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Chapter 11 The Valley of Humiliation

  • 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.