trading, but we
don't think because a man's in business or even because he's made big
money that he's any natural good at every job. We've made a college
professor our President, and do what he tells us like little boys,
though he don't earn more than some of us pay our works' manager. You
English have gotten business on the brain, and think a fellow's a
dandy at handling your Government if he happens to have made a pile by
some flat-catching ramp on your Stock Exchange. It makes me tired.
You're about the best business nation on earth, but for God's sake
don't begin to talk about it or you'll lose your power. And don't go
confusing real business with the ordinary gift of raking in the
dollars. Any man with sense could make money if he wanted to, but he
mayn't want. He may prefer the fun of the job and let other people do
the looting. I reckon the biggest business on the globe today is the
work behind your lines and the way you feed and supply and transport
your army. It beats the Steel Corporation and the Standard Oil to a
frazzle. But the man at the head of it all don't earn more than a
thousand dollars a month . . . Your nation's getting to worship Mammon,
Dick. Cut it out. There's just the one difference in humanity--sense
or no sense, and most likely you won't find any more sense in the man
that makes a billion selling bonds than in his brother Tim that lives
in a shack and sells corn-cobs. I'm not speaking out of sinful
jealousy, for there was a day when I was reckoned a railroad king, and
I quit with a bigger pile than kings usually retire on. But I haven't
the sense of old Peter, who never even had a bank account . . . And it's
sense that wins in this war.'
The Colonel, who spoke good English, asked a question about a speech
which some politician had made.
'There isn't all the sense I'd like to see at the top,' said
Blenkiron. 'They're fine at smooth words. That wouldn't matter, but
they're thinking smooth thoughts. What d'you make of the situation,
'I think it's the worst since First Ypres,' I said. 'Everybody's
cock-a-whoop, but God knows why.'
'God knows why,' Blenkiron repeated. 'I reckon it's a simple
calculation, and you can't deny it any more than a mathematical law.
Russia is counted out. The Boche won't get food from her for a good
many months, but he can get more men, and he's got them. He's fighting
only on one foot, and he's been able to bring troops and guns west so
he's as strong as the Allies now on paper. And he's stronger in
reality. He's got better railways behind him, and he's fighting on
inside lines and can concentrate fast against any bit of our front.
I'm no soldier, but that's so, Dick?'
The Frenchman smiled and shook his head. 'All the same they will not
pass. They could not when they were two to one in 1914, and they will
not now. If we Allies could not break through in the last year when we
had many more men, how will the Germans succeed now with only equal
Blenkiron did not look convinced. 'That's what they all say. I talked
to a general last week about the coming offensive, and he said he was
praying for it to hurry up, for he reckoned Fritz would get the fright
of his life. It's a good spirit, maybe, but I don't think it's sound
on the facts. We've got two mighty great armies of fine fighting-men,
but, because we've two commands, we're bound to move ragged like a
peal of bells. The Hun's got one army and forty years of stiff
tradition, and, what's more, he's going all out this time. He's going
to smash our front before America lines up, or perish in the attempt
. . . Why do you suppose all the peace racket in Germany has died down,
and the very men that were talking democracy in the summer are now hot
for fighting to a finish? I'll tell you. It's because old Ludendorff
has promised them complete victory this spring if they spend enough
men, and the Boche is a good gambler and is out to risk it. We're not
up against a local attack this time. We're standing up to a great
nation going bald-headed for victory or destruction. If we're broken,
then America's got to fight a new campaign by herself when she's
ready, and the Boche has time to make Russia his feeding-ground and
diddle our blockade. That puts another five years on to the war, maybe
another ten. Are we free and independent peoples going to endure that
much? . . . I tell you we're tossing to quit before Easter.'
He turned towards me, and I nodded assent.
'That's more or less my view,' I said. 'We ought to hold, but it'll be
by our teeth and nails. For the next six months we'll be fighting
without any margin.'
'But, my friends, you put it too gravely,' cried the Frenchman. 'We
may lose a mile or two of ground--yes. But serious danger is not
possible. They had better chances at Verdun and they failed. Why
should they succeed now?'
'Because they are staking everything,' Blenkiron replied. 'It is the
last desperate struggle of a wounded beast, and in these struggles
sometimes the hunter perishes. Dick's right. We've got a wasting
margin and every extra ounce of weight's going to tell. The battle's
in the field, and it's also in every corner of every Allied land.
That's why within the next two months we've got to get even with the
The French Colonel--his name was de Valliere--smiled at the name, and
Blenkiron answered my unspoken question.
'I'm going to satisfy some of your curiosity, Dick, for I've put
together considerable noos of the menagerie. Germany has a good army
of spies outside her borders. We shoot a batch now and then, but the
others go on working like beavers and they do a mighty deal of harm.
They're beautifully organized, but they don't draw on such good human
material as we, and I reckon they don't pay in results more than ten
cents on a dollar of trouble. But there they are. They're the
intelligence officers and their business is just to forward noos.
They're the birds in the cage, the--what is it your friend called
'_Die Stubenvogel,_' I said.
'Yes, but all the birds aren't caged. There's a few outside the bars
and they don't collect noos. They do things. If there's anything
desperate they're put on the job, and they've got power to act without
waiting on instructions from home. I've investigated till my brain's
tired and I haven't made out more than half a dozen whom I can say for
certain are in the business. There's your pal, the Portuguese Jew,
Dick. Another's a woman in Genoa, a princess of some sort married to a
Greek financier. One's the editor of a pro-Ally up-country paper in
the Argentine. One passes as a Baptist minister in Colorado. One was a
police spy in the Tzar's Government and is now a red-hot revolutionary
in the Caucasus. And the biggest, of course, is Moxon Ivery, who in
happier times was the Graf von Schwabing. There aren't above a hundred
people in the world know of their existence, and these hundred call
them the Wild Birds.'
'Do they work together?' I asked.
'Yes. They each get their own jobs to do, but they're apt to flock
together for a big piece of devilment. There were four of them in
France a year ago before the battle of the Aisne, and they pretty near
rotted the French Army. That's so, Colonel?'
The soldier nodded grimly. 'They seduced our weary troops and they
bought many politicians. Almost they succeeded, but not quite. The
nation is sane again, and is judging and shooting the accomplices at
its leisure. But the principals we have never caught.'
'You hear that, Dick, said Blenkiron. 'You're satisfied this isn't a
whimsy of a melodramatic old Yank? I'll tell you more. You know how
Ivery worked the submarine business from England. Also, it was the
Wild Birds that wrecked Russia. It was Ivery that paid the Bolshevists
to sedooce the Army, and the Bolshevists took his money for their own
purpose, thinking they were playing a deep game, when all the time he
was grinning like Satan, for they were playing his. It was Ivery or
some other of the bunch that doped the brigades that broke at
Caporetto. If I started in to tell you the history of their doings you
wouldn't go to bed, and if you did you wouldn't sleep . . . There's just
this to it. Every finished subtle devilry that the Boche has wrought
among the Allies since August 1914 has been the work of the Wild Birds
and more or less organized by Ivery. They're worth half a dozen army
corps to Ludendorff. They're the mightiest poison merchants the world
ever saw, and they've the nerve of hell . . .'
'I don't know,' I interrupted. 'Ivery's got his soft spot. I saw him
in the Tube station.'
'Maybe, but he's got the kind of nerve that's wanted. And now I rather
fancy he's whistling in his flock,'
Blenkiron consulted a notebook. 'Pavia--that's the Argentine
man--started last month for Europe. He transhipped from a coasting
steamer in the West Indies and we've temporarily lost track of him,
but he's left his hunting-ground. What do you reckon that means?'
'It means,' Blenkiron continued solemnly, 'that Ivery thinks the
game's nearly over. The play's working up for the big climax . . . And
that climax is going to be damnation for the Allies, unless we get a
'Right,' I said. 'That's what I'm here for. What's the move?'
'The Wild Birds mustn't ever go home, and the man they call Ivery or
Bommaerts or Chelius has to decease. It's a cold-blooded proposition,
but it's him or the world that's got to break. But before he quits
this earth we're bound to get wise about some of his plans, and that
means that we can't just shoot a pistol at his face. Also we've got to
find him first. We reckon he's in Switzerland, but that is a state
with quite a lot of diversified scenery to lose a man in . . . Still I
guess we'll find him. But it's the kind of business to plan out as
carefully as a battle. I'm going back to Berne on my old stunt to boss
the show, and I'm giving the orders. You're an obedient child, Dick,
so I don't reckon on any trouble that way.'
Then Blenkiron did an ominous thing. He pulled up a little table and
started to lay out Patience cards. Since his duodenum was cured he
seemed to have dropped that habit, and from his resuming it I gathered
that his mind was uneasy. I can see that scene as if it were
yesterday--the French colonel in an armchair smoking a cigarette in a
long amber holder, and Blenkiron sitting primly on the edge of a
yellow silk ottoman, dealing his cards and looking guiltily towards
'You'll have Peter for company,' he said. 'Peter's a sad man, but he
has a great heart, and he's been mighty useful to me already. They're
going to move him to England very soon. The authorities are afraid of
him, for he's apt to talk wild, his health having made him peevish
about the British. But there's a deal of red-tape in the world, and
the orders for his repatriation are slow in coming.' The speaker
winked very slowly and deliberately with his left eye.
I asked if I was to be with Peter, much cheered at the prospect.
'Why, yes. You and Peter are the collateral in the deal. But the big
game's not with you.'
I had a presentiment of something coming, something anxious and
'Is Mary in it?' I asked.
He nodded and seemed to pull himself together for an explanation.
'See here, Dick. Our main job is to get Ivery back to Allied soil
where we can handle him. And there's just the one magnet that can
fetch him back. You aren't going to deny that.'
I felt my face getting very red, and that ugly hammer began beating
in my forehead. Two grave, patient eyes met my glare.
'I'm damned if I'll allow it!' I cried. 'I've some right to a say
in the thing. I won't have Mary made a decoy. It's too infernally
'It isn't pretty, but war isn't pretty, and nothing we do is pretty.
I'd have blushed like a rose when I was young and innocent to imagine
the things I've put my hand to in the last three years. But have you
any other way, Dick? I'm not proud, and I'll scrap the plan if you can
show me another . . . Night after night I've hammered the thing out, and
I can't hit on a better . . . Heigh-ho, Dick, this isn't like you,' and
he grinned ruefully. 'You're making yourself a fine argument in favour
of celibacy--in time of war, anyhow. What is it the poet sings?--
White hands cling to the bridle rein,
Slipping the spur from the booted heel--'
I was as angry as sin, but I felt all the time I had no case.
Blenkiron stopped his game of Patience, sending the cards flying over
the carpet, and straddled on the hearthrug.
'You're never going to be a piker. What's dooty, if you won't carry it
to the other side of Hell? What's the use of yapping about your
country if you're going to keep anything back when she calls for it?
What's the good of meaning to win the war if you don't put every cent
you've got on your stake? You'll make me think you're like the jacks
in your English novels that chuck in their hand and say it's up to
God, and call that "seeing it through" . . . No, Dick, that kind of
dooty don't deserve a blessing. You dursn't keep back anything if you
want to save your soul.
'Besides,' he went on, 'what a girl it is! She can't scare and she
can't soil. She's white-hot youth and innocence, and she'd take no
more harm than clean steel from a muck-heap.'
I knew I was badly in the wrong, but my pride was all raw.
'I'm not going to agree till I've talked to Mary.'
'But Miss Mary has consented,' he said gently. 'She made the plan.'
* * * * *
Next day, in clear blue weather that might have been May, I drove Mary
down to Fontainebleau. We lunched in the inn by the bridge and walked
into the forest. I hadn't slept much, for I was tortured by what I
thought was anxiety for her, but which was in truth jealousy of Ivery.
I don't think that I would have minded her risking her life, for that
was part of the game we were both in, but I jibbed at the notion of
Ivery coming near her again. I told myself it was honourable pride,
but I knew deep down in me that it was jealousy.
I asked her if she had accepted Blenkiron's plan, and she turned
mischievous eyes on me.
'I knew I should have a scene with you, Dick. I told Mr Blenkiron so
. . . Of course I agreed. I'm not even very much afraid of it. I'm a
member of the team, you know, and I must play up to my form. I can't
do a man's work, so all the more reason why I should tackle the thing
I can do.'
'But,' I stammered, 'it's such a . . . such a degrading business for a
child like you. I can't bear . . . It makes me hot to think of it.'
Her reply was merry laughter.
'You're an old Ottoman, Dick. You haven't doubled Cape Turk yet, and I
don't believe you're round Seraglio Point. Why, women aren't the
brittle things men used to think them. They never were, and the war
has made them like whipcord. Bless you, my dear, we're the tougher sex
now. We've had to wait and endure, and we've been so beaten on the
anvil of patience that we've lost all our megrims.'
She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
'Look at me, Dick, look at your someday-to-be espoused saint. I'm
nineteen years of age next August. Before the war I should have only
just put my hair up. I should have been the kind of shivering
debutante who blushes when she's spoken to, and oh! I should have
thought such silly, silly things about life . . . Well, in the last two
years I've been close to it, and to death. I've nursed the dying. I've
seen souls in agony and in triumph. England has allowed me to serve
her as she allows her sons. Oh, I'm a robust young woman now, and
indeed I think women were always robuster than men . . . Dick, dear
Dick, we're lovers, but we're comrades too--always comrades, and
comrades trust each other.'
I hadn't anything to say, except contrition, for I had my lesson. I
had been slipping away in my thoughts from the gravity of our task,
and Mary had brought me back to it. I remember that as we walked
through the woodland we came to a place where there were no signs of
war. Elsewhere there were men busy felling trees, and anti-aircraft
guns, and an occasional transport wagon, but here there was only a
shallow grassy vale, and in the distance, bloomed over like a plum in
the evening haze, the roofs of an old dwelling-house among gardens.
Mary clung to my arm as we drank in the peace of it.
'That is what lies for us at the end of the road, Dick,' she said
And then, as she looked, I felt her body shiver. She returned to the
strange fancy she had had in the St Germains woods three days before.
'Somewhere it's waiting for us and we shall certainly find it . . . But
first we must go through the Valley of the Shadow . . . And there is the
sacrifice to be made . . . the best of us.'
Ten days later the porter Joseph Zimmer of Arosa, clad in the tough
and shapeless trousers of his class, but sporting an old velveteen
shooting-coat bequeathed to him by a former German master--speaking
the guttural tongue of the Grisons, and with all his belongings in one
massive rucksack, came out of the little station of St Anton and
blinked in the frosty sunshine. He looked down upon the little old
village beside its icebound lake, but his business was with the new
village of hotels and villas which had sprung up in the last ten years
south of the station. He made some halting inquiries of the station
people, and a cab-driver outside finally directed him to the place he
sought--the cottage of the Widow Summermatter, where resided an
English intern, one Peter Pienaar.
The porter Joseph Zimmer had had a long and roundabout journey. A
fortnight before he had worn the uniform of a British major-general.
As such he had been the inmate of an expensive Paris hotel, till one
morning, in grey tweed clothes and with a limp, he had taken the
Paris-Mediterranean Express with a ticket for an officers'
convalescent home at Cannes. Thereafter he had declined in the social
scale. At Dijon he had been still an Englishman, but at Pontarlier he
had become an American bagman of Swiss parentage, returning to wind up
his father's estate. At Berne he limped excessively, and at Zurich, at
a little back-street hotel, he became frankly the peasant. For he met
a friend there from whom he acquired clothes with that odd rank smell,
far stronger than Harris tweed, which marks the raiment of most Swiss
guides and all Swiss porters. He also acquired a new name and an old
aunt, who a little later received him with open arms and explained to
her friends that he was her brother's son from Arosa who three winters
ago had hurt his leg wood-cutting and had been discharged from the
A kindly Swiss gentleman, as it chanced, had heard of the deserving
Joseph and interested himself to find him employment. The said
philanthropist made a hobby of the French and British prisoners
returned from Germany, and had in mind an officer, a crabbed South
African with a bad leg, who needed a servant. He was, it seemed, an
ill-tempered old fellow who had to be billeted alone, and since he
could speak German, he would be happier with a Swiss native. Joseph
haggled somewhat over the wages, but on his aunt's advice he accepted
the job, and, with a very complete set of papers and a store of
ready-made reminiscences (it took him some time to swot up the names
of the peaks and passes he had traversed) set out for St Anton, having
dispatched beforehand a monstrously ill-spelt letter announcing his
coming. He could barely read and write, but he was good at maps, which
he had studied carefully, and he noticed with satisfaction that the
valley of St Anton gave easy access to Italy.
As he journeyed south the reflections of that porter would have
surprised his fellow travellers in the stuffy third-class carriage. He
was thinking of a conversation he had had some days before in a cafe
at Dijon with a young Englishman bound for Modane . . .
We had bumped up against each other by chance in that strange flitting
when all went to different places at different times, asking nothing
of each other's business. Wake had greeted me rather shamefacedly and
had proposed dinner together.
I am not good at receiving apologies, and Wake's embarrassed me more
than they embarrassed him. 'I'm a bit of a cad sometimes,' he said.
'You know I'm a better fellow than I sounded that night, Hannay.'
I mumbled something about not talking rot--the conventional phrase.
What worried me was that the man was suffering. You could see it in
his eyes. But that evening I got nearer Wake than ever before, and he
and I became true friends, for he laid bare his soul before me. That
was his trouble, that he could lay bare his soul, for ordinary healthy
folk don't analyse their feelings. Wake did, and I think it brought
'Don't think I was ever your rival. I would no more have proposed to
Mary than I would have married one of her aunts. She was so sure of
herself, so happy in her single-heartedness that she terrified me. My
type of man is not meant for marriage, for women must be in the centre
of life, and we must always be standing aside and looking on. It is a
damnable thing to be left-handed.'
'The trouble about you, my dear chap,' I said, 'is that you're too
hard to please.'
'That's one way of putting it. I should put it more harshly. I hate
more than I love. All we humanitarians and pacifists have hatred as
our mainspring. Odd, isn't it, for people who preach brotherly love?
But it's the truth. We're full of hate towards everything that doesn't
square in with our ideas, everything that jars on our lady-like
nerves. Fellows like you are so in love with their cause that they've
no time or inclination to detest what thwarts them. We've no
cause--only negatives, and that means hatred, and self-torture, and a
beastly jaundice of soul.'
Then I knew that Wake's fault was not spiritual pride, as I had
diagnosed it at Biggleswick. The man was abased with humility.
'I see more than other people see,' he went on, 'and I feel more.
That's the curse on me. You're a happy man and you get things done,
because you only see one side of a case, one thing at a time. How
would you like it if a thousand strings were always tugging at you, if
you saw that every course meant the sacrifice of lovely and desirable
things, or even the shattering of what you know to be unreplaceable?
I'm the kind of stuff poets are made of, but I haven't the poet's
gift, so I stagger about the world left-handed and game-legged . . .
Take the war. For me to fight would be worse than for another man to
run away. From the bottom of my heart I believe that it needn't have
happened, and that all war is a blistering iniquity. And yet belief
has got very little to do with virtue. I'm not as good a man as you,
Hannay, who have never thought out anything in your life. My time in
the Labour battalion taught me something. I knew that with all my fine
aspirations I wasn't as true a man as fellows whose talk was silly
oaths and who didn't care a tinker's curse about their soul.'
I remember that I looked at him with a sudden understanding. 'I think
I know you. You're the sort of chap who won't fight for his country
because he can't be sure that she's altogether in the right. But he'd
cheerfully die for her, right or wrong.'
His face relaxed in a slow smile. 'Queer that you should say that. I
think it's pretty near the truth. Men like me aren't afraid to die,
but they haven't quite the courage to live. Every man should be happy
in a service like you, when he obeys orders. I couldn't get on in any
service. I lack the bump of veneration. I can't swallow things merely
because I'm told to. My sort are always talking about "service", but
we haven't the temperament to serve. I'd give all I have to be an
ordinary cog in the wheel, instead of a confounded outsider who finds
fault with the machinery . . . Take a great violent high-handed fellow
like you. You can sink yourself till you become only a name and a
number. I couldn't if I tried. I'm not sure if I want to either. I
cling to the odds and ends that are my own.'
'I wish I had had you in my battalion a year ago,' I said.
'No, you don't. I'd only have been a nuisance. I've been a Fabian
since Oxford, but you're a better socialist than me. I'm a rancid
'But you must be feeling better about the war?' I asked.
'Not a bit of it. I'm still lusting for the heads of the politicians
that made it and continue it. But I want to help my country. Honestly,
Hannay, I love the old place. More, I think, than I love myself, and
that's saying a devilish lot. Short of fighting--which would be the
sin against the Holy Spirit for me--I'll do my damnedest. But you'll
remember I'm not used to team work. If I'm a jealous player, beat me
over the head.'
His voice was almost wistful, and I liked him enormously.
'Blenkiron will see to that,' I said. 'We're going to break you to
harness, Wake, and then you'll be a happy man. You keep your mind on
the game and forget about yourself. That's the cure for jibbers.'
As I journeyed to St Anton I thought a lot about that talk. He was
quite right about Mary, who would never have married him. A man with
such an angular soul couldn't fit into another's. And then I thought
that the chief thing about Mary was just her serene certainty. Her
eyes had that settled happy look that I remembered to have seen only
in one other human face, and that was Peter's . . . But I wondered if
Peter's eyes were still the same.
I found the cottage, a little wooden thing which had been left perched
on its knoll when the big hotels grew around it. It had a fence in
front, but behind it was open to the hillside. At the gate stood a
bent old woman with a face like a pippin. My make-up must have been
good, for she accepted me before I introduced myself.
'God be thanked you are come,' she cried. 'The poor lieutenant needed
a man to keep him company. He sleeps now, as he does always in the
afternoon, for his leg wearies him in the night . . . But he is brave,
like a soldier . . . Come, I will show you the house, for you two will
be alone now.'
Stepping softly she led me indoors, pointing with a warning finger to
the little bedroom where Peter slept. I found a kitchen with a big
stove and a rough floor of planking, on which lay some badly cured
skins. Off it was a sort of pantry with a bed for me. She showed me
the pots and pans for cooking and the stores she had laid in, and
where to find water and fuel. 'I will do the marketing daily,' she
said, 'and if you need me, my dwelling is half a mile up the road
beyond the new church. God be with you, young man, and be kind to that
When the Widow Summermatter had departed I sat down in Peter's
arm-chair and took stock of the place. It was quiet and simple and
homely, and through the window came the gleam of snow on the diamond
hills. On the table beside the stove were Peter's cherished
belongings--his buck-skin pouch and the pipe which Jannie Grobelaar
had carved for him in St Helena, an aluminium field match-box I had
given him, a cheap large-print Bible such as padres present to
well-disposed privates, and an old battered _Pilgrim's Progress_ with
gaudy pictures. The illustration at which I opened showed Faithful
going up to Heaven from the fire of Vanity Fair like a woodcock that
has just been flushed. Everything in the room was exquisitely neat,
and I knew that that was Peter and not the Widow Summermatter. On a
peg behind the door hung his much-mended coat, and sticking out of a
pocket I recognized a sheaf of my own letters. In one corner stood
something which I had forgotten about--an invalid chair.
The sight of Peter's plain little oddments made me feel solemn. I
wondered if his eyes would be like Mary's now, for I could not
conceive what life would be for him as a cripple. Very silently I
opened the bedroom door and slipped inside.
He was lying on a camp bedstead with one of those striped Swiss
blankets pulled up round his ears, and he was asleep. It was the old
Peter beyond doubt. He had the hunter's gift of breathing evenly
through his nose, and the white scar on the deep brown of his forehead
was what I had always remembered. The only change since I last saw him
was that he had let his beard grow again, and it was grey.
As I looked at him the remembrance of all we had been through together
flooded back upon me, and I could have cried with joy at being beside
him. Women, bless their hearts! can never know what long comradeship
means to men; it is something not in their lives--something that
belongs only to that wild, undomesticated world which we forswear when
we find our mates. Even Mary understood only a bit of it. I had just
won her love, which was the greatest thing that ever came my way, but
if she had entered at that moment I would scarcely have turned my
head. I was back again in the old life and was not thinking of the
Suddenly I saw that Peter was awake and was looking at me.
'Dick,' he said in a whisper, 'Dick, my old friend.'
The blanket was tossed off, and his long, lean arms were stretched out
to me. I gripped his hands, and for a little we did not speak. Then I
saw how woefully he had changed. His left leg had shrunk, and from the
knee down was like a pipe stem. His face, when awake, showed the lines
of hard suffering and he seemed shorter by half a foot. But his eyes
were still like Mary's. Indeed they seemed to be more patient and
peaceful than in the days when he sat beside me on the buck-waggon and
peered over the hunting-veld.
I picked him up--he was no heavier than Mary--and carried him to his
chair beside the stove. Then I boiled water and made tea, as we had so
often done together.
'Peter, old man,' I said, 'we're on trek again, and this is a very
snug little _rondavel_. We've had many good yarns, but this is going
to be the best. First of all, how about your health?'
'Good, I'm a strong man again, but slow like a hippo cow. I have been
lonely sometimes, but that is all by now. Tell me of the big battles.'
But I was hungry for news of him and kept him to his own case. He had
no complaint of his treatment except that he did not like Germans. The
doctors at the hospital had been clever, he said, and had done their
best for him, but nerves and sinews and small bones had been so
wrecked that they could not mend his leg, and Peter had all the Boer's
dislike of amputation. One doctor had been in Damaraland and talked to
him of those baked sunny places and made him homesick. But he returned
always to his dislike of Germans. He had seen them herding our
soldiers like brute beasts, and the commandant had a face like Stumm
and a chin that stuck out and wanted hitting. He made an exception for
the great airman Lensch, who had downed him.
'He is a white man, that one,' he said. 'He came to see me in hospital
and told me a lot of things. I think he made them treat me well. He is
a big man, Dick, who would make two of me, and he has a round, merry
face and pale eyes like Frickie Celliers who could put a bullet
through a pauw's head at two hundred yards. He said he was sorry I was
lame, for he hoped to have more fights with me. Some woman that tells
fortunes had said that I would be the end of him, but he reckoned she
had got the thing the wrong way on. I hope he will come through this
war, for he is a good man, though a German . . . But the others! They
are like the fool in the Bible, fat and ugly in good fortune and proud
and vicious when their luck goes. They are not a people to be happy
Then he told me that to keep up his spirits he had amused himself with
playing a game. He had prided himself on being a Boer, and spoken
coldly of the British. He had also, I gathered, imparted many things
calculated to deceive. So he left Germany with good marks, and in
Switzerland had held himself aloof from the other British wounded, on
the advice of Blenkiron, who had met him as soon as he crossed the
frontier. I gathered it was Blenkiron who had had him sent to St
Anton, and in his time there, as a disgruntled Boer, he had mixed a
good deal with Germans. They had pumped him about our air service, and
Peter had told them many ingenious lies and heard curious things in
'They are working hard, Dick,' he said. 'Never forget that. The German
is a stout enemy, and when we beat him with a machine he sweats till
he has invented a new one. They have great pilots, but never so many
good ones as we, and I do not think in ordinary fighting they can ever
beat us. But you must watch Lensch, for I fear him. He has a new
machine, I hear, with great engines and a short wingspread, but the
wings so cambered that he can climb fast. That will be a surprise to
spring upon us. You will say that we'll soon better it. So we shall,
but if it was used at a time when we were pushing hard it might make
the little difference that loses battles.'
'You mean,' I said, 'that if we had a great attack ready and had
driven all the Boche planes back from our front, Lensch and his circus
might get over in spite of us and blow the gaff?'
'Yes,' he said solemnly. 'Or if we were attacked, and had a weak spot,
Lensch might show the Germans where to get through. I do not think we
are going to attack for a long time; but I am pretty sure that Germany
is going to fling every man against us. That is the talk of my
friends, and it is not bluff.'
* * * * *
That night I cooked our modest dinner, and we smoked our pipes with
the stove door open and the good smell of woodsmoke in our nostrils. I
told him of all my doings and of the Wild Birds and Ivery and the job
we were engaged on. Blenkiron's instructions were that we two should
live humbly and keep our eyes and ears open, for we were outside
suspicion--the cantankerous lame Boer and his loutish servant from
Arosa. Somewhere in the place was a rendezvous of our enemies, and
thither came Chelius on his dark errands.
Peter nodded his head sagely, 'I think I have guessed the place. The
daughter of the old woman used to pull my chair sometimes down to the
village, and I have sat in cheap inns and talked to servants. There is
a fresh-water pan there, it is all covered with snow now, and beside
it there is a big house that they call the Pink Chalet. I do not know
much about it, except that rich folk live in it, for I know the other
houses and they are harmless. Also the big hotels, which are too cold
and public for strangers to meet in.'
I put Peter to bed, and it was a joy to me to look after him, to give
him his tonic and prepare the hot water bottle that comforted his
neuralgia. His behaviour was like a docile child's, and he never
lapsed from his sunny temper, though I could see how his leg gave him
hell. They had tried massage for it and given it up, and there was
nothing for him but to endure till nature and his tough constitution
deadened the tortured nerves again. I shifted my bed out of the pantry
and slept in the room with him, and when I woke in the night, as one
does the first time in a strange place, I could tell by his breathing
that he was wakeful and suffering.
Next day a bath chair containing a grizzled cripple and pushed by a
limping peasant might have been seen descending the long hill to the
village. It was clear frosty weather which makes the cheeks tingle,
and I felt so full of beans that it was hard to remember my game leg.
The valley was shut in on the east by a great mass of rocks and
glaciers, belonging to a mountain whose top could not be seen. But on
the south, above the snowy fir-woods, there was a most delicate
lace-like peak with a point like a needle. I looked at it with
interest, for beyond it lay the valley which led to the Staub pass,
and beyond that was Italy--and Mary.
The old village of St Anton had one long, narrow street which bent at
right angles to a bridge which spanned the river flowing from the
lake. Thence the road climbed steeply, but at the other end of the
street it ran on the level by the water's edge, lined with gimcrack
boarding-houses, now shuttered to the world, and a few villas in
patches of garden. At the far end, just before it plunged into a
pine-wood, a promontory jutted into the lake, leaving a broad space
between the road and the water. Here were the grounds of a more
considerable dwelling--snow-covered laurels and rhododendrons with one
or two bigger trees--and just on the water-edge stood the house
itself, called the Pink Chalet.
I wheeled Peter past the entrance on the crackling snow of the
highway. Seen through the gaps of the trees the front looked new, but
the back part seemed to be of some age, for I could see high walls,
broken by few windows, hanging over the water. The place was no more a
chalet than a donjon, but I suppose the name was given in honour of a
wooden gallery above the front door. The whole thing was washed in an
ugly pink. There were outhouses--garage or stables among the
trees--and at the entrance there were fairly recent tracks of an
On our way back we had some very bad beer in a cafe and made friends
with the woman who kept it. Peter had to tell her his story, and I
trotted out my aunt in Zurich, and in the end we heard her grievances.
She was a true Swiss, angry at all the belligerents who had spoiled
her livelihood, hating Germany most but also fearing her most. Coffee,
tea, fuel, bread, even milk and cheese were hard to get and cost a
ransom. It would take the land years to recover, and there would be no
more tourists, for there was little money left in the world. I dropped
a question about the Pink Chalet, and was told that it belonged to one
Schweigler, a professor of Berne, an old man who came sometimes for a
few days in the summer. It was often let, but not now. Asked if it was
occupied, she remarked that some friends of the Schweiglers--rich
people from Basle--had been there for the winter. 'They come and go in
great cars,' she said bitterly, 'and they bring their food from the
cities. They spend no money in this poor place.'
* * * * *
Presently Peter and I fell into a routine of life, as if we had always
kept house together. In the morning he went abroad in his chair, in
the afternoon I would hobble about on my own errands. We sank into the
background and took its colour, and a less conspicuous pair never
faced the eye of suspicion. Once a week a young Swiss officer, whose
business it was to look after British wounded, paid us a hurried
visit. I used to get letters from my aunt in Zurich, Sometimes with
the postmark of Arosa, and now and then these letters would contain
curiously worded advice or instructions from him whom my aunt called
'the kind patron'. Generally I was told to be patient. Sometimes I had
word about the health of 'my little cousin across the mountains'. Once
I was bidden expect a friend of the patron's, the wise doctor of whom
he had often spoken, but though after that I shadowed the Pink Chalet
for two days no doctor appeared.
My investigations were a barren business. I used to go down to the
village in the afternoon and sit in an out-of-the-way cafe, talking
slow German with peasants and hotel porters, but there was little to
learn. I knew all there was to hear about the Pink Chalet, and that
was nothing. A young man who ski-ed stayed for three nights and spent
his days on the alps above the fir-woods. A party of four, including
two women, was reported to have been there for a night--all
ramifications of the rich family of Basle. I studied the house from
the lake, which should have been nicely swept into ice-rinks, but from
lack of visitors was a heap of blown snow. The high old walls of the
back part were built straight from the water's edge. I remember I
tried a short cut through the grounds to the high-road and was given
'Good afternoon' by a smiling German manservant. One way and another I
gathered there were a good many serving-men about the place--too many
for the infrequent guests. But beyond this I discovered nothing.
Not that I was bored, for I had always Peter to turn to. He was
thinking a lot about South Africa, and the thing he liked best was to
go over with me every detail of our old expeditions. They belonged to
a life which he could think about without pain, whereas the war was
too near and bitter for him. He liked to hobble out-of-doors after the
darkness came and look at his old friends, the stars. He called them
by the words they use on the veld, and the first star of morning he
called the _voorlooper_--the little boy who inspans the oxen--a name I
had not heard for twenty years. Many a great yarn we spun in the long
evenings, but I always went to bed with a sore heart. The longing in
his eyes was too urgent, longing not for old days or far countries,
but for the health and strength which had once been his pride.
One night I told him about Mary.
'She will be a happy _mysie_,' he said, 'but you will need to be very
clever with her, for women are queer cattle and you and I don't know
their ways. They tell me English women do not cook and make clothes
like our vrouws, so what will she find to do? I doubt an idle woman
will be like a mealie-fed horse.'
It was no good explaining to him the kind of girl Mary was, for that
was a world entirely beyond his ken. But I could see that he felt
lonelier than ever at my news. So I told him of the house I meant to
have in England when the war was over--an old house in a green hilly
country, with fields that would carry four head of cattle to the
Morgan and furrows of clear water, and orchards of plums and apples.
'And you will stay with us all the time,' I said. 'You will have your
own rooms and your own boy to look after you, and you will help me to
farm, and we will catch fish together, and shoot the wild ducks when
they come up from the pans in the evening. I have found a better
countryside than the Houtbosch, where you and I planned to have a
farm. It is a blessed and happy place, England.'
He shook his head. 'You are a kind man, Dick, but your pretty _mysie_
won't want an ugly old fellow like me hobbling about her house . . . I
do not think I will go back to Africa, for I should be sad there in
the sun. I will find a little place in England, and some day I will
visit you, old friend.'
That night his stoicism seemed for the first time to fail him. He was
silent for a long time and went early to bed, where I can vouch for it
he did not sleep. But he must have thought a lot in the night time,
for in the morning he had got himself in hand and was as cheerful as a
I watched his philosophy with amazement. It was far beyond anything I
could have compassed myself. He was so frail and so poor, for he had
never had anything in the world but his bodily fitness, and he had
lost that now. And remember, he had lost it after some months of
glittering happiness, for in the air he had found the element for
which he had been born. Sometimes he dropped a hint of those days when
he lived in the clouds and invented a new kind of battle, and his
voice always grew hoarse. I could see that he ached with longing for
their return. And yet he never had a word of complaint. That was the
ritual he had set himself, his point of honour, and he faced the
future with the same kind of courage as that with which he had tackled
a wild beast or Lensch himself. Only it needed a far bigger brand of
Another thing was that he had found religion. I doubt if that is the
right way to put it, for he had always had it. Men who live in the
wilds know they are in the hands of God. But his old kind had been a
tattered thing, more like heathen superstition, though it had always
kept him humble. But now he had taken to reading the Bible and to
thinking in his lonely nights, and he had got a creed of his own. I
dare say it was crude enough, I am sure it was unorthodox; but if the
proof of religion is that it gives a man a prop in bad days, then
Peter's was the real thing. He used to ferret about in the Bible and
the _Pilgrim's Progress_--they were both equally inspired in his
eyes--and find texts which he interpreted in his own way to meet his
case. He took everything quite literally. What happened three thousand
years ago in Palestine might, for all he minded, have been going on
next door. I used to chaff him and tell him that he was like the
Kaiser, very good at fitting the Bible to his purpose, but his
sincerity was so complete that he only smiled. I remember one night,
when he had been thinking about his flying days, he found a passage in
Thessalonians about the dead rising to meet their Lord in the air, and
that cheered him a lot. Peter, I could see, had the notion that his
time here wouldn't be very long, and he liked to think that when he
got his release he would find once more the old rapture.
Once, when I said something about his patience, he said he had got to
try to live up to Mr Standfast. He had fixed on that character to
follow, though he would have preferred Mr Valiant-for-Truth if he had
thought himself good enough. He used to talk about Mr Standfast in his
queer way as if he were a friend of us both, like Blenkiron . . . I tell
you I was humbled out of all my pride by the sight of Peter, so
uncomplaining and gentle and wise. The Almighty Himself couldn't have
made a prig out of him, and he never would have thought of preaching.
Only once did he give me advice. I had always a liking for short cuts,
and I was getting a bit restive under the long inaction. One day when
I expressed my feelings on the matter, Peter upped and read from the
_Pilgrim's Progress_: 'Some also have wished that the next way to
their Father's house were here, that they might be troubled no more
with either hills or mountains to go over, but the Way is the Way, and
there is an end.'
All the same when we got into March and nothing happened I grew pretty
anxious. Blenkiron had said we were fighting against time, and here
were the weeks slipping away. His letters came occasionally, always in
the shape of communications from my aunt. One told me that I would
soon be out of a job, for Peter's repatriation was just about through,
and he might get his movement order any day. Another spoke of my
little cousin over the hills, and said that she hoped soon to be going
to a place called Santa Chiara in the Val Saluzzana. I got out the map
in a hurry and measured the distance from there to St Anton and pored
over the two roads thither--the short one by the Staub Pass and the
long one by the Marjolana. These letters made me think that things
were nearing a climax, but still no instructions came. I had nothing
to report in my own messages, I had discovered nothing in the Pink
Chalet but idle servants, I was not even sure if the Pink Chalet were
not a harmless villa, and I hadn't come within a thousand miles of
finding Chelius. All my desire to imitate Peter's stoicism didn't
prevent me from getting occasionally rattled and despondent.
The one thing I could do was to keep fit, for I had a notion I might
soon want all my bodily strength. I had to keep up my pretence of
lameness in the daytime, so I used to take my exercise at night. I
would sleep in the afternoon, when Peter had his siesta, and then
about ten in the evening, after putting him to bed, I would slip
out-of-doors and go for a four or five hours' tramp. Wonderful were
those midnight wanderings. I pushed up through the snow-laden pines to
the ridges where the snow lay in great wreaths and scallops, till I
stood on a crest with a frozen world at my feet and above me a host of
glittering stars. Once on a night of full moon I reached the glacier
at the valley head, scrambled up the moraine to where the ice began,
and peered fearfully into the spectral crevasses. At such hours I had
the earth to myself, for there was not a sound except the slipping of
a burden of snow from the trees or the crack and rustle which reminded
me that a glacier was a moving river. The war seemed very far away,
and I felt the littleness of our human struggles, till I thought of
Peter turning from side to side to find ease in the cottage far below
me. Then I realized that the spirit of man was the greatest thing in
this spacious world . . . I would get back about three or four, have a
bath in the water which had been warming in my absence, and creep into
bed, almost ashamed of having two sound legs, when a better man a yard
away had but one.
Oddly enough at these hours there seemed more life in the Pink Chalet
than by day. Once, tramping across the lake long after midnight, I saw
lights in the lake-front in windows which for ordinary were blank and
shuttered. Several times I cut across the grounds, when the moon was
dark. On one such occasion a great car with no lights swept up the
drive, and I heard low voices at the door. Another time a man ran
hastily past me, and entered the house by a little door on the eastern
side, which I had not before noticed . . . Slowly the conviction began
to grow on me that we were not wrong in marking down this place, that
things went on within it which it deeply concerned us to discover. But
I was puzzled to think of a way. I might butt inside, but for all I
knew it would be upsetting Blenkiron's plans, for he had given me no
instructions about housebreaking. All this unsettled me worse than
ever. I began to lie awake planning some means of entrance . . . I would
be a peasant from the next valley who had twisted his ankle . . . I
would go seeking an imaginary cousin among the servants . . . I would
start a fire in the place and have the doors flung open to zealous
neighbours . . .
And then suddenly I got instructions in a letter from Blenkiron.
It came inside a parcel of warm socks that arrived from my kind aunt.
But the letter for me was not from her. It was in Blenkiron's large
sprawling hand and the style of it was all his own. He told me that he
had about finished his job. He had got his line on Chelius, who was
the bird he expected, and that bird would soon wing its way southward
across the mountains for the reason I knew of.
'We've got an almighty move on,' he wrote, 'and please God you're
going to hustle some in the next week. It's going better than I ever
hoped.' But something was still to be done. He had struck a
countryman, one Clarence Donne, a journalist of Kansas City, whom he
had taken into the business. Him he described as a 'crackerjack' and
commended to my esteem. He was coming to St Anton, for there was a
game afoot at the Pink Chalet, which he would give me news of. I was
to meet him next evening at nine-fifteen at the little door in the
east end of the house. 'For the love of Mike, Dick,' he concluded, 'be
on time and do everything Clarence tells you as if he was me. It's a
mighty complex affair, but you and he have sand enough to pull
through. Don't worry about your little cousin. She's safe and out of
the job now.'
My first feeling was one of immense relief, especially at the last
words. I read the letter a dozen times to make sure I had its meaning.
A flash of suspicion crossed my mind that it might be a fake,
principally because there was no mention of Peter, who had figured
large in the other missives. But why should Peter be mentioned when he
wasn't on in this piece? The signature convinced me. Ordinarily
Blenkiron signed himself in full with a fine commercial flourish. But
when I was at the Front he had got into the habit of making a kind of
hieroglyphic of his surname to me and sticking J.S. after it in a
bracket. That was how this letter was signed, and it was sure proof it
was all right.
I spent that day and the next in wild spirits. Peter spotted what was
on, though I did not tell him for fear of making him envious. I had to
be extra kind to him, for I could see that he ached to have a hand in
the business. Indeed he asked shyly if I couldn't fit him in, and I
had to lie about it and say it was only another of my aimless
circumnavigations of the Pink Chalet.
'Try and find something where I can help,' he pleaded. 'I'm pretty
strong still, though I'm lame, and I can shoot a bit.'
I declared that he would be used in time, that Blenkiron had promised
he would be used, but for the life of me I couldn't see how.
At nine o'clock on the evening appointed I was on the lake opposite
the house, close in under the shore, making my way to the rendezvous.
It was a coal-black night, for though the air was clear the stars were
shining with little light, and the moon had not yet risen. With a
premonition that I might be long away from food, I had brought some
slabs of chocolate, and my pistol and torch were in my pocket. It was
bitter cold, but I had ceased to mind weather, and I wore my one suit
and no overcoat.
The house was like a tomb for silence. There was no crack of light
anywhere, and none of those smells of smoke and food which proclaim
habitation. It was an eerie job scrambling up the steep bank east of
the place, to where the flat of the garden started, in a darkness so
great that I had to grope my way like a blind man.
I found the little door by feeling along the edge of the building.
Then I stepped into an adjacent clump of laurels to wait on my
companion. He was there before me.
'Say,' I heard a rich Middle West voice whisper, 'are you Joseph
Zimmer? I'm not shouting any names, but I guess you are the guy I was
told to meet here.'
'Mr Donne?' I whispered back.
'The same,'he replied. 'Shake.'
I gripped a gloved and mittened hand which drew me towards the door.
I Lie on a Hard Bed
The journalist from Kansas City was a man of action. He wasted no
words in introducing himself or unfolding his plan of campaign.
'You've got to follow me, mister, and not deviate one inch from my
tracks. The explaining part will come later. There's big business in
this shack tonight.' He unlocked the little door with scarcely a
sound, slid the crust of snow from his boots, and preceded me into a
passage as black as a cellar. The door swung smoothly behind us, and
after the sharp out-of-doors the air smelt stuffy as the inside of a
A hand reached back to make sure that I followed. We appeared to be in
a flagged passage under the main level of the house. My hobnailed
boots slipped on the floor, and I steadied myself on the wall, which
seemed to be of undressed stone. Mr Donne moved softly and assuredly,
for he was better shod for the job than me, and his guiding hand came
back constantly to make sure of my whereabouts.
I remember that I felt just as I had felt when on that August night I
had explored the crevice of the Coolin--the same sense that something
queer was going to happen, the same recklessness and contentment.
Moving a foot at a time with immense care, we came to a right-hand
turning. Two shallow steps led us to another passage, and then my
groping hands struck a blind wall. The American was beside me, and his
mouth was close to my ear.
'Got to crawl now,' he whispered. 'You lead, mister, while I shed this
coat of mine. Eight feet on your stomach and then upright.'
I wriggled through a low tunnel, broad enough to take three men
abreast, but not two feet high. Half-way through I felt suffocated,
for I never liked holes, and I had a momentary anxiety as to what we
were after in this cellar pilgrimage. Presently I smelt free air and
got on to my knees.
'Right, mister?' came a whisper from behind. My companion seemed to be
waiting till I was through before he followed.
'Right,' I answered, and very carefully rose to my feet.
Then something happened behind me. There was a jar and a bump as if
the roof of the tunnel had subsided. I turned sharply and groped at
the mouth. I stuck my leg down and found a block.
'Donne,' I said, as loud as I dared, 'are you hurt? Where are you?'
But no answer came.
Even then I thought only of an accident. Something had miscarried, and
I was cut off in the cellars of an unfriendly house away from the man
who knew the road and had a plan in his head. I was not so much
frightened as exasperated. I turned from the tunnel-mouth and groped
into the darkness before me. I might as well prospect the kind of
prison into which I had blundered.
I took three steps--no more. My feet seemed suddenly to go from me and
fly upward. So sudden was it that I fell heavy and dead like a log,
and my head struck the floor with a crash that for a moment knocked me
senseless. I was conscious of something falling on me and of an
intolerable pressure on my chest. I struggled for breath, and found my
arms and legs pinned and my whole body in a kind of wooden vice. I was
sick with concussion, and could do nothing but gasp and choke down my
nausea. The cut in the back of my head was bleeding freely and that
helped to clear my wits, but I lay for a minute or two incapable of
thought. I shut my eyes tight, as a man does when he is fighting with
When I opened them there was light. It came from the left side of the
room, the broad glare of a strong electric torch. I watched it
stupidly, but it gave me the fillip needed to pick up the threads. I
remembered the tunnel now and the Kansas journalist. Then behind the
light I saw a face which pulled my flickering senses out of the mire.
I saw the heavy ulster and the cap, which I had realized, though I had
not seen, outside in the dark laurels. They belonged to the
journalist, Clarence Donne, the trusted emissary of Blenkiron. But I
saw his face now, and it was that face which I had boasted to
Bullivant I could never mistake again upon earth. I did not mistake it
now, and I remember I had a faint satisfaction that I had made good my
word. I had not mistaken it, for I had not had the chance to look at
it till this moment. I saw with acid clearness the common denominator
of all its disguises--the young man who lisped in the seaside villa,
the stout philanthropist of Biggleswick, the pulpy panic-stricken
creature of the Tube station, the trim French staff officer of the
Picardy chateau . . . I saw more, for I saw it beyond the need of
disguise. I was looking at von Schwabing, the exile, who had done more
for Germany than any army commander . . . Mary's words came back to
me--'the most dangerous man in the world' . . . I was not afraid, or
broken-hearted at failure, or angry--not yet, for I was too dazed and
awestruck. I looked at him as one might look at some cataclysm of
nature which had destroyed a continent.
The face was smiling.
'I am happy to offer you hospitality at last,' it said.
I pulled my wits farther out of the mud to attend to him. The
cross-bar on my chest pressed less hard and I breathed better. But
when I tried to speak, the words would not come.
'We are old friends,' he went on. 'We have known each other quite
intimately for four years, which is a long time in war. I have been
interested in you, for you have a kind of crude intelligence, and you
have compelled me to take you seriously. If you were cleverer you
would appreciate the compliment. But you were fool enough to think you
could beat me, and for that you must be punished. Oh no, don't flatter
yourself you were ever dangerous. You were only troublesome and
presumptuous like a mosquito one flicks off one's sleeve.'
He was leaning against the side of a heavy closed door. He lit a cigar
from a little gold tinder box and regarded me with amused eyes.
'You will have time for reflection, so I propose to enlighten you a
little. You are an observer of little things. So? Did you ever see a
cat with a mouse? The mouse runs about and hides and manoeuvres and
thinks it is playing its own game. But at any moment the cat can
stretch out its paw and put an end to it. You are the mouse, my poor
General--for I believe you are one of those funny amateurs that the
English call Generals. At any moment during the last nine months I
could have put an end to you with a nod.'
My nausea had stopped and I could understand what he said, though I
had still no power to reply.
'Let me explain,' he went on. 'I watched with amusement your gambols
at Biggleswick. My eyes followed you when you went to the Clyde and in
your stupid twistings in Scotland. I gave you rope, because you were
futile, and I had graver things to attend to. I allowed you to amuse
yourself at your British Front with childish investigations and to
play the fool in Paris. I have followed every step of your course in
Switzerland, and I have helped your idiotic Yankee friend to plot
against myself. While you thought you were drawing your net around me,
I was drawing mine around you. I assure you, it has been a charming
relaxation from serious business.'
I knew the man was lying. Some part was true, for he had clearly
fooled Blenkiron; but I remembered the hurried flight from Biggleswick
and Eaucourt Sainte-Anne when the game was certainly against him. He
had me at his mercy, and was wreaking his vanity on me. That made him
smaller in my eyes, and my first awe began to pass.
'I never cherish rancour, you know,' he said. 'In my business it is
silly to be angry, for it wastes energy. But I do not tolerate
insolence, my dear General. And my country has the habit of doing
justice on her enemies. It may interest you to know that the end is
not far off. Germany has faced a jealous world in arms and she is
about to be justified of her great courage. She has broken up bit by
bit the clumsy organization of her opponents. Where is Russia today,
the steam-roller that was to crush us? Where is the poor dupe Rumania?
Where is the strength of Italy, who was once to do wonders for what
she called Liberty? Broken, all of them. I have played my part in that
work and now the need is past. My country with free hands is about to
turn upon your armed rabble in the West and drive it into the
Atlantic. Then we shall deal with the ragged remains of France and the
handful of noisy Americans. By midsummer there will be peace dictated
by triumphant Germany.'
'By God, there won't!' I had found my voice at last.
'By God, there will,' he said pleasantly. 'It is what you call a
mathematical certainty. You will no doubt die bravely, like the savage
tribes that your Empire used to conquer. But we have the greater
discipline and the stronger spirit and the bigger brain. Stupidity is
always punished in the end, and you are a stupid race. Do not think
that your kinsmen across the Atlantic will save you. They are a
commercial people and by no means sure of themselves. When they have
blustered a little they will see reason and find some means of saving
their faces. Their comic President will make a speech or two and write
us a solemn note, and we will reply with the serious rhetoric which he
loves, and then we shall kiss and be friends. You know in your heart
that it will be so.'
A great apathy seemed to settle on me. This bragging did not make me
angry, and I had no longer any wish to contradict him. It may have
been the result of the fall, but my mind had stopped working. I heard
his voice as one listens casually to the ticking of a clock.
'I will tell you more,' he was saying. 'This is the evening of the
18th day of March. Your generals in France expect an attack, but they
are not sure where it will come. Some think it may be in Champagne or
on the Aisne, some at Ypres, some at St Quentin. Well, my dear
General, you alone will I take into our confidence. On the morning of
the 21st, three days from now, we attack the right wing of the British
Army. In two days we shall be in Amiens. On the third we shall have
driven a wedge as far as the sea. Then in a week or so we shall have
rolled up your army from the right, and presently we shall be in
Boulogne and Calais. After that Paris falls, and then Peace.'
I made no answer. The word 'Amiens' recalled Mary, and I was trying to
remember the day in January when she and I had motored south from that
'Why do I tell you these things? Your intelligence, for you are not
altogether foolish, will have supplied the answer. It is because your
life is over. As your Shakespeare says, the rest is silence . . . No, I
am not going to kill you. That would be crude, and I hate crudities. I
am going now on a little journey, and when I return in twenty-four
hours' time you will be my companion. You are going to visit Germany,
my dear General.'
That woke me to attention, and he noticed it, for he went on with
'You have heard of the _Untergrundbahn_? No? And you boast of an
Intelligence service! Yet your ignorance is shared by the whole of
your General Staff. It is a little organization of my own. By it we
can take unwilling and dangerous people inside our frontier to be
dealt with as we please. Some have gone from England and many from
France. Officially I believe they are recorded as "missing", but they
did not go astray on any battle-field. They have been gathered from
their homes or from hotels or offices or even the busy streets. I will
not conceal from you that the service of our Underground Railway is a
little irregular from England and France. But from Switzerland it is
smooth as a trunk line. There are unwatched spots on the frontier, and
we have our agents among the frontier guards, and we have no
difficulty about passes. It is a pretty device, and you will soon be
privileged to observe its working . . . In Germany I cannot promise you
comfort, but I do not think your life will be dull.'
As he spoke these words, his urbane smile changed to a grin of impish
malevolence. Even through my torpor I felt the venom and I shivered.
'When I return I shall have another companion.' His voice was honeyed
again. 'There is a certain pretty lady who was to be the bait to
entice me into Italy. It was so? Well, I have fallen to the bait. I
have arranged that she shall meet me this very night at a mountain inn
on the Italian side. I have arranged, too, that she shall be alone.
She is an innocent child, and I do not think that she has been more
than a tool in the clumsy hands of your friends. She will come with me
when I ask her, and we shall be a merry party in the Underground
My apathy vanished, and every nerve in me was alive at the words.
'You cur!' I cried. 'She loathes the sight of you. She wouldn't touch
you with the end of a barge-pole.'
He flicked the ash from his cigar. 'I think you are mistaken. I am
very persuasive, and I do not like to use compulsion with a woman.
But, willing or not, she will come with me. I have worked hard and I
am entitled to my pleasure, and I have set my heart on that little
There was something in his tone, gross, leering, assured, half
contemptuous, that made my blood boil. He had fairly got me on the
raw, and the hammer beat violently in my forehead. I could have wept
with sheer rage, and it took all my fortitude to keep my mouth shut.
But I was determined not to add to his triumph.
He looked at his watch. 'Time passes,' he said. 'I must depart to my
charming assignation. I will give your remembrances to the lady.
Forgive me for making no arrangements for your comfort till I return.
Your constitution is so sound that it will not suffer from a day's
fasting. To set your mind at rest I may tell you that escape is
impossible. This mechanism has been proved too often, and if you did
break loose from it my servants would deal with you. But I must speak
a word of caution. If you tamper with it or struggle too much it will
act in a curious way. The floor beneath you covers a shaft which runs
to the lake below. Set a certain spring at work and you may find
yourself shot down into the water far below the ice, where your body
will rot till the spring . . . That, of course, is an alternative open
to you, if you do not care to wait for my return.'
He lit a fresh cigar, waved his hand, and vanished through the
doorway. As it shut behind him, the sound of his footsteps instantly
died away. The walls must have been as thick as a prison's.
* * * * *
I suppose I was what people in books call 'stunned'. The illumination
during the past few minutes had been so dazzling that my brain could
not master it. I remember very clearly that I did not think about the
ghastly failure of our scheme, or the German plans which had been
insolently unfolded to me as to one dead to the world. I saw a single
picture--an inn in a snowy valley (I saw it as a small place like
Peter's cottage), a solitary girl, that smiling devil who had left me,
and then the unknown terror of the Underground Railway. I think my
courage went for a bit, and I cried with feebleness and rage. The
hammer in my forehead had stopped for it only beat when I was angry in
action. Now that I lay trapped, the manhood had slipped out of my
joints, and if Ivery had still been in the doorway, I think I would
have whined for mercy. I would have offered him all the knowledge I
had in the world if he had promised to leave Mary alone.
Happily he wasn't there, and there was no witness of my cowardice.
Happily, too, it is just as difficult to be a coward for long as to be
a hero. It was Blenkiron's phrase about Mary that pulled me
together--'She can't scare and she can't soil'. No, by heavens, she
couldn't. I could trust my lady far better than I could trust myself.
I was still sick with anxiety, but I was getting a pull on myself. I
was done in, but Ivery would get no triumph out of me. Either I would
go under the ice, or I would find a chance of putting a bullet through
my head before I crossed the frontier. If I could do nothing else I
could perish decently . . . And then I laughed, and I knew I was past
the worst. What made me laugh was the thought of Peter. I had been
pitying him an hour ago for having only one leg, but now he was abroad
in the living, breathing world with years before him, and I lay in the
depths, limbless and lifeless, with my number up.
I began to muse on the cold water under the ice where I could go if I
wanted. I did not think that I would take that road, for a man's
chances are not gone till he is stone dead, but I was glad the way
existed . . . And then I looked at the wall in front of me, and, very
far up, I saw a small square window.
The stars had been clouded when I entered that accursed house, but the
mist must have cleared. I saw my old friend Orion, the hunter's star,
looking through the bars. And that suddenly made me think.
Peter and I had watched them by night, and I knew the place of all the
chief constellations in relation to the St Anton valley. I believed
that I was in a room on the lake side of the Pink Chalet: I must be,
if Ivery had spoken the truth. But if so, I could not conceivably see
Orion from its window . . . There was no other possible conclusion, I
must be in a room on the east side of the house, and Ivery had been
lying. He had already lied in his boasting of how he had outwitted me
in England and at the Front. He might be lying about Mary . . . No, I
dismissed that hope. Those words of his had rung true enough.
I thought for a minute and concluded that he had lied to terrorize me
and keep me quiet; therefore this infernal contraption had probably
its weak point. I reflected, too, that I was pretty strong, far
stronger probably than Ivery imagined, for he had never seen me
stripped. Since the place was pitch dark I could not guess how the
thing worked, but I could feel the cross-bars rigid on my chest and
legs and the side-bars which pinned my arms to my sides . . . I drew a
long breath and tried to force my elbows apart. Nothing moved, nor
could I raise the bars on my legs the smallest fraction.
Again I tried, and again. The side-bar on my right seemed to be less
rigid than the others. I managed to get my right hand raised above the
level of my thigh, and then with a struggle I got a grip with it on
the cross-bar, which gave me a small leverage. With a mighty effort I
drove my right elbow and shoulder against the side-bar. It seemed to
give slightly . . . I summoned all my strength and tried again. There
was a crack and then a splintering, the massive bar shuffled limply
back, and my right arm was free to move laterally, though the
cross-bar prevented me from raising it.
With some difficulty I got at my coat pocket where reposed my electric
torch and my pistol. With immense labour and no little pain I pulled
the former out and switched it on by drawing the catch against the
cross-bar. Then I saw my prison house.
It was a little square chamber, very high, with on my left the massive
door by which Ivery had departed. The dark baulks of my rack were
plain, and I could roughly make out how the thing had been managed.
Some spring had tilted up the flooring, and dropped the framework from
its place in the right-hand wall. It was clamped, I observed, by an
arrangement in the floor just in front of the door. If I could get rid
of that catch it would be easy to free myself, for to a man of my
strength the weight would not be impossibly heavy.
My fortitude had come back to me, and I was living only in the moment,
choking down any hope of escape. My first job was to destroy the catch
that clamped down the rack, and for that my only weapon was my pistol.
I managed to get the little electric torch jammed in the corner of the
cross-bar, where it lit up the floor towards the door. Then it was
hell's own business extricating the pistol from my pocket. Wrist and
fingers were always cramping, and I was in terror that I might drop it
where I could not retrieve it.
I forced myself to think out calmly the question of the clamp, for a
pistol bullet is a small thing, and I could not afford to miss. I
reasoned it out from my knowledge of mechanics, and came to the
conclusion that the centre of gravity was a certain bright spot of
metal which I could just see under the cross-bars. It was bright and
so must have been recently repaired, and that was another reason for
thinking it important. The question was how to hit it, for I could not
get the pistol in line with my eye. Let anyone try that kind of
shooting, with a bent arm over a bar, when you are lying flat and
looking at the mark from under the bar, and he will understand its
difficulties. I had six shots in my revolver, and I must fire two or
three ranging shots in any case. I must not exhaust all my cartridges,
for I must have a bullet left for any servant who came to pry, and I
wanted one in reserve for myself. But I did not think shots would be
heard outside the room; the walls were too thick.
I held my wrist rigid above the cross-bar and fired. The bullet was an
inch to the right of the piece of bright steel. Moving a fraction I
fired again. I had grazed it on the left. With aching eyes glued on
the mark, I tried a third time. I saw something leap apart, and
suddenly the whole framework under which I lay fell loose and mobile
. . . I was very cool and restored the pistol to my pocket and took the
torch in my hand before I moved . . . Fortune had been kind, for I was
free. I turned on my face, humped my back, and without much trouble
crawled out from under the contraption.
I did not allow myself to think of ultimate escape, for that would
only flurry me, and one step at a time was enough. I remember that I
dusted my clothes, and found that the cut in the back of my head had
stopped bleeding. I retrieved my hat, which had rolled into a corner
when I fell . . . Then I turned my attention to the next step.
The tunnel was impossible, and the only way was the door. If I had
stopped to think I would have known that the chances against getting
out of such a house were a thousand to one. The pistol shots had been
muffled by the cavernous walls, but the place, as I knew, was full of
servants and, even if I passed the immediate door, I would be collared
in some passage. But I had myself so well in hand that I tackled the
door as if I had been prospecting to sink a new shaft in Rhodesia.
It had no handle nor, so far as I could see, a keyhole . . . But I
noticed, as I turned my torch on the ground, that from the clamp which
I had shattered a brass rod sunk in the floor led to one of the
door-posts. Obviously the thing worked by a spring and was connected
with the mechanism of the rack.
A wild thought entered my mind and brought me to my feet. I pushed the
door and it swung slowly open. The bullet which freed me had released
the spring which controlled it.
Then for the first time, against all my maxims of discretion, I began
to hope. I took off my hat and felt my forehead burning, so that I
rested it for a moment on the cool wall . . . Perhaps my luck still
held. With a rush came thoughts of Mary and Blenkiron and Peter and
everything we had laboured for, and I was mad to win.
I had no notion of the interior of the house or where lay the main
door to the outer world. My torch showed me a long passage with
something like a door at the far end, but I clicked it off, for I did
not dare to use it now. The place was deadly quiet. As I listened I
seemed to hear a door open far away, and then silence fell again.
I groped my way down the passage till I had my hands on the far door.
I hoped it might open on the hall, where I could escape by a window or
a balcony, for I judged the outer door would be locked. I listened,
and there came no sound from within. It was no use lingering, so very
stealthily I turned the handle and opened it a crack.
It creaked and I waited with beating heart on discovery, for inside I
saw the glow of light. But there was no movement, so it must be empty.
I poked my head in and then followed with my body.
It was a large room, with logs burning in a stove, and the floor thick
with rugs. It was lined with books, and on a table in the centre a
reading-lamp was burning. Several dispatch-boxes stood on the table,
and there was a little pile of papers. A man had been here a minute
before, for a half-smoked cigar was burning on the edge of the
At that moment I recovered complete use of my wits and all my
self-possession. More, there returned to me some of the old devil-
may-careness which before had served me well. Ivery had gone, but this
was his sanctum. Just as on the roofs of Erzerum I had burned to get
at Stumm's papers, so now it was borne in on me that at all costs I
must look at that pile.
I advanced to the table and picked up the topmost paper. It was a
little typewritten blue slip with the lettering in italics, and in a
corner a curious, involved stamp in red ink. On it I read:
'_Die Wildvogel missen beimkehren._'
At the same moment I heard steps and the door opened on the far side,
I stepped back towards the stove, and fingered the pistol in my
A man entered, a man with a scholar's stoop, an unkempt beard, and
large sleepy dark eyes. At the sight of me he pulled up and his whole
body grew taut. It was the Portuguese Jew, whose back I had last seen
at the smithy door in Skye, and who by the mercy of God had never seen
I stopped fingering my pistol, for I had an inspiration. Before he
could utter a word I got in first.
'_Die Vogelein schwei igem im Walde,_' I said.
His face broke into a pleasant smile, and he replied:
'_Warte nur, balde rubest du auch._'
'Ach,' he said in German, holding out his hand, 'you have come this
way, when we thought you would go by Modane. I welcome you, for I know
your exploits. You are Conradi, who did so nobly in Italy?'
I bowed. 'Yes, I am Conradi,' I said.
The Col of the Swallows
He pointed to the slip on the table.
'You have seen the orders?'
'The long day's work is over. You must rejoice, for your part has been
the hardest, I think. Some day you will tell me about it?'
The man's face was honest and kindly, rather like that of the engineer
Gaudian, whom two years before I had met in Germany. But his eyes
fascinated me, for they were the eyes of the dreamer and fanatic, who
would not desist from his quest while life lasted. I thought that
Ivery had chosen well in his colleague.
'My task is not done yet,' I said. 'I came here to see Chelius.'
'He will be back tomorrow evening.'
'Too late. I must see him at once. He has gone to Italy, and I must
'You know your duty best,' he said gravely.
'But you must help me. I must catch him at Santa Chiara, for it is a
business of life and death. Is there a car to be had?'
'There is mine. But there is no chauffeur. Chelius took him.'
'I can drive myself and I know the road. But I have no pass to cross
'That is easily supplied,' he said, smiling.
In one bookcase there was a shelf of dummy books. He unlocked this and
revealed a small cupboard, whence he took a tin dispatch-box. From
some papers he selected one, which seemed to be already signed.
'Name?' he asked.
'Call me Hans Gruber of Brieg,' I said. 'I travel to pick up my
master, who is in the timber trade.'
'And your return?'
'I will come back by my old road,' I said mysteriously; and if he knew
what I meant it was more than I did myself.
He completed the paper and handed it to me. 'This will take you
through the frontier posts. And now for the car. The servants will be
in bed, for they have been preparing for a long journey, but I will
myself show it you. There is enough petrol on board to take you to
He led me through the hall, unlocked the front door, and we crossed
the snowy lawn to the garage. The place was empty but for a great car,
which bore the marks of having come from the muddy lowlands. To my joy
I saw that it was a Daimler, a type with which I was familiar. I lit
the lamps, started the engine, and ran it out on to the road.
'You will want an overcoat,' he said.
'I never wear them.'
'I have some chocolate. I will breakfast at Santa Chiara.'
'Well, God go with you!'
A minute later I was tearing along the lake-side towards St Anton
* * * * *
I stopped at the cottage on the hill. Peter was not yet in bed. I
found him sitting by the fire, trying to read, but I saw by his face
that he had been waiting anxiously on my coming.
'We're in the soup, old man,' I said as I shut the door. In a dozen
sentences I told him of the night's doings, of Ivery's plan and my
'You wanted a share,' I cried. 'Well, everything depends on you now.
I'm off after Ivery, and God knows what will happen. Meantime, you
have got to get on to Blenkiron, and tell him what I've told you. He
must get the news through to G.H.Q. somehow. He must trap the Wild
Birds before they go. I don't know how, but he must. Tell him it's all
up to him and you, for I'm out of it. I must save Mary, and if God's
willing I'll settle with Ivery. But the big job is for Blenkiron--and
you. Somehow he has made a bad break, and the enemy has got ahead of
him. He must sweat blood to make up. My God, Peter, it's the solemnest
moment of our lives. I don't see any light, but we mustn't miss any
chances. I'm leaving it all to you.'
I spoke like a man in a fever, for after what I had been through I
wasn't quite sane. My coolness in the Pink Chalet had given place to a
crazy restlessness. I can see Peter yet, standing in the ring of
lamplight, supporting himself by a chair back, wrinkling his brows
and, as he always did in moments of excitement, scratching gently the
tip of his left ear. His face was happy.
'Never fear, Dick,' he said. 'It will all come right. _Ons sal 'n plan
And then, still possessed with a demon of disquiet, I was on the road
again, heading for the pass that led to Italy.
The mist had gone from the sky, and the stars were shining brightly.
The moon, now at the end of its first quarter, was setting in a gap of
the mountains, as I climbed the low col from the St Anton valley to
the greater Staubthal. There was frost and the hard snow crackled
under my wheels, but there was also that feel in the air which
preludes storm. I wondered if I should run into snow in the high
hills. The whole land was deep in peace. There was not a light in the
hamlets I passed through, not a soul on the highway.
In the Staubthal I joined the main road and swung to the left up the
narrowing bed of the valley. The road was in noble condition, and the
car was running finely, as I mounted through forests of snowy Pines to
a land where the mountains crept close together, and the highway
coiled round the angles of great crags or skirted perilously some
profound gorge, with only a line of wooden posts to defend it from the
void. In places the snow stood in walls on either side, where the road
was kept open by man's labour. In other parts it lay thin, and in the
dim light one might have fancied that one was running through open
Slowly my head was getting clearer, and I was able to look round my
problem. I banished from my mind the situation I had left behind me.
Blenkiron must cope with that as best he could. It lay with him to
deal with the Wild Birds, my job was with Ivery alone. Sometime in the
early morning he would reach Santa Chiara, and there he would find
Mary. Beyond that my imagination could forecast nothing. She would be
alone--I could trust his cleverness for that; he would try to force
her to come with him, or he might persuade her with some lying story.
Well, please God, I should come in for the tail end of the interview,
and at the thought I cursed the steep gradients I was climbing, and
longed for some magic to lift the Daimler beyond the summit and set it
racing down the slope towards Italy.
I think it was about half-past three when I saw the lights of the
frontier post. The air seemed milder than in the valleys, and there
was a soft scurry of snow on my right cheek. A couple of sleepy Swiss
sentries with their rifles in their hands stumbled out as I drew up.
They took my pass into the hut and gave me an anxious quarter of an
hour while they examined it. The performance was repeated fifty yards
on at the Italian post, where to my alarm the sentries were inclined
to conversation. I played the part of the sulky servant, answering in
monosyllables and pretending to immense stupidity.
'You are only just in time, friend,' said one in German. 'The weather
grows bad and soon the pass will close. Ugh, it is as cold as last
winter on the Tonale. You remember, Giuseppe?'
But in the end they let me move on. For a little I felt my way
gingerly, for on the summit the road had many twists and the snow was
confusing to the eyes. Presently came a sharp drop and I let the
Daimler go. It grew colder, and I shivered a little; the snow became a
wet white fog around the glowing arc of the headlights; and always the
road fell, now in long curves, now in steep short dips, till I was
aware of a glen opening towards the south. From long living in the
wilds I have a kind of sense for landscape without the testimony of
the eyes, and I knew where the ravine narrowed or widened though it
was black darkness.
In spite of my restlessness I had to go slowly, for after the first
rush downhill I realized that, unless I was careful, I might wreck the
car and spoil everything. The surface of the road on the southern
slope of the mountains was a thousand per cent worse than that on the
other. I skidded and side-slipped, and once grazed the edge of the
gorge. It was far more maddening than the climb up, for then it had
been a straight-forward grind with the Daimler doing its utmost,
whereas now I had to hold her back because of my own lack of skill. I
reckon that time crawling down from the summit of the Staub as some of
the weariest hours I ever spent.
Quite suddenly I ran out of the ill weather into a different climate.
The sky was clear above me, and I saw that dawn was very near. The
first pinewoods were beginning, and at last came a straight slope
where I could let the car out. I began to recover my spirits, which
had been very dashed, and to reckon the distance I had still to travel
. . . And then, without warning, a new world sprang up around me. Out of
the blue dusk white shapes rose like ghosts, peaks and needles and
domes of ice, their bases fading mistily into shadow, but the tops
kindling till they glowed like jewels. I had never seen such a sight,
and the wonder of it for a moment drove anxiety from my heart. More,
it gave me an earnest of victory. I was in clear air once more, and
surely in this diamond ether the foul things which loved the dark must
be worsted . . .
And then I saw, a mile ahead, the little square red-roofed building
which I knew to be the inn of Santa Chiara.
It was here that misfortune met me. I had grown careless now, and
looked rather at the house than the road. At one point the hillside
had slipped down--it must have been recent, for the road was well
kept--and I did not notice the landslide till I was on it. I slewed to
the right, took too wide a curve, and before I knew the car was over
the far edge. I slapped on the brakes, but to avoid turning turtle I
had to leave the road altogether. I slithered down a steep bank into a
meadow, where for my sins I ran into a fallen tree trunk with a jar
that shook me out of my seat and nearly broke my arm. Before I
examined the car I knew what had happened. The front axle was bent,
and the off front wheel badly buckled.
I had not time to curse my stupidity. I clambered back to the road and
set off running down it at my best speed. I was mortally stiff, for
Ivery's rack was not good for the joints, but I realized it only as a
drag on my pace, not as an affliction in itself. My whole mind was set
on the house before me and what might be happening there.
There was a man at the door of the inn, who, when he caught sight of
my figure, began to move to meet me. I saw that it was Launcelot Wake,
and the sight gave me hope.
But his face frightened me. It was drawn and haggard like one who
never sleeps, and his eyes were hot coals.
'Hannay,' he cried, 'for God's sake what does it mean?'
'Where is Mary?' I gasped, and I remember I clutched at a lapel of his
He pulled me to the low stone wall by the roadside.
'I don't know,' he said hoarsely. 'We got your orders to come here
this morning. We were at Chiavagno, where Blenkiron told us to wait.
But last night Mary disappeared . . . I found she had hired a carriage
and come on ahead. I followed at once, and reached here an hour ago to
find her gone . . . The woman who keeps the place is away and there are
only two old servants left. They tell me that Mary came here late, and
that very early in the morning a closed car came over the Staub with a
man in it. They say he asked to see the young lady, and that they
talked together for some time, and that then she went off with him in
the car down the valley . . . I must have passed it on my way up . . .
There's been some black devilment that I can't follow. Who was the
man? Who was the man?'
He looked as if he wanted to throttle me.
'I can tell you that,' I said. 'It was Ivery.'
He stared for a second as if he didn't understand. Then he leaped to
his feet and cursed like a trooper. 'You've botched it, as I knew you
would. I knew no good would come of your infernal subtleties.' And he
consigned me and Blenkiron and the British army and Ivery and
everybody else to the devil.
I was past being angry. 'Sit down, man,' I said, 'and listen to me.' I
told him of what had happened at the Pink Chalet. He heard me out with
his head in his hands. The thing was too bad for cursing.
'The Underground Railway!' he groaned. 'The thought of it drives me
mad. Why are you so calm, Hannay? She's in the hands of the cleverest
devil in the world, and you take it quietly. You should be a raving
'I would be if it were any use, but I did all my raving last night in
that den of Ivery's. We've got to pull ourselves together, Wake. First
of all, I trust Mary to the other side of eternity. She went with him
of her own free will. I don't know why, but she must have had a
reason, and be sure it was a good one, for she's far cleverer than you
or me . . . We've got to follow her somehow. Ivery's bound for Germany,
but his route is by the Pink Chalet, for he hopes to pick me up there.
He went down the valley; therefore he is going to Switzerland by the
Marjolana. That is a long circuit and will take him most of the day.
Why he chose that way I don't know, but there it is. We've got to get
back by the Staub.'
'How did you come?' he asked.
'That's our damnable luck. I came in a first-class six-cylinder
Daimler, which is now lying a wreck in a meadow a mile up the road.
We've got to foot it.'
'We can't do it. It would take too long. Besides, there's the frontier
I remembered ruefully that I might have got a return passport from the
Portuguese Jew, if I had thought of anything at the time beyond
getting to Santa Chiara.
'Then we must make a circuit by the hillside and dodge the guards.
It's no use making difficulties, Wake. We're fairly up against it, but
we've got to go on trying till we drop. Otherwise I'll take your
advice and go mad.'
'And supposing you get back to St Anton, you'll find the house shut up
and the travellers gone hours before by the Underground Railway.'
'Very likely. But, man, there's always the glimmering of a chance.
It's no good chucking in your hand till the game's out.'
'Drop your proverbial philosophy, Mr Martin Tupper, and look up
He had one foot on the wall and was staring at a cleft in the
snow-line across the valley. The shoulder of a high peak dropped
sharply to a kind of nick and rose again in a long graceful curve of
snow. All below the nick was still in deep shadow, but from the
configuration of the slopes I judged that a tributary glacier ran from
it to the main glacier at the river head.
'That's the Colle delle Rondini,' he said, 'the Col of the Swallows.
It leads straight to the Staubthal near Grunewald. On a good day I
have done it in seven hours, but it's not a pass for winter-time. It
has been done of course, but not often. . . . Yet, if the weather held,
it might go even now, and that would bring us to St Anton by the
evening. I wonder'--and he looked me over with an appraising eye--'I
wonder if you're up to it.'
My stiffness had gone and I burned to set my restlessness to physical
'If you can do it, I can,' I said.
'No. There you're wrong. You're a hefty fellow, but you're no
mountaineer, and the ice of the Colle delle Rondini needs knowledge.
It would be insane to risk it with a novice, if there were any other
way. But I'm damned if I see any, and I'm going to chance it. We can
get a rope and axes in the inn. Are you game?'
'Right you are. Seven hours, you say. We've got to do it in six.'
'You will be humbler when you get on the ice,' he said grimly. 'We'd
better breakfast, for the Lord knows when we shall see food again.'
We left the inn at five minutes to nine, with the sky cloudless and a
stiff wind from the north-west, which we felt even in the deep-cut
valley. Wake walked with a long, slow stride that tried my patience. I
wanted to hustle, but he bade me keep in step. 'You take your orders
from me, for I've been at this job before. Discipline in the ranks,
We crossed the river gorge by a plank bridge, and worked our way up
the right bank, past the moraine, to the snout of the glacier. It was
bad going, for the snow concealed the boulders, and I often floundered
in holes. Wake never relaxed his stride, but now and then he stopped
to sniff the air.
I observed that the weather looked good, and he differed. 'It's too
clear. There'll be a full-blown gale on the Col and most likely snow
in the afternoon.' He pointed to a fat yellow cloud that was beginning
to bulge over the nearest peak. After that I thought he lengthened his
'Lucky I had these boots resoled and nailed at Chiavagno,' was the
only other remark he made till we had passed the seracs of the main
glacier and turned up the lesser ice-stream from the Colle delle
By half-past ten we were near its head, and I could see clearly the
ribbon of pure ice between black crags too steep for snow to lie on,
which was the means of ascent to the Col. The sky had clouded over,
and ugly streamers floated on the high slopes. We tied on the rope at
the foot of the bergschrund, which was easy to pass because of the
winter's snow. Wake led, of course, and presently we came on to the
In my time I had done a lot of scrambling on rocks and used to promise
myself a season in the Alps to test myself on the big peaks. If I ever
go it will be to climb the honest rock towers around Chamonix, for I
won't have anything to do with snow mountains. That day on the Colle
delle Rondini fairly sickened me of ice. I daresay I might have liked
it if I had done it in a holiday mood, at leisure and in good spirits.
But to crawl up that couloir with a sick heart and a desperate impulse
to hurry was the worst sort of nightmare. The place was as steep as a
wall of smooth black ice that seemed hard as granite. Wake did the
step-cutting, and I admired him enormously. He did not seem to use
much force, but every step was hewn cleanly the right size, and they
were spaced the right distance. In this job he was the true
professional. I was thankful Blenkiron was not with us, for the thing
would have given a squirrel vertigo. The chips of ice slithered
between my legs and I could watch them till they brought up just above
The ice was in shadow and it was bitterly cold. As we crawled up I had
not the exercise of using the axe to warm me, and I got very numb
standing on one leg waiting for the next step. Worse still, my legs
began to cramp. I was in good condition, but that time under Ivery's
rack had played the mischief with my limbs. Muscles got out of place
in my calves and stood in aching lumps, till I almost squealed with
the pain of it. I was mortally afraid I should slip, and every time I
moved I called out to Wake to warn him. He saw what was happening and
got the pick of his axe fixed in the ice before I was allowed to stir.
He spoke often to cheer me up, and his voice had none of its
harshness. He was like some ill-tempered generals I have known, very
gentle in a battle.
At the end the snow began to fall, a soft powder like the overspill of
a storm raging beyond the crest. It was just after that that Wake
cried out that in five minutes we would be at the summit. He consulted
his wrist-watch. 'Jolly good time, too. Only twenty-five minutes