Luttrell left the home with one thought filling his mind—the regiment. It had got to justify all Oakley's devotion; it had got somehow to make amends to him, even if he never was to know of it, for this last unfair stroke of destiny. Luttrell walked across London, dwelling upon the qualities of individual men in the company which was his command—how this man was quick, and that man stupid, and that other inclined to swank, and a fourth had a gift for reading maps, and a fifth would make a real marksman; and so he woke up to find himself before the bookstall in the station at Waterloo. Then he remembered the visit he had promised, but there was no longer any time. He took the train to the New Forest, and three days later went to France.
But of Luttrell's visit to Colonel Oakley, Stella Croyle never knew. And, again, very likely it would not have mattered if she had. They were parted too widely for insight and clear vision.
* * * * *
Hillyard carried away with him a picture of Stella's haunted and despairing face. It was over against him as he dined at his club, gleaming palely from out of darkness, the lips quivering, the eyes sad with all the sorrows of women. He could blame neither the one nor the other—neither Stella Croyle nor Harry Luttrell. One heart called to the other across too wide a gulf, and this heart on the hither side was listening to quite other voices and was deaf to her cry for help. But Hillyard was on the road along which Millicent Splay had already travelled. More and more he felt the case for compassion. He carried the picture of Stella's face home with him. It troubled his sleep; by constant gazing upon it he became afraid....
He waked with a start to hear a question whispered at his ear. "Where is she? How has she passed this night?" The morning light was glimmering between the curtains. The room was empty. Yet surely those words had been spoken, actually spoken by a human voice.... He took his telephone instrument in his hand and lifted the receiver. In a little while—but a while too long for his impatience—his call was acknowledged at the exchange. He gave Stella Croyle's number and waited. Whilst he waited he looked at his watch. The time was a quarter past seven.
An unfamiliar and sleepy voice answered him from her house.
"Will you put me on to Mrs. Croyle?" he requested, and the reply came back:
"Mrs. Croyle went away with her maid last night."
"Last night?" cried Hillyard incredulously. "But I did not leave the house myself until well after six, and she had then no plans for leaving."
Further details, however, were given to him. Mrs. Croyle had called up a garage whence cars can be hired. She had packed hurriedly. She had left at nine by motor.
"Where for?" asked Hillyard.
The name of an hotel in the pine country of Surrey was given.
"Thank you," said Hillyard, and he rang off.
She had run to earth in her usual way, when trouble and grief broke through her woman's armour and struck her down—that was all! Hillyard lighted a cigarette and rang for his tea. Yes, that was all! She was acting true to her type, as the jargon has it. But against his will, her face took shape before him, as he had seen it in the darkness of her room and ever since—ever since!
He rang again, and more insistently. He possessed a small, swift motor-car. Before the clocks of London had struck eight he was travelling westwards along the King's Road. Hillyard was afraid. He did not formulate his fears. He was not sure of what he feared. But he was afraid—terribly afraid; and for the first time anger rose up in his heart against his friend. Luttrell! Harry Luttrell! At this very moment he was changing direction in columns of fours upon the drill ground, happy in the smooth execution of the manoeuvre by his men and untroubled by any thought of the distress of Stella Croyle. Well, little things must give way to great—women to the exigencies of drill!
Meanwhile, Hillyard grew more afraid, and yet more afraid. He swept down the hill to Cobham, passed between the Hut and the lake, and was through Ripley before the shutters in the shops were down. The dew was heavy in the air; all the fresh, clean smell of the earth was in that September morning. And as yet the morning itself was only half awake. At last the Hog's Back rose, and at a little inn, known for its comfort—and its chef—Hillyard's car was stopped.
"Mrs. Croyle?" Hillyard asked at the office.
"Her maid is here," said the girl clerk, and pointed.
Hillyard turned to a girl, pretty and, by a few years, younger than Stella Croyle.
"I have orders not to wake Mrs. Croyle until she rings," said the maid. Jenny Prask, she was called, and she spoke with just a touch of pleasant Sussex drawl. "Mrs. Croyle has not been sleeping well, and she looked for a good night's rest in country air."
The maid was so healthful in her appearance, so reasonable in her argument, that Hillyard's terrors, fostered by solitude, began to lose their vivid colours.
"I understand that," he stammered. "Yet, Jenny——"
Jenny Prask smiled.
"You are Mr. Hillyard, I think?"
"I have heard my mistress speak of you." Hillyard knew enough of maids to understand that "mistress" was an unusual word with them. Here, it seemed, was a paragon of maids, who was quite content to be publicly Stella Croyle's maid, whose gentility suffered no offence by the recognition of a mistress.
"If you wish, I will wake her."
Jenny Prask went up the stairs, Hillyard at her heels. She knocked upon the door. No answer was returned. She opened it and entered.
Stella Croyle was up and dressed. She was sitting at a table by the window with some sheets of notepaper and some envelopes in front of her, and her back was towards Hillyard and the open door. But she was dressed as she had been dressed the evening before when he had left her; the curtains in the room were drawn, and the electric lights on the writing-table and the walls were still burning. The bed had not been slept in.
Stella Croyle rose and turned towards her visitors. She tottered a little as she stood up, and her eyes were dazed.
"Why have you come here?" she asked faintly, and she fell rather than sat again in her chair.
Hillyard sprang forward and tore the curtains aside so that the sunlight poured into the room, and Stella opened and shut her eyes with a contraction of pain.
"I had so many letters to write," she explained, "I thought that I would sit up and get through with them."
Hillyard looked at the table. There were great black dashes on the notepaper and lines, and here and there a scribbled picture of a face, and perhaps now and again half a word. She had sat at that table all night and had not even begun a letter. Hillyard's heart was torn with pity as he looked from her white, tired face to the sheets of notepaper. What misery and unhappiness did those broad, black dashes and idle lines express?
"You must have some breakfast," he said. "I'll order it and have it ready for you downstairs by the time you are ready. Then I'll take you back to London."
The blood suddenly mounted into her face.
"You will?" she cried wildly. "In a reserved compartment, so that I may do nothing rash and foolish? Are you going to be kind too?"
She broke into a peal of shrill and bitter laughter. Then her head went down upon her hands, and she gave herself up to such a passion of sobbing and tears as was quite beyond all Hillyard's experience. Yet he would rather hear those sobs and see her bowed shoulders shaking under the violence of them than listen again to the dreadful laughter which had gone before. He had not the knowledge which could enable him to understand her sudden outburst, nor did he acquire that knowledge until long afterwards. But he understood that quite unwittingly he had touched some painful chord in that wayward nature.
"I am going to take you back in my motor-car," he said. "I'll be downstairs with the breakfast ready."
She had probably eaten nothing, he reckoned, since teatime the day before. Food was the steadying thing she needed now. He went to the door which Jenny Prask held open for him.
"Don't leave her!" he breathed in a whisper.
Jenny Prask smiled.
"Not me, sir," she said fervently.
Hillyard remembered with comfort some words which she had spoken in appreciation of the loving devotion of her maid.
"In three-quarters of an hour," said Jenny; and later on that morning, with a great fear removed from his heart, Hillyard drove Stella Croyle back to London.
It was nine o'clock on a night of late August.
The restaurant of the Maison Doree in the Plaza Cataluna at Barcelona looks across the brilliantly-lighted square from the south side. On the pavement in front of it and of its neighbour, the Cafe Continental, the vendors of lottery tickets were bawling the lucky numbers they had for sale. Even in this wide space the air was close and stale. Within, a few people left over in the town had strayed in to dine at tables placed against the walls under flamboyant decorations in the style of Fragonard. At a table Hillyard was sitting alone over his coffee. Across the room one of the panels represented a gleaming marble terrace overlooking a country-side bathed in orange light; and on the terrace stood a sedan chair with drawn curtains, and behind the chair stood a saddled white horse. Hillyard had dined more than once during the last few months at the Maison Doree; and the problem of that picture had always baffled him. A lovers' tryst! But where were the lovers? In some inner room shaded from the outrage of that orange light which never was on sea or land? Or in the sedan chair? Or were their faces to be discovered, as in the puzzle pictures, in the dappling of the horse's flanks, or the convolutions of the pillars which supported the terrace roof, or the gilded ornamentations of the chair itself? Hillyard was speculating for the twentieth time on these important matters with a vague hope that one day the door of the sedan chair would open, when another door opened—the door of the restaurant. A sharp-visaged man with a bald forehead, a clerk, one would say, or a commercial traveller, looked round the room and went forward to Hillyard's table. He went quite openly.
The two men shook hands, and the new-comer seated himself in front of Hillyard.
"You will take coffee and a cigar?" Hillyard asked in Spanish, and gave the order to the waiter.
The two men talked of the heat, the cinematograph theatres at the side of the Plaza, the sea-bathing at Caldetas, and then the sharp-faced man leaned forward.
"Ramon says there is no truth in the story, senor."
Hillyard struck a match and held it to his companion's cigar.
"And you trust Ramon, Senor Baeza?"
Lopez Baeza leaned back with a gesture of unqualified assent.
"As often and often you can trust the peasant of my country," he said.
Hillyard agreed with a nod. He gazed about the room.
"There is no one interesting here to-night," he said idly.
"No," answered Lopez Baeza. "The theatres are closed, the gay people have gone to St. Sebastian, the families to the seaside. Ouf, but it is hot."
Hillyard dropped his voice to a whisper and returned to the subject of his thoughts.
"You see, my friend, it is of so much importance that we should make no mistake here."
"Claro!" returned Lopez Baeza. "But listen to me, senor. You know that our banks are behind the times and our post offices not greatly trusted. We have therefore a class of messengers."
"I know of them."
"Good. They are not educated. Most of them can neither read nor write. They are simply peasants. Yet they are trusted to carry the most important letters and great sums of money in gold and silver from place to place. And never do they betray their trust. It is unknown. Why, senor, I know myself of cases where rich men have entrusted their daughters to the care of the messengers, sure that in this way their daughters will arrive safely at their destination."
"Yes," said Hillyard. "I know of these men."
"Ramon Castillo is as honest as the best of them."
"Yes, but he is not one of them," said Hillyard. "He is a stevedore with thirty years of the quayside and at the port of Barcelona, where there are German ships with their officers and crews on board."
Hillyard was troubled. He drew from his pocket creased letters and read them for the twentieth time with a frowning countenance.
"There is so much at stake. Two hundred feluccas—two hundred motor-driven feluccas! And eighteen thousand men, on shore and sea? See what it means! On our side, the complete surveillance of the Western Mediterranean! On the other side—against us—two hundred travelling supply bases for submarines, two hundred signal stations. I want to be sure! I want neither to give the enemy the advantage by putting him upon his guard, nor to miss the great opportunity myself."
Lopez Baeza nodded.
"Why not talk with Ramon Castillo yourself?" he asked.
"That is what I want to do."
"I will arrange for it. When?"
"To-night," said Hillyard.
Lopez Baeza lifted his hands in deprecation.
"Yes. I can take you to his house—now. But, senor, Ramon is a poor man. He lives in a little narrow street."
Hillyard looked quietly at Lopez Baeza. He had found men on the Mediterranean littoral whom he could trust with his life and everything that was his. But a good working principle was to have not overmuch faith in any one. A noisome little street in the lower quarters of Barcelona—who could tell what might happen after one had plunged into it?
"I will come with you," he said.
"Good," said Lopez. "I will go on ahead." And once more Hillyard's quiet eyes rested upon Baeza's face. "It is not wise that we should walk out together. There is no one here, it is true, but in the chairs outside the cafes—who shall say?"
"Yes. You go on ahead," Hillyard agreed. "That is wise."
"Give me five minutes, senor. Then down the Rambla. The second turning to the right, beyond the Opera House. You will see me at the corner. When you see me, follow!"
Hillyard rose and shook hands cordially with Lopez Baeza with the air of a man who might never see his friend again for years. Baeza commended him to God and went out of the restaurant on to the lighted footway.
Hillyard read through the two creased letters again, though he knew them by heart. They had reached him from William Lloyd, an English merchant at Barcelona, at two different dates. The first, written six weeks ago, related how Pontiana Tabor, a servant of the firm, had come into Lloyd's private office and informed him that on the night of the 27th June a German submarine had entered a deep cove at the lonely north-east point of the island of Mallorca, and had there been provisioned by Jose Medina's men, with Jose Medina's supplies, and that Jose Medina had driven out of Palma de Mallorca in his motor-car, and travelling by little-known tracks, had been present when the operation was in process. The name of a shoemaker in a street of Palma was given as corroboration.
The second letter, which had brought Hillyard post-haste off the sea into Barcelona, was only three days old. Once more Pontiana Tabor had been the bearer of bad news. Jose Medina had been seen entering the German Consulate in Barcelona, between eleven and twelve o'clock of the morning of August 22nd.
Hillyard was greatly troubled by these two letters.
"We can put Jose Medina out of business, of course," he reflected. For Jose Medina's tobacco factories were built at a free port in French territory. "But I want the man for my friend."
He put the letters back in his pocket and paid his bill. As he went out of the Maison Doree, he felt in the right-hand pocket of his jacket to make sure that a little deadly life preserver lay ready to his hand.
He did not distrust Lopez Baeza. All the work which Baeza had done for him had, indeed, been faithfully and discreetly done. But—but there was always a certain amount of money for the man who would work the double cross—not so very much, but still, a certain amount. And Hillyard was always upon his guard against the intrusion of a contempt for the German effort. That contempt was easy enough for a man who, having read year after year of the wonders of the loud-vaunted German system of espionage, had come fresh from his reading into contact with the actual agents. Their habit of lining their pockets at the expense of their Government, their unfulfilled pretensions, their vanity and extravagance, and, above all, their unimaginative stupidity in their estimation of men—these things were apt in the early years of the war to bewilder the man who had been so often told to fall down before the great idol of German efficiency.
"The German agent works on the assumption that the mind of every foreigner reasons on German lines, but with inferior intelligence. But behind the agent is the cunning of Berlin, with its long-deliberated plans and its concocted ingenuity of method. And though on the whole they are countered, as with amazement they admit, by the amateurs from England, still every now and then—not very often—they do bring something off."
Thus Hillyard reasoned as he turned the corner of the Plaza Cataluna into the wide Rambla. It might be that the narratives of Pontiana Tabor and the denials of Ramon Castillo were all just part of one little subsidiary plan in the German scheme which was to reach its achievement by putting an inconvenient Englishman out of the way for good in one of the dark, narrow side streets of Barcelona.
After the hot day the Rambla, with its broad tree-shaded alley in the middle, its carriage-ways on each side of the alley, and its shops and footwalks beyond the carriage-ways, was crowded with loiterers. The Spaniard, to our ideas, is simple in his pleasure. To visit a cinematograph, to take a cooling temperance drink at the Municipal Kiosque at the top of the Rambla, and to pace up and down the broad walk with unending chatter—until daybreak—here were the joys of Barcelona folk in the days of summer. Further down at the lower end of the Rambla you would come upon the dancing halls and supper-cafes, with separate rooms for the national gambling game, "Siete y Media," but they had their own clientele amongst the bloods and the merchant captains from the harbour. The populace of Barcelona walked the Rambla under the great globes of electric light.
Hillyard could only move slowly through the press. Every one dawdled. Hillyard dawdled too. He passed the Opera House, and a little further down saw across the carriage-way, Lopez Baeza in front of a lighted tobacco shop at the corner of a narrow street. Hillyard crossed the carriage-way and Baeza turned into the street, a narrow thoroughfare between tall houses and dark as a cavern. Hillyard followed him. The lights of the Rambla were left behind, the houses became more slatternly and disreputable, the smells of the quarter were of rancid food and bad drains. Before a great door Baeza stopped and clapped his hands.
A jingle of keys answered him, and rising from the step of another house the watchman of the street crossed the road. He put a key into the door, opened it, and received the usual twopence. Baeza and Hillyard passed in.
"Ramon is on the top floor. We have to climb," said Baeza.
He lit a match, and the two men mounted a staircase with a carved balustrade, made for a king. Two stories up, the great staircase ended, and another of small, steep and narrow steps succeeded it. When Baeza's match went out there was no light anywhere; from a room somewhere above came a sound of quarrelling voices—a woman's voice high and shrill, a man's voice hoarse and drunken, and, as an accompaniment, the wailing of a child wakened from its sleep.
At the very top of the house Baeza rapped on a door. The door was opened, and a heavy, elderly man, wearing glasses on his nose, stood in the entrance with the light of an unshaded lamp behind him.
"Ramon, it is the chief," said Baeza.
Ramon Castello crossed the room and closed an inner door. Then he invited Hillyard to enter. The room was bare but for a few pieces of necessary furniture, but all was scrupulously clean. Ramon Castillo set forward a couple of chairs and asked his visitors to be seated. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and he wore the rope-soled sandals of the Spanish peasant, but he was entirely at his ease. He made the customary little speech of welcome with so simple a dignity and so manifest a sincerity that Hillyard could hardly doubt him afterwards.
"It is my honour to welcome you not merely as my chief, but as an Englishman. I am poor, and I take my pay, but Senor Baeza will assure you that for twenty-five years I have been the friend of England. And there are thousands and thousands of poor Spaniards like myself, who love England, because its law-courts are just, because there is a real freedom there, because political power is not the opportunity of oppression."
The little speech was spoken with great rapidity and with deep feeling; and, having delivered it, Ramon seated himself on the side of the table opposite to Hillyard and Baeza and waited.
"It is about Pontiana Tabor," said Hillyard. "He is making a mistake?"
"No, senor; he is lying," and he used the phrase which has no exact equivalent in the English. "He is a sin verguenza."
"Tell me, my friend," said Hillyard.
"Pontiana Tabor swears that Jose Medina was seen to enter the German Consulate before noon on August the 22nd. But on August the 21st Medina was in Palma, Mallorca; he was seen there by a captain of the Islana Company, and a friend of mine spoke to him on the quay. If, therefore, he was in the German Consulate here on the 22nd, he must have crossed that night by the steamer to Barcelona. But he did not. His name was not on the list of passengers, and although he might have avoided that, he was not seen on board or to come on board. I have spoken with officers and crew. Jose Medina did not cross on the 21st. Moreover, Senor Baeza has seen a letter which shows that he was certainly in Palma on the 23rd."
"That is true," said Baeza. "Medina was in Palma on the 21st, and in Palma on the 23rd, and he did not cross to Barcelona on the night of the 21st, nor back again to Palma on the night of the 22nd. Therefore he was not seen to visit the German Consulate on the morning of the 22nd, and, as Ramon says, Pontiana is lying."
"Why should Pontiana lie?" asked Hillyard.
Ramon took his pince-nez from the bridge of his nose, and, holding them between his finger and thumb, tapped with them upon his knee.
"Because, senor, there are other contrabandists besides Jose Medina; one little group at Tarragona and another near Garucha—and they would all be very glad to see Jose Medina get into trouble with the British and the French. His feluccas fly the British flag and his factories are on French soil. There would be an end of Jose Medina."
The letters were put in front of Hillyard. He read them over carefully, and at the end he said:
"If Pontiana Tabor lied in this case of the Consulate—and that seems clear—it is very likely that he lied also in the other. Yes."
As a matter of fact, Hillyard had reasons of his own to doubt the truth of the story which ascribed to Medina the actual provisioning of a submarine—reasons which had nothing whatever to do with Jose Medina himself.
The destruction of shipping by German submarines in this western section of the Mediterranean had an intermittent regularity. There would be ten successive days—hardly ever more than ten days—during which ships were sunk. Thereafter for three weeks, steamships and sailing ships would follow the course upon which they were ordered, without hurt or loss. After three weeks, the murderous business would begin again. There was but one explanation in Hillyard's opinion.
"The submarines come out of Pola. When they reach the line between the Balearics and the Spanish coast, they have oil for ten days' cruising, and then return to their base," he argued.
Now, if a submarine had been provisioned by Jose Medina in a creek of Mallorca, the ten days' cruise would be extended to three weeks. This had never happened. Moreover, the date fixed by Pontiana Tabor happened to fall precisely in the middle of one of those periods of three weeks during which the terror did not haunt those seas. Pontiana Tabor had not known enough. He had fixed his date at a venture.
"Yes," said Hillyard, rising from his chair. "I agree with you, Senor Ramon. Tabor is a liar. What troubled me was that I had no clue as to why he should lie. You have given me it, and with all my heart I thank you."
He shook the stevedore's hand and stood for a moment talking and joking with him upon other subjects. Hillyard knew the value of a smile and a jest and a friendly manner. Your very enemy in Spain will do you a good turn if you meet him thus. Then he turned to Baeza.
"I shall be back, perhaps, in a week, but perhaps not. I will let you know in the usual way."
The two men went down the stairs and into the street. It was empty now and black, but at the far end, as at the end of a tunnel, the Rambla blazed and roared and the crowds swung past like a procession.
"It is best that we should separate here," said Lopez Baeza, "if you have no further instructions."
"Touching the matter of those ships," Hillyard suggested.
"Senor Fairbairn has it in hand."
"Good. Then, my friend, I have no further instructions," said Hillyard. "I agree with you about Ramon. I will go first."
He shook hands with Baeza, crossed the road and disappeared into the mouthway of an alley which ran up the hill parallel to the Rambla. The alley led into another side street, and turning to the right, Hillyard slipped out into the throng beneath the trees. He sauntered, as idle and as curious as any in that broad walk. He took a drink at a cafe, neither hiding himself unnaturally nor ostentatiously occupying a chair at the edge of the awning. He sat there for half an hour. But when he rose again he made sure that no one was loitering to watch his movements. He sauntered up to the very end of the Rambla past the ice-cream kiosque. The great Plaza spread in front of him, and at the corner across the road stood a double line of motor-cars, some for hire, others waiting for parties in the restaurants opposite. He walked across the roadway and disappeared in between the motor-cars as if he intended to cross the Plaza by the footway to the Paseo de la Reforma. A second later a motor-car shot out from the line and took the road to Tarragona.
Hillyard was inside the car. The tall houses of the city gave place to villas draped in bougainvillea behind gardens of trees. Then the villas ceased and the car sped across the flats of Llobegrat and climbed to the finest coast-road in the world. It was a night for lovers. A full moon, bright as silver, sailed in the sky; the broad, white road rose and dipped and wound past here and there a blue cottage, here and there a peasant mounted on his donkey and making his journey by night to escape the burning day. Far below the sea spread out most gently murmuring, and across a great wide path of glittering jewels, now a sailing-ship glided like a bird, now the black funnels of a steamer showed. So light was the wind that Hillyard could hear the kick of its screw, like the beating of some gigantic clock. He took his hat from his head and threw wide open his thin coat. After the heavy days of anxiety he felt a nimbleness of heart and spirit which set him in tune with the glory of that night. Suspicions, vague and elusive, had for so long clustered about Jose Medina, and then had come the two categorical statements, dates and hours, chapter and verse! He was still not sure, he declared to himself in warning. But he was sure enough to risk the great move—the move which he alone could make! He should no doubt have been dreaming of Joan Whitworth and fitting her into the frame of that August night. But he had not thought of her by one o'clock in the morning; and by one o'clock in the morning his motor-car had come to a stop on the deserted quay of Tarragona harbour under the stern of an English yacht.
At six o'clock on the second morning after Hillyard's visit to Barcelona, the steam-yacht Dragonfly swept round the point of La Dragonera and changed her course to the south-east. She steamed with a following breeze over a sea of darkest sapphire which broke in sparkling cascades of white and gold against the rocky creeks and promontories on the ship's port side. Peasants working on the green terraces above the rocks stopped their work and stared as the blue ensign with the Union Jack in the corner broke out from the flagstaff at the stern.
"But it's impossible," cried one. "Only yesterday a French mail-steamer was chased in the passage between Mallorca and Minorca. It's impossible."
Another shaded his eyes with his hand and looked upon the neat yacht with its white deck and shining brass in contemptuous pity.
"Loco Ingles," said he.
The tradition of the mad Englishman has passed away from France, but it has only leaped the Pyrenees. Some crazy multi-millionaire was just running his head into the German noose. They gave up their work and settled down contentedly to watch the yacht, multi-millionaire, captain and crew and all go up into the sky. But the Dragonfly passed from their sight with the foam curling from her bows and broadening out into a pale fan behind her; and over the headlands for a long time they saw the streamer of her smoke as she drove in to Palma Bay.
Hillyard, standing by the captain's side upon the bridge, watched the great cathedral rise from out of the water at the end of the bay, towers and flying buttresses and the mass of brown stone, before even a house was visible. The Dragonfly passed a German cargo steamer which had sought refuge here at the outbreak of war. She was a large ship, full of oil, and she had been moved from the quay-side to an anchorage in the bay by the captain of the port, lest by design or inadvertence she should take fire and set the town aflame. There she lay, a source of endless misgiving to every allied ship which sailed these waters, kept clean and trim as a yacht, her full crew on board, her dangerous cargo below, in the very fairway of the submarine; and there the scruples of the Allies allowed her to remain while month followed month. Historians in later years will come across in this or that Government office in Paris, in London and in Rome, warnings, appeals, and accounts of the presence of this ship; and those anxious for a picturesque contrast may set against the violation of Belgium and all the "scrap of paper" philosophy, the fact that for years in the very centre of the German submarine effort in the Western Mediterranean, the German steamer Fangturm, with her priceless cargo of oil, was allowed by the scrupulous honour of the Allies to swing unmolested at her anchor in Palma Bay. Hillyard could never pass that great black ship in those neutral waters without a hope that his steering-gear would just at this moment play him false and swing his bows at full speed on to her side. The Dragonfly ran past her to the arm of the great mole and was moored with her stern to the quay. A small crowd of gesticulating idlers gathered about the ropes, and all were but repeating the phrases of the peasants upon the hill-side, as Hillyard walked ashore down the gangway.
"But it's impossible that you should have come."
"Just outside there is one. The fisherman saw her yesterday."
"She rose and spoke to one of the fishing-boats."
"But it is impossible that you should have come here."
"Yet I am here," answered Hillyard, the very mad multi-millionaire. "What will you, my friends? Shall I tell you a secret? Yes, but tell no one else! The Germans would be most enraged if they found out that we knew it. There aren't any submarines."
A little jest spoken in a voice of good-humour, with a friendly smile, goes a long way anywhere, but further in Spain than anywhere else in the world. The small crowd laughed with Hillyard, and made way for him.
A man offered to him with a flourish and a bow a card advertising a garage at which motor-cars could be hired for expeditions in the island. Hillyard accepted it and put it into his pocket. He paid a visit to his consul, and thereafter sat in a cafe for an hour. Then he strolled through the narrow streets, admired this and that massive archway, with its glimpse of a great stone staircase within, and mounted the hill. Almost at the top, he turned sharply into a doorway and ran up the stairs to the second floor. He knocked upon the door, and a maid-servant answered.
"Senor Jose Medina lives here?"
"He is at home?"
"No, senor. He is in the country at his finca."
Hillyard thanked the girl, and went whistling down the stairs. Standing in the archway, he looked up and down the street with something of the air of a man engaged upon a secret end. One or two people were moving in the street; one or two were idling on the pavement. Hillyard smiled and walked down the hill again. He took the advertisement card from his pocket and, noting the address, walked into the garage.
"It will please me to see something of the island," he said. "I am not in Mallorca for long. I should like a car after lunch." He gave the name of a cafe between the cathedral and the quay. "At half-past two? Thank you. And by which road shall I go for all that is most of Mallorca?"
This was Spain. A small group of men had already invaded the garage and gathered about Hillyard and the proprietor. They proceeded at once to take a hand in the conversation and offer their advice. They suggested the expedition to Miramar, to Alcudia, to Manacor, discussing the time each journey would take, the money to be saved by the shorter course, the dust, and even the gradients of the road. They had no interest in the business in the garage, and they were not at all concerned in the success of Hillyard's excursion. That a stranger should carry away with him pleasant recollections of the beauties of Mallorca, was a matter of supreme indifference to them all. But they were engaged in the favourite pursuit of the Spaniards of the towns. They were getting through a certain small portion of the day, without doing any work, and without spending any money. The majority favoured the road past Valdemosa, over the Pass of Soller to Miramar and its rocky coast on the north-east side of the island, as indeed Hillyard knew the majority must. For there is no road like it for beauty in the Balearics, and few in all Spain.
"I will go that way, then," said Hillyard, and he strolled off to his luncheon.
He drove afterwards over the plain, between groves of olive and almond trees with gnarled stems and branches white with dust, mounted by the twisting road, terraces upon his left and pine-clothed mountainside upon his right, past Valdemosa to the Pass. The great sweep of rock-bound coast and glittering sea burst upon his view, and the boom of water surging into innumerable caves was like thunder to his ears. At a little gate upon the road the car was stopped at a word from Hillyard.
"I am going in here," he said. "I may be a little while."
The chauffeur looked at Hillyard with surprise. Hillyard had never been to the house before, but he could not mistake it from the description which he had been given. He passed through an orchard to the door of an outrageous villa, built in the style of a Swiss chalet and glaring with yellow paint. A man in his shirt-sleeves came to the door.
"Senor Jose Medina?" Hillyard inquired.
He held out his card and was ushered into the room of ceremony which went very well with the exterior of the yellow chalet. A waxed floor, heavy white lace curtains at the windows, a table of walnut-wood, chairs without comfort, but with gold legs, all was new and never to be used and hideous. Hillyard looked around him with a nod of comprehension. This is what its proprietor would wish for. With a hundred old houses to select from for a model—no! This is the way his fancies would run. The one beauty of the place, its position, was Nature's. Hillyard went to the window, which was on the side of the house opposite to the door. He looked down a steep terraced garden of orange trees and bright flowers to the foam sparkling on the rocks a thousand feet below.
"You wished to see me, senor," and Hillyard turned with curiosity.
Twelve years had passed since he had seen Jose Medina, but he had changed less than Hillyard expected. Martin remembered him as small and slight, with a sharp mobile face and a remarkable activity which was the very badge of the man; and these characteristics he retained. He was still like quick-silver. But he was fast losing his hair, and he wore pince-nez. The dress of the peasant and the cautious manner of the peasant, both were gone. In his grey lounge suit he had the look of a quick-witted clerk.
"You wished to see me, senor," he repeated, and he laid the card upon the table.
"For a moment. I shall hope not to detain you long."
"My time and my house are yours."
Jose Medina had clearly become a caballero since those early days of adventure. Hillyard noted the point for his own guidance, thanking his stars meanwhile that the gift of the house was a meaningless politeness.
"I arrived at Palma this morning, in a yacht," said Hillyard.
Jose Medina was prepared for the information. He bowed. There had been neither smile nor, indeed, any expression whatever upon his face since he had entered the room.
"I have heard of the yacht," he said. "It is a fine ship."
Jose Medina looked at Hillyard.
"It flies the English flag."
"As do your feluccas, senor, I believe."
A mere twitch of the lips showed that Medina appreciated the point.
"But I," continued Hillyard, "am an Englishman, while you, senor——"
Jose Medina was not, if he could help it, to be forced to cry "a hit" again.
"Whereas I, senor, am a neutral," he answered. The twitch of the lips became a smile. He invited Hillyard to a chair, he drew up another himself, and the two men sat down over against one another in the middle of that bare and formal room.
That one word neutral, so delicately emphasised, warned Hillyard that Jose Medina was quite alive to the reason of his visit. He could, of course, have blurted it out at once. He could have said in so many words, "Your tobacco factories are on French soil, and your two hundred feluccas are nominally owned in Gibraltar. Between French and English we shall close you down unless you help." But he knew very well that he would have got no more than fair words if he had. It is not thus that delicate questions are approached in Spain. Even the blackmailer does not dream of bluntly demanding money, or exposing his knowledge that he will get it. He pleads decently the poverty of his family and the long illness of his mother-in-law; and with the same decency the blackmailed yields to compassion and opens his purse. There is a gentlemanly reticence to be observed in these matters and Hillyard was well aware of the rules. He struck quite a different note.
"I shall speak frankly to you, Senor Medina, as one caballero to another"; and Jose Medina bowed and smiled.
"I put my cards upon the table. I ask you whether in your heart you are for the Germans or for us."
Jose Medina hitched his chair a little closer and holding up one hand with fingers spread ticked off his points, as he spoke them, with the other.
"Let us see! First, you come to me, senor, saying you are English, and speaking Spanish with the accent of Valencia. Good! I might reply, senor, how do I know? I might ask you how I am to be sure that when that British flag is hauled down from your yacht outside the bay over there, it is not a German one which should take its place. Good! But I do not make these replies. I accept your word as a caballero that you are English and not an enemy of England laying a trap for me. Good!" He took off his eye-glasses and polished them.
"Now listen to me!" he continued. "I am a Spaniard. We of Spain have little grievances against England and France. But these are matters for the Government, not for a private person. And the Government bids us be neutral. Good! Now I speak as a private person. For me England means opportunity for poor men to become great and rich. You may say I have become rich without the opportunities of England. I answer I am one in many thousands. England means Liberty, and within the strict limits of my neutrality I will do what a man may for that great country."
Hillyard listened and nodded. The speech was flowing and spoken with great fervour. It might mean much. It might mean nothing at all. It might be the outcome of conviction. But it might again be nothing more than the lip-service of a man who knew very well that England and France could squeeze him dry if they chose.
"I wish," said Hillyard cordially, "that the captains of the ports of Spain spoke also with your voice."
Jose Medina neither assumed an ignorance of the German leanings of the port officials nor expressed any assent. But, as if he had realised the thought which must be passing in Hillyard's mind, he said:
"You know very well, senor, that I should be mad if I gave help to the Germans. I am in your hands. You and France have but to speak the word, and every felucca of mine is off the seas. But what then! There are eighteen thousand men at once without food or work thrown adrift upon the coast of Spain. Will not Germany find use for those eighteen thousand men?"
Hillyard agreed. The point was shrewd. It was an open, unanswerable reply to the unuttered threat which perhaps Hillyard might be prompted to use.
"I have spoken," continued Jose Medina. "Now it is for you, senor. Tell me what within the limits of my neutrality I can do to prove to you the sincerity of my respect for England?"
Hillyard took a sheet of paper and a pencil from his pocket. He drew a rough map.
"Here are the Balearic Islands; here, farther to the west, the Columbretes; here the African coast; here the mainland of Spain. Now watch, I beg you, senor, whilst I sketch in the routes of your feluccas. At Oran in Africa your factories stand. From them, then, we start. We draw a broad thick line from Oran to the north-east coast of Mallorca, that coast upon which we look down from these windows, a coast honeycombed with caves and indented with creeks like an edge of fine lace—a very storehouse of a coast. Am I not right, Senor Don Jose?" He laughed, in a friendly good-humoured way, but the face of Jose Medina did not lose one shade of its impassiveness. He did not deny that the caves of this coast were the storehouse of his tobacco; nor did he agree.
"Let us see!" he said.
"So I draw a thick line, since all your feluccas make for this island and this part of the island first of all. From here they diverge—you will correct me, I hope, if I am wrong."
"I do not say that I shall correct you if you are wrong," said Jose Medina.
Hillyard was now drawing other and finer lines which radiated like the sticks of an outspread fan from the north-east coast of Mallorca to the Spanish mainland; and he went on drawing them, unperturbed by Jose's refusal to assist in his map-making. Some of the lines—a few—ended at the Islands of the Columbretes, sixty miles off Valencia.
"Your secret storehouse, I believe, senor," he remarked pleasantly.
"A cruiser of our Government examined these islands most carefully a fortnight ago upon representations from the Allies, and found nothing of any kind to excite interest," replied Jose Medina.
"The cruiser was looking for submarine bases, I understand, not tobacco," Martin Hillyard observed. "And since it was not the cruiser's commission to look for tobacco, why should it discover it?"
Jose Medina shrugged his shoulders. Jose Medina's purse was very long and reached very high. It would be quite impolitic for that cruiser to discover Jose Medina's tobacco stores, as Medina himself and Martin Hillyard, and the captain of the cruiser, all very well knew.
Martin Hillyard continued to draw fine straight lines westwards from the northern coast of Mallorca to the mainland of Spain, some touching the shore to the north of Barcelona, some striking it as far south as Almeria and Garrucha. When he had finished his map-making he handed the result to Jose Medina.
"See, senor! Your feluccas cut across all the trade-routes through the Mediterranean. Ships going east or going west must pass between the Balearics and Africa, or between the Balearics and Spain. We are here in the middle, and, whichever course those ships take, they must cross the lines on which your feluccas continually come and go."
Jose Medina looked at the map. He did not commit himself in any way. He contented himself with a question: "And what then?"
"So too with the German submarines. They also must cross and cross again in their cruises, those lines along which your feluccas continually come and go."
Jose Medina threw up his hands.
"The submarines! Senor, if you listen to the babblers on the quays, you would think that the seas are stiff with them! Schools of them like whales everywhere! Only yesterday Palma rang with the account of one. It pursued a French steamer between Minorca and Mallorca. It spoke to a fishing boat! What did it not do? Senor, there was no submarine yesterday in the channel between Minorca and Mallorca. If there had been I must have known."
And he sat back as though the subject were disposed of.
"But submarines do visit these waters, Senor Medina, and they do sink ships," replied Hillyard.
Jose Medina shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands.
"Claro! And it is said that I supply them with their oil." He turned swiftly to Hillyard. "Perhaps you have heard that story, senor?"
"Yes. I did not believe it. It is because I did not believe it that I am here, asking your help."
"I thank you. It is the truth. I will tell you something now. Not one of my captains has ever seen one of those submarines, neither on this side nor on that," and Medina touched the lines which Hillyard had drawn on both sides of the Balearics on his chart. "Now, what can I do?"
"One simple thing, and well within your scruples as a neutral," replied Hillyard. "These submarines doubly break the laws of nations. They violate your territorial waters, and they sink merchant ships without regard for the crews."
"Yes," said Jose Medina.
"You have agents along the coast. I have friends too in every town, Englishmen who love both England and Spain, Spaniards who love both Spain and England. We will put, if you permit, your agents in touch with my friends."
"Yes," said Jose Medina innocently. "How shall we do that? We must have lists prepared."
Hillyard smiled gently.
"That is not necessary, senor. We know your agents already. If you will secretly inform them that those who speak in my name," and he took his card from the table, and gave it into Medina's hands, "are men to be trusted, it will be enough."
Jose Medina agreed.
"I will give them instructions."
"And yet another instruction if you will be so kind, to all your captains."
"That they shall report at the earliest possible moment to your nearest agent ashore, the position of any submarine they have seen."
Jose Medina assented once more.
"But it will take a little time, senor, for me to pass that instruction round. It shall go from captain to captain, but it will not be prudent to give it out more widely. A week or two—no more—and every captain in my fleet shall be informed. That is all?"
Hillyard was already rising from his chair. He stood straight up.
"All except that they will be forbidden too," he added with a smile, "to supply either food or drink or oil to any enemy vessel."
Jose Medina raised his hands in protest.
"That order was given months ago. But it shall be repeated, and you can trust me, it shall be obeyed."
The two men went to the door of the villa, and stood outside in the garden. It seemed the interview was over, and the agreement made. But indeed the interview as Hillyard had planned it had hardly begun. He had a series of promises which might be kept or broken, and the keeping or breaking of them could not be checked. Jose Medina was very likely to be holding the common belief along that coast that Germany would surely win the war. He was in the perfect position to keep in with both sides were he so minded. It was not to content himself with general promises that Hillyard had brought the Dragonfly to Palma.
He turned suddenly towards Jose Medina with a broad laugh, and clapped him heartily upon the back.
"So you do not remember me, Senor Jose?"
Medina was puzzled. He took a step nearer to Hillyard. Then he shook his head, and apologised with a smile.
"I am to blame, senor. As a rule, my memory is not at fault. But on this occasion—yes."
Through the apology ran a wariness, some fear of a trick, some hint of an incredulity.
"Yet we have met."
"Senor, it must be so."
"Do you remember, Senor Jose, your first venture?" asked Hillyard.
"A single sailing-felucca beached at one o'clock in the morning on the flat sand close to Benicassim."
Jose Medina did not answer. But the doubt which his politeness could not quite keep out of his face was changing into perplexity. This history of his first cargo so far was true.
"That was more than thirteen years ago," Hillyard continued. "Thirteen years last April."
Jose Medina nodded. Date, place, hour, all were correct. His eyes were fixed curiously upon his visitor, but there was no recognition in them.
"There were two carts waiting, to carry the tobacco up to the hills."
"Two?" Jose Medina interrupted sharply. "Let me think! That first cargo! It is so long ago."
Medina reflected carefully. Here was a detail of real importance which would put this Senor Hillyard to the test—if only he could himself remember. It was his first venture, yes! But there had been so many like to it since. Still—the very first. He ought to remember that! And as he concentrated his thoughts the veil of the years was rent, and he saw, he saw quite clearly the white moonlit beach, the felucca with its mast bent like a sapling in a high wind, and the great yard of the sail athwart the beam of the boat, the black shadow of it upon the sand, and the carts—yes, the carts!
"There were two carts," he agreed, and a change was just faintly audible in his voice—a change for which up till now Hillyard had listened with both his ears in vain. A ring of cordiality, a suggestion that the barriers of reserve were breaking down.
"Yes, senor, there were two carts."
Medina was listening intently now. Would his visitor go on with the history of that night!
And Hillyard did go on.
"The tobacco barrels were packed very quickly into the carts, and the carts were driven up the beach and across the Royal road, and into a track which led back to the hills."
Jose Medina suddenly laughed. He could hear the groaning and creaking of those thin-wheeled springless carts which had carried all his fortunes on that night thirteen years ago, the noise of them vibrating for miles in the air of that still spring night! What terror they had caused him! How his heart had leaped when—and lo! Hillyard was carrying on the tale.
"Two of the Guardia Civil stepped from behind a tree, arrested your carts, and told the drivers to turn back to the main road and the village."
"You ran in front of the leading cart, and stood there blocking the way. The Guardia told you to move or he would fire. You stood your ground."
"Why the Guardia did not fire," continued Hillyard, "who shall say? But he did not."
"No, he did not," Jose Medina repeated with a smile. "Why? It was Fate—Fortune—what you will."
"You sent every one aside, and remained alone with the guards—for a long time. Oh, for a long time! Then you called out, and your men came back, and found you alone with your horses and your carts. How you had persuaded the guards to leave you alone——"
"Quien sabe?" said Medina, with a smile.
"But you had persuaded them, even on that first venture. So," and now Hillyard smiled. "So we took your carts up in to the mountains."
"We?" exclaimed Jose. He took a step forward, and gazed keenly into Martin Hillyard's face. Hillyard nodded.
"I was one of your companions on that first night venture of yours thirteen years ago."
"Claro! You were certainly there," returned Jose Medina, and he was no longer speaking either with doubt or with the exaggerated politeness of a Spaniard towards a stranger. He was not even speaking as caballero to caballero the relationship to which, in the beginning, Hillyard had most wisely invited him. He was speaking as associate to associate, as friendly man to friendly man. "On that night you were certainly with me! No, let me think! There were five men, yes, five and a boy from Valencia—Martin."
He pronounced the word in the Spanish way as Marteen.
"Who led the horse in the first cart," said Hillyard, and he pointed to his visiting card which Jose Medina still held in his hand. Jose Medina read it again.
"Marteen Hillyard." He came close to Hillyard, and looked in his eyes, and at the shape of his features, and at the colour of his hair. "Yes, it is the little Marteen," he cried, "and now the little Marteen swings into Palma in his great steam yacht. Dios, what a change!"
"And Jose Medina owns two hundred motor-feluccas and employs eighteen thousand men," answered Hillyard.
Jose Medina held out his hand suddenly with a great burst of cordial, intimate laughter.
"Yes, we were companions in those days. You helped me to drive my carts up into the mountains. Good!" He patted Hillyard on the shoulder. "That makes a difference, eh? Come, we will go in again. Now I shall help you."
That reserve, that intense reserve of the Spaniard who so seldom admits another into real intimacy, and makes him acquainted with his private life, was down now. Hillyard had won. Jose Medina's house and his chattels were in earnest at Martin Hillyard's disposal. The two men went back through the house into a veranda above the steep fall of garden and cliff, where there were chairs in which a man could sit at his ease.
Jose Medina fetched out a box of cigars.
"You can trust these. They are good."
"Who should know if you do not?" answered Hillyard as he took one; and again Jose Medina patted him on the shoulder, but this time with a gurgle of delight.
"El pequeno Martin," he said, and he clapped his hands. From some recess of the house his wife appeared with a bottle of champagne and two glasses on a tray.
"Now we will talk," said Jose Medina, "or rather I will talk and you shall listen."
Hillyard nodded his head, as he raised the glass to his lips.
"I have learnt in the last years that it is better to listen than to talk," said he. "Salut!"
"TOUCHING THE MATTER OF THOSE SHIPS"
It has been said that Hillyard joined a service with its traditions to create. Indeed, it had everything to create, its rules, its methods, its whole philosophy. And it had to do this quickly during the war, and just for the war; since after the war it would cease to be. Certain conclusions had now been forced by experience quite definitely on Hillyard's mind. Firstly, that the service must be executive. Its servants must take their responsibility and act if they were going to cope with the intrigues and manoeuvres of the Germans. There was no time for discussions with London, and London was overworked in any case. The Post Office, except on rare occasions, could not be used; telegrams, however ingenious the cipher, were dangerous; and even when London received them, it had not the knowledge of the sender on the spot, wherewith to fill them out. London, let it be admitted, or rather that one particular small section of London with which Hillyard dealt, was at one with Hillyard. Having chosen its men it trusted them, until such time as indiscretion or incapacity proved the trust misplaced; in which case the offender was brought politely home upon some excuse, cordially thanked, and with a friendly shake of the hand, shown the door.
Hillyard's second conclusion was that of one hundred trails, ten at the most would lead to any result: but you must follow each one of the hundred up until you reach proof that you are in a blind alley.
The third was the sound and simple doctrine that you can confidently look to Chance to bring you results, probably your very best results, if you are prepared and equipped to make all your profit out of chance the moment she leans your way. Chance is an elusive goddess, to be seized and held prisoner with a swift, firm hand. Then she'll serve you. But if the hand's not ready and the eye unexpectant, you'll see but the trail of her robe as she vanishes to offer her assistance to another more wakeful than yourself.
In pursuit of this conviction, Hillyard steamed out of Palma Bay on the morning of the day after his interview with Jose Medina, and crossing to the mainland cruised all the next night southwards. At six o'clock in the morning he was off a certain great high cape. The sea was smooth as glass. The day a riot of sunlight and summer, and the great headland with its high lighthouse thrust its huge brown knees into the water.
The Dragonfly slowed down and dawdled. Three men stood in the stern behind the white side-awning. Hillyard was on the bridge with his captain.
"I don't really expect much," he said, seeking already to discount a possible disappointment. "It's only a possibility, I don't count on it."
"Six o'clock off the cape," said the captain. "We are on time."
Both men searched the smooth sea for some long, sluggish, inexplicable wave which should break, or for a V-shaped ripple such as a fixed stake will make in a swiftly running stream.
"Not a sign," said the captain, disconsolately.
"No. Yet it is certainly true that the keeper of that lighthouse paid an amount equal to three years' salary into a bank three weeks ago. It is true that oil could be brought into that point, and stored there, and no one but the keeper be the wiser. And it is true that the Acquitania is at this moment in this part of the Mediterranean steaming east for Salonika with six thousand men on board. Let's trail our coat a bit!" said Hillyard, and the captain with a laugh gave an order to the signal boy by his side.
The boy ran aft and in a few seconds the red ensign fluttered up the flagstaff, and drooped in the still air. But even that provocation produced no result. For an hour and a half the Dragonfly steamed backwards and forwards in front of the cape.
"No good!" Hillyard at last admitted. "We'll get on to the Acquitania, and advise her. Meanwhile, captain, we had better make for Gibraltar and coal there."
Hillyard went to the wireless-room, and the yacht was put about for the great scarped eastern face of the Rock.
"One of the blind alleys," said Hillyard, as he ate his breakfast in the deck-saloon. "Next time perhaps we'll have better luck. Something'll turn up for sure."
Something was always turning up in those days, and the yacht had not indeed got its coal on board in Gibraltar harbour when a message came which sent Hillyard in a rush by train through Madrid to Barcelona. He reached Barcelona at half past nine in the morning, took his breakfast by the window of the smaller dining-room in the hotel at the corner of the Plaza Cataluna, and by eleven was seated in a flat in one of the neighbouring streets. The flat was occupied by Lopez Baeza who turned from the window to greet him.
"I was not followed," said Hillyard as he put down his hat and stick. Habit had bred in him a vigilance, or rather an instinct which quickly made him aware of any who shadowed him.
"No, that is true," said Baeza, who had been watching Hillyard's approach from the window.
"But I should like to know who our young friend is on the kerb opposite, and why he is standing sentinel."
Lopez Baeza laughed.
"He is the sign and token of the commercial activity of Spain."
From behind the curtains, stretched across the window, both now looked down into the street. A youth in a grey suit and a pair of orange-coloured buttoned boots loitered backwards and forwards over about six yards of footwalk; now he smoked a cigarette, now he leaned against a tree and idly surveyed the passers by. He apparently had nothing whatever to do. But he did not move outside the narrow limits of his promenade. Consequently he had something to do.
"Yes," continued Baeza with a chuckle, "he is a proof of our initiative. I thought as you do three days ago. For it is just three days since he took his stand there. But he is not watching this flat. He is not concerned with us at all. He is an undertaker's tout. In the house opposite to us a woman is lying very ill. Our young friend is waiting for her to die, so that he may rush into the house, offer his condolences and present the undertaker's card."
Hillyard left the youth to his gruesome sentry-go and turned back into the room. A man of fifty, with a tawny moustache, a long and rather narrow face and eyeglasses, was sitting at an office table with some papers in front of him.
"How do you do, Fairbairn?" Hillyard asked.
Fairbairn was a schoolmaster from the North of England, with a knowledge of the Spanish tongue, who had thrown up schoolmastering, prospects, everything, in October of 1914.
"Touching the matter of those ships," said Hillyard, sitting down opposite to Fairbairn.
"It worked very well," said he, "so far."
Hillyard turned towards Lopez and invited him to a seat. "Let me hear everything," he said.
Spanish ships were running to England with the products of Cataluna and returning full of coal, and shipowners made their fortunes and wages ran high. But not all of them were content. Here and there the captains and the mates took with them in their cabin to England lists of questions thoughtfully compiled by German officers; and from what they saw in English harbours and on English seas and from what secret news was brought to them, they filled up answers to the questions and brought them back to the Germans in Spain. So much Hillyard already knew.
"A pilot, Juan de Maestre, went on board the ships, collected the answers, made a report and took it up to the German headquarters here. That Ramon Castillo found out," said Fairbairn. "Steps were taken with the crew. The ships would be placed on the black list. There would be no coal for them. They must be laid up and the crews dismissed. The crew of the Saragossa grasped the position, and the next time Juan de Maestre stepped on board he was invited to the forecastle, thumped, dropped overboard into the salubrious waters of the dock and left to swim ashore. Juan de Maestre has had enough. He won't go near the Germans any more. He is in a condition of extreme terror and neutrality. Oh, he's wonderfully neutral just now."
"We might catch him perhaps on the rebound!" Hillyard suggested.
"Lopez thinks so," said Fairbairn, with a nod towards Baeza.
"I can find him this evening," Baeza remarked.
The three men conferred for a little while, and as a consequence of that conference Lopez Baeza walked through the narrow streets of the old town to a cafe near the railway station. In a corner a small, wizened, square man was sitting over his beer, brooding unhappily. Baeza took a seat by his side and talked with Juan de Maestre. He went out after a few minutes and hired a motor-car from the stand in front of the station. In the car he drove to the park and went once round it. At a junction of two paths on the second round the car was stopped. A short, small man stepped out from the shadow of a great tree and swiftly stepped in.
"Drive towards Tibidabo," Baeza directed the driver, and inside the dark, closed car Baeza and Juan de Maestre debated, the one persuading, the other refusing. It was long before any agreement was reached, but when Baeza, with the perspiration standing in beads upon his face, returned to his flat in the quiet, respectable street, he found Martin Hillyard and Fairbairn waiting for him anxiously.
"Hecho!" he cried. "It is done! Juan de Maestre will continue to go on board the ships and collect the information and write it out for the Germans. But we shall receive an exact copy."
"How?" asked Hillyard.
"Ramon will meet a messenger from Juan. At eight in the morning of every second day Ramon is to be waiting at a spot which from time to time we will change. The first place will be the cinema opposite to the old Bull Ring."
"Good," said Hillyard. "In a fortnight I will return."
He departed once more for Gibraltar, cruised up the coast, left his yacht once more in the harbour of Tarragona and travelled by motor-car into Barcelona.
Fairbairn and Lopez Baeza received him. It was night, and hot with a staleness of the air which was stifling. The windows all stood open in the quiet, dark street, but the blinds and curtains were closely drawn before the lamps were lit.
"Now!" said Hillyard. "There are reports."
Fairbairn nodded grimly as he went to the safe and unlocked it.
"Pretty dangerous stuff," he answered.
"Reliable?" asked Hillyard.
Fairbairn returned with some sheets of blue-lined paper written over with purple ink, and some rough diagrams.
"I am sure," he replied. "Not because I trust Juan de Maestre, but because he couldn't have invented the information. He hasn't the knowledge."
Lopez Baeza agreed.
"Juan de Maestre is keeping faith with us," he said shortly, and, to the judgment of Lopez Baeza, Hillyard had learnt to incline a ready ear.
"This is the real thing, Hillyard," said Fairbairn, pulling at his moustache. "Look!"
He handed to Martin a chart. The points of the compass were marked in a corner. Certain courses and routes were given, and fixed lights indicated by which the vessel might be guided. There was a number of patches as if to warn the navigator of shallows, and again a number of small black cubes and squares which seemed to declare the position of rocks. There was no rough work in this chart. It was elaborately and skilfully drawn, the work of an artist.
"This is a copy made by me. Juan de Maestre left the original document with us for an hour," said Fairbairn, and he allowed Hillyard to speculate for a few seconds upon the whereabouts of that dangerous and reef-strewn sea. "It's not a chart of any bay or water at all. It's a plan of Cardiff by night for the guidance of German airships. Those patches are not shallows, but the loom in the sky of the furnaces. The black spots are the munition factories. Here are the docks," he pointed with the tip of his pencil. "The Jesus-Maria brought that back a week ago. Let it get from here to Germany, as it will do, eh? and a Zeppelin coming across England on a favourable night could make things hum in Cardiff."
Hillyard laid the sketch down and took another which Fairbairn held out to him.
"Do you see this?" Fairbairn continued. "This gives the exact line of the nets between the English and the Irish coasts, and the exact points of latitude and longitude where they are broken for the passage of ships, and the exact number and armament of the trawlers which guard those points."
Hillyard gazed closely at the chart. It gave the positions clearly enough, but it was a roughly-made affair, smudged with dingy fingers and uneven in its drawing. He laid it upon the table by the side of the map of Cardiff and compared one with the other.
"This," he said, touching the roughly-drawn map of a section of the Channel, "this is the work of the ship's captain?"
"But what of this?" and Hillyard lifted again the elaborate chart of Cardiff by night. "Some other hand drew this."
"Yes. Here is the report which goes with the charts. The chart of Cardiff was handed to the captain in an inn on shore. It came from an unknown person, who is mentioned as B.45."
Hillyard seized upon the report and read it through, and then the others upon the top of that. Cloth, saddlery, equipment of various kinds were needed in England, and a great sea-borne trade had sprung up between the two countries, so that ships constantly went to and fro. In more than one of these reports the hieroglyph B.45 appeared. But never a hint which could lead to his detection—never anything personal, not a clue to his age, his business, his appearance, even his abode—nothing but this baffling symbol B.45.
"You have cabled all this home, of course," Hillyard observed to Fairbairn.
"Yes. They know nothing of the B.45. They are very anxious for any details."
"He seems to be a sort of letter-box," said Hillyard, "a centre-point for the gathering in of information."
Fairbairn shook his head.
"He is more active than that," he returned, and he pointed to a passage here and there, which bore him out. It was the first time that Martin Hillyard had come across this symbol, and he was utterly at a loss to conjecture the kind of man the symbol hid. He might be quite obscure, the tenant of some suburban shop, or, again, quite prominent in the public eye, the owner of a fine house, and generous in charities; he might be of any nationality. But there he was, somewhere under the oak-trees of England, doing his secret, mean work for the ruin of the country. Hillyard dreamed that night of B.45. He saw him in his dreams, an elusive figure without a face, moving swiftly wherever people were gathered together, travelling in crowded trains, sitting at the dinner-tables of the great, lurking at the corners of poor tenements. Hillyard hunted him, saw him deftly pocket a letter which a passing stranger as deftly handed him, or exchange some whispered words with another who walked for a few paces without recognition by his side, but though he hurried round corners to get in front of him and snatch a glance at his face, he could never come up with him. He waked with the sunlight pouring in between the lattices of his shutters from the Plaza Cataluna, tired and unrefreshed. B.45! B.45! He was like some figure from a child's story-book! Some figure made up of tins and sticks and endowed with malevolent life. B.45. London asked news of him, and he stalked through London. Where should Hillyard find his true image and counterpart?
* * * * *
It is not the purpose of this narrative to describe how one Christobal Quesada, first mate of the steamship Mondragon, utterly overreached himself by sending in a report of a British hospital ship, sure to leave the harbour of Alexandria with gun-carriages upon her deck; how the report was proved to be a lie; how it was used as the excuse for the barbarous sinking of the great ships laden with wounded, and ablaze from stern to stern with green lights, the red cross glowing amidships like a wondrous jewel; how Christobal Quesada was removed from his ship in a French port, and after being duly arraigned for his life, met his death against a prison wall. Fairbairn wrote to Martin Hillyard:
"The execution of Quesada has put an end to the whole wicked question. So long as the offender was only put in prison with the certainty of release at the end of the war, whilst his family lived comfortably on German money, the game went merrily on. But the return of the "Mondragon," minus her executed mate, has altered the whole position. Juan de Maestre has nothing whatever to do nowadays."
Hillyard smiled with contentment. He could understand a German going to any lengths for Germany. He was prepared to do the same himself for his country. But when a neutral under the cloak of his neutrality meddles in this stupendous conflict for cash, for his thirty miserable pieces of silver, he could feel no inclination of mercy.
"Let the neutrals keep out!" he murmured. "This is not their affair. Let them hold their tongues and go about their own business!"
He received Fairbairn's letter in the beginning of the year 1916. He was still no nearer at that date to the discovery of B.45; nor were they any better informed in London. Hillyard could only wait upon Chance to slip a clue into his hand.
IN A SLEEPING-CAR
The night express from Paris to Narbonne and the Spanish frontier was due to leave the Quai d'Orsay station at ten. But three-quarters of an hour before that time the platform was already crowded, and many of the seats occupied. Hillyard walked down the steps a little before half-past nine with the latest of the evening papers in his hand.
"You have engaged your seat, monsieur," the porter asked, who was carrying Hillyard's kit-bag.
"Yes," said Martin absently. He was thinking that on the boulevards the newsboys might now be crying a later edition of the papers than that which he held, an edition with still more details. He saw them surrounded in the darkened street by quiet, anxious groups.
"Will you give me your ticket, monsieur?" the porter continued, and as Hillyard looked at him vacantly, "the ticket for your seat."
Hillyard roused himself.
"I beg your pardon. I have a compartment in the sleeping-car, numbers eleven and twelve."
Amongst many old principles of which Martin Hillyard had first learned the wisdom during these last years, none had sunk deeper than this—that the head of an organisation cannot do the work of any of its members and hope that the machine will run smoothly. His was the task of supervision and ultimate direction. He held himself at the beck and call of those who worked under him. He responded to their summons. And it was in response to a very urgent summons from Fairbairn that he had hurried the completion of certain arrangements with the French authorities in Paris and was now returning to the south! But he was going very reluctantly.
It was July, 1916. The first battle of the Somme, launched some days past, was at its very climacteric. The casualties had been and were terrible. Even at this moment of night the fury of the attack was not relaxed. All through the day reports, exasperating in their brevity, had been streaming into Paris, and rumour, as of old, circled swift-winged above the city, making good or ill the deficiencies of the telegrams. One fact, however, had leaped to light, unassailably true. The Clayfords, stationed on the north of the line at Thiepval, had redeemed their name and added a new lustre to their erstwhile shining record. The devotion of the officers, the discipline of the men, had borne their fruits. At a most critical moment the Clayfords had been forced to change front against a flank attack, under a galling fire and in the very press of battle, and the long extended line had swung to its new position with the steadiness of veterans, and, having reached it, had stood fast. Hillyard rejoiced with a sincerity as deep as if he himself held his commission in that regiment. But the losses had been terrible; and Martin Hillyard was troubled to the roots of his heart by doubts whether Harry Luttrell were at this moment knowing the deep contentment that the fixed aim of his boyhood and youth had been fulfilled; or whether he was lying out on the dark ground beneath the stars unaware of it and indifferent. Hillyard nursed a hope that some blunder had been made, and that he would find his compartment occupied.
The controller, in his brown uniform with the brass buttons and his peaked cap, stood at the steps of the car with the attendant.
"Eleven and twelve," said Hillyard, handing to him his ticket.
The attendant, a middle-aged, stout man with a black moustache and a greasy face, shot one keen glance from under the peak of his cap at the occupant of numbers 11 and 12, and then led the way along the corridor.
The compartment was empty. Hillyard looked around it with a grudging eye.
"I am near the middle of the coach here, I think," he said.
"Yes, monsieur, quite in the middle."
"That is well," answered Hillyard. "I am an invalid, and cannot sleep when there is much motion."
He spoke irritably, with that tone of grievance peculiar to the man who thinks his health is much worse than it is.
"Can I get coffee in the morning?" he asked.
"At half-past six, monsieur. But you must get out of the train for it."
Hillyard uttered an exclamation of disgust, and shrugged his shoulders. "What a country!" the gesture said as plainly as speech.
"But it is the war, monsieur!" the attendant expostulated with indignation.
"Oh, yes, I know! The war!" Hillyard retorted with ill-humour. "Do I want a bath? I cannot have it. It is the war. If a waiter is rude to me, it is the war. If my steak is over-cooked it is the war. The war! It is the excuse for everything."
He told the porter to place his bag upon the upper berth, and, still grumbling, gave him some money. He turned sharply on the attendant, who was smiling in the doorway.
"Ah, it seems to you funny that an invalid should be irritable, eh?" he cried. "I suppose it must be—damnably funny."
"Monsieur, there are very many men who would like to-night to be invalids with a sleeping compartment to themselves," returned the attendant severely.
"Well, I don't want to talk about it any more," said Hillyard roughly, and he shouldered his way out again on to the platform.
The attendant followed him. The smile upon his face was sleeker than ever. He was very amused and contented with his passenger in the compartment numbers 11 and 12. He took the cap off his head and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"Ouf! It is hot to-night." He looked after Hillyard with a chuckle, and remarked to the controller, "This is a customer who does not like his little comforts to be disarranged!"
The controller nodded contemptuously.
"They must travel—the English! The tourism—that is sacred, even if all Europe burns."
Hillyard strolled towards the stairs, and as he drew near to them his eyes brightened. A man about six years older than himself, tall, broad-shouldered, slim of waist, with a short, fair moustache, was descending towards him.
* * * * *
The war has killed many foolish legends, but none more foolish than the legend of the typical Frenchman, conceived as a short, rotund, explosive person, with a square, brown beard of curly baby-hair and a shiny silk hat with a flat brim. There have been too many young athletes of clean build on view whose nationality, language and the uniforms of powder-blue and khaki could alone decide. The more curious might, perhaps, if the youth were in mufti, cast a downward glance at the boots; but even boots were ceasing to be the sure tell-tale they once used to be. This man descending the stairs with a limp was the Commandant Marnier, of the 193rd Regiment, wounded in 1915, and now attached to the General Staff. He was in plain clothes; he was looking for Martin Hillyard, and no stranger but would have set him and the man for whom he was looking in the same category of races.
The Commandant Marnier saw Martin Hillyard clearly enough long before he reached the foot of the stairs. But nevertheless he greeted him with an appearance of surprise.
"But what luck!" he said aloud. "You leave by this train?"
"Yes. It may be that I shall find health."
"Yes, yes. So your friends will pray," returned the Commandant, falling into Hillyard's pace.
"The telegram we sent for you——" Marnier began.
"There is an answer already. Your friend is unhurt. I have brought you a copy. I thought that perhaps I might catch you before your train started."
He gave the slip of typewritten message into Hillyard's hand.
"That was most kind of you," said Hillyard. "You have removed a great anxiety. It would have been many days before I should have received this good news if you had not gone out of your way to hurry with it here."
Hillyard was moved, partly by the message, partly by the consideration of Marnier, who now waved his thanks aside.
"Bah! We may not say 'comrade' as often as the Boche, but perhaps we are it all the more. I will not come further with you towards your carriage, for I have still a few things to do."
He shook Hillyard by the hand and departed. Hillyard turned from him towards his sleeping-car, but though his chief anxiety was dispelled, his reluctance to go was not. And he looked at the long, brightly-lit train which was to carry him from this busy and high-hearted city with a desire that it would start before its time, and leave him a derelict upon the platform. He could not bend his thoughts to the work which was at his hand. The sapphire waters of the South had quite lost their sparkle and enchantment. Here, here, was the place of life! The exhilaration of his task, its importance, the glow of thankfulness when some real advantage was won, a plot foiled, a scheme carried to success—these matters were all banished from his mind. Even the war-risk of it was forgotten. He thought with envy of the men in trenches. Yet the purpose of his yacht was long since known to the Germans; the danger of the torpedo was ever present on her voyages, and the certainty that if she were sunk, and he captured, any means would be taken to force him to speak before he was shot, was altogether beyond dispute. Even at this moment he carried hidden in a match-box a little phial, which never left him, to put the sure impediment between himself and a forced confession of his aims and knowledge. But he was not aware of it. How many times had he seen the red light at Europa Point on Gibraltar's edge change to white, sometimes against the scarlet bars of dawn, sometimes in the winter against a wall of black! But on the platform of the Quai d'Orsay station, in a bustle of soldiers going on short leave to their homes, and rattling with pannikins and iron-helmets, he could remember none of these consolations.
He reached his carriage.
"Messieurs les voyageurs, en route!" cried the controller.
"What a crowd!" Hillyard grumbled. "Really, it almost disposes one to say that one will never travel again until this war is over."
He walked along the corridor to his compartment and sat down as the train started with a jerk. The door stood open, and in a few minutes the attendant came to it.
"Who is in the next compartment on the other side of the lavatory?" Hillyard asked.
"A manufacturer of Perpignan and his wife."
"Does he snore?" Hillyard asked. "If he snores I shall not sleep. It should be an offence against your bye-laws for a traveller to snore."
He crossed one leg across his knee and unlaced his shoe.
The attendant came into the room.
"It is possible, monsieur, that I might hurry and fetch you your coffee in the morning," he said.
"It is worth five francs to you if you do," replied Hillyard.
"Then monsieur will not move from his compartment until luncheon. I will see to it. Monsieur will bolt his door, and in the morning I will knock when I bring the coffee."
"Good," returned Hillyard ungraciously.
The attendant retired, and Hillyard closed the door. But the ventilating lattice in the lower part of the door was open, and Hillyard could see the legs of the attendant. He was waiting outside—waiting for what? Hillyard smiled to himself and took down his bag from the upper berth. He had hardly opened it when the attendant knocked and entered.
"You will not forget, monsieur, to bolt your door. In these days it is not wise to leave it on the latch."
"I won't forget," Hillyard replied surlily, and once more the attendant retired; and again he stood outside the door. He did not move until the bolt was shot. The attendant seemed very pleased that this fool of a tourist who thought of nothing but his infirmities should safely bolt the door of the compartments numbers 11 and 12; and very pleased, too, to bring to this churlish, discontented traveller his coffee in the morning, so that he need not leave compartments numbers 11 and 12 unguarded. Hillyard chuckled as the attendant moved away.
"I am to be your watch-dog, am I? Your sentinel? Very well! Come, let me deserve your confidence, my friend."
The train thundered out of the tunnel and through the suburbs of Paris. Hillyard drew a letter from Fairbairn out of his pocket and read it through.
"Compartments numbers 11 and 12 on the night train from the Quai d'Orsay station to Cerbere. Good!" murmured Hillyard. "Here I am in compartments numbers 11 and 12. Now we wait until the married couple from Perpignan and the attendant are comfortably asleep."
He undressed and went to bed, but he did not sleep. He lay in the berth in the darkness, listening intently as the train rushed out of Paris across the plains of France. Once or twice, as the hours passed, he heard a stealthy footstep in the corridor outside, and once the faintest possible little click told that the latch of his door had been lifted to make sure that the bolt was still shot home in its socket. Hillyard smiled.
"You are safe, my friend," he breathed the words towards the anxious one in the corridor. "No one can get in. The door is locked. The door of the dressing-room too. Sleep in your corner in peace."