“I’m afraid it has,” said he ruefully. “Wiped it out clean.” With a hitch of the shoulders he settled his pack more comfortably. “Well, I’ll tell you, Major. I thought I had brains. I still think I have. I was on the point of getting a job in the Secret Service —Intelligence Department. I had the whole thing cut and dried—to get at the ramifications of German espionage in socialistic and so-called intellectual circles in neutral and other countries. It would have been ticklish work, for I should have been carrying my life in my hands. I could have done it well. I started out by being a sort of ‘intellectual’ myself. All along I wanted to put my brains at the service of my country. I took some time to hit upon the real way. I hit upon it. I learned lots of things from Gedge. If he weren’t an arrant coward, he might be dangerous. He would be taking German money long ago, but that he’s frightened to death of it.” He laughed. “It never occurred to you, I suppose, a year ago,” he continued, “that I spent most of my days in London working like a horse.”
“But,” I cried—I felt myself flushing purple—and, when I flush purple, the unregenerate old soldier in me uses language of a corresponding hue—“But,” I cried—and in this language I asked him why he had told me nothing about it.
“The essence of the Secret Service, sir,” replied this maddening young man, “is—well—secrecy.”
“You had a billet offered to you, of the kind you describe?”
“The offer reached me, very much belated, one day when I was half dead, after having performed some humiliating fatigue duty. I think I had persisted in trying to scratch an itching back on parade. Military discipline, I need not tell you, Major, doesn’t take into account the sensitiveness of a recruit’s back. It flatly denies such a phenomenon. Now I think I can defy anything in God’s quaint universe to make me itch. But that’s by the way. I tore the letter up and never answered it. You do these things, sir, when the whole universe seems to be a stumbling-block and an offence. Phyllis was the stumbling-block and the rest of the cosmos was the other thing. That’s why I have reason on my side when I say that, all through Phyllis Gedge, I made an ass of myself.”
He clutched his rude coat with both hands. “An ass in sheep’s clothing.”
He drew himself up, saluted, and marched out.
He marched out, the young scoundrel, with all the honours of war.
So, in drawing a bow at a venture, I had hit the mark. You may remember that I had rapped out the word “blackmail” at Gedge; now Randall justified the charge. Boyce was worth a thousand a year to him. The more I speculated on the danger that might arise from Gedge, the easier I grew in my mind. Your blackmailer is a notorious saver of his skin. Gedge had no desire to bring Boyce to justice and thereby incriminate