I collected some baggage and a pile of newly arrived letters from my rooms i_estminster and took a taxi to my Park Lane flat. Usually I had gone back t_hat old place with a great feeling of comfort, like a boy from school wh_anges about his room at home and examines his treasures. I used to like t_ee my hunting trophies on the wall and to sink into my own armchairs But no_ had no pleasure in the thing. I had a bath, and changed into uniform, an_hat made me feel in better fighting trim. But I suffered from a heav_onviction of abject failure, and had no share in Macgillivray's optimism. Th_we with which the Black Stone gang had filled me three years before ha_evived a thousandfold. Personal humiliation was the least part of my trouble.
What worried me was the sense of being up against something inhumanl_ormidable and wise and strong. I believed I was willing to own defeat an_huck up the game.
Among the unopened letters was one from Peter, a very bulky one which I sa_own to read at leisure. It was a curious epistle, far the longest he had eve_ritten me, and its size made me understand his loneliness. He was still a_is German prison-camp, but expecting every day to go to Switzerland. He sai_e could get back to England or South Africa, if he wanted, for they wer_lear that he could never be a combatant again; but he thought he had bette_tay in Switzerland, for he would be unhappy in England with all his friend_ighting. As usual he made no complaints, and seemed to be very grateful fo_is small mercies. There was a doctor who was kind to him, and some goo_ellows among the prisoners.
But Peter's letter was made up chiefly of reflection. He had always been a bi_f a philosopher, and now, in his isolation, he had taken to thinking hard, and poured out the results to me on pages of thin paper in his clums_andwriting. I could read between the lines that he was having a stiff figh_ith himself. He was trying to keep his courage going in face of the bitteres_rial he could be called on to face—a crippled old age. He had always known _ood deal about the Bible, and that and the Pilgrim's Progress were his chie_ids in reflection. Both he took quite literally, as if they were newspape_eports of actual recent events.
He mentioned that after much consideration he had reached the conclusion tha_he three greatest men he had ever heard of or met were Mr Valiant-for-Truth, the Apostle Paul, and a certain Billy Strang who had been with him i_ashonaland in '92. Billy I knew all about; he had been Peter's hero an_eader till a lion got him in the Blaauwberg. Peter preferred Valiant-for- Truth to Mr Greatheart, I think, because of his superior truculence, for, being very gentle himself, he loved a bold speaker. After that he dropped int_ vein of self-examination. He regretted that he fell far short of any of th_hree. He thought that he might with luck resemble Mr Standfast, for like hi_e had not much trouble in keeping wakeful, and was also as 'poor as _owler', and didn't care for women. He only hoped that he could imitate him i_aking a good end.
Then followed some remarks of Peter's on courage, which came to me in tha_ondon room as if spoken by his living voice. I have never known anyone s_rave, so brave by instinct, or anyone who hated so much to be told so. It wa_lmost the only thing that could make him angry. All his life he had bee_acing death, and to take risks seemed to him as natural as to get up in th_orning and eat his breakfast. But he had started out to consider the ver_hing which before he had taken for granted, and here is an extract from hi_onclusions. I paraphrase him, for he was not grammatical.
It's easy enough to be brave if you're feeling well and have food inside you.
And it's not so difficult even if you're short of a meal and seedy, for tha_akes you inclined to gamble. I mean by being brave playing the game by th_ight rules without letting it worry you that you may very likely get knocke_n the head. It's the wisest way to save your skin. It doesn't do to thin_bout death if you're facing a charging lion or trying to bluff a lot o_avages. If you think about it you'll get it; if you don't, the odds are yo_on't. That kind of courage is only good nerves and experience … Most courag_s experience. Most people are a little scared at new things …
You want a bigger heart to face danger which you go out to look for, and whic_oesn't come to you in the ordinary way of business. Still, that's pretty muc_he same thing—good nerves and good health, and a natural liking for rows. Yo_ee, Dick, in all that game there's a lot of fun. There's excitement and th_un of using your wits and skill, and you know that the bad bits can't las_ong. When Arcoll sent me to Makapan's kraal I didn't altogether fancy th_ob, but at the worst it was three parts sport, and I got so excited that _ever thought of the risk till it was over …
But the big courage is the cold-blooded kind, the kind that never lets go eve_hen you're feeling empty inside, and your blood's thin, and there's no kin_f fun or profit to be had, and the trouble's not over in an hour or two bu_asts for months and years. One of the men here was speaking about that kind, and he called it 'Fortitude'. I reckon fortitude's the biggest thing a man ca_ave—just to go on enduring when there's no guts or heart left in you. Bill_ad it when he trekked solitary from Garungoze to the Limpopo with fever and _roken arm just to show the Portugooses that he wouldn't be downed by them.
But the head man at the job was the Apostle Paul …
Peter was writing for his own comfort, for fortitude was all that was left t_im now. But his words came pretty straight to me, and I read them again an_gain, for I needed the lesson. Here was I losing heart just because I ha_ailed in the first round and my pride had taken a knock. I felt honestl_shamed of myself, and that made me a far happier man. There could be n_uestion of dropping the business, whatever its difficulties. I had a quee_eligious feeling that Ivery and I had our fortunes intertwined, and that n_ill of mine could keep us apart. I had faced him before the war and won; _ad faced him again and lost; the third time or the twentieth time we woul_each a final decision. The whole business had hitherto appeared to me _rifle unreal, at any rate my own connection with it. I had been docilel_beying orders, but my real self had been standing aside and watching m_oings with a certain aloofness. But that hour in the Tube station had brough_e into the serum, and I saw the affair not as Bullivant's or eve_lenkiron's, but as my own. Before I had been itching to get back to th_ront; now I wanted to get on to Ivery's trail, though it should take m_hrough the nether pit. Peter was right; fortitude was the thing a man mus_ossess if he would save his soul.
The hours passed, and, as I expected, there came no word from Macgillivray. _ad some dinner sent up to me at seven o'clock, and about eight I was thinkin_f looking up Blenkiron. just then came a telephone call asking me to go roun_o Sir Walter Bullivant's house in Queen Anne's Gate.
Ten minutes later I was ringing the bell, and the door was opened to me by th_ame impassive butler who had admitted me on that famous night three year_efore. Nothing had changed in the pleasant green-panelled hall; the alcov_as the same as when I had watched from it the departure of the man who no_alled himself Ivery; the telephone book lay in the very place from which _ad snatched it in order to ring up the First Sea Lord. And in the back room, where that night five anxious officials had conferred, I found Sir Walter an_lenkiron.
Both looked worried, the American feverishly so. He walked up and down th_earthrug, sucking an unlit black cigar.
'Say, Dick,' he said, this is a bad business. It wasn't no fault of yours. Yo_id fine. It was us—me and Sir Walter and Mr Macgillivray that were th_uitters.'
'Any news?' I asked.
'So far the cover's drawn blank,' Sir Walter replied. 'It was the devil's ow_ork that our friend looked your way today. You're pretty certain he saw tha_ou recognized him?'
'Absolutely. As sure as that he knew I recognized him in your hall three year_go when he was swaggering as Lord Alloa.'
'No,' said Blenkiron dolefully, that little flicker of recognition is just th_ne thing you can't be wrong about. Land alive! I wish Mr Macgillivray woul_ome.'
The bell rang, and the door opened, but it was not Macgillivray. It was _oung girl in a white ball-gown, with a cluster of blue cornflowers at he_reast. The sight of her fetched Sir Walter out of his chair so suddenly tha_e upset his coffee cup.
'Mary, my dear, how did you manage it? I didn't expect you till the lat_rain.'
'I was in London, you see, and they telephoned on your telegram. I'm stayin_ith Aunt Doria, and I cut her theatre party. She thinks I'm at th_handwick's dance, so I needn't go home till morning … Good evening, Genera_annay. You got over the Hill Difficulty.'
'The next stage is the Valley of Humiliation,' I answered.
'So it would appear,' she said gravely, and sat very quietly on the edge o_ir Walter's chair with her small, cool hand upon his.
I had been picturing her in my recollection as very young and glimmering, _ancing, exquisite child. But now I revised that picture. The crysta_reshness of morning was still there, but I saw how deep the waters were. I_as the clean fineness and strength of her that entranced me. I didn't eve_hink of her as pretty, any more than a man thinks of the good looks of th_riend he worships.
We waited, hardly speaking a word, till Macgillivray came. The first sight o_is face told his story.
'Gone?' asked Blenkiron sharply. The man's lethargic calm seemed to hav_holly deserted him.
'Gone,' repeated the newcomer. 'We have just tracked him down. Oh, he manage_t cleverly. Never a sign of disturbance in any of his lairs. His dinne_rdered at Biggleswick and several people invited to stay with him for th_eekend—one a member of the Government. Two meetings at which he was to spea_rranged for next week. Early this afternoon he flew over to France as _assenger in one of the new planes. He had been mixed up with the Air Boar_eople for months—of course as another man with another face. Miss Lamingto_iscovered that just too late. The bus went out of its course and came down i_ormandy. By this time our man's in Paris or beyond it.'
Sir Walter took off his big tortoiseshell spectacles and laid them carefull_n the table.
'Roll up the map of Europe,' he said. 'This is our Austerlitz. Mary, my dear, I am feeling very old.'
Macgillivray had the sharpened face of a bitterly disappointed man. Blenkiro_ad got very red, and I could see that he was blaspheming violently under hi_reath. Mary's eyes were quiet and solemn. She kept on patting Sir Walter'_and. The sense of some great impending disaster hung heavily on me, and t_reak the spell I asked for details.
'Tell me just the extent of the damage,' I asked. 'Our neat plan for deceivin_he Boche has failed. That is bad. A dangerous spy has got beyond our power.
That's worse. Tell me, is there still a worst? What's the limit of mischief h_an do?'
Sir Walter had risen and joined Blenkiron on the hearthrug. His brows wer_urrowed and his mouth hard as if he were suffering pain.
'There is no limit,' he said. 'None that I can see, except the long- sufferin_f God. You know the man as Ivery, and you knew him as that other whom yo_elieved to have been shot one summer morning and decently buried. You feare_he second—at least if you didn't, I did—most mortally. You realized that w_eared Ivery, and you knew enough about him to see his fiendish cleverness.
Well, you have the two men combined in one man. Ivery was the best brai_acgillivray and I ever encountered, the most cunning and patient and long- sighted. Combine him with the other, the chameleon who can blend himself wit_is environment, and has as many personalities as there are types and trait_n the earth. What kind of enemy is that to have to fight?'
'I admit it's a steep proposition. But after all how much ill can he do? Ther_re pretty strict limits to the activity of even the cleverest spy.'
'I agree. But this man is not a spy who buys a few wretched subordinates an_teals a dozen private letters. He's a genius who has been living as part o_ur English life. There's nothing he hasn't seen. He's been on terms o_ntimacy with all kinds of politicians. We know that. He did it as Ivery. The_ather liked him, for he was clever and flattered them, and they told hi_hings. But God knows what he saw and heard in his other personalities. Fo_ll I know he may have breakfasted at Downing Street with letters o_ntroduction from President Wilson, or visited the Grand Fleet as _istinguished neutral. Then think of the women; how they talk. We're th_eakiest society on earth, and we safeguard ourselves by keeping dangerou_eople out of it. We trust to our outer barrage. But anyone who has reall_lipped inside has a million chances. And this, remember, is one man in te_illions, a man whose brain never sleeps for a moment, who is quick to seiz_he slightest hint, who can piece a plan together out of a dozen bits o_ossip. It's like—it's as if the Chief of the Intelligence Department wer_uddenly to desert to the enemy … The ordinary spy knows only bits o_nconnected facts. This man knows our life and our way of thinking an_verything about us.'
'Well, but a treatise on English life in time of war won't do much good to th_oche.'
Sir Walter shook his head. 'Don't you realize the explosive stuff that i_ying about? Ivery knows enough to make the next German peace offensive reall_eadly—not the blundering thing which it has been up to now, but somethin_hich gets our weak spots on the raw. He knows enough to wreck our campaign i_he field. And the awful thing is that we don't know just what he knows o_hat he is aiming for. This war's a packet of surprises. Both sides ar_truggling for the margin, the little fraction of advantage, and betwee_venly matched enemies it's just the extra atom of foreknowledge that tells.'
'Then we've got to push off and get after him,' I said cheerfully.
'But what are you going to do?' asked Macgillivray. 'If it were merely _uestion of destroying an organization it might be managed, for a_rganization presents a big front. But it's a question of destroying this on_an, and his front is a razor edge. How are you going to find him? It's lik_ooking for a needle in a haystack, and such a needle! A needle which ca_ecome a piece of straw or a tin-tack when it chooses!'
'All the same we've got to do it,' I said, remembering old Peter's lesson o_ortitude, though I can't say I was feeling very stout-hearted.
Sir Walter flung himself wearily into an arm-chair. 'I wish I could be a_ptimist,' he said, 'but it looks as if we must own defeat. I've been at thi_ork for twenty years, and, though I've been often beaten, I've always hel_ertain cards in the game. Now I'm hanged if I've any. It looks like a knock- out, Hannay. It's no good deluding ourselves. We're men enough to look fact_n the face and tell ourselves the truth. I don't see any ray of light in th_usiness. We've missed our shot by a hairsbreadth and that's the same a_issing by miles.'
I remember he looked at Mary as if for confirmation, but she did not smile o_od. Her face was very grave and her eyes looked steadily at him. Then the_oved and met mine, and they seemed to give me my marching orders.
'Sir Walter,' I said, 'three years ago you and I sat in this very room. W_hought we were done to the world, as we think now. We had just that on_iserable little clue to hang on to—a dozen words scribbled in a notebook by _ead man. You thought I was mad when I asked for Scudder's book, but we pu_ur backs into the job and in twenty-four hours we had won out. Remember tha_hen we were fighting against time. Now we have a reasonable amount o_eisure. Then we had nothing but a sentence of gibberish. Now we have a grea_ody of knowledge, for Blenkiron has been brooding over Ivery like an old hen, and he knows his ways of working and his breed of confederate. You've go_omething to work on now. Do you mean to tell me that, when the stakes are s_ig, you're going to chuck in your hand?'
Macgillivray raised his head. 'We know a good deal about Ivery, but Ivery'_ead. We know nothing of the man who was gloriously resurrected this evenin_n Normandy.'
'Oh, yes we do. There are many faces to the man, but only one mind, and yo_now plenty about that mind.'
'I wonder,' said Sir Walter. 'How can you know a mind which has n_haracteristics except that it is wholly and supremely competent? Mere menta_owers won't give us a clue. We want to know the character which is behind al_he personalities. Above all we want to know its foibles. If we had only _int of some weakness we might make a plan.'
'Well, let's set down all we know,' I cried, for the more I argued the keene_ grew. I told them in some detail the story of the night in the Coolin an_hat I had heard there.
'There's the two names Chelius and Bommaerts. The man spoke them in the sam_reath as Effenbein, so they must be associated with Ivery's gang. You've go_o get the whole Secret Service of the Allies busy to fit a meaning to thes_wo words. Surely to goodness you'll find something! Remember those name_on't belong to the Ivery part, but to the big game behind all the differen_isguises … Then there's the talk about the Wild Birds and the Cage Birds. _aven't a guess at what it means. But it refers to some infernal gang, an_mong your piles of records there must be some clue. You set the intelligenc_f two hemispheres busy on the job. You've got all the machinery, and it's m_xperience that if even one solitary man keeps chewing on at a problem h_iscovers something.'
My enthusiasm was beginning to strike sparks from Macgillivray. He was lookin_houghtful now, instead of despondent.
'There might be something in that,' he said, 'but it's a far-out chance.'
'Of course it's a far-out chance, and that's all we're ever going to get fro_very. But we've taken a bad chance before and won … Then you've all that yo_now about Ivery here. Go through his dossier with a small-tooth comb and I'l_et you find something to work on. Blenkiron, you're a man with a cool head.
You admit we've a sporting chance.'
'Sure, Dick. He's fixed things so that the lines are across the track, bu_e'll clear somehow. So far as John S. Blenkiron is concerned he's got jus_ne thing to do in this world, and that's to follow the yellow dog and hav_im neatly and cleanly tidied up. I've got a stack of personal affronts t_ettle. I was easy fruit and he hasn't been very respectful. You can count m_n, Dick.'
'Then we're agreed,' I cried. 'Well, gentlemen, it's up to you to arrange th_irst stage. You've some pretty solid staff work to put in before you get o_he trail.'
'And you?' Sir Walter asked.
'I'm going back to my brigade. I want a rest and a change. Besides, the firs_tage is office work, and I'm no use for that. But I'll be waiting to b_ummoned, and I'll come like a shot as soon as you hoick me out. I've got _resentiment about this thing. I know there'll be a finish and that I'll be i_t it, and I think it will be a desperate, bloody business too.'
I found Mary's eyes fixed upon me, and in them I read the same thought. Sh_ad not spoken a word, but had sat on the edge of a chair, swinging a foo_dly, one hand playing with an ivory fan. She had given me my old orders and _ooked to her for confirmation of the new.
'Miss Lamington, you are the wisest of the lot of us. What do you say?'
She smiled—that shy, companionable smile which I had been picturing to mysel_hrough all the wanderings of the past month.
'I think you are right. We've a long way to go yet, for the Valley o_umiliation comes only half-way in the Pilgrim's Progress. The next stage wa_anity Fair. I might be of some use there, don't you think?'
I remember the way she laughed and flung back her head like a gallant boy.
'The mistake we've all been making,' she said, 'is that our methods are to_erre-a-terre. We've a poet to deal with, a great poet, and we must fling ou_maginations forward to catch up with him. His strength is his unexpectedness, you know, and we won't beat him by plodding only. I believe the wildest cours_s the wisest, for it's the most likely to intersect his … Who's the poe_mong us?'
'Peter,' I said. 'But he's pinned down with a game leg in Germany. All th_ame we must rope him in.'
By this time we had all cheered up, for it is wonderful what a tonic there i_n a prospect of action. The butler brought in tea, which it was Bullivant'_abit to drink after dinner. To me it seemed fantastic to watch a slip of _irl pouring it out for two grizzled and distinguished servants of the Stat_nd one battered soldier—as decorous a family party as you would ask t_ee—and to reflect that all four were engaged in an enterprise where men'_ives must be reckoned at less than thistledown.
After that we went upstairs to a noble Georgian drawing-room and Mary playe_o us. I don't care two straws for music from an instrument—unless it be th_ipes or a regimental band—but I dearly love the human voice. But she woul_ot sing, for singing to her, I fancy, was something that did not come a_ill, but flowed only like a bird's note when the mood favoured. I did no_ant it either. I was content to let 'Cherry Ripe' be the one song linked wit_er in my memory.
It was Macgillivray who brought us back to business.
'I wish to Heaven there was one habit of mind we could definitely attach t_im and to no one else.' (At this moment 'He' had only one meaning for us.)
'You can't do nothing with his mind,' Blenkiron drawled. 'You can't loose th_ands of Orion, as the Bible says, or hold Leviathan with a hook. I reckoned _ould and made a mighty close study of his de-vices. But the darned cus_ouldn't stay put. I thought I had tied him down to the double bluff, and h_ent and played the triple bluff on me. There's nothing doing that line.'
A memory of Peter recurred to me.
'What about the "blind spot"?' I asked, and I told them old Peter's pe_heory. 'Every man that God made has his weak spot somewhere, some flaw in hi_haracter which leaves a dull patch in his brain. We've got to find that out, and I think I've made a beginning.'
Macgillivray in a sharp voice asked my meaning.
'He's in a funk … of something. Oh, I don't mean he's a coward. A man in hi_rade wants the nerve of a buffalo. He could give us all points in courage.
What I mean is that he's not clean white all through. There are yellow streak_omewhere in him … I've given a good deal of thought to this courage business, for I haven't got a great deal of it myself. Not like Peter, I mean. I've go_eaps of soft places in me. I'm afraid of being drowned for one thing, or o_etting my eyes shot out. Ivery's afraid of bombs—at any rate he's afraid o_ombs in a big city. I once read a book which talked about a thing calle_goraphobia. Perhaps it's that … Now if we know that weak spot it helps us i_ur work. There are some places he won't go to, and there are some things h_an't do—not well, anyway. I reckon that's useful.'
'Ye-es,' said Macgillivray. 'Perhaps it's not what you'd call a burning and _hining light.'
'There's another chink in his armour,' I went on. 'There's one person in th_orld he can never practise his transformations on, and that's me. I shal_lways know him again, though he appeared as Sir Douglas Haig. I can't explai_hy, but I've got a feel in my bones about it. I didn't recognize him before, for I thought he was dead, and the nerve in my brain which should have bee_ooking for him wasn't working. But I'm on my guard now, and that nerve'_unctioning at full power. Whenever and wherever and howsoever we meet agai_n the face of the earth, it will be "Dr Livingstone, I presume" between hi_nd me.'
'That is better,' said Macgillivray. 'If we have any luck, Hannay, it won't b_ong till we pull you out of His Majesty's Forces.'
Mary got up from the piano and resumed her old perch on the arm of Si_alter's chair.
'There's another blind spot which you haven't mentioned.' It was a coo_vening, but I noticed that her cheeks had suddenly flushed.
'Last week Mr Ivery asked me to marry him,' she said.