Next morning there was a touch of frost and a nip in the air which stirred m_lood and put me in buoyant spirits. I forgot my precarious position and th_ong road I had still to travel. I came down to breakfast in great form, t_ind Peter's even temper badly ruffled. He had remembered Stumm in the nigh_nd disliked the memory; this he muttered to me as we rubbed shoulders at th_ining-room door. Peter and I got no opportunity for private talk. Th_ieutenant was with us all the time, and at night we were locked in our rooms.
Peter discovered this through trying to get out to find matches, for he ha_he bad habit of smoking in bed.
Our guide started on the telephone, and announced that we were to be taken t_ee a prisoners' camp. In the afternoon I was to go somewhere with Stumm, bu_he morning was for sight-seeing. 'You will see,' he told us, 'how merciful i_ great people. You will also see some of the hated English in our power. Tha_ill delight you. They are the forerunners of all their nation.'
We drove in a taxi through the suburbs and then over a stretch of flat market- garden-like country to a low rise of wooded hills. After an hour's ride w_ntered the gate of what looked like a big reformatory or hospital. I believ_t had been a home for destitute children. There were sentries at the gate an_assive concentric circles of barbed wire through which we passed under a_rch that was let down like a portcullis at nightfall. The lieutenant showe_is permit, and we ran the car into a brick-paved yard and marched through _ot more sentries to the office of the commandant.
He was away from home, and we were welcomed by his deputy, a pale young ma_ith a head nearly bald. There were introductions in German which our guid_ranslated into Dutch, and a lot of elegant speeches about how Germany wa_oremost in humanity as well as martial valour. Then they stood us sandwiche_nd beer, and we formed a procession for a tour of inspection. There were tw_octors, both mild-looking men in spectacles, and a couple of warders - under- officers of the good old burly, bullying sort I knew well. That was the cemen_hich kept the German Army together. Her men were nothing to boast of on th_verage; no more were the officers, even in crack corps like the Guards an_he Brandenburgers; but they seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of hard, competent N.C.O.s.
We marched round the wash-houses, the recreation-ground, the kitchens, th_ospital - with nobody in it save one chap with the 'flu.' It didn't seem t_e badly done. This place was entirely for officers, and I expect it was _how place where American visitors were taken. If half the stories one hear_ere true there were some pretty ghastly prisons away in South and Eas_ermany.
I didn't half like the business. To be a prisoner has always seemed to m_bout the worst thing that could happen to a man. The sight of Germa_risoners used to give me a bad feeling inside, whereas I looked at dea_oches with nothing but satisfaction. Besides, there was the off-chance that _ight be recognized. So I kept very much in the shadow whenever we passe_nybody in the corridors. The few we met passed us incuriously. They salute_he deputy-commandant, but scarcely wasted a glance on us. No doubt the_hought we were inquisitive Germans come to gloat over them. They looke_airly fit, but a little puffy about the eyes, like men who get too littl_xercise. They seemed thin, too. I expect the food, for all the commandant'_alk, was nothing to boast of. In one room people were writing letters. It wa_ big place with only a tiny stove to warm it, and the windows were shut s_hat the atmosphere was a cold frowst. In another room a fellow was lecturin_n something to a dozen hearers and drawing figures on a blackboard. Some wer_n ordinary khaki, others in any old thing they could pick up, and most wor_reatcoats. Your blood gets thin when you have nothing to do but hope agains_ope and think of your pals and the old days.
I was moving along, listening with half an ear to the lieutenant's prattle an_he loud explanations of the deputy-commandant, when I pitchforked into wha_ight have been the end of my business. We were going through a sort o_onvalescent room, where people were sitting who had been in hospital. It wa_ big place, a little warmer than the rest of the building, but stil_bominably fuggy. There were about half a dozen men in the room, reading an_laying games. They looked at us with lack-lustre eyes for a moment, and the_eturned to their occupations. Being convalescents I suppose they were no_xpected to get up and salute.
All but one, who was playing Patience at a little table by which we passed. _as feeling very bad about the thing, for I hated to see these good fellow_ocked away in this infernal German hole when they might have been giving th_oche his deserts at the front. The commandant went first with Peter, who ha_eveloped a great interest in prisons. Then came our lieutenant with one o_he doctors; then a couple of warders; and then the second doctor and myself.
I was absent-minded at the moment and was last in the queue.
The Patience-player suddenly looked up and I saw his face. I'm hanged if i_asn't Dolly Riddell, who was our brigade machine- gun officer at Loos. I ha_eard that the Germans had got him when they blew up a mine at the Quarries.
I had to act pretty quick, for his mouth was agape, and I saw he was going t_peak. The doctor was a yard ahead of me.
I stumbled and spilt his cards on the floor. Then I kneeled to pick them u_nd gripped his knee. His head bent to help me and I spoke low in his ear.
'I'm Hannay all right. For God's sake don't wink an eye. I'm here on a secre_ob.'
The doctor had turned to see what was the matter. I got a few more words in.
'Cheer up, old man. We're winning hands down.'
Then I began to talk excited Dutch and finished the collection of the cards.
Dolly was playing his part well, smiling as if he was amused by the antics o_ monkey. The others were coming back, the deputy-commandant with an angr_ight in his dull eye. 'Speaking to the prisoners is forbidden,' he shouted.
I looked blankly at him till the lieutenant translated.
'What kind of fellow is he?' said Dolly in English to the doctor. 'He spoil_y game and then jabbers High-Dutch at me.'
Officially I knew English, and that speech of Dolly's gave me my cue. _retended to be very angry with the very damned Englishman, and went out o_he room close by the deputy-commandant, grumbling like a sick jackal. Afte_hat I had to act a bit. The last place we visited was the close-confinemen_art where prisoners were kept as a punishment for some breach of the rules.
They looked cheerless enough, but I pretended to gloat over the sight, an_aid so to the lieutenant, who passed it on to the others. I have rarely in m_ife felt such a cad.
On the way home the lieutenant discoursed a lot about prisoners and detention- camps, for at one time he had been on duty at Ruhleben. Peter, who had been i_uod more than once in his life, was deeply interested and kept on questionin_im. Among other things he told us was that they often put bogus prisoner_mong the rest, who acted as spies. If any plot to escape was hatched thes_ellows got into it and encouraged it. They never interfered till the attemp_as actually made and then they had them on toast. There was nothing the Boch_iked so much as an excuse for sending a poor devil to 'solitary'.
That afternoon Peter and I separated. He was left behind with the lieutenan_nd I was sent off to the station with my bag in the company of a Landstur_ergeant. Peter was very cross, and I didn't care for the look of things; bu_ brightened up when I heard I was going somewhere with Stumm. If he wanted t_ee me again he must think me of some use, and if he was going to use me h_as bound to let me into his game. I liked Stumm about as much as a dog like_ scorpion, but I hankered for his society.
At the station platform, where the ornament of the Landsturm saved me all th_rouble about tickets, I could not see my companion. I stood waiting, while _reat crowd, mostly of soldiers, swayed past me and filled all the fron_arriages. An officer spoke to me gruffly and told me to stand aside behind _ooden rail. I obeyed, and suddenly found Stumm's eyes looking down at me.
'You know German?' he asked sharply.
'A dozen words,' I said carelessly. 'I've been to Windhuk and learned enoug_o ask for my dinner. Peter - my friend - speaks it a bit.'
'So,' said Stumm. 'Well, get into the carriage. Not that one! There, thickhead!'
I did as I was bid, he followed, and the door was locked behind us. Th_recaution was needless, for the sight of Stumm's profile at the platform en_ould have kept out the most brazen. I wondered if I had woken up hi_uspicions. I must be on my guard to show no signs of intelligence if h_uddenly tried me in German, and that wouldn't be easy, for I knew it as wel_s I knew Dutch.
We moved into the country, but the windows were blurred with frost, and I sa_othing of the landscape. Stumm was busy with papers and let me alone. I rea_n a notice that one was forbidden to smoke, so to show my ignorance of Germa_ pulled out my pipe. Stumm raised his head, saw what I was doing, and gruffl_ade me put it away, as if he were an old lady that disliked the smell o_obacco.
In half an hour I got very bored, for I had nothing to read and my pipe wa_erboten. People passed now and then in the corridors, but no one offered t_nter. No doubt they saw the big figure in uniform and thought he was th_euce of a staff swell who wanted solitude. I thought of stretching my legs i_he corridor, and was just getting up to do it when somebody slid the doo_ack and a big figure blocked the light.
He was wearing a heavy ulster and a green felt hat. He saluted Stumm, wh_ooked up angrily, and smiled pleasantly on us both.
'Say, gentlemen,' he said, 'have you room in here for a little one? I gues_'m about smoked out of my car by your brave soldiers. I've gotten a delicat_tomach … '
Stumm had risen with a brow of wrath, and looked as if he were going to pitc_he intruder off the train. Then he seemed to halt and collect himself, an_he other's face broke into a friendly grin.
'Why, it's Colonel Stumm,' he cried. (He pronounced it like the first syllabl_n 'stomach'.) 'Very pleased to meet you again, Colonel. I had the honour o_aking your acquaintance at our Embassy. I reckon Ambassador Gerard didn'_otton to our conversation that night.' And the new-comer plumped himself dow_n the corner opposite me.
I had been pretty certain I would run across Blenkiron somewhere in Germany, but I didn't think it would be so soon. There he sat staring at me with hi_ull, unseeing eyes, rolling out platitudes to Stumm, who was nearly burstin_n his effort to keep civil. I looked moody and suspicious, which I took to b_he right line.
'Things are getting a bit dead at Salonika,' said Mr Blenkiron, by way of _onversational opening.
Stumm pointed to a notice which warned officers to refrain from discussin_ilitary operations with mixed company in a railway carriage.
'Sorry,' said Blenkiron, 'I can't read that tombstone language of yours. But _eckon that that notice to trespassers, whatever it signifies, don't apply t_ou and me. I take it this gentleman is in your party.'
I sat and scowled, fixing the American with suspicious eyes.
'He is a Dutchman,' said Stumm; 'South African Dutch, and he is not happy, fo_e doesn't like to hear English spoken.'
'We'll shake on that,' said Blenkiron cordially. 'But who said I spok_nglish? It's good American. Cheer up, friend, for it isn't the call tha_akes the big wapiti, as they say out west in my country. I hate John Bul_orse than a poison rattle. The Colonel can tell you that.'
I dare say he could, but at that moment, we slowed down at a station and Stum_ot up to leave. 'Good day to you, Herr Blenkiron,' he cried over hi_houlder. 'If you consider your comfort, don't talk English to strang_ravellers. They don't distinguish between the different brands.'
I followed him in a hurry, but was recalled by Blenkiron's voice.
'Say, friend,' he shouted, 'you've left your grip,' and he handed me my ba_rom the luggage rack. But he showed no sign of recognition, and the last _aw of him was sitting sunk in a corner with his head on his chest as if h_ere going to sleep. He was a man who kept up his parts well.
There was a motor-car waiting - one of the grey military kind - and we starte_t a terrific pace over bad forest roads. Stumm had put away his papers in _ortfolio, and flung me a few sentences on the journey.
'I haven't made up my mind about you, Brandt,' he announced. 'You may be _ool or a knave or a good man. If you are a knave, we will shoot you.'
'And if I am a fool?' I asked.
'Send you to the Yser or the Dvina. You will be respectable cannon-fodder.'
'You cannot do that unless I consent,' I said.
'Can't we?' he said, smiling wickedly. 'Remember you are a citizen of nowhere.
Technically, you are a rebel, and the British, if you go to them, will han_ou, supposing they have any sense. You are in our power, my friend, to d_recisely what we like with you.'
He was silent for a second, and then he said, meditatively:
'But I don't think you are a fool. You may be a scoundrel. Some kinds o_coundrel are useful enough. Other kinds are strung up with a rope. Of that w_hall know more soon.'
'And if I am a good man?'
'You will be given a chance to serve Germany, the proudest privilege a morta_an can have.' The strange man said this with a ringing sincerity in his voic_hat impressed me.
The car swung out from the trees into a park lined with saplings, and in th_wilight I saw before me a biggish house like an overgrown Swiss chalet. Ther_as a kind of archway, with a sham portcullis, and a terrace with battlement_hich looked as if they were made of stucco. We drew up at a Gothic fron_oor, where a thin middle-aged man in a shooting-jacket was waiting.
As we moved into the lighted hall I got a good look at our host. He was ver_ean and brown, with the stoop in the shoulder that one gets from bein_onstantly on horseback. He had untidy grizzled hair and a ragged beard, and _air of pleasant, short-sighted brown eyes.
'Welcome, my Colonel,' he said. 'Is this the friend you spoke of ?'
'This is the Dutchman,' said Stumm. 'His name is Brandt. Brandt, you se_efore you Herr Gaudian.'
I knew the name, of course; there weren't many in my profession that didn't.
He was one of the biggest railway engineers in the world, the man who ha_uilt the Baghdad and Syrian railways, and the new lines in German East. _uppose he was about the greatest living authority on tropical construction.
He knew the East and he knew Africa; clearly I had been brought down for hi_o put me through my paces.
A blonde maidservant took me to my room, which had a bare polished floor, _tove, and windows that, unlike most of the German kind I had sampled, seeme_ade to open. When I had washed I descended to the hall, which was hung roun_ith trophies of travel, like Dervish jibbahs and Masai shields and one or tw_ood buffalo heads. Presently a bell was rung. Stumm appeared with his host, and we went in to supper.
I was jolly hungry and would have made a good meal if I hadn't constantly ha_o keep jogging my wits. The other two talked in German, and when a questio_as put to me Stumm translated. The first thing I had to do was to pretend _idn't know German and look listlessly round the room while they were talking.
The second was to miss not a word, for there lay my chance. The third was t_e ready to answer questions at any moment, and to show in the answering tha_ had not followed the previous conversation. Likewise, I must not prov_yself a fool in these answers, for I had to convince them that I was useful.
It took some doing, and I felt like a witness in the box under a stiff cross- examination, or a man trying to play three games of chess at once.
I heard Stumm telling Gaudian the gist of my plan. The engineer shook hi_ead.
'Too late,' he said. 'It should have been done at the beginning. We neglecte_frica. You know the reason why.'
Stumm laughed. 'The von Einem! Perhaps, but her charm works well enough.'
Gaudian glanced towards me while I was busy with an orange salad. 'I have muc_o tell you of that. But it can wait. Your friend is right in one thing.
Uganda is a vital spot for the English, and a blow there will make their whol_abric shiver. But how can we strike? They have still the coast, and ou_upplies grow daily smaller.'
'We can send no reinforcements, but have we used all the local resources? Tha_s what I cannot satisfy myself about. Zimmerman says we have, but Tressle_hinks differently, and now we have this fellow coming out of the void with _tory which confirms my doubt. He seems to know his job. You try him.'
Thereupon Gaudian set about questioning me, and his questions were ver_horough. I knew just enough and no more to get through, but I think I cam_ut with credit. You see I have a capacious memory, and in my time I had me_cores of hunters and pioneers and listened to their yarns, so I could preten_o knowledge of a place even when I hadn't been there. Besides, I had onc_een on the point of undertaking a job up Tanganyika way, and I had got u_hat country-side pretty accurately.
'You say that with our help you can make trouble for the British on the thre_orders?' Gaudian asked at length.
'I can spread the fire if some one else will kindle it,' I said.
'But there are thousands of tribes with no affinities.'
'They are all African. You can bear me out. All African peoples are alike i_ne thing - they can go mad, and the madness of one infects the others. Th_nglish know this well enough.'
'Where would you start the fire?' he asked.
'Where the fuel is dryest. Up in the North among the Mussulman peoples. Bu_here you must help me. I know nothing about Islam, and I gather that you do.'
'Why?' he asked.
'Because of what you have done already,' I answered.
Stumm had translated all this time, and had given the sense of my words ver_airly. But with my last answer he took liberties. What he gave was: 'Becaus_he Dutchman thinks that we have some big card in dealing with the Mosle_orld.' Then, lowering his voice and raising his eyebrows, he said some wor_ike 'uhnmantl'.
The other looked with a quick glance of apprehension at me. 'We had bette_ontinue our talk in private, Herr Colonel,' he said. 'If Herr Brandt wil_orgive us, we will leave him for a little to entertain himself.' He pushe_he cigar-box towards me and the two got up and left the room.
I pulled my chair up to the stove, and would have liked to drop off to sleep.
The tension of the talk at supper had made me very tired. I was accepted b_hese men for exactly what I professed to be. Stumm might suspect me of bein_ rascal, but it was a Dutch rascal. But all the same I was skating on thi_ce. I could not sink myself utterly in the part, for if I did I would get n_ood out of being there. I had to keep my wits going all the time, and joi_he appearance and manners of a backveld Boer with the mentality of a Britis_ntelligence-officer. Any moment the two parts might clash and I would b_aced with the most alert and deadly suspicion.
There would be no mercy from Stumm. That large man was beginning to fascinat_e, even though I hated him. Gaudian was clearly a good fellow, a white ma_nd a gentleman. I could have worked with him for he belonged to my own totem.
But the other was an incarnation of all that makes Germany detested, and ye_e wasn't altogether the ordinary German, and I couldn't help admiring him. _oticed he neither smoked nor drank. His grossness was apparently not in th_ay of fleshly appetites. Cruelty, from all I had heard of him in German Sout_est, was his hobby; but there were other things in him, some of them good, and he had that kind of crazy patriotism which becomes a religion. I wondere_hy he had not some high command in the field, for he had had the name of _ood soldier. But probably he was a big man in his own line, whatever it was, for the Under-Secretary fellow had talked small in his presence, and so grea_ man as Gaudian clearly respected him. There must be no lack of brains insid_hat funny pyramidal head.
As I sat beside the stove I was casting back to think if I had got th_lightest clue to my real job. There seemed to be nothing so far. Stumm ha_alked of a von Einem woman who was interested in his department, perhaps th_ame woman as the Hilda he had mentioned the day before to the Under- Secretary. There was not much in that. She was probably some minister's o_mbassador's wife who had a finger in high politics. If I could have caugh_he word Stumm had whispered to Gaudian which made him start and look askanc_t me! But I had only heard a gurgle of something like 'uhnmantl', whic_asn't any German word that I knew.
The heat put me into a half-doze and I began dreamily to wonder what othe_eople were doing. Where had Blenkiron been posting to in that train, and wha_as he up to at this moment? He had been hobnobbing with ambassadors an_wells - I wondered if he had found out anything. What was Peter doing? _ervently hoped he was behaving himself, for I doubted if Peter had reall_umbled to the delicacy of our job. Where was Sandy, too? As like as no_ucketing in the hold of some Greek coaster in the Aegean. Then I thought o_y battalion somewhere on the line between Hulluch and La Bassee, hammering a_he Boche, while I was five hundred miles or so inside the Boche frontier.
It was a comic reflection, so comic that it woke me up. After trying in vai_o find a way of stoking that stove, for it was a cold night, I got up an_alked about the room. There were portraits of two decent old fellows, probably Gaudian's parents. There were enlarged photographs, too, o_ngineering works, and a good picture of Bismarck. And close to the stov_here was a case of maps mounted on rollers.
I pulled out one at random. It was a geological map of Germany, and with som_rouble I found out where I was. I was an enormous distance from my goal an_oreover I was clean off the road to the East. To go there I must first go t_avaria and then into Austria. I noticed the Danube flowing eastwards an_emembered that that was one way to Constantinople.
Then I tried another map. This one covered a big area, all Europe from th_hine and as far east as Persia. I guessed that it was meant to show th_aghdad railway and the through routes from Germany to Mesopotamia. There wer_arkings on it; and, as I looked closer, I saw that there were dates scribble_n blue pencil, as if to denote the stages of a journey. The dates began i_urope, and continued right on into Asia Minor and then south to Syria.
For a moment my heart jumped, for I thought I had fallen by accident on th_lue I wanted. But I never got that map examined. I heard footsteps in th_orridor, and very gently I let the map roll up and turned away. When the doo_pened I was bending over the stove trying to get a light for my pipe.
It was Gaudian, to bid me join him and Stumm in his study.
On our way there he put a kindly hand on my shoulder. I think he thought I wa_ullied by Stumm and wanted to tell me that he was my friend, and he had n_ther language than a pat on the back.
The soldier was in his old position with his elbows on the mantelpiece and hi_ormidable great jaw stuck out.
'Listen to me,' he said. 'Herr Gaudian and I are inclined to make use of you.
You may be a charlatan, in which case you will be in the devil of a mess an_ave yourself to thank for it. If you are a rogue you will have little scop_or roguery. We will see to that. If you are a fool, you will yourself suffe_or it. But if you are a good man, you will have a fair chance, and if yo_ucceed we will not forget it. Tomorrow I go home and you will come with m_nd get your orders.'
I made shift to stand at attention and salute.
Gaudian spoke in a pleasant voice, as if he wanted to atone for Stumm'_mperiousness. 'We are men who love our Fatherland, Herr Brandt,' he said.
'You are not of that Fatherland, but at least you hate its enemies. Therefor_e are allies, and trust each other like allies. Our victory is ordained b_od, and we are none of us more than His instruments.'
Stumm translated in a sentence, and his voice was quite solemn. He held up hi_ight hand and so did Gaudian, like a man taking an oath or a parson blessin_is congregation.
Then I realized something of the might of Germany. She produced good and bad, cads and gentlemen, but she could put a bit of the fanatic into them all.