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Chapter 23

  • OF THE ARRIVAL OF A CHINESE GOD UPON THE FIELD OF BATTLE; OF HI_UCCESS WITH HIS SUPERIORS AND OF A SIGHT WHICH HE SAW UPON THE ROAD TO PARIS.ALSO OF THAT WHICH THEREBY CAME UNTO HIM, AND OF THE END OF ALL THOSE THING_HOSE EVENT BEGAT A CER
  • UNMATCHED in history is the Retreat of the British Army from Mons. It wa_aught unprepared; it had to fight three weeks before it was ready; it wa_utnumbered three to one by a triumphant enemy; it was not co-ordinated wit_he French armies, and they failed to support it at critical moments; yet i_ought that aweful dogged fight from house to house, and field to field, through league on league of Northern France. The line was forced to lengthe_onstantly as the retreat continued; it was attenuated by that and by it_osses to beyond any human breaking-point; but luckily for England, he_oldiers are made of such metal that the thinner the wire is drawn the toughe_t becomes.
  • However, there is a point at which "open order" is like the word "decolletee"
  • used to describe a smart American woman's dinner dress; and General Cripps wa_eeling it at the moment when his new Intelligence Officer presented himself.
  • It was about six o'clock at night; Cripps and his staff were bivouacked in th_airie of a small village. They were contemplating a further retreat tha_ight.
  • "Sit down, Captain Grey," said the chief kindly. [322] "Join us at dinner — just as soon as we can get these orders out — listen and you'll pick up th_utlines — we'll talk after dinner — on the road."
  • Cyril took a chair. To his delight, an aide-de-camp, Lord Juventius Mellor, a_xquisite young dandy with a languid lisp, who, in time of peace, had bee_upil and private secretary of Simon Iff, came to greet him.
  • "Ju, dear boy, help me out. I've got to tell Cripps something, and he'll thin_'m mad. It's bluff, too; but it's true for all that — and it's the one chanc_n the world."
  • "Right O!"
  • "Are we retreating again?"
  • "All through the night. There's not a dog's chance to save Paris, and the lin_tretches every hour."
  • "Don't worry about Paris — it's as safe as Bordeaux. Safer, because th_overnment is at Bordeaux!"
  • "My poor friend, wouldn't you be better in a home?"
  • The British Army had no illusions about its situation. It was a thin, dra_ine of heroes, very thin and very drab, but there was no doubt about th_eroism, and no uncertainty about what would happen to it if the German_ossessed a leader with initiative. So far the hostile legions had move_ccording to the rules, with all due scientific precaution. A leader o_emperament and intuition might have rushed that tenuous line. Still, scienc_as as sure as it was as slow — and the whole army knew it. They prepared t_ie as expensively as possible, with simplicity of manhood. They had not ye_eard that Press and Pulpit had made them the laughing-stock of the world b_he invention of the ridiculous story of the "Angels of Mons." [323] Lor_uventius Mellor was something of a hero-worshipper. From Simon Iff he woul_ave taken any statement with absolute respect, and Grey's remark had bee_omewhat of the Simon Iff brand. It was, therefore, almost as much a_mpertinence as it was an absurdity. Paris was as certain to fall as the su_o set. It was in rotten bad taste to joke about it.
  • "Look here!" said Cyril, "I'm serious."
  • "All the worse!" retorted Mellor. "You really would be better in a home."
  • "You wouldn't talk like that if we were discussing magick."
  • "True."
  • "Then you are an ass. I am talking magick. If you had only ears to hear!"
  • "How?"
  • "Everything's a magical phenomenon, in the long run. But war's magick, fro_he word jump. Come now therefore and let us reason together, saith the Lord.
  • I have done a divination by the Tarot, by a method which I cannot explain, fo_hat it pertaineth to a grade so much more exalted than yours that you hav_ever even heard the name of it; and I know the plans of the German Genera_taff in detail." Cyril's tone transformed his asinine utterance int_omething so Sybilline, Oracular, Delphic, Cumaean, that his interlocuto_lmost trembled. Verus incessu patuit Deus — when Cyril thought it necessar_o impress the uninitiate. To the majority of mankind gold looks like dros_nless it be wrapped up in tinsel, and tenfold the proper price marked on i_n plain figures, with the word "Sacrifice." Hence it is that the mos_uccessful merchants omit the gold altogether.
  • "Oh; I didn't understand."
  • "You'll observe that I can't explain this to [324] Cripps,; I shall have t_pin some sort of a yarn."
  • "Yes, yes."
  • In point of fact the "yarn" was already spun; Cyril had not been divining b_ny means more occult than his innate sagacity; but Lord Juventius was one o_hose people who bow only before the assumption of authority supported b_ystery and tomfoolery, since their reason is undeveloped. Such people mak_xcellent secondary figures in any campaign; for their confidence in thei_eaders impresses the outsider, who does not know how mentally abject the_re. It is said that no man is a hero to his valet. On the contrary, every ma_s a God to his secretary — if not, he had better get rid of the secretary!
  • Lord Juventius could not have followed Cyril's very astute calculations — those which he meant to lay before General Cripps; but he would have stake_is life on the accuracy of a Tarot divination so obscure that he was no_llowed even to hear its nature, and which in fact had not been performed.
  • Indeed, it did not even exist, having been invented on the spur of the momen_y the unscrupulous magician.
  • "I shall tell him that the military situation is inextricably bound up wit_olitical and dynastic considerations; I shall drop a word about Anschauun_nd Welt-politik; you know!"
  • Lord Juventius giggled adorably.
  • "By the way," continued Cyril "have you any influence — personal, I mean — with the old man?"
  • Lord Juventius bent forward with lowered eyelids, and sank his voice to _onfidential whisper.
  • "The day we crossed," he murmured.
  • "Great. But I thought — "
  • "Prehistoric. It's perfectly Cocker." [325]
  • Such conversations lack the merit of intelligibility to the outsider; but the_he outsider is particularly to be kept from understanding. Dialogues of thi_urious sort determine most important events in English society and "haut_olitique."
  • "Then see to it that I get taken seriously."
  • "Surely, Kurille!"
  • "Precetur oculis mellitis!"
  • "Kurille, Catulle!"
  • When Englishmen return to the use of the dead languages, it is a sign of tha_oral state which is said by the Psalmist to resemble the Holy Oil that flowe_own upon the head of Aaron, even unto the skirts of his garments.
  • The orderly called the Staff to dinner. Cyril, as the guest of the evening, was on the Commander-in-Chief's right hand.
  • "You have been very highly recommended to me," said the old Cavalry leader, when the time came to smoke, "and I look to you to distinguish yoursel_ccordingly. You will be under the orders of Colonel Mavor, of course; yo_hould report to him at once."
  • "May I give you some information direct?" asked Cyril. "The matter hardl_rooks delay, as I see it: you should know it at once, and — to be frank — _hink this my best chance of your ever hearing it."
  • "A damned funny beginning," growled the general. "Well, get on!" Th_ermission was not very gracious; but an irregularity is a serious thing i_he British Army. General Cripps made bad worse.
  • "Unofficially, mind, absolutely unofficially," he added, before Cyril coul_egin.
  • This is the English expedient for listening to anything without hearing it, o_aying anything without meaning it. An official conversation cannot [326] b_hus sterile; it involves notes, memoranda, dockets, recommendations, reports, the appointment of commissions, interminable deliberations, more reports, questions in Parliament, the introduction of bills, and so on. Nothing is don_n the end, exactly as in the case of an unofficial conversation; so you ca_ake your choice, sir, and be damned to you!
  • "Unofficially, of course, General!" agreed Cyril. "My object is merely t_isclose the plans of the German General Staff."
  • "Thank you, Captain Grey," replied the great man, sarcastically;" this wil_ndeed be a service. To save time, begin from Von Kluck's occupation of Paris, about four days hence."
  • "Impossible, General! Von Kluck will never capture Paris. Why, the man i_ctually of plebeian origin!"
  • "After dinner — but only then — such observations are in perfectly good taste.
  • Proceed!"
  • "I am not joking in the least, General. Von Kluck will not be allowed to tr_o capture Paris."
  • "It is at least curious that he is marching straight upon the city!"
  • "Only to thin out our line, sir. Do you observe that the Germans have driven _alient to St. Mihiel?"
  • "I have. What of it? "
  • "The object, sir, I submit, is to cut off Verdun from the South."
  • "Yes?"
  • "Why Verdun? Because the Crown Prince is at the head of the army whic_hreatens it. Paris will never be taken but by that modern Caesar!"
  • "Something in that, I admit. The little beast is certainly unpopular."
  • "They are bound to make him the national hero, at any cost."
  • "And where do we come in?" [327]
  • "What could be clearer? Their right wing will break through somewhere, or rol_s up. Verdun will be isolated. Der Kronprinz (God bless his noble heart!) will walk through, and goose-step all the way to Paris. It is the only chanc_or the Hohenzollern dynasty."
  • "It is military madness."
  • "They think they have enough in hand to risk it. But see, sir, for God's sak_ee the conclusion! If I'm right, Von Kluck is bound to swerve East, righ_cross our front — and we'll smash him!"
  • "He couldn't risk such a crazy manoeuvre."
  • "Mark my word, sir, he will."
  • "And what do you suggest that I should do about it? Unofficially, Captai_rey, quite unofficially!"
  • "Get ready to lam it in, sir — quite unofficially."
  • "Well, sir, I congratulate you — on having talked the most amusing nonsens_hat I've heard since my last talk with General Buller! And now perhaps yo_ad better report to Colonel Mavor as Intelligence Officer." The general'_one was contemptuous. "Facts are required in this army."
  • "Psychological facts are facts, General."
  • "Nonsense, sir; you are not in a debating society or at a scientific tea- party."
  • "That last, sir," replied Cyril coldly "is my unavailing regret."
  • But Lord Juventius Mellor frustrated the effect of this impolitic speech. H_ixed his languid eyes upon the red face of the veteran, and his voice came i_ soft caressing whisper.
  • "Pardon me; do let us be unofficial for five minutes more!"
  • "Well, boy?"
  • "I think it's only fair to let General Foch enjoy the joke. I hear he has bee_epressed lately."
  • "He might not take it so easily. The French do [328] not care to be playe_ith when their country is at stake."
  • "He can only shoot poor Cyril, mon vieux! Just give him two days leave, s_hat he can run over before reporting to Mavor."
  • "Oh well, I dare say the Intelligence Department can get on without it_hampion guesser for a day or so. Trot along, Grey; but for your own sake _dvise you to think up a fact or two."
  • Cyril saluted, and took his leave. Juventius came to see him into the car.
  • "I'll wheedle the old ass," he whispered to his friend, "I'll get him to mak_uch dispositions as he can without disturbing the line too much; so that i_och should see any sense in your scheme, by any chance, we shan't be to_ackward in coming forward."
  • "Good for you. So long!"
  • "Ta."
  • Cyril drove off. It was a terrible and ominous journey to the headquarters o_eneral Foch. The line sagged hideously here and there so that long detour_ere necessary. The roads were encumbered not only with every kind of militar_upply, all in disorder, but with fugitive soldiers and civilians, som_urdened with their household goods, some wounded, a long trail of agon_umbering to the rear. The country was already patrolled by herds o_asterless and savage dogs, reverted, in a month of war, to the type of th_oyote and the dingo. But Cyril shouted in his joy. His confidence rose as h_ent; he had thought out one of General Cripps's "facts" which he felt sur_ould carry conviction to the mind of the French commander.
  • Arrived at the chateau where the general was quartered, he found no trouble i_aining audience. The Frenchman, splendidly built, his eyes glittering wit_estless intelligence, concentrated all his faculties [329] instantly on hi_isitor. "You have come from General Cripps?"
  • "Yes, my General, but on my own responsibility. I have an idea —"
  • Foch interrupted him.
  • "But you are in an English uniform!" he could not help saying with bris_allic surprise.
  • "Cuchullus non facit monachum," retorted Cyril Grey. "I am half Scotch, hal_rish."
  • "Then pray give yourself the trouble to continue."
  • "I may premise that I have told my idea to General Cripps. It convinced hi_hat I am an imbecile or a joker."
  • That was his "fact," his master-argument. It told heavily. The face of Foc_rew instantly keen and eager with all expectation.
  • "Let me hear it!" The General reached for a memorandum.
  • Grey laughed. In a few words he repeated his theory of the German plans.
  • "But it is certain!" cried Foch. "One moment; excuse me; I must telephone."
  • He left the room. In five minutes he was back.
  • "Rest easy, Captain Grey," he said, "we shall be ready to catch Von Kluck a_e turns. Now, will you do me the pleasure to take this note back to you_hief? The British must be ready to strike at the same moment. I won't ask yo_o stay; but — I beg of you to come to dine with me after the victory."
  • It is impossible to give any idea of how the word "victoire" sounds in th_outh of a French soldier. It has in it the ring of a sword thrust home to th_ilt, and the cry of a lover as he seizes his mistress, and the exultation o_ martyr who in the moment of his murder reaches conclusively to God.
  • Cyril went back to the British Headquarters, and [330] handed in Genera_och's request, through Colonel Mavor, officially.
  • The events of the next week are of the very spine of history. The cruel blo_as definitely parried. More still, that first great victory not only save_rance for all time, but showed that the men of Bonaparte had come into thei_wn moral sublimity again. It proved 1870 to have been but a transien_eakness like our own year of shame when Van Tromp swept our ships from th_eas.
  • General Cripps summoned Cyril Grey to his quarters.
  • "I'm afraid," said the old man, "that nothing can be done to recognize you_ervices. That your crazy theory should have proved correct is only one mor_xample — we have many such every day — of the operation of the laws o_hance. The weather forecasters themselves cannot guess wrong every time. Bu_ven if your act had merited reward, we should still have been powerless; for, as you remember, our conversation was strictly unofficial.
  • "Unofficially, however, you get your step and the K.C.B.  Favouritism, sir, rank favouritism! Now go across to General Foch, Major — he wishes to presen_ou to two gentlemen named respectively Joffre and Poincar'e. Boot and saddle!
  • No time to waste," he said hastily, to check any expression of gratitude. Bu_s the two men gripped hands, their eyes were dim — they were thinking o_ngland.
  • So off went Cyril on the road to Paris, where his rendezvous was fixed.
  • The victory had changed the aspect of the country in the rear of the armies a_y stage-craft. There were no more fugitives, no more disorder. Still the lon_rains of wounded clogged the roads, here and there, but the infection o_lory had spread like sunlight over a sky swept clear of storm. The supply [331] trains radiated confidence. Always the young man met new guns, ne_agons, new horses. At every turn of the road were fresh regiments, gail_inging on their way to the front. Cyril was enchanted at the aspect of th_roops. Their elasticity and high spirits were overwhelming. Once he came upo_ regiment of Turcos being transferred to another sector — every man of the_ith a trophy of the great battle. His intense love for all savage men, tru_en unspoilt by civilization, almost mastered him: he wanted to embrace them.
  • He saw life assurgent, the menace of the enemy thwarted, and his joy floode_is heart so that his throat caught fire, and song leaped to his lips.
  • And then chill caught him as he came suddenly upon a dreadful sight.
  • Before him on the road stood a sign-post, the lance of a Spahi, thrust int_he bank of a ditch; nailed to it was a placard on which was coarsely chalke_he one word ESPION. A fatal curiosity drew him to the spot; as he approached, the wild dogs that were fighting around the sinister signal fled in terro_rom their ghastly meal.
  • A sword had been thrust through the belly of the corpse; the tongue had bee_orn out. One could recognize at a glance the work of Algerian troops — me_ho had lost a third of their effectives through the treacheries of the Germa_pies. But, despite all mutilation, he recognized more than that: h_ecognized the carcass. This carrion had once been Douglas.
  • Cyril Grey did a strange thing, a thing he had not done for many years: h_roke into a strong sobbing.
  • "I know now," he murmured, "that Simon Iff is right. The Way of the Tao! _ust follow that harder path, the Path where he who would advance draws back."
  • [332]
  • He put spurs to his horse; half-an-hour later he saw the sunset glint upo_he Eiffel Tower, and on the wings of one of those gallant birds that circle_bout it to keep watch and ward on Paris.
  • The next morning he reported himself to the British authorities; and it wa_ord Antony Bowling who presented him to the President and Commander-in-Chief.
  • At the banquet he found himself an Officer of the Legion of Honour; but hi_rilliancy and buoyancy were gone. He dined in dull decorum. His thought_till turned to the shameful corpse in the ditch by the wayside. He excuse_imself early, and left the Elysee. At the gate stood an automobile. In it sa_isa la Giuffria. She jumped out and caught him by the shoulders. She poure_ut the tale of her madness, and its result, and its cure, her carefu_racking of his movements, her determination to recover him at any cost. H_istened in silence — the silence of incurable sadness. He shook his head.
  • "Have you no word for me?" she cried impetuously, torn by her agony.
  • "Have you no gift for me?" he answered.
  • She understood. "Oh, you are human! you are human!" she cried.
  • "I do not know what I am," he answered. "Yesterday I saw the end of the game — for one!"
  • He told her in a few words of the horror on the roadside.
  • "Go!" he said, "take that girl, Douglas's last victim, for your maid. Go t_merica; find the Child of the Moon. There may, or there may not be, othe_asks for us to do; I know not — time will show."
  • "I will, I will," she cried, "I will go now, quickly. Kiss me first!"
  • Once again the tears gathered in the magician's [333] eyes; he understood, more deeply than he had ever done, the Sorrow of the Universe. He saw ho_tterly incompatible are all our human ideals with the Laws of Life. He too_er slowly and gently in his arms; and he kissed her. But Lisa did no_espond; she understood that this was not the man whom she had loved: this wa_ man that she had never known, one whom she dared not love. A man set apart, an idea to adore! She knew herself unworthy, and she withdrew herself.
  • "I go," she said, "to seek the Child. Hail and farewell!"
  • "Hail and farewell!"
  • The girl mounted unsteadily into her car. Cyril Grey, his head bowed upon hi_reast, plunged into the wooded pleasaunce of the Champs Elysees.
  • An ineffable weariness came upon him as he walked. He wondered dully if h_ere going to be ill. He came up against the Obelisk in the Place de l_oncorde with a shock of surprise. He had not noticed that he had left th_rees. The Obelisk decided him; its shape smote into his soul the meaning o_he Mysteries of Egyptian Magick. It was as invigorating as a cold plunge. H_trode away towards Montmartre.
  • The Profess-House of the Order had been converted into a hospital. But wh_hould come to greet him if not Sister Cybele?
  • Beside her stood the severe figure of Simon Iff. There were two others in th_ackground. Cyril was not surprised to see his old master, the Mahather_hang; but the other? It was Abdul Bey.
  • "Come forward and shake hands," cried Simon Iff. "I have not been inactive, Cyril," added the old man. "I have had my eye on our young friend for a lon_ime. I put my hand on him at the right moment. I showed him that spying was _og's [334] game, with a dog's death at the end of it. He has renounced hi_rrors, and he is now a Probationer of our Holy Order."
  • The young men greeted each other, the Turk stammering out an appeal fo_ardon, the other laughing off his embarrassment.
  • "But you are ill, Cyril!" cried Sister Cybele. And in truth the boy coul_ardly stand.
  • "Action and reaction are equal and opposite," explained Simon Iff, cheerily.
  • "You will sleep, Brother Cyril, and you will then pass seven days i_editation, in one of the high trances. I will see to the extension of you_eave."
  • "There is a meditation," said Cyril firmly, "given by the Buddha, a meditatio_pon a corpse torn by wild beasts. I will take that."
  • Simon Iff acquiesced without comprehending. He did not know that Cyril Gre_ad understood that the corpse of Douglas was his own; that the perception o_he identity of himself with all other living things had come to him, an_aised him to a great Adeptship.
  • But there was one to comprehend the nature of that initiation. As Cyri_alked, leaning on the arm of Sister
  • Cybele, to the room appointed for his prescribed solitude, he beheld a grea_ight. It shone serenely from the eyes of the Mahathera Phang.