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8. The Essen Barges
I lay for four days like a log in that garret bed. The storm died down, the thaw set in, and
the snow melted. The children played about the doors and told stories at night round the
fire. Stumm's myrmidons no doubt beset every road and troubled the lives of innocent
wayfarers. But no one came near the cottage, and the fever worked itself out while I lay
in peace.
It was a bad bout, but on the fifth day it left me, and I lay, as weak as a kitten, staring at
the rafters and the little skylight. It was a leaky, draughty old place, but the woman of
the cottage had heaped deerskins and blankets on my bed and kept me warm. She
came in now and then, and once she brought me a brew of some bitter herbs which
greatly refreshed me. A little thin porridge was all the food I could eat, and some
chocolate made from the slabs in my rucksack.
I lay and dozed through the day, hearing the faint chatter of children below, and getting
stronger hourly. Malaria passes as quickly as it comes and leaves a man little the
worse, though this was one of the sharpest turns I ever had. As I lay I thought, and my
thoughts followed curious lines. One queer thing was that Stumm and his doings
seemed to have been shot back into a lumber-room of my brain and the door locked. He
didn't seem to be a creature of the living present, but a distant memory on which I could
look calmly. I thought a good deal about my battalion and the comedy of my present
position. You see I was getting better, for I called it comedy now, not tragedy.
But chiefly I thought of my mission. All that wild day in the snow it had seemed the
merest farce. The three words Harry Bullivant had scribbled had danced through my
head in a crazy fandango. They were present to me now, but coolly and sanely in all
their meagreness.
I remember that I took each one separately and chewed on it for hours. _Kasredin_ -
there was nothing to be got out of that. _Cancer_ - there were too many meanings, all
blind. _V. I._ - that was the worst gibberish of all.
Before this I had always taken the I as the letter of the alphabet. I had thought the v.
must stand for von, and I had considered the German names beginning with I -
Ingolstadt, Ingeburg, Ingenohl, and all the rest of them. I had made a list of about
seventy at the British Museum before I left London.
Now I suddenly found myself taking the I as the numeral One. Idly, not thinking what I
was doing, I put it into German.
Then I nearly fell out of the bed. Von Einem - the name I had heard at Gaudian's house,
the name Stumm had spoken behind his hand, the name to which Hilda was probably
the prefix. It was a tremendous discovery - the first real bit of light I had found. Harry