She snatched her arm away, and this time even he could not mistake the anger which blazed in her eyes.
"Mr. Fenn," she exclaimed, "why is it so difficult to make you understand? I detest such liberties as you are permitting yourself. And for the rest, my affections are already engaged."
"Sounds a bit old-fashioned, that," he remarked, scowling a little. "Of course, I don't expect—"
"Never mind what you expect," she interrupted, "Please go on with this search, if you are going to make one at all. The vulgarity of the whole thing annoys me, and I do not for a moment suppose that the packet is here."
"It wasn't on Orden," he reminded her sullenly.
"Then he must have sent it somewhere for safe keeping," she replied. "I had already given him cause to do so."
"If he has, then amongst his correspondence there may be some indication as to where he sent it," Fenn pointed out, with unabated ill-temper. "If you don't like the job, and you won't be friendly, you'd better take the easy-chair and wait till I'm through."
She sat down, watching him with angry eyes, uncomfortable, unhappy, humiliated. She seemed to have dropped in a few hours from the realms of rarefied and splendid thought to a world of petty deeds. Not one of her companion's actions was lost upon her. She watched him study with ill-concealed reverence a ducal invitation, saw him read through without hesitation a letter which she felt sure was from Julian's mother. And then:
The change in the man was so startling, his muttered exclamation—so natural that its profanity never even grated. His eyes seemed to be starting out of his head, his lips were drawn back from his teeth. Blank, unutterable surprise held him, dumb and spellbound, as he stared at a half-sheet of type written notepaper. She herself, amazed at his transformed appearance, found words for the moment impossible. Then a queer change came into his expression. His eyebrows drew closer together, his lips turned malevolently. He pushed the paper underneath a pile of others and turned his head towards her. Their eyes met. There was something like fear in his.
"What is it that you have found?" she cried breathlessly.
"Nothing," he answered, "nothing of any importance."
She rose slowly to her feet and came towards him.
"I am your partner in this hateful enterprise," she reminded him. "Show me that paper which you have just concealed."
He laid his hand on the lid of the desk, but she caught it and held it open.
"I insist upon seeing it," she said firmly.
He turned and faced her. There was a most unpleasant light in his eyes.
"And I say that you shall not," he declared.
There was a brief, intense silence. Each seemed to be measuring the other's strength. Of the two, Catherine was the more composed. Fenn's face was still white and strained. His lips were twitching, his manner nervous and jerky. He made a desperate effort to reestablish ordinary relations.
"Look here, Miss Abbeway," he said, "we don't need to quarrel about this. That paper I came across has a special interest for me personally. I want to think about it before I say anything to a soul in the world."
"You can consult with me," she persisted. "Our aims are the same. We are here for the same purpose."
"Not altogether," he objected. "I brought you here as my assistant."
"Well, have the truth, then!" he exclaimed. "I brought you here to be alone with you, because I hoped that I might find you a little kinder."
"I am afraid you have been disappointed, haven't you?" she asked sweetly.
"I have," he answered, with unpleasant meaning in his tone, "but we are not out of here yet."
"You cannot frighten me," she assured him. "Of course, you are a man—of a sort—and I am a woman, but I do not fancy that you would find, if it came to force, that you would have much of an advantage. However, we are wandering from the point. I claim an equal right with you to see anything which you may discover in Mr. Orden's papers. I might, indeed, if I chose, claim a prior right."
"Indeed?" he answered, with an ugly scowl on his face. "Mr. Julian Orden is by way of being a particular friend, eh?"
"As a matter of fact," Catherine told him, "we are engaged to be married. It isn't a serious engagement. It was entered into by him in a most chivalrous manner, to save me from the consequences of a very clumsy attempt on my part to get back that packet. But there it is. Every one down at his home believes at the present moment that we are engaged and that I have come up to London to see our Ambassador."
"If you are engaged," Fenn sneered, "why hasn't he told you more of his secrets?"
"Secrets!" she repeated, a little scornfully. "I shouldn't think he has any. I should imagine his daily life could be investigated without the least fear."
"You'd imagine wrong, then."
"But how interesting! You excite my curiosity. And must you continue to hold my wrist?"
"Let me pull down the top of this desk, then."
"I intend to examine those papers."
With a quick movement he gained a momentary advantage and shut the desk down. The key, however, disturbed by the jerk, fell on to the carpet, and Catherine possessed herself of it. She sprang lightly back from him and pressed the bell.
"D——n you, what are you going to do now?" he demanded.
"You will see," she replied. "Don't come any nearer, or you may find that I can be unpleasant."
He shrugged his shoulders and waited. She turned towards the servant who presently appeared.
"Robert," she said, "will you telephone for me?"
"Certainly, madam," the man answered.
"Telephone to 1884 Westminster. Say that you are speaking for Miss Abbeway, and ask Mr. Furley, Mr. Cross, or whoever is there, to come at once to this address."
"Look here, there's no sense in that," Fenn interrupted.
"Will you do as I ask, please, Robert?" she persisted.
The man bowed and left the room. Fenn strode sulkily back to the desk.
"Very well, then," he conceded, "I give in. Give me the key, and I'll show you the letter."
"You intend to keep your word?"
"I do," he assured her.
She held out the key. He took it, opened the desk, searched amongst the little pile of papers, drew out the half-sheet of notepaper, and handed it to her.
"There you are," he said, "although if you are really engaged to marry Mr. Julian Orden," he added, with disagreeable emphasis, "I am surprised that he should have kept such a secret from you."
She ignored him and started to read the letter, glancing first at the address at the top. It was from the British Review, and was dated a few days back:
My dear Orden,
I think it best to let you know, in case you haven't seen it yourself, that there is a reward of 100 pounds offered by some busybody for the name of the author of the 'Paul Fiske' articles. Your anonymity has been splendidly preserved up till now, but I feel compelled to warn you that a disclosure is imminent. Take my advice and accept it with a good grace. You have established yourself so irrevocably now that the value of your work will not be lessened by the discovery of the fact that you yourself do not belong to the class of whom you have written so brilliantly.
I hope to see you in a few days.
Even after she had concluded the letter, she still stared at it. She read again the one conclusive sentence—"Your anonymity has been splendidly preserved up till now." Then she suddenly broke into a laugh which was almost hysterical.
"So this is his hack journalism!" she exclaimed. "Julian Orden—Paul Fiske!"
"I don't wonder you're surprised," Fenn observed. "Fourteen guineas for a dress suit, and he thinks he understands the working man!"
She turned her head slowly and looked at him. There was a strange, repressed fire in her eyes. "You are a very foolish person," she said. "Your parents, I suppose, were small shopkeepers, or something of the sort, and you were brought up at a board-school and Julian Orden at Eton and Oxford, and yet he understands, and you do not. You see, heart counts, and sympathy, and the flair for understanding. I doubt whether these things are really found where you come from."
He caught up his hat. His face was very white. His tone shook with anger.
"This is our own fault," he exclaimed angrily, "for having ever permitted an aristocrat to hold any place in our counsels! Before we move a step further, we'll purge them of such helpers as you and such false friends as Julian Orden."
"You very foolish person," she repeated. "Stop, though. Why all this mystery? Why did you try to keep that letter from me?"
"I conceived it to be for the benefit of our cause," he said didactically, "that the anonymity—of 'Paul Fiske' should be preserved."
"Rubbish!" she scoffed. "You were afraid of him. Why, what fools we are! We will tell him the whole truth. We will tell him of our great scheme. We will tell him what we have been working for, these many months. The Bishop shall tell him, and you and I, and Miles Furley, and Cross. He shall hear all about it. He is with us! He must be with us! You shall put him on the Council. Why, there is your great difficulty solved," she went on, in growing excitement. "There is not a working man in the country who would not rally under 'Paul Fiske's' banner. There you have your leader. It is he who shall deliver your ultimatum."
"I'm damned if it is!" Fenn declared, suddenly throwing his hat down and coming towards her furiously. "I'm—"
The door opened. Robert stood there.
"The message, madam," he began—and then stopped short. She crossed the room towards him.
"Robert," she said, "I think I have found the way to bring your master back to you. Will you take me downstairs, please, and fetch me a taxi?"
She looked back from the threshold.
"I shall telephone to Westminster in a few minutes, Mr. Fenn," she said. "I hope I shall be in time to stop the others from coming. Perhaps you had better wait here, in case they have already started."
He made no reply. To Catherine the world had become so wonderful that his existence scarcely counted.
Catherine, notwithstanding her own excitement, found genuine pleasure in the bewildered enthusiasm with which the Bishop received her astounding news. She found him alone in the great, gloomy house which he usually inhabited when in London, at work in a dreary library to which she was admitted after a few minutes' delay. Naturally, he received her tidings at first almost with incredulity. A heartfelt joy, however, followed upon conviction.
"I always liked Julian," he declared. "I always believed that he had capacity. Dear me, though," he went on, with a whimsical little smile, "what a blow for the Earl!"
"Do you remember the evening we all talked about the Labour question? Time seems to have moved so rapidly lately, but it was scarcely a week ago."
"I remember," the Bishop acknowledged. "And, my dear young lady," he went on warmly, "now indeed I feel that I can offer you congratulations which come from my heart."
She turned a little away.
"Don't," she begged. "You would have known very soon, in any case—my engagement to Julian Orden was only a pretence."
"I was desperate," she explained. "I felt I must have that packet back at any price. I went to his rooms to try and steal it. Well, I was found there. He invented our engagement to help me out."
"But you went off to London together, the neat day?" the Bishop reminded her.
"It was all part of the game," she sighed. "What a fool he must have thought me! However, I am glad. I am riotously, madly glad. I am glad for the cause, I am glad for all our sakes. We have a great recruit, Bishop, the greatest we could have. And think! When he knows the truth, there will be no more trouble. He will hand us over the packet. We shall know just where we stand. We shall know at once whether we dare to strike the great blow."
"I was down at Westminster this afternoon," the Bishop told her. "The whole mechanism of the Council of Labour seems to be complete. Twenty men control industrial England. They have absolute power. They are waiting only for the missing word. And fancy," he went on, "to-morrow I was to have visited Julian. I was to have used my persuasions."
"But we must go to-night!" Catherine exclaimed. "There is no reason why we should waste a single second."
"I shall be only too pleased," he assented gladly. "Where is, he?"
Catherine's face fell.
"I haven't the least idea," she confessed. "Don't you know?"
The Bishop shook his head.
"They were going to send some one with me tomorrow," he replied, "but in any case Fenn knows. We can get at him."
She made a little wry face.
"I do not like Mr. Fenn," she said slowly. "I have disagreed with him. But that does not matter. Perhaps we had better go to the Council rooms. We shall find some of them there, and probably Fenn. I have a taxi waiting."
They drove presently to Westminster. The ground floor of the great building, which was wholly occupied now by the offices of the different Labour men, was mostly in darkness, but on the top floor was a big room used as a club and restaurant, and also for informal meetings. Six or seven of the twenty-three were there, but not Fenn. Cross, a great brawny Northumbrian, was playing a game of chess with Furley. Others were writing letters. They all turned around at Catherine's entrance. She held out her hands to them.
"Great news, my friends!" she exclaimed. "Light up the committee room. I want to talk to you."
Those who were entitled to followed her into the room across the passage. One or two secretaries and a visitor remained outside. Six of them seated themselves at the long table—Phineas Cross, the Northumbrian pitman, Miles Furley, David Sands, representative of a million Yorkshire mill-hands, Thomas Evans, the South Wales miner.
"We got a message from you, Miss Abbeway, a little time ago," Furley remarked. "It was countermanded, though, just as we were ready to start."
"Yes!" she assented. "I am sorry. I telephoned from Julian Orden's rooms. It was there we made the great discovery. Listen, all of you! I have discovered the identity of Paul Fiske."
There was a little clamour of voices. The interest was indescribable. Paul Fiske was their cult, their master, their undeniable prophet. It was he who had set down in letters of fire the truths which had been struggling for imperfect expression in these men's minds. It was Paul Fiske who had fired them with enthusiasm for the cause which at first had been very much like a matter of bread and cheese to them. It was Paul Fiske who had formed their minds, who had put the great arguments into their brains, who had armed them from head to foot with potent reasonings. Four very ordinary men, of varying types, sincere men, all of plebeian extraction, all with their faults, yet all united in one purpose, were animated by that same fire of excitement. They hung over the table towards her. She might have been the croupier and they the gamblers who had thrown upon the table their last stake.
"In Julian Orden's rooms," she said, "I found a letter from the editor of the British Review, warning him that his anonymity could not be preserved much longer—that before many weeks had passed the world would know that he was Paul Fiske. Here is the letter."
She passed it around. They studied it, one by one. They were all a little stunned.
"Julian!" Furley exclaimed, in blank amazement. "Why, he's been pulling my leg for more than a year!"
"The son of an Earl!" Cross gasped.
"Never mind about that. He is a democrat and honest to the backbone," Catherine declared. "The Bishop will tell you so. He has known him all his life. Think! Julian Orden has no purpose to serve, no selfish interest to further. He has nothing to gain, everything to lose. If he were not sincere, if those words of his, which we all remember, did not come from his heart, where could be the excuse, the reason, for what he stands for? Think what it means to us!"
"He is the man, isn't he," Sands asked mysteriously, "whom they are looking after down yonder?"
"I don't know where 'down yonder' is," Catherine replied, "but you have him in your power somewhere. He left his rooms last Thursday at about a quarter past six, to take that packet to the Foreign Office, or to make arrangements for its being received there. He never reached the Foreign Office. He hasn't been heard of since. Some of you know where he is. The Bishop and I want to go and find him at once."
"Fenn and Bright know," Cross declared. "It's Bright's job."
"Why is Bright in it?" Catherine asked impatiently.
Cross frowned and puckered up his lips, an odd trick of his when he was displeased.
"Bright represents the workers in chemical factories," he explained. "They say that there isn't a poison in liquid, solid or gas form, that he doesn't know all about. Chap who gives me kind of shivers whenever he comes near. He and Fenn run the secret service branch of the Council."
"If he knows where Mr. Orden is, couldn't we send for him at once?" Catherine suggested.
"I'll go," Furley volunteered.
He was back in a few minutes.
"Fenn and Bright are both out," he announced, "and their rooms locked up. I rang up Fenn's house, but he hasn't been back."
Catherine stamped her foot. She was on fire with impatience.
"Doesn't it seem too bad!" she exclaimed. "If we could only get hold of Julian Orden to-night, if the Bishop and I could talk to him for five minutes, we could have this message for which we have been waiting so long."
The door was suddenly opened. Fenn entered and received a little chorus of welcome. He was wearing a rough black overcoat over his evening clothes, and a black bowler hat. He advanced to the table with a little familiar swagger.
"Mr. Fenn," the Bishop said, "we have been awaiting your arrival anxiously. Tell us, please, where we can find Mr. Julian Orden."
Fenn gave vent to a half-choked, ironical laugh.
"If you'd asked me an hour ago," he said, "I should have told you to try Iris Villa, Acacia Road, Hampstead. I have just come from there."
"You saw him?" the Bishop enquired.
"That's just what I did not," Fenn replied.
"Why not?" Catherine demanded.
"Because he wasn't there hasn't been since three o'clock this afternoon."
"You've moved him?" Furley asked eagerly.
"He's moved himself," was the grim reply. "He's escaped."
During the brief, spellbound silence which followed his announcement, Fenn advanced slowly into the room. It chanced that during their informal discussion, the chair at the head of the table had been left unoccupied. The newcomer hesitated for a single second, then removed his hat, laid it on the floor by his side, and sank into the vacant seat. He glanced somewhat defiantly towards Catherine. He seemed to know quite well from whence the challenge of his words would come.
"You tell us," Catherine said, mastering her emotion with an effort, "that Julian Orden, whom we now know to be 'Paul Fiske', has escaped. Just what do you mean?"
"I can scarcely reduce my statement to plainer words," Fenn replied, "but I will try. The danger in which we stood through the miscarriage of that packet was appreciated by every one of the Council. Discretionary powers were handed to the small secret service branch which is controlled by Bright and myself. Orden was prevented from reaching the Foreign Office and was rendered for a time incapable. The consideration of our further action with regard to him was to depend upon his attitude. Owing, no doubt, to some slight error in Bright's treatment. Orden has escaped from the place of safety in which he had been placed. He is now at large, and his story, together with the packet, will probably be in the hands of the Foreign Office some time to-night."
"Giving them," Cross remarked grimly, "the chance to get in the first blow—warrants for high treason, eh, against the twenty-three of us?"
"I don't fear that," Fenn asserted, "not if we behave like sensible men. My proposal is that we anticipate, that one of us sees the Prime Minister to-morrow morning and lays the whole position before him."
"Without the terms," Furley observed.
"I know exactly what they will be," Fenn pointed out. "The trouble, of course, is that the missing packet contains the signature of the three guarantors. The packet, no doubt, will be in the hands of the Foreign Office by to-morrow. The Prime Minister can verify our statements. We present our ultimatum a little sooner than we intended, but we get our blow in first and we are ready."
The Bishop leaned forward in his place.
"Forgive me if I intervene for one moment," he begged. "You say that Julian Orden has escaped. Are we to understand that he is absolutely at liberty and in a normal state of health?"
Fenn hesitated for a single second.
"I have no reason to believe the contrary," he said.
"Still, it is possible," the Bishop persisted, "that Julian Orden may not be in a position to forward that document to the Foreign Office for the present? If that is so, I am inclined to think that the Prime Minister would consider your visit a bluff. Certainly, you would have no argument weighty enough to induce him to propose the armistice. No man could act upon your word alone. He would want to see these wonderful proposals in writing, even if he were convinced of the justice of your arguments."
There was a little murmur of approval. Fenn leaned forward.
"You drive me to a further disclosure," he declared, after a moment's hesitation, "one, perhaps, which I ought already to have made. I have arranged for a duplicate of that packet to be prepared and forwarded. I set this matter on foot the moment we heard from Miss Abbeway here of her mishap. The duplicate may reach us at any moment."
"Then I propose," the Bishop said, "that we postpone our decision until those papers be received. Remember that up to the present moment the Council have not pledged themselves to take action until they have perused that document."
"And supposing," Fenn objected, "that to-morrow morning at eight o'clock, twenty-three of us are marched off to the Tower! Our whole cause may be paralysed, all that we have worked for all these months will be in vain, and this accursed and bloody war may be dragged on until our politicians see fit to make a peace of words."
"I know Mr. Stenson well," the Bishop declared, "and I am perfectly convinced that he is too sane-minded a man to dream of taking such a step as you suggest. He, at any rate, if others in his Cabinet are not so prescient, knows what Labour means."
"I agree with the Bishop, for many reasons," Furley pronounced.
"And I," Cross echoed.
The sense of the meeting was obvious. Fenn's unpleasant looking teeth flashed for a moment, and his mouth came together with a little snap.
"This is entirely an informal gathering," he said. "I shall summon the Council to come together tomorrow at midday."
"I think that we may sleep in our beds to-night without fear of molestation," the Bishop remarked, "although if it had been the wish of the meeting, I would have broached the matter to Mr. Stenson."
"You are an honorary member of the Council," Fenn declared rudely. "We don't wish interference. This is a national and international Labour movement."
"I am a member of the Labour Party of Christ," the Bishop said quietly.
"And an honoured member of this Executive Council," Cross intervened. "You're a bit too glib with your tongue to-night, Fenn."
"I think of those whom I represent," was the curt reply. "They are toilers, and they want the toilers to show their power. They don't want help from the Church. I'll go even so far," he added, "as to say that they don't want help from literature. It's their own job. They've begun it, and they want to finish it."
"To-morrow's meeting," Furley observed, "will show how far you are right in your views. I consider my position, and the Bishop's, as members of the Labour Party, on a par with your own. I will go further and say that the very soul of our Council is embodied in the teachings and the writings of Paul Fiske, or, as we now know him to be, Julian Orden."
Fenn rose to his feet. He was trembling with passion.
"This informal meeting is adjourned," he announced harshly.
Cross himself did not move.
"Adjourned or not it may be, Mr. Fenn," he said, "but it's no place of yours to speak for it. You've thrust yourself into that chair, but that don't make you chairman, now or at any other time."
Fenn choked down the words which had seemed to tremble on his lips. His enemies he knew, but there were others here who might yet be neutral.
"If I have assumed more than I should have done, I am sorry," he said. "I brought you news which I was in a hurry to deliver. The rest followed."
The little company rose to their feet and moved towards the door, exchanging whispered comments concerning the news which Catherine had brought. She herself crossed the room and confronted Fenn.
"There is still something to be said about that news," she declared.
Fenn's attempt at complete candour was only partially convincing.
"There is not the slightest reason," he declared, "why anything concerning Julian Orden should be concealed from any member of the Council who desires information. If you will follow me into my private room, Miss Abbeway, and you, Furley, I shall be glad to tell you our exact position. And if the Bishop will accompany you," he added, turning to the latter, "I shall be honoured."
Furley made no reply, but, whispering something in Catherine's ear, took up his hat and left the room. The other two, however, took Fenn at his word, followed him into his room, accepted the chairs which he placed for them, and waited while he spoke through a telephone to the private exchange situated in the building.
"They tell me," he announced, as he laid down the instrument, "that Bright has this moment returned and is now on his way upstairs."
"Is Mr. Bright that awful-looking person who came to the last Council meeting?"
"He is probably the person you mean," Fenn assented. "He takes very little interest in our executive work, but he is one of the most brilliant scientists of this or any other generation. The Government has already given him three laboratories for his experiments, and nearly every gas that is being used at the Front has been prepared according to his formula."
"A master of horrors," the Bishop murmured.
"He looks it," Catherine whispered under her breath.
There was a knock at the door, a moment or two later, and Bright entered. He was a little over medium height, with long and lanky figure, a pronounced stoop, and black, curly hair of coarse quality. His head, which was thrust a little forward, perhaps owing to his short-sightedness, was long, his forehead narrow, his complexion a sort of olive-green. He wore huge, disfiguring spectacles, and he had the protuberant lips of a negro. He greeted Catherine and the Bishop absently and seemed to have a grievance against Fenn.
"What is it you want, Nicholas?" he asked impatiently. "I have some experiments going on in the country and can only spare a minute."
"The Council has rescinded its instructions with regard to Julian Orden," Fenn announced, "and is anxious to have him brought before them at once. As you know, we are for the moment powerless in the matter. Will you please explain to Miss Abbeway and the Bishop here just what has been done?"
"It seems a waste of time," Bright replied ill-naturedly, "but here is the story. Julian Orden left his rooms at a quarter to six on Thursday evening. He walked down to St. James's Street and turned into the Park. Just as he passed the side door of Marlborough House he was attacked by a sudden faintness."
"For which, I suppose," the Bishop interrupted, "you were responsible."
"I or my deputy," Bright replied. "It doesn't matter which. He was fortunate enough to be able to hail a passing taxicab and was driven to my house in Hampstead. He has spent the intervening period, until three o'clock this afternoon, in a small laboratory attached to the premises."
"A compulsory stay, I presume?" the Bishop ventured.
"A compulsory stay, arranged for under instructions from the Council," Bright assented, in his hard, rasping voice. "He has been most of the time under the influence of some new form of anaesthetic gas with which I have been experimenting. To-night, however, I must have made a mistake in my calculations. Instead of remaining in a state of coma until midnight, he recovered during my absence and appears to have walked out of the place."
"You have no idea where he is at the present moment, then?" Catherine asked.
"Not the slightest," Bright assured her. "I only know that he left the place without hat, gloves, or walking stick. Otherwise, he was fully dressed, and no doubt had plenty of money in his pocket."
"Is he likely to have any return of the indisposition from which, owing to your efforts, he has been suffering?" the Bishop enquired.
"I should say not," was the curt answer. "He may find his memory somewhat affected temporarily. He ought to be able to find his way home, though. If not, I suppose you'll hear of him through the police courts or a hospital. Nothing that we have done," he added, after a moment's pause, "is likely to affect his health permanently in the slightest degree."
"You now know all that there is to be known, Miss Abbeway," Fenn said. "I agree with you that it is highly desirable that Mr. Orden should be found at once, and if you can suggest any way in which I might be of assistance in discovering his present whereabouts, I shall be only too glad to help. For instance, would you like me to telephone to his rooms?"
Catherine rose to her feet.
"Thank you, Mr. Fenn," she said, "I don't think that we will trouble you. Mr. Furley is making enquiries both at Mr. Orden's rooms and at his clubs."
"You are perfectly satisfied, so far as I am concerned, I trust?" he persisted, as he opened the door for them.
"Perfectly satisfied," Catherine replied, looking him in the face, "that you have told us as much as you choose to for the present."
Fenn closed the door behind Catherine and the Bishop and turned back into the room. Bright laughed at him unpleasantly.
"Love affair not going so strong, eh?"
Fenn threw himself into his chair, took a cigarette from a paper packet, and lit it.
"Blast Julian Orden!" he muttered.
"No objection," his friend yawned. "What's wrong now?"
"Haven't you heard the news? It seems he's the fellow who has been writing those articles on Socialism and Labour, signing them 'Paul Fiske.' Idealistic rubbish, but of course the Bishop and his lot are raving about him."
"I've read some of his stuff," Bright admitted, himself lighting a cigarette; "good in its way, but old-fashioned. I'm out for something a little more than that."
"Stick to the point," Fenn enjoined morosely. "Now they've found out who Julian Orden is, they want him produced. They want to elect him on the Council, make him chairman over all our heads, let him reap the reward of the scheme which our brains have conceived."
"They want him, eh? That's awkward."
"Awkward for us," Fenn muttered.
"They'd better have him, I suppose," Bright said, with slow and evil emphasis. "Yes, they'd better have him. We'll take off our hats, and assure him that it was a mistake."
"Too late. I've told Miss Abbeway and the Bishop that he is at large. You backed me up."
Bright thrust his long, unpleasant, knobby fingers into his pocket, and produced a crumpled cigarette, which he lit from the end of his companion's.
"Well," he demanded, "what do you want?"
"I have come to the conclusion," Fenn decided, "that it is not in the interests of our cause that Orden should become associated with it in any way."
"We've a good deal of power," Bright ruminated, "but it seems to me you're inclined to stretch it. I gather that the others want him delivered up. We can't act against them."
"Not if they know," Fenn answered significantly.
Bright came over to the mantelpiece, leaned his elbow upon it, and hung his extraordinarily unattractive face down towards his companion's.
"Nicholas," he said, "I don't blame you for fencing, but I like plain words. You've done well out of this new Party. I haven't. You've no hobby except saving your money. I have. My last two experiments, notwithstanding the Government allowance, have left me drained. I need money as you others need bread. I can live without food or drink, but I can't be without the means to keep my laboratories going. Do you understand me?"
"I do," Fenn assented, taking up his hat. "Come, I'll drive towards Bermondsey with you. We'll talk on the way."
Julian raised himself slightly from his recumbent position at the sound of the opening of the door. He watched Fenn with dull, incurious eyes as the latter crossed the uncarpeted floor of the bare wooden shed, threw off his overcoat, and advanced towards the side of the couch.
"Sit up a little," the newcomer directed.
Julian shook his head.
"No strength," he muttered. "If I had, I should wring your damned neck!"
Fenn looked down at him for a moment in silence.
"You take this thing very hardly, Mr. Orden," he said. "I think that you had better give up this obstinacy. Your friends are getting anxious about you. For many reasons it would be better for you to reappear."
"There will be a little anxiety on the part of your friends about you," Julian retorted grimly, "if ever I do get out of this accursed place."
"You bear malice, I fear, Mr. Orden."
Julian made no reply. His eyes were fixed upon the door. He turned away with a shudder. Bright had entered. In his hand he was carrying two gas masks. He came over to the side of the couch, and, looking down at Julian, lifted his hand, and felt his pulse. Then, with an abrupt movement, he handed one of the masks to Fenn.
"Look out for yourself," he advised. "I am going to give him an antidote."
Bright stepped back and adjusted his own gas mask, while Fenn followed suit. Then the former drew from his pocket what seemed to be a small tube with perforated holes at the top. He leaned over Julian and pressed it. A little cloud of faint mist rushed through the holes; a queer, aromatic perfume, growing stronger every moment, seemed to creep into the farthest corners of the room. In less than ten seconds Julian opened his eyes. In half a minute he was sitting up. His eyes were bright once more, there was colour in his cheeks. Bright spoke to him warningly.
"Mr. Orden," he enjoined, "sit where you are. Remember I have the other tube in my left hand."
"You infernal scoundrel!" Julian exclaimed.
"Mr. Bright," Fenn asserted, "is nothing of the sort. Neither am I. We are both honest men faced with a colossal situation. There is nothing personal in our treatment of you. We have no enmity towards you. You are simply a person who has committed a theft."
"What puzzles me," Julian muttered, "is what you expect I am going to do about you, if ever I do escape from your clutches."
"If you do escape," Fenn said quietly, "you will view the matter differently. You will find, as a matter of fact, that you are powerless to do anything. You will find a new law and a new order prevailing."
"German law!" Julian sneered.
"You misjudge us," Fenn continued. "Both Bright and I are patriotic Englishmen. We are engaged at the present moment in a desperate effort to save our country. You are the man who stands in the way."
"I never thought," said Julian, "that I should smile in this place, but you are beginning to amuse me. Why not be more explicit? Why not prove what you say? I might become amenable. I suppose your way of saving the country is to hand it over to the Germans, eh?"
"Our way of saving the country," Fenn declared, "is to establish peace."
Julian laughed scornfully.
"I know a little about you, Mr. Fenn," he said. "I know the sort of peace you would establish, the sort of peace any man would propose who conducts a secret correspondence with Germany."
Fenn, who had lifted his mask for a moment, slowly rearranged it.
"Mr. Orden," he said, "we are not going to waste words upon you. You are hopelessly and intolerably prejudiced. Will you tell us where you have concealed the packet you intercepted?"
"Aren't you almost tired of asking me that question? I'm tired of hearing it," Julian replied. "I will not."
"Will you let me try to prove to you," Fenn begged, "that by the retention of that packet you are doing your country an evil service?"
"If you talked till doomsday," Julian assured him, "I should not believe a word you said."
"In that case," Fenn began slowly, with an evil glitter in his eyes!!!!!
"Well, for heaven's sake finish the thing this time!" Julian interrupted. "I'm sick of playing the laboratory rabbit for you. If you are out for murder, finish the job and have done with it."
Bright was playing with another tube which he had withdrawn from his pocket.
"It is my duty to warn you, Mr. Orden," he said, "that the contents of this little tube of gas, which will reach you with a touch of my fingers, may possibly be fatal and will certainly incapacitate you for life."
"Why warn me?" Julian scoffed. "You know very well that I haven't the strength of a cat, or I should wring your neck."
"We feel ourselves," Bright continued unctuously, "justified in using this tube, because its first results will be to throw you into a delirium, in the course of which we trust that you will divulge the hiding place of the stolen packet. We use this means in the interests of the country, and such risk as there may be lies on your own head."
"You're a canting hypocrite!" Julian declared. "Try your delirium. That packet happens to be in the one place where neither you nor one of your tribe could get at it."
"It is a serious moment, this, Mr. Orden," Fenn reminded him. "You are in the prime of life, and there is a scandal connected with your present position which your permanent disappearance would certainly not dissipate. Remember—"
He stopped short. A whistle in the corner of the room was blowing. Bright moved towards it, but at that moment there was the sound of flying footsteps on the wooden stairs outside, and the door was flung open. Catherine, breathless with haste, paused for a moment on the threshold, then came forward with a little cry.
"Julian!" she exclaimed.
He gazed at her, speechless, but with a sudden light in his eyes. She came across the room and dropped on her knees by his couch. The two men fell back. Fenn slipped back between her and the door. They both removed their masks, but they held them ready.
"Oh, how dared they!" she went on. "The beasts! Tell me, are you ill?"
"Weak as a kitten," he faltered. "They've poisoned me with their beastly gases."
Catherine rose to her feet. She faced the two men, her eyes flashing with anger.
"The Council will require an explanation of this, Mr. Fenn!" she declared passionately. "Barely an hour ago you told us that Mr. Orden had escaped from Hampstead."
"Julian Orden," Fenn replied, "has been handed over to our secret service by the unanimous vote of the Council. We have absolute liberty to deal with him as we think fit."
"Have you liberty to tell lies as to his whereabouts?" Catherine demanded. "You deliberately told the Council he had escaped, yet, entirely owing to Mr. Furley, I find you down here at Bermondsey with him. What were you going to do with him when I came in?"
"Persuade him to restore the packet, if we could," Fenn answered sullenly.
"Rubbish!" Catherine retorted. "You know very well that he is our friend. You have only to tell him the truth, and your task with him is at an end."
"Steady!" Julian muttered. "Don't imagine that I have any sympathy with your little nest of conspirators."
"That is only because you do not understand," Catherine assured him. "Listen, and you shall hear the whole truth. I will tell you what is inside that packet and whose signatures you will find there."
Julian gripped her wrist suddenly. His eyes were filled with a new fear. He was watching the two men, who were whispering together.
"Catherine," he exclaimed warningly, "look out! These men mean mischief. That devil Bright invents a new poisonous gas every day. Look at Fenn buckling on his mask. Quick! Get out if you can!"
Catherine's hand touched her bosom. Bright sprang towards her, but he was too late. She raised a little gold whistle to her lips, and its pealing summons rang through the room. Fenn dropped his mask and glanced towards Bright. His face was livid.
"Who's outside?" he demanded.
"The Bishop and Mr. Furley. Great though my confidence is in you both, I scarcely ventured to come here alone."
The approaching footsteps were plainly audible. Fenn shrugged his shoulders with a desperate attempt at carelessness.
"I don't know what is in your mind, Miss Abbeway," he said. "You can scarcely believe that you, at any rate, were in danger at our hands."
"I would not trust you a yard," she replied fiercely. "In any case, it is better that the others should come. Mr. Orden might not believe me. He will at least believe the Bishop."
"Believe whom?" Julian demanded.
The door was opened. The Bishop and Miles Furley came hastily in. Catherine stepped forward to meet them.
"I was obliged to whistle," she explained, a little hysterically. "I do not trust either of these men. That fiend Bright has a poisonous gas with him in a pocket cylinder. I am convinced that they meant to murder Julian."
The two newcomers turned towards the couch and exchanged amazed greetings with Julian. Fenn threw his mask on to the table with an uneasy laugh.
"Miss Abbeway," he protested, "is inclined to be melodramatic. The gas which Bright has in that cylinder is simply one which would produce a little temporary unconsciousness. We might have used it—we may still use it—but if you others are able to persuade Mr. Orden to restore the packet, our task with him is at an end. We are not his gaolers—or perhaps he would say his torturers—for pleasure. The Council has ordered that we should extort from him the papers you know of and has given us carte blanche as to the means. If you others can persuade him to restore them peaceably, why, do it. We are prepared to wait."
Julian was still staring from one to the other of his visitors. His expression of blank astonishment had scarcely decreased.
"Bishop," he said at last, "unless you want to see me go insane before your eyes, please explain. It can't be possible that you have anything in common with this nest of conspirators."
The Bishop smiled a little wanly. He laid his hand upon his godson's shoulder.
"Believe me, I have been no party to your incarceration, Julian,", he declared, "but if you will listen to me, I will tell you why I think it would be better for you to restore that packet to Miss Abbeway:"
"Tell that blackguard to give me another sniff of his restorative gas," Julian begged. "These shocks are almost too much for me."
The Bishop turned interrogatively towards Bright, who once more leaned over Julian with the tube in his hand. Again the little mist, the pungent odour. Julian rose to his feet and sat down again.
"I am listening," he said.
"First of all," began the Bishop earnestly, as he seated himself at the end of the couch on which Julian had been lying, "let me try to remove some of your misconceptions. Miss Abbeway is in no sense of the word a German spy. She and I, Mr. Furley here, Mr. Fenn and Mr. Bright, all belong to an organisation leagued together for one purpose—we are determined to end the war."
"Pacifists!" Julian muttered.
"An idle word," the Bishop protested, "because at heart we are all pacifists. There is not one of us who would wilfully choose war instead of peace. The only question is the price we are prepared to pay."
"Why not leave that to the Government?"
"The Government," the Bishop replied, "are the agents of the people. The people in this case wish to deal direct."
"Again why?" Julian demanded.
"Because the Government is composed wholly of politicians, politicians who, in far too many speeches, have pledged themselves to too many definite things. Still, the Government will have its chance."
"Explain to me," Julian asked, "why, if you are a patriotic society, you are in secret and illegal communication with Germany?"
"The Germany with whom we are in communication," the Bishop assured his questioner, "is the Germany who thinks as we do."
"Then you are on a wild-goose chase," Julian declared, "because the Germans who think as you do are in a hopeless minority."
The Bishop's forefinger was thrust out.
"I have you, Julian," he said. "That very belief which you have just expressed is our justification, because it is the common belief throughout the country. I can prove to you that you are mistaken—can prove it, with the help of that very packet which is responsible for your incarceration here."
"Explain," Julian begged.
"That packet," the Bishop declared, "contains the peace terms formulated by the Socialist and Labour parties of Germany."
"Worth precisely the paper it is written on?" Julian scoffed.
"And ratified," the Bishop continued emphatically, "by the three great men of Germany, whose signatures are attached to that document—the Kaiser, the Chancellor and Hindenburg."
Julian was electrified.
"Do you seriously mean," he asked, "that those signatures are attached to proposals of peace formulated by the Socialist and Labour parties of Germany?"
"I do indeed," was the confident reply. "If the terms are not what we have been led to expect, or if the signatures are not there, the whole affair is at an end."
"You are telling me wonderful things, sir," Julian confessed, after a brief pause.
"I am telling what you will discover yourself to be the truth," the Bishop insisted. "And, Julian, I am appealing to you not only for the return of that packet, but for your sympathy, your help, your partisanship. You can guess now what has happened. Your anonymity has come to an end. The newly formed Council of Labour, to which we all belong, is eager and anxious to welcome you."
"Has any one given me away?" Julian asked.
Catherine shook her head.
"The truth was discovered this evening, when your rooms were searched," she explained.
"What is the constitution of this Council of Labour?" Julian enquired, a little dazed by this revelation.
"It is the very body of men which you yourself foreshadowed," the Bishop replied eagerly. "Twenty of the members are elected by the Trades Unions and represent the great industries of the Empire; and there are three outsiders—Miss Abbeway, Miles Furley and myself. If you, Julian, had not been so successful in concealing your identity, you would have been the first man to whom the Council would have turned for help. Now that the truth is known, your duty is clear. The glory of ending this war will belong to the people, and it is partly owing to you that the people have grown to realise their strength."
"My own position at the present moment," Julian began, a little grimly!!!!!
"You have no one to blame for that but yourself," Catherine interrupted. "If we had known who you were, do you suppose that we should have allowed these men to deal with you in such a manner? Do you suppose that I should not have told you the truth about that packet? However, that is over. You know the truth now. We five are all members of the Council who are sitting practically night and day, waiting—you know what for. Do not keep us in suspense any longer than you can help. Tell us where to find this letter?"
Julian passed his hand over his forehead a little wearily.
"I am confused," he admitted. "I must think. After all, you are engaged in a conspiracy. Stenson's Cabinet may not be the strongest on earth, or the most capable, but Stenson himself has carried the burden of this war bravely."
"If the terms offered," the Bishop pointed out, "are anything like what we expect, they are better than any which the politicians could ever have mooted, even after years more of bloodshed. It is my opinion that Stenson will welcome them, and that the country, generally speaking, will be entirely in favour of their acceptance."
"Supposing," Julian asked, "that you think them reasonable, that you make your demand to the Prime Minister, and he refuses. What then?"
"That," Fenn intervened, with the officious air of one who has been left out of the conversation far too long, "is where we come in. At our word, every coal pit in England would cease work, every furnace fire would go out, every factory would stand empty. The trains would remain on their sidings, or wherever they might chance to be when the edict was pronounced. The same with the 'buses and cabs, the same with the Underground. Not a ship would leave any port in the United Kingdom, not a ship would be docked. Forty-eight hours of this would do more harm than a year's civil war. Forty-eight hours must procure from the Prime Minister absolute submission to our demands. Ours is the greatest power the world has ever evolved. We shall use it for the greatest cause the world has ever known—the cause of peace."
"This, in a way, was inevitable," Julian observed. "You remember the conversation, Bishop," he added, "down at Maltenby?"
"Very well indeed," the latter acquiesced.
"The country went into slavery," Julian pronounced, "in August, 1915. That slavery may or may not be good for them. To be frank, I think it depends entirely upon the constitution of your Council. It is so much to the good, Bishop, that you are there."
"Our Council, such as it is," Fenn remarked acidly, "consists of men elected to their position by the votes of a good many millions of their fellow toilers."
"The people may have chosen wisely," was the grave reply, "or they may have made mistakes. Such things have been known. By the bye, I suppose that my durance is at an end?"
"It is at an end, whichever way you decide," Catherine declared. "Now that you know everything, though, you will not hesitate to give up the packet?"
"You shall have it," he agreed. "I will give it back into your hands."
"The sooner the better!" Fenn exclaimed eagerly. "And, Mr. Orden, one word."
Julian was standing amongst them now, very drawn and pale in the dim halo of light thrown down from the hanging lamp. His answering monosyllable was cold and restrained.
"I trust you will understand," Fenn continued, "that Bright and I were simply carrying out orders. To us you were an enemy. You had betrayed the trust of one of our members. The prompt delivery of that packet meant the salvation of thousands of lives. It meant a cessation of this ghastly world tragedy. We were harsh, perhaps, but we acted according to orders."
Julian glanced at the hand which Fenn had half extended but made no movement to take it. He leaned a little upon the Bishop's arm.
"Help me out of this place, sir, will you?" he begged. "As for Fenn and that other brute, what I have to say about them will keep."
It was a little more than half an hour later when Julian ascended the steps of his club in Pall Mall and asked the hall porter for letters. Except that he was a little paler than usual and was leaning more heavily upon his stick, there was nothing about his appearance to denote several days of intense strain. There was a shade of curiosity, mingled with surprise, in the commissionaire's respectful greeting.
"There have been a good many enquiries for you the last few days, sir," he observed.
"I dare say," Julian replied. "I was obliged to go out of town unexpectedly."
He ran through the little pile of letters and selected a bulky envelope addressed to himself in his own handwriting. With this he returned to the taxicab in which the Bishop and Catherine were seated. They gazed with fascinated eyes at the packet which he was carrying and which he at once displayed.
"You see," he remarked, as he leaned back, "there is nothing so impenetrable in the world as a club of good standing. It beats combination safes hollow. It would have taken all Scotland Yard to have dragged this letter from the rack."
"That is really—it?" Catherine demanded breathlessly.
"It is the packet," he assured her, "which you handed to me for safe keeping at Maltenby."
They drove almost in silence to the Bishop's house, where it had been arranged that Julian should spend the night. The Bishop left the two together before the fire in his library, while he personally superintended the arrangement of a guest room. Catherine came over and knelt by the side of Julian's chair.
"Shall I beg forgiveness for the past," she whispered, "or may I not talk of the future, the glorious future?"
"Is it to be glorious?" he asked a little doubtfully.
"It can be made so," she answered with fervour, "by you more than by anybody else living. I defy you—you, Paul Fiske—to impugn our scheme, our aims, the goal towards which we strive. All that we needed was a leader who could lift us up above the localness, the narrow visions of these men. They are in deadly earnest, but they can't see far enough, and each sees along his own groove. It is true that at the end the same sun shines, but no assembly of people can move together along a dozen different ways and keep the same goal in view."
He touched the packet.
"We do not yet know the written word here," he reminded her.
"I do," she insisted. "My heart tells me. Besides, I have had many hints. There are people in London whose position forces them to remain silent, who understand and know."
"Foreigners?" Julian asked suspiciously.
"Neutrals, of course, but neutrals of discretion are very useful people. The military party in Germany is making a brave show still, but it is beaten, notwithstanding its victories. The people are gathering together in their millions. Their voice is already being heard. Here we have the proof of it."
"But even if these proposed terms are as favourable as you say," Julian objected, "how can you force them upon the English Cabinet? There is America-France. Yours is purely a home demand. A government has other things to think of and consider."
"France is war-weary to the bone," she declared. "France will follow England, especially when she knows the contents of that packet. As for America, she came into this after the great sacrifices had been made. She demands nothing more than is to be yielded up. It is not for the sake of visionary ideas, not for diplomatic precedence that the humanitarians of the world are going to hesitate about ending this brutal slaughter."
He studied her curiously. In the firelight her face seemed to him almost strangely beautiful. She was uplifted by the fervour of her thoughts. The depth in her soft brown eyes was immeasurable; the quiver of her lips, so soft and yet so spiritual, was almost inspiring. Her hand was resting upon his shoulder. She seemed to dwell upon his expression, to listen eagerly for his words. Yet he realised that in all this there was no personal note. She was the disciple of a holy cause, aflame with purpose.
"It will mean a revolution," he said thoughtfully.
"A revolution was established two years ago," she pointed out, "and the people have held their power ever since. I will tell you what I believe to-day," she went on passionately. "I believe that the very class who was standing the firmest, whose fingers grasp most tightly the sword of warfare, will be most grateful to the people who will wrest the initiative from them and show them the way to an honourable, inevitable peace."
"When do you propose to break those seals?" he enquired.
"To-morrow evening," she replied. "There will be a full meeting of the Council. The terms will be read. Then you shall decide."
"What am I to decide?"
"Whether you will accept the post of spokesman—whether you will be the ambassador who shall approach the Government."
"But they may not elect me," he objected.
"They will," she replied confidently. "It was you who showed them their power. It is you whose inspiration has carried them along: It is you who shall be their representative. Don't you realise," she went on, "that it is the very association of such men as yourself and Miles Furley and the Bishop with this movement which will endow it with reality in the eyes of the bourgeoisie of the country and Parliament?"
Their host returned, followed by his butler carrying a tray with refreshments, and the burden of serious things fell away from them. It was only after Catherine had departed, and the two men lingered for a moment near the fire before retiring, that either of them reverted to the great subject which dominated their thoughts.
"You understand, Julian," the Bishop said, with a shade of anxiety in his tone, "that I am in the same position as yourself so far as regards the proposals which may lie within that envelope? I have joined this movement—or conspiracy, as I suppose it would be called—on the one condition that the terms pronounced there are such as a Christian and a law-loving country, whose children have already made great sacrifices in the cause of freedom, may honourably accept. If they are otherwise, all the weight and influence I may have with the people go into the other scale. I take it that it is so with you?"
"Entirely," Julian acquiesced. "To be frank with you," he added, "my doubts are not so much concerning the terms of peace themselves as the power of the German democracy to enforce them."
"We have relied a good deal," the Bishop admitted, "upon reports from neutrals."
Julian smiled a little grimly.
"We have wasted a good many epithets criticising German diplomacy," he observed, "but she seems to know how to hold most of the neutrals in the hollow of her hand. You know what that Frenchman said? 'Scratch a neutral and you find a German propaganda agent!'"
The Bishop led the way upstairs. Outside the door of Julian's room, he laid his hand affectionately upon the young man's shoulder.
"My godson," he said, "as yet we have scarcely spoken of this great surprise which you have given us—of Paul Fiske. All that I shall say now is this. I am very proud to know that he is my guest to-night. I am very happy to think that from tomorrow we shall be fellow workers."
Catherine, while she waited for her tea in the Carlton lounge on the following afternoon, gazed through the drooping palms which sheltered the somewhat secluded table at which she was seated upon a very brilliant scene. It was just five o'clock, and a packed crowd of fashionable Londoners was listening to the strains of a popular band, or as much of it as could be heard above the din of conversation.
"This is all rather amazing, is it not?" she remarked to her companion.
The latter, an attache at a neutral Embassy, dropped his eyeglass and polished it with a silk handkerchief, in the corner of which was embroidered a somewhat conspicuous coronet.
"It makes an interesting study," he declared. "Berlin now is madly gay, Paris decorous and sober. It remains with London to be normal,—London because its hide is the thickest, its sensibility the least acute, its selfishness the most profound."
Catherine reflected for a moment.
"I think," she said, "that a philosophical history of the war will some day, for those who come after us, be extraordinarily interesting. I mean the study of the national temperaments as they were before, as they are now during the war, and as they will be afterwards. There is one thing which will always be noted, and that is the intense dislike which you, perhaps I, certainly the majority of neutrals, feel towards England."
"It is true," the young man assented solemnly. "One finds it everywhere."
"Before the war," Catherine went on, "it was Germany who was hated everywhere. She pushed her way into the best places at hotels, watering places—Monte Carlo, for instance and the famous spas. Today, all that accumulated dislike seems to be turned upon England. I am not myself a great admirer of this country, and yet I ask myself why?"
"England is smug," the young man pronounced; "She is callous; she is, without meaning to be, hypocritical. She works herself into a terrible state of indignation about the misdeeds of her neighbours, and she does not realise her own faults. The Germans are overbearing, but one realises that and expects it. Englishmen are irritating. It is certainly true that amongst us remaining neutrals," he added, dropping his voice a little and looking around to be sure of their isolation, "the sympathy remains with the Central Powers."
"I have some dear friends in this country, too," Catherine sighed.
"Naturally—amongst those of your own order. But then there is very little difference between the aristocracies of every race in the world. It is the bourgeoisie which tells, which sets its stamp upon a nation's character."
Their tea had arrived, and for a few moments the conversation travelled in lighter channels. The young man, who was a person of some consequence in his own country, spoke easily of the theatres, of mutual friends, of some sport in which he had been engaged. Catherine relapsed into the role which had been her first in life,—the young woman of fashion. As such they attracted no attention save a few admiring glances on the part of passers-by towards Catherine. As the people around them thinned out a little, their conversation became more intimate.
"I shall always feel," the young man said thoughtfully, "that in these days I have lived very near great things. I have seen and realised what the historians will relate at second-hand. The greatest events move like straws in the wind. A month ago, it seemed as though the Central Powers would lose the war."
"I suppose," she observed, "it depends very much upon what you mean by winning it? The terms of peace are scarcely the terms of victory, are they?"
"The terms of peace," he repeated thoughtfully.
"We happen to know what they are, do we not?" she continued, speaking almost under her breath, "the basic terms, at any rate."
"You mean," he said slowly, "the terms put forward by the Socialist Party of Germany to ensure the granting of an armistice?"
"And acceded to," she reminded him, "by the Kaiser and the two greatest German statesmen."
He toyed with his teacup, drew a gold cigarette case from his pocket, selected a cigarette, and lit it.
"You would try to make me believe," he remarked, smiling at his companion, "that to-day you are not in your most intelligent mood."
"Explain, if you please," she begged earnestly.
He smoked stolidly for several moments.
"I imagine," he said, "that you preserve with me something of that very skilfully assumed ignorance which is the true mask of the diplomatist. But is it worth while, I wonder?"
She caught at her breath.
"You are too clever," she murmured, looking at him covertly.
"You have seen," he continued, "how Germany, who needs peace sorely, has striven to use the most despised power in her country for her own advantage—I mean the Socialist Party. From being treated with scorn and ignominy, they were suddenly, at the time of the proposed Stockholm Conference, judged worthy of notice from the All Highest himself. He suddenly saw how wonderful a use might be made of them. It was a very clever trap which was baited, and it was not owing to any foresight or any cleverness on the part of this country that the Allies did not walk straight into it. I say again," he went on, "that it was a mere fluke which prevented the Allies from being represented at that Conference and the driving in of the thin end of the wedge."
"You are quite right," Catherine agreed.
"German diplomacy," he proceeded, "may sometimes be obtuse, but it is at least persistent. Their next move will certainly rank in history as the most astute, the most cunning of any put forward since the war commenced. Of course," the young man went on, fitting his cigarette into a long, amber holder, "we who are not Germans can only guess, but even the guessing is fascinating."
"Go on, please, dear Baron," she begged. "It is when you talk like this and show me your mind that I seem to be listening to a second Bismarck."
"You flatter me, Countess," the young man said, "but indeed these events are interesting. Trace their course for yourself after the failure of Stockholm. The Kaiser has established certain relations with the Socialist Party. Once more he turns towards them. He affects a war weariness he does not feel. He puts it into their heads that they shall approach without molestation certain men in England who have a great Labour following. The plot is started. You know quite well how it has progressed."
"Naturally," Catherine assented, "but after all, tell me, where does the wonderful diplomacy come in? The terms of peace are not the terms of a conqueror. Germany is to engage herself to give up what she has sworn to hold, even to pay indemnities, to restore all conquered countries, and to retire her armies behind the Rhine."
The young man looked at his companion steadfastly for several seconds.
"In the idiom of this country, Countess," he said, "I raise my hat to you. You preserve your mask of ignorance to the end. So much so, indeed, that I find myself asking do you really believe that Germany intends to do this?"
"But you forget," she reminded him. "I was one of those present at the discussion of the preliminaries. The confirmation of the agreed terms, with the signatures, has arrived, and is to be placed before the Labour Council at six o'clock this evening."
The young man for a moment seemed puzzled. Then he glanced at a little gold watch upon his wrist, knocked the cigarette from its holder and carefully replaced the latter in its case.
"That is very interesting, Countess," he said. "For the moment I had forgotten your official position amongst the English Socialists."
She leaned forward and touched his coat sleeve.
"You had forgotten nothing," she declared eagerly. "There is something in your mind of which you have not spoken."
"No," he replied, "I have spoken a great deal of my mind—too much, perhaps, considering that we are seated in this very fashionable lounge, with many people around us. We must talk of these serious matters on another occasion, Countess. I shall pay my respects to your aunt, if I may, within the next few days."
"Why do you fence with me?" she persisted, drawing on her gloves. "You and I both know, so far as regards those peace terms, that—"
"If we both know," he interrupted, "let us keep each our own knowledge. Words are sometimes very, dangerous, and great events are looming. So, Countess! You have perhaps a car, or may I have the pleasure of escorting you to your destination?"
"I am going to Westminster," she told him, rising to her feet.
"In that case," he observed, as they made their way down the room, "perhaps I had better not offer my escort, although I should very much like to be there in person. You are amongst those to-day who will make history."
"Come and see me soon," she begged, dropping her voice a little, "and I will confide in you as much as I dare."
"It is tempting," he admitted, "I should like to know what passes at that meeting."
"You can, if you will, dine with us to-morrow night," she invited, "at half-past eight. My aunt will be delighted to see you. I forget whether we have people coming or not, but you will be very welcome."
The young man bowed low as he handed his charge into a taxicab.
"Dear Countess," he murmured, "I shall be charmed."
For a gathering of men upon whose decision hung such momentous issues, the Council which met that evening at Westminster seemed alike unambitious in tone and uninspired in appearance. Some short time was spent in one of the anterooms, where Julian was introduced to many of the delegates. The disclosure of his identity, although it aroused immense interest, was scarcely an unmixed joy to the majority of them. Those who were in earnest—and they mostly were in grim and deadly earnest—had hoped to find him a man nearer their own class. Fenn and Bright had their own reasons for standing apart, and the extreme pacifists took note of the fact that he had been a soldier. His coming, however, was an event the importance of which nobody attempted to conceal.
The Bishop was voted into the chair when the little company trooped into the apartment which had been set aside for their more important meetings. His election had been proposed by Miles Furley, and as it was announced that under no circumstances would he become a candidate for the permanent leadership of the party, was agreed to without comment. A few notes for his guidance had been jotted down earlier in the day. The great subject of discussion was, of course, the recently received communication from an affiliated body of their friends in Germany, copies of which had been distributed amongst the members.
"I am asked to explain," the Bishop announced, in opening the proceedings, "that this document which we all recognise as being of surpassing importance, has been copied by Mr. Fenn, himself, and that since, copies have been distributed amongst the members, the front door of the building has been closed and the telephones placed under surveillance. It is not, of course, possible that any of you could be mistrusted, but it is of the highest importance that neither the Press, the Government, nor the people should have any indication of what is transpiring, until the delegate whom you choose takes the initial step. It is proposed that until after his interview with the Prime Minister, no delegate shall leave the place. The question now arises, what of the terms themselves? I will ask each one of you to state his views, commencing with Miss Abbeway."
Every one of the twenty-three—or twenty-four now, including Julian—had a few words to say, and the tenor of their remarks was identical. For a basis of peace terms, the proposals were entirely reasonable, nor did they appear in any case to be capable of misconstruction. They were laid down in eight clauses.
1. The complete evacuation of Northern France and Belgium, with full compensation for all damage done.
2. Alsace and Lorraine to determine their position by vote of the entire population.
3. Servia and Roumania to be reestablished as independent kingdoms, with such rectifications and modifications of frontier as a joint committee should decide upon.
4. The German colonies to be restored.
5. The conquered parts of Mesopotamia to remain under the protection of the British Government.
6. Poland to be declared an independent kingdom.
7. Trieste and certain portions of the Adriatic seaboard to be ceded to Italy.
8. A world committee to be at once elected for the purpose of working out a scheme of international disarmament.
"We must remember," Miles Furley pointed out, "that the present Government is practically pledged not to enter into peace negotiations with a Hohenzollern."
"That, I contend," the Bishop observed, "is a declaration which should never have been made. Whatever may be our own feelings with regard to the government of Germany, the Kaiser has held the nation together and is at the present moment its responsible head. If he has had the good sense to yield to the demands of his people, as is proved by this document, then it is very certain that the declaration must be forgotten. I have reason to believe, however, that even if the negotiations have been commenced in the name of the Kaiser, an immediate change is likely to take place in the constitution of Germany."
"Germany's new form of government, I understand," Fenn intervened, "will be modelled upon our own, which, after the abolition of the House of Lords, and the abnegation of the King's prerogative, will be as near the ideal democracy as is possible. That change will be in itself our most potent guarantee against all future wars. No democracy ever encouraged bloodshed. It is, to my mind, a clearly proved fact that all wars are the result of court intrigue. There will be no more of that. The passing of monarchical rule in Germany will mean the doom of all autocracies."
There was a little sympathetic murmur. Julian, to whom Catherine had been whispering, next asked a question.
"I suppose," he said, "that no doubt can be cast upon the authenticity of the three signatures attached to this document?"
"That's been in my own mind, Mr. Fiske—leastwise, Mr. Orden," Phineas Cross, the Northumbrian, remarked, from the other side of the table. "They're up to any mortal dodge, these Germans. Are we to accept it as beyond all doubt that this document is entirely genuine?"
"How can we do otherwise?" Fenn demanded. "Freistner, who is responsible for it, has been in unofficial correspondence with us since the commencement of the war. We know his handwriting, we know his character, we've had a hundred different occasions to test his earnestness and trustworthiness. This document is in his own writing and accompanied by remarks and references to previous correspondence which render its authenticity indisputable."
"Granted that the proposals themselves are genuine, there still remain the three signatures," Julian observed.
"Why should we doubt them?" Fenn protested. "Freistner guarantees them, and Freistner is our friend, the friend and champion of Labour throughout the world. To attempt to deceive us would be to cover himself with eternal obloquy."
"Yet these terms," Julian pointed out, "differ fundamentally from anything which Germany has yet allowed to be made public."
"There are two factors here which may be considered," Miles Furley intervened. "The first is that the economic condition of Germany is far worse than she has allowed us to know. The second, which is even more interesting to us, is the rapid growth in influence, power, and numbers of the Socialist and Labour Party in that country."
"Of both these factors," the Bishop reminded them, "we have had very frequent hints from our friends, the neutrals. Let me tell you all what I think. I think that those terms are as much as we have the right to expect, even if our armies had reached the Rhine. It is possible that we might obtain some slight modifications, if we continued the war, but would those modifications be worth the loss of a few more hundred thousands of human lives, of a few more months of this hideous, pagan slaughter and defilement of God's beautiful world?"
There was a murmur of approval. A lank, rawboned Yorkshireman—David Sands—a Wesleyan enthusiast, a local preacher, leaned across the table, his voice shaking with earnestness:
"It's true!" he exclaimed. "It's the word of God! It's for us to stop the war. If we stop it to-night instead of to-morrow, a thousand lives may be saved, human lives, lives of our fellow creatures. Our fellow labourers in Germany have given us the chance. Don't let us delay five minutes. Let the one of us you may select see the Prime Minister to-night and deliver the people's message."
"There's no cause for delay that I can see," Cross approved.
"There is none," Fenn assented heartily. "I propose that we proceed to the election of our representative; that, having elected him, we send him to the Prime Minister with our message, and that we remain here in the building until we have his report."
"You are unanimously resolved, then," the Bishop asked, "to take this last step?"
There was a little chorus of assent. Fenn leaned forward in his place.
"Everything is ready," he announced. "Our machinery is perfect. Our agents in every city await the mandate."
"But do you imagine that those last means will be necessary?" the Bishop enquired anxiously.
"Most surely I do," Fenn replied. "Remember that if the people make peace for the country, it is the people who will expect to govern the country. It will be a notice to the politicians to quit. They know that. It is my belief that they, will resist, tooth and nail."
Bright glanced at his watch.
"The Prime Minister," he announced, "will be at Downing Street until nine o'clock. It is now seven o'clock. I propose that we proceed without any further delay to the election of our representative."
"The voting cards," Fenn pointed out, "are before each person. Every one has two votes, which must be for two different representatives. The cards should then be folded, and I propose that the Bishop, who is not a candidate, collect them. As I read the unwritten rules of this Congress, every one here is eligible except the Bishop, Miss Abbeway, Mr. Orden and Mr. Furley."
There was a little murmur. Phineas Cross leaned forward in his place.
"Here, what's that?" he exclaimed. "The Bishop, and Miss Abbeway, we all know, are outside the running. Mr. Furley, too, represents the educated Socialists, and though he is with us in this, he is not really Labour. But Mr. Orden—Paul Fiske, eh? That's a different matter, isn't it?"
"Mr. Orden," Fenn pronounced slowly, "is a literary man. He is a sympathiser with our cause, but he is not of it."
"If any man has read the message which Paul Fiske has written with a pen of gold for us," Phineas Cross declared, "and can still say that he is not one of us, why, he must be beside himself. I say that Mr. Orden is the brains and the soul of our movement. He brought life and encouragement into the north of England with the first article he ever wrote. Since then there has not been a man whom the Labour Party that I know anything of has looked up to and worshipped as they have done him."
"It's true," David Sands broke in, "every word of it. There's no one has written for Labour like him. If he isn't Labour, then we none of us are. I don't care whether he is the son of an earl, or a plasterer's apprentice, as I was. He's the right stuff, he has the gift of putting the words together, and his heart's where it should be."
"There is no one," Penn said; his voice trembling a little, "who has a greater admiration for Paul Fiske's writings than I have, but I still contend that he is not Labour."
"Sit down, lad," Cross enjoined. "We'll have a vote on that. I'm for saying that Mr. Julian Orden here, who has written them articles under the name of 'Paul Fiske', is a full member of our Council and eligible to act as our messenger to the Prime Minister. I ask the Bishop to put it to the meeting."
Eighteen were unanimous in agreeing with the motion. Fenn sat down, speechless. His cheeks were pallid. His hands, which rested upon the table, were twitching. He seemed like a man lost in thought and only remembered to fill up his card when the Bishop asked him for it. There was a brief silence whilst the latter, assisted by Cross and Sands, counted the votes. Then the Bishop rose to his feet.
"Mr. Julian Orden," he announced, "better known to you all under the name of 'Paul Fiske', has been chosen by a large majority as your representative to take the people's message to the Prime Minister."
"I protest!" Fenn exclaimed passionately. "This is Mr. Orden's first visit amongst us. He is a stranger. I repeat that he is not one of us. Where is his power? He has none. Can he do what any one of us can—stop the pulse of the nation? Can he still its furnace fires? Can he empty the shipyards and factories, hold the trains upon their lines, bring the miners up from under the earth? Can he—"
"He can do all these things," Phineas Cross interrupted, "because he speaks for us, our duly elected representative. Sit thee down, Fenn. If you wanted the job, well, you haven't got it, and that's all there is about it, and though you're as glib with your tongue as any here, and though you've as many at your back, perchance, as I have, I tell you I'd never have voted for you if there hadn't been another man here. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, lad."
"All further discussion," the Bishop ruled, "is out of order. Julian Orden, do you accept this mission?"
Julian rose to his feet. He leaned heavily upon his stick. His expression was strangely disturbed.
"Bishop," he said, "and you, my friends, this has all come very suddenly. I do not agree with Mr. Fenn. I consider that I am one with you. I think that for the last ten years I have seen the place which Labour should hold in the political conduct of the world. I have seen the danger of letting the voice of the people remain unheard too long. Russia to-day is a practical and terrible example of that danger. England is, in her way, a free country, and our Government a good one, but in the world's history there arrive sometimes crises with which no stereotyped form of government can cope, when the one thing that is desired is the plain, honest mandate of those who count for most in the world, those who, in their simplicity and in their absence from all political ties and precedents and liaisons, see the truth. That is why I have appealed with my pen to Labour, to end this war. That is why I shall go willingly as your representative to the Prime Minister to-night."
The Bishop held out his hand. There was a little reverent hush, for his words were in the nature of a benediction.
"And may God be with you, our messenger," he said solemnly.
Julian, duly embarked upon his mission, was kept waiting an unexpectedly short time in the large but gloomy apartment into which Mr. Stenson's butler had somewhat doubtfully ushered him. The Prime Minister entered with an air of slight hurry. He was also somewhat surprised.
"My dear Orden," he exclaimed, holding out his hand, "what can I do for you?"
"A great deal," Julian replied gravely. "First of all, though, I have an explanation to make."
"I am afraid," Mr. Stenson regretted, "that I am too much engaged this evening to enter into any personal matters. I am expecting a messenger here on very important official business."
"I am that messenger," Julian announced.
Mr. Stenson started. His visitor's tone was serious and convincing.
"I fear that we are at loggerheads. It is an envoy from the Labour Party whom I am expecting."
"I am that envoy."
"You?" Mr. Stenson exclaimed, in blank bewilderment.
"I ought to explain a little further, perhaps. I have been writing on Labour questions for some time under the pseudonym of 'Paul Fiske'."
"Paul Fiske?" Mr. Stenson gasped. "You—Paul Fiske?"
Julian nodded assent.
"You are amazed, of course," he proceeded, "but it is nevertheless the truth. The fact has just come to light, and I have been invited to join this new emergency Council, composed of one or two Socialists and writers, amongst them a very distinguished prelate; Labour Members of Parliament, and representatives of the various Trades Unions, a body of men which you doubtless know all about. I attended a meeting at Westminster an hour ago, and I was entrusted with this commission to you."
Mr. Stenson sat down suddenly.
"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "You—Julian Orden!"
There was a moment's silence. Mr. Stenson, however, was a man of immense recuperative powers. He assimilated the new situation without further protest.
"You have given me the surprise of my life, Orden," he confessed. "That, however, is a personal matter. Hannaway Wells is in the study. You have no objection, I suppose, to his being present?"
Mr. Stenson rang the bell, and in a few minutes they were joined by his colleague. The former wasted no time in explanations.
"You will doubtless be as astonished as I was, Wells," he said, "to learn that our friend Julian Orden comes here as the representative of the new Labour Council. His qualifications, amongst others, are that under the pseudonym of 'Paul Fiske' he is the writer of those wonderful articles which have been the beacon light and the inspiration of the Labour Party for the last year."
Mr. Hannaway Wells prided himself upon never being surprised. This time the only way he could preserve his reputation was by holding his tongue.
"We are now prepared to hear your mission," Mr. Stenson continued, turning to his visitor.
"I imagine," Julian began, "that you know something about this new Labour Council?"
"What little we do know," Mr. Stenson answered, "we have learnt with great difficulty through our secret service. I gather that a small league of men has been formed within a mile of the Houses of Parliament, who, whatever their motives may be, have been guilty of treasonable and traitorous communication with the enemy."
"Strictly speaking, you are, without doubt, perfectly right," Julian acknowledged.
Mr. Stenson switched on an electric light.
"Sit down, Orden," he invited. "There is no need for us to stand glaring at one another. There is enough of real importance in the nature of our interview without making melodrama of it."
The Prime Minister threw himself into an easy chair. Julian, with a little sigh of relief, selected a high-backed oak chair and rested his foot upon a hassock. Hannaway Wells remained standing upon the hearthrug.
"Straight into the heart of it, please, Orden," Mr. Stenson begged. "Let us know how far this accursed conspiracy has gone."
"It has gone to very great lengths," Julian declared. "Certain members of this newly-formed Council of Labour have been in communication for some months with the Socialist Party in Germany. From these latter they have received a definite and authentic proposal of peace, countersigned by the three most important men in Germany. That proposal of peace I am here to lay before you, with the request that you act upon it without delay."
Julian produced his roll of papers. The two men remained motionless. The great issue had been reached with almost paralysing rapidity.
"My advice," Mr. Hannaway Wells said bluntly, "is that you, sir,"—turning to his Chief—"refuse to discuss or consider these proposals, or to examine that document. I submit that you are the head of His Majesty's Government, and any communication emanating from a foreign country should be addressed to you. If you ever consider this matter and discuss it with Mr. Orden here, you associate yourself with a traitorous breach of the law."
Mr. Stenson made no immediate reply. He looked towards Julian, as though to hear what he had to say.
"Mr. Hannaway Wells's advice is, without doubt, technically correct," Julian admitted, "but the whole subject is too great, and the issues involved too awful for etiquette or even propriety to count. It is for you, sir, to decide what is best for the country. You commit yourself to nothing by reading the proposals, and I suggest that you do so."
"We will read them," Mr. Stenson decided.
Julian passed over the papers. The two men crossed the room and leaned over the Prime Minister's writing table. Mr. Stenson drew down the electric light, and they remained there in close confabulation for about a quarter of an hour. Julian sat with his back turned towards them and his ears closed. In this atmosphere of government, his own position seemed to him weird and fantastic. A sense of unreality cumbered his thoughts. Even this brief pause in the actual negotiations filled him with doubts. He could scarcely believe that it was he who was to dictate terms to the man who was responsible for the government of the country; that it was he who was to force a decision pregnant with far-reaching consequences to the entire world. The figures of Fenn and Bright loomed up ominously before him, however hard he tried to push them into the background. Was it the mandate of such men as these that he was carrying?
Presently the two Ministers returned to their places. Julian had heard their voices for the last few minutes without being able to distinguish a word of their actual conversation.
"We have considered the document you have brought, Orden," the Prime Minister said, "and we frankly admit that we find its contents surprising. The terms of peace suggested form a perfectly possible basis for negotiations. At the same time, you are probably aware that it has not been in the mind of His Majesty's Ministers to discuss terms of peace at all with the present administration of Germany."
"These terms," Julian reminded him, "are dictated, not by the Kaiser and his advisers, but by the Socialist and Labour Party."
"It is strange," Mr. Stenson pointed out, "that we have heard so little of that Party. It is even astonishing that we should find them in a position to be able to dictate terms of peace to the Hohenzollerns."
"You do not dispute the authenticity of the document?" Julian asked.
"I will not go so far as that," Mr. Stenson replied cautiously. "Our secret service informed us some time ago that Freistner, the head of the German Socialists, was in communication with certain people in this country. I have no doubt whatever that these are the proposals of the authorised Socialist Party of Germany. What I do not understand is how they have suddenly acquired the strength to induce proposals of peace such as these."
"It has been suggested," Julian said, "that even the Hohenzollerns, even the military clique of Germany, see before them now the impossibility of reaping the rewards of their successful campaigns. Peace is becoming a necessity to them. They would prefer, therefore, to seem to yield to the demands of their own Socialists rather than to foreign pressure."
"That may be so," Mr. Stenson admitted. "Let us proceed. The first part of your duty, Orden, is finished. What else have you to say?"
"I am instructed," Julian announced, "to appeal to you to sue at once, through the Spanish Ambassador, for an armistice while these terms are considered and arrangements made for discussing them."
"And if I refuse?"
"I will not evade even that question. Of the twenty-three members of the new Council of Labour, twenty represent the Trades Unions of the great industries of the kingdom. Those twenty will unanimously proclaim a general strike, if you should refuse the proposed armistice."
"In other words," Mr. Stenson observed drily, "they will scuttle the ship themselves. Do you approve of these tactics?"
"I decline to answer that question," Julian said, "but I would point out to you that when you acknowledged yourself defeated by the miners of South Wales, you pointed the way to some such crisis as this."
"That may be true," Mr. Stenson acknowledged. "I have only at this moment, however, to deal with the present condition of affairs. Do you seriously believe that, if I make the only answer which at present seems to me possible, the Council of Labour, as they call themselves, will adopt the measures they threaten?"
"I believe that they will," Julian declared gravely. "I believe that the country looks upon any continuation of this war as a continuation of unnecessary and ghastly slaughter. To appreciably change the military situation would mean the sacrifice of millions more lives, would mean the continuation of the war for another two years. I believe that the people of Germany who count are of the same opinion. I believe that the inevitable change of government in Germany will show us a nation freed from this hideous lust for conquest, a nation with whom, when she is purged of the poison of these last years, we can exist fraternally and with mutual benefit."
"You are a very sanguine man, Mr. Orden," Hannaway Wells remarked.
"I have never found," Julian replied, "that the pessimist walks with his head turned towards the truth."
"How long have I," the Prime Minister asked, after a brief pause, "for my reply?"
"Twenty-four hours," Julian told him, "during which time it is hoped that you will communicate with our Allies and pave the way for a further understanding. The Council of Labour asks you for no pledge as to their safety. We know quite well that all of us are, legally speaking, guilty of treason. On the other hand, a single step towards the curtailment of our liberties will mean the paralysis of every industry in the United Kingdom."
"I realise the position perfectly," Mr. Stenson observed drily. "I do not exactly know what to say to you personally, Orden," he added. "Perhaps it is as well for us that the Council should have chosen an ambassador with whom discussion, at any rate, is possible. Nevertheless, I feel bound to remind you that you have taken upon your shoulders, considering your birth and education, one of the most perilous loads which any man could carry."
"I have weighed the consequences," Julian replied, with a sudden and curious sadness in his tone. "I know how the name of 'pacifist' stinks in the nostrils. I know how far we are committed as a nation to a peace won by force of arms. I know how our British blood boils at the thought of leaving a foreign country with as many military advantages as Germany has acquired. But I feel, too, that there is the other side. I have brought you evidence that it is not the German nation against whom we fight, man against man, human being against human being. It is my belief that autocracy and the dynasty of the Hohenzollerns will crumble into ruin as a result of today's negotiations, just as surely as though we sacrificed God knows how many more lives to achieve a greater measure of military triumph."
The Prime Minister rang the bell.
"You are an honest man, Julian Orden," he said, "and a decent emissary. You will reply that we take the twenty-four hours for reflection. That means that we shall meet at nine o'clock to-morrow evening."
He held out his hand in farewell, an action which somehow sent Julian away a happier man.
Julian, on, the morning following his visit to the Prime Minister, was afflicted with a curious and persistent unrest. He travelled down to the Temple land found Miles Furley in a room hung with tobacco smoke and redolent of a late night.
"Miles," Julian declared, as the two men shook hands, "I can't rest."
"I am in the same fix," Furley admitted. "I sat here till four o'clock. Phineas Cross came around, and half-a-dozen of the others. I felt I must talk to them, I must keep on hammering it out. We're right, Julian. We must be right!"
"It's a ghastly responsibility. I wonder what history will have to say."
"That's the worst of it," Furley groaned. "They'll have a bird's-eye view of the whole affair, those people who write our requiem or our eulogy. You noticed the Press this morning? They're all hinting at some great move in the West. It's about in the clubs. Why, I even heard last night that we were in Ostend. It's all a rig, of course. Stenson wants to gain time."
"Who opened these negotiations with Freistner?" Julian asked.
"Fenn. He met him at the Geneva Conference, the year before the war. I met him, too, but I didn't see so much of him. He's a fine fellow, Julian—as unlike the typical German as any man you ever met."
"He's honest, I suppose?"
"As the day itself," was the confident reply. "He has been in prison twice, you know, for plain speaking. He is the one man in Germany who has fought the war, tooth and nail, from the start."
Julian caught his friend by the shoulder.
"Miles," he said,—"straight from the bottom of your heart, mind—you do believe we are justified?"
"I have never doubted it."
"You know that we have practically created a revolution—that we have established a dictatorship? Stenson must obey or face anarchy."
"It is the voice of the people," Furley declared. "I am convinced that we are justified. I am convinced of the inutility of the prolongation of this war."
Julian drew a little sigh of relief.
"Don't think I am weakening," he said. "Remember, I am new to this thing in practice, even though I may be responsible for some of the theory."
"It is the people who are the soundest directors of a nation's policy," Furley pronounced. "High politics becomes too much like a game of chess, hedged all around with etiquette and precedent. It's human life we want to save, Julian. People don't stop to realise the horrible tragedy of even one man's death—one man with his little circle of relatives and friends. In the game of war one forgets. Human beings—men from the toiler's bench, the carpenter's bench, from behind the counter, from the land, from the mine—don khaki, become soldiers, and there seems something different about them. So many human lives gone every day; just soldiers, just the toll we have to pay for a slight advance or a costly retreat. And, my God, every one of them, underneath their khaki, is a human being! The politicians don't grasp it, Julian. That's our justification. The day that armistice is signed, several hundred lives at least—perhaps, thousands—will be saved; for several hundred women the sun will continue to shine. Parents, sweethearts, children—all of them—think what they will be spared!"
"I am a man again," Julian declared. "Come along round to Westminster. There are many things I want to ask about the Executive."
They drove round to the great building which had been taken over by the different members of the Labour Council. The representative of each Trades Union had his own office, staff of clerks and private telephone. Fenn, who greeted the two men with a rather excessive cordiality, constituted himself their cicerone. He took them from room to room and waited while Julian exchanged remarks with some of the delegates whom he had not met personally.
"Every one of our members," Fenn pointed out, "is in direct communication with the local secretary of each town in which his industry is represented. You see these?"
He paused and laid his hand on a little heap of telegraph forms, on which one word was typed.
"These," he continued, "are all ready to be dispatched the second that we hear from Mr. Stenson that is to say if we should hear unfavourably. They are divided into batches, and each batch will be sent from a different post-office, so that there shall be no delay. We calculate that in seven hours, at the most, the industrial pulse of the country will have ceased to beat."
"How long has your organisation taken to build up?" Julian enquired.
"Exactly three months," David Sands observed, turning around in his swing chair from the desk at which he had been writing. "The scheme was started a few days after your article in the British Review. We took your motto as our text 'Coordination and cooperation.'"
They found their way into the clubroom, and at luncheon, later on, Julian strove to improve his acquaintance with the men who were seated around him. Some of them were Members of Parliament with well-known names, others were intensely local, but all seemed earnest and clear-sighted. Phineas Cross commenced to talk about war generally. He had just returned from a visit with other Labour Members to the front, although it is doubtful whether the result had been exactly in accordance with the intentions of the powers who had invited him.