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
'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.'
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.'