Part 1 out of 6
by JOHN BUCHAN
During the past year, in the intervals of an active life, I have
amused myself with constructing this tale. It has been scribbled in
every kind of odd place and moment - in England and abroad, during
long journeys, in half-hours between graver tasks; and it bears, I
fear, the mark of its gipsy begetting. But it has amused me to write,
and I shall be well repaid if it amuses you - and a few others - to read.
Let no man or woman call its events improbable. The war has
driven that word from our vocabulary, and melodrama has become the
prosiest realism. Things unimagined before happen daily to our friends
by sea and land. The one chance in a thousand is habitually taken,
and as often as not succeeds. Coincidence, like some new Briareus,
stretches a hundred long arms hourly across the earth. Some day, when
the full history is written - sober history with ample documents - the
poor romancer will give up business and fall to reading Miss Austen
in a hermitage.
The characters of the tale, if you think hard, you will recall.
Sandy you know well. That great spirit was last heard of at Basra,
where he occupies the post that once was Harry Bullivant's. Richard
Hannay is where he longed to be, commanding his battalion on the
ugliest bit of front in the West. Mr John S. Blenkiron, full of
honour and wholly cured of dyspepsia, has returned to the States,
after vainly endeavouring to take Peter with him. As for Peter, he
has attained the height of his ambition. He has shaved his beard
and joined the Flying Corps.
1. A Mission is Proposed
2. The Gathering of the Missionaries
3. Peter Pienaar
4. Adventures of Two Dutchmen on the Loose
5. Further Adventures of the Same
6. The Indiscretions of the Same
7. Christmas Eve
8. The Essen Barges
9. The Return of the Straggler
10. The Garden-House of Suliman the Red
11. The Companions of the Rosy Hours
12. Four Missionaries See Light in Their Mission
13. I Move in Good Society
14. The Lady of the Mantilla
15. An Embarrassed Toilet
16. The Battered Caravanserai
17. Trouble By the Waters of Babylon
18. Sparrows on the Housetops
20. Peter Pienaar Goes to the Wars
21. The Little Hill
22. The Guns of the North
A Mission is Proposed
I had just finished breakfast and was filling my pipe when I got
Bullivant's telegram. It was at Furling, the big country house in
Hampshire where I had come to convalesce after Loos, and Sandy,
who was in the same case, was hunting for the marmalade. I flung him
the flimsy with the blue strip pasted down on it, and he whistled.
'Hullo, Dick, you've got the battalion. Or maybe it's a staff
billet. You'll be a blighted brass-hat, coming it heavy over the
hard-working regimental officer. And to think of the language you've
wasted on brass-hats in your time!'
I sat and thought for a bit, for the name 'Bullivant' carried me
back eighteen months to the hot summer before the war. I had not
seen the man since, though I had read about him in the papers. For
more than a year I had been a busy battalion officer, with no other
thought than to hammer a lot of raw stuff into good soldiers. I had
succeeded pretty well, and there was no prouder man on earth than
Richard Hannay when he took his Lennox Highlanders over the
parapets on that glorious and bloody 25th day of September. Loos
was no picnic, and we had had some ugly bits of scrapping before
that, but the worst bit of the campaign I had seen was a tea-party to
the show I had been in with Bullivant before the war started. [Major
Hannay's narrative of this affair has been published under the title
of _The Thirty-nine Steps_.]
The sight of his name on a telegram form seemed to change all
my outlook on life. I had been hoping for the command of the
battalion, and looking forward to being in at the finish with Brother
Boche. But this message jerked my thoughts on to a new road.
There might be other things in the war than straightforward fighting.
Why on earth should the Foreign Office want to see an obscure Major
of the New Army, and want to see him in double-quick time?
'I'm going up to town by the ten train,' I announced; 'I'll be
back in time for dinner.'
'Try my tailor,' said Sandy. 'He's got a very nice taste in red
tabs. You can use my name.'
An idea struck me. 'You're pretty well all right now. If I wire
for you, will you pack your own kit and mine and join me?'
'Right-o! I'll accept a job on your staff if they give you a corps.
If so be as you come down tonight, be a good chap and bring a
barrel of oysters from Sweeting's.'
I travelled up to London in a regular November drizzle, which
cleared up about Wimbledon to watery sunshine. I never could
stand London during the war. It seemed to have lost its bearings and
broken out into all manner of badges and uniforms which did not fit
in with my notion of it. One felt the war more in its streets than in
the field, or rather one felt the confusion of war without feeling the
purpose. I dare say it was all right; but since August 1914 I never
spent a day in town without coming home depressed to my boots.
I took a taxi and drove straight to the Foreign Office. Sir Walter
did not keep me waiting long. But when his secretary took me to
his room I would not have recognized the man I had known
eighteen months before.
His big frame seemed to have dropped flesh and there was a
stoop in the square shoulders. His face had lost its rosiness and was
red in patches, like that of a man who gets too little fresh air. His
hair was much greyer and very thin about the temples, and there
were lines of overwork below the eyes. But the eyes were the same
as before, keen and kindly and shrewd, and there was no change in
the firm set of the jaw.
'We must on no account be disturbed for the next hour,' he told
his secretary. When the young man had gone he went across to
both doors and turned the keys in them.
'Well, Major Hannay,' he said, flinging himself into a chair beside
the fire. 'How do you like soldiering?'
'Right enough,' I said, 'though this isn't just the kind of war I
would have picked myself. It's a comfortless, bloody business. But
we've got the measure of the old Boche now, and it's dogged as
does it. I count on getting back to the front in a week or two.'
'Will you get the battalion?' he asked. He seemed to have
followed my doings pretty closely.
'I believe I've a good chance. I'm not in this show for honour
and glory, though. I want to do the best I can, but I wish to heaven
it was over. All I think of is coming out of it with a whole skin.'
He laughed. 'You do yourself an injustice. What about the
forward observation post at the Lone Tree? You forgot about the
whole skin then.'
I felt myself getting red. 'That was all rot,' I said, 'and I can't
think who told you about it. I hated the job, but I had to do it to
prevent my subalterns going to glory. They were a lot of fire-eating
young lunatics. If I had sent one of them he'd have gone on his
knees to Providence and asked for trouble.'
Sir Walter was still grinning.
'I'm not questioning your caution. You have the rudiments of it,
or our friends of the Black Stone would have gathered you in at
our last merry meeting. I would question it as little as your courage.
What exercises my mind is whether it is best employed in the
'Is the War Office dissatisfied with me?' I asked sharply.
'They are profoundly satisfied. They propose to give you command
of your battalion. Presently, if you escape a stray bullet, you
will no doubt be a Brigadier. It is a wonderful war for youth and
brains. But ... I take it you are in this business to serve your
'I reckon I am,' I said. 'I am certainly not in it for my health.'
He looked at my leg, where the doctors had dug out the shrapnel
fragments, and smiled quizzically.
'Pretty fit again?' he asked.
'Tough as a sjambok. I thrive on the racket and eat and sleep like
He got up and stood with his back to the fire, his eyes staring
abstractedly out of the window at the wintry park.
'It is a great game, and you are the man for it, no doubt. But
there are others who can play it, for soldiering today asks for the
average rather than the exception in human nature. It is like a big
machine where the parts are standardized. You are fighting, not
because you are short of a job, but because you want to help
England. How if you could help her better than by commanding a
battalion - or a brigade - or, if it comes to that, a division? How if
there is a thing which you alone can do? Not some _embusque_ business
in an office, but a thing compared to which your fight at Loos was
a Sunday-school picnic. You are not afraid of danger? Well, in this
job you would not be fighting with an army around you, but alone.
You are fond of tackling difficulties? Well, I can give you a task
which will try all your powers. Have you anything to say?'
My heart was beginning to thump uncomfortably. Sir Walter
was not the man to pitch a case too high.
'I am a soldier,' I said, 'and under orders.'
'True; but what I am about to propose does not come by any
conceivable stretch within the scope of a soldier's duties. I shall
perfectly understand if you decline. You will be acting as I should
act myself - as any sane man would. I would not press you for
worlds. If you wish it, I will not even make the proposal, but let
you go here and now, and wish you good luck with your battalion.
I do not wish to perplex a good soldier with impossible decisions.'
This piqued me and put me on my mettle.
'I am not going to run away before the guns fire. Let me hear
what you propose.'
Sir Walter crossed to a cabinet, unlocked it with a key from his
chain, and took a piece of paper from a drawer. It looked like an
ordinary half-sheet of note-paper.
'I take it,' he said, 'that your travels have not extended to the
'No,' I said, 'barring a shooting trip in East Africa.'
'Have you by any chance been following the present campaign
'I've read the newspapers pretty regularly since I went to hospital.
I've got some pals in the Mesopotamia show, and of course I'm
keen to know what is going to happen at Gallipoli and Salonika. I
gather that Egypt is pretty safe.'
'If you will give me your attention for ten minutes I will
supplement your newspaper reading.'
Sir Walter lay back in an arm-chair and spoke to the ceiling. It was
the best story, the clearest and the fullest, I had ever got of any bit of
the war. He told me just how and why and when Turkey had left the
rails. I heard about her grievances over our seizure of her ironclads,
of the mischief the coming of the _Goeben_ had wrought, of Enver and
his precious Committee and the way they had got a cinch on the old
Turk. When he had spoken for a bit, he began to question me.
'You are an intelligent fellow, and you will ask how a Polish
adventurer, meaning Enver, and a collection of Jews and gipsies
should have got control of a proud race. The ordinary man will tell
you that it was German organization backed up with German
money and German arms. You will inquire again how, since Turkey
is primarily a religious power, Islam has played so small a part in it
all. The Sheikh-ul-Islam is neglected, and though the Kaiser proclaims
a Holy War and calls himself Hadji Mohammed Guilliamo,
and says the Hohenzollerns are descended from the Prophet, that
seems to have fallen pretty flat. The ordinary man again will answer
that Islam in Turkey is becoming a back number, and that Krupp
guns are the new gods. Yet - I don't know. I do not quite believe
in Islam becoming a back number.'
'Look at it in another way,' he went on. 'If it were Enver and
Germany alone dragging Turkey into a European war for purposes
that no Turk cared a rush about, we might expect to find the
regular army obedient, and Constantinople. But in the provinces,
where Islam is strong, there would be trouble. Many of us counted
on that. But we have been disappointed. The Syrian army is as
fanatical as the hordes of the Mahdi. The Senussi have taken a hand
in the game. The Persian Moslems are threatening trouble. There is
a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait
the spark. And that wind is blowing towards the Indian border.
Whence comes that wind, think you?'
Sir Walter had lowered his voice and was speaking very slow and
distinct. I could hear the rain dripping from the eaves of the
window, and far off the hoot of taxis in Whitehall.
'Have you an explanation, Hannay?' he asked again.
'It looks as if Islam had a bigger hand in the thing than we
thought,' I said. 'I fancy religion is the only thing to knit up such a
'You are right,' he said. 'You must be right. We have laughed at
the Holy War, the jehad that old Von der Goltz prophesied. But I
believe that stupid old man with the big spectacles was right. There
is a jehad preparing. The question is, How?'
'I'm hanged if I know,' I said; 'but I'll bet it won't be done by a
pack of stout German officers in _pickelhaubes_. I fancy you can't
manufacture Holy Wars out of Krupp guns alone and a few staff
officers and a battle cruiser with her boilers burst.'
'Agreed. They are not fools, however much we try to persuade
ourselves of the contrary. But supposing they had got some
tremendous sacred sanction - some holy thing, some book or gospel
or some new prophet from the desert, something which would cast
over the whole ugly mechanism of German war the glamour of the
old torrential raids which crumpled the Byzantine Empire and shook
the walls of Vienna? Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still
stands in the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword
in the other. Supposing there is some Ark of the Covenant which
will madden the remotest Moslem peasant with dreams of Paradise?
What then, my friend?'
'Then there will be hell let loose in those parts pretty soon.'
'Hell which may spread. Beyond Persia, remember, lies India.'
'You keep to suppositions. How much do you know?' I asked.
'Very little, except the fact. But the fact is beyond dispute. I have
reports from agents everywhere - pedlars in South Russia, Afghan
horse-dealers, Turcoman merchants, pilgrims on the road to Mecca,
sheikhs in North Africa, sailors on the Black Sea coasters, sheep-
skinned Mongols, Hindu fakirs, Greek traders in the Gulf, as well
as respectable Consuls who use cyphers. They tell the same story.
The East is waiting for a revelation. It has been promised one.
Some star - man, prophecy, or trinket - is coming out of the West.
The Germans know, and that is the card with which they are going
to astonish the world.'
'And the mission you spoke of for me is to go and find out?'
He nodded gravely. 'That is the crazy and impossible mission.'
'Tell me one thing, Sir Walter,' I said. 'I know it is the fashion in
this country if a man has a special knowledge to set him to some
job exactly the opposite. I know all about Damaraland, but instead
of being put on Botha's staff, as I applied to be, I was kept in
Hampshire mud till the campaign in German South West Africa
was over. I know a man who could pass as an Arab, but do you
think they would send him to the East? They left him in my
battalion - a lucky thing for me, for he saved my life at Loos. I
know the fashion, but isn't this just carrying it a bit too far? There
must be thousands of men who have spent years in the East and
talk any language. They're the fellows for this job. I never saw a
Turk in my life except a chap who did wrestling turns in a show at
Kimberley. You've picked about the most useless man on earth.'
'You've been a mining engineer, Hannay,' Sir Walter said. 'If
you wanted a man to prospect for gold in Barotseland you would
of course like to get one who knew the country and the people and
the language. But the first thing you would require in him would
be that he had a nose for finding gold and knew his business. That
is the position now. I believe that you have a nose for finding out
what our enemies try to hide. I know that you are brave and cool
and resourceful. That is why I tell you the story. Besides ...'
He unrolled a big map of Europe on the wall.
'I can't tell you where you'll get on the track of the secret, but I
can put a limit to the quest. You won't find it east of the Bosporus
- not yet. It is still in Europe. It may be in Constantinople, or in
Thrace. It may be farther west. But it is moving eastwards. If you
are in time you may cut into its march to Constantinople. That
much I can tell you. The secret is known in Germany, too, to those
whom it concerns. It is in Europe that the seeker must search - at
'Tell me more,' I said. 'You can give me no details and no
instructions. Obviously you can give me no help if I come to grief.'
He nodded. 'You would be beyond the pale.'
'You give me a free hand.'
'Absolutely. You can have what money you like, and you can get
what help you like. You can follow any plan you fancy, and go
anywhere you think fruitful. We can give no directions.'
'One last question. You say it is important. Tell me just how
'It is life and death,' he said solemnly. 'I can put it no higher and
no lower. Once we know what is the menace we can meet it. As
long as we are in the dark it works unchecked and we may be too
late. The war must be won or lost in Europe. Yes; but if the East
blazes up, our effort will be distracted from Europe and the great
_coup_ may fail. The stakes are no less than victory and defeat,
I got out of my chair and walked to the window. It was a
difficult moment in my life. I was happy in my soldiering; above
all, happy in the company of my brother officers. I was asked to go
off into the enemy's lands on a quest for which I believed I was
manifestly unfitted - a business of lonely days and nights, of nerve-
racking strain, of deadly peril shrouding me like a garment. Looking
out on the bleak weather I shivered. It was too grim a business, too
inhuman for flesh and blood. But Sir Walter had called it a matter
of life and death, and I had told him that I was out to serve my
country. He could not give me orders, but was I not under orders -
higher orders than my Brigadier's? I thought myself incompetent,
but cleverer men than me thought me competent, or at least
competent enough for a sporting chance. I knew in my soul that if
I declined I should never be quite at peace in the world again. And
yet Sir Walter had called the scheme madness, and said that he
himself would never have accepted.
How does one make a great decision? I swear that when I turned
round to speak I meant to refuse. But my answer was Yes, and I
had crossed the Rubicon. My voice sounded cracked and far away.
Sir Walter shook hands with me and his eyes blinked a little.
'I may be sending you to your death, Hannay - Good God, what
a damned task-mistress duty is! - If so, I shall be haunted with
regrets, but you will never repent. Have no fear of that. You have
chosen the roughest road, but it goes straight to the hill-tops.'
He handed me the half-sheet of note-paper. On it were written
three words - '_Kasredin_', '_cancer_', and '_v. I._'
'That is the only clue we possess,' he said. 'I cannot construe it,
but I can tell you the story. We have had our agents working in
Persia and Mesopotamia for years - mostly young officers of the
Indian Army. They carry their lives in their hands, and now and
then one disappears, and the sewers of Baghdad might tell a tale.
But they find out many things, and they count the game worth the
candle. They have told us of the star rising in the West, but they
could give us no details. All but one - the best of them. He had
been working between Mosul and the Persian frontier as a muleteer,
and had been south into the Bakhtiari hills. He found out
something, but his enemies knew that he knew and he was pursued.
Three months ago, just before Kut, he staggered into Delamain's
camp with ten bullet holes in him and a knife slash on his forehead.
He mumbled his name, but beyond that and the fact that there was
a Something coming from the West he told them nothing. He died
in ten minutes. They found this paper on him, and since he cried
out the word "Kasredin" in his last moments, it must have had
something to do with his quest. It is for you to find out if it has
I folded it up and placed it in my pocket-book.
'What a great fellow! What was his name?' I asked.
Sir Walter did not answer at once. He was looking out of the
window. 'His name,' he said at last, 'was Harry Bullivant. He was
my son. God rest his brave soul!'
The Gathering of the Missionaries
I wrote out a wire to Sandy, asking him to come up by the
two-fifteen train and meet me at my flat.
'I have chosen my colleague,' I said.
'Billy Arbuthnot's boy? His father was at Harrow with me. I
know the fellow - Harry used to bring him down to fish - tallish,
with a lean, high-boned face and a pair of brown eyes like a pretty
girl's. I know his record, too. There's a good deal about him in this
office. He rode through Yemen, which no white man ever did
before. The Arabs let him pass, for they thought him stark mad and
argued that the hand of Allah was heavy enough on him without
their efforts. He's blood-brother to every kind of Albanian bandit.
Also he used to take a hand in Turkish politics, and got a huge
reputation. Some Englishman was once complaining to old Mahmoud
Shevkat about the scarcity of statesmen in Western Europe,
and Mahmoud broke in with, "Have you not the Honourable
Arbuthnot?" You say he's in your battalion. I was wondering what
had become of him, for we tried to get hold of him here, but he
had left no address. Ludovick Arbuthnot - yes, that's the man.
Buried deep in the commissioned ranks of the New Army? Well,
we'll get him out pretty quick!'
'I knew he had knocked about the East, but I didn't know he
was that kind of swell. Sandy's not the chap to buck about himself.'
'He wouldn't,' said Sir Walter. 'He had always a more than
Oriental reticence. I've got another colleague for you, if you like
He looked at his watch. 'You can get to the Savoy Grill Room in
five minutes in a taxi-cab. Go in from the Strand, turn to your left,
and you will see in the alcove on the right-hand side a table with
one large American gentleman sitting at it. They know him there,
so he will have the table to himself. I want you to go and sit down
beside him. Say you come from me. His name is Mr John
Scantlebury Blenkiron, now a citizen of Boston, Mass., but born
and raised in Indiana. Put this envelope in your pocket, but don't
read its contents till you have talked to him. I want you to form
your own opinion about Mr Blenkiron.'
I went out of the Foreign Office in as muddled a frame of mind
as any diplomatist who ever left its portals. I was most desperately
depressed. To begin with, I was in a complete funk. I had always
thought I was about as brave as the average man, but there's
courage and courage, and mine was certainly not the impassive
kind. Stick me down in a trench and I could stand being shot at as
well as most people, and my blood could get hot if it were given a
chance. But I think I had too much imagination. I couldn't shake
off the beastly forecasts that kept crowding my mind.
In about a fortnight, I calculated, I would be dead. Shot as a spy
- a rotten sort of ending! At the moment I was quite safe, looking
for a taxi in the middle of Whitehall, but the sweat broke on my
forehead. I felt as I had felt in my adventure before the war. But
this was far worse, for it was more cold-blooded and premeditated,
and I didn't seem to have even a sporting chance. I watched the
figures in khaki passing on the pavement, and thought what a nice
safe prospect they had compared to mine. Yes, even if next week
they were in the Hohenzollern, or the Hairpin trench at the
Quarries, or that ugly angle at Hooge. I wondered why I had not
been happier that morning before I got that infernal wire. Suddenly
all the trivialities of English life seemed to me inexpressibly dear
and terribly far away. I was very angry with Bullivant, till I
remembered how fair he had been. My fate was my own choosing.
When I was hunting the Black Stone the interest of the problem
had helped to keep me going. But now I could see no problem. My
mind had nothing to work on but three words of gibberish on a
sheet of paper and a mystery of which Sir Walter had been
convinced, but to which he couldn't give a name. It was like the story
I had read of Saint Teresa setting off at the age of ten with her small
brother to convert the Moors. I sat huddled in the taxi with my
chin on my breast, wishing that I had lost a leg at Loos and been
comfortably tucked away for the rest of the war.
Sure enough I found my man in the Grill Room. There he was,
feeding solemnly, with a napkin tucked under his chin. He was a
big fellow with a fat, sallow, clean-shaven face. I disregarded the
hovering waiter and pulled up a chair beside the American at the
little table. He turned on me a pair of full sleepy eyes, like a
'Mr Blenkiron?' I asked.
'You have my name, Sir,' he said. 'Mr John Scantlebury
Blenkiron. I would wish you good morning if I saw anything
good in this darned British weather.'
'I come from Sir Walter Bullivant,' I said, speaking low.
'So?' said he. 'Sir Walter is a very good friend of mine. Pleased
to meet you, Mr - or I guess it's Colonel -'
'Hannay,' I said; 'Major Hannay.' I was wondering what this
sleepy Yankee could do to help me.
'Allow me to offer you luncheon, Major. Here, waiter, bring the
carte. I regret that I cannot join you in sampling the efforts of the
management of this hotel. I suffer, Sir, from dyspepsia - duodenal
dyspepsia. It gets me two hours after a meal and gives me hell just
below the breast-bone. So I am obliged to adopt a diet. My
nourishment is fish, Sir, and boiled milk and a little dry toast.
It's a melancholy descent from the days when I could do justice to a
lunch at Sherry's and sup off oyster-crabs and devilled bones.' He
sighed from the depths of his capacious frame.
I ordered an omelette and a chop, and took another look at him.
The large eyes seemed to be gazing steadily at me without seeing
me. They were as vacant as an abstracted child's; but I had an
uncomfortable feeling that they saw more than mine.
'You have been fighting, Major? The Battle of Loos? Well, I
guess that must have been some battle. We in America respect the
fighting of the British soldier, but we don't quite catch on to the
de-vices of the British Generals. We opine that there is more
bellicosity than science among your highbrows. That is so? My father
fought at Chattanooga, but these eyes have seen nothing gorier
than a Presidential election. Say, is there any way I could be let into
a scene of real bloodshed?'
His serious tone made me laugh. 'There are plenty of your
countrymen in the present show,' I said. 'The French Foreign
Legion is full of young Americans, and so is our Army Service
Corps. Half the chauffeurs you strike in France seem to come from
He sighed. 'I did think of some belligerent stunt a year back. But
I reflected that the good God had not given John S. Blenkiron the
kind of martial figure that would do credit to the tented field. Also
I recollected that we Americans were nootrals - benevolent nootrals
- and that it did not become me to be butting into the struggles of
the effete monarchies of Europe. So I stopped at home. It was a big
renunciation, Major, for I was lying sick during the Philippines
business, and I have never seen the lawless passions of men let
loose on a battlefield. And, as a stoodent of humanity, I hankered
for the experience.'
'What have you been doing?' I asked. The calm gentleman had
begun to interest me.
'Waal,' he said, 'I just waited. The Lord has blessed me with
money to burn, so I didn't need to go scrambling like a wild cat for
war contracts. But I reckoned I would get let into the game somehow,
and I was. Being a nootral, I was in an advantageous position
to take a hand. I had a pretty hectic time for a while, and then I
reckoned I would leave God's country and see what was doing in
Europe. I have counted myself out of the bloodshed business, but,
as your poet sings, peace has its victories not less renowned than
war, and I reckon that means that a nootral can have a share in a
scrap as well as a belligerent.'
'That's the best kind of neutrality I've ever heard of,' I said.
'It's the right kind,' he replied solemnly. 'Say, Major, what are
your lot fighting for? For your own skins and your Empire and the
peace of Europe. Waal, those ideals don't concern us one cent.
We're not Europeans, and there aren't any German trenches on
Long Island yet. You've made the ring in Europe, and if we came
butting in it wouldn't be the rules of the game. You wouldn't
welcome us, and I guess you'd be right. We're that delicate-minded
we can't interfere and that was what my friend, President Wilson,
meant when he opined that America was too proud to fight. So
we're nootrals. But likewise we're benevolent nootrals. As I follow
events, there's a skunk been let loose in the world, and the odour
of it is going to make life none too sweet till it is cleared away. It
wasn't us that stirred up that skunk, but we've got to take a hand
in disinfecting the planet. See? We can't fight, but, by God! some
of us are going to sweat blood to sweep the mess up. Officially we
do nothing except give off Notes like a leaky boiler gives off steam.
But as individooal citizens we're in it up to the neck. So, in the
spirit of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson, I'm going to be the
nootralist kind of nootral till Kaiser will be sorry he didn't declare
war on America at the beginning.'
I was completely recovering my temper. This fellow was a perfect
jewel, and his spirit put purpose into me.
'I guess you British were the same kind of nootral when your
Admiral warned off the German fleet from interfering with Dewey
in Manila Bay in '98.' Mr Blenkiron drank up the last drop of his
boiled milk and lit a thin black cigar.
I leaned forward. 'Have you talked to Sir Walter?' I asked.
'I have talked to him, and he has given me to understand that
there's a deal ahead which you're going to boss. There are no flies
on that big man, and if he says it's good business then you can
count me in.'
'You know that it's uncommonly dangerous?'
'I judged so. But it don't do to begin counting risks. I believe in
an all-wise and beneficent Providence, but you have got to trust
Him and give Him a chance. What's life anyhow? For me, it's
living on a strict diet and having frequent pains in my stomach. It
isn't such an almighty lot to give up, provided you get a good price
in the deal. Besides, how big is the risk? About one o'clock in the
morning, when you can't sleep, it will be the size of Mount Everest,
but if you run out to meet it, it will be a hillock you can jump over.
The grizzly looks very fierce when you're taking your ticket for the
Rockies and wondering if you'll come back, but he's just an ordinary
bear when you've got the sight of your rifle on him. I won't think
about risks till I'm up to my neck in them and don't see the road
I scribbled my address on a piece of paper and handed it to the
stout philosopher. 'Come to dinner tonight at eight,' I said.
'I thank you, Major. A little fish, please, plain-boiled, and some
hot milk. You will forgive me if I borrow your couch after the
meal and spend the evening on my back. That is the advice of my
I got a taxi and drove to my club. On the way I opened the
envelope Sir Walter had given me. It contained a number of jottings,
the dossier of Mr Blenkiron. He had done wonders for the Allies in
the States. He had nosed out the Dumba plot, and had been instrumental
in getting the portfolio of Dr Albert. Von Papen's spies had
tried to murder him, after he had defeated an attempt to blow up
one of the big gun factories. Sir Walter had written at the end: 'The
best man we ever had. Better than Scudder. He would go through
hell with a box of bismuth tablets and a pack of Patience cards.'
I went into the little back smoking-room, borrowed an atlas
from the library, poked up the fire, and sat down to think. Mr
Blenkiron had given me the fillip I needed. My mind was beginning
to work now, and was running wide over the whole business. Not
that I hoped to find anything by my cogitations. It wasn't thinking
in an arm-chair that would solve the mystery. But I was getting a
sort of grip on a plan of operations. And to my relief I had stopped
thinking about the risks. Blenkiron had shamed me out of that. If a
sedentary dyspeptic could show that kind of nerve, I wasn't going
to be behind him.
I went back to my flat about five o'clock. My man Paddock had
gone to the wars long ago, so I had shifted to one of the new
blocks in Park Lane where they provide food and service. I kept
the place on to have a home to go to when I got leave. It's a
miserable business holidaying in an hotel.
Sandy was devouring tea-cakes with the serious resolution of a
'Well, Dick, what's the news? Is it a brass hat or the boot?'
'Neither,' I said. 'But you and I are going to disappear from His
Majesty's forces. Seconded for special service.'
'O my sainted aunt!' said Sandy. 'What is it? For Heaven's sake
put me out of pain. Have we to tout deputations of suspicious
neutrals over munition works or take the shivering journalist in a
motor-car where he can imagine he sees a Boche?'
'The news will keep. But I can tell you this much. It's about as
safe and easy as to go through the German lines with a
'Come, that's not so dusty,' said Sandy, and began cheerfully
on the muffins.
I must spare a moment to introduce Sandy to the reader, for he
cannot be allowed to slip into this tale by a side-door. If you will
consult the Peerage you will find that to Edward Cospatrick,
fifteenth Baron Clanroyden, there was born in the year 1882, as his
second son, Ludovick Gustavus Arbuthnot, commonly called the
Honourable, etc. The said son was educated at Eton and New
College, Oxford, was a captain in the Tweeddale Yeomanry, and
served for some years as honorary attache at various embassies. The
Peerage will stop short at this point, but that is by no means the
end of the story. For the rest you must consult very different
authorities. Lean brown men from the ends of the earth may be
seen on the London pavements now and then in creased clothes,
walking with the light outland step, slinking into clubs as if they
could not remember whether or not they belonged to them. From
them you may get news of Sandy. Better still, you will hear of him
at little forgotten fishing ports where the Albanian mountains dip
to the Adriatic. If you struck a Mecca pilgrimage the odds are you
would meet a dozen of Sandy's friends in it. In shepherds' huts in
the Caucasus you will find bits of his cast-off clothing, for he has a
knack of shedding garments as he goes. In the caravanserais of
Bokhara and Samarkand he is known, and there are shikaris in the
Pamirs who still speak of him round their fires. If you were going
to visit Petrograd or Rome or Cairo it would be no use asking him
for introductions; if he gave them, they would lead you into strange
haunts. But if Fate compelled you to go to Llasa or Yarkand or
Seistan he could map out your road for you and pass the word to
potent friends. We call ourselves insular, but the truth is that we
are the only race on earth that can produce men capable of getting
inside the skin of remote peoples. Perhaps the Scots are better than
the English, but we're all a thousand per cent better than anybody
else. Sandy was the wandering Scot carried to the pitch of genius.
In old days he would have led a crusade or discovered a new road
to the Indies. Today he merely roamed as the spirit moved him, till
the war swept him up and dumped him down in my battalion.
I got out Sir Walter's half-sheet of note-paper. It was not the
original - naturally he wanted to keep that - but it was a careful
tracing. I took it that Harry Bullivant had not written down the
words as a memo for his own use. People who follow his career
have good memories. He must have written them in order that, if
he perished and his body was found, his friends might get a clue.
Wherefore, I argued, the words must be intelligible to somebody or
other of our persuasion, and likewise they must be pretty well
gibberish to any Turk or German that found them.
The first, '_Kasredin_', I could make nothing of.
I asked Sandy.
'You mean Nasr-ed-din,' he said, still munching crumpets.
'What's that?' I asked sharply.
'He's the General believed to be commanding against us in
Mesopotamia. I remember him years ago in Aleppo. He talked bad
French and drank the sweetest of sweet champagne.'
I looked closely at the paper. The 'K' was unmistakable.
'Kasredin is nothing. It means in Arabic the House of Faith, and
might cover anything from Hagia Sofia to a suburban villa. What's
your next puzzle, Dick? Have you entered for a prize competition
in a weekly paper?'
'_Cancer,_' I read out.
'It is the Latin for a crab. Likewise it is the name of a painful
disease. It is also a sign of the Zodiac.'
'_V. I_,' I read.
'There you have me. It sounds like the number of a motor-car.
The police would find out for you. I call this rather a difficult
competition. What's the prize?'
I passed him the paper. 'Who wrote it? It looks as if he had been
in a hurry.'
'Harry Bullivant,' I said.
Sandy's face grew solemn. 'Old Harry. He was at my tutor's.
The best fellow God ever made. I saw his name in the casualty list
before Kut. ... Harry didn't do things without a purpose. What's
the story of this paper?'
'Wait till after dinner,' I said. 'I'm going to change and have a
bath. There's an American coming to dine, and he's part
of the business.'
Mr Blenkiron arrived punctual to the minute in a fur coat like a
Russian prince's. Now that I saw him on his feet I could judge him
better. He had a fat face, but was not too plump in figure, and very
muscular wrists showed below his shirt-cuffs. I fancied that, if the
occasion called, he might be a good man with his hands.
Sandy and I ate a hearty meal, but the American picked at his
boiled fish and sipped his milk a drop at a time. When the servant
had cleared away, he was as good as his word and laid himself out
on my sofa. I offered him a good cigar, but he preferred one of his
own lean black abominations. Sandy stretched his length in an easy
chair and lit his pipe. 'Now for your story, Dick,' he said.
I began, as Sir Walter had begun with me, by telling them about
the puzzle in the Near East. I pitched a pretty good yarn, for I had
been thinking a lot about it, and the mystery of the business had
caught my fancy. Sandy got very keen.
'It is possible enough. Indeed, I've been expecting it, though I'm
hanged if I can imagine what card the Germans have got up their
sleeve. It might be any one of twenty things. Thirty years ago there
was a bogus prophecy that played the devil in Yemen. Or it might
be a flag such as Ali Wad Helu had, or a jewel like Solomon's
necklace in Abyssinia. You never know what will start off a jehad!
But I rather think it's a man.'
'Where could he get his purchase?' I asked.
'It's hard to say. If it were merely wild tribesmen like the Bedouin
he might have got a reputation as a saint and miracle-worker. Or he
might be a fellow that preached a pure religion, like the chap that
founded the Senussi. But I'm inclined to think he must be something
extra special if he can put a spell on the whole Moslem world. The
Turk and the Persian wouldn't follow the ordinary new theology
game. He must be of the Blood. Your Mahdis and Mullahs and
Imams were nobodies, but they had only a local prestige. To capture
all Islam - and I gather that is what we fear - the man must be of
the Koreish, the tribe of the Prophet himself.'
'But how could any impostor prove that? For I suppose he's an
'He would have to combine a lot of claims. His descent must be
pretty good to begin with, and there are families, remember, that
claim the Koreish blood. Then he'd have to be rather a wonder on
his own account - saintly, eloquent, and that sort of thing. And I
expect he'd have to show a sign, though what that could be I
haven't a notion.'
'You know the East about as well as any living man. Do you
think that kind of thing is possible?' I asked.
'Perfectly,' said Sandy, with a grave face.
'Well, there's the ground cleared to begin with. Then there's the
evidence of pretty well every secret agent we possess. That all
seems to prove the fact. But we have no details and no clues except
that bit of paper.' I told them the story of it.
Sandy studied it with wrinkled brows. 'It beats me. But it may be
the key for all that. A clue may be dumb in London and shout
aloud at Baghdad.'
'That's just the point I was coming to. Sir Walter says this thing
is about as important for our cause as big guns. He can't give me
orders, but he offers the job of going out to find what the mischief
is. Once he knows that, he says he can checkmate it. But it's got to
be found out soon, for the mine may be sprung at any moment.
I've taken on the job. Will you help?'
Sandy was studying the ceiling.
'I should add that it's about as safe as playing chuck-farthing at
the Loos Cross-roads, the day you and I went in. And if we fail
nobody can help us.'
'Oh, of course, of course,' said Sandy in an abstracted voice.
Mr Blenkiron, having finished his after-dinner recumbency, had
sat up and pulled a small table towards him. From his pocket he
had taken a pack of Patience cards and had begun to play the game
called the Double Napoleon. He seemed to be oblivious of the
Suddenly I had a feeling that the whole affair was stark lunacy.
Here were we three simpletons sitting in a London flat and projecting
a mission into the enemy's citadel without an idea what we
were to do or how we were to do it. And one of the three was
looking at the ceiling, and whistling softly through his teeth, and
another was playing Patience. The farce of the thing struck me so
keenly that I laughed.
Sandy looked at me sharply.
'You feel like that? Same with me. It's idiocy, but all war is
idiotic, and the most whole-hearted idiot is apt to win. We're to go
on this mad trail wherever we think we can hit it. Well, I'm with
you. But I don't mind admitting that I'm in a blue funk. I had got
myself adjusted to this trench business and was quite happy. And
now you have hoicked me out, and my feet are cold.'
'I don't believe you know what fear is,' I said.
'There you're wrong, Dick,' he said earnestly. 'Every man who
isn't a maniac knows fear. I have done some daft things, but I
never started on them without wishing they were over. Once I'm in
the show I get easier, and by the time I'm coming out I'm sorry to
leave it. But at the start my feet are icy.'
'Then I take it you're coming?'
'Rather,' he said. 'You didn't imagine I would go back on you?'
'And you, sir?' I addressed Blenkiron.
His game of Patience seemed to be coming out. He was completing
eight little heaps of cards with a contented grunt. As I spoke,
he raised his sleepy eyes and nodded.
'Why, yes,' he said. 'You gentlemen mustn't think that I haven't
been following your most engrossing conversation. I guess I haven't
missed a syllable. I find that a game of Patience stimulates the
digestion after meals and conduces to quiet reflection. John S.
Blenkiron is with you all the time.'
He shuffled the cards and dealt for a new game.
I don't think I ever expected a refusal, but this ready assent
cheered me wonderfully. I couldn't have faced the thing alone.
'Well, that's settled. Now for ways and means. We three have
got to put ourselves in the way of finding out Germany's secret,
and we have to go where it is known. Somehow or other we have
to reach Constantinople, and to beat the biggest area of country we
must go by different roads. Sandy, my lad, you've got to get into
Turkey. You're the only one of us that knows that engaging people.
You can't get in by Europe very easily, so you must try Asia. What
about the coast of Asia Minor?'
'It could be done,' he said. 'You'd better leave that entirely to
me. I'll find out the best way. I suppose the Foreign Office will
help me to get to the jumping-off place?'
'Remember,' I said, 'it's no good getting too far east. The secret,
so far as concerns us, is still west of Constantinople.'
'I see that. I'll blow in on the Bosporus by a short tack.'
'For you, Mr Blenkiron, I would suggest a straight journey.
You're an American, and can travel through Germany direct. But I
wonder how far your activities in New York will allow you to pass
as a neutral?'
'I have considered that, Sir,' he said. 'I have given some thought
to the pecooliar psychology of the great German nation. As I read
them they're as cunning as cats, and if you play the feline game they
will outwit you every time. Yes, Sir, they are no slouches at sleuth-
work. If I were to buy a pair of false whiskers and dye my hair and
dress like a Baptist parson and go into Germany on the peace
racket, I guess they'd be on my trail like a knife, and I should be
shot as a spy inside of a week or doing solitary in the Moabite
prison. But they lack the larger vision. They can be bluffed, Sir.
With your approval I shall visit the Fatherland as John S. Blenkiron,
once a thorn in the side of their brightest boys on the other side.
But it will be a different John S. I reckon he will have experienced
a change of heart. He will have come to appreciate the great, pure,
noble soul of Germany, and he will be sorrowing for his past like a
converted gun-man at a camp meeting. He will be a victim of the
meanness and perfidy of the British Government. I am going to
have a first-class row with your Foreign Office about my passport,
and I am going to speak harsh words about them up and down this
metropolis. I am going to be shadowed by your sleuths at my port
of embarkation, and I guess I shall run up hard against the British
Legations in Scandinavia. By that time our Teutonic friends will
have begun to wonder what has happened to John S., and to think
that maybe they have been mistaken in that child. So, when I get to
Germany they will be waiting for me with an open mind. Then I
judge my conduct will surprise and encourage them. I will confide
to them valuable secret information about British preparations, and
I will show up the British lion as the meanest kind of cur. You may
trust me to make a good impression. After that I'll move eastwards,
to see the demolition of the British Empire in those parts. By the
way, where is the rendezvous?'
'This is the 17th day of November. If we can't find out what we want
in two months we may chuck the job. On the 17th of January we should
forgather in Constantinople. Whoever gets there first waits for the
others. If by that date we're not all present, it will be considered
that the missing man has got into trouble and must be given up. If
ever we get there we'll be coming from different points and in
different characters, so we want a rendezvous where all kinds of
odd folk assemble. Sandy, you know Constantinople. You fix the
'I've already thought of that,' he said, and going to the writing-
table he drew a little plan on a sheet of paper. 'That lane runs down
from the Kurdish Bazaar in Galata to the ferry of Ratchik. Half-
way down on the left-hand side is a cafe kept by a Greek called
Kuprasso. Behind the cafe is a garden, surrounded by high walls
which were parts of the old Byzantine Theatre. At the end of the
garden is a shanty called the Garden-house of Suliman the Red. It
has been in its time a dancing-hall and a gambling hell and God
knows what else. It's not a place for respectable people, but the
ends of the earth converge there and no questions are asked. That's
the best spot I can think of for a meeting-place.'
The kettle was simmering by the fire, the night was raw, and it
seemed the hour for whisky-punch. I made a brew for Sandy and
myself and boiled some milk for Blenkiron.
'What about language?' I asked. 'You're all right, Sandy?'
'I know German fairly well; and I can pass anywhere as a Turk.
The first will do for eavesdropping and the second for ordinary
'And you?' I asked Blenkiron.
'I was left out at Pentecost,' he said. 'I regret to confess I have
no gift of tongues. But the part I have chosen for myself don't
require the polyglot. Never forget I'm plain John S. Blenkiron, a
citizen of the great American Republic.'
'You haven't told us your own line, Dick,' Sandy said.
'I am going to the Bosporus through Germany, and, not being a
neutral, it won't be a very cushioned journey.'
Sandy looked grave.
'That sounds pretty desperate. Is your German good enough?'
'Pretty fair; quite good enough to pass as a native. But officially I
shall not understand one word. I shall be a Boer from Western
Cape Colony: one of Maritz's old lot who after a bit of trouble has
got through Angola and reached Europe. I shall talk Dutch and
nothing else. And, my hat! I shall be pretty bitter about the British.
There's a powerful lot of good swear-words in the taal. I shall
know all about Africa, and be panting to get another whack at the
_verdommt rooinek_. With luck they may send me to the Uganda show
or to Egypt, and I shall take care to go by Constantinople. If I'm to
deal with the Mohammedan natives they're bound to show me
what hand they hold. At least, that's the way I look at it.'
We filled our glasses - two of punch and one of milk - and
drank to our next merry meeting. Then Sandy began to laugh, and
I joined in. The sense of hopeless folly again descended on me. The
best plans we could make were like a few buckets of water to ease
the drought of the Sahara or the old lady who would have stopped
the Atlantic with a broom. I thought with sympathy of little Saint
Our various departures were unassuming, all but the American's.
Sandy spent a busy fortnight in his subterranean fashion, now in
the British Museum, now running about the country to see old
exploring companions, now at the War Office, now at the Foreign
Office, but mostly in my flat, sunk in an arm-chair and meditating.
He left finally on December 1st as a King's Messenger for Cairo.
Once there I knew the King's Messenger would disappear, and
some queer Oriental ruffian take his place. It would have been
impertinence in me to inquire into his plans. He was the real
professional, and I was only the dabbler.
Blenkiron was a different matter. Sir Walter told me to look out
for squalls, and the twinkle in his eye gave me a notion of what was
coming. The first thing the sportsman did was to write a letter to
the papers signed with his name. There had been a debate in the
House of Commons on foreign policy, and the speech of some idiot
there gave him his cue. He declared that he had been heart and soul
with the British at the start, but that he was reluctantly compelled
to change his views. He said our blockade of Germany had broken
all the laws of God and humanity, and he reckoned that Britain was
now the worst exponent of Prussianism going. That letter made a
fine racket, and the paper that printed it had a row with the Censor.
But that was only the beginning of Mr Blenkiron's campaign. He
got mixed up with some mountebanks called the League of Democrats
against Aggression, gentlemen who thought that Germany
was all right if we could only keep from hurting her feelings. He
addressed a meeting under their auspices, which was broken up by
the crowd, but not before John S. had got off his chest a lot of
amazing stuff. I wasn't there, but a man who was told me that he
never heard such clotted nonsense. He said that Germany was right
in wanting the freedom of the seas, and that America would back
her up, and that the British Navy was a bigger menace to the peace
of the world than the Kaiser's army. He admitted that he had once
thought differently, but he was an honest man and not afraid to
face facts. The oration closed suddenly, when he got a brussels-
sprout in the eye, at which my friend said he swore in a very
After that he wrote other letters to the Press, saying that there
was no more liberty of speech in England, and a lot of scallywags
backed him up. Some Americans wanted to tar and feather him,
and he got kicked out of the Savoy. There was an agitation to get
him deported, and questions were asked in Parliament, and the
Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs said his department had the
matter in hand. I was beginning to think that Blenkiron was carrying
his tomfoolery too far, so I went to see Sir Walter, but he told
me to keep my mind easy.
'Our friend's motto is "Thorough",' he said, 'and he knows very
well what he is about. We have officially requested him to leave,
and he sails from Newcastle on Monday. He will be shadowed
wherever he goes, and we hope to provoke more outbreaks. He is a
very capable fellow.'
The last I saw of him was on the Saturday afternoon when I met
him in St james's Street and offered to shake hands. He told me
that my uniform was a pollution, and made a speech to a small
crowd about it. They hissed him and he had to get into a taxi. As
he departed there was just the suspicion of a wink in his left eye.
On Monday I read that he had gone off, and the papers observed
that our shores were well quit of him.
I sailed on December 3rd from Liverpool in a boat bound for the
Argentine that was due to put in at Lisbon. I had of course to get a
Foreign Office passport to leave England, but after that my connection
with the Government ceased. All the details of my journey
were carefully thought out. Lisbon would be a good jumping-off
place, for it was the rendezvous of scallywags from most parts of
Africa. My kit was an old Gladstone bag, and my clothes were the
relics of my South African wardrobe. I let my beard grow for some
days before I sailed, and, since it grows fast, I went on board with
the kind of hairy chin you will see on the young Boer. My name
was now Brandt, Cornelis Brandt - at least so my passport said,
and passports never lie.
There were just two other passengers on that beastly boat, and
they never appeared till we were out of the Bay. I was pretty bad
myself, but managed to move about all the time, for the frowst in
my cabin would have sickened a hippo. The old tub took two days
and a night to waddle from Ushant to Finisterre. Then the weather
changed and we came out of snow-squalls into something very like
summer. The hills of Portugal were all blue and yellow like the
Kalahari, and before we made the Tagus I was beginning to forget
I had ever left Rhodesia. There was a Dutchman among the sailors
with whom I used to patter the taal, and but for 'Good morning'
and 'Good evening' in broken English to the captain, that was
about all the talking I did on the cruise.
We dropped anchor off the quays of Lisbon on a shiny blue
morning, pretty near warm enough to wear flannels. I had now
got to be very wary. I did not leave the ship with the shore-going
boat, but made a leisurely breakfast. Then I strolled on deck, and
there, just casting anchor in the middle of the stream, was another
ship with a blue and white funnel I knew so well. I calculated
that a month before she had been smelling the mangrove swamps
of Angola. Nothing could better answer my purpose. I proposed
to board her, pretending I was looking for a friend, and come
on shore from her, so that anyone in Lisbon who chose to be
curious would think I had landed straight from Portuguese
I hailed one of the adjacent ruffians, and got into his rowboat,
with my kit. We reached the vessel - they called her the _Henry the
Navigator_ - just as the first shore-boat was leaving. The crowd in it
were all Portuguese, which suited my book.
But when I went up the ladder the first man I met was old Peter
Here was a piece of sheer monumental luck. Peter had opened
his eyes and his mouth, and had got as far as '_Allemachtig_', when I
shut him up.
'Brandt,' I said, 'Cornelis Brandt. That's my name now, and
don't you forget it. Who is the captain here? Is it still old Sloggett?'
'_Ja,_' said Peter, pulling himself together. 'He was speaking about
This was better and better. I sent Peter below to get hold of
Sloggett, and presently I had a few words with that gentleman in
his cabin with the door shut.
'You've got to enter my name in the ship's books. I came aboard
at Mossamedes. And my name's Cornelis Brandt.'
At first Sloggett was for objecting. He said it was a felony. I told
him that I dared say it was, but he had got to do it, for reasons
which I couldn't give, but which were highly creditable to all
parties. In the end he agreed, and I saw it done. I had a pull on old
Sloggett, for I had known him ever since he owned a dissolute tug-
boat at Delagoa Bay.
Then Peter and I went ashore and swaggered into Lisbon as if
we owned De Beers. We put up at the big hotel opposite the
railway station, and looked and behaved like a pair of lowbred
South Africans home for a spree. It was a fine bright day, so I hired
a motor-car and said I would drive it myself. We asked the name of
some beauty-spot to visit, and were told Cintra and shown the road
to it. I wanted a quiet place to talk, for I had a good deal to say to
I christened that car the Lusitanian Terror, and it was a marvel that
we did not smash ourselves up. There was something immortally
wrong with its steering gear. Half a dozen times we slewed across
the road, inviting destruction. But we got there in the end, and had
luncheon in an hotel opposite the Moorish palace. There we left the
car and wandered up the slopes of a hill, where, sitting among
scrub very like the veld, I told Peter the situation of affairs.
But first a word must be said about Peter. He was the man that
taught me all I ever knew of veld-craft, and a good deal about
human nature besides. He was out of the Old Colony -
Burgersdorp, I think - but he had come to the Transvaal when the
Lydenburg goldfields started. He was prospector, transport-rider,
and hunter in turns, but principally hunter. In those early days he
was none too good a citizen. He was in Swaziland with Bob
Macnab, and you know what that means. Then he took to working
off bogus gold propositions on Kimberley and Johannesburg
magnates, and what he didn't know about salting a mine wasn't
knowledge. After that he was in the Kalahari, where he and Scotty
Smith were familiar names. An era of comparative respectability
dawned for him with the Matabele War, when he did uncommon
good scouting and transport work. Cecil Rhodes wanted to establish
him on a stock farm down Salisbury way, but Peter was an independent
devil and would call no man master. He took to big-game
hunting, which was what God intended him for, for he could track
a tsessebe in thick bush, and was far the finest shot I have seen in
my life. He took parties to the Pungwe flats, and Barotseland, and
up to Tanganyika. Then he made a speciality of the Ngami region,
where I once hunted with him, and he was with me when I went
prospecting in Damaraland.
When the Boer War started, Peter, like many of the very great
hunters, took the British side and did most of our intelligence work
in the North Transvaal. Beyers would have hanged him if he could
have caught him, and there was no love lost between Peter and his
own people for many a day. When it was all over and things had
calmed down a bit, he settled in Bulawayo and used to go with me
when I went on trek. At the time when I left Africa two years
before, I had lost sight of him for months, and heard that he was
somewhere on the Congo poaching elephants. He had always a great idea
of making things hum so loud in Angola that the Union Government
would have to step in and annex it. After Rhodes Peter had the
biggest notions south of the Line.
He was a man of about five foot ten, very thin and active, and as
strong as a buffalo. He had pale blue eyes, a face as gentle as a
girl's, and a soft sleepy voice. From his present appearance it
looked as if he had been living hard lately. His clothes were of the
cut you might expect to get at Lobito Bay, he was as lean as a rake,
deeply browned with the sun, and there was a lot of grey in his
beard. He was fifty-six years old, and used to be taken for forty.
Now he looked about his age.
I first asked him what he had been up to since the war began. He
spat, in the Kaffir way he had, and said he had been having hell's time.
'I got hung up on the Kafue,' he said. 'When I heard from old
Letsitela that the white men were fighting I had a bright idea that I
might get into German South West from the north. You see I
knew that Botha couldn't long keep out of the war. Well, I got into
German territory all right, and then a _skellum_ of an officer came
along, and commandeered all my mules, and wanted to commandeer
me with them for his fool army. He was a very ugly man with a
yellow face.' Peter filled a deep pipe from a kudu-skin pouch.
'Were you commandeered?' I asked.
'No. I shot him - not so as to kill, but to wound badly. It was all
right, for he fired first on me. Got me too in the left shoulder. But
that was the beginning of bad trouble. I trekked east pretty fast,
and got over the border among the Ovamba. I have made many
journeys, but that was the worst. Four days I went without water,
and six without food. Then by bad luck I fell in with 'Nkitla - you
remember, the half-caste chief. He said I owed him money for cattle
which I bought when I came there with Carowab. It was a lie, but
he held to it, and would give me no transport. So I crossed the
Kalahari on my feet. Ugh, it was as slow as a vrouw coming from
_nachtmaal_. It took weeks and weeks, and when I came to Lechwe's
kraal, I heard that the fighting was over and that Botha had conquered
the Germans. That, too, was a lie, but it deceived me, and I
went north into Rhodesia, where I learned the truth. But by then I
judged the war had gone too far for me to make any profit out of
it, so I went into Angola to look for German refugees. By that time
I was hating Germans worse than hell.'
'But what did you propose to do with them?' I asked.
'I had a notion they would make trouble with the Government
in those parts. I don't specially love the Portugoose, but I'm for
him against the Germans every day. Well, there was trouble, and I
had a merry time for a month or two. But by and by it petered out,
and I thought I had better clear for Europe, for South Africa was
settling down just as the big show was getting really interesting. So
here I am, Cornelis, my old friend. If I shave my beard will they let
me join the Flying Corps?'
I looked at Peter sitting there smoking, as imperturbable as if he
had been growing mealies in Natal all his life and had run home for
a month's holiday with his people in Peckham.
'You're coming with me, my lad,' I said. 'We're going into Germany.'
Peter showed no surprise. 'Keep in mind that I don't like the
Germans,' was all he said. 'I'm a quiet Christian man, but I've the
devil of a temper.'
Then I told him the story of our mission.
'You and I have got to be Maritz's men. We went into Angola,
and now we're trekking for the Fatherland to get a bit of our own
back from the infernal English. Neither of us knows any German -
publicly. We'd better plan out the fighting we were in - Kakamas
will do for one, and Schuit Drift. You were a Ngamiland hunter
before the war. They won't have your _dossier_, so you can tell any
lie you like. I'd better be an educated Afrikander, one of Beyers's
bright lads, and a pal of old Hertzog. We can let our imagination
loose about that part, but we must stick to the same yarn about the
'_Ja_, Cornelis,' said Peter. (He had called me Cornelis ever since
I had told him my new name. He was a wonderful chap for catching
on to any game.) 'But after we get into Germany, what then?
There can't be much difficulty about the beginning. But once we're
among the beer-swillers I don't quite see our line. We're to find out
about something that's going on in Turkey? When I was a boy the
predikant used to preach about Turkey. I wish I was better educated
and remembered whereabouts in the map it was.'
'You leave that to me,' I said; 'I'll explain it all to you before we
get there. We haven't got much of a spoor, but we'll cast about,
and with luck will pick it up. I've seen you do it often enough when
we hunted kudu on the Kafue.'
Peter nodded. 'Do we sit still in a German town?' he asked
anxiously. 'I shouldn't like that, Cornelis.'
'We move gently eastward to Constantinople,' I said.
Peter grinned. 'We should cover a lot of new country. You can
reckon on me, friend Cornelis. I've always had a hankering to see
He rose to his feet and stretched his long arms.
'We'd better begin at once. God, I wonder what's happened to
old Solly Maritz, with his bottle face? Yon was a fine battle at the
drift when I was sitting up to my neck in the Orange praying that
Brits' lads would take my head for a stone.'
Peter was as thorough a mountebank, when he got started, as
Blenkiron himself. All the way back to Lisbon he yarned about
Maritz and his adventures in German South West till I half believed
they were true. He made a very good story of our doings, and by
his constant harping on it I pretty soon got it into my memory.
That was always Peter's way. He said if you were going to play a
part, you must think yourself into it, convince yourself that you
were it, till you really were it and didn't act but behaved naturally.
The two men who had started that morning from the hotel door
had been bogus enough, but the two men that returned were
genuine desperadoes itching to get a shot at England.
We spent the evening piling up evidence in our favour. Some
kind of republic had been started in Portugal, and ordinarily the
cafes would have been full of politicians, but the war had quieted
all these local squabbles, and the talk was of nothing but what was
doing in France and Russia. The place we went to was a big, well-
lighted show on a main street, and there were a lot of sharp-eyed
fellows wandering about that I guessed were spies and police agents.
I knew that Britain was the one country that doesn't bother about
this kind of game, and that it would be safe enough to let ourselves go.
I talked Portuguese fairly well, and Peter spoke it like a Lourenco
Marques bar-keeper, with a lot of Shangaan words to fill up. He
started on curacao, which I reckoned was a new drink to him, and
presently his tongue ran freely. Several neighbours pricked up their
ears, and soon we had a small crowd round our table.
We talked to each other of Maritz and our doings. It didn't seem
to be a popular subject in that cafe. One big blue-black fellow said
that Maritz was a dirty swine who would soon be hanged. Peter
quickly caught his knife-wrist with one hand and his throat with
the other, and demanded an apology. He got it. The Lisbon
_boulevardiers_ have not lost any lions.
After that there was a bit of a squash in our corner. Those near
to us were very quiet and polite, but the outer fringe made remarks.
When Peter said that if Portugal, which he admitted he loved, was
going to stick to England she was backing the wrong horse, there
was a murmur of disapproval. One decent-looking old fellow, who
had the air of a ship's captain, flushed all over his honest face, and
stood up looking straight at Peter. I saw that we had struck an
Englishman, and mentioned it to Peter in Dutch.
Peter played his part perfectly. He suddenly shut up, and, with
furtive looks around him, began to jabber to me in a low voice. He
was the very picture of the old stage conspirator.
The old fellow stood staring at us. 'I don't very well understand
this damned lingo,' he said; 'but if so be you dirty Dutchmen are
sayin' anything against England, I'll ask you to repeat it. And if so
be as you repeats it I'll take either of you on and knock the
face off him.'
He was a chap after my own heart, but I had to keep the game
up. I said in Dutch to Peter that we mustn't get brawling in a
public house. 'Remember the big thing,' I said darkly. Peter nodded,
and the old fellow, after staring at us for a bit, spat scornfully, and
'The time is coming when the Englander will sing small,' I
observed to the crowd. We stood drinks to one or two, and then
swaggered into the street. At the door a hand touched my arm,
and, looking down, I saw a little scrap of a man in a fur coat.
'Will the gentlemen walk a step with me and drink a glass of
beer?' he said in very stiff Dutch.
'Who the devil are you?' I asked.
'_Gott strafe England!_' was his answer, and, turning back the lapel
of his coat, he showed some kind of ribbon in his buttonhole.
'Amen,' said Peter. 'Lead on, friend. We don't mind if we do.'
He led us to a back street and then up two pairs of stairs to a
very snug little flat. The place was filled with fine red lacquer, and I
guessed that art-dealing was his nominal business. Portugal, since
the republic broke up the convents and sold up the big royalist
grandees, was full of bargains in the lacquer and curio line.
He filled us two long tankards of very good Munich beer.
'_Prosit_,' he said, raising his glass. 'You are from South Africa.
What make you in Europe?'
We both looked sullen and secretive.
'That's our own business,' I answered. 'You don't expect to buy
our confidence with a glass of beer.'
'So?' he said. 'Then I will put it differently. From your speech in
the cafe I judge you do not love the English.'
Peter said something about stamping on their grandmothers, a
Kaffir phrase which sounded gruesome in Dutch.
The man laughed. 'That is all I want to know. You are on the
'That remains to be seen,' I said. 'If they treat me fair I'll fight for
them, or for anybody else that makes war on England. England has
stolen my country and corrupted my people and made me an exile.
We Afrikanders do not forget. We may be slow but we win in the
end. We two are men worth a great price. Germany fights England in
East Africa. We know the natives as no Englishmen can ever know
them. They are too soft and easy and the Kaffirs laugh at them. But
we can handle the blacks so that they will fight like devils for fear of
us. What is the reward, little man, for our services? I will tell you.
There will be no reward. We ask none. We fight for hate of England.'
Peter grunted a deep approval.
'That is good talk,' said our entertainer, and his close-set eyes
flashed. 'There is room in Germany for such men as you. Where
are you going now, I beg to know.'
'To Holland,' I said. 'Then maybe we will go to Germany. We
are tired with travel and may rest a bit. This war will last long and
our chance will come.'
'But you may miss your market,' he said significantly. 'A ship
sails tomorrow for Rotterdam. If you take my advice, you will go
This was what I wanted, for if we stayed in Lisbon some real
soldier of Maritz might drop in any day and blow the gaff.
'I recommend you to sail in the _Machado_,' he repeated. 'There is
work for you in Germany - oh yes, much work; but if you delay
the chance may pass. I will arrange your journey. It is my business
to help the allies of my fatherland.'
He wrote down our names and an epitome of our doings
contributed by Peter, who required two mugs of beer to help him
through. He was a Bavarian, it seemed, and we drank to the health
of Prince Rupprecht, the same blighter I was trying to do in at
Loos. That was an irony which Peter unfortunately could not
appreciate. If he could he would have enjoyed it.
The little chap saw us back to our hotel, and was with us the
next morning after breakfast, bringing the steamer tickets. We got
on board about two in the afternoon, but on my advice he did not
see us off. I told him that, being British subjects and rebels at that,
we did not want to run any risks on board, assuming a British
cruiser caught us up and searched us. But Peter took twenty pounds
off him for travelling expenses, it being his rule never to miss an
opportunity of spoiling the Egyptians.
As we were dropping down the Tagus we passed the old
_Henry the Navigator_.
'I met Sloggett in the street this morning,' said Peter, 'and he
told me a little German man had been off in a boat at daybreak
looking up the passenger list. Yon was a right notion of yours,
Cornelis. I am glad we are going among Germans. They are careful
people whom it is a pleasure to meet.'
Adventures of Two Dutchmen on the Loose
The Germans, as Peter said, are a careful people. A man met us on
the quay at Rotterdam. I was a bit afraid that something might
have turned up in Lisbon to discredit us, and that our little friend
might have warned his pals by telegram. But apparently all was
Peter and I had made our plans pretty carefully on the voyage.
We had talked nothing but Dutch, and had kept up between ourselves
the role of Maritz's men, which Peter said was the only way
to play a part well. Upon my soul, before we got to Holland I was
not very clear in my own mind what my past had been. Indeed the
danger was that the other side of my mind, which should be busy
with the great problem, would get atrophied, and that I should
soon be mentally on a par with the ordinary backveld desperado.
We had agreed that it would be best to get into Germany at once,
and when the agent on the quay told us of a train at midday we
decided to take it.
I had another fit of cold feet before we got over the frontier. At
the station there was a King's Messenger whom I had seen in France,
and a war correspondent who had been trotting round our part of
the front before Loos. I heard a woman speaking pretty clean-cut
English, which amid the hoarse Dutch jabber sounded like a lark
among crows. There were copies of the English papers for sale, and
English cheap editions. I felt pretty bad about the whole business,
and wondered if I should ever see these homely sights again.
But the mood passed when the train started. It was a clear
blowing day, and as we crawled through the flat pastures of Holland
my time was taken up answering Peter's questions. He had never
been in Europe before, and formed a high opinion of the farming.
He said he reckoned that such land would carry four sheep a
morgen. We were thick in talk when we reached the frontier station
and jolted over a canal bridge into Germany.
I had expected a big barricade with barbed wire and entrenchments.
But there was nothing to see on the German side but half a
dozen sentries in the field-grey I had hunted at Loos. An under-
officer, with the black-and-gold button of the Landsturm, hoicked
us out of the train, and we were all shepherded into a big bare
waiting-room where a large stove burned. They took us two at a
time into an inner room for examination. I had explained to Peter
all about this formality, but I was glad we went in together, for
they made us strip to the skin, and I had to curse him pretty
seriously to make him keep quiet. The men who did the job were
fairly civil, but they were mighty thorough. They took down a list
of all we had in our pockets and bags, and all the details from the
passports the Rotterdam agent had given us.
We were dressing when a man in a lieutenant's uniform came in
with a paper in his hand. He was a fresh-faced lad of about twenty,
with short-sighted spectacled eyes.
'Herr Brandt,' he called out.
'And this is Herr Pienaar?' he asked in Dutch.
He saluted. 'Gentlemen, I apologize. I am late because of the
slowness of the Herr Commandant's motor-car. Had I been in time
you would not have been required to go through this ceremony.
We have been advised of your coming, and I am instructed to
attend you on your journey. The train for Berlin leaves in half an
hour. Pray do me the honour to join me in a bock.'
With a feeling of distinction we stalked out of the ordinary ruck
of passengers and followed the lieutenant to the station restaurant.
He plunged at once into conversation, talking the Dutch of Holland,
which Peter, who had forgotten his school-days, found a bit hard
to follow. He was unfit for active service, because of his eyes and
a weak heart, but he was a desperate fire-eater in that stuffy
restaurant. By his way of it Germany could gobble up the French and
the Russians whenever she cared, but she was aiming at getting
all the Middle East in her hands first, so that she could come out
conqueror with the practical control of half the world.
'Your friends the English,' he said grinning, 'will come last.
When we have starved them and destroyed their commerce with
our under-sea boats we will show them what our navy can do. For
a year they have been wasting their time in brag and politics, and
we have been building great ships - oh, so many! My cousin at Kiel -'
and he looked over his shoulder.
But we never heard about that cousin at Kiel. A short sunburnt
man came in and our friend sprang up and saluted, clicking his
heels like a pair of tongs.
'These are the South African Dutch, Herr Captain,' he said.
The new-comer looked us over with bright intelligent eyes, and
started questioning Peter in the taal. It was well that we had taken
some pains with our story, for this man had been years in German
South West, and knew every mile of the borders. Zorn was his
name, and both Peter and I thought we remembered hearing him
I am thankful to say that we both showed up pretty well. Peter
told his story to perfection, not pitching it too high, and asking me
now and then for a name or to verify some detail. Captain Zorn
'You seem the right kind of fellows,' he said. 'But remember' -
and he bent his brows on us - 'we do not understand slimness in
this land. If you are honest you will be rewarded, but if you dare to
play a double game you will be shot like dogs. Your race has
produced over many traitors for my taste.'
'I ask no reward,' I said gruffly. 'We are not Germans or
Germany's slaves. But so long as she fights against England we will
fight for her.'
'Bold words,' he said; 'but you must bow your stiff necks to
discipline first. Discipline has been the weak point of you Boers,
and you have suffered for it. You are no more a nation. In Germany
we put discipline first and last, and therefore we will conquer the
world. Off with you now. Your train starts in three minutes. We
will see what von Stumm will make of you.'
That fellow gave me the best 'feel' of any German I had yet met.
He was a white man and I could have worked with him. I liked his
stiff chin and steady blue eyes.
My chief recollection of our journey to Berlin was its
commonplaceness. The spectacled lieutenant fell asleep, and for the
most part we had the carriage to ourselves. Now and again a
soldier on leave would drop in, most of them tired men with heavy
eyes. No wonder, poor devils, for they were coming back from the
Yser or the Ypres salient. I would have liked to talk to them, but
officially of course I knew no German, and the conversation I
overheard did not signify much. It was mostly about regimental
details, though one chap, who was in better spirits than the rest,
observed that this was the last Christmas of misery, and that next
year he would be holidaying at home with full pockets. The others
assented, but without much conviction.
The winter day was short, and most of the journey was made in
the dark. I could see from the window the lights of little villages,
and now and then the blaze of ironworks and forges. We stopped
at a town for dinner, where the platform was crowded with drafts
waiting to go westward. We saw no signs of any scarcity of food,
such as the English newspapers wrote about. We had an excellent
dinner at the station restaurant, which, with a bottle of white wine,
cost just three shillings apiece. The bread, to be sure, was poor, but
I can put up with the absence of bread if I get a juicy fillet of beef
and as good vegetables as you will see in the Savoy.
I was a little afraid of our giving ourselves away in our sleep, but
I need have had no fear, for our escort slumbered like a hog with
his mouth wide open. As we roared through the darkness I kept
pinching myself to make myself feel that I was in the enemy's land
on a wild mission. The rain came on, and we passed through
dripping towns, with the lights shining from the wet streets. As we
went eastward the lighting seemed to grow more generous. After
the murk of London it was queer to slip through garish stations
with a hundred arc lights glowing, and to see long lines of lamps
running to the horizon. Peter dropped off early, but I kept awake
till midnight, trying to focus thoughts that persistently strayed.
Then I, too, dozed and did not awake till about five in the morning,
when we ran into a great busy terminus as bright as midday. It was
the easiest and most unsuspicious journey I ever made.
The lieutenant stretched himself and smoothed his rumpled uniform.
We carried our scanty luggage to a _droschke_, for there seemed
to be no porters. Our escort gave the address of some hotel and we
rumbled out into brightly lit empty streets.
'A mighty dorp,' said Peter. 'Of a truth the Germans are a great
The lieutenant nodded good-humouredly.
'The greatest people on earth,' he said, 'as their enemies will
soon bear witness.'
I would have given a lot for a bath, but I felt that it would be
outside my part, and Peter was not of the washing persuasion. But
we had a very good breakfast of coffee and eggs, and then the
lieutenant started on the telephone. He began by being dictatorial,
then he seemed to be switched on to higher authorities, for he grew
more polite, and at the end he fairly crawled. He made some
arrangements, for he informed us that in the afternoon we would
see some fellow whose title he could not translate into Dutch. I
judged he was a great swell, for his voice became reverential at the
mention of him.
He took us for a walk that morning after Peter and I had
attended to our toilets. We were an odd pair of scallywags to look
at, but as South African as a wait-a-bit bush. Both of us had ready-
made tweed suits, grey flannel shirts with flannel collars, and felt
hats with broader brims than they like in Europe. I had strong-
nailed brown boots, Peter a pair of those mustard-coloured abominations
which the Portuguese affect and which made him hobble like
a Chinese lady. He had a scarlet satin tie which you could hear a
mile off. My beard had grown to quite a respectable length, and I
trimmed it like General Smuts'. Peter's was the kind of loose
flapping thing the _taakhaar_ loves, which has scarcely ever been
shaved, and is combed once in a blue moon. I must say we made a
pretty solid pair. Any South African would have set us down as a
Boer from the back-veld who had bought a suit of clothes in the
nearest store, and his cousin from some one-horse dorp who had
been to school and thought himself the devil of a fellow. We fairly
reeked of the sub-continent, as the papers call it.
It was a fine morning after the rain, and we wandered about in
the streets for a couple of hours. They were busy enough, and the
shops looked rich and bright with their Christmas goods, and one
big store where I went to buy a pocket-knife was packed with
customers. One didn't see very many young men, and most of the
women wore mourning. Uniforms were everywhere, but their
wearers generally looked like dug-outs or office fellows. We had a
glimpse of the squat building which housed the General Staff and
took off our hats to it. Then we stared at the Marinamt, and I
wondered what plots were hatching there behind old Tirpitz's whiskers.
The capital gave one an impression of ugly cleanness and a sort
of dreary effectiveness. And yet I found it depressing - more
depressing than London. I don't know how to put it, but the whole
big concern seemed to have no soul in it, to be like a big factory
instead of a city. You won't make a factory look like a house,
though you decorate its front and plant rose-bushes all round it.
The place depressed and yet cheered me. It somehow made the
German people seem smaller.
At three o'clock the lieutenant took us to a plain white building
in a side street with sentries at the door. A young staff officer met
us and made us wait for five minutes in an ante-room. Then we
were ushered into a big room with a polished floor on which Peter
nearly sat down. There was a log fire burning, and seated at a table
was a little man in spectacles with his hair brushed back from his
brow like a popular violinist. He was the boss, for the lieutenant
saluted him and announced our names. Then he disappeared, and
the man at the table motioned us to sit down in two chairs
'Herr Brandt and Herr Pienaar?' he asked, looking over
But it was the other man that caught my eye. He stood with his
back to the fire leaning his elbows on the mantelpiece. He was a
perfect mountain of a fellow, six and a half feet if he was an inch,
with shoulders on him like a shorthorn bull. He was in uniform
and the black-and-white ribbon of the Iron Cross showed at a
buttonhole. His tunic was all wrinkled and strained as if it could
scarcely contain his huge chest, and mighty hands were clasped
over his stomach. That man must have had the length of reach of a
gorilla. He had a great, lazy, smiling face, with a square cleft chin
which stuck out beyond the rest. His brow retreated and the stubby
back of his head ran forward to meet it, while his neck below
bulged out over his collar. His head was exactly the shape of a pear
with the sharp end topmost.
He stared at me with his small bright eyes and I stared back. I
had struck something I had been looking for for a long time, and
till that moment I wasn't sure that it existed. Here was the German
of caricature, the real German, the fellow we were up against. He
was as hideous as a hippopotamus, but effective. Every bristle on
his odd head was effective.
The man at the table was speaking. I took him to be a civilian
official of sorts, pretty high up from his surroundings, perhaps an
Under-Secretary. His Dutch was slow and careful, but good - too
good for Peter. He had a paper before him and was asking us
questions from it. They did not amount to much, being pretty well
a repetition of those Zorn had asked us at the frontier. I answered
fluently, for I had all our lies by heart.
Then the man on the hearthrug broke in. 'I'll talk to them,
Excellency,' he said in German. 'You are too academic for those
He began in the taal, with the thick guttural accent that you get
in German South West. 'You have heard of me,' he said. 'I am the
Colonel von Stumm who fought the Hereros.'
Peter pricked up his ears. '_Ja_, Baas, you cut off the chief Baviaan's
head and sent it in pickle about the country. I have seen it.'
The big man laughed. 'You see I am not forgotten,' he said to
his friend, and then to us: 'So I treat my enemies, and so will
Germany treat hers. You, too, if you fail me by a fraction of an
inch.' And he laughed loud again.
There was something horrible in that boisterousness. Peter was
watching him from below his eyelids, as I have seen him watch a
lion about to charge.
He flung himself on a chair, put his elbows on the table, and
thrust his face forward.
'You have come from a damned muddled show. If I had Maritz
in my power I would have him flogged at a wagon's end. Fools and
pig-dogs, they had the game in their hands and they flung it away.
We could have raised a fire that would have burned the English
into the sea, and for lack of fuel they let it die down. Then they try
to fan it when the ashes are cold.'
He rolled a paper pellet and flicked it into the air. 'That is what I
think of your idiot general,' he said, 'and of all you Dutch. As slow
as a fat vrouw and as greedy as an aasvogel.'
We looked very glum and sullen.
'A pair of dumb dogs,' he cried. 'A thousand Brandenburgers
would have won in a fortnight. Seitz hadn't much to boast of, mostly
clerks and farmers and half-castes, and no soldier worth the name to
lead them, but it took Botha and Smuts and a dozen generals to hunt
him down. But Maritz!' His scorn came like a gust of wind.
'Maritz did all the fighting there was,' said Peter sulkily. 'At any
rate he wasn't afraid of the sight of the khaki like your lot.'
'Maybe he wasn't,' said the giant in a cooing voice; 'maybe he
had his reasons for that. You Dutchmen have always a feather-bed
to fall on. You can always turn traitor. Maritz now calls himself
Robinson, and has a pension from his friend Botha.'
'That,' said Peter, 'is a very damned lie.'
'I asked for information,' said Stumm with a sudden politeness.
'But that is all past and done with. Maritz matters no more than
your old Cronjes and Krugers. The show is over, and you are
looking for safety. For a new master perhaps? But, man, what can
you bring? What can you offer? You and your Dutch are lying in
the dust with the yoke on your necks. The Pretoria lawyers have
talked you round. You see that map,' and he pointed to a big one
on the wall. 'South Africa is coloured green. Not red for the
English, or yellow for the Germans. Some day it will be yellow,
but for a little it will be green - the colour of neutrals, of nothings,
of boys and young ladies and chicken-hearts.'
I kept wondering what he was playing at.
Then he fixed his eyes on Peter. 'What do you come here for?
The game's up in your own country. What can you offer us
Germans? If we gave you ten million marks and sent you back you
could do nothing. Stir up a village row, perhaps, and shoot a
policeman. South Africa is counted out in this war. Botha is a
cleverish man and has beaten you calves'-heads of rebels. Can you
Peter couldn't. He was terribly honest in some things, and these
were for certain his opinions.
'No,' he said, 'that is true, Baas.'
'Then what in God's name can you do?' shouted Stumm.
Peter mumbled some foolishness about nobbling Angola for
Germany and starting a revolution among the natives. Stumm flung
up his arms and cursed, and the Under-Secretary laughed.
It was high time for me to chip in. I was beginning to see the kind of
fellow this Stumm was, and as he talked I thought of my mission, which
had got overlaid by my Boer past. It looked as if he might be useful.
'Let me speak,' I said. 'My friend is a great hunter, but he fights
better than he talks. He is no politician. You speak truth. South
Africa is a closed door for the present, and the key to it is elsewhere.
Here in Europe, and in the east, and in other parts of Africa. We
have come to help you to find the key.'
Stumm was listening. 'Go on, my little Boer. It will be a new
thing to hear a _taakhaar_ on world-politics.'
'You are fighting,' I said, 'in East Africa; and soon you may
fight in Egypt. All the east coast north of the Zambesi will be your
battle-ground. The English run about the world with little expeditions.
I do not know where the places are, though I read of them in
the papers. But I know my Africa. You want to beat them here in
Europe and on the seas. Therefore, like wise generals, you try to
divide them and have them scattered throughout the globe while
you stick at home. That is your plan?'
'A second Falkenhayn,' said Stumm, laughing.
'Well, England will not let East Africa go. She fears for Egypt
and she fears, too, for India. If you press her there she will send
armies and more armies till she is so weak in Europe that a child
can crush her. That is England's way. She cares more for her
Empire than for what may happen to her allies. So I say press and
still press there, destroy the railway to the Lakes, burn her capital,
pen up every Englishman in Mombasa island. At this moment it is
worth for you a thousand Damaralands.'
The man was really interested and the Under-Secretary, too,
pricked up his ears.
'We can keep our territory,' said the former; 'but as for pressing,
how the devil are we to press? The accursed English hold the sea.
We cannot ship men or guns there. South are the Portuguese and
west the Belgians. You cannot move a mass without a lever.'
The lever is there, ready for you,' I said.
'Then for God's sake show it me,' he cried.
I looked at the door to see that it was shut, as if what I had to
say was very secret.
'You need men, and the men are waiting. They are black, but
they are the stuff of warriors. All round your borders you have the
remains of great fighting tribes, the Angoni, the Masai, the
Manyumwezi, and above all the Somalis of the north, and the dwellers on
the upper Nile. The British recruit their black regiments there, and
so do you. But to get recruits is not enough. You must set whole
nations moving, as the Zulu under Tchaka flowed over South
'It cannot be done,' said the Under-Secretary.
'It can be done,' I said quietly. 'We two are here to do it.'
This kind of talk was jolly difficult for me, chiefly because of
Stumm's asides in German to the official. I had, above all things, to
get the credit of knowing no German, and, if you understand a
language well, it is not very easy when you are interrupted not to
show that you know it, either by a direct answer, or by referring to
the interruption in what you say next. I had to be always on my
guard, and yet it was up to me to be very persuasive and convince
these fellows that I would be useful. Somehow or other I had to get
into their confidence.
'I have been for years up and down in Africa - Uganda and the
Congo and the Upper Nile. I know the ways of the Kaffir as no
Englishman does. We Afrikanders see into the black man's heart,
and though he may hate us he does our will. You Germans are like
the English; you are too big folk to understand plain men.
"Civilize," you cry. "Educate," say the English. The black man obeys
and puts away his gods, but he worships them all the time in his
soul. We must get his gods on our side, and then he will move
mountains. We must do as John Laputa did with Sheba's necklace.'
'That's all in the air,' said Stumm, but he did not laugh.
'It is sober common sense,' I said. 'But you must begin at the
right end. First find the race that fears its priests. It is waiting for
you - the Mussulmans of Somaliland and the Abyssinian border
and the Blue and White Nile. They would be like dried grasses to
catch fire if you used the flint and steel of their religion. Look what
the English suffered from a crazy Mullah who ruled only a dozen
villages. Once get the flames going and they will lick up the pagans
of the west and south. This is the way of Africa. How many
thousands, think you, were in the Mahdi's army who never heard
of the Prophet till they saw the black flags of the Emirs going into
Stumm was smiling. He turned his face to the official and spoke
with his hand over his mouth, but I caught his words. They were:
'This is the man for Hilda.' The other pursed his lips and looked
a little scared.
Stumm rang a bell and the lieutenant came in and clicked his
heels. He nodded towards Peter. 'Take this man away with you.
We have done with him. The other fellow will follow presently.'
Peter went out with a puzzled face and Stumm turned to me.
'You are a dreamer, Brandt,' he said. 'But I do not reject you on
that account. Dreams sometimes come true, when an army follows
the visionary. But who is going to kindle the flame?'
'You,' I said.
'What the devil do you mean?' he asked.
'That is your part. You are the cleverest people in the world.
You have already half the Mussulman lands in your power. It is for
you to show us how to kindle a holy war, for clearly you have the
secret of it. Never fear but we will carry out your order.'
'We have no secret,' he said shortly, and glanced at the official,
who stared out of the window.
I dropped my jaw and looked the picture of disappointment. 'I
do not believe you,' I said slowly. 'You play a game with me. I
have not come six thousand miles to be made a fool of.'