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Chapter 10 The Advantages of an Air Raid

  • 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?'
  • Macgillivray nodded.
  • '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.'