The Summons (novel)/XIX
Hillyard landed in England athirst for grey skies. Could he have chosen the season of the year which should greet him, he would have named October. For the ceaseless bright blue of sea and heaven had set him dreaming through many a month past, of still grey mornings sweet with the smell of earth and thick hedgerows and the cluck of pheasants. But there were at all events the fields wondrously green after the brown hill-sides and rusty grass, the little rich fields in the frames of their hedges, and the brown-roofed houses and the woods splashing their emerald branches in the sunlight. Hillyard travelled up through Kent rejoicing. He reached London in the afternoon, and leaving his luggage in his flat walked down to the house in the quiet street behind the Strand whence Commodore Graham overlooked the Thames.
But even in this backwater the changes of the war were evident. The brass plates had all gone from the door post and girls ran up and down the staircases in stockings which some Allied fairies had woven on Midsummer morning out of cobwebs of dew. They were, however, as unaware as of old of any Commodore Graham. Was he quite certain that he wanted to see Commodore Graham. And why? And, after all, was there a Commodore Graham? Gracious damsels looked blandly at one another, with every apparent desire to assist this sunburnt stranger. It seemed to Hillyard that they would get for him immediately any one else in the world whom he chose to name. It was just bitterly disappointing and contrarious that the one person he wished to see was a Commodore Graham. Oh, couldn't he be reasonable and ask for somebody else?
"Very well," said Hillyard with a smile. "There was a pretty girl with grey eyes, and I'll see her."
"The description is vague," said the young lady demurely.
"She is Miss Cheyne."
"Oh!" said one.
"Oh!" said another; and
"Will you follow me, please?" said a third, who at once became business-like and brisk, and led him up the stairs. The door was still unvarnished. Miss Cheyne opened it, wearing the composed expression of attention with which she had greeted Hillyard when he had sought admission first. But her face broke up into friendliness and smiles, when she recognised him, and she drew him into the room.
"The Commodore's away for a week," she said. "He had come to the end: no sleep, nerves all jangled. He is up in Scotland shooting grouse."
Hillyard nodded. His news could wait a week very well, since it had waited already two years.
"And you?" he asked.
"Oh, I had a fortnight," replied Miss Cheyne, her eyes dancing at the recollection. It was her pleasure to sail a boat in Bosham Creek and out towards the Island. "Not a day of rain during the whole time."
"I think that I might have a month then, don't you?" said Hillyard, and Miss Cheyne opined that there would be no objection.
"But you will come back in a week," she stipulated, "won't you? The Commodore will be here on Thursday, and there are things accumulating which he must see to. So will you come on Friday?"
"Friday morning," Hillyard suggested.
Thursday was the day on which he should have travelled down to Rackham Park, but if he could finish his business on Friday morning, he would only lose one day.
"Friday morning then," said Miss Cheyne, and made a note of it.
Hillyard had thus a week in which to resume his friendships, arrange to write, at some distant time, a play, revisit his club and his tailor, and revel, as at a pageant, in the fresh beauty, the summer clothes, the white skin and clean-limbed boyishness of English girls. He went through, in a word, the first experiences of most men returned from a long sojourn in other climes; and they were ordinary enough. But the week was made notable for him by one small incident.
It was on the Monday and about five o'clock in the afternoon. He was walking from the Charing Cross Road towards Leicester Square, when, from a doorway ahead of him, a couple emerged. They did not turn his way but preceded him, so that he only saw their backs. But he had no doubt who one of the couple was. The fair hair, the tall, slim, long-limbed figure, the perverse sloppiness of dress which could not quite obscure her grace of youth, betrayed the disdainful prodigy of Rackham Park. The creator of Linda Spavinsky swam ahead of him. Had he doubted her identity, a glance at the door from which she had emerged would have dispelled the doubt. It was the entrance to a picture gallery, where, cubes and curves having served their turn and gone, the rotundists were having an innings. Everybody and everything was in rounds, palaces and gardens and ships and Westminster Bridge, and men and women were all in circles. The circle was the principle of life and art. Joan Whitworth would be drawn to the exhibition as a filing to a magnet. Undoubtedly Joan Whitworth was ahead of Hillyard and he began to hurry after her. But he checked himself after a few paces. Or rather the aspect of her companion checked him. His appearance was vaguely familiar, but that was all. It was not certainly Sir Chichester Splay, for the all-sufficient reason that the Private View had long gone by; since the very last week of the exhibition was announced in the window. Moreover, the man in front of him was younger than Sir Chichester.
The couple, however, crossed the road to the Square Garden, and Hillyard saw the man in profile. He stopped so suddenly that a man walking behind him banged heavily against his back. The man walked on and turned round after he had passed to stare at Hillyard. For Hillyard stood stock still, he was unaware that any one had run into him, in all his body his lips alone moved.
"Mario," he whispered. "Mario Escobar!"
The man who had been so far the foremost in his thoughts during the last weeks that he never thought that he could have failed to recognise him. Mario Escobar! And with Joan Whitworth. Millicent Splay's letter flashed back into his memory. The distress which he had seemed to hear loud behind the written words—was this its meaning and explanation? Joan Whitworth and Mario Escobar! Certainly Joan knew him! He was sitting next to her on the night when "The Dark Tower" was produced, sitting next to her, and talking to her. Sir Charles Hardiman had used some phrase to describe that conversation. Hillyard was strangely anxious to recapture the phrase. Escobar was talking to her with an air of intimacy a little excessive in a public place. Yes, that was the sentence.
Hillyard walked on quickly to his club.
"Is Sir Charles Hardiman here?" he asked of the hall porter.
"He is in the card-room, sir."
Martin Hillyard went up the stairs with a sense of relief. His position was becoming a little complicated. Mario Escobar was B45, and a friend of Joan Whitworth, and a friend of the Splays. There was one point upon which Martin Hillyard greatly needed information.
Hardiman, a little heavier and broader and more obese than when Hillyard had last seen him, was sitting by a bridge table overlooking the players. He never played himself, nor did he ever bet upon the game, but he took a curious pleasure in looking on, and would sit in the card-room by the hour engrossed in the fall of the cards. The sight of Hillyard, however, plucked him out of his occupation.
"So you're back!" he cried, heaving himself heavily out of his chair and shaking hands with Martin.
"For a month."
"I hear you have done very well," Sir Charles continued. "Have a whisky-and-soda."
Hardiman touched the bell and led the way over to a sofa.
"Lucky man! The doctor's read the Riot Act to me! I met Luttrell in the Mall this morning, on his way back from Buckingham Palace. He had just been given his D.S.O."
Hardiman began to sit down, but the couch was low, and though he began the movement lazily, it went suddenly with a run, so that the springs of the couch jumped and twanged and his feet flew from beneath him.
"Yes, he has done splendidly," said Martin. "His battalion too. That's what he cares about."
Sir Charles needed a moment or two after he had set down to recover his equipoise. He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
"Luttrell told me you were both off to Rackham Park this week for Gatwick."
"That's right! But I shan't get down until Friday afternoon," said Hillyard.
The waiter put the glass of whisky-and-soda at his side, and he took a drink from it.
"Perhaps you are going too," he suggested.
Hardiman shook his head.
Hillyard was silent for a minute. Then he asked another question.
"Do you know who is going to be there beside Luttrell and myself?"
Sir Charles smiled.
"I don't know, but I fancy that you won't find him amongst the guests."
Hillyard was a little startled by the answer, but he did not betray the least sign of surprise. He pursued his questions.
"You know whom I have in my mind?"
"I drew a bow at a venture," answered Sir Charles.
"Shall I name him?" asked Hillyard.
"I will," returned Sir Charles. "Mario Escobar."
Hillyard nodded. He took another pull at his whisky-and-soda. Then he lit a cigarette and leaned forward, with his elbows upon his knees; and all the while Sir Charles Hardiman, his body in a majestic repose, contemplated him placidly. Hardiman had this great advantage in any little matter of debate; he never wished to move. Place him in a chair, and he remained, singularly immobile.
"Since you were so quick to guess at once the reason of my question," continued Hillyard, "I can draw an inference. Mario Escobar has been at Rackham Park a good deal?"
Sir Charles Hardiman's smile broadened.
"Even now you don't express your inference," he retorted. "You mean that Mario Escobar has been at Rackham Park too much." He paused whilst he drew out his cigarette-case and selected a cigarette from it. "And I agree," he added. "Mario Escobar is too picturesque a person for these primitive days."
Hillyard was not sure what Sir Charles Hardiman precisely meant. But on the other hand he was anxious to ask no direct questions concerning Escobar. He sought to enter in by another gate.
"Primitive?" he said.
"Yes. We have become rather primitive, especially the women. They have lost a deal of self-consciousness. They exact less. They give more—oh, superbly more! It's the effect of war, of course. They have jumped down off their little pinnacles. Let me put it coarsely. They are saved from rape by the fighting man, and they know it. Consequently all men benefit and not least," Sir Charles lit his cigarette, "that beast of abomination, the professional manipulator of women, the man who lives by them and on them, who cajoles them first and blackmails them afterwards, who has the little attentions, the appealing voice, in fact all the tricks of his trade ready at his fingers' ends. However, Millie Splay's awake to the danger now."
"Danger!" Hillyard sharply exclaimed.
"Quite right. It's too strong a word. I take it back," Hardiman agreed at once. But he was not in the habit of using words wildly. He had said exactly what he meant to say, and having aroused the attention which he meant to arouse, he calmly withdrew the word. "I rubbed it into Chichester's thick head that Escobar was overmuch at Rackham Park, and in the end—it percolated."
Much the same account of Escobar, with this instance of Rackham Park omitted, was given to Hillyard by Commodore Graham on the Friday morning.
"He is the kind of man whom men loathe and women like. He runs about London, gets a foot in here and there. You know what London is, even now in the midst of this war, with its inability to be surprised, and its indifference to strange things. You might walk down Regent Street dressed up as a Cherokee Indian, feathers and tomahawk and all, and how many Cockneys would take the trouble to turn round and look at you twice? It was pretty easy for Escobar to slip about unnoticed."
Commodore Graham bent his head over the case of tubes which Hillyard had brought with him.
"We'll have a look-out kept for these things. There have been none of them in England up till now."
Martin Hillyard returned to the personality of Mario Escobar.
"Did you suspect him before?" he asked.
Commodore Graham pushed the cigarettes towards Hillyard.
"Scotland Yard has kept an eye on him. That sort of adventurer is always dangerous."
He rang the bell, and on Miss Cheyne's appearance called for what information the office had concerning Mario Escobar. Miss Cheyne returned with a book in which Escobar's dossier was included.
"Here he is," said Graham, and Hillyard, moving across to the bureau, followed Graham's forefinger across the written page. He was agent for the Compania de Navigacion del Sur d'España—a German firm on the black list, headquarters at Alicante. Escobar severed his connection with the company on the outbreak of war.
Graham raised his head to comment on the action.
"That, of course, was camouflage. But it checked suspicion for a time. Suspicion was first aroused," and he resumed reading again, "by his change of lodging. He lived in a small back bedroom in a boarding-house in Clarence Street, off Westbourne Grove, and concealed his address, having his letters addressed to his club, until February, 1915, upon which date he moved into a furnished flat in Maddox Street. Nothing further, however, happened to strengthen that suspicion until, in the autumn of that year, a letter signed Mario was intercepted by the censor. It was sent to a Diego Perez, the Director of a fruit company at Murcia, for Emma Grutsner."
"You sent me a telegram about her," exclaimed Hillyard, "in November."
Commodore Graham's forefinger travelled along the written lines and stopped at the number and distinguishing sign of the telegram, sent and received.
"Yes," continued Graham. "Here's your answer. 'Emma Grutzner is the governess in a Spanish family at Torrevieja, and she goes occasionally, once a month or so, to the house of Diego Perez in Murcia.'"
"Yes, yes! I routed that out," said Hillyard. "But I hadn't an idea that Mario Escobar was concerned in it."
"That wasn't mentioned?" asked the Commodore.
"No. I already knew, you see, of B45. If just a word had been added that it was Mario who was writing to Emma Grutzner we might have identified him months ago."
"Yes," answered Graham soothingly and with a proper compunction. He was not unused to other fiery suggestions from his subordinates that if only the reasons for his telegrams and the information on which his questions were based, were sent out with the questions themselves, better results in quicker time could be obtained. Telegrams, however, were going out and coming in all day; a whole array of cipherers and decipherers lived in different rookeries in London. Commodore Graham's activities embraced the high and the narrow seas, great Capitals and little tucked-away towns and desolate stretches of coast where the trade-winds blew. No doubt full explanations would have led in many cases to more satisfactory conclusions. But fuller explanations were out of all possibility. Even with questions fined down to the last succinct syllable the cables groaned. None of the objections were raised, however, by Commodore Graham. It was his business to keep men like Hillyard who were serving him well to their own considerable cost, in a good humour. Remorse was the line, not argument.
"What a pity! I am sorry," protested the Commodore. "It's my fault! There's nothing else to be said. I am to blame about it."
Martin Hillyard began to feel some compunction that he had ever suggested a fault in the composition of the telegram. But then, it was his business not to betray any such tenderness.
"If we could have in the future a little more information from London, it would save us a good deal of time," he said stonily. "Sometimes a surname is hurled at us, and will we find him, please, and cable home all details?"
"Yes, that is very wrong," the Commodore agreed. "We will have that changed." Then a bright idea appeared to occur to him. His face lighted up. "After all, in this instance the mistake hasn't done any real harm. For we have got our friend Mario Escobar now, and without these tubes and this letter from Berlin about the use of them and Jose Medina's account of the conversation in the next room we shouldn't have got him. The German governess wasn't enough. He's, after all, a neutral. Besides, there was nothing definite in his letter. But now——"
"Now you can deal with him?" asked Hillyard eagerly.
"To be sure," replied the Commodore. "We have no proof here to put him on his trial. But we have reasonable ground for believing him to be in communication with our enemies for the purpose of damaging us, and that's quite enough to lock him up until the end of the war."
He reached out his hand for the telephone and asked for a number.
"I am ringing up Scotland Yard," he said to Hillyard over the top of the instrument; and immediately Hillyard heard a tiny voice speaking as if summoned from another planet.
"Hallo!" cried Graham. "Is that you, A.C.? You remember Mario Escobar? Good. I have Hillyard here from the Mediterranean with a clear case. I'll come over and see you."
Mr. "A.C.", whose real name was Adrian Carruthers, thereupon took up the conversation at the other end of the line. The lines deepened upon the Commodore's forehead as he listened. Then he turned to Hillyard, and swore softly and whole-heartedly.
"Mario Escobar has vanished."
"But I saw him myself," Hillyard exclaimed. "I saw him in London."
"On Monday afternoon."
Graham lifted the mouthpiece to his lips again.
"Wait a bit, A. C. Hillyard saw the man in London on Monday afternoon."
Again A.C. spoke at the other end from an office in Scotland Yard. Graham put down the instrument with a bang and hung up the receiver.
"He vanished yesterday. Could he have seen you?"
Hillyard shook his head.
"I think not."
"Oh, we'll get him, of course. He can't escape from the country. And we will get him pretty soon," Graham declared. He looked out of the window on to the river. "I wonder what in the world alarmed him, since it wasn't you?" he speculated slowly.
But both Scotland Yard and Commodore Graham were out of their reckoning for once. Mario Escobar was not alarmed at all. He had packed his bag, taken the tube to his terminus, bought his ticket and gone off in a train. Only no one had noticed him go; and that was all there was to it.