Part Five. An Interesting Task—Encounter with the Police—Success with the Balloon—How to Enter a Fort—How We Got the Secret Light—How the Big River was Swum—Caught at Last—The Escape—Conclusion.
AN INTERESTING TASK.
A new method of illuminating the battlefield at night had been invented on the Continent.
A chemical substance had been manufactured which enabled the user to turn on a strong light over a wide space at any moment.
Rumour said that it was as powerful as a searchlight, and yet could be carried in your pocket. But great secrecy was observed both regarding its composition, and its experimental trials.
In the same army a new kind of observation balloon was said to be on trial equipped with some very up-to-date apparatus.
Also it was reported that in addition to these aids to effective reconnaissance, a new method of swimming rivers by cavalry had been invented by which every man and horse in a cavalry division could cross wide rivers without difficulty or delay.
Owing to political strain going on in Europe at the time there was the possibility that these rumours might have been purposely set on foot, like many others, with a view to giving some moral prestige to the army concerned.
It became my duty to investigate as far as possible what amount of truth lay in them.
ENCOUNTER WITH THE POLICE.
It was a difficult country to work in owing to the very stringent police arrangements against spies of every kind, and it looked to be a most unpromising task to elicit what I wanted to know, because one was sure of being watched at every turn. As I afterwards discovered, it was through this multiplicity of police arrangements that one was able to get about with comparative ease, because if one went boldly enough it immediately argued to the watchful policeman that someone else was sure to be observing you.
Moreover, spies generally do their work single-handed, and on this occasion I was accompanied by my brother, and this made it easier for us to go about as a pair of tourists interested in the country generally. A man travelling alone is much more liable to draw attention upon himself, and therefore to go about under suspicion.
Our entry into the country was not altogether fortunate, because while yet in the train we managed to get into trouble with the guard over a window which he insisted on shutting when we wanted it open. In the same carriage with us was a gentleman of some standing in the country, and in a fit of absent-mindedness I made a little sketch of him. I had just completed it when an arm reached down over my shoulder from behind and the picture was snatched away by the observant guard of the train and taken off to be used as evidence against me.
The guard of a train in this country, I may say, ranks apparently much the same as a colonel in the army and therefore is not a man to be trifled with. On our arrival at the terminus we found a sort of guard of honour of gendarmes waiting for us on the platform, and we were promptly marched off to the police office to account for our procedure in the train by daring to open the window when the guard wished it closed, and for drawing caricatures or a "high-born" man in the train.
We made no secret as to our identity and handed our cards to the commissary of police when we were brought up before him. He was — till that moment — glaring at us fiercely, evidently deciding what punishment to give us before he had heard our case at all. But when he saw my brother’s name as an officer in the Guards, he asked: "Does this mean in the Guards of her Majesty Queen Victoria?" When he heard it was so his whole demeanour changed. He sprang from his seat, begged us to be seated, and explained it was all a mistake. Evidently Guards in his country were in very high repute. He explained to us there were certain little irritating rules on the railway which had to be enforced, but, of course, in our case we were not to be bound by such small bye-laws, and with profuse apologies he bowed us out of the office without a stain upon our characters.
SUCCESS WITH THE BALLOON.
We did not live long without the stain. Our first anxiety was to find where and how it would be possible to see some of this equipment for which we had come to the country. Maneuvers were going on at a place some fifty miles distant, and there, as tourists, we betook ourselves without delay. We put up at. a small inn not far from the railway station, and for the next few days we did immense walking tours, following up the troops and watching them at their work over a very extended area of country.
At last one day we sighted a balloon hanging in the sky, and we made a bee line for it until we arrived at its station. When it was hauled down and anchored to the ground the men went off to the camp to get their dinners, and the balloon was left without a soul to guard it. It was not long before we were both inside the car, taking note of everything in the shape of the instruments and their makers’ names, and so had all the information it was possible to get before the men came back.
HOW TO ENTER A FORT.
Our next step was to see this wonderful illuminant for night work, and in the course of our wanderings we came across a large fort from which searchlights had been showing the previous night. There were notice boards round this fort at a distance of about twenty yards apart stating that nobody was allowed within this circle of notices, and we argued that if once we were inside any sentry or detective would naturally suppose we had leave to be there.
We tried the idea, and it worked splendidly. We walked calmly through camps and past sentries without a tremor and not a question was asked us. Once within this line we were able to get directly into the fort, and there we strolled along as if the place belonged to us.
There is a certain amount of art required n making yourself not appear to be a stranger in a new place.
In the minor matter of hat, boots, and necktie it is well to wear those bought in the country you are visiting, otherwise your British-made articles are sure to attract the attention of a watchful policeman.
In the matter of demeanour you behave as a native would do who was accustomed to being there.
Walking into a strange fort must be carried out much on the same lines as you would adopt in entering a strange town, only more so. You walk as if with a set purpose to get to a certain part of it, as though you knew the way perfectly, and without showing any kind of interest in what is around you. If you pass an officer or dignitary whom you see everybody saluting, salute him too, so that you do not appear singular. When you want to observe any special feature you loaf about reading a newspaper or, if in a town, by looking at all you want’ to see as reflected in a shop window.
The penalty for spying in this country was five years without the option of a fine, or even of a trial.
Having walked in like this, and having successfully walked out again — which is quite another matter — we felt elated with our success and hung about till nightfall and tried it again after dark. This was no easy job, as the place was surrounded by outposts very much on the qui vive for an enemy that was to make a maneuver attack during the night. By keeping to leeward of the general position one was able to quietly creep along, sniffing the breeze, until one could judge where there was an outpost and where there was open ground, and in this manner, smelling our way as we went, we were able to creep through between the outposts and so gained the fort.
HOW WE GOT THE SECRET LIGHT.
This time it meant slipping through unperceived as far as possible, and in this we succeeded equally well. By good fortune we arrived just before experiments commenced with the illuminating rockets. Everybody’s attention was centred on these and no one had time to notice or observe what we were doing. We watched the preparations and also the results, and having studied the routine and the geography of the practice we were in the end able to help ourselves to some of the rockets and the lighting composition, and with these we eventually made off. Without delay we placed our treasures ill the hands of a trusty agent who transferred them at once to England.
HOW THE BIG RIVER WAS SWUM.
Our next step was to see how crossing the river was carried out by the cavalry. From information received we presented ourselves ‘at a certain spot on the river at a little before ten one morning. The official attachés had received notice that a brigade of cavalry would swim the river at this point at ten o’clock, and at ten o’clock their special train was due to arrive there.
We were there, fortunately, half an hour beforehand, and we saw the whole brigade come down to the river and file across a fairly deep ford, where the horses got wet to some extent, but they did not swim.
On the far bank a few men were left behind. These, as it turned out, were all the men and horses who could actually swim well, and as the train arrived and the attaches disembarked on to the bank they found the major part of the brigade already arrived dripping wet, and the remainder just swimming over at that moment.
Of course in their reports they stated that they had seen the whole brigade swimming over. But this is how reports very often get about which are not strictly true.
CAUGHT AT LAST.
Emboldened by our success in getting into the fort by day and night, we then continued the experiment for several nights in succession, watching the further practice with searchlights, star shells, and light rockets. We had, however, collected all the information that was necessary, and there was no need for us to go there again. But news reached us that there was to be a final show for the Emperor himself, and I could not resist the temptation of going once more to the fort, as I expected there would be a grand pyrotechnic display for this occasion.
I got there in good time before the Emperor’s arrival, and made my way into the place as usual, my brother remaining outside to see the effect of the lights from the attacker’s point of view. Inside, however, all was not quite the same as it had been on previous occasions. There were a very large number of officers collected there, and a too larger number of police officers for my liking. I, therefore, repented of my intention and took myself out again.
Then as I walked back along the road in the dark I noticed the lights of the Emperor’s cortege coming along towards me. As the first carriage passed me I did the worst thing in the world I could have done at such a movement — I turned my head away to avoid being recognised in the lamplight. My action made the occupants of the first carriage suspicious. They were some of the staff officers of the Emperor.
In a moment they stopped the carriage, rushed at me, and with scarcely a word, seized and hustled me into the carriage with them, and drove back to the fort again. They asked me a few questions as to who I was and why I was there, and on arrival at the fort I was handed over to some other officers and again asked my business.
I could only say that I was an Englishman who had been looking on at the maneuvers as a spectator and was anxious to find my way to the station (which was some ten miles away). This was all fairly true, but not quite good enough for them, and they presently packed me into a carriage and sent me back — in charge of an officer — to the station, with a view to my being handed over to the police and removed to the capital.
It was in the days of my apprenticeship, and I had been exceedingly foolish in taking a few notes, which, although undecipherable, perhaps would none the less be used as evidence against me.
Therefore, so soon as we were under way I made it my business to quietly tear these notes up into small pieces, and to drop them out of the carriage window whenever my guardian was looking the other way. When we arrived at the station there was some little time to wait, and I asked if I might go to the inn and collect my belongings. Permission was granted to me, and I was taken there under the charge of a police officer.
Hastily I packed my bag, and the good officer endeavoured to help me, packing up anything he could see in the room and thrusting it in with my things. Unfortunately he kept packing my brother’s things in as well, and so when his back was turned I thrust them back into my brother’s bed, for I did not want it known he was about there too.
Having finally filled my portmanteau, my next care was to leave a warning lest he too should be entrapped. So while ostensibly paying the bill to the landlord of the house, who had been called up by the police, I wrote a warning note on a scrap of paper, which I jammed on the candle, where my brother could not fail to find it when he came home later on, and then I went off to the station, and was taken back to the capital by a Hussar officer of congenial temperament.
With all good feeling and the true hospitality of his kind, he insisted on buying half a dozen bottles of beer for my consumption — since I was an Englishman — and he helped me with the ordeal during the small hours of the morning.
On reaching the capital I was put into a hotel, my passport taken from me, and I was told that I should be expected to remain there until called for. In the meantime I might go about the city, but was not to take myself away without permission. I very soon found that I was being watched by a detective told off for the purpose, and then it was that I made the acquaintance of a foreign spy who was acting as waiter in the hotel. He was so well informed on higher politics, as well as on
military matters, that I guessed he must be an officer of the intelligence staff, and he was most helpful and kind to me in my predicament.
He pointed out to me who were the detectives in the hotel staff, and informed me that their duty was merely to watch me, to ascertain what my moves were day by day, and to report them by telephone to the head police office. He advised me before going out each day to inform the hall porter, thereby letting the detectives overhear what were my plans; they would then telephone to the police, who would have their own detectives watching me while I was out.
Within a short time my brother rejoined me from the maneuver area, but by doing so he at once came under observation and under suspicion, and we were practically a pair of prisoners. So much was this the case that a few days later we received a visit at daybreak one morning, from a friend in power, who was also in touch with the police, and he advised us that the best course we could take was to escape from the country while it was possible, he undertaking quietly to make arrangements for us. The idea was that we should slip away to a seaport, where we could get on to a British steamer as two of the crew and so pass out of the country.
That was the scheme. But the difficulty was how to play it off. A ship was found whose captain was willing to receive us provided that we could get to him without being observed. With the aid of our friendly waiter, we let the detective at the hotel understand that we were tired of being under suspicion, and that we were boldly going to take the train and leave the country.
At ten o’clock a cab was to come round to take us and our luggage to the station, and if anybody interfered with us — why, we were freeborn British, and subject to no man’s rule, and the Ambassador and all the rest of the Powers should hear about it! This was for the information of the detective, and he merely telephoned it to the police office at the railway station, where we should be arrested at the point of our departure.
We got into our cab and drove off down the street towards the station until we were out of sight of the hotel. Then we called to our driver and said we should like to go to a different station. This course involved our going to the river-side and taking the ferry.
It was an anxious time. Had we been spotted? Should we be missed? Were we being followed ?
These questions would answer themselves as we progressed with our plot. The answer, when it came, would mean a tremendous lot to us — triumph or five years’ imprisonment; so we had every right to be fairly anxious. And yet, somehow, I don’t think we were worrying much about the consequences, but rather were busy with the present — as to how to evade pursuit and recapture.
Arrived at the ferry we paid off our cabman and made our way to the quay-side. Here we found a boat which had already been arranged for; and we made our way safely off to the ship, which was waiting under steam in midstream to start the moment we were on board.
At this supreme moment my brother had the temerity to argue with the boatman over the fare. Being, now in the last stage of tender-hooks, I adjured him to give the man double what he asked, if only to be free. But the brother was calm, and for once — he was right! His display of want of all anxiety quite diverted any kind of suspicion that might have attached to us, and in the end we got safely on board and away.
Such are some of the minor experiences which, though not very sensational in themselves, are yet part of the every-day work of an " intelligence agent" (alias a spy), and while they tend to relieve such work of any suspicion of monotony, they add, as a rule, that touch of romance and excitement to it which makes spying the fascinating sport that it is.
When one recognises also that it may have invaluable results for one’s country in time of war, one feels that. even though it is a time spent largely in enjoyment, it is not by any means time thrown idly away; and though the "agent," if caught, may "go under," unhonoured and unsung, he knows in his heart of hearts that he has done as bravely for his country as his comrade who falls in battle.
Table of Contents
|Part One. Introduction—The Different Degrees of Spies—Strategical Agents—Tactical Agents—Residential Spies—Officer Agents—Commercial Spying—Germany’s Invasion Plans—Field Spies—Catching a Spy.|
|Part Two. Conveying Information—Secret Signals and Warnings—Spies in War Time—The Pluck of a Spy—Traitorous Spying—The German Spy Organization—The Value of Being Stupid—Concealing a Fort in a Moth’s Head—Butterfly Hunting in Dalmatia.|
|Part Three. How Spies Disguise Themselves—The Sport of Spying—The Value of Hide-and-Seek—Spying on Mountain Troops—Posing as an Artist.|
|Part Four. Fooling a German Sentry—A Spy is Suspicious—Hoodwinking a Turkish Sentry—Tea and a Turk—Sore Feet—Austrian Officers—An Interesting Task.|
|Part Five. An Interesting Task—Encounter with the Police—Success with the Balloon—How to Enter a Fort—How We Got the Secret Light—How the Big River was Swum—Caught at Last—The Escape—Conclusion.|
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Last Modified: 8:51 PM on October 24, 1997