1. A Mission is Proposed
I had just finished breakfast and was filling my pipe when I got Bullivant's telegram. It
was at Furling, the big country house in Hampshire where I had come to convalesce
after Loos, and Sandy, who was in the same case, was hunting for the marmalade. I
flung him the flimsy with the blue strip pasted down on it, and he whistled.
'Hullo, Dick, you've got the battalion. Or maybe it's a staff billet. You'll be a blighted
brass-hat, coming it heavy over the hard-working regimental officer. And to think of the
language you've wasted on brass-hats in your time!'
I sat and thought for a bit, for the name 'Bullivant' carried me back eighteen months to
the hot summer before the war. I had not seen the man since, though I had read about
him in the papers. For more than a year I had been a busy battalion officer, with no
other thought than to hammer a lot of raw stuff into good soldiers. I had succeeded
pretty well, and there was no prouder man on earth than Richard Hannay when he took
his Lennox Highlanders over the parapets on that glorious and bloody 25th day of
September. Loos was no picnic, and we had had some ugly bits of scrapping before
that, but the worst bit of the campaign I had seen was a tea-party to the show I had
been in with Bullivant before the war started. [Major Hannay's narrative of this affair has
been published under the title of _The Thirty-nine Steps_.]
The sight of his name on a telegram form seemed to change all my outlook on life. I had
been hoping for the command of the battalion, and looking forward to being in at the
finish with Brother Boche. But this message jerked my thoughts on to a new road. There
might be other things in the war than straightforward fighting. Why on earth should the
Foreign Office want to see an obscure Major of the New Army, and want to see him in
'I'm going up to town by the ten train,' I announced; 'I'll be back in time for dinner.'
'Try my tailor,' said Sandy. 'He's got a very nice taste in red tabs. You can use my
An idea struck me. 'You're pretty well all right now. If I wire for you, will you pack your
own kit and mine and join me?'
'Right-o! I'll accept a job on your staff if they give you a corps. If so be as you come
down tonight, be a good chap and bring a barrel of oysters from Sweeting's.'
I travelled up to London in a regular November drizzle, which cleared up about
Wimbledon to watery sunshine. I never could stand London during the war. It seemed to
have lost its bearings and broken out into all manner of badges and uniforms which did
not fit in with my notion of it. One felt the war more in its streets than in the field, or