I spent quite a long time in my room that afternoon trying to persuade myself that the best thing I could do would be to leave the Reserve, make my way across country to Marseilles, and ship as a steward or deck-hand in an east-bound cargo liner.
I had the whole thing planned. I would take Koche’s motorboat and land at some deserted spot west of St. Gatien. Then I would lock the rudder of the boat, start the engine and leave it to chug out to sea while I made off inland to Aubague. There I would catch a train for Marseilles.
At this point doubts began to creep in. One was always reading of young men running away to sea, of people shipping as deck-hands and working their passages. There seemed to be no special qualifications needed. No ropes had to be spliced. No rigging had to be climbed. All you did was paint the anchor, chip rust off the deck plating, and say “aye, aye, sir,” when addressed by an officer. It was a tough life and you met tough men. There were weevils in the ship’s biscuits and you had little to eat but skilly. Quarrels were settled with bare fists and you went about naked to the waist. But one of the crew always had a concertina and there were sing-songs when the day’s work was done. In after life you wrote a book about it.
Yet would it work out quite like that for me? I was inclined to think that it wouldn’t. I may be unlucky, but I find that my enterprises never proceed along classical lines.
Rust-chipping would probably prove to be a highly skilled trade. They would laugh at the idea of a landsman imagining that he could do it. There would be no vacancy. Or if there were a vacancy it would be on a coastal steamer bound for Toulon. Or there would be some strange permit that had to be obtained from the police three months prior to sailing. Or they would find that my eyesight wasn’t sufficiently good. Or they would insist on previous experience. Reality is always so obstructive.
I smoked a cigarette and reconsidered my position.
One thing was clear. I must not let Beghin know that I had lost the second camera. To do so would be to invite immediate re-arrest. The Commissaire was out for convictions. Without the evidence of the camera I would stand no chance of proving my innocence before an examining magistrate. What a fool I had been! Now it was more than ever necessary that I should clear up the mystery for myself. I must take risks. I must know for certain that Schimler had the cameras. I must be in a position to convince Beghin. There was only one thing to do. I would have to search the German’s room.
The idea scared me. If I were caught, a charge of thieving would be added to my present troubles. But the search had to be made. Besides, it was certain to be successful. Should I make it now? My heart beating a little faster than usual, I looked at my watch. Nearly three o’clock. I would have to find out first exactly where Schimler was at the moment. I must be cool and careful about it. The phrase comforted me. Cool and careful. I must keep my head. Soft shoes? Most necessary. A revolver? Absurd! I didn’t have one, and even if I had… A torch? Idiot! it wasn’t dark. And then I remembered that I didn’t even know the number of his room.
A wave of relief swept over me, and immediately I despised myself for it. It was no good telling myself that, whatever I felt, annoyance or relief, the fact remained that I did not know Schimler’s room number. The point was that an efficient person would have already found out what it was. If this was the way I was protecting my own interests-feeling relieved when difficulties arose-then heaven help me.
It was in this frame of mind that I went down to the terrace. I had hoped to find it empty. But it was not. Sitting in a deck-chair at one end, smoking a pipe and reading a book, was Herr Schimler.
Now, if I had but known the number of it, was the time to search his room. I almost turned on my heel to go back. But I stood where I was. I would have to let the opportunity go. Still, there was no harm in engaging the man in conversation, in finding out what sort of a person I had to deal with. After all, one of the fundamentals of good strategy was the study of your opponent’s mind.
But it was easier to think about studying Herr Schimler’s mind than actually to do so. I moved a wicker armchair into the shade near him, sat down, and cleared my throat.
He shifted the pipe between his teeth and turned over a page of the book. He did not so much as glance in my direction.
I had heard that if one stares intently at the back of a person’s head and wills that person to turn round, he will very soon do so. I stared and willed at Herr Schimler for a good ten minutes. I could still now make an anthropometric drawing of the back of his head. But I made no impression at all on him. I managed to see the title of the book. It was Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, in German, and one of several German books I had seen on the shelves in the writing-room. I abandoned the attempt to compete with Nietzsche and gazed out to sea.
The sun was incredibly hot. A smoky haze lay on the horizon. The air above the stone balustrade quivered in the heat. In the garden the cicadas were in full chorus.
I watched a huge dragonfly circle once round a piece of flowering creeper and soar off over the fir trees. It was not an afternoon for thinking of spies. I ought, I knew, to telephone to Beghin and give him the list of cameras. But he could wait. Perhaps later, when the day had grown cooler, I would walk down to the post office. The detective in his heavy black suit would be sweating in the shadow of the dusty palm trees outside the gate and longing for a limonade gazeuse. I envied him. In exchange for peace of mind, I would gladly wear black on hot summer afternoons and sweat and wait and watch and long for limonades gazeuses. A fine life that! Whereas mine was furtive like that of a criminal. I was the watched.
I wondered what Mary Skelton thought of me. Nothing, probably. Or if she did think anything it was, no doubt, that I was a polite, reasonably personable young man with a gift for languages that was useful. I remembered the phrase she had used when she had thought that I was out of earshot. “The nice gentleman.” The intention had been facetious in a kindly way. Quite appropriate to a hotel acquaintance. It would be exceedingly pleasant to have Mary Skelton interested in you. She understood her brother perfectly. That was obvious. No less obvious was the fact that he thought he understood her. You could tell that by his manner towards her. But she…
Herr Schimler shut his book with a snap and tapped his pipe on the wood of the deck-chair.
“Nietzsche,” I said, “is hardly the companion for a hot afternoon.”
He turned his head slowly and examined me.
His thin cheeks had more color in them now than on the night before; but in his blue eyes there was no longer misery. They expressed a more immediate emotion-suspicion. I saw the muscles at the corner of his mouth tighten.
He removed his pipe and started refilling it. His voice when he spoke was casually deliberate.
“You are probably right. But I was not seeking companionship.”
At any other time this rebuff would have reduced me to miserable silence. Now I persevered.
“Do people read Nietzsche nowadays?”
It was a fatuous question.
“Why shouldn’t they?”
I blundered on.
“Oh, I don’t know. I thought he was unfashionable.”
He took his pipe out of his mouth and looked at me over his shoulder.
“Do you know what you are talking about?”
I was tired of this.
“Frankly, no. I merely wanted to talk.”
For a moment he glared at me; then his thin lips relaxed into a smile. It was a very good smile and infectious. I smiled, too.
“Years ago,” I said, “a fellow student of mine used to spend hours telling me why Nietzsche was a great man. Personally, I foundered on Zarathustra.”
He put his pipe between his teeth, stretched himself, and looked at the sky.
“Your friend was wrong. Nietzsche might have been a great man.” He flicked the book lying on his knees with his forefinger. “This is his earliest work and there are seeds of greatness in it. Fancy diagnosing Socrates as a decadent. Morality as a symptom of decadence! What a conception. But what do you think he wrote about it about twenty years later?”
I was silent.
“He said that it smelt shockingly Hegelian. And he was quite right. Identity is the definition only of a simple, immediate, dead thing, but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality. Only in so far as a thing has in itself contradiction does it move, does it possess an impulse and activity.” He shrugged. “But what the young Neitzsche perceived with Hegel, the old Nietzsche despised. The old Nietzsche went mad.”
I was having difficulty in following this. I said, rather uneasily: “I haven’t seen you bathing.”
“I do not bathe, but I will play you a game of Russian billiards if you like. Or perhaps you call it bagatelle?”
It was said distastefully. He had the air of a man bowing ungraciously to the inevitable.
We went inside.
The Russian billiard-table was in one corner of the lounge. We commenced to play in silence. In ten minutes he had beaten me easily. As he made the winning stroke he straightened his back and grinned.
“That wasn’t very amusing for you,” he said. “You’re not very good at it, are you? Would you like another game?”
I smiled. His manner was abrupt, almost brusque, but there was something tremendously sympathetic about him. I felt myself wanting to be friendly. I had almost forgotten that this was Suspect Number One.
I said I would like another game. He turned the scoring dials back to zero, chalked his cue, and leaned forward to make the first shot. The light from the window falling on his face threw the rather wide cheekbones into relief, modeled the tapering cheeks, put a highlight on to the broad forehead. It was a beautiful head for a painter. The hands, too, were good; large, but finely proportioned, and firm and precise in their movements. His fingers lightly grasping the cue moved it easily across the thumb of his left hand. His eye was on the red ball when he spoke.
“You’ve had some trouble with the police, haven’t you?”
It was said as casually as if he were asking the time. The next moment there was a crash as three balls dropped in quick succession.
I tried to be equally casual.
“Good shot! Yes, there was a mistake over my passport.”
He moved round the table slightly to alter the alignment of the balls.
“Yugoslav, aren’t you?”
Only one ball dropped this time.
“Oh, I see. Treaty of Trianon?”
His next shot knocked the pin over. He sighed.
“I was afraid that would happen. Total score-zero. Your shot. Tell me about Yugoslavia.”
I bent over the table. Two could play at this game.
“I haven’t been near it for over ten years. You’re German, aren’t you?”
I managed to hole the red in a low number.
“Good shot! You’re improving.” But he didn’t answer my question. I tried again.
“It’s unusual to meet Germans holiday-making abroad these days.”
I potted the red again.
“Splendid! You’re doing very well. What were you saying?”
“I said it was unusual to meet Germans on holiday abroad these days.”
“Yes? But that doesn’t worry me. I am from Basel.”
This was a direct lie. In my excitement I holed my own ball without cannoning off another.
“Bad luck! Where’s the chalk?”
I passed it to him in silence. He chalked his cue carefully and started to play again. His score mounted rapidly.
“What’s that now?” he murmured at last. “Sixty-four, isn’t it?”
He bent over the table once more.
“Do you know Germany well, Herr Vadassy?”
“I’ve never been there.”
“You should go. The people are so nice.” The red ball hovered on the brink of a high number. “Ah, not quite enough energy behind that one. Sixty-four.” He straightened his back. “Your German is very good, Herr Vadassy. You might have lived there many years.”
“At the University of Budapest we spoke mostly German. Besides, I teach languages.”
“So? It is your shot.”
I played, but I played badly, for I could not keep my thoughts on the game. Three times I knocked the pin over. Once I missed the ball completely. Questions were twisting and turning in my mind. What was this man trying to get out of me? Those questions of his had not been idle. What was the point of them? Did he suspect me of taking the photographs intentionally? And mingled with those unanswerable questions was the thought that this man could not be a spy. There was something about him that made the idea seem absurd. A certain dignity. Besides, did spies quote Hegel? Did they read Nietzsche? Well, his own answer would do there: “Why shouldn’t they?” What did it matter, anyway? One might just as well ask: “Do spies make good husbands?” Why shouldn’t they? Why not, indeed?
“Your shot, my friend.”
“I’m sorry. I was thinking of something else.”
“Oh!” He smiled slightly. “This can’t be very entertaining for you. Shall we stop?”
“No, no. I had just thought of something I had forgotten to do.”
“Nothing important, I hope.”
“No, nothing important.”
But it was important. I would telephone Beghin, throw myself on his mercy, explain the loss of the camera, ask for Schimler’s room to be searched as mine had been. There was the excuse of the false name. But if only I could get one concrete piece of evidence against him, something that would establish his connection with the camera, something that would satisfy me that I was not making a stupid mistake. Supposing I were to take a risk! Supposing I were to ask point-blank if he had a camera? After all, it could do no harm now. The person who had slammed the writing-room door and taken the second camera would have no doubts about my connection with the business.
I holed two balls simultaneously.
“I did not,” I said, “expect that.”
“No, I thought not.”
“I am,” I went on, as I moved round for the next shot, “a man of one hobby.”
I failed to score and he took his place at the table.
“Yes. It is photography.”
He squinted along his cue.
I watched him narrowly as I asked the fatal question.
“Have you a camera?”
He stood up slowly and looked at me.
“Herr Vadassy, do you mind not talking while I make this shot? It is difficult. You see, I am going to hit the cushion there, graze that white, hit the cushion again, and send the red into maximum. The white should roll into a five.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“It is I who should beg yours. This absurd game interests me. It is an utterly antisocial device. It is like a drug. It deprives you of the necessity for thinking. As soon as you start to think, you play badly. Have I a camera? I have no camera. I cannot, indeed, remember the last time I held a camera in my hands. It should require no thought on my part to produce that answer. Yet the distraction is sufficient to break the spell. The shot would have failed.”
He spoke solemnly. The fate of worlds might have depended on the success of the shot. Yet in his eyes, those very expressive eyes, there was a gleam of mockery. I thought I knew the reason for that gleam.
“I can see,” I remarked, “that I shall never be able to play this game.”
But he had bent over the table again. There was a pause, a soft click-click, and the sound of two balls rumbling down to the tray.
“Magnificent!” said a voice.
I turned round. It was Koche.
“Magnificent,” murmured Schimler, “but it is not war. Herr Vadassy has been very patient with me. The game has no attraction for him.”
I fancied that I saw the two exchange a significant glance, What did Schimler mean by that ridiculous allusion? I protested hastily that I had enjoyed the game. Perhaps we could play again tomorrow.
Schimler assented without enthusiasm.
“Herr Heinberger,” said Koche jovially, “is an expert at Russian billiards.”
But the atmosphere had changed in some curious way. The two were obviously waiting impatiently for me to go. I took my leave as gracefully as possible.
“I had already noticed that. You will excuse me? I have to go into the village.”
They stood and watched me go. They would not, it was clear, utter a word until I was well out of earshot.
As I passed through the hall the Clandon-Hartleys were going up the stairs. I murmured a greeting, but neither replied. Then, something about them, something in their stony silence, made me pause and glance after them. As they turned at the top of the stairs I saw that she had a handkerchief held to her face. Mrs. Clandon-Hartley crying? Impossible. That sort of Englishwoman didn’t know how. She probably had something in her eye. I walked on.
The detective waiting for me at the gate had been changed. Now it was a short, stout man in a flat straw hat who wandered after me down to the post office.
I got straight through to Beghin.
“Well, Vadassy? You have the particulars of the cameras?”
“Yes. But the question of Schimler…”
“I have no time to waste. The cameras, please.”
I started to give him the list slowly so that he could write it down. He snorted with impatience.
“Hurry, please. We have not all day, and the call is expensive.”
Nettled, I rattled off the list as fast as I could. After all, it was I who was paying for the call, not he. The man was impossible. I concluded the list, fully expecting to be asked to repeat it. But, no.
“Good! And these three without cameras?”
“I have questioned Schimler, that is, Heinberger. He says he has no camera. I have had no opportunity to check the English. They have, however, a pair of field-glasses.”
“A pair of what?”
“That is unimportant. You will concern yourself only with cameras. Have you anything else to report?”
I hesitated. Now was the time…
“Hello, Vadassy. Are you still there?”
“Then don’t waste time. Have you anything else to report?”
“Very well. Telephone the Commissaire as usual tomorrow morning.” He hung up.
I walked back to the Reserve with a heart as heavy as lead. I was a fool; a weak, cowardly fool.
The heat had made my shirt cling uncomfortably to my body. I went to my room to change it.
The key was in the lock where I had left it, but the door was not properly closed. As I touched the handle the latch clicked and the door swung ajar. I went in and got my suitcase out from under the bed.
But for one thing I should probably have noticed nothing unusual. That one thing was that it was my habit to fasten only one latch of the case. Now both were fastened.
I opened them and looked inside the case.
In the ordinary way I should have found nothing strange in the sight of a slightly crumpled shirt. Now I stood up quickly and went to the chest of drawers. Everything there was in its place; but a small pile of handkerchiefs in one corner of the top drawer caught my eye. I had only one handkerchief with a colored border. It had been at the bottom of the pile. Now it was on the top. I looked round the room. A corner of the counterpane on the bed was caught up below the mattress. The chambermaid had not left it like that.
There was no longer any doubt in my mind. The room and my belongings had been searched.