The train was abominably late. It was due at eight-twenty-seven, but it wa_early ten when we reached St Pancras. I had resolved to go straight to m_ooms in Westminster, buying on the way a cap and waterproof to conceal m_niform should anyone be near my door on my arrival. Then I would ring u_lenkiron and tell him all my adventures. I breakfasted at a coffee-stall, left my pack and rifle in the cloak-room, and walked out into the clear sunn_orning.
I was feeling very pleased with myself. Looking back on my madcap journey, _eemed to have had an amazing run of luck and to be entitled to a littl_redit too. I told myself that persistence always pays and that nobody i_eaten till he is dead. All Blenkiron's instructions had been faithfull_arried out. I had found Ivery's post office. I had laid the lines of our ow_pecial communications with the enemy, and so far as I could see I had left n_lue behind me. Ivery and Gresson took me for a well-meaning nincompoop. I_as true that I had aroused profound suspicion in the breasts of the Scottis_olice. But that mattered nothing, for Cornelius Brand, the suspect, woul_resently disappear, and there was nothing against that rising soldier, Brigadier-General Richard Hannay, who would soon be on his way to France.
After all this piece of service had not been so very unpleasant. I laughe_hen I remembered my grim forebodings in Gloucestershire. Bullivant had sai_t would be damnably risky in the long run, but here was the end and I ha_ever been in danger of anything worse than making a fool of myself.
I remember that, as I made my way through Bloomsbury, I was not thinking s_uch of my triumphant report to Blenkiron as of my speedy return to the Front.
Soon I would be with my beloved brigade again. I had missed Messines and th_irst part of Third Ypres, but the battle was still going on, and I had yet _hance. I might get a division, for there had been talk of that before I left.
I knew the Army Commander thought a lot of me. But on the whole I hoped _ould be left with the brigade. After all I was an amateur soldier, and _asn't certain of my powers with a bigger command.
In Charing Cross Road I thought of Mary, and the brigade seemed suddenly les_ttractive. I hoped the war wouldn't last much longer, though with Russi_eading straight for the devil I didn't know how it was going to stop ver_oon. I was determined to see Mary before I left, and I had a good excuse, fo_ had taken my orders from her. The prospect entranced me, and I was moonin_long in a happy dream, when I collided violently with in agitated citizen.
Then I realized that something very odd was happening.
There was a dull sound like the popping of the corks of flat soda-wate_ottles. There was a humming, too, from very far up in the skies. People i_he street were either staring at the heavens or running wildly for shelter. _otor-bus in front of me emptied its contents in a twinkling; a taxi pulled u_ith a jar and the driver and fare dived into a second-hand bookshop. It too_e a moment or two to realize the meaning of it all, and I had scarcely don_his when I got a very practical proof. A hundred yards away a bomb fell on _treet island, shivering every window-pane in a wide radius, and sendin_plinters of stone flying about my head. I did what I had done a hundred time_efore at the Front, and dropped flat on my face.
The man who says he doesn't mind being bombed or shelled is either a liar or _aniac. This London air raid seemed to me a singularly unpleasant business. _hink it was the sight of the decent civilized life around one and the orderl_treets, for what was perfectly natural in a rubble-heap like Ypres or Arra_eemed an outrage here. I remember once being in billets in a Flanders villag_here I had the Maire's house and sat in a room upholstered in cut velvet, with wax flowers on the mantelpiece and oil paintings of three generations o_he walls. The Boche took it into his head to shell the place with a long- range naval gun, and I simply loathed it. It was horrible to have dust an_plinters blown into that snug, homely room, whereas if I had been in a ruine_arn I wouldn't have given the thing two thoughts. In the same way bomb_ropping in central London seemed a grotesque indecency. I hated to see plum_itizens with wild eyes, and nursemaids with scared children, and miserabl_omen scuttling like rabbits in a warren.
The drone grew louder, and, looking up, I could see the enemy planes flying i_ beautiful formation, very leisurely as it seemed, with all London at thei_ercy. Another bomb fell to the right, and presently bits of our own shrapne_ere clattering viciously around me. I thought it about time to take cover, and ran shamelessly for the best place I could see, which was a Tube station.
Five minutes before the street had been crowded; now I left behind me a deser_otted with one bus and three empty taxicabs.
I found the Tube entrance filled with excited humanity. One stout lady ha_ainted, and a nurse had become hysterical, but on the whole people wer_ehaving well. Oddly enough they did not seem inclined to go down the stair_o the complete security of underground; but preferred rather to collect wher_hey could still get a glimpse of the upper world, as if they were tor_etween fear of their lives and interest in the spectacle. That crowd gave m_ good deal of respect for my countrymen. But several were badly rattled, an_ne man a little way off, whose back was turned, kept twitching his shoulder_s if he had the colic.
I watched him curiously, and a movement of the crowd brought his face int_rofile. Then I gasped with amazement, for I saw that it was Ivery.
And yet it was not Ivery. There were the familiar nondescript features, th_landness, the plumpness, but all, so to speak, in ruins. The man was in _lind funk. His features seemed to be dislimning before my eyes. He wa_rowing sharper, finer, in a way younger, a man without grip on himself, _hapeless creature in process of transformation. He was being reduced to hi_udiments. Under the spell of panic he was becoming a new man.
And the crazy thing was that I knew the new man better than the old.
My hands were jammed close to my sides by the crowd; I could scarcely turn m_ead, and it was not the occasion for one's neighbours to observe one'_xpression. If it had been, mine must have been a study. My mind was far awa_rom air raids, back in the hot summer weather of 1914. I saw a row of villa_erched on a headland above the sea. In the garden of one of them two men wer_laying tennis, while I was crouching behind an adjacent bush. One of thes_as a plump young man who wore a coloured scarf round his waist and babbled o_olf handicaps … I saw him again in the villa dining-room, wearing a dinner- jacket, and lisping a little… . I sat opposite him at bridge, I beheld hi_ollared by two of Macgillivray's men, when his comrade had rushed for th_hirty-nine steps that led to the sea … I saw, too, the sitting-room of my ol_lat in Portland Place and heard little Scudder's quick, anxious voice talkin_bout the three men he feared most on earth, one of whom lisped in his speech.
I had thought that all three had long ago been laid under the turf …
He was not looking my way, and I could devour his face in safety. There was n_hadow of doubt. I had always put him down as the most amazing actor on earth, for had he not played the part of the First Sea Lord and deluded tha_fficer's daily colleagues? But he could do far more than any human actor, fo_e could take on a new personality and with it a new appearance, and liv_teadily in the character as if he had been born in it … My mind was a blank, and I could only make blind gropings at conclusions … How had he escaped th_eath of a spy and a murderer, for I had last seen him in the hands o_ustice? … Of course he had known me from the first day in Biggleswick … I ha_hought to play with him, and he had played most cunningly and damnably wit_e. In that sweating sardine-tin of refugees I shivered in the bitterness o_y chagrin.
And then I found his face turned to mine, and I knew that he recognized me.
More, I knew that he knew that I had recognized him—not as Ivery, but as tha_ther man. There came into his eyes a curious look of comprehension, which fo_ moment overcame his funk.
I had sense enough to see that that put the final lid on it. There was stil_omething doing if he believed that I was blind, but if he once thought that _new the truth he would be through our meshes and disappear like a fog.
My first thought was to get at him and collar him and summon everybody to hel_e by denouncing him for what he was. Then I saw that that was impossible. _as a private soldier in a borrowed uniform, and he could easily turn th_tory against me. I must use surer weapons. I must get to Bullivant an_acgillivray and set their big machine to work. Above all I must get t_lenkiron.
I started to squeeze out of that push, for air raids now seemed far to_rivial to give a thought to. Moreover the guns had stopped, but so sheeplik_s human nature that the crowd still hung together, and it took me a goo_ifteen minutes to edge my way to the open air. I found that the trouble wa_ver, and the street had resumed its usual appearance. Buses and taxis wer_unning, and voluble knots of people were recounting their experiences. _tarted off for Blenkiron's bookshop, as the nearest harbour of refuge.
But in Piccadilly Circus I was stopped by a military policeman. He asked m_ame and battalion, and I gave him them, while his suspicious eye ran over m_igure. I had no pack or rifle, and the crush in the Tube station had no_mproved my appearance. I explained that I was going back to France tha_vening, and he asked for my warrant. I fancy my preoccupation made me nervou_nd I lied badly. I said I had left it with my kit in the house of my marrie_ister, but I fumbled in giving the address. I could see that the fellow di_ot believe a word of it.
Just then up came an A.P.M. He was a pompous dug-out, very splendid in his re_abs and probably bucked up at having just been under fire. Anyhow he was ou_o walk in the strict path of duty.
'Tomkins!' he said. 'Tomkins! We've got some fellow of that name on ou_ecords. Bring him along, Wilson.'
'But, sir,' I said, 'I must—I simply must meet my friend. It's urgen_usiness, and I assure you I'm all right. If you don't believe me, I'll take _axi and we'll go down to Scotland Yard and I'll stand by what they say.'
His brow grew dark with wrath. 'What infernal nonsense is this? Scotland Yard!
What the devil has Scotland Yard to do with it? You're an imposter. I can se_t in your face. I'll have your depot rung up, and you'll be in jail in _ouple of hours. I know a deserter when I see him. Bring him along, Wilson.
You know what to do if he tries to bolt.'
I had a momentary thought of breaking away, but decided that the odds were to_uch against me. Fuming with impatience, I followed the A.P.M. to his offic_n the first floor in a side street. The precious minutes were slipping past; Ivery, now thoroughly warned, was making good his escape; and I, the sol_epository of a deadly secret, was tramping in this absurd procession.
The A.P.M. issued his orders. He gave instructions that my depot should b_ung up, and he bade Wilson remove me to what he called the guard-room. He sa_own at his desk, and busied himself with a mass of buff dockets.
In desperation I renewed my appeal. 'I implore you to telephone to M_acgillivray at Scotland Yard. It's a matter of life and death, Sir. You'r_aking a very big responsibility if you don't.'
I had hopelessly offended his brittle dignity. 'Any more of your insolence an_'ll have you put in irons. I'll attend to you soon enough for your comfort.
Get out of this till I send for you.'
As I looked at his foolish, irritable face I realized that I was fairly U_gainst it. Short of assault and battery on everybody I was bound to submit. _aluted respectfully and was marched away.
The hours I spent in that bare anteroom are like a nightmare in m_ecollection. A sergeant was busy at a desk with more buff dockets and a_rderly waited on a stool by a telephone. I looked at my watch and observe_hat it was one o'clock. Soon the slamming of a door announced that the A.P.M.
had gone to lunch. I tried conversation with the fat sergeant, but he ver_oon shut me up. So I sat hunched up on the wooden form and chewed the cud o_y vexation.
I thought with bitterness of the satisfaction which had filled me in th_orning. I had fancied myself the devil of a fine fellow, and I had been n_ore than a mountebank. The adventures of the past days seemed merel_hildish. I had been telling lies and cutting capers over half Britain, thinking I was playing a deep game, and I had only been behaving like _choolboy. On such occasions a man is rarely just to himself, and th_ntensity of my self-abasement would have satisfied my worst enemy. It didn'_onsole me that the futility of it all was not my blame. I was looking fo_xcuses. It was the facts that cried out against me, and on the facts I ha_een an idiotic failure.
For of course Ivery had played with me, played with me since the first day a_iggleswick. He had applauded my speeches and flattered me, and advised me t_o to the Clyde, laughing at me all the time. Gresson, too, had known. Now _aw it all. He had tried to drown me between Colonsay and Mull. It was Gresso_ho had set the police on me in Morvern. The bagman Linklater had been one o_resson's creatures. The only meagre consolation was that the gang had though_e dangerous enough to attempt to murder me, and that they knew nothing abou_y doings in Skye. Of that I was positive. They had marked me down, but fo_everal days I had slipped clean out of their ken.
As I went over all the incidents, I asked if everything was yet lost. I ha_ailed to hoodwink Ivery, but I had found out his post office, and if he onl_elieved I hadn't recognized him for the miscreant of the Black Stone he woul_o on in his old ways and play into Blenkiron's hands. Yes, but I had seen hi_n undress, so to speak, and he knew that I had so seen him. The only thin_ow was to collar him before he left the country, for there was ample evidenc_o hang him on. The law must stretch out its long arm and collect him an_resson and the Portuguese Jew, try them by court martial, and put the_ecently underground.
But he had now had more than an hour's warning, and I was entangled with red- tape in this damned A.P.M.'s office. The thought drove me frantic, and I go_p and paced the floor. I saw the orderly with rather a scared face makin_eady to press the bell, and I noticed that the fat sergeant had gone t_unch.
'Say, mate,' I said, 'don't you feel inclined to do a poor fellow a good turn?
I know I'm for it all right, and I'll take my medicine like a lamb. But I wan_adly to put a telephone call through.'
'It ain't allowed,' was the answer. 'I'd get 'ell from the old man.'
'But he's gone out,' I urged. 'I don't want you to do anything wrong, mate, _eave you to do the talkin' if you'll only send my message. I'm flush o_oney, and I don't mind handin' you a quid for the job.'
He was a pinched little man with a weak chin, and he obviously wavered.
Oo d'ye want to talk to?' he asked.
'Scotland Yard,' I said, 'the home of the police. Lord bless you, there can'_e no harm in that. Ye've only got to ring up Scotland Yard—I'll give you th_umber—and give the message to Mr Macgillivray. He's the head bummer of al_he bobbies.'
'That sounds a bit of all right,' he said. 'The old man 'e won't be back for
'alf an hour, nor the sergeant neither. Let's see your quid though.'
I laid a pound note on the form beside me. 'It's yours, mate, if you ge_hrough to Scotland Yard and speak the piece I'm goin' to give you.'
He went over to the instrument. 'What d'you want to say to the bloke with th_ong name?'
'Say that Richard Hannay is detained at the A.P.M.'s office in Claxton Street.
Say he's got important news—say urgent and secret news—and ask Mr Macgillivra_o do something about it at once.'
'But 'Annay ain't the name you gave.'
'Lord bless you, no. Did you never hear of a man borrowin' another name?
Anyhow that's the one I want you to give.'
'But if this Mac man comes round 'ere, they'll know 'e's bin rung up, and I'll
'ave the old man down on me.'
It took ten minutes and a second pound note to get him past this hurdle. B_nd by he screwed up courage and rang up the number. I listened with som_ervousness while he gave my message—he had to repeat it twice—and waite_agerly on the next words.
'No, sir,' I heard him say, e don't want you to come round 'ere. 'E thinks as
'ow—I mean to say, 'e wants—'
I took a long stride and twitched the receiver from him.
'Macgillivray,' I said, 'is that you? Richard Hannay! For the love of God com_ound here this instant and deliver me from the clutches of a tomfool A.P.M.
I've got the most deadly news. There's not a second to waste. For God's sak_ome quick!' Then I added: 'Just tell your fellows to gather Ivery in at once.
You know his lairs.'
I hung up the receiver and faced a pale and indignant orderly. 'It's al_ight,' I said. 'I promise you that you won't get into any trouble on m_ccount. And there's your two quid.'
The door in the next room opened and shut. The A.P.M. had returned from lunch …
Ten minutes later the door opened again. I heard Macgillivray's voice, and i_as not pitched in dulcet tones. He had run up against minor officialdom an_as making hay with it.
I was my own master once more, so I forsook the company of the orderly. _ound a most rattled officer trying to save a few rags of his dignity and th_ormidable figure of Macgillivray instructing him in manners.
'Glad to see you, Dick,' he said. 'This is General Hannay, sir. It may comfor_ou to know that your folly may have made just the difference between you_ountry's victory and defeat. I shall have a word to say to your superiors.'
It was hardly fair. I had to put in a word for the old fellow, whose red tab_eemed suddenly to have grown dingy.
'It was my blame wearing this kit. We'll call it a misunderstanding and forge_t. But I would suggest that civility is not wasted even on a poor devil of _efaulting private soldier.'
Once in Macgillivray's car, I poured out my tale. 'Tell me it's a nightmare,'
I cried. 'Tell me that the three men we collected on the Ruff were shot lon_go.'
'Two,' he replied, 'but one escaped. Heaven knows how he managed it, but h_isappeared clean out of the world.'
'The plump one who lisped in his speech?'
'Well, we're in for it this time. Have you issued instructions?'
'Yes. With luck we shall have our hands on him within an hour. We've our ne_ound all his haunts.'
'But two hours' start! It's a big handicap, for you're dealing with a genius.'
'Yet I think we can manage it. Where are you bound for?'
I told him my rooms in Westminster and then to my old flat in Park Lane. 'Th_ay of disguises is past. In half an hour I'll be Richard Hannay. It'll be _omfort to get into uniform again. Then I'll look up Blenkiron.'
He grinned. 'I gather you've had a riotous time. We've had a good many anxiou_essages from the north about a certain Mr Brand. I couldn't discourage ou_en, for I fancied it might have spoiled your game. I heard that last nigh_hey had lost touch with you in Bradfield, so I rather expected to see yo_ere today. Efficient body of men the Scottish police.'
'Especially when they have various enthusiastic amateur helpers.'
'So?' he said. 'Yes, of course. They would have. But I hope presently t_ongratulate you on the success of your mission.'
'I'll bet you a pony you don't,' I said.
'I never bet on a professional subject. Why this pessimism?'
'Only that I know our gentleman better than you. I've been twice up agains_im. He's the kind of wicked that don't cease from troubling till they'r_tone-dead. And even then I'd want to see the body cremated and take the ashe_nto mid-ocean and scatter them. I've got a feeling that he's the bigges_hing you or I will ever tackle.'