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Chapter 3 Mr Blenkiron Discourses on Love and War

  • Three days later I got my orders to report at Paris for special service. The_ame none too soon, for I chafed at each hour's delay. Every thought in m_ead was directed to the game which we were playing against Ivery. He was th_ig enemy, compared to whom the ordinary Boche in the trenches was innocen_nd friendly. I had almost lost interest in my division, for I knew that fo_e the real battle-front was not in Picardy, and that my job was not so eas_s holding a length of line. Also I longed to be at the same work as Mary.
  • I remember waking up in billets the morning after the night at the Chatea_ith the feeling that I had become extraordinarily rich. I felt very humble, too, and very kindly towards all the world—even to the Boche, though I can'_ay I had ever hated him very wildly. You find hate more among journalists an_oliticians at home than among fighting men. I wanted to be quiet and alone t_hink, and since that was impossible I went about my work in a happ_bstraction. I tried not to look ahead, but only to live in the present, remembering that a war was on, and that there was desperate and dangerou_usiness before me, and that my hopes hung on a slender thread. Yet for al_hat I had sometimes to let my fancies go free, and revel in delicious dreams.
  • But there was one thought that always brought me back to hard ground, and tha_as Ivery. I do not think I hated anybody in the world but him. It was hi_elation to Mary that stung me. He had the insolence with all his toad-lik_ast to make love to that clean and radiant girl. I felt that he and I stoo_s mortal antagonists, and the thought pleased me, for it helped me to pu_ome honest detestation into my job. Also I was going to win. Twice I ha_ailed, but the third time I should succeed. It had been like ranging shot_or a gun—first short, second over, and I vowed that the third should be dea_n the mark.
  • I was summoned to G.H.Q., where I had half an hour's talk with the greates_ritish commander. I can see yet his patient, kindly face and that steady ey_hich no vicissitude of fortune could perturb. He took the biggest view, fo_e was statesman as well as soldier, and knew that the whole world was on_attle-field and every man and woman among the combatant nations was in th_attle-line. So contradictory is human nature, that talk made me wish for _oment to stay where I was. I wanted to go on serving under that man. _ealized suddenly how much I loved my work, and when I got back to my quarter_hat night and saw my men swinging in from a route march I could have howle_ike a dog at leaving them. Though I say it who shouldn't, there wasn't _etter division in the Army.
  • One morning a few days later I picked up Mary in Amiens. I always liked th_lace, for after the dirt of the Somme it was a comfort to go there for a bat_nd a square meal, and it had the noblest church that the hand of man eve_uilt for God. It was a clear morning when we started from the boulevar_eside the railway station; and the air smelt of washed streets and fres_offee, and women were going marketing and the little trams ran clanking by, just as in any other city far from the sound of guns. There was very littl_haki or horizon-blue about, and I remember thinking how completely Amiens ha_ot out of the war-zone. Two months later it was a different story.
  • To the end I shall count that day as one of the happiest in my life. Sprin_as in the air, though the trees and fields had still their winter colouring.
  • A thousand good fresh scents came out of the earth, and the larks were bus_ver the new furrows. I remember that we ran up a little glen, where a strea_pread into pools among sallows, and the roadside trees were heavy wit_istletoe. On the tableland beyond the Somme valley the sun shone like April.
  • At Beauvais we lunched badly in an inn—badly as to food, but there was a_xcellent Burgundy at two francs a bottle. Then we slipped down through littl_lat-chested townships to the Seine, and in the late afternoon passed throug_t Germains forest. The wide green spaces among the trees set my fanc_welling on that divine English countryside where Mary and I would one da_ake our home. She had been in high spirits all the journey, but when I spok_f the Cotswolds her face grew grave.
  • 'Don't let us speak of it, Dick,' she said. 'It's too happy a thing and I fee_s if it would wither if we touched it. I don't let myself think of peace an_ome, for it makes me too homesick … I think we shall get there some day, yo_nd I … but it's a long road to the Delectable Mountains, and Faithful, yo_now, has to die first … There is a price to be paid.'
  • The words sobered me.
  • 'Who is our Faithful?' I asked.
  • 'I don't know. But he was the best of the Pilgrims.'
  • Then, as if a veil had lifted, her mood changed, and when we came through th_uburbs of Paris and swung down the Champs Elysees she was in a holida_umour. The lights were twinkling in the blue January dusk, and the war_reath of the city came to greet us. I knew little of the place, for I ha_isited it once only on a four days' Paris leave, but it had seemed to me the_he most habitable of cities, and now, coming from the battle-field with Mar_y my side, it was like the happy ending of a dream.
  • I left her at her cousin's house near the Rue St Honore, and deposited myself, according to instructions, at the Hotel Louis Quinze. There I wallowed in _ot bath, and got into the civilian clothes which had been sent on fro_ondon. They made me feel that I had taken leave of my division for good an_ll this time. Blenkiron had a private room, where we were to dine; and a mor_onderful litter of books and cigar boxes I have never seen, for he hadn't _otion of tidiness. I could hear him grunting at his toilet in the adjacen_edroom, and I noticed that the table was laid for three. I went downstairs t_et a paper, and on the way ran into Launcelot Wake.
  • He was no longer a private in a Labour Battalion. Evening clothes showe_eneath his overcoat. 'Hullo, Wake, are you in this push too?'
  • 'I suppose so,' he said, and his manner was not cordial. 'Anyhow I was ordere_own here. My business is to do as I am told.'
  • 'Coming to dine?' I asked.
  • 'No. I'm dining with some friends at the Crillon.'
  • Then he looked me in the face, and his eyes were hot as I first remembere_hem. 'I hear I've to congratulate you, Hannay,' and he held out a limp hand.
  • I never felt more antagonism in a human being.
  • 'You don't like it?' I said, for I guessed what he meant.
  • 'How on earth can I like it?' he cried angrily. 'Good Lord, man, you'll murde_er soul. You an ordinary, stupid, successful fellow and she—she's the mos_recious thing God ever made. You can never understand a fraction of he_reciousness, but you'll clip her wings all right. She can never fly now … '
  • He poured out this hysterical stuff to me at the foot of the staircase withi_earing of an elderly French widow with a poodle. I had no impulse to b_ngry, for I was far too happy.
  • 'Don't, Wake,' I said. 'We're all too close together to quarrel. I'm not fi_o black Mary's shoes. You can't put me too low or her too high. But I've a_east the sense to know it. You couldn't want me to be humbler than I felt.'
  • He shrugged his shoulders, as he went out to the street. 'Your inferna_agnanimity would break any man's temper.'
  • I went upstairs to find Blenkiron, washed and shaven, admiring a pair o_right patent-leather shoes.
  • 'Why, Dick, I've been wearying bad to see you. I was nervous you would b_lown to glory, for I've been reading awful things about your battles in th_oospapers. The war correspondents worry me so I can't take breakfast.'
  • He mixed cocktails and clinked his glass on mine. 'Here's to the young lady. _as trying to write her a pretty little sonnet, but the darned rhymes wouldn'_it. I've gotten a heap of things to say to you when we've finished dinner.'
  • Mary came in, her cheeks bright from the weather, and Blenkiron promptly fel_bashed. But she had a way to meet his shyness, for, when he began a_mbarrassed speech of good wishes, she put her arms round his neck and kisse_im. Oddly enough, that set him completely at his ease.
  • It was pleasant to eat off linen and china again, pleasant to see ol_lenkiron's benignant face and the way he tucked into his food, but it wa_elicious for me to sit at a meal with Mary across the table. It made me fee_hat she was really mine, and not a pixie that would vanish at a word. T_lenkiron she bore herself like an affectionate but mischievous daughter, while the desperately refined manners that afflicted him whenever women wer_oncerned mellowed into something like his everyday self. They did most of th_alking, and I remember he fetched from some mysterious hiding-place a grea_ox of chocolates, which you could no longer buy in Paris, and the two at_hem like spoiled children. I didn't want to talk, for it was pure happines_or me to look on. I loved to watch her, when the servants had gone, with he_lbows on the table like a schoolboy, her crisp gold hair a little rumpled, cracking walnuts with gusto, like some child who has been allowed down fro_he nursery for dessert and means to make the most of it.
  • With his first cigar Blenkiron got to business.
  • 'You want to know about the staff-work we've been busy on at home. Well, it'_inished now, thanks to you, Dick. We weren't getting on very fast till yo_ook to peroosing the press on your sick-bed and dropped us that hint abou_he "Deep-breathing" ads.'
  • 'Then there was something in it?' I asked.
  • 'There was black hell in it. There wasn't any Gussiter, but there was a might_ine little syndicate of crooks with old man Gresson at the back of them.
  • First thing, I started out to get the cipher. It took some looking for, bu_here's no cipher on earth can't be got hold of somehow if you know it'_here, and in this case we were helped a lot by the return messages in th_erman papers. It was bad stuff when we read it, and explained the darne_eakages in important noos we've been up against. At first I figured to kee_he thing going and turn Gussiter into a corporation with John S. Blenkiron a_resident. But it wouldn't do, for at the first hint of tampering with thei_ommunications the whole bunch got skeery and sent out SOS signals. So w_enderly plucked the flowers.'
  • 'Gresson, too?' I asked.
  • He nodded. 'I guess your seafaring companion's now under the sod. We ha_ollected enough evidence to hang him ten times over … But that was the leas_f it. For your little old cipher, Dick, gave us a line on Ivery.'
  • I asked how, and Blenkiron told me the story. He had about a dozen cross- bearings proving that the organization of the 'Deep-breathing' game had it_eadquarters in Switzerland. He suspected Ivery from the first, but the ma_ad vanished out of his ken, so he started working from the other end, an_nstead of trying to deduce the Swiss business from Ivery he tried to deduc_very from the Swiss business. He went to Berne and made a conspicuous publi_ool of himself for several weeks. He called himself an agent of the America_ropaganda there, and took some advertising space in the press and put i_pread-eagle announcements of his mission, with the result that the Swis_overnment threatened to turn him out of the country if he tampered tha_mount with their neutrality. He also wrote a lot of rot in the Genev_ewspapers, which he paid to have printed, explaining how he was a pacifist, and was going to convert Germany to peace by 'inspirational advertisement o_ure-minded war aims'. All this was in keeping with his English reputation, and he wanted to make himself a bait for Ivery.
  • But Ivery did not rise to the fly, and though he had a dozen agents workin_or him on the quiet he could never hear of the name Chelius. That was, h_eckoned, a very private and particular name among the Wild Birds. However, h_ot to know a good deal about the Swiss end of the 'Deep-breathing' business.
  • That took some doing and cost a lot of money. His best people were a girl wh_osed as a mannequin in a milliner's shop in Lyons and a concierge in a bi_otel at St Moritz. His most important discovery was that there was a secon_ipher in the return messages sent from Switzerland, different from the on_hat the Gussiter lot used in England. He got this cipher, but though he coul_ead it he couldn't make anything out of it. He concluded that it was a ver_ecret means of communication between the inner circle of the Wild Birds, an_hat Ivery must be at the back of it … But he was still a long way fro_inding out anything that mattered.
  • Then the whole situation changed, for Mary got in touch with Ivery. I must sa_he behaved like a shameless minx, for she kept on writing to him to a_ddress he had once given her in Paris, and suddenly she got an answer. Sh_as in Paris herself, helping to run one of the railway canteens, and stayin_ith her French cousins, the de Mezieres. One day he came to see her. Tha_howed the boldness of the man, and his cleverness, for the whole secre_olice of France were after him and they never got within sight or sound. Ye_ere he was coming openly in the afternoon to have tea with an English girl.
  • It showed another thing, which made me blaspheme. A man so resolute an_ingle-hearted in his job must have been pretty badly in love to take a ris_ike that.
  • He came, and he called himself the Capitaine Bommaerts, with a transport jo_n the staff of the French G.Q.G. He was on the staff right enough too. Mar_aid that when she heard that name she nearly fell down. He was quite fran_ith her, and she with him. They are both peacemakers, ready to break the law_f any land for the sake of a great ideal. Goodness knows what stuff the_alked together. Mary said she would blush to think of it till her dying day, and I gathered that on her side it was a mixture of Launcelot Wake at his mos_edantic and schoolgirl silliness.
  • He came again, and they met often, unbeknown to the decorous Madame d_ezieres. They walked together in the Bois de Boulogne, and once, with _eating heart, she motored with him to Auteuil for luncheon. He spoke of hi_ouse in Picardy, and there were moments, I gathered, when he became th_eclared lover, to be rebuffed with a hoydenish shyness. Presently the pac_ecame too hot, and after some anguished arguments with Bullivant on the long- distance telephone she went off to Douvecourt to Lady Manorwater's hospital.
  • She went there to escape from him, but mainly, I think, to have _ook—trembling in every limb, mind you—at the Chateau of Eaucourt Sainte-Anne.
  • I had only to think of Mary to know just what Joan of Arc was. No man eve_orn could have done that kind of thing. It wasn't recklessness. It was shee_alculating courage.
  • Then Blenkiron took up the tale. The newspaper we found that Christmas Eve i_he Chateau was of tremendous importance, for Bommaerts had pricked out in th_dvertisement the very special second cipher of the Wild Birds. That prove_hat Ivery was at the back of the Swiss business. But Blenkiron made doubl_ure.
  • 'I considered the time had come,' he said, 'to pay high for valuable noos, s_ sold the enemy a very pretty de-vice. If you ever gave your mind to cipher_nd illicit correspondence, Dick, you would know that the one kind of documen_ou can't write on in invisible ink is a coated paper, the kind they use i_he weeklies to print photographs of leading actresses and the stately home_f England. Anything wet that touches it corrugates the surface a little, an_ou can tell with a microscope if someone's been playing at it. Well, we ha_he good fortune to discover just how to get over that little difficulty—ho_o write on glazed paper with a quill so as the cutest analyst couldn't spo_t, and likewise how to detect the writing. I decided to sacrifice tha_nvention, casting my bread upon the waters and looking for a good-size_akery in return … I had it sold to the enemy. The job wanted delicat_andling, but the tenth man from me—he was an Austrian Jew—did the deal an_cooped fifty thousand dollars out of it. Then I lay low to watch how m_riend would use the de-vice, and I didn't wait long.'
  • He took from his pocket a folded sheet of L'Illustration. Over a photogravur_late ran some words in a large sprawling hand, as if written with a brush.
  • 'That page when I got it yesterday,' he said, 'was an unassuming picture o_eneral Petain presenting military medals. There wasn't a scratch or a rippl_n its surface. But I got busy with it, and see there!'
  • He pointed out two names. The writing was a set of key-words we did not know, but two names stood out which I knew too well. They were 'Bommaerts' and
  • 'Chelius'.
  • 'My God!' I cried, 'that's uncanny. It only shows that if you chew lon_nough—'
  • 'Dick,' said Mary, 'you mustn't say that again. At the best it's an ugl_etaphor, and you're making it a platitude.'
  • 'Who is Ivery anyhow?' I asked. 'Do you know more about him than we knew i_he summer? Mary, what did Bommaerts pretend to be?'
  • 'An Englishman.' Mary spoke in the most matter-of-fact tone, as if it were _erfectly usual thing to be made love to by a spy, and that rather soothed m_nnoyance. 'When he asked me to marry him he proposed to take me to a country- house in Devonshire. I rather think, too, he had a place in Scotland. But o_ourse he's a German.'
  • 'Ye-es,' said Blenkiron slowly, 'I've got on to his record, and it isn't _retty story. It's taken some working out, but I've got all the links teste_ow … He's a Boche and a large-sized nobleman in his own state. Did you eve_ear of the Graf von Schwabing?'
  • I shook my head.
  • 'I think I have heard Uncle Charlie speak of him,' said Mary, wrinkling he_rows. 'He used to hunt with the Pytchley.'
  • 'That's the man. But he hasn't troubled the Pytchley for the last eight years.
  • There was a time when he was the last thing in smartness in the Germa_ourt—officer in the Guards, ancient family, rich, darned clever—all th_ixings. Kaiser liked him, and it's easy to see why. I guess a man who had a_any personalities as the Graf was amusing after-dinner company. Speciall_mong the Germans, who in my experience don't excel in the lighter vein.
  • Anyway, he was William's white-headed boy, and there wasn't a mother with _aughter who wasn't out gunning for Otto von Schwabing. He was about a_opular in London and Noo York—and in Paris, too. Ask Sir Walter about him, Dick. He says he had twice the brains of Kuhlmann, and better manners than th_ustrian fellow he used to yarn about … Well, one day there came an almight_ourt scandal, and the bottom dropped out of the Graf's World. It was a prett_eastly story, and I don't gather that Schwabing was as deep in it as som_thers. But the trouble was that those others had to be shielded at all costs, and Schwabing was made the scapegoat. His name came out in the papers and h_ad to go .'
  • 'What was the case called?' I asked.
  • Blenkiron mentioned a name, and I knew why the word Schwabiog was familiar. _ad read the story long ago in Rhodesia.
  • 'It was some smash,' Blenkiron went on. 'He was drummed out of the Guards, ou_f the clubs, out of the country … Now, how would you have felt, Dick, if yo_ad been the Graf? Your life and work and happiness crossed out, and all t_ave a mangy princeling. "Bitter as hell," you say. Hungering for a chance t_ut it across the lot that had outed you? You wouldn't rest till you ha_illiam sobbing on his knees asking your pardon, and you not thinking o_ranting it? That's the way you'd feel, but that wasn't the Graf's way, an_hat's more it isn't the German way. He went into exile hating humanity, an_ith a heart all poison and snakes, but itching to get back. And I'll tell yo_hy. It's because his kind of German hasn't got any other home on this earth.
  • Oh, yes, I know there's stacks of good old Teutons come and squat in ou_ittle country and turn into fine Americans. You can do a lot with them if yo_atch them young and teach them the Declaration of Independence and make the_tudy our Sunday papers. But you can't deny there's something comic in th_ough about all Germans, before you've civilized them. They're a pecoolia_eople, a darned pecooliar people, else they wouldn't staff all the menial an_ndecent occupations on the globe. But that pecooliarity, which is only skin- deep in the working Boche, is in the bone of the grandee. Your Germa_ristocracy can't consort on terms of equality with any other Upper Te_housand. They swagger and bluff about the world, but they know very well tha_he world's sniggering at them. They're like a boss from Salt Creek Gull_ho's made his pile and bought a dress suit and dropped into a Newport evenin_arty. They don't know where to put their hands or how to keep their fee_till … Your copper-bottomed English nobleman has got to keep jogging himsel_o treat them as equals instead of sending them down to the servants' hall.
  • Their fine fixings are just the high light that reveals the everlasting jay.
  • They can't be gentlemen, because they aren't sure of themselves. The worl_aughs at them, and they know it and it riles them like hell … That's why whe_ Graf is booted out of the Fatherland, he's got to creep back somehow or be _andering Jew for the rest of time.'
  • Blenkiron lit another cigar and fixed me with his steady, ruminating eye.
  • 'For eight years the man has slaved, body and soul, for the men who degrade_im. He's earned his restoration and I daresay he's got it in his pocket. I_erit was rewarded he should be covered with Iron Crosses and Red Eagles … H_ad a pretty good hand to start out with. He knew other countries and he was _andy at languages. More, he had an uncommon gift for living a part. That i_eal genius, Dick, however much it gets up against us. Best of all he had _irst-class outfit of brains. I can't say I ever struck a better, and I'v_ome across some bright citizens in my time … And now he's going to win out, unless we get mighty busy.'
  • There was a knock at the door and the solid figure of Andrew Amos reveale_tself.
  • 'It's time ye was home, Miss Mary. It chappit half-eleven as I came up th_tairs. It's comin' on to rain, so I've brought an umbrelly.'
  • 'One word,' I said. 'How old is the man?'
  • 'Just gone thirty-six,' Blenkiron replied.
  • I turned to Mary, who nodded. 'Younger than you, Dick,' she said wickedly a_he got into her big Jaeger coat.
  • 'I'm going to see you home,' I said.
  • 'Not allowed. You've had quite enough of my society for one day. Andrew's o_scort duty tonight.'
  • Blenkiron looked after her as the door closed.
  • 'I reckon you've got the best girl in the world.'
  • 'Ivery thinks the same,' I said grimly, for my detestation of the man who ha_ade love to Mary fairly choked me.
  • 'You can see why. Here's this degenerate coming out of his rotten class, al_ampered and petted and satiated with the easy pleasures of life. He has see_othing of women except the bad kind and the overfed specimens of his ow_ountry. I hate being impolite about females, but I've always considered th_erman variety uncommon like cows. He has had desperate years of intrigue an_anger, and consorting with every kind of scallawag. Remember, he's a big ma_nd a poet, with a brain and an imagination that takes every grade withou_hanging gears. Suddenly he meets something that is as fresh and lovely as _pring flower, and has wits too, and the steeliest courage, and yet is al_outh and gaiety. It's a new experience for him, a kind of revelation, an_e's big enough to value her as she should be valued … No, Dick, I ca_nderstand you getting cross, but I reckon it an item to the man's credit.'
  • 'It's his blind spot all the same,' I said.
  • 'His blind spot,' Blenkiron repeated solemnly, 'and, please God, we're goin_o remember that.'
  • * * * * *
  • Next morning in miserable sloppy weather Blenkiron carted me about Paris. W_limbed five sets of stairs to a flat away up in Montmartre, where I wa_alked to by a fat man with spectacles and a slow voice and told variou_hings that deeply concerned me. Then I went to a room in the Boulevard S_ermain, with a little cabinet opening off it, where I was shown papers an_aps and some figures on a sheet of paper that made me open my eyes. W_unched in a modest cafe tucked away behind the Palais Royal, and ou_ompanions were two Alsatians who spoke German better than a Boche and had n_ames—only numbers. In the afternoon I went to a low building beside th_nvalides and saw many generals, including more than one whose features wer_amiliar in two hemispheres. I told them everything about myself, and I wa_xamined like a convict, and all particulars about my appearance and manner o_peech written down in a book. That was to prepare the way for me, in case o_eed, among the vast army of those who work underground and know their chie_ut do not know each other.
  • The rain cleared before night, and Blenkiron and I walked back to the hote_hrough that lemon-coloured dusk that you get in a French winter. We passed _ompany of American soldiers, and Blenkiron had to stop and stare. I could se_hat he was stiff with pride, though he wouldn't show it.
  • 'What d'you think of that bunch?' he asked.
  • 'First-rate stuff,' I said.
  • 'The men are all right,' he drawled critically. 'But some of the officer-boy_re a bit puffy. They want fining down.'
  • 'They'll get it soon enough, honest fellows. You don't keep your weight lon_n this war.'
  • 'Say, Dick,' he said shyly, 'what do you truly think of our Americans? You'v_een a lot of them, and I'd value your views.' His tone was that of a bashfu_uthor asking for an opinion on his first book.
  • 'I'll tell you what I think. You're constructing a great middle-class army, and that's the most formidable fighting machine on earth. This kind of wa_oesn't want the Berserker so much as the quiet fellow with a trained mind an_ lot to fight for. The American ranks are filled with all sorts, from cow- punchers to college boys, but mostly with decent lads that have good prospect_n life before them and are fighting because they feel they're bound to, no_ecause they like it. It was the same stock that pulled through your Civi_ar. We have a middle-class division, too—Scottish Territorials, mostly clerk_nd shopmen and engineers and farmers' sons. When I first struck them my onl_rab was that the officers weren't much better than the men. It's still true, but the men are super-excellent, and consequently so are the officers. Tha_ivision gets top marks in the Boche calendar for sheer fighting devilment … And, please God, that's what your American army's going to be. You can was_ut the old idea of a regiment of scallawags commanded by dukes. That wa_ight enough, maybe, in the days when you hurrooshed into battle waving _anner, but it don't do with high explosives and a couple of million men o_ach side and a battle front of five hundred miles. The hero of this war i_he plain man out of the middle class, who wants to get back to his home an_s going to use all the brains and grit he possesses to finish the job soon.'
  • 'That sounds about right,' said Blenkiron reflectively. 'It pleases me some, for you've maybe guessed that I respect the British Army quite a little. Whic_art of it do you put top?'
  • 'All of it's good. The French are keen judges and they give front place to th_cots and the Australians. For myself I think the backbone of the Army is th_ld-fashioned English county regiments that hardly ever get into the paper_hough I don't know, if I had to pick, but I'd take the South Africans.
  • There's only a brigade of them, but they're hell's delight in a battle. Bu_hen you'll say I'm prejudiced.'
  • 'Well,' drawled Blenkiron, you're a mighty Empire anyhow. I've sojourned u_nd down it and I can't guess how the old-time highbrows in your little islan_ame to put it together. But I'll let you into a secret, Dick. I read thi_orning in a noospaper that there was a natural affinity between Americans an_he men of the British Dominions. Take it from me, there isn't—at least no_ith this American. I don't understand them one little bit. When I see you_ean, tall Australians with the sun at the back of their eyes, I'm looking a_en from another planet. Outside you and Peter, I never got to fathom a Sout_frican. The Canadians live over the fence from us, but you mix up a Canuc_ith a Yank in your remarks and you'll get a bat in the eye … But most of u_mericans have gotten a grip on your Old Country. You'll find us might_espectful to other parts of your Empire, but we say anything we damn wel_lease about England. You see, we know her that well and like her that well, we can be free with her.
  • 'It's like,' he concluded as we reached the hotel, 'it's like a lot of boy_hat are getting on in the world and are a bit jealous and stand-offish wit_ach other. But they're all at home with the old man who used to warm them u_ith a hickory cane, even though sometimes in their haste they call him _tand-patter.'
  • That night at dinner we talked solid business—Blenkiron and I and a youn_rench Colonel from the IIIeme Section at G.Q.G. Blenkiron, I remember, go_ery hurt about being called a business man by the Frenchman, who thought h_as paying him a compliment.
  • 'Cut it out,' he said. 'It is a word that's gone bad with me. There's just tw_ind of men, those who've gotten sense and those who haven't. A big percentag_f us Americans make our living by trading, but we don't think because a man'_n business or even because he's made big money that he's any natural good a_very job. We've made a college professor our President, and do what he tell_s like little boys, though he don't earn more than some of us pay our works'
  • manager. You English have gotten business on the brain, and think a fellow's _andy at handling your Government if he happens to have made a pile by som_lat-catching ramp on your Stock Exchange. It makes me tired. You're about th_est business nation on earth, but for God's sake don't begin to talk about i_r you'll lose your power. And don't go confusing real business with th_rdinary gift of raking in the dollars. Any man with sense could make money i_e wanted to, but he mayn't want. He may prefer the fun of the job and le_ther people do the looting. I reckon the biggest business on the globe toda_s the work behind your lines and the way you feed and supply and transpor_our army. It beats the Steel Corporation and the Standard Oil to a frazzle.
  • But the man at the head of it all don't earn more than a thousand dollars _onth … Your nation's getting to worship Mammon, Dick. Cut it out. There'_ust the one difference in humanity—sense or no sense, and most likely yo_on't find any more sense in the man that makes a billion selling bonds tha_n his brother Tim that lives in a shack and sells corn-cobs. I'm not speakin_ut of sinful jealousy, for there was a day when I was reckoned a railroa_ing, and I quit with a bigger pile than kings usually retire on. But _aven't the sense of old Peter, who never even had a bank account … And it'_ense that wins in this war.'
  • The Colonel, who spoke good English, asked a question about a speech whic_ome politician had made.
  • 'There isn't all the sense I'd like to see at the top,' said Blenkiron.
  • 'They're fine at smooth words. That wouldn't matter, but they're thinkin_mooth thoughts. What d'you make of the situation, Dick?'
  • 'I think it's the worst since First Ypres,' I said. 'Everybody's cock-a-whoop, but God knows why.'
  • 'God knows why,' Blenkiron repeated. 'I reckon it's a simple calculation, an_ou can't deny it any more than a mathematical law. Russia is counted out. Th_oche won't get food from her for a good many months, but he can get more men, and he's got them. He's fighting only on one foot, and he's been able to brin_roops and guns west so he's as strong as the Allies now on paper. And he'_tronger in reality. He's got better railways behind him, and he's fighting o_nside lines and can concentrate fast against any bit of our front. I'm n_oldier, but that's so, Dick?'
  • The Frenchman smiled and shook his head. 'All the same they will not pass.
  • They could not when they were two to one in 1914, and they will not now. If w_llies could not break through in the last year when we had many more men, ho_ill the Germans succeed now with only equal numbers?'
  • Blenkiron did not look convinced. 'That's what they all say. I talked to _eneral last week about the coming offensive, and he said he was praying fo_t to hurry up, for he reckoned Fritz would get the fright of his life. It's _ood spirit, maybe, but I don't think it's sound on the facts. We've got tw_ighty great armies of fine fighting-men, but, because we've two commands, we're bound to move ragged like a peal of bells. The Hun's got one army an_orty years of stiff tradition, and, what's more, he's going all out thi_ime. He's going to smash our front before America lines up, or perish in th_ttempt … Why do you suppose all the peace racket in Germany has died down, and the very men that were talking democracy in the summer are now hot fo_ighting to a finish? I'll tell you. It's because old Ludendorff has promise_hem complete victory this spring if they spend enough men, and the Boche is _ood gambler and is out to risk it. We're not up against a local attack thi_ime. We're standing up to a great nation going bald-headed for victory o_estruction. If we're broken, then America's got to fight a new campaign b_erself when she's ready, and the Boche has time to make Russia his feeding- ground and diddle our blockade. That puts another five years on to the war, maybe another ten. Are we free and independent peoples going to endure tha_uch? … I tell you we're tossing to quit before Easter.'
  • He turned towards me, and I nodded assent.
  • 'That's more or less my view,' I said. 'We ought to hold, but it'll be by ou_eeth and nails. For the next six months we'll be fighting without an_argin.'
  • 'But, my friends, you put it too gravely,' cried the Frenchman. 'We may lose _ile or two of ground—yes. But serious danger is not possible. They had bette_hances at Verdun and they failed. Why should they succeed now?'
  • 'Because they are staking everything,' Blenkiron replied. 'It is the las_esperate struggle of a wounded beast, and in these struggles sometimes th_unter perishes. Dick's right. We've got a wasting margin and every extr_unce of weight's going to tell. The battle's in the field, and it's also i_very corner of every Allied land. That's why within the next two months we'v_ot to get even with the Wild Birds.'
  • The French Colonel—his name was de Valliere—smiled at the name, and Blenkiro_nswered my unspoken question.
  • 'I'm going to satisfy some of your curiosity, Dick, for I've put togethe_onsiderable noos of the menagerie. Germany has a good army of spies outsid_er borders. We shoot a batch now and then, but the others go on working lik_eavers and they do a mighty deal of harm. They're beautifully organized, bu_hey don't draw on such good human material as we, and I reckon they don't pa_n results more than ten cents on a dollar of trouble. But there they are.
  • They're the intelligence officers and their business is just to forward noos.
  • They're the birds in the cage, the—what is it your friend called them?'
  • 'Die Stubenvogel,' I said.
  • 'Yes, but all the birds aren't caged. There's a few outside the bars and the_on't collect noos. They do things. If there's anything desperate they're pu_n the job, and they've got power to act without waiting on instructions fro_ome. I've investigated till my brain's tired and I haven't made out more tha_alf a dozen whom I can say for certain are in the business. There's your pal, the Portuguese Jew, Dick. Another's a woman in Genoa, a princess of some sor_arried to a Greek financier. One's the editor of a pro-Ally up-country pape_n the Argentine. One passes as a Baptist minister in Colorado. One was _olice spy in the Tzar's Government and is now a red-hot revolutionary in th_aucasus. And the biggest, of course, is Moxon Ivery, who in happier times wa_he Graf von Schwabing. There aren't above a hundred people in the world kno_f their existence, and these hundred call them the Wild Birds.'
  • 'Do they work together?' I asked.
  • 'Yes. They each get their own jobs to do, but they're apt to flock togethe_or a big piece of devilment. There were four of them in France a year ag_efore the battle of the Aisne, and they pretty near rotted the French Army.
  • That's so, Colonel?'
  • The soldier nodded grimly. 'They seduced our weary troops and they bought man_oliticians. Almost they succeeded, but not quite. The nation is sane again, and is judging and shooting the accomplices at its leisure. But the principal_e have never caught.'
  • 'You hear that, Dick, said Blenkiron. 'You're satisfied this isn't a whimsy o_ melodramatic old Yank? I'll tell you more. You know how Ivery worked th_ubmarine business from England. Also, it was the Wild Birds that wrecke_ussia. It was Ivery that paid the Bolshevists to sedooce the Army, and th_olshevists took his money for their own purpose, thinking they were playing _eep game, when all the time he was grinning like Satan, for they were playin_is. It was Ivery or some other of the bunch that doped the brigades tha_roke at Caporetto. If I started in to tell you the history of their doing_ou wouldn't go to bed, and if you did you wouldn't sleep … There's just thi_o it. Every finished subtle devilry that the Boche has wrought among th_llies since August 1914 has been the work of the Wild Birds and more or les_rganized by Ivery. They're worth half a dozen army corps to Ludendorff.
  • They're the mightiest poison merchants the world ever saw, and they've th_erve of hell … '
  • 'I don't know,' I interrupted. 'Ivery's got his soft spot. I saw him in th_ube station.'
  • 'Maybe, but he's got the kind of nerve that's wanted. And now I rather fanc_e's whistling in his flock,'
  • Blenkiron consulted a notebook. 'Pavia—that's the Argentine man—started las_onth for Europe. He transhipped from a coasting steamer in the West Indie_nd we've temporarily lost track of him, but he's left his hunting-ground.
  • What do you reckon that means?'
  • 'It means,' Blenkiron continued solemnly, 'that Ivery thinks the game's nearl_ver. The play's working up for the big climax … And that climax is going t_e damnation for the Allies, unless we get a move on.'
  • 'Right,' I said. 'That's what I'm here for. What's the move?'
  • 'The Wild Birds mustn't ever go home, and the man they call Ivery or Bommaert_r Chelius has to decease. It's a cold-blooded proposition, but it's him o_he world that's got to break. But before he quits this earth we're bound t_et wise about some of his plans, and that means that we can't just shoot _istol at his face. Also we've got to find him first. We reckon he's i_witzerland, but that is a state with quite a lot of diversified scenery t_ose a man in … Still I guess we'll find him. But it's the kind of business t_lan out as carefully as a battle. I'm going back to Berne on my old stunt t_oss the show, and I'm giving the orders. You're an obedient child, Dick, so _on't reckon on any trouble that way.'
  • Then Blenkiron did an ominous thing. He pulled up a little table and starte_o lay out Patience cards. Since his duodenum was cured he seemed to hav_ropped that habit, and from his resuming it I gathered that his mind wa_neasy. I can see that scene as if it were yesterday—the French colonel in a_rmchair smoking a cigarette in a long amber holder, and Blenkiron sittin_rimly on the edge of a yellow silk ottoman, dealing his cards and lookin_uiltily towards me.
  • 'You'll have Peter for company,' he said. 'Peter's a sad man, but he has _reat heart, and he's been mighty useful to me already. They're going to mov_im to England very soon. The authorities are afraid of him, for he's apt t_alk wild, his health having made him peevish about the British. But there's _eal of red-tape in the world, and the orders for his repatriation are slow i_oming.' The speaker winked very slowly and deliberately with his left eye.
  • I asked if I was to be with Peter, much cheered at the prospect.
  • 'Why, yes. You and Peter are the collateral in the deal. But the big game'_ot with you.'
  • I had a presentiment of something coming, something anxious and unpleasant.
  • 'Is Mary in it?' I asked.
  • He nodded and seemed to pull himself together for an explanation.
  • 'See here, Dick. Our main job is to get Ivery back to Allied soil where we ca_andle him. And there's just the one magnet that can fetch him back. Yo_ren't going to deny that.'
  • I felt my face getting very red, and that ugly hammer began beating in m_orehead. Two grave, patient eyes met my glare.
  • 'I'm damned if I'll allow it!' I cried. 'I've some right to a say in th_hing. I won't have Mary made a decoy. It's too infernally degrading.'
  • 'It isn't pretty, but war isn't pretty, and nothing we do is pretty. I'd hav_lushed like a rose when I was young and innocent to imagine the things I'v_ut my hand to in the last three years. But have you any other way, Dick? I'_ot proud, and I'll scrap the plan if you can show me another … Night afte_ight I've hammered the thing out, and I can't hit on a better … Heigh-ho, Dick, this isn't like you,' and he grinned ruefully. 'You're making yourself _ine argument in favour of celibacy—in time of war, anyhow. What is it th_oet sings?—
  • White hands cling to the bridle rein,
  • Slipping the spur from the booted heel—'
  • I was as angry as sin, but I felt all the time I had no case. Blenkiro_topped his game of Patience, sending the cards flying over the carpet, an_traddled on the hearthrug.
  • 'You're never going to be a piker. What's dooty, if you won't carry it to th_ther side of Hell? What's the use of yapping about your country if you'r_oing to keep anything back when she calls for it? What's the good of meanin_o win the war if you don't put every cent you've got on your stake? You'l_ake me think you're like the jacks in your English novels that chuck in thei_and and say it's up to God, and call that "seeing it through" … No, Dick, that kind of dooty don't deserve a blessing. You dursn't keep back anything i_ou want to save your soul.
  • 'Besides,' he went on, 'what a girl it is! She can't scare and she can't soil.
  • She's white-hot youth and innocence, and she'd take no more harm than clea_teel from a muck-heap.'
  • I knew I was badly in the wrong, but my pride was all raw.
  • 'I'm not going to agree till I've talked to Mary.'
  • 'But Miss Mary has consented,' he said gently. 'She made the plan.'
  • * * * * *
  • Next day, in clear blue weather that might have been May, I drove Mary down t_ontainebleau. We lunched in the inn by the bridge and walked into the forest.
  • I hadn't slept much, for I was tortured by what I thought was anxiety for her, but which was in truth jealousy of Ivery. I don't think that I would hav_inded her risking her life, for that was part of the game we were both in, but I jibbed at the notion of Ivery coming near her again. I told myself i_as honourable pride, but I knew deep down in me that it was jealousy.
  • I asked her if she had accepted Blenkiron's plan, and she turned mischievou_yes on me.
  • 'I knew I should have a scene with you, Dick. I told Mr Blenkiron so … O_ourse I agreed. I'm not even very much afraid of it. I'm a member of th_eam, you know, and I must play up to my form. I can't do a man's work, so al_he more reason why I should tackle the thing I can do.'
  • 'But,' I stammered, 'it's such a … such a degrading business for a child lik_ou. I can't bear … It makes me hot to think of it.'
  • Her reply was merry laughter.
  • 'You're an old Ottoman, Dick. You haven't doubled Cape Turk yet, and I don'_elieve you're round Seraglio Point. Why, women aren't the brittle things me_sed to think them. They never were, and the war has made them like whipcord.
  • Bless you, my dear, we're the tougher sex now. We've had to wait and endure, and we've been so beaten on the anvil of patience that we've lost all ou_egrims.'
  • She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
  • 'Look at me, Dick, look at your someday-to-be espoused saint. I'm ninetee_ears of age next August. Before the war I should have only just put my hai_p. I should have been the kind of shivering debutante who blushes when she'_poken to, and oh! I should have thought such silly, silly things about life … Well, in the last two years I've been close to it, and to death. I've nurse_he dying. I've seen souls in agony and in triumph. England has allowed me t_erve her as she allows her sons. Oh, I'm a robust young woman now, and indee_ think women were always robuster than men … Dick, dear Dick, we're lovers, but we're comrades too—always comrades, and comrades trust each other.'
  • I hadn't anything to say, except contrition, for I had my lesson. I had bee_lipping away in my thoughts from the gravity of our task, and Mary ha_rought me back to it. I remember that as we walked through the woodland w_ame to a place where there were no signs of war. Elsewhere there were me_usy felling trees, and anti-aircraft guns, and an occasional transport wagon, but here there was only a shallow grassy vale, and in the distance, bloome_ver like a plum in the evening haze, the roofs of an old dwelling-house amon_ardens.
  • Mary clung to my arm as we drank in the peace of it.
  • 'That is what lies for us at the end of the road, Dick,' she said softly.
  • And then, as she looked, I felt her body shiver. She returned to the strang_ancy she had had in the St Germains woods three days before.
  • 'Somewhere it's waiting for us and we shall certainly find it … But first w_ust go through the Valley of the Shadow … And there is the sacrifice to b_ade … the best of us.'