'Why, Mr Ivery, come right in,' said the voice at the table. There was _creen before me, stretching from the fireplace to keep off the draught fro_he door by which I had entered. It stood higher than my head but there wer_racks in it through which I could watch the room. I found a little table o_hich I could lean my back, for I was dropping with fatigue.
Blenkiron sat at the writing-table and in front of him were little rows o_atience cards. Wood ashes still smouldered in the stove, and a lamp stood a_is right elbow which lit up the two figures. The bookshelves and the cabinet_ere in twilight.
'I've been hoping to see you for quite a time.' Blenkiron was busy arrangin_he little heaps of cards, and his face was wreathed in hospitable smiles. _emember wondering why he should play the host to the true master of th_ouse.
Ivery stood erect before him. He was rather a splendid figure now that he ha_loughed all disguises and was on the threshold of his triumph. Even throug_he fog in which my brain worked it was forced upon me that here was a ma_orn to play a big part. He had a jowl like a Roman king on a coin, an_cornful eyes that were used to mastery. He was younger than me, confound him, and now he looked it.
He kept his eyes on the speaker, while a smile played round his mouth, a ver_gly smile.
'So,' he said. 'We have caught the old crow too. I had scarcely hoped for suc_ood fortune, and, to speak the truth, I had not concerned myself much abou_ou. But now we shall add you to the bag. And what a bag of vermin to lay ou_n the lawn!' He flung back his head and laughed.
'Mr Ivery—' Blenkiron began, but was cut short.
'Drop that name. All that is past, thank God! I am the Graf von Schwabing, a_fficer of the Imperial Guard. I am not the least of the weapons that German_as used to break her enemies.'
'You don't say,' drawled Blenkiron, still fiddling with his Patience cards.
The man's moment had come, and he was minded not to miss a jot of his triumph.
His figure seemed to expand, his eye kindled, his voice rang with pride. I_as melodrama of the best kind and he fairly rolled it round his tongue. _on't think I grudged it him, for I was fingering something in my pocket. H_ad won all right, but he wouldn't enjoy his victory long, for soon I woul_hoot him. I had my eye on the very spot above his right ear where I meant t_ut my bullet … For I was very clear that to kill him was the only way t_rotect Mary. I feared the whole seventy millions of Germany less than thi_an. That was the single idea that remained firm against the immense fatigu_hat pressed down on me.
'I have little time to waste on you,' said he who had been called Ivery. 'Bu_ will spare a moment to tell you a few truths. Your childish game never had _hance. I played with you in England and I have played with you ever since.
You have never made a move but I have quietly countered it. Why, man, you gav_e your confidence. The American Mr Donne … '
'What about Clarence?' asked Blenkiron. His face seemed a study in pur_ewilderment.
'I was that interesting journalist.'
'Now to think of that!' said Blenkiron in a sad, gentle voice. 'I thought _as safe with Clarence. Why, he brought me a letter from old Joe Hooper and h_new all the boys down Emporia way.'
Ivery laughed. 'You have never done me justice, I fear; but I think you wil_o it now. Your gang is helpless in my hands. General Hannay … ' And I wish _ould give you a notion of the scorn with which he pronounced the word
'Yes—Dick?' said Blenkiron intently.
'He has been my prisoner for twenty-four hours. And the pretty Miss Mary, too.
You are all going with me in a little to my own country. You will not gues_ow. We call it the Underground Railway, and you will have the privilege o_tudying its working… . I had not troubled much about you, for I had n_pecial dislike of you. You are only a blundering fool, what you call in you_ountry easy fruit.'
'I thank you, Graf,' Blenkiron said solemnly.
'But since you are here you will join the others … One last word. To bea_nepts such as you is nothing. There is a far greater thing. My country ha_onquered. You and your friends will be dragged at the chariot wheels of _riumph such as Rome never saw. Does that penetrate your thick skull? German_as won, and in two days the whole round earth will be stricken dumb by he_reatness.'
As I watched Blenkiron a grey shadow of hopelessness seemed to settle on hi_ace. His big body drooped in his chair, his eyes fell, and his left han_huffled limply among his Patience cards. I could not get my mind to work, bu_ puzzled miserably over his amazing blunders. He had walked blindly into th_it his enemies had dug for him. Peter must have failed to get my message t_im, and he knew nothing of last night's work or my mad journey to Italy. W_ad all bungled, the whole wretched bunch of us, Peter and Blenkiron an_yself … I had a feeling at the back of my head that there was something in i_ll that I couldn't understand, that the catastrophe could not be quite a_imple as it seemed. But I had no power to think, with the insolent figure o_very dominating the room … Thank God I had a bullet waiting for him. That wa_he one fixed point in the chaos of my mind. For the first time in my life _as resolute on killing one particular man, and the purpose gave me a horri_omfort.
Suddenly Ivery's voice rang out sharp. 'Take your hand out of your pocket. Yo_ool, you are covered from three points in the walls. A movement and my me_ill make a sieve of you. Others before you have sat in that chair, and I a_sed to take precautions. Quick. Both hands on the table.'
There was no mistake about Blenkiron's defeat. He was done and out, and I wa_eft with the only card. He leaned wearily on his arms with the palms of hi_ands spread out.
'I reckon you've gotten a strong hand, Graf,' he said, and his voice was fla_ith despair.
'I hold a royal flush,' was the answer.
And then suddenly came a change. Blenkiron raised his head, and his sleepy, ruminating eyes looked straight at Ivery.
'I call you,' he said.
I didn't believe my ears. Nor did Ivery.
'The hour for bluff is past,' he said.
'Nevertheless I call you.'
At that moment I felt someone squeeze through the door behind me and take hi_lace at my side. The light was so dim that I saw only a short, square figure, but a familiar voice whispered in my ear. 'It's me—Andra Amos. Man, this is _reat ploy. I'm here to see the end o't.'
No prisoner waiting on the finding of the jury, no commander expecting news o_ great battle, ever hung in more desperate suspense than I did during th_ext seconds. I had forgotten my fatigue; my back no longer needed support. _ept my eyes glued to the crack in the screen and my ears drank in greedil_very syllable.
Blenkiron was now sitting bolt upright with his chin in his hands. There wa_o shadow of melancholy in his lean face.
'I say I call you, Herr Graf von Schwabing. I'm going to put you wise abou_ome little things. You don't carry arms, so I needn't warn you agains_onkeying with a gun. You're right in saying that there are three places i_hese walls from which you can shoot. Well, for your information I may tel_ou that there's guns in all three, but they're covering you at this moment.
So you'd better be good.'
Ivery sprang to attention like a ramrod. 'Karl,' he cried. 'Gustav!'
As if by magic figures stood on either side of him, like warders by _riminal. They were not the sleek German footmen whom I had seen at th_halet. One I did not recognize. The other was my servant, Geordie Hamilton.
He gave them one glance, looked round like a hunted animal, and then steadie_imself. The man had his own kind of courage.
'I've gotten something to say to you,' Blenkiron drawled. 'It's been a toug_ight, but I reckon the hot end of the poker is with you. I compliment you o_larence Donne. You fooled me fine over that business, and it was only by th_ercy of God you didn't win out. You see, there was just the one of us who wa_iable to recognize you whatever way you twisted your face, and that was Dic_annay. I give you good marks for Clarence … For the rest, I had you beate_lat.'
He looked steadily at him. 'You don't believe it. Well, I'll give you proof.
I've been watching your Underground Railway for quite a time. I've had my me_n the job, and I reckon most of the lines are now closed for repairs. All bu_he trunk line into France. That I'm keeping open, for soon there's going t_e some traffic on it.'
At that I saw Ivery's eyelids quiver. For all his self-command he wa_reaking.
'I admit we cut it mighty fine, along of your fooling me about Clarence. Bu_ou struck a bad snag in General Hannay, Graf. Your heart-to-heart talk wit_im was poor business. You reckoned you had him safe, but that was too big _isk to take with a man like Dick, unless you saw him cold before you left him … He got away from this place, and early this morning I knew all he knew.
After that it was easy. I got the telegram you had sent this morning in th_ame of Clarence Donne and it made me laugh. Before midday I had this whol_utfit under my hand. Your servants have gone by the Underground Railway—t_rance. Ehrlich—well, I'm sorry about Ehrlich.'
I knew now the name of the Portuguese Jew.
'He wasn't a bad sort of man,' Blenkiron said regretfully, 'and he was plum_onest. I couldn't get him to listen to reason, and he would play wit_irearms. So I had to shoot.'
'Dead?' asked Ivery sharply.
'Ye-es. I don't miss, and it was him or me. He's under the ice now—where yo_anted to send Dick Hannay. He wasn't your kind, Graf, and I guess he has som_hance of getting into Heaven. If I weren't a hard-shell Presbyterian I'd sa_ prayer for his soul.'
I looked only at Ivery. His face had gone very pale, and his eyes wer_andering. I am certain his brain was working at lightning speed, but he was _at in a steel trap and the springs held him. If ever I saw a man goin_hrough hell it was now. His pasteboard castle had crumbled about his ears an_e was giddy with the fall of it. The man was made of pride, and every prou_erve of him was caught on the raw.
'So much for ordinary business,' said Blenkiron. 'There's the matter of _ertain lady. You haven't behaved over-nice about her, Graf, but I'm not goin_o blame you. You maybe heard a whistle blow when you were coming in here? No!
Why, it sounded like Gabriel's trump. Peter must have put some lung power int_t. Well, that was the signal that Miss Mary was safe in your car … but in ou_harge. D'you comprehend?'
He did. The ghost of a flush appeared in his cheeks.
'You ask about General Hannay? I'm not just exactly sure where Dick is at th_oment, but I opine he's in Italy.'
I kicked aside the screen, thereby causing Amos almost to fall on his face.
'I'm back,' I said, and pulled up an arm-chair, and dropped into it.
I think the sight of me was the last straw for Ivery. I was a wild enoug_igure, grey with weariness, soaked, dirty, with the clothes of the porte_oseph Zimmer in rags from the sharp rocks of the Schwarzsteinthor. As hi_yes caught mine they wavered, and I saw terror in them. He knew he was in th_resence of a mortal enemy.
'Why, Dick,' said Blenkiron with a beaming face, 'this is mighty opportune.
How in creation did you get here?'
'I walked,' I said. I did not want to have to speak, for I was too tired. _anted to watch Ivery's face.
Blenkiron gathered up his Patience cards, slipped them into a little leathe_ase and put it in his pocket.
'I've one thing more to tell you. The Wild Birds have been summoned home, bu_hey won't ever make it. We've gathered them in—Pavia, and Hofgaard, an_onradi. Ehrlich is dead. And you are going to join the rest in our cage.'
As I looked at my friend, his figure seemed to gain in presence. He sat squar_n his chair with a face like a hanging judge, and his eyes, sleepy no more, held Ivery as in a vice. He had dropped, too, his drawl and the idioms of hi_rdinary speech, and his voice came out hard and massive like the clash o_ranite blocks.
'You're at the bar now, Graf von Schwabing. For years you've done your bes_gainst the decencies of life. You have deserved well of your country, I don'_oubt it. But what has your country deserved of the world? One day soo_ermany has to do some heavy paying, and you are the first instalment.'
'I appeal to the Swiss law. I stand on Swiss soil, and I demand that I b_urrendered to the Swiss authorities.' Ivery spoke with dry lips and the swea_as on his brow.
'Oh, no, no,' said Blenkiron soothingly. 'The Swiss are a nice people, and _ould hate to add to the worries of a poor little neutral state … All alon_oth sides have been outside the law in this game, and that's going t_ontinue. We've abode by the rules and so must you … For years you've murdere_nd kidnapped and seduced the weak and ignorant, but we're not going to judg_our morals. We leave that to the Almighty when you get across Jordan. We'r_oing to wash our hands of you as soon as we can. You'll travel to France b_he Underground Railway and there be handed over to the French Government.
From what I know they've enough against you to shoot you every hour of the da_or a twelvemonth.'
I think he had expected to be condemned by us there and then and sent to joi_hrlich beneath the ice. Anyhow, there came a flicker of hope into his eyes. _aresay he saw some way to dodge the French authorities if he once got _hance to use his miraculous wits. Anyhow, he bowed with something very lik_elf-possession, and asked permission to smoke. As I have said, the man ha_is own courage.
'Blenkiron,' I cried, 'we're going to do nothing of the kind.'
He inclined his head gravely towards me. 'What's your notion, Dick?'
'We've got to make the punishment fit the crime,' I said. I was so tired tha_ had to form my sentences laboriously, as if I were speaking a half- understood foreign tongue.
'I mean that if you hand him over to the French he'll either twist out o_heir hands somehow or get decently shot, which is far too good for him. Thi_an and his kind have sent millions of honest folk to their graves. He has sa_pinning his web like a great spider and for every thread there has been a_cean of blood spilled. It's his sort that made the war, not the brave, stupid, fighting Boche. It's his sort that's responsible for all the clotte_eastliness … And he's never been in sight of a shell. I'm for putting him i_he front line. No, I don't mean any Uriah the Hittite business. I want him t_ave a sporting chance, just what other men have. But, by God, he's going t_earn what is the upshot of the strings he's been pulling so merrily … He tol_e in two days' time Germany would smash our armies to hell. He boasted tha_e would be mostly responsible for it. Well, let him be there to see th_mashing.'
'I reckon that's just,' said Blenkiron.
Ivery's eyes were on me now, fascinated and terrified like those of a bir_efore a rattlesnake. I saw again the shapeless features of the man in th_ube station, the residuum of shrinking mortality behind his disguises. H_eemed to be slipping something from his pocket towards his mouth, but Geordi_amilton caught his wrist.
'Wad ye offer?' said the scandalized voice of my servant. 'Sirr, the prisone_ould appear to be trying to puishon hisself. Wull I search him?'
After that he stood with each arm in the grip of a warder.
'Mr Ivery,' I said, 'last night, when I was in your power, you indulged you_anity by gloating over me. I expected it, for your class does not bree_entlemen. We treat our prisoners differently, but it is fair that you shoul_now your fate. You are going into France, and I will see that you are take_o the British front. There with my old division you will learn something o_he meaning of war. Understand that by no conceivable chance can you escape.
Men will be detailed to watch you day and night and to see that you underg_he full rigour of the battlefield. You will have the same experience as othe_eople, no more, no less. I believe in a righteous God and I know that soone_r later you will find death—death at the hands of your own people—a_onourable death which is far beyond your deserts. But before it comes yo_ill have understood the hell to which you have condemned honest men.'
In moments of great fatigue, as in moments of great crisis, the mind take_harge and may run on a track independent of the will. It was not myself tha_poke, but an impersonal voice which I did not know, a voice in whose tone_ang a strange authority. Ivery recognized the icy finality of it, and hi_ody seemed to wilt, and droop. Only the hold of the warders kept him fro_alling.
I, too, was about at the end of my endurance. I felt dimly that the room ha_mptied except for Blenkiron and Amos, and that the former was trying to mak_e drink brandy from the cup of a flask. I struggled to my feet with th_ntention of going to Mary, but my legs would not carry me … I heard as in _ream Amos giving thanks to an Omnipotence in whom he officially disbelieved.
'What's that the auld man in the Bible said? Now let thou thy servant depar_n peace. That's the way I'm feelin' mysel'.' And then slumber came on me lik_n armed man, and in the chair by the dying wood-ash I slept off the ache o_y limbs, the tension of my nerves, and the confusion of my brain.