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Chapter Nineteen The Cage of the Wild Birds
‘Why, Mr Ivery, come right in,’ said the voice at the table. There was a screen before me, stretching from the fireplace to keep off the draught from the door by which I had entered. It stood higher than my head but there were cracks in it through which I could watch the room. I found a little table on which 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 of Patience cards. Wood ashes still smouldered in the stove, and a lamp stood at his right elbow which lit up the two figures. The bookshelves and the cabinets were in twilight.

‘I’ve been hoping to see you for quite a time.’ Blenkiron was busy arranging the little heaps of cards, and his face was wreathed in hospitable smiles. I remember wondering why he should play the host to the true master of the house.

Ivery stood erect before him. He was rather a splendid figure now that he had sloughed all disguises and was on the threshold of his triumph. Even through the fog in which my brain worked it was forced upon me that here was a man born to play a big part. He had a jowl like a Roman king on a coin, and scornful 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 very ugly smile.

‘So,’ he said. ‘We have caught the old crow too. I had scarcely hoped for such good fortune, and, to speak the truth, I had not concerned myself much about you. But now we shall add you to the bag. And what a bag of vermin to lay out on 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, an officer of the Imperial Guard. I am not the least of the weapons that Germany has 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. It was melodrama of the best kind and he fairly rolled it round his tongue. I don’t think I grudged it him, for I was fingering something in my pocket. He had won all right, but he wouldn’t enjoy his victory long, for soon I would shoot him. I had my eye on the very spot above his right ear where I meant to put my bullet . . . For I was very clear that to kill him was the only way to protect Mary. I feared the whole seventy millions of Germany less than this man. That was the single idea that remained firm against the immense fatigue that pressed down on me.

‘I have little time to waste on you,’ said he who had been called Ivery. ‘But I will spare a moment to tell you a few truths. Your childish game never had a chance. 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 gave me your confidence. The American Mr Donne . . . ’

‘What about Clarence?’ asked Blenkiron. His face seemed a study in pure bewilderment.

‘I was that interesting journalist.’

‘Now to think of that!’ said Blenkiron in a sad, gentle voice. ‘I thought I was safe with Clarence. Why, he brought me a letter from old Joe Hooper and he knew all the boys down Emporia way.’

Ivery laughed. ‘You have never done me justice, I fear; but I think you will do it now. Your gang is helpless in my hands. General Hannay . . . ’ And I wish I could give you a notion of the scorn with which he pronounced the word ‘General’.

‘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 guess how. We call it the Underground Railway, and you will have the privilege of studying its working. . . . I had not troubled much about you, for I had no special dislike of you. You are only a blundering fool, what you call in your country easy fruit.’

‘I thank you, Graf,’ Blenkiron said solemnly.

‘But since you are here you will join the others . . . One last word. To beat inepts such as you is nothing. There is a far greater thing. My country has conquered. You and your friends will be dragged at the chariot wheels of a triumph such as Rome never saw. Does that penetrate your thick skull? Germany has won, and in two days the whole round earth will be stricken dumb by her greatness.’

As I watched Blenkiron a grey shadow of hopelessness seemed to settle on his face. His big body drooped in his chair, his eyes fell, and his left hand shuffled limply among his Patience cards. I could not get my mind to work, but I puzzled miserably over his amazing blunders. He had walked blindly into the pit his enemies had dug for him. Peter must have failed to get my message to him, and he knew nothing of last night’s work or my mad journey to Italy. We had all bungled, the whole wretched bunch of us, Peter and Blenkiron and myself . . . I had a feeling at the back of my head that there was something in it all that I couldn’t understand, that the catastrophe could not be quite as simple as it seemed. But I had no power to think, with the insolent figure of Ivery dominating the room . . . Thank God I had a bullet waiting for him. That was the one fixed point in the chaos of my mind. For the first time in my life I was resolute on killing one particular man, and the purpose gave me a horrid comfort.

Suddenly Ivery’s voice rang out sharp. ‘Take your hand out of your pocket. You fool, you are covered from three points in the walls. A movement and my men will make a sieve of you. Others before you have sat in that chair, and I am used to take precautions. Quick. Both hands on the table.’

There was no mistake about Blenkiron’s defeat. He was done and out, and I was left with the only card. He leaned wearily on his arms with the palms of his hands spread out.

‘I reckon you’ve gotten a strong hand, Graf,’ he said, and his voice was flat with 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 his place 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 a great ploy. I’m here to see the end o’t.’

No prisoner waiting on the finding of the jury, no commander expecting news of a great battle, ever hung in more desperate suspense than I did during the next seconds. I had forgotten my fatigue; my back no longer needed support. I kept my eyes glued to the crack in the screen and my ears drank in greedily every syllable.

Blenkiron was now sitting bolt upright with his chin in his hands. There was no shadow of melancholy in his lean face.

‘I say I call you, Herr Graf von Schwabing. I’m going to put you wise about some little things. You don’t carry arms, so I needn’t warn you against monkeying with a gun. You’re right in saying that there are three places in these walls from which you can shoot. Well, for your information I may tell you 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 a criminal. They were not the sleek German footmen whom I had seen at the Chalet. 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 steadied himself. The man had his own kind of courage.

‘I’ve gotten something to say to you,’ Blenkiron drawled. ‘It’s been a tough fight, but I reckon the hot end of the poker is with you. I compliment you on Clarence Donne. You fooled me fine over that business, and it was only by the mercy of God you didn’t win out. You see, there was just the one of us who was liable to recognize you whatever way you twisted your face, and that was Dick Hannay. I give you good marks for Clarence . . . For the rest, I had you beaten flat.’

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 men on the job, and I reckon most of the lines are now closed for repairs. All but the trunk line into France. That I’m keeping open, for soon there’s going to be some traffic on it.’

At that I saw Ivery’s eyelids quiver. For all his self-command he was breaking.

‘I admit we cut it mighty fine, along of your fooling me about Clarence. But you struc............
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