"I accept your word so far," Julian said. "Please go on."
"I am an Englishman and a patriot," Furley continued, "just as much as you are, although you are a son of the Earl of Maltenby, and you fought in the war. You must listen to me without prejudice. There are thoughtful men in England, patriots to the backbone, trying to grope their way to the truth about this bloody sacrifice. There are thoughtful men in Germany on the same tack. If, for the betterment of the world, we should seek to come into touch with one another, I do not consider that treason, or communicating with an enemy country in the ordinary sense of the word."
"I see," Julian muttered. "What you are prepared to plead guilty to is holding communication with members of the Labour and Socialist Party in Germany."
"I plead guilty to nothing," Furley answered, with a touch of his old fierceness. "Don't talk like your father and his class, Julian. Get away from it. Be yourself. Your Ministers can't end the war. Your Government can't. They opened their mouth too wide at first. They made too many commitments. Ask Stenson. He'll tell you that I'm speaking the truth. So it goes on, and day by day it costs the world a few hundred or a few thousand human lives, and God knows how much of man's labour and brains, annihilated, wasted, blown into the air! Somehow or other the war has got to stop, Julian. If the politicians won't do it, the people must."
"The people," Julian repeated a little sadly. "Rienzi once trusted in the people."
"There's a difference," Furley protested. "Today the people are all right, but the Rienzi isn't here—My God!"
He broke off suddenly, pursuing another train of thought. He leaned forward.
"Look here," he said, "we'll talk about the fate of that communication later. What about Miss Abbeway?"
"Miss Abbeway," Julian told him, "was in imminent danger last night of arrest as a spy. Against my principles and all my convictions, I have done my best to protect her against the consequences of her ridiculous and inexcusable conduct. I don't know anything about your association, Furley, but I consider you a lot of rotters to allow a girl to take on a job like this."
Furley's eyes flashed in sympathy.
"It was a cowardly action, Julian," he agreed. "I'm hot with shame when I think of it. But don't, for heaven's sake, think I had anything to do with the affair! We have a secret service branch which arranges for those things. It's that skunk Fenn who's responsible. Damn him!"
"Nicholas Fenn, the pacifist!" Julian exclaimed. "So you take vermin like that into your councils!"
"You can't call him too hard a name for me at this moment," Furley muttered.
"Nicholas Fenn," Julian repeated, with a new light in his eyes. "Why, the cable I censored was to him! So he's the arch traitor!"
"Nicholas Fenn is in it;" Furley admitted, "although I deny that there's any treason whatever in the affair."
"Don't talk nonsense!" Julian replied. "What about your German hairdresser who was shot this morning?"
"It was a mistake to make use of him," Furley confessed. "Fenn has deceived us all as to the method of our communications. But listen, Julian. You'll be able to get Miss Abbeway out of this?"
"If I don't," Julian replied, "I shall be in it myself, for I've lied myself black in the face already."
"You're a man, for all the starch in you, Julian," Furley declared. "If anything were to happen to that girl, I'd wring Fenn's neck."
"I think she's safe for the present," Julian pronounced. "You see, she isn't in possession of the incriminating document. I took it from her when she was in danger of arrest."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"You can't have much doubt about that," was the composed reply. "I shall go to town to-morrow and hand it over to the proper authorities."
Julian rose to his feet as he spoke. Furley looked at him helplessly.
"How in heaven's name, man," he groaned, "shall I be able to make you see the truth!"
A touch of the winter sunlight was upon Julian's face which, curiously enough, at that moment resembled his father's in its cold, patrician lines. The mention of Nicholas Fenn's name seemed to have transformed him.
"If I were you, Furley," he advised, "for the sake of our friendship, I wouldn't try. There is no consideration in the world which would alter my intentions."
There was the sound of the lifting of the outer latch, a knock at the door. The incoming visitors stood upon no ceremony. Mr. Stenson and Catherine showed themselves upon the threshold.
Mr. Stenson waved aside all ceremony and at once checked Furley's attempt to rise to his feet.
"Pray don't get up, Furley," he begged, shaking hands with him. "I hope you'll forgive such an informal visit. I met Miss Abbeway on my way down to the sea, and when she told me that she was coming to call on you, I asked leave to accompany her."
"You're very welcome, sir," was the cordial response. "It's an honour which I scarcely expected."
Julian found chairs for every one, and Mr. Stenson, recognising intuitively a certain state of tension, continued his good-humoured remarks.
"Miss Abbeway and I," he said, "have been having a most interesting conversation, or rather argument. I find that she is entirely of your way of thinking, Furley. You both belong to the order of what I call puffball politicians."
Catherine laughed heartily at the simile.
"Mr. Stenson is a glaring example," she pointed out, "of those who do not know their own friends. Mr. Furley and I both believe that some time or other our views will appeal to the whole of the intellectual and unselfish world."
"It's a terrible job to get people to think," Furley observed. "They are nearly always busy doing something else."
"And these aristocrats!" Catherine continued, smiling at Julian. "You spoil them so in England, you know. Eton and Oxford are simply terrible in their narrowing effect upon your young men. It's like putting your raw material into a sausage machine."
"Miss Abbeway is very severe this morning," Stenson declared, with unabated good humour. "She has been attacking my policy and my principles during the whole of our walk. Bad luck about your accident, Furley. I suppose we should have met whilst I am down here, if you hadn't developed too adventurous a spirit."
Furley glanced at Julian and smiled.
"I am not so sure about that, sir," he said. "Your host doesn't approve of me very much."
"Do political prejudices exist so far from their home?" Mr. Stenson asked.
"I am afraid my father is rather old-fashioned," Julian confessed.
"You are all old-fashioned—and stiff with prejudice," Furley declared. "Even Orden," he went on, turning to Catherine, "only tolerates me because we ate dinners off the same board when we were both making up our minds to be Lord High Chancellor."
"Our friend Furley," Julian confided, as he leaned across the table and took a cigarette, "has no tact and many prejudices. He does write such rubbish about the aristocracy. I remember an article of his not very long ago, entitled 'Out with our Peers!' It's all very well for a younger son like me to take it lying down, but you could scarcely expect my father to approve. Besides, I believe the fellow's a renegade. I have an idea that he was born in the narrower circles himself."
"That's where you're wrong, then," Furley grunted with satisfaction. "My father was a boot manufacturer in a country village of Leicestershire. I went in for the Bar because he left me pots of money, most of which, by the bye, I seem to have dissipated."
"Chiefly in Utopian schemes for the betterment of his betters," Julian observed drily.
"I certainly had an idea," Furley confessed, "of an asylum for incapable younger sons."
"I call a truce," Julian proposed. "It isn't polite to spar before Miss Abbeway."
"To me," Mr. Stenson declared, "this is a veritable temple of peace. I arrived here literally on all fours. Miss Abbeway has proved to me quite conclusively that as a democratic leader I have missed my vocation."
She looked at him reproachfully. Nevertheless, his words seemed to have brought back to her mind the thrill of their brief but stimulating conversation. A flash of genuine earnestness transformed her face, just as a gleam of wintry sunshine, which had found its way in through the open window, seemed to discover threads of gold in her tightly braided and luxuriant brown hair. Her eyes filled with an almost inspired light:
"Mr. Stenson is scarcely fair to me," she complained. "I did not presume to criticise his statesmanship, only there are some things here which seem pitiful. England should be the ideal democracy of the world. Your laws admit of it, your Government admits of it. Neither birth nor money are indispensable to success. The way is open for the working man to pass even to the Cabinet. And you are nothing of the sort. The cause of the people is not in any country so shamefully and badly represented. You have a bourgeoisie which maintains itself in almost feudal luxury by means of the labour which it employs, and that labour is content to squeak and open its mouth for worms, when it should have the finest fruits of the world. And all this is for want of leadership. Up you come you David Sands, you Phineas Crosses, you Nicholas Fenns, you Thomas Evanses. You each think that you represent Labour, but you don't. You represent trade—the workers at one trade. How they laugh at you, the men who like to keep the government of this country in their own possession! They stretch down a hand to the one who has climbed the highest, they pull him up into the Government, and after that Labour is well quit of him. He has found his place with the gods. Perhaps they will make him a 'Sir' and his wife a 'Lady,' but for him it is all over with the Cause. And so another ten years is wasted, while another man grows up to take his place."
"She's right enough," Furley confessed gloomily. "There is something about the atmosphere of the inner life of politics which has proved fatal to every Labour man who has ever climbed. Paul Fiske wrote the same thing only a few weeks ago. He thought that it was the social atmosphere which we still preserve around our politics. We no sooner catch a clever man, born of the people, than we dress him up like a mummy and put him down at dinner parties and garden parties, to do things he's not accustomed to, and expect him to hold his own amongst people who are not his people. There is something poisonous about it."
"Aren't you all rather assuming," Stenson suggested drily, "that the Labour Party is the only party in politics worth considering?"
"If they knew their own strength," Catherine declared, "they would be the predominant party. Should you like to go to the polls to-day and fight for your seats against them?"
"Heaven forbid!" Mr. Stenson exclaimed. "But then we've made up our mind to one thing—no general election during the war. Afterwards, I shouldn't be at all surprised if Unionists and Liberals and even Radicals didn't amalgamate and make one party."
"To fight Labour," Furley said grimly.
"To keep England great," Mr. Stenson replied. "You must remember that so far as any scheme or program which the Labour Party has yet disclosed, in this country or any other, they are preeminently selfish. England has mighty interests across the seas. A parish-council form of government would very soon bring disaster."
Julian glanced at the clock and rose to his feet.
"I don't want to hurry any one," he said, "but my father is rather a martinet about luncheon."
They all rose. Mr. Stenson turned to Julian.
"Will you go on with Miss Abbeway?" he begged. "I will catch up with you on the marshes. I want to have just a word with Furley."
Julian and his companion crossed the country road and passed through the gate opposite on to the rude track which led down almost to the sea.
"You are very interested in English labour questions, Miss Abbeway," he remarked, "considering that you are only half an Englishwoman."
"It isn't only the English labouring classes in whom I am interested," she replied impatiently. "It is the cause of the people throughout the whole of the world which in my small way I preach."
"Your own country," he continued, a little diffidently, "is scarcely a good advertisement for the cause of social reform."
Her tone trembled with indignation as she answered him.
"My own country," she said, "has suffered for so many centuries from such terrible oppression that the reaction was bound, in its first stages, to produce nothing but chaos. Automatically, all that seems to you unreasonable, wicked even, in a way, horrible—will in the course of time disappear. Russia will find herself. In twenty years' time her democracy will have solved the great problem, and Russia be the foremost republic of the world."
"Meanwhile," he remarked, "she is letting us down pretty badly."
"But you are selfish, you English!" she exclaimed. "You see one of the greatest nations in the world going through its hour of agony, and you think nothing but how you yourselves will be affected! Every thinking person in Russia regrets that this thing should have come to pass at such a time. Yet it is best for you English to look the truth in the face. It wasn't the Russian people who were pledged to you, with whom you were bound in alliance. It was that accursed trick all European politicians have of making secret treaties and secret understandings, building up buffer States, trying to whittle away a piece of the map for yourselves, trying all the time to be dishonest under the shadow of what is called diplomacy. That is what brought the war about. It was never the will of the people. It was the Hohenzollerns and the Romanoffs, the firebrands of the French Cabinet, and your own clumsy, thick-headed efforts to get the best of everybody and yet keep your Nonconformist conscience. The people did not make this war, but it is the people who are going to end it."
They walked in silence for some minutes, he apparently pondering over her last words, she with the cloud passing from her face as, with her head a little thrown back and her eyes half-closed, she sniffed the strong, salty air with an almost voluptuous expression of content. She was perfectly dressed for the country, from her square-toed shoes, which still seemed to maintain some distinction of shape, the perfectly tailored coat and skirt, to the smart little felt hat with its single quill. She walked with the free grace of an athlete, unembarrassed with the difficulties of the way or the gusts which swept across the marshy places, yet not even the strengthening breeze, which as they reached the sea line became almost a gale, seemed to have power to bring even the faintest flush of colour to her cheeks. They reached the long headland and stood looking out at the sea before she spoke again.
"You were very kind to me last night, Mr. Orden," she said, a little abruptly.
"I paid a debt," he reminded her.
"I suppose there is something in that," she admitted. "I really believe that that exceedingly unpleasant person with whom I was brought into temporary association would have killed you if I had allowed it."
"I am inclined to agree with you," he assented. "I saw him very hazily, but a more criminal type of countenance I never beheld."
"So that we are quits," she ventured.
"With a little debt on my side still to be paid."
"Well, there is no telling what demands I may make upon our acquaintance."
"Acquaintance?" he protested.
"Would you like to call it friendship?"
"A very short time ago;" he said deliberately, "even friendship would not have satisfied me."
"I dislike mysteries."
"Poor me!" she sighed. "However, you can rid yourself of the shadow of one as soon as you like after luncheon. It would be quite safe now, I think, for me to take back that packet."
"Yes," he assented slowly, "I suppose that it would."
She looked up into his face. Something that she saw there brought her own delicate eyebrows together in a slight frown.
"You will give it me after lunch?" she proposed.
"I think not," was the quiet reply.
"You were only entrusted with it for a time," she reminded him, with ominous calm. "It belongs to me."
"A document received in this surreptitious fashion," he pronounced, "is presumably a treasonable document. I have no intention of returning it to you."
She walked by his side for a few moments in silence. Glancing down into her face, Julian was almost startled. There were none of the ordinary signs of anger there, but an intense white passion, the control of which was obviously costing her a prodigious effort. She touched his fingers with her ungloved hand as she stepped over a stile, and he found them icy cold. All the joy of that unexpectedly sunny morning seemed to have passed.
"I am sorry, Miss Abbeway," he said almost humbly, "that you take my decision so hardly. I ask you to remember that I am just an ordinary, typical Englishman, and that I have already lied for your sake. Will you put yourself in my place?"
They had climbed the little ridge of grass-grown sand and stood looking out seaward. Suddenly all the anger seemed to pass from her face. She lifted her head, her soft brown eyes flashed into his, the little curl of her lips seemed to transform her whole expression. She was no longer the gravely minded prophetess of a great cause, the scheming woman, furious at the prospect of failure. She was suddenly wholly feminine, seductive, a coquette.
"If you were just an ordinary, stupid, stolid Englishman," she whispered, "why did you risk your honour and your safety for my sake? Will you tell me that, dear man of steel?"
Julian leaned even closer over her. She was smiling now frankly into his face, refusing the warning of his burning eyes. Then suddenly, silently, he held her to him and kissed her, unresisting, upon the lips. She made no protest. He even fancied afterwards, when he tried to rebuild in his mind that queer, passionate interlude, that her lips had returned what his had given. It was he who released her—not she who struggled. Yet he understood. He knew that this was a tragedy.
Stenson's voice reached them from the other side of the ridge.
"Come and show me the way across this wretched bit of marsh, Orden. I don't like these deceptive green grasses."
"'Pitfalls for the Politician' or 'Look before you leap'." Julian muttered aimlessly. "Quite right to avoid that spot, sir. Just follow where I am pointing."
Stenson made his laborious way to their side.
"This may be a short cut back to the Hall," he exclaimed, "but except for the view of the sea and this gorgeous air, I think I should have preferred the main road! Help me up, Orden. Isn't it somewhere near here that that little affair, happened the other night?"
"This very spot," Julian assented. "Miss Abbeway and I were just speaking of it."
They both glanced towards her. She was standing with her back to them, looking out seawards. She did not move even at the mention of her name.
"A dreary spot at night, I dare say," the Prime Minister remarked, without overmuch interest. "How do we get home from here, Orden? I haven't forgotten your warning about luncheon, and this air is giving me a most lively appetite."
"Straight along the top of this ridge for about three quarters of a mile, sir, to the entrance of the harbour there."
"I have a petrol launch," Julian explained, "and I shall land you practically in the dining room in another ten minutes."
"Let us proceed," Mr. Stenson suggested briskly. "What a queer fellow Miles Furley is! Quite a friend of yours, isn't he, Miss Abbeway?"
"I have seen a good deal of him lately," she answered, walking on and making room for Stenson to fall into step by her side, but still keeping her face a little averted. "A man of many but confused ideas; a man, I should think, who stands an evil chance of muddling his career away."
"We offered him a post in the Government," Stenson ruminated.
"He had just sense enough to refuse that, I suppose," she observed, moving slowly to the right and thereby preventing Julian from taking a place by her side. "Yet," she went on, "I find in him the fault of so many Englishmen, the fault that prevents their becoming great statesmen, great soldiers, or even," she added coolly, "successful lovers."
"And what is that?" Julian demanded.
She remained silent. It was as though she had heard nothing. She caught Mr. Stenson's arm and pointed to a huge white seagull, drifting down the wind above their heads.
"To think," she said, "with that model, we intellectuals have waited nearly two thousand years for the aeroplane!"
According to plans made earlier in the day, a small shooting party left the Hall immediately after luncheon and did not return until late in the afternoon. Julian, therefore, saw nothing more of Catherine until she came into the drawing-room, a few minutes before the announcement of dinner, wearing a wonderful toilette of pale blue silk, with magnificent pearls around her neck and threaded in her Russian headdress. As is the way with all women of genius, Catherine's complete change of toilette indicated a parallel change in her demeanour. Her interesting but somewhat subdued manner of the previous evening seemed to have vanished. At the dinner table she dominated the conversation. She displayed an intimate acquaintance with every capital of Europe and with countless personages of importance. She exchanged personal reminiscences with Lord Shervinton, who had once been attached to the Embassy at Rome, and with Mr. Hannaway Wells, who had been first secretary at Vienna. She spoke amusingly of Munich, at which place, it appeared, she had first studied art, but dilated, with all the artist's fervour, on her travellings in Spain, on the soft yet wonderfully vivid colouring of the southern cities. She seemed to have escaped altogether from the gravity of which she had displayed traces on the previous evening. She was no longer the serious young woman with a purpose. From the chrysalis she had changed into the butterfly, the brilliant and cosmopolitan young queen of fashion, ruling easily, not with the arrogance of rank, but with the actual gifts of charm and wit. Julian himself derived little benefit from being her neighbour, for the conversation that evening, from first to last, was general. Even after she had left the room, the atmosphere which she had created seemed to linger behind her.
"I have never rightly understood Miss Abbeway," the Bishop declared. "She is a most extraordinarily brilliant young woman."
Lord Shervinton assented.
"To-night you have Catherine Abbeway," he expounded, "as she might have been but for these queer, alternating crazes of hers—art and socialism. Her brain was developed a little too early, and she was unfortunately, almost in her girlhood, thrown in with a little clique of brilliant young Russians who attained a great influence over her. Most of them are in Siberia or have disappeared by now. One Anna Katinski—was brought back from Tobolsk like a royal princess on the first day of the revolution."
"It is strange," the Earl pronounced didactically, "that a young lady of Miss Abbeway's birth and gifts should espouse the cause of this Labour rabble, a party already cursed with too many leaders."
"A woman, when she takes up a cause," Mr. Hannaway Wells observed, "always seeks either for the picturesque or for something which appeals to the emotions. So long as she doesn't mix with them, the cause of the people has a great deal to recommend it. One can use beautiful phrases, can idealise with a certain amount of logic, and can actually achieve things."
Julian shrugged his shoulders.
"I think we are all a little blind," he remarked, "to the danger in which we stand through the great prosperity of Labour to-day."
The Bishop leaned across the table.
"You have been reading Fiske this week."
"Did I quote?" Julian asked carelessly. "I have a wretched memory. I should never dare to become a politician. I should always be passing off other people's phrases as my own."
"Fiske is quite right in his main contention," Mr. Stenson interposed. "The war is rapidly creating a new class of bourgeoisie. The very differences in the earning of skilled labourers will bring trouble before long—the miner with his fifty or sixty shillings, and the munition worker with his seven or eight pounds—men drawn from the same class."
"England," declared the Earl, indulging in his favourite speech, "was never so contented as when wages were at their lowest."
"Those days will never come again," Mr. Hannaway Wells foretold grimly. "The working man has tasted blood. He has begun to understand his power. Our Ministers have been asleep for a generation. The first of these modern trades unions should have been treated like a secret society in Italy. Look at them now, and what they represent! Fancy what it will mean when they have all learnt to combine!—when Labour produces real leaders!"
"Can any one explain the German democracy?" Lord Shervinton enquired.
"The ubiquitous Fiske was trying to last week in one of the Reviews," Mr. Stenson replied. "His argument was that Germany alone, of all the nations in the world, possessed an extra quality or an extra sense—I forget which he called it—the sense of discipline. It's born in their blood. Generations of military service are responsible for it. Discipline and combination—that might be their motto. Individual thought has been drilled into grooves, just as all individual effort is specialised. The Germans obey because it is their nature to obey. The only question is whether they will stand this, the roughest test they have ever had—whether they'll see the thing through."
"Personally, I think they will," Hannaway Wells pronounced, "but if I should be wrong—if they shouldn't—the French Revolution would be a picnic compared with the German one. It takes a great deal to drive a national idea out of the German mind, but if ever they should understand precisely and exactly how they have been duped for the glorification of their masters—well, I should pity the junkers."
"Do your essays in journalism," the Bishop asked politely, "ever lead you to touch upon Labour subjects, Julian?"
"Once or twice, in a very mild way," was the somewhat diffident reply.
"I had an interesting talk with Furley this morning," the Prime Minister observed. "He tells me that they are thinking of making an appeal to this man Paul Fiske to declare himself. They want a leader—they want one very badly—and thank heavens they don't know where to look for him!"
"But surely," Julian protested, "they don't expect necessarily to find a leader of men in an anonymous contributor to the Reviews? Fiske, when they have found him, may be a septuagenarian, or a man of academic turn of mind, who never leaves his study. 'Paul Fiske' may even be the pseudonym of a woman."
The Earl rose from his place.
"This afternoon," he announced, "I read the latest article of this Paul Fiske. In my opinion he is an exceedingly mischievous person, without the slightest comprehension of the forces which really count in government."
The Bishop's eyes twinkled as he left the room with his hand on his godson's arm.
"It would be interesting," he whispered, "to hear this man Fiske's opinion of your father's last speech in the House of Lords upon land interests!"
It was not until the close of a particularly unsatisfactory evening of uninspiring bridge that Julian saw anything more of Catherine. She came in from the picture gallery, breathless, followed by four or five of the young soldiers, to whom she had been showing the steps of a new dance, and, turning to Julian with an impulsiveness which surprised him, laid her fingers imperatively upon his arm.
"Take me somewhere, please, where we can sit down and talk," she begged, "and give me something to drink."
He led the way into the billiard room and rang the bell.
"You have been overtiring yourself," he said, looking down at her curiously.
"Have I?" she answered. "I don't think so. I used to dance all through the night in Paris and Rome, a few years ago. These young men are so clumsy, though—and I think that I am nervous."
She lay back in her chair and half closed her eyes. A servant brought in the Evian water for which she had asked and a whisky and soda for Julian. She drank thirstily and seemed in a few moments to have overcome her fatigue. She turned to her companion with an air of determination.
"I must speak to you about that packet, Mr. Orden," she insisted.
"I cannot help it. You forget that with me it is a matter of life or death. You must realise that you were only entrusted with it. You are a man of honour. Give it to me."
"What are you thinking of doing with it, then?"
"I shall take it to London with me to-morrow," he replied, "and hand it over to a friend of mine at the Foreign Office."
"Would nothing that I could do or say," she asked passionately, "influence your decision?"
"Everything that you do or say interests and affects me," he answered simply, "but so far as regards this matter, my duty is clear. You have nothing to fear from my account of how it came into my possession. It would be impossible for me to denounce you for what I fear you are. On the other hand, I cannot allow you the fruits of your enterprise."
"You consider me, I suppose," she observed after a moment's pause, "an enemy spy?"
"You have proved it," he reminded her.
"Of Overman—my confederate," she admitted, "that was true. Of me it is not. I am an honest intermediary between the honest people of Germany and England."
"There can be no communication between the two countries during wartime, except through official channels," he declared.
Her eyes flashed. She seemed in the throes of one of those little bursts of tempestuous passion which sometimes assailed her.
"You talk—well, as you might be supposed to talk!" she exclaimed, breaking off with an effort. "What have official channels done to end this war? I am not here to help either side. I represent simply humanity. If you destroy or hand over to the Government that packet, you will do your country an evil turn."
He shook his head.
"I am relieved to hear all that you say," he told her, "and I am heartily glad to think that you do not look upon yourself as Overman's associate. On the other hand, you must know that any movement towards peace, except through the authorised channels, is treason to the country."
"If only you were not the Honourable Julian Orden, the son of an English peer!" she groaned. "If only you had not been to Eton and to Oxford! If only you were a man, a man of the people, who could understand!"
"Neither my birth nor my education," he assured her, "have affected my present outlook upon life."
"Pooh!" she scoffed. "You talk like a stiffened sheet of foolscap! I am to leave here to-morrow, then, without my packet?"
"You must certainly leave—when you do leave—without that," he assented. "There is one thing, however, which I very sincerely hope that you will leave behind you."
"My forgiveness for what?" she asked, after a moment's pause.
"For my rashness this morning."
Her eyes grew a little larger.
"Because you kissed me?" she observed, without flinching. "I have nothing to forgive. In fact," she went on, "I think that I should have had more to forgive if you had not."
He was puzzled and yet encouraged. She was always bewildering him by her sudden changes from the woman of sober thoughtfulness to the woman of feeling, the woman eager to give, eager to receive. At that moment it seemed as though her sex possessed her to the exclusion of everything outside. Her eyes were soft and filled with the desire of love, her lips sweet and tremulous. She had suddenly created a new atmosphere around her, an atmosphere of bewildering and passionate femininity.
"Wont you tell me, please, what you mean?" he begged.
"Isn't it clear?" she answered, very softly but with a suspicion of scorn in her low tones. "You kissed me because I deliberately invited it. I know that quite well. My anger—and I have been angry about it—is with myself."
He was a little taken aback. Her perfect naturalness was disarming, a little confusing.
"You certainly did seem provocative," he confessed, "but I ought to have remembered."
"You are very stupid," she sighed. "I deliberately invited your embrace. Your withholding it would simply have added to my humiliation. I am furious with myself, simply because, although I have lived a great part of my life with men, on equal terms with them, working with them, playing with them, seeing more of them at all times than of my own sex, such a thing has never happened to me before."
"I felt that," he said simply.
For a moment her face shone. There was a look of gratitude in her eyes. Her impulsive grasp of his hand left his fingers tingling.
"I am glad that you understood," she murmured. "Perhaps that will help me just a little. For the rest, if you wish to be very kind, you will forget."
"If I cannot do that," he promised, "I will at least turn the key upon my memories."
"Do more than that," she begged. "Throw the key into the sea, or whatever oblivion you choose to conjure up. Moments such as those have no place in my life. There is one purpose there more intense than anything else, that very purpose which by some grim irony of fate it seems to be within your power to destroy."
He remained silent. Ordinary expressions of regret seemed too inadequate. Besides, the charm of the moment was passing. The other side of her was reasserting itself.
"I suppose," she went on, a little drearily, "that even if I told you upon my honour, of my certain knowledge, that the due delivery of that packet might save the lives of thousands of your countrymen, might save hearts from breaking, homes from becoming destitute—even if I told you all this, would it help me in my prayer?"
"Nothing could help you," he assured her, "but your whole confidence, and even then I fear that the result would be the same."
"Oh, but you are very hard!" she murmured. "My confidence belongs to others. It is not mine alone to give you."
"You see," he explained, "I know beforehand that you are speaking the truth as you see it. I know beforehand that any scheme in which you are engaged is for the benefit of our fellow creatures and not for their harm. But alas! you make yourself the judge of these things, and there are times when individual effort is the most dangerous thing in life."
"If you were any one else!" she sighed.
"Why be prejudiced about me?" he protested. "Believe me, I am not a frivolous person. I, too, think of life and its problems. You yourself are an aristocrat. Why should not I as well as you have sympathy and feeling for those who suffer?"
"I am a Russian," she reminded him, "and in Russia it is different. Besides, I am no longer an aristocrat. I am a citizeness of the world. I have eschewed everything in life except one thing, and for that I have worked with all my heart and strength. As for you, what have you done? What is your record?"
"Insignificant, I fear," he admitted. "You see, a very promising start at the Bar was somewhat interfered with by my brief period of soldiering."
"At the present moment you have no definite career," she declared. "You have even been wasting your time censoring."
"I am returning now to my profession."
"Your profession!" she scoffed. "That means you will spend your time wrangling with a number of other bewigged and narrow-minded people about uninteresting legal technicalities which lead nowhere and which no one cares about."
"There is my journalism."
"You have damned it with your own phrase 'hack journalism'!"
"I may enter Parliament."
"Yes, to preserve your rights," she retorted.
"I am afraid," he sighed, "that you haven't a very high opinion of me."
"It is within your power to make me look upon you as the bravest, the kindest, the most farseeing of men," she declared.
He shook his head.
"I decline to think that you would think any the better of me for committing a dishonourable action for your sake."
"Try me," she begged, her hand resting once more upon his. "If you want my kind feelings, my everlasting gratitude, they are yours. Give me that packet."
"That is impossible," he declared uncompromisingly. "If you wish to alter my attitude with regard to it, you must tell me exactly from whom it comes, what it contains, and to whom it goes."
"You ask more than is possible.. You make me almost sorry—"
"Sorry for what?"
"Sorry that I saved your life," she said boldly. "Why should I not be? There are many who will suffer, many who will lose their lives because of your obstinacy."
"If you believe that, confide in me."
She shook her head sadly.
"If only you were different!"
"I am a human being," he protested. "I have sympathies and heart. I would give my life willingly to save any carnage."
"I could never make you understand," she murmured hopelessly. "I shall not try. I dare not risk failure. Is this room hot, or is it my fancy? Could we have a window open?"
"By all means."
He crossed the room and lifted the blind from before one of the high windows which opened seawards. In the panel of the wall, between the window to which he addressed himself and the next one, was a tall, gilt mirror, relic of the days, some hundreds of years ago, when the apartment had been used as a drawing-room. Julian, by the merest accident, for the pleasure of a stolen glance at Catherine, happened to look in it as he leaned over towards the window fastening. For a single moment he stood rigid. Catherine had risen to her feet and, without the slightest evidence of any fatigue, was leaning, tense and alert, over the tray on which his untouched whisky and soda was placed. Her hand was outstretched. He saw a little stream of white powder fall into the tumbler. An intense and sickening feeling of disappointment almost brought a groan to his lips. He conquered himself with an effort, however, opened the window a few inches, and returned to his place. Catherine was lying back, her eyes half-closed, her arms hanging listlessly on either side of her chair.
"Is that better?" he enquired.
"Very much," she assured him. "Still, I think that if you do not mind, I will go to bed. I am troubled with a very rare attack of nerves. Drink your whisky and soda, and then will you take me into the drawing-room?"
He played with his tumbler thoughtfully. His first impulse was to drop it. Intervention, however, was at hand. The door opened, and the Princess entered with Lord Shervinton.
"At last!" the former exclaimed. "I have been looking for you everywhere, child. I am sure that you are quite tired out, and I insist upon your going to bed."
"Finish your whisky and soda," Catherine begged Julian, "and I will lean on your arm as far as the staircase."
Fate stretched out her right hand to help him. The Princess took possession of her niece.
"I shall look after you myself," she insisted. "Mr. Orden is wanted to play billiards. Lord Shervinton is anxious for a game."
"I shall be delighted," Julian answered promptly.
He moved to the door and held it open. Catherine gave him her fingers and a little half-doubtful smile.
"If only you were not so cruelly obstinate!" she sighed.
He found no words with which to answer her. The shock of his discovery was still upon him.
"You'll give me thirty in a hundred, Julian," Lord Shervinton called out cheerfully. "And shut that door as soon as you can, there's a good fellow. There's a most confounded draught."
It was at some nameless hour in the early morning when Julian's vigil came to an end, when the handle of his door was slowly turned, and the door itself pushed open and closed again. Julian, lying stretched upon his bed, only half prepared for the night, with a dressing gown wrapped around him, continued to breathe heavily, his eyes half-closed, listening intently to the fluttering of light garments, the soft, almost noiseless footfall of light feet. He heard her shake out his dinner coat, try the pockets, heard the stealthy opening and closing of the drawers in his wardrobe. Presently the footsteps drew near to his bed. For a moment he was obliged to set his teeth. A little waft of peculiar, unanalysable perfume, half-fascinating, half-repellent, came to him with a sense of disturbing familiarity. She paused by his bedside. He felt her hand steal under the pillow, which his head scarcely touched; search the pockets of his dressing gown, search even the bed. He listened to her soft breathing. The consciousness of her close and intimate presence affected him in an inexplicable manner. Presently, to his intense relief, she glided away from his immediate neighbourhood, and the moment for which he had waited came. He heard her retreating footsteps pass through the communicating door into his little sitting room, where he had purposely left a light burning. He slipped softly from the bed and followed her. She was bending over an open desk as he crossed the threshold. He closed the door and stood with his back to it.
"Much warmer," he said, "only, you see, it isn't there."
She started violently at the sound of his voice, but she did not immediately turn around. When she did so, her demeanour was almost a shock to him. There was no sign of nervousness or apology in her manner. Her eyes flashed at him angrily. She wore a loose red wrap trimmed with white fur, a dishabille unusually and provokingly attractive.
"So you were shamming sleep!" she exclaimed indignantly.
"Entirely," he admitted.
Neither spoke for a moment. Her eyes fell upon a tumbler of whisky and soda, which stood on a round table drawn up by the side of his easy-chair.
"I have not come to bed thirsty," he assured her. "I had another one downstairs—to which I helped myself. This one I brought up to try if I could remember sufficient of my chemistry to determine its contents. I have been able to decide, to my great relief, that your intention was probably to content yourself with plunging me into only temporary slumber."
"I wanted you out of the way whilst I searched your rooms," she told him coolly. "If you were not such an obstinate, pig-headed, unkind, prejudiced person, it would not have been necessary."
"Dear me!" he murmured. "Am I all that? Won't you sit down?"
For a moment she looked as though she were about to strike him with the electric torch which she was carrying. With a great effort of self-control, however, she changed her mind and threw herself into his easy-chair with a little gesture of recklessness. Julian seated himself opposite to her. Although she kept her face as far as possible averted, he realised more than ever in those few moments that she was really an extraordinarily beautiful person. Her very attitude was full of an angry grace. The quivering of her lips was the only sign of weakness. Her eyes were filled with cold resentment.
"Well," she said, "I am your prisoner. I listen."
"You are after that packet, I suppose?"
"What sagacity!" she scoffed. "I trusted you with it, and you behaved like a brute. You kept it. It has nothing to do with you. You have no right to it."
"Let us understand one another, once and for all," he suggested. "I will not even discuss the question of rightful or wrongful possession. I have the packet, and I am going to keep it. You cannot cajole it put of me, you cannot steal it from me. To-morrow I shall take it to London and deliver it to my friend at the Foreign Office. Nothing could induce me to change my mind."
She seemed suddenly to be caught up in the vortex of a new emotion. All the bitterness passed from her expression. She fell on her knees by his side, sought his hands, and lifted her face, full of passionate entreaty, to his. Her eyes were dimmed with tears, her voice piteous.
"Do not be so cruel, so hard," she begged. "I swear before Heaven that there is no treason in those papers, that they are the one necessary link in a great, humanitarian scheme. Be generous, Mr. Orden. Julian! Give it back to me. It is mine. I swear—"
His hands gripped her shoulders. She was conscious that he was looking past her, and that there was horror in his eyes. The words died away on her lips. She, too, turned her head. The door of the sitting room had been opened from outside. Lord Maltenby was standing there in his dressing gown, his hand stretched out behind him as though to keep some one from following him.
"Julian," he demanded sternly, "what is the meaning of this?"
For a moment Julian was speechless, bereft of words, or sense of movement. Catherine still knelt there, trembling. Then Lord Maltenby was pushed unceremoniously to one side. It was the Princess who entered.
"Catherine!" she screamed. "Catherine!"
The girl rose slowly to her feet. The Princess was leaning on the back of a chair, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief and sobbing hysterically. Lord Shervinton's voice was heard outside.
"What the devil is all this commotion?" he demanded.
He, too, crossed the threshold and remained transfixed. The Earl closed the door firmly and stood with his back against it.
"Come," he said, "we will have no more spectators to this disgraceful scene. Julian, kindly remember you are not in your bachelor apartments. You are in the house over which your mother presides. Have you any reason to offer, or excuse to urge, why I should not ask this young woman to leave at daybreak?"
"I have no excuse, sir," Julian answered, "I certainly have a reason."
"Because you would be putting an affront upon the lady who has promised to become my wife. I am quite aware that her presence in my sitting room is unusual, but under the circumstances I do not feel called upon to offer a general explanation. I shall say nothing beyond the fact that a single censorious remark will be considered by me as an insult to my affianced wife."
The Princess abandoned her chorus of mournful sounds and dried her eyes. Lord Waltenby was speechless.
"But why all this mystery?" the Princess asked pitifully. "It is a great event, this. Why did you not tell me, Catherine, when you came to my room?"
"There has been some little misunderstanding," Julian explained. "It is now removed. It brought us," he added, "very near tragedy. After what I have told you, I beg whatever may seem unusual to you in this visit with which Catherine has honoured me will be forgotten."
Lord Maltenby drew a little breath of relief. Fortunately, he missed that slight note of theatricality in Julian's demeanour which might have left the situation still dubious.
"Very well, then, Julian," he decided, "there is nothing more to be said upon the matter. Miss Abbeway, you will allow me to escort you to your room. Such further explanations as you may choose to offer us can be very well left now until the morning."
"You will find that the whole blame for this unconventional happening devolves upon me," Julian declared.
"It was entirely my fault," Catherine murmured repentantly. "I am so sorry to have given any one cause for distress. I do not know, even now—"
She turned towards Julian. He leaned forward and raised her fingers to his lips.
"Catherine," he said, "every one is a little overwrought. Our misunderstanding is finished. Princess, I shall try to win your forgiveness to-morrow."
The Princess smiled faintly.
"Catherine is so unusual," she complained.
Julian held open the door, and they all filed away down the corridor, from which Lord Shervinton had long since beat a hurried retreat. He stood there until they reached the bend. Catherine, who was leaning on his father's arm, turned around. She waved her hand a little irresolutely. She was too far off for him to catch her expression, but there was something pathetic in her slow, listless walk, from which all the eager grace of a few hours ago seemed to have departed.
It was not until they were nearing London, on the following afternoon, that Catherine awoke from a lethargy during which she had spent the greater portion of the journey. From her place in the corner seat of the compartment in which they had been undisturbed since leaving Wells, she studied her companion through half-closed eyes. Julian was reading an article in one of the Reviews and remained entirely unconscious of her scrutiny. His forehead was puckered, his mouth a little contemptuous. It was obvious that he did not wholly approve of what he was reading.
Catherine, during those few hours of solitude, was conscious of a subtle, slowly growing change in her mental attitude towards her companion. Until the advent of those dramatic hours at Maltenby, she had regarded him as a pleasant, even a charming acquaintance, but as belonging to a type with which she was entirely and fundamentally out of sympathy. The cold chivalry of his behaviour on the preceding night and the result of her own reflections as she sat there studying him made her inclined to doubt the complete accuracy of her first judgment. She found something unexpectedly intellectual and forceful in his present concentration,—in the high, pale forehead, the deep-set but alert eyes. His long, loose frame was yet far from ungainly; his grey tweed suit and well-worn brown shoes the careless attire of a man who has no need to rely on his tailor for distinction. His hands, too, were strong and capable. She found herself suddenly wishing that the man himself were different, that he belonged to some other and more congenial type.
Julian, in course of time, laid down the Review which he had been studying and looked out of the window.
"We shall be in London in three quarters of an hour," he announced politely.
She sat up and yawned, produced her vanity case, peered into the mirror, and used her powder puff with the somewhat piquant assurance of the foreigner. Then she closed her dressing case with a snap, pulled down her veil, and looked across at him.
"And how," she asked demurely, "does my fiance propose to entertain me this evening?"
He raised his eyebrows.
"With the exception of one half-hour," he replied unexpectedly, "I am wholly at your service."
"I am exacting," she declared. "I demand that half-hour also."
"I am afraid that I could not allow anything to interfere with one brief call which I must pay."
"In Downing Street?"
"You go to visit your friend at the Foreign Office?"
"Immediately I have called at my rooms."
She looked away from him out of the window. Beneath her veil her eyes were a little misty. She saw nothing of the trimly partitioned fields, the rolling pastoral country. Before her vision tragedies seemed to pass,—the blood-stained paraphernalia of the battlefield, the empty, stricken homes, the sobbing women in black, striving to comfort their children whilst their own hearts were breaking. When she turned away from the window, her face was hardened. Once more she found herself almost hating the man who was her companion. Whatever might come afterwards, at that moment she had the sensations of a murderess.
"You may know when you sleep to-night," she exclaimed, "that you will be the blood-guiltiest man in the world!"
"I would not dispute the title," he observed politely, "with your friend the Hohenzollern."
"He is not my friend," she retorted, her tone vibrating with passion. "I am a traitress in your eyes because I have received a communication from Germany. From whom does it come, do you think? From the Court? From the Chancellor or one of his myrmidons? Fool! It comes from those who hate the whole military party. It comes from the Germany whose people have been befooled and strangled throughout the war. It comes from the people whom your politicians have sought to reach and failed."
"The suggestion is interesting," he remarked coldly, "but improbable."
"Do you know," she said, leaning a little forward and looking at him fixedly, "if I were really your fiancee—worse! if I were really your wife—I think that before long I should be a murderess!"
"Do you dislike me as much as all that?"
"I hate you! I think you are the most pigheaded, obstinate, self-satisfied, ignorant creature who ever ruined a great cause."
He accepted the lash of her words without any sign of offence,—seemed, indeed, inclined to treat them reflectively.
"Come," he protested, "you have wasted a lot of breath in abusing me. Why not justify it? Tell me the story of yourself and those who are associated with you in this secret correspondence with Germany? If you are working for a good end, let me know of it. You blame me for judging you, for maintaining a certain definite poise. You are not reasonable, you know."
"I blame you for being what you are," she answered breathlessly. "If you were a person who understood, who felt the great stir of humanity outside your own little circle, who could look across your seas and realise that nationality is accidental and that the brotherhood of man throughout the world is the only real fact worthy of consideration—ah! if you could realise these things, I could talk, I could explain."
"You judge me in somewhat arbitrary fashion."
"I judge you from your life, your prejudices, even the views which you have expressed."
"There are some of us," he reminded her, "to whom reticence is a national gift. I like what you said just now. Why should you take it for granted that I am a narrow squireen? Why shouldn't you believe that I, too, may feel the horror of these days?"
"You feel it personally but not impersonally," she cried. "You feel it intellectually but not with your heart. You cannot see that a kindred soul lives in the Russian peasant and the German labourer, the British toiler and the French artificer. They are all pouring out their blood for the sake of their dream, a politician's dream. Freedom isn't won by wars. It must be won, if ever, by moral sacrifice and not with blood."
"Then explain to me," he begged, "exactly what you are doing? What your reason is for being in communication with the German Government? Remember that the dispatch I intercepted came from no private person in Germany. It came from those in authority."
"That again is not true," she replied. "I would ask for permission to explain all these things to you, if it were not so hopeless."
"The case of your friends will probably be more hopeless still," he reminded her, "after to-night."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"We shall see," she said solemnly. "The Russian revolution surprised no one. Perhaps an English revolution would shake even your self-confidence."
He made no reply. Her blood tingled, and she could have struck him for the faint smile, almost of amusement, which for a moment parted his lips. He was already on his feet, collecting their belongings.
"Can you help me," he asked, "with reference to the explanations which it will be necessary to make to your aunt and to my own people? We left this morning, if you remember, in order that you might visit the Russian Embassy and announce our betrothal. You are, I believe, under an engagement to return and stay with my mother."
"I cannot think about those things to-day," she replied. "You may take it that I am tired and that you had business. You know my address. May I be favoured with yours?"
He handed her a card and scribbled a telephone number upon it. They were in the station now, and their baggage in the hands of separate porters. She walked slowly down the platform by his side.
"Will you allow me to say," he ventured, "how sorry I am—for all this?"
The slight uncertainty of his speech pleased her. She looked up at him with infinite regret. As they neared the barrier, she held out her hand.
"I, too, am more sorry than I can tell you;" she said a little tremulously. "Whatever may come, that is how I feel myself. I am sorry."
They separated almost upon the words. Catherine was accosted by a man at whom Julian glanced for a moment in surprise, a man whose dress and bearing, confident though it was, clearly indicated some other status in life. He glanced at Julian with displeasure, a displeasure which seemed to have something of jealousy in its composition. Then he grasped Catherine warmly by the hand.
"Welcome back to London, Miss Abbeway! Your news?"
Her reply was inaudible. Julian quickened his pace and passed out of the station ahead of them.
The Bishop and the Prime Minister met, one afternoon a few days later, at the corner of Horse Guards Avenue. The latter was looking brown and well, distinctly the better for his brief holiday. The Bishop, on the contrary, was pale and appeared harassed. They shook hands and exchanged for a moment the usual inanities.
"Tell me, Mr. Stenson," the Bishop asked earnestly, "what is the meaning of all this Press talk, about peace next month? I have heard a hint that it was inspired."
"You are wrong," was the firm reply. "I have sent my private secretary around to a few of the newspapers this morning. It just happens to be the sensation, of the moment, and it's fed all the time from the other side."
"There is nothing in it, then, really?"
"Nothing whatever. Believe me, Bishop—and there is no one feeling the strain more than I am—the time has not yet come for peace."
"You politicians!" the Bishop sighed. "Do you sometimes forget, I wonder, that even the pawns you move are human?"
"I can honestly say that I, at any rate, have never forgotten it," Mr. Stenson answered gravely. "There isn't a man in my Government who has a single personal feeling in favour of, or a single benefit to gain, by the continuance of this ghastly war. On the other hand, there is scarcely one who does not realise that the end is not yet. We have pledged our word, the word of the English nation, to a peace based only upon certain contingencies. Those contingencies the enemy is not at present prepared to accept. There is no immediate reason why he should."
"But are you sure of that?" the Bishop ventured doubtfully. "When you speak of Germany, you speak of William of Hohenzollern and his clan. Is that Germany? Is theirs the voice of the people?"
"I would be happy to believe that it was not," Mr. Stenson replied, "but if that is the case, let them give us a sign of it."
"That sign," declared the Bishop, with a gleam of hopefulness in his tone, "may come, and before long."
The two men were on the point of parting. Mr. Stenson turned and walked a yard or two with his companion.
"By the bye, Bishop," he enquired, "have you heard any rumours concerning the sudden disappearance of our young friend Julian Orden?"
The Bishop for a moment was silent. A passer-by glanced at the two men sympathetically. Of the two, he thought, it was the man in spiritual charge of a suffering people who showed more sign of the strain.
"I have heard rumours," the Bishop acknowledged. "Tell me what you know?"
"Singularly little," Mr. Stenson replied. "He left Maltenby with Miss Abbeway the day after their engagement, and, according to the stories which I have heard, arranged to dine with her that night. She came to call for him and found that he had disappeared. According to his servant, he simply walked out in morning clothes, soon after six o'clock, without leaving any message, and never returned. On the top of that, though, there followed, as I expect you have heard, some very insistent police enquiries as to Orden's doings on the night he spent with his friend Miles Furley. There is no doubt that a German submarine was close to Blakeney harbour that night and that a communication of some sort was landed."
"It seems absurd to connect Julian with any idea of treasonable communication with Germany," the Bishop said slowly. "A more typical young Englishman of his class I never met."
"Up to a certain point I agree with you," Mr. Stenson confessed, "but there are some further rumours to which I cannot allude, concerning Julian. Orden, which are, to say the least of it, surprising."
The two men came to a standstill once more.
Stenson laid his hand upon his companion's shoulder. "Come," he went on, "I know what is the matter with you, my friend. Your heart is too big. The cry of the widow and the children lingers too long in your ears. Remember some of your earlier sermons at the beginning of the war. Remember how wonderfully you spoke one morning at St. Paul's upon the spirituality to be developed by suffering, by sacrifice. 'The hand which chastises also purifies.' Wasn't that what you said? You probably didn't know that I was one of your listeners, even—I myself, in those days, scarcely looked upon the war as I do now. I remember crawling in at the side door of the Cathedral and sitting unrecognised on a hard chair. It was a great congregation, and I was far away in the background, but I heard. I remember the rustle, too, the little moaning, indrawn breath of emotion when the people rose to their feet. Take heart, Bishop. I will remind you once more of your own words 'These are the days of purification.'"
The two men separated. The Bishop walked thoughtfully towards the Strand, his hands clasped behind his back, the echo of those quoted words of his still in his ear. As he came to the busy crossing, he raised his head and looked around him.
"Perhaps," he murmured, "my eyes have been closed. Perhaps there are things to be seen."
He called a taxicab and, giving the man some muttered directions, was driven slowly down the Strand, looking eagerly first on one side of the way and then on the other. It was approaching the luncheon hour and the streets were thronged. Here seemed to be the meeting place of the Colonial troops,—long, sinewy men, many of them, with bronzed faces and awkward gait. They elbowed their way along, side by side with the queerest collection of people in the world. They stopped and talked in little knots, they entered and left the public houses, stood about outside the restaurants. Here and there they walked arm in arm with women. Taxicabs were turning in at the Savoy, taxicabs and private cars. Young ladies of the stage, sometimes alone, very often escorted, were everywhere in evidence. The life of London was flowing on in very much the same channels. There were few, if any signs of that thing for which he sought. The taxicab turned westwards, crossed Piccadilly Circus and proceeded along Piccadilly, its solitary occupant still gazing into the faces of the people with that same consuming interest. It was all the same over again—the smiling throngs entering and leaving the restaurants, the smug promenaders, the stream of gaily dressed women and girls. Bond Street was even more crowded with shoppers and loiterers. The shop windows were as full as ever, the toilettes of the women as wonderful. Mankind, though khaki-clad, was plentiful. The narrow thoroughfare was so crowded that his taxicab went only at a snail's crawl, and occasionally he heard scraps of conversation. Two pretty girls were talking to two young men in uniform.
"What a rag last night! I didn't get home till three!"
"Dick never got home at all. Still missing!"
"Evie and I are worn out with shopping. Everything's twice as expensive, but one simply can't do without."
"I shouldn't do without anything, these days. One never knows how long it may last."
The taxicab moved on, and the Bishop's eyes for a moment were half-closed. The voices followed him, however. Two women, leading curled and pampered toy dogs, were talking at the corner of the street.
"Sugar, my dear?" one was saying. "Why, I laid in nearly a hundredweight, and I can always get what I want now. The shopkeepers know that they have to have your custom after the war. It's only the people who can't afford to buy much at a time who are really inconvenienced."
"Of course, it's awfully sad about the war, and all that, but one has to think of oneself. Harry told me last night that after paying all the income tax he couldn't get out of, and excess profits; he is still—"
The voices dropped to a whisper. The Bishop thrust his head out of the window.
"Drive me to Tothill Street, Westminster," he directed. "As quickly as possible, please."
The man turned up a side street and drove off. Still the Bishop watched, only by now the hopefulness had gone from his face. He had sought for something of which there had been no sign.
He dismissed his taxicab in front of a large and newly finished block of buildings in the vicinity of Westminster. A lift man conducted him to the seventh floor, and a commissionaire ushered him into an already crowded waiting room. A youth, however, who had noticed the Bishop's entrance, took him in charge, and, conducting him through two other crowded rooms, knocked reverently at the door of an apartment at the far end of the suite. The door was opened, after a brief delay, by a young man of unpleasant appearance, who gazed suspiciously at the distinguished visitor through heavy spectacles.
"The Bishop wishes to see Mr. Fenn," his guide announced.
"Show him in at once," a voice from the middle of the room directed. "You can go and have your lunch, Johnson."
The Bishop found himself alone with the man whom he had come to visit,—a moderately tall, thin figure, badly-dressed, with a drooping moustache, bright eyes and good forehead, but peevish expression. He stood up while he shook hands with the Bishop and motioned him to a chair.
"First time you've honoured us, Bishop," he remarked, with the air of one straining after an equality which he was far from feeling.
"I felt an unconquerable impulse to talk with you," the Bishop admitted. "Tell me your news?"
"Everything progresses," Nicholas Fenn declared confidently. "The last eleven days have seen a social movement in this country, conducted with absolute secrecy, equivalent in its portentous issues to the greatest revolution of modern times. For the first time in history, Bishop, the united voice of the people has a chance of making itself heard."
"Mr. Fenn," the Bishop said, "you have accomplished a wonderful work. Now comes the moment when we must pause and think. We must be absolutely and entirely certain that the first time that voice is heard it is heard in a righteous cause."
"Is there a more righteous cause in the world than the cause of peace?" Fenn asked sharply.
"Not if that peace be just and reasonable," the Bishop replied, "not if that peace can bring to an end this horrible and bloody struggle."
"We shall see to that," Fenn declared, with a self-satisfied air.
"You have by now, I suppose, the terms proposed by your—your kindred body in Germany?"
Nicholas Fenn stroked his moustache. There was a frown upon his forehead.
"I expect to have them at any moment," he said, "but to tell you the truth, at the present moment they are not available."
"But I thought—"
"Just so," the other interrupted. "The document, however, was not where we expected to find it."
"Surely that is a very serious complication?"
"It will mean a certain delay if we don't succeed in getting hold of it," Fenn admitted. "We intend to be firm about the matter, though."
The Bishop's expression was troubled.
"Julian Orden," he said, "is my godson."
"Necessity knows neither friendship nor relationship," Fenn pronounced didactically. "Better ask no questions, sir. These details do not concern you."
"They concern my conscience," was the grave reply. "Ours is an earnest spiritual effort for peace, a taking away from the hands of the politicians of a great human question which they have proved themselves unable to handle. We should look, therefore, with peculiar care to the means we adopt."
Nicholas Fenn nodded. He lit a very pungent cigarette from a paper packet by his side.
"You and I, Bishop," he said, "are pacifists in the broadest meaning of the word, but that does not mean that we may not sometimes have to use force to attain our object. We have a department which alone is concerned with the dealing of such matters. It is that department which has undertaken the forwarding and receipt of all communications between ourselves and our friends across the North Sea. Its operations are entirely secret, even from the rest of the Council. It will deal with Julian Orden. It is best for you not to interfere, or even to have cognisance of what is going on."
"I cannot agree," the Bishop protested. "An act of unchristian violence would be a flaw in the whole superstructure which we are trying to build up."
"Let us discuss some other subject," Fenn proposed.
"Pardon me," was the firm reply. "I have come here to discuss this one."
Nicholas Fenn looked down at the table. His expression was not altogether pleasant.
"Your position with us, sir," he said, "although much appreciated, does not warrant your interference in executive details."
"Nevertheless," the Bishop insisted, "you must please treat me reasonably in this matter, Mr. Fenn. Remember I am not altogether extinct as a force amongst your followers. I have three mass meetings to address this week, and there is the sermon next Sunday at Westminster Abbey, at which it has been agreed that I shall strike the first note of warning. I am a helper, I believe, worth considering, and there is no man amongst you who risks what I risk."
"Exactly what are you asking from me?" Fenn demanded, after a moment's deliberation.
"I wish to know the whereabouts and condition of Julian Orden."
"The matter is one which is being dealt with by our secret service department," Fenn replied, "but I see no reason why I should not give you all reasonable information. The young man in question asked for trouble, and to a certain extent he has found it."
"I understand," the Bishop reminded his companion, "that he has very nearly, if not altogether, compromised himself in his efforts to shield Miss Abbeway."
"That may be so," Fenn admitted, "but it doesn't alter the fact that he refuses to return to her the packet which she entrusted to his care."
"And he is still obdurate?"
"Up to now, absolutely so. Perhaps," Fenn added, with a slightly malicious smile, "you would like to try what you can do with him yourself?"
The Bishop hesitated.
"Julian Orden," he said, "is a young man of peculiarly stubborn type, but if I thought that my exhortations would be of any benefit, I would not shrink from trying them, whatever it might cost me."
"Better have a try, then," Fenn suggested. "If we do not succeed within the next twenty-four hours, I shall give you an order to see him. I don't mind confessing," he went on confidentially, "that the need for the production of that document is urgent, apart from the risk we run of having our plans forestalled if it should fall into the hands of the Government."
"I presume that Miss Abbeway has already done her best?"
"She has worn herself out with persuasions."
"Has he himself been told the truth?"
Fenn shook his head.
"From your own knowledge of the young man, do you think that it would be of any use? Even Miss Abbeway is forced to admit that any one less likely to sympathise with our aims it would be impossible to find. At the same time, if we do arrange an interview for you, use any arguments you can think of. To tell you the truth, our whole calculations have been upset by not discovering the packet upon his person. He was on his way to Downing Street when our agents intervened, and we never doubted that he would have it with him. When will it be convenient for you to pay your visit?"
"At any time you send for me," the Bishop replied. "Meanwhile, Mr. Fenn, before I leave I want to remind you once more of the original purpose of my call upon you."
Fenn frowned a little peevishly as he rose to usher his visitor out.
"Miss Abbeway has already extorted a foolish promise from us," he said. "The young man's safety for the present is not in question."
The Bishop, more from custom than from any appetite, walked across the Park to the Athenaeum. Mr. Hannaway Wells accosted him in the hall.
"This is a world of rumours," he remarked with a smile. "I have just heard that Julian Orden, of all men in the world, has been shot as a German spy."
The Bishop smiled with dignity.
"You may take it from me," he said gravely, "that the rumour is untrue."
Nicholas Fenn, although civilisation had laid a heavy hand upon him during the last few years, was certainly not a man whose outward appearance denoted any advance in either culture or taste. His morning clothes, although he had recently abandoned the habit of dealing at a ready-made emporium, were neither well chosen nor well worn. His evening attire was, if possible, worse. He met Catherine that evening in the lobby of what he believed to be a fashionable grillroom, in a swallow-tailed coat, a badly fitting shirt with a single stud-hole, a black tie, a collar which encircled his neck like a clerical band, and ordinary walking boots. She repressed a little shiver as she shook hands and tried to remember that this was not only the man whom several millions of toilers had chosen to be their representative, but also the duly appointed secretary of the most momentous assemblage of human beings in the world's history.
"I hope I am not late," she said. "I really do not care much about dining out, these days, but your message was so insistent."
"One must have relaxation," he declared. "The weight of affairs all day long is a terrible strain. Shall we go in?"
They entered the room and stood looking aimlessly about them, Fenn having, naturally enough, failed to realise the necessity of securing a table. A maitre d'hotel, however, recognised Catherine and hastened to their rescue. She conversed with the man for a few minutes in French, while her companion listened admiringly, and finally, at his solicitation, herself ordered the dinner.
"The news, please, Mr. Fenn?" she asked, as soon as the man had withdrawn.
"News?" he repeated. "Oh, let's leave it alone for a time! One gets sick of shop."
She raised her eyebrows a little discouragingly. She was dressed with extraordinary simplicity, but the difference in caste between the two supplied a problem for many curious observers.
"Why should we talk of trifles," she demanded, "when we both have such a great interest in the most wonderful subject in the world?"
"What is the most wonderful subject in the world?" he asked impressively.
"Our cause, of course," she answered firmly, "the cause of all the peoples—Peace."
"One labours the whole day long for that," he grumbled. "When the hour for rest comes, surely one may drop it for a time?"
"Do you feel like that?" she remarked indifferently. "For myself, during these days I have but one thought. There is nothing else in my life. And you, with all those thousands and millions of your fellow creatures toiling, watching and waiting for a sign from you—oh, I can't imagine how your thoughts can ever wander from them for a moment, how you can ever remember that self even exists! I should like to be trusted, Mr. Fenn, as you are trusted."
"My work," he said complacently, "has, I hope, justified that trust."
"Naturally," she assented, "and yet the greatest part of it is to come. Tell me about Mr. Orden?"
"There is no change in the fellow's attitude. I don't imagine there will be until the last moment. He is just a pig-headed, insufferably conceited Englishman, full of class prejudices to his finger tips."
"He is nevertheless a man," she said thoughtfully. "I heard only yesterday that he earned considerable distinction even in his brief soldiering."
"No doubt," Fenn remarked, without enthusiasm, "he has the bravery of an animal. By the bye, the Bishop dropped in to see me this morning."
"Really?" she asked. "What did he want?"
"Just a personal call," was the elaborately careless reply. "He likes to look in for a chat, now and then. He spoke about Orden, too. I persuaded him that if we don't succeed within the next twenty four hours, it will be his duty to see what he can do."
"Oh, but that was too bad!" she declared. "You know how he feels his position, poor man. He will simply loathe having to tell Julian—Mr. Orden, I mean that he is connected with—"
"Well, with what, Miss Abbeway?"
"With anything in the nature of a conspiracy. Of course, Mr. Orden wouldn't understand. How could he? I think it was cruel to bring the Bishop into the matter at all."
"Nothing," Fenn pronounced, "is cruel that helps the cause. What will you drink, Miss Abbeway? You'll have some champagne, won't you?"
"What a horrible idea!" she exclaimed, smiling at him nevertheless. "Fancy a great Labour leader suggesting such a thing! No, I'll have some light French wine, thank you."
Fenn passed the order on to the waiter, a little crestfallen.
"I don't often drink anything myself," he said, "but this seemed to me to be something of an occasion."
"You have some news, then?"
"Not at all. I meant dining with you."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Oh, that?" she murmured. "That is simply a matter of routine. I thought you had some news, or some work."
"Isn't it possible, Miss Abbeway," he pleaded, "that we might have some interests outside our work?"
"I shouldn't think so," she answered, with an insolence which was above his head.
"There is no reason why we shouldn't have," he persisted.
"You must tell me your tastes," she suggested. "Are you fond of grand opera, for instance? I adore it. 'Parsifal'—'The Ring'?"
"I don't know much about music," he admitted. "My sister, who used to live with me, plays the piano."
"We'll drop music, then," she said hastily. "Books? But I remember you once told me that you had never read anything except detective novels, and that you didn't care for poetry. Sports? I adore tennis and I am rather good at golf."
"I have never wasted a single moment of my life in games," he declared proudly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, you see, that leaves us rather a long way apart, outside our work, doesn't it?"
"Even if I were prepared to admit that, which I am not," he replied, "our work itself is surely enough to make up for all other things."
"You are quite right," she confessed. "There is nothing else worth thinking about, worth talking about. Tell me—you had an inner Council this afternoon—is anything decided yet about the leadership?"
He sighed a little.
"If ever there was a great cause in the world," he said, "which stands some chance of missing complete success through senseless and low-minded jealousy, it is ours."
"Mr. Fenn!" she exclaimed.
"I mean it," he assured her. "As you know, a chairman must be elected this week, and that chairman, of course, will hold more power in his hand than any emperor of the past or any sovereign of the present. That leader is going to stop the war. He is going to bring peace to the world. It is a mighty post, Miss Abbeway."
"It is indeed," she agreed.
"Yet would you believe," he went on, leaning across the table and neglecting for a moment his dinner, "would you believe, Miss Abbeway, that out of the twenty representatives chosen from the Trades Unions governing the principal industries of Great Britain, there is not a single one who does not consider himself eligible for the post."
Catherine found herself suddenly laughing, while Fenn looked at her in astonishment.
"I cannot help it," she apologised. "Please forgive me. Do not think that I am irreverent. It is not that at all. But for a moment the absurdity of the thing overcame me. I have met some of them, you know—Mr. Cross of Northumberland, Mr. Evans of South Wales—"
"Evans is one of the worst," Fenn interrupted, with some excitement. "There's a man who has only worn a collar for the last few years of his life, who evaded the board-school because he was a pitman's lad, who doesn't even know the names of the countries of Europe, but who still believes that he is a possible candidate. And Cross, too! Well, he washes when he comes to London, but he sleeps in his clothes and they look like it."
"He is very eloquent," Catherine observed.
"Eloquent!" Fenn exclaimed scornfully. "He may be, but who can understand him? He speaks in broad Northumbrian. What is needed in the leader whom they are to elect this week, Miss Abbeway, is a man of some culture and some appearance. Remember that to him is to be confided the greatest task ever given to man. A certain amount of personality he must have—personality and dignity, I should say, to uphold the position."
"There is Mr. Miles Furley," she said thoughtfully. "He is an educated man, is he not?"
"For that very reason unsuitable," Fenn explained eagerly. "He represents no great body of toilers. He is, in reality, only an honorary member of the Council, like yourself and the Bishop, there on account of his outside services."
"I remember, only a few nights ago," she reflected, "I was staying at a country house—Lord Maltenby's, by the bye—Mr. Orden's father. The Prime Minister was there and another Cabinet Minister. They spoke of the Labour Party and its leaderless state. They had no idea, of course, of the great Council which was already secretly formed, but they were unanimous about the necessity for a strong leader. Two people made the same remark, almost with apprehension: 'If ever Paul Fiske should materialise, the problem would be solved!'"
Fenn assented without enthusiasm.
"After all, though," he reminded her, "a clever writer does not always make a great speaker, nor has he always that personality and distinction which is required in this case. He would come amongst us a stranger, too—a stranger personally, that is to say."
"Not in the broadest sense of the word," Catherine objected. "Paul Fiske is more than an ordinary literary man. His heart is in tune with what he writes. Those are not merely eloquent words which he offers. There is a note of something above and beyond just phrase-making—a note of sympathetic understanding which amounts to genius."
Her companion stroked his moustache for a moment.
"Fiske goes right to the spot," he admitted, "but the question of the leadership, so far as he is concerned, doesn't come into the sphere of practical politics. It has been suggested, Miss Abbeway, by one or two of the more influential delegates, suggested, too, by a vast number of letters and telegrams which have poured in upon us during the last few days, that I should be elected to this vacant post."
"You?" she exclaimed, a little blankly.
"Can you think of a more suitable person?" he asked, with a faint note of truculence in his tone. "You have seen us all together. I don't wish to flatter myself, but as regards education, service to the cause, familiarity with public speaking and the number of those I represent—"
"Yes, yes! I see," she interrupted. "Taking the twenty Labour representatives only, Mr. Fenn, I can see nothing against your selection, but I fancied, somehow, that some one outside—the Bishop, for instance—"
"Absolutely out of the question," Fenn declared. "The people would lose faith in the whole thing in a minute. The person who throws down the gage to the Prime Minister must have the direct mandate of the people."
They finished dinner presently. Fenn looked with admiration at the gold, coroneted case from which Catherine helped herself to one of her tiny cigarettes. He himself lit an American cigarette.
"I had meant, Miss Abbeway," he confided, leaning towards her, "to suggest a theatre to you to-night—in fact, I looked at some dress circle seats at the Gaiety with a view to purchasing. Another matter has cropped up, however. There is a little business for us to do."
"Business?" Catherine repeated.
He produced a folded paper from his pocket and passed it across the table. Catherine read it with a slight frown.
"An order entitling the bearer to search Julian Orden's apartments!" she exclaimed. "We don't want to search them, do we? Besides, what authority have we?"
"The best," he answered, tapping with his discoloured forefinger the signature at the foot of the strip of paper.
She examined it with a doubtful frown.
"But how did this come into your possession?" she asked.
He smiled at her in superior fashion.
"By asking for it," he replied bluntly. "And between you and me, Miss Abbeway, there isn't much we might ask for that they'd care to refuse us just now."
"But the police have already searched Mr. Orden's rooms," she reminded him.
"The police have been known to overlook things. Of course, what I am hoping is that amongst Mr. Orden's papers there may be some indication as to where he has deposited our property."
"But this has nothing to do with me," she protested. "I do not like to be concerned in such affairs."
"But I particularly wish you to accompany me," he urged. "You are the only one who has seen the packet. It would be better, therefore, if we conducted the search in company."
Catherine made a little grimace, but she objected no further. She objected very strongly, however, when Fenn tried to take her arm on leaving the place, and she withdrew into her own corner of the taxi immediately they had taken their seats.
"You must forgive my prejudices, Mr. Fenn," she said—"my foreign bringing up, perhaps—but I hate being touched."
"Oh, come!" he remonstrated. "No need to be so stand-offish."
He tried to hold her hand, an attempt which she skilfully frustrated.
"Really," she insisted earnestly, "this sort of thing does not amuse me. I avoid it even amongst my own friends."
"Am I not a friend?" he demanded.
"So far as regards our work, you certainly are," she admitted. "Outside it, I do not think that we could ever have much to say to one another."
"Why not?" he objected, a little sharply. "We're as close together in our work and aims as any two people could be. Perhaps," he went on, after a moment's hesitation and a careful glance around, "I ought to take you into my confidence as regards my personal position."
"I am not inviting anything of the sort," she observed, with faint but wasted sarcasm.
"You know me, of course," he went on, "only as the late manager of a firm of timber merchants and the present elected representative of the allied Timber and Shipbuilding Trades Unions. What you do not know"—a queer note of triumph stealing into his tone "is that I am a wealthy man."
She raised her eyebrows.
"I imagined," she remarked, "that all Labour leaders were like the Apostles—took no thought for such things."
"One must always keep one's eye on the main chance; Miss Abbeway," he protested, "or how would things be when one came to think of marriage, for instance?"
"Where did your money come from?" she asked bluntly.
Her question was framed simply to direct him from a repulsive subject. His embarrassment, however, afforded her food for future thought.
"I have saved money all my life," he confided eagerly. "An uncle left me a little. Lately I have speculated—successfully. I don't want to dwell on this. I only wanted you to understand that if I chose I could cut a very different figure—that my wife wouldn't have to live in a suburb."
"I really do not see," was the cold response, "how this concerns me in the least."
"You, call yourself a Socialist, don't you, Miss Abbeway?" he demanded. "You're not allowing the fact that you're an aristocrat and that I am a self-made man to weigh with you?"
"The accident of birth counts for nothing," she replied, "you must know that those are my principles—but it sometimes happens that birth and environment give one tastes which it is impossible to ignore. Please do not let us pursue this conversation any further, Mr. Fenn. We have had a very pleasant dinner, for which I thank you—and here we are at Mr. Orden's flat."
Her companion handed her out a little sulkily, and they ascended in the lift to the fifth floor. The door was opened to them by Julian's servant. He recognised Catherine and greeted her respectfully. Fenn produced his authority, which the man accepted without comment.
"No news of your master yet?" Catherine asked him.
"None at all, madam," was the somewhat depressed admission. "I am afraid that something must have happened to him. He was not the kind of gentleman to go away like this and leave no word behind him."
"Still," she advised cheerfully, "I shouldn't despair. More wonderful things have happened than that your master should return home to-morrow or the next day with a perfectly simple explanation of his absence."
"I should be very glad to see him, madam," the man replied, as he backed towards the door. "If I can be of any assistance, perhaps you will ring."
The valet departed, closing the door behind him. Catherine looked around the room into which they had been ushered, with a little frown. It was essentially a man's sitting room, but it was well and tastefully furnished, and she was astonished at the immense number of books, pamphlets and Reviews which crowded the walls and every available space. The Derby desk still stood open, there was a typewriter on a special stand, and a pile of manuscript paper.
"What on earth," she murmured, "could Mr. Orden have wanted with a typewriter! I thought journalism was generally done in the offices of a newspaper—the sort of journalism that he used to undertake."
"Nice little crib, isn't it?" Fenn remarked, glancing around. "Cosy little place, I call it."
Something in the man's expression as he advanced towards her brought all the iciness back to her tone and manner.
"It is a pleasant apartment," she said, "but I am not at all sure that I like being here, and I certainly dislike our errand. It does not seem credible that, if the police have already searched, we should find the packet here."
"The police don't know what to look for," he reminded her. "We do."
There was apparently very little delicacy about Mr. Fenn. He drew a chair to the desk and began to look through a pile of papers, making running comments as he did so.
"Hm! Our friend seems to have been quite a collector of old books. I expect second-hand booksellers found him rather a mark. Some fellow here thanking him for a loan. And here's a tailor's bill. By Jove, Miss Abbeway, just listen to this! 'One dress suit-fourteen guineas!' That's the way these fellows who don't know any better chuck their money about," he added, swinging around in his chair towards her. "The clothes I have on cost me exactly four pounds fifteen cash, and I guarantee his were no better."
Catherine frowned impatiently.
"We did not come here, did we, Mr. Fenn, to discuss Mr. Orden's tailor's bill? I can see no object at all in going through his correspondence in this way. What you have to search for is a packet wrapped up in thin yellow oilskin, with 'Number 17' on the outside in black ink."
"Oh, he might have slipped it in anywhere," Fenn pointed out. "Besides, there's always a chance that one of his letters may give us a clue as to where he has hidden the document. Come and sit down by the side of me, won't you, Miss Abbeway? Do!"
"I would rather stand, thank you," she replied. "You seem to find your present occupation to your taste. I should loathe it!"
"Never think of my own feelings," Fenn said briskly, "when there's a job to be done. I wish you'd be a bit more friendly, though, Miss Abbeway. Let me pull that chair up by the side of mine. I like to have you near. You know, I've been a bachelor for a good many years," he went on impressively, "but a little homey place like this always makes me think of things. I've nothing against marriage if only a man can be lucky enough to get the right sort of girl, and although advanced thinkers like you and me and some of the others are looking at things differently, nowadays, I wouldn't mind much which way it was," he confided, dropping his voice a little and laying his hand upon her arm, "if you could make up your mind—"