Ten days later the porter Joseph Zimmer of Arosa, clad in the tough an_hapeless trousers of his class, but sporting an old velveteen shooting-coa_equeathed to him by a former German master—speaking the guttural tongue o_he Grisons, and with all his belongings in one massive rucksack, came out o_he little station of St Anton and blinked in the frosty sunshine. He looke_own upon the little old village beside its icebound lake, but his busines_as with the new village of hotels and villas which had sprung up in the las_en years south of the station. He made some halting inquiries of the statio_eople, and a cab-driver outside finally directed him to the place h_ought—the cottage of the Widow Summermatter, where resided an English intern, one Peter Pienaar.
The porter Joseph Zimmer had had a long and roundabout journey. A fortnigh_efore he had worn the uniform of a British major-general. As such he had bee_he inmate of an expensive Paris hotel, till one morning, in grey twee_lothes and with a limp, he had taken the Paris-Mediterranean Express with _icket for an officers' convalescent home at Cannes. Thereafter he ha_eclined in the social scale. At Dijon he had been still an Englishman, but a_ontarlier he had become an American bagman of Swiss parentage, returning t_ind up his father's estate. At Berne he limped excessively, and at Zurich, a_ little back-street hotel, he became frankly the peasant. For he met a frien_here from whom he acquired clothes with that odd rank smell, far stronge_han Harris tweed, which marks the raiment of most Swiss guides and all Swis_orters. He also acquired a new name and an old aunt, who a little late_eceived him with open arms and explained to her friends that he was he_rother's son from Arosa who three winters ago had hurt his leg wood-cuttin_nd had been discharged from the levy.
A kindly Swiss gentleman, as it chanced, had heard of the deserving Joseph an_nterested himself to find him employment. The said philanthropist made _obby of the French and British prisoners returned from Germany, and had i_ind an officer, a crabbed South African with a bad leg, who needed a servant.
He was, it seemed, an ill-tempered old fellow who had to be billeted alone, and since he could speak German, he would be happier with a Swiss native.
Joseph haggled somewhat over the wages, but on his aunt's advice he accepte_he job, and, with a very complete set of papers and a store of ready-mad_eminiscences (it took him some time to swot up the names of the peaks an_asses he had traversed) set out for St Anton, having dispatched beforehand _onstrously ill-spelt letter announcing his coming. He could barely read an_rite, but he was good at maps, which he had studied carefully, and he notice_ith satisfaction that the valley of St Anton gave easy access to Italy.
As he journeyed south the reflections of that porter would have surprised hi_ellow travellers in the stuffy third-class carriage. He was thinking of _onversation he had had some days before in a cafe at Dijon with a youn_nglishman bound for Modane …
We had bumped up against each other by chance in that strange flitting whe_ll went to different places at different times, asking nothing of eac_ther's business. Wake had greeted me rather shamefacedly and had propose_inner together.
I am not good at receiving apologies, and Wake's embarrassed me more than the_mbarrassed him. 'I'm a bit of a cad sometimes,' he said. 'You know I'm _etter fellow than I sounded that night, Hannay.'
I mumbled something about not talking rot—the conventional phrase. Wha_orried me was that the man was suffering. You could see it in his eyes. Bu_hat evening I got nearer Wake than ever before, and he and I became tru_riends, for he laid bare his soul before me. That was his trouble, that h_ould lay bare his soul, for ordinary healthy folk don't analyse thei_eelings. Wake did, and I think it brought him relief.
'Don't think I was ever your rival. I would no more have proposed to Mary tha_ would have married one of her aunts. She was so sure of herself, so happy i_er single-heartedness that she terrified me. My type of man is not meant fo_arriage, for women must be in the centre of life, and we must always b_tanding aside and looking on. It is a damnable thing to be left-handed.'
'The trouble about you, my dear chap,' I said, 'is that you're too hard t_lease.'
'That's one way of putting it. I should put it more harshly. I hate more tha_ love. All we humanitarians and pacifists have hatred as our mainspring. Odd, isn't it, for people who preach brotherly love? But it's the truth. We're ful_f hate towards everything that doesn't square in with our ideas, everythin_hat jars on our lady-like nerves. Fellows like you are so in love with thei_ause that they've no time or inclination to detest what thwarts them. We'v_o cause—only negatives, and that means hatred, and self-torture, and _eastly jaundice of soul.'
Then I knew that Wake's fault was not spiritual pride, as I had diagnosed i_t Biggleswick. The man was abased with humility.
'I see more than other people see,' he went on, 'and I feel more. That's th_urse on me. You're a happy man and you get things done, because you only se_ne side of a case, one thing at a time. How would you like it if a thousan_trings were always tugging at you, if you saw that every course meant th_acrifice of lovely and desirable things, or even the shattering of what yo_now to be unreplaceable? I'm the kind of stuff poets are made of, but _aven't the poet's gift, so I stagger about the world left-handed and game- legged … Take the war. For me to fight would be worse than for another man t_un away. From the bottom of my heart I believe that it needn't have happened, and that all war is a blistering iniquity. And yet belief has got very littl_o do with virtue. I'm not as good a man as you, Hannay, who have neve_hought out anything in your life. My time in the Labour battalion taught m_omething. I knew that with all my fine aspirations I wasn't as true a man a_ellows whose talk was silly oaths and who didn't care a tinker's curse abou_heir soul.'
I remember that I looked at him with a sudden understanding. 'I think I kno_ou. You're the sort of chap who won't fight for his country because he can'_e sure that she's altogether in the right. But he'd cheerfully die for her, right or wrong.'
His face relaxed in a slow smile. 'Queer that you should say that. I thin_t's pretty near the truth. Men like me aren't afraid to die, but they haven'_uite the courage to live. Every man should be happy in a service like you, when he obeys orders. I couldn't get on in any service. I lack the bump o_eneration. I can't swallow things merely because I'm told to. My sort ar_lways talking about "service", but we haven't the temperament to serve. I'_ive all I have to be an ordinary cog in the wheel, instead of a confounde_utsider who finds fault with the machinery … Take a great violent high-hande_ellow like you. You can sink yourself till you become only a name and _umber. I couldn't if I tried. I'm not sure if I want to either. I cling t_he odds and ends that are my own.'
'I wish I had had you in my battalion a year ago,' I said.
'No, you don't. I'd only have been a nuisance. I've been a Fabian sinc_xford, but you're a better socialist than me. I'm a rancid individualist.'
'But you must be feeling better about the war?' I asked.
'Not a bit of it. I'm still lusting for the heads of the politicians that mad_t and continue it. But I want to help my country. Honestly, Hannay, I lov_he old place. More, I think, than I love myself, and that's saying a devilis_ot. Short of fighting—which would be the sin against the Holy Spirit fo_e—I'll do my damnedest. But you'll remember I'm not used to team work. If I'_ jealous player, beat me over the head.'
His voice was almost wistful, and I liked him enormously.
'Blenkiron will see to that,' I said. 'We're going to break you to harness, Wake, and then you'll be a happy man. You keep your mind on the game an_orget about yourself. That's the cure for jibbers.'
As I journeyed to St Anton I thought a lot about that talk. He was quite righ_bout Mary, who would never have married him. A man with such an angular sou_ouldn't fit into another's. And then I thought that the chief thing abou_ary was just her serene certainty. Her eyes had that settled happy look tha_ remembered to have seen only in one other human face, and that was Peter's … But I wondered if Peter's eyes were still the same.
I found the cottage, a little wooden thing which had been left perched on it_noll when the big hotels grew around it. It had a fence in front, but behin_t was open to the hillside. At the gate stood a bent old woman with a fac_ike a pippin. My make-up must have been good, for she accepted me before _ntroduced myself.
'God be thanked you are come,' she cried. 'The poor lieutenant needed a man t_eep him company. He sleeps now, as he does always in the afternoon, for hi_eg wearies him in the night … But he is brave, like a soldier … Come, I wil_how you the house, for you two will be alone now.'
Stepping softly she led me indoors, pointing with a warning finger to th_ittle bedroom where Peter slept. I found a kitchen with a big stove and _ough floor of planking, on which lay some badly cured skins. Off it was _ort of pantry with a bed for me. She showed me the pots and pans for cookin_nd the stores she had laid in, and where to find water and fuel. 'I will d_he marketing daily,' she said, 'and if you need me, my dwelling is half _ile up the road beyond the new church. God be with you, young man, and b_ind to that wounded one.'
When the Widow Summermatter had departed I sat down in Peter's arm-chair an_ook stock of the place. It was quiet and simple and homely, and through th_indow came the gleam of snow on the diamond hills. On the table beside th_tove were Peter's cherished belongings—his buck-skin pouch and the pipe whic_annie Grobelaar had carved for him in St Helena, an aluminium field match-bo_ had given him, a cheap large-print Bible such as padres present to well- disposed privates, and an old battered Pilgrim's Progress with gaudy pictures.
The illustration at which I opened showed Faithful going up to Heaven from th_ire of Vanity Fair like a woodcock that has just been flushed. Everything i_he room was exquisitely neat, and I knew that that was Peter and not th_idow Summermatter. On a peg behind the door hung his much-mended coat, an_ticking out of a pocket I recognized a sheaf of my own letters. In one corne_tood something which I had forgotten about—an invalid chair.
The sight of Peter's plain little oddments made me feel solemn. I wondered i_is eyes would be like Mary's now, for I could not conceive what life would b_or him as a cripple. Very silently I opened the bedroom door and slippe_nside.
He was lying on a camp bedstead with one of those striped Swiss blanket_ulled up round his ears, and he was asleep. It was the old Peter beyon_oubt. He had the hunter's gift of breathing evenly through his nose, and th_hite scar on the deep brown of his forehead was what I had always remembered.
The only change since I last saw him was that he had let his beard grow again, and it was grey.
As I looked at him the remembrance of all we had been through together floode_ack upon me, and I could have cried with joy at being beside him. Women, bless their hearts! can never know what long comradeship means to men; it i_omething not in their lives—something that belongs only to that wild, undomesticated world which we forswear when we find our mates. Even Mar_nderstood only a bit of it. I had just won her love, which was the greates_hing that ever came my way, but if she had entered at that moment I woul_carcely have turned my head. I was back again in the old life and was no_hinking of the new.
Suddenly I saw that Peter was awake and was looking at me.
'Dick,' he said in a whisper, 'Dick, my old friend.'
The blanket was tossed off, and his long, lean arms were stretched out to me.
I gripped his hands, and for a little we did not speak. Then I saw ho_oefully he had changed. His left leg had shrunk, and from the knee down wa_ike a pipe stem. His face, when awake, showed the lines of hard suffering an_e seemed shorter by half a foot. But his eyes were still like Mary's. Indee_hey seemed to be more patient and peaceful than in the days when he sa_eside me on the buck-waggon and peered over the hunting-veld.
I picked him up—he was no heavier than Mary—and carried him to his chai_eside the stove. Then I boiled water and made tea, as we had so often don_ogether.
'Peter, old man,' I said, 'we're on trek again, and this is a very snug littl_ondavel. We've had many good yarns, but this is going to be the best. Firs_f all, how about your health?'
'Good, I'm a strong man again, but slow like a hippo cow. I have been lonel_ometimes, but that is all by now. Tell me of the big battles.'
But I was hungry for news of him and kept him to his own case. He had n_omplaint of his treatment except that he did not like Germans. The doctors a_he hospital had been clever, he said, and had done their best for him, bu_erves and sinews and small bones had been so wrecked that they could not men_is leg, and Peter had all the Boer's dislike of amputation. One doctor ha_een in Damaraland and talked to him of those baked sunny places and made hi_omesick. But he returned always to his dislike of Germans. He had seen the_erding our soldiers like brute beasts, and the commandant had a face lik_tumm and a chin that stuck out and wanted hitting. He made an exception fo_he great airman Lensch, who had downed him.
'He is a white man, that one,' he said. 'He came to see me in hospital an_old me a lot of things. I think he made them treat me well. He is a big man, Dick, who would make two of me, and he has a round, merry face and pale eye_ike Frickie Celliers who could put a bullet through a pauw's head at tw_undred yards. He said he was sorry I was lame, for he hoped to have mor_ights with me. Some woman that tells fortunes had said that I would be th_nd of him, but he reckoned she had got the thing the wrong way on. I hope h_ill come through this war, for he is a good man, though a German … But th_thers! They are like the fool in the Bible, fat and ugly in good fortune an_roud and vicious when their luck goes. They are not a people to be happ_ith.'
Then he told me that to keep up his spirits he had amused himself with playin_ game. He had prided himself on being a Boer, and spoken coldly of th_ritish. He had also, I gathered, imparted many things calculated to deceive.
So he left Germany with good marks, and in Switzerland had held himself aloo_rom the other British wounded, on the advice of Blenkiron, who had met him a_oon as he crossed the frontier. I gathered it was Blenkiron who had had hi_ent to St Anton, and in his time there, as a disgruntled Boer, he had mixed _ood deal with Germans. They had pumped him about our air service, and Pete_ad told them many ingenious lies and heard curious things in return.
'They are working hard, Dick,' he said. 'Never forget that. The German is _tout enemy, and when we beat him with a machine he sweats till he ha_nvented a new one. They have great pilots, but never so many good ones as we, and I do not think in ordinary fighting they can ever beat us. But you mus_atch Lensch, for I fear him. He has a new machine, I hear, with great engine_nd a short wingspread, but the wings so cambered that he can climb fast. Tha_ill be a surprise to spring upon us. You will say that we'll soon better it.
So we shall, but if it was used at a time when we were pushing hard it migh_ake the little difference that loses battles.'
'You mean,' I said, 'that if we had a great attack ready and had driven al_he Boche planes back from our front, Lensch and his circus might get over i_pite of us and blow the gaff?'
'Yes,' he said solemnly. 'Or if we were attacked, and had a weak spot, Lensc_ight show the Germans where to get through. I do not think we are going t_ttack for a long time; but I am pretty sure that Germany is going to flin_very man against us. That is the talk of my friends, and it is not bluff.'
* * * * *
That night I cooked our modest dinner, and we smoked our pipes with the stov_oor open and the good smell of woodsmoke in our nostrils. I told him of al_y doings and of the Wild Birds and Ivery and the job we were engaged on.
Blenkiron's instructions were that we two should live humbly and keep our eye_nd ears open, for we were outside suspicion—the cantankerous lame Boer an_is loutish servant from Arosa. Somewhere in the place was a rendezvous of ou_nemies, and thither came Chelius on his dark errands.
Peter nodded his head sagely, 'I think I have guessed the place. The daughte_f the old woman used to pull my chair sometimes down to the village, and _ave sat in cheap inns and talked to servants. There is a fresh-water pa_here, it is all covered with snow now, and beside it there is a big hous_hat they call the Pink Chalet. I do not know much about it, except that ric_olk live in it, for I know the other houses and they are harmless. Also th_ig hotels, which are too cold and public for strangers to meet in.'
I put Peter to bed, and it was a joy to me to look after him, to give him hi_onic and prepare the hot water bottle that comforted his neuralgia. Hi_ehaviour was like a docile child's, and he never lapsed from his sunn_emper, though I could see how his leg gave him hell. They had tried massag_or it and given it up, and there was nothing for him but to endure til_ature and his tough constitution deadened the tortured nerves again. _hifted my bed out of the pantry and slept in the room with him, and when _oke in the night, as one does the first time in a strange place, I could tel_y his breathing that he was wakeful and suffering.
Next day a bath chair containing a grizzled cripple and pushed by a limpin_easant might have been seen descending the long hill to the village. It wa_lear frosty weather which makes the cheeks tingle, and I felt so full o_eans that it was hard to remember my game leg. The valley was shut in on th_ast by a great mass of rocks and glaciers, belonging to a mountain whose to_ould not be seen. But on the south, above the snowy fir-woods, there was _ost delicate lace-like peak with a point like a needle. I looked at it wit_nterest, for beyond it lay the valley which led to the Staub pass, and beyon_hat was Italy—and Mary.
The old village of St Anton had one long, narrow street which bent at righ_ngles to a bridge which spanned the river flowing from the lake. Thence th_oad climbed steeply, but at the other end of the street it ran on the leve_y the water's edge, lined with gimcrack boarding-houses, now shuttered to th_orld, and a few villas in patches of garden. At the far end, just before i_lunged into a pine-wood, a promontory jutted into the lake, leaving a broa_pace between the road and the water. Here were the grounds of a mor_onsiderable dwelling—snow-covered laurels and rhododendrons with one or tw_igger trees—and just on the water-edge stood the house itself, called th_ink Chalet.
I wheeled Peter past the entrance on the crackling snow of the highway. See_hrough the gaps of the trees the front looked new, but the back part seeme_o be of some age, for I could see high walls, broken by few windows, hangin_ver the water. The place was no more a chalet than a donjon, but I suppos_he name was given in honour of a wooden gallery above the front door. Th_hole thing was washed in an ugly pink. There were outhouses—garage or stable_mong the trees—and at the entrance there were fairly recent tracks of a_utomobile.
On our way back we had some very bad beer in a cafe and made friends with th_oman who kept it. Peter had to tell her his story, and I trotted out my aun_n Zurich, and in the end we heard her grievances. She was a true Swiss, angr_t all the belligerents who had spoiled her livelihood, hating Germany mos_ut also fearing her most. Coffee, tea, fuel, bread, even milk and cheese wer_ard to get and cost a ransom. It would take the land years to recover, an_here would be no more tourists, for there was little money left in the world.
I dropped a question about the Pink Chalet, and was told that it belonged t_ne Schweigler, a professor of Berne, an old man who came sometimes for a fe_ays in the summer. It was often let, but not now. Asked if it was occupied, she remarked that some friends of the Schweiglers—rich people from Basle—ha_een there for the winter. 'They come and go in great cars,' she sai_itterly, 'and they bring their food from the cities. They spend no money i_his poor place.'
* * * * *
Presently Peter and I fell into a routine of life, as if we had always kep_ouse together. In the morning he went abroad in his chair, in the afternoon _ould hobble about on my own errands. We sank into the background and took it_olour, and a less conspicuous pair never faced the eye of suspicion. Once _eek a young Swiss officer, whose business it was to look after Britis_ounded, paid us a hurried visit. I used to get letters from my aunt i_urich, Sometimes with the postmark of Arosa, and now and then these letter_ould contain curiously worded advice or instructions from him whom my aun_alled 'the kind patron'. Generally I was told to be patient. Sometimes I ha_ord about the health of 'my little cousin across the mountains'. Once I wa_idden expect a friend of the patron's, the wise doctor of whom he had ofte_poken, but though after that I shadowed the Pink Chalet for two days n_octor appeared.
My investigations were a barren business. I used to go down to the village i_he afternoon and sit in an out-of-the-way cafe, talking slow German wit_easants and hotel porters, but there was little to learn. I knew all ther_as to hear about the Pink Chalet, and that was nothing. A young man who ski- ed stayed for three nights and spent his days on the alps above the fir-woods.
A party of four, including two women, was reported to have been there for _ight—all ramifications of the rich family of Basle. I studied the house fro_he lake, which should have been nicely swept into ice-rinks, but from lack o_isitors was a heap of blown snow. The high old walls of the back part wer_uilt straight from the water's edge. I remember I tried a short cut throug_he grounds to the high-road and was given 'Good afternoon' by a smilin_erman manservant. One way and another I gathered there were a good man_erving-men about the place—too many for the infrequent guests. But beyon_his I discovered nothing.
Not that I was bored, for I had always Peter to turn to. He was thinking a lo_bout South Africa, and the thing he liked best was to go over with me ever_etail of our old expeditions. They belonged to a life which he could thin_bout without pain, whereas the war was too near and bitter for him. He like_o hobble out-of-doors after the darkness came and look at his old friends, the stars. He called them by the words they use on the veld, and the firs_tar of morning he called the voorlooper—the little boy who inspans the oxen—_ame I had not heard for twenty years. Many a great yarn we spun in the lon_venings, but I always went to bed with a sore heart. The longing in his eye_as too urgent, longing not for old days or far countries, but for the healt_nd strength which had once been his pride.
One night I told him about Mary.
'She will be a happy mysie,' he said, 'but you will need to be very cleve_ith her, for women are queer cattle and you and I don't know their ways. The_ell me English women do not cook and make clothes like our vrouws, so wha_ill she find to do? I doubt an idle woman will be like a mealie-fed horse.'
It was no good explaining to him the kind of girl Mary was, for that was _orld entirely beyond his ken. But I could see that he felt lonelier than eve_t my news. So I told him of the house I meant to have in England when the wa_as over—an old house in a green hilly country, with fields that would carr_our head of cattle to the Morgan and furrows of clear water, and orchards o_lums and apples. 'And you will stay with us all the time,' I said. 'You wil_ave your own rooms and your own boy to look after you, and you will help m_o farm, and we will catch fish together, and shoot the wild ducks when the_ome up from the pans in the evening. I have found a better countryside tha_he Houtbosch, where you and I planned to have a farm. It is a blessed an_appy place, England.'
He shook his head. 'You are a kind man, Dick, but your pretty mysie won't wan_n ugly old fellow like me hobbling about her house … I do not think I will g_ack to Africa, for I should be sad there in the sun. I will find a littl_lace in England, and some day I will visit you, old friend.'
That night his stoicism seemed for the first time to fail him. He was silen_or a long time and went early to bed, where I can vouch for it he did no_leep. But he must have thought a lot in the night time, for in the morning h_ad got himself in hand and was as cheerful as a sandboy.
I watched his philosophy with amazement. It was far beyond anything I coul_ave compassed myself. He was so frail and so poor, for he had never ha_nything in the world but his bodily fitness, and he had lost that now. An_emember, he had lost it after some months of glittering happiness, for in th_ir he had found the element for which he had been born. Sometimes he droppe_ hint of those days when he lived in the clouds and invented a new kind o_attle, and his voice always grew hoarse. I could see that he ached wit_onging for their return. And yet he never had a word of complaint. That wa_he ritual he had set himself, his point of honour, and he faced the futur_ith the same kind of courage as that with which he had tackled a wild beas_r Lensch himself. Only it needed a far bigger brand of fortitude.
Another thing was that he had found religion. I doubt if that is the right wa_o put it, for he had always had it. Men who live in the wilds know they ar_n the hands of God. But his old kind had been a tattered thing, more lik_eathen superstition, though it had always kept him humble. But now he ha_aken to reading the Bible and to thinking in his lonely nights, and he ha_ot a creed of his own. I dare say it was crude enough, I am sure it wa_northodox; but if the proof of religion is that it gives a man a prop in ba_ays, then Peter's was the real thing. He used to ferret about in the Bibl_nd the Pilgrim's Progress—they were both equally inspired in his eyes—an_ind texts which he interpreted in his own way to meet his case. He too_verything quite literally. What happened three thousand years ago i_alestine might, for all he minded, have been going on next door. I used t_haff him and tell him that he was like the Kaiser, very good at fitting th_ible to his purpose, but his sincerity was so complete that he only smiled. _emember one night, when he had been thinking about his flying days, he foun_ passage in Thessalonians about the dead rising to meet their Lord in th_ir, and that cheered him a lot. Peter, I could see, had the notion that hi_ime here wouldn't be very long, and he liked to think that when he got hi_elease he would find once more the old rapture.
Once, when I said something about his patience, he said he had got to try t_ive up to Mr Standfast. He had fixed on that character to follow, though h_ould have preferred Mr Valiant-for-Truth if he had thought himself goo_nough. He used to talk about Mr Standfast in his queer way as if he were _riend of us both, like Blenkiron … I tell you I was humbled out of all m_ride by the sight of Peter, so uncomplaining and gentle and wise. Th_lmighty Himself couldn't have made a prig out of him, and he never would hav_hought of preaching. Only once did he give me advice. I had always a likin_or short cuts, and I was getting a bit restive under the long inaction. On_ay when I expressed my feelings on the matter, Peter upped and read from th_ilgrim's Progress: 'Some also have wished that the next way to their Father'_ouse were here, that they might be troubled no more with either hills o_ountains to go over, but the Way is the Way, and there is an end.'
All the same when we got into March and nothing happened I grew prett_nxious. Blenkiron had said we were fighting against time, and here were th_eeks slipping away. His letters came occasionally, always in the shape o_ommunications from my aunt. One told me that I would soon be out of a job, for Peter's repatriation was just about through, and he might get his movemen_rder any day. Another spoke of my little cousin over the hills, and said tha_he hoped soon to be going to a place called Santa Chiara in the Va_aluzzana. I got out the map in a hurry and measured the distance from ther_o St Anton and pored over the two roads thither—the short one by the Stau_ass and the long one by the Marjolana. These letters made me think tha_hings were nearing a climax, but still no instructions came. I had nothing t_eport in my own messages, I had discovered nothing in the Pink Chalet bu_dle servants, I was not even sure if the Pink Chalet were not a harmles_illa, and I hadn't come within a thousand miles of finding Chelius. All m_esire to imitate Peter's stoicism didn't prevent me from getting occasionall_attled and despondent.
The one thing I could do was to keep fit, for I had a notion I might soon wan_ll my bodily strength. I had to keep up my pretence of lameness in th_aytime, so I used to take my exercise at night. I would sleep in th_fternoon, when Peter had his siesta, and then about ten in the evening, afte_utting him to bed, I would slip out-of-doors and go for a four or five hours'
tramp. Wonderful were those midnight wanderings. I pushed up through the snow- laden pines to the ridges where the snow lay in great wreaths and scallops, till I stood on a crest with a frozen world at my feet and above me a host o_littering stars. Once on a night of full moon I reached the glacier at th_alley head, scrambled up the moraine to where the ice began, and peere_earfully into the spectral crevasses. At such hours I had the earth t_yself, for there was not a sound except the slipping of a burden of snow fro_he trees or the crack and rustle which reminded me that a glacier was _oving river. The war seemed very far away, and I felt the littleness of ou_uman struggles, till I thought of Peter turning from side to side to fin_ase in the cottage far below me. Then I realized that the spirit of man wa_he greatest thing in this spacious world … I would get back about three o_our, have a bath in the water which had been warming in my absence, and cree_nto bed, almost ashamed of having two sound legs, when a better man a yar_way had but one.
Oddly enough at these hours there seemed more life in the Pink Chalet than b_ay. Once, tramping across the lake long after midnight, I saw lights in th_ake-front in windows which for ordinary were blank and shuttered. Severa_imes I cut across the grounds, when the moon was dark. On one such occasion _reat car with no lights swept up the drive, and I heard low voices at th_oor. Another time a man ran hastily past me, and entered the house by _ittle door on the eastern side, which I had not before noticed … Slowly th_onviction began to grow on me that we were not wrong in marking down thi_lace, that things went on within it which it deeply concerned us to discover.
But I was puzzled to think of a way. I might butt inside, but for all I kne_t would be upsetting Blenkiron's plans, for he had given me no instruction_bout housebreaking. All this unsettled me worse than ever. I began to li_wake planning some means of entrance … I would be a peasant from the nex_alley who had twisted his ankle … I would go seeking an imaginary cousi_mong the servants … I would start a fire in the place and have the door_lung open to zealous neighbours …
And then suddenly I got instructions in a letter from Blenkiron.
It came inside a parcel of warm socks that arrived from my kind aunt. But th_etter for me was not from her. It was in Blenkiron's large sprawling hand an_he style of it was all his own. He told me that he had about finished hi_ob. He had got his line on Chelius, who was the bird he expected, and tha_ird would soon wing its way southward across the mountains for the reason _new of.
'We've got an almighty move on,' he wrote, 'and please God you're going t_ustle some in the next week. It's going better than I ever hoped.' Bu_omething was still to be done. He had struck a countryman, one Clarenc_onne, a journalist of Kansas City, whom he had taken into the business. Hi_e described as a 'crackerjack' and commended to my esteem. He was coming t_t Anton, for there was a game afoot at the Pink Chalet, which he would giv_e news of. I was to meet him next evening at nine-fifteen at the little doo_n the east end of the house. 'For the love of Mike, Dick,' he concluded, 'b_n time and do everything Clarence tells you as if he was me. It's a might_omplex affair, but you and he have sand enough to pull through. Don't worr_bout your little cousin. She's safe and out of the job now.'
My first feeling was one of immense relief, especially at the last words. _ead the letter a dozen times to make sure I had its meaning. A flash o_uspicion crossed my mind that it might be a fake, principally because ther_as no mention of Peter, who had figured large in the other missives. But wh_hould Peter be mentioned when he wasn't on in this piece? The signatur_onvinced me. Ordinarily Blenkiron signed himself in full with a fin_ommercial flourish. But when I was at the Front he had got into the habit o_aking a kind of hieroglyphic of his surname to me and sticking J.S. after i_n a bracket. That was how this letter was signed, and it was sure proof i_as all right.
I spent that day and the next in wild spirits. Peter spotted what was on, though I did not tell him for fear of making him envious. I had to be extr_ind to him, for I could see that he ached to have a hand in the business.
Indeed he asked shyly if I couldn't fit him in, and I had to lie about it an_ay it was only another of my aimless circumnavigations of the Pink Chalet.
'Try and find something where I can help,' he pleaded. 'I'm pretty stron_till, though I'm lame, and I can shoot a bit.'
I declared that he would be used in time, that Blenkiron had promised he woul_e used, but for the life of me I couldn't see how.
At nine o'clock on the evening appointed I was on the lake opposite the house, close in under the shore, making my way to the rendezvous. It was a coal-blac_ight, for though the air was clear the stars were shining with little light, and the moon had not yet risen. With a premonition that I might be long awa_rom food, I had brought some slabs of chocolate, and my pistol and torch wer_n my pocket. It was bitter cold, but I had ceased to mind weather, and I wor_y one suit and no overcoat.
The house was like a tomb for silence. There was no crack of light anywhere, and none of those smells of smoke and food which proclaim habitation. It wa_n eerie job scrambling up the steep bank east of the place, to where the fla_f the garden started, in a darkness so great that I had to grope my way lik_ blind man.
I found the little door by feeling along the edge of the building. Then _tepped into an adjacent clump of laurels to wait on my companion. He wa_here before me.
'Say,' I heard a rich Middle West voice whisper, 'are you Joseph Zimmer? I'_ot shouting any names, but I guess you are the guy I was told to meet here.'
'Mr Donne?' I whispered back.
'The same,'he replied. 'Shake.'
I gripped a gloved and mittened hand which drew me towards the door.