The Hut

In the autumn of 1935 the Editor of the Atlantic dropped in at a literary agent’s office on his way to the Grand Central. “I want something to read on the train to Boston,” he said. “What have YOU got?" “Here is a short story from London.”said the agent, “by a new writer with a most improbable name, but they say he is good.”The story was “The Salvation of Pisco Gabor byGEOFFREY HOUSEHOLD,one of the best he ever wrote, and on the strength of it the Atlantic bought every new story that came from him in the next twelve months. They still come and they still are good. A novelist who served in Intelligence in the Middle East, Mr. Household is the author of The Third Hour, Hogue Male, Arabesque, and A Time to Kill.


THERE was a matter which they did not at first discuss, those two; for it was not until repeated doses of gin had deadened sensitivity that they were able to look each other in the eyes without uneasiness. Meanwhile their store of common memories, past misadventures that were always good for a laugh whenever two ex-security officers met, was rich enough to support unthinking conversation. Their enigmatic trade had been far fuller of the comic than of inhumanity. It was their job to suspect, but they were thankful when — with perhaps one yearly grim exception — their suspicions were proved lamentably wrong.

“Fayze was a bastard,” said the older man suddenly.

“He was. But I can’t say he bothers me at this distance.”

Virian meant to say “it bothers,” but couldn’t quite manage the word. The other, however, understood him.

“No. Nor me. But it did. Spoilt my sleep fora bit. I don’t mind saying so now. How did you — well, get on afterwards?”

“Sat on it,” answered Virian noncommittally.

He was obviously a man with a fine tradition of mental discipline behind him. His thin, dark face was mellow, and implied that he drew his strength from knowledge of human limitations and acceptance of human tragedy, He might have been twenty-five or so at the beginning of the war, that far-off period of which the two were talking, and a promising officer — a shade indecisive, perhaps, but slow to blame and much beloved by his men.

Medlock, the older man, was of a more plebeian type, with no more molding about his face than the accidental contours of a chunk of rock. The hammer of fate could smash him into smaller pieces than Virian, and he knew it. He was contented, however, to be as he was, and hadn’t much use for complications. He was convinced—or once had been — of his own essential decency.

“I didn’t like it,” he muttered. “Didn’t like it at all. I’d been a regular sergeant-major and just got my commission, you see.”

“That was why you didn’t protest?” Virian asked.

“What about yourself?” Medlock retorted, catching the irony. “And why didn’t you?”

“Oh, obedience,” answered the other easily. “As an amateur soldier I felt I had to do what I was told. It’s a bit hard to analyze. The enemy outclassed us in skill and material. Well, all that was left in which we could equal him was an obstinate Teutonic obedience. His not to reason why, his but to do and die. A good many of us felt like that. You, as an old soldier, were far too sensible to find romance in mere obedience any longer.”

“Hell of a t Iting to do,” grumbled the ex-sergeantmajor. “Order us to go out and shoot a civilian!”

“They only asked us to see that he was shot,” Virian corrected him.

“Wouldn’t do you much good to tell that to the judge! We were present at a murder. Accessories. You get hung just the same.”

They began to go through the happenings of that day all over again, proper old soldiers (or old murderers) recalling every foot of the terrain, every hour of agony and disapproval since they had emerged from Colonel Fayze’ s secretive office with set faces and a feeling that their integrity, their little personal shares in Christendom and civilization, had been outraged.

The newly commissioned sergeant-major had been the more horrified of the two. He was accustomed to see his instructions in black and white before he paid serious attention to them. War had to be orderly, and not for nothing was his temple called the orderly room. He claimed now, ten years later, that he had been on the verge of refusal, that he hadn’t seen any necessity for violence at all.

“You did. You saw it,” Virian insisted. “Don’t make things worse for your conscience than they need be. It had to be done. What was the name of that fat crook we bumped off?”

“God, you don’t have to put it like that!”

“But what the devil was his name?”

“ I don’t remember,” Medlock answered impatiently.

“Nor do I. Revealing, isn’t it? Gallant memory, always in the breach, always protecting us from night starvation! Well, it was some very common French name, so let’s call him M. Dupont.

“Dupont had betrayed —and don’t you forget that!— a whole honeycomb of French Resistance cells. As a direct result, the Gestapo shot twentyseven men and women and sent Dupont to Spain for his own safety. Fayze’s organization kidnapped him there, and brought him to England in a submarine chaser. You knew that. And then they dressed him up in uniform and put him in a military prison as if he were an Allied soldier being held for suspected espionage.

“All very neat work! Secret service stuff right out of the books! But Fayze and the fool who did his dirty jobs in Spain hadn t worked out what was to happen next. They eouldn t bring Dupont to trial because he hadn’t committed any offense under English law. And they couldn’t intern him because at that period in the war there wasn’t any quiet spot where no questions at all were asked. So they had to get rid of him, and persuade the Free French to do the shooting. I don’t wonder you forget why Dupont’s death was necessary. He was a sacrifice to inefficiency. Rut inefficiency is a much more potent factor in war than logic.”

“Do you remember that dam’ tough with the blood on his boots whom they sent with us?” asked Medlock with a movement of the shoulders that had been turned from a shiver into a shrug.

The dam’ tough had been the only man in the party who really looked as if he had been employed on this sort of mission before. A mysterious commando lad. At least they supposed he was commando, or from someone’ s private army— though he wore a gunner’s badges on his neat, new battledress. He never said a word about himself, and asked no questions. The uniform, which lacked the individuality given by daily use, made it difficult to guess what he had been in civil life. He had a simple, unimaginative face, knocked about a bit by boxing or some other violent exercise, and it was firmly set to the job in hand. Virian and Medloek had been glad that they were accompanied by an apparent professional to whom as much as possible might be left. They knew him only by the assumed name of Smith, and it was he who drove the car a big, black saloon with two extra seats in the back.


THERE were live of them altoget her in the car when they went to fetch M. Dupont: Virian, Medloek, Smith, and two Free French. One of the Frenchmen, who was the—well, it was understood that hi’ had a personal score to settle with M. Dupont— was a small, sad, determined man in civilian clothes; the other, in uniform, was very much an officer of the French regular army. He was of their own sort, keyed up to the inevitable by a sense of duty, and with distaste clearly mapped upon his humane and honorable countenance.

They drove to the prison. Medloek and Virian signed for the body of M. Dupont, who was officially being held as a doubtful Free French soldier until his antecedents could be investigated. Dupont had gladly accepted and lived up to this fiction. He was clover enough to realize that the longer he was kept, the harder it would be to dispose of him.

When he was in the car, Dupont’s nerve began to fail. He asked Virian hesitatingly what their intentions were. They had the answer ready for that. Dupont must be reassured. If ho were to put his head out of the window and yell for help, the law of England would automatically be on his side, war or no war. Keep him quiet till the end — those were Virian’s and Medloek’ s orders.

Virian told M. Dupont that he was being handed over to his compatriots: that they were driving to a rendezvous out in open country where a Free French detachment would take charge of him. This made Dupont less apprehensive. He could have little doubt what his own countrymen would do to him sooner or later, but he was also very well aware that, being good Frenchmen, they would have to invent a show of legality—which would be difficult when they were guests in a country with a tender conscience. A formal handing over meant, for a time, reprieve.

M. Dupont sat on the back seat between Virian and the French major. Facing them, on one of the extra seats, was the sad, determined personage, looking determinedly out of the window. In front were Medlock and the uncommunicative Smith. Dupont and Virian kept up a polite and desultory conversation.

“Never been able to understand, I haven’t,” said Medlock, “how you could sit there chatting away. In French, too,” he added, as if an assassin’s proper language should be English.

“It was easier than sitting grim, and saying nothing,” Virian explained. “And Dupont helped. He was a very civilized creature. He didn’t like social embarrassment either. Good Lord, if I hadn’t known his record, I should have put him down as just a bland, fat Frenchman! All for peace and decent living, he was. That was probably what made him take the Vichy side — that and money.”


THEY drove away over the sweep of the Wiltshire downs in the direction of Bath. It was a golden day of late autumn, with just enough wind to ripple the massed spearheads of dying grass and to check the high hovering clouds from ever settling on the sun. M. Dupont, released from the discipline and scrubbing soap of a military prison, was enchanted, and lavished courteous praise upon the English countryside. It reminded him, he said, of Picardy.

Their destination was a disused mine shaft with a tumble-down building above it. Colonel Fayze had given them the map reference, assuring them that Smith had visited the spot already and that the building was unlocked. Two of the planks which covered and completely hid the mouth of the shaft had been loosened, said Fayze with an obscene wink, and could be lifted out. lie had shown pride — a legitimate pride from the point of view of his office chair — in the excellence of his arrangements. The disposal of Dupont on paper had had his personal attention.

After an hour’s run, Smith stopped the car below the mine shaft. Nothing was to be seen but an isolated hut of timber and corrugated iron, with a strong door from which the padlock had recently been wrenched loose; no derrick or abandoned machinery revealed the purpose of the building and the dark emptiness beneath the floor. Fayze had well chosen his theater for the operation. There was no need for any bumping through country lanes into a suspicious remoteness, or for scrambling on foot through dense woods with a reluctant victim. The hut was within fifty yards of a main road. A carful of men could stop on the verge for a short while without arousing uneasiness in Dupont or other curious but less essentially interested travelers.

The only disadvantage was the frequent passing of traffic on the road which ran, level and clear, for a hundred yards past the hut and a little below it. At one end of the si raight was a blind hill, and at the other a corner. To ensure privacy, both those points would have to be watched.

Dupont was left in the ear with Smith, while the four others got out for consultation at a decent distance.

“If Medlock stays at the corner,” said Virian, “and I go to the top of the hill, we shall be able to signal to you when the road is empty.”

The French major appeared suddenly forlorn, his face that of a man who had known all along that he was an unreasoning optimist.

“I thought that you . . .” he began.

“No,”Virian answered firmly. “My instructions are just to keep the ring. It was definitely understood that you . . .”

“I could not myself . . . my honor as an officer . . .”

“Naturally, mon commandant,” Virian replied, and looked questioningly at the other, so sad and wirily small and determined.

“I have had my orders,”that second Frenchman murmured, “to accord to M. Dupont the justice he has so richly merited. I shall obey. I beg you to believe that I do not say it with pleasure. But”—he sought their eyes with a simple honesty that, in the circumstances, was monstrous — “he is a heavy man, and I shall need some help.”

“This Smith,” Medlock suggested. “The colonel said he was to make himself useful.”

True, Fayze had airily assured them that the mysterious driver was ready to do whatever he was told; but Virian was unwilling to force such responsibility upon any human being till there was some evidence of a real lack of sensitivity.

“I’ll get hold of him and see what he says, if you’ll stand by the car, Medlock, and keep an eye on Dupont.”

He took Smith a little apart, and asked him what, exactly his orders were.

“To assist you in every possible way, sir,” Smith answered.

Virian was uneasy. There was a light in the young eyes which looked uncommonly like hero worship. Yet Smith’s expression was tough and set. The very smoothness of the skin hid emotion more absolutely than the mobile lines of an older face.

“ You underst and, of course, just exactly what the job is?”

“I did the reccy with the colonel,” Smith assured him.

He produced ihe word “reccy” with a certain pride, which suggested to Virian that he had not been long in the army. “Well, God knew what some of these young commando chaps, quickly, violently trained, must have seen and done already!

“Then will you go up with that gentleman and ihe prisoner to the mine shaft? He, of course, is going to — to take the necessary steps. And, look here, Smith, refuse if you want to! This is no part of your duty as a soldier.”

“I understand that, sir.”

There wasn’t any shaking that, firm professional. His attitude was so matter-of-fact that Virian began to doubt the value of his own scruples. He gave full credit to Fayze for choosing a murderer’s mate whose cold-blooded morale was an example to them all.

They took Dupont out of the car. The polite smile with which he had brightened his formal conversation was fixed at half its full extent. He looked at them, his eyes searching each face in turn with the uneasy instinct of an animal at the shambles gate.

The French major reassured him with deliberate ambiguity. “This is the rendezvous,”he said. “It is here that you will shortly meet certain Free Frenchmen.”

Dupont again anxiously reviewed the faces. What he saw relieved him — for their orders were to keep him quiet, and even their eyes were obedient. His smile returned to its natural mobility. Two big drops of sweat trickled down his fat cheeks, shaved to a. piglike smoothness for the morning inspection of his person and his cell.


SMITH, Dupont, and the executioner walked up over the grass towards the hut. The French major remained by the car, torturing a cigarette between his fingers, Medlock went to the curve of the road; Virian to the top of the hill. So long as both held their hands in their pockets, the road was clear. When their hands were exposed, it was a sign that traffic was approaching. Smith stood by the door of the hut, relaying their gestures to the interior.

Virian could see quarter of a mile of empty road. He put his hands in his pockets, dismissing quickly a thought of Roman thumbs. On a distant slope was a small convoy moving down towards him, but the job would be over by the time it arrived.

Medlock, at his end, kept his hands very plainly in sight. A baker’s van came round the corner, along the straight and up the hill past Virian — who now also revealed his hands, for the approaching convoy was too close. A motorcycle, a truck, and six heavy lorries bumbled interminably past at regulation intervals and twenty miles an hour, adding to Dupont’s store three more minutes of October noon.

Medlock put his hands in his pockets. Virian waited for a far-away car, and damned the wheels that flashed in the sunlight for not turning more slowly. They passed, and he found his hands playing noisily with the coins in one pocket and keys in the other. He waited for the shot. It didn’t come. He was furiously angry. What were they doing inside the hut? After all this trouble! Why couldn’t they get on?

Ten minutes went by with no movement on the road but the lumbering, swift shadow of a carrion crow impatient to return to his perch. Then Medlock’s hands came out with a gesture as if he were Hinging at the hut the contents of his pockets. An oldish man, instantly recognizable as a retired colonel or general, deprived — and no doubt uncomplainingly— of petrol, drove round the corner in a dogcart with his two little granddaughters. He called in cheerful comradeship that it was a lovely day. Bitterly Virian put him down as a merciful and honorable man. He could afford those virtues in the simpler wars that he had known.

Again both ends of the road were clear for long minutes, and again there was no shot. Medlock came striding back from his corner, his face that of a sergeant-major who was about to tell his paraded and incompetent squad exactly what he thought of it. Virian, too, hastened back to the car in fear lest his companion should hurl some blunt protest or, worse still, some unfeeling denial of protest, into so delicate an occupation.

“Man doesn’t know his job!” Medlock stormed.

“Would you expect him to?” retorted Virian.

The French major at the car turned on them, illogically angry as themselves. Some cutt ing irony at the expense of the English came beautifully shaped from his lips and died away as he became conscious of the brutal absurdity of any blame.

While they were staring at the hut, a melancholy procession came down the hill towards them — Dupont, Smith, and the Frenchman, more sad than ever. Even Dupont looked disappointed. Very likely, he was. The Free French detachment, the larger public among which he would, for a little while, be safe, had not turned up.

Dupont was again left with Fayze’s tame tough, while the other four went aside.

“Couldn’t Smith relay the signals to you?” Virian asked.

“Yes,” the French civilian replied. “Yes.”

“Well then? Well then, for God’s sake?” the major demanded.

“The hut is too small. I cannot get behind him. Perhaps he will not let me get behind him. And to draw the pistol before his eyes — no, I cannot do it.”

“Well, we daren’t hang about here any longer,” said Virian. “Someone may get inquisitive and start watching us. We had better drive off now and come back later.”

The party packed into the car, still unexpectedly six. Dupont conversed with polite, tacit sympathy, identifying himself with the unknown derangement of plans which all had suffered. He behaved as if he were an embarrassing but useful prisoner — a double agent, for example, about to be sent off on some dangerous journey. He may even have persuaded himself that such a destiny was possible.

He addressed himself particularly to the French civilian, perhaps trying to allay his own suspicions. Dupont was a type to be successful, Virian decided, as minor businessman or major traitor, for he had an insistent cunning. He talked and talked, closely watching with eyes that held a decent pretense of geniality the impact of his words. The failure in the hut was very understandable. Dupont was tiresome; Dupont’s fat face was that of a crook; but it was impossible to treat him with anything but courtesy. To draw a gun before his face was a task as awkward as to get him out of the office without giving him a small order.

Smith had been pale and self-controlled when he returned from the hut. He now returned to his puzzling and casehardened temperament. He asked sharply where he was to go.

Well, where? Just a drive. Out for a drive. A pleasant occupation for a family on Sunday afternoon. Such aimlessness was intolerable. An order had to be given, some destination found.

“Oh, stop at the first pub when we’re off the downs,” Virian replied, his voice military and exasperated.


IT WAS a considerable place, more of a roadhouse than a pub, which had no doubt been gay enough before the war with thirsty and fast-driving youth. Now, however, the long lounge was vacant and frustrated of purpose. Fireplace and imitation beams had been excitably decorated with paper flags and regimental badges. All this dust-laden patriotism, exposed to sunlight, had the depressing unreality of a night club on the morning after. Smith, Dupont, and the Frenchman sat down at once and together, as if bound by a hard, common experience, in a corner of the room.

“I won’t drink with him,” Medlock whispered. “God damn it, there are limits!”

Virian carried three drinks to Dupont’s table, and himself remained with Medlock and the French major at the bar. For once he found himself in wholehearted sympathy with Medlock. A curious atavism, to refuse to drink with a man you were about to kill. He couldn’t remember that there was any such law of hospitality in the Christian religion; it was wholly pagan— a rule of Viking hovel or Arab tent. Where the devil, he wondered, had he inherited it? And why should Medlock observe it, too?

The French major seemed also unwilling to join Dupont, either from the same scruples or because he was busy disassociating himself from the whole affair and its mismanagement. The three of them drifted through the door to a bench on the clean stone flags outside. After a while the other Frenchman joined them, confidently leaving Smith alone with Dupont.

“I must offer my excuses,” he said. “I did not. anticipate —”

Here, away from the victim, his character no longer appeared of any extraordinary determination. He admitted nothing (and one could hardly put the direct question), but plainly for him as for them this was a first experience.

“Look here!” Virian exclaimed, suddenly as compassionate for the civilian as for Dupont. “I am prepared to go back and report that this can’t be done.”

“But, alas, it must be done.”

“Why? We can keep the blighter in prison for you. If they can’t find a way of holding him, it’s their business to think of one. What do you say, sir?” he asked the French major.

“Me? I have not the right to interfere. It is your service which took Dupont, and your service which has requested us to get rid of him. Sooner or later our duty as Frenchmen must be done, but I admit I should prefer it to be by due process of law.”

So, even to him, there was no point in immediate punishment. There was a more complex, far more insistent motive for Dupont’s death than mere justice. Fayze and his precious colleague in Spain were terrified lest their too impulsive act should become known to the enemy, with whom they had a rogues’ agreement that kidnapping and assassination were barred. Such unsporting practices would have interfered with the daily game of collecting information. The end of all fun and promotion—like placing a bomb on a football field. Fayze didn’t at all want his agents kidnapped by way of retaliation; so Dupont could never be allowed to mix with other internees, to appear on any list, to write a letter or answer a question. He had to vanish for good.

It was the uncleanness of this necessity which revolted Virian. For this, for the sake of what in the end was nothing but inefficiency, he and Medlock and young Smith — it was the youth of Smith which appalled him, whether or not the man was callous — were to be turned into murderers.

“What about our orders?” Medlock asked.

“Damn our orders! If we report that the thing is too risky, they must accept our opinion. I’m not saying that Dupont doesn’t deserve to be shot. I’m saying that we can’t lake the responsibility.’

“That is between you and your superiors,” the French major remarked unhelpfully,

“And mercy — doesn’t that come in?”

“One can have too many scruples,” added the other Frenchman, his voice bitter with longing for the simplicities of peace.

He, at least, had no doubt that Dupont’s sentence was just, He had become more deeply obsessed than they by the demands of war and civil war, so that in his eyes this killing served a spiritual purpose which transcended its vileness. It was only the incapacity of his own hand which tormented him.

“Well, we’ve got them. So why not admit it? We hate this. We can’t go on expecting you to do it, and looking the other way. we can’t go on testing Smith to breaking point by making him drink with Dupont just as if the man weren’t a ghost come back from the grave. Why not admit that we do have scruples and take the brute hack to prison?”

Virian let himself go. A limited and painful eloquence. It couldn’t be for the defense, since his client —they all acknowledged it —was guilty; ii couldn’t even be for mitigation of sentence, since that sentence, though highly irregular, though the motives behind it stank to heaven, was just. No, it seemed to him in retrospect that he had preached the virtue of mercy in futile abstract, as any poet or parson.

“The defeated cannot afford mercy,” cried that tortured exocut loner.

It was astonishing that a man could pronounce so neat and closed a phrase with such emotion. Evidently it was the profession of faith with which he comforted his soul — and unanswerable by citizens of a nation which did not for a moment believe itsell to have been defeated.

Virian got up — it would do no harm to let the leaven of mercy work in his absence— and went into the lounge to look after Smith. His conscience was raw on every surface.

Smith was playing shove-ha’penny with Dupont, like an old, experienced warder in the condemned cell.

“All right?” Virian asked. “How are your glasses?”

“Don’t mind if we do, sir.”

Virian went over to the bar and ordered two stiff gins. He beckoned to Smith to join him.

“Would you like to go outside for a breath of air?" he asked.

“I’m all right, sir,” Smith answered, with a strong, impatient accent on the “right.”

With the impenetrable sternness of youth he carried the drinks away to his corner and resumed his game with Dupont. Virian returned to the others, telling himself that he was the only man among them who was not fit to be a soldier.

The French civilian, with the quick sympathy of his race for emotion, put a friendly hand on the Englishman’s shoulder and said: “I cannot permit Dupont to live. The responsibility is mine.”

“But what do you suggest?” Virian asked harshly. “Are we to go back to that damned mine shaft ? ”

“No. Somewhere else, I beg you.”

“I can’t take you anywhere else. My superiors have worked this out very well. I’ll say that for them at least.”

“In the hut I cannot — arrange it.”

“But that is only what I am saying,” Virian insisted, “It can’t be done — for the reason that it’s humanly impossible for us.”

“You would report that?” asked the French major.

“Certainly. Without hesitation.”

“We should appear to be cowards,”

Medlock gave a grunt of scorn. As an old professional soldier, he had no objection to appearing a coward so long as the situation called for cowardice. Only amateurs and Latins bothered about appearances.

“ And who the hell cares?” he said.

“Alas, it must be done,” repeated the civilian.

“But you’ve just said it can’t be done,” Yirian almost shouted.

“I say the but is too small,” the other insisted. “You are slow. You wait for traffic. 1 wait for voit. And then by that time Dupont is not where 1 want him. 1 say that I cannot —” and his voice, though it was low, vibrated with agony, “I cannot raise the pistol before his eyes.”

It was the note which Yirian had already heard, for a single instant, in Smith’s voice also. Through the door he could see him still playing his forced and melancholy shove-ha’penny with Dupont. The situation, futile and mismanaged, was intolerable to all of them. They were like children who had broken the back of an animal by brutal thoughtlessness and then were without courage to put it out of pain and he himself the worst of them.

This couldn’t go on. Mercy. No mercy. Jt can’t he done. It must be done. That civilian and Smith bad first call on any mercy. If this infirmity of purpose went on much longer, one of them would hysterieallv free Dupont, or take him out and shoot him before tlie eyes of some astonished farm laborer,

“Damn Fayze! Damn his precautions!” he cried. “Listen! We get out of the car. You walk at once up to the hut with Dupont in front of you and Smith behind you. Medlock and I go to our posts on the road. Wo shall all arrive at about the same time. In less there is traffic right on top of us, we shall give no signal. As soon as Dupont is over the threshold — do it! He’ll have his back to you, and he will never know a thing.”


THE decision was instantly and gratefully accepted. Yirian had fought for Dupont’s life and Yirian had condemned him to death. He himself was well aware of what he had done. Inconsistency be damned! If one couldn’t have heaven, then hell was preferable to chaos.

“Well, Dupont,” he said, breaking up the shoveha’penny game, “let’s have another shot at it.”

The sound of his own voice in that unfortunate phrase, which he had cheerfully pronounced without thinking, made him wince and turn away.

Dupont hoped politely that the luck would be better, ingratiating himself like a circus pig that has been trained to smile. He left the board, and took down his coat and hat. He had plainly decided that for this day at least he had nothing to fear. The drinks, the genial delay, and the resolute acting of his companion had put him at ease.

Virian caught Smith’s questioning eye behind Dupont’s overcoat, and beckoned to him to remain behind for a moment.

“Same positions, but it will be done through the back of the neck the moment he steps into the hut. A few seconds, and all over.”

Smith ran his tongue round his lips, and seemed about to speak. There was no longer any light of adventure in his sturdy, blue eves; they had matured, as if searching deeply, far down beyond the presumed limit of his vision, into probable consequences.

“Yes? What is it?” Virian asked, trying to put into his smile the eagerness which he dared not show in his voice.

“Okay, sir,”said Smith.

He drove the party back to the mine shaft. The journey had the nightmare quality of life in reverse. Pub to lowland hedges, to gray villages under the downs, to clean sweep of hill turf, to the crest of the road and first glimpse of the hut — all the way back, inevitably, to the hated beginning that should have been left forever.

The French civilian told Dupont to get out and walk up to the hut. He himself followed a pace or two behind, and Smith si rolled purposefully after.

Medlock hurried to the curve of the road; Virian up the blind hill. There was a car approaching which would be on them in twenty seconds. He made no signal. That was time enough if all went smoothly.

He looked round. Dupont was just entering the door of the hut. He saw the Frenchman’s pistol sweep up in a curve and cross the threshold alone, as if it were some tenuous hotly independent of those before and behind. The shot, too, was thin and strained. Louder and more final was the double thud of planks thrown back into place. When the car passed, Smith and the French civilian were already walking down the hill.

On the way home they all talked very heartily. Someone laughed, and there was a sudden silence. After that, they all laughed if there were reasonable excuse. Smith put his bravado into his driving. It was brutal. He didn’t seem to care whether they ever reached London or not.

“God, he put the wind up me!” Medlock said to Virian, obsessed by his companion of ten years before. “And that blood on his boots—”

Smith hadn’t noticed the blood. He had only heard it when he lifted Dupont’s shoulders. They made him get out and wash it off in a stream.

“God, he was a tough, and no mistake!” Medlock persisted. “I don’t mind telling you — he used to chase me around in my dreams.”

“He said the same of you,” Virian answered.

“Eh? What do you mean? What do you mean? I thought you didn’t know him.”

“No, I didn’t know him. But I saw a letter of his.”

“He wrote about me?” Medlock barked indignantly.

“About you . . . and me . . . and especially Fayze. Smith was just one of his civilian clerks. Temporarily unfit for general service, worshiping his boss and longing to work for him on a real secret mission. Fayze wasn’t the man to lose a chance like that; so he used him, and put him into uniform for the job. He told Smith that it was a trial trip, that if he had the nerve to assist us in every way . . .”

Medlock put down his drink and retched.

“That bastard Fayze!” he shouted.

“Yes. But, if it’s any comfort to you, in his dreams there are two of them to chase him around. Smith killed himself a week later. It was his letter to his parents that I saw. Fayze got it before the police. I need hardly tell you that it went no further.”